My father was a soldier.
As is the custom in the US Army, he was transferred frequently. Each
transfer meant that I would enter a new school, alone and friendless.
The first week fit a very
predictable pattern. The boys in your class (or gym class, in high school)
would beat you to a pulp. No words could prevent it; it was never a "fair'
fight; it was a beating. There was no sense appealing to the school
authorities; they condoned it. If you managed to injure one of your
tormentors, you were the one the coach got after. After all, a new kid
should learn his place.
The remarkable thing
about this—is that it is not remarkable. It's ordinary. It's the way the
male of our species behaves. It is the way of the world. If you call it
"wrestling" and put it on TV, you can sell it. It's not only vicious, it's
entertainment. Mocking someone else, especially one who is suffering, is
something we consider as prize fun.
It's the way of the
world. Christ sees it here, as well, on the Cross.
religious authorities do not call for mercy or even decorum; it's a public
spectacle, they join in too.
passing by make the most of it. After all, you don't get to do this every
day. Let's show the children how.
thieves crucified with him joined in—does it ease their pain to increase
We often skip over this
section of the Gospel. You seldom hear a sermon on the subject. Perhaps
there is a reason for this.
we have this passage is to show us just how much the innocent Christ
reason is simply this: it holds up a mirror to our own character. The
religious authorities, the passing crowed, the two thieves—we're there,
somewhere in that mix.
We may say to ourselves
that we would never have done such a thing. But as often as we've done it
to the least, we've done it to him.
Lord, it is painful to
think that we are such sinners—but we are. How great is your mercy! In you
there is not only forgiveness but acceptance—a welcome into the kingdom of
God. That you would be the sacrifice for your mockers is indeed "amazing
Whatever You Ask
It is a difficult
passage. It is fairly clear that Christ has promised his
disciples—including us—that we can have whatever we ask for. The practical
reality, however, is that there seem to be some slight restrictions on just
what God will provide.
The matter is usually
explained away, if explained at all. But perhaps it is not that difficult
to comprehend. If you want to know what God will and will not do, you must
begin with another question: "Why?"
Why would God grant us
the right to ask, and make such promises about his delivery? The answer is
quite simple: this is to the Father's glory. We are to be living
testimonials to the greatness of God.
How does He want us to do
this? By "bearing much fruit." That metaphor is easy to understand; he
wants us to be productive Christians, full of good works and ready to spread
Christians, full of evangelism and good works, find their prayers answered.
Others do not. That's not hard to believe. God would favor such
disciples. So how do we achieve that status?
We must "remain in
Christ." His words must remain in us. The latter tells us to study the
Scripture; what does the former mean?
there is no condemnation for sin (Rom 8:1).
we are given God's grace (1 Cor. 1:4)
we are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:19)
So we see this begins
with our forgiveness "in Christ." But we must go beyond this.
we are one body (Rom 12:5)
we are God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10)
we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)
There are many others.
But we see the point. As we are transformed in Christ, we draw closer to
God—and our prayers are more effective. Ultimately, in Christ, we are
called to eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).
Father, how easy it is
to be discouraged when our sins prevent our prayers from being heard.
Forgive us, Lord, and teach to grow closer to you each day. You will call
us to eternal glory at the return of our Lord. In the meanwhile, let us
abide in Christ—so that his return finds our trip to glory a short one.
Fat Free Ice Cream
If you weigh enough, you
will eventually try all manner of things to lose weight.
One of the odd substances
that you will attempt to consume is "fat free ice cream." With any luck you
will find a flavor which is also labeled, "No Sugar Added." Ignoring any
potential content of sodium or other nasty ingredients, you try your luck
with the well colored mixture of soy beans and chemicals of an indeterminate
origin. It does not do to inquire too closely as to the recipe. What
counts is this: it's not prohibited by your diet. And the taste vaguely
resembles what you remember from your childhood so long ago—real ice cream.
Well, at least it's at the same temperature.
Sometimes we feel the
same ambivalence towards the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
sound very good—but we'd really like to trade these bland substitutes for
some vicious anger, a little revenge and some spectacular getting even. Why
is it that we yearn for the sins these things replace? Is evil really
tastier than light and peace?
It is. It is, if you
have not crucified the old self. If you have not made the decision to turn
your entire life over to Jesus, you will continually see the
struggle as one of desire versus rectitude. And desire seems so wonderful;
what would one little bowl of real ice cream hurt? Why would one want to
continue eating the soybeans and anonymous ingredients? Why is this such a
The answer is found in
one of the phrases given here: "those who belong to Jesus." We see these
words and think of our claim to Him: He is our savior. This is true. But
do you not see that it is equally true that He claims us? It
is not our claim to him which is our salvation; it is his claim on us. If
we claim him and he ignores us, we are doomed.
How, then, can we have
him claim us? Only by giving up our claim to ourselves; only by
surrender. We must crucify the sinful nature so that he can become Lord and
Lord, we so much want
to hang on to the sins that offer vengeance; the sins that promise quick
gain; the sins that inflate our egos. Deliver us from such; help us to
turn ourselves—all of ourselves—over to you as Lord and Savior.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
In this passage Paul is
speaking about the persecution and trials endured by the Thessalonians. He
takes a different view than many of us do; he brags about them. He
considers the perseverance these things produce, and he holds them up as
example to others (and indeed to us.)
He draws two inferences
which still have disturbing implications:
tells them that they have become worthy of the kingdom of God. If we suffer
with him, we will reign with him.
concludes that God's judgment is just.
That last takes some
explaining. At first look, it seems hard to understand the connection to
judgment being just. But the connection is there; Paul just assumes you'd
understand it. Since you know the righteousness of God, you should
immediately count on two things:
God will pay back those who are evil for the evil they have done.
that God will bring relief to his children at the same time.
So the logical question
is, when? Paul tells us that this will be done when Christ returns in
power. On that day God will punish those who neither know nor obey the
Gospel, (The words in the Greek imply someone who refuses to look and
understand). What will he do with them?
an eternal destruction. The fires of hell are symbolic, not mythical.
be shut out from the presence of God.
be cut off from the majesty of his power.
We, on the other hand,
will see him and glorify his coming, marveling at his presence.
