Cloyce Sutton Online

Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

How We See Others

How we see others determines how we treat them.

This is well illustrated by a story from the life of Jesus. In Luke 7.36-50, Simon, a Pharisee, invites Jesus to dinner. In the middle of the meal an irreputable woman enters Simon’s house, approaches Jesus, and begins to wash his feet with her tears, anointing them with costly perfume. The spectacle annoys Simon who decides Jesus can’t be much of a prophet if he’d let a woman like this anoint him.

How did each of the three characters view the others? How did this affect their treatment of one another?

Simon looked at both the woman and Jesus with contempt. Perhaps the woman’s reputation was well deserved, but that didn’t justify Simon’s arrogance and indifference toward her. His view of Jesus smacked of arrogance and moral superiority. In Jesus’ case neither was deserved. Simon simply assumed something (wrongly) about Jesus and proceeded from there.

The woman obviously viewed Jesus as someone worthy of her devotion. She understood that Jesus could heal her brokenness. As for Simon, we’re not told how she viewed him, although her willingness to crash his party in his house speaks to her moral courage. She apparently didn’t care what he thought of her – she only cared what Jesus thought of her. We could all learn something from that.

Jesus viewed both Simon and the woman in precisely the right way. He saw Simon’s pretended piety for exactly what it was. He also saw the woman’s moral crisis for what it was. Obviously, as God in the flesh he could see things that we can’t. Nonetheless, his willingness to see past the obvious is exemplary for us. 

Proverbs 20.5 says, “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” It takes wisdom to see past the obvious and to discern another person’s true needs. 

May God help us see others as they are.

Sellers’ Disease

Peter Sellers, best known as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, once said, “If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.” On another occasion he joked, “There is no me. I do not exist… There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.”

Sellers was a brilliant comedic actor who was plagued his whole career by personal problems, mostly of his own making. He was a control freak who could be selfish and childish. He used drugs. He was hard to get along with. Late in his career, many of his coworkers felt he was mentally unstable and needed help. 

Actors make a living pretending to be somebody else. The best actors are those who create believable characters who are nothing like themselves. The danger is that some actors, like Sellers, lose themselves in the process. Sellers often remarked that he really had no idea who he was. He was most comfortable being someone else through his movie characters. I’d call it “Sellers’ Disease.”

There’s a biblical word for this, the New Testament word “hypocrite.” This transliterates the Greek word hupocrites. Jesus used the word to describe the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day (see Matthew 23.13-33). The word originated in Greek theater when actors replied to the chorus in a play, turning a speech into a dialogue. Then it came to mean a stage actor. Then it came to mean a person who acted in real life, someone who pretended to be something he was not, especially in his moral life. In English, this last meaning is what most of us associate with this word. 

The danger with hypocrisy is that we cease being ourselves. We pretend to be someone else, and we get quite good at it. But we do this at the price of our own personalities. Our task in life and faith is to be the same person through and through, the same on the inside as we are on the outside, no matter the circumstances or crowd. 

The cure for Sellers’ Disease is regular self-examination. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6.1). The only notice I need is God’s. If I shape my inner life and outer life by God’s approval, not man’s (Acts 5.29), then I can always be myself.

Today and every day, be who you are.

Sports Media Bias

Sunday night in the WNBA, the Chicago Sky beat the Indiana Fever by 1 point, 88-87 in what appears to have been a great basketball game (I didn’t watch it, I just saw the box score online Monday morning).

The obvious appeal of the game was the third matchup between the two teams and their respective rookie stars Caitlin Clark and Angel Reece. They had some competitive history in college in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

In their first two matchups The Fever beat the Sky, both times in Indianapolis. In the first game Reece had 8 points, 13 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, while Clark had 11 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal. In the second game Reece had 11 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block, while Clark had 23 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 blocks.

In last night’s game, Reece dominated with her 8th consecutive double-double (a WNBA rookie record), while scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. She and teammate A’ja Wilson are the only WNBA players with 15 points and 15 rebounds in multiple games. Clark, on the other hand, played well with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 13 assists (a Fever franchise record), and 4 steals. In other words, both played really well.

What struck me was a headline in USA Today which read “Caitlin Clark has another double-double, this time in record fashion.” Say what? Yes, it’s factually true, but she was bested (also in record fashion) by Angel Reece, and her team lost. Why feature her in the headline?

The rivalry between Clark and Reese is strongly reminiscent of the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 80s. Both rivalries ignited interest in their respective leagues. Clark, without a doubt, has become the fresh face of the league with Reece carving out her own fan base.

But, in this case, Clark is bested by Reece (personal stats, league stats, and final score) but she grabs the headline (on USA Today, of all places). To be fair, other media outlets represented it the other way. ESPN.com’s headline read, “Angel Reece powers past Sky past fever with eighth straight double-double.”

