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“I’m going to do the taxes,” my wife, Laurie, said. Well, she didn’t actually say this. She just went ahead and did it. Reminds me of a woman we met when we served in Mexico. She was “a little bit of nothin’” as they say in Texas, which was where she was from. This woman had supervised the building of her house in Chapala, an expansive, beautiful casa easily worth a million dollars. This was no mean feat in a foreign country that experiences a good share of corruption. When we expressed our admiration, she proclaimed, “I’m a Texas gal. Watch—and hide.” One of the better lines I’ve heard in my life. Well, Laurie’s task was smaller by several degrees of magnitude, and although saying, “I’m a Washington State gal. Watch—and hide,” doesn’t have quite the same punch—the determined mind is identical. She jumped into the project, grabbed onto the root, and growled. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Job, when I took away everything you had, I was being compassionate and merciful.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

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We were minutes away from leaving to take my wife, Laurie, to work at 6:00 a.m. She said she had found something she wanted to read to me. I was half-awake and half-dead, unsure what even my own thoughts were, much less someone else’s. What can I tell you? The woman wakes up singing. However, I had learnt the wise and strategic lesson imprinted by years of marriage, to pause and listen. This is not only because this woman thinks of things in the natural world that would never cross my mind, but also because the Lord often opens truths up to her. As she spoke, I, in spite of my deplorable mental condition, was able by God’s grace to hear the beauty of the Lord’s truth. She was reading from a section of Barnes’ Notes on the first chapter of James. So, let’s give credit to the only one to whom credit is due: The Lord, since, by His grace, He was the one who inspired Mr. Barnes to write, Laurie to read, and, on that early, dark February morning, me to hear.

Barnes was dealing with this passage: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).1 Barnes pointed out in his comments that the Lord has no evil desires that must be satisfied. If He tempted someone to do evil, He would need to have such longings.

Let’s think about this for a moment.

Unlike you and me, God has no evil wishes or cravings. Evil does not exist in the Lord. It doesn’t have a presence there, not even a foothold. He doesn’t have needs that require fulfilment, as if He lacked something. The Christian God lacks nothing. He is perfectly whole and good in and of Himself. The Lord is the eternal plumb line in the universe for all that is just, and good and loving.

Perfectly.

When Christians doubt that He is good (and thus evil at worst, uncaring or impotent at best), they are being tempted to unbelief. The Lord does not tempt, but He does test. And that test of faith concerns the very truth we are considering here. Is He good? Can we trust Him? The deep answer is that we must take an eternal view of life to find rest in such trials that try our faith.

Accompanying this reality of God’s testing is the acknowledgement that we humans just simply do not and cannot know the full reality of the difficult circumstances which face us. Why does God allow arduous trials? We will not know until we are with Him in eternity, when all things will become known. In the meantime, we believe the simple truth that God is good.

Was Israel thirsty in the wilderness? Yes. God caused that thirst. He was testing them. They failed. Were they hungry? Yes. God caused them to experience that hunger. He was testing them. Israel failed that test. Was King Saul in danger from the gathering Philistines? Yes. Their enemy had 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and “troops like the sand on the seashore” (1 Samuel 13:5). From his faithless point of view, Saul could no longer wait for the prophet Samuel as he had been told to do. He had to act. He had to offer the sacrifice immediately. But that faithless deed doomed his reign. Did God know the Philistines were threatening as well as the number of their soldiers? Of course. But that number meant nothing to Him. Saul was being tested. He was tempted to take action in disobedient faithlessness. He failed.

In each of these cases cited, God had no “evil passion to be gratified,” as Barnes wrote. He was not seeking to rejoice in the failures of Israel and King Saul, the way we humans sometimes take joy in the disastrous failures of others. He has no selfish or malicious needs to be satiated. He expects this from us: to know, love, and trust Him. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD’” (Jeremiah 9:23–24).

Did you see that? The Lord delights in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. It should not surprise us that He expects us to believe that. He will test us, in love, so we will understand and know Him. This is the highest aspiration of humankind.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

 

 

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In the movie John Wick 2, Gianna D’Antonio, a woman Mr. Wick found it necessary to murder because of a blood oath he had taken, asked him, “Do you fear damnation, John?”

