April
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April 1

Blasphemy

Matthew 9:1-8

 

The spread of obscenity in the English language has blurred a distinction our ancestors understood as quite serious.  There is a difference between language which is extremely vulgar and that which is blasphemous.  Blasphemy means simply to take the Lord's name in vain.  If you damn a chair because you tripped over it in the dark, no one really expects the chair to wind up in hell.  But it is still blasphemy because it misuses the name of God.

God is very particular about the use of his name.  You will recall that he never introduced himself by name to Abraham, Isaac or Israel.  It was not until the time of Moses that God allowed his name even to be mentioned.  In so doing, he gave the commandment that his name was not be taken in vain.  The ancient Israelite understood what this meant:  you did not take a solemn oath, calling upon the I AM as witness and enforcer, for any frivolous thing.  Nor did you use it to deceive others. 

In later years the use of God's name was more trivial (see the chair above).  But what Jesus is doing here is indeed blasphemy—unless you are God. 

The argument is simple.  Whenever I sin, there is always at least one injured party—God himself, who created the universe and ordained its laws.  To sin is to sin against him.  He therefore has the authority to forgive sins.  This follows from the fact that he is the one sinned against;  only the victim of the sin can truly forgive it.  As he is the only perfect party in this, his forgiveness comes with no baggage.  If he forgives you, you are forgiven indeed.

Now you understand the point of the teachers of the law.  Who but God can forgive;  this man claims to forgive.  Worse yet, this man backs it up by healing the man. 

But do you not see what this means?  So often we have sinned against someone who is no longer with us.  Memories are long, especially when the feud was bitter.  It is best that we settle our grievances without sin;  if we do sin, it is best to seek forgiveness quickly.  But sometimes we don't—and at the funeral the feeling arises that we waited too long.

Take heart;  the Lord of Creation knows this pain, for every sin is also a sin against him.  He can forgive; he will forgive—if you will seek him while he may yet be found.

 

Lord, so often we wait to ask forgiveness, and to forgive.  Move in our hearts to seek reconciliation, for you have reconciled us to God.  Let us imitate you and be reconciled with each other

 

April 2

The Self Sufficient

Luke 7:36-50

 

"The self-sufficient will be disgusted, because the Gospel encourages such repenting sinners."  (Matthew Henry)

One of the more consistent behaviors of intelligent, self-sufficient Christians is that they place great expectations upon those who might be classed as clergy.  Sinners care very little about the clothing of the one who brings the good news;  the self-sufficient expect the preacher to dress properly, as befits a man of the cloth.

Here is such a man.  He has expectations of this rabbi Jesus:

·         He expects that Jesus will know who she is.  Perhaps this is from her style of dress;  certainly from the fact that she let her hair down (a social taboo of the time).  Jesus should be sharp enough to pick up the fact that she's a prostitute.  In this, he is quite correct.

·         He therefore expects that Jesus knows what she has done.  Such a woman cannot afford such perfume unless she has a large and steady income.  The matter should be obvious, especially to one who appears to be a prophet.

·         He also expects that Jesus will join him in condemning the sin of prostitution.  In this he is also correct (though some miss this point);  he refers to it as sin.

·         He also expects that Jesus will share in his personal revulsion against this woman.  In this, Jesus has a surprise for him.

You will note that Jesus does not breathe fire and brimstone.  Instead, he begins with a simple story and a simple question.  Indeed, the story and the question are well below the intelligence level of the Pharisee;  so he responds with "I suppose."  He is looking for a trap in words.

The trap has already been sprung.  Indeed, you should look at this as a point of divine style:  on his own judgment he is judged.  Do you recall the story of King David and a woman named Bathsheba?  It's the same sense of humor at work.

The self-sufficient are prone to this error:  they do not love the sinner and hate the sin.  It is a point of pride that they know right from wrong, good people from bad.  Pride.

The macho never ask for mercy.  It is a pity.

 

Lord, grant that we may cease to be self-sufficient and become instead sufficient by God.  We know that you will meet our every need;  teach us to truly know our needs—including the ones we hide in our pride.

 

April 3

 

Love Undeserved

Ephesians 1:3-10

 

 

There is an awesome aspect to this little passage.  Go through it and note the number of things given to us "in Christ" or "in Him."  The sense of this passage is not concerned with individual predestination; it celebrates the grand and wonderful blessings given to us in Christ.

·         Every spiritual blessing.  It is an inclusive phrase, and one which should bring encouragement to those dying or mourning the dead.  Every spiritual blessing is given to us.  To live is Christ, to die is gain.

·         He chose us before the creation of the world.  Note the phrasing, "in Christ."  This means that God's plan from the beginning included the Cross.

·         He chose us to be holy and  blameless.  First he chose us to be set apart for his purposes.  In so doing, he has rendered us blameless—for the blood of Christ removes our sin and blame.

·         We have grace, freely given.  We have received God's unmerited favor, which is called grace.  Note, however, that Paul tells us that it is "freely given."  There is no sense of it being given sparingly or grudgingly—but rather with the spirit of a Father welcoming home the prodigal.

·         We have redemption through his blood.  The price has been paid—and what a price!  Our sin required the sacrifice of the one innocent to walk the planet.  With this price, he bought us back from the slavery of sin.

·         Forgiveness of sin.  It is not just that we have been redeemed, which might be said to cover the legal judgment against us.  This is more;  it is the wholehearted forgiveness for what we have done—given by the one Person who is wronged by every sin committed.

·         Made known his will.  We have been given not only a salvation so rich and free, but also we've been given a look at God's plan for creation.  Christ will return;  we shall see him face to face.

 

Lord, we are indeed richly blessed.  Grant that we should be grateful, and that our gratitude will be expressed in praise.

 

April 4

God, As Witness

Malachi 3:1-5

 

In this clearly prophetic passage we see indications which refer to the second coming of our Lord.  There is much speculation about:

·         The temple.  Is this the "millennial Temple" described in Ezekiel?

·         Who is this "messenger?"  In his first advent our Lord had John the Baptist.  Is there another one like John the Baptist?  Is it Elijah, the prophet who never died?

We enjoy hearing about such things, and many spend much time in debating the various theories which abound.  But the thrust of this passage is not a description of the events before the second coming;  it is a description of the events after he arrives.

There is a recurring theme in the Old Testament:  the remnant.  By trial and trouble God purifies the nation of Israel to make it acceptable and holy to him.  Malachi compares him to the most purifying actions known to him, such as refining gold.  The point is simple:  Christ is coming to judge the living and the dead.  For many it will be too fearsome to stand.

But note one thing:  The Lord God Almighty himself will be "quick to testify."  The omniscient one himself will serve as witness, bringing home sin to the wicked.  What a marvel, then, that we have such a list of sinners:

·         Sorcerers (such as "New Age Christians")

·         Adulterers and perjurers (whether president or not)

·         Those who oppress the weak, such as widows and orphans.

·         Those who deprive the alien of justice, the laborer of his wages.

