Remandment (Re:Noun part 6)

Once more from the top

Albert Einstein’s definition of Insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The children of Israel exhibited this kind of behavior during their forty year trek across the desert. Some lessons can be learned only one way. And if we don’t submit to God during the time of trial, we’ll be forced to repeat the lesson in order to learn what He would have us know. Yes, God wants to make us happy, healthy and prosperous (I believe), but if we’re not willing to partake of “Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:14) in order to understand how to deal with the freedom, then God may allow us another prison sentence, or desert experience in order to learn. Smart! And please understand, just being miserable is not the same as sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. This is no laughing matter, however. What’s tragic is that the generation of Israelites that were released from Egypt were not allowed to enter the Promised Land. They all died in the wilderness. It was their children who got to go. God was so upset with the parents’ stubborn unbelief that He allowed them to wander aimlessly around the same closed-loop for forty years. A trip that would have taken eleven days if marched straight through. But, thank God that we have others’ mistakes to learn from.

The writer of Hebrews says this: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection;” (Hebrews 6:1) Let’s just stop right there. Many people when they accept Jesus are unwilling to, or at least unsure of how to, renew their minds to do the very thing that the writer of Hebrews is referring to here. Perfection—spiritual perfection—is understanding how much God loves you. It will eventually work its way out into our behavior. And if we’re not making the effort to renew our minds to God’s truth, we’ll end up remanded, or sent back to some other form of trial (it is a legal term, after all) in order to learn the lessons God wants to teach us. The writer of Hebrews (I’m not sure who it is. I’d like to believe it was Paul but I can’t say) continues on in chapter six by listing off several basic doctrines of Christianity with the implication that there’s no need to go over those things again. But then in the third verse, he says “this will we do, if God permit”. What I believe is being said here is that God is always ready and willing to patiently show us what we don’t know.

Once more with feeling

Here’s another aspect to this: please don’t beat yourself up with morbid, tormenting thoughts wondering what your life could have been if you’d made the right decision out of the gate. There’s lots of pride wrapped up in this way of thinking (I’m not God). This mental construct took firm hold in my mind many years back. I could not get over the abject feeling of regret and sorrow, thinking that I’d wasted the best years of my life. Things began to change when, by God’s grace, I started thinking more about God’s feelings than my own. Sure, my life had its fair share of misery—what about God’s? If I had regret, wouldn’t God have regret too? I began to see God’s feelings as more important than my own. And He cleared out the darkness in my mind. Praise God!

This is what God is getting at in any lesson: learning to feel Him and know Him above our own feelings and self-knowledge. God bless you!

Once more for good measure

All of the above aside, if you find yourself going back to the desert for reasons unknown. And if you have peace surrounding the whole issue, maybe God is having you go around again, not for yourself, but for someone else? Food for thought.

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In Motion/At Rest (How to Know part 2)

You’ve heard the phrase “Don’t just stand there, do something”? So oft repeated is this idiomatic expression that there’s even a Christianized version of it. The kind of thing you’d see on a church marquee: “Don’t just do something, stand there”. What do I do? What do I do?

The latter phrase in question is referring to the potential dichotomy of action versus inaction with reference to seeking after and following God’s will. And I would like to say that the phrase God helps those who help themselves is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It should read God helps the helpless who know they’re helpless and want His help.

What does the Bible say about such things? Well, first of all, someone who wants to know God’s will for their life is already headed in the right direction. That desire doesn’t come from anywhere but Him.

“Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, Thou stillest them.” (Psalm 89:9)

Any activity–or inactivity for that matter–that arises out of torment, worry or pressure is more than likely going to lead you away from the path on which God wants you. And it will end up being just that: mere activity. This, I think would be one of the main reasons that God calls us to wait upon Him. The devil is notorious at pressuring people to act in accordance with some fear, real or imagined. If there is uncertainty regarding any decision, large or small, that you have to make, you gotta know that there is spiritual warfare going on regarding the outcome. Moses told the Israelites to “fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13 emphasis mine). The next verse says “The Lord shall fight for you”.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

This verse has its own dichotomy. Or so it would seem. While the first part says to wait, the second part talks about walking and running. Alright! Now we’re getting somewhere. But what about the fear and indecision? May I suggest 1 John 4:18? “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He (or she) that fears is not made perfect in love.” God is a stickler for pure motives. I would venture to say, that if we don’t realize, fully realize the strong fact that God loves us and are able to grasp hold of this reality, then we probably shouldn’t do anything. Because anything we do is not based on the most stable reality of existence: God loves me. Matthew 9, verse 23: “All things are possible to [them] that believe” this fact.

