Saeculums

“I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.” (Psalm 77:5)

A saeculum is a good old-fashioned Latin word. A loose definition would be the end of an era. Specifically defined, it means the end of a ruler’s (i.e. Caesar’s) reign.

I’m referring to it here to a change in the spiritual and cultural atmosphere.

Anytime the years change over, I always feel that it marks a special (positive) shift in my relationship with God. Then again, I wonder how much I can just sit back and let it happen or if it’s something for which God will need my complete attention, involvement and support. Much like any other day of the year, of my life.

Are you familiar with the “Gordian Knot”? An ancient knot tied by Gordius, King of Phrygia (a country in Asia Minor) Historically, it was a knot that was so intricate that no one could untie it. Really, it was prophesied that the person who was to rule Asia was the one who would untie it. Whoever came upon it–much like young Arthur pulling the sword from the stone–and untied the Gordian Knot was destined to rule the continent. So what does the eminently pragmatic Alexander the Great do? He simply cuts right through it. “Despise not prophesyings.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20) Then again, Gordius most likely didn’t know God, i.e. Jehovah.

Now, what does this kind of hubris and brio and boldness mean for us? Well, without the right heart attitude, without humility, God doesn’t like it when we take our destiny into our own hands.

Jesus says in Luke (21:19) to “possess ye your souls with patience.” (emphasis mine) I respect Alexander’s decision to change the course of history and make it work for him. And I believe at its core, such confidence and assertiveness is good. In other words, God can use it. Proverbs (14:26) says that “in the fear of the Lord is strong confidence and His children shall have a place of refuge”. But in taking hold of our future, God would have us rest in Him. Sure, be willing to step out. Like, tomorrow: we’ll all step out into a new year. But also be willing to let God choose for you. Even if you feel that a saeculum is ending and a new one is beginning. Without God to guide us into our destiny, we might find ourselves in deep water, over our heads and inundated.

The Holy Spirit is the one who “show[s us] things to come.” (John 16:13) How then, if we sense a change in the winds can we do anything, anything aside from humbling ourselves and listening for God to direct us into those beautiful new vistas of blessing, purpose and contentment.

“Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness; and Thy paths drop fatness (abundance)” Psalm 65:11

Happy New Year! Let’s see what good things God has planned!

??

The Forest for the Leaves…

Imagine if you will a dense forest. It doesn’t matter what country it’s in because it doesn’t have to be real. It could be so beautiful that even Earth itself was unable to maintain and contain the unsullied atmosphere that you find in your (neck of the) woods. I’m sure there are forests on this earth that mirror perfectly the image I have in my mind. After all, it’s only from seeing forests (in person, in movies) that I have a kernel of fact with which to imagine from. But I’m talking about the most beautiful, fresh-green forest you would ever want to find yourself in. Is it morning? The sun rising in the distance and filtering through the branches, rendering the leaves bright and opaque. Maybe it’s midday. It might be the middle of Summer and hot but you don’t feel it. The shade from the canopy keeps out both the light and heat. There’s a cool breeze flowing among the gnarled trunks. It waves the leaves around and they whisper to you the promises of God. Now imagine that, in spite of the beauty, you’d been traveling for days and days and months. If you don’t remember when you entered this forest, that’s okay. You might have noticed that now, we’ve gone from imagining for ourselves a great forest to imagining ourselves within. I say all of this to get firmly fixed in your thinking that “the forest is beautiful”. Remember this.

The forest for the trees connotes that we’re blind and desensitized to the larger reality of things. If, as I mentioned before, you ever found yourself wandering through a dense yet beautiful forest for days on end, would you stop noticing the beauty after a while? I think I would. Even if our journey started out wonderfully enough, without map and compass, we’d likely lose interest in the birds singing in the branches and any low hanging fruit that at one time tickled our fancy. Maybe some honey might open our eyes? As an aside, there’s a story in 1 Samuel (14:24) where King Saul is seeking to fulfill some illogical revenge complex and exacts a curse on all of his men if they eat anything. They’re travelling and sure to be famished but they don’t even so much as taste any food. Then it says “And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.” (14:25) The funny thing is, Jonathan, Saul’s son, hadn’t heard the command of his father and decides to eat some of the honey. It says “and his eyes were enlightened.” I think that’s pretty cool. Food for thought: something so simple as partaking of a sweet blessing—and presumably giving thanks—is enough to open one’s eyes. And to keep us pressing on:

