Meditating on the Commands of Christ (84): Sow, Reap, and Weep—Or Sow, Weep, and Reap!

“You’ll reap what you sow” is foundational, not only to farmers but to all of us as humans. Not only physically, but spiritually. That’s doubtless why Jesus urged us in Matthew 13:18 to “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.”

Reaper by Victor Borisov-Musatov, 1897. Public Domain

What was that parable? “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

What did Jesus want his disciples to understand? “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

If you’re a believer, then the message for us is to sow the Word of God (the Bible and the Gospel of Christ) liberally, everywhere, to everyone, without worrying about whether or not it will always be successfully received.

As a case in point, I eagerly received Jesus as my Savior the first time I ever heard the Gospel, which was at a Youth for Christ rally when I was twelve. The next day, I started trying to explain the great, good news to Jocey, who took clarinet lessons with me at our junior high school. “Oh, I’m already a Christian,” she replied casually. “I got saved when I was four.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “Then why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Because I didn’t think you were the type.”

Fifty-seven years later, I’m still pondering that one. Who is “the type?” I don’t think any of us can tell who might or might not respond to the wonderful news that God loved us so much that He sent his uniquely begotten Son (Jesus) to die in our place so that we can have our sins forgiven, be reconciled to God, and become his children—receiving his eternal life and being assured of going to heaven to be with Christ when we die.

Therefore, Jesus tells us to share the living seed of the Word of God freely. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The Bible also gives us several wonderful promises to encourage us in our task:

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). So, beyond the “sow and reap” principle, there’s the even better, “sow, weep, and reap with joy” principle.

Contrarily, there’s the “sow, reap, and weep principle: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:8-9). How much better to continue in patiently sowing the Word of God despite persecution, belittlement, and weariness. God promises to bless us with everlasting life, and I think in this context, He’s not saying our own. Our own promise of everlasting life was secured for us when we committed our lives to Christ. The promise of Galatians is that we will reap the joy of seeing many other people receive everlasting life if we don’t give up!

Do you ever get frustrated and tired of sharing the glory of God with those who don’t believe a word of what you say and think you’re nuts? Don’t grow weary! Don’t give up sharing the blessed Good News of the Gospel! “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

God wants us to keep sowing the good seed of the Kingdom of God so that some day we will be overwhelmed by the joy of seeing multitudes experiencing the bliss of heaven with us. Beloved, keep sowing and weeping. We may never know in this life the effects of our scattering God’s Word, but someday, in heaven, we will reap with joy!

The reaper after millet by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Public Domain

(P.S.—As a tribute to Jocey, she became a wonderful friend, and her mother patiently drove both my sister and me to church several times a week for over two years until my sister got her driver’s license and we could get there on our own!)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (83): Listen!

So many voices, including “deepfake,” introduced in 2018 and added this year to Merriam- Webster Dictionary. Know what “deepfake” is? it’s “an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said” (Merriam-Webster). In other words, our world is on the cusp of being able to bring propaganda to a whole new level.

Example from Wiki of a deepfake gif, where actress Amy Adams’ face has been modified to look like the actor, Nicolas Cage

We’re already struggling to discern “fake news” from genuine news and determine to what extent the media is agenda driven rather than truth driven. I have no confidence that there’s a completely trustworthy source for discerning fact from fiction and half-truths from outright lies politically. Do you? All the sources I know of are funded by ?? . . . people and groups with political opinions! It will be taking deception to a whole new level if we can’t even trust that the person on the screen is actually whom they appear to be—and if what they appear to be doing is actually what they said or did.

This makes me think of the deceptions of the devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), who is out to confuse the entire world into thinking evil is good and good is evil. We are told not to be caught off guard, “for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, ESV). It’s comforting to know that there is a God who is a righteous judge and will someday set things right, but in the meantime, beware!

At a time when the world is struggling to know the truth about COVID and which way to turn for economic and political stability, the last thing we need is even more convincing deception. What can we do? Jesus speaks into the vortex of this confusion: “Hearken!” “Listen!” And then he tells a number of parables (which can be found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8). Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the parables, but for today, I want to invite all of us to respond to Jesus’s command for his disciples (and all of us) to “Listen up!”

