August
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The Centurion's Tale

August

August 1

Monitor

Exodus 20:4-6

Getting into the history books is not easy. One great path is to be an eccentric inventor—like John Ericsson, the man who designed the USS Monitor. Unfortunately, before you get to the history books, there is a lot of nay-saying to put up with.

The story is told of his first visit to the navy. Evidently one of the senior desk admirals was asked his opinion of the ship. He told the young secretary holding the model of the ship that he should take it home. Take it home, and worship it. It would not be idolatry, you see, because it would not be the likeness of anything in heaven above or earth below, nor in the waters deep.

Idolatry is a problem which has not bothered western Christians for about 1500 years. The temptation to worship at some pagan temple simply no longer exists. But this temptation has been transmuted into worship of other things:

· Sex is one. If only I could find the goddess I deserve….

· Drugs are another; better feelings through chemistry.

· Conquest—whether actual violence or vicariously (football, wrestling) - is a third.

All these promise the same thing: you are going to feel better with little to no real effort on your part. Why is this wrong?

· It makes you a hypocrite. You cannot love God second.

· It doesn’t work forever; you need more and more to achieve less and less release.

· It is a sin which effectively blocks repentance. Why should I repent, when all I really need is a little more….

Do you see it? Anything you place ahead of God in your will is idolatry. You have accepted him as Lord and Savior; how then can you put drugs first? The answer comes back, “it’s easy. God won’t care; he’ll understand.”

That is why he gives us the explicit command to have no other gods before him.  It is no longer a matter of interpretation—how much is too much; one little fling won’t hurt—but a matter of obedience. You may not be smart enough to figure out why God says this—but if you’re reading this sentence, you can understand what He commands.  Let us at least do that.

Lord, your word provides wisdom to the simple and opens up understanding to the wise—by obedience.

August 2

Wedding Wait

Joshua 14:6-14

My wife was late to our wedding.

She says it was only half an hour; I hold to an hour. When the organist begins to play “Get Me to the Church On Time” (in the manner of a Bach fugue) you know it’s not just in your imagination.

You might think that this would have worried me. It did not. I had seen her on the church grounds, in wedding dress, a couple of hours earlier. So while the congregation wondered and waited, I was confident of receiving my bride. (I am obligated to explain that she has always been worth the wait.)

Often God has his servants wait on his timing. In this instance, Caleb waited 45 years for what God had promised him. When the time came, he was ready. But what was going on in the meanwhile?

In waiting for his promises to arrive, God is pleased to teach us his way, so that we might better understand (and appreciate) his blessings. We would certainly look at this and say that God was teaching Caleb the virtue of patience. This may be so, but Caleb doesn’t mention that fact. His claim is not by having waited patiently; his claim is in his obedience. He has done what the Lord God commanded, he has been faithful to God and he expects God to be faithful to him. He is not disappointed.

Do you feel that God has promised you something—and not delivered? Perhaps it is a matter of patience; but today I would suspect that we haven’t the patience to exhibit impatience. It is more likely that we are not obedient.

God will pick his time and place, and indeed the manner, by which he fulfills his promises. But it is not fitting for us just to sit around and wait. As the old joke goes, you can’t be standing on the promises when you’re sitting on the premises. If you feel he has not delivered, take the challenge: examine your life for your obedience to God. Do you obey only those things which you understand—or worse, only those of which you approve? Will God bless the disobedient, or the repentant in obedience?

Lord, it is your good pleasure to give your children gifts which show your glory. We know that the disobedient will not receive; teach us the patience we will need to maintain our obedience. May we see your glorious return as obedient children.

August 3

Great Beginnings

1 Kings 3:14

One of the saddest stories in the Bible is that of Solomon, King of Israel. Given peace on all sides, vast riches, great wisdom, it would seem that nothing could go wrong. It is not so; Solomon was led astray by the many foreign wives he took, each with her own idol. The man whom God commissioned to build the Temple wound up worshiping idols. God promised him long life– If he would keep God’s commandments.

That last is a recurring statement. In the Ten Commandments, long life is promised to those who honor their parents “as the Lord has commanded” them. It is God’s way of rewarding life long obedience.

There is the key to this issue. Our pastor is fond of saying that life is not a sprint, but a marathon. (Can you tell who was on the track team in college?) It is quite the truth. God may reward specific acts of obedience, but this is not the method by which the saints receive their reward. Why? Because God wants us to know that he is not the great cosmic bean counter who tallies up your good deeds and your evil. There is no trade value before God.

We are destined for eternity, and three score and ten seems little enough time to obtain the habit of obedience. The Army will tell you it takes two years to make a soldier. How long does it take to make a saint?

Is this important? Let me put it in more familiar terms. Ladies, suppose your husband announced to you his intention to keep a sweet young thing as a play toy. But—he tells you—he will make it up to you by taking you shopping for a new, larger diamond solitaire. There is no diamond big enough. If your wife is a Christian, she should insist on your complete fidelity—and give the same to you.

Now think on this: one of the common pictures the Bible uses to describe the relationship between Jesus and his church is marriage. The church is called the “Bride of Christ.” Ladies and gentlemen, if you would accept no infidelity in an earthly marriage, how much more will Christ insist on faithfulness from his church?

It is sad that Solomon ended his reign in sin. But hear Christ’s warning: When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?

Lord, our home for all eternity is with you. Lead and teach your children so that they arrive at their home.

August 4

Ordinary Man’s Choice

Psalm 1

Let us face it: most of us are not cut out to be heroes of the faith. We live unremarkable lives; often, therefore, the triumphs of the Scripture from Moses to Paul seem not to apply to us. We need the guidance given to Everyman.

That’s why this Psalm was written. Your mother taught you this lesson years ago—but you can stand the refresher course.

Did she not tell you that people go from bad to worse gradually? By the seemingly insignificant decisions of the day does Satan trap his prey. Here are the steps in the fall:

· First, the man starts to listen to the counsel of sinners indeed. He asks not “what is right” but rather “what is expedient?” It sounds like it should work, and what’s one little shortcut?

· Soon he is no longer walking in righteousness, but standing in the path of sin. He’s headed the right way, perhaps—but not moving. He’s undecided; the narrow path, or the freeway?

· His indecision causes him to stop and sit. He’s trying to go both ways at once, and it won’t work. But he’s not baffled; he can still dump cynical words on the rest of us.

Righteousness is not lost all at once, but bit by bit. That’s why your father taught you to sweat the details. But consider the other man—the man who finds delight in the Scriptures.

· Where the cynic stops and sits down, this man is planted. His views and position are not from chance or error, but deliberately formed from the truth. The truth comes not just once; but like trees lining a creek, it flows past constantly. This man delights in Scripture every day.

