Reserving the Right

“But what things were gain to me, those things I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” Paul is saying that the things which gave him exemplary standing among his peers (“being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1:14) really didn’t do him any good in light of Christ and His love. He expresses it crassly as he continues: “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

An Apple a Day Keeps the Teacher at Bay

But think about the source from which those things he’s mentioning sprung. They were delivered to Moses by God. And like humans do, they turned that stuff into a god. They decided to put the practice of the law above the lawgiver. Paul says “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ…” Why? “…that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:24-26) In other words, we were always meant to be inwardly directed by the Holy Spirit. But until Jesus came and delivered, we had no access to Him. And Jesus says He came “to fulfil” the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17)

But what about that incessant tug to “do right things”? Because we all have the ability to become lazy in both our faith and our life. I mean, in a very practical sense, were we to only eat those things that tasted-amazing-but-were-really-bad for us, our bodies would give out far before they were meant to. I don’t have to do the law anymore (I never really did, to be honest). I never had to worry about the integrity of the threads in my clothes or purposely do nothing–because I had no choice–for half my weekend. These things weren’t the way I was introduced to God. When my dad sat me down to “teach them diligently unto [his] children” (Deuteronomy 6:7 I also have a younger brother), he led with God’s love. And with the simplicity of “acknowledging God in all my ways” against the potential misfired communication of “my own insight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). These things took years to build up as a framework around which the things of my innate nature and gifting could blossom and mold. To where anything I feel like doing–and this is where it ties in to the above passage–to where anything I might see as “gain to me” were seen through the lens of Christ and His love.

This is what caused and this is what affects me. And what, I hope causes effects in others.

Causes, affects

“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons (and daughters) of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

The Greek word translated into English up there as “power” is exousia. It carries the connotation of “right” and “privilege”. The thing about knowing Jesus is realizing that He has indeed “seen and done it all”. Audacious and irrational as that may sound, it’s true. And He gives us the opportunity, and indeed that atmosphere of the Holy Spirit to where we get to do things for Him. There used to be strict qualifications on living for and unto God. David superseded a lot of it as “a man after God’s own heart”. He got it even then. Just read through the Psalms and tell me if it sounds like someone who was strictly and dryly doing his best to eke out an existence under the weight of a bunch of rules. Rules, that, one doesn’t really feel like doing anyway.

In closing, this is what Paul was getting at:

“And be found in Him not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;” (Philippians 3:9-10)

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The Good Conspiracy Theory

“Do they not err that devise evil? But mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good.” (Proverbs 14:22)

Mercy and truth to them that devise good? How ’bout that? Before you even get to carry it out, while it’s still in the planning stages, you get mercy and truth right off the bat, just for thinking it up. That’s pretty cool.

Too bad to be false

It’s so easy to surmise big things that are going wrong with the world. And while some of them may indeed be real think of all the ones (that’s right, all the ones) that are demonstrably bunk. Some of them may be actual dangers that are creeping in and infesting the minds of the populace with alarming frequency and effectiveness. Some of these “conspiracy theories”, for lack of a better term, may indeed be true and more than theories. Best to start turning the tide now for the ones in question. But notice. Notice man’s predilection for the overarching and subtle falsehood that’s propagated under cover of casuistry and fa├žade. How come no one has ever thought of the “good conspiracy theory”? Aside from reading about and knowing the character of God (and knowing Him), I have never heard of something in the world that, once posited as a positive, isn’t laughed off as entirely implausible at best and fake at worst.

