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November 1

 

What Faith Allows

Romans 14:1-8

 

In this often misinterpreted, frequently misquoted passage there is a curious phrasing.  It's in verse 2, where Paul introduces the idea that one man's faith is strong enough to allow him to eat meat sacrificed to idols, while another man's faith is not.  You see the principle:  the stronger the faith, the more the Christian liberty.  More is allowed by the faith when it is stronger.  We usually turn that around.  For most Christians, the person with all the added rules and regulations is looked on as one who is very knowledgeable (and hence, very strong) in the faith.  We have it backwards.

Let's be clear what Paul is talking about here:

·         He's not talking about legalists—people who substitute good works and rules for the Gospel.

·         Nor is he necessarily talking about someone like a recovering alcoholic.  That man's faith may allow alcohol in general, but not for him specifically.

·         Nor are we speaking of those who, for the sake of harmony in the church, refrain from using their Christian liberty.

·         We are talking of those who have added their own rules and regulations to the royal law of Christ.

Such a person may be indeed a pious one.  It is easy to point at those who don't see things our way and look down on them;  but much grief has come from this—especially when both parties are looking down,  So what, then, are we supposed to do in such a circumstance? 

·         We certainly must not condemn the individual.  This is a matter of faith.  If someone lacks faith, says James, he should ask God to increase his. 

·         Even more dangerous is the air of polite judgmentalism which smiles condescendingly at one who, obviously, fails to understand things.

·         No, we are to accept such a person as God's servant as well.  Remember that we are parts of the body of Christ.  We do not have the same form or function—and that's how it should be.

Accept each other, weaknesses and all, That's what Christ did.

 

Lord, it is so difficult for us.  We want so much to know the rules and justify ourselves.  Keep us mindful of your grace—not only to us, but to all your children.

 

November 2

The Great Divide

1 John 2:15-17

 

In this brief passage John gives us the challenge of the great divide:  do you love the world, and the things in it?  In my experience this is the one thing that separates true Christians from church attendees.  It might not be apparent at first.  You may have fallen in with an enthusiastic crowd of Christians.  But time will tell;  you cannot hide your true love.  This is the supreme threat to the Christian life.

·         It challenges our fellowship with other Christians.  At first things may go well, but eventually their interests will lead them into paths the worldly cannot understand.  A check from our rich bank account is one thing;  sacrifice is another.

·         It challenges our spiritual maturity; the world wants you to remain childish.  The test point?  Do you have to have it, and have it now?  Just like little children?

·         It clouds our understanding.  We see ourselves as financially successful, not richly blessed.  We did it; no need to bring God into this.

Do not love the world.  This refers not to nature but to the system this world uses—starting with "look out for number one."  Some of us actually relish starting each day, thinking how we are going to destroy others for our own gain.  It's called "being competitive."

Do not love the things in this world.  Whether is it for status, or for sex, or just because you love playing with the toys, it is deadly dangerous. 

What things of this world?  How do I tell which is which?

·         There are the physical cravings;  in our time, sex is most prominent.  Does it obsess your thought?

·         There is also the lust of the eyes—I see it, I want it, I must have it. 

·         And there is pride.  Pride in what you do—the pecking order among men is based on athletic ability, past or present.  Pride in what you have—the one who dies with the most toys, wins.

Wins what?  The finest casket money can buy?  A glowing epitaph in the Times?  The man who does the will of God needs none of these things—for he will be forever.

 

Lord, how gradually these things creep into our lives!  Teach us to examine ourselves, and reject the love of this world.

 

November 3

Aliens and Strangers

Hebrews 11:13-16

 

Pity the poor journalist at the Los Angeles Times.  A bastion of political correctness, the Times is an authoritative source on all things left wing.  But even the geniuses of the printed word have their miscues. 

This was a dandy.  In the upcoming election there was a ballot measure which restricted public services to illegal immigrants ("undocumented workers.")  The measure was in some doubt until the Times published "the picture."  Thinking to show its readers just how many people opposed the initiative, the front page featured a large color picture of thousands of people protesting the initiative.  No doubt the idea was to make all understand which way the sheep were to vote.  But there was a miscalculation, for all those protestors were waving small flags—of Mexico.  Their loyalty was clearly shown to be towards Mexico; the voters of California passed the ballot measure overwhelmingly.  The reasoning was simple:  if these people were so loyal to Mexico, why should America pay for their public services?

It is the definition of an alien:  one whose allegiance is to another country.  Christians are to be aliens to the world, pilgrims just passing through.  Chrysostom called this "the first virtue, yea the whole of virtue."  But the concept seems strange to many of us in these days, and we wonder why God would have us do such a thing.

Look at it from God's point of view.  He has promised those who accept Jesus as both Lord and Savior that he has prepared for them a better place than anything this world has to offer.  Out of his great love he has not only secured our pardon, he has given us a life eternal in the world which will come. Now make the comparison:

·         Those mentioned here in the "faith chapter" knew far less than we do about the new heaven and earth—yet they chose God's way.  How do we look by comparison?

·         God has offered this to us as a rich gift, given out of his love and immense power.  How do you think he will react if we spurn this gift?

We provoke God's wrath if we choose earth over heaven.  This world is not my home—I'm just passing through.

 

Lord, your grace overflows to us.  Help us to be gracious enough to accept it gracefully.

 

November 4

Actions and Words

Ephesians 5:3-7

 

It is the proud boast of many an unrepentant sinner:  "I'm no hypocrite!"  It is good to have your actions and words match—if your actions are pleasing to God.  But have you ever noticed that those whose actions aren't pleasing to God see no need to pretend to virtue in our day?

Look at those described here;  see if you recognize someone who comes to church on Sunday:

·         Sexual immorality.  The preacher in our congregation stunned his audiences by announcing:  "Sex outside of marriage is wrong."  The hushed silence said a lot.

·         Impurity—trying to mix oil and water, good and evil.

·         Greed—the burning desire for "more," no matter the consequences.

Such people are with us today.  You should know their actions, but their words are easy to identify too:

·         Obscenity.  How proud we are today (especially women) of our "liberated" language. 

·         Foolish talk—as in, the speech of fools.  The sly mockery of that which is good, for example.

·         Coarse joking—the toilet humor which we now find in movies rated "G".

Many who heard the preacher's words no doubt went home saying, "Well, he's the preacher; he has to say things like that.  But I'm sure God is much more tolerant than that."  Indeed?  Look who God condemns here:

·         The immoral—the word can mean whoremonger.  Paid or not.

·         The impure—hypocrisy in compartments.

·         The greedy—those who never have enough.

Now, some of these may sound like people you know.  He is talking about those in the church, those who are disobedient to God's commands.  The great danger of such people is this:  those who are following God's command may be deceived, and follow them in their sins.  Understand it clearly:  these are the disobedient, those who worship another God (sex, money, whatever).  Take no chances.  Don't sleep with a rattlesnake.

