A Most Vehement Flame

“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” (Song of Solomon 8:6, emphasis mine)

“[They] that sweareth to [their] own hurt, and changeth not.” (Psalm 15:4b)

Well put. If we’re honest with ourselves–and honest in general–we know we’re made for one person. There’s all sorts of places to go with this but that one person. That one person for whom we’d give our all, to whom we’d give our heart and strength and life. Under God, I believe that we’re made for one and only one and this is what gives rise to jealousy. And the jealousy described in the above sounds about as poetic as one could wax on the subject.

But we change too, don’t we? This is a fact of life. Granted: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8) But we’re turning more and more into the likeness that is both based on Him and also the originality with which He planted in us when He made us. Praise God. Waiting on God to make Him into who we are and also for us to be comfortable in that (two different things) is what will kill the wrong kind of jealousy. If you’re looking to someone else–whoever it may be–to complete you without first realizing you’re already “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10), you’re gonna have a bad time down the road. Because you’ll change and something deep may fracture and that’s not good. Doesn’t mean God can’t heal it and that it can’t in turn be stronger than before. But you could circumnavigate all that by waiting. It’s hard and it might hurt (a lot), don’t let anyone tell you different.

“I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8)

“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” (Galatians 4:8)

So that word in Hebrew translated “vehement flame” is shalhebeth. A “flare” (Strong’s). You can understand how one of the names of God would be “El Qanna”–the jealous one. Because He has a heart only for you. This is why the Israelites were spoken of as having gone “a whoring” after other gods. God takes very seriously the time and effort and attention (all love) that has gone into preparing the way for us.

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Out of Our Element

“Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.” (Psalm 130:1-4)

Taking the heat

I have such respect for Job. His adducement of “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.” (13:15) has all the confidence of someone, I would say, who truly knows the Lord. Someone who has walked before him through bad times and worse, through thick and thin and all the points and counterpoints of their life. Of course, it was uttered in response to those who had taken their best stab at Job’s problems only to find his resolve and resilience withstanding the onslaught of their wisdom and words.

“Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?” (Psalm 49:5)

Job continues on in the chapter by asking two things. And while the King James doesn’t explicitly say he’s asking and demanding of God, I can’t see his request of “Only do not two things unto me” (13:20) as directed at anyone else. Because, let’s face it, only God has the power to exact such things on a human being. Job asks “Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not Thy dread make me afraid.” (v. 21) Thing is, if we truly understand the character of God, how “God is love”, then the thing that should cause us to fear Him, i.e. judgment is to be coupled with the experience of having been forgiven. It took the sublime pain and agony of the cross to purchase for us the inestimably important forgiveness we need to live. Then Job goes on to accuse God of libel (!) and the dredging of sins long past. “For Thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.” (v. 26) Here’s the thing. As satan is “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10), the constant worry and fear around the things we’ve done wrong in our past is brought about, not by God, but by the devil. If you’ve received forgiveness for it, move on. Sorry, that’s a little blunt. Perhaps there’s something more God wants to teach you, not to the condemnation of your spirit, but to the education of the same with reference to moving forward.

Taking the heat elsewhere

“God is in the midst of her (referring to the “city of God” Ps. 46:4); she shall not be moved: God shall help her and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the earth melted.” (Psalm 46:5-6)

The term thermoduric pertains to organisms that are able to withstand extremely hot temperatures. A bacterium that is able to survive the pasteurization process, for instance. I read once of a type of worm that lives below the crust of the earth (granted, it’s been taxonomized after the devil–Halicephalobus mephisto–bear with me a little in my analogy) that survives and thrives in temperatures above two-hundred degrees. The point I’m getting at is that because of what Jesus has done on the cross, the heat of God’s anger and censure is only meant to burn off anything that would keep us from getting closer to Him. This, I think, is what God wants us to focus on should He in any way turn up the heat.

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)

The Center Cannot Hold

Indifference has to be one of the worst outworkings of a heart. Paul says to the Romans (12:15), “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Should it follow, then, “be indifferent with them that are indifferent”? Because if you’re indifferent and unfeeling and uncaring with anyone at either end of the aforementioned spectrum, it will end in snuffing out the joy and also exacerbating the sorrow.