If you’re not sure what you should do: Watch and pray, and listen for the answer! “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). I don’t know the answers, but God does, and he tells us to be watchful and prayerful. Do you want to know how to safely tend to your personal needs during the COVID-19 pandemic? “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). Ask God to direct your steps, and then thank Him for doing so! Are you not sure for whom you should vote in the upcoming election? “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18). God wants us to pray not only for ourselves but for others!

Notice that these verses tell us to “watch and pray” . . . not simply pray, and not just watch, but to actively engage in both: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Why? Because in this time of national and international crisis, we need true wisdom which is far above our own ability to reason out. If things go badly wrong, it could be the end of America as we know it. If COVID escalates into a plague that disrupts the entire world’s stability, it could be the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, at least for our lifetime! The Bubonic Plague back in the 1300’s killed nearly one-fourth of the world’s population, and it took almost two hundred years to recover!

I don’t know WHEN the beginning of the end will come, but I do know that it will come, and we are instructed to be prepared: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7). Are you watching and praying? Are you listening to the Word of God to you? The Bible is the only unchanging source of reliable truth there is! We need to believe it, treasure it, meditate on it, and listen to what God is teaching us in it! Let’s “Listen up!”

Jesus preaching from boat. Jan Bruegel the Elder. 1606.
National Museum. Stockholm. (Public Domain)

Texts for today’s meditation: Mark 4:1-3. “And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,Hearken“—

Matthew 13:1-3; 10 -17 “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.And he spake many things unto them in parables” . . . 10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (82): TRUE Clean

COVID is spreading like a sinister wildfire smoldering its way around the world. It’s a time when we’re all very concerned about being “clean” and washing properly, so I think the account of Jesus failing to wash up before dinner is particularly noteworthy today. Jesus had been invited to a Pharisee’s home for dinner but was looked at critically for not washing up according to code before the meal.

Was Jesus simply too busy, or did he intentionally choose not to wash up in order to make a point? Either way, his statement (as was so often the case) seems like a skew line from the issue: “”Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luke 11:40-41). The apparent issue was personal cleanliness, but like God, his Father, Jesus didn’t look on the outward appearance. Jesus looked on the heart. In a room full of well dressed and carefully manicured guests, who actually qualified as being “clean”?

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner). This thought kept coming back to me as I pondered giving alms and the question of what is truly clean. The answer? Not those who have washed up, but those who have given out. Not those who have mastered social graces, but those who are actively following God’s call to meet the world’s deep hunger by giving “alms” out of their personal storehouse of deep gladness.

Do you know what “alms” are? I always thought the term was synonymous with “money,” but I was wrong! The term alms is only used 14 times in the Bible (New Testament), and the Old Testament sequel, “tzedakah,” literally means “righteousness.” It refers to doing what is right more than giving charitable monetary gifts. In fact, the Jewish wise man, Maimonides, rated “enabling the recipient to become self-reliant” as the highest form of tzedakah possible.

Jesus was the perfect example of this. There is no record of his giving money to help the poor, although he healed many people, enabling them to become self-sufficient and whole . . . a much greater benefit! This was also true of Jesus’s disciples: “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

In the light of this, it’s not surprising that Jesus told the Pharisees to give alms “of such things as ye have.” What do you suppose they had? If they had wisdom to share or the power to heal, what gifts those would be! If they were truly just and righteous in their dealings with others (rather than being self-serving and oppressive, which is what angered Jesus about the Pharisees in Matthew 21) . . . well, that would have been wonderful too! If the deep gladness of their hearts had been a recognition of Jesus as the Messiah who had come to save the world from sin and set us free . . . what a blessing they could bestow on others!

Sadly, the Pharisees had none of these gifts to share. All they had was money, and they were careful to tithe, but not to use their money to care for others. Jesus had this scathing rebuke to offer them: “Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness” (Luke 11:39), and a few verses later he adds, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them” (Luke 11:44).

