Talking the Walk

“Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:33-34)

Speaking out

It’s easy to see this as one of Jesus’ “falsifiable” statements. A statement that is capable of being proven false. I suppose one would have to see to the heart-depth of the interlocuter in question–every time–for His declaration of “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” to be proven, every time. I struggle with this statement a lot when I think about people who profess the name of Christ yet don’t act in accordance with His heart. Understandably, people struggle. And out of all those I count as brothers and sisters in Christ, comparatively few do I ever have extended conversations with. It runs the gamut from people I encounter about town and in society, who I’d never peg for Christian–not because of appearance, but because of attitude. All the way from that to those in my church. I, too, meet people who don’t think I’m Christian. If I bring up something spiritual or Christian-sounding, they’re shocked. What can I say? I’ve been affected by what I’ve been affected by and maintaining my label (Christian) and my heart has been the struggle of my life. But this statement. The point is, just because someone “nameth the name of Christ” doesn’t mean they’re Christian, doesn’t mean they know Jesus. Yet, if I were to take His words out of context, it’s almost as if the concept of “lying” has been negated.

“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

Sitting out

“Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.” (Proverbs 25:14)

A psittacism is the same as “parroting back” (the Latin root for “parrot”). A mindless repeating of something someone’s heard and, maybe, sounds good or true. Best to sound true if you’re a Christian, by the way. And there really isn’t much more to say on that topic. I find that so much of what is bandied about in the world is without any real heart-depth. Empty words, Christian or non. The motive, the why. Paul qualifies the Christian’s self-declaration with a spiritual Spring cleaning. Make sure your heart is right with God if you’re going to gab and gadabout. St. Francis says to “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” The world needs more Christlikeness in action, not in word.

Jesus continues, “a good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (12:35-37)

It would seem Jesus is now referring to the words spoken (to Him) on “the day of judgment”. A time when one is unable to say anything but that which is at the depth of one’s heart. A hard word to be sure. All the more reason to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15), in mine. If the mere mention of Jesus, in many circles, is seen with skepticism and derision, is it the Christians’ fault by and large? Not completely as “it (the world) hated me (Jesus) before it hated you”. (John 15:18) But I find that a negative and loveless representation of our Lord makes for a wrong image of Christ.

Searching out

John says this: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” (1 John 3:18-21)

Here’s the thing. If you believe in Jesus, you can trust your heart. Because your heart is the same as His. As yet, we may not be able to trust our minds. Because it’s our life’s work to reorient our mind in light of His. If you find conviction in the areas of truly living out your faith, know that God is greater than that feeling and He’s calling you higher. He’ll help you see things in His light. And the more your heart is in line with His, the more your words will carry the weight they’re supposed to.

Disabusing Our Illusions

I collect action figures. Actually, I should say I have a large collection of action figures. It’s an expensive hobby and what’s worse, it takes up lots of space and in turn collects dust. I’m not one to keep my toys in their respective packaging either. I like to pose them (stand up straight, please) and group them by size and type, etc. As I’ve about exhausted what space I have to display such things, I have lain aside the active part of my hobby. I still have them and love them and will keep them (and pick them up should they fall down–kinda frustrating) .But I can’t keep sinking money into something that just fades away into “stuff”. I’m a hearty advocate for minimalism. And should you need (or feel the need) to acquire things, make sure they mean something to you.

Possessed

For instance. One of my favorite figures is a highly detailed T-800 from the movie Terminator 2. As I was about John Connor’s age and living in Southern California when the movie came out, it stands as my favorite film. And the figure reminds me of that. The first game I ever beat in the arcade was Street Fighter II. As such, I have a figure of Ryu (the character with whom I won the game), complete with white gi and fighting scowl and two–two pairs of fists! Pretty cool. I also have several Superman figures. One real nice resin statue of him from the Golden Age–with a winning smile, hands on hips and feet shoulder-length apart. I also have a figure of him sculpted from the art of Ed McGuinness (I have Batman and Green Lantern in his style, too), my favorite comic-book artist. Another Superman figure comes from the pages of All Star Superman, a twelve-part maxi-series in which he as a character is stripped of all elements of continuity and retold in the most brilliant style imaginable. To this day my favorite comic. Another favorite is Marcus Fenix from the first Gears of War game. One of the many games my brother and I played to keep our minds off our parents’ divorce. The storyline centers around a rag-tag band of soldiers (of whom Marcus eventually comes to lead) on the alien planet of Sera from whose core, an evil race of demonic-looking creatures emerges to subjugate and take over. The game and its subsequent sequels are essentially tragic in scope–and ultraviolent. It was incredibly cathartic and a great distraction for Ian and I–to diffuse our aggression during that period. Halo, too (Halo 2): numerous “Spartans” have I as well, each permutation cooler than the last. All this aside, there came a point in my life a while back where I felt I had strayed into not just coveting (one more!) but also idolatry. I’ll explain.

