Holding On/Holding Out (Holdings part 2)

“Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:4)

What’s the holdup?

“Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but Thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: Oh save me for Thy mercies’ sake.” (Psalm 6:2-4, emphasis mine)

What does it mean to truly wait on the Lord? To align ourselves with His timing? One way to look at whatever lesson  He’s teaching is to see that the only reason you’re waiting on Him, is because you love Him and you both know He’s real and also that He’s going to deliver. Come to think of it, those are the qualifications laid out in Hebrews 11:6. “…he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” God highly prizes our patience. We can’t see all the things that must be in order for us to receive our miracle and I’d wager that we probably wouldn’t be able to handle that knowledge if we did see it. So until then, keep waiting. Be “content with such things as ye have” (Hebrews 13:5). God hasn’t forgotten about you.

Withholdings

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” (Proverbs 3:27)

When we wait on the Lord for whatever it is we need, there’s usually some part of us that needs to be retooled, fixed, overhauled or otherwise made more Christ-like. I find that the patience I show others is directly proportionate to the patience I’m willing to show God. As God is the deepest part of us, everything that we do with reference to others, springs from that center. When Jesus said “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40), He’s only telling it like it is. We are made in God’s image and remade in Christ’s because of our new spiritual birth. Any lessons we need to learn are to be learned prior to receiving our miracle. So be patient with others. Be kind and compassionate. God will put other people in your path who are just like you. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated, by others and by God Himself. A tall order but totally doable–with God’s help.

Strongholds

“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. The years it took winding up the ways of thinking that aren’t in tune with the character of Jesus may in turn take years again to unwind, to unravel. God’s gotcha, don’t worry. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matthew 5:23-34) Jesus lays down guidelines for interacting with God. A pure heart towards others is what God requires of us. Granted, some people might shut themselves off from your penance but God sees that you made the effort. And in that case, it truly is the thought that counts.

Holdings

Job lost everything. “The greatest of all the men of the east” (1:3), he was reduced to a sorry excuse for a human being. Betrayed by his friends, his wife, his community, even his own body, it would seem that the answers to his dilemma were on another plane. Not one of those who commiserated with him had the answer that would allay his suffering and bring him comfort. However, toward the end of the book (42:11), we see this fact made plain: “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends:” God will do for us what we do for others. All of Job’s wealth and status could not prevent his life from being turned upside-down. And much like Jesus, everyone seems to have believed the worst of him. But just like with you (should you be encountering the same), God will speak from Heaven and set things in order. The truth will prevail. Just make sure you’ve made yourself ready to hear it.

By the way, the second part of that verse from Job reads thusly: “also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” How would Job be able to handle the added responsibility of a double portion of what he was initially unable to retain and maintain? I’d say that whatever he learned by going through the trials he did, enabled him to hold on to the blessing of a double-sized life.

“Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord; Selah: To Him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old; lo, He doth send out His voice, and that a mighty voice.” (Psalm 68-32-33)

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The Wonders Never Cease

“Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.” (Psalm 72:18-19)

It’s amazing how people think at the speed they do. The lightning-cascade of thought and meaning and consequence happens and their face screws and scrunches up into an image of detestation and disagreement. If they do. Disagree, that is.

Considering the encroaching tide of data that seeks to negate God’s station as Creator (and existence, period), you’d think more and more people of faith would be leaving the church, citing the age of the earth and the infallibility of science as well as His seeming lack of involvement. What with the ever-expanding sources of information and all. This attitude is something, I’m guessing, that those of a materialist bent possess. How can they not see it? Au contraire. My attitude, in spite of the complexity and wonder and beauty of the natural world, is precisely the same leveled at them with reference to God. How can they not see Him? Oh yeah:

“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine upon them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Most things can be deduced from their constituent parts. Most things. We look at matter and break it down and we think we know. Molecules. Atoms. Quarks, gluons, leptons. Higgs bosons*. Neutrinos. The wonders never cease. Rewind time back past six-thousand years and find that it goes back further, supposedly negating the opening volleys of the Book of Genesis (although creationists/intelligent design advocates might want to look at how the science they use to tabulate the age of Old Testament incidents is the same that says the earth is older than six-thousand). Okay. I’m with ya. But so is Jesus: Consider the story in Luke’s Gospel, of the road to Emmaus. When Jesus showed up and walked with them, they didn’t even realize it was Him. This is the state of much of the world, Christian and non. One of the two men might as well represent the non-believing, because we’re all in this together. Notice Jesus’ brilliance in expounding the events leading up to that time. “What things?” He asks them. He knew, though. “And” it says, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27, emphasis mine) Look what Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians: “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine upon them.” It’s about Jesus. The Holy Spirit will witness to none other. I say all of that to say that our position as Christians is not to debate the fine points of geology and paleontology (note: not named after William Paley, don’t make that inference) or neuroscience with reference to the spiritual. That is, unless you’re called to do so. No, our job is to witness to Christ. His beauty. His wonder. His love. No one can resist that. Oh, they can, don’t kid yourself. The battle lines have even been drawn in unbelief over His historicity and Godhood and all that. It would seem that unbelief doesn’t know when to quit. But you know. You believe. How can they not see Him? The wonders never cease. And after He left the two at Emmaus, they exclaimed among themselves “did not our heart burn within us, while He talked by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?” (24:32) The same thing is happening to a lesser or greater degree with everyone who doesn’t see Him. It’s not a matter of “the age of rocks”, it’s a matter of “the Rock of Ages”. (And no, I didn’t come up with that myself.) He’s walking with us, pointing things out, pointing the way. And when He opens our eyes to the wonder around us…

