Meditating on the Commands of Christ (103): Developing a Servant’s Heart

“I just want to be a boss!” This came in response to the question,”What would you like to be when you grow up?” We thought the question would make a great ice breaker for our high-school aged youth group back in the days when Alan and I were co-leading with our pastor and his wife. There were a lot of enthusiastic and thoughtful responses—most of which I don’t remember 20 years later. But, I’ll never forget that particular answer!

Probably her older sister won’t ever forget it either! Most of us were caught off guard and looked at Melanie* curiously, trying to figure out if she was joking. She was joking, right?! Maybe not; she looked completely serious. An awkward hush fell over the room. Some smirked; some smiled; some looked a little dismayed. In Brethren circles twenty years ago, being “a boss” wasn’t considered PC as the express intention of anybody, but especially not a petite highschool freshman!

“Melanie!” her older sister protested, trying to save the situation, “You don’t really mean that, do you?”

Melanie glared fiercely at her sister. She was fifth-born in a large family and a budding teenager, so I suppose she had some legitimate desire to be out from under the watchful eyes of her parents and older siblings! ” Yes! That’s exactly what I want to be! I want to be in charge!”

I must say that twenty years later, this beautiful young lady is—in many ways—in charge . . . of her lovely children. She’s married and I think happy. She never became the “boss” of a large company or business, but she is definitely one of those proverbially virtuous women who directs her home with tender (but also firm) care. She’s a good boss, but I suspect that didn’t come without a lot of pain in the process!

In the Bible, Jesus’s followers more than once debated who was the greatest and who should have preeminence when Jesus reigned as king. In that context, Jesus taught them: “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he that is chief, as he that serves” Luke 22:26). In reality, Jesus didn’t overthrow the Roman government (as some of his disciples thought). As it turned out, Jesus’s kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, not a physical kingdom. Jesus will someday reign over all the earth, but in the cross hairs of BC and AD, Christ’s mission was to die as a sacrificial servant to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind.

Who became the leader after Jesus died? Really, all of the remaining apostles, but it cost them all their lives.

They led by example, constrained by the love of Christ, not for any glory for themselves, but so they could testify to the truth of the gospel for the love of man and the glory of God.

Jesus died so that the world could be saved. Stephen, one of the first servants of the church, died as a martyr, but through his death Paul was converted. Paul was martyred, but through his death multitudes came to faith. And on and on!

Leadership in the church of Jesus Christ has never been intended to be for the glory of individual people. True leaders suffer greatly. Jesus calls us to servant leadership—being willing to suffer so that others might hear, believe, and be saved.

Are we willing?

Here are a few quotes on servant leadership worth pondering:

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 23:10-12, “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Matthew 20:25-28, But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 9:33-37 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,  ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.‘” Mark 10:4 2-45  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Luke 22:26, But he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.

Make Me a Servant

(*Melanie is a pseudonym, since this charming young woman is alive and well still today.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (102): The Case for Communion . . . Even Online??

What’s the point of the Christian practice of communion? Jesus instituted it the night before he died, and he commanded his disciples, “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). For Jesus and his disciples, it started out as the celebration of the Passover feast—the time when Jewish people remembered their rescue by God from slavery. On the night of the first Passover, God instructed each family to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the top and sides of the doorway leading into their home, and then they were to eat the roasted lamb in preparation for their journey out of Egypt (where they had been slaves) into the freedom of “The Promised Land,” Israel. God warned everyone living in the land of Egypt that he was sending a Death Angel to kill the firstborn in every household, but if the angel saw blood from the sacrificial lamb over the door of any home, he would “pass over” that home and not kill anyone inside.

The Last Supper by Tintoretto, 1594. Public Domain

So, Jesus was celebrating this annual feast with his disciples, but the commemorative feast was also Jesus’s “last supper,” because the next morning he was to be sacrificed as the “Passover Lamb” . . . the one prophesied by John the Baptist at the beginning of his ministry: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus was crucified on a cross, and blood from his wounded head and outstretched arms would be the perfect fulfillment of the blood being applied to the top and sides of the door.

