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The Centurion's Tale


July 1

Hero’s Worship

Proverbs 3:31-32

You can tell a great deal about a society by examining its heroes. In my lifetime I have seen the hero change; the hero of my youth is now an example of mockery. The hero of today is much more “realistic.”

The older generation of heroes we rather stylized. For those whose memory goes back that far, remember the Lone Ranger? In every way possible he was a role model for children. He never started a fight (though of course finished them all). He never killed anyone (his screenwriters had him shoot the gun from the villain’s hand.) His example was so powerful that the actor who portrayed him, Clayton Moore, spent the rest of his life living up to “the code of the Lone Ranger.”

The new generation of hero? Think about Rambo; a moody, violent man, given to taunting his opponents; a man almost indistinguishable from his opponents. Such portrayals are considered more “realistic.” It is hard to tell the villains from the heroes these days. I once saw a movie both with and without the obscenities—and I realized that the hero and the villain were distinguished only by the foulness of their speech.

Why is this important? Because for many young people life is not very fair. As I came into a new school, the classroom bully was very prompt in making sure I understood my place. I learned fairly quickly that complaining to authority was useless. Teachers simply said, “You have to learn to get along.” If you pushed it, principals said, “You must have provoked him somehow.” It is very convenient for authority to turn the victim into scapegoat.

The bully always has a cover story. So it seems to many of the young that the most desirable thing to do is to become the bully. Charles Atlas made a fortune dealing with sand-kicking bullies. “Self Defense” classes are popular. The violence in the heart grows with success.

It is important therefore to point out the end of this process. By being like the bully you will grow to be the bully. You will grow to be the one who hates. Anger will consume you; pride will push you from horror to horror. So God warns us: it does matter who your hero is. You grow up to be like him. The choices of the young are often the bitterness of old age.

Lord, grant us vision to see beyond our noses. Help us to understand that we become what we desire.

July 2

Greek To Me

1 Timothy 6:3-6

First, the disclaimer: I do not speak, read, write, comprehend any more Greek than was necessary for my classes in mathematics. I rely entirely on commentaries by people who do know it.

But there is no avoiding it, if you teach the New Testament. And if you do it long enough, you will encounter the kind of person Paul describes here. One such hotspot is Revelation 9:6. Whole schools of interpretation of Revelation depend upon the Greek in that verse. (I leave it to the reader to inquire further.)

Every teacher knows this guy. His Bible has more commentary than Scripture; he is happiest when in the process of proving that what you just said was wrong. Arguments over words, down to the letters, bring joy to such a man.

They don’t bring joy to anyone else. If you let this go on long enough, you will begin to see some of the symptoms Paul describes here. The unity of the church is fractured in his arguments; soon you begin to hear the bitter tones of one who cannot speak well of his rivals. You’ll soon hear things like, “The reason he thinks that way is that he is …” (perverted, hypocritical, addicted to ice cream). Friction—constant friction—goes with him. Friction produces much heat but practically no light.

Why would a man do this to the church of Christ? In one word, envy. He sees in his teacher (and even more in his preacher) the man he wants to surpass. It’s depravity; but it stems from one thing: he neither has nor seeks the mind of Christ. He’s looking out for number one. He’s going to get ahead.

“But isn’t this the man so eloquent in prayer?” Often enough. But this eloquence is not there because Christ is; it’s there because the man needs it. Somehow, someway in these twisted minds comes the idea that if a man could show God that he was the most learned, most discerning, most detail oriented (read: nitpicking) student of the Scripture, then God will shower blessings (especially recognition) upon him.

The sad part is this: God will shower him with great blessings—for the simple study of the Word. The secret is to do nothing in strife; everything in harmony—and wait content for the Lord to work His will. It is a sad epitaph: “He knew the Bible inside and out. But Christ never knew him.”

Lord, in all our work for you, let us be as diligent as we can be—always knowing that we could be wrong.

July 3

Green—as in Grass, as in Envy

Ecclesiastes 4:4

Some years ago I lived next door to a man who had run a gardening and nursery business, from which he was retired. It took very little to see that his lawn looked much nicer than mine. We both had “St. Augustine” grass—a hardy breed, and needing to be so, with my neglect. Corn (short for Cornelius) spent many hours on his lawn. I hired a gardener to cut it, and occasionally watered it. The results showed the difference.

In this instance I was spared the trouble of keeping up with the Joneses (or in this case, the Garcias.) I am hopeless at maintaining plant life. But such a display next door could provoke grass war: the combat for whose lawn looks the best. Much hard work has resulted from this form of envy. In this instance, the hard work itself might cause envy as well.

Notice, please, that this envy can produce results that are righteous, unrighteous or neutral. For when envy strikes, it does not matter what the work might be. A man will work very hard to best his neighbor, or even a friend. And if your neighbor puts out a big Christmas display on the lawn?

It is, as Solomon tells us, vanity and chasing the wind. It comes from evil motives—the desire to be better than the other guy. We honor that desire in our society (it’s called competitiveness). And at the end, it means nothing. If it gets bad enough, there is more than hard work. Sometimes the envious one will demean the accomplishments of others (sour grapes, you know.) If the accomplishment is bright enough, the envious will destroy it.

Ty Cobb, who might just have been the best all around baseball player to grace the game, became a Christian late in his life. He left a legacy in major league baseball of a man who would do anything to win; the man who would sit in the dugout and sharpen his spikes—so that the other team would fear him sliding into second base to break up the double play.  He was a legend for his fierce competitiveness; he just could not honor another player’s accomplishments. When he turned to Christ, he poured out his regret for his life; he said he had been playing the wrong game.

Cobb died; his funeral was held in Georgia. Every little leaguer in town came, in uniform. No one from the major leagues attended. In the end, his records were just chasing after the wind.

Lord, open our eyes to the sin of envy. Teach us that we should please you, not triumph over others.

July 4

Man, the Animal

Galatians 5:19-21

One of the recurring thoughts of “modern” civilization is this: man is nothing more than an animal, the most intelligent of the primates. Things spiritual do not exist; only man the animal need be considered.

For those who are inclined to rate such theology (for such it is), I venture to point out two variations, and their results:

· We are now afflicted with “Bioethics.” The thesis is that anything which helps get my genetic material into the gene pool is, by definition, good. Push this one where you may; but do examine what happens to the crime of rape.

· An older version was social Darwinism. The idea was that it’s perfectly normal for nations to go to war; it weeds out the weak nations and replaces them with the strong. Drawbacks? Could I point out World Wars I and II?

The most humorous point of such theology is that its proponents think it is bold new thinking. It’s not. Take a look at the list of the “sins of the flesh” and see if you don’t agree—the animal in man uncontrolled, can cause an awful lot of grief. Saying that we are nothing but animals usually produces people who act like it.

