Getting into the history books is not easy. One great path is to
be an eccentric inventor—like John Ericsson, the man who designed
the USS Monitor. Unfortunately, before you get to the history books,
there is a lot of nay-saying to put up with.
The story is told of his first visit to the navy. Evidently one
of the senior desk admirals was asked his opinion of the ship. He
told the young secretary holding the model of the ship that he
should take it home. Take it home, and worship it. It would not be
idolatry, you see, because it would not be the likeness of anything
in heaven above or earth below, nor in the waters deep.
Idolatry is a problem which has not bothered western Christians
for about 1500 years. The temptation to worship at some pagan temple
simply no longer exists. But this temptation has been transmuted
into worship of other things:
· Sex is one. If only I could find the goddess I deserve….
· Drugs are another; better feelings through chemistry.
· Conquest—whether actual violence or vicariously (football,
wrestling) - is a third.
All these promise the same thing: you are going to feel better
with little to no real effort on your part. Why is this wrong?
· It makes you a hypocrite. You cannot love God second.
· It doesn’t work forever; you need more and more to achieve less
and less release.
· It is a sin which effectively blocks repentance. Why should I
repent, when all I really need is a little more….
Do you see it? Anything you place ahead of God in your will is
idolatry. You have accepted him as Lord and Savior; how then can you
put drugs first? The answer comes back, “it’s easy. God won’t care;
That is why he gives us the explicit command to have no other
gods before him. It is no longer a matter of interpretation—how
much is too much; one little fling won’t hurt—but a matter of
obedience. You may not be smart enough to figure out why God says
this—but if you’re reading this sentence, you can understand what He
commands. Let us at least do that.
Lord, your word provides wisdom to the simple and opens up
understanding to the wise—by obedience.
My wife was late to our wedding.
She says it was only half an hour; I hold to an hour. When the
organist begins to play “Get Me to the Church On Time” (in the
manner of a Bach fugue) you know it’s not just in your imagination.
You might think that this would have worried me. It did not. I
had seen her on the church grounds, in wedding dress, a couple of
hours earlier. So while the congregation wondered and waited, I was
confident of receiving my bride. (I am obligated to explain that she
has always been worth the wait.)
Often God has his servants wait on his timing. In this instance,
Caleb waited 45 years for what God had promised him. When the time
came, he was ready. But what was going on in the meanwhile?
In waiting for his promises to arrive, God is pleased to teach us
his way, so that we might better understand (and appreciate) his
blessings. We would certainly look at this and say that God was
teaching Caleb the virtue of patience. This may be so, but Caleb
doesn’t mention that fact. His claim is not by having waited
patiently; his claim is in his obedience. He has done what the Lord
God commanded, he has been faithful to God and he expects God to be
faithful to him. He is not disappointed.
Do you feel that God has promised you something—and not
delivered? Perhaps it is a matter of patience; but today I would
suspect that we haven’t the patience to exhibit impatience. It is
more likely that we are not obedient.
God will pick his time and place, and indeed the manner, by which
he fulfills his promises. But it is not fitting for us just to sit
around and wait. As the old joke goes, you can’t be standing on the
promises when you’re sitting on the premises. If you feel he has not
delivered, take the challenge: examine your life for your obedience
to God. Do you obey only those things which you understand—or worse,
only those of which you approve? Will God bless the disobedient, or
the repentant in obedience?
Lord, it is your good pleasure to give your children gifts which
show your glory. We know that the disobedient will not receive;
teach us the patience we will need to maintain our obedience. May we
see your glorious return as obedient children.
1 Kings 3:14
One of the saddest stories in the Bible is that of Solomon, King
of Israel. Given peace on all sides, vast riches, great wisdom, it
would seem that nothing could go wrong. It is not so; Solomon was
led astray by the many foreign wives he took, each with her own
idol. The man whom God commissioned to build the Temple wound up
worshiping idols. God promised him long life– If he would keep God’s
That last is a recurring statement. In the Ten Commandments, long
life is promised to those who honor their parents “as the Lord has
commanded” them. It is God’s way of rewarding life long obedience.
There is the key to this issue. Our pastor is fond of saying that
life is not a sprint, but a marathon. (Can you tell who was on the
track team in college?) It is quite the truth. God may reward
specific acts of obedience, but this is not the method by which the
saints receive their reward. Why? Because God wants us to know that
he is not the great cosmic bean counter who tallies up your good
deeds and your evil. There is no trade value before God.
We are destined for eternity, and three score and ten seems
little enough time to obtain the habit of obedience. The Army will
tell you it takes two years to make a soldier. How long does it take
to make a saint?
Is this important? Let me put it in more familiar terms. Ladies,
suppose your husband announced to you his intention to keep a sweet
young thing as a play toy. But—he tells you—he will make it up to
you by taking you shopping for a new, larger diamond solitaire.
There is no diamond big enough. If your wife is a Christian, she
should insist on your complete fidelity—and give the same to you.
Now think on this: one of the common pictures the Bible uses to
describe the relationship between Jesus and his church is marriage.
The church is called the “Bride of Christ.” Ladies and gentlemen, if
you would accept no infidelity in an earthly marriage, how much more
will Christ insist on faithfulness from his church?
It is sad that Solomon ended his reign in sin. But hear Christ’s
warning: When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the
Lord, our home for all eternity is with you. Lead and teach your
children so that they arrive at their home.
Ordinary Man’s Choice
Let us face it: most of us are not cut out to be heroes of the
faith. We live unremarkable lives; often, therefore, the triumphs of
the Scripture from Moses to Paul seem not to apply to us. We need
the guidance given to Everyman.
That’s why this Psalm was written. Your mother taught you this
lesson years ago—but you can stand the refresher course.
Did she not tell you that people go from bad to worse gradually?
By the seemingly insignificant decisions of the day does Satan trap
his prey. Here are the steps in the fall:
· First, the man starts to listen to the counsel of sinners
indeed. He asks not “what is right” but rather “what is expedient?”
It sounds like it should work, and what’s one little shortcut?
· Soon he is no longer walking in righteousness, but standing in
the path of sin. He’s headed the right way, perhaps—but not moving.
He’s undecided; the narrow path, or the freeway?
· His indecision causes him to stop and sit. He’s trying to go
both ways at once, and it won’t work. But he’s not baffled; he can
still dump cynical words on the rest of us.
Righteousness is not lost all at once, but bit by bit. That’s why
your father taught you to sweat the details. But consider the other
man—the man who finds delight in the Scriptures.
· Where the cynic stops and sits down, this man is planted. His
views and position are not from chance or error, but deliberately
formed from the truth. The truth comes not just once; but like trees
lining a creek, it flows past constantly. This man delights in
Scripture every day.
· You can see the blessings he brings all the time. It is not
spectacular righteousness—but it is consistent.
