REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE – The Pilgrim’s Progress

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers…Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. [Titus 1:10-11 (KJV)]

Smith Mine

Demas was a fellow worker of Paul’s during his ministry but, during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, Demas left abruptly. Paul wrote Timothy that Demas had deserted him because he loved the good things of the world. How sad it had to have been for Paul to write that he’d been forsaken by one of the men he’d trained, a man with whom he ministered, a man he loved. We don’t know if Demas forsook the Lord along with Paul or whether the worldly things he loved in life were fortune, fame, or flesh. Nowhere in Scripture do read any more of Demas or if he ever returned to the faith.

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and his companion Hopeful come to a hill called Lucre where they encounter Demas. Not a word we use nowadays, “lucre” is a Middle English word for money and both the King James Version of the Bible and Bunyan’s allegory were written in Middle English.

On Lucre hill, and just a little off the Way, is a silver mine. The ground around the mine is quite unstable (Bunyan calls it “deceitful”) and often collapses, causing severe injury or death to anyone who’s ventured too close. Calling to the Pilgrims and inviting them to step off the path is Demas. He promises that, with a little effort, they’ll become rich. Whether it’s merely curiosity or the lure of earthly treasures, Hopeful is tempted to step out of the Way but Christian cautions him. The Pilgrim asks Demas about the danger and whether the stop might hinder people on their pilgrimages. Although Demas assures them it’s not very dangerous if one is careful, his blush gives away the deceit in his answer.

Although Christian calls him an enemy of the Lord of the Way, Demas claims to be one of their comrades. Christian knows better and says Demas is the great-grandson of Gehazi [2 Kings 5:20-24] and the son of Judas [Matthew 26:14-15]: both men who betrayed the Lord for money. As Christian and Hopeful go on their way, other Pilgrims heed Demas’ call and disappear into the pit.

Christian and Hopeful then see a strange monument beside the Highway that looks much like a woman. Its sign reads: “Remember Lot’s wife!” They realize it is the pillar of salt that once was the woman who looked back at Sodom with a “covetous heart.” That she escaped one judgment (Sodom) only to be destroyed by another was a lesson not lost on the men. Serving as both a caution about sin and an example of God’s judgment, the monument stands in sight of Demas and the Pilgrims who prefer earthly treasures to the Way. Those tempted by Lucre’s promise could see the monument’s reminder if only they’d lift their eyes!

As others did before him and more have done after, Demas lost his way because of the allure of lucre. Bunyan’s lesson is clear: the lure of riches can lead us to a slippery and deceitful slope. Don’t venture too close or you may plunge into the depths! Run from sin and don’t turn back. Heed God’s warnings and “always remember Lot’s wife!”

Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. [Luke 17:32-33 (KJV)]

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [1 John 2:15 (KJV)]

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ON THE RADIO

So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says.” [Joshua 3:9 (NLT)]

While recovering from foot surgery, I had home visits from Mike, a physical therapist. He told me of a day, more than eighteen years ago, when he visited a new elderly patient. The obviously wealthy man lived alone in a beautifully appointed 6,000 square foot penthouse overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Mike remembers him as the most unpleasant, uncooperative, bitter and miserable person he’s ever met. After that visit, the therapist drove to a nearby town for another new patient visit. Although less than an hour’s drive northeast of the affluent man’s luxurious home, it was a world apart. Today, the population in the first town has a median age of 65.6, a median household income of over $90,000, and a poverty rate of less than 10%. Just thirty miles away, the second town has a median age of 26, with a median household income of less than $29,000, and 41.6% of its population live below the poverty level. Although the numbers were different eighteen years ago, the disparity would have been the same (or even worse).

The home Mike visited was a stark contrast to the beachfront luxury penthouse. As he gingerly walked up rickety wooden stairs and knocked on the screen door of a mobile home, Mike wondered what to expect. Visiting a woman who’d had a total knee replacement, he was warmly greeted at the door by her husband and offered a cup of coffee and a churro. As he entered their cramped home, he saw pictures drawn by grandchildren decorating the refrigerator and family photos on all the tables. He knew they were people of faith from the pictures of both Mary and Jesus hanging on the walls and the cross by the door. Yet, even without those signs, the couple’s words, joy, optimism, generosity, and love for one another were evidence of their faith.

