Thoughts on The Way

cropped-7da97df5ccd44411a2567567be55a5df7-e1521842100252.jpg

Google Translate

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

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

Can We Skip to the Part Where I Care? (Sabbath Meditations)
When I passed a guy wearing a t-shirt with the message, “Can we skip to the part where I care?” my first reaction was to snicker, just a little. My second reaction was to think, “What a selfish jerk!” However, my third reaction was, “Hey, he’s kind of got a point.” Let me explain.
I had returned from a full and rewarding weekend in Big Sandy, Texas, visiting with church brethren, being treated to some amazing southern hospitality, and taking in the very hot but beautiful East Texas countryside.
Consequently, that Monday when I returned to work, I was excited to share my adventure. So, I did the one thing we humans do when we want attention – feign momentary interest in someone else and then quickly switch the spotlight to myself. I asked a colleague, “How was your weekend?” Of course, I was hoping for a brief, “ahhh, it was good, how about yours?”
Unfortunately, my plan backfired. He launched into a minute by minute recounting of everything he, his wife, children and the family dog had experienced that weekend. Apparently, I had made the mistake of picking someone who had a life.
I wasn’t about to give up though. Seeing my opening somewhere after his third paragraph, I dove in with, “Well, at least you stayed cool. You wouldn’t believe the weather in Texas … whew was it …” “Yeah, it wasn’t too bad here,” he butted in, “but you should have seen the …” and off he went again.
I listened politely for a few agonizing minutes until, catching a lucky break, his phone rang and he was forced to break off the conversation. Off I went, searching for someone else with whom I might share my experience. Ideally, someone who hopefully wouldn’t have their own story to tell.
Okay, I realize I’m exposing a bit of personal carnality here. But, come on, you’ve all been there, right? Each of us, at times, gets so focused on our little corner of existence that we forget there are other people out there. People who have lives and experiences they care about just as much as we care about ours. Sometimes we forget that the earth doesn’t stop spinning for other people when we leave the room. It’s those times that, being confronted by a message on a t-shirt that plainly, albeit rudely, tells it like it is from the perspective of those having to put up with our self-centered attitude, might actually do us a service.
Paul, writing to the Philippians (2:3-4) tells them, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
It’s a great idea in theory. Most of us can manage to look out for other people’s interests at least some of the time. But seriously, “esteem others better than myself?!” That’s a pretty tall order, isn’t it? That would require not only showing interest in the lives of others, but actually caring more about their lives than mine. How many of us really do that?
Well, come to think of it, there
is one person who did.
Of all men who have lived, I’m sure we’d all agree that Jesus had the most amazing story to tell. Trip to Texas? Huh? Try a first class seat at the helm of the universe! Yet, with so much that He had to share with others, that’s not what He led with. He came first and foremost ministering to the needs of others. He sacrificed His own needs, His own comfort, and ultimately His own life so that others could find meaning and purpose in theirs. It’s an attitude I wish I displayed more often than I do.
Wait a minute. I can.
Paul continues in Philippians 2:5-7, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
That mind, that heart towards the needs of others can and should be in me. His mind in me should cause me to care about the things that He cared about. His primary care was directed, not inward toward the self, but outward toward others.
Our Lord’s example is pointing us to a life lived outside the self, isn’t it?
We live that life in a million little ways; sacrificing something we want so that we can contribute to someone who needs it more; directing our energy, skills, and our precious time to further other people’s goals rather than our own.
Paul also tells us here that caring for the needs of others above our own needs is not something we can force. Forcing ourselves to love and care for others, when our heart isn’t really invested, is an exercise in futility and a recipe for resentment. As Paul says here, we have to “let this mind be in (us)”. It’s not something we force, it’s something we allow. We have to allow His Spirit to work in us, filling us with His love so that we can share it freely with others.
Just imagine the day when His love will fill this earth and the hearts and minds all who inhabit it. There will certainly be much less taking and a lot more giving. Folks will be less focused on serving the self and more focused on serving others.
And I’m not sure – it’s just a hunch – but I’m guessing we won’t see too many of those t-shirts around either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahithophel and Betrayal (Morning Companion)
How can you tell whether a friend is really a friend or just someone who pretends to be a friend for personal advantage? Short answer: sometimes you can’t.
We do know friendships of convenience happen. In one of his psalms (Psalm 41) David laments that “even my close friend whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
While John’s gospel takes this as a prophecy of Judas Iscariot, David was referring more immediately to one of his trusted advisors, a man named Ahithophel. Like Judas, Ahithophel betrayed his friend. Here is the context of the betrayal and a lesson to go with it.
King David’s son Absalom foments a coup against his father. By all appearances the rebellion is about to succeed. In fear for his life David flees the capital. Absalom moves into the palace and even co-opts David’s harem. Ahithophel, one of David’s trusted advisors, reads the political map and does the expedient thing: he joins Absalom in the rebellion, abandoning his long-time friend David.
Motives are hard to accurately impute, but the descriptions “hanger-on” and “opportunist” might fit this situation. “I will be your friend as long as there is potentially something in it for me.” That succinctly defines political alliances and realities, and it seems like an apt characterization of this case.
If you want to know who your real friends are, you’ll find out when they have nothing to gain from having you around. A certain subset of people will love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. That appears to be so with Ahithophel and also with his archetype Judas.
But we must also realize another truth. The disciples scattered in all directions when Jesus was arrested. The dreams they had associated with their version of the Messianic Kingdom were crushed. Instead of the spoils of victory from the defeat of their enemies, they were gazing into the maw of prosecution and possibly death. And so they fled.
But every one of the remaining eleven came back. Your friends might leave you in times of need, but in time through an act of grace they can be friends again.
Jesus, though denied and abandoned, went searching for those who had done the denying and abandoning. First he appeared to them in the upper room and encouraged them not to be afraid. The he appeared to them in a more forceful way, especially with Peter who had publicly denied him three times. Three times Jesus pointed his finger in Peter’s face and asked him to affirm his undying friendship, even if such affirmation would claim Peter’s life.
Your friends might leave you in your time of need, whether from weakness or lack of character. Still, never burn bridges and never build walls. People do change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pretty Good Egg (Sabbath Meditations)
My wife would tell you I have egg issues. In a nutshell (or should I say an eggshell?), when it comes to the preparation of scrambled eggs, I demand perfection. They have to be prepared just so: consistently yellow through and through, not too under-cooked, sliding around the plate, and not overdone, having the consistency of silly putty. Any of these are simply unacceptable. But perhaps the infraction that catapults an egg from my plate into the garbage faster than anything else is the discovery of one or, dare I say, more than one, egg shell pieces hidden among the folds of an otherwise perfectly prepared scrambled egg.
Okay, so it’s true. I have egg issues. That’s probably why my wife declared long ago, “If you want eggs for breakfast, you’re on your own.” I can’t say I blame her.
I had a strange thought the other morning as I was pushing the spatula around the frying pan, striving for that perfect egg. “Wow, I’m glad that God isn’t as hard on me as I am on my eggs. How thankful I am that when He discovers an eggshell in my character, and there are many, He doesn’t scrape me off the pan into the garbage.”
The fact is, if we are to believe scripture, He does just the opposite.
Did you know that scripture refers to you and me as Saints not 20, not 30, but 240 times? In contrast, of the 28 uses of the word “sinners” and 13 uses of the word “sinner” in the New Testament Scripture, only a few of them refer to people who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t see us the way we too often see ourselves. We are often so focused on our faults, on the pieces of eggshell that taint our character, that we forget to appreciate the new identify that He has given us despite our imperfections.
We perhaps have the Catholic church to thank for our skewed understanding of what it takes to be called a saint. They, unfortunately, turned sainthood into a right of passage, bequeathing that lofty title only to those they deemed worthy by having lived a magnificent life or having achieved a certain level of spiritual maturity. But that’s not how God sees it. No we’re not perfect. Of course we sin, and continue to sin. We continue to fall short throughout our Christian walk. But, in God’s eyes, being a saint is not about our character, it’s about embracing our identity.Our God wants you to see yourself as one of His saints.
In Ephesians 1 Paul writes, “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you.”
What does He want to give you … how does He want you to see yourself?
“… may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
Our God wants our eyes to to enlightened that we would know the power of His love toward us and the inheritance He has given to us as His Saints. You are Saint. That’s who you are. He wants you to believe that.
That isn’t to say that should adopt an “I have arrived” mentality. Scripture is very clear that we are to continue striving against sin. We are to grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This Christian walk is to be one of growing, of overcoming.
In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that you and I have pieces of eggshell floating around in our lives.
In Romans 7 Paul says of himself and all of us by extension, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.”
All of us are fit to be scraped off the plate into the trash. Against the measure of God’s law each of us are judged weak, sinful and worthy to be condemned.
In verse 24 he laments, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul could have stopped there. He could have become focused on the pieces of eggshell. He could have become bogged down mentally and spiritually on his unworthiness. But that’s not where He stayed. He quickly moved from there to where God wanted His focus, where He wants all of our focus to be, on his new identity in Christ.
He continues in verse 25:
“I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
and in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Satan would like nothing better than for us to feel that we are defined by our sin. He wants us to become discouraged by our imperfections, to become fixated on our unworthiness, to live as those who are in bondage to sin and worthy only of condemnation.
But what Paul understood and what we too must understand is that, though we
are sinners, it is not sin that defines us. It is not what you do that determines who you are; it is who you are that determines what you do.
If you think you are a no good bum you will probably live like a no good bum. If you see yourself as a child of God who is spiritually alive in Christ, you will begin to live accordingly.
When we sin, and we all will, rather than becoming discouraged and unlovable, we instead draw strength from our identity in Christ to keep on fighting. It’s a mindset that exclaims, how amazing it is that I who am helpless, I that am so sinful, am saved by His grace! How wondrous it is that He has made me, who am such a sinner, to be named among His Saints.
At risk of beating metaphor to death, when God looks at you, he doesn’t see all the broken pieces of eggshell floating around in your life. Through the lens of His grace, He sees a pretty good egg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redefining Royalty (Sabbath Meditations)
“For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5:9-10
One day, if you play your cards right; if you endure till the end, you’ll be wearing a crown, sporting a beautiful robe and eating on plates of gold set on fine linen. We’re talking some serious power here. Rubbing shoulders with the elite, the who’s who in the Kingdom of God. Won’t it be awesome!
If that’s that’s your mental picture of royalty, then you might be in for a bit of a shock when you learn what God really has in mind for those who will reign with Him.
In Matthew 20 the mother of two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, seemed to be under much the same delusion. She, desiring her sons get their share of the glory, came with them to Jesus to ask that they be granted to sit, one at Jesus right hand and one at Jesus left hand, in His Kingdom. Her image of what it means to rule seemed to be based on what she saw of the kings and rulers in the world around her. Sitting on thrones, issuing edicts, demanding servitude, wielding power. Jesus wastes no time here redefining for her what royalty really looks like.
In verse 22 He answers her, and her two sons, saying, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
They, James and John, said to Him, “We are able.”
So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”
Of course, they didn’t know, at that point, what drinking of Jesus’s cup entailed. It’s certain that, as they looked back on this event later, they rolled their eyes at their stupidity and ignorance. They really had no idea the sacrifice, the willingness to suffer for others, that being a ruler required.
Jesus goes on to spell it out for them and the other disciples.
Continuing in verse 24 we read, “And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Jesus is saying, “You want position, you want authority? You want to sit as a King at my right hand? Then put on the shackles and chains. Roll up your sleeves, get in the trenches, and be a servant, a slave to all.”
It’s a little surprising the disciples even went here, given Jesus’s oft criticism of the religious leaders of the day and their preoccupation with their own power, position and external displays of righteousness.
In Matthew 23 Jesus chides these religious leaders for, among other things, doing all of their work to be seen by men; putting too much emphasis on external appearances – the white garments, the broad phylacteries and other religious adornments; loving the best places at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues. He calls these leaders whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones. Pretty brutal assessment, wouldn’t you say?
Given Jesus’s disdain for the externally focused religion of these Scribes and Pharisees, I think it’s a safe bet that there will be nothing of the sort in His Kingdom. I don’t envision His kings and priests will spend a great deal of time sitting on thrones, polishing the jewels in their crowns or fluffing the trusses of their royal robes. Such pomp and circumstance couldn’t be further from Jesus’s definition of royalty.
Oh sure, we might don the occasional ceremonial garb. But based on what I read here, it’s hard to believe such occasions won’t be the exception rather than the norm. We’ll be getting or hands much too dirty for such finery.
To state it simply, Jesus wants those on His right hand and on His left who have his heart for service. He wants a heart that is willing to sit down and rub shoulders with publicans and sinners. He wants to rule with those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get busy weeping with those who weep, mourning with those who mourn, healing the broken-hearted, visiting those who are in prison, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked – you get the idea.
He wants, by His side, those who think like He thinks; those who reject the culture of this world that places much too high a value on the outward appearance, on status, on being somebody. He wants, at His side, those who understand what true holiness, pure religion, looks like; “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” 
James 1:27
Want to reign with Christ? Get your mind off the external and start building a heart for people. That’s the stuff of true royalty.

A Matter of Perspective (Morning Companion)
Alexander Solzihenitsyn’s fictional One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich chronicles just one day in the life of an inmate of a Siberian Gulag. At the end of the day, as the central character prepares for his rest, he reflects on all the day had brought.
Shukhov went to sleep fully content. He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’d swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’d smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d got over it.
A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.”

Curious, is it not, how one’s perspective of a good day is shaped by one’s expectations. My expectations of a good day are vastly different from those of Shukov’s, for they are shaped by my being accustomed to comforts and blessings.
A man named Paul once sat in a Roman prison and wrote a remarkable letter. In spite of his circumstances, and in spite of a possible death sentence, Paul’s message to the Philippians was one of rejoicing.
With joy in my prayer for you all,” he said (1:4). “Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice” (1:18). “Make my joy complete” (2:2). “I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (2:17-18). “Rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice” (4:4).
Again and again Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice. What kind of man was this whose life was full of joy in spite of circumstances? Paul’s mind was focused on things eternal rather than temporal, and it gave him great cause for joy, for we are robbed of joy by the loss of hope.
Most of us are not to the place where we could rejoice in a prison cell. Rejoicing can be hard in the best of circumstances. But Paul had learned a secret. “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” (4:11-12)
And that secret is this: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (v.13)
Take all your worries and put them in a box. And put that box on the altar of God. Jesus once said to take his yoke upon us, and the picture of that is a profound one. A yoke was placed on two oxen and not one. As we take on the yoke of Jesus, he will be next to us as our yoke fellow, bearing the burden with us. And that gives us cause to rejoice.

Rusty Treasures (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 10:2 [CSB] Ill-gotten gains do not profit anyone, but righteousness rescues from death.
In my humble opinion, Solomon’s “wisdom” here is completely out of synch with society today. Perhaps his world worked differently than our modern one. Probably, he could not foresee the kind of world we live in now – one where it is more difficult to get ahead by honest gains and where ill-gotten gains (or “treasures of wickedness” as it is translated in the King James Version) seem to, in fact, be the best way to achieve money, fame and success.
We live in a world that rewards the kind of bad behavior that many reality shows produce with money and fame. We live in a world where we just accept that all or nearly all of the most powerful politicians are corrupt and not trustworthy. We live in a world where we just expect that major corporations are run on the greed of the leaders who choose profit over people and cut corners to line their own pockets.
In this world, ill-gotten gains often seem to be the fastest way to profits of all kinds.
Even though Solomon was the richest man in history at that time, he was known for his wisdom and the book of Proverbs is a repository of much of that wisdom, written down for those of us who can benefit from it later. So, maybe we just need a deeper look into his statements.
We can go to the New Testament and the words of Jesus for support of Solomon’s words and for expansion on the principle that ill-gotten gains don’t profit.
Matthew 6:19-21 [NIV] Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus warns us that, at best, treasures on earth profit only for a short time. He also warns that treasures gained in this life can be lost easily and long before we are finished enjoying them. Homes get destroyed by fire, tornados and floods. Nice things can be stolen. A nice wool sweater, considered a classic and a wardrobe investment for work, can be chewed up by a mouse momma to make a nice warm nest for her children. I know. Something similar happened to me.
But even if a person is “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” and manages to keep it all and even grow his wealth, death ends on all that. This is part of the warning from Jesus outlined in the parable found in
Luke 12:16-34. I’ll just quote part of it here:
Luke 12:16-21 [NIV] And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.
In modern times, we have a saying that is probably based on this scripture: “You can’t take it with you.” When my life ends on this earth, so does my enjoyment of and benefits from the nice physical things I have accumulated.
God does not forbid us to be rich or to have nice things. He only asks that these things not be our priorities or goals in this life.
He also wants us to understand that the good things we do – these things do last forever. This is the message of the parable of the sheep and goats: what they gave away (not what they collected) on this earth created their eternal riches and rewards – rewards that could not be touched by the risks inherent in earthly treasure. [See
Matthew 25]
So, maybe Solomon knew what he was talking about after all.
My wish for each of you is that you become ever richer in the things that last eternity. Let’s commit to the goal of becoming “spiritual billionaires” – with so much treasure in heaven that we need to build bigger barns to store it until we have the chance to spend it for all eternity.

