Providential Graces on the Road 

If this is your first time receiving our newsletter, you can get up to date by going back and reading the previous newsletter in the “Writings” tab of our website. In short, the twins were born in June. A week later, Martha experienced severe postpartum hemorrhaging, nearly died, and had to have an emergency hysterectomy. 

Needless to say, as we were on the cusp of an 18-state, 10,000 mile, 40-concert tour a mere 25 days after Martha got home from the hospital, not to mention the 3 infants we were going to be traveling with, two of them 5 weeks old, and the other 20 months… well, let’s just say we had a long line of people questioning our sanity. We looked at each other and did the same occasionally. In my husbandly defense, I did leave it up to Martha to have the final say of going or not. She was determined to go forward with it as soon as the doctor released her to drive again. 

Use your imaginations to conjure up two already emotionally and physically depleted parents, one of them legally blind and susceptible to retinal migraines and vomiting under stress. The other having undergone months of a physically grueling twin pregnancy, two major surgeries and major blood loss days before leaving on the trip. Take these individuals and pile them into a 30-foot box on wheels with a talkative toddler just getting used to massive family changes. Add a newborn who is very sweet when awake, very unhappy in the process of falling asleep, and who has the appetite of a Barbie doll, thus adding pumping and bottle feeding to the mix. Finally, add another newborn who is the exact opposite, ceaselessly hungry, who happily… vigorously… spits up two ounces of milk for every one ounce he drinks. 

Pile up on top of that the job of entertaining the babies for 10,000 miles, and the unloading/setup/soundcheck/concert/tear down process - sometimes twice a day. Then there was motorhome maintenance, cleaning, meal prep, limited opportunities for doing laundry… and finally, there were the diapers. In the beginning it was at least 20 diapers a day, some of which had exploded in the car seat. The advice they give parents who are at their wits end is to walk away and take 5 minutes. This is the part where we throw our heads back and laugh. Walk away where? There’s babies in both ends of this thing! People suggested before we left that we get a nanny to take with us, but the local mental institution didn’t have one on parole. Even the baby monitor we bought from Amazon shipped itself back at the thought of being part of the circus. 

So. Why are we giving you a rundown of what sounds like an absolutely miserable two months? Just being real here… writing the above paragraphs was hard and we took a week between writing them and writing these. In precious quiet moments between the noise, we’ve talked together about the grace God providentially provided for the moment and the difference between the miraculous and the providential. 

During the hardest four months of our lives, we saw the difference in detail, up close and personal. So many times we were at the end of our tether and there would be a special word of encouragement, a home cooked meal delivered to the motorhome with enough leftovers to make an extra meal on the road, a special concert with a super kind audience who would worship and then pray for us, a much needed break from the concerts, a beautiful sunset, the babies waking up just 30 seconds before we pulled into our destination, a Cracker Barrel gift card, and yes, three times we managed to get all three babies asleep at the same time. 

Being real again here… just about every day there were points when the stress would get to one or the other of us and there would be a misunderstanding, a sharper word than necessary, hurt feelings. We felt our broken humanity acutely. But there was the grace of God again, changing our hearts, giving us the ability to soften, to ask forgiveness, to give forgiveness, to see the other’s point of view… and giving us the wisdom to grab another cup of coffee. 

An even more amazing issue to me is the following. Since I was a teenager (just a little while ago), I have always had to deal with retinal migraines stemming from my congenital eye defects. These were debilitating, lasting at least several hours, making me unable to function for the duration, generally ending in vomiting, and resulting in making my eyes weaker and more susceptible to migraines the days afterward. About half of my annual homecoming concerts, I’ve had one afterwards. On all of our previous long trips, I’ve had to deal with them. The extra stress of travel always gets to my eyes no matter how careful we are. On this trip I had anticipated and dreaded migraines even more, for obvious reasons. I’m truly amazed to report that I did not have one, either on the trip, or in the stress of getting home and settling back in. I have no doubt that it was God’s gracious answer to our need and your prayers, and we greatly appreciate the time that you faithful readers and supporters gave to lift us up. 

(We beg you, please don’t stop until these kids are older…like out of the house.) 

Was any of that God mounting a white horse and charging into our situation, making mountains move, parting rivers, and burning up our enemies? In other words, was it miraculous? Nope, because we still had plenty of spit up and poop and sleepless nights, and tiredness, and did I mention spit up? A divinely touched bib or two that miraculously stayed dry and clean would have been handy. 

No miracles, but God made Himself evident in the everyday workings of our lives and showed that when He didn’t move the mountain, He’d give that extra shove to get us over the hump or give us the tools to tunnel through it. Miracles are great, and God uses them for His glory too, but what amazed us on this trip was how every day, in an innumerable amount of ways - a few that we saw, most that we won’t know until we get to heaven - God orchestrated the little things and the big things, the imperfect and the obtuse things, the mundane and the invisible things to fulfill promises He has made to His children, to us. I’ve seen Him work this way for the past 13 years in this ministry, but His providential grace has never been more evident to me than in those 10 very long weeks. 

I never thought we’d be writing a post about the Providence of God in regard to the very regular grueling happenings of a family with infants. I guess it may seem rather simple, even a dull thing for anyone to take the time to praise God for. The thing is, He knows and I’m learning that we are much weaker than we think ourselves to be. In truth, we would not make it out the door of our house without His goodness keeping us. That’s true whether you are mentally taxed to the point of tears, fighting a dreaded disease, dealing with marital woes, or praying for wisdom to talk to a family member about Christ. We are totally dependent on the momentary, providential graces of our eternal God.

Blessings and a Close Call 

Martha wrote this on Tuesday, July 2. We rejoice to report that we are all home together again, being doted on by family and friends, and enjoying the sweetness of the life that the Lord has given us. Martha is recovering amazingly fast, and the doctors told us that this will likely only put her recover back a week. 


Yesterday I woke up to a sleeping household. Sleeping all except two scrawny mites trying to outdo each other in convincing Mama that they were near the brink of starvation. Full home, full heart. This morning I’m waking up to an incessant beeping. “Distal occlusion” blinking on a screen. Pain. A styrofoam cup of melted icechips in my hand. Miles sleeping curled up in an 'engineered for optimal discomfort' hospital recliner beside me. 

The bleeding started without warning yesterday. Over my protestations that it was unnecessary, Miles handed over babies and brief instructions to grandparents, and got me to the ER. After walking me and Miles through worst case scenarios, they wheeled me in for an exam under anesthesia. 

My ears woke up first. It was loud. Bumpy. I could tell we were in a helicopter. Voices: “All I know is her name... hysterectomy...” 

My joy in seeing my darling’s face come round the corner in the ICU was profound. I could barely open my eyes but I communicated via blinks. Then when I could move my fingers, via poorly executed sign language letters. He kept me smiling to keep my mind off the choking sensation of intubation and a machine breathing for me. A doctor came in. They’d had to give me three units of RBCs and three of plasma. 

