Partial Deferential

“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour: that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (Galatians 2:4-5)

Paul refers to those who might come into your circle or your church or your life who would also bring with them a strain of thought that issues from and so leads opposite the way of faith, of Christ. While it’s one thing to humble yourself and serve others as unto the Lord, it’s quite another to be pressed into service through subtle manipulation and that doesn’t have the Lord’s impetus behind it. That’s what Paul’s referring to.

One for the road

“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3)

The tenor of Paul’s powerful letter to the Galatians is that of keeping out another way of thinking that is in keeping with a way of thinking opposite the way of faith in Christ. To where you believe in God and yet miss the road back He provided. To where you (might) see God and yet endeavor to pave the way with good intentions. It doesn’t matter where that road leads, doing the best you can yet ignoring Christ’s sacrifice will prevent you from meeting God. When Paul speaks above of “receiv[ing[ the Spirit”, there’s no other way to do this than Jesus.

One for the team

“Have ye suffered so many things in vain? If it be yet in vain. He therefore that misistereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:4-5)

Paul draws the distinction between (I assume) he and whomever came after to try and unravel his teaching and instruction. We need the insight of the Holy Spirit (and also the depth of His forgiveness) in order to see one and the other. Just because someone inspires you doesn’t mean they have your best interests at heart. Knowing the what and the why of those who would show you “the way” means already knowing Jesus and reflecting back what they say to Him.

Facing Our Accusers part 1 Schema

“Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.” (Psalm 50:20)

How does it feel to be treated like that? You don’t know? That’s wonderful. Because if you’ve left your house at some point and endeavored to be your own person in this world, you’re bound to step on some toes as you go about your business.

“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously:” (1 Peter 2:22-23)

Sometimes life can wind up like a legal proceeding. You get these nebulous notions as to what people think of you, corroborated or not. And you wish you had some audience with someone who, you think (subconsciously), holds sway over your happiness. It can be this way at work, at places you frequent, at school or at home. And it’s no fun. Because we really can’t look to the world to exonerate us when once slander is loosed from the hearts and minds and lips of those we’ve rubbed the wrong way, however well-meaning we were and innocent.

“For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.” (Psalm 11:2-3)

So, in legalese, it’s called the Confrontation Clause. It’s basically the right to “face your accusers”. The thing is, we certainly don’t see all the extenuating circumstances that lead people to act in the rude ways they do towards us. And many times, while we might have meant well, we probably shouldn’t have interacted with them in the way that we did. In other words, we’re not always without fault in these cases. But it takes God’s wisdom and judgment to sort through these factors.

“To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.” (Acts 25:16)

The latter chapters of Acts detail Paul’s tour of Asia Minor in his persecution for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Something that was brought into this world through spiritually legal auspices, if that makes sense. Because of Jesus taking the punishment for all our sin and sins, we now have the responsibility of taking our grievances to Him and forgiving our offenders. This is Gospel. And whether we actually get to talk to the person who stirred up the strife that’s ruining your day, or not, know that they’re forgiven when once you lift them up to the Lord and ask for it on their behalf. They may hate you all the livelong day. But they’re just getting all the closer to truly meeting the God you know, love and serve.

“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)

Getting Over Ourselves

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)

Paul says here that we should keep things in perspective when we introspect. He states the same, however inversely when he says “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3) It takes time but learning to see ourselves as God does is worth the effort expended.

Watching from the fence

“Verily, verily I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)

A state of indifference and indecision as applied to ourselves is not possible. We live our lives, day in and day out and a thousand micro decisions make up our internal view. And in the heading verse, Paul doesn’t say not to think highly of oneself. Just that it be tempered with and by reality. This is why it’s important to have friends who see the real you. They won’t let you stray into a gray area where you’re just not quite yourself. Think soberly. A…designated driver, as it were, for your person.

The above verse applies to the church and the Body of Christ. But a narrower interpretation could be seen as applying to us as an individual. As Jesus is both God and man, He was able to live everyone’s life. In His. Vicariously. So He knows you better than anyone ever could. Even your closest friends, those whom He speaks through with frequency and who “get” you, don’t know you like He. Even I don’t know myself better than does He. And if you give Him the key to your gate (better yet, make Him your “door”) He’ll ensure no one gets in who doesn’t belong.

“And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.” (Ecclesiastes7:26) Just because it says “woman” doesn’t mean a “man” won’t act the same. I find that when someone doesn’t know how to see themselves in light of God–the God who truly sees them as they are and loves them as is–the more prone they are to fall prey to someone who would strip-mine them of their faith and energy and emotion and leave them hanging.

