April 29:

Judges 9

And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem… (Judges 9:23).

Recently I was speaking to a dad of a young boy in our fellowship the other day, who told me that, when he reads to his son, his son wants to make sure he knows who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. I understand. I like it when the lines are strong and the differences clear.

But in the war between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, everyone was wrong. Abimelech seized power by murdering his 70 brothers, aided by the men of Shechem, who were his people. So when conflict came between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, there was no good guy. The Lord had determined to bring judgment upon all.

This is one ugly picture, among many, of sin in the book of Judges. And, like the others, one from which we can learn. While I want to be careful not to read too much into a story like this, what came to me this morning was simply this: I need to beware of assuming that, because the other is wrong, therefore I am right.


April 28:

Luke 23:50-53

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50-51).

Surely the biggest injustice the world has ever seen was the crucifixion of the Son of God.  For, as a Roman centurion saw, Jesus was innocent.  Apparently Joseph of Arimathea knew that too, for he, as a member of the council that condemned Jesus, had not consented to their decision.  How costly this was for Joseph, standing against the will (and presumably pressure) of the council, I suspect we will never know, for little is said of Joseph.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter.  He refused to consent.  He was a good and righteous man.

We know that, on a level that perhaps Joseph didn’t understand, that it was the will of God that Jesus should be crucified, that this injustice of injustices should be carried forth (cf. Isaiah 53:10; Luke 22:39-46; Acts 2:23).  And yet, because he was a good and righteous man, Joseph refused to consent.  And we remember him for that, and for his care for Jesus’ body.

We live in a world of great and increasing injustice, a world where the proclamation and the practice of the Gospel is becoming increasingly illegal and punished.  In the end, this may be the will of God, who gives people over to themselves and their desires (Romans 1:1:18-32).  Whether that is the case or not (and there is much that of course we don’t know), what is our response as the people of God who live in such a world?  The answer may be varied, but surely it must include the kind of stubborn refusal to consent, as befits the good and the righteous, like Joseph of Arimathea.


April 23:

Judges 2:1-5

Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’  (Judges 2:1-2)

Covenant making is a serious business, because covenants by their very nature bind us.  For instance, my marriage covenant binds me—I have given myself to my wife alone, and therefore I cannot give myself to another woman.  I am hers.  Whether I like it or not (and I do!), I am bound.

Covenants can be formal, or informal, but they all involve a measure of self-giving.  Business contracts are promises—I will do X in exchange for Y.  I signed a cell phone contract this month, pledging to pay X each month (self giving) to receive a phone and cell service.  In so doing, I bound myself, in this case for two years (or pay a penalty).  Promises, even if not formal or written down, are promises, and by their very nature bind.  Our word itself binds.  This is why Jesus, reacting to ways that we swear (presumably so that people will really know we are serious), admonishes his disciples “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” (Matthew 5:37).  Even addictions, I would submit, are covenants of a sort—again, I do X in exchange for Y.  The reasons addictions are so powerful (and why I believe they have an element of covenant involved) is because there is again an element of self giving, but a self giving that is destructive, since one’s self is given to a master that in the end cannot satisfy our real hungers, or meet our real needs.  For example, one might give himself to the influence of alcohol, so that he won’t worry.  It may dull pain in a moment, but will be of no help in the end, and will be unmasked as the false god that is it.

In the Lord’s command to the Israelites in this passage, it is clear that covenants are about worship.  They are forbidden to make a covenant with the people of the land, but are called to tear down their altars.  In other words, they are to get rid of that which might tempt them to go after their false gods.  But covenants are always about worship.  Which is why we go about the business of covenant making seriously, and cautiously.  Whether we are speaking of formal contracts, promises, or even additions, we refuse to enter into covenants that would in any way compromise our allegiance to the Lord, or covenants that would promise us satisfaction or fulfillment apart from God and what we know of His ways.


April 22:

Luke 21:1-4

It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

Interesting how Jesus defines “more” here.  The widow gave two small copper coins, surely a lesser amount than the rich that put their gifts into the offering box.  But Jesus says she gave more.

