Cresting the cusp

“Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:” (Exodus 20:9)

The other half

What do you do when the middle of the week rolls around? Assuming you work five days in a row (six? I’m sorry) and they’re all together, your Wednesday, or “hump day” must be a thing of beauty. I find that when I’m off, the first day does indeed still feel like work, as it says in Exodus. Bills, errands, laundry, etc. A day of rest is certainly needed. But I don’t really feel like “resting” and “relaxing” when my other weekend-day arrives. Up with the sun and off and running. Sometimes literally. As an aside, if I don’t keep everything under control–my eating and sleeping and leisure, I can’t run. Because as I ride a bike, it’s too much if I choose to want to run. I’d get sick (it’s happened before) and so it’s all contingent on how disciplined I am with the other half. Work is work. But play isn’t if I’m fighting a head cold from not taking my vitamins or choosing to play videogames instead of sleeping. God help me.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” (1 Timothy 6:5-8)

But it’s the midweek. The first half of the workweek is past and we look forward to the weekend. What would it take to be just as excited in our quotidian activities (work, chores, etc.) as we were when that weight was off? I’d wager to say a little contentment-based gratitude is the order of the day.

Making heads and/or tails

“But they that will be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Timothy 6: 9-11)

Paul is warning Timothy here of the dangers of taking home office supplies and also inter-office romance. Look it up. And notice the things he lists at the end of the passage. These are the things that, awake or asleep, at work or at home (or at play) will maintain and develop and content heart. The fact that I even have a job is wonderful. There have been days and weeks where all I could do was pine away for either my lunch break or the end of my shift. And not necessarily in that order. Should the other half of one’s life take a turn for the beautiful and somehow be better than work (!), rest in the fact that you have both. As a friend (and co-worker) once told me: “We work to live, we don’t live to work.” The clamoring for position and office-location should commensurately rise with its analog components. In other words, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.” (Psalm 75:6) Don’t forget that you’re serving God in any and every way you choose. And not to decide is to decide. This is how God ordained and how it works out, when you think about it.

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

 

A City of Refuge

“This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” (Revelation 21:22-23)

“Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.” (Numbers 35:34)

What is it like to have the God of the universe staying, vacationing almost, in your town? Think about the commanding presence of the most intimidating and intense individual you know. It could be an overbearing boss or the like. Someone who takes up all the emotional elbow room once they enter. Contrast the glory of God in the top two verses with the fact that, as it says in, Isaiah (42:3) “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench…”–speaking of Jesus.

As we grow and age and mature, provided our eyes are affixed to Jesus, we begin to inhabit the same levels of life that He did and does. We find ourselves going through the protective period of development in which we daren’t let in anyone who could be detrimental to our spiritual health and growth. And we find that Jesus is strong as stone and intense and intimidating. With a look that could melt steel. Then, as we continue to coalesce and grow stronger and level out, we find that it really doesn’t matter if we get hurt. Sure, we retain that core of strength and at that level, we know that things are safe and that nothing can touch us there. Our weak spots heal and we continue to live. Maybe now, we’re given the privilege of coming alongside others whom we find are in the same space we thought we’d never get to, or graduate from for that matter. But the point is, we are being molded and shaped into Christlikeness by way of the difficulties we encounter and the difficult people we’re blessed to interact with. Think about all the evil in the world and the walls necessary to keep it out. And then think about how, as it says in Isaiah, Jesus could be so. Very. Gentle. To where you wouldn’t recognize if He stepped in the room. Or if He left. The rest of the verse reads: “He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.”

“He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for His law.” (Isaiah 42:4)

“Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.” (Isaiah 27:4)

“Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” (Psalm 76:10)

God is moving. God is powerful and strong and kind. We cannot fathom His strength, nor the depth of His mercy and gentleness. He may be able rend the rocks and split the earth and sea. But He’s “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9b) When God came to Elijah (see 1 Kings 19), it says “And, behold, the Lord passed by…” Wind, fire, earthquake follows. These things herald the mighty God of the universe. And all He’s doing is coming down to talk with Elijah. But the Lord is not in any of these things. A “still small voice” answers. This is your Heavenly Father speaking.

“Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless: for their redeemer is mighty; He shall plead their cause with thee.” (Proverbs 23:10-11)

This isn’t to say that we don’t love and respect our parents. But as believers, we answer to One Father. And He has both our back and also our best interests at heart. Know that as you enter into His “city of refuge”, for lack of a better term, you are covered and cared for and watched over. Let Him take you in.