· You can see the blessings he brings all the time. It is not spectacular righteousness—but it is consistent.

· It is God’s good pleasure to bless such a man, both in spirit and in material things. He knows your need – and you will learn that He will supply your needs.

Look around you and see: last year’s super business man is this year’s courtroom spectacle. Your mother was right: little by little, bit by bit, you grow closer to Christ—or further away. You choose the direction; God gives the results.

Lord, keep us ever mindful of the fact that while our decisions seem small, they should lead us to you.

August 5

Divine Dilemma

Psalm 25:10

God has, it seems, a dilemma:

· God is love—he is merciful, he is kind and he is loving, to the point that he is the perfection and sum of love.

· God is also truth—the author of righteousness, the Holy One, the one in whom no sin is found.

All this is familiar enough, but have you considered what must happen when God encounters sinful man?

· His love is such that it demands mercy for the sinner, the work of his hands.

· His righteousness demands that justice be done on these exact same sinners. Because his righteousness is pure, he must exact the full penalty (death) on such a sinner.

But mercy triumphs over judgment. In his great love he sent the Lamb of God, Jesus, the Christ, to bear our penalty for us. Justice is satisfied, and mercy and love are ours.

Two paths—but at the end, the same destination. Whether we pursue the God of Justice or the God of Love, the path leads to the only God. Likewise, there are two paths marked out for us in his tender care:

· There is the path of the covenant. God has set forth in the Scriptures the way in which a man must live. Here are the words of righteousness.

· There is the path of testimony. We must speak of God’s love and righteousness—and the Christ who reconciled us.

But do you not see that these are the same paths? If you are on the path of testimony, how can you not be obedient to the covenant? Who will believe your testimony if your life does not show the blessings God gives? Hypocrisy convinces no one.

Likewise, if you are on the path of the covenant, do you not find yourself commanded to share the Good News? If your life is filled with his love and righteousness do you think this will go unnoticed by the world? Not only noticed, but challenged. Should you not have the ready answer of your own testimony?

The veils of the future are lifted one day at a time; we can see no further than that. But we know who holds the future, don’t we!

Lord, may we see your path before us clearly, and walk in that path with conviction.

August 6

Purity

Psalm 119:9-16

With the exception of food, drugs and soap the world finds very little use for the word “purity.” It is associated with the Puritans (a convenient butt of the joke) and generally with those who know no better. Our society believes Satan’s first great lie: we think that evil is enlightening. Purity is considered willful ignorance. It is both condemned and mocked..

But is this really such an obsolete concept? Honesty is a form of purity; what would you want from your auto mechanic ? Doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs—the common thread of the good ones is that they keep themselves pure. We expect it of those who serve us; but it seems so difficult in our own lives.

The starting point of purity is the heart, for there is formed the will to be obedient to the Lord’s commands. Our psalmist shows us this way:

· First, God must be sought with all your heart. You must put him first in all things. From this decision alone flow blessings beyond imagination.

· Next, you must treasure his word in your heart. Make it the constant reading companion; memorize!

· You must not only read but meditate upon it. In the quiet place of your life, read it through and ask, “How does this bless me? Of what does it warn me? What example can I take from this?”

· Finally—and this comes with some maturity—you will delight in his ways. You will begin to say how he works his will all around you.

What is in the heart must be on the lips.

· First, you must “repeat the ordinances” - in other words, memorize! The ancients had no electronic Bible, but they knew the value of memorizing the word.

· Then you must ask His care for you, so that you will not wander off. You are not strong enough on your own; but with his strength you will see that “the battle belongs to the Lord.”

This is advice given to the young; but it remains good advice no matter what your age.

Lord, keep us from mockery; give us strength stand and strength to overcome; let us never be ashamed of purity.

August 7

On Freedom

Psalm 119:44-45

At first blush these two verses seem contradictory to common sense. After all, if a man follows the instruction given in the Scripture, is he not of all people the most in chains? How can a man walk at liberty if he is seeking after God’s law? We see this as a contradiction; free, in our minds, means free to do whatever we please (which is not what God wanted). The truth is different; so different that we shall approach the problem by example:

· Let us consider first the technology of aviation. Surely it is obvious that the laws of physics would have permitted flight to humans at any time. But it happened only after people began to pursue the truth about science applied to flight that the Wright brothers put it all together. Pursuit of God’s laws gave us the freedom of the sky.

· It is true in the emotional realm as well. What young lover has not waited to hear his lady’s response? Waiting for the letter that says yes or no; then the moment of arrival; he opens it and she loves him. Now, tell me, is that not freedom? Surely to discover that she’s found another is not!

· It works in the intellectual sphere as well. Any writer can tell you of the relief that comes when you get that phrase exactly right. As Mark Twain once put it, the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug. When you find that right word, it unleashes your prose.

All this is true in the spiritual realm as well. Sin is rightly described as slavery; ask an alcoholic, it will be very clear. But when Christ comes, so does freedom. Catch this carefully: obedience to God’s law makes you free.

How can this be? Consider what freedom really is. If you fling a squid into the air, it does not become an eagle. An eagle is free in flight because eagles are designed to fly. Squid are free in the ocean because they are designed to swim. Do you not see the principle? A creature is free when it is doing what it was designed to do. Man was designed to love God and enjoy him forever. So in living the life he has chosen for us, we gain true freedom.

Think of it: designed to love God and enjoy him forever! It is not just freedom; it is also joy.

Lord, we struggle to break free of our sinful lives; teach us the joy of the freedom we have in you.

August 8

A Night on the Town

Psalm 119:50-51

We often hear the preacher point out the heroes of the faith. This is well and good, but most of us are not heroes. Most of us can sympathize with the Psalmist who was derided by the arrogant. I know that I can.

It happened this way. In the normal course of my job I wrote some software which proved rather useful to those who manage servers on a network. As a result, I was asked to go to a users’ group meeting—a convention, really. Several of my colleagues were also going. We usually ate together, for meals are better with good company.

This particular night I sat across the table from a very good-looking blonde. She seemed interested in what I had to say; men do appreciate that. I was rather surprised, however, when she asked me to have sex with her that night. She was rather surprised when I said no (actually, no thank you. Mother raised me to be polite.)

Evidently the company at the table was quite interested, for I soon found I had the floor—to explain myself. The explanation was quite simple, but I doubt I could do much better today. I simply stated that being a Christian was central to who I am, and I could not break faith with my wife.

The table exploded in laughter. The blonde asked me, “OK, so you like steak. Have you tried chicken?” People I worked with—and I thought I knew them—laughed at me. They could not understand why I could be so old-fashioned.

That night I called home, and carefully avoided mentioning it to my wife. This was probably a mistake, but I didn’t want her to worry about it. As the phone call ended, I was left alone in the hotel room.