You might be a lukewarm Christian if… (Sabbath Meditations)
…you wear nicer clothes to work than you do to church.
…you have more notes on your refrigerator than you do in your Bible.
…you think redemption is something you do with a winning lottery ticket.
…all but a few of the pages of your Bible are still stuck together.
…you skip church because of a headache but go to work with the flu.
…not only do you not know where to find Habakuk, you didn’t even know it existed.
…the most profound words you’ve read all week came from the inside of a fortune cookie.
…you think Communion is something you do with nature.
…the church welcome committee reintroduces themselves to you whenever you go to church.
…you wear your golf clothes to church on warm summer days.
…you know how many tiles are on the church ceiling.
…you’re jealous of the kid who is napping on the floor one aisle in front of you.
…your attendance at church can be tracked by the local weather forecast.
…you get your best sleep on your knees.
…the closest you’ve been to sharing your faith was saying “bless you” when someone sneezed.
…you think the Patriarchs are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
…when the minister asks the congregation to turn to the “love chapter” you turn to the Song of Solomon.
…you believe the Proverbs were written by someone named Confucius.
…you give more money to the parking meter at work than you put in the church offering.
…you wish your children were still babies so you’d have an excuse to get up and leave during the message.
…your children
are babies and you purposely provoke them to cry so you can get up and leave during the message.
…“Amen” to you is translated “Thank God it’s over!”

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold,
I will vomit you out of my mouth.
Revelation 3:16

Four Attributes of a Healthy Church (Morning Companion)
In my hometown is a place
 I suppose everyone has heard of. It’s called Niagara Falls. Those of us who are from there are familiar with the geological history of the Falls, how Lake Ontario receded from its original shores leaving an escarpment over which the waters from the other Great Lakes would cascade.
Over time
 – over long periods of time – that Falls eroded its way upstream and is now situated a few miles south of its original position.
The process of erosion is still going on today. But if you were to visit Niagara Falls year after year, you probably wouldn’t notice it. It happens slowly and, except for an occasional rock slide, you might not notice any change at all even over a period of decades. But the Falls is eroding daily, little bit by little bit.
Erosion is like that. It happens slowly, imperceptively, but it happens.
The same is true with our spiritual lives, and the same is true in the life cycle of a church congregation.
In the book,
The Church Awakening, author and pastor Charles Swindoll observes that the church in the early portions of the Book of Acts was spirit filled, a growing and dynamic group of dedicated Christians. But later, as the decades wore on, the church’s spiritual strength eroded and waned, and we see an entirely different dynamic at work, much of which we can deduce from Pauls late-in-life letters (such as 2 Timothy).
Swindoll tells us that the early church employed four prerequisites that form the foundation for healthy congregations. Derived from Acts 2:32-43, those prerequisites are:
1. The apostle’s teaching
2. Fellowship
3. “Breaking of Bread”
4. Prayer
Pastor Swindoll asserts that healthy churches can certainly have more than these four elements, including excellent music, community outreach, and efficient administration. But without these four foundational elements, the music service becomes mere entertainment, community service can become social justice politics, and efficient church administration becomes a business venture.
Looking at these four prerequisites, how is your church doing?
Do you leave church services with a better understanding of the Word of God and a greater connection with your Creator and Savior? Or do you go home with a plate full of the same old pablum rehashed in the same way week after week? Or worse, are the messages turning to fables and abandoning sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Are the sermons solid teaching from of the Word?
How is your church doing with this?
Are your closest friends in the world members of your fellowship? Do you go home thankful for your fellow congregants? Do you feel a connection with them born of the Holy Spirit? By the same token, do your fellow congregants go home thankful for you? Do they feel connected with you?
Do you feel free to be transparent with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
If not, is it because you are hiding behind a mask, or is it them not being able to keep your confidences? Neither situation is good.
How are you and your fellow congregants doing with this?
And then there is the “breaking of bread”. Swindoll, as do many others, relates this to the taking of the Lord
s Supper, but given the context of Acts 2 (“breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart”), it would appear this means something beyond a simple sharing of bread and wine to commemorate the sacrifice of Christ. This seems to be an act of hospitality and celebration.
Do you celebrate each others
joys? Do you toast the blessing that God showers on your brothers and sisters, and do it in a public way? If you have a prayer and share time in your congregation, how many prayer requests are for alleviation of trials and how many are praises to God for blessings?
Do we rejoice when a fellow believer rejoices, and do we mourn when they mourn?
How does your church measure up against this?
And finally there is prayer.
Do you pray fervently and without ceasing for each other or is it a “one and done” kind of thing? Do you pray together with your brothers and sisters even when not in a church environment. In the church during the early chapters in Acts, they seemed to be constantly praying, and praying as a group. Look at these examples.
In Acts 4:23-31 they prayed for boldness to speak the word and that miracles would be a sign to the world that God was with them.
In Acts 6:6 they prayed that God would guide their decisions.
In Acts 12:5 they prayed that Peter would be released from prison.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
So how are you and your church doing? Has your spiritual health eroded? 

Toning Down Our Bah-Humbug Meter (Sabbath Meditations)
“Tis the season to be jolly…fa, la, la, la, la, la – la, la…blaahhh.”
Not all of us are feeling all that jolly at this time of year, are we? Frankly many of us who hold strong convictions about being true to what God’s Word teaches find much in this season about which to be downright cynical.
The empty hype, the commercialism, the rituals and timing of the season adopted so blatantly and obviously from ancient pagan rituals; all of it has many of us muttering a collective “bah-humbug”.
It’s very easy this time of year to wear our cynicism on our sleeve and to feel, well, somewhat smug in our spiritual correctness, isn’t it? Could it be that, while sulking in our cynical smugness, we actually miss opportunities to witness the true gospel of Jesus Christ?
“Now wait just a minute! You’re not suggesting that we start erecting Christmas trees in our living rooms or singing Christmas carols around the neighborhood are you?!”
Absolutely not. In Jeremiah 10 God commands us to “learn not the way of the heathen.” God hates the worship of pagan idols. God detests all things pagan, and we should as well. So, you’re not about to see a tree in my window or a glowing plastic Santa anywhere on my property.
But, having said that, there is a way of approaching this season that, while not compromising our conviction against participating in its pagan practices, allows us to use the core intent of the season to advance the truth of the gospel.
In Acts 17:22-23 is the recounting of Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill.
“Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus…”
Here he was, standing among carved idols in the midst of a city wholly given over to pagan worship. Now, Paul had some choices didn’t he? I’m sure that as he stood there next to that pagan idol, his bah-humbug meter was off the charts. He could have easily let his disgust for all that is pagan take over.
Instead, he chose to take a decidedly different approach.
“…and [Paul] said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you’.”
Rather than launch into a full frontal assault on the evils of idolatry, Paul made a conscious decision to focus on what he was for, rather than on what he was against. He toned down his bah-humbug meter and used the opportunity the moment presented to witness to the Gospel.
His example is instructive for you and me.
In Luke 2:10 we read, Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
If you’re like me, when you read this passage, especially during this season, your “bah-humbug” meter elevates a little. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s … uh … in the Bible, it might be tempting to reject it outright as just more Protestant Christmas drivel. But it really is a very meaningful, powerful passage. And, if we choose to tone down our “bah-humbug” meters just a little, we might even see our way to actually use this passage as our own Mars Hill moment. How?
Most Christians during this season focus on the baby in the manger, don’t they? They read passages like this one see only the “there is born to you this day … a Savior” part, while overlooking or downplaying the meaning of the powerful words that follow which declare Him as “Jesus Christ the Lord.”
And really, that is much of the problem with modern Christianity’s approach to the gospel. Focusing only on the loving, merciful, accepting and forgiving aspect of the gospel but failing to acknowledge Him as Lord of their lives. For many of our Christian brothers and sisters, the concepts of obedience, striving to overcome our sinful natures, preparing for His second coming as Lord of Lords and King of Kings is just not part of the lexicon of this season, let alone the rest of the year for that matter.
And therein lies our greatest opportunity for sharing the gospel. In that omission lies our Mars Hill moment.
Who knows if, rather than turning others off by our sour demeanor and cynical attitude, we might be used as tools in God’s hands this season to bring tidings of even greater joy to someone whose eyes God might be opening to understand His plan as revealed in the full Gospel.
It’s possible, but only if we make the conscious decision to take advantage of the Mars Hill moments this season might provide. Only if we determine to, ever so slightly, tone down our bah-humbug meter.

From Alpha … to Omega (New Horizons)
A good supper, a talk, a group discussion and a ‘Holy Spirit week-end’ – that’s the popular format for the Christian outreach craze that swept Britain and is spreading worldwide. It is a
‘relaxed and non-threatening’ introduction to the Christian faith and, according to a British TV series, was a success in ‘changing lives’. The Alpha course has been fulsomely praised by such luminaries as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the former Roman Catholic Archbishop Basil Hume and church leaders from across the Christian spectrum.
The course is running in 7000 United Kingdom locations and in thousands more worldwide. There was a million pound bill-board campaign to advertise
Alpha in the United Kingdom, and wide media exposure. In its London-based ‘home church’ (the Anglican Holy Trinity Brompton – HTB) up to one thousand young – the average age of participants is twenty-five – and old and from every walk of life enroll for each eleven-week course. Many have little past exposure to Christianity. In view of the decline of religion in Britain (fewer than 10% visit church), its undoubted success is a surprise.
Participants are exposed to the basics of the Christian faith, with such topics as
Who Is Jesus?, Prayer, Healing, the Church. Each talk is followed by opportunity for small groups of a dozen or so – one-third of whom are ‘veterans’ of the course – to discuss the current topic, individuals openly expressing opinions and doubts.
The format, developed over twenty plus years, has proven to be a huge success. The
Alpha News features accounts of individuals who have ‘found God’ or had their dying faith invigorated.
Understandably, Alpha has its critics. Some evangelicals are concerned about the ‘loose theology’. In contrast it has been castigated for ‘too high a view of the Bible’! Others are worried that Roman Catholicism is broadly accepted as a legitimate expression of the Gospel. Indeed the course has been sponsored in Catholic churches and run by the local priest – often in co-operation with Protestants and to the chagrin of some evangelicals.
Also criticized is the strong charismatic flavour of the course, especially in its ‘Holy Spirit week-end’. The HTB has long been associated with the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and was the focus of media attention when congregants were falling down, quaking, barking like dogs, tongue speaking, laughing uncontrollably in the aisles
etc – supposedly manifestations of the Holy Spirit. ‘Converts’ from each Alpha course are directed to ‘the church of their choice’. Of concern to many is that no distinction is made as to that church’s theology.
Undoubtedly,
Alpha is raising the religious consciousness of many who never gave much thought to religion. Jesus Christ is being talked about without embarrassment in offices and banks and building sites – and in churches! Legitimate questions, however, must be asked.
A gentle easing into faith might be one acceptable approach to proclaiming the Gospel message. Yet the Christian faith is extremely demanding. Jesus requires total allegiance to himself and to the revealed will of God – even unto death. He said his message would
divide!
It can, too, be legitimately asked if the person and message of Jesus is, in Alpha, accurately presented. We ought to ask with the crowd on the first Christian Pentecost, What must we do to be saved? The answer of the truly Spirit-filled apostle Peter:
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’.
Repentance –
change – isn’t an easy option. It certainly involves acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin. Sin – that’s not often defined. According to John, the ‘apostle of love’, it is ‘transgression of the Law [of God]’ (I John 3:4). He adds, ‘This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments’.
Now that’s hard. For any who would be a disciple of Jesus it means, for example, marriage – and not cohabitation or ‘free’ sex or a same-sex relationship. It means faithfulness within marriage. It means an end to the idolatry of consumerism and to tax dodging. It means that there is one God who has revealed one weekly day to worship Him – and that’s
not Sunday. It means that a Christian abandons the pagan holidays of Christmas and Easter and saints days and the mass – and observes God’s festivals (Leviticus 23).
This is the message the first enquirers about Jesus heard and were expected to embrace.
Salvation, of course, can’t be earned by any degree of commandment keeping. We are reconciled to a holy God only through His love and mercy and grace. But, as the apostle Paul wrote: ‘
Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!’ The ‘Holy Spirit’ – the focus of Alpha – will be given you only if you are in submission to God and His commandments (Acts 5:32).
True Christianity is not a soft option that ignores tough fundamental Bible teaching, as does the
Alpha course. It is not a devalued ‘all for nothing’ faith. Embark on an Alpha course and you might perhaps – hear a basic introduction to Christianity. But the end – the “Alpha and the Omega” – requires the total dedication to God of every aspect of your life – and for the remainder of your life.
If you have ‘graduated’ from an
Alpha course, it’s time to take stock. Open your Bible. Check out with the Scriptures what you were taught there. You may now claim Jesus as your Lord – but that is not enough. He said: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven”. And to your religious teachers: “In vain [uselessly] do you worship, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”. Have you just learned ‘the commandments of men’ – human tradition? Or what Jesus said?
Another Bible author, Jude, urged his readers to ‘…
contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’. Any subsequent teaching that conflicts with Scripture – which defines and records that faith for us – is mere human tradition. Like Sunday worship. Or Christmas and Easter and All Saints Day. Or the universal but pagan ‘immortal soul’ concept. Or going to heaven when you die – or to hell.
If an encounter with Jesus through the Scriptures in an
Alpha course has ‘changed your life’ – that’s great! That’s what Christianity is about. Now you need to move on.
Study the Scriptures with an open mind. And
do what the Scriptures teach.

Some Say Love, Actually (New Church Lady)
In the song “The Rose”, part of her album of the same title, Bette Midler offers some ideas about what “some” say about love. “Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed. Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need.” Not a pretty picture. I don’t know who these “some” are, but, clearly, they have been hurt by “love.” I say, that river, that razor, that hunger – that isn’t love. I believe the Word of God backs me up on this.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives it to us straight about what love is and what it isn’t:
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. [NLT]
Those who don’t understand God’s definition of love might think that love doesn’t apply in certain situations – that maybe you need something, some action or positioning that is often seen as opposed to love, like strength or self-preservation – especially when you’ve been attacked by gossip, when a friend has been untrue, when you are arguing or being persecuted. When we understand God’s definition of love, and His requirement that we evidence a total commitment to it, we realize that love is stronger than any other thing in the world. Love strengthened Jesus through a horrible beating and an ignominious crucifixion, and enabled Him to accept it all with lamb-like quietness and offer inhuman forgiveness (meaning the kind of forgiveness that no human is capable of without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit).
Love is not a weak emotion. It is the strength of godly action when every fiber of your being and everyone in your circle of friends and everything coming at you in the given movement screams otherwise. In my experience, it is certainly tougher to let go of wrong than to hold onto it. It is more difficult to bite my tongue than to spit out a rude, crushing (but “brilliant”) retort. For love to work, it has to be stronger than human nature, Satan’s temptations and the world’s way of thinking.
John 13:35 [NLT] Jesus says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
And, lest we forget, it isn’t just love for our fellow believers that is required. Jesus also tells us: 27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you”. … 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” (Luke 6:27, 35 [NLT])
Only when we show love are we acting like the children of God. Not if I give away all my money, or can quote the Bible end-to-end, or prophesy with perfect accuracy, or speak the language that only angels know. (See
1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Perhaps Midler’s point was that offering love to others means offering the kind of vulnerability that results in the giver of love being cut or drowned or in need. In that, she has a point. Showing perfect, godly love to others may result in me experiencing some of the things Midler warns about in her song. When I reach out with love, when I respond with love, I may get run over, hurt, rejected or ridiculed by those who don’t always offer love back or respond with love to all situations. Our Messiah certainly experienced exactly that. I should not expect that I will be spared from experiencing the same. In spite of the fact that we might not receive love back and, in fact, might face some very negative and ugly responses, God calls us to show love. He gives us no “out” on this – no exceptions to the rule.

bible-999132_1920.jpg

According to the song, Midler has a better view of love than “some” do. She croons: “I say love, it is a flower and you its only seed.” Love is exactly what God asks His children to be planting in the world. When it comes to fighting human nature in and around us; when it comes to fighting Satan’s world, we are to be planting the seed of love. The weapon we use in warfare is love. No matter what situation we face, the answer is love. Always.
In every situation – when we are attacked, when we are fearful, when we are arguing, when we are in pain, when there is joy and prosperity, when there is sorrow and disappointment – God says, “love,” actually.

