Welcome to Becomning Closer! 



June 1


Luke 10:38-42


Recently I had the privilege of having my three year old nephew, James, out for a visit.  As part of the day's plan, his mother and I walked with him across the campus of the university near by.  It's a walk of less than ten minutes, even at a lazy pace.

With a three year old, it's an hour long expedition.  All the artwork on display had to be examined carefully (including the twelve foot tall ice cream cone).  Every bug was personally noticed;  a variety of walking sticks were found and used (he was allowed only one at a time).  Now, if my purpose were to transport the child across the campus, I would have done better carrying him.  But my purpose was to spend time with him, so the twists and turns were seen as opportunity, not waste.

Mary, in this passage, reminds me of James.  She has picked out the one important thing to do:  sit at the Master's feet.  Think out what that means:

·         It means that she is listening to Jesus, accepting the truth he is pouring out to her.

·         It means that she is obedient to Jesus, accepting him as Lord.

·         Perhaps most of all, she is trusting Jesus.

All this may be summed up in a word which has fallen out of favor among some Christians:  discipleship.  We see it by its primary characteristic—the love Christians have for each other.  That love is expressed in many ways;  service is but one way.  Another is shown here:  Jesus rebukes Martha gently.  In all things, hold Jesus first—for an intense devotion to Jesus is the ground in which fellowship grows.

Martha, here, is concerned for the things of this world.  Mary is concerned only with the Master.  She has chosen the eternal over the temporal.  Permit me the modern version:  would you turn a hungry beggar away from your door—because you had already finished cleaning up for the night?  The dishes are temporal;  feeding the hungry is the command and example of your Master.

Christ tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part—and it will not be taken away from her.  She has chosen the eternal over the temporal, the things of God over the things of this world.  We have the same choice yet today.


Lord, let our kitchens be filled with dirty dishes from feeding those in need;  our homes a refuge for the troubled; our comings and goings at your use;  make us disciples indeed.


June 2

Good News

Luke 4:14-21


The audience in the synagogue probably does not know this, but Jesus is coming off a great triumph.  Satan has just finished the temptation in the wilderness;  Jesus, exultant, announces the spirit and intent of his ministry in the words of Isaiah, who saw his coming so long before.  It is significant that the Spirit has anointed him, for "Anointed One" is the meaning of the Hebrew Messiah and the Greek Christ.  Our Lord announced his ministry;  we can still learn much from it today.

To preach the good news to the poor.  We sometimes forget that the word "gospel" means "good news."  No doubt Jesus intended this for the poor in spirit, but we can use the same analogy.  What is it that the poor of our world want?  Someone with money to help them out, of course.  What to the spiritually poor want?  Someone who has God's favor to help them out.  Jesus tells them that such a man is near—indeed, speaking.

To proclaim freedom for the prisoners.  There is nothing more dear to a prisoner than freedom.  But prisons come in all shapes and sizes, many of our own design.

·         There are those who are prisoners of hate.  Jesus can defeat that hate and bring in the new heart full of love.

·         There are those who are prisoners "of the weeds" - if you remember our Lord's parable about the sower and the seed.  Those who kept captive by their credit cards and mortgage payments—these too he came to free.

·         There are also prisoners of their own doing.  Often through pride, we build the walls of our prisons.  We will not forgive someone; the wall grows thicker.  But this barrier melts in the love of Christ.

Recovery of sight for the blind.  In our day we think matters are different.  But it is not so;  it is still a marvel that Christ proclaims recovery even for the hypocrite—if he will believe.

To release the oppressed.  The oppressed?  Indeed so.  In church Sunday morning, you see all the happy faces.  Some of those are faces of those who are oppressed by family circumstances.  Some are hiding a drug habit—which is very much oppression. 

But rejoice!  The year of the Lord's favor is at hand.  True then, and coming closer to us every day.


Lord, we do not know the time of your return—but we know its certainty.  Loosen our chains and give us sight to serve you.


June 3

Debits and Credits

Romans 4:1-8


One of the strangest things that can happen in your checkbook is a mistake by the bank—in your favor.  I had a bank like that once;  for several months running, no matter how diligently I applied myself to the checkbook mathematics, I would be consistently off.  The error was always in my favor;  it was always a small amount, usually less than five dollars, but never less than a dollar.  This happy circumstance continued for about a year and a half—until the bank went broke and was sold to another firm whose computer, it seems, had a better sense of arithmetic.

The situation seemed strange to me.  I kept track of the differences, thinking that some day they'd get it right and deduct all that they had paid out.  But there are people for whom such a phenomenon would seem perfectly normal.  These are usually the kind who are convinced they can't be overdrawn because there are still checks left in the checkbook.

Paul describes God's relationship with us in a similar manner.  No matter how much I try, I cannot do enough to repay God.  But Paul shows us, by example from the Old Testament, that God handled his affairs with Abraham in much the same manner.  The perfect righteousness that is required by God could not be attained by anyone, even one so great as Abraham.  So God accepted instead something that Abraham had plenty of:  faith.  That faith appeared in God's books as righteousness for Abraham.

We understand the principle today.  It is by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross that we are credited with righteousness—and through the same mechanism, faith.  This is elementary.

But Paul, writing to an audience knowledgeable in the Old Testament, has pointed out something—by omitting it.  His audience would know this passage;  they would mentally add in the completion, "and in whose spirit there is no deceit."  The warning would be clear to them;  the hypocrite who employs faith as if it were a charm on a bracelet is deceiving only himself.  The omission would make the point.

We no longer memorize Scripture;  such techniques are opaque to us.  The principle, however, remains the same.  The cynic who supposes God will forgive ("it's his hobby") and the hypocrite going through the motions will be credited with nothing.  Perhaps, therefore, it is time we checked up on our credits.


Lord, keep us from the poison of cynicism and the pollution of hypocrisy.  Keep us from deceit—even self-deceit.


June 4

Body and Blood

1 Corinthians 10:16-17


For the past 1500 years or so, virtually no Christian has faced the temptations described in this chapter.  We are so unfamiliar with idols that many Christians, on vacation in the Far East, bring back souvenir Buddhas—usually the fat, happy kind—not knowing that the purpose of such things is indeed the idol worship which so troubled the Corinthians.  Being tempted to worship an idol is just not something a typical American Christian has to deal with.

So Paul's argument here sounds rather strange and stilted;  remember, he was writing to people for whom idol worship was indeed very real.  We must, therefore, extract from it the great truths it contains without going into the problem of idol worship.

We must also remember that Paul (and his readers) had no concept of bacteria, or hygiene as we know it.  When the Lord's Supper was celebrated, a common communion cup was used.  Every person in the church drank from the same cup of wine.  Each of them could see his own participation in the common cup;  the only leap of faith required was to see it as Christ's blood.  Similarly, one loaf of bread was used, being parceled out to the whole congregation.  Again, it was relatively easy to see the body of Christ in this.

So you can imagine the fuss that would be made if someone who was not a Christian participated in the same cup and loaf.  It would be a sacrilege, because the non-believer was not part of the body of Christ (that is, the church).  How much greater, then, would be the sense of horror if a Christian went out and participated in a similar feast at an idol's temple! 

