Jesus and the Sword*

Another favorite from the past year, as I take some time away.

Where were we?

Oh, yes …

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father; a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'”

— Matthew 10:34-36

Every so often, I see a poster or some other kind of image that shows Jesus holding a sword (or a semi-automatic rifle) and a slogan that spouts some kind of ultra-right-wing, anti-government, apocalyptic philosophy. The bit about bringing a sword is usually in there.

As I said yesterday, that quote from Matthew has been used to justify anything from teen rebellion to armed insurrection. People say they’re fulfilling Jesus’ purpose by taking up arms in His name.

And then there are others who use that passage and others like it to say that “all religions preach violence”, thereby asserting that Christ is no better than other religions that advocate killing those who don’t believe — or who stray from the faith. But let me offer something:

IT AIN’T THAT KIND OF SWORD!

His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, ad decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.

— Isaiah 11:3-5 (emphasis mine)

The Word of God is the sword that will strike the earth and wipe out the wicked. That’s confirmed in the Book of Revelation:

Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.

— Revelation 19:15

Doesn’t the writer of Hebrews use the term “two-edged sword” to refer to the Word of God? It’s the Word of God that will strike the people of the world — and isn’t that exactly what happened in your own life when you accepted Jesus and received Christ?

(When I was ministering at Rainbow Mission back in 2005, I nearly left without my Bible. Rev. Bob Brown, the senior pastor, called after me, “Don’t forget your sword!”)

And the sword is an integral part of the Full Armor of God:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God ….

— Ephesians 6:13-17

But an actual, shining, well-tempered, razor-sharp sword from the finest foundry? Uh-uh. The idea of forcing change on the world at the edge of a sword or the point of a gun, is a total non-starter. It’s God’s Word that condemns us for disobedience and blesses us with redemption and the hope of an infinitely better situation than anything we could cook up for ourselves.

The best kind of double-edged sword, indeed: let’s learn to use it more.

Whom do you trust? Whom can you trust?*

*Another favorite from the past year …

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father; a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'”

— Matthew 10:34-36

I’m sure that passage has been used throughout history as Scriptural justification for anything from teen rebellion to social activism to all-out war; but isn’t that rather bothersome, given that it’s spoken by the Prince of Peace?

It bothered me for years, but once again, if you sit on a passage long enough and ask the Author what the heck He means by it, some things come clear.

Now certainly, coming to Christ did cause division in my own life: a rift in my family, particularly with my dad, who was highly suspicious that I had turned to preaching and actually believing this “God created the heavens and the earth” nonsense. I told myself, “Well, Jesus said this would happen …”

But Jesus had a particular way of getting His message across, and often He would quote a snippet from the Old Testament and expect that those who had “ears to hear” would recognize the broader context. He did that, for example, when He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” when He was on the Cross. People said He was calling out to Elijah to save Him, but in fact, He was quoting Psalm 22, which goes on to foretell the entire scene at Golgotha — and for generations to come.

Jesus’ immediate listeners — those who were with Him at the time — may not have had the “ears to hear”, but we have the Old Testament to read the prophecies for ourselves and go, “Ohhhh!”

It’s the prophet Micah who speaks of children being set against their parents, but here’s what he also says:

Do not trust in a friend: do not put your confidence in a companion; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom.

For son dishonors father, daughter rises against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.

Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me.

— Micah 7:5-7

So while Micah is warning us that we shouldn’t even trust the people we trust and predicting this rebellion of the generations, he’s also saying that the only One we can trust is God. Look to the Lord, He says, and be patient, because God will hear you.

Jesus says He has come to create that very situation: not necessarily the rebellion and mistrust — that’s already underway — but the reality that God is the only One who can be trusted, and will hear us when we call out to Him.

Now, what about that sword thing?

Let’s talk about that tomorrow.

Who’s on whose side?*

*This is another of my favorites over the past year, as I take September off.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

— Joshua 24:15

“We have God on our side.”

— countless leaders throughout history

Which of these statements, in your opinion, seems bold, and which seems arrogant or self-righteous?