 

Relationship vs. Reward (Sabbath Meditations)
On 17th December 1903, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.
The Wright brothers weren’t alone in their quest to conquer the air. Their main source of competition was from a man named Dr. Samuel Langley. Langley was the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and, therefore, had many more resources available to him than had the Wright Brothers. He also had a $50,000 grant with which to develop his flying machine.
In terms of resources, Wilbur and Orville could not compete. Both high school drop-outs, they had no association, no $50,000 grant, no connections, nothing. What little resources they did have came from earnings from their small bicycle repair and sales shop.
But what Orville and Wilbur lacked in resources they made up for in passion. Of their passion for pursuing their dream of flight Orville is quoted as saying, “We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.” That passion drove them to undertake endless days and nights of methodical research, countless hours of rigorous testing, punctuated by failed attempts and disappointments too numerous to number.
It’s said that when the brothers took to the fields to test out the latest iteration of their flying machine, it became their practice to take along a replacement for every part on the machine, assuming mishaps and failures to be inevitable. Their passion for the idea of flight allowed them to rise above any obstacle, any set-back they might experience.
In contrast, their chief competitor, Dr. Langley, it seems, was motivated primarily by the glory he anticipated receiving for being first to achieve flight. It’s telling that, after the Wright Brothers ultimately achieved success that day in mid December, Dr. Langley, rather than building upon what had been accomplished, simply walked away. Once there was no prospect of personal reward and glory, there remained, for him, no motivation to continue.
In so many areas of life, the thing that sets ultimate success apart from failure is passion. This principle is nowhere more true than in our Christian walk.
You’d be hard pressed to find any greater example of passion for God and His ways than David. Called as a ruddy shepherd boy, it certainly wasn’t his physical qualities or resources that would cause anyone to deem him worthy of being chosen a future king of Israel. But David had something that made up for all he lacked.
In Psalm 27:4 David writes “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”
I find what David doesn’t say here more instructive than what he does say. We don’t read here of his desire to seek the Lord “…that I may be crowned a King and a Priest and rule in Your Kingdom,” or, “…that I may be clothed with immortality and power.” He just doesn’t seem to be wrapped up in the glory that he ultimately will receive as a child of God.
Where was his primary focus? “To dwell with the Lord…to gaze at the beauty of the Lord…and to seek Him in His temple.” In short, what motivated David was his passion for walking, now and forever, in close, intimate relationship with His Savior.
Can you and I say the same? Is the thing that primarily motivates us to walk this walk our expectation for the promised reward, the hope of glory and immortality to come, or, is it our passion for this relationship we have been given?
Let me ask it a different way.
If there were no hope of eternal reward and glory, would your love for the Lord and the way He has taught be enough to sustain you in this path? Do you consider the gift of your relationship with Him so precious that you would seek Him and His ways regardless of the reward?
It goes without saying that the promised reward we have waiting at the end of this path should give us hope. Even David yearned for that time when he said, “…you will not allow my body to see decay…You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.”
– Psalm 16:10-11.
Even when looking ahead to that future reward, however, David focused not on the crown and the glory he would receive but on “being filled with joy in Your presence.” His primary hope for the future was in a continuation of the relationship he was experiencing with his Lord in the present. It was his passion for that relationship that sustained him through all the failures, the set-backs and disappointments of life.
For Orville and Wilbur, being the first to achieve flight, getting the rewards, the accolades, the glory, although surely meaningful, were really just icing on the cake. Their true joy and fulfillment came from their love and passion for flying. Their success simply meant that they would continue to pursue that passion for the rest of their lives.
One day you and I will, by the grace of God, be among the first to take flight; albeit flight of an entirely different nature than Orville and Wilbur ever contemplated. As the firstfruits of His Harvest, we will someday rise to meet our Lord in the air at His return.
Yes, there will be thrones and dominions to be had. Yes, immortality and power will be our reward, but the real joy, the ultimate reward, will not be the crown, but the continuation of our relationship with our Lord, to “seek Him in His temple” for all eternity.

I’m Like a Tube of Toothpaste (Morning Companion)
Of the twelve apostles the one that the New Testament portrays with the greatest detail is Peter. He has been called the Chief Apostle, the spokesman for the apostles, and some proclaim him as the first Pope.
But I don’t think, until now, anyone has ever portrayed him as a tube of toothpaste. That statement is not meant as an insult, because we all share that distinction.
Peter was a brash young man when Jesus called him to be an apostle, and his three and a half years of training during Jesus’s ministry did nothing to cure that, at least until just before the crucifixion.
Peter liked to do things his own way, even having the audacity to to rebuke Jesus for saying something that Peter didn’t like, if you can imagine anyone doing that (Mark 8:30-33).
When the garrison came to arrest Jesus, it was Peter who drew his sword and attempted to begin a violent revolution.
He even pledged that he would never deny Jesus no matter what anybody else did (Matthew 26:31-35).
But when the real pressure was on, Peter showed what was in his tube of toothpaste. Just like me, and probably just like you.
Let me explain. Recently my family and I have been under a lot of stress due to a major life change. Just so you’ll know, this is a major change but not unusual and definitely not life or health threatening. But it’s stressful nonetheless. Under times of stress I discover that I have a vocabulary that is different than under normal circumstances. I seem to be acquainted with hundreds of words that I didn’t even know existed, most of which have four letters. And worst of all, those words seem to fit the attitudes born of the current circumstances.
So I’m like a tube of toothpaste. When squeezed, what’s really inside comes out. And once it’s out, it’s there for everyone to see. Worse, I can’t get it back into the tube. And what comes out of that tube — at least in my case — isn’t very pretty.
And it wasn’t very pretty in Peter’s case either.
In spite of his protestations of unbreakable loyalty, Peter did exactly what Jesus told him he would do, and then he magnified it. Not only did he deny Jesus three times, he “began to curse and to swear, saying, I do not know the man!” (Matthew 26:74)
When he was squeezed, what was really inside came out, and it’s right there on the pages for everyone to read. But we also see something else about Peter. When he remembered Jesus’s words, “he went out and wept bitterly.”
Peter, maybe for the first time, saw what was inside himself and realized that his arrogance was standing in the way of his faith. His insistence on wanting to do things his own way was blocking God’s intent for his life. “He went out and wept bitterly.” A few weeks later, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he exhibited the type of surrendered faith that can only come from a man fully repentant. When squeezed, a confident, bold faith emerged even under the threat of persecution and death (Acts 3 & 4).
That’s what I mean when I say we are like tubes of toothpaste. When squeezed, what’s inside comes out. What comes out of your tube when you are squeezed?

What Not To Wear (New Church Lady)
GettyImages-155128730.jpg

I used to occasionally watch a show called “What Not to Wear,” which took people (nominated by their friends) who had a terrible sense of style (or none at all) and helped them gain a better sense of how to pick clothes that were right for them. The style team explained why the person’s choices on attire were inappropriate or even ugly and, then, taught them how to pick clothes more appropriate for their age, figure and job. Then they gave them $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe and sent them shopping in New York City!
Let’s face it, without God, most humans put on the wrong behavioral attire every day.
Galatians 5:19-21 [ESV] spells it out pretty clearly: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Led by human nature, the flesh, we will more likely default to greed, hate, pride or selfishness as a covering. We might be known for a style of gossip and back-biting or perhaps holding a grudge. These are definitely things that are the Christian equivalent of “what not to wear.”
If you are wondering what to wear, no worries, God, acts as our stylist in
Colossians 3:12-14 [MSG] “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive and offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s our basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
I like the way the MSG version puts it, saying “dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” If we ever wonder what to wear, it is outlined clearly for us in this passage. No need to struggle with a sense of style, since God has already picked out our garments.
There is a minimalist movement suggesting that we create a signature, basic outfit and wear it every day – a basic, all-purpose outfit that is appropriate to whatever job you have. Maybe for my job I could wear a white shirt and black pants every day. It doesn’t have to be the same white shirt and black pants.
In fact, the theory is that the smartest, most innovative and successful people do this. Steve Jobs is perhaps the most famous for this style type, with his iconic blue jeans and black turtle neck. You can read this article from Forbes for details on how, while not making you smarter, more successful or innovative, wearing the same thing every day frees you to focus on becoming smarter, more innovative and more successful – as well as spending more time with family and less time washing clothes:
I think of the final two sentences of Colossians 3:12-14 as the same type of wardrobe advice: And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s our basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Love should be our go-to outfit. It should be the staple of the Christian wardrobe. Everything else that we are advised to wear is just really accessorizing love.
Perhaps, like me, in order to save time in the morning, you lay out your clothes for the next day the evening before. God does that for us. When we put on love each day, as God advises us, we naturally also wear compassion, kindness and humility.
I don’t know about you, but, if I wait until the morning to pick out my clothes I am likely to find something needs ironing or has a spot on it I didn’t realize or doesn’t fit like it used to, or isn’t right for the weather. Then, I end up spending time either fixing something or picking out a new outfit – time that takes me away from more important morning activities like prayer and study or exercise.
It is the same this with putting on love, kindness, compassion and humility each day. We have to be deliberate about selecting these garments. We have to plan for it by spending time with God, by asking for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and by making the conscious choice to put on what God has picked out for us.
If we don’t make that commitment and deliberately choose our God-selected attire, we might find ourselves falling back into the ill-fitting, out-of-style garments of our old human nature. The old clothing of human nature, outlined in Galatians 9, is no more appropriate for a Christian than wearing a swim suit to a formal dinner on a snowy day.
God’s sense of spiritual style is the only one that matters. Love is always in style. For a Christian, love always fits perfectly. Love is always what to wear.

Avoiding Spiritual Big Baby Syndrome (Sabbath Meditations)
Several years ago I underwent major surgery to repair a full thickness tear to a portion of the rotator cuff in my left shoulder. Eight weeks out of surgery, other than opening and closing my hand, my left arm was pretty much useless. I’d been told to expect anywhere from six to twelve months of therapy to regain full mobility and strength in my shoulder. Little did I know just how excruciatingly painful and frustrating that process would be.
Now I’d like to think that I’m a pretty tough guy, but Dr. Karla, my incredibly demanding, yet amazingly patient physical therapist, would tell you that, when it comes to therapy on my arm, I might as well put on a pair of diapers, curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb. The excruciating physical and mental pain involved in getting this arm moving again pretty much turned me into a cry baby.
An interesting thought occurred to me one day, after leaving one of Dr. Karla’s torture sessions. My determination and commitment to going through this process, enduring this agonizing pain was motivated by a desire to get back something I had lost, something that is dear to me. I was sacrificing a lot to get it back: my time, my energy, my comfort. An immense amount of my life’s focus in these months had been on doing whatever it took to get this arm moving again. But the sacrifice, the focus, was worth it because not to do so would mean never having the use of my arm again.

But what if I had never known the full use of my arm? What if I’d never known all of the amazing potential this part of my body had? Would I be as focused, would I be as willing to endure hardship so that someday I could use it to its full potential?
In Hebrews 11 we read, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God … These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Assured. There’s powerful meaning wrapped up in that word.
Why was Abraham willing to give up everything, leaving the comfort and safety of Haran to wander around in a hostile, foreign land? What possessed him?
He was assured.
The promises God had given him were so real to him, so vivid, it’s as if, in his heart and his mind, he had already experienced them. He was so completely assured of what lay ahead that there was no sacrifice or hardship great enough to keep him from moving toward that sure vision.
In Romans 8:18-25 Paul writes of that vision, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
How real is that future hope within me? How strong is my faith in that vision? Do I eagerly yearn and groan for it? Am I so assured in my heart and mind of that vision that the thought of giving up, being content with just this existence, apart from God, is unthinkable? Or, do I sometimes lose heart? Do I sometimes feel like giving up and assuming the fetal position?
In II Corinthians 4:16-18 we read, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Big baby that I am when it comes to physical pain, I was not about to stop going to my twice weekly torture sessions with Dr. Karla. Regaining the use of just one body part kept me committed to the process, willing to do whatever it takes.
One day we’ll exchange these frail, perishing physical bodies for perfect, immortal ones that will never grow weak, never fail or be in need of repair. Yes, there will be some pain getting there. Yes, there will be some affliction to be endured. But don’t lose heart. Be assured, these hardships we endure are working in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Let that vision give us power to persevere through the pain. Let it help us resist the fetal position and keep us committed to the process – whatever it takes.

Competence and Practice (The Word and The Way)
A good friend is helping us add a room to our basement. OK, he’s actually doing it and we’re helping him. He’s very experienced in the trades and can overcome challenges that would cause me to hire a contractor in minutes. The room is being built with metal framing instead of wood. Just the way he knows how to trim/cut the pieces to fit made no sense to me until I saw him do it. I was totally confused.

My friend’s competence didn’t start out as competence. He had to learn and begin to apply the knowledge shown to him. He had to be motivated and possess the work ethic to better himself, mastering one task after another, until you see the mature professional he is today. As I am sure you’ve guessed, there’s a scriptural parallel to this:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matt 7:22-24
Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. Most of us were brought up on lawlessness, or at least following a false law. We were taught that it didn’t matter what we ate, that we needed to go to church on Sunday, that Christmas and Easter were the highest days of the year, and a host of other doctrines of men. In fact, we
practiced lawlessness. It was a way of life. Our time was marked off by pagan holidays and the pleasures of the world. At some point, though, we met someone who lived differently or we read something that didn’t compute. At some point, we came into contact with people who had actually acted on the words of scripture.
Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the LORD, Or can show forth all His praise? How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!” Psalm 106:1-3
Now that I have spent some time practicing the righteousness of the Law, it comes naturally, just like watching my friend construct a wall. He has done it so much and for so long, that it is second nature. He is experienced at it because he
practices it! This is how one gets experienced following the ways of God, by practicing them!
And I also now have an idea of how to put up a metal framed interior wall.

Before and After Pictures (Morning Companion)
Our visitor from abroad, because of her love of books, wanted to see my library. While looking at my titles she also noticed a few photographs of my father in his World War II vintage US Army uniform. One was of a shiny-faced recruit. The other was taken near the end of the war.
She, being from a war-torn land, immediately noticed what I wanted her to notice about the two photographs.

Before

After

She noticed the eyes, almost as if she had seen such a thing before. Do you see it?
Those of us who have never seen the horrors of war can’t understand the toll it takes on those who witness things that should never be witnessed. It affects who they are as parents, spouses, citizens, and human beings. It explains disorders, neuroses and pathologies, that loved ones often cannot make sense of. Even the victors are changed, and usually not for the better. It should make us long for the time foretold by Isaiah:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. 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. He shall judge between the nation and rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:2-4 NKJV)
May God speed that day.

An Enemy to be Feared (Sabbath Meditations)
My best friend from my college days has died after battling cancer for a number of years. He and I were the same age, he only a few months older. Of the two of us, he was the more athletic, the more energetic, the more full of life. People like him aren’t supposed to get sick … aren’t supposed to die early. Yet he did, and he has. Death doesn’t discriminate.
It’s hard to wrap my mind around the thoughts my friend must have had in the last weeks of his life; the fear he must have experienced, the uncertainly of how long he had left and finally the resignation and realization that his battle was ending. He was a Christian, with a hope, an assurance, of a life hereafter. I know it gave Him comfort.
Death is a difficult concept to grasp for most of us. It’s hard to imagine not being here, existing, breathing. It’s hard to imagine no consciousness, no being. God tells us in His word that He has put eternity in our hearts. Maybe that’s why the concept of death is so hard for us to fathom. It’s not a natural state for us. It’s foreign to the purpose for which we have been created. Our natural state is to be alive, to be eternal. That, God’s word teaches us, is our destiny.
Well meaning Christians tell us we shouldn’t fear death. I think they are wrong. Death is to be feared. Death is darkness, death is separation from all that we know, both physical and spiritual. There’s nothing positive about death. I think perhaps the most dreaded words uttered by God in the entire Bible were when He said to Adam and Eve, “… you shall surely die.” Of course, it’s possible our ancient parents didn’t understand the meaning of it as do we, their children. They had not as yet experienced the death of someone they loved, someone they cared about. They weren’t yet fully aware of their own vulnerability. Had they fully understood it, perhaps they may have thought twice before sinking their teeth into that piece of fruit, no matter how tempting.
The Bible says that a day will come when the earth will give up its’ dead. Death itself will be thrown in the lake of fire. We’re told it’s the final enemy that will be destroyed when our Savior returns. Just think of it; no more suffering, no more fear, no more uncertainty, no more mourning, no more tragic endings.
I’d like to be there when it is finally put down, as it gasps its’ last breath. It deserves all it gets. It’s taken some good people in its’ time. A few of them, like my friend, whom I knew and loved. I’m looking forward to getting them, and him, back. I take joy in knowing its’ days are numbered.

