Thoughts on The Way


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Did God Really Tell You That? (Morning Companion)
Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21 KJV)
Test all things; hold fast what is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV)
In every election cycle I hear candidates claiming that they are running for office because they believe God told them to. Though it would be improper for me to question one’s personal relationship with the Almighty, I do think it is prudent to ask whether they were hearing the voice of God or the voice of subconscious which they merely thought was the voice of God. Maybe losing a bid for office once or twice or a half dozen times answers that question. Or maybe not.
Regardless, how can we know if we are doing God’s will when we get that nudge to act? Is it the Spirit of God or the spirit of Lenny that motivates me forward? We can start with the quote at the top of this essay: “Prove (or test) all things.” “Prove” in this verse carries the sense of putting something to a test. Jesus spoke of a man who had a yoke of oxen that he wanted to “prove” (Luke 14:19 KJV). That meant taking the oxen into the field to test them, to try them out as good plow animals. It was a matter of proving them by experience and results.
A wonderful example of this is found in Genesis 24, where a servant of Abraham is tasked with finding a bride for Abraham’s son Isaac. We surmise from the narrative that the servant is unsure how to go about it, so he prays the following:
O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14 NKJV)
Soon enough a young woman comes to the well and everything unfolds just the way the servant asked, but notice how he reacts to this. I submit he models an excellent example:
And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not. So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold, and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge? (Verses 21-23 NKJV, Emphasis added)
The servant knew better than to simply take everything at face value. He was looking for confirmation that this was an answer to his prayer. He did not assume anything at first blush. He waited, he observed, and he asked questions. Only after satisfactory confirmation did he accept that he was acting within God’s will.
May I suggest we do the same when looking for answers to prayer. Sometimes we want something so badly that we grab the first bubble that floats our way. Go for the bubble if you must. If it bursts, it bursts, but at least you’ll know.

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

Joy (New Church Lady)
James 1:2-4 [ESV] Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The apostles themselves set an example in this very thing.
Acts 5:40-41 [ESV] “and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
Given the trial of being beaten for preaching the Gospel, they rejoiced. I am definitely not there yet.
I have rejoiced to see the end of a trial and to have survived it, but I don’t think I have ever “counted it joy” when I first met a trial along the path of life. And maybe that isn’t exactly what James is asking us to do here.
Perhaps the key to the joy of meeting a trial is in coming out on the other side with growth in faith, finding that we are more steadfast and having gotten closer to perfection and completion for the work that God is doing within us. Acts 5 does tell us that the apostles rejoiced after the beating, when it was over. They did rejoice at going through it – at being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. I am not saying they rejoiced because it was over, only when it was over.
Jesus set the same example. We read that He pleaded with the Father to take away the trial of beating and death on the stake. Afterwards, I’m sure the angels in heaven, the Father and Jesus rejoiced.
I am sure that the Father, Jesus and the angels also rejoice when they see each of us go through a trial and come out on the other side stronger in faith and more confident in our own steadfastness.
Like weightlifting, the more we work the greater the weight we can bear. Weightlifting creates tiny tears in the muscles we use. It is the overnight repair that builds the bulk and strength we are seeking while lifting weights. So, too, our work to make it through trials may leave tiny tears (or maybe large ones), in our bodies, finances and lives, but the bulk up our faith and steadfastness, moving us toward the goal of perfecting God’s work in us.
So when you meet a trial, choose to count it as joy for the godly work it brings you. Even if we can only say, “when this is done I will count it as joy for the work God is doing in me and for my hope of future glory with Jesus in the Kingdom.” I don’t think brother James is asking anything more of us.

Do Not Be Afraid (Forerunner)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” (Matthew 10:29)
As I stopped to fuel my vehicle, a sparrow landed about five feet away and began pecking on some crumbs, seemingly unafraid of me. I watched him for several minutes until he flew off out of sight.
I could not help thinking of Jesus’s words in Matthew and Luke informing us that our great God is mindful of this little bird. It seemed a little ironic that the whole nation fears increasing gas prices, worrying how they will cope if the gas crisis continues, and this tiny, vulnerable bird simply goes about his daily search for food without a care. It is especially ironic because Jesus uses the sparrow to teach us not to fret but trust Him in all things.
He says in
Matthew 10:31, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Jesus chose this diminutive bird to answer the questions: Does God really notice us? Does He watch over us and love and care for each of us? Understanding the context of Matthew 10 is helpful. At its beginning, Matthew lists the names of the apostles Jesus called and then launches into His instructions regarding their commission to do God’s work (verses 1-10). Within His instructions are warnings that their lives will not be easy. Many people would not be receptive to their message, and the apostles would have to learn to deal with it (verses 11-15). In the next section (verses 16-24), He tells them directly that they will face persecution. They will suffer trials and difficult days, but He also comforts them three times, in verses 26, 28, 31 saying, “Do not fear.” In so doing, Jesus reassures them that God was with them every step of their journey.
In Matthew 10:29-31 and in Luke’s version of the same event (Luke 12:6-7), Jesus uses the example of the sparrow to teach that nothing escapes the attention of our loving God. Why did Christ choose the sparrow? Sparrows are not majestic or powerful like raptors but just the opposite: Sparrows are extremely vulnerable, especially susceptible to birds of prey like falcons, hawks, and eagles. Sparrows are small and nondescript. A sparrow’s average length is only five to six inches long, and one of the tiny creatures weighs less than an ounce. And most often, they go unnoticed even though they number in the billions (1.6 billion house sparrows are estimated to exist around the globe, and there are 28 true-sparrow species). They are drab brown and blend in with the ground, dry grass, or scrub.
I love to watch the cardinals perching in the small tree in our front yard, and in the trees behind our house, a family of blue jays often captures my attention until they fly off. Sparrows are there too, up on the powerline or hopping in the yard, but my eyes rarely rest on them. There is little to them to hold a person’s attention. They cannot match the brilliance of colored plumage other songbirds sport.
No one prizes sparrows. No one gets excited when one flies into sight. No one pays big money to import a pair from abroad. People do not keep them in cages for their pleasant song; in fact, their “song” is more of a squawk. To put it bluntly, the sparrow is probably the most insignificant of all birds. Yet, it is for this very reason that Jesus used them to teach the apostles about God’s watchful care over them and us today.
The two instances of Jesus’s comments about sparrows say much the same thing, although a few minor details are different:
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7) As Jesus often does, He uses an example that His contemporary audience would have easily understood. Vendors sold sparrows in first-century markets as food for the lower class, and Jesus draws on this common marketplace transaction to make His point. As mentioned above, sparrows are tiny; they typically weigh less than an ounce. One would hardly be a mouthful, and what is more, their nutritional value is meager. The sparrow was indeed a poor man’s food, and even several of them would hardly make a decent meal.
It is easy to understand how little value they had in the Roman-era marketplace. No one would get rich selling pairs of sparrows for a copper coin, typically the lowest-value coins, similar in value to our modern penny. These tiny birds hold even less value today since modern people do not use them as food.
Matthew phrases what Jesus says a little differently:
“And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29).
The word “falls” (
Strong’s #4098) is translated from the Greek word: piptō, which has the basic meaning of “to descend from a higher place to a lower one,” thus, “to fall.” For example, when the young man Eutychus “fell” from the third story of a house in Troas, the word Luke uses is a form of piptō. Luke also uses it to describe a donkey or an ox falling into a well (Luke 14:5), and Matthew uses it of a house falling or not falling due to flooding (Matthew 7:25, 27). Alternatively, it can mean “to light upon.” The more common usage in Scripture is “to fall,” but this connotation is worth considering.
Most people assume that Jesus means that God notices when a sparrow falls to the earth and dies. This understanding is natural. But William Barclay’s commentary on Matthew 10:29 and this particular word are noteworthy:
The Revised Standard Version—and it is a perfectly correct translation of the Greek—has it that not one sparrow will fall to the ground without the knowledge of God. In such a context, the word fall makes us naturally think of death; but in all probability the Greek is a translation of an Aramaic word which means to light upon the ground. It is not that God marks the sparrow when the sparrow falls dead; it is far more; it is that God marks the sparrow every time it lights and hops upon the ground. So it is Jesus’s argument that, if God cares like that for sparrows, [H]e will care much more for men and women.
Jesus is declaring that if God cares enough to notice and acknowledge when the millions and millions of these little, brown-feathered birds light upon the ground, then how much more does He care for us, His children, whom He has made in His image?
His point is that we should never think of God as distant and uncaring. No matter what we may be experiencing in life, God is aware of it. When we have times of suffering, sorrow, persecution, hardship, separation, or even death, God is not somewhere else. He is right there with us.
In each text, Jesus gives hope, comfort, and strength to His disciples for when they would face persecution for preaching the gospel. He wants the disciples and us today to be much more focused on God and His will than the opinions of those who may test or discourage us.
We do not know if the disciples grasped what Jesus was telling them then, but in time they learned from their experiences and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We can see it in 1 Peter 3:13-14 where the apostle encourages the church with the same thought:
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”
Peter had no doubt that God knows everything; nothing escapes His recognition or understanding. He knows our every thought, every action, every circumstance, and every experience—good or bad. And he adds, “you are blessed,” knowing God’s protection and compassion are endless.
We live in an age when God’s love and care are continually questioned, privately and publicly. But if we believe God’s Word, we show a lack of faith when we allow ourselves to think He has less compassion for us than He has for the little sparrow.
It is encouraging that, right in the middle of the sparrow analogy, Jesus says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Jesus puts His disciples dead-center in this analogy about sparrows.
Our Savior is saying God knows us better than we know ourselves. Do we know how many hairs are on our heads? Of course, those who are follicly-challenged have a far easier time counting. Yet, no matter how much hair we may have, God knows!
And we can be sure that His knowledge does not end with the number of hairs on our heads! God knows everything about us and cares about our every body part, thought, word, and action, and He still loves us.
We are like sparrows. Compared to the number of people who live on earth, compared to the great and the near great among humanity, we are so small and insignificant. Most of all, in comparison to God, we are literally worthless. We can offer Him nothing of value. Even our highest thoughts and ideas are meaningless.
Paul makes this point for us in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
But 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; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
In Matthew and Luke, Jesus chose, not the strong, powerful, stately eagle but the sparrow, the weak and base of the bird family, to make His point. In the larger setting of His purpose, He has chosen you and me, the truly weak and base, those who are nothing special among human beings.
But the key words are in Paul’s repeated phrase, “God has chosen.”
We did not volunteer to become His elect. God has chosen us. We did not have any special skills or abilities that impressed Him. God has chosen us despite our insignificance. We did not have any stature in society to advance His work. God has chosen us out of obscurity. God chose those who were foolish, base, despised, and nothing.
From the beginning, the sovereign God has been working (John 5:17), creating godly children in His image and character. He has set us apart for a special purpose, sanctifying us, a process that takes a lifetime of constant refinement. He tests us, honing our ability to endure and resist sin, purifying and perfecting our character, and bringing us ever closer to His own righteousness.
Throughout that lifetime of refinement, God is there with us, watching over us and loving us. He is neither distant nor uncaring. In fact, just the opposite, as Jesus tells us in Luke 12.32: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
This term, “Do not fear,” or similar ones like “fear not” or “do not be afraid,” appears over a hundred times in Scripture. By this repetition, God is driving home a point. Do we believe it?
Jesus wants us to be much more concerned with the will of our heavenly Father than the opinions of those that may test or discourage us. Every church member needs and desires encouragement from time to time, and we can find no greater encourager than God. Nothing is more encouraging than reading about God’s sure promises in His Word, like those we see in Matthew 10 and Luke 12 about the sparrow.
God does not forget us, not even for one minute—and definitely not when we are suffering under trials. One of the most heartening scriptures is Hebrews 13:5, where God Himself assures us,
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Sparrows will never know that a loving God watches over them constantly and never forgets them. They have no idea He notices when they simply light upon the ground. But we know. We know our great God is aware of us at every moment of the day and knows what is happening in our lives down to the smallest detail. Why? Because, in His eyes, we are worth far more than many sparrows.

How Does God Keep Score? (Morning Companion)
More decades ago than I care to think about, I was sitting in a catechism class for teenagers. Back in those more congenial days the State of New York allowed schools to close early once a week, releasing students from its secular confines to attend religious education classes at the church of our parents’ choice.
Being of my ethnic persuasion, the family chose St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church for my theological exposure, where a young man attempted to impart to us the classical principles of the ancient faith. He laid on us what seemed at first like heresy, but no more than five seconds into his explanation a lightbulb flashed in my half-formed brain. His point made sense.
“Do you think,” he said as he strolled to the blackboard, chalk in hand, “that God has a scoreboard up in heaven and tallies points for doing good and subtracts points for being bad? No! It doesn’t work that way.”
Is God a scorekeeper in the sky who keeps track of merits and demerits? Do we live our lives in order to buy favor with God? Is our relationship with God transactional or transformational? A man named Jacob illustrates the difference.
We read in Genesis about the young man and a deal he proffers with God. As he’s fleeing from a difficult and dangerous situation at home, he has an startling yet encouraging dream, after which he makes this bargain.
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I can return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Genesis 28:20-22 NIV)
That’s an example of treating God as a transactional God. It a quid pro quo, a this for that kind of thing. It is certainly not a transformational relationship.
Many years later, after the experience of life had knocked the pride out of Jacob’s psyche, he began a journey back home. The feud with his brother that had precipitated his flight those many years before had still not been healed, and Jacob, in fear for his life, did what he he needed to do. He prayed. Notice this prayer and how it differs from his earlier prayer:
“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'” (Genesis 32:9-12 NIV)
It’s fair to say that Jacob went home with a transformational rather than a transactional relationship with God. His experience with the vagaries of life transformed him and he came to know God in a way he could not had his life been easy. And more to the point, he knew that a mature relationship with his Creator is not based on a quid pro quo, on a this for that. It’s not transactional. It’s transformative.