My only support that night was from the Scriptures. I don’t recall what passages I read, but there came through to me that joy that comes when the battle is won.  "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” It did not erase the laughter—but it gave me great comfort to know that I passed the test.

Christian, when the laughter turns on you, seek his word—it is spirit and life to all who believe.

Lord, sometimes I feel like the only Christian left. Uphold me with your word; keep me with your comfort.

August 9

Flashlight

Psalm 119:104-106

One dictionary of naval slang put it this way: “Flashlight—a long, cylindrical tube in which one stores dead batteries.” Whether in the bowels of a battleship or just on a camping trip, the flashlight is useless without good batteries. The lantern needs fuel as well. You have to get the light from somewhere—or you will never find your way back to the tent.

But after you’ve been camping for a little while, your behavior changes. You still have the flashlight—but this time you remembered to buy new batteries. Neat, tidy and orderly—until those batteries go dead after they help your kids read comic books all night. You then progress to the absolute master of flashlights: a drawer full of batteries, all sizes, ready to be used. Of course, by this time your children have grown and are grumbling about the batteries that your grandchildren use.

The light of Scripture is like that. At first you find that the comfort from God’s word is just not there. But someone takes you aside, explains how God is working—and if you follow their instructions, it works for you. How it helps the new Christian to have someone to join in prayer! After that, it becomes easier—for a while. God now allows a bigger test in your life. You must search his word diligently; when you do, you will have God’s own light in your life—not light borrowed, but light for you.

When you get to the point where you never run out of spiritual batteries, your view of the world changes. As a beginner you still accepted much of the world’s view—but now the light is clearer, your view has changed.

Still, there is the fact that some don’t grow; they wither. One reason for this is the question of commitment. In my father’s time a man’s word was expected to be his bond. A man who gave his word to Christ felt bound by the promise. Today, such commitment is rarer. But still, promises past and promises future define your honesty. What have you promised the Lord?

If you’re like most of us, you have promised to “keep the faith.” That’s what you told him, perhaps in other words. The operative verb there is “keep.” It does not mean “had it at one time or other” but something we cling to continuously. And why do we cling to it? Because it is too precious to throw away. Is your faith a “keeper?”

Lord, do not let us become backsliders who ease away from you; rather, let us be those who patiently wait on you.

August 10

Perfectionist

Ezekiel 33:13-16

If you love God, is it not natural that you would want to know him—in a deep, genuine way? Then consider, if you will, the perfection of God. It is not often spoken of, for it is a concept of the philosophers and not of the common man. But within it we may find answers; by knowing him better we can love him more.

It was a commonplace among Mediaeval thinkers that God is the sum of all perfections. If something is good, then its perfection is found in God. Love is good; God is love. Truth is good; Jesus says the he is the way, the truth and the life.

The key point is this: God is not partially anything—for God is one. He is not “sort of” love; he is love. If he is merciful—and the Scripture says he is—he is perfectly merciful. If he is righteous, he is perfectly righteous.

That last often comes as a complete surprise to some believers. They imagine God to be something made in the image of them. It is not so; we are made in the image of God, not the other way around. For this reason we sometimes develop strange views of God, not justified or even stated in the Scriptures.

Ezekiel is up against one of those “God is just like me” ideas here. Some of us have the Cosmic Bean Counter view. In this view, God is in heaven, keeping tabs on us below. At the end of our lives he tallies up our score sheet. If the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff, we’re in heaven.

Note the key thought: man decides who gets into God’s heaven. The explanation God is giving Ezekiel here is the kindergarten version. If you look at the verses surrounding it, you will see that God repeats this to Ezekiel. One reason for this is to make very clear who decides—and it’s not us.

God, you see, is perfectly righteous. Not one bit of sin can he have in his presence. Thus he must utterly reject the bean counter notion. But he is also perfectly merciful. Indeed, without justice there is no mercy; without perfect justice there is no perfect mercy. God reconciled these two at the Cross; there Jesus paid the price. God has not varied from his demand for perfection; he has just made it possible to have it satisfied.

God explains it here in a very simple format. Reject all notion of a partial God, and rejoice in his perfection.

Lord, how often we think you will accept half measures! Deliver us from apologies and sins unspoken; lead us to real repentance.

August 11

The Least of the Commandments

Matthew 5:19

Have you ever read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount and wondered just what is the least of the commandments? The Jews of that time had selected one. It is found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7. It concerns the taking of a bird’s nest; you could take the eggs or young from the bird’s nest—but not the mother. Moses explains this by saying. “in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.” Even in the least of the commandments we see how God teaches his people. To take both would be cruelty; to leave the mother is an act of mercy. The least of the commandments is an affair of the heart itself. Even in this command which seems so trivial we see blessing and long life associated with God’s commands.

It is no wonder, then, that Christ solemnly cautions his disciples to be thorough in this matter. Some might think this just so much fussiness, but consider:

· Is there really a division between serious and trivial sins? If so, just where does Christ expound it to us?

· If you teach others that some commandments may be safely ignored, do you not corrupt your brother’s conscience? What may be the result of that?

· Even though you are a teacher, can you really say you know your brother’s every weakness?

Christ here sets before us the duty of all who make disciples: we are to teach what he taught. In so doing, teacher and student forge another link in the chain of obedience stretching back to the Apostles themselves. That chain is strong to rescue the sinner—but can be broken by a single link.

The truth is that any sin is one too many. God is holy; he can have no dealings with sin. He is also omniscient; there is no way to hide sin from him. But there is a way for the sinner to add his own, personal link to the chain of obedience. Gather such wisdom as God permits your teacher; meditate upon the truth you learn. Resolve yourself to take action upon it. Live the life of the child of God, and when your turn comes, pass on this faith to the next generation. Be another link in the chain of obedience.

Lord, if you took account of sin, how could anyone stand? But we have your atonement. Let us not treat it lightly, rather, help us pass the pearl of great price to the next generation.

August 12

Talents

Matthew 25:13-30

This story is a familiar one to most Christians. It is a favorite topic of preachers if for no other reason than that the parable is easy to interpret. The master is Christ, at his return. The slaves are those who are (or claim to be) Christians. The talents are those things which divine providence has provided for us. The eternal question is, what did we do with those talents?

But we might point out a few things which may have slipped from memory in this passage—and are worthy of your thought:

· The two successful slaves went out immediately. How often we think, “When I get rich, I’m going to be so generous…” Note that these slaves did not wait until “when”; they went out immediately.

· They went to work with what they had. There seems to be no pouting over who got five and who got two.

· They went to work “trading” - i.e., they worked in the way of the world. Ordinary commerce; ordinary things.