We may extract something from this.  The cup and the loaf we use each Sunday is more than a memorial to the sacrifice of Christ.  It is something which binds the church together.  Each such memorial is a "participation" (as Paul has it here) in Christ.  In a deep, symbolic sense, we eat the same meal and therefore we become the same body—the body of Christ, the church.

So then, when you take the communion offered each Sunday, should you not know the horror of taking this participation lightly?  We are specifically warned about it.  It is because this ceremonial meal is the one that binds us together that we must take it with all seriousness, confession and repentance.  Do not take lightly that which was bought at the Cross by the body and blood of Christ.


Lord, do not let our minds become dulled by frequent repetition; nor our hearts hardened, but keep the ever-living One before us.


June 5

Ghost Story

Romans 8:5-22


If you are old enough, you will remember a time when music in the church required a thunderous organ, loud voices and little else.  A song you would know, Old Hundredth, ended with "Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost." 

Ghost?  As in, apparition like a white sheet?  Yes.  Precisely.  A ghost is simply a spirit without a body.  We encounter such things, indirectly, every day.  People walking around have their spirit within them.  Paul teaches us something about such spirits in this passage:   they live by what their mind is set on.

Now, this is almost a palindrome.  How you live shows the world just what your mind is set on.  But living in the world's way also sets your mind.  Similarly, those set on the things of God live as a child of God.  What you must see is that the mind becomes more set the longer you have lived in a particular way.  This may seem only a matter of habit—but it is actually a matter of heaven or hell.  What you set your mind on determines how you live.  Persist in setting your mind on the things of this world, and you are headed for hell.

The penalty for allowing free will is the existence of hell.  By the way we set our minds we determine which spirit will dominate us—our own, with its earthly desires, or the Holy Spirit.  Those headed to hell are all volunteers.

In the process, we have an indicator—a series of milestones along the way.  Those milestones are the good work that we do.  If our minds are set on the things of God, such works come naturally.  We cannot earn salvation, but we can live in such a way as to please God.

How, then, can we do this?  By obedience.  By our obedience we please God;  pleasing Him, the Holy Spirit becomes more welcome.  As the will of God prevails in our lives, the Holy Spirit grows stronger in us.

This will one day have a great effect.  The spirit is designed to exist in a body.  A ghost is nothing other than a disembodied spirit.  Our bodies, being of this world, are mortal;  we die.  Our spirits are eternal;  we will be present with the Lord.  But some day—Lord, make it soon—our Lord will return.  With him will come all those spirits who have put their trust in Him, to be clothed in the new body.  A glorious day, even for ghosts.


Lord, keep us mindful that our spirits are eternal, meant for your companionship.  Let us walk in obedience to you.


June 6

White Dresses

Acts 11:23-32


Many years ago I belonged to a small church.  So small were they that they actually recruited me to be a deacon.  I soon found out why. 

Deacons were given one month out of the year for which they were to arrange for eight men to serve communion.  Being the new kid on the block, I got August.  In such a small church it was very difficult to find eight men willing to put on a tie in August. 

The matter became so severe that I adopted a rather extreme procedure.  Without consulting the board of elders, I recruited eight high school girls.  Specifying only that they were to wear a white dress of suitable modesty, I was able to obtain the required number without much trouble.

Until, that is, the girls walked in.  There was an audible gasp from the audience.  I had taken the precaution of consulting all the relevant scriptural passages, and felt confident in my defense before the emergency elders' meeting which was sure to come.

My defense centered around this passage.  I pointed out that Jesus, the Christ, the creator of all things, took the bread and said, "This is my body."  Of the cup he said, "This is my blood."  However you take those statements, it is obvious that Jesus was endowing these symbols with a meaning which goes right to the core of the faith.  By these words he associated bread and wine with his body and blood, and commanded that they be used to remember him.

Paul's point, from the surrounding passages, is that the Corinthians were not doing this right.  But in pointing this out, he also points out just how important the Lord's Supper is.  It is not a time of frivolity, nor one to catch a glimpse of the church bulletin, but a time to place yourself before your Lord.  By taking the cup and the bread, you acknowledge his sacrifice as the atonement for your sins.  If there is a ceremony with more importance than that, I have yet to encounter it.

When the worship service was over, a frantic group of five elders searched the Bible diligently for the passage that clearly stated that communion could only be served by men in ties.  What they found was this passage, clearly stating the utter solemnity of the occasion.  As the young ladies in question did their part with great decorum it seemed that their conduct was in accord with the Scripture.  God calls us to remembrance, not rote.


Lord, your sacrifice on the Cross is beyond our minds.  But this we know:  it was not our merit but your great love that made it so.


June 7

Camping Out

Leviticus 23:33-44


Each year, millions of Americans find themselves living off meals cooked over an open flame, staying in tents which they hope are waterproof (and they are surely not mosquito proof), on a plot of land barely adequate for the tent.  Often enough the food is burnt;  likely enough the skin is burnt, too.

They call it—camping out.

The ancient Israelites (and the orthodox Jew to this day) has a festival in which they do just that:  camp out.  The word used here, translated "booth", means any makeshift shelter.  Tents in those days were braced with a lot of wood, so it's about the same thing. 

Why, you might ask, did God want them to live in tents for a week?

·         First, so that they might remember the wandering in the wilderness.  They need to remember that they were cared for in their wandering—and that the wandering was caused by their lack of faith and disobedience.

·         It also reminded them that they are wayfarers in this world;  looking for a better place

But—no doubt about it, this was intended to be a party.  It came at the end of the harvest, so the pantries were full.  The sacrifices presented were generous (remember that most of the sacrifice went to the priests). 

The Feast of Tabernacles carries its reminders for us, too. 

·         As the ancient Israelite wandered, as the Christ had nowhere to lay his head, so we too are wayfarers in this world.  We are not to grow attached to the things of this earth, but rather set our minds on things above.

·         The church, too, must recognize this.  The wayfaring life is one which is constantly dependent upon God.  Therefore, make no budget for the morrow.

·         But remember this:  it is a harvest celebration.  Soon—who knows how soon? - our Lord will return and the harvest of souls of the earth will be done.  Those whose names are in the book of life will rejoice—forever more.

It's a picture of what was (the wandering), what should be now (our sojourning) and what will be (his return in glory).


Lord, keep us ever mindful of the sojourner in us, so that we may not grow fond of things, but utterly depend upon you.


June 8


Birds of a Feather

John 15:18-25


When I was much younger, and the company's budget for travel a great deal larger, I was sent to a technical conference.  It was my first such, and I appreciated the break from the routine.

Upon arrival, I found something that puzzled me.  There were various sessions which were designed to appeal to certain individuals, based on their needs and interests.  These sessions were called BOFs.  For the life of me I could not fathom the acronym;  I finally had to ask.  You have probably figured it out:  Birds of a Feather.

The principle is still sound.  In technical innocence or criminal guilt, birds of a feather still flock together.  The way of the world uses this.  For a young man starting out in business, the lure has not changed for a thousand years:

·         No one overtly asks you to do evil.  They ask you if you'd like to join their flock of birds.  You don't want to be left out, do you?