In order to help his disciples understand all the imagery from the Passover, and how it was going to be fulfilled in his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus instituted what we now know as “communion,” “The Lord’s supper,” or the most ancient term— “Eucharist” (from root words meaning “gratitude for God’s grace”).

The Last Supper, by Carl Bloch. Public Domain

So, after the main part of the Passover meal was over and Judas had been dismissed, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).

The Last Supper by Peter Paul Rubens, 1631-32. Public Domain

Jesus was teaching his disciples that his sacrifice—being the lamb of God—was a once-for-all-time sacrifice that would never need to be repeated again. After Jesus was crucified, there would never need to be another Passover lamb slain. All that anyone would need to do in order to be delivered from the slavery of sin and be set on the path to “The Promised Land” of heaven would be to accept Jesus’s blood as the perfect and complete fulfillment of the Old Testament law.

The Last Supper by Dieric Bouts, 1420-1475. Public Domain

From that night forward, Jesus was providing a “New Testament” for his disciples—both those with him that night, and for all who would come in the future: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” What did he mean? The last Passover was the last time a lamb would need to be slain. This same meal was also the Last Supper, but it was the first time Jesus was introducing a new testament and a new covenant. Instead of a lamb, in future, Jesus asked all his disciples to remember his death on the cross with a simple feast of bread and drink.

Last Supper, mosaic by Sibeaster, 2008. Public Domain

Now, there are several interpretations of what Jesus meant when he said, “This is my body . . . this is my blood . . .” Some early Christians were terribly persecuted because the rumor went around that they were cannibals—eating the literal body and blood of Christ. Even today, there are those who believe in “transubstantiation” (the bread is mystically transformed into the literal body of Christ), “consubstantiation” (the bread is mystically infused with the actual presence of Christ’s body but is both bread and body), and those who believe communion is a memorial where the bread is symbolically and metaphysically Christ’s body but not literally. Whereas the first two groups believe communion is a sacramental means of receiving grace, the last group believes the Eucharist is an ordinance of thanksgiving, commemorating the fact that saving grace was received at the time of first believing and accepting Christ’s sacrifice.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, 1490’s. Public Domain

I personally believe that the bread and juice are symbols, just as Jesus was not literally a lamb, but metaphorically. However, I may be wrong. When we all get to heaven, I’m sure Jesus will go to the chalkboard and help us understand exactly what he meant. Meanwhile, the most important things to remember in the present are:

  • Only those who apply the blood are saved; all others were lost. The testament was only fulfilled by those who accepted the blood of Jesus as the testator: “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator” (Hebrews 9:16). And, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Matthew 26:28). Jesus died so that all can be saved, but only those who accept his sacrifice will be saved.
  • All who are believing disciples are called to practice communion, and in so doing, remember Jesus’s sacrifice: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Are you a believer? Are you practicing communion? I know that during this COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of confusion about the efficacy of celebrating the Lord’s Supper as corporate, online experiences, but let’s remember Jesus’s teaching: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 26:26-29, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Mark 14:22-26,And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.Luke 22:14-20, “And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (101): Let No Man Deceive You

Have you ever wondered if and when the world is going to end? If you don’t have any religious affiliation, you might suppose the world should last for another 3-7 billion years, although scientists predict that life won’t be sustainable on earth for more than a few billion years. However, even two or three billion years is a long time . . . long enough that for all practical purposes we don’t really need to be concerned since that’s about six billion generations of our grandchildren away.

“The Great Day of His Wrath” by John Martin, 1851 (Public Domain)

However, Jesus taught that the “end of this age” (of life on earth as we know it) is coming while people are still living on earth—not billions of years from now, but possibly soon— and that it will come as a surprise (Mark 13:32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father“). Furthermore, the end of this age is an event worth being continuously prepared for—like the servants of a great estate awaiting the return of their master (Matthew 24:42-44).