Pretty black and white,
isn't it? Perhaps this makes you uncomfortable, thinking of someone you
know who has decided not to decide for or against Jesus Christ. You know
their fate; you do not know the time of your Lord's coming.
Lord, give us the love
which conquers fear, words which come from you, and the patience to be
persistent but not a nuisance. Give us opportunity to tell our friends and
family about you—and give us courage to seize such opportunities.
Perils of Victory
This scene is a familiar
one to students of the Bible from the references made to it in Hebrews. If
we did not have that passage, we might simply skip over this as one more in
a series of drab battles to be recounted. But there are lessons in here for
us. We are often taught to bring our troubles to the Lord; Abram (later
Abraham) here shows us that we need to bring our victories to the Lord as
There are perils in
victory which do not arise in time of trouble or defeat. These perils come
from our natural reactions.
that the battle belongs to the Lord. We recall our own efforts, the
brilliance of our strategy and tactics, and forget who rules the universe.
It is easy to give in to self-admiration.
We may come
to rely on our own strength. Abram's men were trained for war. He
had made preparations for just such troubles. It's easy to move from "I did
my part" to "I did it all."
We may fail
to give God the glory. We might credit him at prayer but in public
take all credit. There are warrior Psalms in the Bible for a reason.
We may fail
to ask God's blessing on the result. Often we see war return to a
victorious nation because they relied on their own wisdom, not God's
We may fail
to give God the tithe dedicated to destruction. If we do not
recognize him in material things, we deny him.
But if we do as our Lord
commands, do you not see that the Lord himself will come out to meet us,
bringing the bread and wine which denote salvation itself? It is God's good
pleasure to honor his servants who have been faithful. By his words and
actions Melchizedek (the name means "king of righteousness") places blessing
where it belongs: from God upon Abram, and upon God from us all.
Lord, we are quick to
come to you in our times of trouble, but so often ignore you in the hour of
triumph. Give us the grace we need to deny our own pride and give glory to
you. As we are made the victor by your hand, let us in return bring the
tithe of the fruits of victory. Grant us victory in our battles, Lord, and
grant us sense enough to know who gave it to us.
Rely on His Love
1 John 4:13-18
There is a gem hidden in
this passage. The most often quoted portion comes from the sixteenth
verse: God is love. But look just before that line; the gem is there.
"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us." So many of us know
about God's love for us, but sadly have never relied upon it.
How do we know that God
loves us? The question may seem a simple one, but we should have a ready
defense when asked.
For each of
us, our testimony might begin with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
If you know the Spirit is in you, then you can testify to the changes made
in your life.
also the documentary evidence which we call the New Testament. The searcher
is counseled to seek the evidence available; there is plenty of it.
All this, of course,
depends upon knowing the love of God, shown so greatly at Calvary. If you
do not know his love, your testimony will be weak.
If you know God's love
for us, it still may not be sufficient. God wants us to rely on his love.
We are to put our confidence in the fact that God loves us. There are two
aspects to this:
must live in love daily. How could we not? If we have the Holy Spirit,
should we not be those who imitate God in the flesh? So it says, "we are
will have no fear of judgment. When our Lord comes again, those who live in
his love will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Perfect love drives out
fear. This is true whether the fear is for Judgment Day or this afternoon.
Those who love with the intensity given by the Holy Spirit often seem
foolhardy to those around them. How do they get away with it? They have
been made perfect in love. The word "perfect" in the original means "fit
for a specific task." The love of God, modeled in Christ, implanted by the
Holy Spirit makes us fit for the purposes God has planned for us. But we
must recognize that—and rely on it.
Heavenly Father, we
are often so timid in your work. May your love drive out our fears. Give
us the calm boldness so common to the great saints of the church. Fit us
for the tasks you have chosen for us, and lead us so that we not only know
that you love us, we come to rely on that as a very present fact. We seem
so small in our own eyes; make your strength perfect in us.
The Uses of the Question
The passage is a familiar
one. The woman pours the perfume over Jesus, anointing him for burial. The
disciples object; what a waste! Even at two thousand years distance, it
seems an extravagant thing.
Much may be learned by
listening to the questions the Master asks. "Why are you bothering this
woman?" Note the verb; they are annoying her! The question mark is a very
useful piece of punctuation:
responsibility for this jar of perfume? Did she not acquire it herself?
Isn't it hers to do with as she pleases?
Who set you
up as judge over her? Is she your servant, or your child, so that you
correct her this way?
Have you no
concern for harmony among the followers of Christ? Your words stir up
anger; shouldn't you go to her privately first?
Is not God
able to provide far more than the worth of this jar of perfume? Have you
lost all confidence in the one who knows how many hairs are on your head?
the Lord work in her life as well as yours? Is it yours to criticize his
workmanship? No doubt she is as yet unfinished; but when did you achieve
sought the Father in prayer over this matter? Or are you so accomplished a
Christian that you have no need to ask the Father what His will might be in
It is easy to criticize
others for their actions; but it gives us a false sense of righteousness.
Worse yet, we can become so critical of everyone and everything (in the name
of righteousness, of course) that our hearts become hardened. We will
perform no act of devotion to God because the hardness of our hearts shuts
in what little love is left. It is possible to be proud of the
righteousness you practice and the love you don't show.
Lord, keep our hearts
open to your words. Do not let us become so concerned with what others are
doing for you that we fail to look in the mirror. Help us to remember that
our Master is you; you will judge. We should not; help us then to remain
humble in your sight, so that on the Day of Judgment we might be indeed
A Problem of Church and
One must have at least a
little sympathy for Nebuchadnezzar. All he really wanted—it is a modest
goal—was to be recognized as the supreme ruler of all things. Since he knew
that he was such, surely the rest of the world could take a few minutes to
acknowledge that, right? It's an early example of the friction between
church and state. The state wants to use the church for its own ends; more
church can be used to enforce loyalty.
If people have loyalty to the church, that loyalty can be transferred—if
only by symbolic worship. This shows the power that the church holds over
people—and power is the goal of the tyrant. Because the act of worship is
so small and so seldom, some will say, "What's the problem?" They should
consider the effect on others. Is the church to place the highest of
loyalties to the state, or to Christ?
church can make a government "legitimate."
