Aliquot

“Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.” (Job 9:10)

If you really know how to look—I mean take the time to focus your attention on how many things that God has done to speak to your heart, you will see the proliferation of his blessings to you. There are some things he does for us, however, that require a little more focus, a little more attention and care.

“A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.” (Proverbs 17:8)

Think nothing of it

Some gifts he gives are more like pieces of him. Take, for instance, the gift of the Holy Spirit in whatever capacity the Lord has showered on you. In the case of Christ, he had the full measure (“…and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him” Luke 3:22a) but as we take our inspiration in the things of the Spirit from him anyway, that’s a good place to start. When, in the next chapter of Luke’s Gospel, he stands up to explain why he has this gift and what it’s to be used for, we understand that our own ideas as to what we’re gonna do with what we’ve got don’t always go to the top floor with reference to God. Here’s that verse from the next chapter:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

It sounds like the gift of “The Spirit of the Lord” ensured Jesus would be quite a busy guy. Those six things he listed were the laundry-list of acts that he went about doing during the three years of his ministry.

Dead giveaway

Paul quotes the 68th psalm in his letter to the Ephesians. He’s equating the psalmist’s declaration of God with Christ—as, I suppose, he had the authority to do (see 1 Timothy 1:11)—when he says:

“Wherefore he (David) saith, When he (Christ) ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men.”

Interesting distinction: whereas the version of the verse in Ephesians uses “gave” with reference to the “gift of Christ” (4:7), the original scripture from the Psalms (68:18) uses the English verb “received”, indicating that the gifts have been taken back and then reallocated for us. It might be nothing more than a triviality. But as with many things in the Word of God, fine details often have a way of opening up grander vistas than we ever thought were there. Treasures hid in a field, as it were.

An “aliquot part”, as you may know, is simply a piece of a larger whole. Speaking with reference to the science of chemistry or in mathematics, “aliquot” takes on a little more complicated definition. The thing about the gifts of Christ—the gifts of God that are like pieces of him, in my opinion—is that they are for a specific purpose and will only work correctly when used in the service of the God who gave them.

So what is it that you’re doing with your gifts? Use your imagination. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Does it help you plan out your schedule and your weekend? I’m serious. Forward thinking is a gift, just make sure you have your focus trained on the one who’s letting you see things in the first place. How ’bout the gift of teaching? Very simply, the desire to break things down into their constituent parts and then assemble them in a coherent way to those listening is an aspect of it. Use it well. Do you have the gift of helping others (see 1 Corinthians 12:28)? Perhaps that manifests itself in an a way of thinking that doesn’t really consider the person in possession of the gift. Don’t forget to take care of yourself!

As it says at the top of the page, God is abundant and generous and wholly unselfish with his gifts. But all of them are aspects of the greatest gift of all. And that’s love. And, well:

“God is love.” (1 John 4:8b)

The Spectrum of Idolatry part 6 See Through

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT)

Something I’ve had trouble with my whole life is looking at other Christians as more than what they were. When once I’d witness a brother or sister in Christ striding across the stage or boldly proclaiming the Word of God to those standing by or even performing miracles on unsuspecting onlookers (all legitimate I can assure you), I would feel something akin to jealousy. I can distinctly remember feeling overawed at their composure and prowess and even things of selflessness like humility and joy and peace and love. All these things struck me as foreign and desirable. Desirable, yes. Foreign, no.

“But the hour now cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23b-24)

I remember once on the way to work thinking about Paul’s statement “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me”. After explaining the polarities of what he’d gone through in service to God and the Gospel, he sews up his story with that statement. This is the point. But from thinking on that verse, I remember having gone off on a tangent beginning with an initial thought that there were other Christians out there in the world who had done right by this verse–had appropriated it into their walk and didn’t experience some of the handicaps as did (and do) I. Before I go any further, let me just say that they are gifts. But moving forward, I’m telling you that the latticework of thoughts I had built up around incorrectly thinking on Paul’s declaration had effectively blocked me into my mental cage. My overthinking had prevented me from seeing a way out. Just when I began to think I had made some serious mistakes related to what I was going through at the time and that had prompted the weakness I felt that had led me to implore the power behind the verse in the first place, the Lord (Jesus) spoke to my heart and said “remember how I taught you” (italic His). And I got it. I suppose I should mention that the person on which I attached the ideal notion of “perfect Christian, successful and prosperous and without a trace of trouble” does not exist–at least not on this earth. If you look at someone that “nameth the name of Christ” (2 Timothy 2:19) and they aren’t giving glory to God for being in the desirable state they are, they quite possibly might be leading people astray. But that’s for God to judge and for me to pray and also not care about right now. When Jesus reminded me of the curriculum He’d brought me through and how it tied into the way He made me (the way I’m wired), it cleared away the tangles in which I found myself.