It is in this context that Jesus warns his followers: “See that no one leads you astray (Matthew 24:4). What did Jesus mean? He didn’t want us to make the mistake of unbelieving scoffers, who think “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (1 Peter 3:4). Jesus doesn’t want us to fall into the trap of those who think we can do whatever we please because either God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care. The truth is that all things will not continue as they always have. There will be an end, and here are some of the signs Jesus gave us in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 that will mark the “birth pangs” of the beginning of the end:

*Increased wars, lawlessness, and civil unrest
*More numerous famines, earthquakes, and pestilences
*Increasing hurricanes, tidal waves, and oceanic disturbances
*Unusual changes in the atmosphere and our perception of the sun, moon, and stars
*Increased persecution against those who follow Jesus Christ
*Many false “Messiahs” who will claim that they can save the world

If you follow the news, it’s not hard to cite examples of increasing unrest, pestilences (COVID-19, anyone?), atmospheric changes, etc. Global warming has been a hot topic for years and is touted as the cause for everything from hurricanes to forest fires. We all see and feel the changes in planet Earth—and the people living on planet Earth. We may disagree about how to deal with the problems, but we all recognize them. As a Christian, I want to point out two things:

#1. God has given us the responsibility of being stewards and caretakers of this beautiful world, and it’s our privilege and duty to pursue cleaning up our environment and restoring the world to the best of our ability. The fact that the world is going to end “someday” never gives us an excuse for careless management of our resources in the present.

#2. Despite our best efforts, planet Earth and we—the people living on this beautiful planet —are destined to succumb to the degenerative changes mentioned above. In fact, the earth isn’t just “warming” globally, we’re told “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (1 Peter 3:6). At the end of the world as we know it, our whole solar system is going to be destroyed by fire: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (1 Peter 3:10).

In the light of Jesus’s teachings about the end of the age and the prospects for humanity’s future, what should our response be? Again, Jesus and the Bible give some very specific guidelines!

*Don’t be deceived by those who do not believe (Matthew 24:4-5, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray“).
*Don’t be afraid (Luke 21:9, “And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once“).
*Continue trusting God and following Jesus, remembering that “the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:13-14).
*Keep your love hot (Matthew 24:12, “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved“).
*Anticipate persecution as a privilege to bear the truth to others (Luke 21:12-15,”But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”)
*Keep the Lamp of the Holy Spirit within you lit and burning brightly, living with the awareness that Jesus might return at any moment (Luke 12:35-36: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”)
*Keep pursuing Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen“).
* Look forward to the happy ending of the story:Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Globespin of Earth on May 29, 2016. Public Domain

Texts for this meditation: The complete chapters of Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are critical, although in particular I’ve been meditating on these verses: Matthew 24:3-13, “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Luke 21:7-19, 25-28 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives . . . And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (100): Love Me, Love My Dog

What? You don’t think “Love me, love my dog!” was one of Jesus’s commandments? Well, maybe not exactly, but it definitely struck a chord in me as I was thinking about what Jesus actually taught: “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” (Matthew 22:37-39).

My “grand dog” Rocco, cramming for finals in Belgium 🙂

Haven’t you noticed that if you love someone, you tend to love their pets too, quirks and all? My two older brothers both have dogs, and I’m a fan! My oldest brother’s dog is a little Scottie with incredible attitude. Quinn’s had pneumonia and while convalescing pretty much kicked my brother and his wife out of his (their) master bedroom. Talk about entitled and beloved, but I am 100% behind their indulgences because I know how much they love him and how they’ll grieve if they lose him.