To me, the second one seems like a bold rallying cry, bringing one’s to instant obedience to the leader in the knowledge that they’re in the right. The fact that the leader of the other side (if it’s a battle) is probably saying the very same thing means little: their leader is obviously deluded.

On the other hand, Joshua’s declaration can seem, well, strange. It can sound self-righteous, an “I’m better than you because I serve God” statement; it can also sound like someone incapable of making a decision, willing to surrender their own thinking to words from an unseen Being.

Either way, it’s not what the world wants to hear. The world really doesn’t want to hear that there could be a Being greater than mankind. But when a Great Leader says “God is on our side”, his strength and forcefulness prove that he is in a special position with The Big Sir.

It’s worth pointing out that when Joshua said “As for me and my house …”, he was laying it on the line for other Israelites, telling them they can go and serve whatever gods they want, from the various kingdoms they had conquered en route to the Promised Land (the unspoken part was, “fat lot of good those gods did for them”); but he was sticking with the One True God. After all, he knew that God had brought them out of Egypt, through the wilderness and over Jordan, so he was speaking from experience.

The thing was, God preserved Joshua because he believed Him in the first place. It was Joshua and Caleb who were the only ones of the twelve spies Moses sent into the Promised Land who came back with a positive report. The other ten said, “These guys are giants! We’re doomed!”, but Joshua and Caleb said, “God said this land is ours, so we can take them!”

If you say “God is on our side,” that can deafen you to the Holy Spirit, and lead you to believe that whatever you do or think is anointed of God — even if it goes against His Word. You may go on a winning streak, and the more you win, the more you think God must be on your side, and when the winning streak comes to an end — which they always do — you find yourself farther away from God than ever.

Saying “I will serve the Lord” brings you into constant obedience, which may lead you through some tough times, but will take you to ultimate and total victory. It’s humbling and leaves open the possibility that you just might be wrong sometimes, and it’s likely because you did things in a way that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The beauty of it, of course, is that if you determine to serve the Lord and you slip up occasionally, God gives you the grace to try again.

You may find you’re on a lonely road, but you’re not alone. As God told Joshua — and Jesus told us, centuries later and to this day — He will never leave us nor forsake us. But also, you’ll find a strange, motley community of others who’ve chosen that same road. They’ll be rich and poor, pretty and not-so-pretty, genius and “slow”, physically able and those who need a hand, people you’ll get along with off the bat and others you’d just as soon run over as look at. But oddly enough, you’ll be among people who love and support you, just as you love and support them.

And while others are slugging away, claiming either “God is on my side” or that “man is the measure of all things”, you’ll head for victory, knowing that it’s already in the bag, and that God is on the side of the one who’ll turn to Him.

What Kind of Nation?

Every so often, you hear someone refer to their country as a “Christian nation”. It’s usually said in the context that they expect their country’s laws, policies and mores follow Biblical principles; to back up their position, they claim the earliest founders of the country were Christians.

(Interestingly, Thomas Paine, one of the “founding fathers” of the United States of America, was a deist who believed in God but did not believe Jesus Christ was the only way to reach Him.)

But is there such a thing as a “Christian nation” or “Christian country”?

“Christian nation,” would imply that anyone living there was either a Christian or was expected to become one. That, in turn, implies coercion, and coming to Christ is a matter of choice. God tells us, in no uncertain terms, that He wants us with Him in His Kingdom, but ultimately, that’s up to us to decide which we want: life or death, blessing or cursing.

It also leaves you wondering, what about Christians who don’t live in that “nation”?

The word “nation” comes from the Latin natio, which refers to a race of people, a tribe or species. It’s only relatively recently that the word has been used in a geopolitical sense, as a synonym for “country” or “state”. And there is, in fact, a Christian nation.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

— 1 Peter 2:9-10

Peter is not talking to people of a particular country, but to “the pilgrims of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”. Their “nationhood” has nothing to do with geographical lines, but now with Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself warned the Jewish leaders of His time on earth that they were in danger of losing their status as “chosen ones”:

Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone.

This was the Lord’s doing

And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.

