They Are All

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

-Hebrews 10:14

I have always had a very difficult time reconciling between the promised perfection of the gospel and the apparent brokenness of the world around me, never mind my own troubled beliefs. What I have come to be at peace with is that the reality of the gospel and the incarnation wins out, because it is true, no matter how many perceptions I or anyone else may hold to discredit it.

At this point, if you haven’t been keeping up with my recent musings you may want to read the precursors to this blog, here and here. They are the backdrop which is my personal experience and story.

My understanding has evolved; I was eleven when I was baptised, and I did so because I feared that my supposed sexual deviation would keep me out of heaven. That is how salvation worked for me, after all; say a prayer, make a declaration, get dunked under water for half a second, and come up a different person.

I was disappointed when it didn’t make me an asexual.

I’ve recounted often of my trouble understanding the whisper of Holy Spirit to me regarding the irrelevance of my purity in regard to His; I could not comprehend at the first hearing how His purity could be greater than my impurity. I tried to convince myself that, after all, He is God: of course He is greater than me. But that is a difficult thing to believe when you believe you are the blot of black ink on what otherwise would have been a perfectly white garment.

The reality, as I began to unfold in my last blog, is that my assumed impurity was no more real than the possibility that being dunked in a lake could secure my passage to heaven–as if I hadn’t ever done that before on any other hot summer. And even where it remotely real, His truly is greater than mine, and my life is found in His.

It is a difficult–perhaps impossible–thought for the church at large to receive, taught as we have been for so long of the existence and prevalence of evil in the nature of humanity. In a discussion regarding those who have recently come into the church who may practice manipulating tactics and grabs for power and attention–the usual repertoire of sins such as substance and sexual uses and abuses not to be wholly forgotten–I found myself wondering whether the issue was not more about our being able to discern the needs of these people behind the acting out of their shadows. Had I been mentored by someone in my teen years able to perceive the legitimate and desperate needs of my sexuality, who could have helped me to understand that the struggle I was perceiving was not a contest between sin and righteousness but my own Self trying to be known by me, how much better could I now know and accept myself?

My surprise then was, how can you blindly call these things ‘sinful’ or ‘problematic’ and not have the discernment to see the genuine need of the person? 

Because I don’t see ‘sin’, or ‘sinful habits’, anymore. I see brokenness. I see the authenticity in people severed in so many ways and the hopeless attempts of the subconscious to counterbalance. I see the genuine need–and wound–behind attention-seeking, and grabbing for power and control. I see the genuine need–and wound–behind much addiction. I have interacted with many people who willingly harm their bodies to the point of serious danger in many, many ways because they have a wound within that they cannot find any way to reconcile. The very small amount I do perceive should break the heart of the church–it does mine.

I want to address something that I have wrestled with for quite some time: the letter of 1 John. 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

-1 John 1

I believe the majority of the teaching and preaching I have heard which references 1st John carries this message: don’t fool yourself; You are hopelessly bad.

I have seen it used as definite proof against the idea that anyone could be sinless because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross–in effect, a defence against Universalism, the completed work of the cross and any suggestion that a christian doesn’t need to continue to repent for their sins.

The theme of the book is quite simple: John lays out, ‘this is the nature of God, therefore anything contrary to this is not Godly. This is what light is, this is what dark is. It is starkly black and white.

But direct your attention to the introduction, particularly, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

Is it too bold to wonder why John and his fellows would consider a condemning message joyful? But condemnation is not the reality here, the reality is that God is sovereign, and we share fellowship with Him. We ARE in the Light. This is what our lives look like because of that truth. John is writing black-and-white truth absolutely–the reality of the Risen Christ and a world bound to His fate. I understand why he is writing so that his joy may be full because it brings me the same joy to share with others the reality of who they are in Christ–light, love, righteousness, sinless…perfect. You are in Christ–and in Christ is no darkness at all; it is a declaration of exactly the reality of the Last Adam.

There is an image which is an underlying theme on my mind tonight; it is a theme in the movie The Last Samurai; after his capture Nathan Algren meets Katsumoto, the samurai leader responsible for his imprisonment. On approaching a cherry tree, Katsumoto tells Algren, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” By the end of the movie Algren and Katsumoto are inseparable brothers, and Katsumoto, dying in the arms of Algren observes with his last breaths, “Perfect. They… are all… perfect…”

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I’m not asking for a redefinition of sin. I’m not asking to change the Bible–on the contrary, I am asking that the truth of the Bible be honoured as it is given. They are all perfect, by one sacrifice by the glorious plan of the Incarnation. They are all perfect, and they are all in the Great Dance of Father, Son, and Spirit–and me.