This is why Paul could say that he “pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). The next verse reads “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded”. Paul had been made “perfect in love”, as it says in the previous paragraph. God can do something with the man, the woman who knows God loves them. This is spiritual perfection.

Now, moving forward, consider this statement of Paul’s: “All things are lawful (possible) unto me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12) What I think he’s saying here is, while he may feel this extraordinary liberty to go and do whatever he thought he should because he knew the love of God, he tempered that liberty by realizing that not all activity will lead to what God wanted to do in his life with reference to the world at large. This is another reason for waiting. When you know that God loves you, you’re more sensitive to His will and consequently, you don’t want to displease Him by doing your own thing. Even though you know that God loves you in spite of any disobedience.

This truly is the happy medium. When one realizes that God loves them, they end up walking in the will of God naturally, easily. “The steps of a good man (or woman) are ordered by the Lord: and He delighteth in [their] way.” (Psalm 37:23) And then, I suppose that this would be the answer to both statements. Don’t just stand there do something! Don’t just do something, stand there! How ’bout we not do anything (standing, sitting, running, jumping, waiting, whatever, etc.), anything at all, until we realize that God loves us?

In closing, a quick caveat: “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16)

Semiotics For Mere Mortals (Hapax Legomenon part 1)

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. What they mean to us (as well as how) as conscious, cognizant human beings. This is the first in a series that seeks to illustrate the primacy and…uniqueness of Jesus as Savior. By the way, the phrase hapax legomenon refers to a word that only ever appeared one time in history.

I’ve always been interested in symbolism. Allegories, parallels. Parables (from the Greek parabola: essentially, “something thrown alongside”). How can you be talking about one thing and have it mean something deeper? Sometimes, something else entirely? It extends into logos and logo design. Flags, too. How can an entire country be represented by a flag? Did you ever think of that? The study of flags, by the way is called vexillology. Pretty cool stuff, I’d say. I think it is. Forgive me, as you read on, if I wax a little obscure. Follow me here.

The root word of vexillology—the study of flags—is veil. A covering. Keep this in mind.

Consider this quote from Andrew Murray’s excellent book The Power of the Blood of Jesus:

“All that was symbolical has passed away, and the deep spiritual truths expressed by symbol are unveiled.”

Mr. Murray (late 19th, early 20th century South African author and theologian) is talking about what happened after Jesus’ death. The children of Israel were commanded by God to sacrifice a lamb at the Passover meal (see Exodus 12:21-28), the first of which took place in Egypt, mere hours from their Exodus–the deliverance from their slavery to the Egyptians. With reference to that, as a Christian I will say this: Jesus is that “lamb” (Revelation 5:12 7:9, 12:11, etc.). See that? There you have it: symbolism. Is Jesus literally a lamb? A sheep with wool and a sweet little face? “Baa, Baa” and all that? No. He’s a human who also happens to be God Himself. Yet the lamb is symbolic of His gentleness and willingness to be led “as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). These broad and deep theological topics might seem obscure and dim and rife with double meaning but that’s normal. We are mortal, He’s not. God’s “ways are higher than [our] ways and His] thoughts higher than [our] thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9). After the lamb was killed for the Passover, the families who partook of the meat were then to wipe the blood of the lamb over the doorframe of the house and remain inside while the Lord passed through (12:22-23) so as to be safe from His wrath. The act of Jesus’ sacrificial death was foretold, presaged by the Exodus story. The story of the Israelites’ escape from bondage (they were enslaved for 400 years), while true, is also an allegory, a parallel of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Delivering us from a lifetime (read:” eternity) of indentured servitude.