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15)

Neither confirming nor denying

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

Matthew’s gospel relates it thus: “And I was afraid, and went and hid Thy talent in the earth…” (25:25) When you neglect the gifts God gives you, either wrapped in a “napkin” (akin to a handkerchief) or buried in the world, there’s no way it can be multiplied–no way it can do any good for either you or anyone else. The word “idempotent” refers to a mathematical process in which a number is unchanged when multiplied by itself. It’s more complex (and probably simpler) than it sounds. Suffice it to say, I don’t understand it beyond its definition. Here’s the thing: we cannot consume ourselves and expect to thrive. And we cannot consume the beauty and sorrow of our brothers and sisters in Christ without reflecting back the same to them either. Christian community is made up of numerous children of God–male and female alike–who all take their impetus and catalyst from Jesus Christ. Who in turn received it from the source, His Father. The self-actualizing entity is a myth. Everything God does for us is a  gift. Something to be tended and guarded–and shared. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

All things in moderation

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

All things in moderation? Except for sophrosyne, of course. Same thing. I find that gratitude is the order of the day. That, and simple acknowledgment of God with the petty concerns that make up much of my mind. If I’m only concerned with myself and getting more, I won’t be attuned to God or the things He’s already done. As such, I won’t see what He’s doing in the grand scheme of things. As the beautiful things are gifts, so too, are the struggles. Not because we enjoy them, no. Paul says “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Not to downplay what you’re going through, but Paul says it’s naught but “light affliction”. God doesn’t lay on you more than you can handle. Mix in the affliction with the “talents” (a “weight and measure”) you get something that looks like daily life. Don’t worry. As you press in to God, you and your gifts will win out in the end. Provided you haven’t buried them somewhere…

“A man’s (and woman’s) gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16) Crescendoing in Jesus, the Greatest. When I was younger and going through certain existential struggles, feeling the weight of my circumstances and also my indifference to the whole matter, I would foolishly wish to be cold because I saw it as easier than the other two. Not wise. Incalesce.

God is not indifferent

“And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” (Colossians 2:19)

The suffering in your world and the world and mine grieves His heart. The easy answer of Heaven (i.e. the afterlife) is more than a placebo. But it’s also neither here nor there beyond a certain point. The dryness and dullness (and indifference) we perceive when we look to the sky, is really in our own heart. If you throw in subjectivity and cultural relativism and also the devil and sin, you get a world that balances out quite nicely–on the side of indifference. To level complaints at God and His followers for the sorry state of much of the world does nothing to change His heart. If you’ve ever had a taste of the mighty sweetness and tenderness of “Our Father who art in Heaven”, you won’t settle for anything less. The more we endeavor to run to God (as opposed to standing still or running away), the hotter we’ll be. Consequently, the more our gifts will bring glory to Him. Adiaphorous refers to medicine, or “medicine”, that does nothing, a placebo. And while effects can be produced psychosomatically, it was the patient rather than the prescription. God never does or starts anything without the intent of seeing it through to completion. Hold on and hold out for the best that He has. You can turn this world around. Don’t think for a second that God is indifferent.

Lessons in Incalescence

The order of our ardor

Smoldering

“And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)

Dig deep enough and you’ll find it. I don’t believe God’s ever silent but ever communicating. The above verse is two followers of Christ who had seen all their hopes dashed with His death. They were walking to Emmaus, a village seven and a half miles from Jerusalem and were accompanied by a stranger who happened to be Jesus. I know it says “their eyes were holden that they should not know Him.” (24:16) but something tells me that deep down, they did. Their hearts witnessed to the truth of this stranger, who, it says “expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (24:27) But it wasn’t until afterward, after they had shared a meal that “their eyes were opened, and they knew Him” (24:30). It then says that “He vanished out of their sight.” Think about the order in which things happened. These two men were going to Emmaus, commiserating among themselves, thinking they knew how it ended–and that it had indeed ended. But Jesus, ever the Good Shepherd, shows up and gently stokes the pilot light on their insides. After He disappeared from their communion, the two men hurried back to Jerusalem–to the fold. I’d wager to say it was a layer or two of unbelief that kept His identity hid from them. As an aside, is it the layers of unbelief in our lives that keep us from seeing God walking right by us in our everyday lives? Food for thought. At Jerusalem with the rest of the disciples, Jesus proceeds to expound a bit more on His coming and the scriptures that foretold it. He then adds “but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” (24:49)

“I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8)