“For Thou art great, and doest wondrous things: Thou art God alone.” (Psalm 86:10)

When someone seeks to substantiate their existence, that most wondrous of gifts that God gives, on anything other than Jesus, they’ll ever search with smoldering hearts.

*As of writing, the Higgs hadn’t been discovered but something resembling it was seen on July 4th, 2012.

One Can Only Hope

Getting our hopes up

“Hope is the thing with feathers” says Emily Dickinson.

However, “riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:5)

In other words, don’t trust in money. God knows we need it—as a tool, as a necessity in some circles—but never put your hope in it. This can be a hard lesson to learn. In developed countries, it’s almost like the final frontier.

“And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee.” (Psalm 39:7)

There are seasons of life in which everything on which we rely (others, ourselves, money, to name three) vacillate, fluctuate and disappear. Know that each and every challenge we face (“Challenges of the Season” says my dad) is directed by God and lasts as long as He allows. Hope, however, is not touched by those things.

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” (Hebrews 6:19)

Jesus is our hope, ladies and gentlemen. Prior to His life, death and resurrection (and ascension), we literally had no hope of ever getting fully right with God. Up till then, the sacred and profane were clearly defined and the slightest slip-up or astrayance (not an actual word) into that which God said was sinful was met with strict and sometimes dire consequences. Achan and his entire family were stoned and burned because he decided to covet—and then take—plunder from the city of Ai: “When I saw among the spoils…two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, the I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hid in the earth” (Joshua 7:21) Coveting is like a misplaced hope that eventually turns into theft. And that’s an extreme example. Sure, there are still things that we daren’t touch (“come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” 2 Corinthians 6:17), but we don’t have to worry about the mortal punishment that (now) doesn’t seem to be in line with the crime. We don’t even give a second thought to some of the things that concerned the Israelites. Life is now a “ministry of the interior”. It’s our motives and thoughts and internal attention (revealed in our actions) that God prizes. Faith. Hope. And Love.

There are all sorts of things to invest our hopes in, “But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

In 1887, physician and linguist Dr. Ludwig Zamenhoff invented a new language based on European roots and intended to ease the many disparate speakers into a common tongue. It was called “Esperanto” and it literally means “hopeful”. It was his hope that this common language—which apparently is easier to learn than any of the romance languages—would bridge the cultural gaps in his native country of Poland and then branch out from there. It never caught on as he’d hoped, but is still spoken today in places in Europe and some parts of Asia.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

Faith, hope, love. While those three things work in concert with each other, love is the greatest because it is connected to a Person. And the more we actively exercise the faith and hope that we possess in getting to know the God who both loves us and fulfills our hopes, then the more we’re able to convey that sense of hope amidst a world that is rapidly losing any reason to. Hope, that is.

Hope, along with faith and love, is a universal language. And when one can only hope, faith and love can’t be far behind.

Garden Varieties

Root

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

The term “infructescence” comes to us from Botany and it refers to a state in which a fruit-bearing tree or plant, is able to bear fruit. It’s the stage following “inflorescence” (the flowering), which in turn follows the “frondescence” (just leaves…). It means that the plant is ready.

“Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” (John 4:36)

God has called us to bear fruit for Him. As Jesus has introduced that analogy for us, we’d do well to consider just what it means for our life. In the above verse, Jesus is talking to His disciples who were flabbergasted that He’d even deign speak to a woman. But He knew. He talked to her, validated her and dealt with her sin then sent her on her way, full to overflowing. She went back and won over the entire town from where she’d come. She came to the well to fill her waterpot and left with a full heart. One touch from Him will fill you up and in turn create a harvest.

Shoot

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Jesus must be referring to the prophecy in Isaiah 11. The first verse speaks of a “Branch growing out of [Jesse’s] (David’s father) roots.” It really doesn’t matter what variety of fruit you are called to bear, everything we do when we abide in Jesus out of love and worship is fruit that glorifies God. But it’s the abiding that causes it to happen. He’ll see to it.