 

Lord, men's words show their hearts, their actions show their minds.  May our hearts and minds belong to you.

 

November 5

The Obvious

Galatians 5:19-21

 

In the mood to perform a fine act of charity? Consider that you can serve as a blood donor.  It appears that those who have lived the Christian life are in much demand as donors.  When you give blood, you must answer a lengthy questionnaire with some unusual questions, particularly concerning your habits with regard to sex, drugs and other odd things.  If your life has been in Christ long enough, you find yourself asking, "Just how do you have sex with a giraffe?"  (Just kidding, folks).

The things on that form are a pale mirror of the carnal nature of man.  Paul tells us here that the acts of the sinful nature are obvious.  How so?

·         They are obvious in the sense that everyone knows what they are.  People might not admit it if you ask them about it, but all you need do is wait.  You will find that even the most debauched accuse others.  Of course, the adulterer is free to accuse the drunkard, and vice versa.  But it would be difficult to survive all these sins, so we can take them as a set—a very well known set.

·         They are obvious in the sense that they are easily seen.  Fits of rage are highly visible, but what about adultery?  Believe it or not, that too is highly visible.  You can't fool everybody all the time, even if you can fool your wife (which in my case is not likely).  Even witchcraft is visible.  A young girl in our neighborhood took up the practice—and could not resist announcing that she had just cursed someone.  Evil causes accusation;  self-justification opens the mouth.

·         They are obvious in the battle damage they cause to others.  See the bitterness of divorce;  the hopelessness of drunkenness.  The damage toll in broken marriages, broken homes—and in children trained to repeat the problems—is enormous.

There is one ray of hope here.  The verb Paul uses, translated "live like this," means "to do it continually."  It's not "one strike and you're out."  No, the grace of God is always available.  But for those who have seared their consciences to death, it is so much easier to be self-righteous than repentant.  If you have the new birth, you must rid yourself of your old ways.

 

Lord, you are patient, kind and ever ready to forgive.  Let us never forget that you forgive the repentant, not the obstinate.

 

November 6

Repent and Live

Ezekiel 18:30-32

 

The prophets of the Old Testament were, by and large, a rugged lot.  They had to be, for they were required to bring the word of the Lord to a people who were not inclined to listen.  "Thus saith the Lord" general had two purposes:

·         First, it was to foretell the future.  As the prophecies were uttered and then proved true, the faith of the believer is strengthened.

·         But there was a message in the present as well, for the prophet was to forthtell his message to the people—boldly.

So it is with Ezekiel.  In this passage, his words can be seen in either way.  Consider the foretelling aspect:

·         Judgment—God will judge the world.  We know it today as the Day of the Lord.  God, the righteous one, will come and judge the living and the dead.  Adolf Hitler did not get what he deserved—yet.

·         Repentance—the key to life.  There is only one qualification for becoming a Christian:  you need to be a sinner first.  That's all of us.  But our repentance causes the flow of God's mercy to reach us;  we shall be among those welcomed into the kingdom of God, with Christ forever. 

·         New heart, new spirit—indeed, heaven and earth will be renewed at the coming of the Lord. 

But even to those in his time—and ours, which is so much like it—could hear the words and profit:

·         Judgment—is God slack about this?  Or is the universe a moral place?  Do you really know that what goes around comes around?

·         Repentance—is now coupled with forgiveness through Christ.  The church is here for the purpose of being the ambassadors of reconciliation between God and Man.

·         New heart?  New spirit?  These are the new heart created in repentance, and the Holy Spirit given to each believer.

Foretelling or forthtelling, the message is the same, for God is unchanging, eternal.  Now, as then so long ago, God takes no pleasure in the death or the wicked.  Repent, and live!

 

Lord, we so often feel that repentance is for others;  we don't need it.  It is then that we need it most;  do not let us forget.

 

November 7

Conservative and Liberal

Romans 15:1-4

 

If you like a good argument, find a solid conservative and devout liberal; then ask them, "What should we do about poverty in this country?"

While you're listening to the answers, it seems apparent that these people have very different views about what will, and won't, work for this problem.  But you will notice, if you listen carefully, that there is unchallenged agreement between the two on one thing:  those who are strong and rich have an obligation to those who are weak and poor.  What, precisely, those obligations might be, and how they are to be discharged, forms the debate.  That the obligation exists is not in doubt.

This is, in large measure, because of the influence of Jesus Christ upon the nation of America.  Paul here gives us three obligations upon the strong in Christ towards their weaker brethren:

·         First, we are to bear with the failings of the weak.  We are to accept them as Christ has.  Sometimes diapers say “love” more than discourse.

·         We are to do so, to please our neighbor, not ourselves—in short, we are to do what is good for them. 

·         Of course, the object in this is to build them up.  The best way to handle a weak Christian is to turn them into a strong one.

Whenever I teach this, there is a lot of flak in the classroom.  I need but point to the supreme example, Christ himself.   Though God, he took on himself our bodily form, as a servant—even to the point of bearing the insults of those who would not believe.  The principle is simple:  whatever you do, do it in love—in imitation of your Lord.

For the weak, hope is often illusory.  For this reason we are to not only build them up materially, but spiritually.  The teaching of the Scriptures has a purpose for the weak:  it is to sustain hope.  With the endurance that comes from suffering in Christ, and the encouragement of the Word, the weak can go on. 

Often, when my hope ebbed away, and all seemed to be nothing but meaningless, Christ renewed my hope, using those who were strong in the faith.  I cannot repay such debts;  but I can pass this service along to others.  Passing the faith along, both in word and in action.

 

Lord, keep us mindful of the needs of others, for others have been mindful of our needs.  Let such love abound in your church.

 

November 8

Old Glory in a Foreign Land

1 Corinthians 5:17-21

 

Many of you are well acquainted with travel to a foreign country.  Once in a while we hear the horror stories of losing your wallet and passport, in a foreign country, with no one to turn to.  Any American in that situation will inevitably wind up at a consulate or embassy.  The sight of Old Glory in a foreign land can be very welcome indeed. 

In a sense, the church is the embassy of God.  Here, in foreign territory ruled by Satan, stands the one institution that brings hope to the sojourner.  The weary and the oppressed find refuge in the church, for her power is given by the Almighty. 

But if we are an embassy, we must understand our instructions from the King of Kings.  We are ambassadors, Paul tells us—the ambassadors of reconciliation.  That is the message we are to bring and the hope we are to give. 

That message comes from God.  He began this when he reconciled us to himself through Christ.  We are, as Paul tells us, "a new creation."  Having been reconciled, we are to imitate our Lord—and bring reconciliation to others.  "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost," Scripture tells us.  Therefore, we are to bring that reconciliation to others.

As ambassadors for Christ, we are not free to devise our own message.  The Lord has given us the message—God's appeal, which first came through Jesus, now comes through us.   We are not to change the message.