How to limit God in 3 easy steps (Sabbath Thoughts)
Are you tired of the continual presence of God in your life? Does the divine intervention of a loving, all-knowing Creator just get under your skin? Would your daily routine be easier without the constant meddling of a God who has your best interests at heart?
It might seem strange to suggest we can somehow limit the Creator of the universe, but we need look no further than the Bible’s account of the Israelites for proof that it can be done. It was King David himself who wrote,
“Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41).
So what’s the secret? It’s simple, really. There is no limit to what God
can do, but there is a very real limit to what He will do. Certain actions on our end will make it harder and harder for Him to be intimately involved in our lives—so if you’d like to keep your interaction with God at the absolute bare minimum, these three tried-and-true steps are guaranteed to keep Him at arm’s length. They worked for many people throughout history, and there’s no reason they can’t work for you too!
1. Doubt Him
When it comes to thoughts and actions, God operates on a completely different plane than human beings (Isaiah 55:9). Because of His unbiased perspective and perfect understanding, He often makes decisions that—from our inadequate vantage points—make absolutely no sense. You might think this should make it easier to
trust God, but human nature enables us to set our own expectations as our standard. When God inevitably fails to rise (or rather, stoop) to those flawed expectations, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to transform that disappointment into skepticism and doubt. Remember that when Jesus came to visit his hometown of Nazareth, “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).
The key to this step is simply latching on to any fragment of doubt you can muster. Once you get that far, you’ll discover how easy it is to nurture that doubt and let it grow into something massive. And don’t worry! Doubt is a hardy, extremely resilient weed, so you would need to make a very concentrated effort to do any serious damage to it. The Israelites watched God send down bread from heaven and call forth water out of a rock, but if they woke up in the mornings with so much as a crick in their neck, they were still able to immediately accuse God of irrationally plotting their total annihilation. It won’t happen overnight, but with enough practice, you too can have this level of doubt toward God!
Once your doubt is strong enough, you’ll begin to notice God seeming a little more absent from your life. If you’d like, feel free to view this as His fault and use it to further bolster your skepticism as you proceed to the next step.
A word of caution: As powerful as doubt can be, it’s necessary to remember that even a little perspective can undo all your hard work. The author of Hebrews notes that “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6), and the apostle James adds that Christians are to come before God “in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Take this to heart! Making allowances for the fact that God might know and understand more than you is like taking an axe to the roots of your doubt—so be sure to avoid this under any circumstances!
2. Ignore Him
Through the Bible, God provides us with a great deal of instruction about getting the absolute most out of life. However, many of these instructions can appear counter-intuitive on the surface. Give up a tenth of our hard-earned money? Sacrifice one day out of seven to worship God? Lose our lives in order to find them? If you’ve really dedicated yourself to the previous step, then by now you ought to have a litany of questions about these instructions. Doesn’t God know I need that money to pay bills? Doesn’t God know I need that day to take care of all my responsibilities? If God really loves me, why does He want me to shift my focus from the things I love?
Excellent. At this point your doubt is strong enough to prompt some action on your part. You should be seriously concerned that God might not really know what’s best for you—which leaves you with only one choice, really. You’re going to have to start ignoring the instructions that are just asking too much of you. Not all at once, of course. There’s no need to jump in blindly, here—just dip your toes in for now. After all, what you really need is just a little breathing room. Maybe you don’t need to set aside a
full 10% of your income—after all, 5% or 6% is more than enough, isn’t it? Maybe you don’t need to spend a full day observing the Sabbath—after all, you made it to services this week, didn’t you? And maybe it’s okay to put a couple things ahead of God—after all, this mortgage isn’t going to pay itself, you know?
It might take a while to get comfortable with this new approach, so don’t feel the need to rush. You’re probably going to feel some guilt for a while, but that’s okay—just stick with the gradual approach and eventually it will pass. There won’t be any bolts of lightning or pillars of fire. You’re just doing what you need to do—and once you’ve come to accept that, it’s time to move on to the final step.
A word of caution: Ignorance is vital here. The apostle Paul encourages Christians to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
It is essential that you
do not do this. If you faithfully tithe even when it seems to promise financial ruin, you might start to see God “open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). If you start to faithfully observe the Sabbath even though you’re not sure how you’ll manage without those extra 24 hours for getting things done, you might start to find that you “delight yourself in the Lord” who will “cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father” (Isaiah 58:14). And if you discover that seeking your own interests only leads to an empty vacuum of an existence, you might start to find the truth in Christ’s statement that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). In other words, following God’s instructions will only bring you closer to Him, which is certainly not what you want.
3. Sin against Him
Satan wasn’t always known as Satan. In fact, the Bible tells us of a time when he was known as Heylel—the day star, the son of the morning (Isaiah 14:12). He was “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty,” established by God, and perfect in his ways from the day he was created (Ezekiel 28:12, 14-15), until …
Until something happened. Satan started doubting God—started doubting that He really knew what He was doing. And Satan started ignoring the commands of God—started coveting God’s position as the Most High. His next step was only logical. He told himself:
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.
(Isaiah 14:13-14)
If God doesn’t know what’s best for you, then you’re going to have to replace Him—and who better to lead you than … you? After all, you know what you want. You know what you need. Up until now it’s been a matter of gradually letting things fall away, but now it’s time to drop the façade. You don’t care what God thinks or what He wants you to do—you only know that it’s been a long time since you ever felt close to Him and that it’s high time to take matters into your own hands.
It didn’t end well for Satan, of course. God explains:
You became filled with violence within, and you sinned;
Therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God;
And I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor;
I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings,
That they might gaze at you.
(Ezekiel 28:16-17)
No, it certainly didn’t end (and will not end) well for Satan. But that’s not what you wanted, was it? A good ending? No, as I recall, you wanted to keep God as far from you as possible. Well, Christ told the disciples that He
“saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). I don’t know how much farther you can get from God than being hurled by Him through the cosmos, and since these three steps have you following a path strikingly similar to the one Satan took, it’s safe to assume that you’ll find a similar void between yourself and your Creator. God will not dwell with sin (Psalm 5:4), to the point where He couldn’t even be close to His own Son when Christ became the sacrifice for our sins (Mark 15:34). And at this stage, you’re well on your way to willingly making sin your lifestyle.
Do you think God will want to be anywhere near that?
A word of caution: This might seem like the absolute end of the line—but believe it or not, it’s still possible to undo everything you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. Because God is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), your genuine repentance can still throw a giant monkey wrench into the gears of this whole process. God is more patient with us than we could possibly deserve, and ultimately desires every human being to join His perfect spiritual family—and while He hates sin in all its forms, He is eager to work with all those who are seeking both His forgiveness and a way to leave those sins behind forever.
Such a mindset would be absolutely detrimental to your plans of distancing yourself from God and must be avoided at all costs. So long as you cling to the prescribed attitude of willful and belligerent sin, you will be successful in completely severing any relationship between yourself and God—primarily because this is the path that will one day lead you to complete and final destruction in the lake of fire. God is longsuffering, but He is also merciful—if you are determined to live a life that brings pain to yourself and to those around you, the most merciful thing God can do for you is to end your existence. He wants you in His family, but He will not force you to be in it.
Of course, if you’re having second thoughts about whether or not this is the path for you, now would be the perfect time to reevaluate where this is all heading. It takes a very special kind of person to see this plan through to fruition, and if you decide an alternate destination sounds a little more appealing than total obliteration, it’s never too late to reconsider a relationship with God.

Thy Will and My Will (Sabbath Thoughts)
Given the choice, how would you run your life?
I’m not talking about the freedom you already have to make decisions and pursue goals—I’m talking about having the power to control exactly what happens to you. Would you choose to receive a vast inheritance from some heretofore unknown and eccentric uncle? Would you catapult yourself into the limelight, basking in the adoration of a million admirers? Would you have your siblings ambush you and sell you into slavery, and then have your new master’s wife falsely accuse you of attempting fornication with her, only to result in your unjust incarceration for several years?
If that last option sounds a little less than palatable, then congratulations, your sanity is more or less intact. There is absolutely nothing enticing about that last scenario, and certainly it would be one of the farthest choices from my mind if I had the ability to control the happenings of my day-to-day life. And yet, that same unfortunate chain of events belongs to the story of one of God’s most famous servants.
It’s not that Joseph asked for a life filled with servitude, false accusations, and time in the slammer. No one in their right mind
asks for those kind of things—but a good portion of his story looks like a rollercoaster where every “up” teases the promise of stability and improvement right before plunging even deeper into a worrisome abyss of despair.
If you’re unfamiliar with Joseph’s story (Genesis 37-50), here’s the abridged version: Because of Joseph’s status as his father’s favorite son, along with a couple visions that cast his siblings in a less-than-favorable light, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and convince their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. Joseph prospers in his new home, quickly finding himself placed in charge of all his master’s goods, until his master’s wife tries to seduce him (repeatedly), fails (repeatedly), and then frames him as a would-be rapist. Joseph is thrown in prison where, again, he prospers and is placed in charge of essentially running the jail. While incarcerated, he interprets the dreams of two other prisoners, correctly predicting that one would be pardoned and the other, executed. Joseph asks the soon-to-be-pardoned cupbearer to put in a good word to Pharaoh on his behalf, and the cupbearer happily agrees. Oh, and then forgets about that agreement. For two years. Eventually the Pharaoh has two distressing dreams, and the cupbearer conveniently has an epiphany—he knows the perfect guy for the job! He’s not hard to find, on account of still being locked up in the royal jailhouse.
There’s more to the story, but I want to stop here for a minute because I’ve left out a very important detail. It’s one of the most important details of Joseph’s entire story, and the Bible mentions it twice: namely, “the Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2,21). The specific times this phrase is used are interesting as well—the first is during his time as a slave, and the second is during his time in prison. We don’t read, “and the Lord left Joseph in prison and decided to check on him in about two years,” because that isn’t how God works. He was
there. Every step of Joseph’s misfortune-prone journey, God was there, helping Joseph to succeed wherever he found himself.
God didn’t abandon Joseph. He was with Joseph, most notably during the moments that made the least sense to him. I can only imagine how much time Joseph spent in deep personal reflection. Early on in life, God had shown him visions a future where his brothers would bow down to him. Did he ever start to question those visions? Did he ever start to question God? Because I think I would have a hard time
not wondering whether or not God was still with me if I were in Joseph’s shoes.
Which is exactly why the Bible gives us an emphatic
yes—even in the darkest, most perplexing hours of Joseph’s life, God was present … and He was working out a plan.
The rest of Joseph’s story reveals that God was using these pitfalls in Joseph’s life to bring about something grander than anyone involved could have ever imagined. His brothers’ betrayal allowed him to become the slave of a high-ranking Egyptian official. His imprisonment allowed him to enter the prison where he would meet Pharaoh’s cupbearer. The cupbearer’s delay in pleading Joseph’s case allowed Joseph to emerge from prison at the perfect time to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.
That dream was a warning from God about an impending famine in the land of Egypt, and after having this explained to him, Pharaoh installed Joseph as the second greatest authority in all the land. Through Joseph’s inspired planning, Egypt and surrounding nations were saved from a seven-year famine that would have otherwise decimated countless lives. Among those lives were those of his brothers, his father, and other family members—brothers who, incidentally, bowed to this strange Egyptian man they failed to recognize as the brother they sold all those years ago.
So now for the obvious question: why
this way? Why all the hardship? Couldn’t God have just inspired Pharaoh to put Joseph in charge from the beginning? Yes, I suppose. But there would be a couple problems with that timeline. Who knows how Joseph would have handled all that power if he hadn’t spent time in charge of both Potiphar’s household and the royal prison? Those experiences taught him both humility and organization. Also, by the end of the story we see a marked change in Joseph’s brothers—Judah, who proposed selling Joseph, is now willing to become a slave himself to rescue young Benjamin. Would that character growth have occurred any other way, or would they have just hated Joseph even more than before?
It’s clear even at first glance that the way God organized things was to everyone’s benefit—to Joseph’s, his family’s, and even the surrounding nations’. God took what would have been an unfortunate situation and shaped it into a series of events that ultimately led to something incredible. Joseph himself recognized this by the end, telling his brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:20-21).
The little snippets you and I glimpse of God’s plan in our lives so often don’t make sense to us because from our tiny human vantage point, we can’t see the bigger picture. We can’t see the future steps—we see the here and now. Joseph didn’t know why God allowed him to become a slave, or why God allowed him to be thrown into jail for a crime he didn’t even commit, but here’s the thing:
God did. God knew why He was allowing each and every moment in Joseph’s life—like a master chess player, God had a goal in mind and was actively moving Joseph toward it. It’s probably not the path Joseph would have chosen for himself, given the choice. Who would have? As we noted earlier, there’s nothing appealing about all those hardships—but when we look at the bigger picture, it becomes apparent that although it wasn’t the path we might have chosen, it was in fact the best path.
How many times have you and I wondered why God is allowing something in our lives? How many times have we grown anxious that what He’s letting us go through isn’t what’s best for us? How many times have we looked at the path God has set us on and wished we could do some course-correcting? One of the proverbs preserved in the pages of the Bible reminds us, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). We can plan our lives out all we like, but God is the one who ultimately decides what happens and what doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with having plans, but those plans need to end with the contingency Christ gave to his prayer in the garden: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).
If the story of Joseph teaches us anything, let it be this: let us understand that we can’t see as God sees. We can’t see the trillion different possibilities stemming from each step we take, but God can trace each one down to its finish line. We can’t see the end of our plans;
God can see the end of His. No, not everything God allows to happen in our lives is going to make sense, but it is only because we lack His perfect vantage point. It is never a failure of planning on His end, but a failure to see ahead on ours. When we submit our lives to God’s will and refrain from fighting Him at every curve, we will find not only a life of fulfillment, but a life with a greater ending than you and I could ever comprehend. No matter how perplexing, no matter how dark the moment, God will be there to guide us every step of the way.
God shaped Joseph into a ruler of Egypt. He’s shaping
us into kings and priests of the universe. Is any path to that destiny not worth taking?