I’ve been lying here tonight, in joy and grief. Joy to still be here for my family. Grief at the loss of children we had still hoped to have. In God’s merciful providence, the morning before life shifted, we had struggled through reviewing one of our Bible memory passages. Romans 8. Through the tears this night, I have rejoiced in this: “He Who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” 

My joy behind the joy and the grief of yesterday is that God has given me His Son. Having done this, whatever else He chooses to give or take away from me, I can trust that it is love, love, all love.

Love Thy Neighbor? 

Martha and I were talking a while back about a conversation she had with a lady in her church when she was a teenager. The conversation had to do with how to practically live out the command to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Taken along with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” it seems a recipe for misunderstanding, because what I want people to do to me is surely not necessarily the behavior that is going to be recognized as loving to them. This was the point of confusion for the lady Martha had the conversation with years ago. Martha had no ready answer to give, and so the end of the conversation was essentially two pairs of shrugged shoulders. 

Years later, we happened to memorize the passage in Leviticus from which Jesus was quoting. As we looked at that passage, we saw a whole new meaning to ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’ What does it mean in Leviticus? A slew of things in chapter 18 verses 9-18, but in the end of the passage, the part that Jesus quotes, it means not having a secret attitude about someone in my heart that I’ve never given them the chance to set right. It means open rebuke when they are at odds with God, me, or someone else. It means not setting myself up as judge, jury, and executioner of my neighbor. It means not being, literally, the caretaker of a grudge. 

You shall not despise your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the members of your community, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. 
Leviticus 19:17-18 

Honestly, we have both had people love us in this way. We’ve reacted in different ways to it. As a teenager, Miles had someone kindly rebuke him for a joke that wasn’t as thoughtful as it should have been. It wasn’t someone with whom he had a close relationship, and it wasn’t someone he greatly admired for any particular reason. Just an average person in his church. So when this elderly person very kindly, almost tearfully, pulled Miles to the side and told him that an offhand humorous comment had been hurtful to him, Miles was appreciative of the opportunity to make it right, and took the lesson to heart - being more careful in the future. Martha had a similar experience as a teenager. An older woman of the church rebuked her for wearing a shirt not quite long enough when she bent over. It was kindly done, but as a teenager, it didn’t help that the woman in question wore the loosest, drabbest clothes imaginable. So Mar did the whole external “thank you for your input, and I’ll be more careful in the future,” all the while feeling very put-upon and unfairly singled out. But in after-years, she came to appreciate the woman’s effort more. Amazing how those experiences stay with you and tend to change you in one way or another. It may sting for a while, but then the sting wears off and either you realize they are right, or that they are wrong. Or (many times) somewhere in between. 

We’ve had people love us the other way too. The way that says “I wouldn’t want someone to confront me, so I won’t confront him.” How does that usually end up? With other people hearing about how peeved they are with one of us, and with what we’ve done, and us being out of the loop, trying to figure out what happened. Sometimes we find out, sometimes we don’t, but usually the relationship becomes tainted and marred and unable to bear any real strain. And then our reputation, such as it is, is marred. And finally, their character is marred and their listeners’ characters, since gossip twists three times, first the person being gossiped about, second the person gossiping, and third, the person hearing the gossip with that certain delight and satisfaction that hearing gossip gives. 

These people who confronted us were living out part of what it means to be a peacemaker. Often we think that being a peacemaker means letting people walk over you, being weak or limp-wristed, and shrugging off every insult and imposition. Sometimes being a peacemaker does mean these things. But not as a general rule. Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean making no waves. 

What does it look like to be a peacemaker? It means loving your neighbor as yourself — ‘not despising your brother in your heart, but reasoning frankly with your neighbor.’ Honestly, being a peacemaker is hard, dirty, discouraging work. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker, right? How many times did he have to confront the Pharisees with their blatant hypocrisy and sneakiness? How many times did he have to confront Peter for putting his foot in it? He even had to gently remind his parents about his ultimate mission when they left him in the temple for three days. He made a practice of "reasoning frankly" with whomever he was in contact with. 

Matter of fact, Jesus, speaking as the Lord of the church, commanded his disciples to practice this Levitical exhortation when he said in Matthew 18:15-26 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” 

Knowing this could be an uncomfortable and sometimes easy to ignore, Jesus makes this promise in the very next verse (that is so often taken out of context) to assure us that we have his blessing when we obey this command. 

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 

We as Christians, as fellow brothers and sisters, we as communities, as churches, as families, and as joint heirs of eternity are to love each other in this way. We are to reason frankly with each other and keep things in the open. Is it always obvious what that looks like? No. Is it commonly practiced? No. Is it 100% foolproof? No. Will it always work the way we want it to? No. Are we expected to obey? Yes.

Christ Our Sabbath Rest 

Matthew 12:1-8 
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 

Allow me to fill in some gaps: In the story the Pharisees are referencing, David is being chased by Saul who wants to kill him. David’s men come to the tabernacle hungry from being chased, and the only bread available was the bread that was for ceremonial use. This bread was to signify God abiding with his people, and it was not for common use. But the priest gave the bread to David and his men to eat, breaking the ceremonial law in order to keep the moral law of “love your neighbor” given in Leviticus, and God did not condemn him. 

Jesus asked them, “Have you not read this story?” Of course they had! Hundreds of times! He goes on, 

“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 

Jesus’ statement here was not lost on the Pharisees like it is on us today. To claim to be Lord of the Sabbath was an undeniable statement of deity. Jesus was proclaiming himself to be God and nothing less. If you don’t think this was how the Pharisees understood him, consider that it says later in the chapter they “conspired to destroy him” because of this. 

So, what does it mean to us that Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath?” 

Ok, so back to the story about David. Jesus didn’t just arbitrarily mention it to show his greater knowledge of the Old Testament. David, by the ceremonial aspect of the law, should have died for eating that bread, but he and his men did not die, neither did God discipline the priest who allowed them to take it. 

Catch this…the rules concerning the Old Testament Sabbath were provisional. Sabbath was a ceremony. It was a picture of something to come. Jesus says “something greater than the temple is here.” Can you see the faces of the Jewish teachers reeling from that statement?? 

Their lives revolved around that temple and the Sabbath, but you know what…we don’t meet in a temple today. There is no more temple, there are no more sacrifices, and the veil was ripped in two because something greater than the temple is here! 

The Sabbath, a day of rest from the workweek, was always meant to be a picture of the spiritual rest of salvation that God had planned for His people. Look at Hebrews 4: 

“While the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest.” … “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” 

That will preach. The reason the day we worship doesn’t matter anymore is because Jesus, the fulfillment of the Sabbath, has come! We who have come to Christ can enjoy the fulfillment of Sabbath — rest from trying to work our way into God’s favor. The rest the Jews enjoyed on Sabbath was a picture of the spiritual rest God’s people would enjoy because of Christ! The reason there are no more ceremonial laws required to attend worship services is because the one who fulfilled those laws perfectly has come! The reason there’s not a blood soaked altar at the front of your church is because the perfect Lamb of God has died once and for all! 