Maybe, for instance, there are these little elves that come into your house at night and repair your worn-out shoes? Who knows? Perhaps there’s a man who has nothing better to do than profile people the world over in order to reward them accordingly–one night out of the year. Or, rewinding down from the fantastic, maybe, just maybe, there’s a government program in place that is looking to slowly replace all the pollen-producing plants the world over with ones that won’t induce seasonal allergies. I don’t know. And I could sit here and surmise all day long. But pretty soon, I’ll look out the window and realize that the world is a tough place. Unless one works themselves hard to whatever inverse degree the Lord has blessed them in the material areas, nothing’s gonna happen to turn the tide of the person whose plight is hard. It’s a conspiracy, I say.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

That’s where it begins. Paul, citing Isaiah 64:4 says “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) It still holds true for us in the age of grace as it did for those who lived under the law of Moses. God has, buried deep and hidden in the clouds, things of inexpressible blessing and beauty for the person who “loves Him”. That’s a simple qualifier and if you find yourself wondering why nothing good ever happens to you (impossible), you might consider dialing in more your love for God. Because this stuff happens automatically, it says, for those whose hearts are right with Him.

Too good to be false

“And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And He said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God…” (Matthew 19:17-18a)

I would have to say that with a lot of negative ideas and notions that float freely through the ether, the basis for their “shelf life” and therefore strength would have to be the fact that, without God, life is an inherent tragedy. Life can beat you down and tear you apart. More so if you endeavor to follow God. And if you seek to align yourself with what He’d have you do and what He’d have you know, you’re going to need all the help you can get, just to get topside.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

See, God purposes to bless you, to reward you. The writer of Hebrews (11:6) list belief in that very thing as qualification for simply coming to Him. “He (and she) that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” God has all this stuff that isn’t doing any good where it is. And it isn’t just stuff, like possessions, etc. Things like peace and hope and joy. Things that are sprung from eternity and have no basis (and therefore bearing) on anything going on in the world, or in your world. Things that, were they able to collect dust (no dust in Heaven), would be doing that very thing as no one seeks to appropriate them. Look for it. Imbue your imagination with the things that God says He’ll do for you simply by virtue of being one of His kids, and by loving Him. And conspire accordingly.

Heavy Water

“Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.” (Psalm 69:1)

Rainwater

David prays to God for relief from an emotional deluge. He continues: “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.” (verse 2) Who knows all the molecules that conspired–one on top of another–to bring him to this point of desperation. I think God allows us to feel inundated for any number of reasons. Some that you can surmise and work out now. Like how He’s allowing the trial to make you stronger, etc. That’s a real broad and simple platitude when expressed with the wrong motive of heart, I should add. No one likes a circular statement of encouragement. As the truths inherent in your time of testing may be deeper than you can get at as yet, perhaps some good old-fashioned suffering might bring them to the surface? Whoops. That’s what I’m talking about. Should you be in proximity to a person treading deepwater, do your best to lift them up, not by words, but by deeds. Buy them coffee. Receive a word from the Lord for them that inspires them to keep moving. Love them in whatever way the Holy Spirit intimates to you. But make sure it’s love and not something–anything–else. Because anything else is like giving water to a drowning individual.

Bluewater

“Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which Thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.” (Psalm 104:6-8)

As an aside, I wonder about the opening of Genesis, I really do. Why would it say “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:3)? God’s ultimately in charge, yes. I believe He’ll let someone keep living who truly wants to work something out with Him. And I’m talking about the really deep ones. The ones who, all they’ve known is misery, having been born under a dark cloud and lived under that sky their whole life, who would be happier in Heaven. Should they choose to keep pressing on and bailing, God will reward their faith. There are a thousand variables, to be sure, but I think that unless someone really wants to go home–the suffering’s that bad–God will help them out of the flood. He’ll recall the waters and see to it that they never break open in the same way again. Don’t think me heretical but Jesus is just one person. This is why He’s called you, called me. While He can be everywhere by the Holy Spirit, He gives us the privilege of being His proxy to those He’s on the way to visit in person (“and about the fourth watch of the night He cometh unto them, walking upon the sea…” Mark 6:48). There’s a lot to this but, as I mentioned in the first section, this is another reason why we go through suffering. Granted, the easy answer of “to help others in the same position at some point in the future”, may not do much to alleviate when it’s spoken. The truth of the statement, however, will find root beneath all that water and once it abates, will sprout and produce fruit after its kind.