We don’t often speak this way.  In our world, and even at times in our Christian world, we have certain categories of recognition.  Give a certain amount, and you are recognized in a particular way.  The more you give, the greater prominence you are given.  This is not true across the board, of course, but it is nonetheless common enough.

I suspect heaven works in a similar way.  This widow’s name did not appear on a building or in a newspaper.  But it did appear in the Bible, and I’d wager it will appear in a prominent place in the Book of Life.


April 21:

Joshua 23

One man of you puts to fight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you (Joshua 23:10).

The call for the Israel as they entered Canaan was to overcome the surrounding nations, exercising God’s judgment upon the sin of the land and establishing Israel as a nation in their own land.  This meant war.  While Israel was given the land, she was also called to take it.  And she could, for the Lord would fight for her.

Israel’s victory was not, however, guaranteed.  There was a condition: “Be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left….” (Joshua 23:6).  Notice that the strength required is not simply that of strength in battle.  It is not even primarily strength in battle.  Yes, that will be important, even crucial, but it will be gained through abiding in the words of the Lord, hearing them and keeping them.  And this will require strength.

God’s people deal with battles of all sorts: Decisions to be made, temptations to be resisted, people to love and serve, opportunities to be evaluated, pride to be vanquished, prayers to be prayed, marriages to be restored, children to be raised, parents to be cared for, addictions to be overcome, sins to be put to death, vulnerable ones to be protected, courage to be exercised.  The way to deal with all these things is, firstly, to know the Word of the Lord and do it—in whatever area, in whatever way.

In the end, faithfulness is the battle.  He’ll take care of the rest.  The Lord still fights for His people.


April 15:

Luke 17:11-19

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

Ten lepers were cleansed as they were on their way to the priests, and Jesus had instructed them.  Nine continued on to the priests, as Jesus instructed.  One turned back to give thanks.  Even though the nine were carrying out Jesus’ command, Jesus seems surprised that only one returned.  A Samaritan, no less.

And why the Samaritan?  If all the lepers were glad to be cleansed, why was it a Samaritan that returned?  Why are we told he was a Samaritan?  While this is speculation, I wonder if it is simply because the Samaritan would have been keenly aware that he had no claim upon the kindness of Jesus.  After all, the Jews did not have dealings with Samaritans (John 4:9).  In other words, of all the lepers that called out for Jesus’ help, the Samaritan would have expected for Jesus to pass him by.  But he didn’t.

Thanksgiving is basic.  It gets to the very heart of what it means to have faith.  And, yet, it is apparently easy to forget.  The other nine, to be sure, were elated that they had been cleansed for their leprosy.  But they did not return to give thanks.

The end of the account is interesting.  Jesus says to the Samaritan man “rise and go your way, your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:19).  But the Samaritan had already been healed.  Whether or not Jesus is referring to the cleansing of leprosy, or something deeper, we know two things: the man was well, and that the man had faith.

Paul says that the essence of sin is unthankfulness: “for although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).  Might one flip it around and suggest that the essence of righteousness—of faithfulness and well-being—is thankfulness?  After all, to be thankful implies that there is one deserving of our thanks.  And, further, thankfulness has the effect of drawing our heart, affections, and loyalty to the one to whom we are thankful.  Thanksgiving honors God, and it blesses us.

Take time to give thanks to God.  Apart from thanksgiving, it is impossible to have faith, and impossible to be well.

  1. Michael Kelly Blanchard, a longtime friend of Tom and Anna Barry and the rest of their family, wrote a beautiful song of thanksgiving. I include this link from his website, for your encouragement.


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April 14:

Luke 16:19-31

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!  Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away (Amos 6:3-7).

Jesus tells of a poor man, Lazarus, who was cast at the gate of a rich man.  The verb is interesting—why was he cast there? (the ESV translates the verb as “laid”, which is fair enough as well).  It appears that someone else put Lazarus at the rich man’s gate.  Perhaps someone who wanted Lazarus off the streets of the city.  Or perhaps someone who thought that Lazarus might find help there.  In any case, Lazarus dies, presumably at the gate of the rich man.