·         Next, you will find that in your flock they have a different view of evil.  Your view is called naïve;  their view is called enlightened.  It is as old as Adam, but it still works.

·         Finally, having taken the lure, you are trapped in the world's way.  Your only hope is to rise in the system—and become even more evil, leading others to ruin.

That's the world's way.  Christ's way is based not on lure and deception but proclamation of the truth.  There is one constant factor about that proclamation:  it is offensive to those who have so slyly grafted themselves into the system. 

So remember that when you're laughed at for being a Christian, it's not you.  It's your Lord.  Christ's way exposes evil, the world's way depends upon the darkness of unspoken agreements.  If you're not in the system, the system will despise you.

But there is a worse case.  The world is sly, quiet and none too public—until the day comes when they feel themselves the stronger.  Then see how the wicked strut!  In our own time we have seen the President caught in an affair—and we accepted his self-justification.  Strengthen what you have and know;  perilous times are ahead.


Lord, be gracious to us and keep us rooted in you.  Bring to our minds your warnings;  may we be witnesses to you in all this evil.


June 9

Love of Christ

John 14:15-21


One of the difficulties of thinking in the English language is that we have no convenient way to distinguish between serial and parallel thoughts.

Serial logic carries with it a sense of sequence in time.  Things happen in a particular order, and prior events can be seen as the cause of later events.  A simple example:  first I hit my thumb with the hammer, then I felt pain in the thumb.  Logical, and connected in sequence.

Much more difficult is parallel logic.  In this mode, we simply see that two things happen together, without necessarily saying that one caused the other.  A good example of this is the experience of falling in love.  At what point were you suddenly "in love?"  What event immediately preceded it?  You can see it grow, but you can't break it down into sequential steps.  Your love for her (or him) is in parallel with her (or his) love for you.

Christ often presents us with parallel logic—which we try to convert into serial logic.  In this passage he tells us that if you love Him, you will obey his commands.  Later, he tells us that whoever has his commands and obeys them, that's the one who loves Him.  Can you tell which came first?  Probably not;  they grow together in parallel.  Obedience and love for Christ swing around each other in a divine waltz.

So it is too that we have the Holy Spirit.  Who can say exactly the moment when the Holy Spirit arrives within us?  There are instances in Scripture when He arrives at the moment of baptism, but there are others in which the Spirit comes later—or even before being baptized.    It is not a march;  it's a waltz.

Sequential thinking is very good for problems like, "What's wrong with my computer?"  It's not so good with problems in your marriage.  We're spiritual creatures as well as animals.  We need to be able to think both ways.

In this particular waltz one partner is much more visible: obedience.  The mark of the one who is a true Christian is the love he or she has for Jesus Christ.  It is also the cornerstone of Christian fellowship.  It is difficult to tell if someone really loves Jesus, but it's much easier to see who is obedient.   A very useful test, and one best applied personally.  You can fool yourself about love;  you can't fool yourself about obedience.


Lord, obedience seems so hard to us.  Do not let us be those with hardened hearts;  help us to love you more.


June 10


James 2:1-4


Throughout human history there have been the "haves" and the "have nots."  One of the continuing activities of the "haves" is to make sure that those really in this select company can be distinguished from "have nots" who've had a good year in the stock market.  Private clubs, the "right" clothes, all these serve to confirm the status of "haves" and keep out the "have nots".

When the church encounters this distinction, she must remember her Lord's commands on the subject of money.    Briefly put, for most of us, it is that we are to live godly lives being content with what we have.  After all, this world is not our home.

Contentment for us, however, is not contentment for everyone else.  When the biker shows up in leather when everyone else is in suits, protocol tends to break down.  It works the other way too, when the rich man shows up.  We tend to treat the rich man with great delicacy and care.  Why would we do this?

·         It might be that we want to be accepted in such a society; we are looking for his favor.  Should we seek his favor, or tell him by our actions that our God is no respecter of persons?

·         We may simply be following the custom of our times.  It is still fairly common to see "white only" or "black only" churches;  at one time, people thought this the only possible way.

One aspect of contentment that is not frequently spoken of is the contentment we should have about other people's social status.  If I drive into the parking lot of your church and find that I have the only Chevrolet in a sea of Mercedes, I might be content with that.  You, on the other hand, might be wondering how to greet a roughneck like me.  But tell me:  what difference should it make?

The key is contentment.  If you are content with what Christ has given you in this life, it should make no difference what car I drive.  If you are not content, do you see how easily this becomes a judgment?  It tells me that, because you are not content you then judge me (favorably or unfavorably).  My welcome in Christ's church now depends upon what's missing in your life.  Is that how Christ would have us treat our brothers and sisters?

James tells us that when we do this we become judges with evil thoughts.  It is easy to lapse into this, but hard to leave.


Lord, we are so quick to become judges of those we meet.  Grant us grace to see in every believer the face of someone you love


June 11

Traveler's Aid

John 12:35-36


One of the more romantic items available in various gift catalogs are electric lamps made to resemble a lighthouse.  The classic lighthouse, with its intense beam at the top, is obsolete and now gone, except for those preserved as other things.  At one time, however, they were essential to the safety of the sailor.

The problem, simply stated, is "where am I and which way am I headed?"  To solve this problem, the sailor would need a chart, at least one lighthouse (preferably two) and a protractor.  With these, he could plot his position on the chart.  More than one plot gave him a good idea of his direction as well.

The idea leaps into the mind, when reading this short passage of Scripture, that Jesus is indeed that lighthouse on which all true bearings must be taken.  But note the sailor:  he needs a chart as well.  That chart, for the Christian, is the Bible.  If you don't read it, it is of no more use to you than a chart left behind is to the sailor.

That's the situation out on the broad oceans.  But not all sailors are on the high seas.  There is plenty of traffic on the rivers as well.  As a young child, I was invited to go boating with my uncle on the Ohio river.  He had one of those very impressive wooden speed boats.  It was fast enough to tow a ten year old who wanted to learn to water ski.  It was also fast enough to tow the ten year old who would not let go of the rope.  The end of the matter was that I was chilled, tired and cranky. 

We headed for home just after sunset.  Navigation on the river was largely a matter of colored lights.  Red lights on the left, green lights for the right (starboard) side, told us the size and direction of other boats.  But to know the outline of the river, and hold to the main channel, we had a different guide.  People had homes near the river;  those homes had lights.  Those lights—ordinary household light bulbs—gleamed off the river's surface, showing us the outline of the river.

Some are on the sea;  they must have the eternal lighthouse of the Lord.  Others are on the river;  they cannot see the lighthouse.  But they can see the "lower lights" - us.  From our example they may learn where the channel is—the channel of life.  Our task is to faithfully keep those lights alight—so that they may see.


Lord, we do not walk in darkness, for we have you.  As you are the lighthouse, may we be the lower lights.  They may not be able to see you;  let them see you through us instead.