Hangers on

“And no marvel; for satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers (*shudder*) also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-16)

Paul continues to do that very thing. Explaining away how he had legitimately gone through more at the Lord’s leading to ensure he’d have the weight to back up his words. In the previous chapter (10:10), he retorts by way of what looks like a slight. “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak and contemptible.” In other words, you wouldn’t guess by looking at him that the things you read out loud in your church months prior came out of him, were you to see him in person (“Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?” Matthew 13:54b–speaking of Jesus). But he knows. He knows the gift he carries because not only did Jesus appear to him and temporarily destroy his vision on the road to Damascus (see Acts, chapter 9), but Paul cultivated and also excavated the gift that God had put within him when He created him. This is what we’re all aiming at. And anyone who doesn’t go to God, blunt as this may sound, will only have other people to look to when needing to become something.

God made you. And He wants to make you into something. Beautiful thing is, after you become aware of this fact, you can actually help Him do that very thing.

Through One Perilous Fight Into Another

Perilous

“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;” (Hebrews 10:32)

This seems to be the norm. The standard. The paradigm. We, through believing on and in Jesus, have had our eyes opened to what we were and are ever realizing more and more what we are now. But alongside is a nagging darkness. We may be tempted to become angry and bored and bitter. These are afflictions, plain and simple. Temptations to again take the reins from God and go back to living the way we did prior to meeting Him. This is why Jesus says the Holy Spirit (as “wine”) is poured into “new bottles” (Matthew 9:17). It’s not referring to our body, but our spirit. Our spirit has been made new and into it is poured the fresh Holy Spirit. As an aside, whereas it says “bottles”, it actually means “wineskin”. The sewn-up skin of an animal in which the wine is poured. The longer a wineskin sat, the more dry and brittle would it become. Best to have something new in which to pour the (new) wine. But the afflictions. What about them? Why is it, now that you’ve found God and He’s found you, that you’re encountering this “great fight of afflictions”? Because you’ve been turned on, “illuminated”. You’ve been activated and you have no choice but to stand out for God. This is good. Because, as we’re about to see, this so-called “great fight of afflictions” will be over and you’re going to move on to bigger and better things. Paul (I say it was Paul) says “call to remembrance the former days“. Because this, too, shall pass.

Peril-less

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Paul, here, calls it “light affliction”. Looking back on any struggle you face, it’s remarkable how paltry it was compared to where you are now. Contrast the “fight of affliction” with “light affliction”. In speaking of his cousin John (the Baptist), Jesus says “there is not a greater prophet” than he. “But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28) Wow. That certainly puts things in perspective. The strength you gain through the battles and struggles you face only make it easier to go through more and more things. It’s the way it is. Yes, God does cause a windfall every now and again and brings “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19). But through those peak seasons are long and dark slogs through valleys and bogs and…fog. Seriously.

Paralyze

“Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord. There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” (Psalm 4:4-7)

Several times throughout the Old Testament does God say to simply stand still as the answer for the trial. Really, there isn’t much we can do in a spiritual struggle. We are a spirit, living in a body. The things of spiritual warfare are done with reference to God. And He has His (your) angels mop up whatever’s left over. The gift we gain is a greater focus and strength to in turn remain focused on God. So focus on God in whatever way you choose–in love, I might add–and see Him turn your afflictions into a shadow of their former selves.

Our Capacity for Pertinacity

I think it’s a good thing. But like most qualities of temperament, it depends on where you point it. Our “pertinacity”. The refusal to budge. To take in new information and choose to remain stubborn–and potentially stuck. Think about something in your life over which you weren’t exactly the most humble and malleable person in the room. Did God meet you there? God is so patient, but He has things that need to get done. In your church and your area and the world. Realize that what you’re involved with will ultimately segue into what is going on in the grand scheme of things. We are not an island, we are a Body, a City. Saul found this out the hard way.

“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from Heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:3-5)

It’s interesting to see how Saul identifies him as Lord even as he asks who He is. Jesus responds by equating the multitudes of persecuted and martyred believers with Himself. His statement to Saul refers to a farming practice where the ploughman would goad the ox should the animal for whatever reason refuse to move. And sometimes, the ox would kick back at the spiked oxgoad, injuring itself in the process. Jesus told Saul that in persecuting the church, he wasn’t just hurting them and Christ, but himself as well. And so, he exchanges his temperament and his old life and also acquires a new name with which to begin living afresh.