I have to ask myself–because I do not see with eyes not my own–if I have discovered the holiness and righteousness and authenticity of something I once deemed sinful and abominable, why should I not expect the same experience to be possible in others? Why would I ever need to resort to assuming sin in a person when the sin I presumed in myself was a false perception? It is not so hard any more to reconcile what goes on in the world in light of the reality of the gospel when I now understand much more of the wrong I did myself in believing I was anything less than perfect. The question changes from ‘who can I save,’ to ‘who will share my joy with me?’

 

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Lessons From the Heathen

Have you ever heard the story of Jonah? Probably. Have you ever read the story of Jonah?

Look it up, it’s a pretty short book.

So there’s this guy named Jonah, God meets him and goes ‘I want you to go to Nineveh and give them my message.’

And Jonah runs the other way.

He goes to Joppa and gets on a boat bound for Tarshish. I don’t know if you know anything about middle-eastern geography (I wasn’t always too clear) but Tarshish was basically on the other side of Jonah’s known world from Nineveh, on the other end of the ocean. And bear in mind, this isn’t a Sunday-afternoon drive or a day-cruise or an airplane trip over the ocean, this is a walk–or a pony-ride–and a sailboat trip across the ocean in the opposite direction away from home. When was the last time you made a trip like that to avoid something God told you to do?

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The post I borrowed this picture from is title ‘Jonah – The Reluctant Prophet’ But reluctant? I’m reluctant and I stay home. Jonah took a cruise to Tarshish. And why? 

 

We’ll get to that.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  – Jonah 1:1-3

He fled to Tarshish, and it seems to me that he left home with the place in mind; this was a pre-meditated venture, not some whim that he decided on when he got to port and found the closest ship to him. He was thinking, ‘What’s the furthest place I can get from Nineveh?’

But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.[a] But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

Boom, hurricane. Maybe thunder, lightning, mountainous waves, fury. I’m just guessing here, but a ship’s crew willing to go on a voyage this far, was probably well-seasoned. They were ready for the perils of a trip across the open ocean, and they were getting scared.

And these guys are heathens. They worship man-imagined gods, they all have their own set, and none of them are listening. And where’s Jonah? He’s sleeping in the hold. Sleeping. He’s running away from God’s command and he’s sleeping in the bottom of the boat in the middle of a hurricane. The captain goes down and wakes him up, probably angry and definitely scared because none of the other gods are answering, he demands that Jonah call on his god to try and save them.

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.

So they cast lots. They’re heathens, of course they do, right? Let me ask you something; are you superstitious? They believe in that stuff. But something that has really been catching my attention is God answers their heathenish culture. As with Abraham coming out of a culture where child sacrifice was normal, it wasn’t an unusual request for Abraham to hear from God, but it wasn’t just about God testing Abraham’s faith, it was about God meeting Abraham in his heathen culture and turning it inside out because here is a God who provides instead of demands.

God ticks Jonah’s lot. And those heathen sailors immediately demand to know what he did that they are now suffering a storm for. Who are you?

10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

They knew he was running from God, I can just hear their exasperated question, ‘WHY did you do that? Are you crazy? Don’t you know you can’t run away from a god?’ 

And Jonah… he’s just done. And he’s so dramatic; ‘It’s all my fault,’ he says, ‘Just throw me into the ocean.’ The sailors are a little more realistic, but it’s no avail.

 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

And you know something? I’m really amazed by these guys. Not like it’s really surprising but kind of just an ‘Oh yeah that really makes sense,’ kind of moment. Because these guys are heathens, they’ve each got their own set of gods that they probably carry in their pocket; god is not a foreign idea to them, so they have no problem praying to his God. But as soon as Jonah went overboard the storm stopped. Result. And their fear goes viral because here is a God more powerful and more real than any they’ve yet seen. And here’s the thing: Jonah wasn’t there to see this. The only way we know what happens is that as soon as the boat hit the Tarshish port these guys were talking to everyone in the local pub about what had happened to them out there. Or maybe they turned around an went back to Joppa and spread the story there, seeing as they had thrown much of their cargo overboard anyway. But they were changed, and even though they only saw Jonah’s God from their heathen culture, He suddenly became a reality to them, and I’ll bet you they wanted to find out all they could about this God who had spared them.

So Jonah goes into the water, and he sinks down into the depths. Maybe he’s almost out of breath when the fish comes, he’s probably starting to panic and think ‘Well maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…’ 

17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

[2] 1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said:

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction,
And He answered me.

“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
For You cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the floods surrounded me;
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;
The deep closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;
Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.