· It is God’s good pleasure to bless such a man, both in spirit
and in material things. He knows your need – and you will learn that
He will supply your needs.
Look around you and see: last year’s super business man is this
year’s courtroom spectacle. Your mother was right: little by little,
bit by bit, you grow closer to Christ—or further away. You choose
the direction; God gives the results.
Lord, keep us ever mindful of the fact that while our decisions
seem small, they should lead us to you.
God has, it seems, a dilemma:
· God is love—he is merciful, he is kind and he is loving, to the
point that he is the perfection and sum of love.
· God is also truth—the author of righteousness, the Holy One,
the one in whom no sin is found.
All this is familiar enough, but have you considered what must
happen when God encounters sinful man?
· His love is such that it demands mercy for the sinner, the work
of his hands.
· His righteousness demands that justice be done on these exact
same sinners. Because his righteousness is pure, he must exact the
full penalty (death) on such a sinner.
But mercy triumphs over judgment. In his great love he sent the
Lamb of God, Jesus, the Christ, to bear our penalty for us. Justice
is satisfied, and mercy and love are ours.
Two paths—but at the end, the same destination. Whether we pursue
the God of Justice or the God of Love, the path leads to the only
God. Likewise, there are two paths marked out for us in his tender
· There is the path of the covenant. God has set forth in the
Scriptures the way in which a man must live. Here are the words of
· There is the path of testimony. We must speak of God’s love and
righteousness—and the Christ who reconciled us.
But do you not see that these are the same paths? If you are on
the path of testimony, how can you not be obedient to the covenant?
Who will believe your testimony if your life does not show the
blessings God gives? Hypocrisy convinces no one.
Likewise, if you are on the path of the covenant, do you not find
yourself commanded to share the Good News? If your life is filled
with his love and righteousness do you think this will go unnoticed
by the world? Not only noticed, but challenged. Should you not have
the ready answer of your own testimony?
The veils of the future are lifted one day at a time; we can see
no further than that. But we know who holds the future, don’t we!
Lord, may we see your path before us clearly, and walk in that
path with conviction.
With the exception of food, drugs and soap the world finds very
little use for the word “purity.” It is associated with the Puritans
(a convenient butt of the joke) and generally with those who know no
better. Our society believes Satan’s first great lie: we think that
evil is enlightening. Purity is considered willful ignorance. It is
both condemned and mocked..
But is this really such an obsolete concept? Honesty is a form of
purity; what would you want from your auto mechanic ? Doctors,
lawyers and Indian Chiefs—the common thread of the good ones is that
they keep themselves pure. We expect it of those who serve us; but
it seems so difficult in our own lives.
The starting point of purity is the heart, for there is formed
the will to be obedient to the Lord’s commands. Our psalmist shows
us this way:
· First, God must be sought with all your heart. You must put him
first in all things. From this decision alone flow blessings beyond
· Next, you must treasure his word in your heart. Make it the
constant reading companion; memorize!
· You must not only read but meditate upon it. In the quiet place
of your life, read it through and ask, “How does this bless me? Of
what does it warn me? What example can I take from this?”
· Finally—and this comes with some maturity—you will delight in
his ways. You will begin to say how he works his will all around
What is in the heart must be on the lips.
· First, you must “repeat the ordinances” - in other words,
memorize! The ancients had no electronic Bible, but they knew the
value of memorizing the word.
· Then you must ask His care for you, so that you will not wander
off. You are not strong enough on your own; but with his strength
you will see that “the battle belongs to the Lord.”
This is advice given to the young; but it remains good advice no
matter what your age.
Lord, keep us from mockery; give us strength stand and strength
to overcome; let us never be ashamed of purity.
At first blush these two verses seem contradictory to common
sense. After all, if a man follows the instruction given in the
Scripture, is he not of all people the most in chains? How can a man
walk at liberty if he is seeking after God’s law? We see this as a
contradiction; free, in our minds, means free to do whatever we
please (which is not what God wanted). The truth is different; so
different that we shall approach the problem by example:
· Let us consider first the technology of aviation. Surely it is
obvious that the laws of physics would have permitted flight to
humans at any time. But it happened only after people began to
pursue the truth about science applied to flight that the Wright
brothers put it all together. Pursuit of God’s laws gave us the
freedom of the sky.
· It is true in the emotional realm as well. What young lover has
not waited to hear his lady’s response? Waiting for the letter that
says yes or no; then the moment of arrival; he opens it and she
loves him. Now, tell me, is that not freedom? Surely to discover
that she’s found another is not!
· It works in the intellectual sphere as well. Any writer can
tell you of the relief that comes when you get that phrase exactly
right. As Mark Twain once put it, the difference between the right
word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning
and lightning bug. When you find that right word, it unleashes your
All this is true in the spiritual realm as well. Sin is rightly
described as slavery; ask an alcoholic, it will be very clear. But
when Christ comes, so does freedom. Catch this carefully: obedience
to God’s law makes you free.
How can this be? Consider what freedom really is. If you fling a
squid into the air, it does not become an eagle. An eagle is free in
flight because eagles are designed to fly. Squid are free in the
ocean because they are designed to swim. Do you not see the
principle? A creature is free when it is doing what it was designed
to do. Man was designed to love God and enjoy him forever. So in
living the life he has chosen for us, we gain true freedom.
Think of it: designed to love God and enjoy him forever! It is
not just freedom; it is also joy.
Lord, we struggle to break free of our sinful lives; teach us the
joy of the freedom we have in you.
A Night on the Town
We often hear the preacher point out the heroes of the faith.
This is well and good, but most of us are not heroes. Most of us can
sympathize with the Psalmist who was derided by the arrogant. I know
that I can.
It happened this way. In the normal course of my job I wrote some
software which proved rather useful to those who manage servers on a
network. As a result, I was asked to go to a users’ group meeting—a
convention, really. Several of my colleagues were also going. We
usually ate together, for meals are better with good company.
This particular night I sat across the table from a very
good-looking blonde. She seemed interested in what I had to say; men
do appreciate that. I was rather surprised, however, when she asked
me to have sex with her that night. She was rather surprised when I
said no (actually, no thank you. Mother raised me to be polite.)
Evidently the company at the table was quite interested, for I
soon found I had the floor—to explain myself. The explanation was
quite simple, but I doubt I could do much better today. I simply
stated that being a Christian was central to who I am, and I could
not break faith with my wife.
The table exploded in laughter. The blonde asked me, “OK, so you
like steak. Have you tried chicken?” People I worked with—and I
thought I knew them—laughed at me. They could not understand why I
could be so old-fashioned.
