Simplicity – It’s Not What You Think

You can simplify your dress, move to a cabin in the woods, and still complicate your life. True simplicity isn’t what you think.

A laser beam


James the brother of Jesus was a wordsmith. He coined phrases for Christians that had never appeared in the Greek language before. For example, in chapter two, he introduces us to the rich man who comes to church wearing “a gold ring.” Literally, James says, the man has “golden fingers” (chru-so-daktu-lios, χρυσοδακτύλιος). Talk about bling! He has so many rings, you can’t see his fingers!

A far more important word is coined in chapter one: di-psu-chos (δίψυχος): a man with “two souls.” An early elder of the church picked up that word and used it to describe Lot’s wife (Genesis 19). She had two souls. With one she wanted to be saved and with the other she wanted to live in the city. Because she was divided, she perished.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the true meaning of simplicity. It’s singleness of vision.

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

So, which is it for you? Is your eye healthy – that is – are you focused on a single vision for your life, or is you eye bad, fliting from one goal to another? 

How can I simplify my life? First this observation. We are the ones who make our life complicated. Like someone trying to walk through a Las Vegas casino, we are distracted by all the ringing bells and flashing lights. Focus! In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Choose! And don’t worry about the “what-ifs” or the “if-onlys.” Remember the lesson of light. By itself, a beam of light is scattered, but when it is focused it can become a laser beam that can cut metal. Let’s be lasers today!

The Joy-Snatcher’s Cousins

Can you be joyful in all circumstances? John in the boatyard

Last week, I wrote an article about Christians and joy. Do you remember how the Apostle Paul encouraged us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4), but that often seems impossible? I said we need to guard against anxiety and fear (Philippians 4:5). However, the Joy-Snatcher has some relatives we need to guard against as well.

Let’s start with Cousin Comparison, nicknamed “Covetousness.” The Hebrew writer encourages us to “Be content with what you have,” (Hebrews 13:5), and Paul reminds us, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). It’s not easy! We are constantly bombarded with advertisements designed to make us want more, more, more. Be on guard!

Cynicism is a close cousin. Cynicism throws cold water on the flames of joy: “It won’t last!” “What’s the catch?” Put cynicism back in its place if you want to be happy! Learn to live in the moment. “Yes, the oceans are rising, but, for right now, I’m going to enjoy the beach.” Do you remember Saul’s daughter Michal? David was dancing with joy before the Lord, and joyless Michal could only watch from her window and sneer:

“And as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart” (1 Chronicles 15:29).

Contented, joyful Christians have learned to celebrate the little moments of life. Is your grandbaby singing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” over and over again? Don’t let it drive you to distraction. Join in and sing! Joy celebrates life!

“But John, I don’t have time right now!” Meet the twins: busyness and over-commitment. Do you ever feel like, “It’s all up to me”? Even something as simple as a lack of sleep can rob us of joy. Hurry-sickness is real! Who sits in their rocking chair at the old folks home and laments that they didn’t (fill in the blank)? What do they regret? That they didn’t spend more time with friends and family. That they never learned to do the Lindy. That they didn’t hold hands with their true love and watch the stars come out.

Finally, what is the opposite of joy? Sorrow? No, Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” (2 Corinthians 6:10), and he declared, “I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction,” (2 Corinthians 7:4 NASB). A wise but unknown person observed, “The opposite of joy is not sorrow; it is unbelief.” Satan tempts us into suspecting, “God doesn’t really know what’s best for me or what will make me happy.” But the Apostle wrote:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Beware the Joy Snatchers!

Don’t you think Paul was overly optimistic when he told the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always”? He didn’t mean “always,” did he? What if something terrible happens? What if there is a tragedy? But Paul was an expert in tragedy. Consider his life as he described it to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:16). Now, even though Paul was chained to a Roman guard and people were trying to cause him pain (Philippians 1:18), Paul rejoices!

How is that possible? James, the brother of Jesus, says our trials result in the prince of virtues: perseverance (James 1:2). Paul told the Romans the very same thing (Romans 5:3). In fact, the Hebrew writer mentions perseverance three times in three side-by-side verses (Hebrews 12:1-3) and Paul reminds us joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

So why aren’t we more joyful? What robs us of God’s blessing? What do we need to be on guard against? First, watch out for anxiety and its cousin fear. Solomon reminds us, “An anxious heart weighs a man down” (Proverbs 12:25). Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4 – 7).