The more you think about it

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from Heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.” (Exodus 20:22-23) Nor of plastic, neither.

I believe in God. I believe in Jesus, too. I believe that He died for my sin (and sins) and that He rose from the dead with a body that is in many ways like ours but different. What it’s made of, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t have answers for a lot of questions that arise when the topic is seen with the mind I possess colored with and influenced by everything in my near-thirty years. In other words, I don’t know everything. But there are rabbit trails I’ll go down with my thoughts where I’ll try and analyze things from a neutral and dispassionate perspective. It’s on those trails that, sometimes, my actions might look to stray into a gray area with (maybe) more black than white. It’s in this frame of mind, when looking at a physical representation of a fictional character that comes awful close to resembling a figment (read: idol) that’s intended to get one’s eyes off worshipping the one, true God. I felt guilty.

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:14-15)

The easy answer is, don’t put anything above God. Guilty. But I think there’s a deeper meaning to this whole thing, specifically. This is my theory, that when Jesus died and rose from the dead, the means of an unholy spiritual entity being able to infuse an object or representation with its presence was cancelled. Oh, I believe it’s still possible to have possessed possessions but the person in question has taken pains, in this case, to give the devil a means of expression that he’s normally not privy to. I digress. What Paul is saying in the above passage is that all the fallen angels and demons who had the run of this world prior to Jesus coming and dying, were rendered powerless. As such, Paul writes this:

“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in Heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6, emphasis mine)

In other words, Jesus having come to earth as a human rendered the phsyical plane a holy one. To where now, it’s not that we’re allowed to have idols, no. Just that I don’t think that I’d be allowed to have my action figure collection had Jesus not done what He did. Because each character I possess represents a trait that, not only I subconsciously aspire to, but that Jesus fulfilled in reality. In knowing Jesus and worshiping and walking with Him first, I believe He allows me to have what I do (*shrugs shoulders*). Provided I don’t think about them more than He, nor put them above Him as a Person. Simple enough, right?

Dispossessed

In closing, turn it around and look at it this way. Any statue of Jesus, as such, will not with its presence make one any closer–or more right with God–than they can be in heart, if their heart is not right with Him. James says regarding “the flower of the grass” (1:10) that, “the grace of the fashion of it perisheth” (verse 11). I know it’s referring to our “splendor”–if you could call it that. But I also believe it touches on the dilution of the inherent meaning (and newness) of our stuff. To where my action figures become something from my past and subsequently don’t mean what they used to. The thin, light gray pallor of dust they’ve acquired testifies to this. But Jesus is always fresh, always alive.

And even though I’m getting too old for “toys”, He never will.

Tabula Rasa

Tabula rasa literally means “blank slate”. It refers, however, to a state of mind that is, not merely naive, but untested and untried. And with reference to reality, altogether unfit for dealing with the world at large.

Showing our hand

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6)

Did Jesus just call some people “swine”? Yes. He also said you had something that was holy. How many of us realize that the ways in which God has revealed Himself to us are holy? I think that’s the least common denominator to which Jesus is referring in this verse. And unless we clearly mark off inside, that which is sacred (the aforementioned blessings of God) and that which is profane, we could be spilling priveleged information to those who, to put it politely, don’t have our best interests at heart. And to put it not-so-politely (i.e. actually), swine.

