Event Horizon

“Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written…” (Psalm 139:16a)

I find this to be true even when I’m so far out on the edge of life, having involved myself in all the things I feel to be necessary for my moving forward. And then I get overwhelmed and miserable and despondent. The Lord is always good to bring me back to this substrate realization: He’s always known everything about me. And He loves me the same now and then and whenever I don’t feel it. He doesn’t change. Why should I?

“Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

While I resonate with the above words to Jeremiah, I can’t say that I feel I’m “ordained a prophet unto the nations”, but you never know. The thing about Jesus is that He calls us to greater and greater influence for Him. Things scale and grow and in light of that, all the activity I mentioned above do I seek to have grow out in that pattern. But, inevitably, I come back down to feeling weak and like everything is upon my shoulders. Here’s another verse:

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

I know we’re doing our best. Dealing with our hangups and our sins and habits of mind and character that aren’t perfectly in keeping with the Lord Jesus Christ. But that thing that keeps us going! What is it? I would say it has to do with whatever it was that the Father wrote on your heart when He first thought you up. Think about how big a miracle it is for you to have met Jesus! Because without Him, all those words He wrote won’t amount to much. Keeping this in view is what helps the burden ease (I can feel it lessen even as I write) and what brings us back to humility. God is in control. His mercy and peace and His abundance are keeping us on the path He has for us. We can do things, of course, to help it along. But if we end up getting mired in things we had no business getting involved with, where did we go wrong? I find that meditating on the top two passages and others like them (see 2 Samuel 22:33 and Philippians 1:6) are necessary to keep in tune with the Lord. And prayer. Jesus prayed all the time and all the more when things pressed Him to breaking point. He would spend all night alone with His Father (see Luke 6:12) praying and struggling and obtaining that peace He needed to continue.

“Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:7)

The writer of Hebrews quotes the psalm at length describing Christ (See Hebrews 10:7-10). The Father had a preordained path for His Son to walk in and it’s no different for us. It includes both His permissive will and His perfect will and also the unraveling of mistakes we make. God knows it all. He knew you were on your way so He made ready. This might run counter to the idea of us making ourselves ready (see Revelation 19:7) but what I mean is, the Lord knows everything about you. About me. And He loves you, wrap your mind around that and don’t forget it.

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Epithalamion

“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)

The error of eros

Paul has just finished lining out the Christian concept of marriage. Almost by way of admission does he add the above. A “great mystery”, he says, right after quoting Genesis (2:24). Jesus does the same in Mark’s Gospel (10:7). “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife.” Not that Paul is superseding what Jesus said. In much the same way Christ expounded from Genesis the point of a match made in Heaven, Paul comes after and expounds for the Ephesians what the whole point is. That we would learn through the give and take of a marriage covenant, the relationship between Jesus and ourselves, as His bride.

“Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.” (Song of Solomon 1:4)

O, my God. That is so supercharged as to render the most calloused of hearts splayed out and ready for romance. Or is it? A cursory reading would see it as a beautiful love poem infused with the sights and smells of Ancient Israel. In turn, a modern reader may be hard-pressed to then go one further and see it as symbolic of our relationship with Christ–especially when presented with the reality (and the why) of Christ’s death and resurrection. While Solomon’s Song is chock-full of allusion and metaphor and simile, pinning down a flat-out and overtly sexual meaning is almost a waste of time. Just because it uses the word “love” and “loves”, doesn’t mean it doesn’t only mean the kind of love Christ shows us. Life is over so quickly and therefrom, the real difficulty arises. It isn’t about coupling and copulating and cohabitating. It’s about meeting and knowing Christ.

Agape over agape

“But He said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.” (Matthew 19:11)

“For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” (1 Corinthians 7:7)

Evidently Paul had “receiv[ed] this saying”. He had found such grace in the eyes of the Lord, knowing what God had done for him by way of atonement that the inverted void of seeking out a mate had been sated and slienced. And filled. It can be hard, extraordinarily hard to so orient yourself around an eminently spiritual way of looking at life that you essentially forget you don’t have a significant (human, physical) other. This is why Jesus says “All men cannot”. Because if you want or need someone, if God made someone for you and you know this like you know yourself, then Jesus will be either/or until the right one comes along. So easy to read. A little harder to write. Impossible to live without help from on high. And when Paul says “This is a great mystery”, I think he knows what He’s talking about. To him, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Somewhere in the middle he had evidently given his heart to Jesus, the one who gave the same for humanity and then the deal was sealed. If you haven’t for yourself, I strongly urge you to meet Jesus and to “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18b-19). Any and every type of knowledge.