Indeed, even the way in which it is delivered must be as Jesus did it.  We are to "implore" the world to accept this salvation;  we are not to force anyone, for Christ never did any such thing.  The message of reconciliation cannot be by force, for reconciliation by its very nature is a process of agreement and understanding.  The price of that understanding has been paid by Christ at the Cross.

There is the message:  that Christ, by his sacrifice on the Cross, has done what we cannot.  He became sin itself for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.  Only in such righteousness can we be fit ambassadors.

The message is not "come to church."  The message is "let the church extend to include you."  The price has been paid, the forgiveness of God assured.  The church is to be the light of the world; a welcome sight in the darkness of this world.

 

Lord, grant that we may learn to be your ambassadors both in word and deed, showing you, shining in us.

 

November 9

Management Advice

2 Chronicles 30:20-21

 

Pity the poor king Hezekiah.  Most Christians know of King Saul and King David, and David's son Solomon.  Ask them to name a good king beyond them, and you'll draw a blank stare.  It's a pity, really, for there are some noteworthy kings beyond the time of Solomon, and this is one of them.  Hezekiah has his failings, but as we see here, in the main his heart was right with God—and God blessed him.

This little passage contains some excellent advice for leaders who happen to be Christians.  Not just those who are leaders in the church, but those who are leaders in the secular world as well.

·         Do what is good.  Sounds a little obvious?  Ask yourself this, then:  has your boss ever done something that you know (and he should have known) was harmful to the company or its employees?  You don't have to run your life by your inbox.  Do what is good—and in the process, shun what is not good.  Or, as my mother put it, "Don't do dumb things."

·         Do what is right.  This one is a little more difficult.  It's easy enough to tell someone they must conform to the law (though we've seen a lot of exceptions to that in high corporate places).  There is some sense of danger in violating the law.  The hard part is the situation where there is no law—just justice.  Do what’s right, even if it's legal to do what's wrong.

·         Do what is faithful.  Keep your word—to your employees, to your suppliers, to your customers, to your shareholders, and especially to the Lord God.  Don't get stuck on short term profit.  Keep your word, express or implied.

There's more.  Hezekiah shows us two habits of highly effective Christians:

·         He sought his God—in other words, he found out the right things to do.

·         He worked wholeheartedly—in other words, he did those things the right way.  He worked at it.

"And so he prospered."  What an amazing coincidence that is!  A main who is good, a man who is righteous, a man who is faithful;  a man who seeks God while he may be found, and works hard—such a man will prosper?  Try it.  It even works for kings.

 

Lord, we know that all Scripture was written for our instruction in righteousness.  Teach us what Hezekiah knew.

 

November 10

Submission

Ephesians 5:21-33

 

Fashions change.  The church no longer teaches submission;  the references to it (such as this passage) are "explained" rather than obeyed.  No one likes to be in submission, especially liberated Christian women.

But consider, ladies:  submission comes out of our reverence for Christ.  It is not your husband who commands this, but the Lord.  It is by his authority;  therefore, he also gives us the example.

To what kind of man does he ask you to submit?

A man who loves you like Christ loves the church.  And how does Christ love the church?

·         Even when she disdained him at the Cross, he forgave.

·         He is the one who made her holy and blameless;  the true spiritual leader.

·         He did this without force or threats—but by his great love.

A man who loves you like himself. 

·         How does one love himself?  I love me very greatly, and I'm very tolerant of my own sins and faults.  Your husband is to be that way with you. 

·         As if  caring for his own body—your pain should be his pain.  He is to love you to the point of dying for you, if need be.

·         Doing this unselfishly—how can you be selfish with yourself?

A man who accepts authority (and responsibility) from God.

·         This is a man who is under God's command, obedient to his will.  If he acknowledges God's authority over him in the matter of your submission, he cannot deny it elsewhere.

·         This is a man who is completely responsible for your marriage.  If something goes wrong, it happened on his watch.  He gets to fix it. 

One Christian lady of my acquaintance put it this way.  She told the minister counseling her and her fiancé that "this is not the man of my dreams.  This is the man of my prayers."

Gentlemen, look again at the commands of your Lord.  Does your wife fear to submit to you?  Don't be the man of her dreams—or nightmares.  Be the man of her prayers.

 

Lord, let your perfect love cast out the fears of our wives;  let it also be the standard our husbands strive for.

 

November 11

A Civics Lesson

Esther 1:10-20

 

Reading this section of Scripture should make all the liberated women readers foam at the mouth.  But before you tear this page out of the Bible, please listen to the other side.

It  has never been possible to govern a society purely by force.  At least in part, there must be "consent of the governed."  In one way or another, the bulk of the laws and customs of a society must be socially accepted to be valid.  For example:

·         Most of us honestly pay our taxes, because we believe it's wrong to cheat on them.

·         Most of us don't stay below 65 mph on the freeway because we think it's a dumb law.

We have a lot better enforcement of tax laws than speeding ones.

Since this is the case, the rulers of any country are concerned to see to it that the people are content to live in an orderly environment.  No amount of force can produce this;  that's why we have riots in prisons.  In short, if there is not a social consensus, governing becomes very difficult or impossible.  Anarchy is a likely result—for a while.  So these counselors to the king have a point here:  what the queen has done is to set an example.  It's one likely to be followed, if nothing is done.  If that happens, they reason, the basic building block of social structure—the family—is in peril.  Therefore, something must be done, drastically and quickly.

The liberated woman replies, "So what?  Times change."  Indeed they do.  In my lifetime I have seen the family, that basic social building block, attacked viciously as if it were evil to have one.

·         Wives are taught they need a "balance of power" in their favor.  This is a form of prostitution, and we're proud of it.

·         Children are taught that rebellion is cool, and good.

·         Men are taught that marital faithfulness marks you as stupid and less than a real man.

Look at the results.  Crime has soared;  divorce and broken homes are now common.  The church that once preached against divorce now accepts it casually.  Their society ran on order and respect;  ours on sex, drugs and rock and roll.  We hold our heads high in moral superiority over them.

 

Lord, destroy the balance of power in our marriages—to make room for your law of love.

 

November 12

Rule Over You

Genesis 3:16

 

The passage cited was, in older days, a part of the normal wedding ceremony.  The pastor would lay out the responsibilities of husband and wife, quoting the Scripture.  No more.

Today we "know better."  We're sure that the basic nature of women was misstated here, and that truly liberated women should have none of this.  So I will submit it to your observation.  Is it in fact the case that the woman's desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her?

·         Of desire:  how many times have you seen a young (or not so young) woman rushing headlong into a terrible marriage—because she desires the man?  And the reverse?

·         Of rule:  how many women do you know in the church who are SOS—single on Sunday?  How many men?  What does this tell you about the family's spiritual ruler?

·         Have you ever seen a woman who had to be taught or commanded to love her husband?  Yet the Scriptures command the husband to love his wife.  Perhaps he has something to learn?

