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The Centurion's Tale


January 1

The Authority of the Risen Christ

Matthew 28:18-20

It is no accident that modern America fumbles around the concept of authority. We espouse rebellion as good—for the roots of our authority do not bear close examination.

It was not always so. Our Founding Fathers found their authority in the providence of God. They entrusted government to majority rule—explicitly stating on many occasions that this was possible only for a Christian nation. We kept the majority rule—for a while. But lately majority rule has been swallowed by its safeguards. The court system, meant to check abuse of authority, has become the source of that abuse.

So where does the modern American go for his source of authority? If the question is posed, there are a variety of answers. One most common at the moment is “bioethics.” Shortly put, anything that increases the chance that your genes remain in the gene pool is, by definition, good. Our examples for this come from the animals, who (it is postulated) do nothing without this principle in mind. One researcher discovered that adolescent chimpanzees commit what would be for us the crime of rape—and frequently. Harmonizing this new truth should be an interesting exercise.

The Christian view is completely opposed to this. The matter is simple: all authority belongs to the risen Lord. It is His, intrinsically. By command, that authority belongs to the church—for his purposes. Two such purposes are given; first, evangelization and second the nurturing of the disciple into mature faith.

The world must react against this. It is no wonder that evangelism is condemned as the destruction of intrinsically valuable native cultures (horrors!) But see the contradiction: by what authority do we know this is so? By the authority of those who claim that genetic transmission is the highest good?

Take heart, Christian. Christ is the victor; he has overcome the world. The world and its system are condemned even now. He will return on the Day of Judgment to pronounce sentence on the living and the dead. The evil will be no more; indeed, those who pervert his doctrine will cease as well. Homosexual bishops will take their well earned place—in hell.

Lord, keep in our minds the fact that we are to do as you have commanded us. It is our obedience to your authority which is the sure and certain foundation. Help us to see the turmoil around us for what it is: a fleeting shadow, chased away by your light.

January 2

Church Discipline

Matthew 18:15-20

Sadly, there is an almost complete lack of church discipline in our time. The church is afraid to discipline her members for fear of the question: “Just who gave you the authority to interfere in my life?” The independent church can point to no national or international body as a source of authority—nor should she. The authority comes from Christ. We don’t use it because we are afraid—afraid of what the subject might say, what the world might say. We forget that perfect love casts out fear; if we loved each other as Christ loved us it would not matter what “they” say. Church discipline is for the good of its members.

Let’s take an example: the all too common sex outside of marriage.  Sigmund Freud’s disciples say it’s good for your psyche; Hugh Hefner says it’s good for your marriage. Any number of public figures tell us that it is “bold” and “daring” - something which requires true courage. But ask yourself: who benefits from this advice? Hefner and his pornography empire? The publicity seekers? Those wise in their own minds? These are the authorities of the day.

The church answers to a different authority: Christ. Despite all the legend to the contrary, church discipline is not the expression of bluenose prudes who can’t get over the fact they were born in bed with a woman. Church discipline is not the province of the pompous self-righteous. It belongs to the church who loves those who have gone astray, and longs to lead them home again. The world’s authorities gain their own benefit from this; the church does not gain, but pays a price. Who then has your best interests at heart?

Church discipline is by the authority of Christ, and it must be administered as he commanded. It is to be done with all gentleness, starting with a one on one conversation. If quiet words avail, who needs to shout? It is to be done with all caution, for those doing it are sinners too, and may fall the same way. It is to be done in the full authority of Christ, who died for sinners.

Would you like to be really “bold” and “daring?” Then undertake the soft and gentle correction of a Christian caught in sin. The world will not applaud your courage, but someone might be eternally grateful.

Lord, we are our brother’s keeper. May we always know that our brother’s soul is worth more than all the sneers of the world.

January 3

The Authority of the Apostles

Matthew 19:28

It is a remarkable fact that millions of Christians accept the collection of writings we know as the Bible as being the word of God—and know nothing of how they were selected for that role.

The matter occupied the attention of one of the great saints of antiquity, Athanasius. He was responsible for delineating what we now know as the doctrine of the Trinity. He was also often at odds with the popular preachers of his day who held to the Arian heresy. So often was he reviled that his motto was Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against the world.

He laid down these principles for a writing to be considered genuinely canonical:

· First, the writing must conform to the rule of the faith. It can contain no contrary doctrine but must conform to the teaching of the church as seen in most places in most times.

· Next, it must be of proven usefulness to the church. Is it used by the great preachers of the faith? Does it bring out the great doctrines of the church?

· Finally, it must carry within it the authority of one of the Apostles—either written by him or one who wrote down his thought, as Mark’s Gospel does for Peter.

Interestingly, being inspired writing was not one of the criteria. The early church held that many more writings were inspired—but did not carry apostolic authority.

Why did Christ vest his authority in the Apostles in so strong a way? First, so that the church might spread more rapidly—twelve places instead of one. Second, so that the early church might have a reference point before the Scriptures were written. Even as such, the Apostles acted together in council, not alone—always seeking the true thought of Christ.

The church still carries that authority with her today. Sometimes we must deal with new controversies—by seeking the will of God in the Scriptures. But more often it is simply this: those who seek comfort find it more readily in a human being than in the written word. When that human carries God’s Scripture in his life, the comfort can indeed be said to come from God.

Lord, there are those we know who are burdened with the guilt of their lives. Grant that we may bring your authority to bear, so that they may know who has the authority to forgive sin.

January 4

The Ten Commandments

Exodus 34:27-28

Of all the legal codes in history, none is so often referenced as the short set of commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Called the Ten Commandments, they are of such historical importance as to rate a frieze on the United States Supreme Court building showing the giving of the commandments. The Anti-Christian Lawyers Union has been notified.

It is clear in this passage that we have this instruction “from the horse’s mouth.” The event is miraculous in nature; it is not possible for the human body to go without water for forty days. Even so, it shows the intense devotion required to truly take in the commandments of God.

The form of this law is said to be a covenant. The word is often used interchangeably with the word “contract.” They are different however. Contracts have certain legal properties:

· The first involves the “exchange of consideration.” That is, each party must provide something of value to the other.

· There is also a presumption of equality between the two parties—in law, at least, they negotiate on equal footing.

· A contract can be destroyed by its breach; if one of the parties does not perform accordingly, there are remedies in law.

A covenant often sounds to be the same; it looks as if God will do thus and such if we, his people, will do this or that. It sounds like something we might have hammered out on Mount Sinai.

But it is not. It is in fact a supreme condescension on the part of God! We have nothing of value to bring as consideration; we therefore have nothing to bargain with. The action of God is one of his being gracious to us.

We are not standing as equals, but as sinners before righteousness. We can accept the terms or reject them, but we cannot modify them. Interestingly, this applies whether you want the covenant or not. The ancient Israelites often found other gods more convenient—for a while. Modern man also has selective deafness.

