Welcome to Becomning Closer! 



May 1

Unity in the Spirit

Numbers 11:24-30


If you will look back a few verses, you will see that God is about to teach a lesson to Moses and the children of Israel.   They've been grumbling about the menu;  He's about to give them meat (quail) for thirty straight days.  But to be sure the explanation is clear, God calls Moses and the seventy elders to the Tabernacle.  Two of them miss the shuttle bus.  In the process, we see one of the constants of church life:  the "theological argument."

For some people, the "way we do it" is not simply a matter of convenience.  For these people, there can be only one right way of doing anything in the church.  They are utterly certain that the bread is on the left side of the table and the wine on the right.  The organ should play during communion;  it should be silent.  Drums and guitars are good;   no, they're evil.  For such people, only the right ritual at the right place and the right time will do.  That seems to be how Joshua felt about it.

The matter, however, is one of authority.  Joshua felt that the two elders should be told to shut up.  Moses, secure in his relationship to God, sees things the other way.  He understands the nature of authority:

·         First, that God is the ultimate authority.  It's his universe.

·         Next, there is the prophet Moses.  He knows his authority—God chose Moses.

·         Finally there are the seventy elders—who are subordinate to Moses because Moses chose them.

Therefore, if the Holy Spirit chooses to come upon the seventy, including the two still in camp, it should be a matter of rejoicing.  Moses' authority is not challenged by this;  it is enhanced.

We learn something of the Holy Spirit here, as well.  In John's Gospel we learn that the Spirit goes where he wills.  We see that principle here:  the Spirit is not confined to the Tabernacle.  We must look at this and praise God, for since the coming of Christ the Spirit enters into each Christian.  He is the deposit guaranteeing that we will be raised up on the last day.

There is a sad note in this passage;  Joshua wants to stifle the Spirit because those two elders are in the wrong place.  He is like those today who argue over communion tables.  Are sinners so few we need no time to call them to Christ?


Holy Spirit, forgive our dissensions and make us one.  In you the church is one;  may our eyes see it too.


May 2

Paint and Powder

Revelation 16:6-9


During World War II, Admiral Bill "Bull" Halsey was asked by a reporter, "Why do you always call a battleship `she'?"  Halsey's reply was short and to the point:  "Because it costs so much to keep them in paint and powder."

Despite our modern view that male and female are interchangeable parts, the Scripture consistently paints a differing picture.  There is no sense of being interchangeable;  equal, but different, is seen.  The feminine role is always portrayed in submission to the masculine. 

The reason can be seen here.  The church—universal, militant and triumphant, composed of all believers of all times and all places –is female to Christ Jesus.  This passage gives us the soaring image of the wedding of the Lamb—the marriage feast of Christ with his bride, the Church.  The words may seem slightly familiar to you.  Should you have a copy of the King James Version, you will recognize them immediately.  This is the source text Handel used for his "Hallelujah Chorus."

The Lord God Omnipotent (as in the King James) reigns, and for this the saints and angels shout Hallelujah!  We are then commanded:

·         First, to rejoice and be glad.  Have you ever watched your team pull victory from the jaws of defeat?  The rejoicing for that is nothing compared to this.  But it gives us an idea of the feeling all Christians will have on that day.

·         Next, to give glory to God.  It is not our doing that God is omnipotent;  it is not our doing that Satan is cast down—praise and glory to Him who deserves it!

It is fitting that we should give God the glory.  But John here records something of credit to the church.  She is given fine linen to wear.  Interpreting Revelation is a risky thing;  so just to make sure we get this right, John tells us:  the linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.  (Saint, you will recall, is anyone in the church—all times, all places, all believers.)  As a bride on her wedding day is dressed radiantly, so is the church—in the one raiment needed:  righteousness.

Blessed are those who are invited.  As if to emphasize the point, John is told to write;  then told these are the true words of God.


Father, we can know so little of our Lord's return.  Help us cling to what we know, so that when He comes, we shall rejoice.


May 3

Small Beginnings

Matthew 13:31-32


The story may be apocryphal, but it is said that Father Junipero Serra used mustard seed to mark his way from one mission to another.  California's chain of missions marked its beginning. 

One thing is certain:  if Father Serra tried to follow that mustard today, he'd get lost.  It's everywhere in California.

It is fitting, given the characteristics of the plant, that Jesus uses it as the model for the kingdom of heaven.  It is a small beginning.  The seed pods are small, and the seeds in them are barely visible to the naked eye.  But, as one gardening expert put it, "mustard is notoriously easy to grow."  We shall consider, therefore, what must be done with the mustard of the kingdom of God.

To do this, we shall take as our guideline the gardening instructions for this plant:

·         It is to be planted in "full sun," on soil which is "well drained."  Alone among the great religions of the world, Christianity asks the skeptic to examine its beginnings.  The light turned on the faith soon makes it clear that the church is of God.  This is one reason that the world is so hesitant to turn the light on the church.  Many an atheist has become a Christian by examining the evidence.  But we must mind the injunction to be "well drained."  The water of life must flow through the church, not just into a theological swamp.  What the Lord gives so freely, the church must pass on.

·         Like all plants, it requires its proper nourishment.  The Christian will have no difficulty in identifying this:  it is the word of God, the Bible.  If you will look around the church today  you will find a certain sameness.  Those churches who hold the Scripture in esteem are growing.  Those who are too sophisticated for that are now studying meditation (or whatever else) and dying—for lack of nourishment.

·         The mustard seed pods must be harvested at exactly the right time.  It seems strange, but if left too long the pods will open and the seeds be scattered to the wind.  So it is that we can say that the harvest of God will be a surprise—the pods are not open yet.  So it will be at the end of the age:  the seeds still securely in the pod, harvested at the right time.  It will be a surprise to one and all.  Are you ready?


Lord we know that you will come when you are not expected.  Keep us faithful to you until that day of rejoicing.


May 4


1 Corinthians 15:42-49


Of all the subjects in Christianity, the one which can be counted on to bring controversy is the time of the end, the time of Christ's return.  Thousands of books have been written on the subject of the end times—nearly all of them by people who have no living experience with the subject.  The only exceptions being those whose works are in the Bible, it's easy to see that being an authority on the subject depends mostly on just how forthrightly you put your case.  After all, with all those interpretations out there, somebody's bound to be right.  But who?

We cannot clear that up in so short a writing.  But we can examine the statements of those who knew.  Here, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells them what they need to know.

·         First, he tells them, that the perishable is the seed for the imperishable.  This comparison, that the natural side in some way prefigures but always gives way to the spiritual side, is the key to his message.  That we are perishable is inarguable.  If we examine the accounts of the risen Lord, he is imperishable.  We shall be like him.

·         Next, this mortal body is planted in dishonor, raised to glory.  It is the same with our Lord:  the ignominy of the death on the Cross—followed by the glory of the Resurrection.  When he returns, we shall rise to be like him.

·         This body is sown (buried) in weakness.  For those who have the care of an elderly parent as a part of life, it can be very frustrating to realize that the one you counted as being very strong, when you were a child, is now very weak.  But as in the example of our Lord, that body is raised in power.

·         All this is done because the natural gives way to the spiritual.  The body we now have gives way and is buried.  But when our Lord returns, we will rise as he did, in the new spiritual body.

