A Reading Lesson


Luke 6:9 – Have you not read…

Sometimes I read without comprehending because I am so distracted. At other times I am just too tired to comprehend. Whatever the cause, I have often looked up only to realize I had no clue what I just read.

But there is another way to miss what we read. It is possible to read in search of one thing and thereby to miss the thing that is truly there. The men to whom Jesus spoke in Luke 6:9 were of this last type. They searched the Scriptures to prove the rightness of their deeds. They looked for themselves and they found themselves. They looked into the divine mirror, not forgetting what they saw, but actually liking what they saw. They were not looking for God. Little surprise then that they did not find him.

Jesus asked an important question. Have you not read the Scriptures? And did you read them as another exercise in justifying yourself, a kind of celebration of your own holiness? Or were you hungry to find him who alone is holy? When we approach the Scriptures to hear rather than to prove or to tell, we begin to discover that he who alone is holy is also full of the most amazing grace.

I cannot know what those men saw when they read the passage about David eating the sacred bread reserved for the priests. But I do know what they did not see, what Jesus saw so plainly, that God’s compassion for his servant was far, far greater than man’s mistaken idea of what constitutes holiness.

God’s laws are designed to lead us to him, not to separate us from him. They do indeed shine the light on his holiness and our sin. They do so in order to drive us to the cross. There we may fall down in adoration of a heart so pure, a grace so complete, and a love so enduring that we may rise to think less of ourselves and more of him.

For what a wonderful Savior he is!






Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)

There are two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be.

Nearly every person on the planet believes there is right and there is wrong.  The handful of stragglers who claim not to believe in right and wrong will prove themselves liars as soon as their wallet is stolen.  Suddenly, as if be revelation, they will know what is right and who is wrong.  If we are nothing more than a collection of atoms, right and wrong are foolish notions.  Yet nothing could be clearer to most of us than the truth that there is right and there is wrong.  There is a world that ought to be, but is not.

Here, then, is the real dividing line of the world, not whether the world ought to be different, but what the difference ought to be.  Even the foolish one who claims there is no such thing as right and wrong believes the world ought to be different.  If nothing else, he believes the world ought to be rid of people like me who keep insisting that there is a God, that he has spoken, and that he and he alone defines what OUGHT ought to look like.

Who defines OUGHT?  That is the question.  The western world has spurned God as the one who defines right and wrong.  In so doing, it has undermined the very foundation that made it great.  If God is not allowed, then what is left to define what ought to be?  A vote?  Social media?  A handful of leaders whose guidance is the limits of their own minds?  Frightening, isn’t it, this life without God?

But God is not mocked.  We are already reaping the bitter harvest of the folly we have sown.  And we are not finished, for we have not turned back.  And did I mention that God is not mocked?

That little word ‘ought’ is one of the biggest signs you will ever see that there is a God.  How is it that people groan every day over what ought to be and yet cannot see him?  But in spite of our blindness, God looked upon these two worlds, the world that is and the world that ought to be, and God chose to make the two into one.  He sent his only begotten to do the job.  On the cross, what is and what ought to be came together.  Jesus, who was ever and always what ought to be, took the world as it truly is into his death.  Resurrected, he offers himself as the reconciliation of what is to what ought to be.  What no vote could accomplish, what no social media could shape, what no gaggle of leaders could coerce from the world, Jesus did in one mighty act of obedience to what ought to be.  For what ought to be is God.  Nothing less.  And certainly nothing more.

To God be the glory!  What a Savior!

The Lord’s Song

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?  Psalm 137:4

The exiles in Babylon hung their lyres on the willows. Their broken hearts could not sing the songs of Zion in a strange place. The taunts of their enemies only made their silence more certain and their resolve grow deeper. They would not forget and they would not sing.

The New Testament faith is built solidly upon the old, but here is one striking difference. Old Testament faith was attached to a specific piece of geography. When separated from that parcel of ground, hear how the heart mourns!

By contrast, stand outside a jail cell in Philippi and listen. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, (Act 16:25) Faith is alive and the servants of God are singing. The disciples’ hearts were not fixed on a city in this world. Rather, they were like Abraham whose heart was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

And the prisoners were listening to them. Take your lyre down from the willows, O believer, and sing your song. You are not home and the prisoners are listening!

What a Savior!


Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  Psalm 127:1

The Lord blesses that which is built upon his word.  There is a pressure no foundation can stand and an enemy no watchman can see.  Only the Lord can preserve us.  Only he can protect us.

For a generation that delights in being on “the right side of history,” we seem to know very little of it.  History is lavishly supplied with the tumbled houses and stunned watchmen of those who abandoned the ways of God.  Their number is not just plentiful but complete.  Apart from God, it is only a matter of who gets to the finish line first.

Unless…  Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24f

What a wonderful Savior he is!