Just a question, but is there any chance you’re reading this and sense hypocrisy deep within your heart? Do you look pure, clean, and polished on the outside but know that on the inside you’re as dead as an unmarked grave? God does have a remedy, which is rebirth through faith in Christ. (Click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this page if you’re not sure what that means.) Jesus cleans us from the inside out. He can give us a gladness deep in our heart that becomes like a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). Out of that heart of joy will flow a desire to love others, pursue justice, and “give alms of such things as ye have.”

What are the “such things” that you and I have? Well, they are doubtless different, but God wants us to give to others out of the abundance of our hearts. “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Proverbs 28:27). It might be money to meet a need, it might be volunteering time to help teach, it might be writing a song, singing, sewing masks for COVID patients, knitting hats for cancer patients . . . there is no end to human need and no end to human creativity to help meet those needs. God wants us all to be “busy about our Father’s business” reaching out to others. I love the promise at the end of this command: “give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.

Yes, COVID is spreading like a sinister wildfire smoldering its way around the world, and we’re all very concerned about being “clean” and washing properly! Yes, it’s a time when “reaching out” physically is much more limited, but we can still reach out spiritually, and if we want to bring joy to our Father—and still be as safe as we can be—if we want to be truly “clean”—then let’s share from the deep place of gladness in our hearts with those who are experiencing deep hunger! It’s important to keep washing the “outside of the cup.” (I sanitize and socially distance for sure, and Jesus said that tithing is good.) But, let’s remember that TRUE CLEAN is on the inside, in our hearts, and that’s what matters the most!

Text for this meditation: Luke 11:37-44, “And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.38 And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”

(*Photo used by permission of http://Havenlight.com )

God’s Not Dead

Speaking of confusing light and darkness:

If you’re struggling over whether or not to believe in God, I’d like to recommend the series of movies God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2, and God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

God’s Not Dead came out in 2014 and got such a poor rating (4.7) that we didn’t watch it, but we watched it this past week and realized that the movie is actually excellent, and I’m convinced the low rating is simply a reflection of Hollywood and movie critics in general disliking Christian themes and material.

The first movie contains some helpful information concerning the origins of Earth and the universe and a clear gospel message.

God’s Not Dead 2 takes us to a courtroom, where a high school teacher is charged for answering a question about Jesus in her AP history class.

In this movie, Lee Strobel and Jim Wallace, both capable defenders of the Christian faith, show up on the witness stand. I’m in the midst of listening my way through Warren’s fascinating series on Christianity, written from his perspective as a cold-case detective on the Los Angeles police force, so I’m doubly a fan.

In both movies, the Newsboys make appearances, sharing faith and singing. If you’re not familiar with the Newsboys, they’re a Christian rock band from Australia that’s released 17 albums, 6 certified gold, and their catchy, clever lyrics have been captivating kids since 1985.

According to Wiki, Michael Tait (who now leads the Newsboys) “expressed excitement about the film to The Global Dispatch during an interview, saying that ‘The movie is powerful because of the whole stance of it…just trying to prove God’s existence…sharing the gospel, living the lifestyle, changing the mindset of people around them in this college, in this university’.”

“Duncan Phillips added in a similar interview that ‘Disney’s Shane Harper plays a college student whose faith is challenged by his professor, played by Kevin Sorbo from Hercules.

Dean Cain from Superman is in it, too. So we got to hang out with a bunch of superheroes. The movie raises a lot of questions and a lot of eyebrows from a culture that questions if there is a God’.”

So, the acting is excellent, the message is great . . . what’s not to love? I guess only the fact that the movies stand up for Christ and the Gospel in the midst of a culture that has become often openly hostile to people expressing their faith in Christ.

In God’s Not Dead 2, the lawyer (played by Jesse Metcalfe) points out that the term “separation of Church and State” is not in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In fact, it first appears in a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson to a baptist congregation, explaining that they should have no fear of signing America’s formative legal documents because they guarantee religious freedom—which is the right for people to practice their religious faith without persecution. (Many of the first pilgrims came from Europe because they were persecuted for their faith in their European settings.) Somehow, America has inverted freedom OF religion to mean freedom FROM religion by excluding any and all religious expressions (at least Christian religious practices) from public spaces.

Talk about failing to discern right from wrong and good from evil!