As it is offered by God, it is ended by God. The covenant of grace, given at the Cross, will end on the Day of Judgment. The wise seek Him while He may be found.

Lord, how often we think we can bargain with you; as if the flea would bargain with the elephant. May we remember that you are both sovereign and holy.

January 5

The Keys of Death and Hell

Revelation 1:17-18

There is an enduring theme in romantic fiction. Omar Khayyam gave us the finest example in two words: “Open Sesame!” The tale of one who finds the key to great treasure, whether in a magic phrase, a genie’s lamp or the key to a strongbox, is a commonplace of literature. It is a very appealing myth; who would not want to be suddenly rich?

Suddenly rich—just what does that mean? For most of us, it means money, but consider: is that really true? If this mortal life is all that we will ever experience, then the search for the key to the strongbox is very logical. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But if we are designed to live forever, as God assures us, then true riches are found elsewhere. There are no pockets in a shroud.

We should therefore find the key to the riches of eternity. And that brings us to the choices presented in the Bible. All of our cartoon caricatures to the contrary, Hell is not just an office cubicle with no air conditioning. Hell is eternal torment, as Christ makes very clear. The key is now something of eternal consequence, and therefore worthy of our full attention.

The Age of Faith understood this better than we do. In 1077, Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, stood outside in the snow, barefoot, in penitent’s garb, for three days to obtain the forgiveness of the Pope. He understood that all his power and wealth would pass from him in the grave; he believed the Pope controlled heaven and hell. His actions were logical.

His mistake was in who holds the key: Jesus, the Christ. Note, please, that John—his best friend during his ministry on earth—falls at his feet, so awesome is his appearance. John has seen him as he is—the awesome Christ. We too will see the awesome Christ when he returns in his glory. But then it will be too late to consider our options.

The key, however, is available to us now. The one who lived, was dead and is alive forever holds the keys of heaven and hell, eternal life or eternal damnation. By his own personal authority he will judge the living and the dead. What will you hear? “Well done” or “Depart from me”? The choice is still before you—for a while.

Lord, it is so difficult in our time to take seriously the ideas of heaven and hell—but you have made it clear that they are very real. Grant that we may choose wisely and well.

January 6

The Authority of the Father over Jesus

Mark 14:36

It often surprises the new Christian: Christ Himself was a model of obedience. The Scripture tells us that he was made perfect through his submission to the Father by his suffering. The point is not that he was sinful; the word in the original means “shaped for a purpose.” It is remarkable to note that his submission to the authority of God the Father is entirely voluntary; as this passage shows, he wanted to avoid the Cross if possible.

What an example, therefore, He sets for us! Consider:

· He is obedient in the matter of will. We all speak well of willpower; see how Jesus conforms his will to that of the Father.

· He is obedient in matters of detail. He commands his disciples to do what the Pharisees command, even though they are hypocrites, so that not the slightest reproach would be heard.

· He is obedient in trial and temptation. Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil—not by accident or force, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

· He is obedient in his heart and passion. He is tender to the woman in adultery, enraged at those who make the house of prayer into a shopping mall.

· He is obedient in mind—frequently quoting the Scripture, even to the point of resting his argument upon a single word.

· He is obedient in physical pain. This scene is just before the Cross, to which he went willingly.

Do you see how the Son regarded the Father’s authority over him as being absolute? He could do nothing that the Father had not shown him to do. In this, he sets an example for us.

Do we follow that example? We are willing to have him as savior; we love to have him as friend; he is the one who has walked as we walk. Sometimes that blinds us to the fact that we have taken him not only as savior but as Lord. Do we even attempt the obedience that he modeled for us? In our prayers, do we come to give him advice about our lives or do we report to get our orders? Do we say, “Lord, lord” and do as we please?

Lord, so often we are taught of your tender care, of your mercy, of your compassion for sinners. Teach us too that you are the Lord of our lives; Lead on, O King Eternal!

January 7

I Am the Lord Your God

Leviticus 19:3

We begin a series of thoughts connected by this phrase: “I am the Lord your God.” In a variety of commandments God proclaims his lordship to us and expects that to be sufficient for our understanding. How so?

· “I Am” - it is the very name of God himself. He is the self-existent one, the one whose existence must be. The universe borrows the very idea of existence from him. He commands us from his very nature.

· “the Lord” - the one entitled to rule, the ruler of righteousness by right. His lordship is also a part of his character.

· “your God” - the giver of all good and gracious gifts, the God especially associated with you. The God who proclaims you to be his child.

And what does this God command?

Reverence for father and mother

To my knowledge there is no religion on the planet which does not command some form of honor and respect for parents. My mother lives in an apartment for assisted living. We see to her physical needs, taking her to the doctor and such. We involve her in our social lives. If it were needed we would provide for her financially as well. None of this is extraordinary, nor is it unusual. It seems rather obvious; something built into the universe, that children should take care of their parents this way.

Exactly. Built into the universe—that is what this phrase means. The God who spoke and the worlds began put his character into this universe of his; this is something so obviously right that we should see it as his command without even asking.

Keep my Sabbaths

If this is so, then, what about the Sabbath? Do we in our time regard the Lord’s Day as holy, or as a convenient extension of Saturday? The ancient Israelite was solemnly warned; the Sabbath was given by God for the blessing of man. It is to be spent in worship and praise, meditation and prayer. It is built into his universe.

Lord, we acknowledge you as both Lord and God, obedient to your commands and thankful for your gifts. Give us clear hearts and minds so that we might see how obvious these things are. Stir us to do what is right in your sight, taking every opportunity. May our children see this and know that you are God.

January 8

Charity Commanded

Leviticus 19:9-10

The fact is rather obvious. No matter how it is disguised, or pushed, or persuaded, the bulk of charitable giving comes from those who are the rich. In America, that includes most of the middle class. They, after all, are the ones with the money. So the question is not, from whom shall charity come? The question is how?

· Some hold that the state should provide this through taxation—the welfare state. This has the advantage that all the rich have their pockets picked in a relatively equal way. Its effect on the behavior of the poor is not so pleasant, as we have seen in America.

· Some hold that this is a matter for the church—meaning, of course, the staff in the office. To a slight extent this happens; it has the disadvantage that the church staff seldom knows if the recipients are really the poor or simply con artists.

· God’s plan is different. He leaves it to the individual member of the church. This has the advantage that each recipient must undergo scrutiny—and each giver must know sacrifice.

For whom, then, is the Christian to provide charity? God gives us two classes of recipient here:

· First, those who are poor. It is not necessarily a matter of fault; note that God never asks you to give only to the worthy poor. Many a working mother is poor because her husband left her with the kids.

· But also, those who are aliens—for we are just passing through this world ourselves.

See how God commands this charity to be given! It is not by impulse, but by planning: leave the gleanings. And look at the gift to the poor and the stranger: not only are they fed, but they are so by their own hard work. This weeds out the lazy as it keeps them from humiliation.