· They prospered in proportion to what they had been given. And their master praised them equally, for he knew the origin of the money. We do not know what others got; therefore, it is not ours to judge.

The master has a bit to say here also. The essence of his praise is that if these slaves were faithful in little things—and in the kingdom of God, money is a little thing—their character would not change if they were entrusted with great things. At the very least, using this technique could result in some startling promotions.

It seems suitable here to examine ourselves. The key question is, are you obedient in small things?

· Money is temporal; do you handle it honestly?

· Work is often unseen; do you do it diligently?

· Fidelity is no longer praised; do you still practice it?

A comic once said that if you tolerate shoddy workmanship in philosophy (because philosophy is a high and hard thing) and you also tolerate shoddy workmanship in plumbing (because plumbing is a low and dirty thing) then neither your pipes nor your theories will hold water. How much more true on Judgment Day!

Lord, teach us to be faithful in the least of things so that at your return we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

August 13

Children’s Song

Luke 6:46-49

If you are the parent of a child in Sunday School, a small child, you will inevitably encounter the song, “The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock.” Complete with hand motions, children as little as three years of age can be led (more or less) in song. It melts the heart of the parents.

In so doing, perhaps, it causes this stern warning of Scripture to be taken too lightly. Whose fault this might be I do not know; but it’s not St. Luke’s. Let us take a closer look at the wise man.

Comes to me

Christ tells us that the wise man comes to him. Softly and tenderly Jesus may call, but we must respond and come to Christ. How greatly Christ equips those who do! To them it is given to partake of the bread of life, Christ himself. Such a matter is rooted in God the Father; all those who come to Christ are given to Him by the Father. Indeed, prophecy has it that they shall all be taught by the Father. It is a deep, loving relationship.

Hears my voice

Christ uses this metaphor on some significant occasions. Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus stated that all who are of the truth hear his voice. It could hardly be otherwise; He is the truth. So those who seek truth will listen to him. Others may not be seeking the truth, but still seeking Christ; they are the sheep who listen to his voice. The end of such listening is this: those that hear his voice will never taste death. Eternal life comes to those who follow the Truth.

Acts on them

There is the chief complaint. It is not sufficient to sit in the pew with a smile on your face. What might motivate us? The love we have for Jesus. If you love him, you will be obedient. If you keep his commands, you will stay in his love. If you act on his commands, you will be blessed.

But there is a caution: if you hear but fail to act, it is sin to you. To hear is to cure your ignorance; once cured, it is forever gone.

Lord, we come to you to hear your voice. Help us abide in your love; teach us your commands.

August 14

A Father’s Love

John 14:15

My brother Jim is one of the brightest people I know—and if you’re talking radio electronics, the brightest. But even the genius must sometimes fix the plumbing. Jim was making such a repair one day when his wife Kirsten asked him, “How do you know how to do all that stuff?” Jim’s reply was classic: “I just thought through how my Dad would have done it, and do that.”

My dad was an intimidating sort of person—without really trying. He simply had presence. He also had the self assurance needed to take the plumbing apart in the first place. Jim and Dad didn’t always see eye to eye, but now the respect is there.

It is said that you can teach anything but motivation. You can motivate people from the outside by fear, or by promise of reward. When you do, you get someone who is a hireling, who will abandon the task when convenient. If you want motivation on the inside, you must start with respect—and for great deeds, you must somehow motivate by means of love. You can pay a nursing home to provide the care for your mother; it takes love to stay up all night with her, just to hold her hand and comfort her.

In this passage Jesus takes this principle to its ultimate conclusion: if you love the Lord, you will obey his commandments. Not by fear or hope of reward (though both are available) but out of love his disciples move. We do not often connect obedience with love—but the connection is very powerful. This is not the grudging obedience of fear and reward. It surpasses the obedience of those who are on the same team, pulling together for victory. It is the obedience that only comes when you have risked absolutely everything on the love that drives it.

Love God, said St. Augustine, and do as you please. If you are his, you will love the life of charity; you will love those around you, for they are his children too. Others will see sacrifice to the point of insanity; you will see only the obedience to the Master you love.

What Would Jesus Do—our children have WWJD on bracelets to remind them. It is a grand idea. But take it to perfection: “I love Jesus completely and absolutely. What would He have me do?”

Lord, to love is to risk. All of us have been hurt when love turned to ashes; we fear to risk all again. Calm our fears, Lord, and help us grow in love for You. Give us courage to risk all; give us faith to hear your call. Each day let us grow in love for you.

August 15

Commandment and Love

John 15:10

The statement, “God is love,” is a familiar one to most Christians. Children are taught this in song. But to the mature Christian that statement carries with it the knowledge of great things.

Do you not see that if love exists at all, there must be at least two persons to share it?  You cannot love your dog if you don’t have a dog. Therefore, because God is eternal, and He is love, there must be at least two persons in the Godhead.

But surely you also see the problem. If there are two persons, then there could be division between them. In short, two persons might imply two gods.

But this cannot be; for God is love, and love never wars against itself. Therefore we say that God is one. Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one.

Christ describes that relationship as “abiding” in the Father’s love. If one can abide, one can choose not to abide. Being perfect, Christ will choose to abide in the Father’s love. But the very fact that “not abiding” exists as a possibility implies that there must be a mechanism, a way, of abiding. How does one “abide in love?”

The mechanism is obedience. It is not an obedience to a set of rules or laws; it surpasses that kind of obedience. It is the obedience of the one who is perfect. Father and Son are in perfect harmony—and that harmony is an example to us.

For Christ is not solely God; he is also completely man. We are privileged to follow that example of his—be his imitators—and by his providence and grace we can succeed. We can grow closer to him each day. Perfection is still His; but we can now see it as the target we are aiming for.

Now, if you have read to this part of the essay, you are probably wondering how it is that anyone could be expected to understand the nature of God so well as to make such declarative statements about the very nature of God. After all, suppose all this philosophical logic is wrong. Then what are we supposed to do?

That’s the beauty of the mechanism by which the Son is in unity with the Father. Philosophy may be well beyond you (and those trained in philosophy will know that it’s beyond me too) but obedience is right down at our level. The command is ours; the example is ours. To claim this love needs only simple obedience.

Lord, your ways are beyond our imagination. But by your grace we are given obedience so that we might abide in your love.

August 16

Star Athletes

Philippians 2:8-13

Everybody knows one. He was the star athlete on your high school team—track, football, basketball, baseball. He had it made. He was so gifted athletically that he never had to practice hard like you did. He was annoyed when the coach had him do wind sprints. He never let anyone miss the fact that he was the star of the team.

