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.

Godly Habits for Leaders and Others

All the people benefit from leaders and rulers who fear God.  In Deuteronomy, when God reluctantly says Israel may set a king over them in the future[1], He also required the king to have specific habits to cultivate a fear of God in them:

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”  (Deuteronomy 17:18-20, emphasis mine)

These requirements have several parts.  First, the king was to “write for himself in a book a copy of this law.”  “This law” refers to what we now think of as the first five books of the Bible – all 187 chapters of it.  Imagine the time that would take, but this tedious exercise was designed to help the king internalize the message.  Quickly skimming over the Bible would not do.

Second, the king had to get this copy “approved by the Levitical priests,” to make sure nothing was added or left out, but also to remind the king that His authority is subject to God’s authority, as intermediated by the priests at that time.  Regardless of what laws the king might pass, God’s laws would always reign supreme and eternal.

Third, the king was to “read in it all the days of his life,” because it takes time and effort to dig the treasures of wisdom out of the Bible.  However, it is worth the effort because Psalm 19:10 tells us these truths are:

More to be desired are they than gold,
                        even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
                        and drippings of the honeycomb.

Also, the king would be surrounded by reminders of his worldly greatness every day, so constant meditation on the law would show him his reliance on God.  The king needs a constant reminder that he is under God, whose law applies to everyone.

These habits exist “that he may learn to fear the LORD,” which leads to “doing” the law.  Even the king is expected to do what God commands, not just tell others to.  With “doing” as the objective, the king will remain humble and learn the fear of God, because we may be able to know God’s word, but doing it is the real challenge and we can only succeed by His grace.

These habits also exist to make sure the king does not err “either to the right hand or to the left.”  This encouragement is later echoed in Moses’ words in Joshua 1:7-8, but what does it mean?  I think it means that without constant saturation in God’s word, we can fall into a trap of not following God’s positive will, but instead defining ourselves by what we’re against.  In trying to avoid one sin, we drift too far in the opposite direction and into another, equally destructive, sin.  Instead, positive obedience coming from the fear of God should be better than fine gold and “sweeter also than honey.”  Truth is often subtle and not as black-and-white as we’d like it to be.

Most of us aren’t kings, but we can apply the passage from Deuteronomy in our prayers.  1 Timothy 2:1-2 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  But what shall we pray for them?  As Deuteronomy suggests, we should pray that they know God, fear God, and obey God, that they may be humble, and we may prosper.

Also, are you a leader?  Do you serve in a position of authority at your church, workplace, or other organization?  These habits will benefit you and those you serve anywhere.  (In societies where we can easily get a Bible, we don’t need to create our own copies of it, but we should seek to internalize as much of the Bible as possible, through memorization and other means.)  As Solomon wrote in Psalm 127:1 –

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.

If you’re not a leader, these habits are beneficial for you as well, as Psalm 128:1 says:

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
                        who walks in his ways!

Amen.


[1] Deuteronomy 17:14-15

His Story Needs No Revision

Journalism, particularly newspaper journalism, is sometimes referred to as “the first rough draft of history.”  This phrase is usually attributed to Philip Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post.  It’s a useful phrase because it is flattering to journalists to know that their work is important and meaningful, but also a reminder that their work is inherently imperfect and in need of later revision.  Particularly under deadline pressure, it is impossible to know all the relevant facts and potential angles of any story.  Unavoidable and expedient choices and compromises must be made.  The saying came to mind when I recently read Psalm 33:10-11, which says:

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
            he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
            the plans of his heart to all generations.

As I’ve written before, total objectivity is “theoretically impossible for anyone but God Himself.”  The best any news reporting can do is cover a tiny piece of what happens in the world, screening it using whatever judgment they decide to use, and applying imperfect ethical standards.  As I’ve also written, “The dots of the pointillistic narrative are never the full picture and sometimes aren’t the right color.”  Thus is the “counsel of the nations” – incomplete by necessity, biased by choice, and morally imperfect by nature.

In contrast, what God says is true is always true, unlike the 24/7 news cycle where truth is constantly under revision.  The “counsel of the LORD” contains everything we need to know about His plans, is designed by His choice to benefit those He loves, and morally perfect because His nature is holy.  If better counsel existed, He would know about it.  His counsel reliably informs us about how He wants us to view the events of the world, rather than the other way around.  His plans frustrate and overcome the “plans of the peoples”, rather than the other way around.