Would such a plan work today? God loves a cheerful giver, I’m told, and even rewards such. His love is great—let us therefore extend that love to the poor and the stranger.

Lord, we live in suspicious times. Keep us mindful that if we close our ears and our doors to the poor and the stranger, you are their champion, and will bring the same upon us.

January 9

The Name of God

John 6:38-40

My father was a career military officer. Like most of us, we are careful to protect the reputation of our family name. Sometimes this takes an unusual form.

The incident is clear in my memory after 45 years. I was in a new school (again). The teacher had my name on her paperwork—the wrong name. It was close;—but it wasn’t my name. She promptly advised me that if I didn’t stop “this foolishness” about my name, she would send me to the principal’s office—and my father would have to come bail me out. Fourth grader or no, I told to her to go ahead. I knew my own name.

My father showed up in uniform—with name tag attached. The principal started out just like the teacher until his eye caught the name tag. He didn’t know what to say. But my dad did.

We’re careful to defend our name. But there is an exception; if you ever meet a Clarence with my name, give me a call. That boy and I are going to have a little talk—especially about using me as a reference for his credit.

God rather seems to be the same about his name. He tells us that he will uphold those who call on him to vouch for them—and are honest. He will punish those who are false. But then, the ancient world understood that God can and will act.

It’s easy to see this as a question of authority. If I take an oath to prove something is true, using God’s name to buttress my claim, there are only two possibilities:

· Either I’m telling the truth—and therefore using his name in the proper way, or

· I’m lying, and therefore misusing the name of God.

The first assumes that God will defend his name; the second assumes that he won’t notice this minor violation.

To modern man, of course, the sense of taking an oath means nothing—because we don’t believe God will act. Profanity is merely vulgar. People say, “I’m not afraid to speak my mind.” In other words, my anger controls my mouth. This is bad even without the profanity; how much more so if you misuse God’s name? We need to think carefully about taking God’s name on our lips.

Lord, the control of the tongue is no longer seen as a virtue; profaning your name is now desirable. We are among the barbarians. May our speech be a witness to you.

January 10

The Pirate’s Eye Patch

Leviticus 19:14

One of the more interesting aspects of my life is that I live surrounded by educational establishments. One such establishment is Troy High School. Troy is a magnet school; its students come from all over Orange County. The students are said to be the leaders of tomorrow.

It happens that I wear an eye patch. I don’t wear it as a fashion statement, or to impress people; I wear it because I have to. It may surprise you, but the students of Troy High find the eye patch to be tremendously funny. If I’m outside when they are there, it doesn’t take long for the mocking obscenities to start. Sometimes I don’t even need to be visible.

Complain to the administration? Their attitude is much the same; complaints from the neighborhood always go to a vice principal who isn’t in at the moment—and doesn’t return phone calls. He also doesn’t have a name.

The measure of a civilization is not in its armaments, nor in its public buildings, but in how it treats the less fortunate. Do you laugh at another person’s misfortune? Consider the message it sends:

· People are disposable items; they’re not really important. Laugh at them like you’d laugh at a dog.

· The one laughing is obviously much more important than the victim. Arrogance is a virtue.

Troy High is not alone in this. If you think not, look into the matter of how disabled veterans are treated in this state.

God’s viewpoint on this is fairly simple. Christ died for the guy in the wheelchair too. If you’re a Christian, you should imitate what Christ does. How did He deal with the crippled, the lepers, the rejects from polite society? Did he not have compassion on them? Often the crowd tried to discourage such from coming to so important a rabbi, but Christ never did.

In our class we have a wheelchair; we have those with walkers. The love of Christ is for them just as well as the rest of us. Even a one-eyed man can see that.

Lord, we sometimes sin in our carelessness. Grant that our eyes will be open to the needs of others. May we always be ready to help, and to do so with willing hands and a heart that accepts all the children in your kingdom.

January 11


Leviticus 19:16

It might seem at first as if the authority of God bears little relation to the problem of slander. Slander seems such a petty thing. But consider: is it not a crime even yet to “breach the peace?” Our police officers are to arrest those whose conduct tends to destroy the peace and tranquility of the community. God has a similar concern for his saints.

Slander is something which tends to breach of the peace, for it sets one brother at another’s throat. It is often the weapon of the weak and the cowardly; courage is required for virtue, nothing is required for slander except a fertile imagination. As such, the saints, like Jesus himself, will often be the recipients of slander. You need but read the Los Angeles Times.

This does not mean, however, that all that is negative about the church is false. We are cautioned specifically not to provide an occasion for slander. We are to be the imitators of Christ.

How does slander breed? Among those outside the church it has a relatively simple origin. “I know of no conspiracy so sinister as Christianity,” wrote one of the leading editorialists of the Times. With that attitude we should expect no less.

The real pain comes from slander within the church. We expect Satan’s mouthpiece to slander us. It hurts when our Christian brothers and sisters do. It is well to remember: slander comes from the evil heart. It is the burning desire to “get’ someone without fear of reprisal. Sometimes this comes from idleness, having nothing else to do. Sometimes it comes from the hypocrites’ heart.

What, then, is a Christian to do about it? Write a letter to the Times? They’d only edit it to make you look stupid.  Ignore those outside the church; God will judge them. Inside the church, remember that slander must be listened to if it is to survive. Do you listen with an air of shock—and a heart anxious to hear the latest? If you won’t listen, the slanderer has no audience. You would not throw gasoline on a fire; do not listen to the chatter that reaps anger.

The slanderer will be called to account. It is not “just talk.” It is the fruit of hatred. How can you say you love your brother—and then slander him?

Lord, we are quick to excuse our tongues. Grant us the patience to think before we speak in anger.

January 12


Leviticus 19:18

On Mission Road in Los Angeles there exists one of the more unusual emporiums in existence: Skeletons in the Closet. It is the official souvenir store for an agency which is not normally associated with memorabilia such as bobble-head dolls: the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Beach towels, key chains, tote bags—all are for sale with the Coroner’s logo.

But there is one item which has been discontinued. A dark windbreaker jacket with lettering on the back, it was the same jacket worn by the Coroner’s personnel. Unfortunately, it was also worn by too many sightseers wishing to go inside the crime scene tape.

The Coroner, it would seem, guards his locations with care. Perhaps the assistance of so many amateur sleuths is not appreciated. I suspect God is of the same opinion when it comes to the matter of vengeance.

Vengeance. Nothing produces so enduring an anger as vengeance. It is for this reason that God has claimed vengeance as his own; “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.” (KJV). To take vengeance is to take what belongs to God.

In ancient times God delegated the task to “the avenger of blood.” He did so with elaborate regulations, including sanctuary, so that justice might be served. In our day, this is given to police and judicial authority. But the principle is the same: impartial, honest judgment.