Into All The World (New Horizons)
God’s church is commissioned to take the message of salvation ‘into all the world’. To every nation … but to every person? What an immense task.
In our age there are near enough two hundred nations and eight billion souls out there, with but a relative handful of true activists to fulfil the Great Commission. To judge by numbers, we are failing to reach a significant portion.
That may not be surprising when we contemplate the committee building, navel-gazing of the churches! Conference follows conference. Days consumed by ‘planning’. Endless tortuous discussion, with the same issues arising year after year on the minutiae of doctrine and administrative detail. No surprise, then, that ‘the work’ languishes. With a focus on detail, it is little wonder dissension arises, disputes escalate, and division splinters the organizations.
Which situation promotes the question: just what is ‘the work’? What is the function of the church? Whatever it may be, it will steer the course of evangelism.
Many churches of God are structured in the form of a business organization. Each has its President and its CEO – its chief executive officer. Committees for multifarious departments, with their multiple officials, mushroom and each is the basis for a budding, resource-sucking empire.
All a far cry from the very fruitful activities of the early church. With painful foot-slog and the occasional donkey, they ‘turned the world upside down [disturbed the peace]’! (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 17:6).
We, of course, inhabit a vastly different world from that of Paul. With the world available at the touch of a button, we should be able to accomplish exponentially more than the first century ‘missionaries’.
But we don’t. And there are reasons:
The Gospel message was fresh in that world
God’s Spirit was active
Every member was involved – even to the death
The message was focused on Christ
Yes – our world has changed. In contrast, the Gospel in our age is mere background noise for most people. Nor have we in the West experienced the fearsome pressures of oppressive foreign invasion, but rather we bask in our comforts. Life is relatively easy. Even in the church, love – a burning desire – has ‘grown cold’ and few are willing to openly share their faith.
Bureaucracy at the corporate level stifles innovation. The gift of the Holy Spirit in believers smoulders rather than bursts out in an energetic life giving flame (2 Timothy 1:6).
When commissioned to deliver a message, you must be clear as to its content. You target the recipients. You deliver it faithfully – focused, and no ‘Chinese whispers’.
How do we measure up? Do we have a laser-sharp focus on ‘Christ and him crucified’ – or is our focus on the short-term millennial reign of the everlasting Kingdom of God? Do we demonstrate the unspeakable merits of Christ, or do we seek to ‘scare’ our hearers into the Kingdom with an emphasis on a fearsome ‘tribulation’? Are we distracted from our commission by a ‘social gospel’? By gimmicks? By empire building?
To share in ‘the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4) – that is, to become an integral member of the Family of God – is the core definition of ‘salvation’, and to enable this in individuals is the goal of our evangelism. This is the Great Commission Jesus gave to His Church and to this end the apostles were willing to lay down their lives – and did so.
Our calling is not designed to protect us from death or disease. Nor to enrich or prosper us materially. We are not called to ‘feed the world’ beyond our individual compassionate personal encounters with need.
We are called ‘on the other hand, [to] preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23). The Father will then draw to Jesus those who respond – so that they may be discipled within the embrace of His church: ‘teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19).
Our focus? Jesus Christ – his origin, birth, life, death, teachings, death, resurrection. As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘keep on in what you learned and were assured of, knowing from whom you learned, and that from a babe you know the Holy Scriptures, those being able to make you wise to salvation through belief in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be perfected, being fully furnished for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Jesus’s brother Jude wrote a letter (v.3) to the brethren: ‘I had need to write to you to exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith once [once for all] delivered to the saints.’
Don’t, in other words, add to the revealed Word of God, he tells his readers! Stick with The Plan!
As we embark on our ‘pilgrimage’ as a child of God following our baptism, we must ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). It is a process as, through the Scriptures, we daily add to our understanding of what it means to become ‘perfect’.
Without the sacrifice of Christ applied personally, I am spiritually dead. In Christ I can grow to become a partner in His Kingdom. The degree to which I change towards Christ-likeness determines my usefulness for such an awesome task.
We can’t go out of this world. But we can – and must – reject the world’s ways and live by Kingdom standards.

Keep It Simple (Morning Companion)
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. (2 Corinthians 11:3 NKJV)
When I was new resident of the Midwest, it was evident that learning the jargon of this part of the world would take some time. When taking my car in for service, the attendant asked me to “pull up a tad”. Now, I have pulled up carrots, and I have pulled up onions, and I have even pulled up a chair, but I had not a clue what a tad was, let alone how to pull one up. When I got to work, I asked one of the ladies what a tad is, and she said, “It’s just a smidgen.” Before long they had me looking for snipe!
Then there was the lady who was telling me about her “passel of children.” Out came the Webster’s Unabridged, and I learned that a passel is just a large number of something, which of course is more than smidgen and larger than a tad.
Every group of insiders has its passel of insider’s jargon. Computer folks speak of bits and bytes and RAM. Baseball people talk of lookers, benders, and brush backs, flies and fouls, horsehide and southpaws. To the uninitiated, familiarity with a different vernacular can be a barrier to communication.
Christians can fall into that trap when speaking with non-Christian friends. If we speak of “sanctification” or “justification” to those who have no background in Christian thought, could they have any clue what we are talking about? When we speak of “sanctification”, do we not mean that God’s people are “set apart for a special purpose”? Then why not say so?
When we speak of “justification”, do we not mean “made right with God”? Then let us say so.
Or how about “redemption”, when reduced to its roots means “to buy back”?
In its essence, Christianity is a simple faith, so simple a child can understand: Mankind was given a choice, to choose godliness or choose evil. People have chosen evil rather than good, but God loves us so much that he wants to make us his heirs, so he has a plan to make us right with him. He sent his Son to buy us back from the slavery of our sins. God has raised him from the dead, even as he will raise us, and he will come again, at which time we will reign with him over all things.
In Hebrews 2 we are given the aim of God’s plan for the human race:
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say:
For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” (Hebrews 2:5-9 NKJV)
There is more than a smidgen to do to make this world right, and God wants to set apart a passel of children to share it with. He is willing to sacrifice more than a tad to buy us back from our own ways. So pull up a chair, take the Book in hand, and learn more about it.

Teaching God (Sabbath Meditations)
I don’t usually get excited about children’s piano recitals. It’s one thing to endure your own children struggle to find the right key night after night for weeks on end, but sitting through two hours of other people’s kids doing the same thing is downright painful.
But this particular recital was different. Why? Because every note was played on key? No. There were plenty of “G” sharps that should have been “B” flats. It wasn’t any less painful to endure. This recital was special because my son actually participated.
Three years previously, at the end of another recital, he announced to us that he’d had enough. He no longer wanted to play the piano. This was devastating to me. One gift I’ve been determined to impart to my children is a gift that I personally was never given: the gift of music. I had hoped that both of my children would at least advance to a level where their ability to produce beautiful music could bring a lifetime of enjoyment. My hopes, it seemed, were being derailed.
I couldn’t blame him, though, for wanting to quit. The fun had gone out of it for him. Only a year earlier, you couldn’t drag him away from the piano. Now it took an act of congress to get him to practice for even ten minutes. Some of his loss of enthusiasm I attributed to adolescence; lacking the discipline and maturity to do what it takes to learn. But the lion share of his dying enthusiasm I blamed on his teacher. This well meaning lady’s style of instruction consisted of methodically working through principles of music theory and technique by practicing lifeless, outdated music. She also put a great deal of pressure on the kids to participate in local piano competitions and recitals. I suspected she was concerned less with what the children gained from the experience than with promoting her piano lesson business in the local community. Neither of these approaches worked well with my son.
So, after his adamant announcement, we decided to switch tracks. After a brief hiatus we found another piano instructor with a decidedly different approach to music instruction.
What a refreshing change it was. The first thing this teacher asked, when the kids walked into her house, was what kind of music they enjoyed. “That’s the music”, she said with a smile, “you’re going to play.” Over the next several months of lessons we were impressed that this instructor seemed less concerned that our kids master the mechanics of the music they played than that they be sufficiently motivated by their enjoyment in playing it.
Her reasoning was simple. If you teach the love of music, interest will be maintained over time, and the rest, the method, correct technique, will come naturally. If you teach method first, the love will die, and eventually, so will the learning.
I believe there is a lot of wisdom in that approach. I immediately saw the fruits of it in my children, particularly my son. They couldn’t wait to get to the music store to pick out their music and get to the piano.
I think it would pay for our churches to apply this approach in its efforts to teach its members children about God. I’ve seen too many Bible school curriculums that jump immediately into the mechanics; the “what” of our faith; without first teaching the “why.” Absent that context; absent an active relationship to build on; the “what” just becomes information.
How much greater would be our success if we strived first to instill in our children a loving relationship with God before funneling lists of memory scriptures and doctrinal statements into their heads. If our children develop a love for God, interest in a relationship with Him will be maintained, and the rest will come naturally. They will want to read His book. They will want to be where other members of His family are. They will want to please Him. It’s that simple.
My son did a great job at the recital. Oh yes, he hit a wrong key a few times … but it was all music to my ears. This time he left the stage with a smile instead of a grimace. He’s learning a skill that will bring him enjoyment the rest of his life … and he’s loving it. I couldn’t be more proud.

How Long, O Lord?” (Morning Companion)
In
The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Bridges-Logos Publishers, copyright 1997), Harold J. Chadwick states that there were more Christians martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined (p.323). Such a statement is not at all outlandish if one thinks of the millions murdered by Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and even right now in places like Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, China, and other darkened corners of the world.
It should also remind us to be thankful we live in a land that guarantees religious freedom. Because we have been honored with the blessings of liberty, we have little appreciation for the tribulation that much of the world, including our brethren abroad, must endure. I could recall heart-wrenching stories from the aforementioned book, which relates not only the biographies Foxe presented in his original volume some 500 years ago, but also modern martyrs from our own place in time. I shall leave it to you to search out the book and leave your tears on its pages. Instead, I wish to relate my reaction to something related.
Generally speaking, I have a pretty good life. I work hard, I play hard, I have a good family, and I enjoy nice things. I would really like to live to be an old man and see grandkids grow up. I really don’t want to see Jesus Christ return and spoil all my fun.
But when I read a small portion of the sixth chapter of the Book of Revelation, I get a glimpse of a very special group of people. “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:9-10 NKJV).
The scripture is clear. The souls of those who have been slain are patiently resting and waiting for the time of God’s judgment. Is it right to ask them to wait even longer just for my convenience?
As we sit and feast in this amazingly protected and fat land, millions suffer daily for the beliefs that perhaps we take too casually. God through the course of the ages has witnessed untold brutality upon his children, and the smell of their blood and burning flesh demands his justice. One day he will say, “Enough!” and all such brutality shall cease.
Meanwhile, strengthened is my gratitude for the undeserved blessings we all have and the freedom to worship my Creator. Strengthened also is my prayer on behalf of those under the altar: “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Not the Easy Way (New Church Lady)
Many of you will be familiar with the song titled “Thy Word,” written by Amy Grant. I particularly like its chorus: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
The words are pulled from
Proverbs 6:23. As beautiful and poignant as the song’s message is, I believe it misses a key point from the scripture.
The full text, as given in the King James Version, is: For the commandment [is] a lamp; and the law [is] light; and reproofs of instruction [are] the way of life:
The NIV puts it like this: For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life.
To me, the scripture is telling us that God’s commandments are the lamp, and the light within the lamp comes from His teachings. What path is illuminated by the light from the lamp? That path, that way of life that is illuminated, is a path of correction and instruction. Or, as the KJV has it, “reproofs of instruction.”
The word translated as “reproof” in the King James means rebuke or correction. The word translated “correction” means discipline. We walk toward the Kingdom on stepping stones of correction or instruction that reproves us. Clearly, this is not always going to be a smooth, pleasant path. Who likes correction, rebuke and discipline?
The word translated “are the way” could be used for the actual path or road, or for the journey itself. I tend toward the thinking about it as the journey, because the final words of this verse – “of life” – could be translated “living.”
I think of this way: the correction, reproof, rebuke and discipline of God and of His word are the Christian’s way of living. Correction, reproof, rebuke and discipline are the Christian journey. No one makes it to the Kingdom without this continual refinement of who we are, how we think and what we do each day.
No wonder Jesus says,
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 [ESV])
Note that Jesus says “those who find it are few.” Why is that? Perhaps, it is hard to find because it is only found through the teaching and instruction of God. Or maybe it is just because people are unwilling to pick up the lamp. Or perhaps after people pick up the lamp and recognize the path of discipline and reproof and instruction, they put the lamp back down and say, “never mind.”
To find and to continually traverse along the path, we have to study His words, His teaching and instruction. The path is found by the illumination of the scriptures that teach and instruct us.
Once we find the gate, we have to acknowledge that it is “strait” – a word that means, literally to crowd or compress and figuratively to afflict. So, the gate is one that presses or afflicts us as well. In addition, the word translated “narrow” (“narrow is the path”) can also mean to trouble, afflict or suffer tribulation.
Not only is the path one of continual refinement, it is also one where we will sometimes find trouble, affliction and tribulation. Again, it is little wonder that people put down the lamp and head for the easy way?
God does not lie to us about what we face. We can be thankful for that.
How do we reconcile this with Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28-30 [NIV] “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”?
The way of Satan, the way of this world, the wide and easy path is far worse than the correction of God. We see this daily on the news – poverty, anger, greed, violence and murder perpetrated by the mighty of this world against the weak.
We also know, more importantly, that it would be no small tribulation to miss out on eternity in God’s Kingdom. Those of us who travel God’s pathway know that forgiveness of others heals us as well. We know that peace comes by God’s Spirit even in the most troubled times. We get to know our Savior and talk with both He and the Father. We get to benefit from a richer and happier life that comes from obeying the 10 Commandments. We are able to understand and celebrate God’s plan of salvation through the Holy Days. We get one day a week to rest from our labors. We live better lives, happier lives, more peaceful lives, even in the midst of troubles, because we have His lamp of His word and discipline and a clear view of the path to follow toward eternal life.
Most beneficial is that the penalty of our sins are washed away, never to be considered again, because Jesus our Savior has washed them away forever with His blood. This is also something that the lamp illuminates for us.
We know we live in a sin-darkened world. We need the lamp and the light of God’s word, commands and instruction. The path He leads us along is a path that is clear, though it may contain difficulties and troubles. And at the end of it is the gate we press through to obtain the Kingdom.
Though it is not easy, turn up the light each day and walk on along the path of life.

The Gospel – Preaching the Big Picture (Sabbath Meditations)
If you were to ask a Christian in one of the mainstream Protestant denominations the question, “What is the gospel”, the answer that would more than likely roll off their tongue would be, “It’s the gospel about Jesus Christ.”
But if you were to ask many of us in the Sabbath keeping tradition the same question you might hear something along the lines of, “It’s not the gospel about Jesus Christ but it’s about the message He brought. That message is good news of the coming Kingdom of God.”
So which is it?
Well let’s do the numbers. A quick word study in the Concordance makes it clear why there is some confusion.
“Gospel of the Kingdom” – 5 references
“Gospel of Christ” – 19 references
“Gospel of God” – 8 references
“Gospel of Salvation” – 2 references
“Gospel of the Grace of God” – 1 reference
“Gospel of Peace” – 2 references
It’s been argued that references to Gospel of Christ and Gospel of God simply refer to the message that He brought, which is the message of the Kingdom of God. So, assuming this to be true, the references in scripture to the Kingdom of God would increase to 32.
If the gospel of Christ is to be narrowly defined as the message of the kingdom that He preached then we should be able to substitute the word “kingdom” as the object of the preposition in passages where the word gospel is used without compromising the original meaning of the passage.
Let’s read Romans 1:16-17 and consider the accuracy of that argument.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of
Christ (the Kingdom), for it (the gospel of the Kingdom) is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it (the gospel of the Kingdom) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.”
What do you think? Can the word “Christ” in these passages be replaced with the word “kingdom” and the original intended meaning remain intact? Wouldn’t the result of this change be to imply that we are saved by our hope in the coming Kingdom? Does that make sense?
If not, doesn’t this demonstrate that limiting the gospel simply to a proclamation of the coming Kingdom fails to define its full scope and meaning?
So, again, I ask, which is it? Is it the gospel of the Kingdom or the gospel about Christ?
I would suggest that the gospel actually encompasses both of them. But, I would also suggest that there is a “bigger picture” of the gospel we should consider.
Both of them
In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul states “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Paul’s gospel was focused directly on the person of Jesus Christ and the work of salvation He accomplished on the cross.
However, Paul’s message included the hope of the future Kingdom of God.
In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul says, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Could it be that we limit the gospel message by focusing two narrowly on any one of its parts? When we choose one aspect as our primary focus, either the gospel of the Kingdom of God or the gospel about Christ, don’t we run the danger of losing its full meaning.Paul
didn’t fall into either ditch. His gospel message encompassed its full meaning. Paul kept the big picture in view.
The “Bigger Picture”…the ultimate purpose of the Gospel.
Let’s ask ourselves, what is the purpose of all that the Father, through His Son, is doing?
Yes, He does have a plan for man. Yes, we have the awesome gift of salvation through His death on the cross. Yes, we have incredible hope of the Kingdom and an eternity with the Father and His Son in the Family of God. But what is the point of it all? Why is He doing it? What is the ultimate purpose and meaning of the gospel?
I Peter 4:11 tells us “that in all things God is glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and the dominion forever and ever.”
In Isaiah 43:1-7 God says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name … Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for my glory.”
I Peter 2:9 says we have been called and chosen that we might “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
If, as these passages affirm, we have been created for His glory, redeemed for His glory and that the fulfillment of His plan on earth will testify of His glory, it wouldn’t it seem to follow that this is truly the ultimate purpose for creation as revealed in the gospel?
A “Big Picture” definition
What if we were to define the gospel, not by its individual parts, but by its larger meaning and purpose, as revealed throughout scripture? Such a definition might not roll off the tongue as smoothly as the “Gospel of the Kingdom” or the “Gospel of Christ”, but it undoubtedly would prevent us placing inappropriate limitations on its meaning.
What if the definition we used was something like:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ: who He is; what He has done; what He is doing; and what He will do.”
Ultimately the purpose of our existence, of everything that God is doing here on this earth, is to bring glory to Him, pure and simple. That’s the primary purpose of all of this, from beginning to end. It’s about Him. The gospels purpose and meaning is about magnifying His love, His power, His glory. The Father desires that in Him, in His Son, should all fullness, all praise and honor and glory, dwell.
His ultimate plan is that His creation would give glory to His Son, now and forever. We who have been called now are to witness of His glory by sharing who He is, what He has done, is doing and will do.
It’s that “big picture” gospel that we, as His creation, have been commissioned to carry into all the world.
Let’s share it! All of it!

