Stygian Surroundings

“Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The word stygian originates from the mythic, underworld river Styx. It’s a synonym for dark. Pitch black. Think about this though: stars show up better when there’s less unnatural light (called light pollution) to obstruct their natural light. Diamonds, too, stand out in all their brilliance against a black velvet surface. Sometimes, God lets the atmosphere around us get so black, stygian even, before He intervenes. In other words, He wants us to stand out—for all the right reasons. Humor me here. I’m not necessarily a shy person, but I certainly don’t like to be stared at and observed. There’s a poise between stage fright and unnatural charisma that I seek to maintain. But that’s me. And I wasn’t always that way. I seem to have been born with a youthful shallowness that sought attention in spite of having nothing inside that warranted any more than the average person. Does this make sense? The balance between hamming it up for an imaginary audience and maintaining my inner equilibrium in a crowd is something that took years to develop, understand and implement. When you stand on a stage and the spotlight hits you, all is dark around you. And thank God the light is so bright you can’t see the audience.

“Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” (Romans 7:14)

God’s nature is the opposite of sin. And while we may not practice any of the outward, observable sins such as murder, adultery, or gluttony in all its forms, there are still ways that need refocus or overhaul when we meet God. “Sin”, as Oswald Chambers put it, is “red-handed mutiny against God”. God’s love is the other side of the coin and when we admit our sin, and whatever we can put our finger on, God will begin to cleanse us from “all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But it’s a process.

“But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Genesis 15:16, emphasis mine)

In the above verse, God foretells Abram of the scale of sin, so to speak, of the Amorites. I can’t pretend to know the extent of what He’s speaking to, but honestly, it sounds like something akin to a battle tactic being revealed to Abram. It’s like God is preparing His master-stroke in allowing the “iniquity of the Amorites” to get so bad as to necessitate a new paradigm of holiness. One that would stand in such stark and sharp contrast to the darkness surrounding it. Isaiah (59:19) says as much: “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.”

Is this the answer you need? If you’re asking, why do things keep getting darker and worse? The answer very well may be that God wants to reveal His light in you to where there’s absolutely no mistaking that God is in you. The hope, the love, the forgiveness. You will be that beacon for them so hang in there!

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons (and daughters) of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.”

And when you get there, don’t forget this: “I am as a wonder unto many; but Thou art my strong refuge.” (Psalm 71:7)

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Hold, Please (Holdings part 1)

Holding it in

“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13)

There are all sorts of opinions we could level at situations and circumstances. Think first though. Do we realize that, were we in the same exact position—down to the atom—of another, we’d probably make a similar decision? And if that decision the person made upset you, then you get the wonderful opportunity of lifting them before the Lord and forgiving them. In more ways than one (though not every way) are we a product of our surroundings and circumstances. We’d do well to make sure we have the facts—the ones we can ascertain and obtain—before we interject our opinions. A broad statement, I know, with a thousand applications but this is what the above verse is referencing.

Holding our tongue

“They were amazed, they answered no more: they left off speaking.” (Job 32:15)

This is Elihu speaking. He was too young to back up his “wise” opinions and assertions with actual experience. But he’s referring here to Job’s three friends, who, in spite of their age and experience had not learned to judge with mercy, compassion and forgiveness. All they could do was berate Job for something they had no hope of understanding. Even with all their combined “wisdom”. Those who might hold a position of authority neglect or reject the spirit of the law in favor of the letter. It might look like you’re just slacking off and lazy and lethargic, but you’re really under some sort of spiritual oppression because of your faith. Did you ever think of that? Job’s friends hadn’t and it doesn’t sound like Elihu was able to fathom it either. Hold on to God and He will exonerate you in your silence. As an aside, Job’s friends were silent for, it says, “seven days and seven nights…for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13) Maybe they could have waited just a little longer prior to piping up?

Holding back

“Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23)

There are all sorts of reasons to hold our tongue. To keep our mouth shut in the face of slander and accusation. There are right reasons and wrong reasons. By declaring our position, we very well may be “answering a matter before we hear it” as Solomon wrote. Best to use wisdom when faced with any lie that would seek to hinder us in any way, shape or form. When Jesus “held His peace” before His accusers, He was doing it for many reasons. First would be because His Father didn’t want Him to speak. Simple as that. “For I do always those things that please Him.” (John 8:29). And sometimes, that’s the level of obedience that God requires of us in certain situations. “Because I said so” is extremely offensive to our pride. If you feel no answer behind an acute implication of obedience to God in keeping mum, know that He has the facts and He’ll justify you when your time is right.