Personal vengeance is forbidden—even to the point of not holding a grudge. A grudge is simply vengeance barred in by force, a compound of hatred and fear. But hatred and fear eat you long before your enemy is affected.

Instead, God commands that they be replaced. Note that he does not simply banish them; he knows we are weak. He knows that we cannot put this aside and ignore it. We bury our hatchets handle up, convenient for the next time. No, we cannot put hatred aside unless we replace it—with love.

Love must replace hatred and vengeance. How is this possible? Consider the supreme example: Jesus on the Cross. You have no enemies such as he did; yet he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Sometimes Christianity is obvious. Obvious, but not easy.

Lord, how can we give up hatred? Only by looking to you. Give us the strong hearts needed to replace hatred with love.

January 13

Rise for the Grayheaded

Leviticus 19:32

The picture is still clear in my mind: my father would drive to the restaurant. Parking the car, he got out, grabbed his cane and slowly made his way around to the passenger side, where my mother waited patiently. He opened the door for her. It is a gesture that today brings scorn. I know, for I open the door for my wife, who waits as patiently as my mother did.

It is not a matter of her weakness, but of my respect. We have lost the idea that (for example) age is deserving of respect. Today, age is scorned and youth is worshiped. The parents in a typical situation comedy would be lost without their cool teenage children. Even in the church, the ideal is to make the worship service belong to the Church of What’s Happening Now. (There actually is such a church, by that name).

So I must ask you to consider the facts. Go into the high school or college age ministry of the church. See what things are being discussed; see what things are being taught. Then do the same with a class filled with people their grandparent’s age. Despite our worship of youth, it will be clear to you that the grandparents are far and away the stronger Christians. Which is as it should be.

I first learned this lesson in the person of Mrs. Esther Brown. Mrs. Brown (never “Esther”) was housemother to my wife in her dorm during her freshman year. For many years after that we met with her, the ladies catching up on old times and old acquaintances. It is sufficient to say that when I really needed prayer, this woman was at the top of my list. She portrayed a sweet friendship with Jesus that seemed to come naturally to one who had been following him for so many years.

Worthy of my respect? I should think so. More than that, my respect is commanded for such people. It is very logical, if you think it through. How are you to respect the awesome power and authority of the Lord God Jehovah, whom you cannot see, if you have no respect for his old friends, whom you can see? And if you will not respect him, how can you know him? If you do not know him, what will you hear on Judgment Day? “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Lord, we live in a world where the grey head is considered to be a liability, a drawback. May we follow you so closely that we never fail to respect those who have this distinction—and so that our own children will have this example to follow.

January 14

Stranger in a Strange Land

Leviticus 19:34

Over and over in the Old Testament God proclaims himself to be the friend and protector of those who have neither. In particular, He solemnly warns the Israelites not to mistreat the widow, the orphan—or the alien. God is their protector; therefore, treat them as you would anyone else.

It is necessary to state this. To bring up the subject of the alien in our class is to tap into a deep well of resentment and anger. People who would be horrified at cruelty to animals are perfectly willing to muster the National Guard and drive out the aliens at bayonet point. Perhaps this explains God being so particular about this point. He reminds the Israelites that they, too, were aliens, strangers in a strange land—Egypt. Even those who had never set foot in the place are expected to have an ancestral memory of the misery of being an alien. Of course, these people could trace their ancestry back to Abraham and beyond. We are considered lucky to know our great-grandparents names.

But in a very real sense we are still aliens, ourselves. We are the strangers in a strange land, for we are “in the world but not of the world.” We are, spiritually, aliens. Therefore we should know how it feels, and our natural sympathy should aid us in caring for the aliens in our land.

Look at it this way: it has pleased God Almighty to allow a horde of people to cross our southern borders in these recent years. Whatever our government does about this, we too must know how we are going to treat them. Are we to receive them with the fire of hatred, or the love of Christ?

Our marching orders on this are clear. We need no bayonets to deal with this, for our Lord has given us this command. Just after proclaiming that all authority is his, he told us to make disciples. He was very particular about which particular nation, tribe or race we are to reach: all of them. To the ends of the earth, to the end of the age, we are to make disciples. By his permission they have come to us; by his command we must bring them to Him.

Lord, it is hard. We become so accustomed to the ease of this land that we forget that the command to make disciples is not for the chosen few, but for the chosen. Open our eyes to see the fields white with harvest; open our ears to hear the need of the lost; open our hearts so that we may take of our abundance and multiply it in your kingdom work.

January 15

Weights and Measures

Leviticus 19:36

The picture is a Norman Rockwell classic. The grocer’s eyes are intent upon the scale—while his thumb is pushing down on it. Eyes equally locked on the scale, the customer has her hand underneath the pan, pushing up. When Rockwell painted it, this was funny. The humor has now been lost.

Is it not strange that you never hear a sermon on the subject of honesty in business? It’s certainly not for lack of need. Indeed, the matter is sufficiently far gone that MBA schools are now requiring a course in Business Ethics. I submit to you this: just having such a course, let alone requiring it, is a sign of desperation.

The matter is very simple: businessmen today are not worthy of our trust—and business runs on trust. The most common form of contract is one in which one party pays money to another for goods or services to be delivered later. The cost of inspection has risen greatly as trust has declined. We have now reached the point where business transactions resemble a treaty between Hitler and Stalin: the real question is, who will break the agreement first?

In my lifetime I have seen this issue of honesty in business go through three phases:

· In the first phase it was assumed that your word was your bond. If you said it was so, it was so. If you said you’d do it, you’d do it. Companies built entire product lines and even industries rooted in ordinary honesty. Dishonesty was not only rare, it was shameful.

· In the next phase inspection replaced personal integrity. You could still trust the company—because it kept a close eye on its employees. Dishonesty was still fairly rare—but the shame was in getting caught.

· We have now reached the phase where dishonesty is expected. Inspection is still performed, but its main function is to provide “plausible deniability” for the executives.

Yet through all this the church has been silent. Do not be deceived; God has not changed. Honesty is still his requirement. Be sure of this: he knows, and he will act.

Lord, so often we hear that everyone does it. Cause us to remember that we are not everyone, nor are we anyone—we are your children. Let honesty run in the family.

January 16

I Am Your Help

Isaiah 41:13

Each Sunday, it is my custom to stand at the bottom of the stairs from the foyer down to the classroom level. The layout of the building can be confusing, and usually one or more people need direction. While standing there I have noticed something curious: the way small children come down stairs.

Their arms are usually too short to reach the banister rail, and the steps are large enough to be a trap for small feet. This is especially true when mother is in a hurry. Mother grasps the child by the hand, tells him or her to hang on closely, and proceeds down the steps at an adult pace. The child’s pace is much slower; often the adult has neither time nor patience for it.