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

This then is the message

Sweet or Savory

“Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

There’s a lot to this to be sure. I believe it’s Ezra the scribe, speaking to the people that had assembled in the newly built Jerusalem just after completing the walls. “Eat the fat”. Because some fat is necessary. It’s not all bad and it’s not the worst thing you can ingest. If we had no fat at all, we wouldn’t be able to move. And “sweet”? Probably referring to wine. When I read “sweet” in the Bible though, I think “honey”. But I can’t think of drinking honey. That’s kind of gross. And dangerous if you’re under a year old. Babies can’t digest honey.

“Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.” (Proverbs 25:16)

Milk and honey

Melliferous. It means “producing honey”. Think about what Solomon is saying in the above verse. Jesus expresses a similar point in cautioning one to maintain discipline and near-austerity in the face of radical blessing from the Lord: “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting (too much), and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Luke 21:34) Really, He’s referring to His Second Coming. Because that’s better than all the best the world has to offer. But what if you’re entering a period of blessing–a windfall as it were, as were the children of Israel from the verse in Nehemiah–and you forgot to keep your mind and heart affixed to the God who brought you out from the desert and into a “city of refuge”? Don’t want to throw up and lose the very things God had been preparing since God knows when.

Think about what it took to get something sweet like honey. Let alone a land “flowing” with it. Bees have a thankless job. As bees are central and essential to the pollination (How come pollination isn’t spelled pollenation? Because “pollen” has an “e” but…nevermind.) process in ecology, we’d do well to respect the process. The Hebrew meaning for the name “Deborah” refers to the complex dance of bees in the hive. Bees rotate and wiggle in a circle whose tangent is analogous to the position of the sun with reference to the source of pollen. Amazing. See, we did nothing but wait on God for Him to come through with the “fat” and the “sweet”. This is why it says to “send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared”. The Lord’s eyes are always on the least. “Go out quickly into the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” (Luke 14:21a) Says Jesus. This is also what He’s getting at when He says to “take heed to yourselves”. None of the blessings God gives for His sake are in any way meant to eclipse His face. Remember, “the Joy of the Lord is your strength”. In walking through the forest, Saul’s son Jonathan (and David’s best friend) breaks the forced fast by tasting honey. It says how he hadn’t heard his father’s order to not eat and so tastes of the honey “upon the ground”, “and his eyes were enlightened.” (1 Samuel 14:26, 27) A forest without fruit doesn’t do one any good. The honey is meant to draw your attention to God so He can continue producing fruit in you.

“How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

Flesh and blood

“They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly.” (Psalm 17:10)

And here’s the other side. Just after his declaration that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Peter hears some of the hardest words ever spoken by Jesus. After Jesus commends him for testifying to the truth of who He is, and then reminds him that He still has to die, Peter tells Jesus that it won’t be necessary. From “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee” (16:18) to “Get thee behind me, satan…for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (16:23) It’s very important that we let God do all that He wants to do. Jesus could have stopped there. But it wouldn’t have gone to the top floor and we wouldn’t have had salvation (!). When we only focus on, or “savour” the things everyone else clamors for, we aren’t looking at the God who wants to meet our deepest need with Himself, first. Things come and go. States of satisfaction and circumstance-based-happiness vacillate. God is ever the same. Yes, if you’re happy and you know it, “clap your hands”. But as a child of God, we always have a reason to be happy. Whether we’re in the desert or in the forest or safe in a walled city. And whether we know it or not. Remember. The best thing I can recommend is to mentally scale down to a state of contentment based on what you never used to have. God has so much more than enough to go around.

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

Object Lessons

“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Show & Tell

Not as in “eyeing others possessions”. That would be akin to coveting. More like caring for the state of others’ well being. And it’s not really even referring to “things” as in “stuff”. But we have it. We need it. Things. Objects. Possessions. That which is an outward expression of what we like on the inside. How else can I say it? Do you have a favorite bowl? A favorite blanket? How about a pair of shoes that fits just-so (but hasn’t worn out yet)? We can learn from our things. Design has a voice (I’m not sure where I read that but I know I’m not the first person to say it). And it speaks. But this isn’t necessarily my point. Firstly, a little abstraction.