That night I called home, and carefully avoided mentioning it to
my wife. This was probably a mistake, but I didn’t want her to worry
about it. As the phone call ended, I was left alone in the hotel
My only support that night was from the Scriptures. I don’t
recall what passages I read, but there came through to me that joy
that comes when the battle is won. "It is the Spirit who gives
life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you
are spirit and are life.” It did not erase the laughter—but it gave
me great comfort to know that I passed the test.
Christian, when the laughter turns on you, seek his word—it is
spirit and life to all who believe.
Lord, sometimes I feel like the only Christian left. Uphold me
with your word; keep me with your comfort.
One dictionary of naval slang put it this way: “Flashlight—a
long, cylindrical tube in which one stores dead batteries.” Whether
in the bowels of a battleship or just on a camping trip, the
flashlight is useless without good batteries. The lantern needs fuel
as well. You have to get the light from somewhere—or you will never
find your way back to the tent.
But after you’ve been camping for a little while, your behavior
changes. You still have the flashlight—but this time you remembered
to buy new batteries. Neat, tidy and orderly—until those batteries
go dead after they help your kids read comic books all night. You
then progress to the absolute master of flashlights: a drawer full
of batteries, all sizes, ready to be used. Of course, by this time
your children have grown and are grumbling about the batteries that
your grandchildren use.
The light of Scripture is like that. At first you find that the
comfort from God’s word is just not there. But someone takes you
aside, explains how God is working—and if you follow their
instructions, it works for you. How it helps the new Christian to
have someone to join in prayer! After that, it becomes easier—for a
while. God now allows a bigger test in your life. You must search
his word diligently; when you do, you will have God’s own light in
your life—not light borrowed, but light for you.
When you get to the point where you never run out of spiritual
batteries, your view of the world changes. As a beginner you still
accepted much of the world’s view—but now the light is clearer, your
view has changed.
Still, there is the fact that some don’t grow; they wither. One
reason for this is the question of commitment. In my father’s time a
man’s word was expected to be his bond. A man who gave his word to
Christ felt bound by the promise. Today, such commitment is rarer.
But still, promises past and promises future define your honesty.
What have you promised the Lord?
If you’re like most of us, you have promised to “keep the faith.”
That’s what you told him, perhaps in other words. The operative verb
there is “keep.” It does not mean “had it at one time or other” but
something we cling to continuously. And why do we cling to it?
Because it is too precious to throw away. Is your faith a “keeper?”
Lord, do not let us become backsliders who ease away from you;
rather, let us be those who patiently wait on you.
If you love God, is it not natural that you would want to know
him—in a deep, genuine way? Then consider, if you will, the
perfection of God. It is not often spoken of, for it is a concept of
the philosophers and not of the common man. But within it we may
find answers; by knowing him better we can love him more.
It was a commonplace among Mediaeval thinkers that God is the sum
of all perfections. If something is good, then its perfection is
found in God. Love is good; God is love. Truth is good; Jesus says
the he is the way, the truth and the life.
The key point is this: God is not partially anything—for God is
one. He is not “sort of” love; he is love. If he is merciful—and the
Scripture says he is—he is perfectly merciful. If he is righteous,
he is perfectly righteous.
That last often comes as a complete surprise to some believers.
They imagine God to be something made in the image of them. It is
not so; we are made in the image of God, not the other way around.
For this reason we sometimes develop strange views of God, not
justified or even stated in the Scriptures.
Ezekiel is up against one of those “God is just like me” ideas
here. Some of us have the Cosmic Bean Counter view. In this view,
God is in heaven, keeping tabs on us below. At the end of our lives
he tallies up our score sheet. If the good stuff outweighs the bad
stuff, we’re in heaven.
Note the key thought: man decides who gets into God’s heaven. The
explanation God is giving Ezekiel here is the kindergarten version.
If you look at the verses surrounding it, you will see that God
repeats this to Ezekiel. One reason for this is to make very clear
who decides—and it’s not us.
God, you see, is perfectly righteous. Not one bit of sin can he
have in his presence. Thus he must utterly reject the bean counter
notion. But he is also perfectly merciful. Indeed, without justice
there is no mercy; without perfect justice there is no perfect
mercy. God reconciled these two at the Cross; there Jesus paid the
price. God has not varied from his demand for perfection; he has
just made it possible to have it satisfied.
God explains it here in a very simple format. Reject all notion
of a partial God, and rejoice in his perfection.
Lord, how often we think you will accept half measures! Deliver
us from apologies and sins unspoken; lead us to real repentance.
The Least of the Commandments
Have you ever read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount and
wondered just what is the least of the commandments? The Jews of
that time had selected one. It is found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7. It
concerns the taking of a bird’s nest; you could take the eggs or
young from the bird’s nest—but not the mother. Moses explains this
by saying. “in order that it may be well with you and that you may
prolong your days.” Even in the least of the commandments we see how
God teaches his people. To take both would be cruelty; to leave the
mother is an act of mercy. The least of the commandments is an
affair of the heart itself. Even in this command which seems so
trivial we see blessing and long life associated with God’s
It is no wonder, then, that Christ solemnly cautions his
disciples to be thorough in this matter. Some might think this just
so much fussiness, but consider:
· Is there really a division between serious and trivial sins? If
so, just where does Christ expound it to us?
· If you teach others that some commandments may be safely
ignored, do you not corrupt your brother’s conscience? What may be
the result of that?
· Even though you are a teacher, can you really say you know your
brother’s every weakness?
Christ here sets before us the duty of all who make disciples: we
are to teach what he taught. In so doing, teacher and student forge
another link in the chain of obedience stretching back to the
Apostles themselves. That chain is strong to rescue the sinner—but
can be broken by a single link.
The truth is that any sin is one too many. God is holy; he can
have no dealings with sin. He is also omniscient; there is no way to
hide sin from him. But there is a way for the sinner to add his own,
personal link to the chain of obedience. Gather such wisdom as God
permits your teacher; meditate upon the truth you learn. Resolve
yourself to take action upon it. Live the life of the child of God,
and when your turn comes, pass on this faith to the next generation.
Be another link in the chain of obedience.
Lord, if you took account of sin, how could anyone stand? But we
have your atonement. Let us not treat it lightly, rather, help us
pass the pearl of great price to the next generation.
This story is a familiar one to most Christians. It is a favorite
topic of preachers if for no other reason than that the parable is
easy to interpret. The master is Christ, at his return. The slaves
are those who are (or claim to be) Christians. The talents are those
things which divine providence has provided for us. The eternal
question is, what did we do with those talents?
But we might point out a few things which may have slipped from
memory in this passage—and are worthy of your thought:
· The two successful slaves went out immediately. How often we
think, “When I get rich, I’m going to be so generous…” Note that
these slaves did not wait until “when”; they went out immediately.
· They went to work with what they had. There seems to be no
pouting over who got five and who got two.
· They went to work “trading” - i.e., they worked in the way of
the world. Ordinary commerce; ordinary things.