Holding our peace

“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)

It can indeed be hard to maintain our equilibrium in this life when we’re accosted and accused for things we had no hand in. I think it’s happened to everyone at some time and if it hasn’t, it’s bound to. Assuming it has, it’s probably something you encountered as a child and among your peers. And for whatever reason, it didn’t just remain confined to that time and place. Take heart. The peace from God that is rightfully yours is something that you can give when you do choose to speak. That’s the key. Opening our mouth to spew venom back at those who originally tried to infect us will only perpetuate the problem. You want to see them in Heaven don’t you?

“Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” (Philippians 2:16)

To the Letter

“His letters, say they, are weighty and powerful…” (2 Corinthians 10:10) Paul is referring here to those who read the epistles he wrote and then complained that he didn’t have the authority or intensity when he was actually there in person, to back up what he said with an equally imposing “bodily presence”. I want to talk here of individual letters.

“Majuscule” refers to upper-case letters, “minuscule” to lower-case. And before we begin, let me just say that the ancient Greek written alphabet had no case distinction. No capital letters, no lower-case. Just one size, in other words. This changed around 800 AD.

“For verily I say unto you, till Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18) Jesus is speaking here of the perfection and inevitable fulfillment of God’s word. In other words, everything that God has spoken—every word, every line, every letter—will happen as He’s said. As an aside, Psalm 96:10 says “the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved”. This doesn’t negate the statement of Jesus, but if there were ever a choice between the two, it’s the world that’d be going down. Maybe that’s why the earth is in such disrepair today? Food for thought. I digress.

In the Swedish alphabet, the letter “O” with an umlaut accent (two dots) above it is the word for “island”. I’m unable to show you what it looks like with my plain-old English keyboard. Harder still is the actual sound that it makes. If you’re not Swedish, it’s hard to reproduce. Like very guttural “er” but that’s too simple.

Alphabets are amazing. The fact that we have little hand-written symbols that express the individual sounds that we make with our vocal cords, throat and mouth is beyond miraculous. Coupled with the cognitive ability of thought and language, life is indeed a wonder to behold. Even more fun to live. But it’s the most fun when lived with and for the God who created you.

The Bible pronounces some serious judgment on those who tamper with the Word of God. It’s no laughing matter. Listen: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:19) Admittedly, John is referring here to the Book of Revelation. Peter says that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20) But the same goes for the rest of the Bible. It’s a collection of books written and compiled over thousands of years by hundreds of different hands but it all tells the same story. God’s the Creator, He loves you. Jesus died for you and wants to spend eternity with you. Follow it to the letter. Better still, follow Him.

We only capitalize “a” when it’s by itself at the beginning of a sentence. It’s a humble little letter in spite of being the first. Maybe we could learn a lesson from that? Even though it’s first, it doesn’t need to show off. As (another) aside, the word for ‘hell’ in Russian, when spelled, looks like a lower case ‘a’ next to an upper-case one. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not an upper-case “A” (again, unable to type in another language) but a heavy “t”  sound. Phew. “That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters.” (2 Corinthians 10:9)

The letter “I” is capitalized in the English language because it’s a personal pronoun, taking the place of your name when you refer to yourself. And as your name is capitalized, well… Strangely enough, the center letter of the words ‘sin’ and ‘lie’ and ‘pride’ are all “i”. Or is it “I”? Just be careful. It’s a “capital” offense.

In closing, Jesus refers to Himself in Revelation (22:13) as the “Alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω), the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” But is He everything in between? There’s only one way to find out and that’s to know Him. Follow Him to the letter.

Whys and Therefores

“Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” (John 6:29)

“Therefore” is one of my favorite words. It shows something. It leads into the speaker’s intended point. The one built upon the preceding explanation. It’s a word of action and sometimes, finality. In math, it’s symbolized by three dots arranged like an equilateral triangle. Very cool. The Latin word for “therefore” is ergo. Use that to make a point if you want to sound smart. Just make sure you actually have something that merits the usage of “ergo”. If you don’t think that it’ll come across or be appreciated, use “therefore”.

As “therefore” is an adverb, we know that it’s a word that is used to modify verbs. To give direction to action and therefore help it along. In the Bible, the word “therefore” shows up many times to inform us how God would have us do a thing. It might appear several hundred times throughout but let’s look at a couple of the ways that it’s used (in the King James) to qualify action.

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28) What Paul just explained, in the verses prior, was that not only had every human sinned and been found guilty of breaking His laws, but that Jesus Christ was the one who fulfilled everything that His Father laid out for the human race. Only, He did it with the right heart attitude, one of love for His Father. By faith as opposed to a strict and lifeless (and loveless) morality. When Paul says that “we conclude that a man is justified…”, understanding Jesus’ death brings out the understanding also that we can stop trying to be good to gain something we know we’ll never obtain. God’s favor has already been won by Jesus. What Jesus did by dying on the cross actually allows us to understand that God is a God of love, not just judgment. Oh, He’s both, don’t kid yourself. Choose one. But be sure and make an informed decision.