It reminds me of Tiger Woods in his heyday. At the height of his success, it didn’t matter if he won or not, all the headlines were about him. When he didn’t win, the headline was usually about him.

Too bad some of the media haven’t caught on yet.

Many or Few

Some of the greatest Bible stories are war stories. One of my favorites is found in 1 Samuel 13-14, when the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. 

In chapter 13, the Israelites were initially successful against the Philistines (v. 2-4). But when the Philistines summoned a massive army, the Israelites were intimidated, and Saul became indecisive (v. 5-7). The situation was further aggravated by a lack of weaponry among the Israelites (v. 19-23). 

Enter Jonathan. 

Jonathan was already responsible for the earlier victory against the Philistines (13.2-4). Here in chapter 14, he again takes initiative by taking his armor-bearer with him and sneaking into the nearby Philistine outpost (v. 1-10). The Philistines assume they’re a pair of Israelite POWs and bring them into their garrison (v. 11-12). Jonathan and his armor-bearer kill 20 Philistines in hand-to-hand combat (v. 13-14). The Lord also brought a sudden earthquake (v. 15-16) which caused some of the Philistines to flee. Saul and the remaining Israelite forces soon join the fray, and the Israelites defeat the Philistines that day (v 23).

My favorite verse in this text is 1 Samuel 14.6, “Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few.’”

This was Jonathan’s confession of faith in the LORD. He understood something about God that’s too easily forgotten. He knew that God is always the majority. Period. God doesn’t need numbers, or large armies, or massive military hardware to win his battles. He only wants a few dedicated people. 

Today, God doesn’t need large churches, or large budgets, or PowerPoint, or websites, or social media, or apps, or impressive programs to win the cause of his kingdom. He simply wants a few dedicated people. If he chooses to use large things, that’s his business. But the Lord frequently uses small things to remind us of his wisdom, power, and ways (1 Corinthians 1.26-29).

Indeed, “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.” What matters for us is that we enter the fray.

Will you?

Glory in the Ordinary

They’re calling it one of the biggest Olympic snubs of all time.

An enormously popular athlete. Record-setter. Superb skills. Has altered the game forever. Draws huge crowds. Gazillion dollar endorsements. What’s not to like?

Wait a minute! You thought I was talking about WNBA superstar Caitlin Clark! No! I’m talking about ME!

I got skills. I got game. I gotta get me some Olympic bling!

You’re right. I’m delusional. But please, read on.

I thoroughly enjoy watching the Olympics. But watching these elite athletes in action always brings me back to reality. I’m once again reminded how ordinary I am. I’ll never be known for my athletic prowess, my competitive spirit, or for overcoming huge odds to beat an archrival. I’m plain old me.

The Olympics remind us that humans are capable of some amazing feats. They’re full of compelling stories. But they’re not representative of how most of us live out our day-to-day existence. Most of us are rather dull, unathletic, and uninspiring.

But that’s OK. What matters for us is that every day we dedicate ourselves to something worthwhile. For Christians, dedication to Christ is a sufficiently Olympian task. To follow the one who was first to finish the race (Hebrews 12.1-3) is challenge enough. What’s more, the crown for which you and I compete is far greater than all the medals, endorsements, and fame that our earthly Olympics could offer: “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9.25b).

What’s left for us, then, is to do our work and do it well. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3.23-24). 

You don’t have to be the CEO to be successful in the workplace. You don’t need to be a Hollywood couple to have a great marriage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to find joy in sports. You don’t need a show on Food Network to enjoy cooking and eating. You don’ t need to be a millionaire to be financially secure. You don’t have to join a monastery to be faithful to Christ.

There is glory in the ordinary.

Counting Blessings?

You’ve probably seen this question on social media: “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

The question has two obvious purposes. First, it’s designed to help us think about the vastness of God’s blessings. We get so much from him it’s hard to enumerate. Second, it’s designed to help us thank God. If we can begin to grasp the magnitude and multitude of God’s blessings, how can we not pause and give him thanks?

Having said that, the question works only so far for two reasons. First, we’re all sinners. As sinners, even our exercises in gratitude may be tainted and limited. Because of my sins and weaknesses, I sometimes fail to see all that God’s done for me. Even when I try, I’m frustrated by my inability to enumerate and articulate his goodness toward me.

Second – and this is the most important thing – we simply CANNOT match God blessing for blessing. We CANNOT possibly keep up with all that he’s done for us. 

The most obvious reason is that God’s blessings are too numerous. A favorite hymn urges us to do the impossible anyway: “Count your blessings; name them one by one.” Not that we shouldn’t try to do it, but good luck with that! Another reason is that God often (and deliberately) blesses us in quiet ways, in ways he may not want us to fully grasp. The psalmist said, “For he gives to his beloved, even in sleep” (Psalm 127.2). In the midst of my nightly dozing, snoozing, and snoring, God is at work refilling my tank.