No more shadows! No more pictures! Just one spotless God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Now, we have established that the law is fulfilled, but you know what. Man is still made from dust. We still get tired. We still get weak and testy when we are overwrought. And guess what…we still have the principle in Scripture set before us that we ought to work six days and rest one. Not as a matter of morality anymore, but as a matter of practicality. 

So if you have found your spiritual rest in Christ, then not only do you have spiritual rest from the drive to earn salvation, but you can also take a day to rest from your physical labors, knowing that God will care for you and provide all your needs according to his riches in glory. 

May you have a wonderfully blessed and restful Christmas season!

Work III 

Laboring With Labor Pains - Part 3 - Why Do We Overwork? 

The modern world has scrambled things so badly 

that today we worship our work, 

we work at our play, 

and we play at our worship. 

~ Os Guinness 

Last time we continued a three part devotional about work. If you missed it, you can go back and catch the first part in the “Writings” page on our website. 

In a recent ABC news story, “Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too.” 

I had never thought of this, but do you know what really changed the way we work? The invention of the lightbulb. Ever since, we have begun to take pride in and identify ourselves by how hard and how long we work. Work of all kinds can be done into the wee hours of the morning, every day of the week. In contrast to the "work all the time" mentality, listen to this principle for God’s people in the Old Testament: 

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. 

Exodus 23:12 

Right alongside the commandment to not kill, not commit adultery, and not lie, we are commanded to work AND commanded to rest. Why do I emphasize the "and" in that sentence? Because the reason I tackled this subject was for me and Martha. We did not have a day of rest in our practice. It’s all well and good to refer to Sunday as a day of rest, but if you’re not actually getting some refreshment on Sunday, then you need another day in which to refresh yourself. So we found ourselves being run ragged, working all hours most days, looking forward to driving long distances on road trips to have some time to just be. 

Now before some of you start screaming “sabbatarian” and rushing for the door to get away from the legalist, I know that this is the only one of the ten commandments that is not reiterated in the New Testament. This is no longer a law for us, but I intend to present it to you as rather a principle. 

Why does God command us to rest? So that we “may be refreshed.” I submit to you that it is just as disobedient to ignore the principle of rest for refreshment as it is to be lazy. Fact is, in this culture, I think we find it easy to listen to someone telling us we ought to work harder. 

The principle that is not talked about by the church is to exhort families to practice the Sabbath principles of rest and refreshment. 

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you asked someone how they are doing and you received a response anything like this? 

“You know, we are really good. We took a day off and just didn’t go anywhere. We unplugged from social media, stayed at home, had family worship time, played a couple of board games, cooked special meals, and took a nap with the kids. I’ve not felt this refreshed in a long time.” 

Ok, so I can tell you that I’ve never, and I mean never, gotten that response. If the person I ask is willing to go beyond the standard, “Doing ok, just busy”, what I’ve always got is more along the lines of… 

“Keeping busy. Maggie is working full time now and we just moved. I finally got that promotion at work and it’s kicking my butt so far. The kids are starting back in school and I’m glad because the summer was crazy. Craig is in soccer and baseball, but he wants to start karate too since his friends are. Susan is still in gymnastics and dance, so we are going twelve different directions. We took a week long family vacation this summer, but you know how it is…we need a vacation after our vacation. We are running around like chickens with our heads cut off.” 

Looking at the Word, I find three reasons why we overwork: 

Love of Security 

It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones. 

Psalms 127:2 

Look at the example. God gives us sleep. There are things you need to do to get sleep. Maybe you need a dark room. Maybe you need to not have caffeine after a certain hour. Maybe you need to put special pajamas on. You need to do your due diligence. But in the end, do you make yourself go to sleep? No. God *gives* you sleep. And the same with the food you eat — you do your due diligence. You work heartily, as to the Lord, but knowing all the while that it is God giving you the food that you eat. God giving you the roof over your head. God giving you the clothes on your back. God is our security, not work. Anxiety about the potential future lack of things is not right. Jesus spoke to this one too — remember? “Fear not little ones, you are of more value than many sparrows.” 

Love of Money 

The Bible has a lot to say about this one so I’m gonna camp out here for a bit. I’ve had people misquote the Bible and tell me that “money is the root of all evil.” That’s not what it says. 

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 

1 Timothy 6:10 

Now, it is perfectly possible to be rich and be a Christian. Matter of fact, in the NT there are those who are designated as rich complete with large homes, businesses, lots of workers under them, but they are never once commanded to give it all away. The right to property is not a uniquely American idea. They got it from Scripture. However, every Christian, regardless of their economic status, is commanded to be generous and to help those in need. 

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 

James 1:27 

Not only are we to be generous and to help the needy, we are told that we cannot "serve" money and serve God at the same time. The amazing thing is, that even given these Scriptures, you will still hear people, even church people saying things like: "I know money won't make me happy, but I'd just like to give it a chance." The truth is, if you did give money a chance to make you happy, a chance to fulfill your craving for it, you would find that you never had enough and it would never completely satisfy you. The trap with money or any other thing we expect to give satisfaction is that you alway think you need just a little bit more in order to be satisfied, and you end up eternally unsatisfied. 

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 

Matthew 6:24 

Love of Things 

The love of things is related to the love of money, but they are two very different things. People who love money find meaning, security, even joy, in a large savings or investment account, but people who love things may have little or nothing put back, but have to own every thing they might desire. 

Then Jesus said to them all, “Watch yourselves! Keep from wanting all kinds of things you should not have. A man’s life is not made up of things, even if he has many riches.” 

Luke 12:15 

So do you love your things? You say, “I don’t know.” Do you find your meaning in them? Are your possessions your life’s scorecard? If you had to sell the boat or that extra truck, would it damage your pride? Do you rack up extra credit card debt or work overtime for things that are desires and not needs; luxuries that make you on par with the neighbors or coworkers or Facebook friends? I know that some people are over a barrel and have to work x amount of hours to make ends meet, but the list of things that are deemed “ends that must meet” by this society seems to be ever expanding. 

Don't believe that? Take a moment and let it sink in on you that the iPhone has only been around since 2007. That should blow your mind. But now you must be poor and/or backwards if you don’t have a smartphone for your own personal use, one for your spouse, and one for each child. That's just one thing out of many (internet, TV, Amazon Prime) that could be named. 

Now, I own and use an iPhone everyday because of the work I do. I’m preaching sermons off of an iPad for convenience. Martha and I have Amazon Prime. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these things. Matter of fact, they have been amazingly time saving for us and make running the ministry feasible. But the point is how and why do we acquire them? You don’t have to steal them to acquire them wrongly. Going into debt or working without adequate rest to the point that your family and spiritual life suffers in order to own them is wrong. 

Recent studies show that the average child age 5 to 16 spends six and a half hours a day in front of a screen. Just let that sink in for a few seconds. Six and a half hours a day on average just looking at a screen. A few hours of church a week is not enough to cleanse their impressionable minds from the indoctrination of our schools and the images and ideas that are seared into their minds through the technology that surrounds them constantly. Now ask yourself why they are there in front of those screens for that amount of time? Where’s Dad? Where’s Mom? 