— Matthew 21:42-43

In other words, God’s “choice” for us is to be those people who “bear the fruits” of His kingdom: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Are those people — is that nation — confined to the boundaries of any one country? Can any one country lay claim to those characteristics? Indeed, if anyone does, it calls to mind Billy Sunday’s quote, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”

There is a “Christian nation”, but it’s on a whole different plane of existence. It crosses boundaries and lives in the wealthiest neighborhoods in Canada and the USA, the mean streets of the Downtown East Side, the Bowery and East LA, the slums of Latin America and the most oppressive, totalitarian theocracies, where being a Christian can be punished by death. To borrow from the Newsboys’ song, you’ll find members of that nation among “the redeemed rising from the African plain … Asian believers filled with God’s holy fire … every tribe, every tongue, every nation … the faithful, gathered underground …”*

There is a “Christian nation”, and it’s not an exclusive enclave, but one where anyone is welcome and everyone is expected to invite more to be a part. They may come from varied cultures, races, belief systems and circumstances, but the common factor — the thing that identifies them and sets them apart as a holy nation — is love for others, trust in a glorious future in this world and the one to come, and Christ in them — the hope of glory.


*”He Reigns” (Peter Furler / Steve Taylor) © 2003 Ariose Music

Is it “just” a coin?*

People waiting in line with shopping baskets at grocery store

Have you ever reached the checkout line and realized you have five cents less than you need? The cashier is staring at you, the lineup is building behind you and people are starting to mutter while you desperately try to think of what item to send back. Your mind also starts to wander to those times when you dropped a coin in the street or left it on the bedside table and thought, “Oh, it’s only a nickel.”

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

“And when she has found it, calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece I have lost!’?”

— Luke 15:8-9

Have you any idea what you mean to God?

Atheism is one thing — claiming that there is no God at all — but mistheism is a whole different matter. A mistheist will acknowledge there is a God, but claim that He really doesn’t give a rip about you: He’s too busy running the universe; others need Him more; He really doesn’t care because if He did, there wouldn’t be so much misery in the world. You’ve heard them all, I’m sure.

Jesus says otherwise.

He tells numerous parables about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like — “selling jobs” that approach it from different angles, so everyone, regardless of their background, can get an idea of the glory to strive for. (Note that He doesn’t refer to the Kingdom as solely your destination after this life: He refers to “the present time” as well as “the age to come”.)

But some of the parables tell us what God’s heart is like — how God regards us. Jesus says that the Father looks at us like that missing coin. It may have been one coin out of ten, but to God, it makes all the difference in the universe

It may be only five cents, but it’s a vital part of the equation, and Jesus’ parable implies that God will search high and low and turn the house upside-down, just to find that coin. If we get lost, He loses out.

And that’s what God did — and does — in order to find and secure a lost treasure, namely you and me. Jesus’ coming is not only “extreme searching”, but turns our house upside-down. When He searches us, we realize that pretty much everything we thought was wrong. You don’t return evil for evil; you don’t judge people; even thinking lewd thoughts is tantamount to acting them out, so don’t condemn others for doing them; pray for the people who hurt us; don’t worry about worldly things like clothing, food or shelter, because God will provide when we ask Him.

“Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

— Luke 15:10

Jesus says our treasure is in Heaven, but He also is saying that God’s treasure is you.


*Another “re-run” of one of my favorite posts, as I take the month of September off.

Forget alligators!*

alligatorsIt’s hard, when you are up to your armpits in alligators, to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

— sanitized ver. att. to Ronald Reagan

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one that betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “if I will that he wait till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

— John 21:20-22

In my earliest days as a Christian, I believed that it was incumbent on me to show how much disdain I had for certain things that are clearly forbidden in the Bible. I’ll spare you the laundry list, but it took some time for me to realize that that’s not what the walk with Christ is about. Jesus has a very clear and simple assignment for us.

Love one another and spread the Gospel.

That’s it. And being one of His followers is not demonstrated by declaring what you dislike.

In a way, I guess that’s to be expected of a newly-saved person: repudiating his or her past life and in so doing, trashing both their own previous actions and anyone else who thinks or acts that way. But as one matures, one realizes that being a Christian is about demonstrating and proclaiming a way to live — not discrediting the many ways not to live.