Deepwater

“And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1, emphasis mine)

Because it’s not needed anymore. Simple enough right? Here’s the thing about water though. It’s all over the place, literally. It essential for life. But it can also be the deadliest substance known to man. Our bodies are two-thirds water, much like the earth. It’ll put out a fire, but you really don’t worry about that if you’re drowning. Narrowing it down to specifics though, before the sea is done away with completely in your life, thank God for it. Ask Him to teach you why He allowed the “waters to come in unto [your] soul” in the first place. Because the more you grow with God, the more that point-in-time reason will begin to surface. Like Ararat after Noah’s ordeal. There was a reason. There’s always a reason. I’ve never been one to wait for Heaven and while away my days without possessing that kernel of understanding that would allow me to recolonize my world after the suffering had passed.

“And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:11)

Con Anima

The third Person

What spirit do you usually operate in? The simple and tip-of-the-tongue answer for a Christian would be obviously “The Holy Spirit”. And that’s true. “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” says Paul to the Athenians (Acts 17:28). But think about the finer expressions of Him that manifest themselves in our day in and day out activities. It’s translated from Paul’s pen into the King James, rendered as “the spirit of meekness” (1 Corinthians 4:21, Galatians 6:1). It’s that spirit of meekness that can be so inviting and appealing to those who don’t necessarily want anything to do with the God you know based on the fact that they don’t know how He really is. He is so gentle that we as Christians are even liable to overlook Him in spite of knowing where to look for Him. Best not to lose sight of Him in the first place. Elsewhere in writing to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul speaks of “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17) In the King James, with the exception of the once-repeated story of Jesus walking on the sea to reach the disciples and their mistaking Him for a “spirit” (Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:49), every time you see it, it’s the same Greek word (pneuma). It appears hundreds of times in the New Testament. Most times, it’s referring to the Holy Spirit, yes. But there are other times where you see this distinction. Where it’s almost as if there are other “spirits” at work, and not necessarily bad ones. This might sound heretical but think about it. What happens when you allow the Holy Spirit–of Whom, there’s only one–to so infuse with yours, that something fresh and, not new, but original comes of it? Granted, we can only mirror what Christ did for us. And as He had the full measure of the Holy Spirit, any outward act towards another is done from a Christ-like template. But think about it.

The second person

“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” (1 Corinthians 12:11)

See, it’s the same Holy Spirit who imbues your interactions with others as you seek to please God in the outworking of your faith, as was in and upon Jesus. But your spirit is one of a kind. It’s who you are. I have no other personal pronoun to refer to you than a second. If you want to get real semantic, I could say how you’re not a body because right there in the structure of grammar and syntax, the “you” is separate from your “body”. But the same thing could be said for your “spirit” (your spirit). We are a spirit, no two ways about it. Forgive me for being so forward, but when I say “your spirit”, I’m referring to you. The very core of your being, of who you are. As a little side note, maybe the syntax in Heaven, where everything’s on a different plane of perfection and the rules are logically different, there are different ways of expressing ourselves. And different ways of expressing about ourselves. Food for thought. I digress. Jesus says “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19) What does this mean? It means we are coalescing into a fuller and fuller version of who God already sees us as. And the closer we get to Him (the Holy Spirit handles the introduction), the more we become that fuller version of us. The more we “possess our souls”. It’s akin to both full possession by the Holy Spirit and also full self-possession. Keeping one’s head, etc.

The First person

How does this work in actuality though? Look at this passage from James: “Who is a wise man (or woman) and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (3:13-15)

In other words, be humble and don’t try to be something your not on the way to becoming who you are and want to be. I find that I’m satisfied with who I am but I know that God’s not finished with me yet. If we never have a horizon on which to train our forward looking, we tend to become complacent. This speaks to the last part of the above passage. We all have moments in our day where common sense seems to be the right answer–the one right answer. The discipline of Jesus, though, is realizing that we have the Holy Spirit who has been given to us to both make us into more and also to bring about the aforementioned illogical solutions to the dreariness of the mundane, day-in-day-out lives we live. I’d rather be thrilled than bored, thank you very much.