Do you see the picture? How easy is it to be trapped into believing you have to have that promotion or that second job, not because the family is starving or they are gonna cut the lights off, but because we have to measure up to what our peers are able to afford? 

This Ray Stevens song sums up my point beautifully: 

Itemize the things you covet 

As you squander through your life 

Bigger cars, bigger houses 

Term insurance for your wife 

Tuesday evenings with your harlot 

And on Wednesdays it's your charlatan analyst 

He's high up on your list 

You've got air conditioned sinuses 

And dark disturbing doubts about religion 

And you keep those cards and letters going out 

While your secretary's tempting you 

Your morals are exempting you from guilt and shame 

Heaven knows you're not to blame 

You better take care of business, Mr. Businessman 

What's your plan? 

Get down to business, Mr. Businessman 

If you can 

Before it's too late and you throw your life away 

Did you see your children growing up today 

And did you hear the music of their laughter 

As they set about to play? 

Did you catch the fragrance of those roses in your garden? 

Did the morning sunlight warm your soul 

Brighten up your day? 

Do you qualify to be alive 

Or is the limit of your senses so as only to survive? 

Spending counterfeit incentive 

Wasting precious time and health 

Placing value on the worthless 

Disregarding priceless wealth 

You can wheel and deal the best of them 

Steal it from the rest of them 

You know the score, their ethics are a bore 

Eighty-six proof anesthetic crutches 

Prop you to the top 

Where the smiles are all synthetic 

And the ulcers never stop 

When they take that final inventory 

Yours will be the same sad story everywhere 

No one will really care, no one more lonely than 

This rich important man 

Let's have your autograph, endorse your epitaph 

You better take care of business, Mr. Businessman 

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 

Hebrews 13:5 

I know poor people who are rich because they are content and rich people who are poor because they will never experience contentment. I know people who have massive amounts of stuff, who are always accumulating more, never satisfied with what they have, and I know people who have very few possessions, who are content. I know people who seek security by sacrificing family time to work, to get the promotions, to fill the investment accounts... who are filled with fear that at any moment the economy will crash, or the world will come to an end, or they will lose their job. And I know people who, like the Proverbs 31 woman, laugh at future times, secure in the Lord. 

So what's the take-away? Here it is: Don't ignore your need and your family's need for refreshment in order to seek security, wealth, or things. Take your abilities, the chances you have to work, and the opportunities you have to better your position and use them to provide for your family within the confines of a reasonable work week. 

When that is done? Dote on your spouse, read a book, pour into your kids, be an active part of Christ’s body, make your favorite meal, serve in the church, take a nap, volunteer at a charity, get together with friends, pray, untether from social media, study God’s Word, invest in your extended family, sit out in a field and marvel at God’s creation. Take a day to deliberately enjoy the life that God has given you.

Work II 

1. Why do we work? 

Back in the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 2, God plants a garden, puts Adam in it, tells man to keep it, Adam names the animals, tends to the garden. That’s Adam’s job, and Adam is given his job before he eats the forbidden fruit. 

The overarching answer is that we were intended to do work all along— even before the fall. (Sidenote: think on this. Why are laziness, idleness, greed, gambling, covetousness, envy, jealousy, embezzlement, and thievery wrong? Answer: they're wrong because our purpose is to be productive and these are ways that man attempts to avoid work.) 

So work was intended for humankind from before the fall... but why? I mean, we don't usually think "Garden of Eden" and pair that thought with "good ole sweaty, dirty, honest hard work." My thoughts of Eden run more along the lines of picnics, skinny dipping, and horseback riding through green meadows with the wind blowing gently -- your classic hair conditioner commercial. No sweat or work involved. Back to the subject at hand... why do we work? 

In Genesis 2 again, look at verse 2. God finished all the work he had been doing. God is the ultimate worker. He worked in the beginning in creating the world, in Hebrews 1:3 we see Christ still working - upholding the universe, keeping it all going; in John chapter 5 Jesus riles the Pharisees by telling them that both he and God were doing their work on the Sabbath -- "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." God is a worker and we, made in His image, are made to be working too. What, then, is our motivation to be as we work? 

We work for the glory of God. 

Philippians 2:14-15 

Do all things without grumbling or arguing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world holding fast to the word of life. 

How many things? ALL things. Your work and how to you interact with your boss and employees should illuminate a dark workplace. God is glorified when His children shine. And I love how practical this passage is. I think of shining for Christ and I think my thoughts get a bit too exalted. As we work, how do we shine as lights in the world? By not grumbling. By not arguing. That hits home for me. 

We work to provide for our family 

1 Timothy 5:8 

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 

You would think this would be obvious, but we've all seen people working for power, for recognition, for money, for everything except the joy and responsibility of providing for family. And this is God's heart. God loves providing for his children. Look at Matthew chapter 7: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" 

We work so that we may not be a burden to others. 

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 

It is sinful to be able to work and provide for yourself but instead take advantage of the tenderheartedness of others. 

We work so that we are able to give. 

Ephesians 4:28 

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 

Notice there’s more here than just the acknowledgement of the commandment that we are to not steal, but the deeper reason; don’t steal, but rather work so that you can give. 

Proverbs 21:25-26 

The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. 

All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back. 

We work because it is profitable 

Proverbs 14:23 

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. 

Proverbs 12:11 

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. 

I did not extensively go in all the gems I could have mined from the wisdom books of the Bible, but Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak at length about work vs laziness. It would be well worth your time to take a look for yourself. 

We work because of decay 

This is why last time I spoke about how the dirt wins. Weeds grow faster than good things. The house is perpetually needing attention. The bathroom needs cleaning regularly. The dishes need doing every day. 

Ecclesiastes 10:18 

Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks. 

I've heard all my life that an empty house goes to ruin. It's not because there's some negative magical property in being empty. It's because there's no one there to pull the weeds, to replace the broken windows, to sweep the porch, to repaint, to get the gunk out of the gutters, etc. It's because there's no one there to do the work. 

We work because idle hands provide opportunity for the flesh 

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 

Believe it or not, in Ezekiel 16:49 God specifies that one of Sodom’s sins was idleness and laziness. That's not what I usually think of when I think of those cities. But there it is. Right up there with their other sins. If we're not busy doing something productive -- something creative or useful or rejuvenating to ourselves or others, we'll likely be doing something the opposite of productive. 

So why do we work? We work for the glory of God. We work to provide for family. We work so that we may not be a burden. We work so that we are able to give. We work because it is profitable. We work because of decay. We work because idle hands provide opportunity for the flesh. 

2. Who Do We Work For? 

I’m assuming that some of you are reading this next point and thinking, “Well that’s pretty obvious.” I know we all know the "right" answer to this question. But sometimes we know the answer, and yet it has no bearing on everyday life. We forget the answer in the way we think and live. 

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God. 

That is God speaking to Israel, His covenant people about how He provided deliverance and provision for them and brought them into Canaan the land He promised to them. How much more do we need to remember this? Let’s be honest and put things into perspective. Here’s a not so comfortable question from 1 Corinthians 4:7… What do we have that we did not receive? 