That first day, as Mike was driving back to town, Danny’s Song, by Loggins and Messina, played on the car radio. When he heard the words, “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey, And everything will bring a chain of love,” he couldn’t help but think of the couple he’d met that morning. It was when he heard, “Yeah, don’t you live alone, Try to earn what lovers own,” that Mike thought of his wealthy old client; he was so affected that he had to pull over to the side of the road. The man had everything that money could buy and, yet, he lived alone and had nothing of real value. The couple, living in a rented trailer, had next to nothing and, yet, they had everything: faith, family, purpose, love, and one another! As rich as the old man was, he couldn’t buy the love that the couple owned.

Eighteen years later, Mike still remembers that couple and how, in a beautifully orchestrated God-incident, Kenny Loggins’ words in a popular song helped point him to the things that mattered most in his life at a time he most needed to rethink his priorities. My therapist learned a valuable lesson that day, one his wealthy client never did. The woman became his favorite client (and not just because of the churros and loving family he met during his several visits). Every time he left their home, he felt that some of their faith, joy and hope rubbed off on him. That moment eighteen years ago has stayed with Mike all these years as a constant reminder of what actually is important in life.

Just in case Mike didn’t get His message about priorities, did God arrange that song to come on the radio at exactly that time for him? I don’t know any more than I know if God was responsible for having Zach Williams’ song Fear is a Liar come on my car radio the afternoon I desperately needed that reminder. All I know is that God, with his quirky sense of humor and amazing sense of timing, could certainly manage a song on the radio!

God speaks to us in a number of ways: Scripture, Jesus (the Word who became flesh), the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, other believers, and His amazing creation. Scripture also tells us He’s spoken in some unusual ways including the urim and thummim that were kept in the high priest’s breastplate, the fleece of a sheep, a burning bush, a rainbow, and even a donkey! Capable of speaking to us at any time in any way He chooses, He might well have used a Kenny Loggins’ song. God keeps after us until we get the message and Scripture tells us that it never went well for people when they failed to listen to Him. Let’s always be open to hearing God’s voice and receptive to His message, whether it’s in the sky with a rainbow or on the radio with a song!

As it is written in the Scriptures, “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. [John 6:45 (NLT)]

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people. But let them not return to their foolish ways. [Psalm 85:8 (NLT)]

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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GREAT COMMISSION?

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:15-16 (NLT)]

Masai - TanzaniaYesterday’s devotion made me do some hard thinking about my commitment to Christian missions. Unfortunately, there are large segments of the world’s population that have never heard of Jesus. According to the Joshua Project (an organization that gathers, integrates and shares information to facilitate the implementation of the Great Commission), 41.6 % of the world’s population is considered “unreached,” meaning they have little or no history of Christianity and the number of native Christians and available resources are so minimal that outside assistance is necessary if the Gospel is going to be heard.

Most of the people untouched by the Gospel live in what’s called the “10/40 Window:” an area of land stretching across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia that is approximately between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude. Two-thirds of the world’s people live here; 61% of them are “unreached” and 90% are considered “unevangelized,” defined as having minimal knowledge of the gospel with no valid opportunity to respond to it.

When I looked at some of the figures, I began to wonder how committed we are to saving souls. In 2015, out of the $700 billion given to Christian causes (which is about what we Americans spend on Christmas), only $45 billion (6.4%) of that went to missions! That’s less than what we spend on gym memberships and weight-loss programs. Most of that money went to churches and missions in Christian nations. Only a little over $2.5 billion (less than .4%) of those funds went to serve the unevangelized and unreached peoples of the world.

In March of 2018, the Barna Group (a research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture) released a rather shocking finding. When asked if they’d ever heard of “the Great Commission,” 51% of church-goers were completely unfamiliar with the term. Sadly, the other 49% weren’t much better! 6% weren’t sure if they’d heard the term and 25% said that, while it “rang a bell,” they didn’t know what it was. Only 17% actually knew what it said! Sadly, even knowing what the Great Commission is doesn’t necessarily equate with a commitment to it.

We all don’t have to pack up and go on a mission trip but I don’t think we can continue to do as little as we are doing. Because of government restrictions, open evangelism from the US and Europe is difficult in many 10/40 Window countries. Christian missionaries from South American and Africa, however, often are welcome in those nations. There are other ways to reach these people, as well. We can minister to refugees as a young woman from our church will do this fall. She is going to Germany to serve the 3.2 million unreached Arab, Kurd, Turk, Assyrian and other refugees from the Syrian civil war. Like most other missionaries, she is expected to raise 100% of her expenses. With one million international students coming to the US every year (64% of whom are from the 10/40 Window and will be returning to their homelands), campus ministries are another way to spread God’s word to the unreached. At least 1.5 million people are without a full Bible in their first language, one-third of the world can’t read the language they speak, and another third learn best through non-written methods.