In this text, Paul gives us three clues. First, he says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” The word “reasonableness” (epieikes, ἐπιεικής) means “not insisting on every right of the letter of the law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.” In other words, if you constantly worry about every little thing and haven’t learned to be yielding and tolerant, you won’t be happy. Relax!

The second clue is to remember “the Lord is at hand.” The time of perfection is coming, so you don’t have to fret about all the faults in the world today. I often walk over to the walls of the church building and slap them, asking, “What is this made of?” Bricks and concrete. If the church were a display case of perfect people, the walls would be made of glass! Hospitals and churches are places of healing. We’re not perfect – just forgiven! God will fix everything when Jesus returns.

Finally, Paul says, “If you want to be happy, give your troubles to God in prayer.” Then comes the blessing: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Did Jesus Die from a Broken Heart?   

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe (John 19:34 – 35).
Blood and water? A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (1934), notes:
Dr. W. Stroud (Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, 1871) argues that this fact proves that the spear pierced the left side of Jesus near the heart and that Jesus had died literally of a broken heart since blood was mixed with water.[1]
Stroud’s suggestion has been repeated in many sermons (including my own). It’s a very moving illustration that I was reluctant to let go of, so I asked my Christian doctor, Diane, about it. She smiled and shook her head. “No. I’ve never seen that and don’t believe Stroud is correct.”
Her answer set me back. I hate giving out sermon retractions, so I began to investigate further. The old English exegete, B.F. Westcott wrote long before Robertson:
The immediate cause of death was (it is said) a rupture of the heart, which was followed by a large effusion of blood into the pericardium. This blood, it is supposed, rapidly separated into its more solid and liquid parts (crassamentum and serum), which flowed forth in a mingled stream, when the pericardium was pierced by the spear from below. But it appears that both this and the other naturalistic explanations of the sign are not only inadequate but also inconsistent with the real facts. There is not sufficient evidence to shew that such a flow of blood and water as is described would occur under the circumstances supposed, and the separation of the blood into its constituent parts is a process of corruption [italics added], and we cannot but believe that even from the moment of death the Body of the Lord underwent the beginnings of that mange which issued in the Resurrection. The issuing of the blood and water from His side must therefore be regarded as a sign of life in death. It shewed both His true humanity and (in some mysterious sense) the permanence of His human life. Though dead, dead in regard to our mortal life, the Lord yet lived; and as He hung upon the cross He was shewn openly to be the source of a double cleansing and vivifying power, which followed from His death and life. [2]
In other words, if the blood and water were a natural phenomenon, the body of Jesus had rapidly begun to decay – something the Bible denies: “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2:27 quoting Psalms 16). Therefore, the outpouring of actual water (see John 4:10 and elsewhere) was a miracle, but what did it represent? Jesus gave his blood (redemption) and living water (life) for us. The Apostle John witnessed the outpouring and was amazed: “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35).
Three years before, a very tired and very thirsty Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and told her, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” On the cross, Jesus gave us the water of life!

[1] Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 19:34). Broadman Press.

[2] Westcott, B. F., & Westcott, A., eds. (1908). The Gospel according to St. John Introduction and notes on the Authorized Version (p. 279). J. Murray.

A Fish Saga

Photo by MART Productions

The goldfish died … again. My daughter, Charlotte, won a free goldfish at the elementary school carnival. She was so excited. The “free goldfish” wasn’t really free though. We had to purchase a fishbowl, gravel for the bottom of the fishbowl, plants, a net scoop, a weird treasure chest, and a sunken ship. The fish expired in a couple of days. We made the first of several trips to the pet store for replacement “free fish.”

At first, Charlotte seemed to understand and named each of the newcomers despite a litany of tragedies. (I never told her about the one that got away through the garbage disposal while I was changing its water.) Then the day came when I brought home one last fish. Then, I held up the clear plastic bag full of water and a shiny, new goldfish. “What do you want to name it, Charlotte?”

She looked at the poor fish and asked, “Is he a Christian?”

That seemed like a strange question, so I asked, “Why do you want to know?”

“Because it’s going to die.”

We settled on calling him “Fish.” Despite our best efforts, this was a fish that refused to die. We forgot about him when we went on vacation for a week. We came home, and his bowl was cloudy and green with sludge, but Fish was fine. Nothing could stop him. I overfed him. I underfed him. Times were tough, but the harder things were, the stronger he became. Fish was the last in our chain of aquatic pets. When he finally expired after a long life in the fishbowl, I think we had a state funeral for him.