Especially in times of turmoil, people look to the church for the solid
foundation. Governments know this; and that fosters the corruption so
commonly found in the Middle Ages in this. Is it really so wonderful that
many see the words "Christian" and "Republican" as interchangeable?
church can help stifle dissent.
The church carries the moral authority of God on earth. It has a great deal
of power which cannot be obtained in legislation—the power to define what is
and is not spoken of. Bending this power to the tyrant's ends is a familiar
But—God be praised, there
are men like these. No matter what the king will do, they will not submit.
Are our times so different? More importantly, are we as strong as they?
obedience to the death, or only when convenient?
faith in God so strong?
Is our love
for God so deep?
Lord, deliver us from
being Christians only when it is convenient. Increase our obedience;
strengthen our faith; deepen our love for you so that when the world
challenges your church, we your church will reply as these men did. Ready
for martyrdom yet confident that you will prevail—give us courage for that.
September 16—the Sunday
after 9/11—the churches of America were crowded. Shocked Americans turned
to God in large numbers.
This passage comes from
just such a time. The people who approached the prophet Jeremiah were on
their way to Egypt. They were fleeing the wrath of the Babylonian king,
Nebuchadnezzar. Since some of them were involved in the assassination of
the governor he appointed, this would seem to be a reasonable course. They
are a part of the remnant of Judah, the poor left in the land when
Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem. Once they were many, now they are few.
Times are tough.
Since the prophet is
there on their way, they ask him to ask God for advice. But note the
phrasing "the Lord your God." Not "our" God, your God, if you please. And
we'd like to know, please, where we should go and how we should hide when we
get there. They are so much in earnest that they promise to do what the
Lord says. It is an empty promise.
Jeremiah agrees to
inquire of the Lord. God takes ten days to get back to them. In those ten
days these folks have had time to think. When Jeremiah tells them to stay
in Palestine, their reaction is predictable: they accuse him of being part
of a conspiracy to get them turned over to the Babylonians.
Why is this so
predictable? Because they conspired against their governor. They see in
Jeremiah a man like themselves. Since surely God could have given an answer
within a few moments, it's obvious that the ten days was just a ruse to slow
What were all those extra
people doing on September 16th? Whatever it was, it didn't last. It is
likely that God refused to give them the flash of divine inspiration which
exactly fit their preconceived notion. When God refuses to give us the
answer we want, it's obvious that something's wrong. Many preachers told
them exactly that: something's wrong. Not with God, but with our nation.
Like this stubborn remnant, we refuse to repent. God will treat us as he
treated them; first warning, then condemning.
Lord, you provide our
nation with warning: the time of repentance draws to a close. The time of
disaster is near. Give your people wisdom in their words and courage in
their speech. Let the spirit of revival fill the land, and hearts turn once
again to you.
There Is Peace
Put yourself in the man's
place: you are the director of a very exclusive summer camp—a playground
for rich kids. Your reputation is your livelihood. How do you feel when
you see, coming down the lane to your camp, fifty to sixty leather clad
motorcyclists? Does this match well with your reputation of taking only
Well, it actually does.
The motorcyclists in question were all riding behind one Malcolm Forbes,
founder of Forbes magazine and quite acceptably wealthy. (Incidentally, the
name of the motorcycle club was "The Capitalist Tools.") He'd come to visit
his granddaughter—who was kind enough to vouch for him.
The camp director
reactions are typical of most of us. The early church went through
something similar. The first Christians were Jewish—and they looked down on
everyone else. It's not surprising; most of the pagans lived in a very
decadent lifestyle. Those under the Jewish law felt themselves superior,
But Christ abolished the
basis for that. Because he fulfilled the Old Testament Law, he removed the
cause of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles. The two camps were
now one, if they would but accept it.
Christ did more than
that. He also broke down the barriers of hostility between God and man. He
enabled us to become the children of God—which incidentally makes us
brothers and sisters. All now come to God through Christ; there is one
path. None of us can claim moral superiority; we are all sinners. From
this we should see the church being the least exclusive of bodies.
But do we? Most of us
have now done away with the idea that a church should exclude people based
upon their social position—at least in any official sense. But sometimes we
exclude by failing to include. We're all perfectly willing to support a
ministry to the homeless—someplace else.
Our Lord makes it
perfectly clear: the church is not a social club whose membership is
limited to those who are "in." It is a hospital for sinners. We would not
tolerate a hospital that turned away patients in need merely because of
their place in society. We should apply the same standard to ourselves.
Lord, deliver us from
the blindness of familiarity. Open our eyes that we may see the fields
"white unto harvest." By your grace may we be those who hold open the door,
calling all who are willing to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The Lamb of God
It is with some
reluctance that we move into the book of Revelation. The work has a great
variety of interpreters, most of whom are sure everyone else is wrong. But
in this passage we find some common ground; upon that we may stand.
"Worthy is the Lamb."
The phrase, "the Lamb of God" occurs only in the Gospel of John, quoting
John the Baptist. John, the last of the Old Testament period prophets,
echoes the words of Isaiah in this. No one else records these high, holy
It is fitting that John
the Apostle should be the one. He was the closest friend Jesus had on
earth. When he referred to himself, he used the phrase, "the disciple whom
Jesus loved." Alone among the Apostles, he died a natural death. It would
take one so close to the Lord to see the truth: the wounds of Jesus make
We can understand that in
a way. When the war is over, no one listens to the tales of a heroic file
clerk. Old soldiers carry their wounds with them; the medals may stay
home, but the scars are the evidence of their sacrifice.
Isaiah tells us that "by
his wounds we are healed." They are the scars that tell the story of
Calvary; we should expect to see them transformed into beauty without
losing their importance.
"Worthy is the lamb that
was slain." Only by the sacrifice on the Cross is this established. By
this Christ is proclaimed worthy, for he was slain. He gave up his life
that we might have life. More than that, he did this not for a select few,
but for every tribe, tongue and nation. All who believe may experience the
healing in Christ's wounds.
Here we see the seven
fold worthiness of Christ. Ask yourself: do you honor Christ with these?
you use it for the kingdom of God?
it at the disposal of the kingdom of God
your counsel freely given to those in need?
you honor him in word and deed?
the one who receives your adoration?
you proclaim his name to others when you speak?
