In the Smoke

“And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of Him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:3-4)

I am living and walking in the middle of the worst forest fire I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter. To where a faint nausea tugs at your stomach all the livelong day and your eyes are tired and red from being open to the smoke. I see people with hospital masks on. I mean, this is Oregon. A land known for its lush and dense forests. How can the air quality be the inverse of what a forest is supposed to provide? Let me rephrase the above. I am living in the Rogue Valley about two hours from the fire itself. But the smoke from said fire has infiltrated the local atmosphere and it’s so bad, I hear San Francisco is suffering. If you ever wanted to stare directly into the sun, you’ve now got your chance. It isn’t blood red (a dull orange) so I’m not thinking anything apocalyptic. It does remind me of what might happen should God decide to make His way to town. While Jesus walked the earth, there were times He went unnoticed. Times, also where He didn’t want to be noticed but those who knew couldn’t keep their mouth shut in spite of His warning to do so. When He was welcomed to Jerusalem, the Pharisees tried to snuff out the shouts and cries of His disciples in praising Him, to which He responded that “the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40) So great was the atmosphere of praise and worship and adulation. But think about the Father. All Jesus did on Earth was in order to herald Him. God the Father. The Father is someone we cannot wrap our mind around. The moment Isaiah sees “the Lord of hosts”, he says “Woe is me! For I am undone” (Isaiah 6:4). He sees his frailty and faultiness. I can imagine it would have been hard to breathe in such an environment. Think about living on the sun. Walking through a forest on fire–or the valley downwind, don’t hold a candle to the surface of the sun. And God is hotter than that.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29, emphasis mine) Metaphorically, of course.

I write from the relatively comfortable and air conditioned coffee shop in my mall. The presence of the smoke isn’t in here yet. And I’m sure I’m not alone when all I want is for this whole thing to blow over. A little queasiness and eye discomfort is nothing compared to life-altering respiratory problems and the threat of death if you’re at ground zero. The air quality index is forecast at 200 for tomorrow. And I don’t mean to make light of this serious event by metaphorically comparing it to God and His presence. I’ve just never encountered something so dramatic as this. And the verse from Isaiah is the only scripture to which I could tie it so far as parallel. A little rain would be nice. Then again, flooding’s not good either. God bless everyone involved and everyone affected.

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)

Multiplied By Itself

“And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is Thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:” (Luke 19:20)

Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste your life. These admonitions, while wholly practical and true and repeated umpteen times in the presence and ears of those less inclined to work hard and achieve than others, seem to be fear based. In other words, not necessarily the best of synonymizations of the above verse. I find that once you realize hell is real and fear and tummy aches and other things of utter, paralyzing unpleasantness, you had better know Jesus because everything you do on the upside–in this case, looking to capitalize on what God has given you–will indeed be fear based. When Jesus issued the hard words He did, they always not only came from Him, i.e. the only true source of confidence in the universe. But also, He never gives instruction or admonition or warning without the accompanying grace to see through and enable you to do whatever it is you are called to do on this earth, for Him.

“The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.” (Proverbs 20:4)

“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”(Philippians 2:13)

I know Jesus is elucidating an overarching life-defining parable. Reason why it comes across as so harsh is because the person in question has taken every opportunity, every moment of their life not having realized the gift of God and the beauty thereof. It is utterly and supremely sad to think of someone having how does it go? Yes. “Wasting their time and their life”. All of Heaven was at their disposal to help and back them up and in turn grow and scale the things God wanted to do for them. And they negated it with their own will. Such negatively grand observations must necessarily come from someone with all the insight in the world. Something no human (except Jesus) possesses and can as such level judgment. But we can at least imagine out reasons and explanations as to why someone would “waste their life”. What could be the culprit? Jesus gives a reason-by-way-of-excuse:

“For I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man: Thou takest up that Thou layedst not down, and reapest that Thou didst not sow.” (Luke 19:21)