Did you choose to be born? Did any of you have a choice of family? Country of origin? State? Government you live under? Maybe just the house and neighborhood that you lived in growing up? School? The children you have? Are you going to choose any that you will have? Talents you possess? Abilities? Strength? Genes? Job opportunities? Salary? 

We are all products of things that we did not choose. Blessings and opportunities that were afforded us because God is gracious and no other reason. So… when we work for ourselves; for our pride, for our self respect, or to show off our abilities, then we are taking credit for what is not ours to claim. 

I found this passage amazing. God is giving instructions to Moses about the building of the tabernacle. Read it carefully. 

Exodus 31:1-6 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you…” 

Guess what. God gifts people to do work for Him. 

Remember Deuteronomy...”You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he whogives you power to get wealth.” 

Who are we working for? We're ultimately working for the Lord, using the abilities and opportunities He provides. 

3. How Should We Work? 

Confucius say, “Choose job you love, and never work day in life.” 

Did Confucius say that? I have no idea. Is it true? On good days, yeah. But first of all, no matter how much you love your job, some days it will be work. Second of all, not everyone has the choice of choosing a job they love. Sometimes you just take the work you can get until you can do better. 

So how do we as Christians approach our jobs on the days when it is work? 

Ephesians 6:5-9 

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive backfrom the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. 

In Christ, servants and masters have the same Lord. Servant serves master, master serves servant, both serve God. 

“The shop, the barn, the scullery, and the smithy become temples 

when men and women do all to the glory of God!” 

~ Spurgeon 

“Not by way of eye-service” - We have all done it at some point. Eye-service -- working harder when the boss is watching. 

“Not as people-pleasers” - If you think about it, you know what this is too. This is trying to earn favor with your supervisors for a promotion or special treatment. In colloquial terms... butt kissing. 

“As bondservants of Christ…” “You are serving the Lord Christ.” - Here it is! I love this. Our boss is not, as we might think, the boss we see every day. No, our boss is the Lord Christ. 

“knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord,” - In Genesis after God finished His work he said “It’s very good.” We as His children should be able to look at the work of our hands and echo that. We should reflect the excellence and durability of His work. The quality of our work is going to be rewarded, not just by our boss, but by the Lord. 

So. How should we work? 

Colossians 3:17 

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

We should work purposefully, honestly, and thankfully. 

Next time…We’re gonna talk about rest. 

In Christ,

Work I: The Dirt Always Wins 

The other day Martha and I had a day scheduled for rest, relaxation, and restoration. Our weekends are usually busy, so if we don’t intentionally take some time now and again, we get worn out. So we were anticipating a day as relaxing as one can be with a 2 month old. And … suddenly we needed to get our septic tanks pumped the next day, and spent the day digging the covers clean and excavating the insanely tenacious clay off our shoes, our shovels, and ourselves. It was a cruel irony, because we had just been talking through this devotional about… you guessed it, work. 

So the questions — Why is work so hard? Why do we look forward so much to the weekend or to a vacation or to the end of the day? Why is work wearisome? — are all very fresh in our minds, as is the clay sticking to the underside of our fingernails. Some of you may have answered these questions by saying “people”…like your boss or coworker, but is that really the reason? Working alone is hard as well. 

So we have to ask… is work itself a curse? Is it all just a product of the fall? Clay, septic systems, and all? We find our answer in the second chapter of Genesis. 

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” 

- Genesis 2:15 

Is this chapter before or after the man and the woman disobeyed? Yep, it’s before. So, no. Work is not a curse. God made us to work and it was part of the “very good” before the curse. It can be fun, fulfilling, gratifying, communal, good experiences for family and friends to have together, and like I tell Lillie, “it builds character.” 

I love the fact that God is characterized as a worker throughout Scripture. The Lord of the universe is not one to sit back on His throne as the deist would say and simply watch things happen, either gasping or applauding, but rather He is working all things for our good. (Romans 8:28) 

Don’t you know that He has the ability to snap His fingers and dispel all evil, suffering, and sin? As the scripture put to song says, “He could have called ten thousand angels.” If He does not have that ability then He is not all-powerful and therefore not God, but rather a subject Himself: subject to circumstances and the whims of fallen men. But no. He is no bystander. This God of creation is working a redeemed people for His own possession. (Titus 2:11-14) This work has not only cost Him blood, sweat, and tears, but He paid for it with His own life. 

This quote from Ken Hughes really struck me: 

“We meet God the Creator as a worker in Genesis 1:1 – 2:2… The image of God in man means man is to be a worker. The way we work will reveal how much we have allowed the image of God to develop in us.” 

Think about the fact that God made us to co-labor with Him. To take something and make it better, to take something in “the garden,” something He made and called “good” and make it better. This is the undeniable trait of God’s nature that nothings stays just good, but rather even good things are to be built upon and improved. 

So Adam is given a command to continue what God started and then what happens? Well, you know. If you don’t know, read Genesis 3:1-15. 

After those 15 verses, things start to change. 

Genesis 3:16-19 

To the woman he said, 

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; 

in pain you shall bring forth children. 

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, 

but he shall rule over you.” 

And to Adam he said, 

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife 

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 

‘You shall not eat of it,’ 

cursed is the ground because of you; 

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; 

and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, 

till you return to the ground, 

for out of it you were taken; 

for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

What happened? We went from “very good” to a curse, pain, sweat, and dust. 

I heard Tim Keller give this example: 

Imagine a machine with a bunch of gears, all interlocking and churning together with ease to accomplish the purpose for which the machine was created. Now imagine one of the gears deciding on its own to move somewhere else; it wants to be higher or in a better position. Since that’s not the plan, when it moves not only is there no place for it, but it falls into the rest of the workings and the other gears grind it, crush it, and smoke belches from the machine. While the whole machine is sick, it’s particularly that gear that becomes mangled and deformed. 

In case you didn’t catch it, we are that gear. We are the reason that the machine of creation is running amuck. Work is not a curse…but work is cursed, part of the mangled machinery. That’s why it’s hard. That’s why it seems futile sometimes. That’s why sometimes it’s not rewarding. Look at what Paul says about the results of the Fall. 

Romans 8:19-22 

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 

We are laboring with labor pains, and work is part of that pain. 

George Whitfield said speaking of nature’s curse: 

“Haven't you ever noticed that when you come near the animals they growl at us, they bark at us, the birds screech at us and fly away? Do you know why? They know that we have a quarrel with their master.”

 Think of that next time you are chased by the neighbor’s dog or a bird poops on your car. Remember that next time a squirrel barks at you when you get too close to its nest or a deer bolts at the sight of you, or an elusive armadillo digs up your entire yard despite the whole family being on watch around the clock with guns, security lights, and traps. Ok, this is hitting a little too close to home. 