So, at the bottom of the stairs, the child seeks liberation! She lets go of mother’s hand and begins to run. Mom usually is carrying something like the diaper bag, the purse, etc., so this means a run for mother as well.

Do you see it? God is like that with us. The stairs are hard, the steps are too big for us. So we reach our hands up to God, grasping him firmly as we go through our trials. But somehow we don’t like how tightly God clings to us—so as soon as the trial is over, we let go of God and run away. We will not take his hand again unless he catches up to us—and some of us are very determined to run far and fast.

He will catch up with us, of course. His love will not let us go. We want to be independent but we also want to be loved and protected. Most of all, we want our wisdom to prevail, not his. We want to call the shots.

We have forgotten who God is. He is the eternal God, the one who never changes. His purposes are the same forever; he will work those purposes through us. His hand holds ours so that we might learn to walk and grow strong.

But not all children come down the steps hand in hand. When the day has been too much, or there is pain, the child still comes down the stairs—in her father’s arms. So it is with us. When the troubles roll over us, we are safe in our Father’s arms.

Lord, so often we forget that you are God, that you are the ruler of heaven and earth. In your hands our path is narrow, but clear. Forgive us when we run away from your hand; gather us back in with your gentle love. When the troubles mount up, pick us up and hold us, safe, in your arms.

January 17

The Unwelcome Church

1 Peter 2:13-15

In times not long past the arrival of a new church in town was greeted warmly by the civic authorities. True, the tax base would decline by some small amount, but the influence of the church on the order of the community (and the lives of its youth) more than outweighed this. The church was seen as an ally of the state.

It is no more. Local governments will allow a restaurant to take over a public park to receive the tax dollars—but work hard to prevent a church from being established in town. Since the rejection of urgent necessity by our Supreme Court, cities have treated the church like a toxic waste dump.

Why? The days when people believed that “character counts” are now gone. Right and wrong are all subjective; and who wants those weirdo right wing fundamentalists anyway? The church has not helped with this either. Troubled youth are often dissuaded from the church by a youth group which places social events above all else. The world sees a social club, not the church of Jesus Christ.

The church in Peter’s time had the opposite problem—and the same solution. Political rebellion was common, and Christians were often blamed for what we would call terrorism today. To deal with the problem, Christians were instructed to be visibly obedient to the authorities of the day.

Note, please, that Peter does not proclaim the authorities to be right in their judgments. He simply notes that their interests often coincide with the church’s; submission to them helps advance the kingdom of God—which is the objective. The church grows well in an orderly world.

There is more to it. It is God’s will that we do this. Why? Because our actions speak louder than words. If the church becomes completely accepted by the world, she has become a part of the world—and is no longer the church. Conflict is inevitable, particularly when the state thinks itself supreme in authority. To make the truth clear to one and all, we are commanded to be exemplary citizens. At least then the truth about Christians can be seen if not heard.

Lord, it is frustrating to live as a good citizen and be painted to be the worst of villains. Keep in our minds that our actions in our civilization are marked and remarked on; when the world looks at us, let them see you.

January 18

Laugh A Minute

1 Timothy 2:11-12

Teachers’ meetings are not generally known as laugh riots. But I managed to make that transformation once. I stated that the Bible (and indeed the church for all but the last 50 years of her existence) teaches a woman’s submission to her husband.

When the laughter subsided, and everyone realized that I was serious, a sense of shock came over the room. Where on earth did I get such an idea? “On earth,” no. Heaven, yes.

How is it, then, that we so commonly believe that the Scripture teaches modern radical feminism? Consider:

· Feminism proclaims the doctrine that men and women are interchangeable parts. In some instances this is true; in other instances it is not so true. The National Football League still seems to favor men, for instance. But I would submit first that “can do” and “can do equally well” are not the same. More to the point, “can do” and “should do” are very different. Only the death of right and wrong in our society would blur that distinction.

· We cherish a legal fiction: “all men are created equal.” Equality before the law is absolute fiction (ask O. J. Simpson); it is, however, the legal fiction most likely to deliver justice. It is therefore a useful legal fiction—but still fiction.

· The church has responded to our society by making the Bible “relevant” - in short, proclaiming that the Bible taught feminism all along. Submission merely means respect.

The trouble with this is simple: it’s false. From Genesis to Revelation, men and women are different. And in between women are placed in submission to men. One particular reason for this is to teach us the relationship between the church—always female—and Christ. Male and female, Christ and his church, they are bound together.

Is it any wonder, then, having abandoned Biblical sexuality for the world’s version, that Christian divorce rates are higher than the world’s? Worse yet, is it any wonder that the church still says, “Lord, Lord” but no longer teaches obedience to Christ’s commands?

Lord, Lord—do not let us praise you with our lips alone. Grant that we may embrace your ways, so far above our own. Teach us that obedience to you is not drudgery, but joy.

January 19

Pray For Those In Authority

1 Timothy 2:1-2

It may seem that prayer for those in authority seems a burden; some of our authorities have made it a point to be the enemies of Christ. The problem is not new; Paul knew of it when he wrote this to Timothy.

The explanation is simple: God desires that all men might be saved, and saved through the work of the Church, proclaiming the salvation available only through Jesus Christ. To this end, then, we are instructed to pray for those in authority.

· We are to petition the Almighty on their behalf. If they are doing as they should, then this is just and right.

· We are to intercede with God on their behalf. Do they face problems that seem insoluble? Surely not to God.

· We are to give thanks for these authorities. Indeed, a prayer of thanksgiving for, say, the police department would not seem to be too great a burden, now would it?

We are to make such prayers on behalf of all in authority, both the high and the low. Each of these can materially assist or hinder the church, and God desires that we bring their cause before him so that he might bless them in their work for us.

It may be argued that some in authority hate the church; others are indifferent. It is no matter. It befits the followers of the Prince of Peace that they pray for peace and tranquility in their time. Should we be concerned with riot and crime? Or should we be looking after the things of God? If the authorities are doing their job as God planned, we can do the things of the church with no hindrance other than Satan.

The children of God should exhibit godliness, for all the world to see. Let the authorities see the character of such citizens! It should be clear to one and all that our prayers and our conduct match.

We are told that we are to live in dignity. Dignity is much maligned these days, and seldom sought (could our worship services be called dignified?). But dignity is no shame, nor a reason for shame. In fact, it is the proper behavior of a child of a king, is it not? It harmonizes well with godliness, telling one and all the true nature of the church.

Lord we are more often frenzied than dignified. Grant us the dignity that comes when humility is clothed in godliness.

January 20

Authority of Christ Over The Church

Ephesians 1:18-23

It is not surprising that the church no longer proclaims the authority of Christ. Nor is it surprising that the church no longer accepts the authority of Christ. Today, Christ is Lord in name only, for we desire no Lord but only a Savior.