Now, consider again the quote from Andrew Murray: “All that was symbolical has passed away, and the deep spiritual truths expressed by symbol are unveiled.”

All that was symbolical has passed away.

All of the symbolism from the Old Testament required to contain such a seismic event as Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were rendered superfluous, or unneeded, by those very events: Jesus’ life. His death. And His resurrection. All of which are part of Him. He’s wonderful.

When Jesus died, “the sun was darkened” (Luke 23:45). That’s what it says and as interesting as that may be, I’m more interested in the rest of that verse. Which says, “and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst (torn in half down the middle).” It just happened (I’m guessing an angel did it, maybe the Holy Spirit). The veil of the temple was an ornate, thickly (four inches—the width of a man’s hand) woven cloth extending from ceiling to floor (sixty feet high!), separating the two chambers of the temple. The inner chamber where God dwelt–where no one but the high priest was allowed under threat of death–was now open to the outer chamber. See that? The veil was torn. It wasn’t necessary anymore. The symbolism has turned into actuality. When Jesus died, He made it possible for us to go in unto God and know Him as no one in history ever had. Or was even able, for that matter. To truly know Him, not just know about Him. This isn’t to say that those in the Old Testament didn’t know God. Just not like we can. Paul says that our “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19). While in Athens, Paul makes this declaration: “God…is Lord of Heaven and earth [and He] dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Jesus, because of His sacrifice and resurrection, makes it possible for us to become sons and daughters of God and vessels into which He can put His very Spirit. This one-of-a-kind relationship has been made possible by our one-of-a-kind Savior.

And now, very simply, a verse from Song of Solomon (2:4), “He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner (i.e., flag) over me was love” (emphasis mine). This is how it is. Jesus loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). When we believe on and in Jesus, He brings us in and wraps us in His love. It’s reality. No symbols or signs or allegorical stories can compare. It’s just you. And Him. Find it out for yourself. “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:10)

“To see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.” (Psalm 63:2)

Why I Love the King James Version part 2 (Psalm 126:6)

This is one of my all-time favorite verses of scripture. It’s one of the densest and richest standalone scriptures in the entire Bible. It sums up the suffering process in a few simple lines and beautifully renders our situation hopeful in light of God’s promises as expressed by the Psalmist.

“He (or she) that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

I’m going to break this down piece by piece and squeeze everything I can out of the richness of the translation. I will start by saying that the King James, much like its version of Proverbs 18:1, renders this verse in a way that supersedes other translations by far.

He (or she, anyone) that goeth forth…

This shows that you’re moving. You’re on your feet and you’re going forward. Paul said that he “press[ed] toward the mark” (Philippians 3:14). Don’t let anything keep you down. If circumstances conspire to prevent you from doing what you know God wants you to do, ask Him for help and press on. One moment, one day at a time. And where are you coming from? Is it a place of undesirableness? Someplace that God has called you out of? You wouldn’t be “going forth” if you weren’t convinced that you weren’t going to find what you’re looking for where you were. So you go forth. More power to you. Keep this in mind as we continue.

…and weepeth…

There will come a time when God will wipe away “all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). This is talking about Heaven, but God will do it here, too. Though, for a time, if need be, there are bound to be tears. Let them flow. Keep moving.

…bearing precious seed…

There are many types of seed spoken of in the Bible. Jesus says that “the seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11). Any promise you need God to perform for you is found in His word. Bring it! Don’t leave it behind. Speak it out, think about it, meditate upon it. “Write them upon the table of thine heart” (Proverbs 7:3). Whatever you do, don’t let it go. It’s your lifeline through the desert.

…shall doubtless come again…

What if God had you go back to where you came from but this time something was different? Yes, a lot has changed between parts 3 and 4. My how you’ve grown! Full of joy and thanksgiving and purpose. What have you got to lose? Why would you want to come again to wherever it was God brought you out of? Granted, some situations are so bad as to never be revisited in memory or in person. But what about the people still trapped where you once were? If you decide to go back, know that you’ll be equipped to bring them out. To rescue them. It’s what Jesus does: God, “who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

…with rejoicing…

Sure God, I’d be happy to… (it’s the supernatural order of things)

…bringing his (and her) sheaves with [them].