Then he went to college. Maybe in college, maybe in the pro leagues, he found out. A star in high school who didn’t work hard met a star who did—and wound up riding the bench. In his pride he would not work; he discovered humility the hard way. The humble but gifted athlete was just a step faster—from all those wind sprints.

Consider, then, the parallel to Christ. We know Him to be God in the flesh. Do you see the humility in that statement?

· He humbled himself. This is the greatest form of humility, not imposed by circumstance—but voluntary humility.

· How did he do that? First, by being born like one of us. Next, by being obedient. Like wind sprints, if you please.

· Then note to what degree he was obedient: even to the death. Think of the athlete who works harder than anyone else.

Coaches love the star who works harder than anyone else. They can (and do) point out to the others that the team star is still out on the field, working hard, after they have gone to the showers. There is nothing like a good example to destroy any feeling of accomplishment.

Face it: we’re human. We’re not perfect, and most of us are not stars. That’s true athletically and spiritually. We should follow the example of Christ in humility, obedience and perseverance. But we see that as hard; “work out your own salvation.” It’s work.

But in this arena we have help. We are not perfect, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. It is his good pleasure to be our coach—and our comforter. By his aid we develop the will to do as Christ would do. With his aid we have the strength to do it.

Are we stars? Not yet. But we’re training for it. This life is just the beginning—stick around and see the second half.

Lord, we do not know the hour of your return, nor can we imagine what you have prepared. Help us to be ready on the Day.

August 17

What Would Jesus Do?

1 John 2:3-6

My father was a man who was quite literally from the wrong side of the tracks. The railroad line split Findlay, Ohio into two sides. The discovery of oil in the neighborhood split it into rich and poor. My dad was on the wrong side of the wrong side.

His struggles in life took him into the Army as a career. From all this he drew one conclusion (often repeated): “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”

This concept is very important to Christians. We do not claim the salvation of God because of our academic brilliance or hard work; rather it is the grace of God. Which is to say, Do you know Jesus, the Christ?

Satan will use that question. The nagging little doubt that maybe, just maybe, I really don’t know him. After all, other people have blinding flashes of inspiration from him; shouldn’t you too?

The Apostle John gives us the answer to that.

· First, we know that we know him because we obey him. If you’re doing what he commanded, you know him.

· If you say you know him, and you’re not doing what he commanded, you’re lying.

That’s the test. But John here reveals a mystery that still hasn’t penetrated the skull of many Christians: God uses people who know him as the venue where he perfects his love.

“Perfects?” The word means to make something exactly right to meet the requirements. God’s love is beyond our comprehension; but he has chosen to make that love perfect for the task of loving his children—by completing it in us. It’s as if God needed a container for his perfect love, one that would be easily recognized by his children. That container is us.

And what does he require of us for that? Obedience. Obedience to the point that we are directly imitating Jesus. Thomas a Kempis saw it this way: “By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.”

Lord, your love is beyond our comprehension, but not beyond our acceptance. Your truth is beyond our wisdom, but not beyond our obedience. Your example is beyond our power, but not beyond our imitation. May we always ask, “What would Jesus do?

August 18

Character Study

James 2:10-12

One of the more memorable studies of character is in George C. Scott’s portrayal of Gen. George Patton. It was an artistic triumph for Scott; the film won eight Academy Awards, so evidently his peers thought so too. One of the literary devices used in the film is the part of a German staff officer assigned to research Patton’s life. He sets the table for the personality that Scott portrayed.

Key to our understanding the film is that Patton is no ordinary personality. What he is, he is throughout the film. The character is complex, but consistent. Character is like that; faithful in little, faithful in much.

We have recently had before us the notion of the separation of character into watertight compartments. Bill Clinton’s faithfulness is such that we are to trust him with the country—even though he can’t seem to keep his promises to his wife. That’s two different watertight compartments, don’t you see?

No, I don’t see. Consider, as a counterexample, the Law of Moses. For over three millennia it has bound the orthodox Jew. Christ himself said that not one crossing of the T would be taken away until all is fulfilled. The unity of the Law comes from the unity of God; hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. So it is that from the earliest times it did not matter what part of the law you didn’t keep; if you violated even the smallest precept, you were guilty of the whole; atonement was required.

For the Christian, that atonement was made at Calvary. In doing that Christ also freed us from the technical detail of the Law of Moses. He did not, however, free us from God’s law. We have what James rightly describes as the law of liberty. By the power of the Holy Spirit within us, with due diligence to the written word, we can know what we should do.

But as the Law is one, so is the law of liberty one. Both come from God in whom there is no division. The concept of watertight compartments of character has no place here. You are one, not many.

The world proclaims that separation of character is perfectly logical and a worthy defense of the righteousness of (for example) Bill Clinton. They are lying when they say this. When they see it in a Christian, they condemn it as hypocrisy.

Lord, teach us to see the follies of sin in a sinful world. Bind us closer to you; the view is so much clearer there.

August 19

Hezekiah

Isaiah 38:1-8

(A side note first: the miracle described here is not necessarily the reversal of the planet’s motion. The phenomenon described could be accomplished with a partial eclipse.)

Hezekiah reacts to bad news about his health in much the same way we would. He is not happy. Consider, then, his method of approaching the Almighty to seek a reversal of this fortune.

· First, see that his complaint has some basis in God’s word. This would deprive Hezekiah of his three score and ten years.

· Next, Hezekiah turns his face to the wall—in other words, he cuts himself off from his court and takes his complaint to God alone. Nobody called a prayer meeting.

· In doing that, he humbled himself—to the point of crying like a baby.

That is his method. It is humility compounded with sincerity; it is not prayer for someone else but prayer that uses all that Hezekiah is. In so doing, he sets before God a summary of his life. This is one we could use to measure ourselves with:

· He has “walked before you in truth.” By this he means that his life has been lived knowing that God examines it—and finds no hypocrisy in it. Instead, Hezekiah has pursued the truth from God.

· He has done so with whole heart—not a hobby for the weekend, not as politically expedient, but with his whole heart. Would God we had leaders like that!

· He has done what is good in the sight of the Lord. It is not his own idea of goodness or righteousness; it is God’s revelation of righteousness and goodness.

For this, then, God is graciously pleased to extend his life. To mark this as certain, God provides him a sign on the steps of Ahaz. Hezekiah did not ask for a sign; God gives him one because the times are about to get tough.

Sometimes we face this kind of situation: times are tough—and are about to get tougher. God so prizes our obedience that he will move to strengthen us. Sometimes the rock of ages must be seen.

Lord, in our distress we often wonder where you have gone. In our time of trial, comfort us with your presence.

August 20

Interruptions

Daniel 6:10

There is a saying on campus: if these students would just go away and leave us alone, we could get our work done.