The whole creation is suffering through birth pains. Think of it the next time a hurricane or tornado rips through a city or a mudslide carries away a whole family. Recall this passage when fire or flood destroys livelihoods and lives themselves. This is not the way it should be. Cosmic rebellion and disobedience against our Maker have made the machine to run violently. 

Do you hear the gears grinding? Can you feel it? And here’s a perfect example: you ladies work from this side of the house to that side of the house and when you go back…guess what…to dust you return. Martha and I are gone for weeks and months at a time and we leave the house clean as can be when we walk out the door, but guess what. It needs cleaning when we get back even if we ain’t there to mess it up! And think of this — Adam and Eve only got clothes after they sinned. That means laundry is a result of the fall. This is something I always knew in my heart, but only now have Scripture to back up. 

In this fallen condition, the dirt wins. “To dust you shall return”…you work your whole life cleaning and tidying up and washing and mopping and sweeping and polishing and taking care of messes, preparing things and guess what…when you are eternally done with this life you know what you get? 

6 feet of dirt piled on top of you. 

And then your remains turn into a pile of it. 

The dirt always wins. 

Sin leads to decomposition, to corruption of all things, and it permeates everything man touches. Work is not a curse…but work is cursed. Solomon had it right - “And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing–like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud–frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:16-17 

Frustrated, discouraged, and angry. Ever met someone like that? Ever been that person? 

“What a way to end a devotional,” you say. “I thought devotionals were supposed to be encouraging?” Well, as we worked through the clay to our septic tank, it encouraged us to know that in some way, the work we were doing had been tainted by the Fall. It was encouraging to remember that while it was God’s original intent to have us work, it was not part of his design to have that work be frustrating, futile, and painful. We’ll bring more to the table about work next time. 

In the meantime, take note of the grinding of the gears, the snapping of the dogs, the hissing of the cats, the endless tearing up of the yard by the armadillos, the sweat of your brow. Know this is not the endgame. There is another in the background working on your behalf, Christian. Your work is being redeemed from the curse, and in the end, it will be completely redeemed from the curse. No more frustration. In the meantime, it's my turn on armadillo watch.

Thoughts on Ruth for a wedding 

At the wedding of my brother-in-law recently, it was requested that I speak from the Book of Ruth. Having not read it in a while and not heard many in-depth sermons from it, I went into it thinking that I was going to be hard pressed to find more than just the iconic verse that said something about “where you lodge I will lodge.” Instead I found a wealth of applicable material and had to pare it down substantially. 

For those who may be not be familiar with the story or for those who may have not heard it in a long time, let me give you a quick breakdown. 

The estimated time of this writing is approximately 1300-1000 B.C. There was a famine in the land of Israel and Elimelech, a man from Bethlehem, took his wife Naomi and their two sons to Moab while they waited for the drought to pass. While they were there their sons took Moabite wives. 

One of those Moabite wives was Orpah, not to be confused with Oprah…the other one was called Ruth. 

So far this may not mean much to us, but take note of who the Moabites were. This people was produced when Lot, the nephew of Abraham back in the book of Genesis, fathered Moab through an incestuous union with his oldest daughter. They were idolatrous, brutal, scheming enemies of Israel for generations. Not a good start and not an honorable history. This marriage of their sons to Moabite women would have left this family shamed in their homeland because they mixed bloodlines with this unclean, Gentile people. 

Then the story takes a tragic turn. Naomi’s husband dies, followed shortly by her two sons leaving her not only widowed, but childless. In that day an older woman who had no husband and no sons to provide for her had basically been given a death sentence or at least had to resort to begging and dependance on the pity of strangers. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, having heard that the famine is past, and her two daughter in laws accompany her some distance. Knowing that she can offer the young women nothing, Naomi urges them to return to their own people. 

Orpah ultimately decided to return to her own family, but even with Naomi urging Ruth to also return to what would seem to be a more hopeful existence in her own homeland, Ruth clings to her and says these iconic words, 

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 

This is another dramatic turn. Rather than returning to her own family, country, culture, and comfort, Ruth now makes a profession of faith in God Jehovah, stays with Naomi, and becomes a proselyte to Judaism. 

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in poverty. Ruth began to pick up the scraps of barley from the edges of the field of a wealthy man named Boaz, an unmarried relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. The Bible calls him a worthy man and he showed kindness to Ruth. Beyond the basic charity that God’s law required of him, he offered provision, protection, and partiality to this woman who was an outsider. 

I would encourage you to read this story for yourself because of the depth of detail and beauty that I had to leave out, but Boaz, as God would orchestrate it, became Ruth’s "kinsman redeemer." In essence, this meant in their situation that when she came to him for help as her relative, he married her, and in doing so, he rescued her from a life of poverty as a widow and stranger in the land. 

I would pass up a great opportunity if I didn’t point out that after their marriage, Boaz was no longer a ruthless man. Ok. Opportunity taken. Moving on... 

There were five things that really stood out to me as I studied this passage for Dan's wedding. 

1. God has a plan for Gentiles 

Chances are, if you are reading this, you like me, are not Jewish by birth. Let us stop to be amazed and evermore thankful for the inclusion of Gentiles into the divine plans of God. We are here today as Christians because God’s plan of salvation is open to us! God was able to use and work through people who were from the lineage of the idolatrous Moabites and maybe He can find a place for me too. 

2. God has a plan for women 

Let us also be amazed at the historical context of the Scriptures as they make much of women. In a culture where women were little more than chattel and so demeaned that their testimony was not even admissible in court, the Bible makes Ruth and even Rahab (Boaz's mother, a redeemed prostitute - check out her story in Joshua 2 and 6) not only fellow heirs of grace, but intricate parts of His plans for the saving of His church. 

This progresses even farther in the NT where woman are brought to the forefront and Jesus cares for and features them, and Paul points out that they are equal heirs in Christ. He proclaims in Galatians the unthinkable at that time, ”There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What an amazing contradiction to the wisdom of the world, both in Paul's time, and in our own. 

3. God has a plan for men 

Boaz is pictured as a type of Christ…a kinsman redeemer. Christ came to rescue us when we could not rescue ourselves. He came to make us pure, to protect us, to guarantee ultimate safety in eternity. 

As men, we are called to give the world an image of this. One of the scariest verses in the entire Bible to me as a husband is in Ephesians chapter 5 “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” That order could not be taller. I fall so short of that goal, but the command stands. This love can be beautifully pictured in marriage, but it's also the kind of love that is to characterize the relationships of all Christians. John tells us in 1 John "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." 

4. God has a plan for marriage 

Ruth is a name that means “friendship.” 

Wives, you will find your marriage to be easier and more joyful if you find the one you wake up next to every morning to be your best friend. When given the choice, you should desire no other above them to enjoy and lavish the very best you have to offer on. 

Boaz’s name means “in him is strength.” 

Husbands, you are to be strong for your family, "nourishing and cherishing" your spouse. Ephesians 5:28-30 tells us what God's intention for the husband's role in marriage is to be - "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." 

5. God has a plan of salvation 

The only other place Ruth is mentioned outside of the book of Ruth, is in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ in the book of Matthew. Matthew chapter 1 verse 5 says this: “Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David the king.” 

