Part and Parcel (Next Day Air part 4)

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

Unpacking the obvious

Before we begin to do that very thing, I’d like to make two clear points. The first one is that I really don’t like the word “unpack”. As I first heard it during an election season to describe things that no one in retrospect knows were elucidated clearly, I have a hard time seeing it as something more than what David Foster Wallace might call a “puff word”. Second, the above verse from Jude carries serious interpretive latitude if one is not infused with the Holy Spirit’s view on the matter. It’s the “faith which was once delivered”. All I’m doing is using it in line with the whole shipping metaphor. Nothing more.

Delivered. To the doorstep of your heart and you let Him in. You’ve accepted Christ as savior and you’re now on a first-name basis. Jesus is your all but after a heady spiritual birth, the struggle to maintain that fire in light of either lack of oxygen or someone trying to blow it out can be quite the struggle. How do we know what to add and what to dismiss? Part and parcel is the whole package. Jude is saying to keep it pure, to keep unwanted influences out. Just know that the things that would encroach and seek to sully the purity of your faith (and as such, the atmosphere of a church) will be anything but obvious.

So much packing material

“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4)

Crept in unawares? But why wasn’t someone watching? The whole frog in (hot) water analogy comes to mind. Jesus expresses it bluntly referring to the “hireling”, “whose own the sheep are not” (John 10:10). When Jude referred to the “ungodly men”, he alludes to the fact that they never had a heart resonant with Jesus. To where Jesus says that there are those who turn off at the mere sight of “the wolf”. It’s a matter of staying close to Jesus. In maintaining the purity of your small group, your church, the Church, I don’t know how else to say it:

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so I know the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

The present moment

Seeing every moment as a present is a tired metaphor. While it doesn’t make it any less of an entendre or any less true, try and voice it to someone slogging through their day (out of the Holy Spirit’s leading), you’ll probably meet with cynicism or derision. The trick is to know that the moment can indeed be filled with a timelessness and beauty that can only come from Heaven. But it takes effort to add on the necessary things to enable these things to come about. Yes, it’s true that “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” (Psalm 97:11) But it’s because we make this effort (don’t forget to bend your knees before lifting):

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)

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Direct To You (Next Day Air, part 3)

Between the lines

“Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto Thee will I pray. My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee and will look up.” (Psalm 5:2-3)

I like the idea of having direction for my life. But sometimes, life can get so out of whack that looking for the simple direction that seems to have eluded you in light of recent events (whatever crises they may be), can be hard. God never puts on you more than you can handle. Know this. It might sound like a platitude and homily but God knows what He’s doing even when you don’t.

I like this quote: “Art, like morality consists of drawing the line somewhere.” G. K. Chesterton

I like it because it starts–and therefore seeks to encapsulate–as subjective and broad a topic as you’re likely to know (art, or morality for that matter), with simplicity. God is the same. I find that most people seek to delve into things of complexity from the center. Like trying to sort through swamp water. You’re doing it all wrong. As complex and impenetrable a thing as this universe is, it started with simplicity. Whether you assent to the Big Bang or you believe that God spoke things and started from there, it’s simple. It’s irreducibly complex and direct when taken on from the ground up. Jesus tells Martha that “But one thing is needful” (Luke 10:41). Any number of things could she have been doing, and rightfully so. “Guiding the house” (1 Timothy 5:14) takes all our time and attention. If we neglect it then that’s our fault and it’s to our detriment. Thing about Mary and Martha though was that Jesus was in the house. Literally. As He is most important and commands utmost respect and attention, we’d do well to place him at the top of our docket. So unless He stops by for coffee or a chat (or both), best to do the task at hand and stay focused on Him in our heart and mind. I got off on a tangent there.

“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, and there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” (Isaiah 28:10-11)

Lines of code

“And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.” (Mark 7:35)

I think the more we endeavor to know God (i.e. Jesus), as did Mary, the more we’ll shed any layers of pretense and affectation and double-speak. Granted, Jesus healed the man in the above verse from a speech impediment. But if we’re not as direct as we want, could the same be said for us? The closer we get to God, the more we’ll say what we mean and mean what we say. The Holy Spirit is the same, too. Jesus, in speaking of Him, says “whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak.” (John 16:13) Now, we’re not simply robots for God’s sake. When you truly see the Father and how kind, loving, merciful and nice He is (not to mention intelligent), then you’ll trust that He knows things better than you, or in my case, me. He does. I cannot figure out the complexity of my circumstances with reference to what I want out of life, on my own. You could chock up the effectiveness and acuity of my mental processes now as opposed to sometime before when I was confused and depressed to simple neural alignment (there’s that word again: line–almost) and a more efficient wiring. Or, I could say that God has cleared up the spiritual air that sought to claim the territory I was meant to conquer for God’s sake. Yes, this all may sound weird and super-flighty, I’m just being direct.