One symptom I would point out to you: jealousy. Some might think that an intellectual sort of sin—all done in the brain. But think about children when they are young. Have you ever seen a four year old teasing a two year old by withholding some favorite toy—just to watch the little one get frustrated? The younger one learns jealousy the easy way; the older one learns how good it feels to torment someone else. We often act as if children were sweet, innocent things. Would you hand a loaded submachine gun to one of these sweet, innocent things? If you did, you would soon see how easy killing someone is to a small child. Raising a child to adulthood is, to some measure, teaching the child that “I must” is right, and “I want” is wrong.

Envy, jealousy—these things come from the sinful natural side of mankind. Their cure is not like the disease; the cure is not found in the natural realm but in the spiritual realm. If you are afflicted with such things, turn to God and ask Him to give you the Holy Spirit in good measure—and with a purpose supernatural.

Lord, how often we justify ourselves with “I just couldn’t help it.” Grant us your Holy Spirit, let us seek pardon, not justification.

July 5

Of Poetry and Politics

Job 5:2

One of the running feuds between various Bible interpreters stems from the fact that there is poetry in the Bible—and it is meant to be read as such. Sometimes it’s easy to see it as poetry; the Psalms are poetic, for example. Other times it’s not so easy to tell. The writers of the Bible, Old and New Testament, frequently used poetic devices in their writings. It helps the reader memorize key verses.

So how do I tell poetry from prose? In English, we would look for a rhyme. Hebrew poetry rhymes too—but it doesn’t rhyme in sound; even if it did, we couldn’t translate it that way. Hebrew poetry rhymes in thought, with two thoughts paralleling each other. You will remember the opening of Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want”

Those two lines are a thought rhyme; we can conclude that because the Lord is my shepherd, He will provide all that I need.

There is a rhyming pattern in this verse too. The two clauses are thought rhymes. We can see that resentment (anger in the NASB) rhymes with envy (or jealousy in the NASB). The two are connected; it’s very difficult to envy someone in a cool and calm manner. Usually, envy carries with it a lot of emotion.

Our politicians know this. Both parties try to occupy the center of American thought; this means that they agree on most things. They also know that people who are angry are more likely to vote to “throw the rascals out.” So, to excite that kind of anger, some politicians turn to envy.

It’s a productive formula: “Why should the rich have so much?” There is great appeal in that statement. It opens up the inner life to expose the resentment that can be fanned into flame. It matters not how you plan to take that “so much” from the rich—as long as you express the resentment and envy. It’s hard to get people to vote “for”; much easier to get them to vote “against.”

All this depends upon the simple-mindedness of the typical voter. It is rare to hear a sermon against envy these days; as a result, this method produces anger, envy and votes from Christians as well as non-Christians. We feel good when voting “against.”

Lord, so often we try to keep our faith in a tidy little box. You cannot be contained; show us where the sin of envy has taken hold of our lives. Then forgive us and guide us away from it.

July 6

The Cancer of Envy

Proverbs 14:30

Bob was the perfect object of envy. We were in the tenth grade together. Rare for sophomores, Bob had a driver’s license—and a car to go with it. Evidently Bob’s dad had more money than sense, for Bob quite cheerfully admitted that he had no intention of working hard to get good grades—a C average was just fine with him. He was naturally good looking which, when added to his surfer image woodie station wagon, made him the target of all the girls. Bob had a lot for me to envy—and envy him I did.

Envy is like cancer in many ways. It certainly grew that way in me. For example:

· Envy is easy in a society that values material things. The privilege of wealth is to give your child the toys you envied when you were that age. If all desire them, those who have them are the targets of envy.

· The object of that envy often is completely unaware of it—like cancer, it grows—unseen and hideous. Indeed, the one who envies will often go to great length to prevent anyone from knowing about it. We don’t want to give the one we envy the satisfaction of knowing it. Often, when they find out, there is a sense of surprise more than superiority.

· Eventually, like cancer, envy will produce a sudden collapse of the victim. All the stored emotion comes out at once in a flood.

Envy grows in the quiet of the night, as you think to yourself, over and over, “I wish I had that kind of money; I wish I could get a tan like that; I wish I had a car like that…” The list is very long and often repeated like a litany. It eats you up when no one is looking.

In this instance, however, God had a plan to cure that envy. It seems that (unbeknownst to me) Bob envied me! He was of the opinion that getting A’s was something that came easily. (Note: if it was easy, it sure took a lot of study time to make it that way.) We discovered this by doing an insect collection together. He provided the car, the net and good company; I mounted and researched the specimens; we both got an A. And we both lost the envy of each other.

Lord, may we each examine ourselves, seeking out the envy within us—and bring it to you, the Great Physician, for its cure.

July 7

The Wisdom of Solomon

1 Kings 3:16-28

It is difficult to convince people that envy is dangerous.

· We can certainly see how envy would cause someone to do injury to another, especially the one who is envied.

· We might even see, by experience, that the one who envies is willing to harm himself if it also harms the one envied.

A story is told of this. Two men, one who was covetous and greedy, another who was envious, were to share a wish. The catch? Only this: the person who made the wish automatically gave the other one double. The covetous man would not go first, for he feared missing out on double the money. The envious man would not go first because he could not bear to see the other one prosper so. Finally, the envious man pronounced his wish: he asked to have one eye gouged out—so that his neighbor would be blind. If we are envious, we can certainly harm both ourselves and others. But there is a worse case.

The envious one is capable of doing great harm to those who are innocent. Indeed, as this story shows, even one so innocent as a newborn baby would be put to the sword to satisfy envy.

Fortunately for the child and its real mother, Solomon in his wisdom understood how envy worked in the human mind. He knew that one of these women was afflicted with envy; he only needed to bring it out to discover which.

Indeed, we might learn something from Solomon’s methods, for his wisdom was from God; we might even see how God might handle this:

· First, he exposed the envious one—even to the point of public humiliation. One of these women went to her grave with the reputation of being one who would murder a newborn babe.

· Next, he upheld the right. His verdict was not based on personal preference, but unimpeachable justice.

· Finally, he passed no judgment on them for being prostitutes; he dealt with something much more deadly—envy.

His decision was both just and wise; we may expect the same from the Lord God. Better to plead for his mercy now than have your envy be your downfall.

Lord, teach us to examine ourselves, find the corruption of envy and bring it to you for forgiveness and cleansing.

July 8


1 Corinthians 3:1-3

If there is one thing most Christians in America do not want to be, it is different. I don’t mean ordinary different but different. Why do we have this fear?

· At root we like to think of ourselves as normal—for anything else means that we are outcasts.

· We certainly don’t want to be known as different. It might be OK to be different, as long as no one knows.

The problem with this? Christians are supposed to be different. Worse yet, we should be getting more different each day.

Why? Because the people of Christ are led by a different spirit—the Holy Spirit. The world chases the things you can see; we do not (or shouldn’t). Take a maturity check on yourself here. Suppose your next door neighbor shows up one fine Sunday morning with a brand new boat. He stops you as you are headed toward your car, on your way to worship. What’s your attitude? Do you feel “second class” because you don’t have a boat? Because he’s going fishing this morning, and you’re going to church? That’s a sign of an immature Christian.