· They prospered in proportion to what they had been given. And
their master praised them equally, for he knew the origin of the
money. We do not know what others got; therefore, it is not ours to
The master has a bit to say here also. The essence of his praise
is that if these slaves were faithful in little things—and in the
kingdom of God, money is a little thing—their character would not
change if they were entrusted with great things. At the very least,
using this technique could result in some startling promotions.
It seems suitable here to examine ourselves. The key question is,
are you obedient in small things?
· Money is temporal; do you handle it honestly?
· Work is often unseen; do you do it diligently?
· Fidelity is no longer praised; do you still practice it?
A comic once said that if you tolerate shoddy workmanship in
philosophy (because philosophy is a high and hard thing) and you
also tolerate shoddy workmanship in plumbing (because plumbing is a
low and dirty thing) then neither your pipes nor your theories will
hold water. How much more true on Judgment Day!
Lord, teach us to be faithful in the least of things so that at
your return we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
If you are the parent of a child in Sunday School, a small child,
you will inevitably encounter the song, “The Wise Man Built His
House Upon The Rock.” Complete with hand motions, children as little
as three years of age can be led (more or less) in song. It melts
the heart of the parents.
In so doing, perhaps, it causes this stern warning of Scripture
to be taken too lightly. Whose fault this might be I do not know;
but it’s not St. Luke’s. Let us take a closer look at the wise man.
Comes to me
Christ tells us that the wise man comes to him. Softly and
tenderly Jesus may call, but we must respond and come to Christ. How
greatly Christ equips those who do! To them it is given to partake
of the bread of life, Christ himself. Such a matter is rooted in God
the Father; all those who come to Christ are given to Him by the
Father. Indeed, prophecy has it that they shall all be taught by the
Father. It is a deep, loving relationship.
Hears my voice
Christ uses this metaphor on some significant occasions. Before
Pontius Pilate, Jesus stated that all who are of the truth hear his
voice. It could hardly be otherwise; He is the truth. So those who
seek truth will listen to him. Others may not be seeking the truth,
but still seeking Christ; they are the sheep who listen to his
voice. The end of such listening is this: those that hear his voice
will never taste death. Eternal life comes to those who follow the
Acts on them
There is the chief complaint. It is not sufficient to sit in the
pew with a smile on your face. What might motivate us? The love we
have for Jesus. If you love him, you will be obedient. If you keep
his commands, you will stay in his love. If you act on his commands,
you will be blessed.
But there is a caution: if you hear but fail to act, it is sin to
you. To hear is to cure your ignorance; once cured, it is forever
Lord, we come to you to hear your voice. Help us abide in your
love; teach us your commands.
A Father’s Love
My brother Jim is one of the brightest people I know—and if
you’re talking radio electronics, the brightest. But even the genius
must sometimes fix the plumbing. Jim was making such a repair one
day when his wife Kirsten asked him, “How do you know how to do all
that stuff?” Jim’s reply was classic: “I just thought through how my
Dad would have done it, and do that.”
My dad was an intimidating sort of person—without really trying.
He simply had presence. He also had the self assurance needed to
take the plumbing apart in the first place. Jim and Dad didn’t
always see eye to eye, but now the respect is there.
It is said that you can teach anything but motivation. You can
motivate people from the outside by fear, or by promise of reward.
When you do, you get someone who is a hireling, who will abandon the
task when convenient. If you want motivation on the inside, you must
start with respect—and for great deeds, you must somehow motivate by
means of love. You can pay a nursing home to provide the care for
your mother; it takes love to stay up all night with her, just to
hold her hand and comfort her.
In this passage Jesus takes this principle to its ultimate
conclusion: if you love the Lord, you will obey his commandments.
Not by fear or hope of reward (though both are available) but out of
love his disciples move. We do not often connect obedience with
love—but the connection is very powerful. This is not the grudging
obedience of fear and reward. It surpasses the obedience of those
who are on the same team, pulling together for victory. It is the
obedience that only comes when you have risked absolutely everything
on the love that drives it.
Love God, said St. Augustine, and do as you please. If you are
his, you will love the life of charity; you will love those around
you, for they are his children too. Others will see sacrifice to the
point of insanity; you will see only the obedience to the Master you
What Would Jesus Do—our children have WWJD on bracelets to remind
them. It is a grand idea. But take it to perfection: “I love Jesus
completely and absolutely. What would He have me do?”
Lord, to love is to risk. All of us have been hurt when love
turned to ashes; we fear to risk all again. Calm our fears, Lord,
and help us grow in love for You. Give us courage to risk all; give
us faith to hear your call. Each day let us grow in love for you.
Commandment and Love
The statement, “God is love,” is a familiar one to most
Christians. Children are taught this in song. But to the mature
Christian that statement carries with it the knowledge of great
Do you not see that if love exists at all, there must be at least
two persons to share it? You cannot love your dog if you don’t have
a dog. Therefore, because God is eternal, and He is love, there must
be at least two persons in the Godhead.
But surely you also see the problem. If there are two persons,
then there could be division between them. In short, two persons
might imply two gods.
But this cannot be; for God is love, and love never wars against
itself. Therefore we say that God is one. Hear, O Israel, the Lord
your God is one.
Christ describes that relationship as “abiding” in the Father’s
love. If one can abide, one can choose not to abide. Being perfect,
Christ will choose to abide in the Father’s love. But the very fact
that “not abiding” exists as a possibility implies that there must
be a mechanism, a way, of abiding. How does one “abide in love?”
The mechanism is obedience. It is not an obedience to a set of
rules or laws; it surpasses that kind of obedience. It is the
obedience of the one who is perfect. Father and Son are in perfect
harmony—and that harmony is an example to us.
For Christ is not solely God; he is also completely man. We are
privileged to follow that example of his—be his imitators—and by his
providence and grace we can succeed. We can grow closer to him each
day. Perfection is still His; but we can now see it as the target we
are aiming for.
Now, if you have read to this part of the essay, you are probably
wondering how it is that anyone could be expected to understand the
nature of God so well as to make such declarative statements about
the very nature of God. After all, suppose all this philosophical
logic is wrong. Then what are we supposed to do?
That’s the beauty of the mechanism by which the Son is in unity
with the Father. Philosophy may be well beyond you (and those
trained in philosophy will know that it’s beyond me too) but
obedience is right down at our level. The command is ours; the
example is ours. To claim this love needs only simple obedience.
Lord, your ways are beyond our imagination. But by your grace we
are given obedience so that we might abide in your love.
Everybody knows one. He was the star athlete on your high school
team—track, football, basketball, baseball. He had it made. He was
so gifted athletically that he never had to practice hard like you
did. He was annoyed when the coach had him do wind sprints. He never
let anyone miss the fact that he was the star of the team.