That last one deserves our attention.  It is a common thing to see Mexican day laborers gathered, waiting for someone to offer them a day's work.  Such men are often illegal aliens, unable to provide the required documentation to be employed in a regular job.  Perhaps you did not know it, but these men are accustomed to two things:  hard work and a dishonorable employer.  If the employer simply refuses to pay his wages, what can the alien do?  The employer justifies himself by saying the worker is illegal.  This is true—and irrelevant.  The laborer has earned his wages.  The Lord God Almighty is witness—and the time of his testimony is near.

 

Lord, we praise your justice, for it is perfect.  Even when we do not receive justice, help us always to give it.

 

April 5

In the Gap

Exodus 32:9-14

 

Moses, among his other virtues, mastered the art of intercession with the Lord.  This is not surprising.  He had ample practice. 

We can, however, pick up a few points in the technique here:

·         First, if you are interceding on behalf of a sinner, acknowledge the relationship.  Praise God for his mighty works.  Make it clear that you are not trying to deal with God as you would with another man.  Praise sets you in the right proportion with God.  It also implies that intercession is an act of extreme spiritual daring.

·         Next, explain why you are interceding with the Lord.  It's not as if God doesn't know the facts.  This helps you clear your mind of wrong motives.  If the person for whom you are interceding is someone you love, bring that up.  Give God the opportunity to speak to you about it.  Why would you do this?  So that you would understand how unworthy the sinner is, and how you are appealing to God from your own motives, whatever they might be.

·         Then, claim his promises.  If the Scriptures promise something, go straight to God with the promise in mind and heart.  Why does he encourage this?  He wants you to be grounded in the faith, and that includes the promises of the Scriptures.  Don't hesitate to remind God;  he tells us to be persistent about these things.

·         Finally, offer your services to assist.  If you come to God asking for something, but clearly not intending to sacrifice  on your part, then the matter can't be all that important to you, can it?

Moses here exemplifies intercession.  He also shows us the perils of such intercession:

·         If they do something stupid, you look dumb standing up for them.

·         They may be a thick headed bunch, and ungrateful.

·         You may have to do it all over again as they sin again.

If you are a true and devoted Christian, there will be many times when you pray for someone else.  Look at the model given here;  examine yourself and ask, "Do I really mean it?"

 

Lord, it is an act of utter boldness for us to approach your throne on behalf of sinners.  Thank you for commanding it.

 

April 6

Hallelujah—Chorus, That Is

Isaiah 40:1-5

 

Amateur singers will recognize in this brief passage the material for two of the great works in Handel's Messiah.  Much of that work was taken from prophecy—the words of the Hallelujah Chorus are taken from Revelation, for example.  Singers will recognize the musical valleys and mountains of "Every valley shall be exalted" and the wondrous counterpoint of "And the Glory of the Lord."  It is a pity this page cannot sing.

These passages beg to be put to music.  This section of Scripture is a message of mercy to the sinner;  a message of hope for the weary; and most of all a message of soaring confidence—the Christ shall come, and what a day that will be.

There is another message here, for this passage is also a picture of the repentance of a sinner. 

·         The blessed assurance—my sins are paid for.  Indeed, I could not pay for them myself, but the Cross covers them all.  Comfort, comfort.

·         The call—"make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God."  The sinner is called on to repent;  keeping that repentance is done by letting God enter our hearts.  The wilderness of our sins is between us;  but we can now open a way.  If the way is opened, God will surely take it.

·         The life of sin is turned around.  The things you thought were great and wonderful before—drugs, the hunger for money, lust, status—now become little things.  The mountains are made low.  But the valleys are exalted:  now you see the blessings of faithfulness, the joy of being one in communion with God.

·         That which was rugged going before now becomes smooth.  By the power of the Holy Spirit you are not only redeemed but counseled and aided.  His way is smooth before you.

·         In all this, the changed life of the sinner, is the glory of God revealed on earth.

"But I am such a wicked sinner;  you don't know the things I've done.  How could such things apply to me?"  The answer is as certain as gravity:  the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  He who spoke and the universe began has given you His Word on it.

 

By the power of your Word, Father, let the valley of despair give way to the mountains of hope—hope in You.

 

April 7

John the Baptist

Matthew 11:7-15

 

In this short discourse our Lord solves a problem.  The disciples of John the Baptist, who was in prison, come to Jesus.  Their question is simple:  are you the real thing, the Messiah, or should we look elsewhere.  This poses two problems for Jesus:

·         He must send the men back to John with the truth:  Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

·         He must also deal with the crowd—for there is the possibility that they would see this as John changing his mind as to this Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus puts the pieces of the puzzle together in their proper order.  He does so in a homely way:  by the experience of those who are listening.  They have gone into the desert to see John.  They would not have done this if John had been wishy-washy, or a man who wore expensive clothes.  No, a prophet has a certain standard to keep up.  They are generally rather scruffy sorts, given to a hard and fast determination.  John is no exception to that.  But John is the prophet who prepares the way for Jesus.  It is the highest honor that a prophet could have under the old covenant. 

But as that covenant is taken away at the Cross, a new one is implemented.  In that covenant the new kingdom is established.  Its citizens are the adopted sons and daughters of God.  We are greater than John the Baptist not by our service nor by our charm but by the Cross.

The prophets had hard lives—John was ultimately beheaded, you will recall.  This required them to be tough men.  The same strength is required of the Christian, for in this world you will have trouble.  The example of John the Baptist might serve to set the standard for those who serve the Lord.  Perhaps the comparison will interest you:

·         John cared nothing for money, fine clothes or a large house.  Can we say the same?

·         John cared not at all what the authorities thought of him—he cared if they listened to him.  Can we say the same?

·         Finally, faced by the threat of death if he continued speaking, he chose to do what God commands rather than quietly subside in fear of the world.  Can we say the same?

 

Lord, grant us courage not just for the moment, but for the rest of our lives.  With it give us wisdom, both in words and deeds.

 

April 8

Speaking Clearly

1 Timothy 4:1-4

 

 

Mention the Holy Spirit to most evangelical Christians and you will sense a certain uneasiness.  In our time the Spirit is associated with those who go into wild frenzies—and even more with quack faith healers, preachers who seem to regularly get mail from the Holy Spirit and those who are sure that whatever they were thinking, it is inspired.

From that, we garner the impression that communication from the Holy Spirit is somehow very fuzzy.  Paul tells Timothy precisely the opposite here.  The phrase is, "clearly says."  There should be no shadow of doubt on this, nor do we need much interpretation, nor need we consult the various prophetic books of the Bible, as fruitful as those are.  No, we have the plain truth laid out before us.  Paul is telling Timothy how to recognize those who appear to be holy—but have no conscience.

He starts with two key characteristics:

·         They have abandoned the faith.  Probe them, and you will find their doctrine to be shifting sand.

·         They follow the deceptions of the demons—which in our day they will claim control over.

Paul then gives us a telling pair of examples.  These people will

·         Forbid marriage

·         Forbid the eating of certain foods.

Sound familiar?  How about the Roman Catholic Church—run by those whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.  If you will examine the corruption of the Catholic Church, especially in the Middle Ages, you will have no difficulty with identification.

