Matthew 5:21-30

Matthew 5:21-30

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thess 4:3-5).  

After Jesus tells his disciples that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20), he gives six different areas where the law has been misunderstood by the Pharisees.  So misunderstood, the law would forbid literal murder, but say nothing about bitterness and insult, ban adultery but remain silent on lust, and could be used in a way that could obscure sin—such as making oaths in such a way that makes it a bit more acceptable to be dishonest in their absence.   

What I find interesting is that only murder and adultery, or anger and lust, are given as sins that will surely lead one to hell.  Why that is, Jesus doesn’t say.  Perhaps the commands forbidding both are foundational in a way that is unusually destructive to the covenant community, or perhaps they are particularly corrosive to the soul, so that the one engaging in either inevitably falls away from the Lord.  In either case, these two are to be avoided with the greatest of effort and conviction. 

They are also perhaps the two greatest temptations of men.  Certainly they are among them.  In my experience, anger and lust are two sins that men turn into virtues.  I cannot count how many times I have heard lack of sexual control be extolled as a mark of manliness.  Or the unwillingness to take an insult silently and humbly, without retaliation.  In other words, we have glorified sins that we are too weak, or too unwilling, to mortify.  There are of course times and ways to be angry—be angry, but do not sin (Ps 6)—and times and ways to take a woman as a wife.  But these require a measure of vision and self-mastery that few are willing to exercise.  Instead, we turn cowardice into virtue, confirming the truth of Paul’s words that “though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:32). 

Keep constant watch over anger and lust, and do whatever you need to do, however severe, to flee both.  And do not expect encouragement from the world.  It will encourage you to embrace both.

Exodus 1:22

Exodus 1:22

(The thoughts below were written for the Human Life Review--

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live” (Exodus 1:22).

A nation does not have to feel hatred toward children in order to kill them.  It is enough simply for them to interfere with one’s desires.  For Pharaoh, the decree that all Israelite baby boys be killed was a response to Egypt’s fear that Israel would escape from Egypt, presumably because Egypt would lose the economic benefits of slavery (Exodus 1:10-11).  For Herod in the time of Jesus, the decree to kill the Israelite boys was given to protect his throne, since a new king was to be born (Matthew 2:1-18).  In Nazi Germany, abortion was forbidden for Aryan babies, but not for others, as Hitler pursued his pure Aryan race.  China’s one-child-policy, with its practice of forced abortion, appears to be the fruit of a commitment to reducing population growth.  In each case, a certain vision of the good determined the fate of children.

Our own commitment to abortion in the United States is also rooted in a vision of the good, in our case a commitment to sexual license apart from the responsibility that children always bring, undergirded by a vision of equality that insists that all people be the same.  This is not an inference.  As our Supreme Court declared explicitly in Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992),

[t]he Roe rule's limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.

The Court’s rationale is clear—to restrict abortion would be unfair to those who have become accustomed to sexual license.  Children have a tendency to impinge upon the desires of sinful man. 

One of the marks of the Christian community is a love for children that defines our own vision of the good.  For the Christian, the good is not economic prosperity at the expense of others, nor is the good a commitment to preserving our position at all costs, nor is it a utopian vision of how the world should be (to be brought about by any means necessary and expedient), nor is it rooted in the pursuit of pleasure without responsibility.  Whatever else the good is, the Christian vision is built around a deep appreciation of children, with the corresponding commitment to bless and protect them.  In effect, embracing children as a blessing transforms our vision of what is good. 

The lesson Jesus taught his disciples must ever be learned by the church:

Then the children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away (Matthew 19:13-15). 

Apparently the disciples apparently felt that Jesus had more important things to do than to be with the children.  He didn’t.  And neither does His church.  


Genesis 2:18

Genesis 2:18

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.  I will make him a help fit for him.”

Below are a few thoughts directed particularly to young men.

The greatness of the woman, and the longing that a man has for her, gives her tremendous power.  That may not be a bad thing, provided that a man knows the Word of the Lord, and desires Him and faithfulness to Him above all else.  If a man finds his completion in her first, and not in God, then he is sure to follow her rather than lead and guide her.  In other words his calling in life and in relationship to her depends upon his prior love for and allegiance to Christ.  And, perhaps even more profoundly, a knowledge that ultimately he is completed in Christ.  I suspect that the serpent knew this, which is why he approached Eve with the fruit, knowing that Adam would be far more likely to succumb to his wife than he would the suggestions of the serpent.  In other words, Adam could resist the serpent.  Could he resist Eve?  It is lamentable, but true, that some men who lay claim to Christ fear their wives more than they fear God. 