Doing Good for the Poor and Doing Well for Themselves (Morning Companion)
Near the end of Jesus’s ministry a woman named Mary came to Jesus with a box of costly ointment, broke it open, and anointed Jesus’s feet. This act of generosity did not go unnoticed, especially by Judas, who said something that sounds a lot like things we hear today. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!” (John 12:5 NIV)
On the surface Judas sounds like the generous sort. In fact he sounds a lot like many in public service today who proclaim their concern for the poor and needy. Indeed, concern for the downtrodden and disadvantaged is a good thing. It’s biblically mandated and is incumbent on us all. But Jesus says something curious in response:
“Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (verses 7-8)
In saying this Jesus was not being hardhearted. He was simply stating a fact about the unredeemed world in which we live. In fact if we read the context of this event we see that it was Judas who was hardhearted. Here is what John says about Judas’s real motives.
He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was in it. (verse 6)
I wonder sometimes if Judas is a prototype of many today who proclaim solidarity with the poor while using the poor as a means to enrich themselves.
In an article published on the Daily Caller website dated July 19, 2017, we read the following:
“Top officials with 14 anti-poverty non-profits were paid as much as $869,900 as their organizations were enriched with $900 million of taxpayer money. The Daily Caller News Foundation’s (TheDCNF) Investigative Group has found … National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial , a former New Orleans mayor, received a higher salary than any other official in the non-profits, taking home nearly $870,000 – more than 35 times the poverty line for a four-person family – in 2015.”
Read the entire article
here for an eyeful.
An entire industry has developed with the purpose of selling someone else’s bottle of perfume ostensibly to help the poor. And their enablers in both elected and bureaucratic offices have enabled it.
Tell me how this is any different than what Judas tried to do.

Money Matters (New Horizons)
It’s a mystery to the average lay person as to ‘where the money goes’. The total U.S. national debt is a staggering $21.6 trillion today (that’s with twelve zeros) and growing fast. That’s a debt burden of $177,499 per U.S. taxpayer. Britain’s is over $2.8 trillion, Germany $4 trillion, China $11 trillion. Only a dozen or so nations are clear of debt!
It is borrowed money – and owed to someone, with $600 billion going annually on interest payments to the creditors – mostly large investment companies. (The UK pays over forty billion a year interest on the national debt – its third larg-est expenditure.) Much, of course, goes to finance – and to promote – wars, large and small. Scary!
Whether or not this is ‘the end-time’, it is perhaps time for all of us to put our personal finances under the microscope. In the UK it is estimated that the average household each year spends almost a thousand pounds more than they earn. In just one recent month Britons spent over ten billion pounds on their credit cards; the most for thirty years. And Christmas is coming!
The Scriptures are clear about money – having it is no bad thing. But it is also our responsibility to spend wisely, to be content even with the basics of food and shelter: ‘
…having food and raiment [Gk.skepasma: house, covering, clothing] let us be therewith content’ (I Timothy 6:8). We ought to ‘…owe no man anything’.
When a fierce storm approaches, we prepare and batten down the hatches – we bring in the washing, close the windows. In turbulent financial times prudence is the watchword.

Solid as a Rock (New Church Lady)
Last week, I wrote about the promise that no weapon formed or forged against us can prosper. But, if your life is anything like mine, you know that these weapons will sometime pummel you like a Cat 4 hurricane, roaring in at you with winds over 150 miles per hour. They will sometimes shake you like a rag doll. I’ve been through a few of these trials in my lifetime. How about you?
After Hurricane Michael (a Category 4 hurricane when it hit the Florida panhandle) decimated much of Mexico Beach, Florida, the Sand Palace of Mexico Beach was the last house standing among the beachfront homes on its block. In an article in the New York Times, published on October 15, 2018, I read the story about the amazing home the Dr. Lebron Lackey and his uncle, Russel King built and named the Sand Palace of Mexico Beach.
Due to the frequent hurricanes that reach Florida, there are governmentally required building codes for all new construction. In many areas, homes must be built to withstand 175-mile-per-hour winds.  However, in building their home, Lackey and King “did not even refer to the minimum wind resistance required in Bay County” and instead built the Sand Palace to withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour.
According to the New York Times article, Dr. Lackey said, “We’re thinking that we need to build a house that would survive for generations.” Certainly, the Sand Palace has already proven its ability to take a beating and remain standing.
When I read about the Sand Palace, I could not miss the irony that this actually was a house
built upon the sand.
Matthew 7:24-27 [NIV] “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
The Sand Palace survived in spite of its location because it was built of stronger stuff. The materials and method of construction were more than what the minimum that the authorities and the local regulations required. Lackey and King were looking for long-term success. They didn’t just want to survive what Florida had been through before, but also any much worse storms that might be coming in the future. It behooves us, as Christians, to consider not only where we are building, but also, what we are building and the construction materials we are using.
Remember that the scripture says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
The building blocks for our survival of the storms of life are putting into practice the words of Jesus – not just knowing them. Many studies have shown, for example, that a majority of US citizens believe in Jesus. However, Matthew 7:24 does not say that acknowledging Jesus as savior is the key to withstanding life’s storms. Rather, Jesus, in His own words tells us that we must put His words “into practice” in order to be like the wise man building his house on a rock.
We build a solid home on the foundation of THE Rock, Jesus, by living His words.
If we back up to verse 21 of Matthew 7, we find that Jesus says,
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. {Emphasis mine}
In Matthew 7 alone, Jesus gives us plenty of words to put into practice in our lives:
• He tells us not to judge others, but to be about the business of cleaning up our own faults.
(verses 1-5)
• He tells us to diligently and consistently ask, seek and knock. (verses 7-11)
• He tells us to seek to enter the narrow gate. (
verses 13-14)
• He bids us to watch out for false prophets and identify them by their fruits. (
verses 15-20) (Watch out for what they are using to build their houses!)
It is important to know that, within this text, this chapter, we also find that often quoted “Golden Rule”: Matthew 7:12 [NIV] So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Everything we are called to build with or build on is summarized in the “Golden Rule.” It covers everything we find in all the Law and the Prophets.
I know that I could do a better job of calling the “Golden Rule” into mind in making my decisions in life. I could do a better job of asking, “In this situation, would I want someone else to say this, do this, think this, or post this about me?”
Considering some of the other words of Jesus in this chapter alone, I should be doing a better job of ensuring I bear the fruit of a follower of Jesus – so that people know me by good fruit and also know that the Father is good by the fruit I produce – fruit which also points to God’s goodness. I could be more devoted to consistent and passionate seeking, knocking and asking. I could focus more on the plank in my eye and not the specks in the eyes of others and to ensuring I’m on my way through the narrow gate.
Jesus is our Rock and we can be “solid as a rock” – or solid as THE Rock too – if we are using the right building materials.
Living by the words of Jesus. Doing the will of the Father. These are the building blocks of a life that survives the storms, even the ones coming at us at 150 miles-per-hour, to live past future generations into a life that will last all eternity. Build wisely.

Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?” (Morning Companion)
After a major political event I am more fascinated by the journalistic commentary that follows it than the event itself. I’m interested in other people’s take on what happened, even though it might remind me of Chico Marx’s line at the head of this column.
Jesus had the same type of press. He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitudes, and taught a new and living way. If that’s all he ever did, it’s doubtful that the religious elite of the day would have tried to destroy him. But Jesus had a little problem. His teachings did not fit in the little box of religion that his contemporaries had constructed for their concept of God. He preached unique ideas that threatened the current power structure. That was a threat they could not let stand.
Jesus once healed a blind man, who then came to the conclusion that “if this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:33) The religious leaders’ retort? “You were altogether born in sin, and do you teach us?” (verse 34) Are you going to believe us or your own eyes?
Another time the Pharisees and chief priests sent a contingent of temple guards to arrest Jesus, but his teaching was so compelling that the guards refused their orders. “Never has a man spoken like this,” they told the Pharisees, who retorted, “Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed on him? These people who are ignorant of the law are cursed.” (John 7:46-49)
These religious elites clearly held a high view of themselves and a condescending view of the unwashed masses. When they said, “These people who are ignorant of the law are cursed”, they sound suspiciously like certain elements of our own culture.
It’s good to seek out others’ opinions and to listen to their learned commentary, but no one has a right to tell you how to think or to call you names if you happen to disagree. There is a lot of that going on these days.

The Wonder Years (Sabbath Meditations)
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…”  – Psalms 127:3-5
My daughter and I watched one of our favorite old shows together the other night, The Wonder Years. It’s the reflections of a grown man, reliving the ups and downs, the joys, the pains,  the “wonder” of his adolescent years.  Though uniquely his, they are, in many ways, experiences universal to all of us. It’s a great show.
My daughter has her own memories, her own drama playing out in the hallways between classes, over the seat backs of her school bus and, in an environment unique to her generation, her  texting and Facebooking world.  Maybe that’s why she enjoyed watching the show as much as I did.
I realized, as I sat there with my daughter, that even as both my children have lived through their Wonder Years, I’ve experienced them from a different perspective.
Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy my kids as much as they are getting older. I do … immensely. Watching them grow and mature brings a lot of joy to my wife and I. It’s just that I wasn’t quite ready for the wonder of those early years to fade away as quickly as they have.
So yesterday morning, as my daughter was getting ready to rush out the door to the bus without so much as a “see ya”, my nostalgia got the better of me. “Hey, wait just a minute princess!” I protested.  “You’re not getting out of here without a kiss goodbye.”  To which she stopped, spun around, threw me a quick air kiss, with a sigh said “love you daddy” and was out the door … leaving me to feel a little needy for asking.
Ah, the fading remnants of the wonder years. I guess I have to let them go sometime. I realize it’s the natural order of things, and that each particular stage of their lives will hold its own new set of wonders, but, for me, none as much as those early days. I only wish I had taken more time to appreciate them while they were here.
So, my advice to parents of young children: Don’t take them for granted. Don’t let the stresses of life, the struggle to make ends meet, to establish your career, to build the home of your dreams, the hassles of carting them from place to place, activity to activity, distract you from enjoying the wonder. Appreciate each and every wonderful moment with your young children to its fullest. Like me, you’ll be looking back on them with nostalgia before you know it.

No Weapon Forged Against Us (New Church Lady)
Often, in the midst of trial, we can be comforted by Isaiah 54:17 [KJV], which says, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue [that] shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This [is] the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness [is] of me, saith the LORD.”
Often, in prayer for someone struggling with a serious trial or temptation, we remind God of His promise that “no weapon formed against us will prosper.”
But, what does it mean that no weapon formed against us will prosper? What exactly is God guaranteeing in Isaiah 54:17?  “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper”
The NIV puts it this way, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.
The ESV says, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”
Does this mean that God won’t let Satan send us trials? No. We see, for example, that God specifically gave Satan permission to cause Job to suffer a very severe trial.
Does it mean that God won’t let us be killed? No. Most of the apostles were martyred. I have personally witnessed many of God’s saints die from cancer – some of them leaving behind young children. I’ve known of faithful servants of God who lost a child to crib death or a mate in a car accident.
Does it mean that God won’t let us lose a job for obediently keeping His Sabbath or Holy Days? No. That happens even in countries like the USA, where the right to worship as we choose without persecution is supposed to be guaranteed.
Doesn’t it seem that, in these cases, the weapons formed against us have, in fact, actually prospered?
Satan’s weapons are powerful. They can hurt “like the devil” – wreck our lives, wreck our finances, wreck our health, rob us of sleep, rob us of loved ones, etc.
But make no mistake about it, the weapons Satan forges against us cannot prosper or prevail as long as we never let go of God. As long as the weapons forged against us do not loosen our grip on the promises of the Kingdom, these weapons do not prevail.
Further, Satan’s weapons cannot prosper because of what we read in Romans 8:35-39 [NIV] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As long as we cannot be separated from the love of God, nothing Satan throws at us, no weapon he forges against, can ultimately prosper. Though it kill us, that weapon will not prosper or succeed in its purpose.
You see, the weapons Satan forges against us are not primarily focused on making our lives miserable on this earth. Ruining a mere potential of “3 score and 10 years” of a believer’s life isn’t what Satan cares about. He is far more interested in destroying our eternity. And he fails every time a believer makes it through the trial without giving up his/her faith in God, focus on the Kingdom and commitment to obedience in spite of it all.
Every time a fellow servant dies in the faith, Satan’s weapon has failed.

Every time a child of God shows love in response to hate or sows peace with one who intended war, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time a Christian puts God before job or country, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time, in the midst of great loss, a believer hangs on to faith, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Every time a sinner goes humbly before the Just Judge, admitting fault and begging forgiveness, and comes away washed clean by the precious blood of Jesus, Satan’s weapon has failed.
Because, as we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:19 [NIV], If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied, neither should we be focused on what Satan’s weapons may do to our bodies, minds, families, stature in the community or finances in these 70ish years of human life. We too should be focused on our hope in the next life.
With Jesus Christ on our side, the Holy Spirit in us, and our eyes firmly focused on the Kingdom of God, Satan’s weapons cannot succeed in their mission to destroy our eternal futures.
To wrap this up, I want to remind you of Romans 8:31 [NIV] What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? God is for us, sweet sisters. Satan forges many damaging weapons. The weapons of Satan do hurt and destroy, in this life. They can claim a few battles won. But they cannot prevail.
That is a promised forged in the Father’s own love for us and sealed with the precious blood of Jesus.

Whose Side Is God On? (Morning Companion)
Are you for us or our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13)
During the Civil War someone asked Abraham Lincoln if he thought God was on the Union’s side. Lincoln is said to have answered, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”
As in times of warfare, the temptation during a political campaign is to claim the mantle of God’s endorsement. “God is on our side.” “How would Jesus vote?” “We’re doing the Lord’s work.”
We would do well to remember what happened when the Angel of the Lord stepped into the time and space around Joshua. They were about to conquer Jericho, and as Joshua was apparently reconnoitering the vicinity, he came across a mighty being standing before him, sword drawn as if ready for battle. “Are you for us or our adversaries?” Joshua queried.
The answer? “Neither!”
Face it. It was a great answer. To claim the imprimatur of the Almighty on our endeavors smacks of presumption. It may be so that one candidate is superior to another, and it may be true that living godly values places us on God’s side, but rather than claiming the mantle of Providential favor, it would be better to submit our endeavors to God’s service and will.
In
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, sometimes called the greatest sermon ever delivered on American soil, the theme surfaces again, this time as a reminder that God’s purposes are sometimes beyond our understanding and that victory after such an awful conflict should be viewed with humility, not the arrogance of the conquering self-righteous.
“Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. … . Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. … With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

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

Looking Up – and Down (New Church Lady)
We believers look up to see the glory of God and understand His majesty.