And in this world, you know you can find plenty of ways not to live; things that offend God because they’re forbidden in the Bible; things that are based in greed and the love of money or the desire to hate others. It becomes like that slot-machine game called “Whack-a-Gator” (“Whack-a-Mole”, only with alligators, not moles): you put a quarter in the slot and take a mallet; one alligator sticks its nose out of a hole and you whack it; then another appears, and you whack that; then a third comes out, and you belt it; then the first one comes back, and on and on.

Presently, the time runs out, the alligators never did stop appearing, you’re worn out from swinging that mallet and you’re also out a quarter.

So it is, with “sin-focused” Christianity. There is a never-ending stream of sins and other offences appearing; we whack one and another appears, and on and on. In reality, our job — our swamp-draining assignment — is to spread the Gospel. We actually can’t afford to be distracted by alligators nipping at our hindquarters. We have to look forward and upward — not downward and behind ourselves at the alligators.

We concentrate on draining the swamp, and Jesus promises He’ll take care of the alligators. And what happens when we drain the swamp? The alligators die of exposure!


*Another in a series of re-runs this month, as I’m taking September off.

Calling on the Lord? Or name-dropping?*

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name and done many wonders in Your name?’

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'”

— Matthew 7:21-23

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t name-dropped at some point? When I did talk radio many years ago, I liked to relate some of the remarks guests made off the air, and I always got a charge out of the feeling that, in talking about meeting an important person, I was now important, too.

But let’s be real: if I ran into any of them today, I’d have to re-introduce myself and remind them how and when we met. If I tried to style myself as an “old buddy”, they’d probably cringe and wonder who this presumptuous twit was.

OK. Take that reaction and times it by several million, and you might get an idea of what Jesus was getting at. “If you’re going to drop My name,” He says, “we’d better know each other.”

There are so many wonderful miracles that we are able to do in Jesus’ Name. As I’ve written earlier this year (the “Applied Christianity” series earlier this month), with the Holy Spirit in us, we can heal the sick and bring positive change to people around us — and all over the world.

But at the root of this is the primary — if not sole — reason for Jesus’ coming to earth in the first place. We have to have a relationship with Jesus and the Father.

Trying to bypass Jesus to go straight to God, as some people believe they can do, is doomed from the start. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Nor is “In Jesus’ Name” some kind of magic incantation or mantra that serves as a catalyst to “make things happen”.

The words are one thing, but it’s the relationship that is the key. Look what happened in the early days when some guys tried to replicate the miracles the Holy Spirit was working through Paul:

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”

Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

— Acts 19:13-16

Nobody likes a name-dropper.

Do you notice, by the way, that the demon knew Jesus? They do: look at the way they would call Him out as the Son of God before Jesus was ready to be revealed. They also knew Paul, which shows that Paul had a truly intimate relationship with Jesus. But they can also recognize a phony.

“But wait a minute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t casting out demons or healing the sick part of God’s will? Why would Jesus call that ‘practicing lawlessness’?”

Because (as I read it), if you attempt to cast out demons or lay hands on the sick without having that relationship, you’re trying to do it in your own strength and you’re only promoting yourself as a miracle worker. If you’re invoking the name of Jesus, that just makes it worse, as now, you’re drawing attention to yourself as a Great Person Of God.

That’s Pride — which is lawlessness.

Praise God, He has made it fairly easy to establish that relationship with Jesus: we can draw near to Him — and He wants us to — through His word, and even through the conversation of prayer: not just talking to Him, but taking time to listen.

Through that, we build our relationship. We can say, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus will say, “Hi – I know you, good and faithful servant!”


*Another “re-run” of my favorites over the past year, while I take September off.

“According to your faith …”*

When Jesus departed from [the house where He had brought Jairus’ daughter back to life], two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.”

And their eyes were opened.

— Matthew 9:27-30

My copy of the New King James Version breaks Scripture into sections according to themes. For example, the account of Jairus’ daughter I mentioned yesterday (Matt. 9:16-26) is headed “A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed”, and then there’s another break, with the heading “Two Blind Men Healed”.