Your desire for your wife, and therefore your desire to please her, is a great gift, and will be the source of God-given joy.  But there will also be times when that desire will be a great temptation.  Both for your and for her.  For you in that the desire to please her may be stronger than a desire to please God.  And also a temptation for her.  A wife is not ignorant of the power she has in relationship to her husband, and it will be a temptation at times for her to use it to manipulate, steering her husband where she wishes him to go.  This is not to say that there will not be times when your wife speaks with wisdom, times when it is good and right to seek her counsel.  After all, there will be a need in you that she will fulfill, and that by God’s design.  She is God’s gift to you.  But your ability to serve her well as her head will depend upon settling it in your heart and mind that God comes before her, and that to love her well means that you must first love Him well. 

How, then, to walk into this before marriage?  Pursue, and learn to pursue, Christ intentionally, becoming increasingly aware that your life and identity comes from Him, and seeking to love Him more and more daily.  Seek his wisdom now, that you will already be the kind of man that walks in wisdom, and is therefore not easily picked off by the “wisdom” (Gen 3:1) of the serpent, whether it comes from him, or even perhaps through your wife. 

Adam would have loved Eve well by loving God first.  Needing to love God first, therefore, is not a pious platitude.  It is most practical, and a bulwark for marriage. 

Psalm 49

Psalm 49

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit (Ps. 49:7-9).

Wisdom is sometimes profound.  But not always.  Sometimes wisdom is simply stating the obvious—things that we know, but refuse to consider. 

Psalm 49 seems to me to be wisdom of the obvious kind.  The psalmist calls all people to hear the wisdom that he will speak from his mouth, and them makes an argument that is most simple and obvious—you can’t take it with you.  All, the rich and the poor alike, will die, and the rich will leave their wealth to others.  Although we have made vast strides in medical technology, now as then riches cannot shield one from death.  Only God can ransom a life from the grave. 

I doubt any of the above is new to anyone.  And yet (and perhaps this is testimony to the foolishness of our hearts) we need to be reminded, told to consider the obvious that we refuse to see.  Therein lies great wisdom. 

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.  Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.  Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work (Psalm 62:9-12).

2018 Resolutions


My personal take in New Years Resolutions is that they are, generally, pretty useless.  Yet not a year goes by that I don’t make a few.  I know there are some far better than I in keeping resolutions.  But many aren’t. 

The psalm, which is the first psalm in the Bible reading program for the year, puts matters into perspective.  I copy it, although I would suggest you commend it to memory:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

If nothing else, the psalm is simple.  Prospering and bearing fruit is the fruit of avoiding sin (walking in righteousness) and delighting in the word of the Lord.  Of course, delighting in the word of God implies walking accordingly, for one cannot delight in the Scriptures and not obey them (this is the point of verse 1).  But all prosperity that comes from God begins here.  Therefore, before any other resolutions, settle this one.  If you delight in the Lord, you will prosper.  What exactly that may look like may not be what you expect, but you will prosper.  If you do not, whatever other “prosperity” or “success” you find will in the end be chaff, blown away in that day when all things are revealed to be what they are. 

July 2017 Meditations

July 28

Proverbs 20:4
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing (Proverbs

Sometimes we take character faults and call them characteristics. Procrastination is one of those
character faults. I have seen (and at times reference to myself) the smile and wink as someone
says, sometimes jokingly or even lovingly, that such and such a person is a procrastinator. “Well
that’s just [insert name]!”

Today’s proverb is about procrastination. Years ago Charles Hummel wrote a good book about
this called The Tyranny of the Urgent. His main point, as I remember it (it’s been awhile), is
that we have a tendency to let the urgent draw us away from the important. In other words, we
do the urgent thing that needs to be done now (whether that thing be important or unimportant), but fail to do the really important thing, in part because that really important thing can be put off until later. (Sometimes we don’t even do the urgent thing, even as we put off the important.) Examples of this are legion: home maintenance, regular exercise, important decisions—all these things can lead to significant problems simply due to being put off. Childrearing is one of the best examples of this. Raising children is tremendously important, but any parent will readily acknowledge that it is easy to put the important things off until tomorrow. Especially when those important things require effort, like plowing a field. For the field can be plowed tomorrow. But then spring comes. And the child grows up.