Some have wondered about this.  They challenge this idea by saying that we become spirits—disembodied spirits.  The details of that are not fully revealed;  this much we do know—man, without body, is not truly man.  Jesus had a body like ours;  when he rose from the grave, he had a body like we will have.  What a day that will be!  Praise God for his glorious promise.


Lord, we see but dimly into the future, to the day of your return.  Keep us faithful to you, so that we may rejoice when you return


May 5

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

1 John 5:6-12


Those of us who are of sufficient antiquity will recall a series of films starring Clint Eastwood, films known as "spaghetti westerns."  They were produced largely in Italy (hence the name) and were noted for what passed as deep psychological meaning.  One of the most memorable furnished the title for this essay.

Those of my acquaintance who fancied themselves interpreters of the motion picture art attached a great deal of significance to these westerns.  Never being gifted with the great artistic mind, I thought them passable movies.  Sometimes the Scripture has that same characteristic stubbornness.  You know that the verses are trying to tell you something; but what?

This passage is like that.  People become confused with the involuted style which John uses.  It brings to mind memories of the opening of his Gospel, so different from the other three.  So it may seem hopeless to understand this writing.  But perhaps if we take an inscrutable western and apply it, we might see the light:

Water:  the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good:  baptism is a ceremonial cleansing of sin, a rejection of the way of sin.  We need this if we are to come to God for eternal life.

The bad:  water alone does nothing to deal with our past sins, nor with our sinful nature.

The ugly:  if baptism is all I have, I am but one of the crowd.  You might as well assign me a number.  Baptism alone does not mean that God really knows who I am.

Blood:  changing the bad

The blood of Christ changes the bad into the great—for the blood of Christ atones for our sins.  It reinforces baptism by the atonement, and also convincing us of the price of forgiveness—the life of Jesus Christ.

Spirit:  changing the ugly

But baptism and blood alone seem very impersonal;  salvation and eternal life become a matter of formula.  The Spirit changes that!  The Spirit within us is intensely personal to us.

Now all three agree:  I have eternal life, as witnessed to by the water of baptism, the blood Christ shed on the Cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.  The three are one.


Lord, forgive us our doubts.  Bring us close to you in your Holy Spirit so that we may know truth and salvation within ourselves.  May we come to you each day with faith increased.


May 6

A Recital of Curses

Deuteronomy 27:12-26


The geography of this particular region makes in particularly suited for the recital in this passage.  Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim are separated by a narrow valley.  The chant of the six tribes on one mountain would easily be heard on the other. 

God meant to deliver more than vocal exercise.  By bringing the tribes to this place, and having them participate in the blessing and cursing, he meant for this lesson to stick with them.  Listen and see if any of this seems familiar:

Casting an idol—look at the pictures on your wall.  Sports teams?  Individual players?  Playboy centerfolds?  The boat you really want?  Do any of these come before God?

Dishonor your father and mother—"well, of course, we call it teenage rebellion today.  It's a perfectly normal phase of life to go through;  everyone rebels and tells off their parents.  You just have to leave them alone so that they can grow out of it."  Is there any evidence this produces law abiding, faithful adults? 

Move your neighbor's boundary stone—of course we don't do this anymore.  We go to court to settle these matters.  After all, if it's legal, it's got to be morally right, right?

Leading the blind astray—of all the sources of laughter on the planet, is there any so common as laughing at someone?  Preferably someone who is "different?"  Look at the geek, look at the nerd, look at the old geezer with a can, look how different they are—and laugh.

Withholding justice from the alien—unless, of course, he or she is an illegal alien.  That's different.  Those guys shouldn't be entitled to any justice.  Even when we hire them as day laborers and laugh at them when we refuse to pay them?  Who are they going to complain to?

Sexual relationship with close family—do you think this is a thing of the past?  It is not.  The taboo still holds for most of us, but we see more and more the "scientific" articles which proclaim this not to be a problem—even sexual relationships between grown men and young boys.  The perverts who do that actually have a public society to lobby for changes in the law.

Over three thousand years have passed since Mount Ebal heard the cursings.  God has not changed;  it seems, neither have we. 


Lord, we see the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and pass it on by.  We read of the captivity of Israel, and think it means nothing to us.  But you are a God of justice;  send us the spirit of revival soon. 


May 7

On Courage

Matthew 10:21-23


Most Protestant Christians today have only the haziest idea of church history.  One of the reasons for the popularity of the premillennialist view of Revelation is that we know nothing of our history—and therefore the events depicted there cannot possibly be over.  Ignorance is a foolish method of Biblical interpretation.

It was not always so.  Early Protestants in England read Foxe's Book of Martyrs right along with the Bible.  Those whose belief led them to be executed in horrible ways rather than deny the faith became a common place reading, and frequently used to make a point in the long sermons of the day. 

Now, I do not know if reading Foxe ever led someone to rise to the same level of courage as the martyrs.  I do know this:  my courage has yet to rise to that point.  How much courage I do have is not yet tested by fact;  but I know myself well enough to know that I have not been given such courage.  And I'm sufficiently analytic to know when I'm being "encouraged."  In the statistical sense, I'm normal.  Most of us are not cut out to be heroes—or martyrs, either one.

So when my Lord foretells the incredible bitterness and anger that his existence will cause within the family, to the point that parents betray their children and children betray their parents, it brings to mind the question:  what would I do under such circumstances?

It is very comforting to note that our Lord quite well understands the problem.  His solution is one to which the "courage deprived" will quickly subscribe:  we run away.

I would not want you to think that my fleeing in terror is anything other than obedience to God.  It is perfectly that, but I wouldn't want you to think so.  Do you see how God has placed a weapon in the hands of those without courage?  We need not stay to become martyrs;  we can flee—taking the Gospel with us. 

That last is important:  we must remain faithful until the end.  It is likely the case that I won't withstand the torture;  therefore, I should pack my bags early—and include my Bible among them.  Thus it is that the Gospel is spread not only by the men and women of great courage, but also by those of us who are but sheep.  Torture is the weapon of Satan;  flight the counterweapon of God.  As Satan tortures one, a hundred more flee to a hundred new locations, spreading the Gospel.


Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one.  Give me wisdom to know when to fight and when to flee.


May 8

Go and Do Likewise?

Luke 10:25-37


We are familiar with the story.  It is the "Good Samaritan," a story so much a part of our culture that the phrase itself is generic for some stranger who gives help to someone in need.  It is also a classic example, for the part of the expert on the law, of snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory.  He had the answer right;  but he just couldn't resist that little clarification point.

Go, and do likewise?  The first part of that instruction is contrary to all the principles by which God's will was supposed to be determined.  The young rabbi Jesus has made a powerful point;  but let's see if it holds up under detail scrutiny.  We need to stay to debate the point.  But the sentence is in the imperative tense: Go.

Worse, from the lawyer's point of view, is the command to do likewise.  The traveler in this story is a dim bulb;  no one travels alone on the road to Jericho.  The Samaritan is evidently no brighter.  Doing likewise runs the risk of being severely injured and at the same time appearing to be rather stupid.

It's worse than that.  The priest and the Levite had good reason to pass this man by.  It could have been a fake to lure them to the robbers.  They would be ceremonially defiled, which is always inconvenient.

And look where the Samaritan took the fellow!  Christ's instructions to the seventy evangelists said nothing about staying at an inn.  Any traveler would know that the inn was a barely disguised brothel, inhabited by the traveler whose wife would never find out.  Worse, this Samaritan must have been a regular customer—his credit with the innkeeper was good.