June 12

Water and Fire

John 4:10-14


One of the characteristics of John's Gospel is that he records a number of personal conversations with Jesus.  This is one.  In it, we see the difficulty in attempting to fully explain the nature of God in the person of Christ.  The "living water" here refers to the grace poured out in the person of the Holy Spirit.  In various places the Scripture refers to the Spirit as either "water" or "fire."  Both in conversation and in prophecy, we see both forms used. 

What, then, do fire and water have in common which makes them so descriptive?

·         As those who live in Southern California know, fire can spread with amazing speed—no matter what man proposes to do to stop it.  If the season is dry enough, a brush fire is almost impossible to put out.  Similarly, for those who live in a flood plain, there comes a point where the levees and dikes, the dams and basins are simply overwhelmed with water.  When that happens, no pump made is of any real use.  The water will go where the water will go.  So it is with the Spirit—he will go where he pleases, and no one can say no.

·         When such things as fire and flood happen to people, things change very quickly and very radically.  The sensation of having all your possessions destroyed is not pleasant.  But is this not what Christ told the rich young ruler?  In essence, let the fire and water take away what is between you and God.

·         We have seen the destruction;  but we also know that fire and water, when properly harnessed, are of great benefit to mankind.  That is the intent of the Spirit;  he desires to live in us so that we may say, "Christ lives in me."  The Spirit in one who is controlled is strong indeed.

·         For the ancients, these two words would have had a different  meaning.  They believed that fire and water were two of the "elements" - meaning they could not be broken into anything else.  For them, these metaphors would speak of the unity of God.

Christ, in talking to the woman, does not "put down" Jacob by comparison.  Rather, he points this woman to himself as the source of living water.  That river still runs today, for all who will believe.


Lord, sometimes we ask for finesse when we should ask for fire and flood.  Let the Spirit grow strong in each of us, your children.


June 13


1 Corinthians 5:9-12


When it comes to the matter of passing judgment, Christians often seem as if they have no clear teaching.  Perhaps the difficulty is in the effect:  we have clear teaching;  we just don't like it.

There are three instances in which we may consider judgment.  First, there is the matter of self-judgment.  In most normal circumstances, this is a very beneficial form of judgment.  It is the beginning of repentance, for example.  In self judgment we see the steps of judgment properly applied:

·         First, there is the factual decision:  I have sinned.

·         Next, there is the moral decision:  I should be punished for it.

·         Finally, there is the factor of grace:  if I'm willing to repent, Christ offers pardon.

Can we reasonably apply the steps to someone else?  The second type of judgment is of our fellow Christians.  In this instance, we have not only the sinner but the church to deal with.  The steps are simple:

·         First, you (personally) confront the sinner with the facts.  In this, we attempt to bring self-judgment out of the sinner.

·         Next, you bring two or three other witnesses, so that the matter may be certain.

·         Finally, if necessary, the matter can be brought before the church.

The objective of self-judgment and church judgment is the same:  repentance and restoration.  But what about the sinner outside the church? Shouldn't we (as merciful souls) pass judgment on him too?  The Scripture says not, and with reason:

·         Repentance alone will bring no eternal value unless the sinner turns to the only true source of grace (and help).  Repentance without grace only produces more trouble.

·         If the sinner hears that the church disapproves of him, this may provide an excuse to avoid the call of Jesus. 

·         It is the function of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and judgment (and not ours).

So Paul tells us not to judge those in the world.  Only the faithful can have such a good thing.


Lord, keep our ears open to the cry of a sinner coming homefor  it is in repentance, not judgment, that the angels rejoice.


June 14

Justice and Mercy

Ezekiel 33:10-20


The complaint of the ancient Israelites has a modern ring to it.  Speak to most Christians today, they will tell you that American society has badly decayed in the last sixty years.  See the complaints of Israel;  are these familiar?

·         Our sins "weigh us down."  You think not?  How many in our own land suffer from AIDS?  Do your tax dollars pay for this?  Is this the only burden upon us because of our sin?

·         We are "wasting away."  In many who suffer from AIDS, this is literally true.  But those who see the crumbling of the family and the decline of once thriving neighborhoods see this as a wasting away.

But do we conclude that we (who, us?) are at fault?   Obviously, there must be something wrong with the way God is reacting to us.  We have it figured out:  it's a game of celestial brownie points.  If the positives outweigh the negatives, you win.  But consider:

·         That's not the way our justice system works.  No amount of service to the community gives you enough points to shoot your spouse.  If we don't use brownie points, why would God?

·         If we take the time to read it (like, here) we'll find the Bible doesn't use this system either.

Instead, both we and God use a system which might better be seen in a sports analogy:  the marathon.

·         As many runners will tell you, the first goal is—to finish!  If you don't finish, it doesn't matter how fast you ran.

·         If you do finish—even though you got lost along the way—you get the credit; you can say that you've run the marathon.

Isn't it bizarre:  we credit God with no sense of justice when He uses the same concept of justice that we use.   Beyond that, there is this:  who are we to tell God how justice should run?

The length of this passage—it is by no means unique—and the detail in which the matter is put carry a warning to all of us.  God's justice does not depend upon our own thoughts, but is a part of his righteousness.  You may have missed the course along the way;  don't worry—He's looking for finishers.


Lord, be gracious to us, leading us back into the race for the prize of eternal life.  Let righteousness crown each finisher.


June 15

Lust of the eyes

Matthew 5:27-28


My mother said it of my father, and my wife says it of me:  "The day he stops looking, or starts touching, I'm going to bury him.  Either way, he's dead."  Wives can be rather possessive at times.

With good reason.  The optical nerve is one of the shortest and also thickest nerves in the body.  What a man sees is immediately processed by the brain.

Christ, to this point, has been speaking about anger, another bodily passion.  Anger occupies the first place, for it happens to all of us.  Lust is only the second passion.  As such, it has been fertile ground for sin for a long time.  As one old saint put it, "Commit no adultery with your eyes, and you will commit none with your mind."  This, it seems, is a matter of prevention.

Most of us today see no reason for this injunction.  We live in a society where the female form is on display everywhere.  We take the view that lust is something which just happens, and therefore cannot be sinful—anymore than catching a cold could be sinful.  When the young lady walks by and we decide to see what can be done with her, that is sin. But we don't see it that way.

Humor me for a moment please.   We say there is no sin in lusting after another woman.  It would certainly be fair today to say that most women encourage this when they can.  Then they complain about it when they can't.

Do you not see, however, the justice of this complaint?  Who is it that causes women to age?  Is it not the God of creation who made us as he pleased?  So when a woman knows that her husband is looking for someone younger and prettier, there comes an air of quiet desperation.  She dare not complain;  she used those same techniques earlier.  She has no hope, for if the man she loves rejects her for another, where will she find hope and love then?

You say that "just looking" means nothing.  Does your wife think so too?  Or does she get a different message from this, a message that tells her that in your eyes she is growing less and less attractive and therefore less and less loved?

If you will but pay that same attention to your wife, and tame the wild beast within you, do you think she will be uncaring or ungrateful?  The husband is given authority over the wife—and with authority, responsibility.  She is not a toy;  she is most certainly not a broken toy.