“A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” (Proverbs 29:11)

That’s the trouble with some people. They have no introspection. I don’t mean to sound harsh and I am not seeking to belittle anyone at all. But when someone puts their foot in their mouth by speaking things out about their life that are no one’s business but God’s, my heart goes out to them. Call it gut-feeling, intuition, sixth sense (Richard Lederer, in his book More Anguished English says the “sense of humor” is the sixth one, funny.), ESP, whatever. There’s only so much you can do with the person who has no qualms about sharing secrets in light of a world that is starving for some vestige, however small, of God’s life–without actually going to God to get it themselves. And so, I don’t know what’s worse, being a “swine”. Or being a “dog”. Animal comparisons are a sketchy field. My favorite bird used to be the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) until I moved on and started liking the Raven (Corvus corax). Turns out both have strengths and weaknesses. While the eagle can soar sky-high and stare into the sun and descend to pull a fish from the water, it’s also a scavenger. Much of its diet consists of things already dead. How’s that for the untarnished image of the noble eagle? The raven, while it may be a scavenger and adept at trickery and mockery, is probably the most intelligent of birds and equipped with more intricate flight and vocal patterns. Too much information, I digress. Whoops.

Palms up

There’s another side to this. When someone shows an untempered and ungoverned mouth, for lack of a better term, and you see the folly in their conversation, or, the way they’re living, don’t just internally criticize them. I’ve been on both sides of the issue with this. Someone who unspools, or “uttereth all [their] mind” may well have their heart right with God. I don’t know. And so if I’m going to listen to them open up to me about things of a sensitive nature, I’d best be lifting them up in prayer that they don’t hurt themselves. It’s funny how a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” has the same connotation in this context, as a “swine” that, after hearing you spill your guts (or me, mine) would “turn again and rend you”. Not much in the way of positivity for either the wolf, or the pig, in this case.

I suppose, then, that the state of tabula rasa is indeed a desirable one. To have a mind untouched by all the sin and darkness and depression loose in the world. And because of what Jesus did for us, it’s now possible–encouraged and commanded, even–to attain. When Jesus takes our sin, He gives us that better thing–that “pearl”. That which takes from the grit and grime at the depth of the sea and is transformed into a thing of exquisite beauty. Don’t give it away.

In closing, Paul says this: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” Or women. (1 Corinthians 14:20) In other words, don’t remain naive to the ways of the world. And don’t hurt others who are naive in the ways of God.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Who knew the snake had any positive attributes?

Yours, Mine, and Hours

Just a second…

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” (John 4:23)

Interesting. Can’t have that verse without its companion: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

The word translated “hour” refers to any and everything from hour (as in sixty minutes) to a season. In other words, the time is now now.

The fourth dimension

Time is precious. The more of it goes by, the more you realize how little you utilize and subsequently, how little you have left. I’m actually talking to myself. Moses prays in Psalm 90 (verse 12) to “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” David prays in Psalm 39 (verse 4) “to know…the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” We are limited by time, by the fourth dimension. Nothing to be concerned about or afraid, no. Just circumspect. If you believe God made you and put you here for a season (this one) and a purpose, it should follow that there are times (if not all of it) where He has scripted you down to the millisecond. To where each thought, each action, each notion and moment is meant to be. But it takes time to learn to walk in this. And trust me, if you go around thinking about it and wanting it more than simply enjoying the Lord for His sake, it will drive you crazy. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. You get the idea. It’s not something you can control.

Moses, arguably one of the humblest and meekest people in the Bible, prays to fill the days and hours with God’s wisdom. David takes an even more low-key tone in desiring to know his frailty. We truly are fragile. James says (4:15) “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and vanishes away.” Making the most, then, of the time we been blessed with and gifted is the order of the day. The best way to do that, I’d say, is to simply press in to knowing and loving God to the best of our ability.

Omni Hora

That’s “every hour” in Latin. When Jesus spoke of “the hour coming”, He’s talking about a transition to a simpler, yet more powerful way of walking with our Heavenly Father. Something that He had to not only initiate–as in herald–but He also had to show us how it’s done. And this is why He says “the hour cometh, and now is“. As an aside, I’m skeptical of anything that seeks to shed light on what was going on between the age of twelve and of thirty, in the life of Jesus. Not because I’m not willing to accept new information, but because our time and life before the Lord is a holy thing. The practices and procedures that Jesus developed–and subsequently walked in, while certainly based on the Law of Moses (as Jesus was Jewish), would have been necessarily made His own during that time. It’s almost like it’s none of our business beyond a certain point. And so rewinding back to that desire we all have to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) every moment and every hour perfectly, i.e. “to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6): Lay it down. Don’t worry about it.