Then he went to college. Maybe in college, maybe in the pro
leagues, he found out. A star in high school who didn’t work hard
met a star who did—and wound up riding the bench. In his pride he
would not work; he discovered humility the hard way. The humble but
gifted athlete was just a step faster—from all those wind sprints.
Consider, then, the parallel to Christ. We know Him to be God in
the flesh. Do you see the humility in that statement?
· He humbled himself. This is the greatest form of humility, not
imposed by circumstance—but voluntary humility.
· How did he do that? First, by being born like one of us. Next,
by being obedient. Like wind sprints, if you please.
· Then note to what degree he was obedient: even to the death.
Think of the athlete who works harder than anyone else.
Coaches love the star who works harder than anyone else. They can
(and do) point out to the others that the team star is still out on
the field, working hard, after they have gone to the showers. There
is nothing like a good example to destroy any feeling of
Face it: we’re human. We’re not perfect, and most of us are not
stars. That’s true athletically and spiritually. We should follow
the example of Christ in humility, obedience and perseverance. But
we see that as hard; “work out your own salvation.” It’s work.
But in this arena we have help. We are not perfect, but we have
the Holy Spirit within us. It is his good pleasure to be our
coach—and our comforter. By his aid we develop the will to do as
Christ would do. With his aid we have the strength to do it.
Are we stars? Not yet. But we’re training for it. This life is
just the beginning—stick around and see the second half.
Lord, we do not know the hour of your return, nor can we imagine
what you have prepared. Help us to be ready on the Day.
What Would Jesus Do?
1 John 2:3-6
My father was a man who was quite literally from the wrong side
of the tracks. The railroad line split Findlay, Ohio into two sides.
The discovery of oil in the neighborhood split it into rich and
poor. My dad was on the wrong side of the wrong side.
His struggles in life took him into the Army as a career. From
all this he drew one conclusion (often repeated): “It’s not what you
know. It’s who you know.”
This concept is very important to Christians. We do not claim the
salvation of God because of our academic brilliance or hard work;
rather it is the grace of God. Which is to say, Do you know Jesus,
Satan will use that question. The nagging little doubt that
maybe, just maybe, I really don’t know him. After all, other people
have blinding flashes of inspiration from him; shouldn’t you too?
The Apostle John gives us the answer to that.
· First, we know that we know him because we obey him. If you’re
doing what he commanded, you know him.
· If you say you know him, and you’re not doing what he
commanded, you’re lying.
That’s the test. But John here reveals a mystery that still
hasn’t penetrated the skull of many Christians: God uses people who
know him as the venue where he perfects his love.
“Perfects?” The word means to make something exactly right to
meet the requirements. God’s love is beyond our comprehension; but
he has chosen to make that love perfect for the task of loving his
children—by completing it in us. It’s as if God needed a container
for his perfect love, one that would be easily recognized by his
children. That container is us.
And what does he require of us for that? Obedience. Obedience to
the point that we are directly imitating Jesus. Thomas a Kempis saw
it this way: “By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His
life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from
all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study
the life of Jesus Christ.”
Lord, your love is beyond our comprehension, but not beyond our
acceptance. Your truth is beyond our wisdom, but not beyond our
obedience. Your example is beyond our power, but not beyond our
imitation. May we always ask, “What would Jesus do?
One of the more memorable studies of character is in George C.
Scott’s portrayal of Gen. George Patton. It was an artistic triumph
for Scott; the film won eight Academy Awards, so evidently his peers
thought so too. One of the literary devices used in the film is the
part of a German staff officer assigned to research Patton’s life.
He sets the table for the personality that Scott portrayed.
Key to our understanding the film is that Patton is no ordinary
personality. What he is, he is throughout the film. The character is
complex, but consistent. Character is like that; faithful in little,
faithful in much.
We have recently had before us the notion of the separation of
character into watertight compartments. Bill Clinton’s faithfulness
is such that we are to trust him with the country—even though he
can’t seem to keep his promises to his wife. That’s two different
watertight compartments, don’t you see?
No, I don’t see. Consider, as a counterexample, the Law of Moses.
For over three millennia it has bound the orthodox Jew. Christ
himself said that not one crossing of the T would be taken away
until all is fulfilled. The unity of the Law comes from the unity of
God; hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. So it is that from
the earliest times it did not matter what part of the law you didn’t
keep; if you violated even the smallest precept, you were guilty of
the whole; atonement was required.
For the Christian, that atonement was made at Calvary. In doing
that Christ also freed us from the technical detail of the Law of
Moses. He did not, however, free us from God’s law. We have what
James rightly describes as the law of liberty. By the power of the
Holy Spirit within us, with due diligence to the written word, we
can know what we should do.
But as the Law is one, so is the law of liberty one. Both come
from God in whom there is no division. The concept of watertight
compartments of character has no place here. You are one, not many.
The world proclaims that separation of character is perfectly
logical and a worthy defense of the righteousness of (for example)
Bill Clinton. They are lying when they say this. When they see it in
a Christian, they condemn it as hypocrisy.
Lord, teach us to see the follies of sin in a sinful world. Bind
us closer to you; the view is so much clearer there.
(A side note first: the miracle described here is not necessarily
the reversal of the planet’s motion. The phenomenon described could
be accomplished with a partial eclipse.)
Hezekiah reacts to bad news about his health in much the same way
we would. He is not happy. Consider, then, his method of approaching
the Almighty to seek a reversal of this fortune.
· First, see that his complaint has some basis in God’s word.
This would deprive Hezekiah of his three score and ten years.
· Next, Hezekiah turns his face to the wall—in other words, he
cuts himself off from his court and takes his complaint to God
alone. Nobody called a prayer meeting.
· In doing that, he humbled himself—to the point of crying like a
That is his method. It is humility compounded with sincerity; it
is not prayer for someone else but prayer that uses all that
Hezekiah is. In so doing, he sets before God a summary of his life.
This is one we could use to measure ourselves with:
· He has “walked before you in truth.” By this he means that his
life has been lived knowing that God examines it—and finds no
hypocrisy in it. Instead, Hezekiah has pursued the truth from God.
· He has done so with whole heart—not a hobby for the weekend,
not as politically expedient, but with his whole heart. Would God we
had leaders like that!
· He has done what is good in the sight of the Lord. It is not
his own idea of goodness or righteousness; it is God’s revelation of
righteousness and goodness.
For this, then, God is graciously pleased to extend his life. To
mark this as certain, God provides him a sign on the steps of Ahaz.
Hezekiah did not ask for a sign; God gives him one because the times
are about to get tough.
Sometimes we face this kind of situation: times are tough—and are
about to get tougher. God so prizes our obedience that he will move
to strengthen us. Sometimes the rock of ages must be seen.
Lord, in our distress we often wonder where you have gone. In our
time of trial, comfort us with your presence.