Behind all of this is the reality of God’s greatness. We CANNOT out-think him, outsmart him, outdo him, out-ask him. The apostle Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3.20-21).

So, when you wake up in the mornings, count your blessings. Give thanks. But don’t be surprised when your blessings always exceed your expectations and outpace your ability to recall them. God fully intends it that way.

Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Thomas Ken, 1674

These lyrics are from perhaps the most ubiquitous of all English language hymns. The title is sometimes listed as its first line, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” and sometimes as “Doxology.” 

It was written in 1674 by Thomas Ken, a bishop in the Church of England. It was apparently part of his Manual of Prayers for Winchester Scholars. According to Hymnary.org, the song has appeared in over 1200 hymnals. 

Its appeal is obvious. It’s an invitation for all sentient creatures in heaven and on earth to praise God for his innumerable blessings. This doxological hymn accomplishes this simply and effectively.

Thinking about this doxology reminded me of Paul’s doxology in Ephesians 3.20-21 (NASB95): “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

Rather than discuss or analyze this text, I want to show how Paul builds upon a single idea to help us appreciate God’s resources and generosity. I’ll do this by building this doxology thought by thought. This isn’t an attempt at grammatical analysis, but rather an attempt to unfold Paul’s thinking about God’s blessings upon us.

  • He [God] is able.
  • He is able to do.
  • He is able to do what we ask.
  • He is able to do what we ask or think.
  • He is able to do all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do beyond all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.

We can’t out-ask God. We can’t out-think God. We can only be grateful and glorify him.

Amen!

Memorials

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside for remembering and honoring Americans who fought and died for our freedom. Its purpose is to help us keep in mind the deeds and sacrifices of these courageous men and women.

In a similar way, God has left memorials for his people to observe. In them, he helps us keep in mind what he’s done in the past, what he’s doing in the present, and what he’ll continue to do in the future.

The opening chapters of the book of Joshua provide several examples of spiritual memorials for the Israelites. Chapters 3-5 record their preparations for entering and conquering the Promised Land. In this group of texts, God commands Israel to observe several memorials that would help them see the significance of the moment.

The Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a wooden chest covered with gold (Exodus 25.10-22). It was called “the ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25.15); “the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (Numbers 14.44); “the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 3.13); “the Ark of God” (1 Samuel 4.11). 

When Israel first crossed the Jordan River, the ark went first, reminding them of the place God and his word must have in their lives (Joshua 3.l‐6). It reminded Israel that God’s covenant was universal (v. 11). The ark contained the tablets of stone (the Ten Commandments), Aaron’s rod that budded, and a jar of manna, all reminders of how the eternal God had intervened in history for the redemption of his people. It also reminded them that the Lord’s covenant was personal: He was in their midst (v. 9).

The Stones. After crossing the Jordan (4.1-9), the Israelites erect two piles of stones: one in the riverbed, and one on the riverbank. The first appeared whenever the tide was low, as a reminder of God’s intervention on their behalf. He miraculously parted the waters to give them passage into the Promised Land (v. 7, cf. chapter 3). The second reminded them that God kept his promises. These stones also reminded future generations and served to warn surrounding nations (4.21-24; 5.1).

Circumcision. Also after crossing the Jordan, the men of the nation were circumcised (5.1-9). The entire Israelite army was incapacitated within sight of the enemy, reminding them that they were entirely in the hands of God. Circumcision reminded Israel of the continuity with Abraham’s covenant (Genesis 17.9-14, 23-27). They were reminded that although circumcision was a mark of the sons of Israel, it was no guarantee of entering the Promised Land. It was also a reminder to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10.6; 30.6).

Passover. The Passover was celebrated on the eve of their departure from Egypt (Exodus 12.1-32). Now, forty years later, they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and they were to celebrate the feast again (Joshua 5.10). Passover commemorated their deliverance from bondage (Exodus 12.26-27). It was a reminder of their redemption from slavery.

Manna. Finally, the manna ceased (Joshua 5.12). Manna was given to them at the beginning of their wilderness trek (Exodus 16). It was the daily bread for an entire generation of Israelites, yet it was never intended to be permanent. When they entered the land, this token would cease. They could then enjoy the real fruit of the Promised Land.

Today, God’s people enjoy greater blessings than these (Ephesians 1.3-14), and we have our own set of memorials. Unlike the Israelites’ memorials, ours are primarily spiritual. 

Scripture. Like the Ark of the Covenant, we have God’s word – Scripture – as a reminder of God’s character and covenants (Hebrews 8.6-13; 1 Peter 1.22 – 2.3; 2 Timothy 3. 16-17). Like the ark, God’s word is also a record of salvation history. And, like the memorial stones, his word reminds us of God’s powerful interventions in the past and his precious promises for the future (Jude 5-7; 2 Peter 1.3-4).

The Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he celebrated his final Passover with his disciples the night before he was crucified (Luke 22.14-23). Christians in the first century celebrated it on the first day of the week (Acts 20.7). Because of our redemption from the bondage of sin, we shouldn’t be surprised that Christ is called our Passover (1 Corinthians 5.7f). In this memorial we declare his death, burial, resurrection, and return (1 Corinthians 11.23-26).

Baptism. Jesus commanded his disciples to be baptized (Matthew 28.18-20), and the apostle Paul compared it to circumcision (Colossians 2.11-12). Like circumcision, baptism may be thought of as an beginning point (Galatians 3.26-27), and as something that represents a change from the old to the new (Romans 6.4ff), a change from death into life.

Spiritual Blessings. Finally, the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (Ephesians 1.3-14) serve the same function for us as manna did for the Israelites in the wilderness. They’re daily reminders of God’s heavenly blessings (Ephesians 1.3), intended both for our sustenance now, and as tokens of unimaginable blessings yet to come (v 13f).

What do these memorials mean to you?

Deep Roots

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. 
A good man will obtain favor from the LORD,
But He will condemn a man who devises evil. 
A man will not be established by wickedness,
But the root of the righteous will not be moved.

Proverbs 12.1-3

Have you ever tried to get rid of a stubborn weed or a sapling or a bush that has sprung up in the wrong place? No matter how hard you try, it seems to win. You cut it; it grows back. You spray it; it comes back. 

Why do weeds so often win? Simple. They have deep roots. If you don’t kill the roots, you won’t kill the plant, and if you don’t kill the plant, it’ll always come back. 

However, the same thing is true of desirable grasses and flowers and shrubs and trees. If they have well developed root systems, they’ll also persist. 

The third verse of the above text suggests that righteousness, by the Lord’s design, is intended to operate the same way. The first three sayings in Proverbs Chapter 12 contrast various manifestations of righteousness and wisdom against various manifestations of wickedness. The righteous love discipline and knowledge, but the evil is too lazy to learn. The righteous are blessed while the wicked are cursed. 

Then in verse three Solomon unexpectedly reverses the order: The wicked person will not be established, whereas the righteous person has a firm root. This reads much like Psalm 1.3-4 with its imagery of the righteous as a well-planted, well-watered tree, and the wicked as chaff to be blown away by the wind. By reversing the order, I think Solomon wishes to emphasize the permanence of the righteous in God’s economy. 

During the spring and summer, many of us are thinking about stubborn weeds, and with good reason. Solomon suggests that we should also think of stubborn righteousness, also with good reason. Not obstinate righteousness, but resolute righteousness. The righteous simply never give up in their righteousness, and in that righteousness, they lay deep roots.

How deep is your righteousness?

Integrity & Consistency

There’s an old story about a farmer selling a horse. The horse was stubborn and lazy and rarely helpful when work needed to be done. A potential buyer asked, “Is he a good workhorse?” The farmer replied, “It’d do your heart good to see that horse work!”

The buyer purchased the horse and within a few weeks realized it was stubborn and lazy and useless when work needed to be done. He went back to the farmer and demanded a refund. “You said it was a good workhorse!” The farmer replied, “No, I said it’d do your heart good to see it work.” 

Nobody likes to be cheated by unscrupulous vendors. Proverbs 20.10 says, Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.”

The proverb is set in the ancient marketplace where simple mechanical devices were used for measuring. It would have been relatively easy for a vendor to use a measuring stick or a weight or a bowl that looked normal but was just a bit off, and always to his advantage. In our modern era of full disclosure, de facto standards, government standards, industry standards, and bar codes and scanners, it’s easy to forget that cheaters still look for ways to get ahead, even at the store. This proverb condemns the practice, both then and now.

Two things are noteworthy. One is the strength of the condemnation. This kind of dishonesty is not only foolishness, not only wickedness, it’s an abomination to the Lord. This is a reminder that of all the virtues we humans should possess, honesty and integrity are at the very top. To be less than honest is to fail in the most fundamental of human ways. 

Second, it applies not only to the marketplace, but also to the workplace. Honesty on the job has plenty of applications. Do we say one thing to the boss and another to our coworkers? Do we fudge on our expense accounts? Do we make allowances for the workers we like, but not for the ones we dislike? Do we sponge ideas off others but take credit for them ourselves? 

The proverb covers a lot of territory, in the marketplace, the workplace, the home, and other areas of life as well.

The wise worker practices meticulous integrity in the workplace. The wise person practices meticulous integrity in all his or her relationships. Anything less is dishonest and ultimately incurs God’s wrath.

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