The method is hardly limited to the Roman Catholics.  But there are always the telltale signs of such.  Remember that Satan cannot create a thing—all creation is from God.  Satan can only distort what God has created.  So it is that he takes the beneficial practice of fasting, and the occasional separation of husband and wife for the purpose of prayer, and turns it into a system of legalism.

All that God created was good;  twisted, it may become evil.  But take heart!  All that God blesses is also good, and his blessing often comes upon those who are misled—trying to follow him.

 

Father, we know that all things come from your hand.  Grant us wisdom and discernment to know the truth from the lie.  Keep us from the distortions of the Evil One, by the power of your name.

 

April 9

Lifted Up

John 12:32

 

An enduring fallacy exists concerning Jesus Christ.  The thought is given that, since He is God, he really didn't suffer anything.  To the contrary:  here we see one of the many instances where Jesus shows himself to be indeed "Son of Man."  He is fully human, like us—and like us he has no desire to die.  This is not a matter of preference;  the Father's will is in this.  Faced with the choice of disobedience to the Father or death, Jesus chooses death.  Indeed, he calls upon the Father to glorify his name.

Interestingly, the hearing of the crowd seems to be in rather poor shape.  It is likely enough that this is yet another example of the truth:  to see God, you need the right instrument—a pure heart.   That purity determines what you hear.  No wonder God must shout at us to get our attention!

Jesus now makes two astonishing proclamations.  The first is that the time for judgment of the world had come.  This can be understood in a simple sense, that Christ was returning to the Father.  But there is a subtler way.  Do you remember the O. J. Simpson trial?  It could be said that our system of justice was on trial then, too.  The trial of Jesus exposes—judges—the injustice of this world.

Next, he declares that the prince of this world—Satan—is driven out (more accurately, cast down.)  The scene resembles that in Revelation where Satan is thrown down from heaven.  What causes this?  Satan kills;  he is the prince of this world, his victims are sinners, and are therefore deserving of death.  But now Satan has killed an innocent man—for the world system is his.  He is therefore condemned.

We need not worry ourselves too heavily with the Apocalyptic side of this.  For the important point is simply this:  Jesus is to be lifted up, and all men will be drawn to him.  Lifted up?  Yes, in the Crucifixion.  Lifted up?  Yes, in the Resurrection.  Lifted up?  Yes, in the Ascension.  Lifted up?  Yes, in our prayers, our praises and our very lives.

The secret of evangelism is there:  Lift up Jesus Christ.  There is no teacher so wonderful, no preacher so eloquent, no deacon so hard working, no elder so diligent who can compare with Jesus Christ.  Lift yourself up, a few will follow.  Lift up Jesus—and he will draw all to him.

 

Lord, in all that we do, may we lift you up.  Let those who hear know that we proclaim not a system but the Savior and Lord.

 

April 10

Simple Verbs

Matthew 11:28-30

 

One of the great virtues of the Scripture is this:  it is easy to understand most parts of it, while at the same time it is profound.  This simple passage is an example of such. 

Come—a simple command.  It carries with it the great thought that Jesus will compel no one to come to him.  There is no sense in which force is applied, unless it be the force of own consciences. 

But this simple verb needs an object—a destination.  In this case the destination is our Lord Himself.  There is no prescription of how the feet are to walk or the mind to move—no method at all, just the greatest of destinations possible.

Give—if you come, he will give.  It is that simple.  He is waiting, like the prodigal's father, for you to take the steps in his direction.  But once you do, he rushes out to give. 

And what a gift!  Have you ever experienced the sensation of being bone weary, physically drained?  Imagine that feeling as it applies to the soul.  Your entire being calls out for rest;  there he is, ready to provide.  Does your mind ache with doubt? Does your soul ache with weariness?  Does your heart ache with disappointment?  It is no matter;  his rest is sufficient for all.

Take—Whatever the shape of the yoke, you must take it up.  But perhaps you do not know what farmers have known about a yoke:  it is designed to harness two animals, not one.  When you take up his commands, you take up working with him, in his strength.  It is still true:  God's provision for God's work.  He will not ask you to go alone, to work without help—rather, he will be your help, and more.

Learn—do you remember the best teacher you ever had?  What he or she looked like, I could not say.  But their actions are well described here:  the best teachers are the ones who are gentle and humble.  You leave their classroom feeling that the lesson was just so easy!  That's the description of the best teachers:  they make it seem to be easy for you.  In the process, they leave the impression of humility and gentleness.

Find—Have you ever misplaced your glasses?  Life becomes a blur until we find them again.  We will find rest in him, for all who seek him, find.  He wants to make it easy for you;  let him have his way in your life and see how light your burdens can be.

 

Lord, how often we will rush about doing anything but coming to you.  Teach us, Lord, how to find your easy yoke, our rest.

 

April 11

Liberated

Psalm 2

 

 

What would you call someone who constantly talked in a string of profanities and obscenities;  someone to whom sex was a rather casual affair, changing lovers about as often as changing socks; someone who thinks "morality" or "purity" are at the same time impossible, laughable and completely undesirable; someone for whom arrogance is nothing more than "self-expression";  someone for whom the word "responsibility" is a concept applied to others;  someone whose greed and envy are plain for all to see?

 

A liberated woman.

 

My antiquity is such that I can remember a time when women did not use obscene language—and you can fill in the rest.  That time is scorned in our motion pictures as being evil.  As a society, we are proud that we have "broken the chains of morality".  We refer to such behavior as "liberated."  The picture presented is that we used to be shackled with stuffy old ideas (such as faithfulness to your spouse) - but now we have disposed of those ideas.  We now tell God that we have removed his yoke from us.  We are finding its replacement to be quite heavy indeed.

Would you please take note of God's reaction?

·         First, he laughs.  Can there be any other sensible first reaction when humankind informs God that he is no longer relevant to our society, that we can handle things quite well without his input into our decision making?  There is no sense in this;  you might as well tell him that his laws of physics are now inconvenient to us, and we shall substitute more agreeable ones.

·         Next, he rebukes.  His care and love are such that he does attempt to straighten us out.  For a remnant, this will be done.  For most of us, it is well to remember that God sends no one to hell—they're all volunteers.

·         But his final reaction is this:  the Son, Jesus, the Christ shall return and take up his rule.  At what time, warned by what signs, in what order of events I do not know.  But I know this:  he will return—and we shall see just how liberated we are.

 

Lord, grant us true freedom—to be what you designed us to be, in fellowship with you.

 

April 12

Flat Earth, and Other Myths

John 20:24-29

 

There is a recurring myth in modern civilization.  It holds that our ancestors were able to believe various things simply because they didn't know any better.  For example, we are told that people in the middle ages thought the earth was flat.  For the record, they did NOT think it was flat;  they knew it was round.  Anyone who studied geometry in those times had to work out the radius of the world, just as Ptolemy had done in ancient times.  The myth is not that the earth is flat;  the myth is what we think those people believed.

This mythology is often used to dismiss Christianity.  The argument is made that people in those days had no scientific understanding, and therefore believed miracles were possible.  With our modern understanding, we know better.  It's a great theory;  the only drawback is that it's false.