The word that the proverb puts upon the procrastinator is sluggard. In other words, the proverb
won’t allow us to look at procrastination as a characteristic, but forces us to acknowledge it as a
character fault. Which becomes painfully apparent when he seeks at harvest and has nothing.
One of the reasons I love (and sometimes don’t love) the proverbs is that they submerge the
notion that the practical and the spiritual are categorically different things. In other words, very
practical things such as work habits tell something of who I am before God. And, in so doing,
give me very practical avenues of repentance.

June 2017 Meditations

June 14

1 Kings 13

Now, he had not ran far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! life! Eternal life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain.

The above quotation is from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in the opening pages when the young man, soon to be called Christian, comes under conviction that he lies under judgment, and must find a way of escape.  Believing the word of the Evangelist, he flees his city, his fingers in his ears.  

The account in 1 Kings 13 of the young prophet who fell is a tremendously sobering passage.  He goes to Jeroboam and delivers a very hard word, one that might well have endangered his life.  He decisively rejects the king’s invitation to eat with him, in obedience to the clear word of God who had told him not to eat or drink in that place.  Yet, he falters when approached by an older prophet, who also invites him to eat with him, claiming also to have heard a word, one which flatly contradicted the word the young prophet was given by God.  The though process of the young prophet is not given—whether he wrestled or not with the word of the old prophet.  But he went to eat with the old prophet, disobeying the word of God and suffering the consequences of his disobedience.   

Why did he go?  We aren’t told.  Perhaps part of his decision to follow the old prophet had to do with his hunger, given that he hadn’t eaten and was perhaps disposed to want to believe that it was OK to eat.  Or perhaps it was because he simply believed an older and more experienced prophet, and therefore doubted the word he had heard.  The prophet appears to have been a true prophet, given that it seems that he heard from the Lord later.  But he lied.   

While it is difficult to know exactly what to learn from a passage like this, at very least we can see the importance of tenaciously clinging to what we know of the word of the Lord.  There are always temptations to rationalize our disobedience.  A young man can often find reasons for his sexual license, or his anger.  A woman can justify, at least to herself, her gossip (never, of course, calling it that).  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we can reason our way to disobeying the clear word of God.  

There are needs of the flesh that can clamor for our attention, sometimes creating a temptation to fulfill them inappropriately.  And there are voices upon voices in our world that will seek to divert us from resolutely holding to the word of God, voices that sound reasonable, and even voices that will claim to be from God.  There are times when we do well to listen.  And there are times when we listen to our peril.  In other words, sometimes we need simply to stick our fingers in our ears and press on, holding fast to the word of the Lord, despite our own inclinations and despite the reasonable sounding voices around us.  

(By the way, if you haven’t read Pilgrim’s Progress, do.  You’ll be helped.)  


June 10

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32). 

I met a man recently who told me his philosophy of life was “do no harm.”  Not a bad philosophy, but I asked how he managed to do it.  A bit puzzled at the question, he asked what I ever did that harmed another.  The answer—to my shame—was ready at hand.  Speaking in a way that tore another down.  He asked, “Do you mean temper?” and then fell silent.  He understood. 

Rare is the person who has not fallen to the sin of anger, which is precisely why the proverb puts the one who controls his temper in the class with the mighty and victorious warrior.  Only few can take cities.  Fewer can rule their spirit. 

Let me offer a few reflections on the proverb above, I hope by way of encouragement.  First, recognize that controlling one’s spirit is a battle.  If you are old enough to read this, and are willing to pause to think about it, you know what I mean.  The encouragement here is in seeing self-control for what it is.  If we believe that self-control is a battle, then we are not deceived when the battle is fierce, when fighting is painful, when our endurance is tested, and when we are required in the end to drive a stake into our own lust for vengeance.  It is precisely when we forget this is a battle, and furthermore a battle that the Lord requires us to fight, that we surrender. 

Secondly, determine that surrender is not an option.  We often don’t consider the fruit of our lack of self-control.  One who loses a battle has not just lost a battle, but has been devastated.  There are real effects to being controlled by one’s anger, effects that are always destructive— physiologically, spiritually, relationally.  Anger wounds, and not least ourselves.  The word of the proverb is not theoretical: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28).  A man without self-control will find his life—at least that which is important—falling apart around him. 