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

but I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep. Robert Frost

Just like the desert, the forest inspires one to keep moving. I don’t know if we’re moving toward civilization? Toward the coast? The plain? A forest can inspire fear and despondency as well. If you’re lost. Or wonder and awe depending on your heart condition. Restless, discombobulated, anxious? Keep moving. But to where?

“Lo we head of it at Ephrata: we found it in the fields of the wood.” (Psalm 132:6) The fields of the wood. I like that. It reminds me of childhood dreams and a fulfilling adventure anchored by the love of a parent at home. We’ve come to a clearing. David is speaking in this Psalm of looking for a “place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob” (132:5). This verse could be seen as prophetic of Jesus’ birth because “Ephrata” is another name for Bethlehem. It means “fruitfulness” in Hebrew. Do you see where this is going? Wherever and however we’re headed through the bright forest of wonder or lost in the “tangled forest of bad decisions”, God wants to get to us. The field within the forest is spoken of as “fruitful”. Can I draw that inference? A place to rest and relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors and maybe, just maybe (essential) meet up with Jesus if we’d lost sight of Him among the trees, before we press on in our journey.

The edge of the forest promises something new. Something as yet uncharted. Keep going and stay alert.

Do you feel it?

Yay! The Deep Things of God.

*ahem* I mean, “yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

“But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11, emphasis mine)

I don’t know about you, but the notion that there are things to this life and our existence therein that are above and beyond our capacity to understand fills me with both excitement and wonder. Things like dreams and interpretations. Visions and prophecy and tongues. Spiritual gifts that are ours for the asking. That is, if our heart is right before God.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

Daniel (2:22) says that “He revealeth the deep and secret things: He knoweth what is in darkness, and the light dwelleth with Him.” Daniel was uniquely blessed with the ability to interpret dreams. Nebuchadnezzar speaking to Daniel regarding a particularly puzzling and prophetic dream: “O Belteshazzar (Daniel’s Babylonian name), master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee…” (Daniel 4:9, emphasis mine)

Joseph had the same gift: “And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you.” (Genesis 40:8)

Paul, it seems, had a special corner on the spiritual. Granted, he was in a position of immense responsibility before the Lord, having founded many of the first-ever Christian churches as scattered throughout Asia Minor after Jesus commissioned him an Apostle. Much of the mores and maxims we as Christians have for the proper procedures governing spiritual matters came through Paul’s pen. In his first letter to the Corinthians, fourteenth chapter, he touches on the topic of speaking in tongues. Writing to the Ephesians (1:17), he speaks of receiving from God “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him”. He exhorts those in Colosse to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)

Think about this: There are laws that govern every single aspect of the natural world and universe. From the fine points of vector calculus (which I don’t even pretend to approach understanding) to the esoteric and ethereal laws of theoretical physics (hasn’t CERN found the Higgs Boson yet? Actually, as of writing, they hadn’t but the Physicists at the CERN supercollider in Switzerland did indeed find something resembling the Higgs Bosonthe “God Particle” in July of 2012) to the reason for the northern lights. Everything, everything follows a pattern. A pattern that was put into place by God. Shouldn’t it follow then, that the bedrock of reality—i.e. the spiritual realm—have the same fine-tuning as the physical, natural universe? If we understand God’s character, then I believe so.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) I believe that God will reveal these things to us if He’s called us to know them. One of the ways that we know is by our innate curiosity.

The spiritual is happening all around us all the time. And while we’re not called (I don’t believe) to stay solely focused on that to the neglect of the practical aspects of life, I do believe that the Holy Spirit wants to make us aware of things that affect us on a spiritual plane.