Is your day like that? Do you have a constant string of interruptions by people who have “just one more question?” Do you sometimes feel that people do this at exactly the right moment to provide the maximum disruption for the minimum benefit?

Well then, think how God Almighty must feel about it. Christians are taught today that the ideal prayer life is a string of one sentence prayers, fired off at need. The answers are never tracked, and no gratitude expressed.

Daniel followed the custom of the ancient Jews: three times a day, morning, noon and evening, he went to the Almighty in prayer. Why three times? It is not commanded anywhere in the Law of Moses. But it seems about right.

· It enforces a time of disciplined prayer—which tells God that you thought before you asked.

· It is sufficient to be a constant reminder during the day that the Lord is with you, and you are his child.

· It turns aside trivial prayer.

· Most of all, it serves as a witness to others. One sentence prayers are silent, with no change of face. These prayers are known to be important.

The idea that you must focus your prayers before God, acknowledging his sovereignty, is one reason we are taught to journal our prayers. The effort of composition brings that focus.

As to witness, think about Daniel. Do you see that he knew all about the king’s decree before he went to evening prayer? This is not an act of defiance. It is the correct order of things, for God is high above the king. Fear God, dread naught.

Daniel’s habits of prayer landed him in the lion’s den. His habit of prayer was so constant, and his faith so strong, that he knew whom he must obey. The time is coming when Christians in America will face such a choice. Who knows; it might be you who must make this choice. Be ready; be constant in prayer.

Lord, you have blessed our land for many years with greatness. But our leaders now turn their back on you. Give us a spirit of revival! But until that comes, teach us to be constant in prayer—and a worthy example to those outside the church.

August 21

Nineveh

Jonah 3

In any study of the subject of obedience, you should have a Jonah. Not that he’s a good example of obedience. Far from it; this is a man who tells God what to do; he is sullen and surly; disobedient to the point of taking off in the wrong direction. He may be on the list of “most famous” characters in the Bible; but he wins no marks as an example.

Which, perhaps, is the reason he’s in the Bible. There is a temptation to think that only super-saints can do anything effective for God. The surly disobedience of Jonah; Elijah’s terror of Jezebel; and Gideon’s timidity are examples of what God can do with someone who is just not cooperating.

Indeed, whatever Jonah said had a powerful effect. It reads like he walked through the city with a signboard and a loud bell, repeating over and over, “Yet 40 days…” It sounds like someone selling ice cream from a push cart. This bit of warning turned Nineveh upside down?

Apparently so. See how they repented:

· They repented publicly—it was no quiet thing.

· They repented in a ceremonial way for which there could be no misunderstanding (sackcloth and ashes).

· The entire community repented, following the leadership of their king.

It is not just symbolic, for it tells us that God saw their deeds.

What would Jonah encounter if he came today to Southern California? He would find plenty of sin; he would need to look no further than the church to find it. Sexual sins are now considered a virtue (as long as they involve only adults—but that is weakening too). Hirelings with silver tongues and open offering bags are the rule. Greed and envy are no longer sin. Violence and crime are normal parts of city living.

Would he have the same effect here? I don’t know. The temptation is to say he would gather a small cult following. After all, he has no television experience. But it is just possible that the repentance of Nineveh was readied by the Spirit and only triggered by Jonah. Let us hope and pray that’s the case here, too.

Lord, reform your world—beginning with me. Show me the way I must go; give me courage to go. Then do that for the country I love, that she might know repentance and not destruction.

August 22

Alone, With Company

Matthew 26:39

If ever there is a model prayer of obedience, this is it. It is also a very human prayer.

The humanity of Christ is shown in the fact that he took a small number of his disciples with him. The prayer is that of Jesus alone. Indeed, he makes it a point to go ahead of them a small distance (where they can hear what’s going on) thus leaving them as spectators,

But to Jesus, they were more than spectators. They were his friends. Why did he bring these friends?

· First, that they might know the truth about that night in the garden. He wanted them to know the agony of willingly going to his death as our sacrificial lamb.

· They are there also for what encouragement they could provide. It turns out that this is not much; but at least Jesus was not alone.

· Perhaps, too, their presence served as a reminder: he was doing this to atone for the sins of all mankind—including them.

If it be possible

Some have argued that this is proof that God is not omnipotent. Surely it would be possible to stop the Crucifixion before it started. God certainly possesses the power to do that. But with God, when you mention the word “possible,” it is necessary to point out that the illogical is not impossible—but God will not contradict himself. He sent his Son for this purpose; that purpose must be fulfilled. So it is that God answers the prayer of his Son—with the word “no.”

But see how the Son has complete confidence in the Father. He asks, knowing, and receives the cup of suffering. It is his Father’s will. We can learn from this;

See his prayer; it is a model for us.

· We are to acknowledge the sovereignty of God.

· We are to acknowledge our acceptance of his will

· We then may ask that he would see it to be possible.

Obedience is learned in suffering, even for Jesus.

Lord, none of us like suffering. But when it comes, help us to learn obedience to you in it.

August 23

It’s A Free Country

Romans 6:16-18

You’ve heard the expression more than once: “It’s a free country.” More than any other people on earth, Americans are convinced that freedom is their birthright. Our bloodiest war was kindled by the issue of freedom from slavery. Many brave men were killed so that all might be free.

In another sense, however, none of us can be said to be free. No matter how hard you flap your arms, you can’t fly like a bird. More to the point, human beings are motivated by a wide variety of things—and that motivation holds them captive. The real question is not whether or not you are free; the real question is whom do you serve.

Paul’s readers would, in his time, understand this section completely. Slaves were a common sight. It was completely obvious which slave belonged to whom—all you need is look. Whichever master he served, that’s who he belonged to.

You are a slave, then, in a sense, to whatever you obey. Before you were a Christian, you may have been a slave in many ways:

· You might have been a slave to the flesh; always searching for the right (or next) sexual partner; needing just one more drink (or drug).

· You might have been a slave to the world: keeping up with the Joneses, the new car or bigger house, the next promotion.

· Worst of all, you might have been a slave to your own pride.

But when you became a Christian, you took a new master—Jesus Christ. He delivered you from such slavery. We even use the picture of death to express it: buried in baptism, raised to the new life. And, if you will recall, you did this willingly.

As you did so, you became “slaves to righteousness.” How? You obey what is right and true. You do so in fear of punishment and hope of reward (just like any slave). You have been liberated to be what God intended you to be.

So then, do you not see that if you return to your previous master—the bottle, the world or pride—you are throwing away the freedom you have in Christ, only to be enslaved again to the world? Your obedience tells the world who your Master really is.

Lord, it is difficult for us to think in these terms—until we see someone who is enslaved to sin. We recognize the problem in others; may we be quicker to see it in ourselves.