“If we say that we have 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)

That’s pretty cool. I feel that for something like the above to take place today, it’d take a miracle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Body of Christ to get back to the simplicity and power of what took place in Acts but unless we actively let God continue doing what He’s already been doing since Jesus came and went, we won’t realize it. As in make it happen. When you begin to walk in God’s “plan”, you find yourself meeting and knowing others who are actively doing the same. Little nodes begin to show in the hearts and minds of one another (“one heart and one soul”) and God slowly levels up His will in your area. It’s the (super)natural order of things:

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4:32)

That’s drastic. I mean, I’d be down if you needed to crash on my couch (I have an awesome, dark green, faux-chamois (?) couch). But my couch is mine thank you very much. It’s pretty much the couch of my dreams as it fits the description of “my dream couch” from when I was about twelve. All that aside, there comes a time when the things you own cease to glow with the beauty and newness they had when you first bought or acquired them. Case in point. I’m a huge Rush fan (I’m listening to “Closer to the Heart” as we speak.). I met a young man the other day who was wearing a “Caress of Steel” shirt. It’s not my favorite album but you rarely see anyone advertising such awesome musical taste. We chatted for a bit. He told me how jeered he is at high school, being a fan and all. I instead congratulated him because that’s exactly what Rush is supposed to do (see: “Subdivisions”). That’s a bit of an exaggeration but all the same. We said goodbye and I thought back to a button I have on my bag with the logo from “2112”. I thought again and realized that I don’t really need it. I have another from their self-titled (first) album. And so I took it off and found him (his name is Nick) and dropped it in his hand. He was stunned and exceptionally grateful.

Lost & Found

“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:8-9)

From the abstract to the specific. Referring again to the wearing-down of stuff, both in a physical and also psychical (?) fashion. You will never, ever lose your value in God’s eyes. Nothing physical is meant to stand the test of time. If our bodies are any indication… Even music, for all its awesomeness is at once eminently personal but also wholly subject to the times and also our state of mind. These are the lessons. That the things we own don’t own us. We are so much more than the outward explosion of form and function and material. Look at the core. That’s from where things–and good design–spring.

Into Consideration

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

There’s an old man in my town who walks with gimp. He’s taller, somewhat gruff. Usually sporting a simple checked flannel shirt (that’s what I think of, too). It’s so easy to develop some sort of theory as to how a person is, based on what you perceive and try to glean from…nothing. How many people in my life have fit that mold (old–no offense–with a simple style and unassuming, if spartan, demeanor)? More than I can remember. Does this mean I’m taking cues from those in my life who fit the gestalt pattern of “elderly white male, grizzled face, focused elsewhere with short temper”? Hmm… Thing is, I can’t say that I ever really knew those who fit that description from my past. My mind makes things up, it would seem, as I go along. The prayer at the top of the page is essential for ferreting out those trains and strains of thought that aren’t in keeping with “what Jesus would do”. I saw this man today. I talked with him for a moment (a first). He was indeed simple in his comportment. I should add also, that every time I’ve seen him–in the past and including today–be it waiting at the bus stop in his neighborhood, or somewhere else around town, he’s carrying his Bible by the handle of its ornate and heavily padded case. I always figured he was a Christian, and I think I can safely assume it even now. But aside from all that I can tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more salient intimation of the love that Jesus has for any- and everyone. I saw this as I talked with him (and felt as he walked away), clearly.

“Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” (John 21:22)

Jesus is speaking of John, “the beloved disciple” (his words, not mine). Notice the authority He expresses as this was after He had risen. I’m not saying He didn’t have this prior to His death, I’m merely saying that Jesus cares for each individual pricelessly. I don’t know the man’s name to whom I was referring earlier. But I can tell you that all my faults and foibles and failings aside, Jesus loves me the same way he does that man. I look at others and I’m tempted to think they’re perfect. That they don’t have the “obvious issues” that keep me from thinking clearly–and therefore acting the part. All (all) this aside, I can assure you that Jesus sees (and loves) you in a way that, most likely, would surprise you to your core were you privy to His perception. Oh, He’ll show you if you ask. That’s all you have to do. Until He does though, know that He enjoys you. Look at Him.

Search me, O God, and know my heart

There have been times in my life whereupon talking to someone, I’m blindsided by their character that was so radically different from how I’d assumed they were. Whose fault is it that they’re not coming across exactly as they are in heart? This question should be in all caps. But it’s also rhetorical. Living as unto the Lord, as He’s the one whose heart is sound and from whose heart ours is patterned (like a simple, black and red flannel) is the order of the day.

“Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:13-14)

Killing the Messenger

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

What do you do when someone levels a hard word at you? Well, hopefully they would deliver it more in keeping with some other type of description. “Leveling a hard word at someone” sounds like they’re throwing a rock. Before we begin to answer that question, turn it around. How would you deliver something God has put on your heart to say to someone who was out of line or out of order?

“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20-21)

“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Charity, love. Same thing.

Think about how God came to you. Were you even looking? Is your faith something that was handed down from your parents? Or were you adopted into God’s family having known Him as the only parent you’ve ever had? Something in between perhaps? What does the language look like when God begins to intimate something to your heart? Hopefully life doesn’t become a trainwreck in the process. I find that if God wants me to know something, in spite of crossed wires and mixed signals (it’s my reception, you understand), the effort is always persistent and sweet. Paul lines out some codes of conduct in dealing with those who didn’t accept Paul’s letter. Specifically his second letter to the Thessalonians (3:15): “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Not sure if that’s the best of examples for daily life. I find that when things were rawer, as in, during the time of the writing of what we now have as and call “our Bible”, the lines seem to have been more distinct. The point is, God loves us enough to see to it we stay on the straight and narrow. And if He can’t reach you directly (That’s His preferred method of communication, by the way–through His Word and through His Spirit.), He’ll call someone else to stand up and represent. Don’t hate.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love Him, because He first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:18-20)

“A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” (Proverbs 18:19)

Whatever the word, you must be prepared, steeled, even for the worst of responses. But that’s not really your concern now is it? There have been things I’ve said and things I’ve witnessed friends say to friends, in which the friend speaking worried too much about the reception of the “offender” to which the “offender” wasn’t even offended. Does this make sense? All of this falls under the category (as each instance is all over the map) of obedience. Telling someone the bridge is out doesn’t take in to account the feelings of the person out of control.

And even if it doesn’t take, being an object lesson for those watching, while embarrassing, is a gift in itself:

“Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people. My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me.” (Psalm 44:14-15)

See, it’s all the love of God. God loves you and me enough to tell us when we’re doing things wrong or believing lies or just a little (or a lot) confused. The condition of our heart (not our head) is what will bubble up to the surface when God plumbs those depths. Don’t be afraid of the words. Jesus cared so much about showing us the right way to go that He was willing to die to prove His point.

 

 

Orders of Magnitude

Taking our order

“And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23-24)

Things are scaling. The passage before, Jesus compares the psychospiritual (yes) struggles the disciples were facing to the birth pangs of a pregnant woman. How after the birth, the pain is forgotten. Now you have all of life left to look forward to. Jesus tells them they have sorrow (kinda hard not to when Jesus is only the best friend you’ve EVER HAD–and now He’s going to die) and rightfully so. But he tells them (more of a forward-facing reminder) that He’ll be coming back and their joy will both increase and also be solid-state. Then he tells them to ask away–after He tells them their questions would be answered with “the peace of God, that passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7)

“And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” (Ephesians 2:16-17)

Marching orders

“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:10)

But there’s then more to go. The gravity of God is pulling us closer throughout our life. Jesus continues:

“These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.” (John 16:24)

What Jesus did by dying for our sin has made it possible for us to be reconnected to God. If you don’t see the magnitude of that statement (if I may be so bold), you might consider asking Him to show you just how integrated He is in your life. Trust me, He’s a lot more present than you might realize. The writer of Hebrews delineates between Sinai and Zion in chapter twelve. Drawing a distinction between–how can I say this–the soft starlight of a constellation in the cool of the evening and the white-hot midday sun in July. God is still the same intensity He’s always been (For they could not endure that which was commanded… And so terrible was the sight…  12:20a, 21a). All of Him–His love and compassion and mercy and justice and (righteous) anger. It’s all still there. Channeled perfectly through a human, you get someone who looks like (and is) Jesus. And in Jesus, you get all of Them.

“And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24)

Out of order

We can make God in our image and of course we’ll be wrong. But we cannot fake Jesus*. As God is undefinable (humanly speaking) except through Jesus, it falls to us to endeavor to know Him and to see and feel God the Father as manifest through His Son.

“I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:1-4, emphasis mine)

*Actually you can (see 2 Corinthians 11:3-4). The Holy Spirit won’t witness to any other, though.