Psalm 19:1 [NIV] tells us, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
We look up because we know that is where our help comes from:
Psalm 121:1-2 [ESV] …I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Jesus often looked toward heaven when He prayed.
Luke 9:16 [KJV] Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
John 17:1 [NIV] After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. So, we often do too.
Luke 18:13 [ESV] But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
Our eyes are rightly focused up for these things. But, since we live on this earth, we also have to look down or risk missing the full picture. I learned that lesson the hard way recently.
For about a week after the Feast of Tabernacles, I sported a “lovely” special boot on my left foot. Why? Because I wasn’t looking down. While unpacking the car when we got home from the Feast, and carrying a load of clothes into my room, I rammed my left foot so hard into one of the cases we’d staged in the kitchen, that I thought I broke my middle toe. After trying to tough it out for a day, I gave in and got an X-ray. Thankfully, it is only badly jammed and not broken. 
In this world, there is always something lurking around to trip you up. Literally. 
Our Christians lives are a lot like that, in that Satan and this world he currently rules are always lurking around, seeking ways to trip us up, if we are not careful – if we are not looking.
Hebrews 12:15 says, Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many be defiled. [KJV]
Roots are on the ground and the root of bitterness comes from down here on earth – certainly not from heaven. We have to look down into our hearts and minds to be sure that bitterness isn’t growing in us, but also that no other sin is allowed to take root there inside us. 
1 John 3:17 tells us, But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? [ESV]
How are we going to see that a brother or sister has a need, if we don’t look down at the world around us? Our journey is not just about what is going on in heaven. It is also about taking care of things on earth, like helping others in need.
We often quote
Psalm 119:105 [ESV] Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The Word lights our path, so that we can see the path. And we should look down at the path. Am I traveling closer to Him or further away? Are the steps I’m taking in my day-to-day life building godly character or building habits of sin? God calls us each to a unique path for our lives – how we will serve and grow, use our talents and glorify Him. We should look down and check to be sure we are on that path.
The truth is that we cannot succeed in this Christian journey without both looking up and looking down. We must have our eyes metaphorically fixed on heaven, on our Father there and on our High Priest. We look to the heavens for our blessings, help in time of need, spiritual strength and for Christ Jesus to return. But, we live on earth and we do our works here on earth. So, it is also very important to keep an eye out for what is going on down here. Sometimes, we need to look down.

Then I Will Know” (Morning Companion)
Theophany. That’s a theological word that means a
manifestation of God in a way that is tangible to the human senses. The theophany referred to in this blog is found in Genesis 18, where God and two other beings pay a visit to Abraham.
This encounter is a prologue to the well-known story of Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are a number of curiosities in this account, such as God appearing as a wayfaring traveler in the desert with two companions, God having dust gather on his feet, Abraham offering to wash it off, and God sitting down for a sumptuous meal. The curiosity that interests me the most is found in verses 20 and 21:
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.

Read this for what it says, and it looks like the LORD (Yahweh himself) didn’t think he had the complete story based upon reports he was receiving, and therefore was unable to make a valid judgement about what was going on in those two cities. The text says what it says, and it has to provide some interesting fodder for discussion among theologians. Are there things that God doesn’t know? But the point I want to pursue here is a more practical lesson. It jumps out of the passage about how God does things, a lesson that we should take to heart.
Most of us have played a game called Telephone. The game involves several people. The first person whispers a short story or phrase to the second person in line. The second person’s task is to retell the story to the next person in line, who then relays it to the next person, and so on. The person at the end of the line then recites the story or phrase to the entire group. Every time I have seen this game played, the story at the end of the line is nothing like the story as recited by the first person in line.
This is why hearsay evidence is of questionable value in a court of law. “Somebody told me that somebody said” is hardly any evidence of anything. It’s also how gossip, slander, and character assassination wiggle their way into our relationships.
We can have all kinds of theological discussion about why God didn’t seem to know exactly what was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah and why he felt a need to check things out for himself. I would love to pursue that bit of theology someday. But the lesson we should take from this is the example he set. Don’t rush to judgement. Get the facts. Don’t believe chatter you hear without verification. Be skeptical. Don’t pass on what you hear on the Telephone because it ain’t necessarily so.

Love is a Decision (Sabbath Meditations)
When my son got his first job, he was very excited and called me at work during the middle of the day. The timing of his call was ironic. I was bogged down in the middle of a never ending project, clicking away at the computer, willing the clock to move just a little faster so I could pack up my lunch bag and my laptop and go home. Not that every day is like this. As with any job there are good days and bad, ups and downs, successes and failures. His call started me reflecting. There was a time when I loved this job. There were new challenges, new opportunities, and excitement about the contribution I could make. Some of that excitement, that promise, had faded. Was this now just a job, mindless labor? Was I going through the motions just to collect a pay packet? And, if I am going through the motions, what’s the point?
Finally, the long work week is over. Time to do what I want to do. Sleep in, read a good book, maybe see a movie with the family, ride my bike, take it easy. Oh yeah, then there’s that church thing. Gotta do that. Oh, and maybe a little extra time (emphasis on “little”) Bible Study and Prayer. Hmmm …
There had been a time when that church thing, that Bible Study and prayer thing, would have ranked a little higher, no, a lot higher on my list of desirable things to do “on my own time.” I guess some of the excitement, some of the enthusiasm for those things, had waned over the years. Had my faith simply become my religion? Had my first love become my 4th, 5th or 6th obligation? Was I just going through the motions, because that’s what people who call themselves Christians are supposed to do, mark off our spiritual to-do lists so we can get on guilt free with the things we really want to do with our free time? Had my faith become like going to work? Ughh … I wished my son hadn’t gotten so excited about getting that job!
In Revelation 2:1-5 Jesus, through the apostle John, says to the Ephesian church, after praising them for their labour in the faith, tells them: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
The Ephesus church was getting some things right, doing a lot of the right things, but there was something missing, they were just going through the motions. What should have been a labor of love, had become just labor. Jesus, loving as He is, doesn’t just leave them hanging with no solutions. He provides a two step solution …
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”
Step 1: Remember. I guess that’s what my son’s phone call at work had done for me. Caused me to begin remembering. Remembering what an awesome blessing it is to know Him. Remember that, of all the firsts I have ever experienced or will ever experience, this first love is by far the greatest. If I truly appreciate it for the blessing it is, my excitement for it should never be allowed to wane.
Step 2: Repent and do the first works. My wife and I read a book by Gary Smalley when we were first married. It was called Love is a Decision. I highly recommend it for any new couple. Basically, the message of the book is that love between a husband and wife is not simply an emotional sense of well being, a feeling. Love, true love, is a conscious decision we make, to love the other person through good times and bad, when we feel like it and when we don’t because, as anyone who has been married for more than five years will tell you, sometimes you just don’t. Love that is based on emotion will be shallow, inconsistent, and disillusioning. Love based on a decision, in contrast, will grow richer and deeper over time. It will see its way through the hard times, the mundane times, the hurtful times. The highs will be higher and the lows will be not so low.
I think that is what Jesus is telling the Ephesians and us by extension. He’s saying in effect, “So you just don’t feel the same excitement about Me as you once did? So what! My relationship with you isn’t based on your feeling. Make a decision to Love Me like you did when our relationship first began. Put your faith, put Me, first. Do the first works.” You know what, over time, your love for Me will grow richer and deeper. It will survive the tests and trials. The good times and the bad. The disappointments. The lows won’t be quite so low and the highs….well, you can’t even imagine!

Big Lessons, Tiny Teacher: Go to the Ant – Lesson 2 (New Church Lady)
Ants have colonized almost every landmass on Earth. The only places lacking indigenous ants are Antarctica and a few remote or inhospitable islands. Ants thrive in most ecosystems and may form 15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. Their success in so many environments has been attributed to their social organization and their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves. Some species, such as the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), are regarded as invasive species, establishing themselves in areas where they have been introduced accidentally.
Like ants, God seeks to place His people in every environment and ecosystem. The body of believers ought to be found in rural communities and mega cities, as well as all environments in between. Children of God should be found in harsh environments, where persecution may take its toll, and in prosperous nations where the greatest threat may be complacency or failing to give God credit and thanks for our blessings.
In order to thrive and grow, like the ants, we believers should rely on social organization. We ought to be flexible enough to modify habitats and tap local resources. We must be able to defend ourselves.
Social organization: We must remember that God very specifically establishes the social organization of the church.
1 Corinthians 12 goes into great detail about the organization of the various members of the body of Christ, outlining that each one is (1) placed in the role by God and (2) important to the well-being of the whole.
1 Corinthians 12:11-12 [ESV] All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
The governmental structure of churches may differ, but the social organization is the same – a body working together.
Modifying habitats and tapping local resources: Perhaps the best example of this is found in
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 [ESV] For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
We don’t use the same words and examples to explain salvation to our children as we do to adults. We adapt. In a prosperous society like the USA, we can preach via Facebook or Roku channels and reach a lot of people. In India, we may do better by setting up a school. In Africa, maybe we give sewing machines to widows so they can earn a living and feed their families. Our ability to grow and thrive – to be invasive to a society – is impacted by our ability to meet the locals where they are and speak to them in a way that will resonate with their current lives and needs. 
Defense: God provides the equipment needed for defending ourselves.
Ephesians 6:13 [NKJV] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
However, we are tasked with doing the work needed to be able to properly use it.
1 Peter 3:15 [KJV] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. 
Invasiveness: We all look forward to the day when the knowledge of the Lord covers the whole earth. [Isaiah 11:9] Until that time, we are to be about the work of preaching the Gospel and “breeding” more of the Christian species.
Mark 16:15 [NKJV] And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Certainly, in the time of the early New Testament church, the believers made pests of themselves. At least, that is how some of the locals felt about them. [See Acts 17:6 and 19:24-27]
Like ants, Christians should be an invasive species. We should be able to defend our beliefs and explain them. We should adapt to the people and circumstances wherein we are called to serve, and adapt to the local resources available to us. Most of all, we must we aware of the vital part each and every member plays in the health of the colony of believers.
Go to the ant, and be wise.

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.

Big Lessons, Tiny Teacher: Go to the Ant – Lesson 1 (New Church Lady)
Fire ants! I spent another summer trying to rid my yard of them. Sometimes I think that there is just one big catacomb underground, connecting all around my yard and maybe even the whole world. This would explain why when I kill one mound, another one pops up, seemingly overnight. It’s like a game of “whack-a-mole.” But ants have a lot to teach us.
What parent has neglected to quote
Proverbs 6:6-8 [NIV], by way of encouraging a child to be industrious and hard working? Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
The ant can teach us much more than just that we should work hard in this life. So, I offer a lesson that we can be gleaned from the Kingdom: Animalia, Class: Insect; Order: Hymenoptera; Family: Formicidae. Lesson 1: Communication is key to the success of individual members and of the colony as a whole.
Ants communicate with each other using pheromones, sounds, and touch. They use pheromones to mark trails in the dirt to lead others to food or to warn them of danger – ensuring that the other ants have the information they need to succeed.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to have this team/colony attitude toward communication that will help our fellow brethren succeed. We need to share what we know, help others find nourishment and warn them of dangers we find along the way. None of this is about bossing the other ants (brethren) or outlining pet interpretations of scripture. It is about finding ways to share what we know with other new parents, with children and teens, or with brethren experiencing the same troubles we have had to overcome. We should not hoard our knowledge.
Malachi 3:16 [KJV] Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard [it], and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.
Malachi doesn’t outline what those who feared the Lord discussed, but I think we can be assured that it wasn’t the latest football stats or political drama. I think it is safe to assume that they spoke words of encouragement to one another and discussed the scriptures and writings available to them.
Proverbs 25:11 [ESV] A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
We should speak up with words of encouragement for one another at every opportunity. Compliment your brethren in Christ. Say thank you. Say “I love you.” Say, “You can do it!” and “I am praying for you.” These words have great value to God.
Communicate in other ways as well, as the ants do. A timely hug does wonders for me when I am down. A pat on the back or a squeeze of the hand can communicate love, support and sympathy when words just don’t do the trick – or when the right words to say won’t come.
The entirety of our church services are about positive communication. Together, we communicate praises to God and Jesus. We pray together, speaking of the needs of individuals and the church as a whole. The speakers are tasked with offering us words of life, of hope, of encouragement. When we fellowship before and after church, we also have the opportunity to speak words of life, of hope, of encouragement and so much more.
Ants don’t chatter mindlessly or gossip. [See
1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:16] They communicate with purpose. They communicate for success. We should too. Go to the ant, and be wise.

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

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.

Free Range Children (Answers for the 21st Century Thinker) (4-minute video)

A Prism-er of the Light
(New Church Lady)
In the middle of the night after being awakened by a leg cramp, I clearly recall, as the cramping subsided, “prism.” And then I went back to sleep.
The crazy thing is that I remembered it the next morning and that the idea has continued to rumble around in my brain. Seems like it is a message I am compelled to write at this time of the year, when many of us celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. (See
Deut. 16:13-15)
Let’s start by answering the question: What does a prism do to light?
Visible light, also known as white light, consists of a collection of component colors. These colors are often observed as light passes through a triangular prism. Upon passage through the prism, the white light is separated into its component colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The separation of visible light into its different colors is known as dispersion.
God is light, as we are told in 1 John 1:5 [ESV], where it says, This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Jesus is the light of the world. John 8:12 [ESV] Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
We are not the light. But we are called to bear witness to the light, just as John the Baptist bore witness to the Light. (See John 1:6-8)
For us believers, God’s light shines into us. He expects us to disperse it out into the world. The way I envision us being prisms is not individually, but as a group. I might be the red of the prismed light. Maybe you are blue, another is green, and so forth. We each, with our own unique gifts and opportunities, show a different component God’s light. Maybe we can disperse more than one color or hue, but none of us can fully represent the perfect light of God and Jesus. It takes each of use to disperse His rainbow of light.
So, while each of us is able to disperse some of God’s loving light out to those around us, together we show that full light in all its multi-faceted colors and hues.
At this time of year we will be gathered together in much greater numbers than typically on any given day or even during the weekly Sabbaths. This is a chance for us to disperse the light of God in blinding prism rainbows of love and light that just cannot be ignored. Whole communities should be saying, “Something is really different here this week!”
Even if you are observing these days at home, please consider how you might help your community “see the light” by doing the work of a prism.
Matthew 5:14-16 [ESV] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We are called to disperse the light that we walk in – the light of God; the light of Jesus. We are called to do the work of a prism – to be “prism-ers” of God’s light. Go out and shine.

The Water Ceremony (Morning Companion)
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39, NKJV)
When Jesus stood up and shouted out his message, it was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a mere six months before his crucifixion. His preaching was taking on an urgency as his earthly ministry was coming to close.
On this last day of the Feast the people celebrated with a traditional water ceremony. Water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam, the very pool where Jesus on the next day would instruct a blind man to wash his eyes for healing (John 9). From the Pool of Siloam the priests and the people would walk in procession through Jerusalem, through the Water Gate, and into the Temple. There the priest would pour that water from the healing Pool of Siloam into a silver bowl on the altar as a special offering to God.
It is worth noting that this water ceremony is not a part of any Biblical liturgy. There is no instruction anywhere in the Scripture commanding this tradition, but it is also worth noting that Jesus did not condemn it. Rather he used it as a teaching tool.
During the ceremony a number of scriptural passages might have been in the people’s minds. Maybe they were thinking of Isaiah 44 and the analogy associated with water when it is poured on a thirsty ground.
‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant; And you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring;
They will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses.’
Maybe they thought about Ezekiel 47 and the prophecy of pure healing water gushing from the Temple Mount as a blessing and the bringing forth of life and healing.
This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. Maybe they were listening to the words that a choir of priests were singing from Isaiah 12:
Lord, I will praise You; Though You were angry with me,
Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid;
‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’
Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
If those that heard Jesus’s voice that day made the connection with the words of Isaiah 12, Jesus’s shout would have been an electric shock to them considering from whom the words were coming. To understand that, understand what the Hebrew says in verse 2.
The phrase “God is my salvation” is “el yeshua”. “El” is Hebrew for “God”, and “Yeshua” is Hebrew for “Jesus”, which in turn means “salvation”. And verse 3 speaks of “draw[ing] water from the wells of salvation [
yeshua].”
So going back back to John 7, a man named Yeshua makes an obvious reference to a passage from the prophets that uses the word “yeshua” in connection with the waters of salvation drawn from a pool of healing. Jesus is offering them a clue to his true identity and origin.
This teaching was shocking but effective. Some believed him (verses 40-41), some doubted (verses 41-42), and some wanted to arrest him for blasphemy (verse 44). Regardless of where they stood, they knew exactly what he was saying about himself and who he really was.
The theological points Jesus was making are obvious ones: He is the way to salvation. He can satisfy our search for meaning. He will send the Holy Spirit and that Spirit through us can help heal the world.
There is also a lesson here on how to reach people with a message. Remember that this Water Ceremony was not a part of the original liturgy from the Torah. It was a cultural thing that was added some time between Moses and Herod’s Temple. Yet Jesus had no problem using the culture of the day as a teaching tool. That should be a clue to us that using our popular culture to teach spiritual lessons is not only acceptable, but also smart. Lessons from movies, lessons from popular books, lessons from news events — these all can be sources of instruction.
Put differently, we cannot afford to isolate ourselves from society at large. We must understand the thinking process and milieu of those around us. Engage the culture from where it is. Speak in terms that they can relate to. And keep the message positive whenever possible.
——————————————————————————————————————-
For more information on the Water Ceremony, go to these links:
http://jewishroots.net/library/holiday-articles/water_libation_ceremony.html http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v06-n07/sukkot-a-promise-of-living-water/

To the Least of These (The Word and The Way)
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40
I was able to facilitate some tangible help for a family of believers recently. I’m not actually doing the helping, but managed to get the right person to the right place to help these good people out. Once all the plans had been made, one of the family members started thanking me profusely. I tried to tell her that this is just what we are supposed to do and my ability to help them is more like a duty. I accepted the gratitude, but then she started to talk about repaying me in the future because nobody had ever helped them in the past.
A while later, what she told me rang in my head. This is a family that has been keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days for decades and
nobody had helped them before, at least not to this degree and not without wanting something in return. What a travesty.
Unfortunately, it is common thing among the Church of God and Hebrew Roots believers to neglect the “love your neighbor” side of our faith. With our incredible devotion to studying erroneous doctrines of days gone by, attempts to find the perfect calendar, and mission to purge all uncleanness from our lives, it is easy to put the loving side on the back burner. Well, that’s part of the Torah, too.
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord (YHVH). Leviticus 19:18.
Yes, that’s right. The first time that was said was NOT a mere 2000 years ago by the Messiah. It has been in the Torah all along. Further evidence is to be found in Isaiah chapter 1:
Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them. Isaiah 1:23
Isaiah chapter one has been misused for nearly two thousand years to say that YHVH does not care for the observance of the Moedim. But this is not what the chapter is saying. Those in Israel who were still observing the commanded days were doing it with the wrong heart. They were going through the rituals but at the same time they were neglecting widows and orphans and surely all other manner of loving their neighbors. While there have been some incredible injustices perpetrated on the assembly in recent decades, only a handful of people would rise to the level that was written about in Isaiah 1.
So the challenge I issue to the reader is this: read Matthew 25: 31-46 and all of Isaiah 1 a few times. These verses should inspire us to look up even more verses that exalt charitable and compassionate behavior. Meditate on this information. Concentrate on it. And act on it. Help out your neighbor. Help people you don’t even know. Be kind to someone who cuts you off in traffic or takes that parking space you had your eye on. Just be nice. Surely we are all already doing these things because we have had our hearts softened by the Spirit, but let’s be a light to those around us. Perhaps they will be drawn to that light.