Thirdly, recognize where the battle lies.  In the moment of anger, we naturally believe the battle lies between ourselves and the other.  Not so.  I am not denying that sometimes we deal with real issues that are tough or ugly, and that need to be dealt with.  But the enemy is not the other.  If it were, the solution would be to vanquish the other.  But the Scriptures speak differently: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:5-9).  My battle is in the end with myself, and with the powers and principalities that would delight to see me destroy myself by destroying my neighbor.  You can’t win the right battle by fighting the wrong one. 

Finally, remember that self-control is not a battle we fight alone.  It is a battle that we fight, to be sure.  But ultimately self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  Which means that our success in dealing with our anger depends upon our yielding to the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps you’ll know the feeling of being angry and unwilling to pray and ask the Lord’s help in dealing graciously with the other.  Yet, despite our desires to the contrary, we must yield to the Holy Spirit, or else we are left “broken into and without walls.”  It is foolhardy for a soldier to rush impulsively into battle without availing himself of available support.  And God has promised that support is there.  But we must avail ourselves of it. 

Let me end with a short vignette I came across years ago, in the Banner of Truth magazine: 

We mention the interesting case of one man called Tom, a convert to Christ.  Tom had been a desperate and hard man, given to much fighting and hard living before his conversion.  When invited to join the Methodist church after the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, he refused to do so until he had read through the whole of the New Testament to see ‘Whether I can live up to it.’  He subsequently reported to the Methodist pastor that, ‘I accept everything I have read . . . as the truth of God, and I consent to obedience to the best of the ability that God shall give me.’  But still Tom would not join himself to the local church.  Christ’s command to ‘turn the other cheek’ was a stumbling block to him.  Here was a babe in Christ, who, knowing the deep-seated anger that erupted into physical violence in his former life, was fearful that he would not be able to prevent himself from retaliating if he should be provoked.  It was not long before he was tested. 


A fellow miner, in a wild rage, threatened violence to Tom’s person.  Offering up a silent prayer he said nothing in reply and quietly walked away from the angry miner.  This so enraged the man further that he set his huge dog upon Tom, who knocked the animal into a large hole some five feet deep.  The incensed miner halted long enough to rescue his dog, then rushing upon Tom, he unleashed a solid blow to his face.  The latter turned the other side of his face toward the panting miner, with the invitation: ‘There is the other check . . . fire away.’  The attacker turned and fled!


Speaking later to the pastor Tom said, ‘I am ready to join your church.  I have read the rules, and have proved the sufficiency of the grace of God to enable me to keep them.’ 

June 3

Psalm 119:154

Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise! (Psalm 119:154).

Literally translated, the above verse reads “plead my cause and redeem me, give me life according to your word.”  The translation “promise” is, I believe, faithful to what the psalmist intended.  But let me make two brief observations.

First, it is through the word of the Lord that we find life.  In the end, God’s word is life, because God created the heavens and the earth, and us, and knows what is best for us.  Like a generous father—He is a generous Father—the Lord gives commands for our good.  Paul mentions that the command “honor your father and your mother” is a command with a promise, in this case that God’s people would live long in the land.  Yet what is true of the fifth commandment is implicitly true of all of them—keeping the commandments is the way to life.  You might say that commands are implied promises. 

Secondly, it is as important to know the promises of God as it is to know the commands of God.  It is interesting that the Scriptures often use the word “word” for both, suggesting that perhaps the line we draw between the two can be overdrawn.  There is a difference—the Lord does give commands, and he does give promises.  But often the promises are contingent upon commands.  And the promises give us the strength and willingness to keep the commands.  In other words, walking faithfully is as much about remembering the promises of God as it is about remembering the commandments of God.

As you seek to walk faithfully, what promise from God can you call to mind and hold onto today?

May 2017 Meditations

May 28

John 17:26


I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26) 

What is the name of God that Jesus is making known to his disciples?  Jesus is not explicit here, but the weight of the Gospel testimony suggests that the name was not the holy name of God given in the Old Testament, commonly translated LORD (all capital letters—see, in particular, Exodus 3:14-16).  Rather, the name Jesus made known to his disciples was “Father”. 

