All Men

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There is an old Gaither band song titled “The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows.” That is a truth. But I am finding the same thing can be said about the Scriptures. Many years ago I was, I thought, well versed in the Bible, having sat under the excellent teaching of several serious Bible students and expositors.

In recent months I am finding gems hidden in plain view as I read the Word daily. I am learning to read each verse, each passage, slowly and carefully, asking questions as I do. No longer do I read quickly because “I know the story.” Somewhere along the way I started paying greater attention to what Jesus said. If He said it, He means it then, now and forever. It is truth. I have noticed that some of what He said has been taught or interpreted to have a general religious meaning somewhat different than the straight forward no-interpretation-needed understanding. Jesus is not confused. He knew what He was saying. I choose to believe it, and in that choice I am discovering riches beyond measure.

One example is found in John 12:32. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

This has been explained as being evangelistic. The preaching of the cross, talking about Jesus’ death, will draw people to faith and conversion. We just need to lift up the story of the cross to those who have not heard, and they will be drawn to Jesus.

That simple explanation does not account for “all people” being drawn to himself. He said “I will draw all people…” Who will? Jesus. When? When He is lifted up. When was that? Good Friday. Where did this take place? On Calvary.

So to take Him at His word, all men, all people, were drawn to Him at the time of the Crucifixion. This makes perfect sense when you consider His death was once for all mankind. By incorporating all people, past, present and future, into Himself His death than became the one death for all. The huge sin burden and debt of everyone was loaded on to Him. Therefore His death, carrying all peoples of all time and everywhere to the grave, made it possible for anyone anywhere to walk free of sin.

He did indeed die for the entire human race. It is accomplished fact before we ever heard any preaching. Our part? Believe Him. Acknowledge our sin is now dead and forgiven. Rejoice that we were included on that day, that day above all others, when He was lifted up from the earth. If He had not actually done that, our salvation would be based on words alone, a shaky concept at best.

We can rest on the authority of His word. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” It is finished, indeed.

Wait

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14

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There are three commands here – indicating things we are capable of doing.
The first is “Be strong.” This implies that we can make ourselves overcome our self-doubts. There is no room for the escape clause “This is too hard for me!” or “Let someone else go – do – fight the battle.” It also implies that the capability of strength is built in as part of our packaging. Whether we believe it or not does not change our inherent potential to exhibit strength. Often the accumulation of life experiences has occluded this truth; God’s Word indicates we must deal with them to uncover the strength within.

The second command is “Take Heart.” This speaks of values to center our lives on — courage, joy, belief in God’s goodness, letting hope for the future rise within. All of these and more will push back depression and fear which sap our very beings of the strength needed for living, destroying our effectiveness in the Kingdom in the process.

Finally, we are told to “Wait” for the LORD. This is where the real battle is for many, for once He has appeared or acted in a situation the battle is over, the problem resolved. It is the “Wait” that reveals our hearts most clearly. Do we really trust Him? Our fears begin to leak out. Is He really going to do something? Should I not step in here and solve the problem myself? We get into the helping God out mindset – and it is clear from the Isaac-Ishmael story that is not a good idea.

Waiting on the LORD is in truest sense, a leaning on Him in full expectation of his fulfilled promise — and that is Faith!

Swearing and Theology

Swearing and Theology

Come, little children, and gather around. I will tell you a story about swearing. In days long ago there were two main swear words which would guarantee parental disapproval, often emphasized with a soap bar mouth washing. The first was “damn,” a word I heard from my mother’s mouth only once. Never was it seen in the newspaper, or in literature. If a man should accidentally let it slip in a woman’s hearing he would apologize immediately – “I beg your pardon, ma’am!” for no woman was to have her ears offended by crassness or profanity.

For those more extreme situations when a simple damn did not do the job of conveying the emotion of the moment, men would move on to the more serious “goddamn” or “goddamnit!” Then came the uttermost: “Goddamnit to hell!”

This “hell” introduces the second primary swear word that was off limits to children and women, and never seen in print except for Biblical messages warning of a fiery destination for the wicked.

Of course, people have always encountered frustrations when a simple “aw shucks” just seems too inadequate. Work-arounds and substitutions arose in their place. “Darn” was allowed in polite society, as was “Hades” the Greek god of the underworld. On occasion we would use H E double toothpicks, an oh-so-clever way to avoid the forbidden word.

The use of “damn” was so controlled by polite and public society that Clark Gable’s use of it in the movie Gone With the Wind was a shocker, making news and furor across the country. Grandmothers and preachers alike fretted about “what has our country come to!”

Few have stopped to consider what damn means. Its definition is to bring condemnation on, or to doom to eternal punishment or hell. It is ultimately a God function. Therefore, a seriously uttered “goddamnit to hell” is a declaration or prayer that the person or offending thing be consigned to the flames.

Years have passed. Those two words have almost disappeared. In their place has arisen an extensive vocabulary of swear words all of which focus on body parts and sexual function. There is no longer any such thing as polite society, with norms for speech. The words are part of print, news and literature, and every day conversation. Some people are unable to get through a sentence without using one or more of them, betraying a limited ability to communicate.

It also reveals the removal of God and God consciousness in the public square. Without God, damn and hell have no meaning. Without Him, we are left with only ourselves at our uncreative, physical worst.

It does matter, after all, what you believe even down to the way you swear.

Fretting vs. Trust

When we are fretful our behavior seldom exhibits peace. We do not act as if we are formed to the image of Christ. Think about it: does Jesus ever fret?