When He comes again, all
Lord, by your strength
and wisdom, keep us ready for your return. Grant that we may see you coming
with the angels, and rejoice at the sight of it.
Ark of the Covenant
2 Chronicles 8:11-19
There is a curious sense
of foreboding in this passage. Solomon's father, David, was described as "a
man after God's own heart." The title of king was handed down to Solomon;
ultimately, the description was not. The problem started here, with
Solomon's wife from Egypt.
Solomon has a clear
understanding of the concept of holiness. Once the Ark of the Covenant,
also called the Ark of the Presence, has passed through a place, that place
becomes holy—for God was there. David's palace has held the ark; it is
Note, please, that
Solomon sets the Temple worship service as he was directed by his father.
Everything is as God instructed David—except that wife.
Formal worship is not
much practiced in our day. We condemn it as being "just ritual." But this
ritual portrays our Christian life:
prayer in the worship? It is a model for the Christian's prayers.
giving in the worship? Then there should be charity during the week.
witnessing in the worship? Then our conduct and words should testify of
encouragement in worship? Then we should encourage one another.
praise in the worship? Then the world should hear us praise the Lord each
day of the week.
Perhaps the highest use
of worship is to exemplify the truth proclaimed by the church. We do this
in the Lord's Supper, which proclaims the Lord's death, burial and
resurrection—until he comes again.
Worship and our service
are vitally connected. But if we allow sin to continue in our lives,
worship can become nothing but formality and a place to exchange jokes. In
worship we picture the fellowship we have with the Lord. If sin breaks that
fellowship, we are doing nothing more than a stage play.
Lord, grant us a pure
heart in worship, so that we may be pleasing to you. Keep in our minds the
repentance required for Communion; keep in our hearts the joy of fellowship
with you. May our worship always portray our hearts.
The Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus teaches us about
the kingdom of heaven by means of parables. These short stories show us
aspects of the kingdom—sometimes not quite what we think.
The treasure in the
of us can see the main idea here: that whatever it takes to get into the
kingdom, it's worth it. Once you found it, get it! But consider the fellow
who sold the field; he didn't know what he had. He lost the kingdom not
because someone stole it, but because he was ignorant. There are Bibles on
the shelves and Bibles in the hearts. The difference is an open heart to an
The pearl of great
message here is a bit different. We obtain many good things in our lives.
We are taught here that we must be willing to part with all of them for the
sake of the kingdom. It is not so much the evil things in life which keep
us from the kingdom; it is the good things which shove the best thing
aside. Is it wrong to have a neat and tidy house? No. But if that keeps
us from the kingdom, of what value is it?
The fish in the net.
A recurring theme in Christianity is the desire to get away from this world,
to retreat to a place where Christ's love can be met in full. Religious
retreats, monasteries, even prayer closets are used for this. But for most
of us at most times, we are in the world but not of it. The time will come,
however, when we will be separated. We need to prepare for that day.
Things old and new.
If we are to learn about the kingdom of heaven, we need all the help we can
get. We are not to neglect the Old Testament; rather, we are to use its
wisdom and counsel to better understand the New Testament. For example:
In the Old
Testament, we see God the Father displayed.
again there are examples in the Old Testament—of the folly of sin and the
wisdom of obedience.
In times of
trouble, the wisdom of Proverbs and the words of the Psalms are of great
The key to
prophecy is found in the Old Testament.
Gather up the treasures
before you, both old and new, and with them enter the narrow gate.
Lord, we are richly
blessed by the words of the Scripture. Keep us in the habit of studying
them daily, that we might understand your heart. Grant that we may know
that our path has indeed led to your narrow gate.
The plain truth of the
matter is clear: Christianity is not a spectator sport.
You might think
otherwise. There are certainly plenty of people about who are holding some
of the positions mentioned here. Teachers in particular seem to abound.
But perhaps it would be clearer to our football minds if instead of saying,
"apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers" we said instead, "scouts,
recruiters, trainers and coaches." Then at least we'd get the idea:
everyone on the team has a task to do. If you don't fit one of those four
categories, you're on the field.
Note something else:
scouts, recruiters, trainers and coaches are there to serve the team. They
do their part by preparing others. On game day, the victory must be won by
the team—not the coaches. The coach's task is to prepare the team and guide
Interestingly, there is
no sense here that the preparation is of an academic nature. Quite to the
contrary: we are to be prepared for "works of service." The function of
the teacher, for example, is to prepare the church to perform the acts of
(for example) charity required of the Christian. It is not sufficient that
the teacher teach well, provide an example and encourage his students; the
Christians in the classroom must then "go and do likewise."
There is a purpose in all
this. It might surprise you that the end purpose of teaching charity might
not be simply feeding the hungry. This is good—but not the main purpose.
What we really are looking to do is to build up the body of Christ, the
church. How do we know when we're successful?
body is united in faith.
body is united in its knowledge of Christ.
body is mature.
The key to this is Jesus
Christ. When the church is mature in her understanding of Christ, all the
other elements of the faith fall into place quite naturally. Your teachers
are preparing you to be like Christ; to do that, you must know him deeply.
The coaches and trainers
can only do so much. The team must respond to this, or lose. Check your
response; are you one who warms the bench, or are you on the field?
Lord, put it uppermost
in our minds that you are our example as well as Lord. May we learn to
imitate you in all our ways for all our days.
Jumping the Grand Canyon
One of the great
motorcycle stunts that has (as yet) not been done is this: jumping a
motorcycle over the Grand Canyon. I have no intention of trying it, but if
I did there is one thing you may be sure of: I wouldn't try to make it in
two or three hops. It's one—or not at all.
Following Christ is like
that. It can't be done in small jumps; it requires the long leap. In this
passage, Peter is trying to do it in small jumps—much less risky. No doubt
he made that point to Jesus.
Christ's reply tells us
much about the nature of entering the kingdom of God. If you want to enter
the kingdom in small steps, taking no risk, being very hesitant, here's the
are on the wrong side. That's what Satan wants you to do.
you're setting a very bad example.
for this: you're thinking that God's kingdom is like any other social
organization. And it isn't.