Doubting Thomas is proof of that.  He has been with the other disciples, learning from Jesus, for three years.  You would think he might listen to their evidence.  But he doesn't.  He even goes so far as to tell them just what kind of evidence it will take to make him believe.  The other disciples were no doubt disappointed in Thomas, refusing to believe their testimony.  Thomas probably thought they were insane.  But just because of that we have the lesson recorded.  Here is the modern cynic on the scene.

What does Christ do?  It is a modest rebuke.  Indeed, Jesus has met Thomas' criteria.  He merely points out how much greater a thing it is to believe when you have not seen.

Thomas, to do him credit, has his evidence.  He is an honest man.  He said what it would take to convince him, and having been supplied with such proof, he immediately makes his confession:  "My Lord and my God."

My God.  In one great leap into faith Thomas recognizes Jesus for who he really is:  God in the flesh.  It is a tremendous leap.   But the same analytic mind that held him back now propels him forward. 

My Lord.  Many of us are ready to have "my God" at our call to handle life's troubles.  Thomas makes the logical connection:  if he is God, then he is Lord.  He is entitled to my complete obedience.  Thomas also takes him as Lord—the one entitled to command.  Can we say the same?

 

Father, forgive us when we petition "our God" and ignore "our Lord."   Be gentle with us, as with Thomas:  we are but human.

 

April 13

A Ragged Old Bear

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

 

Recently my mother began the task of cleaning out her house in preparation to move.  One aspect of this consists of handing to your children the things that were theirs in childhood (and are still occupying closet space at the house).

So it is that I came into possession of my teddy bear.  It is a rather small sample.  Unlike the bears of today, which have fur, this one was cloth covered and cotton stuffed.  It is worn and dirty with age and hard, hard use.  All children have times when it seems the world is against them, and it helps to have your teddy bear handy.  Much of my childhood was a lonely one, as we moved frequently (my father was in the Army).  Sometimes that bear was the only friend I had in the world. 

Christians sometimes get the same feeling as adults.  We are told to seek comfort in our Lord.  Some of us seek that comfort as adults;  others as if we were still children.  You thing not?

I talked like a child.  Do you come to your Lord complaining of all the evil done against you—not caring at all for those who oppose you?  We are taught to love our enemies.  When we complain and ask for horrible vengeance, we are talking like a child.

I thought like a child.  The word in the original might better be translated "felt."  It refers to our emotional reactions.  It is a common enough thing for a child to lose all self-control and begin to scream for what it wants.  An adult who does that usually does not get his desires.  But do we go to our Lord  asking him to fuel the anger in our hearts? 

I reasoned like a child.  A child's reasoning often starts with the desired result and works its way back to the logical premise.  This can produce some amusing results, of course, but most of us see through the logic to the desire.  God, I suspect, has no difficulty in doing the same with us.  Whatever our reasoning, he sees the heart's desire and therefore understands our logic—even if we don't.

The time is coming, however, when we will go beyond that—the time of our Lord's return.  What kind of believers will he find?  Will they be childish, or those who are mature in the faith?  Test yourself.  Do you whine about your enemies?  Do you decide right from wrong by your emotions?  Do your desires rule your thoughts? 

 

Lord, point us to maturity in the faith.  Then lead us to such that we may welcome your return as those with deep and true faith.

 

April 14

The Going is Great

Revelation 2:17

 

A couple of our acquaintance adopted twin boys.  Their birth mother had been on drugs, so raising these boys was quite a challenge.  They went through the procedures to adopt the boys.  Finally the big day arrived when the last step in adoption, signing of the papers. 

Just before the last signatures were written, the judge leaned over his desk and asked the boys if they knew what this meant.  He was not expecting the answer:  "SURE!  It means we get to go to Chuck E. Cheese's!"

Some of us view the church like that—a one way ticket to heaven.  Christ is a  bit more explanatory here—if you can read the signs.

Hidden Manna—do you recall the Ark of the Covenant?  One of the things inside was a pot of the manna God rained down from heaven.  It was hidden under the cover of the Ark—called the mercy seat—so that the reminder of Israel's sins would not be visible.  It therefore represents our immortality, for our sins are forgiven and remembered no more.  It also represents the eternal provision of God.

White stone—this is something the ancients passed on to us.  You are familiar with the phrase "black ball", meaning to veto someone's admission to the club.  It comes from the earlier practice of using a white stone to vote approval, a black one denial.  This white stone symbolizes God's vote of approval on us.  Note that this is given to us, not earned.  This is the gift of Christ at the Cross.

New Name—at the very least this symbolizes our adoption into the family of God.  Like the twins, our name is to be changed.  This is a symbol of a new relationship, one in which we are in much closer touch with God.

You can perhaps understand this when you consider that the new name is not broadcast to all—it is a secret between the believer and Christ.  If you are married, you may have a "secret name" that you use for your spouse.  It's usually something that brings back happy memories, or portrays him or her at their best.  It is something that happens only in the really close relationships.

But the matter is not automatic.  This is given to the one who overcomes;  to overcome, we must have ears to hear.  But if we do, we shall be given this new relationship—pizza or not.

 

Lord, give us ears to hear what the Spirit says.  Keep us safe in the hope of the resurrection and the world to come.

 

April 15

Pillar in the Temple

Revelation 3:12

 

It used to be fashionable to refer to someone as a "pillar of the church."  This dates from a time when church buildings were built in a Greek Revival style.  Such churches had Corinthian columns at the front.  Those columns were assumed to be structural pillars, and so this phrase was a very positive reference.

That style of architecture is now out of fashion.  But if you ever encounter such a church, thump on one of those columns.  You will likely discover that they are not pillars at all!  In fact, they are usually made of light materials to give the impression of strength.   But their only real purpose is decoration.  In the architect's jargon, they are not "load bearing."

The new temple of God—whatever its form—will have load bearing pillars.  Those pillars will be those who have overcome, who have resisted the world's temptations.  From the context, it is not likely that we will be transmuted into stone;  rather, it means that as they were pillars of the church they will be pillars there too.

The rewards for this accomplishment seem unusual to modern ears.  At some length we discover that those who overcome will be written on—with three new names. 

This makes a little more sense if we recall the Old Testament.  God was not known by his name—I AM—until he introduced himself to Moses.  Moses knew God "by name".  To know someone powerful by name was to be able to influence that power.  Even today, you might still desire to know the president by name, for example.

It's not just power;  it's familiarity.  The relationship is easier when we can say we are on a first name basis.  Sometimes, the name itself can be a password (tell them Joe sent you).

In that light, we see the power, familiarity and entrance given us by these three names:

·         The new name of God

·         The new name of the city of God

·         The new name of Christ.

If we suffer with him, we will reign with him, says the Scripture.  Reign indeed, and with great power.  The half has never yet been told.

 

Father, we cannot imagine the details of your new creation.  But we know your work in this one; by this we know that you will do it well.  Help us keep our eyes on the prize.