One reason this has come to pass is our view of marriage. The Scripture uses marriage as a picture of Christ and the church—and also uses Christ and the church as a model for marriage. If the wife is no longer to be in submission to her husband, then the church need no longer be in submission to Christ. Our buddy, our Savior, but not our Lord.

But see here what we are abandoning! Intrinsically wrapped within his authority are these:

· The hope of his calling. By the power of the Spirit Christ was raised from the dead. With God, power and authority go together. If there is no such authority, there is no resurrection of the dead.

· The riches of the glory of his inheritance. The description John gives in Revelation is only what could be seen, and how great it is. We have traded it for clouds and harps.

· The greatness of his power. If he has no authority over us, there is no power. If there is no power, then we are fools for thinking it exists.

Do you see the absurdity of it? To deny the authority of Christ over the church—whether explicitly or implicitly—cuts us off from the one Who is over all things, in all things and sustains all things by his own power and authority. And just who is making this denial? The church—which is his own body on earth. We have as head of the church the creator and ruler of the universe—and we’d prefer to be our own bosses.

His power and authority are perfect; they will not be available for those who will not acknowledge him as Lord. Is it any wonder, then, that the church finds itself strong only during spurts of enthusiasm? That the prayer life of the church has withered? That the church no longer influences the world, for its authority is no longer Christ, but the fancy of the moment.

Lord, we live in sorrowful times. What is evil is praised, and the wicked strut. Lead us, Lord, in the way that we should go. The remnant is still yours; lead on, O King Eternal.

January 21

Temporal Authority

1 Corinthians 15:23-24

There is an old gag that may serve us here. The lion, full of dignity, decides to make sure that all the animals in the jungle know just who is boss. So he goes up first to the giraffe and roars, “Who’s the king of the jungle?”

“You are, oh mighty lion,” replies the trembling giraffe. So it goes with the wildebeest, the antelope, the turtle and so on. Finally the lion approaches the elephant and roars, “Who’s the king of the jungle?”

The elephant reaches forward with his trunk, grabs the lion’s tail, whirls the lion around and around over his head and finally throws the lion into a tree. When the lion comes to, he says, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean you have to get mad about it!”

Whatever your jungle might be, you can count on it: the lion will let you know he’s there. But it’s good policy to know where the elephant walks. We are taught much the same in this passage. We are now in the time of the end, for Jesus the Christ has come—and has risen from the dead. That was Step One.

Step Two will be the resurrection of the dead. How or when I do not know, but in the meanwhile the lion will roar. The authorities of this earth will let us know of their importance and power. Just remember: their power is temporary. Step Three is the abolition of all power and authority except for God. All the other authorities are strictly temporary. Do not fear the one who can kill the body; rather fear the one who can send the soul to hell.

And what should we be doing in the meanwhile?

· We should live our lives unafraid. The world will command us to bow down, and punish us when we won’t. Do not fear them; rather, accept whatever comes, knowing it is temporary.

· In the meanwhile we should do the work he has given us to do: seek and save the lost, making disciples. When He returns, let him find us at our posts.

· Finally, we should watch and pray, knowing that he will come when the world least expects it.

Lord, the world tries to put your church “in its place.” Give us the strength to resist, the courage to speak out and the grace to persevere. If it need be, give us the courage to die for the faith—for the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

January 22

Mutual Authority in Marriage

1 Corinthians 7:4

At first glance this seems a contradiction of the doctrine held elsewhere that the wife is in submission to her husband. It is not. It is not at all uncommon for two people to have a degree of authority over each other. The mayor runs the town; we elect the mayor. Who is servant to whom?

This particular instance of mutual (and indeed symmetric) authority comes from a central fact: the union of marriage produces one flesh of two. How can this be? Paul tells us here: I have authority over my wife’s body; she has authority over mine. This governs the sexual relationship between husband and wife.

Kindly note that this does not make my wife’s body my plaything. Authority is given in Scripture under the terms of “servant leadership” - the one in authority has it for the benefit of the one in submission. We are so accustomed to marriage being described as a “balance of power” that we forget that Scripture has no such concept. Marriage in Scripture is a mutual overflowing of love.

How does this work out? On the most obvious level, this is a prohibition of prostitution and adultery. My body belongs to her; therefore any other woman who wishes to use it must obtain her permission first. This tends to diminish the stampede of applicants.

On a more subtle level, it means that I must be constantly aware and caring of her moods and desires; she, likewise, must be willing to please. It is a pleasant competition in which each wants what is best for the other.

More deeply than that, the husband must learn his wife’s passions and whims, aches, pains and cravings. She must be ever attentive to his comfort, his passions and be his great companion. They must reach for the point where “you and me” become simply, “us.”

Each of us has the stewardship of our own body, held in trust for our partner, accountable to Christ himself for our work in marriage. My Lord will point out his picture of his love for the church—which is exactly what marriage is—and ask how well we painted it on the living canvas of our bodies.

Lord, be merciful. The mystery of woman is great, and my experience and intellect small. Teach me the ways to please her that please you, for, as in all things, that which pleases you gives us the very best of results.

January 23

The Evils of Rebellion

Romans 13:1-7

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of church and state. There is no denying that the attitude of government agencies in our land has changed from one of blessing to one which holds that the church must not participate in American life. Our religious liberties have been greatly eroded; the church is now despised by most of those who function as the state.

In such times a temptation arises: the temptation to rebel. It is ironic to note that our society now considers rebellious behavior as the mark of a bold, courageous man—especially if he rebels just like all the other sheep do. We sense society’s approval of rebellion, and it is tempting to do a little rebelling on our own. But—as Paul makes clear—this is not for the typical Christian. The government he is declaring established by God is one which frequently persecuted the church. Despite this, Paul tells us clearly that rebellion is not ours.

For most Christians of most times the question of church and state is simple: we are to be the solid citizens, the law abiding ones. There are many reasons for this:

· First, because such behavior is righteous behavior. We have no special duty as Christians to rebel. On the contrary, we are specifically told to behave ourselves properly. Our conduct should be such that the authorities find no real reason for our persecution. Unreal reasons they can invent for themselves.

· More than that, we are the guardians of the reputation of the church—which is Christ’s visible body on earth. He told us to render unto Caesar, and render we should. This way all will know that we are what we say we are—ordinary, solid people with an extraordinary message.

· Indeed, the spread of the Gospel is usually favored by tranquil politics. Can you imagine planting churches in time of civil war? No, we seek times of peace so that the church may grow as Christ commands.

The extent of our submission to the state is clear. Money is to be paid when due. Fear is to be shown to those to whom it is due, and honor likewise. It is a small price to pay for fertile ground in which the seed of the church may grow.

Lord, teach us to deal with the state not with weapons of this world, but weapons of the kingdom.

January 24

Authority Over All Flesh

John 17:1-2

It is a curious phrase: “authority over all flesh.” What does Jesus mean by this?