All in all this commandment doesn't seem very practical.  It involves a goodly amount of risk, and the association with a number of socially undesirable (to put it mildly) individuals who would not only ceremonially defile you but also cause other lawyers to question your integrity—and common sense.

The commandment was not given in common sense.  It was given by the authority of the King of Kings, Jesus, the Christ, the only begotten Son of God.  He is aware of the drawbacks.  He is also aware of the pain and terror of the injured traveler.  As often as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it to me.  Do you believe that Jesus will provide all you need—even outside of your comfort zone?


Lord, don't let the comfort of our lives keep us from being help to those in time of trouble.  You will provide—and bless the results.


May 9


Luke 11:5-13


The strident call of feminism has all but obliterated the concept of a woman who "keeps house."  Things that once were viewed as cherished skills handed down mother to daughter are now just so many antiques.  One of the things I miss most is the aroma of baking bread.  There is nothing else quite like it;  one whiff and you were hungry for it.

Bread today comes only in plastic bags, and the aroma has been replaced by preservatives.  But if you can remember that aroma, you can understand Jesus' use of bread as a metaphor.  In his time, there were no preservatives.  Bread was fresh, and therefore a treat.  So when company came, fresh bread was a natural meal.

So you can understand the situation here.  The bread was a major element in hospitality.  Jesus uses that to point out that persistence in prayer is important.  He has just taught them a version of the Lord's Prayer;  now he's teaching about getting results.  The first point is to make sure you're serious about this.  Persistence is a measure of your intent.

He then outlines for us the character of God.  In three simple verbs he tells us much of what has been revealed about God.

God wants you to call on Him.  Over and again in the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites to call on him, to trust in him in their times of trouble.  He wants to be in your life;  he wants fellowship with you.   Suppose your house burned down, who would you turn to for shelter?  Strangers, or a good friend?

God wants you to know him.  Over and again we hear in the Psalms the delight of knowing God by his laws.  God wants you to know him;  indeed, Christ wants you to know and imitate him.

God wants your commitment.  Many of those in church don't really grasp this.  Let me use a simple illustration.  My daughter had invited a friend (male) over to our house for a study session.  He was at that awkward age when you find that girls are different and that makes a difference.  He didn't show up at the time appointed.  This caused us to send out the search parties, only to find that he was on our doorstep all the time—trying to get up the courage to ring the doorbell. 

Many of us are afraid to ring God's doorbell;  he might just open the door and invite you in.  That's what he wants to do.  Your persistence in knocking tells him that you want to come in.


Lord, teach us to persist in prayer.  Lead us in the narrow way of commitment.  Grant us courage to ring your doorbell.


May 10

Sheep, Lost and Otherwise

Luke 15:3-10


The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are familiar to those who read the Bible with any regularity.  Sometimes we need to make a cultural translation, though, before the English translation makes sense.

For example, since I've never been a shepherd, I would assume that in the time it took me to find sheep number 100 the other 99 would have gotten themselves lost too.  I have worked (briefly) with cattle;  they'd manage to lose themselves. 

The coin makes more sense to me.  Picture having lost a gold coin in our time;  the search makes sense.  If you're an investor in gold coin, you'd see the sense.

It is a constant of human nature that we rejoice much more over the unexpected success.  When the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union team, America went wild in rejoicing.  Why?  Because the Soviets seemed invincible;  the American team was not supposed to even make the finals.  There were many other Olympic gold medals won by Americans that year—but can you name any?  (Just think how Jamaica felt about their bobsled team!)

Olympics come and Olympics go.  God deals with us in time, but his view is eternal.  So heaven celebrates most when the unexpected good news arrives.  Now, picture in your mind a man who is a complete slave to sin.  By our experience we might give this man up. 

But the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.  We can now see the love that God has for us.  Instead of condemning the sinner and wasting no further effort on him, it is clear that His primary effort is for just such sinners.  Those who walk the narrow way he guides gently;  but see how he stretches to reach the lost. 

We, the church, are the body of Christ.  We are here to do his will.  His will is clear;  seek and save the lost.  It is given to us in the Great Commission as well as the example of Christ.  May I suggest we need to rejoice by his example as well? 

It is easy to welcome good, solid Christians into our fellowship.  They are like us;  they hold the same values and share many of the same experiences.  Often, the hardened sinner is very much unlike us.  All the more reason to reach them.  When they turn towards home, we need to celebrate likewise.


Lord, we do not see things the way you do.  Open our eyes, Lord, that we may rejoice with the angels when a lost one comes home.


May 11


1 Corinthians 3:5-9


A newspaper recently featured the "ten most difficult feats in sports," beginning with number 10 and working up to number 1.  The suspense surrounding the articles was not very great;  anyone with an eye on sports could tell you what number 1 is.  Sure enough, the paper agreed, number 1 is to hit a 95 mile per hour fastball for a base hit.  If you can do that four times out of ten, you're better than anyone else in the world today.

This also helps explain why getting teamwork out of a group of boys takes some doing.  The temptation to be the showboat is always there, telling your teammates how good you are.  Every coach knows the value of teamwork;  it's the toughest of lessons, but it is the most profitable.

Teamwork.  Paul had to convince a fractious bunch of Christians in Corinth that this is God's way in his church.  Teamwork calls for unity:

·         Unity of purpose.  The church needs to show the world that its mission—to seek and save the lost—drives it yet today.  All else is secondary to this.

·         Unity in method.  Places in the church are not bid for, but assigned by the Holy Spirit.

·         Unity in reward.  Our Lord will reward each of us in accordance with what is right and just.  (And for that reason we are not to judge).

But there is also a sense of teamwork in the different tasks.  This teamwork comes from God himself:

·         First and foremost, the worker in the church knows that he is a servant of God.  Even Christ washed the disciples' feet.  The Servant Leader is the model for the servant leader.

·         We are assigned differing tasks—with no real emphasis on how important the person is. 

·         We are told that we are God's fellow workers.  We are, in fact, on God's team

We are taught that work in the church is supported by gifts of the Holy Spirit.  That same one Spirit is within us all.  One Spirit within—a very good definition of teamwork.


Lord, so often we are shown the example of the peacock strutting.  Deliver us from those who must be seen, heard and agreed with;  show us those who work for your church in your way.


May 12


1 Corinthians 2:1-5


It is curious how God works things together.  As your author sits tonight to discourse on this passage, he has (in small scale) a similar situation to that which Paul faced.

We are about to celebrate the wedding of my nephew.  He's a fine lad, and I'm told that the young lady is equally suited.  It should, therefore, be a pleasure to attend such a wedding.  It isn't. 

The groom's mother, my sister, has made a series of accusations against me that would blister what little hair I have left.  Then, having made these accusations, she tells people that I am "overly sensitive" for taking offense at them.  Since these accusations would, if proven, be felonies, you (O gentle reader) will be kind enough to understand that the problem is real.

Now, I have no grievance against bride nor groom;  moreover, I am charged with the care of my mother.  She is anxious to be in the wedding, as you might expect.  What then, am I to do about it? 

That's a small picture of what Paul was facing here, in his Corinthian problem.  His solution is one which could grace the column of any newspaper advisor.  To put it in local terms, I'm here for the wedding.  Thus anything that pertains to the wedding will command my complete support;  anything else is irrelevant.