When I was a kid, my favorite pastime was following my second-oldest brother around. He was pretty much like the Pied Piper . . . always doing something super exciting! My sister and I went on countless adventures with him. We nearly drowned once in a flash flood. We got lost hiking in the Black Hills. Once Wolle captured a sun shark for dinner when we were camping at Cape Cod. On another expedition, we caught 43 flounder and one electric eel off Long Island. Wolle became a marathoner and could outrun me while I was riding my bike. I thought he was Super Man and was never afraid—even on the scariest carnival rides—as long as I could ride with him. Today his own children are grown and he has an adorable cockapoo who follows him around everywhere just like I used to. Do you think I love his dog? You bet!!

My two youngest sons both have cats, and I’m a fan. Luna might knock over Stephen’s orchid, and Lionel might knock over Luna, but I feel a real affection for them because my son does!

Rigby demands the comfort of my youngest son’s lap pretty much all the time and wails if she’s barred from the bedroom, but my son loves his new wife and her adorable cats, so I’m a fan too! How could I not be?

For some reason, it’s always seemed like an automatic for me to love the Lord with all my heart! What’s not to love about the One who is Love, Light, Life, the epitomy of all things good, who loves me, sent his son to be my lord and savior, who listens to my prayers and pleas, and who showers me with the peace and presence of his heavenly Holy Spirit? How anyone can resist God is a total mystery to me, and I fell in love with God the first day I learned that he really does exist and that he loves me (and you, and everyone). The first commandment comes pretty “naturally” to someone who has been born again. What baby doesn’t feel love for his mother? Sure, we squirm and cry and fuss when we don’t get our way sometimes, but there’s an unbreakable bond of love and trust that (at least between God and man) will never end, even into eternity.

The second commandment—to love my neighbor as I love myself — has been a huge challenge over time. Mostly because I’m so selfish my nature, but secondly because people also tend to be selfish by nature, and it’s not easy to love others who are NOT like God! Right? Surprise? Not really. BUT, God loves all people, so if we’re really going to love God fully, then we’re going to have to learn to love and care for all His beloved people too. Ultimately we need to love our neighbors because they are loved by God. “Love me, love my children (even more precious than pets)!” When I find myself flummoxed by the foibles of family and friends, I try to remind myself that I have not been put off by the shortcomings of my relatives’ pets, nor should I be put off by the failures of my neighbors. After all, they also have to put up with my failures and weaknesses!

I wonder if it’s easier to overlook the faults of pets than of people? Perhaps the more we love someone, the greater their capacity for hurting us. But, again, it might help us if we can remember that the fountainhead of our love is God’s love flowing down through us, and the resource of our love is allowing ourselves to be a channel of God’s love and blessings. We don’t have to generate love; we simply have to allow His love to flow through us.

Can we be channels of His blessing to others? I pray that we can!

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 22:37-39, “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 yourselfMark 12:28-31,And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (99): The Stamp of God

Have you ever considered what all in this world has the stamp of God on it? I’d heard the expression, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21), but it wasn’t until this morning that I started thinking about the far-reaching implications of this command. As a young person, I got the message, “Be a good citizen and pay your taxes,” but I never really thought about the deeper second half: God wants us to render (give) to him what belongs to him.

What belongs to God? What bears his “likeness and inscription” (Matthew 22:20)? As I looked around me, I realized that virtually everything I love—both visible and invisible—has God’s stamp on it. Among my favorite invisible treasures is the mystery of God and belonging to him, the gift of life itself, love, joy, peace, faith, hope, kindness, mercy, justice, compassion, goodness, security, friendship, tolerance, imaginative vision, light, creativity, the ability to think, rest, comfort, encouraging words, music, relatively good health, a cool breeze on a hot day and a cozy fire on a cold day, the fragrance of those we love and the sound of their voices, bird songs, the tantalizing scent of bread baking, forgiveness, resolution of pain, healing and restoration, the softness of a fleecy blanket and kitten fur, quietness of soul, eternal life . . . the list goes on and on!