“Yes,” was his simple reply.

But did John Wick really fear damnation?

No, not at all, at least in any significant sense. True, it seems he thought that condemning judgment from the Lord God Almighty was out there, lurking in the future, causing a degree of consternation in our hero, but not enough to result in a change of behavior. He just continued to kill people. Apparently, he thought that damnation/hell/judgment might actually be a reality and thus awaited him; but the satisfaction and rightness of his revenge far outweighed the fear of that eternal truth. Revenge was not the reason he killed Gianna D’Antonio, but it had put him on the path that led to her. Originally, he sought revenge because a group of young men had killed his dog. To John Wick, revenge here on earth–even for just an animal–was worth the price of suffering for a trillion years and on into eternity.

Revenge. It seems to make sense to us in film. The victim has no legal redress and must have justice. In Wick’s case, he was in a system adjudicated by what was called the High Table. The laws of the government of the United States held no sway there. William Wallace, in the movie, Braveheart, was a powerless man under the authority of an evil king. The case was the same for the character, Maximus, that Russell Crowe played in Gladiator. What is the victim to do in the light of such injustice?

According to Scripture, Christians have but one choice in these scenarios: Suffer. Revenge is never a behavior in which they should engage. In the Christian era, such justice is to be meted out only by governments and ruling authorities. Paul wrote, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3–4).1

Does this mean that Christians cannot be involved in helping themselves and others who have suffered injustice? Of course not. However, ruling, governmental authorities are to be the “avengers” who carry out “God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” For the individual, however, who must await such earthly judgments, he or she is not to take on that role of avenger. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21).

Obedience to this truth requires that Christians take an eternal view of justice, something that is not popular today—perhaps it never was, knowing the nature of mankind. It requires faith in a just God. It requires hope in a just judgment to come.

But there is more going on here, I would think, than just obeying a command about vengeance. In his revenge, John Wick kills—I don’t know—a hundred people. He kills them as if they are not living individuals at all. In contrast, the reader is probably aware of the anguish of civilians and police officers who have had to take the tragic action of killing an intruder or violent criminal. We are also aware of the toll taken upon individuals who have seen the bodies of victims, especially children. They never forget these images. What has been seen can’t be unseen. However, John Wick violently kills people, seemingly, with no impact on his soul whatsoever. This is simply not reality for us. We may enjoy a fictional bloodlust on the screen because we know they are all actors and stuntmen, but when we see this kind of death first-hand, it messes with and damages us.

I don’t know what lasting effect revenge films have on us, if any. I sincerely hope that this society will never begin to think they have become so powerless and their government so corrupt that they must take justice into their own hands. Regardless, for Christians, vigilante justice is no option. This may be at least one reason why Paul wrote that we should pray for ruling authorities. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

Amen. That sounds good to me.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016).

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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Jesus spoke stunning, beautiful truths many times, but few rival His statements in John 8, where He told the doubting Jews that Abraham, who lived many centuries before, rejoiced to see His day. Immediately following, He claimed to be Yahweh, who spoke to Moses in the burning bush in the wilderness.

“‘Abraham your father rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:56–58).1

Doesn’t this passage cause your mind to soar? Jesus is harkening back to two experiences He had with two men two thousand years or so before His listeners were born. The first was with Abraham, whom Jesus claimed had seen his “day.” This encounter will be our primary focus in this article. So, let’s ask the question, “What day had he seen?”

Let me begin by saying that I do not think that this “seeing” was only one incident but the culmination of promissory encounters and revelations from the Lord. Perhaps we should say, “revelations from Jesus.” Because it was Him, was it not, by the oaks of Mamre, who promised the son, Isaac? That promise brought the laughter of incredibility, and for Abram and Sarah, who had several months to see the promise come to pass, that doubting laughter was turned to true, believing joy. They named their son, Isaac—laughter. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me’” (Genesis 21:6).