August 24

Pressing On

Philippians 3:7-14

It was a dark time in British history. The nation, ill prepared for war, found itself at war again with the might of Germany. For years before this most politicians held to the policy of appeasement—and low defense budgets. The reckoning came due. When the prophet in the wilderness, Winston Churchill, finally was admitted to the government, many encouraged him to hunt out those who had been foremost in appeasement—to clean house. Churchill refused. “If the present sits in judgment on the past, it will lose the future.”

It’s perfectly human for us to look back on our lives and condemn much of what we have done. Used properly, this remorse generates repentance. But if we use it to beat ourselves over and over again, we may not see the power of Christ in our lives—we won’t accept it because we don’t deserve it.

Paul here gives us the antidote for this. He flatly tells us that he has not reached his goal in Christ. But he tells us how he runs:

· Everything that is behind him, he leaves there.

· His vision only looks forward, to the prize in Christ.

· He presses on.

Paul knows he doesn’t deserve this either. But he knows that Christ has given us this opportunity. How does he seize this opportunity?

· He seeks to know Christ—not in a casual way, but deeply and fully.

· More than that, he seeks to know the power of the Resurrection in his life.

Can the Resurrection have power in your life? Consider it this way: when you go to a funeral, does it make a difference whether or not the deceased is a Christian? Certainly it does! If this is true at a funeral, is it false in the rest of our lives? So it is we know that the things of Christ are more important than life and death—for Christ is lord over death. So even if you are privileged to share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, you can have the righteousness of Christ—and know that you will rise when he returns to claim his own.

Lord, it is difficult for us to see the victory, and easy to see the troubles.  Shine the light of triumph on our dark day of suffering.

August 25

Follow Me

Revelation 14:4-5

Pick up your weapon and follow me,

We are the airborne infantry

-Marching song, 101st Airborne

Is it not strange? The more disciplined a warrior becomes, the less he relies on the orders of others. An ordinary soldier waits to be told what to do; an Airborne Ranger goes looking for trouble.

In the kingdom of God there is a parallel thought to that. The difficulty in interpreting Revelation correctly is a commonplace, but all commentators would note one phrase about these 144,000 saints: they follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

“Follow me.” It is the call that Jesus gives his disciples. He adds no explanation; if you need one, he wouldn’t call.

The simplicity of the call

In Christ there is no complicated code of legalities—despite our best efforts over the years to put one together. The intellectual finds the call deep and profound, displaying one mystery after another. The simple man sees only the command; the two are in harmony. Indeed, it is a great simplicity of life to “take no thought for the morrow.” Christ’s call is simplicity itself.

The security of the call

In the times of kings we would say there is a royal security to the call—for the one calling is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. There is power enough there to make us completely secure in our Lord—and at the same time we have the security of the vagabond. Those who are with us are not tempted to steal from us; those of the world find nothing worth stealing (to their loss.)

The salvation of the call

All know that salvation comes with Christ. But do you know that he also gives salvation from self? When you ruled your own life, how well did you do? Christ’s call rescues us from self; it also rescues us from sorrow—for now we see the minor trials of life as they really are.

He who spoke and the worlds began cries to you: “Follow Me.”

Lord, let us match the simplicity of your call with our response—to rise up and follow you.

August 26

Wealthy Man’s Peril

Matthew 19:16-26

All the people of this time would agree: this rich young man is a righteous fellow. Next time someone asks you whether or not they can be good without following Jesus, point them here. This guy was living the ordinary life of a rich and pious Jew. Those around would consider that his wealth would confirm this—a sign from God of divine favor and blessing. Christ’s reactions and questions do not challenge this.

The man was sincere. His wealth had been tithed, we suppose, and he genuinely believed. He was neither hypocrite nor disobedient—he kept the commandments. He was perfectly willing to accept an answer which pointed out some minor fault. He was not willing to accept the truth,

Jesus sees all this. In his replay, he lists all the person-to-person commandments—with the exception of the commandment concerning envy. That’s typically a sin of the “have nots” against the “haves.” So he has listed the human side of the Law as it applies to him. From this we may infer that his relationship with the Father was at least acceptable.

His is also the habit of obedience to the law. His wealth would allow him time to study the Torah; I suspect he delighted in its words. So what went wrong?

RISK—is a four letter word. No doubt he was a prudent businessman. Prudent investors minimize risk; that’s what he thought he was doing by asking the young rabbi this question. He expected an answer in the form of some detail, or perhaps some grand, sweeping statement. He got “sell it all” and “follow me.”

The good is often the enemy of the best. His standard of obedience was high, and that’s good. But the call of Christ supersedes all such law and regulation—for indeed, he is the Author of that law.

There lies the call of Christ. His disciples left everything to follow him. One wonders whether Zebedee (the father of James and John) thought his kids had gone crazy. But there it is: if you want to find your life, you have to lose it in Christ. It is the grand paradox of God. The challenge is still before us; will you simply follow him?

Lord, we have our excuses, we have our worries, we have our appointment calendars booked months in advance. Teach us to live, not just pass the days.

August 27

Testing Obedience

Genesis 22:10-12

This is one of the most frightening stories in the Old Testament. Can you imagine sacrificing your only child? It’s tempting to ask why God would demand such a thing; the only answer is that this is a test of obedience. Why does God do this?

· First, so that he will know your obedience. God the omniscient knows better than to take your word for it.

· Next, so that you will know your obedience—or lack of it.

· Perhaps too, that you will know that God knows. Whom God finds obedient, He will welcome.

This is by no means the only time God does something like this. Read through this little passage again; you will see the words of the great saints: “Here I am.” The simple declaration of fact at the call of God—it is the sign of the obedient follower. Jacob responded to God that way; Moses saw the burning bush and responded the same way. The prophet Samuel, as a young boy living with Eli, is taught to respond this way. Isaiah hears the need for someone to go; “Here am I, send me.” When Christ calls out to Paul on the Damascus road, he replies this way. “Here I am” - not knowing what you want, Lord, nor trying to curry favor, nor arguing about my service; just present and ready.

The test varies somewhat; it is singular for the most part. God calls his servants one at a time, it seems. The call goes right to the heart—for that is where God’s rivals are. The call is usually made in blindfold manner—the servant of the Almighty does not know to what task he will be set. It doesn’t matter, really; what your Lord commands He will give strength to perform. Sometimes the call is sudden, as with Paul.. Other times it is played out over time, as here with Abraham.

The test, however, is always the same. Will you put God first in your life? Even to the extent of giving up other good things? If you put him first, all those other good things will fall into their rightful places. I love my wife. I love Christ more—and he commands me to love my wife.