The truth is still the truth:  God designed the human species in such way that the man is to rule over the woman.  It therefore would seem wise to ask, "what does it mean, rule over?"

·         Rule is a form of stewardship.  Even in the marriage ceremony you can see this, as the father of the bride transfers his daughter to the care of her husband. 

·         Rule is a responsibility, therefore—and comes with authority to match.  If God holds you responsible, he gives you the authority.

·         Which also carries with it accountability to God.  Husbands would do well to remember the old Jewish proverb:  "Beware!  God counts a woman's tears."

So what are women afraid of?  In a word, tyranny.  But if your husband models himself after Christ, and your marriage after Christ's relationship with the church, he cannot be a tyrant.  Do you feel that Christ is a tyrant?  Or does He work by love and affection?  If your husband works likewise, then you have married not a tyrant but a prince.

 

Lord, open our eyes to your plan for our marriages.  We know how to ruin a marriage;  teach us to keep one pure.

 

November 13

Family Life

Ephesians 6:1-4

 

It is a famous line from women's liberation:  "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."  I will not comment upon the arrogance, but some thirty years later a writer commented, "But her son sure needs a father."  The damage to our society is severe.

So; let us examine the Scripture to see if there is an alternate path with some hope of success.  Consider first the duties of children:

·         They are to obey.  Not "until they become teenagers."  Obey.

·         They are to obey their parents—not the gang.

·         They are to obey "in the Lord" - doing what God wants, not what the world teaches.

·         They are to give honor, or respect, where it is due.  It is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lifetimes.  It is the antidote to idle rebellion.

·         They are to honor their parents—not some rock star.

Impossible, you say?  My father did it with me;  I did it with my children.  The secret is not in the children, but in the parents.

·         The family is a hierarchy, with the father at the top.  This has certain consequences of advantage.

·         Since the mother also stands above the children, the father will uphold her authority and dignity before the children whenever it is required.

·         This is all tied together with the mother and father being in right relationship to God—which grants them both wisdom and authority.

The father has the authority;  he therefore has the responsibility.  Paul tells us how that responsibility is to be discharged:

·         First, the father is not to provoke or anger his children, but rather to brink them up with gentleness, nurturing them.

·         Nor is his correction to be bitter, but rather one of mild rebuke—an admonition.  The technique assumes the child will respond favorably.  It works.

Note, please, this:  the essence of the matter is the spiritual leadership of the family.  If the father imitates Christ, in strength and gentleness, neither his wife nor his children will have cause to complain.  Nor, for that matter, will the father.

 

Lord, the world screams its messages of rebellion and hands-off parenting.  Help us to hear the still, small voice of your word.

 

November 14

Kindred Spirits

Luke 11:11-13

 

Of all the tales in the Old Testament, one of the most remarkable is that of David and Jonathan.  You will remember the story.  David, rising through the ranks of King Saul's armies, eventually becomes a favored commander.  When Samuel anoints him as king, to replace Saul, God does not remove Saul immediately—indeed, the tension and conflict between Saul and David goes on for several years.  Saul frequently sought David's life;  David always spared Saul.

Against this backdrop of conflict and royal intrigue we see the friendship of David and Saul's son, Jonathan.  All the political advisors would have told Jonathan the same thing:  you have to get rid of the David, or he will be king instead of you.  Jonathan rejects this view.  He even tells David that he knows that David will be king—and Jonathan will be there to be his right hand man.  It is not to be;  Jonathan dies with Saul at the hands of the Philistines.  But until he does, his friendship with David is unwavering.  They are, as we might say, kindred spirits—those whose spirits are so alike that people might say, one soul in two bodies.  Such a close relationship is both rare and precious.

Did you know that you can have that same kind of relationship with Jesus?  Indeed you can; the method is relatively simple.  You need to have the same Spirit that he has—the Holy Spirit.  The greater the presence of the Spirit in you, the closer you become to Christ.

"But," you might object, "I don't know how to do that!"  Indeed, it is a form of the wrong question.  Growing in the Holy Spirit is not a matter of your actions—but God's gift. 

Depend upon the righteousness, the goodness and the mercy of God.  As a father, my children know that I will do all in my power to give them whatever good things they ask for.  I do this for the love I have for them.  But like most fathers of adult children, I like to have them ask, first.  There is no sense cluttering up their lives with unwanted junk.

God is the same way with us, only much more.  He longs to give us the Holy Spirit, so much so that we might be indeed kindred spirits with Jesus—"joint heirs of the kingdom."  But we must ask!  Know that he will give bountifully, but we must decide that we want that closer relationship to Jesus.  Do you?  Ask.

 

Lord, we are very good at "not asking" - teach us to approach you boldly, so that we may obtain every truly good thing.

 

November 15

Changed Lives

Philemon

 

Until the 19th century, this short letter was always considered to be a genuine part of the Bible.  Scholars then objected to it as being merely a personal letter of Paul.  Athanasius (who helped identify the books of the Bible) knew better.  His test was simply this:  has the book proven useful to the church?  This one does;  it shows the power of the Gospel to change lives.

It's hard for us to understand, but one great sign of this is simply that Onesimus went back to his master, Philemon.  Understand, please, that in the thinking of this time Onesimus would be viewed as a despicable person, a thief who stole from his master and ran away.  This would be made worse by the fact that Philemon was known as a good master.  The normal punishment for such a man was severe indeed.  First, he would be branded with a mark on his forehead—so that all would know this man can't be trusted.  He would also be castrated, so that he would not produce rebellious children born into slavery.  Finally, he would be required to fight a wild animal—a bear, a lion—to prove that he was worthy to live.  Would you go back to that?  Would you go back because Paul said so?  But by the power of Christ, he did go back.

Next is this:  Onesimus was changed from a runaway to a profit.  The name "Onesimus" means "profitable."  He changed from being a frightened runaway (think homeless violating parole) to one who was useful in the spread of the Gospel.  When he returned, he became profitable to Philemon.  And ultimately profitable to the church as well;  Onesimus was, according to church history, the bishop of Berea, a community known for Biblical scholarship.

Finally, consider Paul's confidence in the Christian spirit of Philemon.  The times were such that Paul could have had him sent back in chains;  society would have approved.  Would you have sent him back at all?  He could also have simply sent Philemon a letter, telling him all about it, and saying that Onesimus would stay with him.  He had the power to command;  instead he used the courtesy of asking.  He could have simply sent the letter without the man—but Paul knew Philemon as a true heart for Jesus Christ.  He knew the power of the Gospel in Philemon's life.

One last:  the power of the Gospel is shown in the fate of the characters.  Paul, Onesimus, Philemon and his family were all martyrs under Nero.  The power of the Gospel is greater than the grave.

 

Lord, this seems so distant from us—but the power of the Gospel is the same.  Unchain it in our lives.