And this is what God gives you for your trouble. Really, it’s whatever you need to fulfill His call on your life. It’s the harvest that was promised to you for obeying God through the time of trial and “going forth” that was so, so unpleasant starting out. See, God “hath made every thing beautiful in His time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This includes your life. If it doesn’t look that way now, keep pressing forward, planting your precious seeds wherever you go. And don’t forget to rejoice. There are beautiful days ahead!

This verse makes me think of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. I wonder if he ever thought of this scripture when he was planting apples throughout antebellum America. Food for thought!

Mmm… Apple cider? Press on! God bless you.

Ending In Why

Clear as day

“This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Days are gifts. Nowadays, they seem to go by at an alarming rate. Everyone with whom I bring up this observation seems to share the same sentiment as observed for themselves. And each day bears its unique imprint. One day differs from another and not just in name only. Forgive me for stating these obvious things, but I believe that in order for us to be on the same page, we need to realize something: namely, that while we’ve had innumerable days in our past and while we may not have innumerable days going forward, each day should be cherished and lived to the fullest. Each one is a cause for celebration and gratitude towards the Lord.

“Teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12)

Moses said this. I’m not sure when he penned this Psalm but his days certainly were numbered after he struck the rock a second time. I mean no disrespect in pointing this out because Moses was

without a doubtGod’s man of the hour and he got the job done. The truth is, everyone’s days are numbered by God and the way we begin to seize the day is to realize this fact: God made me. Maybe then Moses’ exhortation begins to make a little more sense. If I was put here for a reason by someone with agency (i.e. God) then I’m not just here for self-realization and self-actualization. The simple fact that we go through a time where we don’t know who we are in the existential sensein my opinionpoints to the fact that something’s missing. And as Jesus said, “possess ye your souls with patience” (Luke 21:19). If we began in and with God, wouldn’t it be more important to spend our days getting to know Him and subsequently letting Him make us into and show us who we are? Who He created us to be? In shedding light on all these topics in one paragraph, I don’t mean to downplay the importance of any of them. Please understand first that God loves you.

“Ye are all the children of light, and children of the day” (1 Thessalonians 5:5)

Paul said this, speaking of the day in an allegorical sense. He contrasted day with night, light with dark. Peter spoke of the “day star aris[ing] in your hearts” This is what happens when we begin to see Jesus as more than an historical figure, more than a character out of a dusty tome. And certainly more than an idealized person who bears more resemblance to us in our sinful state than the God from whom He came. Jesus is the “Ancient of Days” as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet (Daniel 7: 9, 13, 22) meaning that He “is and was and is to come” (Revelation 1:4). Rejoicing in Jesus through praise, worship, really any expression of love you feel like showing Him for who He is and what He’s done for us is the way to realize Him. He more than deserves it.

David says something with reference to time in Psalm 39 (verse 5). He says “Behold, You have made my days as an handbreadth; and my age is as nothing before Thee”. Essentially, this means that our life is in His hands. It may not be much compared to the time He’s been alive (eternally) but we are in His hands, please remember this. I would rather be in the hands of God than, eternally existent without Him.

Death is part of the natural order of things. And in no way do I appeal for salvation based on that fact alone. God’s “love is stronger than death” (Song of Solomon 8:6) but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be mindful of its forthcoming reality. And it doesn’t mean that we live out our days in a morbid fear of our own mortality. Whoever wrote Psalm 118 put it perfectly. They summed it up when they wrote to rejoice and be glad. Granted, because of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, we have been given the gift of eternal life if we believe on and in Him. But this truth doesn’t contradict what the writer of Hebrews was saying when they wrote that it was “appointed unto [us] once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). In fact, I am inspired to submit to God and His script for my days so that I will end up living them out to the letter as pleasing to the One who wrote me.

Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. Winter begins (usually) on December 21st and then we have Christmas. A fitting close to a (hopefully) good year and a nice respite from the daily grind as we prepare for yet another year. It seems to have been positioned at just the right place on the calendar.

“for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7, emphasis mine)

Well, God loves everyone. What Paul is saying here is that God loves it when we give out of “the riches of [our] liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2). I draw a Christmas card every year and have since 1999. The marginal cost of the card stock and printing fee is nothing compared with the joy on people’s faces when they receive something that was handmade (albeit photocopied, nicely) for them. The maxim “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35) is proven time and again and consequently, I look forward to this time of year for that reason above many others.

“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

I bring up this point to say that we, as Christians, are celebrating Christmas for a specific reason. The birth, the inception of Jesus into this world, to live and then die for us begins—at least contemporarily—with Christmas. Before I go any further, please dispense with the jargon and nonsense disputing the “actual” birth of Jesus, when He was born or if He was even born at all. As well as how His birth, life, death and resurrection are somehow repeated throughout history and other “myths”, thereby dilluting the efficacy of Him as human and as God. Thank you. Moving forward, I would like to say, citing the first line at the top of the page and also the comment from Paul, that if God loves a cheerful giver, doesn’t it follow (preceed?) that God loves a cheerful…getter? And by getter, I mean those who get (i.e. purchase) the gifts that they in turn give to loved ones. Walking through the mall today and another store, I noticed the countenance of many people who were consumed with the atmosphere of spending frenzy that permeates much of American culture and society around this time. They didn’t seem like they were mindful of the overarching truths regarding the season. I understand that these topics I’m touching on have been hammered out for years now. And I understand why we say “Happy Holidays”—so as not to offend someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas (I really wonder how offended the average individual who didn’t partake of Christmas would be if you told them Merry Christmas with a pure motive)—but walking through these places with a friend, I felt like raising my voice and reminding them why they’re doing this at all. Then again, it’s not really my thing to draw attention to myself in spite of yelling “Jesus” above the fray. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men (and women, and elves) unto me (John 12:32). How does that phrase go? Oh yeah: Jesus is the reason for the season. And there is exponentially more joy to be had (year round) by celebrating Him  and giving from that motive. Yes we’re busy. But we can make time.

One simple gift per recipient, handmade if possible. A card that says you love someone. Bake some love into a batch of cookies or a pound cake. I’m not trying to tell you what to do. What I am saying, however, is to please, please maintain and cultivate the joy and wonder of what it means to receive the most precious gift that anyone possibly could: The Lord and Savior, the Creator, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas! “Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account”. (Philippians 4:17)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness (teachability), temperance (self-control): against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22)

If You Have It You Need to Give It: Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving:

All that gratitude has to go somewhere.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why I should thank God for the green beans I was eating for dinner (any dinner, not just Thanksgiving). My dad would thank God for what we were about to eat, whatever it was, and I would look at the creamed corn, for instance, and I’d think it came from that can right there in the trash. I had a hard time looking beyond the can. Since then—and it’s funny he’d touch on this—he taught me about farmers and packing plants and the workers of the harvest (see also Matthew 9:38) and everything that goes into getting that food from the farm, to my plate and into my tummy so I could go out and play.

Gratitude is the natural order of things. Whenever we partake of a harvest, somewhere deep down inside of us as humans, a wordless, yet tangible emotion wells up and we feel the need to pay homage to whomever, whatever had blessed us with the bounty that more than fills our needs. One thing my dad would also remark on occasionally is how, if you were to go around the neighborhood and collect the residual milk that is leftover from every “empty” milk carton in every fridge in our neighborhood, you probably would have enough for another glass of milk. Here’s the truth: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3) God’s bounty is overflowing. We partake of what we’re able and then go out to play. Gratitude to God is one of the few things (along with love, worship and praise) that we can offer in our limited human capacity. Rest assured, it’s sweet music to God’s ears. And as God always wants to give us more, I want to be sure and thank Him for what He’s already given to me so that I might keep those previous gifts fresh and new through thanksgiving.

Try this on: you can even thank Him for no reason at all: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This is in all things nor for all things.