So what should you be
doing? How do you cross this canyon in one mighty leap?
by "denying yourself." As in self-denial. In short, you put Christ first
take up the cross. You are going to suffer as a Christian; you are going
to be persecuted in one way or another. Accept it with joy.
simply, follow Him. Every day, in all ways, in all places and
circumstances, follow Him.
Does that seem rather
radical? Highly risky? You're right. It is very much like jumping the
Grand Canyon. If you're going to do it, you'd best put all your effort into
it. Put up with the heat, dust and inconvenience; endure the pain—and
don't look back.
Why is this so? Because
Judgment Day is coming. The day is coming when God will determine who has
jumped the "great gulf fixed" between damnation and salvation. There is
only one way to do it, and Christ gives it here. On that day, there will be
no half measures. Those who want to get by with half measures now will find
themselves on the wrong side then.
Lord, help us—that our
commitment to you be made complete, our will determined, so that we may
welcome Judgment Day.
Shame. At one time it
was the staple of mothers and school teachers; the phrase, "Aren't you
ashamed of yourself?" was used for all sorts of motivation. Whether it was
to do your homework or wear clean underwear (lest you be killed in a traffic
accident and be ashamed of your dirty t-shirt), shame was turned into the
moral motivator of choice.
It is a curious compound,
comprised largely of righteousness and pride. The element of pride is used
as the motivating factor; the element of righteousness as the goal. For
this reason it was seldom used to motivate you to humility.
Note, please, that shame
could be used for almost any purpose:
those purposes were righteous: from clean underwear to how you treat your
not so righteous: the same method is still used by gangs to obtain
But one thing is
consistent: shame is a window on the soul. The things that shame you,
those you consider evil. Those that do not are acceptable. Your view of
righteousness can be seen in the things you avoid lest you be ashamed.
So then, what can we say
of the one who is ashamed of Jesus Christ? The world tells us we should be:
that Christian missionaries are "destroying the native culture" and should
be stopped. Many of those missionaries are doing so quite effectively.
Should they be ashamed of the Gospel?
We are told
that we "impose our morality" on others, and we should be ashamed of that.
Should I be ashamed of my intolerance of evil?
all, we are told we should be ashamed of being "fanatic, wild-eyed right
wing fundamentalists" - that is, people who put Christ above all else.
Christ is OK as a hobby; but not as Lord.
What will we say to Him
when He returns? That we were ashamed of the Gospel? That we were ashamed
of our intolerance? That we were ashamed of Him?
Shame—a window on your
soul. How's the view?
Lord, grant us courage
to stand as you would have us stand. Give us faith to stand for you in a
world which has no shame.
"God will forgive me—it's
his trade." (Variously attributed to the philosopher Heinrich Heine,
Catherine the Great and Voltaire).
This remark—supposedly on
someone's death bed—is the cynic's dismissal of righteousness.
Righteousness is difficult, requiring regular practice. It gets in the way
of pride and egotism. Since it is difficult, we often seek an excuse.
The excuse the Christian
often finds is this: over and again, we are taught that legalism—a blind
obedience to nitpicking rules—is not the way of Christ. Indeed, Christ came
so that we might have a better way to God, to reconcile us to the Father.
But you may take that in two ways:
it that Jesus has abolished all the rules. He is the radical replacement of
the Jewish Law. It's all about forgiveness, and surely He will forgive me.
it differently. The goal—righteousness—has not changed. What has changed
is the method of obtaining it.
This passage makes it
perfectly clear. Christ did not come to be a radical replacement of the
Law; He came to be its complete, logical fulfillment. Among the Scribes
and Pharisees were some who were diligent in following not only the letter
but the heart of the Law (e.g., Nicodemus). Their observance was strict,
often exceeding the requirements of the Old Testament. Christ confirms for
us that even this level of righteousness is not sufficient.
It's easy to rush on,
telling the world that Christians must pick between two methods of
righteousness that comes from the blood of Christ at Calvary for our
righteousness of devout, pious good works.
We quickly pick the first
option—and in so doing often deny that Christ calls us to do the second as
well. Works are not sufficient. Faith is—but faith without works is dead.
If your life is not alive with the good works of the faithful Christian,
what will you say to your Lord on the day that heaven and earth do pass
away? Will He grant you forgiveness without repentance; grace without
obedience; welcome without the walk with Him?
Lord, move in our
hearts so that we might be those who show the righteousness you give in the
faithful lives we lead. Lead our lives so that all may see the works of
faith and praise you for this.
Pot of Gold
"Anybody can manage
with a pot of gold." (David T. Kearns)
Have you ever wondered,
deep down inside, whether or not you are really the person you portray to
yourself? It's easy to be a giving person in America, the richest nation in
the world. It's easy to speak out for the Gospel in the home of free
speech. If you decide practice humility, you can even do that in America.
Wealth makes a difference. But it also conceals character. What would
happen if that wealth were stripped away? Would we find ourselves aching
for our golden shield to protect us from the truth?
Jesus confronts just such
a man here. By all appearances—even, likely, to his own mind—this man seems
to be both godly and favored by God. Jesus immediately issues the
challenge: "Why do you call me good?" It's his opening shot: the man is
not dealing with just another teacher, no matter how brilliant. This is God
in the flesh, and he deserves your obedience.
But obedience to what?
Jesus tells him in the words of the Ten Commandments. He lists here all but
one of the "person to person" commandments. The one he leaves out has to do
with envy; if you have this kind of money, that usually isn't a problem.
The man tells him that he has done these things from childhood.
Jesus does not dispute
this. Rather, he strips away all the good things in the man's life, in
order that he might obtain the best thing possible: Jesus, himself. He
asks him to throw away his golden shield, and follow.
"Follow me." It has the
advantage of simplicity; no codes to memorize. It happens now; no long
range planning required. It is permanent; the money is gone, given away.
It is an adventure to the depths of the soul, testing and growing the
follower day by day. Follow him and you may just discover who you really
are—and then grow out of it. No roller coaster ride can compare.
Mark tells us here that
Jesus loved the man. That's why he called him to follow. That's why he
calls us to follow him, too.