“But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Referring again to the aforementioned real Christians, I have nothing but love and respect for them. But if I’m going to emulate someone I don’t know and at present am unable to (everyone’s so busy), then the Lord can’t grow me up in the ways He would like. No doubt He uses others to rub off on us. But it’s idolatry if I only want to listen to them instead of striking out on my own with God as my guide. And no doubt anyone truly following Christ would want you looking at Him as opposed to them for your life. I can’t provide anything for you that you can’t get from Him yourself.

Paul speaks again in Galatians (1:11-12): “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Take what you need from those that inspire you–Christian and non–but then show it to God for notarization. The gifts came from Him in the first place.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17 NLT)

Touched

A rhetorical question: How did a word that (to my mind) means that a person is blessed by your gift (of time, attention, love, etc.) come to mean that you’re crazy? Because that’s what some people think when you give them a gift. Sad but true. “Touched” in the head.

“Wherefore doth living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:39, emphasis mine) “Life” being the essential and default—let alone greatest—gift.

Starting from the bottom up, we all have the gift of life. Yes, we have our ideas and ideals, ways of thinking and opinions about how things should be, but how many of us base our expectations in gratitude for what we already possess? And where does this attitude come from of constantly wanting more of what we want? And right now! There are times where I pray and expect something from God, only to receive an answer in some other realm of life. And I get all bent out of shape. I question motives, I become bitter and disbelieving and all the complexes that I thought had been laid to rest come bubbling up to the surface! Yay! Now they can be dealt with! Because anytime you’d think someone crazy for wanting to bless you, it really means you have issues with God.

Because He’s where all blessing comes from. Gifts, all.

“Then touched He their eyes, saying, According unto your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.” (Matthew 9:29-30) This command of Jesus has always made me wonder. Why would he tell them not to share the miracle? Many reasons, I’d surmise. Firstly, when God gives you something—when He touches you—it’s meant for you, first. The analogy of “casting ones pearls before swine” comes to mind. Secondly, we all have this blind spot where we think that other people feel and think the way we do. Oh, we’d readily admit that on the surface, they think differently. But I’m referring to deep undercurrents of thought/feeling/emotion/worldview (essentially weltanschauung—same thing) that are radically different, if not diametrically opposed to yours. Granted, there are only so many ingredients in the box and we—with whatever fraction of our gray matter we actually use—only deal with the tips of other people’s icebergs, but realize: strangers can be so radically different from you that it’s scary. Why not tell someone that you just received your sight? Because they’re blind, too. Sometimes we should just keep things to ourselves. But there are other times where we run the risk of being seen as evil for doing the very thing that God said was the good. It’s a matter of motive. From here to there.

“Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righterousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:16)

And this is where Christianity is radically different from every other worldview: Christians (theoretically, because of Jesus) are willing to give up their last breath as a gift to someone in need—should the Holy Spirit move on them to do so. A spirit of selflessness unlike any other. Granted, most life situations don’t and won’t turn out that way or that starkly but some people will most definitely think you crazy for being willing to give up your life (time, money, food, attention) to better theirs. When someone is dehydrated after, say, an extended trek through the desert, they’ll need more than water to restore their health. If they’ve been dehydrated beyond a certain point, they’ll need alkali salts or some other source of electrolytes. Otherwise they’ll just throw up what water they do take in. It’s like the inverse of drinking salt-water. Neither way are they going to be satisfied.

In closing, I would like to make honorable mention of Nebuchadnezzar. Oh, God touched him all right—brought him down a peg. In Daniel, chapter 4, he undergoes a transformation from proud, splendiferous, magisterial ruler—to certifiably insane. He came back to his senses when he glorified God for who He was and is (verse 37): “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of Heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”

Maybe that’s how the other, negative connotation arose?