Gasp! Could this be true of our Lord? Certainly the parable is not over but look at this bizarre interlude. The “servant” in question levels the blame back on the Lord citing some elitist and skewed morality that has no basis in reality. I suppose it could be said of Him that He takes and steals and snatches away. All in the positive, I might add. As “the whole world lieth in wickedness.” (1 John 5:18), it would behoove the Lord to take back what is now His as He’d be the only one powerful enough to do so. A failure on the part of the “servant” to provide sufficient reason not to have done anything. Think about Jesus. The moral of any parable and biblical story is meant to draw you to Him. He is everything the Bible says He is but He’s also an individual who loves you and wants to help you more than anything. If, as was in the case of the servant who got one pound, you have some misunderstanding of who He is, even something fear based, ask Him to reveal His true, joyful self to you. I would say that God would rather you do nothing in His presence and simply enjoy Him, than worry about going to hell because you didn’t do what you were supposed to with the time and life and gifts you got from God.

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Part Two

“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.” (Genesis 32:27)

Jacob’s a pretty common name nowadays. I know two and have a cousin. I find names with inherent negative meanings an enigma. His name essentially means “deceiver”. The implication is, “heel-catcher”. So-named as he had grasped his brother Esau’s foot on the way out the womb. Bringing the fight to the surface, so to speak. But think about it in light of changing established norms and paradigms in service of someone who has a greater thing in mind than what came before. I would say the Romans 8:28 rule of God working “all things together for good to them that love Him” comes in to play. And so, the angel, after struggling for a while (you gotta know he would’ve won had he wanted) renames Jacob Israel. A new name for the reward of fighting with God. Chambers refers to this scene in the negative indicating it’s not wise to fight with God. And I’m inclined to agree. However, sometimes setbacks are so, so deep rooted in us, that in order for us to vault over them, we must “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) in so uncompromising a manner, that God is forced to do something about it. Jacob was allowed to see and touch the angel in the above case. I would speculate that since Jesus came and left bodily, the same needn’t be said for us. In other words, don’t let yourself get discouraged because you can’t see God with your eyeballs. I digress.

“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14)

This verse runs through my mind quite often. Nearly everytime I see someone infirmed or convalescing. It helps me as I feel my heart go out to them. I feel for them but it’s not necessary, honestly (?). Those who have a physical handicap, I would say more often than not, want to simply be seen as normal. There’s a cutoff to pity. But look at Jacob. He trades his severe inferiority complex for an outward physical handicap. The angel changes his name and also touches his thigh. I wonder about this. I mean, how come we can’t go through life and have all our attendant problems and issues solved once and for all? Because we’ll forget God, honestly. I don’t know if you’ve ever been shown your own blindness and pride, but I can tell you hell is a lot closer as such. The wound in whatever form, keeps us from falling off the edge. Jacob both got what he wanted and what he needed. And how does this effect Ephraim and Manasseh?

“And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these? And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.” (Genesis 48:8-9)

The duality and the disparity runs through Jacob’s lineage like a common thread. Jacob, now Israel, proceeds to sew up the…bifurcation of his life story by taking his right hand and blessing Ephraim (the son of Joseph to Jacob’s left) with the blessing he had to be crippled to receive and that he never gained through natural, firstborn means. I suppose my point in all this would be that God supersedes one plus one. I remember talking to a fellow churchgoer who also happened to be a mathematician. I asked him to explain to me the assertion that two plus two might not equal four. Told him I saw an essay once and that I was hard-pressed to slog my way through it (paraphrase). He very simply and succinctly told me by way of analogy and parallel that two lines will become one at vanishing point. And I got it.

Only God can alter the outrageous impossibility of a life on rails to nowhere from the beginning. I don’t know how else to say it. The inward (read: spiritual) and outward (read: physical) dualities were met in Jesus and all is right with the (your) world. Best to appeal to Him as soon as possible because the fork will indeed affect whatever we do and whomever we influence.