I’ve thought about Fish many times over the years. I realized Charlotte’s innocent question, “Is he a Christian?” struck at the heart of the matter. When times get tough, Christians are at their very best – even if they are living in a fishbowl!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2 – 4)

One day, I was driving down the street and saw a panel truck with “Maranatha Plumbing” painted on the side. “Maranatha” is an Aramaic phrase (the Jewish people in Jesus’ days spoke Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Captivity). It probably means “Our Lord, Come!” which would be appropriate for a plumber racing to fix a bathroom emergency; however, I think the man was trying to indicate he was a Christian plumber and so answered to a higher standard.

Even the early Greek-speaking Christians used many Aramaic words such as “amen” and “Abba” (Father). Jesus himself spoke Aramaic (see Matthew 27:46 and Mark 5:41). The phrase “Maranatha” or more appropriately, “marana tha” or “maran atha” was used by the first Christians (See 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20).

Because Maranatha is simply transliterated from Aramaic into Greek, it isn’t easy to know exactly how to translate it into English. It could be māran(ā’)’ aṯā’, “our Lord has come,” or māran(ā’) (’ ĕ)ṯā’, “our Lord, come!” What difference does it make?

The Didache is an early Christian church manual. It gave instructions about baptism, worship, and church practices. We have many books like that available today that provide suggested talks for weddings, funerals, and speaking at the Lord’s Table. The Didache suggests:

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.”

And after you have had enough, give thanks as follows:

(2) We give you thanks, Holy Father,

     for your holy name, which you

           have caused to dwell in our hearts,

     and for the knowledge and faith and immortality 

           which you have made known to us

           through Jesus your servant;

     to you be the glory forever.

(3) You, almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake,

     and gave food and drink to men to enjoy,

           that they might give you thanks;

     but to us, you have graciously given

           spiritual food and drink,

     and eternal life through your servant.

(4) Above all, we give thanks because you are mighty;

     to you be the glory forever.

(5) Remember your church, Lord,

     to deliver it from all evil

     and to make it perfect in your love;

     and gather it, the one that has been sanctified,

     from the four winds into your kingdom,

     which you have prepared for it;

     for yours is the power and the glory forever.

(6) May grace come, and may this world pass away.

     Hosanna to the God of David.

     If anyone is holy, let him come;

 if anyone is not, let him repent.
Maranatha! Amen.[1]

Notice how the suggested prayer ends with two Aramaic words: “Maranatha!” And “Amen.” In this case, it makes good sense to translate Maranatha as “the Lord has come!” and that’s why we can enjoy the communion.

On the other hand, Paul’s conclusion to First Corinthians and the exclamation in Revelation probably mean, “Come! Lord.”

Both translations are blessings: “The Lord has come!” (Hallelujah!) and “Come back soon!”

  [1] Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., pp. 261–263). Baker Books.

Loneliness in the Checkout Line

Jan sent me to the store to pick up a couple of items, but when I arrived at the checkout line, it became obvious I wasn’t going anywhere quickly. Every lane was filled by people pushing over-flowing grocery carts and the lines extended back down the aisles. I took a deep breath and laughed with the two ladies pushing carts in front of me. “So, this is the express lane?” I quipped. They both took pity on me and waved me to the front of the line. I thanked them profusely and we ended up laughing with the checker. I guess it pays not to lose your temper!

Photo by Eduardo Soares

All of this caused me to think about grocery shopping in the Netherlands. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming!) The Daily Star, a British paper, ran this headline: “Jumbo supermarket opens new ‘slow lane’ so lonely customers can stop for a chat.” It then explained how the “Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo has decided to move away from fast-technology checkouts by introducing ‘chat checkouts’ for customers who are not in a hurry.”

The chain store “Jumbo is a member of the National Coalition against Loneliness, which is an initiative of the Netherlands’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. According to government statistics, more than half of people over 75 in the country, which is 1.3 million people, say they feel lonely.”[1] The aim of the chat checkouts, known as Kletskassa, is to help tackle loneliness in society by having real contact with customers.”

A report on loneliness in America by Harvard reports:

“The global pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness in America. Our report suggests that 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel ‘serious loneliness.’ Not surprisingly, loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic. 