There is a similar sign of an immature church congregation given here—jealousy and strife, factions formed. On the night before the Crucifixion, Christ prayed that we might all be one, just as He and the Father are one. How do we do that?

· First, by becoming spiritual, mature Christians. We don’t let the children run the kindergarten.

· Those mature Christians should be in harmony—with Christ and with each other.

Whether you like it or not, such a church is going to be full of people who are different.

· They will be led by the Holy Spirit—so their intentions are different.

· They will be doing God’s will—so their actions are different.

· They will be headed toward heaven. When your destination changes, your route does also.

Seek first the kingdom of God—it makes all the difference in the world (and out of it).

Lord, those who love you and love your children are different. Teach us to enjoy the difference.

July 9

Gentle Wisdom

James 3:13-16

His name was “JJ”; he was a senior vice president of our corporation. JJ was a man of selfish ambition; he was a man of bitter jealousy, as the Scripture paints it here. But do not think that JJ was a crude example of these things. No, JJ was smooth. He was unfailingly polite to those who worked for him; his warm smile belied the crocodile within. Only once did I see the man behind the mask. We were at a large meeting of our division. JJ had been angling for a promotion; he had only one competitor. In an example of poor taste, the result was announced at this meeting, in public. For a brief two to three seconds you could see the fury of bitter ambition in his face. Then, composure closed over it, the smile came back, and JJ warmly congratulated his rival. The passage here tells the truth: selfish ambition and bitter jealousy are housed in the heart, no matter how well you disguise them.

The handling of wisdom is like the handling of power: little is much. When a man has a little more power than his peers, he becomes arrogant. When he has much more power, he becomes gentle—there is no point in making a show of the obvious. Likewise with wisdom; the man who has a little more of God’s wisdom lets everyone know it. The man steeped in it need do nothing of the kind; it will be obvious enough.

In the wisdom of God we meet wisdom with power, for the wisdom of God has the power to change lives. Therefore, we should handle that wisdom with true Christian gentleness. Note that this is not the province of just the church leaders; wisdom is given to all who ask God for it. How then, should we apply that wisdom?

· Is it your task to correct or discipline a Christian brother or sister? Then do so in gentle wisdom. The object is to restore them to Christ, not drive them away.

· At the time of death, both the dying and those left behind will need to hear the comfort of the Resurrection. Bring this comfort in all gentleness.

· If your task should be one of leading the church, do not assert pomp and authority; rather clothe yourself in the gentleness of a servant leader—just as your Lord did.

A gentle spirit is the mark of one who is truly strong in Christ.

Lord, drive from us the arrogance of power; replace it with the gentleness you model for us.

July 10

Born Again

1 Peter 2:1-2

It is a surprising point to evangelical Christians, but the phrase “born again” is not frequently used in the Scripture. To be specific, Christ gave that instruction to precisely one man: the Pharisee Nicodemus. To everyone else he said, “repent.”

If you ask the typical evangelical Christian what it means to be born again, you will usually get an answer which commands baptism. After that, they haven't a clue. OK, so I’ve been born again—what next?

Peter provides the answer to this in these verses; like Peter, it’s short and to the point. He instructs newborn, baby Christians:

Reject what is evil

First things first: you must reject what is evil. This comes in three varieties:

· First, there is the evil of the heart. Peter mentions two things of the heart: malice and envy. Do you have a grudge against someone? Get rid of it. Even if the other person still holds one against you. Are you envious of another person’s wealth or position? Throw that out too; your Lord will provide for what you need (though you may not know to want it.)

· You must then deal with appearances. The heart is the starting point but bad habits may linger. What you show to the rest of the world is your testimony. Do not let that be marred by hypocrisy; you despise it in others, you should dispose of it for yourself. Deceit too must go.

· Finally, there is the matter of action. Peter selects the sin of the tongue, slander. Let your speech be yes and no, not the sly words of one who enjoys a reputation for killing reputations.

Seek what is good

It is not sufficient to renounce evil; you must replace it with what is good. Peter gives us only one direction—the milk of the word. Spend time in reading the Scripture; make that a regular commitment. Properly nourished, you will grow strong in Christ.

Lord, grant that those among us who are mature will point out the path for those who are not. The road is narrow and difficult. Let those who are further on be guides for those just starting.

July 11

Balloon Animals

Psalm 37:1-3

It is a grand pleasure of mine: making balloon animals. So many assume that the art of making a wiener dog is fearfully difficult; it must take years of practice. The small child who gets the balloon immediately plays with it—and it is best to leave before the balloon pops. Others see the results and are impressed; I see the making and know how little it is.

Here, David tells us that the evil ones in this world are like those balloon animals—hot air under pressure. They pop soon enough.

· We fret at their numbers; why is it that God allows so many in our world?

· We fret at their actions; why does he allow them to do such things?

· We fret at their mere existence; has it not occurred to the Almighty to slay them?

Worse, there is envy. Envy is the sin of the have-nots. We ask how it is that God could allow the evil to be so rich. We never think that God might have a right amount of wealth in store for us. The much of the evil may be their downfall.

They are the balloon animals in our lives. They look very colorful and complicated; we see them and envy their technique. But only a little child would want to play with them, for they are corruption to the pure.

What shall we do? Wait for the Lord; in his good time those balloons will pop. We fret because we do not believe he will act. But he will. In the meanwhile, stay where you are—assuming you are where the Lord wants you to be—and be faithful. He knows your needs; he hears your cry for justice.

Sometimes God acts through the authorities of this world; the criminal is brought to justice. Sometimes he works the matter through by his providence. It does not matter. What matters is that you are obedient to Him. Part of obedience is seeing things as they are, not as they appear to be. The cynic thinks that only cynical eyes see all; in fact, only faithful eyes can see all. The cynic sits in the caboose, looking backward. He sees no tunnel coming, but suddenly all is black. The faithful are with the Engineer, looking forward—and see his light shining at the end of that tunnel.

Lord, we see the evil rich and the righteous poor; teach us to know the balloons from the real thing.

July 12

Surely In Vain

Psalm 73

It seems like yesterday; but I remember only his face, not his name. He was arrogant, crude and rude. He was a man of violence, a wheeler-dealer, one who delighted in tormenting those who were not as evil as he (I was a favorite target.) The teachers admired him; other students wanted to be his friend. I was with him only in physical education, but that was the hour I dreaded. Often enough he would have some of his friends beat me up in the locker room; his hands, of course, never got dirty. If I complained, the coach told me I should stop provoking them.

Asaph—the author of this Psalm—must have known one of his ancestors, for this Psalm expresses very well the frustration that the honest man has when in the presence of the prosperous wicked. These things awaken old alarms in me:

· The temptation to be like them is very great; it pulls you to the edge of wickedness. You feel that if only you could be like them, you could get your revenge. And you want that revenge so much.