There is a saying on campus: if these students would just go away
and leave us alone, we could get our work done.
Is your day like that? Do you have a constant string of
interruptions by people who have “just one more question?” Do you
sometimes feel that people do this at exactly the right moment to
provide the maximum disruption for the minimum benefit?
Well then, think how God Almighty must feel about it. Christians
are taught today that the ideal prayer life is a string of one
sentence prayers, fired off at need. The answers are never tracked,
and no gratitude expressed.
Daniel followed the custom of the ancient Jews: three times a
day, morning, noon and evening, he went to the Almighty in prayer.
Why three times? It is not commanded anywhere in the Law of Moses.
But it seems about right.
· It enforces a time of disciplined prayer—which tells God that
you thought before you asked.
· It is sufficient to be a constant reminder during the day that
the Lord is with you, and you are his child.
· It turns aside trivial prayer.
· Most of all, it serves as a witness to others. One sentence
prayers are silent, with no change of face. These prayers are known
to be important.
The idea that you must focus your prayers before God,
acknowledging his sovereignty, is one reason we are taught to
journal our prayers. The effort of composition brings that focus.
As to witness, think about Daniel. Do you see that he knew all
about the king’s decree before he went to evening prayer? This is
not an act of defiance. It is the correct order of things, for God
is high above the king. Fear God, dread naught.
Daniel’s habits of prayer landed him in the lion’s den. His habit
of prayer was so constant, and his faith so strong, that he knew
whom he must obey. The time is coming when Christians in America
will face such a choice. Who knows; it might be you who must make
this choice. Be ready; be constant in prayer.
Lord, you have blessed our land for many years with greatness.
But our leaders now turn their back on you. Give us a spirit of
revival! But until that comes, teach us to be constant in prayer—and
a worthy example to those outside the church.
In any study of the subject of obedience, you should have a
Jonah. Not that he’s a good example of obedience. Far from it; this
is a man who tells God what to do; he is sullen and surly;
disobedient to the point of taking off in the wrong direction. He
may be on the list of “most famous” characters in the Bible; but he
wins no marks as an example.
Which, perhaps, is the reason he’s in the Bible. There is a
temptation to think that only super-saints can do anything effective
for God. The surly disobedience of Jonah; Elijah’s terror of
Jezebel; and Gideon’s timidity are examples of what God can do with
someone who is just not cooperating.
Indeed, whatever Jonah said had a powerful effect. It reads like
he walked through the city with a signboard and a loud bell,
repeating over and over, “Yet 40 days…” It sounds like someone
selling ice cream from a push cart. This bit of warning turned
Nineveh upside down?
Apparently so. See how they repented:
· They repented publicly—it was no quiet thing.
· They repented in a ceremonial way for which there could be no
misunderstanding (sackcloth and ashes).
· The entire community repented, following the leadership of
It is not just symbolic, for it tells us that God saw their
What would Jonah encounter if he came today to Southern
California? He would find plenty of sin; he would need to look no
further than the church to find it. Sexual sins are now considered a
virtue (as long as they involve only adults—but that is weakening
too). Hirelings with silver tongues and open offering bags are the
rule. Greed and envy are no longer sin. Violence and crime are
normal parts of city living.
Would he have the same effect here? I don’t know. The temptation
is to say he would gather a small cult following. After all, he has
no television experience. But it is just possible that the
repentance of Nineveh was readied by the Spirit and only triggered
by Jonah. Let us hope and pray that’s the case here, too.
Lord, reform your world—beginning with me. Show me the way I must
go; give me courage to go. Then do that for the country I love, that
she might know repentance and not destruction.
Alone, With Company
If ever there is a model prayer of obedience, this is it. It is
also a very human prayer.
The humanity of Christ is shown in the fact that he took a small
number of his disciples with him. The prayer is that of Jesus alone.
Indeed, he makes it a point to go ahead of them a small distance
(where they can hear what’s going on) thus leaving them as
But to Jesus, they were more than spectators. They were his
friends. Why did he bring these friends?
· First, that they might know the truth about that night in the
garden. He wanted them to know the agony of willingly going to his
death as our sacrificial lamb.
· They are there also for what encouragement they could provide.
It turns out that this is not much; but at least Jesus was not
· Perhaps, too, their presence served as a reminder: he was doing
this to atone for the sins of all mankind—including them.
If it be possible
Some have argued that this is proof that God is not omnipotent.
Surely it would be possible to stop the Crucifixion before it
started. God certainly possesses the power to do that. But with God,
when you mention the word “possible,” it is necessary to point out
that the illogical is not impossible—but God will not contradict
himself. He sent his Son for this purpose; that purpose must be
fulfilled. So it is that God answers the prayer of his Son—with the
But see how the Son has complete confidence in the Father. He
asks, knowing, and receives the cup of suffering. It is his Father’s
will. We can learn from this;
See his prayer; it is a model for us.
· We are to acknowledge the sovereignty of God.
· We are to acknowledge our acceptance of his will
· We then may ask that he would see it to be possible.
Obedience is learned in suffering, even for Jesus.
Lord, none of us like suffering. But when it comes, help us to
learn obedience to you in it.
It’s A Free Country
You’ve heard the expression more than once: “It’s a free
country.” More than any other people on earth, Americans are
convinced that freedom is their birthright. Our bloodiest war was
kindled by the issue of freedom from slavery. Many brave men were
killed so that all might be free.
In another sense, however, none of us can be said to be free. No
matter how hard you flap your arms, you can’t fly like a bird. More
to the point, human beings are motivated by a wide variety of
things—and that motivation holds them captive. The real question is
not whether or not you are free; the real question is whom do you
Paul’s readers would, in his time, understand this section
completely. Slaves were a common sight. It was completely obvious
which slave belonged to whom—all you need is look. Whichever master
he served, that’s who he belonged to.
You are a slave, then, in a sense, to whatever you obey. Before
you were a Christian, you may have been a slave in many ways:
· You might have been a slave to the flesh; always searching for
the right (or next) sexual partner; needing just one more drink (or
· You might have been a slave to the world: keeping up with the
Joneses, the new car or bigger house, the next promotion.
· Worst of all, you might have been a slave to your own pride.
But when you became a Christian, you took a new master—Jesus
Christ. He delivered you from such slavery. We even use the picture
of death to express it: buried in baptism, raised to the new life.
And, if you will recall, you did this willingly.
As you did so, you became “slaves to righteousness.” How? You
obey what is right and true. You do so in fear of punishment and
hope of reward (just like any slave). You have been liberated to be
what God intended you to be.
So then, do you not see that if you return to your previous
master—the bottle, the world or pride—you are throwing away the
freedom you have in Christ, only to be enslaved again to the world?
Your obedience tells the world who your Master really is.