Yes, we support missionaries with our prayers but now is the time to look closely at how we support them with our finances. We must start supporting mission ministries that reach out to the unreached and unevangelized and support Bible translation and oral learning Bible projects.  Moreover, since 85% of those living in the 10/40 Window are among the poorest of the world’s poor, we must also support efforts to provide health care, safe water, food, and clothing to them.

Rather than expressing concern over the exclusive claims to salvation found in Christianity, perhaps we could better use our energy and resources to reach those who are unreached! We have been called to care for the poor, strengthen other believers, and save the lost. I’m not sure Christians in the free world have done a very good job of any of those tasks. When we come face to face with God, the onus for so many people never hearing about Jesus will fall on us: the people who failed to live out the Great Commission.

Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now. [Teresa of Avila]

Don’t fail to do something because you can’t do everything. [Bob Pierce (World Vision founder)]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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AND TO GOD WHAT IS HIS!

“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” [Malachi 3:8-10 (NLT)]

blue flag irisWhen I was a little girl, I once went to mass with my Roman Catholic cousins. Before leaving for church, my mother pressed two shiny quarters into my hand. “For the offering,” she reminded me. Part way through the service, long-handled offering baskets were extended down each row and people dropped their offering envelopes and money into them. “Who will know?” I thought as I reached into my pocket and pulled out just one quarter for the offering. Almost immediately, another basket came down our row. “God saw me!” I thought in a panic. “God knows I was holding out on Him and now the priest has sent the basket back.” I quickly reached into my pocket for the second quarter. As I dropped it into the basket, I heaved a great sigh of relief; I was safe from Hell for at least one more day. My only consolation was that I clearly wasn’t the only sinner; other people had dropped money into that second basket. Looking back, I think the second basket probably was for a special offering of some kind. To my child’s mind, however, that second basket was for those of us who hadn’t given God what belonged to Him.

Yesterday, I wrote about Jesus’s response to the Pharisees that we should “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” [Matthew 22:21] Sometimes we forget that there was more to His response. Jesus added that we should “give to God what belongs to God.” Jesus was speaking of more than our tithes and offerings or little girls who hide quarters in their pockets.

Since Caesar had minted those silver coins with his name and picture on them, Jesus said they were Caesar’s. Let us never forget that God created us in His image and His mark is on us. By Jesus’s reasoning, that would seem to mean that we are God’s! His words were a not so subtle reminder that God wants our lives used for Him and for His glory. It’s not just our finances, but also our time, talent, hearts, worship and obedience that belong to God. Do we truly give God all that is His? Does He have all of us or are we keeping something hidden in a pocket?

Giving is more than a responsibility—it is a privilege; more than an act of obedience—it is evidence of our faith. [William Arthur Ward]

The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all. [Psalm 89:11 (NLT)]

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

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RENDER UNTO CAESAR

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21b (NCV)]

green heronSome things never change and, aside from death, it’s said that taxes are the only other sure thing in our lives. Along with a poll (or head) tax, the Romans had a variety of other taxes including customs taxes, property taxes, import and export taxes, crop taxes, toll bridges, sales tax, and special taxes when there was a war or building project to finance. Sounds a bit like nowadays! Yesterday was April 15, the day the IRS demanded what is theirs. When you put “the” and “IRS” together you get the word “theirs” and, once we’ve filed our taxes, it sure feels like the government considers most of what’s ours to be theirs!

When the Pharisees joined with the Herodians and asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, they weren’t asking for accounting advice. Both groups wanted to trap Jesus into saying something that would get Him into trouble either with Rome or the people of Judea. Since paying taxes was a painful and costly reminder of their subjection to Rome, saying yes would anger his own people. If he said no, he’d infuriate the Herodians (Jews who supported Rome), be reported as an insurrectionist, and could be executed for treason. There was no good answer.

It’s foolish to try to outsmart God and Jesus gave the perfect answer. He asked whose portrait was on the coin. Caesar’s picture was on the denarius, the coin of the day, along with these words: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus.” With Caesar’s picture and title on it, the coin that deified the emperor clearly belonged to him. Jesus told the people to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God the things that were His.

Jesus told us we should pay the government what rightfully belongs to it; like it or not, our obligations to the government and the services it provides must be met. Following good and honest accounting advice is wise and no one wants to pay more than his due. There is, however, a fine line between tax avoidance and tax evasion. While there are some people who would never describe themselves as thieves, they think nothing of cheating on their taxes. They don’t call it theft but theft it is. Unfortunately, some of us dishonor God when preparing our taxes by fudging, misreporting, manipulating, or conveniently forgetting income. The term “creative accounting” doesn’t change what it is: stealing.

