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

Month: May 2024


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.

It’s the Climb? Really?

“The virtue lies in the struggle, not in the prize.” (Richard Monckton Milnes)

“It’s not about how fast I get there. It’s not about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.” (Miley Cyrus)

Partly true, partly false. 

First, the Bible repeatedly affirms the value of suffering for Christians. 

  • “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.2-4).
  • “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4.1-2).
  • “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5.3-5). 

However, the Bible never affirms suffering for its own sake. Suffering always has direction: it points its victims toward something higher and more important. Suffering also has purpose: it’s intended to teach us lessons about things other than suffering. 

In Scripture, the purposes of suffering are many:

  • Suffering purifies us (1 Peter 4.1-2).
  • Suffering produces endurance in us (James 1.2-4).
  • Suffering builds character and gives hope (Romans 5.3-5).
  • Suffering teaches us to depend upon God (Psalm 42.1-11).
  • Suffering now may prevent suffering later (2 Corinthians 4.16-18).

To be sure, there’s value in suffering, but only to the extent that it has a desirable outcome. Struggle is pointless if it doesn’t lead somewhere. Most of all, struggle that leads anywhere but heaven is wasted.

What struggles are you having, and where are they leading you?