In a very picayune way that describes Paul's answer to the problem posed by his Corinthians.  They are a fractious lot;  so Paul tells them that the only thing he's going to pay any attention to is Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  It is his dividing line.

This may be seen to have some disadvantages:

·         It makes him appear weak (to any given faction) when they would wish him to be strong.  His answer is that the strength of Christ is not given to fracture his church.

·         It also means that he must depend upon the Holy Spirit to be the power in his dealings.  But, who better?

It is a lesson in grace for all of us.  We need to recognize that God's command is superior to our quarrels.  For those in any form of a leadership role, it also means that we must put our own dignity and pride on the auction block, to be sold to purchase the harmony God requires in his church.  After all,  when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead, which would you prefer to say:  We dealt with it in grace, or we've yet to forgive?


Lord, grant us the vision that calls out your salvation only when we are willing to forgive as you forgave us.


May 13


Numbers 14:11


It is generally not good policy to anger the God who created the universe.  Indeed, making him unhappy usually results in very bad things happening.  One way to surely anger him is to hold him in contempt. 

That's what the Israelites did here.  They have seen miracle after miracle, and still they do not have faith.  God is so upset with them that he plans to wipe them out;  only the intercession of Moses stands in the way.  They simply refused to believe.

There is a lesson in that little verse which applies to us.  Belief is not something that just happens to you.  Belief, in the sense of faith, is a matter of conscious choice.  Which, of course, most Christians today think is false.

Let's take this step by step.  Faith is an intellectual belief that results in action in life.  We generally hold to the view that faith is something that happens to you; and so it makes sense to many to say, "I won't believe until I see a real miracle."  That is, simply put, refusing to believe.  The evidence is before you but you don't like the conclusion.  It's a conscious choice.

Faith is not blindly trusting with no evidence at all.  (That's the opposite mistake).  Faith means that you have examined the evidence, come to a conclusion and implemented it.

Note that we said nothing about how old the evidence might be.  If your demand is for a miracle, right this minute, you may have to be content with those recorded in history.  Your demand that God provide a new miracle just for you is being highly contemptuous of God.  Nothing but new evidence will do?  Nothing but evidence right in front of your eyes?  Did you think the Lord God Almighty is yours to command so frivolously?

Miracles are not a requirement of faith, they serve as evidence.  Their age (or lack of it) is mostly irrelevant.  So when we dictate terms to God ("I'll believe when you.") we are showing him the uttermost of contempt. 

But suppose you'd like to stay on the fence?  Can God judge you for not making up your mind?  We treat this as if we were being honest.  There isn't going to be that much evidence; not to decide is to decide.  God doesn't give you much room to sit on the fence.  He did not intend to.


Lord, spur us to action.  Help us throw away the desire for our own personal miracles, our self-inflicted ignorance, and follow You


May 14

Understanding and Faith

Matthew 8:5-13


There is an enduring myth among non-Christians (and many Christians as well) that you have to "know enough" and be "good enough" to enter the church, the body of all who believe.  This is not so.  This little passage outlines for us what Christ is looking for in those who would come to him.

The Centurion in this instance brings many lovable attributes to the situation.  He is evidently a man who understands the Jewish belief fairly well.  He knows that Jesus, being Jewish, would not want to enter into the house of a Gentile, for this would make him ceremonially unclean.  The Centurion could not invite him into his home—but he made Jesus welcome in his heart.

He acknowledged his own unworthiness.  How often has someone told you that they're not good enough to be in church?  Here is a man who understands the issue.  There is no worthiness in a human being sufficient to earn the presence of God.  The man has the humble honesty to acknowledge that fact.  He cannot have God on his own terms;  he needs God on God's terms.

He believed that Jesus has power.  He is concerned for the life of his servant.  He is not "finding out" about Jesus;  he is not asking Jesus to prove himself—he believes that Jesus has power to help.

He brings what understanding he has and commits it to the Lord.  Is the man's theology correct?  Does he belong to the right denomination?  Do we need to have a sermon with an altar call?  Not one of these things touches this man.  No, he certainly does not have the correct theology, if only because this is prior to the Cross.  He brings what he knows to Jesus, and thus shows him that he has done the best he could to understand.  He shows Jesus not the terms by which he will accept Jesus, but rather the understanding that led to his plea.  The Lord now can see the depth of the man.

The response is quite unusual.  Jesus commends him for his faith.  He also gives the proof test to the crowd around.  He sends the man home with the assurance that it will be as he desires.  There is the real test:  will the man get up from his knees and go home, trusting, or will he want to "make sure." 

Perhaps that's the cause of our weak faith.  We want to "make sure" of Jesus Christ, when we should believe—so that he can make sure of us.


Lord, we seek proof of your power when we should be providing proof of our faith.  Forgive us;  bring us to this great faith.


May 15

The Faithful Witness

Luke 13:10-17


It is evident that Jesus did quite a bit of healing on days other than the Sabbath.  But when he healed on the Sabbath, you can detect a sense of the theatrical.  Let us examine the cast of this theater, to see what we may learn from each.

The woman.  Despite her condition, she is where she needs to be—in the house of the Lord on the appointed day.  How many of us come only when convenient!  Lesson 1:  Be consistent in worship.  You can see that she is not expecting healing from Jesus;  he's the one that calls her to the front.  She came to hear what Jesus had to say (lesson 2:  come to learn and grow).  When assailed, Jesus defends her as a "daughter of Abraham" - an heir to the promises of God.  (Lesson 3:  Judge not—we are sinners and heirs alike.)

The ruler.  The ruler is one of those "gnat and camel" people, whose rules and regulations will drive you crazy.  He also has an inverted picture of service to God.  Being a servant of God means just that:  serve.  (Lesson 1).  His authority has been challenged, about which we may notice three things:

·         He addresses his indignation to the synagogue, not to Jesus.  (Lesson 2:  The majority vote never outweighs "thus sayeth the Lord.")

·         His indignation, however, is specifically targeted at the woman.  (Lesson 2:  beware when your target is upheld by God.)

·         After addressing the people with a remark for the woman, of course Jesus speaks directly to him.  (Lesson 3:  it doesn't matter to whom you speak;  what matters is God speaking to you.)

Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we can pick up a couple of tips from the behavior of Jesus:

·         He is teaching in the synagogue when this happens.  (Lesson 1:  what are you supposed to be doing Sunday mornings?)

·         He is the faithful and true witness—he tears the mask of hypocrisy from the face of the ruler.  (Lesson 2:  Every time you think you are fooling God, you get to be the fool.)

My Redeemer is faithful and true;  He will defend the cause of the weak, and the powerless.  What a friend we have in Jesus!


Lord, we know that we can hide nothing from you.  We come to you as we are, willing to hear the truth that sets us free.


May 16

Same Day

Leviticus 7:12-15


Buried deep in Leviticus we find what appears to be another regulation for another type of sacrifice that no one uses, nor cares about, nor has cared about for the last two thousand years.  It appears to be just about useless.   But, we know, God does not put the useless into the Scriptures, for all Scripture is inspired—and is profitable, Paul tells Timothy.  So this was put there not just for the ancient Jew, but for us to learn from.

Thanksgiving offering.  Say the word "Thanksgiving" to the average American and he will respond with images of a feast centered around a large turkey.  The picture is a good one, for it tells us how we should be thankful to God. 

