Memorial Day Meditation

In an essay in The Weight of Glory[1], C.S. Lewis wrote: “the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him.”  As we celebrate Memorial Day here in the United States, I pray you can enjoy what matters most to you and give thanks for others who sacrificed to made it possible.

In the same essay, Lewis says “all economies, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save insofar as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the sand and sowing the ocean.”  These cannot deliver our salvation, yet they are absolutely necessary in this life.  These institutions have “no higher end than to facilitate and safeguard the family, and friendship, and solitude.”  Therefore, give thanks whenever peace and fellowship are possible, and pray for those living in places where they are not.

The essay also includes this quote: “do not let us mistake necessary evils for good.”  What did Lewis mean?  That when things that exist to provide “family, and friendship, and solitude” become an end in themselves “what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”  While these things are absolutely needed, we should think of them “only in order to be able to think of something else.”  On the other hand, “a sick society must think much about politics.”  Therefore, give thanks for those who faithfully serve, and for preservation of the freedoms you enjoy.

Most importantly on Memorial Day, give thanks for those who gave up their lives so those they left behind could enjoy “family, and friendship, and solitude.”  Without their sacrifice, we could not celebrate Memorial Day, or any other day.  “Great sacrifices of this private happiness by those who have it may be necessary in order that it may be more widely distributed.”

Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) As He gave His life for you, pray also for the ability, willingness, and freedom to sacrifice your own time and talents for others.

[1] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1941).  P. 161-162.

Religion That Epitomizes Love for God and Neighbor

What is religion?  In the Bible we get one definition from James 1:27, which says: “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.”  This may sound like a nice sentiment for a Hallmark card instead of a religion, but James was not resorting to hyperbole for mere effect.  He meant what he said, but what does he mean?

Photo by Robert Guss on Unsplash

Jesus Himself said that to love God and to love your neighbor were the greatest commandments, in a way the highest form of religion, so James is probably using “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” as the purest, most undefiled form of love.  In James’ time, orphans and widows were the people genuinely unloved by the world – the ones who fell through the cracks of society.  Not only were they without a husband or parents, but society was not providing for them either and they were truly abandoned “in their affliction.”  Anyone caring for them would get no credit or recognition for it.  Therefore, the only motive for visiting them is love for them.  Pure love, with no impurity or stain from a desire to get something in return.

James specifically refers to “God the Father,” who has always taken His own, and His people’s, responsibility to widows and orphans seriously.  He wants to take care of them, but Psalm 94:6-7 says about the rulers of the nations, including Israel: “They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, ‘The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”  They preyed on those nobody cared about, and also boasted that not even God cared.

When any group of people – even one with God’s institutions of His law, temple, priests, prophets, and kings ruling the literal promised land – neglects the oppressed, their religion is impure and defiled.  All institutions – including ones provided by God – are useless outside of God’s purpose for them.  The temple was a way to approach God by sacrifice, foreshadowing Jesus’ death on the cross, but Judah used it as a way to appease Him so they could do their own thing.  Jeremiah criticized the religious leaders of his day, who thought they were free from judgement, repeating “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD,”[1] treating the temple as more important than God Himself and a reason God would always bless them.  However, God doesn’t want us to follow a checklist of religious observance – He wants us to be His loving family.

Because they replaced love with empty religion, Israel was cast into exile under the Babylonians, and Jeremiah cries in Lamentations 5:3 that “We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.”  Perhaps God would teach compassion to His people through painful discipline and experience, having to live like those they ignored.

Visiting widows and orphans keeps one unstained from the world when society thinks it’s ok to leave some behind.  That it’s ok to think we can’t do any better and that God doesn’t see, and that He doesn’t have an answer for it.  That if we follow the letter of the law, or rely on institutions, but not on the spirit of love, God will just look the other way because we tried our best.

Therefore, don’t visit widows and orphans because its popular, because a law tells you to, or for any reason besides Godly love, because when we mix in worldly motives, we risk loving only those who are popular to love or who our government and culture have put in favored positions.  Maybe we even reduce love to a comment about distant people trending on social media at the time, and not those individuals who are actually suffering the most.  These people are often right in front of us.