The fourth wall

That imaginary barrier through which the actor looks at the audience. Here’s the thing about time and life and everything else: God is your audience. And because of what Jesus did (everything) while here for a short thirty-three years, you are able to look at Him. God dwells without time, as in outside it. It’s not hard to wrap your mind around. Instead of time, it’s more of a passage of moments in Heaven. So look at God because He’s always looking at you. And the more you do this in whatever way you choose–in love, the more life will transition from a harried and hurried passage of seconds and minutes and hours, to a passage of moments. Each one more infused with the presence of God than the last.

Sinners Pews

“He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Last in, first out

It hurts to be misunderstood. It hurts deeply when those who are expected to take you in with open arms instead give you a cold shoulder. It hurts even more when you endeavor to follow Christ in your own life and know His peace and presence and purpose, and then those to whom He’s sent you, don’t see you as He does. His statement is manifold but with reference to our brothers and sisters in Him, the ones who look at you and wonder (or don’t even look at you at all), it looks as if Jesus is saying that if they don’t accept you, they won’t be entering in to a fuller communion with Him. His blessing and presence may well be blunted if they choose not to see you as a gift. This pattern repeats itself throughout the Bible.

“But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And He could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief. And He went round about the villages, teaching.” (Mark 6:4-6)

Sometimes, the hardest people to reach are the ones in your own church. The ones who go about their day and their week, blissfully ignorant of the God that you know and bring with you on Sunday. When Jesus “came into His own country” again (Mark 6:1), those who grew up with Him had no idea where He got His stuff. They were incredulous at His “wisdom” and “mighty works” (6:2). So much so, I’d wager this is the beginning of the attitude that crescendoed in the lynchmob mentality that hunted Jesus down in Gethsemane and had Him crucified.

“Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.” (Matthew 17:17)

Jesus says that if someone receives you, they receive Him and also His Father. If you know you represent God, know that He and Jesus are your audience. They are the Ones that see your heart and know your motives. If you struggle in the face of impolite conduct, gossip and an irrational (read: loveless) coolness in your church or any of your circles, know that that’s what God wants to warm up and burn out–through you. It happened with the prophet Ezekiel.

“And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thout canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.” (Ezekiel 3:4-7)

God calls Ezekiel “son of man”. He says to go and “speak with my words”. I like that. Because the time you take to actually make the words of God yours, will tell in the effectiveness in getting your (God’s) point across. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing…” (Matthew 13:15) Jesus is quoting Isaiah (6:10). Evidently, the same thing happening in the Old Testament was happening during His time and it happens today. People hear a sermon every week and the words go in one ear and out the other. The mere words, it would seem, mean nothing. And yet when God tells you–you to “speak with my words”, you know they won’t “return…void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

God tells Ezekiel that he would have been a hundred percent effective if he went elsewhere with his message. That’s amazing. The confidence of God in reaching the lost and the unsaved! But the care and concern He has for those who’ve already made a commitment to Him and are backslidden! Which is greater? And this is where it can get scary. Because if God wants to do new things and only a select few people have availed themselves of God’s heart on a matter, and no one else wants to slow down and see it, where can He go?

Praying in the back row

“Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” (Psalm 50:5)

But that’s not our problem. The writer of Hebrews says (10:39) “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Keep pressing on. God has your back. Look in the eyes of those whose are glazed over (don’t think donuts, think ice–that’s the root of the word) and let God ignite the same fire in them. Sometimes it takes time. Heartache and boredom and God knows what else. If you have a fire on your insides (you should!), stay warm and stay there.

“Then the Spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place. I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.” (Ezekiel 3:14, emphasis mine)

In other words, Ezekiel was pissed at his lot. He saw God. He knew God, he knew that much. And if left to his own devices, he probably would have left “Israel” alone. But the Holy Spirit moved him along. It didn’t matter that he “went in bitterness, in the heat of [his] spirit”, he still went. God can do something with us, regardless of our feelings, if we choose to obey Him and go where we’re sent.