The ancient Israelites had a little different view.  When they wanted to give thanks to God, they would prepare an offering of Thanksgiving.  That's not so much different as it might seem.  In those times, when you brought an offering of any kind, the priests (on behalf of God) got a certain, preordained section of the offering.  You got the rest.  But there was usually an instruction to eat it up quickly (this is the only place that I find same day, though).  So you would probably have that feast anyway.  You could not eat the fat (must be burned) so it seems the feast would have  been approved by my doctor.

We, today, hardly ever hear of a thanksgiving offering.  But the Old Testament example is strong.  When my children were born, my wife and I gave a small amount extra to the church as a thanksgiving to God.  We didn't "owe" it;  we did it for sheer joy.  We were so grateful for our children (and still are).  

There is one other coincidence to find.  This is the only place where the Israelites were told to consume the offering the same day.  But the phrase "same day" has another use.  If a man was executed by hanging on a tree, the body was not to be left up on the tree overnight.   The body was to be cut down and buried on the same day.

The body of Christ was cut down from the cross for that reason.  He was buried on the same day.  Those who had him executed were following the Old Testament regulation.  But behind that, can we not see the rule for the thanksgiving offering here?  For of all the things for which I can give thanks, my Lord's death is certainly one.


Lord, we are often told to give thanks, but seldom told to give a thanksgiving offering.  May our wallets do what our mouths say.


May 17


Revelation 2:20-23


It is with some trepidation that we take up a passage in Revelation.  Passions run high when Revelation is the subject.  There are many who are convinced that they and their group alone hold the answers to the mysteries contained therein.  But it is sufficiently profitable to you that we will risk a bit of it here.

First, let us recall who Jezebel was.  She was the wife (and queen) of King Ahab of Israel.  Of her character we have no good report.  She was a backstage intriguer who dominated her weak-willed husband.  She committed murder for personal gain.  Most egregiously of all, she led Israel in worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth,  She was finally slaughtered at God's command by Jehu. 

Most interpreters, commenting on this passage, tell us that Jezebel is to be seen here not as one particular person but rather the corruption of the church.  Notice these specific points:

·         This woman misleads the church into compromise with the other religions of the day—based on her "authority" as a prophetess.

·         This woman promotes sexual immorality in the church.

·         This woman promotes idol worship in the church.

It is tempting to say, "This is the worship of Mary in the Roman Catholic church." (It must be made clear:  Mary had nothing to do with that, which started after she died.)  But before you jump to that conclusion, let me ask a few questions about the evangelical church—the Bible believing sort:

·         Is it not the case that we see compromise with the world around us?  Feminism says men and women are interchangeable parts;  we proclaim that the Bible does too.  In my father's day a Christian's word was his bond;  my son must get it in writing.

·         Sexual immorality?  We hardly know how to define it.  I remember the pained embarrassment in the congregation when our preacher declared that sex outside marriage is wrong.  For most, that makes him a helpless fossil.

·         Idol worship:  TV evangelists with palaces that glow in the dark—enough said.

"God is known by the judgments he executes."  (Matthew Henry)


Lord, open our eyes so that we might see your truth; seeing it, believe, believing, put into action.


May 18

A Question of Authority

Matthew 21:23-27


The scene is a familiar one to readers of the New Testament:  Jesus is teaching when his enemies challenge him.  This challenge,  however, is a much more serious one.  Jesus has just entered Jerusalem, a week before the Crucifixion.  He has entered the city as a king seeking peace, in what we refer to as the Triumphal Entry.  This increases the challenge to the Pharisees;  the man claims to be the Messiah.  The Pharisees know that Jesus has done no public miracles in Jerusalem, lately.  It seems the ideal time to challenge Jesus.

The question Jesus asks in return is a jewel of many facets:

·         First, Jesus brings to them the witness of John the Baptist.  One purpose of his question is to have them reconsider what John said about Jesus.  He came to seek and save the lost.

·         Next, it points out (again) the decision they must make.  Based on the evidence, they cannot treat Jesus as another great mind instructing the people in the Law.  He is a lunatic, a liar or Lord—nothing else fits.  Pick one.

·         It also points out—thought they were none too likely to listen—how they are attempting to keep their positions by pandering to the crowd.  If they are the authorities, and Jesus a liar or a lunatic, then take courage and have the man arrested.  His movement would soon fizzle out.

In the minds of the Pharisees, the shame of lying is a much greater thing than the sin of falsehood itself.  Thus, "We don't know."

The authority of Jesus rests on the surest of foundations.  In the kingdom of God, authority comes only with matching responsibility.  He has been commissioned to seek and save the lost.  That responsibility alone would be sufficient authority.  But the question of authority is central to our understanding of who Jesus really is.  Ultimately, there is only one question that counts:  Who do you say that Jesus is?  If you say that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God—and you're not being a hypocrite about it—then you're on the narrow road.  All depends upon the person and authority of Christ.  He took the responsibility of our salvation;  with it God the Father gave him all authority in heaven and on earth (a point which will be perfectly clear when he returns).


Lord, all authority is yours.  May we ever acknowledge this and praise you for the sacrifice you made for us.


May 19

The Necessity of Faith

Hebrews 11:6


One of the great puzzles to young scientists (I mean those in kindergarten) is the mystery of the telescope.  They seem to accept quite casually the fact that it brings distant objects closer.  The puzzle is that when you turn it around the other way, it doesn't become a microscope.

Life is like that as well.  We might conclude that a healthy skepticism is a necessity of the Christian life.  After all, it certainly has its uses in our worldly life;  why not in our spiritual life?  But those who say they won’t see, can’t see.

What kind of soul does it take to see God? 

·         It would be a vigorous soul—one which is accustomed to working in the spiritual realm.  It's a soul which is more accustomed to think in terms of "right and wrong" rather than "profit and loss."

·         It would be a generous soul—one which takes care to forgive quickly, which is quick and public in praise, quiet and sober in criticism.  This is a soul which leans toward mercy; one that overlooks the minor offenses of the day.

·         It would be a visionary soul—one which sees the good that can be achieved despite the anger and bitterness around.

In short, it would be a soul which is like God himself.  The more you are like him, the easier God is to see.  For the vigorous soul is quick to see and praise the moral righteousness in this universe, and acknowledge its creator.  The generous soul is quick to praise and reward the righteous, which is but a mirror of the reward God provides the faithful.  The visionary soul sees not only what is, but what God will do.

But there is a word of warning.  Often enough the cynics of this world see something like this and say, "OK, I'll give it a try.  But I don't think it will work."  Following that, they go through the motions and find, as expected, no vision of God.  There is one more requirement:  the pure heart.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  The double minded have spiritual myopia.

You can't get a job without experience;  you can't get experience without a job.  It seems that you cannot see God without faith and you can't get faith until you see God.  It's not quite true.  Faith is given to those who apply, in pure heart—and then they see it.


Lord, we have but little faith;  we beg you to increase it.  Give us a pure heart for our faith, so that we may both see and please you.


May 20

Boat Building

Titus 3:4-7


In the middle of the 19th century, the United States Navy had a little problem—money.  Feeling that the demands placed on them by their various duties exceeded the means at hand, the Navy asked Congress for money to build new ships to deal with the situation.  Congress was isolationist, however—and fully remembered that they had voted some such thing for the War of 1812.  Congress viewed the problem as one of repairing what you have or buying new.  Reminding the Navy that frugality is a virtue, they authorized funds to repair some number of ships.