Perhaps it's just a
matter of how you see things. This man saw an elegant yacht, its pleasures
awaiting him at the marina. Jesus saw a boat anchor attached to a drowning
man. The yacht and the anchor are connected by a heavy chain; what holds a
man to his anchor?
Lord, give us the
wisdom to know what to cast off—and the courage to throw it out quickly.
For most of us, jury duty
is a tiresome chore; a civic duty which we would prefer to avoid. Our
excuses are many, but few of them work. On one such occasion I had the
privilege of being the jury foreman. The trial itself was, in a way,
The charge was
misdemeanor assault. The defendant was charged with approaching the alleged
victim, swinging his hand up and knocking the cap off his head. The victim
testified that he was in fear for his life. The defendant pleaded self
defense, also in fear for his life. The policeman who took the report
pleaded ignorance; he had lost his notes. To the utter shock of both
attorneys and the judge, we acquitted the man. The judge was so stunned
that he asked the jury to remain, meet with the attorneys and give them some
idea as to how we reached such a verdict.
Our answer was simple.
The victim was obviously lying. So was the defendant. The policeman had no
information at all. Two liars and an ignoramus do not add up to a
Why, then, were the
professionals so shocked? Because they had heard testimony that we had
not. They knew the defendant was charged (and likely guilty) of several
much more serious offenses. But such testimony was concealed from us. We
passed judgment based upon what we saw and heard.
The same principle
applies when we speak of the Ark of the Covenant. The "atonement cover"
(also called the Mercy Seat in other translations) performs the same
function. Symbolically, God's angels watch continuously—but can see nothing
but the cover. The testimony (which would convict us) is hidden inside. Do
you see the picture?
The picture is the same
today, for Christ has become our atonement. When God looks for the
testimony which could condemn us, he sees what he has placed between us and
his throne—the atonement of Jesus Christ. By his blood our sins are wiped
out; the accusation fails for want of evidence. God sees only the
atonement of Christ, who has reconciled us to God.
Lord, may we never
forget that our relationship to the Father is created at the Cross, by your
blood. The evidence of the sins that would convict us has been wiped away
by the cleansing you bought at Calvary. Whenever we are burdened by the
thought of the cost of our obedience, give us the vision of the cost of your
obedience to the Father's will.
Picture of Atonement
Leviticus has long been
the stopping point of many programs designed to read through the Bible in a
year. It appears to the reader, at first glance, that the list of rules and
regulations for a society three thousand years ago can have no use in our
modern world. But God does not do these things without purpose. This
chapter seems nothing but a set of procedures. It is actually a picture of
the coming atonement of Jesus Christ.
Look first, please, at
the series of steps the High Priest must take. He must first cleanse
himself—representing the sinless nature of Christ. He puts on clean, sacred
garments—as we put on Christ when we intercede for others. He must make
offering for his own sin first—for the High Priest in this time is a sinner
Consider next those two
goats. This is the origin of the word "scapegoat" in our language. The two
are chosen for their tasks by lot—casting dice, if you will—which means that
they are interchangeable. One is to be sacrificed; one carries the sins of
the people into the wilderness. So it is with us. By the sacrifice of
Christ our sins are carried away to be seen no more.
Is there more? Indeed,
more than will fit in this short space. For example, note that only the
High Priest can do this. Only our High Priest, Jesus Christ, could make
atonement for our sins. See too that it is done once a year. This is
symbolic of the fact that Christ's atonement was done once, for all time.
There is one phrase to
which we should pay attention. It is in verse thirteen. The High Priest is
to take some incense and some burning coals with him. He puts the coals on
the ground before the Ark of the Covenant, and throws the incense onto the
coals. This produces a great deal of smoke. The purpose of this? It is so
that the High Priest will not see the Atonement Cover (the Mercy Seat) - and
die. Why would he die? Because, as verse 2 tells us, God appears in the
cloud over the Atonement Cover; no man can look upon God and live. The
smoke of the incense is between him and death.
The truth of this picture
is not revealed until Revelation. The incense stands for the prayers of the
saints. When we intercede in prayer, we place ourselves between the
righteous God and those for whom we intercede. It is the work of a priest—a
royal priest, in the kingdom of God.
Lord, as we intercede
for others, let us know that we are on holy ground, priests in your kingdom.
Paul speaks here of a
disease that breaks out occasionally within the church. Sometimes it is
widespread; other times, it affects only one person at a time. But it has
never been completely extinguished.
The symptoms are easy to
It has the
appearance of wisdom. This is usually achieved by demanding a bit more from
the Christian. You pray an hour a day? Our method has you pray two hours a
day. Think how pious you will look!
self-imposed worship. The authority for the changes you make comes from
yourself, or other people—not from what the Scripture teaches.
particularly hard on the body. Your body goes from being the temple of the
Spirit to the whipping boy.
The rules for such a
system usually start with "Don't." Sometimes these rules are self-imposed.
You have a problem; perhaps you drink too much. You create a rule (Do not
have wine before dinner). As the problem leaks around your rules, you
create more rules (and don't drink after lunch, either). But—usually sooner
than later—the rules stop working. Their authority is you; and you can't
Sometimes these rules are
imposed by a religious leader. This set of rules has a great deal more
prestige—after all, he has his own show on Christian television. And that's
what the system is: show. You get the appearance, not the reality.
Why? Because both these
methods are the world's way of doing it. These rules pass with time. They
seem good for a time, but later they become disused and abandoned. (I'm
told there was a good reason for that haircut monks get.) Things of the
world pass away with time.
The things of Christ,
however, are eternal. They do not pass away. So if you use his method, it
works—for life, and beyond. His method is to change your heart. It is the
desire in your heart that He rebuilds, so that you look at things with the
eyes of eternity. The rules which held off the feeling of guilt until you
failed to keep them are replaced. They are changed into the love in your
heart which is given by God.
Lord, may we always
know that you are not a system nor an ideology; you are Lord—of all.
No Bed of Roses
"Even bein' de Lawd
ain't no bed of roses." Richard Berry Harrison.
God is eternal and
unchanging. His character today is the same as it was in the beginning.
His creation reflects that.
God is a God of justice.