The Feast and God’s People (Search the Scriptures)
In ancient times the feast was about rejoicing in the fear of the ETERNAL. It was called the feast of the harvest, or feast of Ingathering, Feast of Tabernacles (Tents), or simply,” the feast.” The harvest was complete. Food was plenteous. The work was done and it was time to rejoice before the Eternal and give thanks to Him and learn to fear to disappoint Him.
People in Israel took their tithes of the land—food, wine, and animals– to the temple and ate in the place that God chose to place His Name — the city of Shiloh (at first) and Jerusalem (later). The emphasis was on rejoicing, eating the best, and drinking the best.
The New Testament refers to God’s feasts as love feasts (Jude 12). Surely the word “love” is not referring to the “love” of food, wine, and good times. The word “love” in Greek is “agape” and means the kind of love God is and manifests.
This is the love we are to give to God’s people – called the “love of the Brethren (Philadelphia) — and to God. But how do we show love to God? “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
It is through the love we have toward one another that we love God also. Boiled down, the Feast is about God and His people. It’s about expressing love to God through His people. What does it mean to love people?
It means getting to know them and caring for them. It means to forgive them. It means to consider their needs, feelings, and sufferings. It means respecting their person and their property. It means accepting the fact that others have a right to their own ideas, values, and decisions – different though they may be from your own. It means knowing that we adhere to the main tenets of Christianity – Jesus Christ as Lord, the Son of God our Father!
We know that men and women are different. But we don’t need to judge them or criticize them but celebrate their differentness.
We are different from one another in many ways. Respecting other people’s right to be different, even their right to make mistakes, and their right to make their own choices is a form of love. The opposite is tyranny and accusing.
I believe the feast should be about growing in so many ways, but especially in our love for Christ, who is present in His people!
Here’s wishing you a very inspiring, loving, and edifying Feast!

Bold Thoughts (Sabbath Thoughts)
The wicked flee when no one pursues, But the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)
The trumpets sounded. The harps and flutes and voices quickly joined in as the royal musicians of the world’s most powerful nation struck up a symphony to send a single message to its people:
Bow down.
And so, fearing the wrath of their proud ruler, conquered nations and citizens alike bowed down to a giant golden idol, proving their loyalty to King Nebuchadnezzar. An entire empire lay prostrate before a statue.
An entire empire—with three exceptions. While the rest of their fellow subjects buried their faces in the ground, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah stood defiantly. Like the royal musicians, they too were sending a message:
We will not.
Word rushed back to the king like a fire igniting his wrath. Bitter citizens informed Nebuchadnezzar that three of the Jews he had instated as officials in his empires were now openly defying him, refusing to bow before his statue as commanded. Enraged, the king sent for them and demanded an answer: Had they really been so foolish as to openly defy the orders of the most powerful man in the world? He then restated the ultimatum that the three men knew all too well—they could either bow down to the statue with the rest of the empire, or they could burn alive in a furnace.
What came next shook a kingdom.
God had given His people, the nation of Israel, chance after chance (and warning after warning) to choose Him as their God. Time after time, they rejected Him in favor of smelted idols or carved figurines—choosing creation over the Creator. Centuries later, Stephen would summarize their history as he reprimanded the Israelite leaders of his time: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (
Acts 7:51).
Our Creator is patient, but He will not endure sin forever. And so, after centuries of second chances, He removed His protection from the nation and allowed foreign powers to cart the once-great people into captivity. Assyria would plunder the majority of Israel first; Babylon would follow, conquering what remained. Among the spoils claimed by the now-mighty Babylonians were four men of note: Daniel (who you probably remember from his time in the lion’s den) and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (who you probably remember from their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego).
It didn’t take long before these four faithful men of God distinguished themselves before the eyes of their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar. Through the inspiration of God, Daniel was able to both describe and interpret a dream of the king’s—a feat impossible for the alleged “wise men” of the Babylonian empire. This earned Daniel a promotion from captive to “ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48). The king also agreed to “set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon” (
Daniel 2:49).
The story might have ended there, if not for a minor problem: Nebuchadnezzar was not a particularly humble ruler. Something about being the most powerful man in the world had bloated his ego to mammoth proportions. So when construction finished on his 90-foot tall golden idol and he sent out the orders to worship it on pain of death whenever the royal musicians gave the cue, the very thought that three of his highest rulers would openly oppose his command was unacceptable. He summoned them and explained, with all the tenderness of an egotistical dictator, that their continued refusal would end with searing agony as they plummeted to the bottom of a burning fiery furnace.
There’s a good chance that Nebuchadnezzar had not solidified his authority by memorizing the birthdays of his officers’ children. Far more likely that the ruthless king had learned to make gruesome examples of those who opposed him—so it makes sense that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were not having this discussion in the king’s private quarters. When he shouted in rage, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (
Daniel 3:15), no doubt an entire court of officials stood stunned and silent, waiting anxiously to hear how the three rulers would answer. Could they possibly defy the king to his face? Would they be so foolish as to sign their own death sentence? Anyone with half a brain would surely realize that their only hope was to prostrate themselves like everyone else—but the three men were not interested in appeasing anyone.
Instead, their answer would be recorded in God’s Word, preserved for us down through the millennia as a defining example of what it means to be a Christian—and what it means to be as bold as lions. They told the king:
Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. (Daniel 3:16-18)
Unsurprisingly, King Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage, intent on making the consequences of disobedience unmistakably clear. The furnace was heated seven times hotter than usual—so hot that some of the finest soldiers in Nebuchadnezzar’s army were killed just by getting close enough to throw in the rebellious Jews. Much more surprising was when the king noticed the three men, not writhing in agony, but walking amidst the flames unharmed…and in the company of a fourth figure he could only describe as looking “like a son of the gods” (
Daniel 3:25, New International Version).
Ego or not, the king of Babylon was forced to come face-to-face with one simple fact: There was a Being more powerful than him, and that Being didn’t approve of Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. The king called for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego to come out of the furnace, then promoted them and made a decree that anyone who dared speak against the God of these three men would be sentenced to an unenviable death.
God’s miraculous rescue of His three faithful servants has made this story an enduring favorite, the real lesson lies in what happened before the fire. In fact, the real lesson lies in three simple words from the men’s short speech:
“But if not.”
They told the king,
“our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Contained within these three words is an attitude, a mindset, that any Christian who hopes to capture a lion’s boldness must have—a firm belief that serving God is unconditional.
Look at their words again. They begin by expressing their complete faith in God’s ability to save them from Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath. This king of Babylon saw himself as more powerful than the gods his people served—he had deluded himself into thinking he was omnipotent, unstoppable. When he asked, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” he wasn’t looking for a response. So when the three men responded with, “Our God,” it sent him into a rage. And if that had been all they said, this still would have made for a powerful account—but what makes it remarkable is what came next. The “But if not.”
The Biblical account in Daniel 3 mentions no divine revelation from God. We see no record of a vision or dream given to His servants, letting them know that they would be rescued by God. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego could not have been certain whether God would bring them alive out of the furnace. They knew He was able, but they didn’t know for sure that He
would. So they tell the most powerful ruler on Earth that even if God doesn’t deliver them from the fire—even if they knew in advance that refusing to bow would result in an excruciating death, they would not bow.
Not knowing that a divine rescue was imminent, it would have been easy for most people to justify bowing to the statue. After all, they wouldn’t really be worshiping the idol. God would know their hearts. They’d just be keeping out of trouble so that they could keep on worshiping the real God later! And besides that, if they were to die, that would be three fewer followers of God in a pagan government. So really, it was in everyone’s best interest, especially God’s, that they stay alive—and if that means a little compromise, then so be it, right?
Wrong. Wrong in every sense of the word. If there’s one lesson in this story, it’s this:
The conditions don’t matter. Following God has never and will never be a matter of, “I’ll serve God if…” Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego understood this. There was no, “We’ll only refuse to worship your statue if God rescues us.” It didn’t matter if God saved them or not—they were not going to bow, period. End of story. They would not compromise, and they would not blur any lines set by God, no matter the cost to their positions or their lives. And it’s because of this unconditional devotion to God that they were able to be bold as lions before King Nebuchadnezzar—the most powerful man in the world.
How about us? In our lives, we might not face anything so dramatic as a one-way trip into a burning fiery furnace. But we do face pressure to compromise—to blur the lines that God has set for us. We might even be able to convince ourselves that it’s okay, that God will understand because the ends justify the means, or because we’re not 100% sure that God will save us so it’s better to fend for ourselves. But the second we take that step, the second we choose to compromise even the slightest on God’s standards, we’ll be transformed from fearless, bold lions to whimpering, uncertain kittens. It might not show immediately on the outside; we may even manage to trick some people into thinking otherwise, but in our hearts, we’ll know—we’re not bold. We’re cowards.
On the contrary, when we choose to resist the pressure to compromise—whether or not we’ve fallen short before—we establish ourselves as bold lions. When we choose to stand up for God’s way, especially when we know it could cost us dearly, we not only maintain our integrity before God, but we also set an example of what it means to be a Christian.
King David wrote a verse that sums it all up beautifully; it may even have been going through the minds of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego when they made their now-famous speech. He wrote, “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (
Psalm 56:11). When we trust God—truly trust in His omnipotence, omniscience and immense care for us—then we know that our fellow man can do nothing more to us than what God allows. More than that, we know that whatever God allows, however little we understand it, is for our good. Secure in this knowledge, we can be bold.
As we noted earlier in this story, the names you likely know these three men by are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. These were the names assigned to them by their Babylonian captors and, for some reason, the names that stuck in this account. Because of this, it’s easy to overlook their real names—names that rightly give glory to their God. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah respectively mean “God has favored,” “Who is like God?” and “God has helped.” Even the names of these three men powerfully reflect their confidence and faith in God’s unparalleled ability to deliver His people.
And, yes—in the end, God rescued His three servants and even caused Nebuchadnezzar to promote them and proclaim God’s greatness throughout his empire. But what makes this account so inspiring is that even if He hadn’t … it would still have been a story worth telling.
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were bold as lions. Will you be?

He asked for all the fish (Sabbath Thoughts)
Have you ever wondered why?
The Bible records two separate instances where Jesus miraculously fed thousands and thousands of people with only a handful of loaves and fish. In both accounts, the end result is a stuffed multitude and baskets and baskets of leftovers. And that’s the main focus of the miracle—Jesus Christ’s ability to do the impossible, over and over again.
But recently, when I read those accounts, something jumped out at me. When the disciples told Jesus,
“We have here only five loaves and two fish” (|Matthew 14:17), His response was,
“Bring them here to Me’ … And He took the five loaves and the two fish” (Matthew 14:18-19).
That was it. That was the sum total of their available provisions. Christ tells them to feed the multitude, and they tell Him, “How can we? Look, this is all we’ve got!” So Jesus says, “Give it to Me.”
The second account follows the same theme. A hungry crowd of four thousand is following Jesus, and all the disciples have on hand is seven loaves
“and a few little fish” (Matthew 15:34). And again, Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish” (Matthew 15:36).
Why? Why did Jesus ask for everything? Did He
need five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people? Did He need seven loaves and a few fish to feed four thousand people? Couldn’t He have done it with one of each? Couldn’t He have done it with none of each?
And the answer is … yes. Of course He could have. He created the universe out of nothing; catering a meal for a few thousand people wasn’t somehow beyond His ability. And yet, both times, He asked for all the loaves. He asked for all the fish. And He used those loaves and those fish to provide so much abundance that the starving crowds were able to take up
“large baskets full of the fragments that were left” (Matthew 15:37; cf. Matthew 14:20).
Because that’s how it works, isn’t it? In our lives, in our calling, God doesn’t ask us for a token gesture. He doesn’t ask us to give up just a little bit of ourselves. He asks us for everything. It’s not that He
needs it. Of course He doesn’t need it. “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool,” He tells us, “Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?” (Isaiah 66:1). But He asks for it all the same—because we need it.
It’s right there in the terms and conditions:
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
When we make the commitment to follow God, we don’t get to keep any part of ourselves back. We don’t get to say, “You can do whatever You want with most of me, but this part, this loaf, this fish, I’m keeping it and You can’t have it.” It’s all or nothing. Try to keep it, try to hold onto it, and we lose everything.
But when we hand it over … When we hand it over, the impossible happens. If Jesus can turn a handful of fish and bread into dinner for thousands with baskets of leftovers, what can He do with your life? When we let go of the illusion that somehow we’re the ones best suited to guide and direct our own lives, when we hand over the reins to God and keep nothing back, He gives us so much more than we gave to Him.
“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
The Bible is full of stories of people who fought God on that—who tried to reap His blessings without giving Him control. Samson did it. Ananias and Sapphira did it. Simon the sorcerer did it. Judas did it. We know how those stories go; we know how they end.
But the Bible is also full of stories of people who did the opposite—who submitted to God’s will, albeit imperfectly at times, and let Him lead them. Abraham did it. Sarah did it. Moses did it. Stephen did it. Paul did it. Samson (eventually) did it. And we know how
those stories go, too. We know that now they’re awaiting a better resurrection, that “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).
All or nothing. That’s how this works. That’s how this has
always worked.
We serve a God who asks for all the fish.