It would seem to me that the Holy Spirit is the last member of the Trinity that we as a church have yet to cozy up to. When Jesus labels the unforgivable sin as “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 12:31), I think that many Christians read that and are so scared of doing that very thing that they push Him to the periphery and go for long stretches without acknowledging Him one whit. I know I’m guilty of this. The sad thing about this kind of treatment is that it blurs into what Paul calls “quench[ing]” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This “quenching” of the Holy Spirit can in turn be tantamount to “griev[ing]” Him (Ephesians 4:30). And that’s where things get scary.

As a kid, I was afraid of committing the unforgivable sin. As I shared my concern with my dad, he shared some watchwords of wisdom with me. He said that the very fact that I have a concern shows that I am in right standing with God in regards to this. And he also taught me that God loves me enough to see to it that I never get so far out of His leading and protection that I stray into the slightest possibility of commiting the unforgivable sin.

The Holy Ghost is first and foremost our comforter and our teacher (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). He loves us as much as Jesus does, as much as does the Father. He’s so gentle and He pervades all of Creation in every realm of existence (because of what Jesus did on the cross, I might add). Spiritual and physical. And God would have us as a body of believers be led of His Holy Spirit to receive the “deep things of God” that were spoken of by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Holding Our Peace When Words Fail Us

“Not with enticing words of man’s wisdom…” (1 Corinthians 2:4)

Which one do I use? Garrulous? Loquacious? Verbose or Ventose? Prolix? Wordy.

The concept of language fascinates me. How we can have these intangible things called thoughts and be able through simple (figuratively, of course) mental processes coupled with vocal cords and mouth parts, transmute those thoughts into spoken word? A word that conveys the aformentioned invisible thought that was previously known only to the thinker? Wow.

Did God whisper when He spoke the universe into existence? He didn’t have to yell if He didn’t want to. He speaks the universe into being and then some time (?) later His Word becomes flesh and blood with Jesus. Just thinking about these things is enough to render one speechless.

Jesus relates a parable in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 22, verse 12, emphasis mine). He talks about a king arranging a wedding for his son and calling everyone to attend. When the king arrives at the feast and sees a man having snuck in without a wedding garment, he asks him a question: “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.” The king proceeds to have his servants throw out the underdressed individual. Isaiah speaks of putting on “the garment of praise” (61:3) I’m sure there’s a correlation in there somewhere.

Use your words.

Jesus’ disciples are exclaiming His praises as the Pharisees look on, unimpressed. They tell Jesus to have them shut up, to which Jesus responds “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40) Sometimes it’s just gotta be said.

One thing I like to do if I’m bored or at a loss for words in prayer is to take the alphabet and think of a sincere, adulating adjective beginning with each letter, successively. And then praise Him thusly. “Jesus, You are Awesome. The Best. So Considerate, etc.” My dad taught me also to tell God why. Why don’t I know what to say. God knows.

The point is, God has given us our language to render Him in our own unique way. Referring again to the concept of turning our thoughts into words, I know that God knows the thoughts of my innermost being. But this doesn’t mean that a transaction has taken place if I don’t take the time and use my words to relate what I’m thinking and feeling and present those as prayers before Him. Something wonderful happens when we talk to God. I believe He is able to act once we’ve opened up to Him to the best of our ability. Prayer has a manifold benefit of not only keeping us in contact with “our Father which art in Heaven” (Matthew 6:9), but also hearing ourselves as we speak to Him. Developing that inner voice and using our vocabulary to the best of our ability is essential to rounding out our Christian walk. Which, by the way, is also known as our “conversation” (Philippians 1:27). Interesting.

The angel tells Daniel (10:12): “I am come for thy words.” God responds when we speak to Him.

Making It Look Easy

The Christian way of life can be hard to encapsulate in a sentence or a paragraph. Or a book for that matter. Diarmaid MacCullough spends nearly 1200 pages telling the history of Christendom in his book Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Quite a tome.