Over and again we hear Him described as the one who defends the orphan and
the widow. What then, are we to make of his reaction to a very important
fact: all of us are sinners.
His reaction must take
account of another pillar in his character: God is love. His anger lasts
but a moment; His love is forever. What, then, can the God of justice and
His solution is simple:
He came in the flesh, to die, as an atonement for sin. Upon Christ himself
he cast the penalty for sin, and Christ paid it. It is the measure of his
It is the
measure of his justice. Only the atonement made by the death of a truly
innocent, sinless man would be sufficient to deal with sin. All of us are
flawed; none of us would do. Nothing less than pure innocence would do.
It is the
measure of his love. To take upon himself the flesh of mankind is a descent
beyond our imagining; to die for our sins in that flesh could only come
from the divine imagination. There is no greater love.
The concept is staggering
of itself; but then see how God offers the result to us. We would
certainly demand a strict obedience to rules to share in this love—but God
does not. Indeed, the price of salvation is so great that none of us could
afford it; so He gives it away. He asks only that you trust Him.
Only God is sufficient in
justice; only God is sufficient in love. He is therefore both just and
justifier. He sets before us no system of regulations, but the intense love
this sacrifice produces has prompted those who love Him to great heights.
Such devotion cannot be commanded; it can only be inspired.
There is no predicting
what a lover of Christ will do—for there are no limits on what he can do.
Father, your justice
is sure, your mercy is sweet to our ears. Move in our hearts so that we may
love you more, as you have loved us. Do not let us become frightened by
what is; rather, let us partake in what will be—the glory of your kingdom.
Prisoners of Hope
A man is a prisoner of
whatever keeps him captive—and we are the prisoners of hope.
We are the ones who are
held captive by hope:
We put our
hope in his word, the Scriptures, for in them we find life.
We put our
hope in his Word, who is the author of life.
ours is a living hope—Christ Himself!
This hope comes down to
us from the earliest days of the Scripture. Job tells us that his redeemer
lives, and that he himself—not a descendant, Job himself—will see him face
to face. From there to Revelation, where the return of our Lord in glory is
symbolically portrayed, the theme of the Scripture runs true: our hope is
in the Lord.
How can we have this?
What kind of fools are we, proclaiming that the dead in Christ shall rise to
meet him (and us) in the air? We are the fools with the evidence: the
risen Lord. But there is more:
We cast our
hope on his unfailing love—as Job says, He will long for the works of his
We cast our
hope on his faithfulness, righteousness and justice—having given His word,
it cannot be broken.
More than that, we know
that the Father cherishes those who put their trust, their hope in Him. He
raised Christ from the grave; by the same Holy Spirit—given to us as
guarantee—he will raise us as well.
What, then, should be our
attitude? Very different from those who eat, drink and are merry for
tomorrow they die:
produces boldness in us. Our Lord has triumphed over death, and therefore
we do not fear it.
produces joy. You have but to go to the funeral of a solid Christian to
realize that the mourning is for our loss, not the homecoming of our friend.
Even in death, the
righteous have a refuge in our Hope.
Lord, keep us mindful
of our hope. May we always be ready to give the reason for this hope, never
forgetting the Resurrection power in our lives. Grant that we may pass this
on to our children and grandchildren, so that at our funerals they will say,
"His hope is in the Lord, therefore it is sure."
Glory, Honor and Splendor
The interpretation of the
Book of Revelation is not without its problems. In our time, the preferred
scheme of interpretation has shifted from that of metaphor to a more literal
interpretation. It is important to remember, however, that just because an
interpretation is more literal does not necessarily mean it is more correct.
Here is an example of the
difficulty. We see the glory of God the light of the New Jerusalem, the
Lamb its lamp. Older interpreters, given to metaphor, take this light to
mean the enlightenment and understanding given to mankind. God's glory is
its source; it comes to us by the teaching (delivery, if you will) of Jesus
Christ, the Lamb of God. Newer interpretations take this literally, to mean
light in the physical sense.
The older method carries
a great gem of wisdom here. The city needs no sun nor moon because of this
light. When our Lord returns, the wisdom and guidance we seek in the
Scriptures (a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path) will come directly
from God. We will be in such close contact with him that no longer will we
seek to understand by asking each other; the light will be everywhere.
The early readers of this
passage would have been struck by the fact that the city never closes its
gates—at all times those in the book of life are welcome there. The city
takes in only the good and the pure—the splendor of kings. It rejects the
impure, those who do shameful and deceitful things. No matter what your
interpretation, this is a glorious and great thing.
In all the bickering over
such passages—and there is plenty of bickering for all—we sometimes miss the
point. It does not matter how we interpret light, nor the form of the
Lamb. These things will be revealed to us directly in God's good time.
Until then, we should focus our attention on what is important now: is my
name in the Book of Life? Some of us would debate what type of ink and
paper compose this book, and in so doing fail to gain a place in it.
How then shall we gain
such a place? By walking in the light; by bringing glory and honor to the
Lord. By keeping ourselves from impurity, deceit and shame. By trusting
the Name of Jesus, so that our faith is shown in our character and our
Lord, keep us mindful
of the glorious future you have for us. Spur our minds to readiness and our
hands to the work of the kingdom.
An Affair of the Heart
1 John 3:18-24
For thousands of years
Christians have faced a problem: the memory of sins past. With tender
hearts we beat ourselves over the things we have done, including the things
God has forgiven. If you do this often enough, long enough and hard enough,
you will wind up saying, "I can't talk to God; I'm not worthy."
Now, do understand that
in one sense not one of us is worthy—on our own merits. But by the grace of
God and the Cross of Christ we are forgiven. That, please note, is a fact.
Guilt, please note, is a feeling. Our self condemnation does not change the
So how, then, do we get
past the feeling? By remembering that God is truth. If the truth is that
we are forgiven, then we should act like it.
But how do I know that
this forgiveness is real? The Apostle gives us a simple series of tests:
your love for God and man shown in action? Or is it just words?
love a true one—or is it a pretense to obtain the approval of those around
But what if you have the
opposite problem? Suppose the worry is not your feeling of guilt, but
rather its absence. How, then, do you know that you are forgiven?