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you , that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deuteronomy 30:19, emphasis mine)

So, the word ergo from the Latin, means “therefore”. The prefix “ergo-“, however, means “work”. An ergometer is a device that records the work a muscle performs when it contracts. Ergonomics is a branch of engineering that deals with the working conditions of people in order to make those conditions easier. Seen from this angle, it’s almost like “therefore” means “get to work”.

Humility is right up there with love and belief as a heart-action. Actions on the outside can be performed for any number of reasons. God looks on the heart though. The love and humility that we show Him will determine both the effectiveness and the longevity of our outward actions. Look at what Peter says:

“Likewise, ye younger, submit youselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) This idea is expressed the same but with different words when Paul says “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3b). It means to love everyone and consider their needs before our own. A caveat: don’t neglect the things you need to do for yourself so that you can be there for others. Going back to what Peter said, about God giving grace to the humble, check this out: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5, emphasis mine) It can be hard to humble ourselves. But it’s the only way that God can and will promote us. The harder we work, in humility, the more God can do through us. We must never lose sight of the love and justification of Jesus, and His humility that we need to go from one position to another. “Therefore” is indeed a humble little word with a heavy cross to bear.

In closing, a minor aside. The suffix -there means “beast”. As in beast of burden?

Get to work!

Finishing Touches

“The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best.” Oswald Chambers (emphasis mine)

or:

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire

Which one is it? Probably something in between. I don’t think that any one situation calls for one overarching statement over another, but let’s see.

It’s hard to know when to quit on a project that’s good enough. Artists, writers, musicians. Creative types of every stripe have to deal with this gnawing feeling that says the work is not finished. Never good enough. It influences and infects everyone who wants to make something and show it off to the world at large. Everyone, that is, except for God. This is a wonderful complex to analyze from a dispassionate perspective, if possible.

“And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:30, emphasis mine) “Very good” as in perfect? “Very good” as in good enough? That’s about right. I mean, if it’s good enough for God, it must be…good enough.

So you want to create. That’s a given. You have this nigh intangible feeling, this impulse on your insides that drives you to put pen to paper, words and structure to music, or render visually what you see with your mind’s eye. Wonderful. Notice how that gift is self-perpetuating. It’s something that you work at to—not perfect (that’s too simple a qualifier)—but exercise and polish and refine. In this way, as Voltaire expressed, perfection is indeed the enemy of the good. Perfection is always on the horizon and always something that will drive us like a carrot on a stick if we’re not content to be good enough. This, I think, is the idea behind his statement.

Voltaire was one of the key figures of the Enlightenment. While some of the ideas expressed therein were only practical, the main idea was that man was good without God. The very idea of God was shown to be (looked at as) non-essential, oppresive and detrimental. Far from the perfect and exacting-but-loving person He is. God requires holiness. He requires perfection. But thankfully (and this is from faith) Jesus is the one who gave us His perfection for the things that His Father (“and your[s]” John 20:17) requires. Does this make sense? Things like sinlessness and the heart attitude (let alone spiritual re-creation) that allows us to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Things of perfection that we have no chance in hell of ever attaining. God provided us with the finishing touches on our spiritual life by having His Son take the blame for our sin. And we sin more than we know. There are always ways that we can be refining and detailing our spiritual walk. Take heart. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Even the flaws that we can’t see as yet. God will wash us clean of everything that isn’t in keeping with His holiness. Again, it’s a process. One that began when you accepted Jesus.

“Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:9)

Now, in things of creativity, how good is “good enough”—for us? When we put first things first, the contentment we need to maintain our sanity in light of a driving creative force is supplied by God. Yes, we want to show off our art (whatever it may be), but there’s a satisfaction that comes from the process. We’ll know when it’s done. If it’s not “perfect” but “good enough”, that’s good enough. Put it out there then start on something else.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michaelangelo

What’s What

I’ll tell you what.

The word, aside from being a question all its own, also implies fact. Substance. What is it? The “what” is what it is. It takes the form of at least half-a-dozen parts of speech as well. A very versatile and important concept contained within only four letters. What is “what”? That’s what we’d like to know.