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16)

God is serious. I would say that if we’re stubborn and set in our ways, it flows from a desire to see things remain pure and to do things the easiest way possible. In other words, status quo. But we must understand that there are people who God ushers into our lives so that we may learn to flow in and out of temperaments that, while largely different than our own, are no less God than ours. God speaks through His whole body. And usually, it’s the person you might like least, who rubs you the wrong way, from whom the Lord would have you learn something. If we’re so set in our ways that we refuse to consider them, we may end in missing out on what God is doing, at least in a fuller measure. Don’t get so caught up in what God is doing in your church that you forget the people on the outskirts and periphery (who may not even attend any church) that may know God–at least in a certain area–better than you.

“In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day. Fury is not in me: who would set the briars and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together. Or let him take hold of my strength, that He may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.” (Isaiah 27:1-5)

Not sure what day it’s referring to but it encapsulates the story of God versus the devil with us in the middle. Jesus relates the parable of the “certain householder which planted a vineyard” and then “let it out to husbandmen” (Matthew 21:33). Afterwards, He says he “went into a far country”. He goes on to explain how the husbandmen failed to deliver, even going so far as to kill “the heir”. This is a pointed parable (as is the passage from Isaiah) in that it refers to a specific thing. Namely the Pharisees refusing to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and in turn caring for God’s people to see them ready. Sad thing is, this attitude still affects and afflicts the Body of Christ. Jesus, later in John’s gospel, calls His Father “the husbandman” (John 15:1–the ‘h’ should be capitalized). Indicating that when all is said and done, God is going to have to do everything Himself. He says as much in Isaiah. We are the vineyard at His beckon call. He asks that we “take hold of [His] strength” and make peace with Him. Don’t worry about laying down any preconceived notions that (you may not be aware) are not in keeping with God’s heart on a matter. He’s so gentle. But if we “kick against the pricks” or “set the briars and thorns against [Him]”, He may have to take drastic measures.

“No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands that 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 12:11-13)

Again, stubbornness can be a gift. Just be sure it’s gentled with love and broadened by belief. God wants to heal any and all breaches and infirmity prior to moving on.

Full Justication

Full justification, typographically speaking, is where the lines on a page are flush, each one the same to the margin. As a kid, I’d look at a novel and wonder how they did it. How can the author write so perfectly as to have all the words and the spaces between be exactly what is needed to have the book look professional. I’d think something along those lines. What I didn’t understand is that all it takes is the click of a button. And there you have it. All the lines expand or contract. The words and letters kern in relation to one another and you have a perfectly justified book–ready for press. Brilliant. And it’s that way with God and us. Only for one reason though. It’s because Jesus lived every word, every line perfectly. To where we can now be fully justified without trying. It can be a lifelong struggle to realize this. Because it necessarily boils down to where our will clashes with God’s. Do we let Him live through us? Or, after accepting Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, do we ignore this primal fact, that it’s no longer up to us to “do it right”. Now, we have the privilege of living for God. Nothing we can do will make us any righter, any more justified than what Jesus has already secured for us.

“For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:3-5)

“Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:6)

There’s a lot of good stuff in Paul’s letter to Titus. His “own son after the common faith” (1:4), Paul’s letter to Titus is a quick, sharp, black-and-white exposition (a mere three chapters) on what it means to be a Christian and to be placed, by the grace of God, in charge of a community of believers. The above passage lays out the concept of “justification by faith”. Over the centuries, the concept has been parried (Martin Luther, “sola fide”) and fought over and misunderstood by many. The correlation is, not that I have “the. right. answer.” but that, in my opinion, the idea is a simple one to grasp. The believer’s relationship with their Lord is something that spans their entire life, all its constituent parts, as well as the whole of the Bible. Its story is His story is ours. One line, one word at a time.

There’s an ancient writing technique called boustrophedon. It was used in pre-Hellenic (b. 750 B.C.) Greece and literally means “like an ox turning”. It’s a left-to-right, right-to-left method where every other line is mirrored. With reference to that and the concept of an “ox turning”, Solomon says “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (Proverbs 14:4) What Solomon is saying here is that, in order to utilize the “strength of the ox”, you’ll inevitably deal with the waste. Pared down to a simple understanding, it’s akin to being grateful we have a life to live–warts and all. Better than the alternative.

But after the kindness and love of God our Saviour…

This is the bedrock. This is the way God is all the time. It’s when we forget this that we tend to bleed over into thinking that God may be angry with us or that our actions speak louder than, not our words, but the attitude of our heart. Actions certainly do speak louder than words, but it’s the attitude of our heart that God is always interested in. There are times in my day and my life where it takes forever for me to simply tell God I’m miserable. That something’s bothering me or grating on me or even pissing me off. Just because God “sees all and knows all”, doesn’t mean that I don’t need, need to talk to Him. He’s always interested in what is going on in my heart. Maybe because He’s there in my heart with both me and also whatever grit seems to be grinding my gears. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour.” God paid the ultimate price through Jesus in order that I could enjoy myself. Because aside from Him and His (not a simple statement to dismiss), myself–my true self–is the greatest gift He has given to me.