 

November 16

Eternal Eyes

1 Peter 2:15-25

 

One of the more astonishing discoveries a new Christian makes is that God simply does not see problems the same way we do.  We see suffering as an evil to be avoided;  His view is rather different.  Of course, if you are suffering for the evil you have done, you can certainly understand his view that you should learn your lesson well.  For this reason he has placed power and authority on earth for those who govern, for example.  But when the suffering is innocent suffering, we see it as something to be rid of.  His view is a bit different.  For example, we would view being a slave as a form of suffering, to be escaped as soon as possible.  In his view, we can transform that suffering into service for God.

Innocent suffering can occur in many ways:

·         It might be a matter, as here, of slavery.  A  parallel for us would be the supervisor who sneers at all Christians .

·         It might also be simply a part of the territory.  If you're a missionary to the tribes of the Sahara, you'd best expect it to be rather warm.  Embrace the suffering for God's sake.

·         Sometimes suffering is directly related to good works.  It may be the poverty of the circumstances (Mother Theresa) or just the scowls of the prison guard searching you as you go in to visit the prisoner.

Any and all such suffering can be transformed into service for God.  How do we know?  Christ suffered greatly that you and I might be released from sin.  All such suffering is in imitation of Him;  as you suffer, you grow more like him. 

Indeed, Jesus is the supreme example for us.  You will note that he did not threaten those who caused this suffering, nor did he retaliate.  Rather, he commended himself to God the Father.  We should do likewise.  Turn the suffering over to God;  make it known to him that you continue to suffer, without complaint, threat or bitterness, because he is just.  You can have your own vengeance, or God's justice—which would you prefer?  Particularly when you know that suffering for him is rewarded ?One great temptation in suffering is to complain how no one else really understands what you're going through.  Remember:  Jesus is fully human—he understands.  Take your suffering and ask him to turn it into God's glory.

 

Lord, we look upon innocent suffering as if it were a new thing.  Teach us again how your suffering gave us eternal life.

 

November 17

Salt of the Earth

Leviticus 2:13

 

One of the lessons learned in 8th grade English was the difference between a metaphor and a simile.   Miss Hornbuckle drummed it into us.  It seems that our Lord prefers the simile, at least with regard to salt. 

It is noteworthy that God insisted upon the "salt of the covenant" in all his offerings.  We might understand him better if we see salt through the eyes of those who first heard him:

·         Salt was a valuable commodity—indeed, Roman soldiers were paid a salarum, from which we get our word "salary," and often it was paid in salt.  The salt of the earth are still precious to God today.

·          Salt's prime use was as a preservative—indeed, in our own day pickles must be cured in brine, by law.  We are to "have salt in ourselves" - meaning to live at peace.  Have you ever noticed that strife can only last a while, but peace comes from the eternal God?  It is a symbol of eternity.

·         In those days it was also an antiseptic.  Salt water is still used for that purpose today.  If you check the ingredient labels of most liquid antiseptics today, you will find sodium chloride listed as a prime ingredient.  The Christian is to be such an antiseptic wherever he goes.  Like salt water, he may sting a bit—for your own good.

·         It is also a cleanser.  We still sell saline solution as a nasal spray, and nothing clears the guck out of your mouth like salt water.  Christ cleanses us from our sins;  we are the ambassadors of his reconciliation.  It is no wonder we are sometimes seen as inconvenient to the purveyors of filth in our world.

·         While salt cannot be corroded (another sign of our eternal nature) it can be polluted—and if polluted, thrown out.  If salt loses its salty character (no longer cleansing, nor antiseptic, for example) it has lost its worth.  It will be discarded.

The Scripture tells us that we will be "salted with fire."  The reference is to the Day of Judgment;  The salt of the covenant will be a testing point.  Were you the salt of the earth to those around you?  At peace?  A spiritual antiseptic, or a spiritual anesthetic?

 

Lord, grant us the courage to act before others what we know to be ourselves before you.

 

November 18

Preparation

Matthew 10:5-20

 

Let's at least understand things, here.  Suppose you were one of the disciples, and Jesus wants you to undertake a small missionary campaign.  But there are certain preparations he wants you to make first.  Things like:

Don't take any of the world's stuff with you.  No money;  no backpack to put your stuff in (you're not taking any anyway); no shoes (God will direct your feet); no extra clothing.  After all, you're working for God;  he'll provide your needs.  Lose the frequent flyer cards;  you won't need them  God is your travel agent.  Right.

Go completely unprepared for the opposition you'll meet.  You're going out there with a simple message:  the kingdom of God is at hand.  You'll be just so many sheep among the wolves.  You'll be the innocent rube;  there are plenty of shrewd swindlers along the way.  Lots of experience, gained quickly?

This is definitely not a pleasure cruise.  Well, to be more specific, you will be in constant trouble with the law, and with the religious authorities, and other people whose answer to God's message is to flog the messenger.

And just in case this wasn't already difficult enough, he wants you to do a little extra work in between sermons:

·         Like healing the sick, without an MD degree.

·         While you're at it, raise the dead (with or without an MD).

·         Cleanse the lepers—the AIDS of the day.

·         Take charge of things spiritual;  drive out demons and bring these strange people back to their right minds.

All this, of course, while doing the main job, preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God.

 

This might just explain why the workers for the harvest are few.  This is not the kind of job description that brings a flood of applicants.  When Christ gave his instructions, he had just a few good men.  What happened next changed them completely.

They went out, following his instructions—and met with complete success.  Ordinary men for the extraordinary cause, they came back as conquerors.  The circumstances were so odd that only one conclusion is possible:  God provides—if you will trust him.

 

Lord, how we fuss at the little things you ask us to do—and wonder how they did great things.  Grant us their faith.

 

November 19

The Decline of Wisdom

Proverbs 16:21-24

 

It is a point of note, and a note of decay, that the word "wisdom" in our society has gone out of fashion.  Wisdom, you see, is associated with those who are old, and our society knows that the right answer is to be found only among the young.  If you think not, watch a television comedy.  The parents are idiots;  they are saved only by the coolness of their teenage kids.

Fashion is one thing;  truth is another.  Our society has rejected truth ("it's all relative") and therefore cannot accept its crown, namely wisdom.  Over 30 years ago one of my instructors taught me this about computers:

·         Data is not always information

·         Information is not always knowledge

·         Knowledge is not always truth

·         Truth is not always wisdom.

Solomon, in his wisdom, gives us a different progression here.  It is the path to wisdom, and it is a very practical journey:

·         First, the wise are called discerning.  Even if they don't know the answer, they seek out the facts.  This implies that they are strong, for the strong wait and see;  the weak must strike first.

·         This then broadens into understanding.  Life begins to make sense;  they put together their facts and gain truly important knowledge—the knowledge of how to live as God desires.

·         When they are sure of this (remember, they are the strong; they can wait until the truth appears) they begin to repay their teachers—by speaking from the wisdom in their hearts, to those who are seeking the truth.

·         Finally, when they have mature wisdom, their words are pleasant to listen to.  How so?  They have discovered  in that wisdom a humility that keeps them from being overbearing while they speak the truth in love.