Part One

“And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him. And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: for God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:50-52)

Imagine this. Joseph, with his unparalleled backstory, has been brought out into “a large room” (Psalm 31:8). He hasn’t forgotten God, no. But he has indeed forgotten all the past misery and affliction. His brothers having dipped his coat of many colors in the blood of a goat (see Genesis 37). That always stood out to me. All that aside, he names his first son “Manasseh” meaning in the Hebrew “causing to forget” (Strong’s). Again, you can imagine the stigma of being the second-to-last son of Israel. The first born himself, of Rachel. The one to whom God “hearkened…and opened her womb”. (Genesis 30:22). He and his younger brother Benjamin (after whose pregnancy, Rachel passed away) may have been seen with a kind of reverse nepotism by the other ten brothers–if that makes sense. So it’s Joe and Ben. And the other brothers are jealous and so they tear the former away from the latter and also all that he had ever known (you have to remember that Jacob wanted Rachel more than he wanted Leah). I don’t have any (human) children but I can imagine when Joseph looks into the eyes of his son, he sees an opportunity to escape the horror of the past twenty (?) years. Praise God. But even through all this, he hasn’t forgotten the God of his fathers. The blessing of Abraham is coursing through his spirit and God is using him to wrench from Egypt the sustenance needed to in turn come back and gift his brothers with the opposite of what he received. That is what Jesus would do, ladies and gentlemen. And Joseph is about to get another son.

“Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble: Thou wilt prepare their heart, Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear: To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.” (Psalm 10:17-18)

Interesting how the psalmist describes God’s attributes (i.e. hearing) as something He can turn on and off at will. I suppose we could do the same, the difference between hearing and listening. Anyways. And before I go any further, before we forget about Manasseh, and his inherent (positive) forgetfulness, have you ever had a mediocre day, only to encounter a potential setback that throws you for an even greater loop? And when the “setback” is cleared away, you actually feel better about the whole of your day, the false alarm being a somewhat inverted buoy? God is cool that way. Okay. Son number two. Joseph names his second born “Ephraim”. His name means “double fruit” in Hebrew. We make the jump (yes, because this is part and parcel of Judeo-Christian heritage–there is more than homiletical reason for the content of our Old and New testaments) from “forgetting those things which are behind” to “reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13). Remember, God gave Job “twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10) so why wouldn’t He rinse and repeat with with Joe, er, Joseph (excuse me). Why indeed.

“And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.” (Genesis 25:23-24)

So what’s the point to all this? Look at the duality that turns around Jacob. Himself, a twin, the second born at that, who wanted to be first. He struggles with Esau and tricks him out of his birthright. Did God’s prophecy to Rebekah in the above passage more than presage, but either cause if not, sanction the outcome of, not just, Jacob’s but also Joseph’s life? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I suppose the point, in closing part one, would be, that from so simple and quiet a beginning, the most polarizing of events can occur. And (and) that God can bring beauty out of the midst.

Colors

“Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.” (Psalm 60:4)

Flagging down

The truth of what? The truth, the fact, the law that God loves you. He loves you and this is something you can draw upon daily and now and all the time. But I’m just talking. This is the truth that has gone out to the ends of the world upon Jesus’ death and resurrection. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) This is the fabric that permeates existence. It is the sunlight through the ether. It has imbued every particle and even those yet to be discovered. It is in the light and it’s stronger than gravity. And if this makes you feel good, good. If it gives you pause and makes you ponder and wonder, wonderful. Because this is the great test of existence. As “God is love” (1 John 4:16 the whole verse reads as follows: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in Him.”), and the battleground (for lack of a better word) is one of believing over non, love must be where you begin with Him.