See, if the idea of Jesus being the only way to the Father bothers you. Or the fact that Jesus spoke words that irk you in some way with reference to the state of the world as viewed through a naturalist or atheistic perspective, deal with it. And in no way am I seeking to be rude. What I mean is, struggle with it. If you think or believe that He could be out there and if you’re willing to admit that you maybe don’t know it all (I certainly don’t), take Him on. He longs to come in and make Himself at home in your heart.

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Look, and Look Again (Next Day Air Part 2)

“So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea…” (1 Kings 18:42-43a)

When severely pressing needs inundate, where do we look? The above passage refers to Elijah praying against a severe drought, and “a sore famine in Samaria” (18:2). He chides the people, decrying their double-mindedness in verse 21: “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”

Baal was an ancient Syro-Canaanite god of harvest and abundance. It must have been tempting—in an agrarian society, no less—to worship a deity that would have promised that which God would have given freely (and as little more than a side-effect to His love and Presence). That mistake would necesarily have kept Him from doing that very thing. Blessing the people. Doubt and double-mindnedness are two things that hamper and potentially halt the receiving of our needs from God. Many, many times throughout the gospels does Jesus qualify answered prayer with “doubt not”. It might be a natural recourse to doubt, but then again, how natural is faith? If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed…

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

Desperation can cause us to do things that we’d never have done had circumstances been kinder. Desperation can cause us to quit and run away (good luck with that) or they can cause us to see God as our only way out. It isn’t that God caused the circumstances but He surely knows how to deliver us in the midst of them.

“And he went up (Elijah’s servant), and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he (Elijah) said, Go again seven times.” (1 Kings 18:43b)

Sure, things might look bleak. You might look out for your answer as many times as the thought crosses your troubled mind and not see it. It’s coming. The (good) storm clouds are coming. And after whatever period of trial and/or suffering that you endure is past, you’ll start to sense a change in the wind. This is a very important stage. Here’s why: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) The whole point of the trial was to both strengthen your faith in God’s provision, but also to dissolve your confidence in the traditional forms of provision. Sure, insurance is important. It’s against the law to drive around without car insurance (really, it’s for the other driver). And health insurance certainly takes a load off. But there are deeper channels of walking in God’s Spirit that would have the bedrock of our trust be in Him first with reliance on these other forms of protection and provision as secondary, tertiary even. And God is not a crutch. Anything that we look to first, other than God, is the crutch. If said crutch get’s knocked out from under you, and all you have is God’s strength to get back up, then you’re in a better place than you were prior to being knocked down.

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” (Psalm 62:5) Easy to say. Impossible to live without invitation.

“And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said (Elijah’s servant), Behold there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain…” (1 Kings 18:44-45)

The slightest indicator is a sign that all the beauty of God for your life is on its way. But it’s also a sign that God trusts you enough to send the rain, the blessing. Don’t let Him down by going back to the way you were living before the cycle and drought began. Let the rain wash over your life and leave the fields ready for planting, growing and harvest.

“Pray withou ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) It’ll take as long as it takes, but know that it’s already on it’s way.

Next Day Air

Try this on: next time you pray, realize that your answer has been sent. Immediately.

“Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.” (Daniel 10:12)

God answers prayer immediately. Obviously, there are manifold ways of looking at the topic. And I hate to proof text here, but we see from this verse in Daniel that the answer was sent the moment that Daniel “set [his] heart to understand”. This is the same idea expressed in Isaiah (65:24) when God says “that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”

Granted, your answer may not appear the day after you pray. But if you have prayed according to God’s will, know that He will answer you. This is where the struggle between our faith, our expectations, and time, comes in. And waiting is one of the strongest indicators of faith before God.

To continue with the shipping analogy—and this is kind of a stretch—but how much did you pay for shipping? If we pray half-heartedly and forget about the request, I’d have to say that it’s proof that we don’t really want it. Have you ever had God ask you a direct question? “What do you want?” And sometimes I’m speechless. “I want a black Porsche, please.” But then I think Nah, He’d never give me that. Or, Maybe I don’t really want that, what I’d really like is an extra-thick chocolate milkshake. I go all over the place with my undisciplined desires and I forget this most basic tenet of life: Contentment.

But there are things that we want, that we need. So Paul, speaking for God tells us this:

“Be careful (worried) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I suppose forgetting about what you prayed for might not be such a bad idea. That way, you’ll be more surprised upon receiving your answer. But don’t forget to thank God for whatever it is you want. It’ll be there before you know it.

“the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud.” (Isaiah 19:1)