What about all the visible treasures God has showered around his creation? I think the list is infinite—or at least seems so to my finite mind! Can you think of a few of your favorite treasures? I asked Alan over lunch—it might make a memorable “game” to play with your family around the supper table. A few of my favorites include a functional body, family and friends, shelter, food, clothing, clean water, starry nights, towering trees, flashing butterfly wings, colorful flowers, glass windows, blue skies, flowing water, a reliable car . . . pretty much anything of beauty and value surrounding me. There is not one good thing I enjoy that isn’t a gift from God and bears his likeness: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

What does God ask us to do with these treasures? Give them back to him. Does that mean give them away? No; I think not. Rather, I believe what God wants us to do is keep our hands open and our hearts surrendered. He doesn’t want us to grasp anything tightly. He wants us to be living sacrifices and good stewards of the wonderful gifts he gives us, acknowledging that he is our Lord, and allowing him to give and take as he sees fit.

Job with his friends by Gerard Seghers. Public Domain. 1591-1651

This is easier said than done, and we often begrudge God if he takes away something we particularly treasure and think of as our personal possession. But, God wants us to develop the faith and attitude of Job, who—after he had suffered the loss of almost all that was near and dear to him— “arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:20-22).

Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin. 1869. Public Domain

What a challenge for us!

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 22:15-22:Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” See also Mark 12:13-17: And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ And they brought one. And he said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.Luke 20:19-26: “The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (98): Come Down

Do you know the story of Zacchaeus? In a nutshell, he was a small man with a big bank account based on his willingness to work for the government extracting taxes (sometimes unfairly) from people in Jericho. Basically, he was generally considered a despicable traitor, and I’ll bet he didn’t get invited to many dinner parties.

The Conversion of Zacchaeus by Bernardo Strozzi, 1581-1644

Thankfully, Zacchaeus wasn’t satisfied with his life. He became a seeker. Specifically, he developed some heart hunger and curiosity about the famous itinerate preacher and miracle worker, Jesus, who was passing through town. But, Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people who were also curious, and I suppose Zacchaeus knew intuitively that no one would make a way for him to get through the masses so he could see Jesus. And, if he tried to push his way through, everyone would most likely push him out of the way . . . or worse.

How could he get to Jesus? He was too short to see over all the other men. Zacchaeus looked down the road and saw where Jesus was headed. There was a large sycamore tree overhanging the road, and this gave Zacchaeus a brilliant idea! If he climbed up into the tree, he wouldn’t be harassed by anybody and could probably get a great view of this famous person without anybody even knowing he was there.

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to his presence, however! Jesus knew his heart’s desire, so he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invited himself to dinner! Imagine that. Everybody else hated Zaccheaus, but Jesus loved him and chose to have fellowship with him! The rest of the story records that this simple act of acceptance by Jesus brought out a response of joy and repentance in the “filthy rich,” much-despised Scrooge, and Zaccheaus promised to give half of his wealth to the poor and restore four-fold whatever he had unfairly taken from the people. The end of the story is a beautiful benediction by Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house . . . for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

True repentance is truly transcendent, like watching a rose unfold from a tight, green bud or a butterfly emerge from a dead cocoon. When I read this account in the Scripture, I sometimes fear that I am like the self-righteous citizens of Jericho who despised the corrupt government official and would not make a way for him. Am I making it hard for someone to find their way to Jesus? How do you identify? Perhaps you’re more like Zacchaeus: unloved by others, or wealthy from being unscrupulous and hard-hearted in your business practices.

No matter who you are, Jesus sees you. He knows you’re there and has stopped to reach out to you today. His invitation to you is: “Hurry and come down!” Invite him into your home and heart. He wants to meet with you and fellowship with you! Allow his life to inspire you to repentance and change. Experience the joy of putting greed behind you and putting goodness before you!

No matter who we are, let’s make sure we’re not blocking anyone from coming to Jesus. Let’s become “way makers” to lead others to the true Way Maker and miracle worker who can meet our needs and change our hearts.