In this same visitation at that meeting by the oaks, the Lord announced the destruction of Sodom. Despite Abraham’s intercession, God could not find ten righteous people in Sodom, and it was destroyed as He had said.

Abraham learned truths about God in these experiences. The Lord brings to pass what He announces. The child was born in old age. He had asked Abraham and Sarah after the laughter at His declaration: “Is anything too difficult for Yahweh?” (Genesis 18:14a). “No, nothing,” they would surely soon confess. Abraham and Sarah were becoming convinced of the reality of the sovereignty of God. The Lord possesses the ability both to bring fertility to an old couple as well as overwhelming destruction.

The Lord told Abraham previously (Genesis 13 and 15) that He would give his descendants the land and make his offspring as numerous as the dust and stars. We don’t know if Abraham always believed these promises throughout his life, but a test of faith in those oaths came when the Lord commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. Keep in mind this was the very son the Lord had promised, and this boy was the only true descendant through whom those numberless descendants would come. This test of faith, I think, is the apogee of Abraham’s seeing Jesus’ day and rejoicing in it. This is the wonderful thing he said to his servants before he trudged up the hill to obey the Lord’s command of sacrifice: “You stay here with the donkey, and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship, then we will return to you” (Genesis 22:5). And he said this to Isaac when he asked where the sacrificial animal was, seeing the wood and the fire but no lamb: “God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8a).

The day of Jesus that Abraham “saw” was the knowledge of a needed, sacrificial Son of God’s promise and His subsequent resurrection.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered Isaac, and the one who received the promises was ready to offer his one and only son, with reference to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants will be named,’ having reasoned that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which he received him back also as a symbol” (Hebrews 11:17–19).

Nothing on Earth or in the universe has the power to stop the Lord from fulfilling what He has proclaimed. Thus, with Abraham, we rejoice that Jesus came and, humbling Himself, became a servant unto death and offered Himself in sacrifice of which Isaac was the type. Jesus then rose from the dead, as He said He would, defeating sin, death, hell, and the grave.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, Immanuel, God Almighty in the flesh, for your merciful sacrifice, salvation, and resurrection. We rejoice with Abraham and all the saints to have seen Your day.

 

1Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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One of the things my poor, formerly evangelical mind has trouble wrapping itself around is that Jesus purposefully said things that were incomprehensible not only to those who opposed Him, but to His disciples, as well. The boldest example of this is when He told His listeners that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-58). I guess Jesus hadn’t attended any church growth seminars. Surely, this seems counterproductive.

But wait just one second. This is the Creator of the universe speaking. God in the flesh.

It would behoove us to listen.

But that passage in John is another topic for another time. The truth I’d like to look at in this article is the time He told His disciples that they should buy swords.

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35–38).1

I can say with certainty that any one of us who had been there with Jesus that night would have interpreted what He said in the same way as the disciples. Jesus never talked about swords in any of His teachings except in a literal sense. Why would He do this? Why would He purposefully tell His disciples to buy swords, knowing that is exactly what they would have heard Him to say? They didn’t buy any, by the way, but just showed Him the two they had. Jesus didn’t correct them when they produced these weapons which He surely could have done. He simply said, “It is enough.” We know Jesus didn’t really want them to buy swords to fight because when Peter slashed off the high priest’s servant’s ear in Gethsemane, Jesus told him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Matthew recorded that Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Jesus then healed the poor man (Luke 22:51).

I think I know at least part of the answer to explain Jesus’ words. We know He spoke in parables so that everyone but His disciples would “see but not perceive” and “hear but not understand” (Mark 4:10-12). But here is Jesus speaking, not in a parable, but in a—what shall we call it—a divine secrecy.2 It seems that in this case He expected the disciples to figure it out by seeking understanding from the Holy Spirit, even if that understanding didn’t appear for a while.

Proverbs 25:2 says. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” It is astounding, isn’t it, that God says He is glorified when He conceals things? But that isn’t the whole story. It’s also a glory for us kings and priests (Revelation 1:6 and 5:9-10) to search concealed things out. I don’t know why this searching is the “glory of kings,” but surely it’s a good thing.