In Due Time (New Horizons)
There’s nothing random about when God enters the world of man. He has a plan—worked out before the material creation took shape. And He sticks to it, manipulating events to ensure the desired outcome. James, brother of Jesus stated:
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. (Not that God enforces us to submit to His will, but that He works circumstances to bring about that desired outcome.)
A careful reading of history convinces that God has predetermined specific events. And those events impact the world exactly when He predicted.
He
‘has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation’ (Acts 17:26).
Sings the Psalmist:
‘The LORD brings the counsel of the heathen to nought: he makes the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel [plans] of the LORD stand for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations’.
God is the mover and shaker of events among men! What He determines will happen:
‘The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’ (Isaiah 14:24).
[Our leaders—secular and religious—take note: unless you get in harmony with God’s
plans, your own schemes are doomed to fail!]
Built into the creation’s design there are
‘lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years’ (Genesis 1:14).
Note that term ‘seasons’ (Heb mo’ed). It is variously translated but it refers to God’s ‘appointed times’— a fixed time, as for example specified times to observe God’s festivals (Leviticus 23). Or seasonal—as with harvest seasons.
But not all such ‘appointments’ are clear to us:
‘It is not for you to know the times or the
seasons, which the Father has put in his own power’
(Acts 1:7).
Or, addressing the prophet Daniel:
‘Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and
sealed till the time of the end’
(ch 12:9).
Conversely:
‘times are not hidden from the Almighty’ (Job 24:1).
And through Moses:
‘The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Wise King Solomon adds:
‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing’ (Proverbs 25:2).
Such divine timing is especially clear in the life and times of Jesus the Messiah.
‘when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made
under the law’
(Galatians 4:4).
At Jesus’s birth an elderly devout man, Simeon, is described as having
‘revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ’ (Luke 2:26).
The ministry of Jesus was foretold, a prophecy given through Daniel, one of God’s
prophets living in the sixth century BC. That prophecy (Daniel 9:24-25), widely known as the ’Seventy Week’ prophecy, foretold the time of Messiah’s ministry. It outlines a period of 490 years, beginning with a decree from a Gentile king regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The prophecy—in three time periods—was accurately fulfilled
when Jesus, referencing a related prophecy by Isaiah concerning his ministry, proclaimed:
‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’ (Luke 4:21).
In the New Testament, Titus confirms:
‘[God] has in due times manifested his word through preaching’ (ch 1:3).
Precisely what Jesus did in that synagogue in Nazareth. Mark, too:
‘Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel’ (ch.1:14-15).
His royal birth was, too, anticipated by the Magi from ‘the East’ (Matthew 2:2).
The Scriptures make clear that Jesus was fully aware of the Father’s time-frame for his
life—and death. At Cana –as his ministry was beginning—he told his mother
‘my hour is
not yet come’
(John 2:3-4). It wasn’t the time for his public manifestation through miraculous powers.
Yet as death approached Jesus makes clear that the time for him to fulfill his destiny had
arrived:
‘The Master says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples’ (Matthew 26:18).
John adds:
‘Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world
unto the Father’
(John 13:1). A couple of hours later, in Gethsemane, Jesus wakens the weary disciples with the words: ‘Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at
hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners’
(Matthew 26:45).
Reflecting on the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul says:
‘when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6).
In writing to Timothy he says:
‘[Jesus] who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time’ (I Timothy 2:6).
What God predicts through His prophets will come to pass. Not only so—they happen on time, His time. There are units of time revealed in the Scriptures—long periods (such as 2520 years, 360 years, 70 years), short periods (eg the precise prediction of the birth of Isaac, Genesis 17:21, 21:2).
Truly
‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
The divine plan moves inexorably onward. As we approach the return of the Saviour we can expect further unveiling of that Grand Design:
‘How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?
And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my lord, what shall be the issue of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are shut up and sealed till the time of the end’ (Daniel 12:6-9).
But a word of caution. Many have taken in hand to predict when that end will be. For Augustine it was 650AD, for William Miller it was 1884, Jehovah’s Witnesses 1914, Herbert Armstrong 1975. And then there is the Mayan prophecy—misunderstood to predict the end of the world in 2012.
Be Prepared It is for each Christian to ‘keep their powder dry’.
‘be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of comes’, said Jesus.
When trouble looms there’s a tendency to look the other way, hoping it will simply go away. Jesus predicted this attitude will mark the last days. It will, he said, be just like Noah’s day—everyone carrying on with daily life and ignoring the warning signs. Their end came suddenly,unexpectedly.
Wrote King Solomon:
‘When you see trouble coming, don’t be stupid and walk right into it — be smart and hide’ (Proverbs 22:3 CEV).

Speed Limits (Sabbath Thoughts)
There are quite a few ways to deal with speed limits.

  • You can perpetually keep your speedometer sitting at five over. You can cheat the system juuuuuust enough to (almost) guarantee you’ll never get pulled, all while shaving a few seconds off your travel time.

  • You can hit cruise control and only ever go one speed, regardless of whether the limit changes. Sometimes you’ll be in the right, sometimes you’ll be in the wrong, but you’ll be going at your own rate no matter what.

  • You can bury the needle and go as fast as your car will let you. Others will hear you before they ever see you as you swerve in and out of lanes, keeping just a hair’s breadth between you and the car in front. You’ll always be one false move away from an accident.

  • You can drive 20 miles per hour under the speed limit. You won’t be breaking any laws and you’ll still technically be within your rights, but you won’t be doing anyone around you any favors, either. Even cars going the speed limit will have to swerve around you at high speeds.

  • You can keep one eye on the road and another on your phone, accelerating and decelerating as your focus comes and goes. The whole time, you’ll keep telling yourself that you’re the exception and you’ve got it handled.

  • You can match your speed to the flow of traffic around you. Usually that means speeding, but who’s going to pull a whole pack of cars over? And besides, would it really be safe to slow down and only go the limit?

There are quite a few ways to deal with God’s law, too. The driving styles are similar, but the penalties are much worse than a ticket.

Drive carefully.

Righteous Lot (Morning Companion)
He delivered righteous Lot who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked. (2 Peter 2:6)
When I read in Genesis about what Lot did, I wonder how Peter can refer to him as righteous Lot. Think about his history.
First, we see him choosing a residence overlooking the glitz and glamour of the city of Sodom. Before long he is so attracted to the lights and laughter of the place that he settles inside the city.
Then we see him “sitting in the gate” of Sodom (Genesis 19:1), which means that he was an official of the city.
He offered his daughters to the mob of depraved men in order to appease their violence and lust. He even call these desperados “brethren” (verse 7).
He had to be dragged bodily out of Sodom in order to avoid his own destruction (verse 16).
He argued with the angels of God about fleeing to the wilderness, begging instead to be given refuge in still another city (verses 17-20).
And there was the incident with his daughters that led to births of Moab and Ben-Ammi (verses 30-38).
In spite of all this, Peter calls him righteous Lot and says that his soul was grieved at the wickedness he saw around him.
Peter is clearly using Lot as an example for those of us upon whom the end of the age is coming. But if he is an example, we need to ask, “An example of what?” There are ways we want to be like Lot. I hope we all feel pangs of grief when we see the spiral of depravity that is unravelling Western Civilization. I hope we all desire to become engaged in spreading the light of the Gospel and the salt of the truth of God to our communities. Lot, it can be said, was righteous in that sense, for he saw wickedness and called it such (Genesis 19:7) even though the citizens of that town rejected that characterization.
But that’s not the whole story, nor is it the whole lesson. The experience of Lot spells out a danger, a moral trap, that we who are strangers and aliens in this world need to escape.
Though Lot saw the wickedness surrounding him, he was unaware that the city and its culture had subtly influenced his own thinking and actions. He did not realize that he had unwittingly absorbed some of the values of that culture and that the leaven of Sodom had corrupted and overcome his salt and light. Think about what he says and does in the episode at hand.
He is drawn to the lights of the city.
He offers his daughters as a sexual sop to the mob without a second thought (Genesis 19:8).
His compromises destroy the power of his witness so that even his own family rejects it (verse14).
He calls the angry mob his brethren (verse 7).
He hesitates when ordered to leave and begs to go to another city rather than to a safe place (verse 20).
And then there is the situation with his daughters.
How much of the our culture’s values and attitudes have we, like Lot, come to accept as normal without realizing those values contravene the values of God? What aberrations do we now accept as the normal course of events? Like a fish in water, are we unaware of the water we are in? Are we so used to breathing the polluted atmosphere of our age that we ignore its ability to corrupt our souls?
I believe the conundrum that a righteous Lot who stumbles badly is not a conundrum at all. It’s a lesson in reality. First, it’s a lesson of God’s grace and mercy, but more than that, it’s also a warning: watch out for the leaven of the age. It can influence you more than you can know.

There will be a Last Time (Sabbath Thoughts)
There will be a last time I ever make a stupid decision.
There will be a last time I stub my toe.
A last article I ever write.
A last time I take out the garbage.
A last time I eat a donut.
A last time I ever change a poopy diaper.
There will be a last time I ever see my parents in this life.
A last time I visit my childhood home.
A last time I see my own children.
And there will be a last time Satan and his demons ever deceive another human being.
There will be a last time I ever sin.
A last time I need to repent.
There will be a last time anyone ever has to die.
Some of these “last times” happen with a lot of pomp and circumstance. Some of them pass us by unnoticed, without any warning that they’ll never happen again. Some of them I’m looking forward to. Some of them I dread. But they’re coming, all the same.
Life is full of “last times.” We can stick our heads in the ground and pretend that they’ll never happen, or we can acknowledge that they’re unavoidable. Guess which approach makes them easier to deal with when they finally hit?
“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

The God Who Grieves (Morning Companion)
And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 3:1-6 NKJV)
I was driving by a church in my neighborhood, when the marquee out front struck me in an odd way. It said, “God loves you just the way you are.”
Those are comforting sounding words. Too bad they are only half true.
It is true that God loves you. He loves you a lot. He even loves this evil world a lot: He so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. But does he love you — or this world — just the way you are? Did the prodigal son’s father love his son just the way he was? Did he enable the dissipating lifestyle that he saw unfolding before him? As much as he loved his son, I suspect he grieved mightily over him, very much as Jesus grieved over the hardness of people’s hearts when he asked a question they couldn’t answer:
Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or evil?
Mark tells us that Jesus was both angry and grieved at the hardness of their hearts. That tells us that it is possible to be both angry and grieving when those we love are hurting themselves. Phillip Yancey tells this poignant story:
Not long ago I heard from a pastor friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter. He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all. The parent had tried various forms of punishment to no avail. The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them: “It’s your fault for being so strict!”
My friend told me, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home. I felt such rage. I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate us and twist the knife to hurt us. And of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone. I understood then the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger. The people knew how to wound him, and God cried out in pain.
“And yet I must tell you, when my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, to tell her I wanted best for her. I was a helpless, lovesick father.”
(What’s So Amazing about Grace?, Zondervan Publishing House, copyright 1997, page 56)
When we read the Hebrew prophets who see a grieving Father angry over his self-destructive children, children who are bringing destruction and heartbreak upon themselves, and just as important, a Father who will bring judgement on those who are misleading his children. Do you want an example of teachers misleading people today? How about telling people that God loves them just the way they are. The truth is, God loves us in spite of what we are.

Getting Started (Sabbath Thoughts)
Over the last year or so, I’ve come across a handful of modern motivational phrases that have coalesced in my mind into something of a mantra:
Done is better than perfect.
Some is better than none.
Just get started.

We can hide behind perfect. If we’re not sure we can do something perfectly, it’s easier not to do it at all.
Doing nothing guarantees we never make progress.
No progress, ironically, keeps us from getting closer to perfect.
Your initial efforts are always going to be tiny and imperfect. The temptation is to come out of the gate with a masterpiece, but it doesn’t work like that. Behind any masterpiece is a whole host of (often unseen) painstaking attempts at progress
including failures and even steps backward.
That shouldn’t scare us from taking steps.
That shouldn’t scare us from
trying.
Stumbling is part of the process. There’s no bypassing it. You don’t learn to walk without it. You don’t learn to run without it. Moving forward means accepting and embracing those moments of struggle as an unavoidable vehicle of progress. We can’t let our ultimate goal of perfection scare us from moving toward perfection.
I don’t know what you’ve been putting off, because of the gulf between what you’re capable of doing and what you wish you could do. Prayer? Bible study? Meditation? Fasting? Fellowship?
…Regularly updating your blog? (I know,
I know, okay?)
The only way to get better at these things is to start doing them. Stumble if you have to, but take the steps to do
something.
Done is better than perfect. Some is better than none. Just get started.