It’s the only thing in life greater than finding your soulmate.

“And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” (Revelation 19:9)

As You Were

“I write unto, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning.” (1 John 2:13)

Exordium

I suppose John is referring to the early church fathers who walked with Jesus while He walked around. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” he says earlier in his gospel (John 1:1). He sews up his exhortation in his first letter by addressing the young men, “because ye have overcome the wicked one” and then the “little children, because ye have known the Father.” He brings it around to the source. To God the Father. And that’s a good place to start. Jesus says “no man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him (and her… John 6:44). This is the reason anyone comes to Jesus. Because God is calling you. He’s drawing you closer to His Son so that you can experience what the Father has for you. All this speaks to the definition of exordium. The beginning of a thing. In this case, new life in Christ. If you’ve felt it and experienced it, you know it’s real. All the conjecture in the world doesn’t hold a candle to humbling oneself and taking the plunge. If you believe God created you, then it follows that He knows you unlike anyone else. He’s calling you out so He can call you in.

Ekphrasis

You’re worth a thousand words. Actually, you’re worth all the words in the world and more. The Living Word. Jesus is the living word. I love how language and its words identify invisible bits of information. When God spoke Jesus into this world by the Holy Spirit, He was bridging the two planes. Now you have the all-powerful presence of Jesus–in a body. Doing stuff. “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:24) This is just talking about the stuff Jesus did. All the words in the world can only do so much to convey the presence of God. This is, in a word, ekphrasis. The word-structure you might use to relate something to a blind person. They can’t see what you’re looking at so you tell them. But what is red to the person who’s never seen the light? It takes the touch of God to open our eyes to that which we’re blind to.

Ecphonesis

Also known by the more commonly used exclamation. Seeing these things come full circle through the simple transaction of belief, one might understand how John would write what he did and choose to refer to himself as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Because that’s what it all boils down to. It’s the least common denominator for this thing called life.

Jesus loves me, this I know.

Funeral Order

Putting the fun in funeral

Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Colosse says this: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” (Colossians 1:8-9)

How do you view the will of God? Is it something that transcends everything that we, in our vain attempts at control, seek to enact? Maybe it’s something that mysteriously weaves Its way in and around and among those with whom we interact? Do we consider it at all? And if it’s something that will happen whether we want it or not, what’s the secret for getting in the center of His will for our life? How do we make God’s will our will?

“Wherefore life up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

The above passage shows that God is moving—whether we like it or not. Look again at Paul’s statement to the Colossians. “For this cause…” What cause? What would fill Paul with such enthusiasm so as to pray that they know God’s will “in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”?

In short, Love.

One of Paul’s compatriots had evidently come from Colosse to Paul with a glowing report: “[Epaphras] also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.” (Colossians 1:7) The reality here is, without love, knowing God’s will becomes something that we merely observe happening around us—if we’re even that perceptive—rather than something in which we partake and participate. Love. Love for God and love for others.

Many things can be boiled down to exact science. Quantified and tallied and streamlined. This is the way of mass-production, of assembly lines and binary code. When we seek to wrap around the will of God, a lifeless and loveless regime, and omit the living Holy Spirit from having His way, then it’s the numbers that will affect our joy in the Lord. Paul says that Epaphras “declared…your love in the Spirit.” There is no mistaking the love and presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It’s the one commodity that cannot be traded or bought and sold. Heck, it’s not a commodity, He’s the very atmosphere of Heaven who now pervades earth because of Jesus’ death. And even Jesus had to struggle with enacting His will above His Father’s:

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42, emphasis mine)

As such, there must be a death to our own will before seeing God’s in our life. This is abhorrent to the human animal, and also one of the things that separates us from the animals. To see and feel the desire to do that thing we think will make us happy—and then choose otherwise. To deliberately choose that thing, whatever it may be, in a situation, that the Holy Spirit intimates to us. To love God and love others more than we love ourselves. This is the essence of the Christ-like life.