It is by ministering to specific widows and orphans in their need that the Christian retains the preservative power of salt and the illuminating power of light to the world.[2]  It’s not the idea, but the actual visiting that is pure and undefiled.  Me writing this and you reading this is only an idea.  But it is a beginning.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Heaven is for people who love when there’s nothing more at stake than the person being loved.  Only Jesus has met the standard of this love, but He has made a Way to Life for those willing to accept His Truth.  Jesus willingly takes our stain on the cross, and gives us His righteousness as a free gift, but only if we actually want His righteousness more than we want our stained world.  In Christ, the Father will change His people into people who care for widows and orphans.  People like that don’t need anything else to make a perfect society.  It’s loving people that make a perfect society, not rules and institutions, and certainly not good intentions that leave people behind.  Paradise will be a society that is pure, undefiled, and unstained, and where the only Institution needed is Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

No better solution exists than God the Father’s plan to build a family where everyone loves Him and loves their neighbor as themselves, and when we visit widows and orphans, we illustrate the truth that God sees them and cares for them, even when nobody else does.

Visiting widows and orphans is Religion that epitomizes love for God and neighbor.


Look for more posts based on James 1:27 in the coming Saturdays.  The more I think about the verse, the more implications of it I see.  Next Up: Religion That Applies in all Places and Times.  There are always widows and orphans.

[1] Jeremiah 7:4
[2] Matthew 5:13-16

Earth Day: Nature is Not Our Mother

In his classic book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Nature is not our mother; Nature is our sister.”[1]  Psalm 19 has an amazing contemplation of the relationships between, God, nature, and us.  Verses 1-6 show that the heavens, in their orderly patterns, “declare the glory of God,” in a language that anyone in any time and place can understand.  In verse 5, the sun “comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.”  In other words, nature obeys God’s will for it with eager expectation and joy, not reluctant obedience or dutiful drudgery, and God has endowed nature with all the strength needed for its tasks.

Then follows the Psalm’s middle section, verses 7-11, which declare that God has declared His will for human relationships as well, in His law:

The law of the LORD is perfect,
            reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
            making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
            rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
            enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
            enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
            and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
            even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
            and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
            in keeping them there is great reward.[2]

Just as the heavens declare the glory of God by obeying His will with absolute regularity, His law shows His people how to declare His glory as well.  Verse 7 says “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.”  As the sun metaphorically gets joy from its God-given task in verse 5, following God’s law is its own reward, to be desired even more than “much fine gold.”  As nature has all it needs for its tasks, God’s word has all we need for strength, wisdom, joy, enlightenment, and righteousness.  What an endowment of riches!

More on nature’s example for us comes later, in Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus uses the regularity of nature as an example of how people should love one another, and especially their enemies: “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  This verse suggests that Nature is better than man at self-sacrificing (agape) love and faithfulness to God’s will, but also provides an example of how to love, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”[3]  As rain is for all; so love is for all.

Therefore, on this Earth Day, celebrate the earth God has endowed us with, but also remember: “Nature is not our mother; Nature is our sister.”  As God’s people are His sons, nature is also His beloved creation, perhaps His daughter.  Our constant, eternal, loving God cares about the needs of both.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
            be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.[4]

[1] Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy (1908).  P. 169.
[2] Psalm 19:7-11
[3] Matthew 5:45
[4] Psalm 19:14

How Shall Christians Be Known?

The mark of a relationship with Christ has taken many forms over the ages, but with one common factor: a self-sacrificing love.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph, son of Jacob, has a fascinating story.  Joseph was favored by his father, despised by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, but eventually rose to a position of prominence under Pharaoh.  In Genesis 41, Pharaoh learns that Joseph has interpreted dreams and calls for his help with Pharaoh’s own distressing series of dreams.  Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as a prophecy of seven years of famine and recommends a plan to get through it.  After this interpretation comes Genesis 41:38, where “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’”  We connect Pharoah’s recognition of God’s Spirit in Joseph to the correct interpretation of dreams, but there is more to it:  Joseph also cared for the people of Egypt and oversaw the plan to survive the famine.