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!

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. (
1 Timothy 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. (
1 John 4:19) We serve God because He first served us. He is our creator and savior. We serve God because we want to be His Children! We hold fast to the Father’s Truth because we want to please Him and our Lord, Jesus Christ. We want to be counted among the faithful servants of Jesus Christ when He returns. We love Them because They love us.
We are doing this because we are called now to be a part of that better resurrection with Jesus Christ – the inestimable privilege of being in God’s Family.
And this is the promise that He has promised us eternal life. (
1 John 2:25)
Why are we doing this? We do this because we are the only people on earth who do know their creator God and who are able to worship Him in sincerity and truth. As though this were not enough – our Father and Jesus Christ want to share their eternal life with us.
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (
2 Peter 1:11)

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

Why Must Satan Be Released? (Prophecy Watch)
The great hope of Christians
and the essence of the gospel message is that Jesus Christ will return to establish His Kingdom on Earth. He will be King of Kings and Lord of lords, governing mankind in a way that has never happened before. In addition, He will depose Satan from his current rulership of this world, thus silencing the malignant, unseen influence that has snared the unwary from the time of Eve.
English theologian Richard Baxter wrote, “The devil is always the governor where God’s government is rejected,“ an observation that speaks to why the world continues to produce such misery. Humanity has spurned God’s government from the very beginning, choosing to follow that cruelest of governors.
Conversely, we can glimpse in Baxter’s statement why the prophets speak of the Millennium in such extravagant terms. They foretell a time we can hardly imagine now, as we live and work in a spiritually bombed-out culture. We are surrounded by masses of human brokenness, urged on and tricked by the Deceiver, and as men further oppose God, the suffocating darkness deepens. But the Millennium will be glorious precisely because God will flip this order on its head. Satan will no longer rule, and God’s government will no longer be rejected.
Revelation 20:1-3 describes Satan’s future binding, when he will not be permitted to deceive the nations for the duration of the Millennium.
We have no frame of reference for what life will be like for humankind without the constant spiritual pressure, the unending broadcast of falsehood and rebellion against God. For the first time in human history, the Devil will not be whispering in man’s ears to do it his way.
Some have speculated that the binding and sealing of Satan means that sin will not occur during the Millennium, but that is not the case. The pulls of the flesh exist wherever there is flesh, and those pulls always
eventually break out in sin (see James 1:14-15). Even the apostle Paul observed that nothing good dwelled in his flesh, and that he had sin and evil indwelling simply by virtue of having flesh (Romans 7:18-23). He nowhere suggests that the solution to indwelling sin is to bind Satan. It is not until man becomes spirit that he puts on incorruptibility (1 Corinthians 15:42-54).
Scriptures show that people will be sinning during the Millennium. Ezekiel’s vision shows the priests making sin offerings during that time (see Ezekiel 40-46), and
Zechariah 14:18-19 prophesies that some nations will sin by choosing not to attend the Festival of Tabernacles. Christ will rule with a rod of iron precisely because that is how carnal sinful people must be ruled (Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
Even though Satan’s binding will not destroy carnality and sin, consider how much easier it will be for humans to make right decisions when he is not continually receiving the persuasions of the Serpent. What an incredible blessing that will be!
Verse 3 contains a curious statement: “… after these things [Satan]
must be released for a little while” (emphasis ours throughout). Satan’s release is a necessity in God’s plan, as we will see. Revelation 20:7-10 describes Satan’s release after the Millennium. Before considering Satan’s release, we will examine some aspects of his binding Jude 6.
While referring to the rebellious angels in general, this example shows that the chains that bind sinning angels are not their final judgment. A measure of judgment is involved, but note that Jude explains that the chains
reserve them for the judgment of the great day. When Satan is bound, it certainly will be a punishing experience for him, but it will not be the punishment it is not his final judgment. The Bible clearly states that Satan’s judgment, written in advance, is to be burned (Ezekiel 28:18-19).
In Peter’s parallel account, the apostle describes the false prophets who are manifestations of Satan’s image: “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (
2 Peter 2:3). He writes about the false teachers and the spirit influences including Satan behind them. God has already handed down the verdict; He has determined their punishment and set the date.
In addition to being chained, Satan is also cast into the pit. He is totally immobilized, and moreover, he is shut up with a seal that restrains him from deceiving. He is completely powerless for a thousand years while he awaits the judgment of the great day. The prophet Isaiah also foretells a future binding of spirit beings (
Isaiah 24:21-23).
Verse 23 mentions the moon and sun being dismayed and ashamed, providing a time reference.
Revelation 21:23 describes the New Jerusalem descending from heaven sometime after the Millennium. When it does, those in New Jerusalem have no need of the sun or the moon. Those magnificent heavenly lights are figuratively disgraced and ashamed by the superior light of God. Isaiah 24:23, then, corresponds to the time after the Millennium.
But before that, the “powers in the heavens and the kings on the earth” will be shut up for a long time and
then punished. The “powers in the heavens” refers to demonic principalities, including Satan (Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16; 2:15; I Peter 3:22). The New Kings James Version calls them “the host of exalted ones.”
Isaiah then refers to “the kings on the earth.” However, those kings
mentioned in parallel with the “powers in the heavens” do not have to be human. Scripture alludes to spiritual rulers throughout its pages: The king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:12), and the princes of Persia (Daniel 10:13) and Greece (Daniel 10:20) are a few examples. “Gog … the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” may be another demon (Ezekiel 38:2, English Standard Version. See also Ezekiel 38:3; 39:1; Revelation 20:8).
These powers
these kings will be shut up in prison, but their punishment does not come until “after many days” (Isaiah 24:22). (The word “days” is not restricted to 24-hour blocks of time; it can be used as a general marker of the passage of time.) Their binding serves as a prelude to their punishment.
Likewise, Satan’s binding is not his actual punishment. Its primary purpose is to protect the nations from deception, and then his punishment follows. The prophets describe him as being gazed upon by men during his imprisonment (Isaiah 14:16; Ezekiel 28:17). At this time, he is not on trial but on display, because God has already reached His verdict.
Psalm 2:2-3 speaks about the kings of the earth and the rulers. The spirit rulers are chafing at their chains, causing the nations to rage. Yet when Christ returns, these powers and kings will be shut up in prison.
This situation parallels Paul’s experience of binding in Acts 21-22, but there is also a marked contrast. The apostle was arrested at the Temple and subsequently bound for allegedly provoking a riot. He was later released from his bonds so that he could appear before the council for judgment. In fact, Paul was mostly in chains through chapter 28, not for punishment, but to keep him from getting into any more trouble.
Similarly, Satan will be arrested, as it were, because he provokes mankind to rebel, and God will intervene to silence him. The Devil, too, is bound, and he will be released in anticipation of God’s final judgment on him. In
Matthew 12:37, Jesus delivers the universal principle that “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Since Paul’s words were true, he was justified before God. But Satan begins deceiving humanity as soon as the seal is removed, and he condemns himself with his lying words. We may wonder why God waits a thousand years after Satan’s binding before judging him or why God did not judge the sinning angels as soon as they sinned. God shows us a consistent pattern that He allows deplorable circumstances to drag on as a testimony that His way is the only way that works, and all other ways bear only miserable fruit. God uses our experiences with sin to teach us what does not work. Likewise, rather than exact immediate justice, God will use Satan’s post-Millennium rebellion as a powerful lesson.
However, we should also understand that even though God uses Satan’s activities as part of humanity’s education, He in no way depends on Satan. During the Millennium and after, God will bring many more sons and daughters to glory
without Satan being around than with Satan being around. Satan is not integral to God’s plan, but he does serve as an extraordinary warning against high-mindedness. His reservation for the judgment of the great day illustrates God’s perfect sovereignty. His plan did not require the angels to rebel, but neither was His plan thwarted by it.
Satan is released so he can commit his final rebellion. We catch a glimpse of his first rebellion in
Genesis 1:2, where the earth became without form and was void and in darkness. God did not create it like this, but it became that way. Rebellion against God is introduced at the beginning of the Book, which rebellion Revelation 20 resolves in God’s good time.
The prophesied release of Satan after the Millennium teaches us significant lessons. God says, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (
Isaiah 46:9-10). What Satan does after he is released is history written in advance. His deceptions and warmongering are the future, recorded thousands of years before they happen.
This fact is remarkable to consider. Mankind desires to know the future; we look to news analysis and weather forecasts to glimpse an idea of what lies ahead so we can respond appropriately. We use such indicators to prepare for the future or perhaps to work to change the course of events.
What is astounding is that the Adversary also knows the Scriptures, and he sees his future written in advance. This reality provides vivid testimony of Satan’s nature
that he simply will not change, even knowing how disastrous the end will be for him. The advance knowledge makes no difference. So, in addition to God giving Satan his freedom so he can commit his final rebellion, a second reason He must release him is to provide us with this final, powerful lesson about the Serpent’s nature.
When God releases Satan, the Deceiver does what he has always done. Even after a thousand years of stasis, his nature remains unchanged. After a millennium of reflecting on his plight, calculating his ideal course of action, and contemplating his spiritual navel, as it were, he reaches the conclusion he started with: He knows better.

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; our pocket books are being drained; illegal aliens are streaming over our borders; 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.

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

What is Truth? (New Horizons)
Famously, our title is the question Pilate asked Jesus when arraigned before him. Are we any closer to an answer?
The bed-rock reply from the Christian viewpoint is, of course, ‘your word is truth’. All that God says, all that He is, cannot be shaken. It is one hundred per cent trustworthy, reliable. His promises (no matter how we misunderstand them), His prophetic statements, His actions among us – all are based on truth.
Not that our institutions – education, business, media and even our churches – truly believe it. For most the Scriptures are ‘old hat’, a relic of the past, an irrelevance. Yet they are the foundation of a sound society, and institutions built on any other are destined to crumble.
Now, supported by ‘royalty’, we have ‘my truth’ – truth is how I see it, no matter how far adrift from being anchored to reality.
On the world stage it is increasingly clear that the truth is distorted on several fronts. One example is that the number of covid deaths has been a huge exaggeration leading to disastrous effects – excessive lock-downs, school closures, mask and vaccine-induced illness, widespread fear and family division.
Then there is the current deception of the Russian people about their government’s ‘special operation’ in Ukraine, aka war. The number of Russian military deaths and the lack of progress is grossly under-reported to the Russian populace In war, truth is the first casualty.
Truth can also be distorted by omission. Widely unreported are the on-going massacres in Yemen (377,000 killed by Saudis and by civil war). In Syria the ten-year war has to date seen the violent deaths of over 600,000 and displaced millions.
Closer to home are such scandals as the deliberate hiding of hospital deaths through medical negligence and neglect in care homes. During the pandemic it emerges that truth was distorted as to the true toll of those who succumbed.
Distortion of the truth, however, is not limited to the secular, for over Christendom their hangs a dark cloud of deception. Most representatives of the faith might be sincere in what they teach their flock but they have become entangled in a wilderness of false doctrine thus blinding them and their flock to the narrow way that leads to eternal life.
Not many centuries passed after the resurrection of Jesus before the church leadership distorted his message by introducing popular ancient customs and doctrines – ideas akin to the pagan teachings and practices so familiar in today’s mainstream Christianity – e.g. Christmas, Easter, Sunday. Truth suffered.
Indeed, despite elements of truth, all religions have succumbed to the devilish deception that blinds the world to the pure faith so clearly demonstrated by Jesus.
In his closing guidance to his disciples he solemnly warned:
‘Take heed that no man deceive you.’ (Matthew 24:5).
It applies to all those institutions that seek to manipulate us by burying the truth.

The God Who Sees (Morning Companion)
During the Korean War, the North Koreans imposed a curious form of mental torture on POWs. They would lock up prisoners in solitary confinement, post a guard at the door, and then deprive the prisoner of all human contact. The guards were instructed to ignore completely the prisoner no matter how much he yelled, screamed, and cussed. Such prisoners suffered terrible anguish from the lack of human contact.
We all have a craving to be seen, to be acknowledged, and the punishment of withholding recognition can be a brutal one. Some religious sects use the practice of shunning to discipline those who run afoul of the appointed authorities. Some parents will use this form of discipline against children who fall out of favor. Though clumsy as a way of enforcing a code of conduct, it can be an effective way to marginalize the wayward.
On the plus side, ignoring internet trolls is a great way to negate their vitriol and, if I may say it, fulfill the proverb that says to cast out the scorner that strife may cease. This expends zero energy and avoids enabling anti-social behavior. Some people get their jollies by stirring things up. These feel empowered when their targets expend their energy trying to counter them. What I am about to say does not apply when encountering sociopaths and other toxic people. Steer clear of them. They will drag you into the mud with them, and they will enjoy it.
Still, I wonder how much of this world’s social neuroses are a simple acting out of the frustrations of those, young and old, who are starved for attention. True, the attention they garner might be negative attention, but the attention is a payoff nevertheless, and certainly a psychological payoff of any kind is better than a complete denial of one’s existence.
One time Jesus was dining in the house of a Pharisee named Simon. The text reads:

A woman who was a sinner, when she saw that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and she began to wash his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. And she kissed his feet and anointed him with the fragrant oil
(Luke 7:37-38).
In that society a woman who was a sinner became an ostracized woman, an outcast, a kind of nobody who would be shunned by decent society. The fact that her hair was let down instead of hidden under a veil gives a hint of the type of sins she was notorious for. The Pharisee who hosted the dinner wondered why Jesus let this non-person touch him:

This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner (Verse 39).