Lord, grant to each husband wisdom in this;  to each wife, patience; to each couple, your abiding love.


June 16

The Lumber Mill

Matthew 7:1-5


It must be admitted that our Lord had the gift for country humor.  Can you imagine walking around with a two by four in your eye—as an eye doctor?

To see that picture in your mind is to see the problem.  Our Lord is quite specific on the point of judgment:

·         First, you should just not do it.  If you do, you open yourself up to the same process.  Often enough, the same process for the same sins.  Be warned;  if you judge, you will be judged.

·         Next, take good notes on the method you use for judgment.  This will help identify that method when it is applied to you.

·         Also, please keep a copy of the measuring stick you used.  It will come in handy very shortly, for measuring you.

The point is rather important.  It seems that Jesus wants us to apply judgment—to sin, but not to the sinner.  This sounds somewhat silly until you think of the prime example:  yourself.  It is likely that you are rather relaxed in judgment on yourself.  Jesus simply asks that you apply the same process to others.  And, if you're like most of us, this is not something which is on your everyday "to do" list.

Why, then, do we continue to have people who fall into this trap?  There might be any number of reasons;  here are a few:

·         It may be a simple case of nothing better to do.  We are told to work to earn our keep.  Perhaps this is one benefit to it.

·         More deadly is the person who has been exalted as a Somebody in the Church.  It feels very good to be praised;  perhaps there's a need to keep the feeling.

·         The more common explanation is that "I only wanted to help."  This usually comes out after the judgment is made public and the tempers have flared out.  It's rationalization; we're good at that.

The judgmental outlook has a permanent flaw:  it puts us, the sinners, in the place of God.  We are permitted to judge ourselves, to prevent sin.  We are asked to plead with our brothers in their own sin.  It is not just repentance we seek, but reconciliation and restoration.  God doesn't want you back;  He wants you home.


Lord, how easy it is for the tongue to flap in the breeze!  Give us wisdom in this, to know when to speak privately to someone and when to be silent.   


June 17

Only One

Psalm 86:10


The existence of God is presumed in Scripture, from the first verse to the last.  From the point of view of the authors (Moses and St. John, respectively) the experience was sufficiently overwhelming as to preclude argument.  The rest of us, however, require the evidence.  There are many, many people in our civilization today who do not believe in the existence of God.

The question dealt with in the Bible is rather different.  Most humans of that era believed in God—or rather, gods.  Lots of them.  In various systems we had gods in charge of practically everything, each requiring its own sacrifices.  The point of this Scripture is that there are not many gods;  there is only one God.  It is a thought repeated often throughout the Scripture.

Is the point important?  Consider this:  when Christ was asked which of the commandments was the greatest, he responded with "hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one."  He not only taught that God is one;  he considered it of first importance.  Even amongst a people who (practically alone on earth) believed in one God, this was still the most important commandment.

It's a point not often taught today.  Considering its importance in the New Testament, this is somewhat surprising.  Many Christians have very little difficulty in accepting the concept of the Trinity—because they have no difficulty with three gods.  This reflects a change in curriculum, not a change in doctrine;  theology is now unimportant for most Christians.  Therefore, we may think of God as three or one, it doesn't really matter.

It matters greatly to God.  He makes a particular point of it throughout the Old Testament.  Christ insists upon it.  Why?  Perhaps the reason is integrity.  Integrity is the condition of being one:  for example, a man with integrity is as faithful to his wife on the road as he is at home.  He is not double-minded (or double talking).  Integrity is an aspect of righteousness.  God is righteousness.

With a little reasoning, most people can see that God must exist.  The Prime Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Self-Existent Necessary Being—these arguments still apply.  But someone will ask, how do we know if this is THE God.  The answer is still the same as it was in the Old Testament:  name the other candidates.  Our God is the only one; beside him, there are no others.


Lord, give us eyes to see.  You are the very definition of integrity; teach us to be men and women of integrity, imitating you.


June 18

Light Sentence

John 3:17-21


The average person is quite capable of holding contradictory views, especially in religion.  In fact, such views are often held with an air of supremacy;  those unfettered by such things as fact, Scripture and doctrine are quite willing to enlighten the poor, suffering Christian.  For example, consider these two points:

·         "God isn't going to send people to hell.  After all, God is love, and no one who is a loving person would ever send anyone to hell."  Which, conveniently, seems sufficiently inclusive of the speaker.

·         "Some people deserve to go to hell.  You know, people like Adolf Hitler."  (The only virtue I've ever found in Hitler is his use as a bad example.)

Well, which is it?  If you push the point a little further, you'll usually discover a believer in the cosmic brownie point system.  If you don't anger God too much, and you commit only ordinary sins (you know, cheating on your taxes, your wife and your resume) then God is pretty much obligated to forgive you—especially if you made up for it by good things (we gave a lot to charity).

When Satan spins a lie for us, he starts with truth and twists it.  Consider here the extent of God's mercy. 

·         At what price mercy?  At the price of his only begotten son.

·         Do we have to undertake trek perilous?  No, he came to us.

So why, then, do some refuse?  The answer given here is a sad one.  When the Light comes, some come to the light;  others run from it.  There you have the unforgivable sin:  that we refuse to repent and take God's freely offered mercy.  Hell has no one in it but volunteers.

The truth is less pleasant but it's also consistent.  God's mercy is given freely.  Can anyone be forgiven, even Adolf Hitler?  Yes, if they will repent.  If they will see the light, the Light will live in them forever.  Will such people get what they deserve?  When our Lord returns, the judgment will come.  Those who applied for mercy here will have mercy granted (and are thus obliged to be merciful now).  When he returns, it's too late.

Is there a punishment for hiding from the Light?  Yes indeed.  The punishment is eternity in the darkness.


Lord, how lightly we take your return;  how little we fear your judgment.  Grant us mercy;  may we lead others to it as well.


June 19

In the Beginning

John 1:1-5


Matthew, Mark and Luke begin their gospels in rather plodding fashion.  John, writing later, provides a striking opening.  Harking back to Genesis, he opens with "In the beginning."

Since then the Gospel of John has been puzzled over by the great minds of the church.  The magnitude of his work might be seen in this.  St. John Chrysostom, the first Christian scholar to take a verse by verse approach to the Scripture,  typically undertook to comment on about twenty verses in each of his homilies.  In his approach to this gospel, he wrote no less than three homilies—all on the subject of the first verse alone. 

The cadences in the King James Version have been preserved in most modern translations, for this is a topic of great dignity and power.  We are introduced to "The Word," the living message from God.  He is eternal; he is from the beginning.  In short phrases John introduces the mystery of the Trinity.  The Word was God;  the word was with God.  How can this be?

That God is one we know from his righteous integrity.  How could God be double-minded?  It is absurd to state it.  Yet God must be plural as well, for God is love—and there is no true love if there is only one person.

There is more.  The Word, Christ, is the agent of all creation.  Echoing like poetry we are told he made all things;  all things were by him made.  This awesome being, creator of heaven and earth, is also the light of men.