For most of us, this is a journey of many years.  Who among us, as a young man, did not have an older man on the job to teach us the ropes?  You cannot repay that older man now, for he is gone.  But you can act in his wisdom, and pass it on to the next generation. 

 

Lord, give each of us a "Paul" from whom we may learn wisdom; a "Barnabas" with whom we may share wisdom, and a "Timothy" to whom we can pass wisdom.

 

November 20

Remaining Good Eye

Deuteronomy 6:4-10

 

Many of us have worked in an environment with large and dangerous machines.  Safety warnings are plastered on all the walls; the management wants no accidents.  One such warning stuck with me.  It was in a laboratory devoted to the development of industrial lasers.  It said simply, "Do not look down the barrel of the laser with your remaining good eye."

Safety warnings;  we place them where we think we need them.  I have one next to my bed.  The first thing I see each morning as I roll out of bed is a cross stitch sampler done for me by one of my students.  It says simply, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart."

The ancient Israelite was given such a command here.  The Law of God was not to be something dusted off once a week and examined as an intellectual curiosity or historical oddity.  Indeed, the Israelite was told to put these "safety warnings" where they would do some good:

·         First, he was to put this Law on his heart.  Memorize it.  Think about it.  (How many times have you seen the sign in the factory that says, "Think Safety" ?)  Make it the top priority in your heart and mind.

·         How precious is it?  The next place you were to put this Law is in your children.  This serves two purposes: the first is to make sure they grow up knowing this Law.  The second is also important.  Young children are excellent at observing when you say one thing and do another.  God's little helpers.

·         They were to think about them whether at home or away.  Sadly, one of the reasons business travel is popular with some "Christians"   is that they are obedient—but only at home.

·         They were to think about them waking and sleeping—not only everywhere but at all times.

And to make this even more clear, God commands that they put this law—physically—on their foreheads, on their wrists, over the doors, on the walls.  It was to be their basic set of instructions;  their safety warning.

The Lord is One, O Israel.  The Lord is One, O Christian.  You are to be one as well—to show your integrity (your "one-ness") at all times and in all places.  Take his safety warnings seriously.  The laser would cost you an eye;  ignoring these brings you hell.

 

Lord, we soon forget so much.  Help us to be diligent in keeping to your word.

 

November 21

Boy Howdy

1 Peter 3:15-16

 

You know the species.  A Bible open in one hand and a mouth open all the time.  "Boy Howdy, Brothers, Amen and Glory Hallelujah, Praise The Lord and Blessings."  It's a Boy Howdy Bible Thumper (Scripturum Anvilii).  Believed generally to come from the Southern states, but not always; the species has the unique characteristic of inhaling through their ears.  This is why they're always pounding the pulpit (and never listening.)

You are not to share Christ in this way, says Peter (who pounded his share at the appropriate times).  There are two principles of personal evangelism he lays out for us here.

Set apart Christ as Lord

If Christ is not lord of your life, your hearers will very likely know it.  How can they tell?

·         If Christ is Lord, then you will reverence his name.  You will not poke fun at him, nor use his name as an obscenity.  You will treat it with reverence, whatever the rest of the world does.

·         If Christ is Lord, you will be obedient to his teaching—even when the rest of the world thinks this odd behavior.  Let them think it;  curiosity is good for them.  They might ask why.

·         If Christ is Lord, when someone does ask, be sure you're ready with an answer.  If you aren't, perhaps you don't quite know what you're doing—or why.

·         If Christ is Lord, you should always be ready with an explanation of the hope you have—the hope of the resurrection.

Do this with

·         Gentleness.  You are handling the power of God;  it needs no hammer to hit home.  Your gentleness underscores the respect you have for Christ.

·         Respect.  The people you are talking to are not second class people;  they are those whom God loves—and wants to welcome home someday.

·         With a clear conscience.  If they know that you are obedient, not guilty, then your words carry weight.  By your example they nay see the risen Lord.

 

Lord, you make few evangelists—but many disciples.  Help us to be those whose discipleship is contagious.

 

November 22

Wrestling with God

Genesis 32:22-32

 

Reading the story through, it has an eerie sensation to it.  What did Jacob know about this Man?  Was it revealed to him that he was wrestling with God?  Whatever the case, the incident is highly instructive in the normal method of dealing with God—prayer.

Preparation

There is a sense here in which we see Jacob preparing for his encounter.  If he did not know something of what was about to happen, he would have crossed over with his sheep.  But he stayed, alone.

·         He rid himself of his family and their concerns.  How many of us try to "pray in the fray" - little short prayers during the rush of the day.  Jacob does the opposite.  He sends his family over the Jordan (the dividing line).  For us, we need to realize that no matter how much we love our family, the time of prayer must come first.  If you have no time to pray because your family presses you, how will you gather the spiritual strength to lead them?

·         He rid himself also of his material possessions.  Often we are too busy "playing with our toys" = the wood shop, repairing the car, many other things.  There is nothing wrong with these, unless they interfere with the life of prayer.  Send them over Jordan, and face your Lord.

Persistence

Jacob wrestled all night.  That's the ask, seek and knock persistence that God loves in his children.

God's response

Perhaps he is testing you;  more likely, he is strengthening you for greater things.  If you will persist in prayer—not light, fluffy thoughts but the serious things of life—he will strengthen you by this exercise.  You will be fitted for industrial strength prayer.

Face to Face

In Scripture it is rare indeed for someone to see God face to face.  Jacob's reaction is sound;  like everyone else, he assumes that seeing God face to face is fatal.  Who could face him, being a sinner?  But the time is approaching (soon, Lord Jesus, soon) when we will be changed from those who see God dimly to those who see him face to face.  Not just the few;  but all who love Him.

 

Lord, encourage our struggles in prayer.  Keep us from wandering in mind as well as in heart.

 

November 23

Simple Requests

James 4:1-3

 

Janis Joplin sang it best:

 

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

 

The song points out the absurdity of the request.  No one would think that God would respond favorably to such a request.  The problem is not with God;  the problem is with us.

·         The root of the problem is desire.  Would you like to be rich?  Without any change in your paycheck, you can be rich.  Lower your expectations and desires until you have more than you want or need;  you are rich.  But even the most wealthy are in fact poor—for they want "more."  The problem is not the size of the checkbook—it's the size of your desires.  The result is the push and shove for the next promotion;  the burning envy when your neighbor shows off his new sports car; or even simply the cute housewife across the street.  

·         Of course, you don't ask God for such things.  You'd be ashamed to.  You know that your motives are wrong—so you avoid any real contact with God.  Prayers become repetitive formulas.  Soon you will begin to complain that God just doesn't seem to answer your prayers any more.  But you're asking for nothing—and he's giving it to you.

·         Eventually, however, you practice self-justification long enough to fool yourself—which, of course, you know will also fool God.  But God knows your heart, he knows your motives—and he also knows what's good for you.  Did you expect the source of all good gifts to give you something evil?