Jesus, however, saw through the cultural straightjacket and gazed into the heart of a broken soul. He saw what was there and wanted Simon the Pharisee to see the same: Do you see this woman? (Verse 44) Look at her, he says. See her as a hurting human being who is looking for answers and searching for hope. Look at her heart, look at her brokenness, look at her sorrow. Most of all, see her potential. Look at her heart and compare it to yours! Jesus finishes his instruction with a Jesus-like rebuke: Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little little is forgiven, the same loves little (Verse 47).
If we are honest with ourselves, we all at one time or another have felt alone, even abandoned, maybe even abandoned by God. We have all had our Hagar moments, wondering if God sees our plight. Hagar, of course, was a central figure in the sordid mess that Abraham and Sarah made of their family. Sarah couldn’t have children, so she gave Abraham permission to father a child through her servant Hagar. Predictable household turmoil and jealousies became normal, with Hagar packing her bags and trying to run away from that dysfunctional situation.
Hagar must have felt like an abandoned nobody. Where was that vaunted God with whom Abraham seemed to be aligned? Couldn’t this God of Abraham see her distress? Was there anyone who would acknowledge her pain?

Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness of Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?
(Genesis 16:7-8).
This Messenger of Yahweh engages Hagar. He shows an interest in her. He asks her questions the answers to which he already knows. He wants her to talk and he is willing to listen. He is acknowledging her pain. He encourages her to talk. He is acknowledging that she is. And — he is acknowledging that he sees.
Look at these words in verses 16 & 17:
Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees [Hebrew: El-Roi]; for she said, Have I also seen him who sees me? Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi.
That Hebrew phrase means: Well of the one who lives and sees me.
Regardless of the trials, whether you find yourself in dry and desert times, or whether abandoned by all those around you, understand this. God sees. Sometimes the knowledge that someone is seeing and understanding becomes the seed of hope that leads to recovery and salvation.
Now let’s flip the script and take it to our own neighborhoods and trenches and foxholes. Sometimes we can be the one who sees, the one who acknowledges, who understands, thereby imparting the hope that so many need today. It’s not that God needs our help to see people in need. Not at all! What he wants is for us to be on his team.
Hence the question to Simon: Do
you see this woman?

The Great Global Reset (New Horizons)
It’s coming! The world’s present economic, social, religious structures will be overturned, all its institutions replaced by a new benign world order, a great global reset, the outcome an orderly, peaceful and prosperous community of interdependent free nations.
Read behind the news headlines, however, and we uncover advanced plans to ‘make the world a better place’ for the ‘common good’ – but in ways that ignore the fundamental principles that underpin good governance. A plan that, if ever implemented, can do so only by strict authoritarian control.
That reset is pioneered by the United Nations and the World Economic Forum (WEF) the Founder of which, Klaus Schwab, said: ‘The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, re-imagine and reset our world’. It has been approved by nearly every nation and welcomed by leaders in all fields of endeavour, and bears the imprimatur of the Vatican.
The increasing interconnection of our world – education, economic, social, religious, health, transport – has spawned the desire for global solutions. Given that the world ‘ship’ is rudderless – i.e. rejecting divine guidance – our leaders apply well-meant humanly devised but flawed solutions which often conflict with our love of freedom. Hence the need for governments to implement them with force.
Schwab’s ‘re-set’, faced with human nature, demands draconian measures of control. Fear-induced passive acceptance has paved the way to a dystopian globalism.
Such human endeavour might, for the few, provide relative stability – but for a brief time. It represents mankind’s final rebellion against God and Satan’s last-ditch attempt to overthrow God’s plans. And it will herald His direct intervention when the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus, returns in majestic power to re-set humanity, to sweep away every evil influence.
Man was created to represent the Godhead – the Kingdom of God – as Earth’s Ruler, a role Adam yielded to the Devil by subscribing to his lies and rejecting God’s guidance in Eden. Satan became the ‘god of this world’, its ruler. Jesus had covenanted with the Father that, if Adam failed, He would take on human flesh and by living sinlessly would qualify to overthrow the
rule of Satan, the Devil – a role Jesus triumphantly fulfilled. The return of Jesus as King of kings resets the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Fundamental to the new world order will be the universal knowledge that God exists. We will have by then learned our lesson. Chastened by the overwhelming crisis at the close of man’s tenure of the planet the remnant of mankind will in contrition willingly submit to divine rule and will embrace the Gospel message as it is then proclaimed in every nation.
The world’s former vanquished ruler and ‘god’ will be banished, his evil influence removed and Messiah will reign over all the earth. Believers from every age will be restored to life to reign with Him, and will, under Christ, administer the laws of the Kingdom. As His children they are heirs of the Father:
if children, also heirs; truly heirs of God, and joint-heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17).
The long-planned man-made (and devil inspired) global government, will be swiftly overthrown by the returning King of kings and LORD of lords, and the world fully re-set – on His terms.

Did God Curse the Ground? (Morning Companion)
Cursed is the ground for your sake. (Genesis 3:17)
When Adam sinned, God cursed the ground, or so it seems. Its true that Adam had his own curses to deal with, but why would God curse the ground? The ground didn’t sin, did it?
First, understand the sentence construction. The text says,
Cursed is the ground. Notice that this is in the passive voice, which in this case tells us only of the action (cursing) and not the actor (who did the cursing). It does not necessarily follow that it was God who did the cursing. It could easily be inferred that Adam’s own sin — and his trying to manage the land in his own way — would cause the earth to degrade and thus be cursed. If we look at our man-made ecological problems, we can easily see how this can be.
A major lesson comes from this. It is often stated that our private actions, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else, should be of no concern to anyone else. Often this is true. If you want to spend your money on a fancier car than I have, that’s your business, not mine. It neither breaks my leg nor robs me of wealth. If you want to go to trade school instead of going for a four-year degree, go for it! If you want to move to California to seek your fortune (why you would go there to seek a better life is beyond me), well, that’s up to you. But there are other times — and those times might be more frequent that what we think — where your private actions in fact do affect other people. You might make the choice to abuse controlled substances. You indeed will pay a cost (bring a curse upon yourself, if you will), but that curse doesn’t stop there. Your family will suffer, at least emotionally, and likely in other ways as well. Society as a whole will bear a curse as it treats you for the curses you have brought on yourself. Often private actions have knock-off effects that can and do cost others dearly. Those others, innocent though they may be, also bear the price of a curse for the actions of others. The excuse,
as long as it doesn’t hurt, anybody is a nice sentiment, but too often we don’t anticipate the ensuing wreckage to our significant others and to society as a whole.
In Adam’s case it’s possible that the curse on the land was one of those effects. We can clearly see today that the actions of our race have placed a curse on the land. Cursed is the ground — and also much of the earth — for our sake. God didn’t have to do anything. We as a race have decided to do it our own way, and therefore we have what we have because our race is not as wise as we seem to think.
Remember this lesson. Our actions, our lifestyles, our choices do not occur in a vacuum. So often it is not God doing the cursing. The circle of our influence can either curse or bless others in more ways than we can know. And in that there is good news, for our actions do not need to result in a curse. They can also bless. Choose the tree whose fruit you will claim.

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

Pandora’s Box (Brian Gale, Church of the Eternal God)
In the introduction in our booklet, entitled,
God’s Teaching on Sexual Relationships, we state the following: “We live in a world of ever-changing relationships, be it among nations, peoples, or individuals, and along with these changes, there is no end to personal opinions as to what constitutes right or wrong actions. Yet out of the abundance of opinions, there is little regard for what God calls sin or what His standards are for happiness and health. Mankind, as a whole, is determined to live in ways that ‘seem right in his own eyes’ (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25).”
There can be no argument that there have been monumental changes in every phase of society around the world in the last few decades, with the pace of change accelerating at a frightening pace. A “Pandora’s box” has been opened.
Collins English Dictionary has this definition: “If someone or something opens a Pandora’s box, they do something that causes a lot of problems to appear that did not exist or were not known about before.”
In our booklet, we reference the ridiculous idea about there being 72 different gender designations. We wondered what would be next.
In the UK, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalized same-sex marriage in England and Wales, and former Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, was instrumental in this endeavour. In many nations around the world, same-sex marriages have become totally acceptable. But it has gotten worse.
We now have the revelation that last year, three men made history in Colombia by becoming the first trio to wed in a same-sex ceremony in Colombia – called a polyamorous family. A newspaper report revealed that “Three people are legally allowed to marry each other in Colombia, where it is known as a ‘trieja’ – a word derived from two others: trio and pareja: trio and couple.”
Another type of relationship revealed was where three women were married to each other and, at the time, were the world’s only wedded female threesome – and one of them was expecting a baby. This relationship, apparently, is called a throuple! No doubt, since then, more people have jumped on the same bandwagon.
I came across an article about a divorced British woman who finally found the partner of her dreams – her dog – and married her in a “romantic ceremony in Croatia, and the ceremony was attended by 200 people!” There have been quite a number of other such “arrangements”.
In this world, once Pandora’s Box is open, there is no going back.

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

Do The Work (Sabbath Thoughts)
From an agricultural perspective, Pentecost makes perfect sense. It’s the Feast of the Firstfruits – and firstfruits take time. They have to be planted, they need to be cared for, they have to be watered and nurtured. They need time to grow and come to fruition.
The time between the Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Pentecost is a reminder that we need to be
growing – not waiting. You’re not where you need to be yet, and neither am I. We need to be taking every opportunity to grow in grace and knowledge, to cast aside the sin which so easily ensnares us, and to develop into the spiritual firstfruits God would have us become.
Pentecost itself, though – I think Pentecost is a reminder of something else:
We have work to do. It’s so easy to turn the cycle of personal growth into a way to hide. Self-examination means we’re confronted with our own flaws again and again – the reasons we’re not good enough, the ways we’re falling short of where we should be, the reasons God can’t use us.
And then we’re Moses, standing in front of the burning bush and explaining to God why His plan won’t work because, hey, let’s be honest, we’re just not the right person for the job. We’re so far from where we need to be; we have so much more growing to do before we’re ready to …
And then God tells us to quit making excuses and to go do the work. When Moses told God he wasn’t a good public speaker, God replied,
“Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exodus 4:11-12).
When Jeremiah told God,
“I cannot speak, for I am a youth,” God replied, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:6-8).
God knows who you are. He knows your weaknesses and your limitations – and He has a job for you to do. When we tell God all the reasons we can’t, He tells us all the reasons
He can. Then He tells us to get to work.
We don’t get excuses with God. He made us; He formed us; He knows exactly what we’re capable of – and, more importantly, He knows exactly what
He’s capable of.
Christianity is, in many ways, intensely personal. It’s about self-examination and how you’re growing as an individual. But Christianity isn’t compartmentalized, either. It’s not a matter of me growing quietly over here while my neighbor grows quietly over there, and we’ll just exchange pleasantries when our paths happen to cross.
God gave the Church work to do –
and the Church is you. It’s me. It’s the entire assembly of God’s called-out ones, not just a handful of people working at a headquarters or home office. We all have different roles to play, for “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
We have work to do, you and I – and Pentecost reminds us to get to it.
When Peter gave his sermon on that fateful Pentecost, he got a response. His audience was “cut to the heart” and determined to find out the answer to an important question:
“Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37).
Peter gave them the initial steps: repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit. But it doesn’t stop there. Any veteran of the Church knows that receiving the Holy Spirit is only the beginning of the work; only the first step into a much grander and much bigger world.
Skip down a few verses, and you’ll find that
“the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Why do you think that was? Was it only Peter’s ability to deliver sermons that stirred people to action? Or did it have anything to do with the Church members who “ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47)?
Which had the greater impact – one extremely effective speaker, or 3,000 lives all setting an example of Godly living for their friends and families and even enemies to see?
I think God used both those avenues to accomplish some incredible things, and I think it’s a powerful reminder that as members of the Body of Christ, the work we must do extends so far beyond just showing up for services once a week.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Light.
Good works. We can’t stay forever in a loop of self-examination. Eventually, we have to stop navel-gazing and start doing, being “diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Our internal growth
must result in action.
Passover teaches us to begin. Unleavened Bread tells us to keep going. And Pentecost has a message for us, too: No more excuses. No more delaying. No more hiding. 