Diabatic

In Thermodynamics it refers to air being heated by the sun. In Chemistry, it’s the so-named process of heat transfer between molecules. In other words, diabatic heating is getting warmer through heat proximity. Perhaps this is why Jesus instructed the disciples to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem”. To stay near the source, the fire. The second chapter of Acts (written by Luke, his Gospel and Acts were originally one book) opens on the day of Pentecost. Verse two says “they were all with one accord in one place”. It would seem some conditions had to have been met before the “power from on high” was released. A spiritual “heat transfer” as it were. Jesus swept everyone back to Jerusalem and after they had all ironed out their differences (There seems to have been a lot of doubt and griping among the disciples, oh well.) “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” (2:3) God is moving by His Spirit. He commemorates the Jewish celebration of Pentecost with a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Something that we partake in even today. Jesus started the fire and it will slowly die down unless we stay near to Him. After the crowd saw what happened to those in the upper room–and began to doubt in spite of it (see2:7-13)–Peter does the same as Jesus. He cites Joel and also David to keep the dream (and the fire) alive. He says “For David speaketh concerning Him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved.” (2:25) God poured the Holy Spirit out upon the Church and ignited their individual pilot lights (you and I have them) into a conflagrated and communal bonfire. To where anything trying to snuff or damper, evaporates instead. This is a good thing.

“He (David) seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption.” (2:30)

Incalescent

“Then was Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:19, 24-25)

Incalescent simply means “to increase in heat”. All Global Warming aside, I find it’s the natural order of things. God is hot, how else can I say it? And the closer you get to Him, the more the heat gets turned up. While Peter (quoting David) says that “His soul was not left in hell”, there may be times where, like the three men spoken of in the above passage, you might have to wander around in the fire. No matter. It might be anachronistic, but Jesus was there with them and He’s in the fire with you. Let it get hotter, let it incalesce. There’s nothing hotter than Him. If you can’t stand the heat, then ask Him to show you why–to open your eyes. With Him by your side, you won’t “smell of fire” (Daniel 3:27). And you’ll be qualified, as is He, to lead people through hell, and out.

“His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire.” (Revelation 1:14)

Boiling Point

“And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 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 17:15)

Watching the pot

Firstly, I’m not a hundred percent sure who Jesus is referring to when He says “generation”. The man speaking at the beginning of the above passage had a son who was possessed with a particularly sticky spirit. One that, Jesus says, “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (17:21) But again, Jesus seems to level His statement at everyone. Granted, He had just come down from the mountain. The mountain top after which all “mountaintop experiences” take their namesake, after all. His Father testifies from Heaven in much the same way He did at the river Jordan after Jesus was baptized with the full measure of the Holy Spirit. “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” says the Father (Mark 1:11). He says it again on the mountaintop: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” (Matthew 17:5) And now, in the shadow of that same mountain Jesus has to again deal with the same old, same old. So why should we tire of the pace at which things are flowing, if they seem to be flowing a little slow for our tastes? Odd as it might sound, a river with sub-freezing water will still flow, but only because it’s moving–if that makes sense.

“Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto Him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Peter got it eventually. In his first letter, he expresses it thus: And above all things have fervent (i.e. hot) charity (love) among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” In other words, it would seem that the tolerance we have, or need, for those with whom we’ve been tasked to love is proportionate to the love that we need, in order to tolerate them–and people need more than toleration. They need love. The love of God and the love of you. He continues: “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” (1 Peter 4:8-9) I suppose it had to be stated by someone. It’s almost like Peter got the privelege of asking the first questions of Jesus that seem today to be common knowledge. “How many times do I forgive someone?” Four-hundred ninety times and that’s it. No. “The multitude of sins.” That’s every last one.

Calling the kettle black

“And because of iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:11)

If you take two-hundred twelve (boiling point) and subtract one-hundred eighty from it (literally turning it around, 212-180=). You get thirty-two (32). That’s freezing, if you didn’t already know. Jesus prophesys in the above verse about a time that looks, for all intents and purposes, like a time right about now. Iniquity abounds. The side-effect of which is that people who, presumably up till this point, had love in some way, shape and form, let it slip and slide and freeze up. This is not good. Because if someone needs love–the fervent love of Jesus–where can they look if they can’t look to Christians? Jesus can’t do everything by Himself, audacious as that sounds. If you have the fire of His Spirit, then let it thaw you out. Sure it’s hot. It’s fire for God’s sake. But ice will melt no other way. You can understand how Jesus would exclaim as He did and how He’d want to leave off dealing with a world that continued to show Him the cold shoulder. If anyone deserves (?) to be frustrated with us, it’s Jesus. And yet He effectively dealt with the demon in the child, jettisoning His frustration. Let us do the same. Be patient with people (and yourself for God’s sake). Love them. Fill them. Thaw them out. Who cares if iniquity abounds, forgive it.

And God the Father will say over you what He did over Jesus.