Manifolds

“And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist (knew) not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.” (Exodus 16:15, emphasis mine)

“Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation: Though He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of Heaven, And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of Heaven. Man did eat angels’ food: He sent them meat to the full.” (Psalm 78:22-25)

So, “manna” is essentially Hebrew for “what-ness”. That’s what the children of Israel called it. They had no idea what it was and they named it as such. Like a permanent state of wonder tinged with stupefaction. And they left it at that. The passage from the Psalms is expressing a similar sentiment aimed at the failure on the part of the Israelites to then show commensurate gratitude in the face of such a wonderful and stupefying miracle. And before I go any further, dispense with the idea that the manna was a naturally occurring plant-based food (as is commonly believed among secular historians and anthropologists). Werner Keller, in his book The Bible as History says that the manna was actually from a shrub that grew in abundance in the desert. While his book is good for substantiating the historicity of much of what happened in the Bible, he applies the same skeptical, dispassionate eye to everything, giving perfectly rational, non-spiritual explanations for the supernal and supernatural.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

I find this to be a struggle sometimes. And it’s all contingent on the level of gratitude and fellowship that I express to God. Think about the things in your life that you know to be from Him. Are they anything out of the ordinary? Sure, you have a job that pays the bills and a family that has grown and developed over the years. These things are necessary and integral to your life. God’s gifts are large and small. And you can look back and see in hindsight and retrospect, the hand of God weaving things in and out and making up the tapestry that is your present life. If you don’t mind then, let’s pull out a thread and inspect it (don’t worry, God will weave it back in). What is it? It’s a gift that can be traced directly back to God’s hand. But that’s if you choose to look at it as such. When we endeavor to see our life and its infinite threads as saturated with God’s presence and principles we will necessarily run up against this idea of unbelief: things just happen. This attitude of unbelieving pragmatism, that things just happen with no supernatural agency does indeed look appealing at times. As if it isn’t God (or a “god”) who does anything. I’ll explain: There’s a fine line (I think) between an over-reliance on science, with its attendant benefits and blessings, and a superstitious and irrational belief that “everything happens for a reason”. That each little incident has its impetus in the spiritual. Admittedly, I can be a little paranoid at times but where’s the happy medium? Is God omnipresent? This isn’t panentheism. I’m talking about the Holy Spirit. Because if you apply yourself to either end of the spectrum out of His leading, you’ll end in missing God altogether.

And here’s the other end of the spectrum.

“Manna”, not to be confused with “mana”. There’s a correlation here. Apart from being a homophone, “mana” (with one ‘n’) comes from the Pacific islands and has its root in archaic superstition. It isn’t really a “thing”. The ‘mana’ is a supernatural force that is believed to be inherent in everything. Reason I bring this up, apart the fact that they’re homophones (and antonyms, almost), is because, while I may not believe in a supernatural ‘essence’ that is neutral and dwells within inanimate objects, the Bible does record instances where articles of clothing were imbued with, not an impersonal force, but the actual power of God.

“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11)

That’s amazing. What was it that could have caused Paul to be so full of the Holy Spirit that the very presence of God was transmitted from him to the clothes that he wore and the cloths that he came into contact with? I’d venture to say that he cared more for God than all else. When you walk with God, thanking him for the everyday occurences that anyone could pass off as chance and happenstance, God will sit up and take notice. Your faith will be rewarded and He’ll help you see his hand in things. Because it’s there. There are deeper levels to existence that we’re not privy to if we’re in doubt and unbelief.

We don’t believe for nothing. And we don’t believe in nothing. God is very real. It’s the attitude of the heart that will tell whether or not we see Him in this life. And if you have questions after that, God will answer them for you, in His time.

Open to interpretation? Part 5 Body’s in motion and at rest.