Do you have
confidence in prayer?
answer your prayers?
Are you an
obedient believer, trusting in Christ?
If you pass, you will
note one other change in your life: the Holy Spirit, having been made
welcome, will take up residence in you.
These things are fact,
for God is truth. Facts have their roots in Him, for in Christ all things
hold together. Existence is borrowed from the Self-Existent One—the I AM.
If he says you are forgiven, then forgiven you are. It's a fact. Count on
Lord, how often we let
our emotions stew over sins of long ago! Things which are past belong to
you; as you have forgiven us, help us to accept and trust in that
forgiveness, your grace. We know it is not something we have earned. let
the love that produced the grace of the Cross inspires us to honor you and
love those we meet. Grant that whatever our hearts may feel, we may know
the truth; we are forgiven. We know the truth; the truth shall set us
Bread of Life
Examine the book of
Leviticus and you will find a goodly portion of the rules and regulations
laid out there involve food. Which food the Israelite could eat; which he
could not. How various foods need to be prepared, or how they should not be
prepared. Is it just possible that God understands that we like to eat?
He takes advantage of
that. Everyone eats; everyone understands the concept of "good" food
versus "unwholesome" food. In our time we see words like "organic" or
"natural" on jars of processed food. How it can be manufactured and organic
is not explained.
Jesus knows: you are
what you eat. This is true spiritually as well as physically, so he uses
here the physical metaphor of food for the source of life: Himself. If you
want eternal life, the food of that life must be Jesus, the Christ.
We can see this on three
In a very
real, physical sense, Jesus was presented to God as the atonement sacrifice
for our sins. Flesh like our flesh, blood like our blood, he was offered
for our sins.
celebrate this in the ritual of Communion, the Lord's Supper. Bread and
wine, they are the body and blood of our Lord. Symbolically, we are feeding
that, we feed on him as we pray, meditate upon him, study his words and
follow his example. We take him into our very spirits, by taking in the
We know that infants must
be fed only with certain foods, for they are not ready for solid food.
Jesus Christ is the food of a full grown Christian. If we take in this
food, we grow.
sufficient for eternal life. No other example, no other sacrifice, no other
food is required. He alone is sufficient.
It is sure
in its work. Christ himself has told us that we will be eternal; He will
raise us up on the last day.
us more than life; it grants us Sonship. We become joint heirs in the
kingdom with Jesus.
The food we need for
eternal life is Jesus Christ. We are taught to examine ourselves before
Communion, much as we are taught to wash our hands before supper. Only the
forgiven may eat at this table; therefore, let us seek His forgiveness
while we can.
Lord, the mystery of
Communion is great indeed; help us to live by it even if we do not
At first glance this
passage appears to be rather barbaric. Here's some poor slob, out gathering
a little firewood—hey, maybe he's cold, right? For his troubles he gets
himself stoned to death. Does that sound fair?
That's why this section
begins at verse 27. In one of those sets of regulations for atonement,
Moses here prescribes the penalty for someone who sins unintentionally.
Suppose you forgot which animal you couldn't eat; maybe you never heard
about some restriction. The sin is still there; it must be atoned for.
But there is provision for that; the matter can be handled.
Note, too, that the price
paid doesn't depend upon whether you're an Israelite or not. The same law
applies to everybody. This is not tithing; this is atonement.
But what about the
intentional sin? How do you feel about the guy who drives his Mercedes
(alone) in the car pool lane? He figures the tickets are cheap compared to
his time saved. He usually gets away with it. Imagine yourself on the jury
in that case. Just how merciful do you feel?
The people in this case
had a dilemma: they really didn't think that wood gathering was all that
big a deal. But it was on the Sabbath; I suspect this was not the first
offense, given the reaction. They weren't sure—so they asked.
God's answer lays out
some important principles for us:
all—must be atoned for.
Sin that is
intentional—"Hey, he's God, he'll forgive me, right?" is beyond atonement.
community puts the man to death (much like we trust the state to do today).
It is not personal vengeance but punishment.
of the community must participate. There is a sense that we are responsible
for purging the evil among us.
That last is an eye
opener. Many of us are convinced that American society is rapidly flushing
downhill—but there's nothing we can do about it. Or at least we're not
obligated. God sees it differently; we are responsible for permitting the
evil among us. And his views on punishment are rather strict.
Lord, grant that we
may take courage, rise above our opinions and act. Bring revival in this
land you love—beginning with us.
2 Timothy 2:3-13
Insight is a casualty of the
modern age. The ancient mind had more opportunities for thinking. We seldom
walk when we can drive, The contemplation of yesteryear has given way to the
frantic hurry of today.
But here we must stop: we
are commanded to reflect on what Paul has said, so that God might give us
insight. It is a conscious effort. You must stop and consider the examples
Paul has given you, for each one shows you something about your Lord:
On the question
of endurance he cites the soldier. Paul tells us that the endurance comes from
wanting to please your commander. Those who have soldiered know how important
that is; in units with high morale, such efforts are expected. So, you see
that endurance is neither drab nor glum; rather, it is a high and exciting
thing—high morale goes with great sacrifice.
he cites the wrestler, the athlete. You might think this would be better placed
with the soldier, but it is not. To a soldier, obedience is an immediate
thing. To an athlete, obedience is the discipline required to be in condition
to compete. It is not "right now" but "constantly." So we see that our
obedience to Christ is a constant striving to do his will.
get the picture that those who serve Christ in this world will only be rewarded
in the next. Your Lord knows better than that. The illustration is that of the
farmer—who works for months to see a reward that comes rather quickly. Reward
in this world; reward in the next as well, for the laborer is worth his
Perhaps you did not see these
points; perhaps you saw others. There is no lack of wisdom for those who
reflect upon the Scriptures. There is also encouragement; even if we die for
Christ we shall live with the Risen Lord. Our endurance now brings in a kingdom
of priests, reigning with him.
But beware: do not treat his
faithfulness as an idle thing. If you disown him, he will disown you. He is
faithful, not blind. So we should read the Scripture not with haste but
reflection, so that He might grant us more insight.
Lord, we know that you will
give wisdom freely to those who ask for it. Open our hearts and minds so that
we might receive what flows so freely from you.