“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

We are born into this world with questions galore. And if we’re doing it right, we retain our questioning capacity and capability as we grow and age. Whenever we lose or forget or neglect the “whats” or the “whens” or the “whys” then we begin to lose our childlikeness. And of course this swings both ways. Paul said that when he “became a man”, that he “put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) He’s advocating growing up and laying aside the things of childish naivete. There are ways that God can bless us only when we take on responsibility. That’s the way to become a man. I’d wager it’s the same for a woman. “The day you take responsibility”, my dad would say, “is the day you become a man.” It’s true. Because when you’re willing to take the blame and the fall, then (assuming you’re humble) you’ll necessarily need to look to God for help. I digress. The other way of looking at this is when we’ve “thought through” and see no viable reason to retain faith or belief in a God we can’t see with our eyes, laying the childlike humility aside, the “whats” become something we think we’ll always be able to answer on our own. If you find yourself making your own reasons–reasons other than God–then please consider the God who made you and wants to answer your questions. Your whats. There’s a danger in relying only on what we can perceive without letting in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It applies to everything from sound financial decisions, to choices in relationships, to something as simple as going to work the same way when God knows that you need to take a different route for reasons unknown (to you). Questions of Origin. Of compelling complexity. Of stymieing simplicity. He’ll show you what’s what. Only, that is, if we take the time to ask and wait and not jump to conclusions.

“And if any man (or woman) think that [they] know anything, [they] know nothing yet as [they] ought to know. But if any[one] love God, the same is known of Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3) And when it says, “the same is known of Him” it means that those who love God are known by Him. Far greater than any quantity of knowledge we could amass. Don’t just saturate your neurons whilst neglecting the unknown quantity of the spiritual.

The first line of the above passage basically says that if we’ve stopped acknowledging God and closed our minds to His truth, then we know nothing. It must be viewed in light of the second line. Love. Love always trumps knowledge and information. The restless acquisition of knowledge in the pursuit of better lives is something that plagues modern-day humanity. The answers to life’s practical questions are found in the Bible. There may be rampant skepticism leveled at every corner of scripture, but that doesn’t make it any less true for the person who puts their faith and their actions in the God who is revealed therein. A God who in turn revealed His love for us through Jesus. And His childhood, His adulthood and His death and resurrection. His love is what’s what. His love is the answer to all of life’s important questions. So ask them, don’t be afraid. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the One who does.

In closing, I’d like to make mention of Theoretical Physicist Freeman Dyson and a dream related in his book “Disturbing the Universe”. He dreamed he was sitting in his kitchen in Princeton with his daughters. While there, an elevator came down from Heaven to take he and his girls to see God. When they arrived, the elevator let them off in the throne room and while he sought to find God to ask him the burning questions on his heart and mind, all they found, squirming on the seat of the throne, was a little baby. As he beheld the infant, he felt all of the knowledge to his question fill his heart. In his dream, he may not have found Heaven exactly as he’d expected and I’m not one to interpret someone else’s dream unbidden, but it would seem that the child was the answer to his whats.

“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

That’s what. More specifcally: “Who”

Natant, Supernatant

From the same root as nautical, ‘natant’ just means swimming, floating. Supernatant is above the water. Supernatant refers to one type of liquid that does not mix with another and so stays on top. Like oil and water.

Oil in the Bible is synonymous with the blessing of God, His anointing. Jesus refers to the Good Samaritan (in Luke 10:34) “pouring in oil and wine” as he cares for the wounded traveler.

Oil also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The five wise virgins awaiting the bridegroom in Matthew 25 (verse 4) “took oil in their vessels with their lamps.” The point here is that the oil of God, be it for light or for healing or for anointing and blessing, is so radically different and precious as to not even be compared with that which we can muster alone.

Oil symbolizes unity and brotherly love: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment (essentially olive oil) upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;” (Psalm 133:1-2) Here, just like the prior examples, oil (ointment) is seen as the blessing of calm and peace in interpersonal relationships. Something from above. “He that soweth discord among brethren” is listed among the six things the Lord hates in Proverbs, chapter six. When you and your friend’s gears grind for lack of oil, know that God has all you need and will help you through via the Holy Spirit. One of the great tragedies of life is a relationship that spoils because one or both refused to “pour in oil” to dress and address a wound brought about by negilgence and ill-humor. God knows. He’ll keep things flowing smoothly. Ask for the oil of the Holy Spirit to do its (His) thing. He won’t let you down.

Now, “oil and water don’t mix”. You’ll hear that in school and find it to be true in life. When you mix up french dressing, voila! Without any vinegar, the two won’t stay together. Vinegar acts as the emulsifier between the two. Vinegar, which is essentially fermented wine (which in turn is fermented grape juice), enables the two to mix. That’s good news because vinegar is what you get when you suffer. The wine of life sits and sits and ferments. You think nothing’s happening, but God is working all the disparate ingredients into something unique, something beautiful. The pieces will come together and it will all make sense. In His time.

It’s interesting to think about baby Moses who, in Exodus chapter 2, is hid in a basket by his mother and sent to float down the Nile in order to escape the genocide of male babies in Egypt. Floating, natant. Contrast that with Jesus, who in Matthew’s Gospel (14:25), “went unto them (the disciples), walking on the sea.”

Can’t get more supernatant than that.