An anopisthograph is a bound book with writing on one side of its pages. This might sound like a bit of a stretch, allegorically speaking, but when we choose to sit out of a life fully lived before God, mistakes and all, it’s like we only have writing on one side of us. God would have us do our best to mirror what He has done for us by, not writing over what He’s done–that’s like trying to earn our own salvation again–but by doing the best we can where we’re at. When we add His words to our story, they fill the page. Then, He gives us the privelege of “working out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). God let’s us get in on the narrative after we realize that He’s the one who thought us up.

Not by works of righteousness which we have done…

Avant le lettre

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26a)

Before it was cool

What does it mean to be a Christian? The suffix -ian essentially makes whatever noun it’s attached to an adjective. So if you wanna get real pedantic and rhetorical (without being disrespectful), it literally means “like Christ”. And Christ means “anointed one” in Greek. “Like the anointed one”? Or, “follower of Christ”? That’s about right. Funny thing, the word “Christian” appears twice in the King James version of the New Testament. First, it’s used by King Agrippa as he expresses his shock at Paul’s forwardness and confidence in seeking to convert Agrippa (who was the last of the Herodian line of kings, an ardent Hebraist; see Acts 26:27-28). The second time comes from Peter’s first letter (4:16): “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” Peter uses it in the context of suffering. Something that, in my opinion, is certainly not seen as “cool” in much of Western society. We have what we need and with a church building on every corner, we’re able to comfortably flow in and out of the shallow waters of culture and if we don’t mix it up with those who are a little (or a lot) left-of-center, then that’s fine with us. And Peter continues (4:17): “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”

The French term Avant le lettre means “before the term was made up”. And with reference to the first usage of the name “Christian”, it says “disciples”. Those who had already been following Jesus. There’s more than one way to pull this apart. Again, without being pedantic and picky, Luke (the writer of Acts) doesn’t say who called them that. He doesn’t add on anything surrounding a label that is arguably (now) one of the densest and alternately misunderstood and misrepresented title in the world today. To where now, it’s pretty much only an adjective. Does the word “Christian” make you think of Christ? Of Jesus? If not, we have work to do.

“I know thy works, (this is Jesus speaking to the church in Laodicea) 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 3:15-16)

Before it gets hot

It’s folly for Christians to try and reach a “lost and dying world” without turning the spotlight on itself first. And I’m not saying this isn’t being done, but if you wonder why there is the apathy and coldness, er, lukewarmness in the church today, we as Christians would do well to seek God’s mind and heart regarding our sensitivity to Him. I feel that much of the church has run off and left the Lord standing, arms outstretched, wondering why his followers are more concerned with looking the part than looking like Him. If that makes sense. Without a reference point, no one can become anything. With reference to Peter’s warning that “judgment must begin at the house of God”, consider this:

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Philippians 1:29-30) Paul says it is given. Suffering is a gift. And I can’t tell you what it looks like for your life. I do know however, that if you ardently and actively press in to God through worship, praise and acknowledgment and truly seek His will for your life, you will suffer. No, you’ll most likely not go to jail and be beaten within an inch of your life in order to renounce your Savior. You’ll probably not find yourself on the street tomorrow having nothing but the clothes on your back and no morning coffee. The “sufferings of Christ” are more mysterious. They are something that you can’t wrap your mind around if you find yourself within the whirlwind. My experience is, God will let you see a little glimmer of who He truly is. And then He’ll allow the darkness to pour in while you train your vision on restoring that original glimpse and seeing it grow to fill your field of vision. All this, in spite of the atmosphere in which you (now) find yourself. It could take years. What other endeavor is more important?

In closing, the King James trades meanings with the word. Most times when you read “suffer”, it means just that. To go through a period of purifying and strengthening even as you’re emptied out in service to God and others. The other connotation, however, is allow. And that’s a simplified, stripped-down paraphrase. But that’s really what suffering is for. It’s to allow God to do what He wants in this world, in your world. No one ever said being a Christian was easy, and yet as we truly follow Jesus, as our name suggests, we will ensure that that definition never becomes avant le lettre.

The Rock That God Could Not Pick Up

“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11, emphasis mine)

Wrap your mind around that.

I believe any Christian must at least stub their toe on this concept, if not fall headlong upon it. Jesus says something similar: “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone (referring, however symbolically, to Himself) shall be broken…” (Luke 20:17)

There seems, at times, to be an aspect to God that is impersonal, immobile, unkind even. So much so, that people even leave off believing in Him altogether, citing their misconceptions of His character as proof that He needn’t exist.