Thus, God is glorified in our pursuit here and, somehow, it is good—glorifying—for us to discover, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, what in the world Jesus, our Savior, is talking about.

In the case before us, I think that we are to discover that Jesus was saying to His disciples, now that He would soon be absent physically from them, that they should sacrificially and purposefully do what they must, with great desire and diligence, to search out the truths in the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), which pierces us even dividing one’s soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). It is here that we learn the true Truth. It is here that we will find Jesus, who is the Word. God’s words are not just the opinion of irrelevant ancients. They are the thoughts of the one who created the universe—and you.

The hidden treasure and the pearl of great value are ours to find and make our own from the proceeds of the sale of lesser, temporal things (Matthew 13:44-46). This is the truth upon which our spiritual and eternal lives depend.

It is not a hobby.

Father, give the Church the desire to sacrificially seek out Your truth, no matter how opaque it may seem to us. Forgive us for taking Your words so lightly. Forgive us for our inattentiveness to Your words of life.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2Ross, A. P. (1991). Proverbs. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1079). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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Let’s take a moment to think about eternity. Right away, an obstacle lies in our path. Taking a “moment” and the immediacy of “right away” in a discussion about eternity inform us of the challenge. We are bound by time. We can’t comprehend eternity, and thoughts about it elusively descend into to a haze.

But why should we think about eternity at all?

Good question.

Difficult question.

To start with, some may say that we have enough to occupy our thoughts with the stuff going on right now. True enough. Sicknesses. Jobs. Families. They all require our careful attention.

At least let me throw out one thought, although it is a little disquieting: In seventy years or so, everyone reading this article will probably be dead. Almost no one will know or remember you even existed. Any money you saved will be in the possession of others. Any deeds you did, unless you’re famous, will be forgotten, remembered, perhaps, by your grandchildren. As for their children remembering—don’t kid yourself.

So, who will remember you?

The Lord God, your Creator. The one who loves you with—yes, I should state it—an eternal love.

He will always love you.

Can you imagine a trillion years? No, of course you can’t. But if you’re a Christian, you’ll be alive a trillion years from now.

Doing what?

Well, Scripture doesn’t offer a lot of details. We get a few hints, though. Before we look at those things, let’s be unambiguous. What we know of reality now is not what reality will be for us then. There’s a time coming when all that we know and see and understand about the present earth, solar system, and universe won’t exist anymore. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).1 The Lord God Almighty is going to create everything new. “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5). What will that be like? Will there be boars and bears and butterflies? No one knows but Him. But if you have ever been dazzled by this present creation—if you haven’t, you haven’t been thinking properly—then it isn’t hard to imagine that whatever is to come will be better. Better, because there will be no sin there and thorns will not “infest the ground,” as the Christmas song says.

Despite the lack of detail, however, we have a few scriptural truths about eternity that should cause us to pause and ponder.

Believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:2–3). How long will this judging take? Well, there are probably tens of thousands of these fallen angels, but the notion of “how long” does not exist in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. We don’t know how to answer this question.

Believers—meek ones, apparently—will inherit the earth—forever (Matthew 5:5).

Believers who overcome, who “conquer,” will rule over nations—forever (Revelation 2:26—27).

I should note here that we Christians will be judged, as well, by Jesus Himself. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:10–11a).

It should be noted that this judgment is final. So, that will last for eternity, as well.

So, it seems a fruitful thing, a worthy thing, doesn’t it, to take a time-bound moment or two and think about eternity in the light of these truths.

All glory to Him who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.

 

1All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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The boys and I met before Christmas, and at one point our attention turned to indebtedness, in particular in the light of this verse, which one brother quoted: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Once he had finished, a bevy of thoughts ploughed through my brain. Only one answer arose, but it was a little shaky. As far as I knew, the Lord did not forbid Christians in the New Testament to borrow money or incur debt. Nevertheless, I wanted to poke at this notion. I asked if all of us had had mortgages at one time or another. All of us had. We also revealed that we all had been in trouble with credit card debt earlier in our lives, and that we had learned from that experience. But that we had all been in debt proved nothing. So, this vague feeling of law-breaking hovered over our little group like a misty fog. Is it true that Christians should “owe no one anything” means not being in debt?