 

April 16

Comedy and Tragedy

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

Few men have understood comedy better than Charlie Chaplin.  He was once asked to tell the essence of comedy.  He replied, of course, "Timing."  His interviewer pursued the matter.  How do you know when the timing is right?

His reply was rather interesting.  Picture in your mind a grand, sweeping stair case—befitting the home of some elegant householder.  At the top of the staircase is a butler, in a tuxedo.  He's carrying a tray full of champagne glasses.  At the edge of the first step is the inevitable banana peel.  With his nose in the air, the butler does not see the peel, but slips on it.  Down he goes, tuxedo popping apart, champagne glasses everywhere, shocked looks on the faces of elegant people—all the way to the bottom.  Where, we find, he is dead.  If you know when the audience stops laughing, you understand comedy.

Timing is a part of God's universe.  Solomon's wisdom here tells us that there is a time for anything.  It is up to us, however, to know the seasons and times. 

Why?  Because the author of those seasons and times is our Lord Jesus Christ.  Time is his, by right of creation.  Seasons and times are his, by command.

So it is our task, then, to interpret those times and seasons.  Those who hate war chanted "peace, peace" - but with Adolf Hitler there could be no peace.  Nations rose and fell in that time.  And in that time one of the signs of the times arose:  the nation of Israel. 

Can we really understand what God is doing?  I think not.  Who would have predicted the things our own lifetimes have seen?  It is as much as we can handle to understand the times when they come.  His ways are not our ways.

During the Vietnam War era, this passage was set to music by Joni Mitchell.  In our day it is known as a "war protest" song.  But the words go well beyond that.  Solomon's wisdom is that we accept the times as they are, knowing the one who controls.  The times may be good or ill, fruitful or frustrating, but they are not ours to control.  They are simply ours to deal with.

But take heart!  No time lasts forever;  as He plans, the times will change.  Be ready for what he brings to you.

Comedy and tragedy are the same art—and written by the same Author.

 

Lord, sometimes we feel so confident in our own understanding.  Teach us, gently, just how high the heavens are above the earth.

 

April 17

Loving Life?

John 12:23-38

 

Some years ago there was a beer commercial whose slogan was, "Go for the gusto."  In a series of well photographed sequences, we saw attractive young people participating in various activities.  The argument was simple.  You only live once, therefore you should grab all the excitement you can on the way.  The important things in life are recreational activities, sports, and other things we might refer to as "pastimes."  They used to be thought of as just that:  a way to pass the time.  Now they are exalted to the status where people think that if you don't do such things, you're missing the really important part of life.  If you believe that, you love this life.

Others of us are very much attracted to the life we have.  We have the garden right where it's supposed to be;  the house is in good shape;  not working too late on the job—everything's fine.  You love this life.

Perhaps a poorer condition surrounds you:  the life of dull routine.  Nothing is really to your satisfaction, but changing it would be hard work, and none too likely to succeed.  You, too, love this life.

And to all such, Christ says, you will lose that life.  In one sense this is obvious;  we all die.  But in a far more important sense, we will miss this life as well.

You will understand this, I think, if you contemplate the life of a Special Forces soldier.  There is something admirable about that life.  It's extremely harsh and quite dangerous—and the soldiers love it.

Such a life is open to you and to me.  You have but to turn your life over to Jesus, the Christ, and see where he sends you;  indeed, takes you.  Where Jesus is, his servants must follow.  It is a life of extreme spiritual daring.  Others may wallow in the depths of our blighted society;  the servant of Christ goes into those depths to rescue the lost.

You might well object:  that could be fatal!  Indeed;  life is fatal.  The only really important test of your life is what you did for Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  For it is on that basis which our Lord will reward you.

Be his servant;  bring glory to his name;  let those around you know that you know the truth.  Be bold for him;  let him sustain you.

 

Lord, deliver us from our timidity.  In your mercy make us bold;  in your love, courageous; in your truth, unshakeable.

 

April 18

Foundations

Luke 6:46-49

 

Many years ago my wife and I worshiped at a Baptist church near the military base at which I was stationed.  The area was near the ocean, and much of the real estate near that sea was made up of sand.  The church published its monthly newsletter, the Sand Dune Sentinel.  The preacher admitted to the fact that he was not very fond of the name, even though the church was literally built on sand.  I suppose building techniques have improved since then.

We shall examine the matter in the way Jesus' hearers would have understood it.  The wise man did it the right way:

·         He dug down deep—in other words, he worked at it.  So many of us think that following Christ is simply a matter of being in church on Sunday.  Anything worth having will take hard work.

·         He dug down deep—he wanted to put that foundation on bedrock, no matter the cost.  He knew what his foundation had to be, and no difficulty kept him from it.

·         He put his foundation on the rock.  For us, that rock is Christ.  Yet how few of us really know him.  How many of us have indeed studied the Scriptures, and know his life?  How many of us have taken the time in prayer to talk with him?  How many of us listen diligently to all that is preached or taught?

Interestingly, Jesus gives us no construction details for the house built on sand.  He does give us a word picture of its destruction:

·         The words in the original Greek imply that the house was hit by a sudden torrent of water—as if the levee had burst.  So we see that the assault was a sudden one—just like our Lord's return.

·         The house did not degrade, it collapsed.  There is nothing left of the wreckage even to give away.  So it is with those whose faith is Sunday only;  the real estate sale begins on Monday.

·         Its destruction is complete;  nothing is saved.  In times of natural disaster people cling to photo albums and other memorabilia.  Here, nothing remains.  So it will be when our Lord returns.

Note one thing:  Christ does not say he will tell us what the wise man is like;  he says he will show us.  The show is not over—yet.

 

Lord, deliver us from the dull frenzy of ordinary life;  let us see with forever eyes, and build upon the one true Rock.

 

April 19

The Small Stuff

Mark 14:12-16

 

There is an unfortunate view prevalent among Christians that because Jesus was recorded as weeping, but no record exists of his laughter, he must have been altogether a pious, pompous and rather dull person.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus has a great sense of humor.  Just picture this:  it's the Passover week.  Jerusalem is crowded with pilgrims.  So Jesus gives his disciples what must be the strangest road map ever delivered.  He knows exactly where the Passover is to be celebrated.  Go to the city (no timing) and you'll see a guy with a water jug.  Follow him.

It's like Peter pulling out the coin from the mouth of the first fish he caught.  How did Jesus know about that fish?  How did he know about the man with the water jar?

Our ancestors understood this better than we do.  They would often speak of the "providence of God."  The word, providence, comes from the word "provide."  It means that God will provide for his faithful ones, even in ways which are highly improbable or otherwise suspect.  "God's providence for God's work."  If you are working at what God wants you to do, he will provide for you in his own way.

This is bundled up with the foreknowledge of God.  I will not stop to argue between foreknowledge and predestination.  It is sufficient for us to know that God sees the future much as we see the present.  In this, he can and will use all things together for the good of those who love him.  This too we acknowledge—but wonder how to implement.

The failure of our trust in God is not in the big things.  Part the Red Sea?  No problem.  Raise people from the dead?  Happens all the time in the Bible.  Manna in the wilderness?  Divine logistics.  Dealing with some troublesome person on your job?  Well, that's a little trivial, don't you think? 