The first passage was written by Paul to Timothy. As Paul was genetically Jewish and spiritually Christian, he had an insight into God’s character that few people possessed. For him to make so bold a statment as “[God] cannot deny Himself”, he must’ve both read about His character in the Jewish scriptures and coupled that with his personal knowledge of God—Himself—and the (then, new) saving grace and friendship of Jesus Christ. The point is, Jesus revealed a side of God that no one had ever seen before. And yet God the Father still remains the same Person He’s always been. How can this be?

“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

A common question of doubting unbelief goes something like this: “Can God create a rock that He can’t pick up?” I’m sure, if you haven’t heard it yourself, that you’ve at least formulated something along those lines. Omnipotence (all power) is a concept that can be hard to wrap one’s mind around but is worth the mental effort in trying. Worth it, in spite of our own powerlessness.

So Paul makes his statement. Essentially saying, if there’s one thing God can’t do, it’s deny Himself. And as sin is the active opposite to who He is, the one thing He cannot do is mingle His presence with sin. This is the main reason why He sent Jesus into this world—to be the one who lived the perfect life so that we wouldn’t have to.

As an aside, I find it amusing that the implied premise to the question “Can God create a rock He can’t pick up?” is that God is the Creator. It’s a good start. Notice the following passage:

“God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

God has spoken to us through Jesus. Not just the red-printed words in your Bible, but the active presence of Jesus, bodily, in the Middle East two-thousand plus years ago, was God speaking. I say all of that to say that one of the reasons that Jesus came, was to take the blame for the sin—that which God was unable to look upon or to touch. The one thing that He could not overlook in our lives, was essentially powerless to overcome on His own. As God holds up the world and the universe, He was unable to put that on hold to deal with the sin problem. So He sent Jesus.

The word Ebenezer (yes, as in Ebenezer Scrooge) is Hebrew for “stone of help”. In the first book of Samuel (7:12) after a massive and miraculous victory over the Philistines, he “took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” This is symbolic of what Jesus has done for us. What God did for the Israelites under Samuel, Jesus actively does for us. And it’s something that no one—not us, and not God the Father—can do. Give us, in our human form, salvation—help. But don’t lose sight of God the Father. Jesus did what He did at the Father’s love and request.

“Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

See, God cannot deny Himself. And He can’t deny us, either, when we come to Him—as it says in the above verse—through Jesus. And He’s one Rock that He’s not about to pick up. Jesus is here to stay.

 

Refresher Course

By course

“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:” (Acts 3:19)

That was Peter speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem. Jesus preached a similar message: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17, emphasis mine) The “kingdom of Heaven” refers to the fact that now, God can dwell in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He can set up shop within and live inside of us never to depart.

Looking at the first verse, Peter places a qualifier on the “times of refreshing [that] shall come”. Notice, it’s after we repent. Paul, speaking of repentance in his second letter to Timothy, says that “God peradventure (perhaps) will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”

Taking these three verses out of context (admittedly) and stringing them together, you get a sequence that goes something like this:

Acknowledging the truth. Whether it be about a situation, about our role in what went wrong, or simply about Jesus and Him being the truth. Acknowledge. From there, to Repentance. Notice it says that God gives repentance. Repentance, much like faith, is something that’s given. God wants everyone to come to Him. What enables us to become right with Him, however, is a gift, plain and simple. “That no flesh should glory in His presence.” (1 Corinthians 1:29)

And after that? What comes after we repent? Is it a stillness that envelopes us like a vacuum of holiness? Must’ve been what the Garden of Eden was like before the fall. It’s like God restores us to a level of peace and contentment. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll be without the temptation to sin again. But don’t worry about it. The times of refreshing are coming from the Lord. Look for them.

Staying the courses

Watch out though. I still don’t quite understand this next passage. It’s somewhat disconcerting, not because I still feel like sinning at times, even after I’ve repented, but because upon a cursory reading, it looks like my salvation might be negated with the slightest slip-up:

“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:27) I’m going to leave this in here, only because it’s something that must be worked through by every believer who believes in the sacrifice of Jesus to make us right with God. Wrestle with it, but not with God.

And so, moving along (how can one move along from a passage like that?), it says “when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. I do recognize times in my life where there is that stillness that precludes a sudden rush of blessing from the Lord. And while all of this is necessarily referring to those times, wonderful as they are, it’s more important to know that they too shall pass. Because it isn’t about the spikes of beauty that we’re sort-of holding our breath for, it’s about walking with Him day by day.

Of course

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.