Some citizens justify tax cheating by saying they don’t approve of the way the government spends tax money. That’s a convenient excuse. Something tells me, no matter which party is in power and how the government spends, as long as they were expected to pay taxes, they’d never approve of the government’s expenditures. So, as much as we disliked doing it, yesterday we rendered unto to Caesar the things that are his. While we didn’t enjoying doing it, let us remember that laws and taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.

Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today. [Herman Wouk]

So you must yield to the government, not only because you might be punished, but because you know it is right. This is also why you pay taxes. Rulers are working for God and give their time to their work. Pay everyone, then, what you owe. If you owe any kind of tax, pay it. Show respect and honor to them all. [Romans 13:5-7 (NCV)]

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BRIBERY

Don’t take bribes. Bribes blind perfectly good eyes and twist the speech of good people. [Exodus 23:8 (MSG)]

Don’t twist the law. Don’t play favorites. Don’t take a bribe—a bribe blinds even a wise person; it undermines the intentions of the best of people. [Deuteronomy 16:19 (MSG)]

wrong wayA college admissions conspiracy is in the news and we’re learning about parents bribing test takers, proctors to correct answers, and coaches to recommend college acceptances. There have been allegations of false references, fake ethnicity, made-up athletic credentials, Photoshopped pictures, sham charities, and bribes disguised as charitable donations!

I’m reminded of King Ahab and his infamous wife, Jezebel. Wanting a vegetable garden next to the palace, Ahab offered to buy the vineyard of his neighbor Naboth. Because God had commanded that ancestral land was not to be sold permanently, Naboth refused the king’s offer. Unaccustomed to not getting what he wanted, Ahab pouted and even refused to eat. Jezebel, like her husband, was used to having her own way. Plotting to get Ahab what he coveted, she hatched a devious scheme and bribed false witnesses; as a result, the righteous landowner was stoned to death and the king got his property.

Like Ahab and Jezebel, the indicted parents are powerful, wealthy, and accustomed to acquiring whatever they desire. Believing that everything and everyone has a price, they wanted their children accepted by the most prestigious schools. Like Ahab and Jezebel, they resorted to bribery and deception to attain that goal. As I looked at the names of those indicted—including CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers, realtors, physicians, and entertainers—I couldn’t help but wonder what other illegal or unethical shortcuts they may have taken through the years.

On the other hand, we have the coaches, proctors, administrators, and others who accepted those bribes and carried out the scam. They’re not much different than the two men Jezebel bribed to falsely accuse Naboth of blasphemy or even Elisha’s money-hungry servant Gehazi. In gratitude for Elisha’s curing him of leprosy, Namaan offered gifts to the prophet. Since it was God’s hand that healed the man, Elisha refused the payment. Like Jezebel’s false witnesses and some of those indicted, Gehazi coveted a piece of that wealth and the servant hatched a plan to defraud Namaan. Gehazi got the gifts for himself and lied about them to Elisha.

Like those who coveted college admission for their children and bribed people to attain it, Ahab, Jezebel, and Gehazi stole what wasn’t theirs to take. Unlike those who accepted bribes and payoffs, however, both Naboth and Elisha refused to disobey God by selling what wasn’t theirs to sell. In the end, God avenged Naboth with the deaths of Ahab, Jezebel and their family; the deceitful Gehazi lost honor, position, and even his health. Right now, things don’t look too promising for those fifty people named in the indictment, either.

Few of us can afford to bribe our children’s way into top universities and few, if any, of us are in a position to facilitate such improprieties. Nevertheless, the enemy is an equal opportunity tempter. He continually offers opportunities to covet, steal, deceive, abuse our position, or sell our honor; it’s just that he does it on a much smaller scale with most of us. Encouraging us to think we’re more deserving than someone else, he tempts us to push our way ahead of others or grab a little of what isn’t ours to take. When God gave the law to Moses, he made it clear that bearing false witness, coveting, and bribery were prohibited and I’m pretty sure He hasn’t changed His mind in the 3,400 years since then. Call it what you want: taking a short cut, using influence, fixing, taking advantage, doing a special favor, greasing the wheels, a sweetheart deal, a gift, or a bribe; whether we offer or accept one, it’s always wrong.

God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? “Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbor; despise the despicable. Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe. You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.” [Psalm 15 (MSG)]

The answer’s simple: Live right, speak the truth, despise exploitation, refuse bribes, reject violence, avoid evil amusements. This is how you raise your standard of living! A safe and stable way to live. A nourishing, satisfying way to live. [Isaiah 33:15-16 (MSG)]

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