Before suggesting several implications, let me offer a few reasons.  First, referring to God as Father is rare in the Old Testament.  Aside from a handful of places, such as Isaiah and the Psalms, God is not addressed as Father (although there are places where Israel, or Israel’s king, is referred to as God’s son).  In other words, the name Father that Jesus made known may very well have been something that needed to be made known—i.e. the name Father was indeed largely new to the disciples.  Secondly, there is not an emphasis on the holy name of God—the LORD— in the New Testament.  The Gospels never record Jesus speaking the divine name, and when he does allude to it, he applies it to himself (see in particular the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John).  Thirdly, Jesus himself addresses God as Father, and most particularly in this prayer of John 17, the immediate context of Jesus’ statement cited above that he has made God’s name known.  Finally, he does not teach the disciples to call God “LORD,” but Father.  To remember one example, “when you pray, say ‘Father…’”

The implications of calling God “Father” are tremendous.  Let me suggest three.  First, to call him God is to acknowledge his power and majesty—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  To call him Father suggests that all the power with which God created the heavens and the earth are available for God’s children.  In other words, the name Father indicates that we have a personal claim upon Him.  It is not a presumptuous claim, but a claim that God invites, that God wants.  Why this is so is not difficult to understand.  I want my children to believe that, because they are my children, they have a special claim upon me.  In fact, I would mourn, knowing that something had gone terribly wrong in their upbringing, if they did not feel that they had a special claim upon me.  This does suggest a “name it, claim it” notion whereby I can expect God to give me everything I want or think I need.  (Indeed, I love my children, but don’t give them everything they want or think they need.)  But it does mean I can trust him, for he knows both our needs and our deepest desires. 

Secondly, calling God Father redefines my family.  Not only do I call God Father, but those who do likewise become my brothers and sisters.  And, therefore, they likewise have a special claim upon me.  And I upon them.  The New Testament is full of references to the household, or family, of God, and to the call to love one another as the chief mark of what it means to follow Christ.  And this love comes from knowing God as Father.  To repeat Jesus’ prayer above, “I have made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  The effect of knowing God as Father is clear—the disciples learn to love.  As they have been loved, so they are able to love others, particularly in the household of God. 

Finally, calling God Father reminds me of my need.  I call God Father because I have been born again, and adopted into God’s family.  The images are different, but both suggests that left to myself, I am not a child of God.  According to John, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  The clear implication is that apart from believing in Christ and being born of God, I do not have the right of a child of God.  When Paul writes “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’…” (Romans 8:15), he is suggesting what we apparently already know—apart from adoption into God’s family, we do not belong to him.  It is in Christ, and only in Christ, that we become children of God.  This should bring us to a place of great humility, for it puts us in the place of the fatherless, even those of us who have earthly fathers.  “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” applies not just to those without earthly fathers, but to all of us. 


May 25

Psalm 119:37

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give m life in your ways (Ps 119:37).

Let me make an obvious observation.  Although only a partial truth, we see the truth in the adage “You are what you eat.” If we eat much sugar and Cheetos and ice cream we will soon feel the effects, especially over time.  In the short term we gain weight, are slower, don’t sleep or concentrate as well, and don’t feel as well in general.  Ask anyone who has returned to a healthy weight, and invariably he will say he feels better.  Long term, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer, all of which have been linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, can follow a consistently and persistently poor diet. 

The above is largely uncontroversial.  Yet I would submit that the same is true spiritually.  How do we account for our lack of prayer, our lack of zeal and warmth toward the Lord, our lack of desire to know Him and serve Him?  Perhaps the reason is our spiritual diet—the things we allow in.  Rather than the Scriptures, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, time with loved ones and good books and music and art and hard work and outdoor activity that would draw our hearts to God, we settle for trifles—Facebook, CNN, constant (often background) noise in the form of music or talk radio, gossip, catalogs.  Or, to say it more Scripturally, how closely do we follow Paul’s admonition “whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, thing about these things” (Philippians 4:8)?  Have we rooted out things that do not conform to Paul’s words?

If you are serious about wanting to know Christ, watch your diet.  Watch what you literally eat, for your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  There is a reason why a healthy body well supports a healthy soul.  And watch your spiritual diet.  Perhaps the devil’s greatest weapons today—or perhaps in any day—are trifles and distraction.  We know we must flee pornography.  Are we equally concerned with Twitter? 


May 23

Learning to Serve

Jesus, knowing that the Father had give all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet… (John 13:3-5).

Service is a hard lesson, because it runs against the grain of our selfishness.  Left to ourselves, we prefer ourselves.  In the end, this is sin—me before you.  Righteousness is the opposite—you before me.  Sin is seeks the higher place, content to sit and be served.  Righteousness gladly takes the low place, content to grab a basin and a towel and wash the feet of others.  If we want to walk righteously, we must learn this. 