I would like to touch on one of Jesus’ parables. The “parable of the talents” as recorded in Matthew (chapter 25) or pounds as it’s translated and related in Luke’s Gospel (chapter 19). Upon receiving respectively one, two and five pounds of money (a unit of monetary value, not weight), three servants of one master proceed to invest—or in the case of the servant with one pound, hoard—the money given and entrusted to them. The Master in the story is Jesus and the money represents gifts and talents. When the Master returns from His journey into “a far country” (Matthew 25:14, Luke 19:12), he calls the servants to Him. Two are able to present a return on the Master’s investment and the third (the servant who only got one) has nothing but excuses to give. In Luke 19, verse 20, the servant says “behold, here is Thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin”. In other words, the master got no return on His investment from the third servant. He continues on in verse 21: “For I feared Thee, because Thou are an austere man“. In Matthew’s Gospel, that word austere is translated “hard”. A “hard man” (25:24). The master responds in kind. The next verse reads: “And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man…” (emphasis mine). Did you catch that? The master doesn’t deny that he was an “austere” or “hard man”. This, I think, is a side of Jesus that modern-day Christianity has a hard time reconciling with the sweet lamb-like image of Jesus that we’ve been inculcated with. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jesus is the most gentle person you’ll ever meet. “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). But this doesn’t mean that He’s not “the lion of the tribe of Juda” as He’s referred to in Revelation 5:5.

I say all of that to say this: Anyone who makes Christianity to look like a walk in the park, to look easy, is doing Jesus a disservice. Even to the point of being detrimental.

Did Jesus make it look easy? Luke 6:12 speaks of Jesus going “out into a mountain to pray and continu[ing] all night in prayer to God”. That takes discipline. That’s not easy. Not without God’s help. When I feel miserable or dark and moody and I know that it’s only because the devil would try and distract me from the task at hand—namely, seeking God’s face, I feel like giving up. Like doing something else or just falling asleep. “When Thou saidst, Seek my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” (Psalm 27:8) I know that if Jesus had given up when the pressure was great, I woudn’t be here. There is comfort and strength in this word of Paul’s, however: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) Say this to yourself. Make it your prayer. Make it…

Sometimes, the only way God can get something done, in your life, your child’s life, your friend’s life, your neighborhood, city, state, country, etc. (world) is for you to dig in and stay for the duration. Jettison any notion that things are going get any easier any time soon. Please understand, I’m an eternal optimist and I continually believe that life on earth will get better and sweeter (as God reveals Himself) culminating in Heaven. Figuratively and literally. If that sounds naive, I apologize. But I also realize and am realizing more and more every day that God is in this for the long haul. And that He has some different notions than I.

Don’t fall for any interpretation of the Gospel that dilutes the difficult work of holiness and true, godly spirituality. This is disconcerting because it means that the status quo can continue on, unabated, and that the enemy can continue to encroach on God’s territory. It can’t last forever. Either we wake up and start enjoying the hard work of Christian discipline—in love—or God will have to intervene and show Himself to be austere (when He’s actually just really strong). I think that’s a good way to look at it. God’s strength to overcome the difficulties of life is without measure. And He’ll give it to us. Much as we need. I would like to reference this scripture from Nehemiah (8:10): “for the joy of the Lord is your strength”. God truly is a happy and joyful person. It’s when we worship Him and praise Him in love then the Holy Spirit is released to reveal that aspect of His character and personality. Really, it’s at the very depth of His being: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, emphasis mine)

“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he (and she!) that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in [them]” (1 John 4:16)

One more thing in closing. And this is something to fall asleep to: Y’know the phrase “out of the mouth of babes”? That’s originally from the Bible and it’s Jesus quoting the Psalms, so it appears twice. The original phrase is from Psalm eight, verse two and it says: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and avenger.” Yet when Jesus quotes it in the King James Version (Matthew 21:16), the verse reads: “Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?” Do you see the correlation? Praise/strength, strength/praise. Which one is it? Why don’t we try it and see? And watch God get the best return on His investment in us. With interest.