From Thimbles to Vats

“…the pagan philosophers wretchedly blundered… some asserting the world’s eternity and self-existence, others ascribing it to a fortuitous concourse of atoms…”

I read these words and thought what a perfect description of the assumptions of twenty-first century humanity. You could rewrite the sentence in this way. “Modern philosophers… assert the spontaneous generation of the universe (Stephen Hawking), others ascribe it to evolution” (a fortuitous concourse of atoms if there ever was one!).

It is a perfect description of modern man. But it was written four hundred years ago about men who lived a thousand years before that. Incredible, isn’t it! The more things change, the more they stay the same. So, how does a person writing four hundred years ago get such far reaching insight? How does someone look back a thousand years with such clarity and unknowingly describe a world four hundred years down the road?

The beloved and pious Matthew Henry was contemplating the biblical account of creation in Genesis. He was living as the psalmist had directed. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) Pondering the word of God, he saw what was eternally true and therefore knew what was eternally false.

Modern man, on the other hand, takes a thimble full of science and makes a vat full of stupidity. Just five minutes ago, I watched a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ fly by the church with lights flashing and sirens blazing. I sent up a prayer for another ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ who was probably hurting and not feeling especially fortuitous. Perhaps they will make it to a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a hospital, where a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a doctor will help them.

Genesis 1:2 records that the earth was ‘formless and void’ or ‘a waste and emptiness.’ Here are two resounding Hebrew words: tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness. The mind of modern man has become tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness, a very unfortunate concourse of atoms.

Here is the real inconvenient truth of our age.

The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)

I’m so glad the owner is also a Savior! And what a Savior he is!

Silent Joseph

We are blessed with words from those who were so closely connected to the birth of Jesus. Zacharias said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people.” Mary said, “For the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” The shepherds said, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” Simeon said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation.” The magi asked, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” We have no specific words from Anna, but we are told that she began “giving thanks to God and continued to speak” of the Christ.

Not a word do we have from Joseph. When Jesus’ parents found the twelve year old in the Temple engaging the teachers, it was Mary who chided him, not Joseph. We feel certain that Joseph talked, but we do not know. We believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We must take it that the Holy Spirit had nothing to reveal to us regarding the words of Joseph.

Ah! But look what the Holy Spirit was pleased to reveal through Joseph. Joseph took the miraculously pregnant Mary as his wife. He had no relations with her until the child was born. He took her on an arduous journey to Bethlehem for he was unwilling to relinquish her care to anyone else. He was there for the birth of the Savior. He obeyed the summons of God and hustled his young family away to Egypt, safely avoiding the murderous Herod. He waited patiently for the summons to return. He brought his family back to Nazareth in safety. He attended to his father’s role for the growth of the child. He was there when Jesus could not be found and he searched until the boy was found. He brought them all safely back to Nazareth again.

When Jesus began his ministry around thirty years of age, his mother is still around, but we do not see Joseph. Some think that Joseph died in that span of Jesus’ life from twelve to thirty. But we don’t know. As quietly as he came, Joseph left. Not one word. But, oh, what a life!

Joseph was there, where he needed to be, doing what he was appointed to do, caring for what God cared for, not shirking but embracing hard things. Maybe this is where James, the brother of Jesus, got the idea for “be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” Maybe James learned his wisdom at the feet of Joseph who taught him that God had given him two ears and one mouth, and therefore “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak.” (James 1:19f) Perhaps it was the quiet Joseph who taught his boy James that a loose tongue is like a hellish fire (James 3:1f) and that genuine faith is proved by loving deeds. (James 2:14f)

Words are important. Very important. Too important to expend so carelessly as we often do. Silent Joseph stands right at the heart of the advent of the Savior. Far from diminishing his role, the lack of words make his deeds shine the brighter and by his life the Holy Spirit convicts us when we are long on words and short on deeds.

Silent Joseph. I can almost hear him. Can you?


Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.  By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. (Psalm 119:90-91 ESV)

By his appointment, we have today.  So long as there is a thing called ‘today,’ it is by appointment of God.  His appointments are always kept.  We, too, shall keep his appointments.  Hebrews 9:27 says that there are two: one is death and the other is judgement.  May I not be so hasty to keep my own appointments in the world that I forget about my appointments with him.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

What a Savior!

Sorry about the W53.21XA

“Sorry to hear about your W53.21XA.  What were you doing messing with a squirrel anyway?”

Perhaps you have heard about the new coding system required by the health care law.  The codes health care providers use to describe the patient’s diagnosis have jumped from 14, 000 to 68,000.  One doctor said the code book looked like the Philadelphia phone directory.  A W53.21XA, by the way, is “bit by a squirrel.” Imagine if we started using these codes in everyday talk.