Christians, as one, are the Body of Christ. Many people disagree that God the Father has a body, but I believe He does. And Jesus has a physical body (Luke 24:39). But the Holy Spirit does not. I refer to the Holy Spirit with a male pronoun. Where the King James translates Him as “It[self]” in Romans (8:26), I don’t think it was as precise as it could’ve been. He is truly without gender but that doesn’t mean He’s an “It”; He’s a person, like you and I, in that He’s a Spirit. It’s understandable that it might be difficult to wrap your mind around the concept of a bodiless entity without size and shape and with no means of discerning outside of a humble and believing heart. Jesus said the “world does not see Him” (John 14:17). God will help you, but (within reason) there might be some preconceived notions that need tweaking or shelving. I say “within reason” because by the same logic, anything that we invent by imagination could exist. But were not talking philosophy, we’re talking Christianity.

As Christians are the Body of Christ in a figurative sense, then the Holy Spirit is like the blood that flows within and gives life to every member. Jesus, when speaking of the Holy Spirit, said to His disciples that He (the Holy Spirit) was with them, and shall be in them (again, John 14:17). Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, I don’t think it was possible for those who believed in God to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But there are exceptions (Daniel, David). When Jesus said that He would be in them, does this refer to the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost? Sure. But what do you think about this: could it be that we receive a portion of the Holy Spirit upon salvation but that we could always have more? David (Old Testament, I know) said that “his cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5) The river is always flowing. (Revelation 22:1)

An interesting event takes place in Acts, chapter 19. Paul is on his way to Ephesus and he comes upon some believers who, it says, hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. After a question and answer session regarding their original baptism, Paul lays his hands on them and baptizes them in the name of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that was in Paul comes into them. They immediately began speaking in tongues (verse 6).

This story illustrates that there are different ways of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. By direct contact with another human. Or directly from God, as in chapter 2.

However God chooses, if you’re willing and press on in faith, He will see to it that you get all that is rightfully yours, in Him. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I suppose that the reason I feel so passionately about this is because of a particular corollary. It seems that our church is immured—hemmed in, kept down—by the world’s standard of expression and interaction. When society becomes intolerant of any expression of “religion” and seeks to keep it out of the public square, then we as a country will eventually cease to exist. Alexis de Tocqueville (French statesman and novelist), when he toured the country during the 1800s, praised the open expression of religion in our public square. By the same token, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (a Russian author and Nobel prizewinner), touring the country a hundred years later was booed by his Harvard audience for expressing the same sentiment. The church is seen in many circles as powerless and feckless. Jesus said that we’d receive “power” after we received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). There’s a disconnect somewhere and it’s not God’s fault…

“Brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10). When we sideline and ignore the Holy Spirit, how then, as in Mark’s Gospel (16:20), will He be able to “work with us, confirming the Word with signs and wonders following”? (see also Hebrews 2:4) One of those “signs and wonders” is the gift of tongues and interpretations. Pray about it, wrestle with it. Where can we go from here? How can we, as a church body, return to the simplicity and power of our spiritual forbears in Acts? Acknowledge the Holy Spirit. He’s just as much God as Jesus and the Father.

And “forbid not to speak with tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)

Open to interpretation? Part 4 A Spiritual Entelechy

The definition of entelechy—pronounced “intelli-key”—is not too far a cry from the definition of its pronunciation. Forgive my wordplay and circular definition here. An entelechy is like an epiphany. An entelechy happens when you begin to see something, for yourself, as more than just someone’s opinion. You see it as necessary, integral. Actual as opposed to optional. Do you see where I’m going with this? For the Believer, it means that God has opened your eyes. Somewhere in the near or distant past, you humbled yourself and as it says in 1 Peter (5:6), God exalted you. “He gives grace—His ability, His sight, His insight—to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

I say all of that to say this: The default state of a Christian should be one of humility and meekness, or teachability. Gratitude and worship, yes. But without humility and meekness, those actions can be hollow and insincere. And if we are truly humble, then God can show us what we don’t know. That’s what my Dad says: “God is always showing us what we don’t know”. Keep this in mind as we move on.

Regarding praying in tongues, the most common comment coming from one who does not consider the gifts of the Spirit is that “it’s not for today”. I hear this from believers. Christians.