God’s Not Dead Composed and Sung by The Newboys

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (81): Confusing Light and Darkness

Trying to navigate this COVID pandemic is the perfect time to learn how to walk in the light rather stumble in the dark, don’t you think? “Shall I go here or there, or stay home?” “Shall I allow my children to visit or ask them not to come yet?” So many decisions, and one false move could literally cost us our lives! In today’s passage, Jesus warns us that we can think we’re doing what’s right when in reality we are doing just the opposite: “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35). How can we be sure what we think is a good idea is not really a bad choice, and what we think of as right is not really wrong?

For those who believe the Bible is true, there is an answer: “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God” (Isaiah 50:10). If you’re not sure what you’re thinking about doing is “the right” thing to do, and if you are willing to obey God, then simply pray and ask Him for guidance. In my experience, God gives me a sense of peace if I’m pursuing “the right” path or a sense of disquiet and restlessness if I am not. If your heart is restless, then “trust in the name of the Lord” and wait patiently for Him to direct you. Don’t rush ahead and do whatever. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). Be patient. Keep praying for the Lord to guide you. Don’t make a decision before you really have to, but when it’s time, make the best decision you can, trusting that the Lord is leading you (which He will be doing if you are willing to follow).

Jesus taught: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). This is a promise, but it is made to those who are following him. If you have not been following Jesus, then you may not be able to make wise decisions or discern good from a very bad mistake. In fact, you may have walked so far away from God that you have totally inverted right and wrong. As humans, we are capable of “doing that which is right” in our own eyes even though we are doing great evil (Joshua 17:6).

It is possible that our conscience will alert us if we’re heading into trouble, but if we continue ignoring the warnings, we can become hardened in sin. Isaiah 59 relates this grim warning: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear . . . The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness” (Isaiah 59:1-2,8-9).

What can we do if sense that our hearts are dark and we have no peace or direction? The Apostle Paul had an answer for this: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Paul was writing to the Church at Ephesus, so these were believers. Even those who believe in Christ and have been followers of Him can (often through inattention) lose their sense of direction. If you find that over time you’ve mindlessly walked out of the light and are now groping around in the darkness, come back to the light: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:6-9).

There’s a lot of instruction here, and it may feel like bitter medicine to swallow, but this is God’s remedy for sin and lostness for both those who have become children of God through faith in Christ and those who have not yet. #1. Get honest with ourselves and admit to what we know we’re doing that is wrong. #2. Confess our sins to God and stop “pretending” that everything is okay. #3. Ask God to cleanse us and restore us to spiritual health and wholeness. #4. Walk in the light that God provides through the Holy Spirit, through the example of Jesus, and through the Word of God.

If you’ve been feeling very much in the dark and this message resonates in your heart, please join me in praying this prayer written by King David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). If you have never asked Jesus Christ to save you and become your Lord, please do so now! He is the Light of the World and promises to give you the Light of Life to guide you! Wouldn’t you love to have a heart full of light and someone leading you safely from here to heaven? Jesus will do just that if you’ll let him!

Text for today’s meditation: “And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.30 For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.31 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.32 The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.33 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.34 The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.35 Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.36 If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light (Luke 11:29-36).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (80): Go In Peace

Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). To me, this is the most comforting “command” that Jesus ever utters. I don’t think of Jesus as really commanding us to do anything, but he admonished us in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” That’s what this study is all about—understanding what Jesus taught and what we can apply to our own lives today. What are his commandments? Well, this is the 80th time Jesus gives someone an imperative, and it’s wonderful!

Banquet in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, 1573.
Now in the Accademia, Venice, Italy

Jesus had been invited to dinner at Simon’s home. Simon was a Pharisee—one of the elite religious “right” you might say, who were known for rigorously keeping every detail of the Law of Moses but had somehow become unbalanced. The Pharisees were focused on justice but had become blind to the other half of God’s mandates, including mercy, humility, and kindness.

Mary Magdalene at the door of Simon the Pharisee,
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1853.
Now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England

Common courtesy in those days included washing the feet of guests, but Simon did not honor Jesus in this way. However, there was a disreputable woman who came to the dinner, not as a guest, but with the desire to worship Jesus.