Fruit

So what is the “fruit” to which He’s referring? Consider this:

“And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:18)

For instance, when we endeavor to live “peacably with all men” (Romans 12:18), God’s fruit can grow and be harvested. This is one of the ways that God “advertises” in this world. Your peace—that which you work hard for through the trial and toil of your life to procure—will be felt and enjoyed by those around you. And when they ask (they probably already know) where it comes from, declare.

Herein is the Father glorified. Because His peace is altogether different than the “garden-variety” offered by the world and its denizens.

It’s Summer. The skies are blue and the weather’s warm and clear. The Greek word for ‘harvest’, by the way, is ‘therismos’. We get the prefix ‘thermo-‘ from the same, referring to ‘warm’. In other words, it’s high time that the body of Christ bore fruit for Him. I’m not saying it isn’t happening the world over, but look at the confidence expressed by the Lord: “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields (!)…” When’s the last time you heard of one person leading their entire town to the Lord? Come to think of it, John chapter four. It’d be so cool to see this happen today!

There’s one fruit I don’t get though. It’s called breadfruit and it’s from a tree in the mulberry family. Apparently it tastes like bread, also potatoes. Very starchy. Whatever. To each their own. As long as your bearing fruit, no matter the variety.

Salut!

Out of Our Misery

Perish, the thought

“Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment. Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.” (Ecclesiastes 5-6)

Death is not the escape you might think it is. And don’t think me morbid, but have you ever been so miserable that death is looked upon as a “sweet escape”? More of a cop-out, really. Why should we quit now? As Solomon said, “a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.” Before I go any further, I feel I must add that the person he’s referencing in the above passage may not be entirely in tune with God, it doesn’t quite come through in the translation. Humor me here.

Time marches on. That’s one of the best consolations when going through a time of intense trial and suffering. It can’t last forever.

“Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:3-5) That’s all well and good, but look again at what Solomon said: “the misery of man is great upon him“. Depression is a monster. Whatever type it is, if you need help, don’t hesitate to get it. But pray about it. Don’t let it be something that you go through without God. Because it will pass, that much is true. The ideal, however, is that we get to know God better on our way through the valley of the shadow of death. And when it says that “God will give thee the desires of thine heart”, sometimes, nothing on the outside (or inside, it would seem) testifies to the truth and hope of that statement.

Banish the thought

So what does it mean when it says “a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment”? Greater things are going on in our life and our world. David continues in his passage (from Psalm 37:6). He says “And [God] shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” That’s what you were waiting for: Exoneration. Understanding. Wisdom. A sense of victory about your deep circumstances. An end to the confusion and depression. There have been times in my life where the unanswered questions were so many and so dense, that even Heaven itself did not seem like the escape that would have silenced the misery. That’s deep. But I knew that there was something I was not seeing right. Some glimmer of understanding that would clear up the confusion surrounding the circumstances in which I found myself (and had gotten myself into). “Time and judgment”. “Righteousness and judgment”. Those things were like the silver-lining on the storm clouds that helped me to know that there were brighter and beautiful days ahead. And it’s because of God that I even saw any hope at all.

“For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7) But you know God. And God knows you. He also knows how long it will last. The mediation takes time. Let Him carry you through it to brighter and more beautiful days. And when you get there, you’ll have learned the lessons necessary to never go back again (unless you’re invited to return to help others in the same cell).

In closing, the word “sepulchral” refers to a tomb, while the word “pulchritude” at first glance might sound like it means something similar. It actually means “physically beautiful”; they’re from different roots. Quite the opposite, actually. Look for the beauty in your misery. It’s there.

The light at the end

Because It’s Been Long Enough

“But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil” (Psalm 92:11, emphasis mine)

What do you do when things get stale? How do you turn up the fire of devotion when it smolders and flickers? Don’t let it die out. And rest assured, even if you can’t even see embers, know that it’s spreading beneath the surface. You’re still alive ain’t ya? All it takes is a little prodding, a little gratitude. Mix in some worship and interaction and the Holy Spirit is sure to remind you of something that you can follow–like a rabbit trail–back to a white-hot fervency for God and His love for you.

“And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3, emphasis mine)

The concept of revival begins in the heart and mind of God first. But I believe that for a widespread revival–of discipline, simplicity, love and power, much like was exhibited in the Book of Acts–necessarily begins in the hearts and minds of a few individuals and branches out from there. There are men and women the world over who have been going through a process directed and scripted by God to bring about much change in small ways in their locale, their neighborhood and their community. You’ll hear about them soon enough.