· You feel like all the effort you’ve put into being righteous, all the time of prayer, all the resistance to temptation—all are a fool’s errand. What did it get me?

· More than that, it causes you to question your entire view of the world. What is it that caused me to value righteousness in the first place? If the world is so constructed that the wicked are the ones who succeed, then shouldn’t I be one of the wicked? Maybe my sin was in not being more wicked than they are.

But Asaph also tells us the cure for this disease of envy. One must go to the place where vision is clear: the presence of the Lord. In his time, it was the Temple. It is no accident that he did not perceive the truth until he went to the Temple; it was only there that he could see clearly. Minute by minute living allows no time for us to think clearly on the great issues of life. So it is that we should set aside times of prayer, Scripture reading and meditation on the Word. To navigate on the narrow way, you must first have a clear field of vision.

Lord, so often we see the evil in front of us, pushing aside all right and wrong. So seldom do we see their downfall. In this, teach us to take refuge in you; there is no other place of safety.

July 13

Results of Envy

Genesis 26:14-16

It is a story that has been repeated many times. God is gracious and kind to one of his children – and the children of this world react in envy.

Envy is the sin of the have-nots against the haves. It is as old as Cain and Abel—and it has lost none of its sting over the years. See how Isaac is treated here—for the “sin” of being blessed by God:

· It is not sufficient to gnash their teeth at him—the Philistines try to take away his wealth. They don’t steal his animals; rather, they stop up the wells so that they will die of thirst. It is not that they have so little that they must steal; it is that Isaac has too much. The comparison gnaws at them.

· Envy is often accompanied by fear, as in this instance. Though Isaac had no evil intentions upon them, they could not imagine such a state of mind. If they had the bigger herds, they would certainly have shoved him out. So it is that they envy and fear him at the same time.

· Note that their desire is that Isaac leave them. As long as that guy Isaac is here, the comparison will be obvious. The solution is too: get rid of him. So the king tells him to leave.

It is also instructive to see how Isaac handled the situation:

· First, he did not attempt to argue with them. There would be little sense in it; but then, envy usually doesn’t make much sense in the cold light of logic.

· Rather than have such friction, he moved. It is often that way; the one who is offended must take the first steps at reconciliation, for example. Isaac was a man of peace, and he handled things in a peaceful way.

· Even when the provocation returns, Isaac simply tells his servants to dig out the wells. A patient shrug is often the best way to handle envy.

There are lessons in this for us. We too may be envied, even when we feel we have nothing to envy. Envy gnaws; we can at least soothe the pangs.

Lord, may we never experience the temptations of being envied; may we always be willing to reduce the pain of those who envy us.

July 14

Favorite Child

Genesis 37:11

Christmas can be a royal pain—for the parents. If you have three kids, spread three to four years apart in age, you soon learn what your parents learned: Christmas is an exercise in higher mathematics. Each child must get the same number of gifts. If one child gets something the other would like, get two—or even three. The size of the boxes should be such that everyone feels that there has been no favoritism (even if Mom always liked you best). All this is done to prevent envy and jealousy.

It appears that Isaac never really learned that lesson. This may come of having multiple wives and concubines, but the end result is that Joseph is a jerk. He has no hesitation in telling his older brothers that he will one day rule. The only evidence of that is his dreams, but that’s sufficient—to make him arrogant.

It’s hard to remember—when you’re one of the older brothers—that the kid’s attitude is not justification for what they did to him. But it brings up a point: envy is much harder to deal with when the object of that envy is a difficult human being. In short, sometimes the enviable, aren’t.

It is the nature of sin and sinner that we seek to justify our actions. Joseph’s big mouth served as justification for what started as murder. Long afterwards these same brothers would acknowledge that this was wrong, but in the passion of the moment it seemed a great way to settle scores. But we need to remember: an injustice done to us does not justify envy and jealousy. It’s still true: two wrongs have yet to make a right.

Often the big barrier to letting envy go is not the desire we have but the offense we’ve taken. Before we can deal with envy, we must deal first with forgiveness. It’s easy to forgive the forgivable ; if it weren’t, children would not survive to adulthood. It’s hard to forgive those whose character is less than charming. But it is necessary.

If you will not forgive, your anger will provide the justification for your envy and jealousy. Envy will rise again each time you rehearse your anger in mind. If you let it happen, the anger and envy will feed each other. They will feed each other, and you will be the main course.

Lord, forgiveness comes with such difficulty when the unjust are also the unlovable. Release us from our prison of anger, and teach us to see things through your eyes.

July 15

Mild Self Assurance

Numbers 11:27-29

Dorothy Sayers, an excellent writer on things Christian, also wrote detective stories. In one such work she described a vicar who had “that air of mild self-assurance which a consciousness of spiritual dignity bestows upon a naturally modest disposition.” It is a reassuring description; we expect the clergy to be modest, but with a dignity befitting a servant of the Lord.

Moses was such a man. The events leading up to this passage place it in context, but see Moses’ reaction to what most leaders would consider a major challenge: someone else doing their job, and doing it well. His character is revealed here:

· First, note please the humility of the man. He is not outraged that someone else is prophesying; rather, he would have everyone do it. His humility springs from knowing God—and knowing his own place with Him.

· Not that the man usually doesn’t boast—but like Paul, when he boasts, he boasts “in the Lord.” It is one thing to say God has done wonderful things for me; it is entirely different to say that I am therefore wonderful.

· See too the patience of the man. Over and again he must deal with this rebellious nation. We are told that if we lack patience, we should ask God. Like many a minister since, Moses must have done a lot of asking.

· One particularly marvelous things is this: Moses was not a complainer—at least towards men. If he had a complaint, he took it to God, not the nearest gossip.

· One reason he had this mild self-assurance was that there was neither deceit nor hypocrisy about the man. The best way to be sure that no one finds skeletons in your closet—is to clean out the closet.

· Most important of all: it is not his will, but God’s will, that he must do. Like John the Baptist, he was willing to diminish if God thereby increased.

Many of us offer ourselves to God “as is” - with no intention of changing. Men like Moses offer themselves to God “as will be.” God can always use another man like that.

Lord, may we learn by example. It is not wise to admire a great Christian unless we are willing to follow such an example.

July 16

No Way Out?

1 Samuel 18:8

We should best begin with a bit of history. Saul, the king, is mad at David—for doing what Saul ordered him to do. David’s mistake is in doing all things well. Saul is not fitted to be king for his lack of obedience, so God has Samuel, the prophet, anoint another man. For the next seven and a half years there is intermittent conflict between the two. This verse shows us most clearly the trap in which Saul finds himself:

· David is a commander of troops for King Saul. Saul tells him to go out and slay the king’s enemies—which David proceeds to do, at a prodigious rate. Even though Samuel has anointed him king, David scrupulously refrains from attacking Saul.

· But Saul, seeing the accomplishments of David, and knowing how the people see them, goes into a rage. Envy can be sly; but it can also be violent. The rage of violence now invades Saul.