This statement is made in the garden of Gethsemane the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It is a point of exaltation, as Christ nears the end of his ministry and mission. To understand this, we need to understand authority somewhat better.

Say the word “authority” to most of us and the picture arises of some official, peering over his glasses looking down from his desk at you, baleful at your interruption. Authority, in our minds, is a pain. But authority properly understood is a blessing. Read the preamble to the US constitution and you will see it was devised not to deal with anarchy but to secure such blessings as domestic tranquility. Submission to such authority, therefore, is for the purpose of receiving those blessings.

Authority is meaningless without definition. The nation needs a constitution. What would a policeman do if there were no laws to enforce? What would a fireman do if there were never any fires? If those in authority cannot render their intended blessing, directly or indirectly, then what good are they? And how can they render those blessings without a stated purpose?

The purpose stated here is breathtaking: Christ is given authority over all flesh—which sounds like world domination. But this authority too is given with a stated purpose: to grant eternal life to all who will come and accept it. We know that it is God’s will that not one of his children should be lost, and to that purpose he has given Christ the authority to grant eternal life by the road of salvation. There is the benefit: eternal life. Such a benefit naturally requires such an authority. Whosoever will accept him, He will grant entrance to that eternal life.

Now we see authority and blessing together—and no one complains of the authority given! The only objection is that it sounds too good to be true—why would God do this? One reason is given here: that his name might be glorified. The name of Almighty God has taken quite a tarnish in our time; we forget what its right use is.

For His glory God has ordained the authority of Christ: to grant eternal life. His work is done. We now must embrace it.

Lord, your grace is indeed amazing. Help us to glorify your name for the salvation you have given so freely.

January 25

Authority to Forgive Sins

Luke 5:24

It was a curious sight. The bailiff was lining up a large group of men, placing them in alphabetical order. It was quite difficult for him to explain this order, as he spoke no Spanish, and many of the men were Hispanic. In the end, though, one wall of the court room was lined with men.

We were there on behalf of a friend who had been charged with some very serious offenses. Naturally, we were rather nervous about the proceedings. We had no set time, only that we were to be in place by 9:00 AM. It was almost noon before we were heard. Before that we discovered the meaning of that line.

The judge called each man forward. From a tall stack of manila folders he read each man’s record, noting whether or not he had faithfully attended the counseling sessions, kept himself out of trouble since, and so on. If all was satisfactory, he would then pronounce, “Sir, you may now say you have never been arrested for drunk driving.”

On the face of it, this sounds absurd. But consider: the drunk driver is a menace to all of us. If he has done no harm, and is willing to repent, we should be willing to assist and forgive. We do that through our court system.

This is very much parallel to how God forgives us. He is the impartial judge; he examines our repentance and assists it—and forgives us. He is entitled to forgive for two reasons: he is the one who is offended by our sin, and he is impartial.

In a sure proof of his divinity, Christ takes this power of forgiveness to himself, for he received it from God the Father. Like the judge, he is impartial. But unlike the judge his idea of our repentance and reform has an additional caveat in it.

We must forgive those who have offended us. The New Testament never grants unconditional pardon. The way to God’s pardon runs through the gate of repentance. Just beyond that gate is the garden of forgiveness. This is the way we must walk if we wish to be forgiven.

Lord, it is true: mercy triumphs over judgment. Your mercy, poured out for us at the Cross, is all sufficient for the worst of sinners, if we will but repent. Teach us to go from repentance to the imitation of the one who forgave us, learning to forgive others as you have forgiven us. We cannot repay your grace; we can only pass it on.

January 26

Authority of Fathers Over Children

Ephesians 6:1-4

This is a very simple passage. It exemplifies the essence of the relationship between authority and those in submission. As it is so clear, we can see some general principles in it.

Father—the authority

Situation comedies to the contrary notwithstanding, fathers are to be the head of the family. In particular, they are to have authority over children. Paul carefully includes the phrase “In the Lord” so that we understand this is not arbitrary tyranny but the fatherly love commanded to the Christian. If the father claims authority over his children, he does so by acknowledging the authority of Christ over all. What is he to do?

· First, he is to conduct himself in such fashion that he does not provoke his children to anger. This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is necessary. Anger builds up in children, and it is hard to be frustrated and respectful at the same time.

· Next, he is to raise them in the discipline of the Lord—the King James uses the word “nurture.” Think of a “disciplined athlete” in this context. Coach them in Christianity.

· But do not neglect their formal instruction, either. It is necessary that you coach their performance—but even the dullest of football players must understand the playbook. Their formal instruction in Scripture is essential.

For this, the child is expected to give obedience. But see that Paul describes it not in terms of “or else” but in terms of benefit:

· There is the benefit of doing what is right. Children are more secure when their place is well known and their conduct approved. Here is the place they will learn that righteousness is not a burden but a route to God’s heart.

· Indeed, we are told that they will live long in the land. God is pleased to bless his obedient children with long life—and much more.

Over and through all of this there must be the love Christ intended to grow in the family. It is no surprise that radical feminism calls for the abolition of the family, for the family is the breeding ground of solid Christian faith.

Lord, the world proclaims the family to be evil; we know from your blessing how truly good it is.

January 27

Authority of Husbands Over Wives

Ephesians 5:22-24

The argumentative are already noting the fact that these three verses are picked out of the middle of a stream of thought. Coming before this, Paul mentions the obvious duty of Christians to be in submission to each other (we all need accountability). Following it—and at much more length—is his beautiful description of what the husband is to do as his part in this relationship of authority and submission. Indeed, this section is so short because Paul considered it obvious. He elaborated on the husband’s role because it was unfamiliar. It was unfamiliar because it was new; it was new because it paralleled Christ and the Church.

Search as you will, you will find no other example or instruction for wives which contradicts this. Indeed, it is easy to find passages which are more “anti-feminist” in view.

Not, of course, that the church would dare teach such a view in these modern times. The church accepts radical feminism in its theology; there is no difference between men and women, and we’ve taken scissors and paste pot to the Bible to prove it. Do you think not?

· Have you ever heard a Christian lecture on marriage that wasn’t based on the “balance of power” view?

· Have you heard anyone in the church who actually holds that divorce, barring adultery, is wrong? Or do we accept divorce as normal?

In short, holy matrimony is no longer holy. If you think not, go to the reception for the next wedding you attend. Should the minister be offended at the jokes told from the rostrum? Should marriage begin with a party that mocks fidelity?

What, then, does the Scripture teach? It certainly teaches a wife’s submission to her husband. Ladies, remember that he has the harder task—servant leadership. He must love you to the uttermost, beyond life itself—as Christ loved the church. He is to be the spiritual leader, the high priest, of your family.

In thirty years of teaching, I have seen many people “single on Sunday.” The women number in the hundreds; the men can be counted on one hand. A man can lead his family to God; a woman has to try to drag them to Him.

Lord, impress upon all husbands what a treasure they have in her; a treasure to be cared for as a gift from God.