One such ship was the USS Constellation.  She was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  Years of neglect had put her into a condition in which repair would have been foolish.  Her design was obsolete.  So the Navy took what seemed the obvious course.  They announced their request for bids to repair her—with the unwritten proviso that they would scrap her and build a new, "repaired" ship. 

As it happened, Constellation saw a very long service career and was then selected to become a museum ship.  All the official records stated she was the Revolutionary War frigate—so the museum officials "restored" her to what she had never been.  After about fifty years, the official historian for the ship discovered the truth.  Then they had to correct the corrections.

We face the same decision.  We are ruined by sin, and must decide:  repair, or rebuild?  To repair is to use my own resources, my own righteousness;  to rebuild needs God.  The choice may seem difficult until you realize that God has already paid for your rebuilding.  You are rebuilt in baptism, kept in trim by the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  All this is the free and glorious gift of God through Jesus Christ.

Many want to repair themselves;  it is a proud thing to do.  But that depends on the soundness of the original timbers;  those timbers are rotted with sin.  It seems so easy;  it is so hard to try—and at the end, it just doesn't work.

But those who are justified by grace are "rebuilt."  They are in no need of anyone to correct the corrections.  Indeed, more than just righteousness is theirs;  they are heirs of the kingdom of God.  More than heirs, more than conquerors—they have the hope of eternal life.  Repair—or rebuild? 


Lord, we know that our own righteousness can never save us;  it is only a reflection of yours.  Thank you—for such divine grace.


May 21

On Being a Pirate

Matthew 11:7-19


It is God's good pleasure that I wear a black patch over my right eye.  It is not mine to complain of it, but I must admit that it has made my life a bit more interesting—particularly when there are small children around.  Four to five years old seems to be the right age—they look at me and turn to mom and say, "Mom—a pirate!"  We have a number of stories that start that way.

But what would you expect?  You and I have a set of preconceived notions about various people.  A clown should look the part;  policemen are in uniform, and pirates must wear an eye patch.  (By the way, black seems to be the only color the drug stores will carry.)

So what, then, does a prophet look like?  Our image is shaped by the stories we've heard and the movies we've seen.  We would picture Charleton Heston as Moses;  other people would see a mind picture of Elijah.  It's a striking picture;  the wild hair, the wandering in the wilderness and that absolute sense that God has commanded him to speak—no matter who it might offend.  It fits John the Baptist quite well.  It did not sit well with the Pharisees, who said he was demon possessed.

The prophet in the wilderness is one thing;  what about the Messiah?  What should he look like?  The Son of Man came as friend to the sinners—and the Pharisees liked him even less.

Jesus points this out in a devastating parody.  He likens them to children who take a flute down to the market and play—and then wonder why no one is dancing to their tune.

The problem has not left us.  We still think in terms of our stereotypes—even in the house of God.  If the preacher touches lightly on sin, he's afraid.  If he hammers home God's point, he's too much fire and brimstone.  If he talks on marriage, he's ignoring the singles.  If his sermons are evangelistic, he's ignoring the need for spiritual growth.  If his sermons are designed to produce mature Christians, we wonder why he can't just preach the Gospel.  As for music in the church—well, there isn't room enough here for that discussion.

The preacher isn't dancing to our tune.  But if the preacher is in close and familiar touch with Christ, he will know what to preach.  The real question is, will we recognize a real preacher when we see one?


Lord, be merciful to us.  Teach us to learn from what you have given the preacher—as he dances to your tune.


May 22


Isaiah 53


The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is a striking prophecy of the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior.  It is rather detailed as prophecies go;  once you see the crucifixion and this chapter, it's rather difficult to say there is no connection.  The prophecy written is so complete and specific that Isaiah is often called the Fifth Gospel.

But Isaiah begins with the problem:  people aren't going to believe this.  His message is so different, so unlike what people think should happen that people just aren't going to believe it.

With regard to humanity in general, we see that we are all astray (we are all sinners) and each of us has his own way of doing it.  No novelty there.

Consider, however, the treatment of the Messiah prophesied here as being due to God. 

·         God will crush him and cause him to suffer.  How can this be, from the loving and merciful God?

·         God will make him a guilt offering by laying all of our sins on him.  Is this the God of justice?

·         Indeed, his punishment will be so great that those around will consider that it must have come from God.

But this is not the end of the matter.  Ultimately God who has done this will also grant him "offspring" and "lengthened" days.  Most powerful of all is the statement that the will of the LORD will prosper in his hands.

Do you see how difficult this passage is to believe—before the Crucifixion and Resurrection?  Looking back in hindsight we see the prophecy so clearly;  but for those looking ahead it would have seemed unbelievable. 

It is said that God allows evil only when a greater good can come out of it.  If this is true, the Crucifixion is the ultimate example of it.

It is good, sometimes, to remember that the grace we have received was bought with a tremendous price:  the life of our Lord Jesus.  Stricken, smitten, afflicted and crushed; pierced, oppressed and cut off; these are the verbs of pain.  Our Lord was brought to the most humiliating death—so that we might live.  Do we then imitate him in our own lives, enduring suffering for his sake?  Who, indeed, has believed the message? 


Lord, we have no experience which prepares us to examine your suffering.  Keep us, therefore, near the Cross.


May 23

Limousine Ride

Hebrews 2:1-4


Have you ever ridden in a limousine?  We always associate a ride in a limousine with events of great importance to us.  For example, it is common for newlyweds to take a limousine from the church to their destination.  It is a ride of distinction (and prevents your friends from sabotaging your getaway). 

It's also true that we tend to be impressed by a limousine as a method of arrival.  We just naturally feel that anyone who arrives by limousine must be someone important.  Heads turn when the limousine whizzes by, and we speculate as to who might be in it.

The method of delivery, it seems, should be commensurate with the importance of the message.  When God gives the Ten Commandments He does it on stone tablets at the end of a series of mighty miracles.  If, then, the Old Testament was given in such a way, what can be said of the New Testament?  The matter is simple:  God gave the message in the Old Testament;  God sent The Message for the New Testament.  From prophet and priest we go to King of Kings.  The New Testament, therefore, is much more important.

This tells us something quite important.  The ancient Jew was to read and meditate on the law daily;  to post it on doors; to wear it on his forehead.  If this was the attention due the Law, what should be our attention to the New Testament? 

Sadly, this greater delivery has led to lesser attention.  Few are those who will spend any time studying the Word of God on a regular, daily basis.  It is as if we saw the limousine coming and assumed it was really a garbage truck.  The ancient Jew carried the word of God on his forehead;  we can't be bothered to have it in our pocket.

Queen Victoria was once asked by a tribal chieftain the secret of the success of her people.  She replied by showing him her Bible.  He told her he had one, but that the cover showed signs of decay.  How, he asked, did she keep the leather cover in such good condition?  She replied that there was only oil capable of preserving it that way—the oil generated by the human palm.  Only by constant reading could the leather be kept;  by constant reading the British Empire achieved greatness.

Tell me, then, in what state is the cover of your Bible?


Lord, you have richly provided for us in your word.  Plant in our hearts the desire to take in what your word has for us.  It is so simple yet so deep;  teach us to love your word.


May 24

Bodily Argument

1 Corinthians 15:35-38


Paul, in this passage, is dealing with thinkers who would find themselves right at home today.  In this short section, he is dealing with a very specific argument against the resurrection.  The argument is simple:  "Details, please."  If you can't give me more details, then obviously you don't know much about it.