How?  As he has revealed himself to us, we see his light.  Seeing that light, living in that light, we live, and shall live, eternally.  Nothing can prevent this.  Darkness cannot overcome light;  where the light is, darkness must flee.  He is the light of the world.

Often enough we hear of the kind and gentle Jesus, friend of the sinner.  It is well to reflect, then, that this same Jesus is here described as the Word, God's message to men, uncreated and creating.  In simple words there sometimes are deep things;  never more the case than here. 

Do you wish to be closer to Jesus?  Personal relationships depend upon each person understanding the other.  He understands you well enough;  he designed you.  Do you understand him?  Does your mind picture him as friend, and omit the awesome Word?  Until you know who he is, you will not know how much he loves.


Lord, our minds are too small to contain you;  even the universe is too small for that.  Help us to know you as you are.


June 20


Revelation 20:11-15


It is a curious fact.  Most of what we know about Hell comes from our Lord himself.  Here it is revealed in a prophetic vision to John;  when approached in the gospels, it's usually in red letters.

It seems that life and death come in threes:  born twice, die once.  Born once, die twice.  Here we see in the original the great day of judgment.  Here is the second death.

Please, throw out the idea that Satan is the ruler of Hell.   He is not.  Hell is intended for him and his cohorts;  it was designed for the demons, not for man.  We may well ask why God, who is love, would conduct such a thing.  Here are a few possibilities for you:

·         The judgment exists so that evil may not veto righteousness.  There is always the argument, "Should not God wait just a little longer?"  This can go on indefinitely;  God is just telling us that it won't.

·         Next, there is the question of justice—in the sense of punishment.  Do you really think that, say, Joseph Stalin got what he deserved?  He will.

·         There is also the question of justice—in the sense of reward.  Isn't there room for rewarding of those who have worked diligently for God's sake?

·         We might add that God himself has some scores to settle.  Many are those who told the world that God is dead and of no further importance to man.  It is not wise to ignore the living God.  It is even more foolish to deny him.

·         Finally, there must be a time when mercy triumphs over judgment.  For all those who have counted on the name of Jesus, we must see God's mercy in its full context:  judgment.

That last is the meaning of the "book" and the "books."  The books (plural) are the records of mankind's follies—including ours.  The book (singular) is simply the list of those who have applied for mercy rather than judgment.  Perhaps we will be surprised by some we have forgiven;  will we want, somehow, to withdraw our forgiveness?  I doubt it;  more likely, we would want to be seen as more forgiving.  Then and there all will want mercy;  only those in the Book of Life will obtain it.  The day is approaching;  are you prepared?


Lord, your mercy triumphs over judgment—at the price of the Cross.  Keep us ever mindful of that mercy—and that judgment.


June 21

A Look in the Mirror

Ephesians 2:1-3


One of the great virtues of Christianity, we are told, is its completely dour view of human nature.  While most other religions hold to very positive views of human possibility, it is fundamental to Christianity to hold that everyone is a sinner.  Properly understood, this has its advantages:

·         First, you're not disappointed when someone lets you down.  You can always shrug it off, knowing that's how people are.

·         When someone you particularly admire stumbles and falls, it's good to remind yourself that nobody is perfect.  Even heroes have their bad times.

·         It is also an aid to a charitable nature.  For you can look at some unfortunate wretch and say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." 

·         Always assuming, of course, that you're not the unfortunate wretch in question.  But if you are introspective at all, the image in the mirror will tell you plainly:  no matter how hard you try, no matter what discipline you apply, you are a sinner.

And if you are a sinner, then you know to what depths you can fall.  The defendant in the court room is a human being just like you and I.  If you will see this clearly, then you know the horrors committed by man against man are very natural—of the sinful nature of man.  You also begin to know what God should do about it.

·         You wouldn't drink milk which had spoiled, would you?  No, you'd throw it out.  What should God do about "spoiled" us?

·         If you found a defect in your new car, would you just live with it?  No, you'd take it back to the dealer.  Where should God take us?

·         Sometimes you find something wrong and you can't take it back.  Do you buy from that manufacturer again?  Of course not.  Why does God let us have children?

Do you see it?  An intelligent, logical, righteous God should look at humanity and say, "what a mess!"  And he should then proceed to clean it up.  That's what righteousness would demand, for God is the perfection of righteousness.  But he doesn't.  He is merciful.  And when we praise him, we should remember what we deserve.


Lord, may we never see your grace as your obligation, but always see it as our blessing, bought with a price.


June 22

Bad to Worse

2 Timothy 3:12-13


It is difficult, sometimes, to explain.  One of my business acquaintances, not having had time to learn that I'm a Christian, remarked that he hated fundamentalists and felt they should all be locked up or better yet shot.  I had the privilege of informing him that I am one of those Christians.  I explained that I was not in the habit of eating small children for breakfast, so perhaps I'm not so vile and loathsome as the run of the mill fundamentalist.

The question that comes to your mind is simply this:  how is it that Christians—who of all people are most urged to charity and peace—are perceived as such horrors? 

It's not as if you weren't warned.  Paul tells Timothy in this passage that such experience is normal for a Christian.  It's worse than that.  It's easy to say, all Christians will be persecuted.  But note the phrasing:  it's not "everyone who's a good Christian" but rather "Everyone who wants to live a godly life.."  You don't even have to be particularly good at being a Christian;  all you have to have is the desire to be.  The world will then come after you. 

Of course, when that happens, we feel that we are being, well, persecuted.  And we are.  If it's severe, we should rejoice—it means that Satan takes us seriously.

Whenever this happens, somebody in the last pew pipes up and asks a very human question:  "What about the people doing the persecuting?  What about the frauds? "  I have some very bad news for you.  And for them, too.

Paul makes it very clear that things get worse.  You cannot persecute a people half way;  ask Adolf Hitler.  One of the things that you will see is "bad to worse."  Think back, if you can, to things of 50 years ago.  The technology is better;  race relations are better—but can you honestly say that life is better?  That's a side effect of persecution:  everyone starts tightening up.

One clear sign of this is fraud.  There are religious imposters in our day, some of whom are very rich (and rather arrogant about it).  Such false prophets will be with us until the Lord returns.  But note one thing:  "deceiving and being deceived."  The police will tell you that most con artists prey on people who want to get rich quick.  The circles of deception will continue to spin.

What, then, is a Christian to do?  Stay faithful, and remember that they persecuted Jesus to the Cross.  You're in good company.


Lord, it seems so strange that people who are known for their love would be persecuted so much.  Give us courage;  give us patience.


June 23

In the Light

1 John 2:8-11


The Apostle John echoes for us Christ's comments about things old, things new.  Here he portrays the commandment to love one another as something new.  Yet we know it to be old as well;  the Old Testament is quoted with such.  So what's new about this commandment?  The power that is now available to us so that we might keep it.  By his death on the Cross, and resurrection, we have been placed in the age in which the Holy Spirit is available to all Christians.  With the Spirit, there is power.  The question is in how to use that power.

Some of us will look for a blinding flash of inspiration in this.  But John tells us to the contrary;  he says we can see it in Jesus and in ourselves.  It is the principle of the imitation of Christ:

·         As the old joke puts it, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice!"  If you see the Lord doing it, imitate it. 