What is not in Paul’s writings (Search the Scriptures)
Most people read the Apostle Paul
s writings and are thrilled to understand his deeper views into Christ’s sacrifice, atonement, resurrection, and the meaning of all of this to us as those chosen by God to receive salvation.
But most people don’t think about what is not in Paul’s writings. We might find this a little curious as to why he says nothing about Jesus’s preaching the Kingdom of God. This phrase (KOG) occurs 51 in the gospels, but only 8 times in all of Paul’s 14 letters.
Paul never mentions that Jesus cast out demons, or that He healed the sick. He does not tell about Jesus’s conflicts with the Jewish authorities or religious leaders.
Paul does not mention Mary, Joseph, Caiaphas, or Mary Magdalene. Pontus Pilate is mentioned once in 1 Timothy 6:13.
When talking about the resurrection Paul states that Jesus:
appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NAU).
I have mentioned before that Paul does not mention the first people who saw Jesus after He was resurrected — the women who came to the tomb. We can explain this as Paul was interested in countering a false doctrine spreading through the church at Corinth — that the resurrection had passed or that there was no such thing as a resurrection. So he is using the most prominent of the apostles.
But he also doesn’t mention Stephen, the first martyr who said, Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56 NAU).
Again, Stephen was not at that time a major church leader and Paul was using the authority of the apostles and Jesus’s appearing to them.
Why doesn’t he mention anything about Christ’s earthly ministry?
A couple of reasons: 1) The other Apostles who had been with Jesus before His resurrection were telling about Christ’s earthly life. 2) Paul never saw Jesus in the flesh, but only when He appeared to him on the road to Damascus. 3) Paul focused on the spiritual life of the resurrected Christ and what the crucified and resurrected Christ means to us today.
A passage of Scripture that may bear on this:
and He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Cor. 5:15-17 NAU)
Paul said that he knows about Christ’s earthly times. But now Paul is not concerned mainly with that but with a new creature in Christ. He is not so much concerned about the Jew vs Gentile conflict as he is with those who believe and accept Christ versus those who do not.
Surely Paul is not saying that Christ’s life in the flesh was not important. But that the new creature in Christ is more important and that the new things have come. Now we can see where Paul’s focus was. Being with Jesus after the resurrection, Paul probably got instruction as to what Christ wanted him to preach.
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were being written and all the stories about Jesus and His miracles, preaching, healings and teachings would be presented. Several of Paul’s letters are the earliest N.T. books we have.
In three different passages, Paul refers to “my gospel” — see Romans 2:16 & 16:25; and 2 Timothy 2:8. His gospel placed more emphasis on the risen Jesus than on the earthly Jesus. Again, Paul knew and saw Jesus only AFTER Jesus’s resurrection.
To me, this explains why Paul doesn’t mention a lot of things contained in the four gospels.

Rending the Heart (Sabbath Thoughts)
Everybody thinks they know how to fix it. Just get enough of their guys making the decisions, enough of their rules being enforced, and things would be different.
But it doesn’t work like that. It’ll never work like that.
There is a sickness here that no one can legislate away. It’s an old sickness, buried deep in the human condition. Isaiah saw it:
“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment” (Isaiah 1:5).
The discourse in the United States is going to shift pretty heavily to the gun debate
again. We should have less of them. We should have more of them. We should make them harder to get. We should hand them out to everyone. We’re missing the point.
Mass shootings are a symptom of the sickness. The guns are small pieces of the puzzle. Keep them, take them – that’s not how we fix this. The worst school massacre in United States history happened almost a hundred years ago when a disgruntled farmer used dynamite to murder 38 children and 6 adults. No guns. Just sickness.
There will always be a way for one human being to inflict suffering on others. Until we fix the sickness – until we find a way to end the moral depravity that can prompt a disgruntled psychopath to rampage through the world with the intent of causing pain – until we can reform our societies in such a way that
we stop producing and incubating these kinds of monsters in the first place – what good will it do to take away some of their tools?
On Tuesday, Mary and I watched the news of the shooting in Uvalde. We were heartbroken. And angry. And a mess of other emotions.
The death count is at 21 now. Nineteen children, two adults. Nineteen
kids. Mowed down. Terrified. Confused. Suffering at the hands of a deranged monster who just wanted to see people die. Nineteen kids whose parents now have to cope with all the “goodnights” they’ll never be able to say, all the little moments and milestones they’ll never get to see unfold, all the heartache and suffering that’s going to flood through the entirety of their being every time they look at an old photo or think back to an old memory.
And my thoughts drift to my daughter. My own little girl. Three years old. The youngest student who died at Uvalde was 8. Not that terribly far apart.
I think about that. I think about what it would be like if…
And that’s as far as I make it. I can’t handle the process of even trying to imagine. I can feel the waves of terror and anguish waiting around that corner. I resent what the world is right now. I resent what we as a race have turned it into. I resent, most of all, how Satan has led and deceived us into that act of creation.
The evil isn’t going away. Not yet. Can’t. Won’t. It’s part of us. Something we bring with us as long as we try to live outside of the boundaries God set for us. No human law can change that or take it away.
The Day of the Lord is a pretty terrifying theme in Scripture. Death and destruction meted out by divine judgment in response to an unswerving pattern of wickedness.
“Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,” says Joel, “for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains …The day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it?” (Joel 2:1-2, 11).
And yet that’s not the end of the story.
“‘Now, therefore,’ says the LORD, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12–13).
Tragedies like Uvalde are heart-rending – but they don’t always get us to rend our hearts. They don’t always get us to look at where we are in relation to where God says we need to be.
As a nation, we’re asking what we need to change about our laws.
Fine. Good. An acceptable question worth considering. But that won’t do it. The only thing that will do is asking what we need to change about
ourselves. Our societies. Our values. Our hearts. One day, we’ll get there.
One day,
“The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts’ … In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:21, 23).
But not today. Today, as God’s people, we can only sigh and cry as the sickness is allowed to continue festering and spreading. Wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, ignored and untreated. It’s heartbreaking. And heart-rending.
We have to hold onto what we know is coming – cling to the promise of a better day, taking comfort in the words God gave Habakkuk:
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Civilization in Decay (New Horizons)
Christianity is tough. Early believers were constantly at risk – initially from compatriots within Judaism, then from official Rome. The greatest threat, however, was the all-pervading corrupt moral environment that all but smothered the ancient world.
The New Testament, corroborating the contemporary secular authors, bears testimony to the foul practices that were endemic worldwide. It was out of such a debased and diseased culture that many early Christians were drawn – and a culture that sought to distract them from the high principles exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth.
The apostle Paul sums up that culture:
‘Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
He concludes with the clincher:
‘and such were some of you’ (v.11).
That was their environment. Writing to the brethren at the heart of the Empire, in Rome, he describes the debauched and destructive practices then indulged almost universally:
‘God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet’ (Romans 1:26-27).
Society had degenerated to such an extent that even pederasty, abortion and exposure of new-borns was accepted as ‘normal’ in almost every nation.
Paul summarizes to the Ephesian church, in another debauched city:
‘it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret’ (Ephesians 5:12).
[Perhaps a reference to the obscene Bacchanalia/Saturnalia.]
The early church was a bright beacon in a dark world. How, then, did the church degenerate from those original golden days of belief?
Soon after creation man’s concept of our origin evolved from the knowledge of one God to a belief in natural forces, eg the sun, man and the lower animate life (Romans 1:23).
By choosing to reject God and His counsel they erred, so God left men to their own devices.
A successful society needs stability, widely acknowledged as provided by the family structure as instituted by the Creator. This too was rejected and a variety of substitutes evolved (Genesis 6:4).
With the loss of this structure the role of parental guidance based on the true faith was grossly undermined, leading to widespread violence and the awesome judgment of the great Flood (v.5).
When the core principles of that faith (summarized in the ‘Ten Commandments’) are undermined, the scenario described by Paul envelops nations and individuals.
The benign light shed on mankind by the coming of Jesus has percolated most nations, thus saving mankind from total destruction. The underlying philosophy that drives the modern world turns this blinding light into gross darkness:
‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!’ (Isaiah 5:20).
Once-enlightened governments now openly flout the divine laws of life, legislating for the abominations that fatally undermined the ancient world. The fundamental divine pattern for the family is being tossed aside in favour of a pandora’s box of perverted sterile and damaging relationships, while the unrestricted shedding of innocent blood in the womb is legalized.
Non-Christian idolatrous faiths are encouraged, and symbols of ancient Baal worship openly displayed in public and in private.
The godly principles that once underpinned Western society – and spread worldwide largely through the influence of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible – no longer exert their former influence on society. The teachings of Scripture are no longer a force for morality and are alien to most children.
As in ancient Rome, gross immorality is accepted as ‘normal’ by the broadcast and written media and by on-screen entertainment, and forms the opinions and behaviour of people at large.
Criminality – theft, fraud, violence, corporate corruption – is rife. Rampant immorality – adultery, pornography, paedophilia, homosexuality, promiscuity – corrupts the nations, aided and abetted by legislation. The marriage bond is despised, divorce simplified, and the purpose of human sexuality forgotten.
Such a moral environment undermines the national foundations as corruption begets corruption. It is in the face of this that the fledging Christian must strive to survive. Jesus warned that before he returns,
‘the love of many will grow cold’, that for many deep spiritual roots would not develop, that the ordinary distractions of life would easily entangle us and block the path to eternity (see Matthew ch 13).
The true Christian life is indeed a challenge. The stupendous reward is for those who in such an environment remain faithful to Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We Became a Melting Pot (Morning Companion)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Eye for an Eye? (Morning Companion)

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

With all due respect, the District Attorney doesnt know what he’s talking about. If he understood the ancient saying and its context in the Book of the Law, his city and county wouldnt be the criminal dystopia that it has become. The famous quote an eye for an eye is found in two places in the Law of Moses (Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 19). Both instances refer to judicial proceedings, and it illustrates a profound advancement in jurisprudence that was revolutionary in its own time and too often ignored today. Anyone with a simple sense of justice will recognize the concept: the punishment must fit the crime.
Read this passage from Deuteronomy 19. It
s describing a due process for determining innocence or guilt that is in many ways similar to our current Common Law approach:
You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime, then both the accuser and accused must appear before the Lord by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time. The judges must investigate the case thoroughly. If the accuser has brought false charges against his fellow Israelite, you must impose on the accuser the sentence he intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among you. Then the rest of the people will hear about it and be afraid to do such an evil thing. You must show no pity for the guilty! Your rule should be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:15-21 New Living Translation)
Notice a few things. Where guilt has been established, the penalty must fit the offense. If something is stolen, for example, the guilty party must make restitution plus a 20% penalty to the offended party (see Leviticus 6:1-5). Note that the offender was not sent to prison. Nor did the government share in a piece of the action. The eye for an eye metaphor here demands a standard of fairness from the judges.
Notice too that, if the plaintiff was trying to frame the other person, he was to suffer the penalty that he hoped to impose on the innocent party. Imagine if we had a law like that today. It would discourage crooked cops from planting evidence and discourage ambitious prosecutors from tampering with and withholding evidence while coercing false pleadings from those they know to be innocent.
“An eye for an eye in that context does not look all that extreme, unless one considers it extreme to send crooked prosecutors and law enforcement officers to prison.
Finally, note that this passage refers to a legitimate function of a government — to try a case based on evidence, so that justice is rendered between the two parties and to the community as a whole. Without an official, sanctioned process that the community trusts, people revert to personal vengeance for justice, often carried out by vigilantes. Mr. Attorney General, if you believe your role is not to render justice in proportion to a crime, are you prepared for the damage that approach will render, indeed, is rendering upon your community?
This isn
t to say there is no room for mercy. Consider this proverb: People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving (Proverbs 6:30 NKJV).
There was a time in England, it has been said, that hungry children were executed for stealing a loaf of bread. Such is what happened in the case of Michael and Ann Hammond, ages 7 and 11, in 1708. That was not a case where the punishment fitted the crime, and it certainly was not an
eye for an eye. Yet even in our day people have been incarcerated for lengthy periods for minor drug offenses. The eye for an eye can be cause for great mercy.
Sadly, the reverse is often happening in too many jurisdictions today, and that too is a miscarriage of justice. Consider the burning of police precincts, wholesale looting in the name of
social justice, and run of the mill shoplifting, all occurring in the absence any meaningful prosecution. That also violates the principle of punishment fitting the crime. The summer of love as we had in 2020, where anarchy ran rampant for weeks, has escalated to a nationwide crime wave which will likely escalate in both scale and gravity. When prosecutors ignore such crimes, they invite more crime. Again, a proverb: Because a sentence of an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
So with all due respect to the office of that certain district attorney and others like him, an
eye for an eye is more progressive and equitable jurisprudence than what you are imposing on your communities now. And the principle behind that ancient proverb is exactly how the government should be run, your uninformed statement notwithstanding.

On Pride and Prejudice and Pianos (Sabbath Thoughts)
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault – because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe
my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
(From Chapter 31 of Jane Austen’s
Pride & Prejudice)
While watching an adaptation of
Pride & Prejudice with my wife, I was struck by the above exchange between two of the story’s main characters. When Mr. Darcy seeks to excuse his lack of people skills as a lack of talent, Elizabeth Benet cuttingly replies that talent is a result of practice. In other words: If you don’t like where you are, work on it. Talent isn’t a state of being, but rather something acquired through continual effort.
Part of the reason it struck me the way it did was because of a similar exchange I’d had with a friend several years ago (again with a piano as the backdrop). After listening to him rather skillfully play the instrument for several minutes, I remarked on how much I wished I could play that well. He told me that the truth was, if I really wanted to play as well as him, I’d be learning how.
And he was right – the little smart-aleck. My last piano lesson had been at least five years ago and, while I occasionally toyed with the instrument, I never gave it any serious attention. I wanted the talent without all that tedious hard work.
But that’s not the way it works. That’s not the way it has ever, in the whole history of the universe, worked. While some people may find themselves blessed with more of certain talents than others, any ability – be it Elizabeth Benet’s piano playing or Mr. Darcy’s people skills – requires continual
effort to maintain and improve. It doesn’t just … happen.
As you many have rightly guessed by now, the purpose of this Sabbath Thought is not primarily to cross-examine nineteenth-century novels or discuss the proper techniques of advanced piano-playing.  Rather, every example thus far entertained has been to reinforce one singular point of Christian living: improvement requires work. So many of us are so eager to wish ourselves to a more accomplished state of discipleship that we forget what it takes to get there – or worse, we convince ourselves that we simply “have not the talent which some people possess,” and throw in the towel on ever developing in the areas in which a Christian ought. It’s so much easier to say to ourselves (and others!), “I’m just no good at _____” and be done with it. The real challenge is admitting, “I really need to work on _____” and then following through.
The best way to get better at playing the piano is by
spending time playing the piano. In the same way, the best way to get better at Bible study is to spend time studying the Bible. The best way to get better at praying is to spend time praying. There is a definite pattern here, and I don’t think it is overly difficult to discern.
Christ gave to His disciples a parable concerning preparing for the Kingdom. In Matthew 25:14, a man sets out on a journey to a far country, but not before delivering some of his money (here referred to as “talents”) to his servants with the expectation that they “do business” (Luke 19:13) until his return.
Upon his return, the man finds that two of his servants have been busy – in his absence, they used what they had been given and doubled what their master had entrusted to them (Matthew 25:20,22). They meet with the praise and approval of their returning master, being rewarded with rulership “over many things” (Matthew 25:21,23).
The last servant took a different approach. Rather than improve what he had been given, he admits to his master, “I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:25).
This servant met with a less favorable outcome than his fellows. Denounced by his master as “wicked and lazy,” he is cast into outer darkness and destroyed (Matthew 25:26,30). Because he was afraid to do anything with what had been entrusted to him – which was his master’s expectation – he loses everything.