This method is very common today.  We think that we understand something when we have taken it apart and specified its component pieces.  To understand how a car works, taking it apart is a good method.  To understand what his own car means to a boy learning to drive is not subject to the same method of analysis.

Man, the engineer, believes that anything can be broken down into its pieces, and when you have done this, you understand it.

Paul's reaction is typical of his rather short fuse:  "How foolish!"  If I invent something, it's reasonable to ask to have it broken down into pieces.  But if God creates something, the question becomes foolishness.   For God does not create in the sense of the engineer—but of the artist.

To see that this is so, consider the painting, The Mona Lisa.  It is viewed by thousands going through the Louvre.  Very few care how the individual molecules of paint are arranged, or on what type of canvas it was painted.  The painting is intended to be viewed as a whole thing.  And from whom did we get this intention, if not the painter himself?

We must deal with the works of God in creation in much the same way.  Augustine tells us that we can only understand God by analogy;  he is like this or that.  So when this question concerning the resurrection body is raised, Paul points them to the obvious answer. 

He then relieves their pain by pointing out, by analogy, that God has already given us examples of resurrection in our surroundings.  The grain of wheat in the ground does not resemble the wheat growing in the field.  But the connection is quite clear.

Having said all that, when this subject comes up it will be found that there are those of very firm opinion on the subject, even to this day.  We so much want to take this apart and explain it!  This may help explain the popularity of books on Revelation; we have the picture and we're trying to work our way back to the paint.  This much is sure:  I know that my Redeemer lives!


Lord, our redeemer—grant that we will take courage and strength from the resurrection, leaving the arguments to themselves.


May 25

Lesson in Power

Matthew 14:13-21


In selecting this little bit of Scripture I may have misled you.  This section is normally divided out this way, as the miracle of feeding the five thousands deserves its own attention.  But we forget what started all this.  The miracle does not begin with the crowd following Jesus;  it begins with the news that John the Baptist has been beheaded.

Jesus receives the news and behaves in very human fashion. 

·         He withdrew from the public by the expedient of getting into a boat to sail away.  If they're going to follow him, they'll have to walk around.

·         He does this privately—no last words at the dock.

·         He heads toward "a solitary place."

In short, he wants to mourn his friend and do so privately.  The crowds prove enthusiastic, however, so much so that when he arrives, so do they.

Most of us would understand if Jesus now told them to go home.  It takes much less than this to put most of us in a bad mood.  We have our expectations, and when they are not met we get rather cranky.  Jesus, however, puts his own feelings aside, takes pity on the crowd and goes out to heal the sick.

After he has healed the sick, the disciples come to him suggesting that he send the crowd away to get something to eat.  This is after the healings;  why didn't the disciples think that Jesus could handle this?

·         Some, I suspect, saw the miracles and said, in essence, that's what he does.  Not food, healing.

·         Others, more likely, felt that as they were annoyed with the crowd so Jesus would be—and he would not feed them.

·         Most likely of all—they just weren't thinking.

Isn't that so like us?  We go to God in prayer, acknowledge him as Almighty, and then present our list of complaints.  We ask the God who heals to find a good doctor for someone.  We complain about the people we work with, feeling that God would definitely not do something to help them.  Or, perhaps most simply, we go through our laundry list, not thinking at all.  Is it any wonder, then, that he so often shows us himself as one far above our prayers?


Lord, as we intercede, let us do it with your mercy, asking for your power, obtaining more of you as light to see.


May 26

Come and See

1 John 1:43-46


Consider, for a moment, the character of the apostle named Andrew.  He is always listed with Peter, James and John, but he does not seem to have had any great distinction to his name.  He wrote no letters nor a Gospel.  He is one of the innermost quartet of Apostles, and he is an enigma.  Why is this man so highly thought of by both Christ and the writers of the Gospels?

Perhaps this passage may help explain it.  The vast majority of us do not have what it takes to become famous—nor handle fame should it arrive.  Andrew could have been like that.  There is a role for such people in the body of Christ;  they are the neighborhood evangelist, the one who calls another to Christ. 

What kind of man was Andrew?  Take a look at what we know from this brief passage:

·         He is a man who diligently studied the Law and the Prophets.  The Old Testament is still worthy of our diligent effort.

·         He is familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament, even knowing that Moses had set forth the Messiah in his teaching.

·         He also does not have everything right;  he is as yet unschooled regarding the virgin birth.

That last is important to note.  Andrew was diligent in the Scriptures, but he did miss some things.  He'd never get a doctorate in theology.  Fortunately, our Lord is willing to work with such.

Nathaniel provided him with an opportunity.  We can see more of Andrew's character in Nathaniel's reaction:

·         He is quite well aware of which side of the tracks Nazareth might be found.  His reaction is skepticism—but note that Andrew brushes this off.  It's not important.

·         Nathaniel comes with Andrew to see.  Andrew's character is shown here to be one of a reliable man.

·         Nathaniel shows Andrew to be a man of strength—for the strong need not commit themselves until they are sure.

There you have it:  a man to be emulated.  His honest character, diligent study of the Scriptures combine with his enthusiasm to make him the one to call another.  Maybe Andrew is there to show us that even the ordinary can make a difference.


Lord, grant us greatness—not greatness of self, but greatness of mission, for your mission is very great.


May 27

You Of Little Faith

Matthew 16:5-12


There are two things which have just happened.  Jesus has fed the four thousand.  Following this, the Pharisees have demanded that he show them a miracle.  It's the spiritual equivalent of a double take.  The disciples hear Jesus' warning—and miss the point.

Symptom:  The wary guess.  I was taught that any question in American history could be answered with "Ben Franklin."  It seemed so safe.

Symptom:  Group decision.  When no one knows, we huddle and call our group ignorance wisdom.

Symptom:  Failure to "connect the dots."  Working a connect the dots puzzle does require the ability to count to three.

Symptom:  Failure of recent memory.  Do you remember the miracle?  Do you remember the Pharisees' questions?

Diagnosis:  Little Faith.  Faith is often the key to understanding the way in which God works—and the parables as well.   The Holy Spirit does not enable the mind of little faith;  but one of great faith can "connect the dots."  Seeing the connections of God, we become thankful for them—which strengthens our faith even more.

Prescription:  the Savior's rebuke.  In his snap reply, Jesus leads them away from the empty formalism of the Pharisee.  He also, by his sharpness of speech, sharpened their memories.  Most of all he dealt with their lack of faith. 

Does Jesus rebuke your "little faith?"  See if you see yourself in any of these areas:

·         Others hear the word and understand it;  you seem to be the only one who doesn't get it.

·         You find yourself puzzling over matters with no guidance from God.

·         Your memory is short;  you have forgotten to praise God and thank Him for what he has done.

If this is you, it is time to deal with your lack of faith.  The matter is not complicated, though it is a strain.  You must humble yourself before God, acknowledging your lack.  Do not be dismayed ;  he's expecting you.  Then ask him to act in accordance with his word; ask him to give you faith.  When it comes, accept it, keep it and use it—and thank him for it.


Father, increase our faith.  May your mighty power be seen in us, walking in the path to which your word gives light.


May 28

On Courage

Matthew 14:22-32


To understand this passage, you must know its history.  It occurs just after the feeding of the five thousand.  It is also after the incident in which our Lord calmed the sea.