Way Maker, Miracle Worker by Leeland Mooring

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost‘” (Luke 19:1-10).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (97): Covetousness vs Contentment

Are you satisfied with your life? If so, can you articulate what makes you feel content? The three things that seem to fuel many ambitions are money, power, or sex, but Jesus taught that none of these motivators will ever truly satisfy us. They are addictive lusts; the more we have, the more we want. In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.”

As a young girl (before I knew Christ), I remember once getting into a discussion with two older girls. The oldest said, “The most important things in life are money, power, and sex. Which one do you want?” The second girl responded without hesitation, “I don’t care anything about money, but I’d love to be powerful!” The first girl sighed, ” I just want to be rich!” I wasn’t sure what to think. “I don’t care much about money or power, but I want a family.” The oldest and “wisest” among us concluded our discussion with, “Okay, I hope I get rich, Andrea becomes very powerful, and you have a family.”

I still know those girls. They grew up to be wonderful women, and we’re still friends today. I doubt they even remember that discussion, but it was so provocative to me as a youngster that I never forgot. The girl who wanted to be rich spent much of her life in deep poverty, but I dare say she found great riches spiritually. The second woman did have a powerful career. I’m not sure if she’s happy or content—and I doubt she would say she was as powerful as she’d hoped to be—but to this day she has a will of steel and can run circles around most people her age.

And then there’s me, who ended up with a big family . . . not because I pursued sex, but because when I learned about how much God loved me, I chose Jesus, who taught me what love looks like and gave me a thirst to give and receive love.

In Revelation 2, Jesus condemns the “doctrine of Balaam.” What was that? From Numbers 22, we learn that Balaam was more enamored with money and power than in obeying the Lord. The “way of Balaam” was to love “gain from wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:5). He was condemned in Revelation 2:14 because he “taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.” Balaam taught the King of Moab to entice the Israelite men to become sexually involved with Moabite women and then eventually worship the Moabite gods rather than Yahweh. Money, power, and sex. My young friend was right. These are three incredible motivators.

Powerful, but all Satanic deceptions. Addictive counterfeits that will never lead to contentment. God wants us to be content, and for this reason Jesus warned us against coveteousness . . . not to have a passionate desire to obtain something that belongs to another person. This is why the Bible teaches us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). Money, sex, and power do not satisfy, but instead they distract us from obtaining what will satisfy!

And what is that? In Revelation 2:17, Jesus promises a reward for those who will overcome the worldly temptations that Satan offers us: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Three things:

*Hidden “manna” (Jesus is the bread from heaven, although his life is “hidden” in meaning from those who don’t believe; John 6:51).
*A white stone (Jesus is the pure, white “stone which the builders rejected” [Mark 12:10] but has become the chief cornerstone [Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:7]).
* A new, secret name, which I believe speaks of a new intimacy with God and a new character in Christ (see Isaiah 62:2,”and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name“).

The reward for refusing to covet the three-fold lusts of the world is a three-fold blessing from God in Jesus, and intimate communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This won’t make any sense to those who do not believe in or know God, but for those of us who know Him, it is the source of our deepest love, joy, peace, and contentment. There is nothing—NOTHING—in this world that can satisfy like Jesus!

Text for this meditation: Luke 12:15 “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (96): Semper Paratus

Are you ready for the Lord’s return? Do you even know what that means? While Jesus was teaching—long before he was captured by jealous religious leaders and crucified—he told his disciples to be constantly prepared for his return to earth: Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home(Luke 12:35). I’m sure that must have been impossible to understand. No human had ever died and returned to earth. His disciples believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah who had been prophesied as coming to save, redeem, and restore the Jewish people. Unable to imagine a spiritual kingdom, they presumed a physical deliverance from the oppressive leadership of Rome and a restoration of their right to self-rule.