The difference between the first two servants and the unfortunate third was a matter of initiative. The first two saw that they’d been given something valuable, knew they were expected to do something with it, and did. The third saw and knew the same things, but opted instead to bury his stewardship in the ground. The master in this parable expected his servants to change the status quo, not preserve it. Our Master likewise expects us to take what He has given us and work toward changing. It’s far too easy to tell ourselves that we simply don’t have the ability to excel in a certain area of Christian living. It’s far too easy to take our talent and fearfully bury it in the ground.
Don’t. Don’t sell yourself short. God committed this calling to you
because He knows you can live up to it. He doesn’t leave us to do it on our own; in fact, He promises to guide us through every step of the way (Hebrews 13:5). But you cannot allow yourself to believe that it’s okay to not be okay in the areas He expects you to grow in. It is not acceptable for a Christian to grow complacent and stagnant – we must always “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
If your approach until now has been to look at the areas of Christianity in which you are lacking and write them off as unachievable, to tell yourself that you “have not the talent which some people possess,” then it’s not too late to change. Dig your talent back up from wherever you buried it, and start seeking, with God’s guidance, to improve in the areas where you fall short.

There will never come a day in this life when you find yourself having mastered every aspect of Christianity. If you already excelled at every facet of your calling, there would be little purpose in your presence here on Earth. The calling of a Christian is one of continual striving for improvement – of wrestling with our weaknesses using the strength of God, rooting them out of our lives and replacing them with our Creator’s righteous character.
What God wants to find – what God
expects to find when He brings His Kingdom to the earth – are disciples who have not shied away from improvement, who instead have thrown themselves continually at the task of growing in Godly character. They will not be perfect, nor will He expect them to be – but they will be trying. They will be practicing the piano, not just wishing themselves good at playing it.

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

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

How the Greek Present Tense Offers Hope for Your Salvation (Sabbath Thoughts)
I’m not a Greek scholar. I should probably start with that before I get too far into writing a blog about ancient Greek verb constructions. I don’t speak Greek, I can’t read Greek, and I don’t pretend to have the foggiest idea of the proper way to translate ancient Greek manuscripts into modern-day English. But I am a Christian who reads the Bible, and I do sometimes read verses that make me think, “How can that be?” And sometimes I read verses that make me more than a little concerned about my future as a child of God. Verses like,
“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9), and, “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
I have sinned since I came up out of the water fourteen years ago. Many times. Some of those sins, I’m ashamed to say, were committed not in ignorance, but in weakness. Knowingly. Willingly.
When I look at verses like 1 John 3:9 and Hebrews 10:26-27, there’s always a part of my mind that can’t help but wonder, “Does this mean you’re not going to make it?”
I’m writing all this because I doubt I’m the only one – and if you’ve looked at those verses and thought those same thoughts, this is for you. You’re not out of the race. Here’s why.
This is where we get into the Greek stuff, which, once again, I have to emphasize how woefully underqualified I am to be explaining. But if you take a look at an interlinear translation of those verses, you’ll find that both verses refer to sinning in the present tense. That might not seem especially noteworthy – until you realize that the English present tense and the Greek present tense are not identical. Here’s how the Ezra Project explains the difference:
In English, we know that the present tense describes something happening right now. It informs us of the time when an action takes place.
In Greek, however, the present tense primarily tells us the type of action. The Greek present tense indicates continued action, something that happens continually or repeatedly, or something that is in the process of happening. If you say, for instance, “The sun is rising,” you are talking about a process happening over a period of time, not an instantaneous event. The Greeks use the present tense to express this kind of continued action.

A process. Not an instantaneous event. That’s huge. That completely changes the meaning of those passages from 1 John and Hebrews – and, in fact, brings them back in line with the message of the Bible.
I should mention that the primary Bible translation I use in my studies is the New King James Version, and for the most part, I think it gets things right. Any Bible translation is going to have involved people much, much smarter than me, but even brilliant people make mistakes – and in this instance, it looks like the New King James translators failed to convey what the Bible authors were actually saying.
Here’s how the English Standard Version renders those verses:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9, ESV) and:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
In fact, it’s not just the ESV – many other translations render these verses using similar language. And that’s important, because the message of the Bible is one of repentance – of putting your past sins behind you, seeking forgiveness, and pressing forward on your journey toward the Kingdom of God. The idea that a single sin is enough to sunder us forever from God’s plan for us doesn’t just conflict with what the Bible as a whole has to say; it conflicts with what the books of 1 John and Hebrews themselves have to say! John wrote,
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and the author of Hebrews reminds us, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
We can always repent. We can always come back to God. We can always wash our robes and make them
“white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
I don’t mean to minimize the seriousness of sin. The ability to “come back” from sin isn’t a licence to go there as often as we like – or even at all. We should be terrified of committing sin. Sin is awful. Sin separates us from God. Sin destroys relationships. Sin demands a ransom, and that ransom is the blood of the Son of God. There is nothing laughable or inconsequential about sin. But sin is not so powerful that it strips away the hope of our salvation.
Our own mistakes and poor decisions do not move us beyond the scope of God’s intervention or His love. What sunders us from God forever is making a
practice of sin. Going on sinning deliberately, refusing to turn around, refusing to repent, refusing God’s earnest plea that we return to Him and change our ways.
When we understand what these verses really mean, what we have is not a pronouncement of doom, but a reminder of how we ought to be living our lives. No one born of God makes a practice of sin. There is no sacrifice to cover the sins of those who go on sinning deliberately.
Live like someone born of God – because you are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When My Neighbour Can’t Breathe (Sabbath Thoughts)
Jesus taught that the two great commandments, the summation and foundation of “all the Law and the Prophets” (
Matthew 22:40), the pathway to inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:25), are these:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
These are not complicated commandments – but we make them complicated, sometimes. We certainly made them complicated 2,000 years ago when a lawyer,
“wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29).
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:30-37)
In the eyes of many first-century Jews, one of the worst things a person could be was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were non-Israelites, brought in by the conquering Assyrians to supplant the nation of Israel. They took Israel’s faith and bastardized it, mixing in pagan traditions and false worship. And so when the expert asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells him a story that flips the question on its head:
Who
isn’t your neighbor?
Who
doesn’t deserve your love, your attention, and your concern?
It wasn’t a coincidence that Jesus chose to make a Samaritan the hero of the story. It was a chance for everyone listening to re-evaluate how they looked at the world – and, more importantly, the people in it. Jesus was telling them, “These people, the ones you look at as the lowest of the low, they are just as much your neighbors as the people living next door to you. The boundaries of this commandment don’t end at the boundaries of your community, and they certainly don’t end at the feet of someone different than you. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s a theme Paul keeps coming back to. He tells the Romans,
“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.’” (Romans 13:9).
He tells the Galatians,
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).
Love your neighbor is a tall order on its own.
Love your neighbor as yourself is in another league altogether.
Human nature makes it hard. And yet it’s such a key part of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, ”who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (
Philippians 2:6-8).
What does Paul say just before giving that description of Jesus?
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5).
There is no command to approve of everything your neighbor does. There is no command to accept his ideology as true and valid no matter what it happens to be. There is no command to support or embrace his sins. There is a command to love him as yourself.
Paul mentioned Peter’s hypocrisy in avoiding the Gentile brethren while the Jewish brethren were around (
Galatians 2:11-13). James had to chew out the Church for showing favoritism to the rich brethren over the poor brethren:
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-10).
Last week, I posted a blog called “How to Save the World.” The whole point of that particular blog was that we
can’t save the world – that the world is fundamentally broken in a way that no one but God can truly fix. It was meant to be a reminder that the solutions we really need to our problems will not and cannot come from within ourselves. We might sometimes stumble into a brief moment of temporary improvement, but it’s never enough. It never lasts.
“The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
I still think that’s important to keep in mind. There are layers to everything that’s unfolding – and like everything in our world, those layers stem from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. No matter how we try to tease those elements apart, those layers will always be a mixture of right and wrong – and as Christians, we should be hesitant to throw our support behind whatever movements we perceive as “least wrong.”
But that’s not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is a reminder that the Biblical injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves sits at the very core of our identity as Christians – and that thousands upon thousands of our neighbors have been marching through cities, holding up signs that say, “I Can’t Breathe.”
If you are like me – a white person whose only real experience with racism comes second hand, from the stories of others – then the easiest thing to do is move to the other side of the road and keep on walking.
That’s not what God says to do.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Don’t brush it off. Don’t look the other way. Don’t rationalize, justify, or excuse it. Cross the road and see what you can do to help.
I don’t think that means joining in a protest or getting involved in a political movement – but I do think it means trying our best to understand what our neighbors are dealing with. It means putting aside our preconceived ideas of how life works for people who aren’t us. It means
listening. It means figuring out what we change in our own lives to make ourselves a better neighbor – from the things we say, to the things we do, to the things we think in the privacy of our own minds.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). Especially. Not exclusively. All means all, and neighbor means so much more than the people on our streets.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milk or Solid Food? (Morning Companion)
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,  for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (1 Corinthians 3:2-3)
We were sitting in our living room one evening and heard a bang. We weren’t sure what had happened until we went into the basement and saw a large crack on the west side of the foundation. A bad foundation is not something to ignore. Without a healthy foundation the rest of the structure can begin to crack and eventually the building becomes unsound.
It’s the same with out faith. It must be built on a solid foundation. Jesus Christ is called
the chief cornerstone (Acts 4:11) for a reason. He is the first foundation stone. If that stone is not square and firmly grounded, the rest of the foundation will be defective.
In addition to Jesus being the cornerstone, chapter 6 of Hebrews talks about laying a foundation of doctrine. In addition to the doctrine of Christ, six specific doctrines are listed as foundational. Without these foundational doctrines along with the chief cornerstone of Jesus Christ, we cannot expect the building of our faith to stand.
Can anyone, after understanding the foundation of our faith, treat doctrine as unimportant? But note this. Doctrine is merely the foundation. Without a building on top of that foundation, that foundation doesn’t fulfill its purpose.
In fact, that’s pretty much what this section of Hebrews is telling us when it says,
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).
This is saying that the foundation of doctrine, though critical to the integrity of the structure, is not enough. If we keep trying to lay the foundation over and over again, the foundation will never achieve its purpose, we’ll never have a building, and we’ll never reach maturity.
So about the building on that foundation — how does it look? Of what is it constructed?
Let’s take a look at the one big word that begins chapter 6 of Hebrews. That word is
therefore. That word therefore points back to what was said in the chapter before. The final few verses in chapter 5 point forward to what is said in chapter 6: About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis added)
Here we see a different metaphor, comparing milk (for children) to solid food (for the mature).
Note the words basic principles. Note that the basic principles are called milk, and that everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word, not just any word, but the word of righteousness.
Note that
solid food is for the mature, and that the mature learn how to distinguish good from evil.
The phrases
word of righteousness and distinguish good from evil are associated with maturity and solid food. Milk is associated with basic principles, being unskilled in the word of righteousness, and being a child.
When we get to the early verses of chapter 6, the instruction is to move on to maturity, to start building on the all-important foundation rather than trying to lay the foundation all over again.
Look at the wording in Hebrews 6:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, etc., etc. (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Doctrine is not solid food. Doctrine is milk. Doctrine is necessary, just like a foundation is necessary for a strong building, but it’s not enough. Solid food is for the mature, and the mature learn how to discern good from evil and strive toward righteousness in their lives.
It’s easy to understand the nuances of repentance and faith, baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrections and eternal judgement. Or perhaps we should say it’s easy when compared to living a life according to the Sermon on the Mount. Try loving your enemies or praying for those who have harmed you. Try forgiving someone who did you wrong. It’s profitable to learn the Greek and Hebrew, but it’s a greater challenge to walk the extra mile like a Good Samaritan, or to care — really care — for orphans and widows. It is easier to theorize on the return of Christ than to ease the path of others in the here and now.
Doctrine is important. Understanding the resurrection and the plan of God are not to be trifled with. The doctrines surrounding the Second Coming are right and good to know. Those things are foundational and important. But we must build on those foundations of faith by living our faith.
Build the building! Feast on solid food! Move on to maturity!

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. (1 Corinthians 3:11-14)

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