·         If you do, you will soon see results.  Carefully examine them;  touch and see if the results of imitating him are not a great blessing.

·         But in all things, keep your eye on the Master, for he is not done with you—yet.

In short, practice, self examination and devotion.

What command could merit such attention?  "Love your brother."  It is the command to love one another.  If you follow this command, you will be walking "in the light."  But how do you know if you are doing it right?

·         It's hard.  If it seems easy, you're probably missing something.

·         But as you try, you will begin to see the real problem.  You will be able—with the light—to see what those blinded by anger cannot see. 

Let's turn that around:  How can you tell when you are walking in darkness?

·         You stumble.  If there is anger inside, there will be anger outside.  Your life will be one of conflict.

·         You have no "sense of direction."  Those in the light know where they're going.  Those in darkness, just react.

Test yourself.  Are you in the light, or bumping others in the dark?


Lord, give us eyes to see that our anger is our darkness;  your love is our light.  Help us to walk in that light.


June 24

Redeem the Time

Ephesians 5:15-16


These two verses are set down in a passage which talks about the return in glory of our Lord.  Christians get excited to hear of our Lord's return.  It's a popular sermon topic for that reason.  But should you happen to hear such a message, let me give you a test for the speaker.  Does he (or she) tell you what we should be doing until the Lord returns?  In other words, He will come when He will come, but right now I have to deal with right now.

It may come as a surprise, but Paul here (as with others) goes on to describe a rather dull-sounding life.  It's the life of ordinary holiness to which the ordinary Christian is called.  It doesn't sound very exciting.

But we may take it that it is wise to do this.  Proverbs 14:8 marks the difference between the wise and the unwise.  The wise think about what they are doing (and will do tomorrow).  The foolish are always looking for some way to deceive others;  often, so that they will appear to be great with God.  James (James 3:13) lets the secret out:  wisdom is shown by a good life. 

So then, what is the secret of wisdom in this good life?  It is to "redeem the time" as the King James Version has it.  You only have so many hours;  figure out how to make the best of them.  You do this in two ways:

·         For those things which you can plan, plan ahead.  It may not turn out quite the way you had in mind, but you should be looking at life as a servant of God.  Make the careful decisions such a servant should make.

·         Other things are unplanned.  You can make preparations when you cannot make plans.  Do you meet a beggar on the street?  Be ready with something to give.  For example, purchase some scrip for a fast-food restaurant.  You know that your gift will feed the beggar—and God will know you prepared to do his will.

Why?  Because the days are evil.  The world is not a very nice place.  It's full of sinners, most of whom are not Christians and who have little enough charity and even less righteousness.  This is the world you must prepare for.  Do not expect things to get better;  that matter is not under your control.  You did not pick your times;  you can pick your response to them.


Lord, grant us the wisdom to bring out ordinary holiness, the courage to act on it, and the mercy to help those who don't.


June 25

Suffering and Sinners

Luke 13:1-5


One of the strongest notions in human thought is that of comparative holiness.  We have fixed in our minds the idea that as long as we're not as bad as (insert name here), we're pretty much OK with God, and he is therefore obligated to be good to us.

The corollary to this is most often seen.  Here Jesus deals with two events which evidently were fresh in the minds of his hearers but are lost to history.  In one, Pontius Pilate evidently put down some Galilean uprising with a great deal of bloodshed during one of the Jewish festivals.  The other is what we would consider an industrial accident.  In Christ's time, both would be seen as divine judgment.

Jesus rejects the notion entirely.  In responding to the news about the Galileans, Jesus brings up another, more innocent example. How could a collapsing tower be the vengeance of God?  There is some thought that these men trusted in the tower as their defense, but this is unlikely.  They weren't the ones trusting in the tower—they were building it.

The question arises:  why?  Why did God take the lives of these men?  Were they such wicked souls that they needed death immediately?

Turn the question around.  With Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof, we might ask, "Would it spoil some vast, celestial plan—if I were a wealthy man?"  After all, we've been good, right?

God's response in the Old Testament was to point out, "my ways are higher than your ways."  The God of eternity, seeing and knowing all, does as he pleases.  But every once in a while we get a glimpse of what he desires of us.

Jesus tells us, in plain language, that he desires repentance.  Cease to proclaim hierarchical holiness ("I'm better than you are") and acknowledge the obvious:  you're a sinner.  Seek his pardon while it may be found.

But suppose you're the most holy guy on the entire work crew.  Doesn't that mean that God will protect you from the industrial accidents which consume the scum around you?  No.  Not at all.  God knows you to be a sinner.  Admit it, and enter into the life of humility before God which is the beginning of a right relationship to him.  You may seek what you deserve, or you may seek mercy.  It would help to make up your mind before you seek.


Lord, how often we are puzzled by your timing.  In our sorrows we grieve;  but we know you will return, and wipe away all tears.


June 26

A Difficult Message

Acts 3:17-23


In dealing with a primarily Jewish audience, the message of the Apostles is very clear:

·         First, that the prophets of old foretold the suffering and death of the Messiah on his first advent.

·         Next, that just because it was prophesied does not provide an excuse.  These people must repent;  a call made much easier by the acknowledgement that they acted in ignorance.

·         Finally, a consistent feature is the teaching that Christ will someday return to judge the living and the dead.

These points are a constant throughout the book of Acts.  Added here is another thought.  The prophecy of Moses is that God would raise up another like Moses, and that this is none other than Jesus.  You must listen to him, or be cut off from the people of God.

The message is a difficult one, for it runs counter to human pride.  "After all," they might reason, "we did this in ignorance.  We had no idea Jesus is the Christ.  In fact, don't you think it a bit unreasonable of God to send him that way?  Surely we could have had a couple of mass revelations, or something.  It's really all God's fault."  If you will look at their forebears in the wilderness, you will find the same thoughts.  Ignorance is no excuse.

But the Lord God Almighty is merciful.  He is willing to throw away all the arguments you've had with him;  all the times when you were sure it was his fault.  He calls you to simple repentance.  It occurs, then, to ask why:

·         First, that your sins will be wiped out.  Ignorant or not, they remain sin until God expunges them.

·         Second, so that God may send what Peter calls "times of refreshing" upon you.  Only when you are in right relationship with God can you receive such a thing.

·         Finally—and quite mysteriously—you do this so that God will send Christ to return to us.  It is as if he is waiting for the last Christian to repent. 

Is it not curious that the early church leaders had such a limited variety in their sermon topics?  Perhaps they understood that the time was short, the days evil—and the work, precious.


Lord, often we find ourselves offering opinions when you would have us preach the Gospel.  Give us courage to stand for you.


June 27

The Coincidences of God

John 1:4-9


"There was a man sent from God."  It is as plain and simple as it can be.  There is no great sign in the heavens, no armies marched, none of the usual trappings of power were displayed—just a man sent from God.  The Lord God Almighty needs no displays nor armies;  indeed, he often selects one man. 