· One characteristic of such a rage is that it blinds us to the truth. David has not challenged Saul, nor will he. Saul does not see that. His rage redefines the facts.

· As often happens, this fact-altering rage is counterproductive. It deprives Saul of his best commander; it turns Saul into a man obsessed—and in the long run does him no good.

If we could present this to Saul, he might argue, “There’s no way out.” We often feel that way when rage hits, but is it true? Is there no way out?

There is; look at Saul’s son Jonathan. He recognized David as the Lord’s choice for king, and promised to serve under him. We know the proverbial friendship of David and Jonathan.

Jonathan’s method deserves our attention. He had every reason to be jealous of David; were it not for him, Jonathan is the next king. But see instead what he does:

· He scrupulously defends the right. David is innocent, and Jonathan knows it—and is not afraid to say so.

· He deals with David in God’s way—in love. The friendship formed ends all possible evil between them.

Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Lord, the history in the Old Testament is given to us—so that we might not repeat the mistakes shown. Grant us wisdom in this.

July 17


Esther 5:13

A glance at the verses before this one will reveal Haman’s problem: he is not content with what he has. By the standards of the time he is very well off—but it’s not enough to provide contentment.

· Contentment is not found in power. You may have great power, but you will never have absolute power. Contentment will not come until the desire for more power goes.

· Contentment is not found in prestige. Haman here is bragging to his friends and family about all he has. This is the litany of a proud man—he has so much and yet there is one bit of prestige still outside his grasp. As long as that one bit remains, he will not find contentment in prestige.

· Contentment is not found in social position. We often think that it will; all we need to do is to move up a little in the world, and all “those people” will think well of us. Even at the top of society, it is not so.

· Contentment is not found in wealth. There are many things money can buy; contentment is not one of them. You might as well try to buy a small child’s love. A pre-school child’s love is earned, not bought.

Despite all this—for there is nothing new in it—we continue to think in our hearts, “I would be content if only…” Life would be perfect—or would it?

Life here is never perfect; it’s a fallen world. Indeed, God uses men like Mordecai for his purposes in your life.

· Your Mordecai teaches you humility. If you think you’re too wonderful, Mordecai will pop the balloon of your ego.

· Your Mordecai teaches you to measure yourself in terms of your service, not your pocketbook. Mother Teresa was vowed to poverty.

· Your Mordecai teaches you to rid yourself of envy. For that you should thank him greatly.

So then, look at your rival and irritant not as an overgrown mosquito but as the instrument God uses in shaping you for his purposes in the kingdom. Then thank Him for your Mordecai.

Lord, so often we see our rivalries in this world only. By your grace, help us see the eternal consequences of our own Mordecai.

July 18

Envied in the Lion’s Den

Daniel 6:3-5

The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is a favorite in childhood. Children, it seems, understand instinctively what it’s like to have mean people around—which doesn’t say much for the human race. Lost amidst the lions is the fact that this is a primer on the world’s way of envy.

The inherent lack of logic in envy is shown here:

· His opponents admire his faith. They know it is strong; they know it is important to Daniel. They also understand that this prevents them from digging up the usual dirt, for the man is honest as well as faithful.

· Despite that admiration, they consider his faith a weakness. That is a consistent interpretation; how often have you been accused of having religion as a crutch?

The world envies a sound faith—and considers it a weakness. It shows the logical minds we’re dealing with.

The method used by Daniel’s enemies hasn’t changed much either. They start by looking for something about his faith; they end by inventing it. In our own time we might see this as a “homosexual loyalty oath.” After all, it is politically correct. Then you simply wait for things to happen.

Of course, this method assumes that God doesn’t really exist; or that Daniel’s relationship with him is one way. After all, this guy with the crazy religion of only one God can’t be right, can he?

Not only is God real, He acts. He takes something evil, as this is, and turns it into a greater good. In this instance, the greater good seems to be the devouring of corrupt officials, a method which does have its appeal even in our day.

If you will glance ahead (best in the New American Standard or the King James) you will see the secret of Daniel’s faith. Darius himself refers to God as “the God you constantly serve.” It seems that consistent, continuous service to God is the secret to the great faith this man had. Decree or no decree, his prayers were made at the same times each day. The worker whose habits put him in contact with God regularly, seeking instruction and command, is greatly esteemed by God. For such a man’s sake, even the lions may be tamed.

Lord, we cannot all be great in your kingdom—but can imitate those who are, by consistent, daily prayer.

July 19

Envy in the Body Politic

Mark 15:9-10

It is often asserted that religion has no place in politics in America. Perhaps so; but sin certainly occupies a prominent position. One such sin is envy.

Consider our practical example, Pontius Pilate:

· By all known accounts, he was considered an able administrator, if a bit harsh with the sword.

· His harshness might be explained by the fact that the Jews were notorious for rebelling against Roman authority.’

· Indeed, at the beginning of this affair involving the King of the Jews he had been inclined to be merciful. But it got risky.

The great test of a politician is his ability to manipulate events to obtain a desired result. Pilate knew the power of envy, and he knew how to use it. Before this affair is over, he will have the Jewish leadership shouting out, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Envy—the sin of the have-nots against the haves, and also one of the most useful of sins in political life. It is a practical weapon for politicians in a democracy. By a coordinated appeal to envy and greed whole groups of people can be persuaded that their viewpoint is not self-serving but righteous. You think not? See if these arguments are familiar:

· “Why should the rich pay only thus-and-such percent tax? Why shouldn’t we raise taxes on the rich?” Put more simply, why should anyone be better off than me?

· “How come minorities get a break from the government? I don’t get one; I have to work for what I get.” Put more simply, why should anyone be better off than me?

Politicians know that firing up the emotions moves voters and wins elections. Money being the mother’s milk of politics, they are quite content to take a rich man’s money and then use it to stir the anger of the not-so-rich. It may be argued that this is hypocrisy on their part; but it could not be done without our succumbing so quickly to envy.

Democracy, our founding fathers said, cannot exist unless the people are a moral and righteous people. It remains to be seen how long democracy will survive the twin assaults of money and envy.

Lord, we are so inclined to political rhetoric that we fail to examine its call. Teach us to bring politics into the light of Scripture.

July 20

My Favorite Team

Proverbs 24:17-20

She is Margaret to her mother; Michelle to her boyfriends and Maggie to her friends—and she is quite a character. Nothing is ever trivial to her. For example, her ex-husband was a graduate of USC. After the bitter divorce, Maggie (a Stanford graduate) let the world know she had two favorite teams: Stanford, of course, and whoever was playing USC. This once went so far as to have her sitting in the Coliseum with the only Oklahoma fan within 500 yards, learning the words to “Boomer Sooner”. They probably would have lynched him alone, but Maggie is too sexy for that.

Football rivalries are one thing; vengeance on your enemies is another. Vengeance belongs specifically to God. One reason he reserves it from us is this: in our envy, how could we be just? How could we resist the temptation to strut over our fallen enemy?