To fret is to be anxious about the outcome. It is low-grade worry. Things won’t happen according to my timetable, my plan, my program.  MY.  MY way. This is a hidden way to say I want to be god.  In charge.  Doesn’t this smell sulfurous?  Genesis 3, again.

Jesus does not fret because he knows the beginning from the end. There are no surprises coming his way. He knows his father’s plans and designs will come to pass. There is no doubt in him  because he knows his father. Therefore, when we fret we are saying that in one particular area of our lives we do not know the Father. We are not confident in him to handle the situation aright.

Jesus does not fret because he is God, Lord of time and Lord of circumstances. He is at peace with the outcome.

The antidote to fretting is TRUST. Not in ourselves, but in God who is our ground, our source, our goal. That only comes from knowing Him. We are to know him as Jesus knows him. Since the veil has been torn, we can know him. Then our plans become yielded to his plans and His plans always succeed.

As we know the Father and are known, there is a continuing process of being formed in Jesus’ image. And that is nothing to fret about.

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Godless?

“The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.” Job 36:13

“The godless in heart harbor resentment.” This says those who have not had their hearts converted to and by the Lord harbor or hold on to resentment. It would appear from this statement that it is a given: godless = heart full of resentment. The question then is this true when turned around? Is it accurate to say that those who harbor resentment and bitterness are godless? Does resentment shut the door to God’s presence?

Resentment and its companion bitterness, two ugly attitudes of heart, are the seedbed for others as well. Left to flourish like weeds, they grow into hatred, desire for revenge, and murder. Self pity grows up like thorns in the flower garden, causing pain to those who come near. Bitterness poisons the soul soil so that joy cannot take root and its fragrance is lost to mankind. Resentment is the seed of division; true love and friendship wither in the presence of judgment and condemnation.

Is it possible for someone to love God, and proclaim to be a follower of Jesus, and at the same time have a deep root of bitterness within? Or are these proclamations hollow, without reality, because the two cannot coexist?

Coming close to faith in Christ, we learn about the reality of His Kingdom and our inclusion in it. He assures the would-be believer that accepting His offer of himself means that He, Father and Spirit all will come and make their home within. John 14:23; 17:23. Thus “en-godded,” people take on a new identity, new world view, a new way of living and loving.

But there is no space in the Spirit-filled life for the weeds. The reverse is true; the weeds choke out the life Jesus wants to live in each individual. We become godless to the degree we harbor, hang on to, nourish and dwell upon our resentment and bitterness. These attitudes have no place in heaven or earth.

Therefore, it is wise to get rid of them.

Resentment and bitterness can only be eradicated by the willingness to forgive and release the offender and situation. Hanging on to unforgiveness “because they deserve it,” destroys you, your flower garden, your future, making you become godless.

Jesus has a better idea. Let it go, and let Him in.

The River or the Canal?

God said He wants to do a new thing, a new way of showing himself, or expressing Christianity in the world. He showed me a river which was freely moving, forming bends and twists as it went. There was life everywhere the river flowed.

In contrast was the canal – straight, with concrete walls and with no life along its edges. Life forms could not access the water because of the impenetrable concrete walls which were man made. There was some water in the canal, but it was rather murky and moving very slowly, if at all.

As I thought about this, it became clear He wants to take each of us, as a unique drop of water, where He wills. In so doing He can flow through each, bringing freshness and life wherever the water touches. Spontaneity, effectiveness and at the same time, freedom from stress are the hallmarks of this move.

Many expressions of Christianity have become canals, man made structures, unaware the water in them has become stagnant.

One thing that keeps people in the canal rather than in the river flow is fear. The unpredictability of going where He moves us on any given day is unsettling to most. We rather like the comfort of the familiar. Therefore we trade freedom and adventure with the Lord for the safety of the known, picking up boredom as part of the package. This keeps the people of the world away from the little bit of water we do have.

It is our choice: living in abandonment to God, bringing freshness and life everywhere we go, or staying in the security of the canal, colorlessly inching our way through life. The Lord has made it clear that His way of expressing himself on the earth is superior to ours, and He will have His way. Only then will the world be attracted to his life-giving water.

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Remembering

A song for my Lord? A paean of praise? Let me count the ways, to echo the poet.*

Somewhere I have a list of events which are markers of His presence in my life. The challenge has been to write of them, recording for posterity, or at least my own understanding, His care and love. We all long for assurances that our lives are worthy of notice, or at least have not been forgotten by the God of all. Significance, that is what we hope for. Yet in forgetting the many ways The Lord has blessed, I have overlooked the very thing I searched for.

“When up to your clavicles fighting alligators, you forget that your original purpose was to drain the swamp.”

Quickly we forget His benefits and blessings, often saying “But what have you done for me lately?” My friends were directed to put a stone in a “blessing bowl” on the table each time they received a blessing that was an obvious gift from the Lord. We are not talking about yes, I woke up this morning, or the sun is shining outside kind of blessings. After several months the bowl was overflowing with stones. When asked what do these stones mean, they could remember only a few. All the others had faded away out of the memory.

So it is with us. We receive, and then forget, easily falling into the mindset of God doesn’t love me like He does everyone else. Totally missing the flow coming our way, we also miss the opportunity for gratitude, and gratitude always leads to more blessings.

Gratitude is foundational to healthy living. It is essential to a strong spiritual relationship with the Lord. Rooted in an awareness of our incompleteness, it declares our need for others, our inter-relatedness. It rejects, by its very nature, the idea of self-sufficiency, of being our own god. Gratitude and narcissism are therefore polar opposites. Coming to a realization that we cannot “do” life on our own is taking a big step toward maturity. For which we can be thankful.Stones of remembrance

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” Ps. 63:6
* Elizabeth Barrett Browning