January 28

Mutual Authority

Ephesians 5:21

Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, of World War II fame, was once asked why battleships are referred to as “she.” His reply is classic: “Because it costs so much to keep them in paint and powder.”

One Sunday morning, long years ago, I realized that I was to do the communion meditation that morning—and I had nothing prepared. One thing about preparation: your insults are premeditated. This particular morning the insult was off the cuff.

As I left the building that morning, two senior battleships hove into view, the turrets pivoted in my direction, and I was sunk without trace (except flames) in thirty seconds. I dutifully apologized the next week.

Now, the ladies in question were not the people I had offended. So what right did they have to let me have it so vigorously? It’s an old question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer in the church is “yes.”

We see this most publicly in the form of church discipline. But remember that the first step in church discipline is for you to speak to the offender—even if you are not the offended. Indeed, someone who is neutral often has a more powerful message, as there is no self-interest perceived.

It’s deeper than that. We, as Christians, should have the sense that we are in mutual submission to each other. That means, of course, that I am in submission to all my Christian brothers and sisters (that includes my wife), any of whom may have a word of admonishment or encouragement. (That also includes her). I need to be ready to hear their correction or praise, or both.

Now, if that is true for me, then there is a symmetric responsibility: I am to perform the same service for them. Had you thought of yourself as being responsible for others? Take a simple example, please. Who is responsible for seeing to it that the pastor hears how well he is doing? He will be notified of his failures quite diligently; what about his encouragement? Who is responsible for that?

Look around you at your Christian friends. They are in mutual submission with you; have you been doing your part?

Lord, our lives are busy and our minds frantic. Grant that we may see through the trivia of the day to the brothers and sisters around us—and that we may indeed “keep” them.

January 29

Authority on Display

1 Peter 5:1-3

Ask the typical Christian today what an elder does, and he is likely to reply with one word: “meetings.” It is as if God had ordained a special class of men whose entire function in life was to meet on Wednesday nights and debate fine points—such as predestination, the return of Christ and whether or not the church should purchase a lawn mower.

That is not the function of the elder as given in Scripture nor is it (truth be told) the practice of most elders today. If you will back up a few verses before, you will see that Peter has been talking about suffering and judgment. He is himself an elder; he knows all about suffering for the faith—and he knows about the glory to come. Putting it in that context, he warns the leadership of the church that God begins his judgment in his own house. When Christ returns, should it not be to a church led by men of purity and devotion?

So then we see the common example of church leadership. If you want to know how leadership is to be done in the church, look to the elders. They are commanded to shepherd the flock willingly. True Christian leadership is not easy, and those who undertake it should do so in high morale. They are going to be visible to one and all, and therefore should model the tender care of our Lord.

It is sad that it must be stated, but there are always those who want the title because it’s good for the business. The King James Version identifies this (exquisitely) as doing it for “filthy lucre.” Rather, they should want to do it for the sake of the task itself, and the glory it will bring to God.

Which brings us to the method: the elder is not to “lord it over” the flock. Rather, the elder is to be an example. It is the very imitation of Christ himself, who, though divine, became like one of us—and a very humble one at that. Now, if this is how the elders of the congregation conduct themselves, what example is set for the husband seeking to lead his family? What example is set for the teacher in his classroom? What example is set for the preacher in his ministry? The Christ I cannot see; the Christian I can.

Lord, open our eyes to the examples around us. Give us eyes to see the labor and diligence of these men, and the humility with which they work. So many pick examples from the loud and obnoxious; teach your children to choose their examples from those whose example is you.

January 30

The Eternal Dominion of Christ

Daniel 7:13-14

Those who love America know that some of its most hallowed ground is outside a little town in Pennsylvania: Gettysburg. It was the high water mark of the Confederacy. Much blood was shed afterwards, but the issue was no longer in doubt.

Suppose you had been given a prophetic vision of Gettysburg many years before the event. Would it not seem strange to you? You would have a picture of two armies, both made up of God fearing men. You would see carnage on a scale completely unknown to you. You would see war being waged with railroads, telegraph and aerial observation balloons—all unknown to you, the prophet. Would you not be like the prophet Daniel, deeply troubled with your face turning pale?

But some things would be clear to you in your vision. You would see slavery abolished; you would see wounds taking many generations to heal. So it is with Daniel’s vision here. There are many theories of this, but there are three facts which are clear:

· Christ is given all authority. For this reason we go to the ends of the earth to make disciples. It is not politically correct to do so, but that is man’s command. We render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and God the things that are God’s.

· His is a glorious reign. Glorious? The generation of Gettysburg would have understood the word. Glory came through suffering and sacrifice, by triumph. Glory also comes in loving kindness—homes mended and lives redeemed, banners to the glory of God.

· His kingdom has no end. It has been rightly said that the church is but one generation away from extinction. This thought has caused a number of “great thinkers” to announce that—after the world has understood their genius, of course—the church would cease to exist. So it might seem to some in America today. But see God’s power and method: to the land of dying churches he sends missionaries from Korea.

Consider it well: the authority of Christ will never end; its glories will always be seen. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it!

Lord, yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. We see things now very dimly, but you are still there. Your works are before us; your truth never changes. Give us stout hearts and sound minds to stand firm to the end.

January 31


Revelation 19:1-6

From ancient times men have written and produced plays. In many such plays there is a chorus—the invention goes back to the ancient Greeks. So common a device must have a reason; it is simply this. There are some facts, some lines, which need to be said—but don’t fit into the mouth of any of the characters. So the chorus sings them (think of the sisters, cousins and aunts in HMS Pinafore).

Something like that is going on here. The elders, the four living creatures, even the throne itself command the praise of God—but the chorus (the multitude) tells us why. We are to praise Him for His:

· Salvation—the victory of the Cross, salvation for all who will accept it. What can compare to this?

· Glory—glory is to God as style is to an artist. His sunsets and sunrises are beautiful; so are the renewed lives of those he has redeemed.

· Power—which is made clear to us in the universe he has made, and clearer still in the new heaven and the new earth.

Finally, we are to praise him because his judgments are true and righteous. It is so because:

· He alone can see the heart and know the intentions of man. I often bump into other people on my blind side. Before they see the eye patch, they may be angry. After seeing it, they realize my intentions and quickly calm down.

· He alone is completely pure in heart, so his judgments are not prejudiced by the assumption we often make, that because we are evil so must be the other guy.

· His judgments are made with wisdom. For each one who says that he had no choice but to sin, God will show how he would provide a release.

Last, we praise his judgments because he has the power to enforce them. People often mistake God’s patience for weakness. It is not so, and he warns us of that here. We may not understand all that this prophecy means—but we know Who triumphs.

Lord, you alone are indeed worthy of our praise. You are far above our thought and above our ways. Grant that we, with this multitude, may praise your name in heaven—and on earth.

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