Three Little Words

Theodicy

Not to be confused with “The Odyssey”, Homer’s epic poem, no. While they may intersect tangentially, theodicy refers to letting a “good” god, or God off the hook for the simultaneous existence of His opposite, i.e. evil. In other words, how can God allow so much suffering and evil and negativity in the world He created? A vexing and perplexing question, no? I find it interesting¬† how, even if the question were satisfactorily answered, people who don’t believe still wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to believe. To each their own.

“The Lord hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Proverbs 16:4)

It’s a touchy subject, to be sure. Something that one should endeavor to wrap their mind around. Something that Christians should seek to understand, because it’s one of the common questions you’ll encounter should you try and tell someone about Jesus. Assuming it’s the same Jesus as written about in the Bible–the One who leads back to God the Father, the One who causes any real heart change to take place. You can’t just believe Jesus was a “good person” or that He was a “great expounder of morality, etc.”. Gotta believe Jesus is all that and more. From human to God to Creator. That’s what the word omnificent means, by the way. “Creating”. One who is “omnificent” has “unlimited powers of creativity”. And He created you.

Actually, I am omnificent. Well, unless you count having to eat, sleep, etc. I also encounter the odd temptation. That spate of depression for whatever reason. The fickleness of my feelings that seeks to derail me from creating. Point is, if I could write all the time, I would. Why is this? There seems to be a correlation to my wanting to create and my insistence in believing God is Creator. And that He created me. And this is something you can’t fully wrap your mind around. You must submit. And in submitting, every other question is parried and/or answered. Or, you don’t have to submit. The questions, however, remain.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

Theogony

The “origin of the gods”. As God always was, (and always is) a divine (read: Christian) theogony is unnecessary. In the previously cited verse, it says “The Lord hath made all things for Himself.” What I believe this is referring to is that everything will ultimately testify to the goodness and veracity of God. Even, it says “the wicked for the day of evil”. Otherwise known as “judgment day”. The Apocalypse, Armageddon, etc. Many (if not all, I haven’t checked) cultures have a “final end” story in their myths. Also their respective theogonies. But with Judeo-Christianity, we see God as the “first cause”. Things started with and because of Him. I believe there were things, of angels–fallen and non, going on prior to the opening accounts of Genesis. But as I am but one person, obsessed with eating and sleeping and coffee and writing, I don’t care much for things that would explain away the need and therefore existence of my God. I’ve been put here for this time. “The Lord hath made all things” including me, I might add, “for Himself”. I can choose to want this and believe it and feel a commensurate response in my relationship with God. And I can neglect these seemingly outmoded things of faith and delusion. I choose the former.

“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:8-10)

I look at Jesus akin to a foreign body having been injected into culture at just the right time. He came from without, into a fallen world. And when we accept Him as that (and more), that’s how we are, too. We, as card-carrying members of another realm, enter back into a world from which we’ve been rescued. We integrate into our positions, whatever they may be, and begin radiating that light. We’re like portals to Heaven. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, we are like windows into God. When we choose to base our life and then thoughts on the pattern of Jesus, we will become like Him (and consequently, like God) whether we realize it or not. And this is where theology comes in.

Theology

“And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3)

Literally “knowledge of God”. But you can’t just have knowledge about God. If there’s no God, the concept of theology is a joke. In much the same way, without being disrespectful, that one fleshes out a fantasy epic through tome after tome, the same could be done for a “God”. But if God is indeed real, I’d wager to say that He wants to know us and therefore that we know Him before we know all there is to know about Him. To know He loves you is the point.

In Jesus, God spoke three words to us. He used His Son–spirit, soul and body–to say “I love you”. Let us in turn do the same through our life–say “I love You” back.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Catching 22

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.” (Philippians 1:21-22) In other words, Paul’s ready to go. Just give the order and he’ll gladly fly away.¬† The last part of the verse uses a little outmoded nomenclature. “I wot not” just means “I don’t know”. He doesn’t know what to do. He continues: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (23-24)

So he lays down his “desire to depart and be with Christ” and literally takes again the mantle of Jesus’ proxy to the church, specifically the Christians at Philippi. I’m sure that took all the guts of Heaven to hold on and hold out so that Christ could be formed in a fuller measure to those who needed a little extra attention.