Mary and Christ at Simon the Pharisee’s Home by Peter Paul Rubens, 1620.
Now at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

She washed his feet with her tears and wiped his feet with her hair, then anointed his feet with ointment from a precious alabaster box she had brought. Simon was displeased. (In truth, I might also have been uncomfortable with such a public display of affection had I been there.)

Woman pouring water into a jar by Gerrit Dou in 1640.
Now in the Louvre in Paris, France

Thankfully, Jesus saw past the awkward externals and into her heart. He understood her sorrow over her sins and her desire to be good! So, instead of condemning her inappropriate behavior, he defended her repentance and faith as genuine, rebuked Simon for his lack of graciousness and love, and sent the woman on her way with this benediction: “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

If you—like me— have a tendency to be like Simon, may we hear and heed the rebuke. May we learn to be hospitable and kind to everyone, not just those we admire and find fascinating company, but also those who have repented and have hearts full of love for our Savior! If you identify more with the woman (traditionally thought to be Mary Magdalene), pursue Christ whole-heartedly. Don’t worry if you don’t meet all the mores for socially appropriate behavior. Your love for Jesus is fresh, passionate, and beautiful. Don’t worry about what anybody else is thinking. Worship the Lord and sit at his feet!

For all women, here is a very sweet two-minute video encouraging us to be like some of the virtuous women in the Bible:

Text for this meditation: “And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).

Mary Magdalene 1899. Viktor M. Vasnetsov

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (79): Arise

He was dead and almost buried. All hope was gone, and there was absolutely nothing the young man could do to resurrect himself. This is the second time in the New Testament Jesus tells someone to “Arise,” but in the first instance, Jesus commanded a man who was very much alive (although sick with the palsy) to “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Matthew 9:6).

It would be a great miracle to heal someone too sick to walk, don’t you think? With all due respect, such a “miracle” could be staged by shysters, although I don’t believe this is what happened, given the circumstances and testimony surrounding the account . . . and the fact that everyone acknowledged the miracle as such, much to the consternation of the religious leaders, who were envious of Jesus’s miraculous powers!

However, the second time Jesus commanded someone to arise, he was talking to a dead man. Living people have willpower, but dead men do not. Once we die, we have no ability to raise ourselves from the dead, no matter how much we might wish to! But God. With God, all things are possible. Do you believe that? Do you believe Jesus can raise someone from the dead?

What about the Church? It’s time for each of us as members of the Body of Christ to arise! Dear Lord Jesus, raise us up to passionate life again! Search our hearts! Cause us to repent. Help us to love everyone the way you love us. Help us to walk in your ways: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, ESV).

On the off chance that you’re feeling “dead” inside, please know that God can raise the dead! He has raised me from spiritual death and given me new life, so I know he can do the same for you! Please don’t give up on life. Please don’t quit trying. I saw a wonderful movie recently called John Light (2019) about an ex-con and his struggles to re-enter the world outside prison. God is here for us. Jesus can raise us from the dead! We all need him. Please let him!

Text for this meditation: Luke 7:14, “And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” (Full account given in Luke 7:7-17.)

“A New Hallelujah”
Writer(s): Michael W. Smith, Paul Joseph Baloche, Debbie Smith
(featuring The African’s Children’s Choir . . .
we need another version featuring an African-American choir, I think!)

Can you hear, there’s a new song
Breaking out from the children of freedom
Every race and every nation
Sing it out sing a new Hallelujah

Let us sing love to the nations
Bringing hope of the grace that has freed us
Make Him known and make Him famous
Sing it out sing to the new Hallelujah

Arise
Let the church Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Africa sings a new song
Reaching out with the new Hallelujah
Every son and every daughter
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

Arise
Let the song Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Let the song arise…

Let the world sing a new Hallelujah
From Africa to Australia
From Brazil to China
From New York down to Houston

Arise
Let the church Arise
Let love reach to the other side
Alive come alive
Let the song Arise

Everyone sing a new Hallelujah
Everyone sing a new Hallelujah

An Answer of Peace

What’s the solution to racial injustice? The root problems are pride, hatred, and fear, and I don’t see an end to these evils until people—one by one—have a true change of heart about what’s good and what’s evil. God gave us each the color of the skin we wear, and it’s all beautiful, unique, and made out of the same stuff for the same purposes . . . just like the hides of cows!