It begins with the desire of our Lord to meet his Father in prayer.  He gives us the example, going into the wilderness.  It contains the peace that we cherish in prayer; the peace of God.  It leads to a soul which is truly calm.

You must not think that Jesus is just walking on the lake when they saw him.  The Scripture tells us that he went out to them;  he has sent them into the storm and now he comes to them, by God's plan.  He lets them go through this storm;  can you ask why?

·         First, times of trial awaken the hardened heart.

·         Next, such trials bring remembrance of time with Him.

·         Thus, our trials produce a longing for Jesus.

Curiously, they did not recognize Jesus as he walked on the water.  It was not until he spoke that they recognized him.  The voice that spoke the worlds into existence now speaks to the disciples:

·         He commands them:  take courage.  The matter is not only one of heart but of stout mind. 

·         He tells them that the apparition is really their Lord;  the unknown is now the friend.

·         Can they take such courage?  They know the wind and the waves;  they are fishermen.  But here is a new power, unknown in its strength.

The bold always seize the moment.  If this is Christ, he can walk on even this stormy water.  If I am his disciple, then I can imitate that—if he will but command it.  So the bold disciple jumps out and walks.  And sinks.

·         He has too much trust of the ordinary and too little confidence in God—he forgets who rules wind and wave.

·         But we must remember that he tried.  He tried not to be one who walked on water, but the one who came to the Master.

Were you there, would you have taken courage?  In the storm in your life now, are you asking that the sea be calmed—or that you be commanded to come to him?  And when he calls, do you go?


Lord, you who spoke and the worlds began, call us by the power of that voice.  Call us into your path, the path that leads us home.


May 29

Mind and Body, Heart and Soul

Mark 6:45-52


The reader of the Scriptures comes now to a point for which most commentaries have no comment.  The reaction of the disciples is one which contains three aspects, each of which poses its question.

·         The disciples were completely amazed.  Why?  Jesus had just demonstrated his power over nature in the feeding of the five thousand.  But we see that this was completely unexpected.  We tend to gloss over this;  we have not seen him as they had.

·         The disciples did not understand.  The problem, it seems, is an intellectual one.  We are so often told that God wants our heart it's as if we should check our brains at the door.  But it is not without purpose that we are told to love our Lord with all our mind as well as strength, soul and heart.

·         The explanation given is simple:  their hearts were hardened.  How is it that this explains their amazement and lack of understanding?

That last is the key to seeing their difficulty.  We often forget that humans are "amphibians" - we have both a natural body and a spiritual soul.  As such, that which touches part of us touches the rest.  If your tooth aches it is very difficult to tell yourself that the rest of you feels fine and, on average, you should ignore the pain.  The same connection applies to the emotions and the will.

We may begin with simple bodily weariness.   Work hard enough and long enough and you begin to focus on your weariness.  You begin to wonder if everyone else is doing their share.  But see how much easier such exertion becomes when the Lord unites the team, for they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

More than weariness, there is fear.  The wind and wave are wild, and the disciples knew fear.

·         Fear is a great source of doubt.  The danger in my face looks so much stronger than the Lord who tells me, "Fear not."

·         Fear is the enemy of faith, for it tears our gaze from the Christ to come and sets it on the danger now.

Fear, then, blocks the understanding of the disciples, which allows that hardness of heart to show.  But perfect love casts out fear!  After the Resurrection the Holy Spirit replaces fear with love—and the fearful disciples boldly turn the world upside down.


Lord, grant us that perfect love that casts out fear;  let us learn to wait upon you; to renew our strength and be bold for you.


May 30

Warning Label

Revelation 1:12-18


There is a recurring theme in the writing of the 20th century, concerning Jesus.  The church, it seems, has gone to great lengths to point out that Jesus, no matter what you might think, is indeed quite harmless.  A little religion, you know, could never hurt.

This is madness.  We put warning labels on flammable items;  a skull and crossbones appears on poison bottles, and in general we now have a well warned society.  Surely, given the tenor of the times, we should let the world know just how dangerous Jesus really is.

In my lifetime I have seen the image of Jesus change.  When I was young, the gentle Jesus was in fashion—certified harmless.  Later, he gave way to Jesus the friend.  We now seem to be transitioning to Jesus, the solver of personal problems—on call psychiatrist, so to speak.  Is this wise?  I think not.  Perhaps we need a "truth in religious writing" movement.  Let us therefore see if we can make some contribution to this.

·         First, the apparition John sees is indeed one calculated to give the impression of power.  Like many angels, this man starts his speech with, "Do not be afraid."  This, it seems, was a result of John falling down at his feet as if dead.  This is a measure of the fear due the Lord.

·         He then proclaims himself to be "the first and the last."  It tells us with whom we are dealing.  The Self-Existent one, the one from whom you and I borrow the very concept of existence, stands before the Apostle.

·         He is also the Living One, the one who was dead and is now alive forever.  This is the one who was killed for our sins; who died so that you and I might live—and live like him, eternally.

·         He holds the keys of death and Hell.  This should be sufficient;  it tells you that he, by his own life, will determine who obtains eternal life.

This, somehow, does not resemble the meek and mild Jesus, nor the buddy Jesus—it is our opening glimpse of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (did you know the words to the Hallelujah Chorus are from Revelation?)  Perhaps the reason our prayers are so ineffective is that we don't realize who we are talking to.


Lord, you who spoke and the worlds began, give us sight to see you in power and endurance to wait for you until you come.


May 31

Prophecy or Poetic Echo?

Job 9:8


We have been talking of Christ walking on the sea;  it may come as a surprise to know that the subject has arisen before.  To set the context for you, Job is being "comforted" by his three friends—who are united in their opinion that Job is a secret sinner, getting what he deserves.  In their argument they bring forward the character of God;  here, Job agrees.

To begin, note that the passage is set as verse, not prose.  This would make it easier to memorize.  In this one verse, Job connects the creation of the universe (and by implication the power and authority that comes with it) with this passage of walking on the sea.  By their appearance in this way, Job connects the two.  The connection is fairly obvious:  only the one who creates the universe could walk on the sea.  We may turn that around and say that the one who walked on the sea must therefore be the creator.

The question, of course, is whether or not Job is bringing forward a prophetic statement.  There is no confirmation of this as prophecy in the New Testament.  But there is a form of prophecy which we might call poetic echo.  He is not so much prophesying as he is describing God;  so when God acts in his character, the poet who saw the character appears to be a prophet.

What does Job see in the Almighty?  He sees the eternal character of God.  He knows the eternal power of God.  Therefore, he sees the connection which brings out the glory and majesty of God—the creator who is good.

To fully understand this, you need to know a little Hebrew poetry.  Remember Psalm 23? 

The Lord is my shepherd,

                I shall not want.

The poet (David) by his style is telling us that the two lines are alternate expressions of the same thing.  The Lord is my shepherd;  how could I possibly want for any good thing?  Similarly, Job makes the comparison between the one who spreads out the stars and the one who walks on water—they are the same.  If this is not prophecy, it is exquisite poetry.  God is indeed a creative artist.

Job, in the pit of pain after so much loss, holds God in full esteem.  He praises God.  We should also praise him in the worst of circumstances:  praise him for his perfection, praise him for his true unity and for the sheer beauty of his work.


Father, our words are not good enough to sound your praises.  May we always see you with delight, praising your glory.

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