In the NT we see the completion of the line of David in a stable, and we find the culmination of the centuries as a baby is wrapped in swaddling clothes and worshipped by a broad menagerie of the oddest kind. One group of the lowest station of that day, shepherds. Later he was worshipped by a searching group of pagan Gentiles from the east — the wise men. And He was also heralded by a faithful old woman named Anna who was waiting eagerly for the coming Messiah when his parents presented him at the temple. 

The bloodline to the manger makes a line to a cross, to a tomb, to a resurrection, and now to a throne in Heaven as we wait ourselves, as Anna did, for this Messiah to come again and fulfill the Scriptures that foretold him thousands of years ago. Those who ask Him to rescue them and become their kinsman redeemer may now have a ‘foretaste of glory divine” as He rules in hearts, in homes, and in His church. 

Regardless of your race, age, gender, or station in life, this offer of salvation and safety is made open today because of God’s meticulous, providential planning as He worked through the bereavement, immigration, and marriage of an insignificant Gentile woman named Ruth. 

My desire is that each one of us, like Ruth, will come to Him, surrendering our hope of providing for ourselves spiritually in our own strength, and fall wholly at the feet of the one who, like Boaz, offers us strength for our weakness, riches for our poverty, and love for our loneliness. 

Now go read the whole book and see what you find for yourself.

James: Heartcheck 

Over the last several weeks we’ve been adding a new verse to our roster to memorize: James 4:4-10. It’s a fairly well known passage and I’ve heard it quoted many times, but usually just bits and pieces at a time. In the process of committing it to memory, as with many other verses, we’ve found a different take on it than at our first reading. Let’s have a gander at it… 

James 4:4-10 

 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 

So, looking at an overview of the book of James before we attempted to understand this passage further, we found that James’ book is meant to be a test for true love for Christ. James wrote it for the Jewish converts who were scattered after the stoning of Stephen. If you want to know what a Christian should look like and must be like in order to bear the name, read James's letter. 

He gives the tests of impartial love, dependence, loyalty, works, patience in trials, prayerfulness, and more. By the time James gets toward the end of his letter in chapter 4, he’s concerned that some of the readers, (including us) may have failed these tests and so the natural thing was to have “an altar call” or an opportunity to rectify the situation. Let’s take it bit by bit and see where we end up. 

He starts off gently, in the way that every pastor or evangelist is taught to do altar calls in seminary: 

“You adulterous people!” 

Wait…you mean your pastor doesn’t do altar calls in this way? 

Well, this is obviously not talking to people who have broken the seventh commandment. In the Old Testament God speaking through the prophets often referred to Israel as adulterous in their spiritual lives. They were Jews in name and lineage, but in action their hearts were far from God. 

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” 

Again, let me play Captain Obvious and point out that “friendship with the world” has nothing to do with your unreligious coworkers with whom you hang out occasionally. Jesus was assuredly “a friend of sinners,” but He was not a friend of the world. God so loved the world that He gave His Son, but don’t doubt, God will ultimately destroy the worldly structures that defy Him. The world system is what John is referring to in 1 John 2:15-16, 

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” 

So John’s question, and James’s question is, “Where is your heart?” Jesus pulls it down to my level even more when He says in Matthew 6 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and…” 

Money, right? We all know Jesus says you cannot serve God and money, which is an example that tends to get me uncomfortable every time. But it doesn’t end with money. The point is we can’t divide our affection, our service, or our hearts, between God and anything. That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Whether I do something for Martha or for myself or for my family or for the people at my concerts, my ultimate goal must be to please God. 

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

James’ Scripture quotation here is pulling together several OT passages. Basically, God is the creator and He has the right to the creation — you and me. Romans 9 talks about the clay complaining to the potter, meaning that every person belongs to God and is subject to God, whether that is acknowledged or not. I am obliged to obey with willingness and thankfulness the One who is responsible for my very existence and Who extends mercy to creatures such as I. Humility is not so much a virtue in this light, as it is simply facing facts. 

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 

Submit to God. Resist the devil. Draw near to God. Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Be wretched. Mourn. Weep. Humble yourselves. These are the answers to the question “What do I do now? How do I work out my salvation given what you’ve just told me, James?” 

First step? Submit to God. In submitting to God, I turn from sin. In submitting to God, I denounce the enemy of God. I change sides, I defect to another master, I begin to fight under a different flag. This is no partial commitment. I am either for Him or against Him. There is no neutral ground. Submitting to God and resisting the devil are really two sides of the same coin. 

As I submit to God, I draw near to God with the grace He gives, and He draws near to me with open arms as my loving Father. As He draws near to me and I see the light of His purity on my life, I cleanse my hands from sin by the power of the Spirit, and choose a new way of life. 

The last part of verse 8 was really interesting as we studied it. Purify your hearts, you double minded. This isn't the remedy that I would prescribe for double mindedness. Off the top of my head, a visit with a psychologist would be more in order. But as we looked into it, we found James was going back to his initial point, both in his entire letter and in this chapter, about being adulterous in heart. In our study, we found that double mindedness is what we might call being half hearted. When I’m half hearted, instead of saying ‘whether therefore I eat or drink or whatever I do, I want everything I do to please God,’ I’m saying ‘this part of my life is intended to please God. But this part over here belongs to me.’ I'm not submitting myself entirely to God. So as I cleanse my hands from sin, I purify my heart from motivations other than “I belong to God. I love God. I want to please God.” 

And now we get to the “be wretched, mourn, and weep” bit. We often hear in churches the phrase, “There’s nothing wrong with having a good time in church.” Less often heard is “There’s nothing wrong with being afflicted, mourning, weeping, and gloomy in church.” It is true that there’s nothing wrong with laughter and joy. The problem is when I’m laughing and being joyful at the wrong time — like in the middle of a funeral. Or… during a mugging. When Martha fell into a well last week. At the proctologist’s office. I could go on. Obviously, there’s a time for laughter and a time for mourning. Often for me the time for mourning closely follows the time of laughing at the wrong time. 

So James is saying that if these things are true of us, if we find ourselves half hearted toward God, then we shouldn’t be having a good time now. To be brutally honest, my gut reaction when I look at this final verse is to say “ooooookay… but isn’t mourning and gloom overkill? It was just a little bit of half heartedness after all…”. Then I sit back and think about what James just said. That friendship, any amount, with the world’s lusts, desires, and pride, is hostility toward God. Wow. My gut reaction that makes little of hostility toward God indicts me at this point. All I have left is to go to my Father humbly and say “Father, I have sinned. My heart has been divided between You and other things. Purify my heart, and help me to seek to please You in all things.” 

How do you measure up to James’ altar call? I’ve already asked myself that question while working through this devotional and my answer is to repent afresh, realign my priorities...again, and once more focus my sights on my Lord. 

Until next time, 

Miles & Mar

Spiritual Diagnostics 

miles & mar’s devotional - volume xxiv 

Ever had to call in to tech support for a computer problem? 

Yeah, I thought so. 