Skin color is no different from flower color, and I’m sure some people prefer pink over red, but personal preference has nothing to do with intrinsic value, and in people, our preferences should have nothing to do with how we respect or treat anybody! We’re all made by God and in His image. There is no difference in our basic nature or in our human rights and responsibilities. “For he [Jesus] is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:14).

Can we claim anything that makes us “better” than anyone else? Unique and diverse? Yes! “Better than?” NO! According to the Bible, none of us is morally perfect and without sin, nor do we seek God without his Spirit drawing us: “There is none righteous, no not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:10-11). Likewise, every external gift we possess—be it beauty, strength, intelligence, natural talent, or charismatic personality . . . whatever we value about ourselves or admire in others is a gift from God! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

There is nothing innately “good” within or without us that is not a gift from God, which should be accepted with grateful appreciation and used for His glory, not as a point of pride. BTW, skin color is a gift too, and there’s no such thing as a bad gift from our gracious Father, who declared everything in his creation good and intends every circumstance to be for our good: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Black is every bit as valuable as white or brown or yellow or purple. If you don’t think so, take your prejudice to the feet of our heavenly Father and ask Him to help you see others from His eyes. Every person is precious in His sight!

And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me:
God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Genesis 41:16).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (78): Weep Not

Jesus wept, so why did he tell the widow of Nain to “Weep not!”? Was Jesus being unfeeling or unkind? You know—”Keep a stiff upper lip and show no emotion!”? Luke records that “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” (Luke 7:14). Therefore, Jesus’ response was not rooted in harshness, but in love. He wanted her to feel hope rather than despair, because he was going to restore her son to her!

“Resurrection of the Widow’s son from Nain”
Lucas Cranach the Younger (c. 1569)

There are so many points that could be made about this passage, but there are three I can’t resist making, so please excuse me. First, Jesus was doing something new. This is the first instance in the New Testament of Jesus raising someone from the dead. Those of us who know the Bible well realize that Jesus raised several people from the dead, so we lose the impact of the supernatural nature of this event. It reminds me of a missionary who recounted to me a (true) story of returning from a village deep in the heart of China. When he arrived, one of the Christians told him a member of their church had died but then had been raised from the dead. The missionary exclaimed in amazement, “How did you do that?!” to which the young man responded (with just as much amazement), “What do you mean? You’re the minister! We just prayed like Jesus did. What else?”

“Miracle at Nain” by Mario Minniti (1620)

There is no power outside of Christ that can raise people from the dead. No other great spiritual leader, be it Buddha or Mohamed, or anybody else, has had a ministry of raising people from the dead. (I do know a few Christians who prayed over a dead person who came back to life, but just once in each case, not as a verifiable practice.) The fact that Jesus raised several people from the dead (and rose from the dead himself), sets him apart from any other religious leader in his authority. No one else ever claimed, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). First point? Jesus was unique in his ministry and claims. Either he was a shyster, or he was whom he claimed to be: The “only begotten” Son of God.

The second point I want to make is that “Nain” is a real place. “Nain” means “green pastures” or “lovely,” and is associated with the little village of Nein, still in existence today on the northwestern slope of the Hill of Moreh and overlooking the Plain of Jezreel. Specifically, the GPS is: 32°37’48″N, 35°20’47″E. Up a steep hill, about half a kilometer away, there are tombs cut into the side of the mountain. People can (and do) go to visit the little Franciscan Church there, which is (according to tradition) said to be built on the site of the widow’s home.

So what? So, the Bible is full of exact names and places that can be found in time and space. Christianity is a religion tied firmly to this earth and is unique in this. According to Dr. Barry Beitzel, geographical places are mentioned between 1,100-1,200 times.* Hundreds (though not all) of those places can still be traced today (at least the remains thereof). So, you may not believe the miraculous events recorded in the Bible, but at least appreciate that earnest people saw and recorded actual events in time and space that they believed were true miracles.