From the 1961 novel of the same name, a Catch-22 is a situation where you’re basically “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. In the book, it’s explained thus: a pilot must be declared insane in order to remain grounded. However, the only way to determine whether or not one is insane, is to personally request an evaluation. And requesting the evaluation necessarily requires–and therefore proves–that one be sane. Sane enough to fly. In Paul’s case, neither option (of staying or going) made much difference. He had so sold himself out to Jesus and the preaching and expounding of His gospel and to his mission as “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13) that both options presented an equal reward. See Christ face-to-face or literally be the face of Christ to the fledgling believers.

The term lieutenant comes from the Latin phrase “locum tenens” which means to act as the representative for. Paul was authorized by God to act on His behalf toward the church. Think about that for your own life. Who has God placed in your life for whom you literally act as an older sibling in Christ? It’s a high honor and even higher responsibility to be able to hold that position for another. Jesus did it for everyone and He does it even now (“there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” Proverbs 18:24).

In the novel, Joseph Heller sought to explain away the fruitlessness and fecklessness of the American military and of it’s internal workings. And while there’s a lot of that to be sure (as, I’m sure there is in any large governing body), the same should not be said for the church.

“If we say that we have no fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)

Under God, the Christian church should be the most far-ranging and wide-reaching example of cohesion-in-spite-of-radical-individuality–if that makes sense. Each of us is, a little piece of God, wondering around and aspiring to world-changing greatness and distinction–crazy. And yet how does this flow with Jesus’ manifold exhortation to lay down our life and our aspirations and plans and dreams to serve Him and others? Because it does. As a child of the Kingdom, you have unfettered access to God’s throne. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace…” (Hebrews 4:16a) But unless we do that very thing–lay down our life for others, God cannot integrate us into one like He wants (see John 17). Life is too complex (and too hard) for all of us to function independent of God and one another. The snarls resulting from such shenanigans make the red-tape of other systems look pale in comparison.

When I was twenty-two, a book came out entitled When They Were 22. It profiles three-dozen or so people from all walks of life and from many different eras in history–whose lives changed at that age. It’s a great age to find yourself and while I’m not an adherent of astrology or numerology or any of that stuff, there seems to be a special burden placed on the shoulders of those who find themselves in that strait. Press through. Paul didn’t know what to do and, perhaps, neither do we. But God does, rest assured. And if you find yourself struggling within the confines of a life-paradox, know that God has your answer. Actually, you’re right where He wants you. Because unless He provides that way out, you’ll ever be leaning on others to represent Him when He wants to see you face to face. And fly.

Where Credit Is Due

Least common denomination

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.” (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Anything worthwhile in the world takes hard work–don’t let anyone tell you different. If you haven’t already bumped your head on that invisible ceiling of doubt, discouragement and depression while seeking to further your self and your cause in the world at large, take heart. Because that’s really what you’re going to need when you get to where you want to go. Point is, it takes suffering. Sometimes it takes the sufferings of those who came before, to lay the groundwork for the work we want to do for and before God.

Trust fund

Case in point: Had not my dad taken extra time during my parent’s divorce to ensure my brother and I had what we needed spiritually and emotionally (Moreso me. My younger brother is amazing.) I wouldn’t be where I am today. But it cost him something. The physical, stress-related issues he incurred through that time were debilitating in the extreme. He even suffered a cardiac arrest (in Sunday school, no less) that left him dead on the floor for two minutes. He, somehow, acted as an umbrella for Ian and I to escape and grow unhindered–as unhindered as possible–while the dust and detritus settled. Point is: my dad suffered so that Ian and I wouldn’t have to. Paul speaks along a similar vein (1 Corinthians 4:11-13):

“Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” Paul and his companions are suffering, how else can I say it?