If your prayers are routine and rote;  if you can't recall a time when God in his providence gave you something unexpectedly;  if your life is full of tension and empty of joy; if the preacher keeps meddling when he should stick to preaching; if you can't bear to walk into a Bible class for fear you'd be unmasked—then listen to what's going on in your heart.  There's a war in there.  There is only one way to stop that war:  surrender.  Surrender to Jesus.

 

Lord, each day seems just a tiny change from the last.  Rescue us from sliding away;  grant our prayers for your good things.

 

November 24

Thought Warfare

Philippians 4:8

 

We have had a sad addition to the English language lately:  “going postal.”  People wonder how a long term employee suddenly goes berserk and begins to kill people.  We forget the simple principle that thought is father to action.  We see only the sudden change in action—but the thought was there for some time before.  Therefore, the Christian is commanded to bring his thought into obedience to Christ.  But how?

It is not sufficient to “not think.”  The mind abhors the vacuum much as nature does.  So therefore we must have thought which is fitting to the mature Christian.  Paul gives us a list here:

·         True.  The foundation stone of things admirable—they must first be true.

·         Noble.  The meaning of the word is almost lost in English; newer translations use “honorable.”  That which is worthy of being praised.  In older times a sportsman might applaud a brilliant play by the opposing team;  that carries the meaning.

·         Right.  The word refers to that which is just, or fair.  We still like to know that someone gets his “just deserts” - whether punishment for crime or reward for good deeds.

·         Pure.  The word in the original meant moral purity, or chastity.  Chastity and modesty are not much admired these days.  But those who are married might consider the alternative in their own wives.  Praise her, think well of her, for her modesty.

·         Lovely.  The word means something like “friendly towards.”  Hard to understand?  Try this:  when a pretty girl smiles at an old man it lights his whole day.

·         Admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.  Some things we know about only by reputation.  A good reputation is a blessing both to the owner and those who know him.

Thought is the father to action.  Jimmy Cagney, just before his death, was asked to compare the films of his day and those of our own.  He thought for a moment, then said, “Our villains were better men than your heroes.”  The remark is all the more sad in that millions get their ideas of good and evil from the media.  Christian, train your mind to things above.  Think!

 

Lord, teach us to know the good that is in our world.  Teach us to recognize that which is worthy—and delight in it.

 

November 25

Doing Hard Time

Acts 24:25

 

Most of us have no desire to see the inside of a prison.  Prisons are not designed to be wonderful places, but even a visitor can know the unusual tension of a prison.  A prison is a house of fear.

·         The fear of being helpless.  If the guards or the other prisoners decide to beat you, what can you do about it?

·         The fear of the unknown.  Every day you see prisoner given some form of  “treatment” - and the worry is that you may be next.

·         The fear of the terror you know.  That one particular guard, some other prisoner, a gang—all of these are feared.

The usual human reaction to this is to “adjust”.  There are several techniques:

·         First, you learn to keep your mouth shut.  The rabbit doesn’t shout at the hawk.

·         When your mouth is open, there is usually flattery falling out of it.  Even if the guards don’t believe a word of it, they still love to hear it.

·         Most of all, there is a drive to “work the system.”  Find out what the rules are, written or not, and use them to get out.  In Paul’s time, that’s a bribe.

It is the light of this experience that we can see the integrity that God expects from those who preach or teach the word.  He has his chance to come before the governor, Felix.  No flattery—but a sermon that went straight to Felix’s weaknesses:

·         He speaks of righteousness—also translated “justice” - to a man who has kept him in prison for political reasons.

·         He speaks of self-control—to a man who is on his third wife, whom he seduced before marrying her.

·         He speaks of judgment to come—to a man well acquainted with “the Way” and knowing that God is just. 

It’s clear that Paul must have flunked Tact and Diplomacy at the local preachers’ college.  But is it not also clear that the man of God must be a man of integrity?  The Gospel is often spread by the courage and suffering of God’s servants.  The preacher must make a choice:  politically correct, or eternally correct.

 

Lord, grant us courage in our speech; wisdom in our words; love in our actions; and in all things may the glory be yours.

 

November 26

Cheerful Endurance

Romans 2:7

 

“Cheerful endurance” - that’s another translation of the word rendered as “persistence” in the New International Version.  It describes the Christian whom God will be pleased to reward at the coming of Christ.  Someone who persists in doing good is very precious to God.  This is not to say that faith is not important;  it is rather to say that a mature Christian cannot have faith without the good works that flow so naturally from it.

Such people are seekers of God’s reward.  These are the ones who long to hear God say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  What do these seekers seek?

·         Glory.  We are taught to do our good deeds in secret so that God, who sees in secret, will reward us openly.  Let us be sure, then, to do such deeds as God would be pleased to proclaim.  Things that should bring reward and fame from God; such things are also worthy as examples.  You cannot know when others might see your works;  therefore, make sure that they are always a credit to your Lord.

·         Honor.  There is a certain nobility of spirit which comes easily to those who are both modest and pious.  They stand tall in the esteem of those who know them well, though the rest of the world may think nothing of them.  Indeed, sometimes this sense of honor comes from the fact that Satan thinks you worth persecuting.  That is the Christian Medal of Honor.

·         Immortality.  The translation is a bit difficult here.  This really means those whose works were done with “forever eyes” - the eyes that see into eternity.  Such a Christian builds his works upon the eternal foundation of Christ.

The result of all this?  It is that God is pleased to give.  We know that God will reward such a Christian with eternal life;  we forget sometimes that it is a gift.  There is nothing so wondrous within the reach of man which can change that.  But the grace of God is overwhelming to those who serve him.

The gift is eternal life.  The word, interestingly, means biological life.  The Scripture knows no sense of eternal life as a ghost (or spirit, as we have it now).  To be human means to have a body, and at his return we shall have the body suited for eternal life.  In the meanwhile, press on!

 

Lord, enthusiasm lasts for a day, a week—but patience carries us through the years.  Lord, give us such patient endurance.

 

November 27

Fishing for Fun

Romans 12:10

 

When my father retired from the military, one of his first purchases was a camper and a pickup truck.  He enjoyed camping;  he particularly enjoyed fishing.  On one occasion he took the family to King’s Canyon park.  Breaking out the fishing tackle, he handed my little brother (about seven years old) a fishing pole.  Jim promptly took it over to the river, tossed in the hook and began to fish.  With no bait on the hook.

My dad went over to help him with it.  He explained that you can’t catch fish without bait on the hook.  Jim knew that;  but as he explained to dad, “I’m not fishing for fish.  I’m fishing for fun!”  (And he caught it, too.)

Success, it seems, is something we measure.  In fishing, we measure how many fish, how heavy they were, how long they were—but we have no way to measure how much fun they brought.  For those whose pride will not let them be second, measurement is deadly serious.  Success can be measured—and our measurements had better be bigger than the other guy’s.