This particular man—John the Baptist—is prophesied in the Old Testament.  This makes for some difficulties in interpretation.  How is it that the man of ordinary holiness, the one trying to uphold the law, supposed to know who this John is?

After the Battle of the Bulge, many intelligence officers wrote articles and eventually books, all with the same message:  they had seen the German attack coming, and no one listened .  The problem with such a theory is that the same people foresaw many other things—which never happened.  How's a man like Eisenhower supposed to know which is which?

The solution to Eisenhower's problem I leave to the reader.  Knowing the man of God is rather a more simple thing.  To whom does he bear witness?  Just who is he talking about?  If he is devoted to explaining to you why you should contribute to his crusade, that tells you something.  Look at John:

·         He testified to what he knew.  He was a witness;  he saw.

·         He also testified to what he had been told.  The word of God had come to him;  it needed to go forth.

Consider, then, of whom this great witness testified:  Jesus, the Christ.  If your preacher testifies to the works of Christ he has seen, and seems to have a passion for preaching the Scriptures, then count yourself blessed.  He is a witness;  he is telling you both what he knows and what he has been told.  Just like John.

To what do they testify?  To the true light of the world.  How can we say "true light of the world?"

·         Jesus gives light to everyone and anyone.  In him there are no races or peoples;  only the church.  He is light to the world.

·         And for that reason, anyone, quite certainly anyone, can become his witness.  You need only testify to what you know and what you have been told.

When the Lord spoke his need for a messenger, Isaiah replied, "Here am I.  Send me."  You, even you, can be a witness for God.


Lord, give us the courage to testify to what we know, and what you have told us—to all about us.


June 28

The Judge

John 5:22-27


For those who have served in the United States military, the word "honor" has a different meaning.  When used as a verb, it means to render the appropriate salute to the person or thing being honored.  It varies from the ordinary hand salute to a 21 gun salute.  Most will remember the phrase, "you salute the uniform, not the wearer."

One little bit of military tradition might be appropriate here.  It is the custom in the United States Army that a salute ("honors") be rendered not only to officers and officials of high rank, but to one other group of soldiers:  those who wear the Congressional Medal of Honor.  We honor them for their courage in combat.

There is a sense of such honor here.  For here we learn that judgment is entrusted to Jesus the Christ.  We might ask why:

·         First, because he is Son of Man.  He's been through it all without sin;  the spiritual equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

·         Next, so that all may honor him as he deserves (much as we might salute the president).

·         Finally, so that in honoring him, honor is paid to the Father who sent him.

If this is so, one might ask why the judgment has so long been delayed? 

·         First, so that whosoever will be saved.  It is the intention of God to give justice to all—after he has allowed a season of  mercy.

·         Secondly, so that God's mercy might be demonstrated in the sight of all mankind.

The certainty of the judgment, however, rests upon the righteousness of God.  It is therefore going to happen.  The question for us is, how do we get on the "right side?"

·         Christ tells us first that we must hear the word.  If you can't hear it, you can't do anything about it.  So listen up!

·         Then you must believe;  in other words, you have to commit yourself to Christ and his teaching.

If you do this, you are called a "Christian."  You wear the uniform of Christ.  When the world sees you, it sees Christ.  Wear the uniform of Christ in honor, so that all might see the truth.


Lord, we are sinners.  As such, our conduct does not always honor you.  Grant that our repentance will.


June 29

Cut and Dried

1 John 1:8-10


Some of us are black and white people.  I'm not referring to race, of course, but to the habit of mind which prefers things to be cut and dried, yes or no, black or white.  Others are what we might call gray people.  They see shades and variations of things that others might not consider important.

Those who are still in touch with reality know that in some things the shades of gray method is quite helpful.  In other things, black and white.  The jury gets two choices:  guilty or not guilty.  The chef has a lot of choices:  sesame, olive, cinnamon, etc.  But one thing is certain:  you really do need to know which system to use. That's the secret to John's words here.   When it comes to sin, it really is a case of black and white.

So what's a gray person to do?  Sometimes the temptation is to fool ourselves into seeing gray.  That's why John tells us here that if we say we have no sin, two consequences occur:

·         First, we're deceiving ourselves.  ("It's not really a toothache")

·         And, when we do this, truth just doesn't seem to want to stay.  (Think how your guest, the Holy Spirit, views this.)

But there is hope:  the eternal one is faithful and just to forgive us—if we confess.  It's easy to see why this is faithfulness on his part;  he promised he would forgive, and he does.  But just?  Is it just for God to forgive?

Indeed, in this situation, it is.  For the penalty for our sins has already been paid, at the Cross.  If he refused to forgive a repentant sinner, he would be denying the atonement of the Cross.  Justice was satisfied there;  no more is needed.

But that is also the first step in a full restoration.  God's intent is to forgive and purify us, not forgive and forget us.

Still, there will be someone whose mind is very gray;  he just doesn't think this "sin business" really applies to a good fellow like him. This has two real problems to it:

·         First, as James points out, you're calling God a liar.  That is not very prudent;  the righteous one might just take offense.

·         Next, dealing with such an offense may be delayed—but not forever.

Those two, taken together, are a one way trip to hell.


Lord, keep us mindful of our sinful nature.  Urge us to repent quickly rather than stew slowly.


June 30

The Sheep of Israel

Ezekiel 34:11-24


We are taught that all Scripture is inspired of God;  in that same sentence we are told that it is profitable.  Sometimes we come to a passage like this and we say, "Doesn't apply to me!"  This looks to be such a passage;  it's clearly prophetic, and it prophesies what appears to be the return to the land of Israel of the Jewish people.  Depending upon your method of interpretation, this could be very significant—for the Jews.  For the Christian, it's only a sign that tells us the end times are here.

Think a little further on it.  In this passage God outlines—in the metaphor of sheep—his anger at some of those sheep.  His anger is simply this:  it's bad enough you shoved the others aside to get the best;  it's even worse when you spoiled what remained so that they could not benefit from it.

Let me rephrase that.  It is bad enough that you have shoved aside the poor and the helpless in your rush for "more,"  But you have also shown your spite by making sure they got nothing. 

You ask me how.  Consider these ways:

·         Refusal to give.  Has the Lord given you material wealth?  Do you ignore his command to give to the poor? 

·         Refusal to forgive.  Has someone come to you asking forgiveness, only to find that you keep bringing it up?

·         Gluttony.  Whether it is the desire for "more" or the desire to live extravagantly, have you ever denied yourself so that someone else might eat?

·         Greed.  Have you ever seen your children hoard something so that the other kids couldn't play with it?  Do you wonder where they learned that?

·         Pride.  Is your life filled with the finest, including the attitude that God obviously knew who should be rewarded?

·         Judgmentalism.  Do you take or hoard so that the poor might not obtain anything they didn't earn?

Who are we to act thusly?  The poor have the same Master;  will he look at our complaint of "too little" with favor?  It doesn't seem so;  indeed, in this passage, it becomes a matter for divine judgment.  The Day is coming. God's principle is clear;  the warning profitable.  Sometimes, you have to know your sheep.


Lord, keep us mindful that we must "walk the talk."  We all have the same Master;  keep us from your wrath.

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