Probably after a lengthy wait, (I wonder how long I would be on hold if my call wasn’t important to them…) they begin to run a series of test to see where the issue is in order to diagnose the problem and you just pray that it’s something that doesn’t require a complete overhaul. 

As I read through 2 Corinthians, I realize that's exactly what Paul is having to do with the 'First Church of Corinth.' Paul loved this church, even called them saints in the first letter, but it was a church that was situated in an extremely dark part of the ancient world full of unrestrained sin and idol worship. All the trade and commerce north, south, east, and west, came through this city. It was a cesspool of immorality, lewdness, and debauchery. Their old habits of pleasing the flesh brought about questions as to which of them were genuinely in the faith and which of them were just putting on a show. 

2 Corinthians 12:19 - 13:2 

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. 

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. 

So, here is this church that has been giving Paul great joy and great sorrow. Now he demands that they produce evidence of what they claim. 

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. 

I dare say most modern day church analysts would say that questioning the salvation of people, openly judging what they are doing as sin, promising to remove them from the church if they persist in their sins, and threatening to use severe authority from God to deal with them is NOT the fastest way to build church attendance. 

But notice what Paul says it’s for… “for building up and not for tearing down.” Paul is strong in his stance and firm with his approach because he is concerned about this church possessing an authentic faith that is demonstrated by fruit bearing. 

You ask your average person on the street if they are a Christian, and many people will answer ‘yes.’ 

Why? Because they… 

Have Christian principles. 

Attend a church. 

Are members of a religious group. 

Have walked an aisle at some point. 

Repeated a prayer after some preacher. 

Were baptized. 

Think it’s good for community. 

Wanna set a good example for the kids. 

All these, and a myriad of other flimsy reasons. 

But listen to what James says: 

James 2:19 

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 

If belief alone is the measure of salvation then all the demons and Satan himself are saved. This is obviously not true and therefore is not the measure of legitimate, saving faith. 

Just before that verse in James 2 he says… 

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 

So what are you to ‘examine’ to see if you are in the faith? 


We must be very careful here because it is a cardinal doctrine of all orthodox Christian belief. You are not saved by works. It’s impossible. But after salvation, works are and must be a byproduct. 

Titus 2:14 

Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 

For further explanation, consult John 15:1-11 

Being able and willing to honestly reevaluate your life periodically as a Christian is a sign of authentic spiritual life. You cannot simply look at an event in the past to evaluate your spiritual condition. What about today? How has it affected you over the years? How do you live differently this month as opposed to last month because of your change of heart? What do you love? What are your priorities? 

I’m going to give you five fruits of authentic faith or rather, five works that you can look at. These are not the specific fruits listed in scripture, but are broad categories, meant to help you quickly examine where you are. 

1. Contrition 

1 John is a litmus test for those who profess Christianity. Right off the bat he gives these tests. 

1 John 1:5-10 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say 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. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

John identifies three people here: 

1. The one who claims to walk in the light and then bears it out by forsaking the practice of walking in the darkness and thus emulates Christ. Notice that the one who is practicing the things of light is also at home with the Body of Christ -- "fellowship with one another." 

2. The one who claims to be perfect after salvation. Hard to believe that those people exist, but we’ve met them. 

3. The one who claims to have never sinned. Yep, these folks exist too. 

It strikes me that neither John or any other writer of the scripture ever assumes a point in the Christian life where we stop repenting, being contrite, being penitent, being remorseful, being aware of our shortcomings, and THEN…doing something about it. It’s easy to get outraged at other people’s sin, but your reaction to your own personal sins are a better barometer of your spiritual condition. 

2. Imitation 

You will be like what you love. Pretty simple. 

When you become a Christian it’s not enough to turn from something, you must turn to someone. What does it mean to be a Christian if it does not mean to be like Christ? 

1 John 2:29 

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 

If you are born of Christ and are His child, then you will of necessity exhibit traits of your father. You will not just hate sin, but you will love righteousness. You will love what God loves and hate what God hates. A lot of people dislike certain sins because of the pain it causes or its consequences. Not as many people rejoice when righteousness is done. 

3 John 1:11 

Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 

As we have seen in this current cultural climate, people can with words claim to be a plethora of things that just may not be based in fact. If you claim Christianity, then prove it by imitation. 

3. Submission 

Are you willing to lay your will, desires, passions, plans, and pleasures down at the feet of Christ and submit to His desires? Are you willing to chase after His passions? Are you content with whatever His plan is for you? Do you long to do what will please Him? 

Luke 14:25-27 

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

We are obviously commanded to love our neighbor, honor our father and mother, to take care of our children, to love our wives as Christ loved the church, but in comparison with Christ…with our love for Him...all other loves fall to the bottom. 

It is in our submission to Christ and submission to His authority that he’s placed in his Church, the authority in government, and the authority in the Biblical structure of the home that we prove our willingness to humble ourselves before God. 

4. Obedience 

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

James 1:22 Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 

God desires obedience more than sacrifice. Just because you give your Sundays to church, donate to the local charity, and tithe doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about your spirituality. Works based religions all over the world have millions and billions of adherents that do the same kind of things. 

The real tests of faith come when you must decide whether or not you will obey Christ when it’s hard? When it’s not convenient? When it’s uncomfortable? When it’s not what you feel like doing? When it doesn’t seem to make sense to you? Do you obey or make excuses? 

1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 

5. Affection 

What has your affection? What do you love? 

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 

What world are we talking about? Even God ‘so loved the world.’ The ‘world’ in this case doesn’t mean the cosmos, the physical natural universe, but rather the world system. Paul was brokenhearted in 2 Timothy because a close friend proved to love the world more than Christ… 

2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. 

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 

This is a manifestation of the world’s goods owning you instead of you owning them. You love the things of the world more than your fellow man. If the love of Christ does not compel us to part with temporal things when someone else has need of them, then we are trying to serve two masters. 

I don’t know where it could be stated more clearly than here… 

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

Where do we stand in light of these tests? 

Have we really repented and mourned over sin? 

Or do we just regret the consequences of sin? 

Do we love God’s law and desire to live by it and grieve when we transgress it? 

Or do we view it as mere legalism — a weight around our neck and a killjoy? 

Do we submit to the authority of Christ and consider what His desires are before we do our own? 

Or do we make sure that our wants are fulfilled before we give God any of our time? 

Do we obey His word and study it to discover His will for us? 

Or does His word not really interest us and given the choice between studying and memorizing the Scriptures or watching TV, we choose the TV? 

And do we love those who are in His church? Do we give of ourselves freely to serve others? Have we begun to love our enemies and seek their good? 

Or do we love those who love us and give to those who give to us and scratch their back if they scratch ours? 

The true convert falls into sin. 

The false convert dives into sin. 

The true convert sins against his will. 

The false convert makes provision for the flesh. 

The true convert stumbles. 

The false convert is dead. 

Whoever you are, we encourage you to take a moment and run this diagnostic test. We pray with Paul that you will meet the test -- that you will be found to be standing firm in Christ. 

In Christ,