A Life of Discontent (New Church Lady)
Proverbs 5:15-18 [CSB] Drink water from your own cistern, water flowing from your own well. Should your springs flow in the streets, streams in the public squares? They should be for you alone and not for you to share with strangers. Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth.
These scriptures are clearly focused on fidelity in marriage. But it speaks to us about contentment – an important piece of advice for all of God’s blessings, including a happy marriage.
1 Timothy 6:6-8 expands on contentment: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. [CSB]
We believers are not meant to be folks always striving for more things, but people able to appreciate, enjoy, take care of and give thanks for what we already have.
Contentment is defined as “a state of happiness and satisfaction.” We believers are to learn to be happy and satisfied with our goods and God’s blessing. We are called to be content.
However, I want to encourage us to be just the opposite. I’m going to see if I can inspire you to some discontent with your walk in life. I’ll make a case for the idea that being discontent in one area of our lives is beneficial to that same Christian walk.
J. Matthew Sleeth MD, in his book titled
Serve God, Save the Planet (A Christian Call to Action), says: “The content mind is one of the greatest obstacles to a rich spiritual life.” (p.62) He goes on to explain that “To move from thought to action, we must feel some discomfort with who we are. We will not develop any discontent if we compare ourselves to people who behave more selfishly than ourselves.” For example, he says, “We may think ourselves philanthropic and generous until we see a widow giving away her last two pennies.”
Sleeth proposes that, if we are happy with who we are, we have no motivation to change and that discontentment with who we are leads us to better ourselves and the world around us.
I believe that the Bible supports the idea that being content with ourselves, our Christian maturity, is not good. We are called to a path of continual growth. If I come to the point of being content with myself, my understanding of the Bible, my level of wisdom, or patience, or love, then I stop growing in that area. And that is not good.
We find an example of contentment verses discontentment in
Luke 18:10-12 [ESV]: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
This Pharisee was content with himself, his character, his deeds. That contentment was hampering his worship and, presumably, his growth as a believer.
On the other hand, we have the example of the tax collector, who was quite
discontented with himself.
Luke 18:13-14 [ESV] But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up 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, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
We are not called to beat ourselves up. That isn’t what I’m advocating at all. We are not called to look back in shame. Past sins are gone. But neither are we called to look at ourselves now and say, “good enough.”
We are called to
strive forward – to keep working at it – as is advocated in Philippians 3:12-14 [NIV] Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
What we need is a healthy focus on always striving to do better – a little discontentment with where we currently stand. We are called to strive to do better tomorrow than we did today. That is what Christianity is all about.
Contentment with our Christian character or service to others has the power to stunt our growth. The parable of the sower in
Matthew 13:3-9 ends with this: Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
What I hear is that, even among those who grow and produce, not everyone will produce at the same level. Could the ones who produce a hundred times what was sown be just a little more discontent with themselves than those who produce thirty times? Maybe the thirty times folks just got to a point where they said “I’m happy with that.” And their contentment caused them to stop growing.
I think we are all capable of producing a hundred times what was sown, if we remain discontent enough to never stop trying to do better, learn more and grow.
Jesus tells us to love as He loved. Are you content with your progress on that? I confess that I am not content with mine. Jesus tells us to take care of the poor – the physically poor and the spiritually poor. Is there more you could do? Wes and I ask ourselves that quite frequently. Also, I confess that I am decidedly discontent with my level of patience.
We are called to both contentment and discontentment. We are called to be content with
what we have, but not with where we are in our walk with Christ. 

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

Close Enough? … only in Horseshoes (New Church Lady)
When I worked as a teacher’s aide I was surprised by the number of times some child would rudely ask how old I was. I can only assume that my age, in their minds, was germane to my ability to help them with school work. I would always say, “What do you think?” Then, whatever they guessed (and guesses ranged from 30-60), I’d say, “Close enough.”

As a Christian, is “close enough” ever enough? I say “no.”
As proof, let me offer up Matthew 5:48 in several translations:
ESV: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
NLT: But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
KJV: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect
.
We are admonished to hit the mark of perfection, not to just get close.
This admonition comes at the end of a chapter that begins with the “Beatitudes” and follows those with even harder things like, these:
Not only should you not murder – don’t even call someone a fool:
Verses 21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Not only should you not swear falsely – don’t even be a person whose truthfulness can be questioned:
And verses 33-34: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God’.
Not only should you not seek revenge – don’t even resist evil:
And verses 38-39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Not only should you not hate your enemy – you must return good for the evil:
And verses 43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
These are some tough standards.
One word translated “sin” in the New Testament is
hamartanō and one definition of hamartanō is to “miss the mark.” Another word translated “sin” is very similar – hamartia. It also can mean “miss the mark.” Anything short of “hitting the bull’s eye” of perfection is sin.
There is an old saying that “close only counts in horseshoes.” That is as true for our Christian walk as for anything else. As a Christian, close enough is not enough.
But I have good news for us all, and it is found in 1 John 2:1-2 [ESV] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
The word translated “sin” in 1 John 2:1 is hamartanō. If anyone misses the mark, we have Jesus as our advocate.
In addition, we find the following in
John 1:29 [NIV] The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
The word translated “sin” in John 1:29 is hamartia. If anyone misses the mark, we have Jesus, the Lamb that takes away our sin.
The mark we are called to hit is perfection. We are told to become perfect, as the Father is perfect. Close doesn’t count. If you are anything like me, perfection “ain’t gonna happen” in this life.
Praise God that Jesus’s blood covers the distance between my best shot and the actual bull’s eye we are called to hit. But we must never be content with close enough. We must always strive to hit the mark “dead on”. We must be working our way, each day, ever closer to perfection and rest in comfort that Jesus covers the gap.

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.

The Three Big Questions (Morning Companion)
There are plenty of good teachers in this world, but only a few great ones. Let me tell you about a great teacher. Her name was Mrs. DeFelice. She taught English at my high school.
“DeFelice” is an Italian name. “De” means “of” and “felice” means “happy”. The name suited her well, for she radiated the meaning of her name.
One day she walked into class and wrote three questions on the chalkboard, questions that changed the life of this then-teenager. She called these The Three Big Questions of Life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
Those three questions addressed that which was churning within me, though I was unable to express it until that time. The search for the answers to those questions became a quest and a journey, and it has been quite a ride.
We all have a need to be somebody, to find meaning in our lives, to live a life of significance. It is built into our being to find purpose and make a difference.
It is important to remember the cultural context of the late 1960s when Mrs. DeFelice chalked those questions on the board. Those were days when Nihilism was a thread in much of the youth culture. It was the subject of the dirge “Is That All There Is?” (You can listen to the song here: Is That All There Is?) Is that all there is to life? “If that’s all there is, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s bring out the booze and have a ball.” Are we no more than “a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more?” Is life no more than a “walking shadow”, as would say Macbeth?
The questions led me to the Book I was told was the Word of God. I opened the family Bible for the first time, and the book fell open to the book of Ecclesiastes. This is what I read in that old Catholic version of the Book:
The words of Ecclesiastes, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity … I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3, 14 Douay Version, Copyright 1949-1950, Catholic Book Publishing Company.
Other translations are even more nihilistic — and accurate. They translate “vexation of spirit” as “striving after wind”.) This and the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes provided few comforting words. If this was the Word of God, was it telling me that this is all there is, and all of it is little more than vanity? But I searched more and found this:
When I see thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established: what is man, that thou art mindful of him or the son of man that thou art concerned about him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor; thou hast given him power over the works of thy hands, thou hast placed all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:4-7, Douay Version)
The hint of the answer was right there. The Psalm told me where I came from, told me who I was, and told me where my significance lay. More than that, I found the answer expanded in the book of Hebrews. The author of the book quotes the Psalm and then chunks it up to a higher level. After quoting the Psalm, he adds this:
For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But we do not yet see all things put under him. (Hebrews 2:8, New King James Version)
“We do not yet see all things put under him!” The human race was given the mandate to dress and keep the earth. We are to improve it rather than degrade it, though often we have failed in this. But ultimately, the divine plan for the human race is to be co-heirs, not just of the earth, but of everything that Jesus is to inherit.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ … (Romans 8:16-17, NKJV)
It is not too much to say that God wants us as his children and not just as subjects. His ultimate purpose is to share with us everything that is his. It is right for us to look into the heavens and wonder about all the creation in this vast universe and dream about what it is like in its vast reaches. And we, who are mere specks in the vast array of creation, are privileged to dream about it all. But first we must learn how to take care of it in a godly way. That’s what we are to do with what is currently our domain, which means we have a huge responsibility to do it right and a long way to go.

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.
Who 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 were 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 Faith That Drives Us (Sabbath Meditations)
I’m writing this week’s post from the comfort of a well-worn leather armchair at my local coffee shop. I sometimes like to do my writing here because (1) I’m addicted to Dulce De Leche Cafe Latte (yeah, yeah…) and (2) I enjoy the atmosphere. It’s interesting to witness the broad swathe of humanity that walks in the doors of these places.
Today a large percentage of the patrons seem to be company recruiters interviewing potential hires. In the forty or so minutes I’ve been here, I’ve overheard bits and pieces of three job interviews. In fact, there is one taking place right now at the table five feet to the right of me. A middle aged, confident recruiter type, or could be the hiring manager, not sure, is interviewing a twenty-something, probably a soon to be college grad, who is either very nervous, overdosed on caffeine or suffering from acute Attention Deficit Disorder. He’s answering each question thrown at him as if he’s in the starting blocks of a 100 yard race and has just heard the crack of the pistol. I’m tempted to slide a note in front of this young guy that reads: B–R–E–A–T–H–E !
I can’t be too hard on the poor schmuck. The last time I was in the proverbial “hot seat” I recall being pretty nervous myself. Although overall I think I remained fairly calm and collected, I do remember a severe case of sweaty palms and an involuntary twitch in my right leg. At least I didn’t forget to breathe.
It also helped that I went in prepared with canned answers to what I was pretty sure were the types of questions I would be asked: “Why do you think you’re qualified for this position?” “Do you consider yourself a team player?” “What did you eat for breakfast and what does that say about your work ethic?” … questions like that. For the most part, with the exception I suppose of the last question, I was right on the money. (Hey, you never know when your going to have to answer for what you ate at breakfast.)
There was one other question, though, for which I hadn’t prepared, and my response to it almost capsized the entire interview. The lady in the suit across the table simply asked “So, tell me about what drives you?”
What drives me? Hadn’t thought of that one. It was more than just a work world question. It bridged over into the spiritual realm and I hadn’t prepared to go there. In fact, it scared me to go there. As a Christian being interviewed in a secular world, honest answers to questions like that one can get you in trouble. Initially, my mind raced to land on all the possible answers someone in a secular work environment might expect. What drives me?
Secular answer number one: A desire to be respected in my field.
Secular answer number two: A desire for a sense of personal achievement.
Secular answer number three: The satisfaction that comes with a job well done.
As I began to recite this list of “safe”, secular answers, though, the truly honest response kept pressing its way to the front of my mind, and it definitely was not “safe” and definitely not secular. But because it’s not considered “appropriate” today to bring one’s faith into the workplace, as quickly as it came to mind I pushed it aside and continued reciting my secular list.
And it was sounding pretty good. The interviewer was smiling and nodding her approval, everything was on track, I was hitting all the right notes. But then it happened. Just when I should have shut up, that pesky answer that had been pressing against the front of my cranium found its way to my lips. After a long pause, I took a big breath, looked into her eyes and said, “You know, to be honest with you, these are all important, but they aren’t really what drive me. Personal fulfillment, job satisfaction, monetary reward, praise for a job well done, the respect from colleagues, they aren’t really what I care about. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice … but they aren’t really what drives me. What really drives me is my internal belief system … my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour. That drives me, regardless of whatever else happens on the job.” (Gulp)
There. I had said it. I watched, horrified, as the interviewer stopped smiling, stopped nodding, put down her pen, and just stared at me. I sat there, heart palpitating and right leg now twitching uncontrollably, thinking, “Now you’ve blown it! It was going so well, and now your chances for this job are pretty much over!” Then, after what seemed an eternity, to my surprise she said, “Yes … that really is what is important, isn’t it? That’s what really matters.” Every part of my body breathed a collective sigh of relief. Whew! I had found another Christian, or at least a sympathizer.
After the interview ended and I had time to reflect, I mused over the difficulty giving that simple, truthful answer had caused me. Why should it have been so traumatizing? After all, I wasn’t trying to push my religion down her throat. I wasn’t warning her that the end of the world was near and she must repent or die. I wasn’t facing martyrdom unless I recanted my allegiance to Christ. It was a simple admission of the faith that defines who I am … who we are … as Christians. It shouldn’t have been so mortifying. But in a culture where tremendous pressure is being exerted to extricate faith from every facet of civic life, it was. Thankfully, it appears the lady interviewing me hadn’t yet gotten the memo. A few days later she called to offer me the position.
We’re told in John 16:2 that “…the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”
The truth is, the trauma that this little witness encounter caused me was minuscule compared to the trauma suffered by many other Christians before me; being suffered now by Christians in other parts of the world; and will be suffered by all who profess faith in Jesus in the days yet ahead. If I can’t witness even in the little areas now, how will I witness when so much more is on the line? It’s a sobering question.
In Revelation 3 our Lord says through the Apostle John to the church at Philadelphia, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
Though it’s understood that Jesus is addressing the mission of the larger Church, I believe this also has meaning for us individually. Each of us has an open door set before us through which we, as opportunity presents itself, can witness to the world. The door of opportunity for our individual witness can open in front of us anywhere anytime. It could open during a conversation over the fence with the next door neighbor who asks where we go every Saturday, or the co-worker who notices that there is something different about us, or the lady across the table waiting with pen and paper for an answer to the question, “what drives you?”
As this world becomes more hostile to all things Christian, giving honest answers to questions like those won’t get any easier. Our efforts to respond can often feel pretty feeble and weak. We might not always receive the positive response I received during my last interview. Sometimes, like the poor soul being interviewed at the table next to me, we might even occasionally make a mess of it.
I’m pretty confident that, regardless of the outcome of this young man’s interview, he won’t give up trying to land a job. Nor should we ever give up on walking through the doors our Lord opens before us to share His Name. Whatever the consequences, sweaty palms, twitchy legs and all, we just have to take a deep breath and step through, witnessing to the Faith that drives us.