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1 John 3:14)

An Aperitif for the Hereafter

“For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the Kingdom of God come.” (Luke 22:18)

Something before the meal perhaps?

Wine is amazing. Even if you haven’t yet acquired a taste for it, it’s hard not to respect “the fruit of the vine”. It’s beautiful to see how the vine snakes its way back through (potentially) miles of earth to its water source and from there to the fuzzy leaves and opaque globes yielding something that is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Why did Jesus say what He did during the Last Supper? Maybe it’s because Heaven offers something better than wine. Obviously. But look at the sommelier, the wine lover. Those who enjoy wine and have a taste for its subtle intricacies and distinctions are in Heaven already. So Jesus ends on a high note by saying that He’s waiting for Heaven to enjoy something that (provided you’re older than twenty-one) we get to enjoy here and now. Why would He postpone His enjoyment along these lines while letting us have all the fun?

“Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6-7)

Jesus took no wine before He died, refusing even the “vinegar…mingled with gall” (Matthew 27:34) during His crucifixion. He kept His word. He was essentially offered a “sour wine” (Strong’s) with an herbal painkiller mixed in. He, however, elected to suffer through every last moment of His life–for us. Let’s in turn rewind about three years back to the marriage feast in Cana.

I find it interesting that the first recorded miracle of Jesus involves wine. The “marriage in Cana of Galilee” where Mary somehow knows Jesus is able to do something special with the water. Namely (*whispering*) turn it into wine. Nobody saw that coming. “They have no wine” she tells her son (John 2:3). You had to know that she knew Him as no human ever did. And at thirty years old, He seems to answer her back with what look like harsh words colored by an inside recognition that they shared between one another. “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” Yet notice how Jesus relents mere moments after refusing. Only thing I can surmise is that His Father superseded His refusal to obey His mother. The wine that Jesus made in those moments tasted better than what the master of ceremonies expected. He calls the groom and asks why a better, more expensive-tasting wine would be served toward the end of the meal. A fitting analogy for when we grow tired with the dregs of life. All Jesus needs is something as abundant as water, and He can make each sip of our life better than the last.

Winemaking, or viticulture is a complex art and science. Much like humans, the grapevine takes in its surroundings–the water, heat, light, shade, even propinquitous flavors–and throughout many generations, turns them into the perfect glass. Something that Jesus did instantly at His mother’s (and Father’s) behest. The intense love of Jesus is enough to take us from water, to wine.

“And wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15)

Wine has the power to render our inhibitions and fears ineffective. To make us into who we are without the added baggage of an overbearing social sensitivity. “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” Says Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23) Physiologically, something in our neural pathways opens up and relaxes and we’re able to move freely through the crowded room. Guard down, hopes high. Coffee can’t do it. Water can’t either. But wine on the other hand has this unique quality. Seen this way, I suppose Jesus wouldn’t need any wine to help Him feel at ease any more: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) Something that definitely applies to Jesus–to us too. The more we cultivate our inner relationship with the Holy Spirit, the more we’re able to not only overcome our own fears and insecurities with a power that is stable and always on, but we can, and should, do the same for others.

Salut!

Owning Our Worst Enemy

“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Paul writing to the Romans (12:20). Can’t cite that verse without the next one (vs. 21): “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

It’s one thing to “turn to him the other [cheek]” as Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel (5:39). Quite another to literally give something to someone to fulfill a need, if they’ve mistreated you. It takes time and effort to acquire the food in the first place. When they see that you’re willing to give what you worked for, with honest heart and pure motive, something happens to them. Don’t look for an outward response though. This all seems like pretty elementary stuff. Simply explained and easier to live out the more you do it. But here’s another way of looking at it.