In closing, there’s a narrative device called “third-person omniscient”. Also known as the “God’s eye view”, it’s a way to tell a story or write a novel that allows the narrator (in this case God) to say all that can be said about a situation. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross of Calvary, we have the Holy Spirit. He is ever present and ready to show what’s going on that we wouldn’t know or have access to otherwise. From the simple, Christlike attributes of love and meekness and wisdom. To things that you shouldn’t know by virtue of logic’s strictures, He’ll show you what’s what. Let Him tell your story.

Falling In the Forest

The life in our years

So the science of tree ring dating is called dendochronology. The Greek root for tree plus chronology, i.e. “time science”. As a tree will grow a new layer of bark every year, it therefore causes a new ring to be formed in its trunk. Of course, the one way to find out how old a tree is, is to fell it–to cut it down.

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:17-20)

Fruit, as spoken of in the above passage, is used by Jesus to refer to results. Fruit nourishes, it’s edible. Obvious as that may sound, when Jesus shows up at a fig tree for breakfast one morning “and found nothing thereon, but leaves only” (Matthew 21:19), He proceeds to curse the tree and it says “presently the fig tree withered away.” That might sound like a harsh judgment and I don’t believe He’d ever level such a strict statement at a human being, but the idea here is that we need to be ready for Him. Psalms opens with (third verse, first chapter) “he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” So don’t worry. Remaining fast by the river of the Holy Spirit and the Word is a surefire way to grow into who God wanted you to be for whatever season you may be in.

Addendums

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-3)

Isaiah’s prophecy pertaining to the Messiah–to Jesus. Jesse was David’s father, by the way.

Paul, in his letter to the early Christians in Rome, talks about how Israel, as emblematized by an olive tree, stands as the original growth out of which God blessed the world through humanity (see chapter 11). Beginning with Abraham and branching out from there, we eventually come to Jesus. But lest anyone reading his letter be tempted to think that they were special–more special than the people God already picked, Paul makes an interesting statement in verse 18. He says “thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” In other words, consideration must be given for the Jewish people because God makes no mistakes.

I can’t say the word addendum has its etymological root in tree (the Greek word for tree is dendron), but a revisionist definition definitely lends itself to Paul and his explanation. He speaks of any and everyone who believes in what God is doing through Jesus today is “graffed (or grafted) in among them” (verse 17), and now part of what God originally did through Abraham and Jesse and Jesus.

Seasons change. We may produce more or less fruit than we did with the last one. And God is always coming around to check on us. The trick is to remain conscious of our connection to God. It’s because of what Jesus did. There is deep and wide theology behind what God did starting with Abraham. Tomes of detail and thousands of rings tell the story and we’ll all fill the gaps in our knowledge base either here or in Heaven. But the important thing is here and now. Let God flow through you to produce fruit where you are.

They say nobody hears the trees that fall in the forest, but people will hear about the fruit that God causes you to bear for Him.

“I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits.” (Ecclesiastes 2:5)

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Getting Over Ourselves

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)

Paul says here that we should keep things in perspective when we introspect. He states the same, however inversely when he says “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3) It takes time but learning to see ourselves as God does is worth the effort expended.

Watching from the fence

“Verily, verily I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)

A state of indifference and indecision as applied to ourselves is not possible. We live our lives, day in and day out and a thousand micro decisions make up our internal view. And in the heading verse, Paul doesn’t say not to think highly of oneself. Just that it be tempered with and by reality. This is why it’s important to have friends who see the real you. They won’t let you stray into a gray area where you’re just not quite yourself. Think soberly. A…designated driver, as it were, for your person.

The above verse applies to the church and the Body of Christ. But a narrower interpretation could be seen as applying to us as an individual. As Jesus is both God and man, He was able to live everyone’s life. In His. Vicariously. So He knows you better than anyone ever could. Even your closest friends, those whom He speaks through with frequency and who “get” you, don’t know you like He. Even I don’t know myself better than does He. And if you give Him the key to your gate (better yet, make Him your “door”) He’ll ensure no one gets in who doesn’t belong.