No, I don't think so.  We need to remember that he is the God of the "small stuff" too.  The jar that that anonymous man was carrying was a rather large and heavy one.  It would have been a great burden filled with water.  Plumbing in the house was not common at this time, so this would be a major source of water.  But there is one interesting thought to this:  where did Jesus get the water to wash the disciples' feet that night?

 

Lord, deliver us from the presumption that our troubles are too small to bring to you.

 

April 20

Credibility

John 11:15

 

One of the things you study in getting an MBA is banking.  During the course I took, we read a story about a bank in the Amish area of Iowa.  The first thing that caught my eye about this bank is that they had never—in a history dating back to just after the Civil War—had anyone default on a loan.  Any banker would tell you that this is impossible.  So our author asked if they had ever come close to having a loan default.  The owner of the bank closed his eyes, thought for a minute, then allowed as to how they had once (during the Great Depression) come close to losing a loan.  "But my dad went out and talked to the boy's father, and he took care of it."

This story demonstrates one thing you might not have thought of.  The boy's father had credibility with the bank.  His word that he would take care of it was sufficient;  no court action was required.  How does someone establish that kind of credibility?

·         One way is to establish your connection with a known family.  Jesus is the Son of God—and therefore we expect his words to be true and faithful.  We are part of the family of God;  the world should be able to see that and know that we mean what we say.

·         A second way is by history:  if he's done it before, he'll do it again.  That cuts both ways.  If your track record is one of a good and faithful servant, God will place larger responsibilities on you.  But if you do nothing, you will lose what you have.

·         A third way is by leaving a deposit.  Bankers then know that they have something available.  God uses this method with us too:  we have the deposit of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, in this short passage, tells the disciples that he's glad he wasn't there—for their sakes.  You can see that death is not the driving factor;  it's establishing Christ's credibility that is at stake.

So often we miss this in our relationship with Christ.  He wants us to trust him completely.  We want to trust him with only that which we can let go.  Do not misunderstand him;  he will raise Lazarus from the dead so that you might believe.  He can do this if we are willing to trust him.  It seems so simple, yet is so profound.

 

Father, forgive our foolishness in clinging to the things of this world.  We know were designed to be with you forever.  Teach us to be fit companions for eternity.

 

April 21

Israel and America

John 12:37-41

 

On June 7th, 1885 in London, England, C. H. Spurgeon, known as "The Prince of Preachers" mounted to the pulpit and preached on this passage.  The message he had to deliver was none too pleasant, it seems.  He saw in his day the same things that Isaiah did in his time—and that Christ found at his coming.

It seems astonishing, does it not, that a people who can with their own eyes witness that which you and I would consider a once in a lifetime miracle do not have the faith to move mountains.  Indeed, they seem to have no faith at all.  Isaiah had seen the Lord in his heavenly Temple, and fallen flat on his face as one unworthy.  The Jews of this time saw the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, and decided they would be better off without him.  It is little surprise, therefore, that we find the same today.  Is it not the case that those who call themselves Christian evangelists teach a doctrine different only in name from "feel good" psychology?

But despite this obvious truth, there exists a certain set of myths which concern miracles: 

·         First, there is "If I saw just one miracle, just one, my faith would be so strong.."  If it would be so strong, that would be a first in history.  These people had the man to whom miracles were mere accompaniment—and they refused to believe.

·         Next, there is "The reason so-and-so's faith is so strong is that she encounters the miraculous.  I don't.  It's God's fault that my faith is so weak."    Perhaps the reason she encounters miracles is that she meets the Biblical test:  faith as in a mustard seed.  Perhaps you don't meet the test.

·         And, of course, we have "Well, different Christians get different gifts of the Spirit.  My gift is to be an appreciator, one who praises the pastor for a good sermon."  Do you really want to praise that pastor?  Then put his words into effect in your daily life.

These same excuses, with their minor variations over the years, have been the mainstay of those who think they should be in church but are sure they shouldn't let the church into their lives.  Do you really think God is deceived by this?  Consider this well.  Is he really so ignorant and impotent? 

 

Lord, open our eyes, open our ears, open our hearts—that we may let you into our lives.

 

April 22

Mother's Day Gift

John 19:25-27

 

If one were to count religious statues as a measure of spiritual importance, one would quickly conclude that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was for all practical purposes a member of the Trinity.  This is a sore point with devout Catholics, because the Bible mentions Mary only slightly.  After his birth, we see Mary only in these scenes:

·         The incident of the twelve year old Jesus at the Temple.

·         Turning water to wine, his first miracle, at her behest.

·         And the famous, "who are my brothers and my mother?"

Here there is a fourth scene.  It is very short, and very touching.  Jesus knows that he is dying.  He knows of the Resurrection too, but he knows that death will break his bond with this planet.  Soon he will need to return to the Father, so that the Holy Spirit might come.  In the pain of his cruel death, he makes arrangements for the care of his mother. 

The modesty of John the Apostle does not permit him to use his name, but we understand that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is indeed John.  Alone among the twelve he lives to be very old;  he is the only one to die a natural death.  Perhaps the task he took on at the Cross had something to do with this.

Indeed, it is a burden.  Women of this time were not generally wealthy.  In the custom of the time, a man's inheritance would go to his sons.  They would be responsible for caring for their mother.  Responsible in the moral sense—but for the seeker there are always loopholes.  Church history records for us the fact that John took Mary with him when he moved to Ephesus after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  She was, to him, a burden.  She was also an honor to his name. 

Jesus had several half-brothers recorded in Scripture.  In theory, the oldest of these should have had the problem.  But—it is characteristic of our Lord—Jesus does all things well.  He will not leave his mother to any but the best.

If your mother is a burden in your life, consider that your Lord while on the Cross took care for Mary's provision.  Heed this great example;  consider that the care you have for her is in imitation of your Lord.  When the day comes, what will he say to you?  "On the Cross I cared for Mary;  and you?"

 

Lord, the times are such that families seem to fly apart.  Grant us wisdom and purpose in the care for those we love.

 

April 23

Drop by Drop

Matthew 13:11-17

 

Those who are of sufficient antiquity to have attended college before the age of the personal computer might remember the slide rule.  You might also recall that there were differing types of slide rules, depending upon what discipline you chose.

There was a version for chemistry students.  Much of Chemistry 1A was taken up by learning the art of titration.  With a piece of rubber tubing and a flared piece of glass tubing, one can make a dropper which allows the student to determine the acidity or alkalinity of a solution.  The exercise almost always seemed to take a couple of hours, so I came up with a quicker solution.  The labs for upper class chemistry were in the same building—and they had a Ph meter.  Take your solution upstairs, get the Ph, use your slide rule to get the quantity required, go back downstairs and finish in record time.

There is a difference between searching for the truth and confirming the theory you already have.  The chemistry teacher knew that too, and my grade reflected it.  I wasn't looking for truth; I was looking to get out of the lab quickly.