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)

The banner, in the case of both verses is essentially a flag. The proper study of flags, is vexillology, by the way. We see in the Song of Songs how the woman relates the love of her beloved to an all encompassing flag. Something she’s wrapped in and enraptured by. The desire for love and companionship is what God has put on the heart and mind of every human the world over. And a mere mention of the odd opposite case does nothing to falsify this universal truth. This is what God is looking for. He is love and He has nothing else better to do than give it. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) “Who wants me?” “Who desires what I have to give them?” Not just life eternal, but an audience with the person who thought them up. God’s undivided attention.

“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent. I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:3-4)

One morning many years ago, the Lord spoke something to my heart. I knew it was Him only because it had nothing to do with the present context or content of my mind and thoughts. So refreshing was it–so unusual, almost like dream logic. It made no sense at the time but I’ve grown into it. He told me He would tell me why flags are flown.

Flagging

“So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19)

A flag is an irreducible representation of, I would say, that which bears a representation befitting material and color. And handling just-so. For instance, any member of the armed forces must stop and salute if the flag is being raised or lowered. So simple is its use that an alteration in direction or light or position denote radical, if dire events taking place. You must either keep a light on the flag at night or else take it down. It must needs be folded correctly as well. Horizontally twice and then triangled (?) till you tuck it closed. A flag is more than the sum of its parts. A flag is the ultimate symbol (neckties are like flags, think about it). Francis Scott Key spied the flag from his ship out in the harbor and his spirits sailed. This is God’s love for us. Without waxing any one patriotism over another, Jesus has indeed raised this banner for us. This, really, to answer the above statement, is why flags are flown. Because God loves you. The flag may have flown at half mast for a mere three days. But nothing in the world can take it down. It may be night but the light of the Holy Spirit shines strong. Training our vision on this substrate fact will keep us from flagging in the slightest. Everything else falls in line, then.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Bending Without Breaking

“Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.” (Acts 10:20)

You can understand with so pivotal and important an advent as the birth of Christ, how Joseph would need an angelic visitation to put his mind at ease. Also, it happened in a dream. The angel visited Mary in broad daylight. These agents (or one; could’ve been Gabriel in both cases) of extra-dimensionality show up in all their resplendent glory and by their very presence–as well as the memory of them–allay any doubt as to what should happen. Because when you’re dealing with humans and their choices, we tend to need something higher to help us along the way to God’s perfect will. Jesus asks Peter why He doubted as He “stretched forth His hand, and caught him” (Matthew 14:31). The proof, in that case, was in keeping one’s eyes on Christ as the worst swirls around you trying to get you to let slip your anchor in Him. Words like faith and hope must necessarily be verbs and not just nouns (more than gerunds, too). These concepts must be planted in our mind while their roots make their way into our heart.

“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” (Hebrews 6:17-19)

And here’s where the memory part comes in. It says plainly in the above passage that “it was impossible for God to lie”. Paul writes to Titus (1:2) “God, that cannot lie”. The same line of thinking goes along with Jesus’ equation of Himself to the chief corner stone. He says “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken” (Luke 20:18) See, if we really want to know God, we must see this unbreakable aspect to His character. Impossibly hard. The unstoppable force in the immovable object and transcendent to all comparison. God cannot lie. But we can. Amazing. Remember the things God has shown you. Choose to believe that He’s telling you the truth. And that it is Him showing you. He won’t lead you astray.

What has God shown you and told you? I would say it starts in His word but then He speaks in other ways, too. He speaks through our desires. Through voices we don’t have access to. Through impressions and urges and notions. His voice might carry quietly on the wind and be nigh imperceptible but He cannot lie. His words to you and for you are as solid as He. Don’t doubt. Better yet, let the wind that brought the word, carry the doubt along with it. Sometimes, we can’t help but doubt. Not just what God may be doing in a particular area or instance, but Him too. “Doubt” has its root in “two”, just so you know.