It’s convenient if you’re looking for a particular account, but there is a problem with that, in that you might think of these sections as separate and disconnected. So sometimes, you need to push past the section dividers or sub-headings and read the Gospels as a single, contiguous work. As Kenneth Copeland says, “The words are anointed but the numbers aren’t.”

That little nugget jumped out at me this morning, and you’re welcome to it. The thing is, if we look at the incident with the blind men in the context of what just happened with Jairus’ daughter, you start to get some insight into how faith works. See, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t have “faith as a mustard-seed”; the problem is with doubt. A mustard seed may be tiny with the potential to grow into an enormous tree, but that growth happens over time: the rooting, the sprouting and the various stages that eventually become that big tree.

In the same way, our faith follows that same metamorphosis. We believe a little; God shows us a little. We believe a little more; God shows us a little more. And so it goes. The blind men were probably mired in the swamp of doubt that can overwhelm and smother those little seeds of faith: “We’re blind! We’ll always be blind! There’s no hope! We’re not even worthy of receiving our sight!”

But then, they hear about Jesus and that little seed starts to find some good ground. They find out where He is and make their way to Jairus’ house. They hear the mourners and learn that the little girl has died but that that lunatic from Galilee is in there, saying she’s “just sleeping”. And then the little girl gets up and walks around — and that news turns that sprouting seed into a tree. They call out to Him. The tree grows bigger. Jesus turns to them. The tree gets bigger still. By the time Jesus asks them if they believe He can heal them, we have a fully-blooming tree.

And notice that Jesus doesn’t command them: He knows their level of faith. All He needs to do is get them to proclaim it themselves.

If you need help turning that mustard seed into a tree, look for the testimonies. The Gospels are full of them. Notice that I don’t refer to these as “stories” but “accounts”. “Stories” suggest that these are (as Peter puts it) “cunningly devised fables”. The accounts of these incidents:

  • healing the centurion’s servant
  • bringing Jairus’ daughter back to life
  • giving sight to the two blind men and the man who had been born blind
  • the woman with the “issue of blood” (essentially, a period that had lasted twelve years)
  • Peter’s mother-in-law
  • feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fish

… and, to show that this was not just Jesus’ work but that of anyone operating in the Holy Spirit, you can add

  • Peter and John calling on the lame man to walk and
  • Paul reviving the young man who had fallen to his death off a balcony when he nodded off during one of his sermons

… all of these are there to help nurture your own seed.

Look around for others through the centuries who (like me) can tell you about healing and miraculous turnarounds through Christ. You probably have your own miracles to remind yourself about.

That tree will grow and “according to your faith”, you’ll be unstoppable!


*Another favorite from the past year, while I take the month of September off.

“Enough” faith?*

In the movie, “Leap of Faith”, Steve Martin plays a traveling preacher who, I understand, worked a con in small towns he’d visit with his road show, performing healing miracles.

Leap-of-Faith-DI

(As often happens with a movie that stars a comedian, I assumed it would be a comedy, and spent much of the time waiting for the laughs to start. They didn’t. It was a serious movie with a serious subject, and I must watch it again sometime.)

At one point, Debra Winger, who plays one of Steve’s assistants, tells him that her little brother had been told that he wasn’t healed after people prayed over him because he “didn’t have enough faith”. The sense that people in the church were blaming him for being sick turned her off religion.

I know from experience – my own and watching others’ – that one can be healed of sickness; but many people aren’t, and the question is, Why? Do they not have “enough faith”?

Doesn’t Jesus tell us that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed and do not doubt, you can move a mountain. Healing sickness, therefore, would be a piece of cake. So yes: you can have enough faith to be healed – or to overcome addiction, stay true to your spouse, get a handle on your finances, or anything else that requires God’s help (like, everything) – but you still have to guard against doubt.

And behold, one  of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name.  And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies  at the point of death. Come lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed and she may live.” … Some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James and John, the brother of James.

Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep?> The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talisha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you: Arise!”

Immediately, the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement.