Many people, when confronted with the Gospel, tell us that if God were to work a miracle in front of them, they'd believe.  But as Christ shows us here, God simply doesn't do that.  He puts his revelation into parables for the same reason.  If you want to find God, you must search with the right tools, and in the right way.  A hardened heart, a closed mind will not be able to see God or understand Him.

Why not?  Well, to begin with there is your impertinence.  You are asking God the creator, who spoke and the worlds began, to jump through hoops.  Is there any reason that He should let you command miracles from him at your own convenience?

There is a second reason.  If you want to see stars, you need a telescope.  There is a proper instrument for seeing God as well:  the pure heart.  As long as you seek to put yourself above God, your selfishness destroys that pure heart.  You become calloused;  your spiritual arteries harden.

Christ teaches his disciples in the form of parables.  One reason is that these are easier to remember (think of the Prodigal Son);  another reason is that they weed out the cynic, the critic and the corrupted.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 

Lord, grant that we may see you;   give us pure hearts and a spirit of willingness so that we may walk in your light.

 

April 24

Word Picture

Ezekiel 36:25-27

 

It is instructive to note that there are passages in the Scripture to which multiple meanings can be attached.  This is one.  It its moody, dark way it shows the return of the exiles of Israel.  It also shows the way the sinner must return home too.

The first step is the cleansing by God. 

·         The ancient Jew would have recognized this method of sprinkling as the same thing which was done to the altar and the ark of the covenant.  He would see this as a high and holy thing.

·         Just as you would not wash a child's face with dirty water, so too God will use the pure to make them pure.

We see the same thing in our repentance.  God cleanses us (along the same general lines as Jesus washing the feet of the disciples).  To do so, he uses that which is pure, the blood of Christ.  And what does he clean out of our lives?

·         Impurities—those things in our lives of which we are ashamed, hoping God never finds out.

·         Idols—those things in our lives whose priority to us is greater than that of God.

The Scripture teaches us that one cannot live in a spiritual vacuum.  If we are redeemed, there are changes made to fill that vacuum.  First, we acquire the new heart.  I know a lady who has had a heart transplant.  The surgery was delicate and exacting;  recovery was slow and carefully watched.  The same is true with us.  When we receive the new heart of Jesus, it is a major change, and God wants to watch over it, looking for any difficulties so that he may deal with them quickly.

Next there comes the new spirit, which we know as the Holy Spirit.   God knows that we will be insecure in our salvation at first.  So he sends to us his guarantee of salvation, the Holy Spirit, and by this we know that God has saved us.

The result of this:  they will be moved to keep his decrees and laws.  In short, obedience is the result.  Not a grudging obedience with a sour face;  rather, the shining obedience of one who has mastered a difficult skill.  There is something wonderful in knowing that you have been given the favor of God.

 

Lord,  we know that all of us are sinners.  Please, be gentle with your servants;  we are but human.  Move us to repentance and reconciliation;  as you do, bless us with your grace.

 

April 25

Unusual Fruit

Galatians 5:16-26

 

This passage is much quoted, and many a sermon or lesson has been drawn from the "fruit of the Spirit."  Deservedly so;  the passage is tidy and to the point, which makes the speaker's task that much easier.

But you will note that the fruit of the Spirit is much better known that the "acts of the sinful nature."  Regrettably, there is a reason for this too.  Your audience will be much happier with the "thou shalt" of the fruits than the "thou shalt not" of the acts.  People do not like being told there is something wrong.  So today we consider the lesser known sections.  Consulting our dictionary carefully and then making up our own explanations, we have:

Discord—today known as "voicing my opinion" or "making myself heard."  It is the fiendish delight taken in stirring up trouble and then watching the fun.  Usually followed with a sweet, pious "I don't see what all the fuss is about;  all I said was."

Jealousy—the condition reached when one of us concludes that another of us has been blessed far too often and far too much by the good Lord.  It depends upon my poverty of spirit being used as the measuring rod of another man's blessings.

Selfish ambition—You mean there's another kind of ambition?  The pressing desire to work fourteen hours a day, at a job which has no spiritual content—so that we can get a job working sixteen hours a day in spiritual danger.

Factions—put shortly, us and them.  The certain knowledge that those of us who think rightly should be heard and that those who think wrongly should not. 

Dissension—a form of factionalism which takes particular delight in having an argument.  The theory that if a little pepper is good for the stew we should therefore put the rest of the bottle in.

 

Curiously, there are two fruits of the Spirit which are often neglected:

Joy—this has a close a relationship to having fun, especially that innocent fun that kids have, once they break the toy and start playing with the box.  A threat to deep seriousness.

Gentleness—how the truly weak are treated by the truly powerful.  It is power under the control of love. 

 

Lord, be merciful to us.  Give us the wisdom to shut up when our trivia is someone else's importance.  Help us to remember that we are one body, not a debating society.

 

April 26

The Word Returns

Isaiah 55:9-11

 

St. Augustine taught his followers that God is so far above our comprehension that we can only understand him by analogy and metaphor.  Our Lord taught that way frequently ("the kingdom of heaven is like.") so we are familiar with the method.  We sometimes forget that our Lord uses these things in condescension—making it simple so that we might understand it.

Some insight into this is found in a ministry at our church, the Helping Hands ministry.  These wonderful servants of God assist those children who are physically or mentally not capable of being in a normal classroom.  It is a labor of love.  If you talk with such people, or observe them at work, you will notice two things:

·         The teacher must always be thinking ahead.  Not only in terms of the lesson, but in terms of what a particular child might do. 

·         The teacher is also responsible for maintaining a strict set of rules.  Many of these children respond very well when they are sure they know exactly what to do.

So it is with the thought of God.  No matter how often you tell him how to work things out, he's well ahead of you all the time.  Also, he maintains a strict set of rules (at least at first) so that we might feel comfortable in his hands, knowing that we are doing well.  As we mature, our relationship changes somewhat.  But we still have his guidance.

God does much of his work by Word—either the Scripture or the Christ it reveals.  Taken either way, there are two things we always notice concerning his word:

·         It is given from above.  It comes down from heaven.  The Scripture is inspired by God.  Jesus, the Son of God, came from heaven and returned there.

·         Wherever men follow it, they flourish.  As the farmer knows the rain as a blessing, so we should see the Word.  Those who build their lives on the Scripture, revealing Jesus Christ, are those whose lives are blessed—and are a blessing.

Sometimes, as with the rain, things get muddy.  We can't see clearly;  we certainly can't see very far through all that rain.  We must trust the Lord of the Harvest;  his ways are higher.  Trust the Scripture you know and the Lord you serve;  He never fails.

 

Lord Jesus, sometimes the storms of life confuse us.  When that happens, lead us to the Rock higher than I.

 

April 27

Lifted Up

Numbers 21:6-9

 

At first this story seems quite out of place.  God tells Moses to make a snake on a pole—which certainly resembles an idol—and tells the people to look at it, to cure snakebite?  Indeed, in later generations this same brass snake is used in idol worship.  The whole story seems like the scribe who copied it must have had a bad lunch.