Altar in the Church of Nain. Israel

Jesus’ kindness in raising the widow’s son not only occurred at a particular time and place, it happened under the purview of many people, including “many of his disciples went with him, and much people” (Luke 7:12).

This wasn’t done like a magic trick by sleight of hand. All sorts of people knew the widow’s son had died and must have felt such compassion for her that they were attending the procession taking the bier up to the burial site. Nobody was challenging the mother about whether or not her son was really dead! Jesus’ action was so miraculous that “there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:16).

“Widow of Nain” by James Tissot

Third point: If this account happened in a real place, at a real time, observed by many people who responded by glorifying God and understanding that God had raised up a great prophet and was in fact visiting his people . . . wouldn’t you want to know this great prophet, also known as “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23; see also Isaiah 7:14)? Jesus rose from the dead, is alive today, and welcomes you to get to know Him!

Jesus can deliver us from death, through death, or in death, but always with compassion, and if we put our trust in him, he will always bring us safely to heaven! So, like the widow of Nain, let’s learn to “Weep not!” Jesus is able to resurrect us, just like he resurrected the widow’s son! “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:1-6).

Text for this meditation:And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:11-16).

“Christ Raising the Widow’s Son.” Painting in the Franciscan Church at Nein in Israel

Credits: *Dr. Barry Beitzel, ed. The Lexham Geographic Commentary of the Gospels. I learned this from a fascinating interview between Dr. Beitzel and Dr. Armstong:

https://www.aqueductproject.org/unitas-fidei

**Also, I found several of the pictures and the best geographical information on a site called “Seetheholyland.net.” I don’t know anything about their religious views but very much appreciate their carefully detailed information. Thank you!

COVID Cake

But now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna . . . and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil” (Numbers 11:6,8 NASB). This is just like the coronavirus pandemic! We have nothing to do but stay at home. Yet, isn’t that what people normally long for? Who doesn’t like cake? Who doesn’t long to go home after work and rest? Just like the children of Israel spending 40 years in the wilderness with nothing to do but be together and follow the Lord, we’ve been handed an extended “shelter-at-home” mandate by our government, for our own protection, and for many that even includes some financial support from the government.

The Israelites had been slaving away in Egypt, but God delivered them and moved them back to Israel, even supernaturally providing food for them on their journey. I admit to chaffing a little like the Israelites, who remembered the fish, the cucumbers and melons, the onions and garlic. Manna tasted like the best of the best—the perfect food, yet the children of Israel got bored with the best! I remember the restaurants we used to attend, and the places we used to visit, and I miss the freedom to go here and there at will. Yes, sometimes I’m tempted to get a little bored with the best too.

However, what a blessed time this has been for Alan and me! True enough, we miss our children and grandchildren severely. We miss visiting with our friends and worshiping corporately with our church community . . . all provisions the Israelites were allowed during their wilderness wanderings. Still, we have had more time to work on our home and yard than we’ve had in (literally) years. We’ve been enjoying leisurely devotional times together and morning walks before breakfast. Instead of spending two weeks in Belgium visiting some of our kids, we’ve been spending hours and hours cleaning, sorting, organizing, and redeeming our basement after 27 years of neglect. We’ve been chopping down weedy trees and rooting out the poison ivy that’s been over running the flowers along our fence line. We’ve been working until we’re so sore we can hardly move or think anymore and then enjoying movies together in the evenings. What’s not to love about that? Shouldn’t we be delighted to be able to be at home with our family and relishing the “manna” of more free time to cherish one another?

Dear Father, I know that many, many people are suffering from COVID. Over 100,000 have died here in America, and most all of us are experiencing economic and social losses. However, there are still over 330,000,000 of us who have not gotten COVID. Thank you! For those of us who have not contracted COVID and are alive and well, help us to use this time to concentrate on learning more about loving You and loving one another. Help us appreciate the “manna” of time . . . the “sabbath rest” of being home. There are so many silver linings in this storm. Help us to look up and see them!

The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.’ Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it” (Numbers 11:4-9, NASB).