How?  Let me make several suggestions from the passage above. 

First, Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands.  At bottom, service is rooted in an abiding trust in God.  His life was in his Father’s hands, and so was everything that his Father desired to give him.  The corollary was also true—whatever his Father did not want him to have was not given.  Understanding that God gives what he gives is crucial because service often appears to be at our expense.  And on the surface, it is.  If I give of my time, my money, my energy or whatever, I give at my expense.  But in a deeper way, I never serve at my expense.  Jesus’ words “it is more blessed to give than to receive” are hardly intuitive, but true.  God always works all things together for good for his beloved.  If we don’t believe this, we will never learn to serve. 

Secondly, Jesus knew he had come from God.  In our world, the greatest is the one who is served.  In other words, being served is not just a matter of comfort and ease, but a matter of identity.  Taking the place of the servant testifies to who one is.  Which is why it was so crucial that Jesus knew that he had come from God.  His identity was as the Son of God, beloved by his well-pleased Father.  It is no coincidence that God spoke these words to Jesus before Jesus began what we call his public ministry, or his public service.  If our identity is not deeply rooted in God, we will never learn to serve. 

Finally, Jesus knew he was going to God.  Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples was not an end itself, but was rather a parable of the cross—a picture of what Jesus would do as he laid down his life for his disciples.  Hebrews is explicit: “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross…” (Heb 12:2).  The implication is clear—apart from knowing the joy set before him, Jesus doesn’t go to the cross.  But Jesus trusted God.  He knew that God would raise him, and he knew that his death and subsequent resurrection would accomplish his joy—the reconciliation of his own.  In other words, Jesus had hope.  Hope is crucial for courage.  And courage is essential for service.  Apart from knowing that we are going to God, we will never learn to serve. 

As always, the righteous live—and serve—by faith.

April 2017 Meditations

April 25

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox (Proverbs 14:4).

While we may like a clean manger, and the corresponding freedom from the upkeep an occupied manger requires, we will never enjoy the fruits of abundant crops apart from oxen.  In other words, no one has a clean manger and abundant crops at the same time.  A choice must be made. 

For those of you who have children, keep the long view.  The home is often messy, particularly with young children, and it can be frustrating when basic order seems impossible to maintain.  So, try as you can to keep order, and train your children to do so, but remember that abundance doesn’t come with a clean manger, and you are choosing the better part. 


April 24

Luke 22:31-34

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

I find Peter’s life tremendously encouraging.  He is a man of enthusiasms, loyalty, fears, and faults.  There are times when I think I understand him, times when I seem to be like him. 

It is not entirely clear, at least to me, what Jesus meant when he told Peter that Satan demanded to have him, to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31).  Likely the situation is similar to Job’s, where Satan was given limited permission to afflict Job, in an effort to destroy his faith (Job 1—2).  We know that Satan wasn’t given full permission over Peter because it nowhere says that Satan entered into him, like is said of Judas (22:3), and because Jesus prays for him, that his faith may not fail. 

What I find so encouraging about this passage is the fact that Jesus, at the very same time he assures Peter of his prayers, he foretells Peter’s denials.  Jesus is specific—“when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Jesus knows Peter will turn away, even as he prays for Peter’s faith not to fail.  Which suggests to me that Jesus is praying that Peter’s faith may not finally fail.  Certainly Peter’s denial of Jesus was a failure of faith.  Peter certainly saw it as such, for after the cock crowed and Jesus looked at him, “he went out and wept bitterly” (22:62).  And, yet, Jesus’ prayers were answered.  In fact, just as surely as he knew Peter’s faith would fail at the cross, he knew that Peter’s faith would not finally fail.  In his last words to Peter in the Gospel of John, Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go,” John then commenting “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:18-19).  In the end, Peter’s faith would hold.  He would glorify God. 

Like he did for Peter, Jesus continues to pray—for us: “Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).  And so does the Spirit: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). 

In the end, the reason Peter’s life is encouraging is the intercession of Jesus.  Left to himself, Peter would never have turned back.  But Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail.  And in the end, it didn’t. 


April 17

Luke 18:18-30

But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich (Luke 18:23). 