Of course, we would argue that they deserve it. Perhaps so, but who would you rather have delivering justice: you—or God? If you are his child, he will avenge you; he will repay:

· In perfect justice—which you can’t.

· In perfect timing—which you can’t.

· In perfect power—which you can’t.

Indeed, he has so claimed vengeance that even rejoicing when our enemy falls is prohibited. Why? Because God does not want to reward you for such a thing—and therefore may decide to delay or forego his vengeance so that you will learn.

What, after all, is an enemy?

· An enemy is one for whom Christ died. Would you have your petty vengeance prevent his salvation?

· An enemy is one who is in God’s power—whether he knows it or not. Will not God use that power to bless those who love Him?

· An enemy is one who will remain an enemy as long as we repay evil with evil—but may become a friend if we repay evil with good.

So, do not even rejoice in your enemy’s failures. Rather, take him to God in prayer; see how your God handles such things.

Lord, it is so hard to restrain ourselves from celebrating our enemy’s failure. Teach us to see them with your eyes—eyes that see one for whom you died.

July 21

Beasts That Perish

Psalm 49:16-20

It happens that my house is directly across the street from a law school. The law school is well attended, for the students in that school did not go there simply to pass the time. They went there to become lawyers—and by and large the lawyers of our society are both feared and envied.

One curious phenomenon will illustrate this. In the neighborhood are a large state university and a magnet high school. “No parking” signs line the streets, but are sometimes ignored. When ticketed, high school students generally laugh; college students get a wallet worried look—and law students are outraged.

Envy and fear are two reactions often found together. The rich, in my observation, often find both of them pleasing. It is very pleasant to have people anxious to please you; it is also pleasant to know that they fear you. Indeed, you can sometimes acquire this feeling second hand—as I do when I say, “My son the lawyer…” (The fact that he’s on the other coast and wouldn’t dream of filing suit on my behalf is, perhaps, best left unsaid.)

But do we do well to have this reaction? Respect for those to whom it is due is one thing; envy and fear another. We are the children of God. He is still sovereign. Indeed, we are commanded to pray for those in authority over us, to intercede for them. The weak do not intercede for the strong, do they?

There is more than that. Often enough those who enjoy the world’s fear and envy are those who live for this world only. Such a person is neither to be feared nor envied, but pitied.

There is a certain sadness about those who have no understanding of ultimate things. They live their lives to satisfy the cravings of this world; the Psalmist rightly compares them to animals. They seem so tall in their own eyes; but they are small in the eyes of God. His vision is the one that will prevail. We should see such people as they really are: desperately needy.

We should notice, however, that this is not a label that we can hang on anyone with a lot of money. God in his good pleasure has seen fit to make my son the lawyer much richer in money than he has seen fit for dear old dad. The Scripture is clear about this; the rich of this world are to be generous in their giving. The problem comes when your money masters you.

Lord, for those who are rich, keep us mindful of the transience of wealth. For those who aren’t, keep us from envy and fear.

July 22


Psalm 112:5-10

By the standards of the church congregation in which we serve, my wife and I are certainly not rich. But we are not poor either; and one man’s income might be another man’s dreams. So it is that over the years we have been able to lend to various people who had a need. Sometimes the loan is repaid; sometimes it is not. This sounds as if we can’t tell a good loan risk from a bad (which just might be true). Actually, we are following the example set by the ancient Israelites:

· They were commanded by the law to lend freely.

· Often enough, the loan turned out to be a gift. Every seven years, all debts were forgiven. Of course, there are always those who cannot repay.

· But the commandment of God is to lend generously—lest the cry of the poor reach his ears, and it be sin to you.

Here, in this Psalm, we see the reward for a rich man who lends graciously and generously. It is not so much reward for lending as the results of such character who will obey God in this.

· He will never be shaken; always remembered by God. Why? Because he does not trust in his money, but in the Solid Rock.

· He will not fear evil tidings. Why? Because he knows that the Lord God looks out for him; no evil will come from which God will not make a greater good.

· His “horn will be exalted” - he will have honor and favor from others. A rich man who is generous will not lack for that.

· Most important: he will maintain his cause in judgment.

That last is important to us, for Americans are the wealthiest people on the planet. When the Judgment Day comes, what will we say of our wealth? If we have been gracious and generous, those who have benefited will be there as our witnesses.

There is the difference. The wicked who hold on to every penny (in the name of thrift, of course) will see—too late—that the generous are also the wise. Their envy will flame, but too late. Money makes you wealthy; what you do with it makes you rich or poor.

Lord, so often we think we have so little. Teach us to share that little with those in need, graciously and generously.

July 23

Fear God, Dread Naught

Proverbs 23:17

Dwight Eisenhower tells a story from his youth. It seems that his father, like many before and since, ordered his son not to fight. Perhaps Dad understood just how aggressive a fighter he had. So it happened one day that Dad came out into the front yard, there seeing a smaller child chasing his son around. Dad, forgetting his instructions, asked Ike why he was running from this kid. Ike rather bluntly reminded his father of his instructions, ending with the statement that Ike was a lot more scared of Dad than any kid.

Ike’s Dad saw the problem. He told Ike to chase that kid out of the yard. Ike promptly did so.

There’s a lesson in there for us. So often we look around in our world and see the prosperous evil and we are struck with envy; why couldn’t I be like that. When such a complaint arises we often hear someone tell us to be pious and wait upon the Lord. There is a much more direct approach, however.

The fear of the Lord—the beginning of wisdom, said Solomon. We can see this in both negative and positive ways.

· The negative is simply this: you have a choice. Do you give your awe and admiration to those who are limited to killing you—or to the One who can kill you and then send you to hell? It’s not a pleasant choice—but a very real one.

· The positive side is a bit more difficult to see. It’s easy to see the wicked strut, especially in times like these. God appears to us in such times to be inert, harmless. But so does a loaded gun. If you know where the trigger is, things are different.

One Prime Minister of Canada compared his trade relations with the United States to sleeping back to back with an elephant. It’s a nice warm spot—unless the elephant decides to roll over.

That’s us. We’re back to back with God, and therefore we feel him but see the wicked. Do not envy anyone, least of all such people. They look powerful now; so did Hitler.

It is an instructive exercise: look at those evil people who have so much money, the adulation of the world, and a smiling arrogance with which to tell you that Christians are fools. But wait; we have seen these people before. God has yet to balance his books; the judgment day will come. Then who will be wise?

Lord, envy is so easy; fearing you is so easily distracted. Help us to keep our minds on the truth, not the appearances.

July 24

Karate Lessons

Proverbs 24:1-2

The name Jackie Chan may not be familiar to older readers. Mr. Chan is an actor, starring in karate pictures. Most of these are low budget, high action films; the audience for these things is not usually looking for Shakespeare.

Mr. Chan has made it his habit to perform an important public service at the end of each film. As the credits are rolling, no one leaves the theater. Behind the credits are Chan’s outtakes and behind the scenes sequences. He shows you the broken bones, how missing the boat lands you in the bay, and other (usually) humorous items. But there is a serious purpose: he hopes to prevent youngsters from blindly imitating the scenes done by professionals.