Obedience is greater than sacrifice. A bigger check for the offering bag as a guilt offering means little. Standing still and replying, “Here I am, Lord” means a great deal more.

Lord, we so often attempt to set the conditions and limits of our service to you. Teach us to surrender in obedience.

August 28

Over Sight

Numbers 27:12-14

This passage puzzles a lot of Christians, especially when encountered for the first time. But when you think it through, you will learn a bit about how life is at the top, with God.

Higher Up, Greater Accountability

Be honest. If the Bible didn’t tell you that Moses and Aaron sinned at Meribah, would you have guessed it? Most of us can read that part of the story and miss that point. It seems trivial. But:

· The greater your knowledge, the greater the burden.

· The greater the responsibility, the greater the burden

· The greater the example, the greater the burden.

God is holy

The matter seems almost trivial—and it’s not exactly hot news. We often feel that if a sin is old enough it need cause no repentance; it’s history. But God is holy; all sin must be cleaned away before him. He is eternal, so even “old” sin is before him. No matter how stale the sin, repentance is required. (And that applies to forgiveness, too).

The exactness of obedience

The greater one’s knowledge of the Scripture—indeed, the will of God—the more exactly one will be held to the exactness of obedience. This is all the more true for those who have been given a direct command. So,

· Those who substitute their plan for God’s plan are not really helping themselves—are they?

· It makes no difference whether you fail to do or whether you do and add something to it—obedience is obedience.

There are several instances in the Old Testament where the obedience of a man is tested by the exactness of his obedience. We often think we are helping God by adjusting his commands; we are actually defying him in this. Don’t be a fool about this: examine yourself and ask: am I really obedient?

Lord, so often we have a “better idea.” But you are God; teach us to value your way as so much higher than our own.

August 29

Primacy of Christ

Luke 14:25-35

One thing is unmistakable here: Jesus of Nazareth is claiming the allegiance due to God. Only the love of God can exceed love in family; but even in the Old Testament the people were commanded to stone mother and father to death—for practicing idolatry. Christ, in this, shows himself above all else.

This ought to provoke a little thought on our part. As he claims our obedience, he provides us with three word pictures—to make sure we see how absolute his claim is.

“Carry your cross.” We don’t hear that phrase very much these days. For one thing, it implies that you have “your” cross—one God calls you to carry. We’d rather pick our own. Even the word “cross” sounds like a burden; we’d rather have something lighter. Worse, we are commanded to “carry” it—not just drag it behind. So much for complaints. Then, we are to follow Him.

We may not see it, but a growing Christian is a work in process. When we “build the tower” of our lives, we need to start with a good plan—His plan. If you’ve ever remodeled, you know that the site can be a mess (judge not); sometimes the Contractor has to tear down before building up (worry not); and you might not understand just what He’s doing (have faith). One thing you do know about building: it’s hard work, whether it’s your kitchen or your soul.

The result of this is described as “the salt of the earth.” The phrase has passed into our language as describing people who are not pretentious but can be relied on. Consider salt and its role in life:

· It’s used as an antiseptic; are you such a cleansing influence?

· It’s a preservative; are you perseverant?

· In an open wound, it stings. Sometimes our mere presence reminds the sinner of his pain.

· It’s also a flavoring; a little bit does a lot. What’s your influence on your group?

All this—carrying your cross, building your life, being the salt of the earth—happens to real Christians. Be a Christian with open eyes (like that king), count the cost, and choose to follow Him.

Lord, we know that your strength is sufficient for us. Open our eyes, let us see the cost, and then let us have the joy of those who will follow you even to the death.

August 30

Closing the Books

Revelation 22:12-14

Dear to the hearts of many Christians (and many others) are the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. In particular there is his masterpiece, the “Rings” trilogy. The work is very long; cold winter nights are often used for reading such. But no matter how long the work, there must be an end to it. We simply don’t accept a work without an ending to it. Evil must be defeated; the good must be rewarded and everyone then lives happily ever after.

That’s also a good picture of what is happening here. There are many interpretations of Revelation, but almost all agree: Jesus, the Christ, will someday return. That is agreed. “When,” on the other hand, is the subject of lively debate, mingled with caution—for none of us really know.

His return is not simply to revisit as a tourist. He is coming to judge the living and the dead. We need to understand his concept of judgment:

· It is a negative, in that those who have deserved worse than they got will be further punished (but see below).

· It is a positive in that those whose deeds need his reward—and he is generous in his reward—will be given such.

Some of us, however, will not be receiving the judgment of our sins. Some of us will present a defense at the judgment throne which we know to be secure: the blood of Jesus as atonement for our sins. That’s what is meant by those who “wash their robes.” They will see their sin as forgiven—and yet receive what is their due as reward.

Because we are forgiven, we will be alive forever (the “tree of life” shown here). We will be the legitimate citizens of the kingdom of God. The glory is such that it must be put in this symbolic language; it will nonetheless be quite real.

But what of reward? Christ teaches us that even the least of our good deeds will be rewarded; a cup of water in his name, to picture such deeds. As God closes the books on us, our sins will be washed off the page; our good works rewarded. It is not fair; it is mercy, and mercy triumphs over judgment.

The day is coming when all of our unnoticed obedience will be known. Be of good heart; your redemption “draweth nigh”.

Lord, so often the weariness of the day blinds us to your reward. Renew our strength so that we may renew our obedience.

August 31

The Test of Wealth

Matthew 6:24

Would it spoil some vast celestial plan

If I were a wealthy man?

Fiddler on the Roof

Sometimes God tests us—with money. Like Tevye, we often have the attitude that if riches are a curse, please smite me with it. One reason God doesn’t do this: he knows we’d flunk. It’s also the reason he doesn’t take away what we have.

Testing the increase.

Consider the ways God can increase your wealth—and the pitfalls of each:

· He might allow you to slip quietly into wealth. Maybe things just go well for you in the market. Will you take the time to examine what you have, and what you do with it?

· Sometimes you get rich quick—say, by inheritance. Do you plan with God in mind?

· Worst of all, suppose you build a better mousetrap. Does your pride blind you to the practice of charity?

Testing the decrease.

Sometimes the money just leaks away (big medical bills?). Other times you watch it go (spend, spend, spend).

Sometimes we get the treatment of Job. It’s gone, all at once. But if you’ll read through, you’ll see that not once did Job complain about the loss of wealth. His priorities were straight.

How to keep Christ first

By what discipline can the Christian gain mastery over the love of money?

· Tithe. Whatever else, make this regimen the way to triumph over the love of money.

· Give—person to person. Care for people, not appeals.

· Fill your needs—not your appetites. (Just like dieting).

Who’s in charge—Jesus Christ, or your wallet?

Lord, we know that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. Weed out that root from our lives.

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