“And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.” (Ecclesiastes7:26) Just because it says “woman” doesn’t mean a “man” won’t act the same. I find that when someone doesn’t know how to see themselves in light of God–the God who truly sees them as they are and loves them as is–the more prone they are to fall prey to someone who would strip-mine them of their faith and energy and emotion and leave them hanging.

Hangers on

“And no marvel; for satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers (*shudder*) also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-16)

Paul continues to do that very thing. Explaining away how he had legitimately gone through more at the Lord’s leading to ensure he’d have the weight to back up his words. In the previous chapter (10:10), he retorts by way of what looks like a slight. “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak and contemptible.” In other words, you wouldn’t guess by looking at him that the things you read out loud in your church months prior came out of him, were you to see him in person (“Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?” Matthew 13:54b–speaking of Jesus). But he knows. He knows the gift he carries because not only did Jesus appear to him and temporarily destroy his vision on the road to Damascus (see Acts, chapter 9), but Paul cultivated and also excavated the gift that God had put within him when He created him. This is what we’re all aiming at. And anyone who doesn’t go to God, blunt as this may sound, will only have other people to look to when needing to become something.

God made you. And He wants to make you into something. Beautiful thing is, after you become aware of this fact, you can actually help Him do that very thing.

Two Norths

There’s true north and magnetic north. Metaphorically speaking, one will orient you correctly and the other will drive you crazy. As the earth’s axis wobbles, magnetic north–the point that corresponds with the pole–changes with the planet. True north is found by locating Polaris (the north star) and going from there. As a Christian, there are two sources of truth, or “truth”. One would lead you astray, though. It’s a matter of getting to know God well enough to be able to tell which is which.

“Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16)

Paul asks this questions of the Galatians, who had come to take a works-based approach to appropriating the grace of God. That’s a succinct synopsis, but when a child of God doesn’t realize what he or she possesses by virtue of simply being that (a child of God with a lifeline to Heaven), they’re bound to take counsel and advice and understanding and wisdom (quote, unquote) from any source other than the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. As an aside, what does it mean in Revelation (3:1) when it refers to “the seven Spirits of God”? In the same verse it also makes mention of “the seven stars”. Interesting.

“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you.” (Galatians 5:8)

While “Two North” refers to the mental health ward in a hospital, “Three North” is the suicide watch. It’s bad enough having to choose between black and white and be blind. But a bevy of options and the confusions that ensue are enough to make one want to quit.

I believe God makes intelligent people. If you have an inkling of common sense, I believe God will use that. And that He’ll require you to use it before He steps in and labels things correctly that you were unaware of. We can go through a lot of this life by the seat of our pants. But to really integrate into the deep will of God, we necessarily will need to bring more and more of our mind to Him to ensure that the thoughts we think, from their earliest induction to whatever blossoms out as a result, is colored with His truth. I know of no better way to do this than to delve into His word. Isaiah 26:3 says “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.”

The key there is trust. Paul says in 2 Corinthians (5:7) “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Indicating that because we believe in–and know–God, there comes along with this, tomes of information that, as we walk with Him, are worked out behind the scenes. God is always doing things. He wants as many people as possible to know Jesus. And in turn know He and the Holy Spirit. That’s the simple and overarching plan. It brings glory to Him. But the details? The details are worked out by angels and us. And they are inscrutably and mind-bendingly complex. In light of this, when we come up against a piece of information, however small, that is untrue, it is akin to a piece of grit designed to stop the entire machinery of God’s plan for your life. This is why Jesus says “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14) You can be one of them. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you, to orient you to true north. All these lies. One truth.

In closing, this passage from Proverbs exemplifies a good starting attitude for the…requisitioning of God’s truth (and truths) for your life.

“Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into Heaven, or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in His fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His son’s name, if thou canst tell? Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (30:2-6)