It is an important point. The young will have their heroes. The first rule of hero-worship is simply: make sure they really are heroes. In our films this is often hard to do; sometimes the only real heroes are in the special effects department.

For if your heroes are indeed evil men, the desire to be like them is the desire to be as evil as they are. It is a twisted form of envy, for it is envy and betrayal. We say to ourselves, “The bullies are mean, violent, unkind and evil. How quickly can I become like them?” The fact that being like them seems an improvement in your life does not justify your betrayal of your own values.

It is equally true that you do not need to match these evil ones in physical ability. You can just join the gang, and hang out with them. This is easy to understand, and hard to resist. In high school I was a prize target for the violent—until I made friends with the school’s two shot-putters. But the longing to belong and to feel safe is a terrific pressure.

The book of Proverbs was written as advice to the young. In a young mind, the dreams of violence may be very attractive. Older heads may know the vanity of such dreams. Older heads know that the thought is father to the action. What you dream of, you may become.

Likewise, the tongue often commits the rest of the body. An ill considered word, and someone pays. Usually, everyone pays. So the writer tells us, do not envy; do not associate.

Young ones: beware the sin of betrayal by envy.

Lord, our emotions rise quickly while diligent thought is slow. Teach us early to think before we speak or act.

July 25

The Jealous God

Song of Solomon 8:6

Jealousy and envy are not always interchangeable. Indeed, in marriage they are quite separate.

Dick Armey said it best. When asked what he would do in Bill Clinton’s position (during the Monica Lewinsky scandal) he replied, “If I were in Bill Clinton’s position, I’d be looking up from a pool of my own blood, listening to my wife asking me, ‘How do I reload this thing?’”

Evidently Mrs. Armey is the old-fashioned type. She apparently has ignored all the modern psychology written to prove that adultery actually enhances your marriage. I’m married to a woman like that myself. Her husband is rather old-fashioned about this too. But the church today is not. Adultery, divorce, fornication—these are topics which seldom are heard in the classroom or the pulpit. The stern doctrines of marriage as seen in the Scripture do not seem particularly convenient these days.

One must wonder: does God see it that way? Over and again He proclaims himself to be “the jealous God.” His relationship with his people is frequently compared to marriage—and God often has the role of angry husband. Read the book of Hosea. How do you suppose He sees the church today—the church which holds Christ as authority to about the same degree they accord that responsibility to husbands?

The First Laodicean Church is clear; feminist view of marriage, good; jealous husband, bad. The wife’s submission to the husband is merely a cultural leftover from the first century church. Read Galatians 5:21-23. The first verse is authoritative, the second and third simply cultural. Or so we say.

What we have not realized is that our view of marriage is intrinsically tied to our view of Christ and his church—often described as the bride of Christ. We have thrown out the husband’s authority—and with that, we no longer recognize the authority of Christ.

This might go well if the matter was really one in which we have a choice. But remember: God introduced himself as the jealous God. Just because we’ve gotten liberated from his old-fashioned views doesn’t mean that He has changed.

My wife has a jealous husband. My church has a jealous God. There just might be a connection there.

Lord, send upon us the spirit of revival in our land. Do not hold back, but sweep through us in the spirit of repentance.

July 26

Marching Orders

Galatians 5:25-26

What does it mean, to live in the Spirit?

· It means that we have a share in eternal life, from the very nature of God.

· It means that we are free from the bondage of sin; we are no longer tied to it.

· It means that, like Christ, we are heirs of the Resurrection, a fact which will be made known at his return.

“Yeah, but what effect does it have on my daily life?”

That depends upon you. You decide just what effect it has. You can accept and embrace the Spirit, following his will more and more closely; or you can reject the Spirit, doing as you please. The former course is known today as “walking the talk.” The latter still goes by the name of hypocrisy.

The word Paul uses here for “walk” is an unusual one. It does not mean stroll, amble or wander; it means to walk in a line—to march, as veterans know. You might think that getting a body of men to march together would be relatively simple. It is not—at least when I’m in it. The drill sergeant eventually solved the problem in our platoon by placing me in the middle—where I had a platoon full of examples to follow.

The analogy still holds today. If you’re going to walk the talk, you’re going to have to be in step with the church. When the church works together as one, there is no room for personal vainglory and the envy that attacks it. So we can use this idea as a test for how we are doing. Specifically:

· Are you boastful about your work for the church? You may not think this a problem; after all, you won, right? The church is not a competition.

· Are you envious of others in the church—because you lost?

· Are you anxious for a rematch?

Any of these tell you one thing: you’re not marching in step with the Spirit. You are the one who is out of step—and worse yet, stepping on others as well.

Lord, even we know that teamwork is needed to win victory. Build us together as your team.

July 27

Grudge Not

James 5:9

The active verb in this verse can be translated in a number of ways. The King James gives us “grudge not” while others use words like complain, moan, grumble. This is not the language of open complaint but of backstage moans and groans. It’s a tough thing to get rid of, in a church—every time you step on it, somehow it slithers off to somewhere else.

Why do people do this?

· There are some of us who are deeply offended at the fact that there are other people in this world who have more than we do—whether the more be money, or talent, or good looks, or the advantage of social position. The truth is simple: the world is not homogenous. Some people have advantages and others don’t. To mumble and groan because someone else has these things does nothing for you and harms the church.

· Then there are those who are constantly offended by what people do. In their view, the world is composed of about six billion idiots and one very frustrated, competent human being. It doesn’t matter to them how much you tried; they’ve got to get on with the complaint. This chorus of critics is ever with us (which may explain why we so seldom pay them heed).

· Some are just plain sour. “Nothing but perfection” is their motto, and frequently disappointed they are. Of course, they consider their words to be constructive criticism; or they would be, should the critic ever bring the subject up first hand. All their complaints are issued to those who can do nothing but spread the gossip.

It is not hard to see the pride and envy in such people; it’s easy to see that they are being judgmental. Easy, that is, for everyone but them. They don’t see judgment, they see themselves expressing their opinions which, in their view, are very weighty. But Christ sees this as judgment, and warns us not to do this. Judgment belongs to him; we are to build up and hold up the unity of the church. So James tells us that He is standing at the door. If you knew that your moaning and groaning would be heard by Jesus Christ, would it change your words at all? He listens to such things; what should he hear from you?

Lord, it is so easy to criticize—especially when we know it will have no effect. Teach us to mind our tongues.

July 28

Feminism, 1500 B.C.

Genesis 16:1-6

Looking backwards in time sometimes puts us in situations which today could not happen, at least in our culture. So we need to begin this by explaining a few things first.

A woman’s prestige and stature at this time was largely shaped by her success in bearing children—especially sons. It was assumed (quite wrongly) that women somehow determined the sex of the infant. A woman who bore many sons had great prestige; one who bore only daughters, much less. One who bore no children was at the bottom of the female social structure.