“I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and praise Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified thy word above all Thy name. In the day when I cried Thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.” (Psalm 138:2-3)

Real quick and this is just semantics but if it says God “magnified [His] word above all [His] name”, and His name is a word, what does this mean? Seen this way, I suppose the answer would apply to Jesus as the Living Word. It really is this simple–at least to God. He’s holding a place for us and He sees the reality of all His promises as applied to us. But doubt will stop things up. Doubt will keep us from receiving the things He has for us. In the top verse, the Holy Spirit Himself tells Peter to remain strong and believing. Sometimes, that’s all we can do. Keep believing, hoping and loving on God. His faith in you will burn through the doubt and *gasp* you’ll be made stronger through it all. And now you can lend that same confidence to everyone the Holy Spirit has you encounter.

For Lack of a Better Word

“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 thou canst not understand, Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.” (Ezekiel 3:5-6)

Non-word

I should start by saying that the word “themself”, while it may indeed look like an actual word, won’t score you any points with a well-informed (if slightly elitist) reading populace. In other words, it’s got the squiggly red line underneath. The idea though is a fascinating one. Here you have this compound word, the first syllable of which is the objective pronoun referring in gender-neutrality to anyone or anything. A catch-all of sorts. The second syllable of course refers to an individual. Your self. The Indo-European root (gotta have it) for self–according to my one source (other than the Internet), the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots–is “s(w)a”. It gives rise to all sorts of self-ish words. Words like “seclude” and “secure” and “segregate”. Others too, like, “sullen”, “seduction” and “solipsism”. And “suicide”. Now put both syllables together and you get a non-word that starts in duality, moves toward unification and, whoops. You can’t even use it. Dear God.

“Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth: unite my heart to fear Thy name.” (Psalm 86:11)

“I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart.” (Psalm 119:32)

Nonce words

Y’know, you can bend language to your will and your whims. Aside from all the dusty tomes lining the shelves of libraries the world over coupled with all the established information floating through the ether as well as scores upon scores of generations who tend to use words, uh, correctly, language is yours to do with what you will. No one is telling you–telling you–that you have to use words and syntax and grammar (can’t forget punctuation) intelligibly. Oh, they may have done that in school and rightfully so. About all school is good for nowadays, however, is learning to get along with one’s peers, maybe. And if you start stringing sentence and syntax subjectively, not only will you not ameliorate the hearers (seriously), you could very well alienate yourself. Think of it this way. When you were a kid (unless you were weird), you probably didn’t take too kindly to brushing your teeth every night. You may even have gone so far as to run your toothbrush under the water and call it good. To which your parent(s) might have responded with censure. Okay. I find that anyone (myself included) who didn’t see the “benefit” of brushing their teeth swore they’d swear it off when once they attained adulthood and escaped the parental-dental auspices of their youth. It’s like this with language. Now, rewinding down from this admittedly odd analogy, you can make language do what you want. The second part of the previous sentence is true. It is just excruciatingly hard to adopt and enact and exact. This idea comes into play when you coin a word for a situation for which a word applies just-so and wouldn’t’ve arisen any other way. Also known as a nonce word. Think about the ways we play around with the words we use. We form compound words or mishear snippets of conversation and things trigger in our brains and minds and we’re off and running. Life is a breeding ground for nonce words. This is what is so cool about this toy called “our brain”. Use it enough and get really good at whatever it is God has put on your heart to perform for Him–and you will be outstanding in your field. Ah. I’m reminded of this:

“My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget Thy law.” (Psalm 119:109)

Here’s the catch if ever there was one. The information (for lack of a better word) from God’s heart that defines who we are in Him is found in His word. It runs counter to philosophies and thought-structures the world over that would encourage you to become all you can be without Him. For instance, even with “themself”, should you stir your, uh, self to the point of laser focus on whatever vocation or discipline to the neglect of the one who put those gifts inside you (if I may), God will not be able to use you like He could. You may well attain worldwide attention and notoriety and, dare I say it, fame, for your gifts. And then your teeth will rot. Don’t forget about Jesus.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profitted, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

Here. All I have is this one word.