If you've ever been in the U.S. Army, you have seen that snake on the pole.  Each of the major service corps selects a symbol to be worn on the collar.  In 1902, the Army's Medical Corp selected the caduceus, in reference both to this incident and Greek mythology.  The Army Medical Corp at that time was prominent in doing the work now down by the US Public Health Service.  The symbol became well known, and has symbolized the American medical profession for many years.

So, why did God order such a strange thing?  Like so much else in the Old Testament, this prefigures the coming Christ.  It shows us the principle of identification.  Even now when someone expresses something we understand well, we say, "I can identify with that."  This is a similar meaning.  It means that God has given us a symbol which, when properly used, invokes his power.

The church regularly uses this principle in at least two forms.  The first of these is baptism.  There the sinner is buried—symbolically—in water, and raised again.  It also symbolizes the cleansing from sin.  We know that the simple act has no power.  The symbol act, however, looks to the power of God.  If we are indeed baptized for our belief, then God promises to release us from our sins and raise us again on the last day.

The second use of this principle is in the Lord's Supper.  How often have you heard a communion meditation quote our Lord saying, "This is my body."  We look at it and know that it is not, physically, his body.  But we recognize the symbol and ask for the power behind it—we identify with Christ in his suffering.  In baptism we identify with his death, burial and resurrection.

Why does God do things this way?  Because he knows that human beings, when they want to say deep and ultimate things, don't have the words to express all that they want to say.  So he gives us his own action-pictures for our use.  So it is that water, bread and wine touch the human heart in a way beyond words.

 

Lord, there are things too deep for our language to express.  Thank you for giving us the means of identifying with you.

 

April 28

Expense Account

Luke 10:8-16

 

It is my dubious privilege to work for a company which imposes some strict—perhaps bizarre would be a better word—rules concerning the subject of expense reports.  For example, we are not allowed to put down any expenditures for lunch (even though the computer program asks for them),  The theory is that (if you were at headquarters) you would probably have planned to buy your lunch anyway. 

One thing is clear:  the company is quite determined that we shall not live well on the company's money.  We're not there to eat, we're there to get a job done.

That's roughly Jesus' instruction here.  In his time, people who traveled from city to city did so staying at the homes of those who invited them in.  Hospitality was an honor, not a burden.  So Jesus warns his seventy evangelists not to take advantage of their gifts.  He is sending them to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom.  This might get them a room at the house of the rich.  He puts it to them simply:

·         Eat whatever they serve you (you're not a restaurant critic).

·         Get straight to the Lord's business.

Perhaps with less fanfare than you and I might have used, and definitely on a tight budget, the evangelists are sent.  They do their work and . some of these people don't get it.  Often we think that if we could see one miracle, one person being given their sight, we would be so strong in our faith.  Consider Bethsaida:

·         In this very city Christ healed a blind man—a fact witnessed by most of the town.

·         This also is the home city of Philip, Andrew and Peter.  You might think the home boys would have some influence here.

No, they have seen the King of Kings, the only Son of God, and there response was "so what?"  His messengers go to the same town, healing the sick—and getting the same result.

It's going to be rugged in Bethsaida on Judgment Day.  They rejected his messengers;  they rejected him.  So he says:  it will go better with Sodom than it will for you.  Sodom, whose hospitality was to try to drag two men out of Lot's house and into the street for a homosexual rape session—they at least would have repented.

Do you see any parallels to our time?

 

Lord, forgive our petty desires.  May we never consider the mission field as a vacation playground but as your harvest.

 

April 29

Who Are You Trying To Fool?

James 1:23-25

 

There is a form of fraud going around that has proven to be very dangerous to church-going people.  It goes by several names, but you can recognize it by its symptoms:  the afflicted listen to the word of God—and that's all they do.  Now, just who do you suppose these folks are fooling?

·         They're certainly fooling themselves.  You'd expect that to be the case;  after all, they've had a lot of practice at it. 

·         They think they're fooling the rest of the people in the church.  But have you ever walked into a worship service with the tail of your coat stuck inside your pants?  Everybody sees, but no one knows how to tell you gracefully.

·         Of course, they think they're fooling God.  He's supposed to be impressed with perfect attendance pins.  Right.

You, of course, could not possibly fall into this category.  But let's take the quick check anyway:

·         When you examine yourself, does it take longer than five seconds?  A glossy surface is all you need to see?

·         When you hear the word, do you forget it quickly?  This has the advantage that all the preacher's sermons sound new. 

No, the real Christian—the one who means it—works differently. 

·         First, the real Christian forms the habit of studying God's word.  He "looks intently" into it. 

·         Next, the real Christian memorizes God's word.  Why?  This is the ammunition of spiritual warfare.  If you're a real Christian, you will soon see combat.

·         Finally—note the phrasing—he continues to do what God commands.  "Continues to do" - makes it a habit.  Practice makes perfect.

To the world, such a lifestyle is far too serious.  It appears to be one in which the rules and regulations are everywhere.  But as James points out, we obey the law that gives freedom.  "Love God," said Augustine, "and do as you please."  Some of us turn that into "Do as you please, and see God on Sunday mornings."  God is not deceived;  nor are the people in the next pew.  Deception, sadly, works best when practiced on yourself.

 

Lord, deliver us from our follies.  Teach us to know our faults and weaknesses—and to seek your aid in remedying them.


 

April 30

 Prepare the Way

Mark 1:1-7

 

If something is truly great, it is truly simple.  Grace is so simple;  it is easy to understand.  Yet grace is truly great, powerful and full of surprise.  The deep things of God have this character.

So it is with prophecy.  When the time comes, we shall know its fulfillment.  Here is an earlier example of that.

Consider the problem for the Jew of this period.  He has heard that Messiah is to come;  the time is as prophesied by Daniel.  How shall he know the real Messiah from the fake?  By prophecy, of course.  The real Messiah will fulfill prophecy.   In particular, the Lord God will send before the Messiah a messenger.  So how do I tell who is the real messenger?

·         One look at John the Baptist will tell you that.  He has that simple ruggedness that all the Old Testament prophets had.  He despises the things of this world to the point that he eats locusts (with honey sauce).  Camel hair shirt, leather strap—oh yes, this is the real thing.

·         He will come to you from the wilderness.  (Hence locusts for breakfast).

·         He will be crying out to prepare the way for the Lord.

So what does our voice cry in the wilderness?  Three things which are still true:

·         We need to repent.  Mankind is composed of sinners, sin separates us from God.  Repentance sets us on the right road back to God.

·         We need to forgive.  If we are to be forgiven, the God of All Righteousness demands that we forgive.

·         The Lord is coming.  In John's time, as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  In our time, perhaps, in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.

In our own time, in our own lives, we need to take this example to heart.  Do we prepare the way for the Lord in our hearts?  Is our repentance real?  Is our forgiveness permanent?  Do we conduct ourselves in the fear of the Lord, knowing that he could return at any moment?  Or are we putting this off, knowing somehow that tomorrow all will be better.  Are you guaranteed tomorrow?  Nor I;  therefore, we should repent today—while we have time.

 

Lord, open our eyes to the simplicity of your call.  Help us to repent, to forgive and to put you first in all things

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