The Heights, The Depths

“Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise Him in the heights.” (Psalm 148:1)

When was the last time you were on cloud nine? Did you wake up from dreams that infused your sleep with a pleasant atmosphere? Was it when you received a letter or email or text from a friend, either current or past? How did the rest of what was going on in your life play in to what made you high? While there, did you wonder how you could retain and maintain that level of spiritual ecstasy in spite of your surroundings? That’s normal. Paul says however, that he had learned “in whatever state [he was], therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)

This isn’t a call to cynicism or pessimism. More of a reminder toward pragmatism and circumspection. “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect” (Exodus 23:13). My opinion—my ideal—is that we should always be focused on God rather than our feelings. Granted, our feelings are gifts from Him and form a great part of our life before the Lord. I believe also that the Holy Spirit speaks through our feelings if they’re oriented toward Him and His Word. But! When we place our faith in the mercurial whims of our feelings, then we may just be left high and dry. And that’s not a good thing.

I think it’s dangerous to walk around feeling good all the time for no discernible reason. Sometimes a feeling of happiness or peace may not have come from God. Don’t worry, this is the Holy Spirit’s specialty. Helping us decipher the wordless depths of our being. If Jesus had responded as His feelings had dictated, would He still have said “not my will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42) when He was suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane? I wonder.

Shallows and Narrows

As an aside, the root of “narrows” (naar) means “unpleasant”. If you’re reading this and you live in the United States of America, try and mentally strip away all of the happiness and peace and self-satisfaction you feel that might be the result of your station in life. And imagine yourself free (literally) of all of those trappings and simply yourself, before the Lord. Forgive me for being a touch negative, but I wonder how many of us take for granted just how good we have it because of the country in which we live and the freedoms we possess.

“Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off.” (Psalm 139:2) The previous verse says “O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me.” David had evidently invited God into his emotional life and allowed Him to search out the dark corners of feeling that many people keep from Him. Verse eight says “If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.” For many years, I was afraid of any trace of shadow or depression because I felt I could not control it. And while I wanted to be happy all the time, what I didn’t realize was that the greater thing—the constant realization of God’s presence—was infinitely more important than simple garden-variety happiness. It might take longer for you to build up a conscious awareness of God’s presence but it’s worth the effort–it lasts longer as well. I also think that our feelings can be one of the last frontiers for us to “bring into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27) before the Lord. And until we do, I don’t believe that God can use us in a fuller way—the way He truly wants to. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil…” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Let’s just cut to the chase. When Jesus says that we must “deny [ourselves], take up our cross daily and follow [Him].” (Luke 9:23) And then Paul rounds this out with the addendum: “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31). What more reason do we have to feel good? Hmm…

How ’bout this: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, emphasis mine) There is such peace in this verse that it’s nigh indescribable.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Don’t be afraid to let God take you wherever and however He chooses to the life He has for you. If it means there’s some downtime while you reorient your feelings toward Him and His Word, then let Him gently guide you through those depths while on your way to the heights.

A Commensurate Response

Here’s the thing about Christmas in America.

When we celebrate the holiday of Christmas on the 25th of December and then work through all the flack about how it was stolen from the pagans and how Jesus wasn’t actually born on that day and then you appropriate the tree symbolism into your house and home. And then continue on by giving gifts and kissing under the mistletoe and carolling and participating in parties, etc. When after the presents are unwrapped and you sit down in front of the TV and play your new video game or watch a movie and enjoy some hot tea or egg nog. Do you see what I’m getting at? We’re doing all of this in celebration of, not only God’s bountiful, giving nature, but on behalf of His “only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

The beauty of modern-day Christmas tends to be overshadowed by an influx of activity and hedonism. You can understand how many people (to a certain degree, myself included) look forward to it all being over and jumping back into their year-round routine.

I say all of this to remind you of what is important, namely Jesus.

“For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”  (1 Timothy 6:7) The blessings and the bounty and the beauty of what God gives us both materially, physically and spiritually deserve a commensurate response in gratitude, praise and worship. Of course, I’m talking to myself here because, let’s face it, I usually get pretty cool stuff for Christmas. But if the wonder of the presents fades (it will) and you wonder why you’re struck with a feeling of emptiness in spite of the atmosphere (and also what to do about it), then may I simply suggest a passage from the Psalms (34:1): “I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall thereof and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (and here’s the kicker) I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

So-o: Happy Birthday to Jesus!

I’d celebrate it on whatever day and as I don’t have the power to unravel thousands of years of history and Christendom and tradition, December 25th is good enough for me.