The Christian ought to have a problem with this.  In this contest, the Lord is the Judge.  He’s very explicitly told me I am not to compare myself with the other guy; I have enough trouble of my own.  Indeed, I won’t know for sure what the results are until he returns.  But I know one measurement:  how much I helped others.

So it is that Paul tells we are to honor our fellow Christians above ourselves.  We are to prefer their honor to our own.  This has a very practical aspect to it.  For those who are in the public eye, rivalry is all too easy to embrace.  We begin by measuring what our eyes can see—and comparing it to others.  Soon we are driven not by love but by envy.

A story is told about this.  F. B. Meyer pastured a church in London—in “competition” with preachers like Spurgeon.  His congregation stagnated—until he began to pray for the other churches near him. “When I prayed for their success,” said Meyer, “the result was that God filled their churches so full that the overflow filled mine, and it has been full since.

Each week, on our prayer list, you will see a request to pray for a Bible fellowship other than our own.  The names vary, but the intention is always the same.  This is God’s kingdom;  for its power and prosperity we pray.

 

Lord, teach us to honor our fellow saints, measuring neither them nor ourselves, for that is reserved to you.

 

November 28

 

Pursuing Good

1 Thessalonians 5:15

 

It is a sad fact.  There are people in this world who will receive the good works of others and then return evil to them.  Perhaps their pride was wounded by charity;  perhaps their anger is so deep and their self-control so shallow that they lash out this way.  It is a surprise to most of us when it happens.  But Christians know better than to do that.

Other times, you can get evil from someone for no apparent reason at all.  It is common enough.  The prisons are full of such people whose crimes were motivated by something other than the victim.  The thieves, the gang members, many others have such a bent towards evil that they will lash out at someone they don’t know—often laughing through it.  But Christians know better than to do that.

It also happens that some people will return good for evil.  Faced with the specters of crime and hate, they return blessing and love.  It sounds nice in a Sunday School sort of way.  But Christians know better than to do that.

Yes, it’s a sad fact.  Christians are every bit as capable of others in practicing evil.  We often feel justified in doing it.  But our Lord makes it clear:  vengeance belongs to God.  If you take it, you steal from God—and in the process commit evil yourself.  So why does Christ command us to return good for evil?

·         First, he knows you have to do something.  You can’t just be passive like a blob of gelatin.  So he gives you something to do. 

·         Next, so that you will become more like Him, who causes the rain to fall on the evil and the good. 

Interestingly, Paul makes it explicit that we are to do this for Christians and non-Christians alike.  Why does he mention it in terms of Christians?  So that we might not misinterpret things;  church discipline is rendering good for evil.  Why does he mention non-Christians explicitly?  So that you will not use self-justification to excuse yourself.

The phrase “always try” (NIV) can also be translated “pursue.”  We are to pursue rendering good for evil.  It is something worth running after;  when you catch it, you’ll know its joy.

 

Lord, so often we are quick to justify ourselves and our evil intent.  Keep us from such thoughts, lest they father action.

 

November 29

The Love of Jesus

John 21:15-19

 

There is a slight point in this passage, in verse 15, which is missed by most writers.  It is the phrase, “more than these.”  Christ’s first question is comparative;  Peter is the leader of the Apostles, and therefore should have the greatest love of the Lord.

“Lover of my soul, my soul loves You.”  So an old hymn had it.  We don’t hear too much about our love for Jesus anymore;  we hear much more about his love for us.  But consider:

·         The love of Jesus expels pride.  How can you be proud if your heart’s object of desire is the one who made and sustains the universe?  Can you love Him without praising Him?  If you praise Him, can you be proud?

·         The love of Jesus turns sinner into saint.  Fear of hell will convert some;  Christ’s love for us even more—but to grow a great saint, he needs the love of Jesus in his soul.

·         The love of Jesus never reaches the top.  There is always a way to love him more.  Sometimes it takes a while to find it, but you cannot exceed the maximum love allowed for Christ.

·         The love of Jesus is the royal road to heaven.  If you are one who loves the Lord, then you know the truth of the saying that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.”  Protect his name against slander;  trust Him for deliverance;  put your hope in his return; persevere until the end—and you will hear the “well done” from the Father.

The leader of the Apostles would need such love, for only such a love as this would cast out fear.  And what does the object of this love command to his chief Apostle?

“Feed my lambs.”  “Take care of my sheep.”  “Feed my sheep.”  All these are the duties of a leader in the church.  A leader must recognize that most people need to be led, and led diligently.  It is not a task for the passion of youth;  it is a task for one whose love has grown deep and mature.  Protect my sheep—and see that they grow.

And to the leader himself, Christ issues the simple instruction:  “Follow me.”  That’s it.  So simple, yet so powerful — if you love me, you will keep my commandments.  It is still the truth;  it still has the power it had then.  Obedience that comes from deep, deep love moves in the power of God.

 

Lord, many things are hard to understand;  this is not one of them.  Teach us to love you above all else.


 

November 30

Draw Me a Picture

Matthew 17:1-6

 

The mercy and wisdom of God are shown in the fact that his great truths are taught in  many different ways.  Sometimes Jesus teaches by parable;  other times by discourse.  But throughout the Scriptures we find another method:  he draws us a picture. 

There is much debate about this, particularly concerning the early chapters in Genesis.  This passage, however, carries little debate.  It is very clear in what it is teaching us.

First, do you notice that Matthew tells us that Jesus waited six days before going up into the mountain?  Six days from what?  From the great confession that Peter makes:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Six days—from confession to transfiguration.  When we recall that creation is said to have taken six days, we can see that there is a period of creation (of the church) between confession and his return.

Next, we see that Moses and Elijah are with him.  To the ancient Jew, this could have been seen as “The Law and the Prophets” - i.e., the entirety of God’s revelation to man, for this is the phrase they use to mean the entire Old Testament.  Christ’s being there with them, and especially after the words of God, establish his complete supremacy over all that has gone before.

But there is another way to see this picture.  Moses died—just before reaching the promised land.  Elijah never dies;  he was taken to heaven directly by God.  So Moses represents death, the fate of even the best of God’s servants;  Elijah represents the eternal life to come.  Jesus is Lord of both.

The disciples hear the voice of God;  they see the glory of God as it was revealed to Moses himself.  There is purpose here too; for the crucifixion is not far off now;  these men will need strength of purpose.

How do human beings react to all this?  Peter wants to settle down on the mountain top.  Perhaps he knows, from Jesus rebuke, that Christ is headed to the crucifixion, and he wants to stop or delay it.  It may simply be that he was completely overwhelmed, and this was all he could think of.

Here, though, is a rare glimpse of the future.  When our Lord returns, we too will be transfigured, for he will gather his saints to him.  He is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection;  we shall follow in turn.  Even the least of us will be awesome.

 

Lord, we know that we cannot really describe what will be when you return.  But we know we want you to come, soon.

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