Therefore, the disciples didn’t think Jesus was going to go anywhere. They expected him to get up his gumption to overthrow the Romans, and his miraculous powers seemed like just what he’d need to actually pull off such a coup. He would lead, and they would follow. He would be their military hero, and they would be part of the new kingdom of Israel.

The facts were so far from their understanding that they couldn’t conceive of what Jesus was talking about, no matter how carefully he explained it. He forewarned them that he would leave but that he would return. In that context, he told them to Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home(Luke 12:35).

My German daughter-in-law’s father, who has been serving Christ faithfully
even as he nears his 80’s!

His command reminds me of the Minutemen during America’s revolution, who were ever ready to engage in battle to defend our country at a moment’s notice. This reminds me of the Boy Scout motto I learned from my brothers many years ago: “Be Prepared!” This reminds me of our United States’ Coast Guard’s official marching song:

Semper Paratus
(“Always Ready”)

“We’re always ready for the call,
We place our trust in Thee.
Through surf and storm and howling gale,
High shall our purpose be . . .
Aye! We’ve been ‘Always Ready’
To do, to fight, or die!
Write glory to the shield we wear
In letters to the sky.
To sink the foe or save the maimed
Our mission and our pride.
We’ll carry on ’til Kingdom Come
Ideals for which we’ve died.”

“Keep your lamps burning!” What has happened to the sense of urgency and dedication to always being prepared for our Master to return? Have we ceased believing because it’s been two millennia since this mandate was given? “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Can we not stand ready for a few days? Are we, the Western Church, slumbering like the lethargic virgin who tired of waiting for her bridegroom (Matthew 25)?

Or, perhaps you’re part of the vast army of weary pilgrims around the world being mercilessly persecuted for your faith. Take heart: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Your pain and suffering are working to “sink the foe” and “save the maimed,” to gather in a great host of brothers and sisters into the Kingdom of God. So, “carry on ’til Kingdom Come!” It won’t be long, and when we reach the other side, we’ll consider our afflictions on this earth “light” and “momentary” when compared to the incomparable weight of glory revealed to us in God! “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Text for this meditation: Luke 12:35- 38; 40 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

(Official audio version from YouTube for Matthew West’s song, “Take Heart”)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (95): The World’s Best Teacher

If you were assigned to write an essay on what you’d like in “the perfect teacher,” what would you say? What attributes would you include? Willing to sit for a couple of minutes and just imagine??? . . .

I’m pretty sure my list would include:
*General wisdom
*Expertise in my area of need
*Integrity
*Committed to helping me learn
*Available
*Patient
*Fluent in my native tongue
*Willing to listen
*Affordable
*Last, but not least, I would be especially grateful if my teacher actually cared about me as a person—not just as a student. It would be too much to ask, but I might dare to hope for a teacher who actually loved me and had a great desire to see me learn, grow, thrive, and succeed.

How about you? What did you imagine? What would your ideal teacher be like? Are our lists pretty similar?

What if I told you that such a teacher exists and is available to each of us? How much would you be willing to pay for that kind of guidance? What if I told you that a person with all these characteristics loves you dearly and would like to live with you for the rest of your life . . . free of charge? Wouldn’t that seem too good to be true?

In truth, God’s Holy Spirit loves each of us even more than our mothers or our dearest friend. God’s love for us is likened to the passion of a holy fire. His Holy Spirit woos us, causes us to recognize our sins and repent, brings us to rebirth, and indwells us forever. He becomes our comforter and teacher (John 14:26). It is the Holy Ghost who will “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I [Jesus] have said unto you.”

Are you open to receiving such a gift? Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they would say if they were questioned about their faith because the Holy Spirit within them—speaking with His still, small, inaudible voice—would teach them what to say when the time came. If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit within you. If you can’t hear his voice, it’s possible that you’ve grieved him (Ephesians 4:30), but He will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5), so He is within you, even if He seems to be silent.