The Five Most Important People in Your Life (Morning Companion)
Somebody once posited that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
If we hang around grumpy people, we tend to become grumpy.
If we hang around worriers, we tend to be filled with worry.
If we hang around successful people, we become more successful.
If we hang around happy, positive people, we become happier and more positive.
And so on.
There is a large kernel of truth in that observation, and it speaks to choosing your friends and associates wisely. Some interesting observations from the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere:
Proverbs 12:26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 14:6-7 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
Proverbs 22:24-25 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Some practical advice:
* If you are in a toxic work environment, start looking for employment elsewhere. Not every workplace is a sweatshop.
* If your friends and acquaintances are the type who focus on the cloud when there is a silver lining, find some new friends and acquaintances.
* If your church focuses on the negative instead of the Good News, question whether or not they really understand the gospel. If they don’t understand the virtues of joy and grace, find a church that does.
* If the people you hang with or work with are satisfied with “good enough”, reject the settling for mediocrity and find associates who are dedicated to excellence.
* If people in your life are gaslighting you (look it up), get them out of your life immediately.
* If people gossip to you, they will also gossip about you. Keep your distance.
* Find five people who have interests and values you admire. Make these people a part of your life.
Personally, I find spending time in the Gospels to be a good adjunct to surrounding yourself with the people you want to be the most like. Jesus did say, did he not, that he considered his disciples to be his friends (John 15:15), and if so, then why not us?
The four Gospels show us how he influenced others, how he stood for the weak, and how he lived a life of compassion. They reveal a man of character and strength, intelligence and humor, service and self-sacrifice. Who wouldn’t want to become like that?
So pick your five friends carefully – but also remember that Sixth One.

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.

GettyImages-897821744.jpg

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.

The Gospel According to Angry Birds (Sabbath Meditations)
My name is Tony and I am 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’ve tried playing the new-fangled games with my teenage son. He just laughs at me. By the time I figure 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 II 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.
Last 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 I 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?

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.

Somebody’s Got to be Wisconsin (Answers for the 21st Century Thinker)
(6-minute video)

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 (pronounced “vej”) 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.

A Queen and not a Widow (The Word and The Way)
“To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.’ “For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” Revelation 18:7-10
The ‘all caps’ in the verses above is not my doing. The translation I use makes note of when the New Testament cites the Old Testament by putting the words in ‘all caps’. In this instance, John the Revelator is referencing Isaiah 47. In fact, a whole lot of the book of Revelation references the Old Testament.

I am bringing this up because I want to ask the reader a question: from where does a queen derive her power? This is a much harder question to answer for those of us in the Americas than for those on the European continent, because we largely lack monarchies on this side of the world. A queen derives her power from a king. In order for a woman to ascend to the throne of a country, her husband must have died or her father died without having male children.
The congregation of true believers is analogized as a pure bride by the Apostle Paul and others, but even in the book of Revelation itself we can see that the congregation of those who remain true are referred to as chaste bride clothed in white:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:7,8
The contrast we have here is a congregation of faithful and obedient believers being identified as a chaste bride clothed in white and the congregation of syncretic and disobedient believers being analogized as a harlot clothed in scarlet. This is a pretty easy distinction to figure out.
However, the identifier of the Babylon of the end times being a queen and not a widow gives us a little more insight. That means this Babylon character is a power that believes it derives its power from itself without the need of the husband (God). There are a couple groups that fit this category but which country or culture do we see today that has been historically faithful, blessed beyond comprehension, and yet has decided to push any reference to the Almighty from the public square? Western culture as a whole has been pursuing a secular agenda for quite a while, but the United States today is remarkably pushing God out of the public square. We have had the world’s most powerful military and economy for quite a while and have lived in almost universal peace and safety for over fifty years. This degree of security and prosperity for such a length of time makes us start to believe that we will never see mourning, especially nothing like the hard times our forefathers endured to build that peace.
There are a whole lot of things lining up recently that look end-time-ish lately. Is this the end, birth pangs for the end, or just another cyclic change in the power structure on planet earth? Only Yahweh knows for sure. But it is intriguing to explore the parallels between the USA and the Babylonian end-time power. While this nation has sinned a lot historically and has never kept the 4th commandment, it was founded by those seeking to have the religious freedom to worship the God of the Bible as they saw fit. As our country has prospered immensely in the last fifty or sixty years, our culture has turned more into a secular humanist society. This means we, as a nation, have decided to lean on our own works and reject the Almighty. Our culture has also very rapidly been promoting the mixing of belief systems under the guise of ‘tolerance’. These things add up to fitting the idea that America is starting to believe that she is a queen who needs no husband, and that is a dangerous place to be.

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 have a glimpse now 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.

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?!

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.

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.”
According to an article written by Robin Levinson King and published in The Star on March 9, 2016: “When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, not everyone was thrilled. “That’s it!” many left-leaning Americans presumably said. “I’m moving to Canada.” The day after Bush was re-elected president, there were 191,000 hits on Canada’s immigration website, six times its average traffic…” Levinson King, in the article titled “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” and up through a spike in the search term “how can I move to Canada” on Super Tuesday 2017.
Even in the fictional book “The Handmaid’s Tale” written by Margaret Atwood, published in 1985, 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 Canada 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 husband (if you are married) may be your closest friend, I still think you need sisters (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’s each also be “Canada” to others.

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

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

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, asking Him to do His work in us. We can ask Him, as David did, to search and know our hearts, to try us and change us from the inside out and lead us in the way everlasting.
I pray for the courage to choose the latter.

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

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’ (II 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’ (I 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.

Ode to a Big Green Cup (Sabbath Meditations)
I had this huge green drinking cup on my desk at work. It was one of a larger set that my wife donated to Goodwill because they, as she said, “are ugly.” That was a gloomy day in the Stith household for me. I loved those green cups, mainly because they were so huge. I drink a lot of water and, well, they held at least two and half cups! Filling one saved me about three trips to the faucet.
Seeing my beloved cups sitting in a bag on the kitchen floor one morning, ready for donation, I was overcome with separation anxiety and did the unthinkable. Somewhere there is a family, one shy of a full set of beautiful, huge, green cups.
For ten years — could be more, I lost count — that cup followed me through two job changes, each time taking its honored place to the right of my computer monitor. It was a faithful companion.
Then I noticed that my green friend had developed a small, almost invisible crack at the rim. Because it was so small, I ignored it, thinking it was no big deal. Sitting at my desk a few weeks later, having just filled my trusty cup to the brim with aqua, I became alarmed to see a small puddle developing at its base. Turning the cup around, I noticed the almost invisible crack had developed into an inch and a half crevice. “I’m going to have to fix that,” I thought to myself. I quickly drank enough water to bring the level below the bottom of the breach and went on with my work.
A month or two later, the crack had crept its way further and further down the side of my beloved green cup. I could only fill it a little over half way full, not much more than a regular sized cup can hold. If I had attempted to solder the crack when it first appeared, this might never have happened. At that point, I realized it wasn’t fixable.
In Ephesians 4:27-32 we read, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
I realize the analogy isn’t perfect. After all, anger or bitterness toward a green cup is rather ridiculous. I do confess, however, to having had some less than charitable thoughts when I absent-mindedly filled the cup to the brim and got water on my desk. But you get the point. When cracks form in our relationships, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, we should do everything we can to repair them immediately. Left unattended, small cracks can turn into crevices. The level of love those relationships once held can begin to diminish, seeping out through unresolved hurts, perceived injustices or misunderstandings.
The sad truth is, relationships don’t usually disintegrate because of one event. Rather, they are the culmination of months, maybe even years, of neglect. They are the end result of love taken for granted, care and concern never communicated, apologies never extended or hurts never healed. Love, while it may be overflowing on the inside, if left unexpressed or purposely withheld during times of conflict, gradually separates even the closest of friends. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Week after week, I watched the crevice in my cherished cup grow longer. I knew that I had to send my dear inanimate friend to the great white dumping grounds, aka, the trash bin under my desk. If only I had acted sooner. I’m not sure that I’ll ever find another quite as large, durable or reliable. They just don’t make them like they used to do.
Maybe I’ll try Goodwill.

Withhold Not Good (Morning Companion)
John Stossel once produced a creative politically incorrect piece on the homeless. In one interesting sequence a street beggar claimed she was stranded from home several states away and needed money to get home to Seattle. The camera followed her and discovered she was living in a modest but comfortable home two blocks away and had money to shop every morning. Stossel discovered, after talking to people who had given her money, that she was easily panhandling $50 an hour, tax free of course.
That caused me to recall this from Proverbs 3: “Withhold not good to whom it is due when it is in the power of your hand to do it.” The operative phrase is “to whom it is due”. Clearly giving a couple of bucks is within the power of my hand. Clearly it’s good to help those in need. But is this type of help “due” to this woman?
At church I have the unpleasant job of being the point man when passers-by visit our service for the purpose of requesting money. The assignment has been quite an education. One time a fellow in a beat up pickup truck came by with hat in hand, saying that he needed to get to Moberly, Missouri, mighty quick, but his water pump had gone out. Could the church see fit to “lend” him some money to buy one. It only costs X number of dollars and he could install it himself.
I don’t remember what I told him, but a month or two later another fellow in a beat up pickup visited us with hat in hand saying, “I need to get to Moberly, Missouri, real quick, but my water pump’s broke. Can you give me X number of dollars to buy one?” Yeah. Right.
Another time a lady walked in during our before-service fellowship hour saying she was hungry and she needed some money to buy something to eat. We had all kinds of food out on the table, everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to the most calorie-laden cakes and pies imaginable. You know, the kind of things that make church especially enjoyable. “Feel free! Grab a plate! We’re glad to share!” Whereupon she says, “Honey, I need hot food.”
As I said, this has been an adventure.
Having said all that, there are in fact real people with real needs, and along with that a biblical mandate to care for the needy. But we don’t want to enable the fellow in the old joke who asks for money to pay the rent. He was asked, “If I give you money to pay the rent, how do I know you won’t just gamble it away?” He answers, “Well, I GOT gambling money.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan suggests a solution. It’s likely the best known of all Jesus’s parables, but this Samaritan carries out his kindness in a way that maybe has not been apparent to most. When he rescues the injured, beaten man and leaves him at the inn, he does something very curious. He takes out a few coins, gives them to the innkeeper for the man’s ongoing care, and promises to repay the innkeeper on his return trip for additional expenses that might come up.
Notice that he gives the cash to the innkeeper, not to the man in need.
Based on this, we have a rule that we will not give cash to a stranger. We’ll do what we can to take care of the needs. We’ll offer food if the person is hungry. We keep boxes of groceries filled with non-perishables if food is the problem. There are any number of creative ways to help people in need without doling out dollars. You can even make an exception and respect the person’s dignity by hiring him to do some chores in exchange for cash.
I suspect, though, that many of those offers to help will be somehow refused. That second fellow who came by with the bad water pump? I told him that I would meet him at the auto parts store, but I wouldn’t give him cash. Guess what? He never showed up.

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

Something to Smile About (Sabbath Meditations)
God is being tossed out of our schools and our civic life; battles are waging over the definition of marriage and the rights of the unborn to life; fuel prices are draining our pocket books; illegal aliens are streaming over our borders and draining the resources of our economy and terrorism is no longer something that happens somewhere else in the world. These are the realities we live with. It’s enough to wipe the smile away from even the most jovial among us.
Ephesians 5:19 tells us that we as Christians should be “singing and making melody in (our) heart to the Lord.” It’s difficult to make melody in your heart while your mind is consumed with the negative realities and Godlessness around us.
So, how do we do it? Should we strive to remain oblivious and detached from this world’s problems? I don’t believe so. We are told in Ezekiel 9:4 to “sigh and cry for the abominations that are done in this world.” We can’t very well be oblivious of the problems around us and simultaneously lament them.So how, then, are we supposed to make melody in our hearts and sigh and cry at the same time? How does that work?
The answer is simply this: Our internal reality must overpower and supersede the external one. We, as Christians, although recognizing and lamenting the state of our current world, should be primarily driven by, influenced by and responsive to our hope and confidence in Jesus Christ, which is our internal, and eternal, reality. The joy that our focus on that reality brings supersedes and overwhelms the negativity that living in this world would otherwise produce.
We are Ambassadors of a better world to come. If we are to be Ambassadors for Him, our countenance, both inside and out, should reflect that reality.
So does that mean we should all walk around with cheesy grins on our faces? No, not necessarily. We can’t very well portray the joy that is in our hearts when all that is etched on our faces is gloom and doom. The witness of a somber Christian is a bit like the ship captain who tells his passengers that the boat’s not going to sink, as he straps on his life vest and jumps into a life boat. He’s not very believable.
If our focus is on the hope that lies within us, the joy that is produced by that focus can’t help but overflow to our outward countenance. We will have a little extra spring in our step; a glimmer in our eye; and yes, the corners of our mouth will tend to turn up a little more often. That smile you have on the inside can’t help but occasionally spill over to the outside.
So, my dear Christian brothers and sisters. Do we live in a messed up world? Yes. Is it getting worse daily? Definitely, Yes. Should we be concerned and at times saddened by what we see around us? Our God is, so, yes, we should be as well. Should these realities, however, overwhelm and cause us despair? Most definitely No. The realities of this world are temporary. The reality we live in, we focus on, is eternal. That’s certainly something to smile about.

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?

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

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

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

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 may 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 roll 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 (pardon the pun) hanging. 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.

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.

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

In Whom Is No Deceit (Morning Companion)
While preparing a recent sermon about how the Holy Spirit is supposed to change our lives, I came across a passage in Ephesians where Paul addresses how the “new man” should be different from the “old man”. In chapter 4 verse 25 of that epistle Paul writes, “Putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.”
In this verse — and in fact in the entire passage – Paul offers two parts for each bit of instruction that shows a life transformed by the Spirit. We’ll call these the “put offs” (see verse 22) and the “put ons” (see verse 24). We are to “put off” the things of the old man, and the “put on” the things of the new man.
So Paul is saying, “Look, you Ephesians. You do need to stop telling lies, but there is more to it than that. You can’t just sit there with a hidden agenda and keep your mouth shut when someone else promulgates a falsehood that benefits you, and you can’t just sit there and shout forth only the facts that support your ulterior motives. The new man in you simply tells the truth. As your Savior once said, ‘Let your yes be yes, and your no be no’.”
Paul and Jesus both are saying that Christians should have a commitment to the truth regardless of where the truth leads, whether pleasant or unpleasant, affirming or life-changing. The complete meaning of the Ninth Commandment is an admonition not to spin, not to obfuscate, not to muddy. Simply tell the truth.
I wonder if this what Jesus was referring to when he called a man named Nathanael to be one of his Apostles. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching him, he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” (John 1:47, The Message) Or as the New King James version has it, “an Israelite in whom is no deceit!” This Apostle must have been the straight shooter of the bunch. If you wanted to know what was on his mind, he would tell you and tell you straight.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had more people in public office who were like that? Or friends and acquaintances? Or more to the point, if we were more like that?
None of this to say that we should always be brutally honest. In addition to demanding our honesty the Bible also demands wisdom. Remember Proverbs 12:22-23, which at first glance seems to present a self-contradiction: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are a delight. A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaim foolishness.”
A prudent man should sometimes conceal knowledge? Isn’t hiding truth just one step removed from lying? There are many instances when it is better to say nothing. Sometimes telling the truth can reveal confidences that others have no need to know. Sometimes complete honesty will cause unnecessary pain. Sometimes our view of the truth is off-base.
If nothing else, the principles herein discussed provide an object lesson on how living biblically should be a life of prudence and moderation based on wisdom and judgment and always salted with love. These, by the way, are attributes we should grow into with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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

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 tell 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.

The Past: Learning From It, Without Living In It (Sabbath Meditations)
We may know of someone for who past experience has soured current aspects of their life. It may be the person who, because of one or several failed romantic relationship, has exiled themselves to a life of loneliness, refusing to risk further emotional trauma. Or it might be the individual, who having been raised in an abusive childhood situation determines to never bring children of their own into such a potentially painful world. Or perhaps it’s the Christian, having been soured by experience with “organized” religion, who washes their hands of it altogether, packs up their Bible and Concordance and proceeds to “go it alone” on their own little spiritual island.
Whatever the hurts and injustices we’ve suffered or witnessed in the past, living in it rather than using it as a tutor to guide ourselves or others to a more successful future, makes us its victim.
I believe that we as Christians, perhaps more than most, have a tendency to fall into this trap. We as a group have very sensitive noses for justice. We are keenly aware of right and wrong and we have a definite desire to see righteousness prevail and evil punished. Although a desirable quality in most cases, this sensitivity has the potential to work against us. In a world where the evil too often emerge victorious and injustices are a daily occurrence, our spirits can easily become embittered, cynical and negative. Allowed to linger, this fixation on the injustices of the world can ultimately serve to rob us of our joy and inhibit our growth forward. We become victims of the past rather than its students.
In Philippians 3:12 through the example of Paul we are admonished to forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead.
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus tells us “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Taken together, these passages encourage us to not let the past cripple us but rather to gain wisdom from the injustices we or others have witnessed or experienced, and use that wisdom to move forward in a positive, productive direction.
God wants us to look ahead to Him as the Author and Finisher of our Faith and toward what He has in store for us. We can’t do that if we are constantly obsessed by what’s back over our shoulder. Yes, it’s true. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. We shouldn’t ignore the past. Let’s learn from it, gain wisdom because of it, but not be victimized by it. It’s okay to visit there once in awhile but it’s definitely not a healthy place to live.

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

Creating Our Own Weather (Sabbath Meditations)
I was biking one of my favorite routes, trying to best my previous time. About two thirds around the route it became clear that it w