I don’t know how that could be. Maybe some elaboration is in order? Tell me when, in the 2000+ year history of Christianity, did this gift cease to be not only given, but needed? Are things any better now than they were in the time of the reformation? What about first century Asia Minor? Are we as effective a cohesive body as they were? (the modern Chinese house-church movement is) When did the gift of tongues, let alone any gift that has made itself scarce in our modern, conservative churches, become obsolete? I have a feeling that this is just someone’s opinion. Wouldn’t the fifty-year moral and social decline in this country be enough to cause us to cry out to God for anything that we could be missing?

I firmly believe that God never dares anyone to do anything. So if you’ve ever felt like you’ve been forced to do something out of pressure or torment or threat, I can assure you that it’s not God. He doesn’t work that way. He’s gentle, oh so gentle. The key to experiencing all that God has and wants to give us is to be willing. “How shall He not with Him (Jesus) also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Are we even willing to be willing? If you’re not sure but you’re open, then God will lead you. Spend time in prayer and worship. Fast if need be and it doesn’t have to be from food. The Holy Spirit will let you know. And if the gift of tongues is for today—and I believe it is—then God will make sure you get it. Just don’t let doubt turn into unbelief. Because unbelief is sin. God can only do so much when someone is an unbelieving believer. Does this make sense?

Another way to define entelechy is to see the Body of Christ become “endued” with this “power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) But didn’t that already happen on Pentecost? It did (Acts 2:2-4). So now it’s up to us to seek it out anew. Did we just misplace it? How do you misplace the Holy Spirit?

I’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

Open to interpretation? Part 2 A word is worth a thousand words

A couple of watchwords before we begin:

1. Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
2. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

With these two maxims in place, I believe we can proceed.

Paul makes an incisive declaration prior to both of these statements. It applies first to number one and ultimately to both. In verse nineteen, he says that he would rather speak five words with his understanding (i.e. native tongue) than ten-thousand words in an unknown tongue. Here, we see his desire, as a good teacher, for the…fluid cognition, and subsequent peace of mind and heart, of his students, his parishioners. And as we all are learning everyday what it means to walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16), Paul takes care to include, not alienate, someone who’s understanding of spiritual matters is inchoate—in it’s infancy.

And this is the point of the second watchword (14:26). Even before we get into the mechanics of the gifts of the Spirit to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28), we must back up to the first verse of the previous chapter, chapter thirteen. Paul opens by saying that anything of this sort (prophecy, tongues, wisdom and revelation) must, must be done out of a motive of love. And a motive of love—true love for God, for others and for ourselves—includes the auspices of decency, order (14:40), and intention for edification (14:26). Paul seems to bookend the topic of love (as enumerated in chapter 13) with a universal discussion of spiritual gifts (chapter 12) and specifically with the gift of tongues (chapter 14), indicating that love is (literally) to be the focus (and locus) of all of this stuff. Because it’s just stuff when divorced from love.
But this doesn’t mean that we are then to sideline this topic and dismiss it altogether. Paul says that he desired for everyone to speak in tongues (14:5). A bold statement, no?

Moving forward, a common opinion regarding tongues is that it applies only to the languages spoken on this earth. This comes especially in handy say, when you have a missionary to a foreign mission field who needs to understand and in turn be understood. I’ve heard stories in my current church and others, of this taking place and yes, it is edifying. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s foolish of us, as Christians to not consider this fact: God’s native tongue is not English. How could it be? I’ll pause to let that “sink down into your ears” (Luke 9:44). The first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of “the tongues of angels”. Elsewhere, Paul refers to “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). That word “lawful” means “possible”. Paul, when he was “taken up to the third Heaven” (12:2), heard words that he couldn’t take back with him to earth. In other words, the language of Heaven is something altogether different than the 6,000+ languages of earth.

When my Dad accepted Jesus in the Winter of 1968, he purposed to learn everything he could about God. The son of a doctor and a nurse, the analytical questioning gene lives on in him and according to him, anything good that God had provided, from Jesus on (Romans 8:32), was his for the asking. Why not? “Seek and ye shall find” (Luke 11:9). If I truly want to be sold out to God, then I should be willing to go where God would lead me (Romans 8:14) and learn what He’d teach me.

My prayer is that we would keep an open mind and heart about these (seemingly) obscure spiritual matters and shelve outmoded and preconceived notions that are anything less than edifying.

Thank you for reading. More tomorrow!