In such circumstances, a wife had the option of presenting children to her lord and master (hereafter, husband) through the agency of one of her female slaves. If she gave her husband permission to have sex with her, any child so obtained was to be credited to the slave owner, not the slave. This is not a method that is going to stand up to much stress; polygamy, it seems, has its own drawbacks.

Pity poor Abe. His wife can have no children. She offers the service of her slave girl. Abe hears her complaint, has sex with Hagar, and nine months later Sarai blames him for the trouble. What is Abe to do? Pass the buck—right back to Sarai.

You see the chain: Hagar now despises Sarai; Sarai beats Hagar; Hagar runs away. It’s a marvelous example of envy. Hagar envies Sarai’s freedom and status with Abe; Sarai envies Hagar’s ability to have children.

We could suppose that this is just the result of a rather kinky Biblical affair. But in this note one thing: it is entirely possible for both people in an argument to envy each other. It’s possible that the entire argument can be centered on envy, each for the other. Satan laughs at such, for it can be (as here) a spiral of mutual envy, growing and growing in hatred.

God soon intervenes in this so that his plans will be accomplished. But in the usual case we don’t get voices from heaven. So it is necessary that we examine ourselves in this—and examine others. Is there someone with whom you have a longstanding argument, full of bitterness, which is fed by your mutual envy? Then break the spiral; ask the Lord for strength to overcome the envy. Who knows? There may be a friend on the other side.

Lord, we are the ambassadors of reconciliation—help us to put this into practice as well as preaching.

July 29

Railroad Envy

Matthew 20:15

The year was 1959. My dad was in the army; money was tight. Our government is not in the habit of overpaying soldiers. My mother dragged us along shopping one day (one car family). In the process, she rather dutifully entered all three of her children into a drawing. The prize was a toy railroad set; engine, cars and track.

Some people have the ability to win such things. Statisticians will tell you the process is random; it is never random when my sister is around. She can win anything—by chance. She won the railroad set.

Now, she had neither use nor desire for the railroad set—until it became clear to her that her brothers would love to play with it. Then it became a weapon to tease them with. Envy can be created with as little a thing as that. My mother explained in vain that she won it; we were still green-eyed.

God has a similar problem, given in this parable. Why is it that God selects certain individuals for a life that is rich, full and leads to heaven, while others scratch their way through the day? Surely he could have made a world in which everyone got the same starting point! Why should you have so much?

The answer tells us much of the character of God—and not a little of what we have forgotten. We are the recipients of grace; God has chosen to show us his unmerited favor. He also chooses to grant grace to those whose lives are not exactly examples of Christian living. We both get the same thing.

The attitude sometimes spills over into the church. How is it that we let just any sinner in? How does it look to have such a wicked sinner in our midst? We need to remember that Adam was formed from the dust of the ground—which, when properly mixed with water makes us clay. Clay to be molded as the Master would have it, for his purposes, not our own.

It is a curious thing. We have presumed upon God’s grace to such an extent that we think we can take offense at his generosity. We think we’re complaining about something we’ve earned and “they” haven’t. Actually, we are ignoring the glory of God as shown in his mercy to all who will come. Therefore, do not let envy rule in your heart; remember, you’re a sinner too.

Lord, so often we think we know what you must do. Teach us instead to care for what we must do.

July 30

Victimless Sin?

James 4:1-3

One of the stranger ideas of our time is the existence of the “victimless crime.” We are told that prostitution is a victimless crime, for example, and therefore should be legalized. The devastation it wreaks on marriage no longer is important, as our society now equates marriage with slavery. Drug use is another one. When what is evil is honored among men, how the wicked strut!

There is a sense among Christians that the sin of envy is not really a serious matter—for, after all, there is no victim. Perhaps we can list the victims and determine the impact:

· The first victim is yourself. Envy twists in your mind, upsetting all kinds of things. You become more and more twisted as you allow envy—the lust after things, the lust after someone else’s accomplishments—to have its way with you. Can you honestly say it improves you?

· The next victims are those you quarrel with. Perhaps you don’t see it this way, but at the very least you are an annoyance to them. As James points out, however, it can come to a case of murder.

· The third victim is the church. We are called to be one body in Christ, having in common one spirit, the Holy Spirit. If you left hand doesn’t like your right elbow, is that good? Or do you see a doctor to get it fixed?

· The fourth set of victims are those who see the church. There are people in your life who know that you are a Christian. They’ve been told that Christians are weird and evil people. They’re watching you to see if it’s true.

· Another victim is your prayer life. Have you noticed that God does not seem to hear your prayers? Perhaps you’re asking him to rob your brother to give to you—would he do that?

· Indeed, the greatest victim is Jesus Christ. Don’t you know that it was his suffering that sets us free from sin? Will you now go backwards and insult that suffering? Insult that love?

Lawyers may define a crime as victimless; politicians may embrace legalizing it. They live in a fantasyland; they could define a pig to be a horse. The church lives in the real world.

Open our eyes, Lord, to the damage we do when we envy our Christian brothers and sisters.

July 31

Justice and Mercy

Luke 15:25-32

There is no denying it: sometimes people just don’t get what they deserve.

There is also no denying this: when they get worse than they deserve, we may sympathize—but when they get better than they deserve, we turn bright green with envy.

This is so much the case that each of us understands the feelings of the older brother in this master parable, the Prodigal Son. In his mind, the treatment given his younger brother is completely unjustified. It is not fair. You can see the argument; the older brother has the rewards of obedience—very predictable, no luck involved. He looks at his kid brother and sees the party life he’s led—a life that, by its nature, is denied the obedient. His view is selective; he does not choose to see the starvation and shame. Of course, he didn’t get to hear his brother’s little speech to dad, either. When envy sets in, we see everyone else through rose colored glasses.

Hard work is hard work. Obedience, especially to dad (I have two sons, you know) is not always easy. So it is particularly grating to see (as the older brother would see it) disobedience, laziness and immoral living rewarded. For that is what he sees: his younger brother, after squandering his dad’s money, finally sees the light and comes home to a tremendous welcome. And nobody even bothered to go out and tell the older brother.

It’s not fair. That is a fact, explain the rest as you will. Life is not fair, and this is not fair. The younger brother himself clearly understood what would be fair: for dad to treat him like one of the hired servants.

Isn’t it interesting: the older brother envies the younger one. What’s the younger one done to deserve this? Nothing, really. He came home ready to be at the bottom of the hog pit if they’d let him. He does, in fact, acknowledge that his brother is right: it’s not fair. This is not justice.

But can a Christian ever expect justice? We are commanded always to give it, but no where does it say we should expect it. Indeed, we are taught that we will see persecution in this world. But we also know that love and mercy are ours. Love and mercy are not fair, not just—but mercy triumphs over judgment. That is God’s way with us; it should be our way with each other.

Lord, we often envy the good fortune of others—even when that good fortune is to have you as Lord and Savior.

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