“The report also explores the many types of loneliness, various causes of loneliness, and the potentially steep costs of loneliness, including early mortality and a wide array of serious physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. While Americans clearly need to adopt distancing measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the report authors argue that we also must take steps to alleviate loneliness, particularly for the populations the survey suggests are most affected.” [2]

We should never discount the important role fellowship plays in our assemblies. Those little chats between the pews and in the foyer are essential to our health. And, the next time you’re in the supermarket, think about walking over to the slowest lane, and make someone’s day: talk!

[1] Simon Hamalienko,  Daily Star, October 1,  2021. Downloaded from

[2] “Loneliness in America: How the Pandemic Has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do About It.” Downloaded from

Mustard Seeds

Ruins of the Capernaum Synagogue
Capernaum Synagogue — John McKeel

The First Century synagogue was the domain of men. Women could observe either from the balcony or from behind a latticework, but men and women did not worship together. On this particular Sabbath, while Jesus was teaching, a hunchbacked old woman hobbled into the midst of men. Every eye must have been fixed on her. Some were angry. Some were curious, but one set of eyes was touched with sympathy. Jesus called to her. “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he placed his hands on her, and she stood upright pain-free for the first time in eighteen years.

It’s a beautiful story, but not everyone saw it that way. The leader of the synagogue was indignant. There are rules to be followed, traditions to be respected, and order to be observed! A woman in the assembly! An old, disabled woman, no less! He knew the Law of Moses. The fourth commandment demanded respect for the Sabbath, and that meant “No work.” This was entirely outrageous! When he could control himself no longer, he stood and barked, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath” (Luke 13:14).

I wonder if the ruler objected because she was an old woman and ugly? Would he have been so adamant if she was beautiful, rich, and young? Jesus came to her aid and defended her (Luke 13:15, 16).

Immediately following this encounter, Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches” (Luke 13:18, 19).

A single mustard seed, like the old woman, appears insignificant. But there are no unimportant people in the kingdom of God. A tiny mustard seed becomes a great bush! I wonder how the synagogue ruler would have felt if he knew what Jesus knew; that little, nameless woman was a princess in the presence of the Son of God. Next Lord’s Day, look around the assembly. Although there is no red carpet or cameras outside, we are all very important people. We are the children of God!

Be a Blessing,


Monument to a Boll Weevil

The Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama

Optimists are positive, and pessimists are – well, more reserved in their judgments. For example, pessimists believe the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” is a train. An optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds – and a pessimist is afraid the optimist is right.

However, I believe there are blessings in curses if we look for them. Take, for example, the monument to the boll weevil in Enterprise, Alabama. It is believed to be the only monument to an insect. In 1915, the Mexican boll weevil destroyed sixty percent of the cotton in Coffee County. Since farmers only grew one crop, the result was catastrophic! However, what began as a curse ended as a blessing because it forced the farmers to diversify with an emphasis on peanuts. Then, just two years later, Coffee County harvested more peanuts than any county in the nation.

“The citizens were so ‘grateful’ for the boll weevil that they dedicated on December 11, 1919, a public marker on the main street of Enterprise with this inscription:

In profound appreciation
Of the boll weevil
And what it has done
As the herald of prosperity.”

                 —Alabama Enterprise

Ronald Reagan observed, “Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy’s enemies have refined their instruments of repression.” James, the brother of Jesus, wrote:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 – 4).

What’s That Smell?

John McKeel

The other day I was rummaging through some old pictures I had taken while hiking and climbing in Colorado. My favorites were the pictures of the beautiful mountain wildflowers – Columbine, Indian Paint Brush, Mountain-Forget-Me-Nots – the list is nearly endless.

These flowers have two different kinds of smells. Bees like some because they smell sweet. As the bees flit from blossom to blossom they carry pollen between the plants, but not every flower is sweet.

“What’s that smell?” my little daughter asked. “It smells like something died!

Just as some flowers smell sweet and attract bees, others smell like rotting meat and attract flies to carry their pollen. (Skunk weed is just one example.)

The Apostle Paul teaches that Christians smell like Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16). That smell attracts some people and repels others. To some, it is the sweet smell of life and to others, Christianity smells like death. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes he sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). Christianity means life now and life to come. Nothing could be sweeter!

Try singing “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” this morning. Here is my prayer for today:

“Dear Lord, may we become the sweet scent of Christ. Help us breathe in your Spirit and live a life that spreads abroad the fragrance of your love.”