In the book of Acts, after Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to many “rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,[1] Acts 4:13 records that “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  These crowds knew that Peter and John had been with Jesus, that they had a similar spirit.  They had something that comes not from this world’s schools or from what it holds in distinguished, high regard.  Instead, “they were uneducated, common men,” but they carried the mark of Jesus.  They had a connection to an unknown source of boldness and were concerned for the spiritual needs of all people.

In the Psalms, a Psalmist (probably David) wrote in Psalm 119:97-98:

Oh how I love your law!
            It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
            for it is ever with me.”

The Psalmist praises God’s commandment as a source of wisdom better than anything available to his enemies.  By meditating on God’s commandments, the Psalmist is “wiser than my enemies,” because he has a wisdom from an unworldly source.  He carries the mark of Christ, but what is this commandment and what is this wisdom?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says the greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, any and all commands of God are subordinated to the command to love God and neighbor, including our enemies.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus reiterates the rule, telling His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Therefore, how can all people “find a man…in whom is the Spirit of God?”  Where will the world find astonishing boldness and good news among even “uneducated, common men”?  They will find it in those who have the fruit of the Spirit, which begins with “love,” but also includes “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”[2]

So, does someone have a physical need like those impacted by the famine in Joseph’s day?  Does someone have a spiritual need for hope that only the gospel can provide?  Love provides the answer to both needs, and by love will the world know Christ’s disciples.

Therefore, make Christ known today by loving someone as Christ would.

[1] Acts 4:5
[2] Galatians 5:22-23

Marlboro Man Needs the Gospel

Marlboro Man was a character used to advertise Marlboro cigarettes starting in 1954.  He became a cliché of a rugged man, often shown on horseback with a cowboy hat and some rope, confidently smoking a cigarette, and was portrayed by several different actors until 1999.  However, the origin of this famous ad campaign isn’t as well known.

Before the manly Marlboro Man manifested in 1954, Marlboro was sold as a feminine cigarette, with a red-colored filter at the tip.  Ads had phrases like “Ivory Tips Protect the Lips,” and touted that lipstick on the cigarette wouldn’t matter since it was red anyway.  But later, when the health risks of cigarette smoking came to light, Philip Morris & Co. wanted to sell Marlboro to men on the idea that filters made smoking “safer.”  However, given Marlboro’s feminine image – created through advertising – Philip Morris had to overcome that connotation, so the red tips were removed, and Marlboro Man was born as a way to sell Marlboro cigarettes to men concerned about lung cancer and other health risks.

Marlboro Man ad on a Warsaw, Poland building.

With hindsight, we know that filters don’t make smoking safer.  Ironically, and sadly, five different men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements died of smoking-related diseases, earning Marlboro cigarettes the nickname “cowboy killers.”[1]

Also with hindsight, we can see the massive power of advertising to shape our perceptions.  The Marlboro Man campaign is considered in the ad industry to be one of the best of all time, changing a “feminine” product into one of stereotypical masculinity almost overnight.  But the campaign also shows us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death”, as Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 say.  In this case, it was very literal death in this world.

To make Philip Morris money, the ads declared that smoking was not a “way to death,” but that it was “right to a man” to be like the Marlboro Man.  It’s not entirely unlike the line “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” which was spoken by Kevin Spacey’s character in the 1995 movie, The Usual Suspects.  This line was a paraphrase of a line at least as old as the 1850’s.[2]

I recently heard a sermon where the pastor said, “the culture is trying to kill you,” and I don’t think it was an exaggeration.  Just as Marlboro ads first convinced people it was a feminine product, then turned on a dime to convince people it was a masculine product, without any real change to what was being sold, we’re all bombarded by dangerous messages every day, and many will only be seen in the broader culture as dangerous with the benefit of hindsight.  Smoking used to be considered normal.

I’m not writing this to condemn smokers, because we all have our bad habits, but to spotlight the importance of an eternal perspective.  Any culture is limited to the perspective of its leaders in that time and circumstance, and the pull of peer pressure is real.  Every culture in this world has “a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” but also every culture needs the gospel more than it needs effective advertising campaigns.

Therefore, as the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:8-9 – “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

Marlboro Man needs the good news of the gospel, not condemnation.