Lord, it is difficult for us to think in these terms—until we see
someone who is enslaved to sin. We recognize the problem in others;
may we be quicker to see it in ourselves.
It was a dark time in British history. The nation, ill prepared
for war, found itself at war again with the might of Germany. For
years before this most politicians held to the policy of
appeasement—and low defense budgets. The reckoning came due. When
the prophet in the wilderness, Winston Churchill, finally was
admitted to the government, many encouraged him to hunt out those
who had been foremost in appeasement—to clean house. Churchill
refused. “If the present sits in judgment on the past, it will lose
It’s perfectly human for us to look back on our lives and condemn
much of what we have done. Used properly, this remorse generates
repentance. But if we use it to beat ourselves over and over again,
we may not see the power of Christ in our lives—we won’t accept it
because we don’t deserve it.
Paul here gives us the antidote for this. He flatly tells us that
he has not reached his goal in Christ. But he tells us how he runs:
· Everything that is behind him, he leaves there.
· His vision only looks forward, to the prize in Christ.
· He presses on.
Paul knows he doesn’t deserve this either. But he knows that
Christ has given us this opportunity. How does he seize this
· He seeks to know Christ—not in a casual way, but deeply and
· More than that, he seeks to know the power of the Resurrection
in his life.
Can the Resurrection have power in your life? Consider it this
way: when you go to a funeral, does it make a difference whether or
not the deceased is a Christian? Certainly it does! If this is true
at a funeral, is it false in the rest of our lives? So it is we know
that the things of Christ are more important than life and death—for
Christ is lord over death. So even if you are privileged to share in
the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, you can have the righteousness
of Christ—and know that you will rise when he returns to claim his
Lord, it is difficult for us to see the victory, and easy to see
the troubles. Shine the light of triumph on our dark day of
Pick up your weapon and follow me,
We are the airborne infantry
-Marching song, 101st Airborne
Is it not strange? The more disciplined a warrior becomes, the
less he relies on the orders of others. An ordinary soldier waits to
be told what to do; an Airborne Ranger goes looking for trouble.
In the kingdom of God there is a parallel thought to that. The
difficulty in interpreting Revelation correctly is a commonplace,
but all commentators would note one phrase about these 144,000
saints: they follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
“Follow me.” It is the call that Jesus gives his disciples. He
adds no explanation; if you need one, he wouldn’t call.
The simplicity of the call
In Christ there is no complicated code of legalities—despite our
best efforts over the years to put one together. The intellectual
finds the call deep and profound, displaying one mystery after
another. The simple man sees only the command; the two are in
harmony. Indeed, it is a great simplicity of life to “take no
thought for the morrow.” Christ’s call is simplicity itself.
The security of the call
In the times of kings we would say there is a royal security to
the call—for the one calling is the King of Kings and the Lord of
Lords. There is power enough there to make us completely secure in
our Lord—and at the same time we have the security of the vagabond.
Those who are with us are not tempted to steal from us; those of the
world find nothing worth stealing (to their loss.)
The salvation of the call
All know that salvation comes with Christ. But do you know that
he also gives salvation from self? When you ruled your own life, how
well did you do? Christ’s call rescues us from self; it also rescues
us from sorrow—for now we see the minor trials of life as they
He who spoke and the worlds began cries to you: “Follow Me.”
Lord, let us match the simplicity of your call with our
response—to rise up and follow you.
Wealthy Man’s Peril
All the people of this time would agree: this rich young man is a
righteous fellow. Next time someone asks you whether or not they can
be good without following Jesus, point them here. This guy was
living the ordinary life of a rich and pious Jew. Those around would
consider that his wealth would confirm this—a sign from God of
divine favor and blessing. Christ’s reactions and questions do not
The man was sincere. His wealth had been tithed, we suppose, and
he genuinely believed. He was neither hypocrite nor disobedient—he
kept the commandments. He was perfectly willing to accept an answer
which pointed out some minor fault. He was not willing to accept the
Jesus sees all this. In his replay, he lists all the
person-to-person commandments—with the exception of the commandment
concerning envy. That’s typically a sin of the “have nots” against
the “haves.” So he has listed the human side of the Law as it
applies to him. From this we may infer that his relationship with
the Father was at least acceptable.
His is also the habit of obedience to the law. His wealth would
allow him time to study the Torah; I suspect he delighted in its
words. So what went wrong?
RISK—is a four letter word. No doubt he was a prudent
businessman. Prudent investors minimize risk; that’s what he thought
he was doing by asking the young rabbi this question. He expected an
answer in the form of some detail, or perhaps some grand, sweeping
statement. He got “sell it all” and “follow me.”
The good is often the enemy of the best. His standard of
obedience was high, and that’s good. But the call of Christ
supersedes all such law and regulation—for indeed, he is the Author
of that law.
There lies the call of Christ. His disciples left everything to
follow him. One wonders whether Zebedee (the father of James and
John) thought his kids had gone crazy. But there it is: if you want
to find your life, you have to lose it in Christ. It is the grand
paradox of God. The challenge is still before us; will you simply
Lord, we have our excuses, we have our worries, we have our
appointment calendars booked months in advance. Teach us to live,
not just pass the days.
This is one of the most frightening stories in the Old Testament.
Can you imagine sacrificing your only child? It’s tempting to ask
why God would demand such a thing; the only answer is that this is a
test of obedience. Why does God do this?
· First, so that he will know your obedience. God the omniscient
knows better than to take your word for it.
· Next, so that you will know your obedience—or lack of it.
· Perhaps too, that you will know that God knows. Whom God finds
obedient, He will welcome.
This is by no means the only time God does something like this.
Read through this little passage again; you will see the words of
the great saints: “Here I am.” The simple declaration of fact at the
call of God—it is the sign of the obedient follower. Jacob responded
to God that way; Moses saw the burning bush and responded the same
way. The prophet Samuel, as a young boy living with Eli, is taught
to respond this way. Isaiah hears the need for someone to go; “Here
am I, send me.” When Christ calls out to Paul on the Damascus road,
he replies this way. “Here I am” - not knowing what you want, Lord,
nor trying to curry favor, nor arguing about my service; just
present and ready.
The test varies somewhat; it is singular for the most part. God
calls his servants one at a time, it seems. The call goes right to
the heart—for that is where God’s rivals are. The call is usually
made in blindfold manner—the servant of the Almighty does not know
to what task he will be set. It doesn’t matter, really; what your
Lord commands He will give strength to perform. Sometimes the call
is sudden, as with Paul.. Other times it is played out over time, as
here with Abraham.
The test, however, is always the same. Will you put God first in
your life? Even to the extent of giving up other good things? If you
put him first, all those other good things will fall into their
rightful places. I love my wife. I love Christ more—and he commands
me to love my wife.