When the rich man also died, he saw Lazarus at Abraham’s bosom.  He didn’t see the hundreds of poor people that undoubtedly lived in the city in which the rich man lived.  Only Lazarus, the one cast at his gate.

This account (Jesus does not say this is a parable) is one of the most sobering passages of the Scripture, for it speaks starkly about hell, and the reason that the rich man found himself there.  The rich man (who is unnamed) calls Abraham to send Lazarus to bring water for relief, but is refused.  He calls Abraham again to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, telling Abraham that his brothers would surely listen to a man who comes from the dead.  Apparently they would have recognized Lazarus as well, having seen him at the gate of their brother (presumably as they feasted with their brother), and having known that he had died.  Again, Abraham denies the man’s request.  Sending Lazarus wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The brothers had the same Scriptures that the rich man did.  If they don’t listen to the Scriptures, they would not listen to Lazarus, even from the dead.  Like the rich man, the brothers are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.


April 7:

Luke 12:13-34

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed (Proverbs 19:17).

The parable of the rich fool is one that we do well to heed carefully, especially in an affluent country like our own. Does the rich fool’s words sound like he is planning for retirement? Putting the question like that is not to condemn 401(k)s and other ways one might plan for the future, but rather to raise the question of what we do with what we save, and why. The problem of the rich fool is not that he is rich, but rather that he is not rich toward God. Jesus is clear precisely on this point: not being rich toward God, he lays up treasure for himself. So what does it mean to be rich toward God? Two thoughts.

First, being rich toward God means seeking the kingdom of God. There is a fundamental orientation of the heart that is necessarily singular. As Jesus says elsewhere, you cannot serve God and mammon. It is one or the other, but not both. That does not mean, of course, that serving God means that you cannot earn money. But it does mean that our provision comes from God, and is given to those who seek the Kingdom, which the Father gives eagerly.

Secondly, being rich toward God means practical generosity. Sell your possessions and give to the needy, Jesus says to his disciples. Above all else, since generosity is love expressed practically, practical generosity is the mark of the heart that loves God. More than that, Jesus suggests that giving is a means of storing up heavenly treasure. Does it sound like Jesus is suggesting that earthly treasure can buy heavenly treasure?

Jesus ends with a profound and somewhat counterintuitive word: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He does not say that where the heart is, the treasure is. He could have. And that may well be true. But Jesus says speaks of treasure then heart, in such a way that may suggest that one’s heart follows his treasure. If so, then wealth, of whatever extent, becomes an opportunity, that by the grace of God through practical generosity, we might even be able to turn our hearts and learn to love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.


April 6:

Luke 12:1-7

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment (Prov. 12:19).

Hypocrisy comes from a Greek word meaning “actor.” Which is what a hypocrite is, one who puts himself forward as something he is not. We don’t object when actors do this, for they and we know what they are doing, and therefore formal acting is not an attempt to deceive. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether—the hypocrite aims to deceive.

In the passage from Luke for today, Jesus makes three comments on hypocrisy. First, hypocrisy is infectious. As leaven spreads throughout the dough, affecting the whole lump, so does hypocrisy in the life of a community. Hypocrisy, in other words, is not self-contained, and is therefore not inconsequential. Secondly, hypocrisy doesn’t work. One can cover and conceal, but in the end the truth will be found out. It is only a matter of time before the whispered secrets and criticisms said privately become a matter of public record. As the proverb for today reminds us, a lying tongue only works for a moment. Finally, hypocrisy reveals who we fear. In the end, the hypocrite fears anyone or anything but God. In other words, the hypocrite is willing to trade the acceptance or applause of the world for the acceptance and applause of God. And that is cause to be afraid, indeed, and to get our fears in order.

We don’t trifle with hypocrisy. When we see ourselves acting in a particular way for the acceptance or applause of the world, we recognize our hypocrisy for what it is, and for what it says about us. And we repent. Hypocrisy corrupts the people of God and it puts us in a very dangerous position. Hypocrisy lasts for a moment, during which we may well listen to the praise of the world, all the while failing to remember that we are forsaking the praise of God.