When Jesus said on the cross that “it is finished,”[1] His payment for our sins was complete.  He lived a perfect life in our place, so that He could be a perfect sacrifice and atone for all the sins of His people in all times and all places.  This was not a rough first draft, but the flawless consummation of God’s plan for salvation “to all generations.”  Jesus made no flawed choices for the sake of expedience, and His work can be trusted at all times.  Whatever you see in the news today, the Good News of the kingdom of heaven is more important, more trustworthy, and provides comfort for your soul.

His Story is the first draft, but it is also the only draft because none other is needed.  His Story needs no revision.

Therefore:
Our soul waits for the LORD;
            he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
            because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
            even as we hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22


[1] John 19:30

God’s Word Withstands the Fire. Always.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah faced immense opposition, and in Jeremiah 36:20-25 is recorded an interesting story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet’s words, and by extension, God’s words.  The king was unable to get his hands on Jeremiah, whose allies helped him to hide, so the king takes a different approach:

So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king.  Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king.  It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him.  As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.  Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.”

This wasn’t an impulsive, knee-jerk reaction to God’s word, but a deliberate, sustained act of rebellion.  This took time, and there’s almost a ceremony to it, as if daring God to stop him.  Many Christians today would be outraged if they witnessed something like this.  People in positions of authority disrespect God regularly, but imagine if the head of your country burned the Bible publicly on TV, and nobody stopped them, or even objected?  Sure, in modern times, people might object on their blog, on social media, or even on smaller TV and radio outlets, but in Jehoiakim’s example, nobody was able to challenge him. He “got away with it.”

Photo by raquel raclette on Unsplash

This brings up the question of: why does God allow things like this to happen?  I’ll suggest a question in response: Would it be a stronger testimony of God’s sovereignty if He had struck King Jehoiakim dead on the spot, or is it a stronger testimony that Jeremiah’s words still exist today all around the world?  If the second option is better, the next question is why do we sometimes feel such outrage and lash out (perhaps on our own blog or Facebook page) at such acts?  Do we trust God to deal with it, or do we worry that Jehoiakim is right – maybe God doesn’t care?

Part of the scroll Jehoiakim burned may have included these words of Jeremiah about the king himself: “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”[1] And “He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.[2]  Therefore God knew both that justice would be done to Jehoiakim, and also that his burning of the scroll had only symbolic and temporary effect.  In contrast, God’s justice and God’s word are eternally immutable and effective.  As Isaiah said: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”[3]

There’s also another question for us: if God had chosen in His sovereignty to redeem Jehoiakim, would we be angry like Jonah at the repentance of Nineveh[4], or would we praise God for His profound and measureless grace?  The same grace that brought Jeremiah’s words back from the futile fire pot of King Jehoiakim.  The grace that was purchased by Christ on the cross.

This word of God will stand as well: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19-21

Do we believe it?


[1] Jeremiah 22:19
[2] Jeremiah 36:30
[3] Isaiah 40:8
[4] See my earlier, short post on Jonah’s anger.

Perils of Politics: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection.  Five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  I just began reading a book I got for Christmas, Faithful Presence by Bill Haslam, which opens by describing how polarized and angry America has become. In this environment, he asks the question: “do [Christians] just give up on the public square as a place to solve problems?”  These quotes aren’t an answer to that question, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles, Greek statesman

“Only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history…A man who loves France for being military will palliate the army of 1870. But a man who loves France for being France will improve the army of 1870…The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.” – G.K. Chesterton

“The less prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we should conduct our own affairs” – Warren Buffett

The opening of the U.S. Constitution. Public Domain.

“I once carried on a brief correspondence with a man who objected to my interpretation of Romans 13. He said that all government was of the Devil and that Christians must not bow to the authority of ‘the powers that be.’ I pointed out to him that even his use of the United States mail service was an acceptance of governmental authority. The money he spent buying the paper and stamps also came from the ‘powers that be.’ For that matter, the very freedom he had to express himself was a right guaranteed by—the government!” – Warren Wiersbe

“When we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.” – Peter Marshal