Need a teacher? “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). I believe this verse can be applied to both believers and those who have yet to place their trust in God. If you’re not yet a believer, Jesus offers you eternal life and the gift of the Spirit (see Matthew 11:25-30; John 10:28; John 7:39). If you are a believer, you have the world’s greatest teacher dwelling within you. By submitting to God and praying, you can access His wisdom. He loves you. He has an unimaginably passionate desire to see you (and me, and each of us) become children of God through faith in Christ and gloriously transformed into exquisite image-bearers of our Father, God.

Worried about what others will think or say? Don’t be! Remember, the Holy Ghost will teach you what to say when the time comes!

Text for today’s mediation: Luke 12:11-12, “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”

(Credit for the beautiful painting goes to Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (94): Harvesting

This coming Tuesday will be the first day of autumn—the perfect time to consider what Jesus taught us in Luke 10:2, “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” This week I’ve been busily harvesting flower seeds, which I gather and then scatter along our fence line in the hopes of more flowers blooming next summer. I have some daffodil bulbs on order, but that’s about the only garden flower I’m willing to invest in. Why? Because they’re poisonous, so the critters don’t devour them! The ground squirrels are so adroit at stripping out all other bulbs that my husband says I should quit providing treasure hunts for them. He suggests I just set all edible bulbs out on a stump with a sign saying, “Come and get it!”

We’ve pretty much stopped trying to garden in any serious fashion, so we don’t have the wonderful stores of homegrown tomatoes, potatoes, beets, and corn that once graced our autumn dinner tables. Living in the woods as we do, the competition from the deer, raccoons, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, geese, birds, rabbits—and various insects—has pretty much overwhelmed our patience. There are only so many times I can run outside feeling like Dinsey’s little cocker spaniel, Lady, and go swooshing away intruders. Besides, most of our marauders are midnight raiders.

We’ve acquiesced. We may attempt a renaissance in gardening next year, now that we’re both retired, but—at least for the time being— between the critters, clay soil, and shady surrounds, we’re picking most of our produce from our favorite grocery store. Sigh!

Apple tree in the woods

Thankfully, there are still a few free bits of bounty from God’s granary. A hundred years ago, our property was an apple orchard, and there are some trees that produce apples in the woods.

Tangled grape vines loaded with grapes

I’m not sure if there were ever domestic grapevines, but we named our “Tanglewood Cottage” not only in honor of the Boston Pops, but also in recognition of the massive tangled vines that attempt to overrun every honeysuckle or fencepost that boasts a bit of sunlight.

What does this have to do with our command for today? Well, when I was young and would pray for the Lord to “send forth laborers,” I couldn’t help but add, “Here am I, Lord! Send me!” I never felt called to a foreign mission field per se but did feel an urge to share the gospel wherever I went. Reflecting again on this passage, two things dawned on me:

First, God is serious! He wants us to pray for people who are willing to spend their lives laboring to share the good news of Christ’s love as a full-time, every-day-of-their-lives, twenty-four-seven commitment. Do you know any of those? Four of our own children are involved full-time in ministries. Over the years, we’ve had many friends serving in various ministries, and I have two young friends who’ve gone to the mission field in the past year! All these precious saints need my support with prayer and encouragement! When I was young, I had all sorts of friends who were planning to be full-time Christian workers. Fewer and fewer and now interested. We need to pray for the Lord to raise up a generation of young people who are willing to live sacrificial lives to share the gospel of Christ both in America and around the world . . . and then we need to help them as we can!

Second, God always wants us also to respond, “Here am I, Lord! Send me!” Like me, you may not be called to a foreign mission field. And, like my experience with gardening, you may not have the patience and strength to become a full-time spiritual gardener and harvester at this point in your life. However, let’s not fail to harvest what’s within our reach! Let’s keep our eyes open and study. Maybe we can learn to recognize plants around us that we didn’t recognize before but are ready to be harvested! And, who knows what our futures may hold?

Text for this meditation: Luke 10:2, “Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.