Since I didn’t have an immediate scriptural answer for Romans 13:8 that day, I encouraged the brothers to read the verse in context. After we’d all gone home, I remembered, somewhere in my memory-deprived brain, that Jesus talked about lending and loans without condemnation (Luke 7:41–42 and Luke 11:5–7). But before I got around to looking any of that up, sometime during that day, I remembered a foundational truth: All of God’s laws either have to do with loving God or loving your neighbor. Quickly following, I recalled this from Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).1

So, I asked myself, “How does owing people money portray not loving my neighbor?”

It seemed obvious I wouldn’t be loving my neighbor if I didn’t pay my bills and unjustly kept what was owed to them. This is backed up in Proverbs: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you” (Proverbs 3:27–28).

Eventually, I got around to reading the sentence in Romans 13:8 in its context. Having done that, I found that this verse was not about borrowing money at all. Here’s why: Verse 8 is preceded by Paul telling the Romans to be subject to the governing authorities, which in their case, was the emperor, tax-collectors, and law-enforcers. The verse just before the “owe no one anything,” is, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). It is followed by these verses: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9–10).

The passage in question, Romans 13:7-10, is about being subject to governing authorities and thus loving one’s neighbors, “paying” them what is “due,” like taxes, revenue, respect, and honor, not about borrowing money. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to maintain that making monthly payments on a loan is loving one’s neighbor, as well.

It is true that in Deuteronomy 15:6 and 28:12, the Lord told Israel that they shall not borrow, but it seems He is saying that such borrowing would put them in subjection to other nations. “For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you” (Deuteronomy 15:6).

It is also true that Proverbs 22:7 wisely tells us that “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender,” but this seems to be a warning about being impoverished under crushing debt. Both Deuteronomy and Proverbs concern debt that puts us under the “ruling” subjection of others. Borrowing money wisely does not bring this result.

So, no New Testament admonition commands us to not borrow money, and Romans 13:8 cannot be used as law for us. One must take that verse out of context and twist it to make it so. Nevertheless, we should love our neighbor by paying our debts and bills on time.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

IMG20191110122907Laurie and I returned from Bangladesh about a month ago. I had been invited to speak to a group of pastors led by a friend whom we met when we lived in India. We were excited to be given this opportunity. I prayed and hope that the truths I spoke edified the pastors and the Lord God Almighty was and will be glorified.

Our friend generously hosted us, allowing us to stay in his home and enjoy meals with him there. It is in this setting that Laurie and I witnessed wonderful examples of servanthood, displayed by our friend’s wife and daughter-in-law. We were struck by the servants’ hearts of these two women of God.

During our mealtimes there, Laurie and I noticed how closely the two women watched us as they waited and served. It was a little uncomfortable until we grew used to it. They took note of how much we ate of the different dishes they put on the table. They endeavored to serve the foods for which we showed preference. They also noticed that I drank coffee only at breakfast but mango juice at any time. (I was often in need of the energy boost because the speaking schedule was packed.) We were grateful that our Christian sisters lovingly cared for us, and we told them so.

One time, early in our stay, we were uncertain about the time for one of the meals and came down to the kitchen/dining area early. Within seconds, the two ladies emerged from another room. It wasn’t long before they had put plates on the table and were preparing food. The women served us because they thought we were hungry and wanted to hospitably provide. We did not ask for anything—they just proceeded to serve. Once, while we were eating a light dinner, our host had a cup of tea in front of him on the dining table. One of the sisters walked by on her way out of the room and quickly and deftly placed a saucer on top of his cup to keep it hot. He didn’t ask her to do it, she anticipated the need and just did it.

It was here that a wonderful thought went through my head. The Lord was like these two Christians. Better said, I’m sure, is that they were like Him.

How so?

First, when our sisters worked to provide us a meal when we came to dine early, the Father knows what we need and moves to provide it. He takes action according to our needs before we even ask. Just as the sister placed the saucer on the steaming cup on her way out of the room, He anticipates a need we may not know we even have. In the verses preceding the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7–8). Since we are so very needy, in spite of our opinion otherwise, the Lord is always at work at this task.