“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

There are times in my life where I pine away for the frivolity and carefreeness of youth. What I didn’t know about those times where I had no worries and no responsibilities was that I didn’t see God, one. And two, I was blind to the human condition. As I mentioned earlier, life does take hard work. A lot of that hard work though, comes from being misunderstood, underappreciated and even disbelieved for whatever reason. As a child, life seemed to flow with a normal grace. I hope you can say the same. But as I got older, the balance shifted and instead of living in childlikeness for its own sake, it would seem I traded up for the privelege of making my own decisions barring parental supervision. Nothing wrong with this at all, I might add. Just that the inevitable lie, sin, theft, on the smallest of scales causes a sort-of spiritual debt, in our case. Ever the good parent, God looks at our influences and seeks to introduce Himself as early as possible. But as any sin committed is necessarily toward Him first, He is the one we owe. We are in His debt even now. Yes, Jesus paid our bill. But it isn’t until we credit it to our account by believing that it’s made real in our lives.

And there are those that God uses–in my case, my dad–who suffer for us. Paul spoke to the Corinthians and called them “strong”, “honourable”, “wise”. But in retrospect, wouldn’t any Christian with half a brain (or heart) say that out of all the Christians of antiquity, Paul should be labeled as such? Certainly. But Paul paid a very dear price to be seen this way in posterity. At the time, he was seen as nothing. As less than nothing. Oh, he doesn’t mind, mind you. He talked about “glory[ing] in mine infirmities” (2 Corinthians 12:9) indicating that the very things that were designed to make him miserable, he found a way to be happy and to extract joy in the midst. But isn’t that what childhood was about? Working through whatever petty problem (food, sleep, boredom) sought to sap our happiness? Paul had the secret. I’d wager to say God gave it to him. And so he doesn’t care about being seen as any of those things that, maybe, we are grasping for in our current state. He continues (1 Corinthians 4:14):

“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons, I warn you.”

The law of average

See, there’s nothing wrong with being seen as a certain type. As possessing a certain attribute. But the whole passage of Paul’s to the Corinthians begins with a simple question. “What has thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (14:7) Strength, honor, wisdom. Even outward things like charisma and tact. Charm, beauty, attractiveness. All these things are gifts. I’ve been blessed in some ways and there are other ways in which I wish I possessed more confidence. Thing is, all these things are transitory. Doesn’t mean we don’t work to keep or to build or to capitalize (in the best sense of the word) on the gifts we’ve been given. God gave them to us in the first place. It behooves us though to give credit where credit is due. To God. And to those who came before.

“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-11)

Shelf Life

Bound

“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

Actually! The word of God is bound. It’s called the Bible and you can find it in a bookstore or library. There. Wait. That’s not the kind of “bound” to which Paul is referring. He’s talking about being imprisoned for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Something the powers that were weren’t affectionate towards. And something that some of the powers that be today, don’t like either. Oh well.

Think about the influence that Paul had from his prison cell. He wrote the epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians and his friend Philemon while incarcerated. Proverbs (18:14): says “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Paul suffered much physically (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 “in prisons more frequent”) in seeing the seeds of the Gospel of Jesus Christ float on the wind of the Holy Spirit through the world. And while he surely would have been hurting and smarting there in his cramped and filthy cell, His spirit was soaring. As does ours when we read the Word.

It really doesn’t matter where you find yourself. God can affect the world through you wherever you may be. You might think there’s nothing going on, but let the Holy Spirit intimate to you the spiritual problems that need fixing in your own life and your home. These problems, of misunderstanding and impatience and mercy and forgiveness and “overcom[ing] evil with good” (Romans 12:21), are problems that have grown and blossomed the world over. And in many ways are the root for the big things you hear about on the news. Deal with them in your own heart and life and God will affect the world from where you’re at.

As an aside, to “shelve” something means to “discontinue use”. Fair enough. But to “table” something means one thing in America (the same as “shelve”) but in British parliamentary procedure, it means “to put on the table for discussion”. Weird.

Breaking the spine

“…It is more blessed to give than receive. And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.” (Acts 20:35b-38)

“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)

As (another) aside, a cleistothecium is a type of fungi whose spores only release upon death.

That’s the difference between a library and a bookstore. With a library, you can check it out but you gotta return it (at times, at cost to you). Sure, leave a note in the margin somewhere for some other anonymous reader. One you’ll meet on the other side. But with a bookstore, it’s yours. Lend it out, but make sure you get it back. The spate of unreturned, borrowed books is endemic. And rest assured, if you’re stuck in one position. Immobile and useless-feeling for any number of reasons, God’s right there with you. And He’s not done with you yet. You, from your “fixed” position (collecting dust and mold–nothing wrong with that in a book), are in many ways of more value to God than someone who simply comes and goes as they please. It pleases God to sit there, lay there, rest with you where you are. And if you’re on the mend, more power to you.

“Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down. Never stay awake when you can sleep.” -Winston Churchill

Metonymy and Synecdoche in the Sanctuary

“Who hath bound the waters in a garment?” (Proverbs 30:4)

“Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts: all Thy waves and billows are gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7)

“Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities.” (2 Corinthians 11:28-30)

The last verse is Paul speaking. He founded the first Christian churches over whose members he still maintained a spiritual tether–an umbilical–regardless of distance. He talks about feeling the pain of those who are hurt, about empathizing and literally representing those churches as unto Christ. This being said, you can imagine what Jesus feels everyday. As He gave His life for everyone, He feels everyone.

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto a measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:13)

Synecdoche is a grammatical term. From a Greek phrase essentially meaning “to accept or receive an understanding of”, it’s a rhetorical device where a part of something is used as that which represents the something as a whole. While it’s a bit of a stretch to say that we (you, I, etc.) are literally a synecdoche (pronounced sin-neck-ducky–quickly), the concept remains. You represent the Body of Christ and as such, represent Jesus. From you (or me), to everyone, to Jesus. The Body of Christ is an organic, grassroots, hard-to-pin down entity comprised of billions of believers the world over.

“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Romans 12:5)

Counting heads

“Counting heads” is an example of synecdoche in action. What it really means is “counting people”, just said in a different and simpler way. Thing is, Jesus is interested in the heart condition of every single one of us (maybe it should read counting hearts?). And if we leave it up to the ones in charge of the church. The Pastor and elders, etc., to maintain the cohesion of the mere members of our church building, without realizing that everyone is literally a piece of God, we do everyone else a disservice. Including ourselves. “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7) Says Jesus. I suppose then, that we can take care of our brothers and sisters in Christ–God can worry about the number of hairs on our head.

Counting sheep

“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)

Just because our eyes are open in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, doesn’t mean we see God. Jesus asks Peter: “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) While we may not be experiencing the heaviness and temptation to quit that Peter and James and John were feeling in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to Jesus’ arrest, the temptation to close our eyes to God and subsequently everything going on around us is great. It takes something outside of ourselves to make us want to stay up and take notes. To be more than a sheep for its own sake. While Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and He’ll “leave the ninety and nine” (Matthew 18:12) to bring back one lost lamb, that defnition is only part of who we are as a member of the flock. Of the Body.

“For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. To day if ye will hear His voice.” (Psalm 95:7) We are His sheep. And we are so much more:

“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them! How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with Thee.” (Psalm 139:16-18)

Living for the part

Metonymy is something a little broader. A little harder to define, but no less fun to use. Synecdoche (the part for the whole) is a type of metonymy. But a metonym is where something that isn’t necessarily a part of the thing in question, but related to it, is used to refer to the thing. The “Body of Christ”. Or, the “Body”–the “Church” is an example of metonymy in action.

Jesus says “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), then He says “Ye are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). And then in Revelation (1:20, 2:5), Jesus refers to “candlesticks” as being “churches”. I’ve never heard anyone refer to a church building as a “candlestick”, but I suppose it could do in a pinch. And Revelation is replete with the metonymic. A church is not a “candlestick” but we are “the light of the world”. Spiritually and literally.

It’s easy to confuse “metonymy” with “metaphor”. But in Christianity, we’re dealing with things of mystery and invisibility. Things of faith that have to be believed before being seen, if that makes sense. And while a candlestick is certainly a metaphor for the churches, the “light” is real. And this is why metonymy is a more fitting and appropriate way to look at those dim and deep symbolic representations in God’s Word. Revelation included. Because metonymy uses terms that are closely related to the thing in question. Metaphor doesn’t have to. As such, John saw seven candlesticks in his vision on Patmos on “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10).

Jesus cares for us so much. He wants each and every one of us to be burning as brightly and hotly for Him as we can. Where we are physically, emotionally and geographically plays in to all of it. You represent Jesus as much as any and every believer. We also represent one another before God. Know this.

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15)