— Mark 5:22-23; 35-42

Jesus certainly had “enough faith” and Jairus had enough faith to go to the Master for help. But the fly in the ointment was the people who were mourning the death of the child. The presence of doubt would have subverted any work of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus took His closest associates – Peter, James and John – plus Jairus and his wife, and I have an image of Him frog-marching everybody else out of the house. He could not allow the faith of the people with Him to be polluted by doubt.

It’s a bit like the story of Hezekiah’s army, facing the Rabshakeh sent by the King of Assyria. Faced with his paint-peeling rant, the army obeyed their king’s orders: “Answer him not.” (Isaiah 36:21)

Some years ago, I lost my job at age 47 — a time of life when prospects are limited. The Lord, in His mercy, placed people around me who supported my faith that I would bounce back, and I was able to turn to them at times when others — some of them my nearest and dearest — were doubting. Spoiler alert: I did bounce back. And more.

So can you.

If you’re faced with one of those faith tests, that spiritual gut-check time when you need a miracle to get you through something, don’t let doubt come anywhere near — and show it the door if it shows up. It’s inevitable that people – even well-meaning people – will try to “make you see reason” or “temper” your expectations. That’s doubt. Don’t even bother answering it: just quietly, and respectfully, set yourself apart and don’t abide that kind of talk until the miracle comes through.


*Another of my favorites from the past year, as I’m taking September off.

Vengeance and the severed ear*

When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”

And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.

— Luke 22:49-51

It seemed like a good idea at the time: Jesus is about to be arrested and Peter (the other Gospels mention Peter by name in this one) determines he’ll defend the Master and go down swinging. It’s a natural reaction for us to fight back at someone who attacks us or attacks our faith, and we could have every justification in the world for going on the offensive like that.

peter malchusBut ultimately, it doesn’t work, and Peter’s effort is a great illustration.

For one thing, Peter went after the wrong target. He attacked the servant of the high priest. That poor guy didn’t have anything to do with the decision to arrest: he was just following orders and as a servant to a priest (I may be stretching things here), he probably wouldn’t have been the tough guy who would actually be grabbing Jesus and putting Him in chains.

The other thing is, Peter missed. When he swung the sword, he only got the ear.

So when we attack someone who attacks us, we’re really going after the wrong enemy. Their actions — and more importantly, our interpretation of their actions — are guided by two things: a sincere belief that what they’re doing is the right thing; and a spiritual force beyond their control. That force could be God or it could be Satan — as Bob Dylan says, “You gotta serve somebody” — and because we always look at right and wrong in terms of our own opinion, the work of the one could look like the work of the other.

That’s why God says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense …” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

When we go after vengeance on our own, that usually means we get to have things our way and we punish whoever was stopping us.

But I believe that when God handles the vengeance part of it, everything works out to His satisfaction. Our hurt is healed, and (and this is important) our attacker has an experience that brings him or her closer to God. Look at the rest of that verse from Deuteronomy: “… their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.”

In other words, don’t worry if you’re attacked: stick with God and He will bring you through and your tormentors will get theirs, sooner or later.

Now, here’s the kicker: look what Jesus did. Let’s assume for a moment that Malchus, the high priest’s servant (John names him), was totally sold-out to the idea that Jesus had to be arrested and crucified. So let’s change the narrative to say that he’s not just the “good servant”, he’s a willing party.

Malchus’ ear is cut off. Jesus rebukes Peter, and then heals the ear.

Do we do that with our enemies? Do we ask Jesus to touch them? Do we try to heal any wound we’ve inflicted in retaliation?

For that matter, do we consider God’s Word, as Jesus did when He said, “Permit even this,” and place that above our worldly concepts of right and wrong?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that in the majority of cases, when someone takes revenge in the name of “justice”, the score is never really “settled”. For one thing, the attacker still believes he or she was in the right, so now feels entitled to get revenge against you.

God’s Word says, basically, “Forgive. Learn. Move on. Leave the rest to Me.” So when we leave vengeance to God, we find that He does a much better job of it than we could ever do.


*Another favorite from the past year, while I take September off.