Have you ever thought about that Romans passage with reference to yourself? Not sure if it’s meant to be conveyed along those lines, but I will say that the hardest person to forgive oftentimes, is us. One of the firmest convictions I have regarding God, is that He always looks upon us with eyes of love. There are all sorts of variables here, such as the whole love/judgment paradox and the fact that some people actively hate Him and continue to do wrong, in spite of professing an aligned moral compass. Work through those. I’m referring, right now, to God’s response to our mistakes. The ones we do that hurt others, however inadvertently. The deeper we get in relation to others, the more chance there is for that fine line to be crossed, and to rub someone the wrong way. I’ve done it before and I always hate it. I tell myself that I could’ve waited. Could’ve prayed more about the fine points of the relationship and not said the thing I did. Here’s what silences those nagging thoughts: Jesus forgives me upon asking. It’s as simple as that. There’s no way that I love myself more than He. But that’s exactly the reason why I hold out and refuse to let it go. I tell myself that I care for and love myself more than Him. And that’s not correct. Forgive yourself as readily as you’re called to forgive others. Overcome evil with good.

As an aside, when Isaiah stood in the presence of God and saw the angel take the live coal from the fire and put it in his mouth, the angel then told him “lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged.” (Isaiah 6:6-7) When Paul refers to feeding our enemies, ourselves included, it’s understood that we’ve taken pains to forgive them prior to doing so. Our motive of heart remains pure when we’ve forgiven the offense, in them and in ourselves.

“Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thoud didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.” (2 Samuel 12:20-21)

David might seem calloused and uncaring. What he’s showing here is radical self-forgiveness after having repented.

Double Negatives

“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17)

You gotta know that the un-Christian Christian is an enigma to the unbeliever. Here you have a human being (just like them) who subscribes to the worldview of, arguably, one of the most moral teachers in human history (some people have a hard time with Luke 14:26)—certainly the most selfless. They take their rules and rubrics from an ancient tome called “The Holy Bible”, something that they had no hand in producing. And they join together with a bunch of other like- (close-) minded individuals at a “church”. And yet, they don’t live it out in their behavior. They don’t put works to their faith. Two strikes and they’re out.

Many people who don’t believe are smart enough to work through the finer points of theology from a mental standpoint. They can wrap their minds around a spiritual realm. They can visualize the concept that “God” would have been the one to set up the clear black-and-white of “good and evil”. But here’s the thing, just knowing it in your head isn’t enough. Same goes for Christians who believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead. From head to heart is essential.

For some, you lost them at “God”. That’s the first strike. But when you have a Christian who is born again and yet not walking in their faith with honest heart and pure motive, that’s the deal breaker. When Jesus says “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) and we don’t fulfill that tautology (in Logic, either this or that) as laid out by Christ, then all bets are off. The time for playing church and playing around is over. Ever since the Enlightenment (and before, in pockets), man has sought to replace a traditional biblical approach to the world within and without with “perfectly rational explanations”. And, it would seem, the one thing Christians could do to allay and alleviate the encroaching tide of unbelief, is the one thing at which they’ve failed miserably. Namely, love. I.e. know Jesus.

Love is the most overused and least understood concept in the world today. It begins (for us) with Jesus: “As I have loved you…” (13:34) This is the grand failure of modern-day Christianity. To fail to see the love of Jesus and to in turn live it out to the rest of the world. A simple statement with a thousand attendant variables. All of which are answered and silenced by His love. He lives to love. Think about it. Then live it out.

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? is is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matthew 5:13)

The idea here is that Christians (the ‘salt’ of this parable) are good for one thing only. To be “witnesses unto [Jesus]” (Acts 1:8). Failing that, we fail the most rudimentary and fundamental particle of our life. We are meant to reflect the character of Christ in all we do and with everyone we interact with. They’re watching. In the backs of their minds, they may think us to be fools. At our very cores, we are sadly deluded (and dilluted) and therefore can only go so far in the realm of human existence and experience. Know this. And love them anyway. Show them by your actions and thoughts that Jesus is real to you. They’ll know. That thought that they hide that says that we’re crazy will acquire a strange bedfellow. They might think we’re crazy and blind, but they’ll also see Jesus all about you. Over time, the conviction of the Holy Spirit will grow and consume them, softening their heart. And like a natural gas leak, the Holy Spirit will enshroud them and upon one spark of belief will ignite and rebirth their spirit. All because you loved them with the love of Jesus.

No pressure. It’s up to us. Fortunately, we have all the power of the Holy Spirit to help us and testify to the truth of our actions.