Obedience is greater than sacrifice. A bigger check for the
offering bag as a guilt offering means little. Standing still and
replying, “Here I am, Lord” means a great deal more.
Lord, we so often attempt to set the conditions and limits of our
service to you. Teach us to surrender in obedience.
This passage puzzles a lot of Christians, especially when
encountered for the first time. But when you think it through, you
will learn a bit about how life is at the top, with God.
Higher Up, Greater Accountability
Be honest. If the Bible didn’t tell you that Moses and Aaron
sinned at Meribah, would you have guessed it? Most of us can read
that part of the story and miss that point. It seems trivial. But:
· The greater your knowledge, the greater the burden.
· The greater the responsibility, the greater the burden
· The greater the example, the greater the burden.
God is holy
The matter seems almost trivial—and it’s not exactly hot news. We
often feel that if a sin is old enough it need cause no repentance;
it’s history. But God is holy; all sin must be cleaned away before
him. He is eternal, so even “old” sin is before him. No matter how
stale the sin, repentance is required. (And that applies to
The exactness of obedience
The greater one’s knowledge of the Scripture—indeed, the will of
God—the more exactly one will be held to the exactness of obedience.
This is all the more true for those who have been given a direct
· Those who substitute their plan for God’s plan are not really
helping themselves—are they?
· It makes no difference whether you fail to do or whether you do
and add something to it—obedience is obedience.
There are several instances in the Old Testament where the
obedience of a man is tested by the exactness of his obedience. We
often think we are helping God by adjusting his commands; we are
actually defying him in this. Don’t be a fool about this: examine
yourself and ask: am I really obedient?
Lord, so often we have a “better idea.” But you are God; teach us
to value your way as so much higher than our own.
Primacy of Christ
One thing is unmistakable here: Jesus of Nazareth is claiming the
allegiance due to God. Only the love of God can exceed love in
family; but even in the Old Testament the people were commanded to
stone mother and father to death—for practicing idolatry. Christ, in
this, shows himself above all else.
This ought to provoke a little thought on our part. As he claims
our obedience, he provides us with three word pictures—to make sure
we see how absolute his claim is.
“Carry your cross.” We don’t hear that phrase very much these
days. For one thing, it implies that you have “your” cross—one God
calls you to carry. We’d rather pick our own. Even the word “cross”
sounds like a burden; we’d rather have something lighter. Worse, we
are commanded to “carry” it—not just drag it behind. So much for
complaints. Then, we are to follow Him.
We may not see it, but a growing Christian is a work in process.
When we “build the tower” of our lives, we need to start with a good
plan—His plan. If you’ve ever remodeled, you know that the site can
be a mess (judge not); sometimes the Contractor has to tear down
before building up (worry not); and you might not understand just
what He’s doing (have faith). One thing you do know about building:
it’s hard work, whether it’s your kitchen or your soul.
The result of this is described as “the salt of the earth.” The
phrase has passed into our language as describing people who are not
pretentious but can be relied on. Consider salt and its role in
· It’s used as an antiseptic; are you such a cleansing influence?
· It’s a preservative; are you perseverant?
· In an open wound, it stings. Sometimes our mere presence
reminds the sinner of his pain.
· It’s also a flavoring; a little bit does a lot. What’s your
influence on your group?
All this—carrying your cross, building your life, being the salt
of the earth—happens to real Christians. Be a Christian with open
eyes (like that king), count the cost, and choose to follow Him.
Lord, we know that your strength is sufficient for us. Open our
eyes, let us see the cost, and then let us have the joy of those who
will follow you even to the death.
Closing the Books
Dear to the hearts of many Christians (and many others) are the
works of J.R.R. Tolkien. In particular there is his masterpiece, the
“Rings” trilogy. The work is very long; cold winter nights are often
used for reading such. But no matter how long the work, there must
be an end to it. We simply don’t accept a work without an ending to
it. Evil must be defeated; the good must be rewarded and everyone
then lives happily ever after.
That’s also a good picture of what is happening here. There are
many interpretations of Revelation, but almost all agree: Jesus, the
Christ, will someday return. That is agreed. “When,” on the other
hand, is the subject of lively debate, mingled with caution—for none
of us really know.
His return is not simply to revisit as a tourist. He is coming to
judge the living and the dead. We need to understand his concept of
· It is a negative, in that those who have deserved worse than
they got will be further punished (but see below).
· It is a positive in that those whose deeds need his reward—and
he is generous in his reward—will be given such.
Some of us, however, will not be receiving the judgment of our
sins. Some of us will present a defense at the judgment throne which
we know to be secure: the blood of Jesus as atonement for our sins.
That’s what is meant by those who “wash their robes.” They will see
their sin as forgiven—and yet receive what is their due as reward.
Because we are forgiven, we will be alive forever (the “tree of
life” shown here). We will be the legitimate citizens of the kingdom
of God. The glory is such that it must be put in this symbolic
language; it will nonetheless be quite real.
But what of reward? Christ teaches us that even the least of our
good deeds will be rewarded; a cup of water in his name, to picture
such deeds. As God closes the books on us, our sins will be washed
off the page; our good works rewarded. It is not fair; it is mercy,
and mercy triumphs over judgment.
The day is coming when all of our unnoticed obedience will be
known. Be of good heart; your redemption “draweth nigh”.
Lord, so often the weariness of the day blinds us to your reward.
Renew our strength so that we may renew our obedience.
The Test of Wealth
Would it spoil some vast celestial plan
If I were a wealthy man?
Fiddler on the Roof
Sometimes God tests us—with money. Like Tevye, we often have the
attitude that if riches are a curse, please smite me with it. One
reason God doesn’t do this: he knows we’d flunk. It’s also the
reason he doesn’t take away what we have.
Testing the increase.
Consider the ways God can increase your wealth—and the pitfalls
· He might allow you to slip quietly into wealth. Maybe things
just go well for you in the market. Will you take the time to
examine what you have, and what you do with it?
· Sometimes you get rich quick—say, by inheritance. Do you plan
with God in mind?
· Worst of all, suppose you build a better mousetrap. Does your
pride blind you to the practice of charity?
Testing the decrease.
Sometimes the money just leaks away (big medical bills?). Other
times you watch it go (spend, spend, spend).
Sometimes we get the treatment of Job. It’s gone, all at once.
But if you’ll read through, you’ll see that not once did Job
complain about the loss of wealth. His priorities were straight.
How to keep Christ first
By what discipline can the Christian gain mastery over the love
· Tithe. Whatever else, make this regimen the way to triumph over
the love of money.
· Give—person to person. Care for people, not appeals.
· Fill your needs—not your appetites. (Just like dieting).
Who’s in charge—Jesus Christ, or your wallet?
Lord, we know that the love of money is the root of all sorts of
evil. Weed out that root from our lives.