And this is where I take issue with the term “fundamentalist”. That word has been so mud-stained, dragged through the street, as to have the most negative of connotations when used in the public square. It needs to be rescued from the landfill of language. And as with everything in Christianity, one must look to Jesus when defining the truth of things. Jesus was the most fundamental fundamentalist ever to walk the earth. When I think of “fundamentalism”, I see visions of minimalism and simplicity. And power. The impetus of which is that white-hot love of God. I don’t mean to sound stupid here, but the “fundamentalism” of today implies a backward and bigoted sect of religious Christianity–akin to a cult–that refuses to acknowledge “anything that disagrees with their interpretation of the Bible”. And I’m not here to haggle over individual or denominational interpretations. Fundamentalism, to my mind, has more to do with getting down to the black/white of love and judgment. Of mercy and forgiveness and compassion. Of intensity and charity and radical, if painful, selflessness, than the aforementioned slander. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” So says the writer of Hebrews (12:4) And because of the liberty and freedom that many Americans (Christians, included) take for granted, they’re not likely going to have to, either. Let’s look again at the term “fundamentalism”:

The writer of Hebrews (again) put it very simply (11:6): “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he (she) that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Can’t get much more fundamental than that.

I believe that God would pour out His Spirit upon us if we were to follow that simple exhortation, to seek Him with all of our heart. Jettison the larger picture (for now) and focus on your world. Invite God in if you haven’t already and show Him around. He knows it all anyway. And if you don’t understand or have the faith, then talk to Jesus. He’ll introduce you.

Revival happens in the heart and mind of the individual before spreading to the congregation, before spilling onto the street.

There’s another (though slightly less-so) overused Christian-ism, the acronym: “B.I.B.L.E.” It stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. That’s cute. I would like to point out, however, that this attitude of “hurry up and leave” as such, has infected much of mainstream, main-street Christianity. Why should we be in such a hurry to go to a place where our newfound faith can’t be exercised amidst toil and trial? That might sound naive and self-serving, but what if all the faith that you were able to take to Heaven with you was just what you were able to exercise while here on earth? Some people would have very little upon setting foot on the streets of gold.

“Do you like fresh fish? It’s just fine at Finney’s Diner.” Dr. Seuss

Early Christians used to meet in secret. In an act of divine conspiracy, the Greek word for “fish” (Ichthys, Greek: ΙΧΘΥΣ) is an acronym for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”. That’s pretty fundamental. As an aside, the writer George Bernard Shaw proposed that the word “fish” in English could (and possibly should) be spelled “ghoti”. With the “gh” from rough, the “o” from women and the “ti” from nation. An acronym for that might be “Go Home On To Infinity” or some such. I know I’m radically digressing here. It would seem that the original acronym was so fundamental, so irreducibly complex, as to be perfect. ΙΧΘΥΣ. Perfect. Focus on Jesus. Everything, then, is fresh, new and beautiful.

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” (Psalm 60:1)

Losing Our Illusions

I’m going to take this verse out of context to make a point. Hear me out:

“Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” (Matthew 23:19)

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that idolatry is so ridiculous. It’s almost like Jesus is essentially saying that any object that you would seek to present to God is not worth anything unless it has died first, burned to a crisp on the altar. And with reference to idolatry, it would seem that all that the idol-worshipper is working with is a (dead) object, in place of the true God.

“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

Because of sin, things have to pass through a death-cycle (for lack of a better term) in order to be made holy before God. It’s (now) the natural order of things. “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:” (1 Corinthians 15:36), says Paul. Jesus said the same: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24)

When Jesus compared the gift to the altar, what I think He was saying was that without the right heart intent—without the willingness to give up that gift to God by immolating it on the altar—whatever it is you wish to present to God won’t be received like it could, or should. But how does this apply to idolatry?

The following piecemeal passage from Isaiah delineates the process of idol-making and idol-worship (44:14-20):”He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak…for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto…he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god…a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Firstly, he’s blind and he has no introspection nor circumspection to know it. Strike one. Secondly, everything he does with the object is self-serving. And please understand, I don’t mean to be drawing parallels between something that you give to God, and that which you keep for yourself to worship. Semantically, those two things are diametrically opposed. But a mere object can be one thing or another, it’s all a matter of heart-intent. While we don’t worship gods of stone or metal, any object that we put in place of God, unwilling to yield up to Him, becomes an idol. Guilty (me). But the corollary is not “God doesn’t want me to have anything”. Please understand, God is the ultimate giver of gifts, but any gift that He gives won’t turn our heart aside from Him.

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” (Psalm 14:1)

So it’s all a matter of what you do with the thing in question. All foolishness aside, if you give it to God and let it die, effectively showing Him that He’s the one you care about more, if it’s something that needs to be resurrected, He’ll imbue it with His life. He’ll bring it back to life. Then you yourself won’t have to worry about maintaining and sustaining it. And I’m speaking not just to physical objects, but also to plans and purposes and dreams and destiny. Trust God to resurrect that which you desire and watch Him do “exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” (Ephesians 3:20)