“Haven’t seen you for a while.  Where have you been?”

“Oh, I just got out of the hospital.”

“Really?  What happened?”


“What?  I didn’t know you were an astronaut!”

“I’m not.  Actually I was coming out of the coffee shop when I was blindsided by this dude who wasn’t looking where he was going. They couldn’t find a code for a coffee shop accident.  We figured that since the guy who knocked me down was pretty spaced out, he qualified as a spacecraft.  And since I didn’t find out his name, presto, W95.40XA, ‘unspecific spacecraft accident.'”

“Oh, I see.”

I am not at all sure that these codes will help us ‘see.’  Codes by nature are not designed to help us see.  Indeed, they are sometimes designed to do the opposite. They hide things. Pictures, on the other hand, are especially designed to help us see.

‘Revelation’ means unveiling.  The book of Revelation is not a code book but a picture book.  God wants us to see.  Consider this picture.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

It is a word picture, but what a word picture it is!  I remember the hand fans in the hymnal racks at the church of my childhood. With no AC and windows wide open, those fans were the first line of defense against gnats on a summer Sunday morning.  On each fan was a picture and the one picture I remember most was of Christ standing at the door knocking.  As often as I picked up that fan, he was still there, still knocking, still waiting for an answer.

That one picture is so crammed with outstanding theology, with such splendid glory, and with truly amazing grace, that it takes an entire Bible to explain it!

So, before your neighbor has a W53.21XA which gets infected, or worse, out of the blue, he experiences a W95.40XA and leaves us altogether, pray that he experiences a rev.3.20 and opens the door.

Anything we do to make that happen will have benefits out of this world.

What a Savior!

Well-worn Path

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  Psalm 84:5

The quarter acre between the back of Cades Baptist Church and the old Atlantic Coastline Railroad was shrouded in tall pines and thick with bushes and briers. But from the northeast corner, running diagonal and not always straight, to the middle of the western side, ran a well-worn path.  It had been beaten into submission by four hooligans of whom I was one.  The northeastern exit spilled into the backyard of the Young household where you could find one of the greatest drawing cards of boys ever made, a basketball goal.  The western exit brought you to the most sacred of places for a young boy, a lonely stretch of railway.  The smell of tar and diesel along with an endless supply of rocks was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I often met the other hooligans there when, for reasons I could never understand, I was not allowed to go ‘across the tracks’ for a spell.  I think they call it ‘on restriction’ in these latter days.

In the course of time, the church cleared that little quarter acre and the path could no longer be seen, for everything was open under the canopy of those pine trees.  The last time I passed through Cades, it appeared that this tiny piece of the holy land had come full circle.  It was thick with vegetation and looked impossible to navigate.  If I could take you there, I could show you where the path was, but not where it is.  For it is no more.  The only way we would know it is because the path is written in my heart and in my mind.

Psalm 84 is the record of a soul longing to return to the Temple of God.  He would trade a thousand days anywhere for just one day in the courts of the Lord.  He would swap the presidency of the universe for opening the door for another thirsty soul to enter that sacred place.  His whole life was on edge until he could return and join the throng who were gathered and praising the Lord.

If the psalmist could take us by the hand today and lead us to the place of his heart’s desire, we would arrive in Jerusalem only to see where it was, not where it is.  For it is no more.  Perhaps the psalmist would be sad for a season at what had passed.  But the truth of his own words would soon come back to him.  Blessed are those “in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”  God had given him something far richer than a temple in this world.  God had cut a path in his heart.

No temple of this world is the final destiny of the children of God. His people gather in specially constructed buildings and make-do storefronts, in living rooms and rice paddies.  But if the people of God lose every gathering place they know tomorrow, the path to God’s sacred place cannot be taken from them.  It is written in their hearts and it leads straight to the heart of God.  You can always recognize it. The entry is marked by a cross.

John 3:16.  What a Savior!


But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.  Psalm 81:16

I wasn’t prepared for ‘honey.’  I remembered how Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and God’s thirsty people received water from the rock.  I also remembered another occasion when they were thirsty and complaining.  This time God told Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses was upset.  He struck the rock, twice, and lost his ticket to the promised land.  But still, the thirsty people of God got water from the rock.  When I first read Psalm 81:16, I was prepared for water.  I wasn’t prepared for honey.

In the course of Psalm 81, God declared “But my people did not listen to my voice.” (v11)  Then God sighed.  I say it with reverence and I am not certain I have it right.  But here is what he said.  “Oh that my people would listen to me.” (v13) It sounds like a sigh to me.  It sounds like God longs to do something but his people want no part of it.

What does God want to do?  Perhaps something we would never expect.  Perhaps not just water but honey.  But what does it matter whether water or honey, if we are not thirsty for anything at all?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matthew 5:6

What a Savior!