One of the sobering truths of the Scripture is that we become like the things we love.  Those who love idols become like them.  Those who love God become like Him.  Of the idolater, consider Psalm 115: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.  They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.  They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).  Trusting idols deadens the idolater. 

The love of money has exactly this effect, rendering us insensible.  The deadening effect of the love of money takes very practical expression in the life of those who love it: 

Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (6:4-6).

Can you see the effect?  The sin wasn’t having wealth, but the fact that they didn’t grieve over the ruin of Joseph.  Loving money deadens our love for our neighbor, particularly the vulnerable.  We become less and less like God, and therefore less and less human.  The love of money is a particularly dangerous sin, because it changes the one who loves it. 

So the call of Jesus to the rich young man—give.  It was a command, but also a blessing, for giving weakens our love of money.  It also forces us to reckon with the question: Who do I want to be?  The answer to this question will reveal who or what I love.  The rich young man was given an invitation not just to follow Jesus, but to be like him.  After all, Jesus is the one who, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9).  This young man was presented with a choice, not just concerning what to do with his money, but concerning who he wanted to be. 

A person having money does not mean that he loves money.  Whether he loves God or mammon will be known by the fruit of generosity in his life.  For a church as wealthy as the church in America, we do well to pay attention.



January 2017 Meditations

Matthew 12:33-37

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

Why do words carry so much weight, that we would have to account for every careless word, and that our words would establish our justification or condemnation?  Jesus’ words in today’s passage suggest two answers.  First, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (12:34).  Our words reveal our hearts.  Words are not the only things that reveal the heart—Jesus says also that our treasure reveals our hearts—but if you want to know who you are, examine your words.  In the end, we stand condemned or justified before God.  Our words just show us who we are.  After all, a tree is known by its fruit.

Secondly, “the good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (12:35).  Words have power, either to cleanse or to contaminate the world into which they are spoken.  I have a hunch that the familiar but ridiculous adage that I heard growing up—“sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”—was made up as a defense, precisely because words can be so terribly destructive.  We know the destructive power of an evil word.  And we know the power of a good word to bless.  And because God loves his world, and those therein, he takes words very seriously. 

Be especially careful of the careless word—the spontaneous criticism tacked on to a request, the unnecessary revelation of the shortcomings of another, even the unguarded word said in your own heart, unheard by anyone else.   Not only will you keep an evil word from infecting the world, but it may even be that ceasing to speak evil and learning to speak good words will effect your own heart.  After all, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Jesus himself understood the power of a word: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Is it any wonder that God sends Jesus out into an evil world on the strength of a good word?


Facing Esau, Facing God

Genesis 32:20-21

For by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jacob is facing perhaps the greatest crisis of his life—facing Esau.  The same brother from whom Jacob took both his blessing and his birthright is now, years later, coming to meet him with 400 men.  It is understandable that Jacob fears that Esau still wants to kill him. 

In preparation for this meeting, Jacob sends ahead a gift for the very understandable purpose of appeasing Esau.  The ESV translates Jacob’s thinking as follows: “for he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face.  Perhaps he will accept me.’”  Hidden from view in this English translation are two very loaded OT words, both of which are used of the relationship between God and the sinner.  The first is kipper, which is the central word for atonement in the Old Testament, most often used when speaking of the propitiating effects of sacrifice.  The second word is nasa, a word that literally means to bear or to carry, and is one of the two words commonly used for forgiveness (e.g. Exodus 34:6).  Thus, the sentence could be translated “for he thought, ‘I may propitiate him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face.  Perhaps he will forgive me.’”  What Jacob needs is Esau’s forgiveness, thereby being freed from Esau’s wrath.  But Jacob remains fearful, and for a very simple reason: he does not know if his gift will turn away Esau’s wrath.   

Our predicament is far graver than that of Jacob, for we face not the wrath of a wronged older brother, but rather the wrath of a God who was wronged.  And yet, despite the depth of our danger, we are not in the position of Jacob, uncertain of whether or not God will forgive us.  Why?  Because the gift that buys our forgiveness is not our gift.  Rather it is a gift given by God.  Hear these words from Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 1:23-25).  We can be sure that the gift given to secure our forgiveness is accepted by God because it is the gift of God’s own choosing, of God’s own giving, for it is God who put Christ Jesus forward as a propitiating gift.  In other words, it is God who makes propitiation.  Would God reject his own gift? 

Any gift we might seek to give would be insufficient.  But we need not fear.  We only need to believe that his gift—the gift of Christ Jesus—is.