Second, like the sisters observed us to determine what we enjoyed most, the Lord watches us, as well. He knows what we have need of and what we don’t. This truth about God’s watchfulness has been under siege in recent years in an attempt to portray Him as an evil Santa Claus or a governmental Big Brother, frowningly stalking us so He can condemn us or make our lives difficult at His whim. This is a disgraceful attack on the character of our Creator. In His love, the Lord is indeed constantly vigilant over each one of us to meet our needs perfectly. How one perceives that action is determined by how one perceives God.

In ways that those beloved Christian women could never perceive, the Father knows what we need eternally. Those essentials may not be what we think are good or necessary, from our limited, earth-bound, non-eternal understanding of things. Far beyond meeting our physical necessities like food, God’s desire for us is true, rich spiritual life. He seeks to have Jesus formed in us, and that we, “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19). 1

Thank You, Father, for your marvelous love. Please, may we have Jesus’ servant’s heart and the love of our Lord that surpasses knowledge.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

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Throughout its history, Israel was unable to put away the sinful behaviors of the cultures in which they lived. It still shocks me that after all the miracles they had seen in Egypt, they took Egyptian idols with them when they crossed the Red Sea. They continued to turn to idols throughout the histories of Judges and Kings. I think, “How could they have been so foolish, so sinful after all the Lord had done? Really. I don’t get it.” However, I need to take note of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10: The idolatries of “our fathers” were “examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (vs. 6) and that we should “not be idolaters as some of them were” (vs. 7). 1

Let’s look at that passage. It’s rather long, so let me attempt to summarize. Please follow along in chapter 10 and the corresponding verses from the Old Testament.

How were the Israelites idolaters? They:

  • Doubted God when Moses was delayed on the mount and made a golden calf to which they offered sacrifices. The people then “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (vs. 7; Exodus 32:1-6).
  • Engaged in sexual immorality (vs. 8). I don’t connect sexual immorality with idolatry, and that light of truth has not shined on me yet. Nevertheless, this sin was committed when “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” and worshiped Baal of Peor. Twenty-four thousand died of the plague in one day (Numbers 25).
  • Put Christ to the test (vs. 9). In this case, the people accused God and Moses of bringing them to the wilderness to die. Some were destroyed by serpents (Numbers 21:4-6).
  • Grumbled, and some were “destroyed by the Destroyer” (vs. 10; Numbers 16:41-49).

The very next thing Paul wrote was this: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (vs. 11).

Then Paul wrote a “therefore.” As you know, whenever a therefore shows up, we must ask what it is there for. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (vs. 12).

So, let me get this straight. My brain is starting to burn, and that, well, is usually a good thing as far as God’s Word is concerned. We should view “these things”—stupid things, from my point of view—that the Israelites did as examples to us, that we might learn from their instruction, not to desire evil as they did, nor be idolaters as some of them were. And here’s the kicker—if I think I will not do evil like they did, I should take heed lest I fall.

In other words, I could do these things. I could be as sinful and irrational as they were.

Then in verse 13, some encouragement. We should know that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” In other words, these temptations to commit idolatry by doubting God, engaging in sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, and grumbling are common to everyone. That’s a little comforting.

I guess.

Then Paul wrote,

“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (vss. 13b–14).

So, even though it is easy for me, in my pride and self-righteousness, to think that I would not behave like those ancient, unrighteous fathers, I very well may. I am liable to be as foolish and evil as they and be tempted to engage in all their sins. Therefore, I should be humble and not think I am somehow better than those Israelites. I am to be instructed by their lawless behavior so that I will not desire evil and trust in an alternative power when I’m in trial and trouble. The Lord God Almighty will help me to endure all those temptations.

Please note, however, that although the Lord will “provide a way of escape,” that “way of escape” enables us to “endure it,” not cause it to vanish.

Lord, help me. I will be tempted to do evil. I am weak. You are strong. Strengthen me, I pray.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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