“When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.

“Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord.”

10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

He’s repentant–that is, he’s changed his mind. And why? Because he saw God’s mercy for him in the midst of his disobedience. He knew he was done for–but God saved him by a fish. And there’s something worth noting in the last few lines of his prayer. He says, ‘Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” He saw first-hand the worthlessness of the heathen gods displayed before him, there wasn’t a one that could calm his God’s tempest. He’s gotten a fresh revelation of the raw awesome power and the Mercy of his God, and after three days in the belly of the fish he’s ready to do what God asked.

[3] 1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey[a] in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Now, we’re going to get to this real quick but Jonah knows that the Ninevites are bad people; they have a reputation, and the fact that they aren’t Jews but they’re Assyrians (and Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, what’s more) is already a tick against them because hey, these are gentiles. So Jonah is probably coming into this city expectant. He’s probably heard stories from his childhood about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, considering how such stories had always been passed down through the generations. Maybe he was imagining the fire and brimstone already because hey, these guys are heathens and Jonah wants retribution because he’s a faithful Israelite.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

There’s a common theme you can begin to see in the story of Jonah; heathens believing God and repenting–changing their minds and their ways.

And growing up in a performance-based church my temptation was always to say ‘Well, this is what God responded to, so this is what I have to do to get God to respond to me,’ but you have got to realize again that these people were heathen. If they believed in any god it was a radically different god than Jonah’s God, and even if they didn’t believe in any gods, the widely available examples were still radically different. So they responded in a way that was familiar to them culturally. 

And God responded. He didn’t respond because they fasted, sat in ashes and dressed up in old potato bags. He didn’t respond because they had the idea to make the animals fast with them. He responded because he was longing to respond to them already. He sent Jonah to point to their inherent evil problem not because he wanted to destroy them–they were already destroying themselves inevitably–but because he was longing to redeem their city and be their God and Father them.

And Jonah got mad. He gave God an ‘I told you so!’ speech, and we see the real motivation behind him fleeing:

[4] 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

And still as dramatic as ever; ‘it is better for me to die than to live!’ But it just blows me away the knowledge Jonah had of the immensity of God’s goodness! Jonah’s God was so good, and Jonah inversely was so intent on retribution on Nineveh…

But he knew that this message of wrath was going to transform into a message of mercy. He knew a slow-to-anger God wasn’t going to destroy a city which repented; he knew his God was abounding in loving kindness and he knew he was going to have to be that guy, that Israelite who screwed up his nation’s chance at getting their enemy’s capitol burned to a crisp with Sodom-and-Gomorrah-reminiscent retribution. And he was angry about it.

But God, in his infinite merciful loving kindness and endless patience… Oh I love that guy.

Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Does this make sense, Jonah? You know this is who I Am. So God creates another scenario:

So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant[a] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah goes outside the city–because, you know. Maybe it’s fake. Maybe the repentance won’t last and God will destroy the whole place after all. He builds himself a shelter somewhere just far enough east to keep his toe-hair from being singed but still close enough to toast his gelatin-free marsh-mellows and he waits. And God sweetens the deal with a plant that grows up over his shelter and shades him from the growing sun.

But the next day God sent a worm, it kills the plant. To top it off, the wind starts to blow, and this isn’t a cool, playful breeze, this is a harsh–vehement even–east wind blowing across miles of desert heating up with the morning sun.

And I just want to say go home, Jonah. Just go home.

But he doesn’t, he gets angry again–again to the point of suicide. And he’s just burning up with rage.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

This is one of those stories where the moral is pretty clear, but it blows me away because we’ve all heard the story but have we ever really understood what it meant? I never did.

Here’s Jonah. First he’s running because he doesn’t want to go to Nineveh to begin with. And he has his repentant moment in the fish but he still came out hungry for retribution, and bitter because he knows he’s going to have to go deliver this message and God is probably going to have mercy on the people because Jonah’s got enough hostility and wrath behind the message to scare them all straight. And he’s right, God takes pity. Jonah’s still hopeful and he goes outside to wait and watch (because he doesn’t want to get caught up in the brimstone and maybe God’s holding back because he’s still in the city). But God has a plant up his sleeve and he actually gets Jonah deliberately angry to give Jonah His perspective on Nineveh:

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”

Jonah knew it wasn’t just to destroy that plant, there was nothing that plant had done to deserve being destroyed. But in His immense mercy and love and compassion God looked far beyond what was ‘just’ for the people of Nineveh – He knew they didn’t know any better; they didn’t even know their left hand from their right. A hundred and twenty thousand people, plus livestock.

…gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

One who relents from doing harm.

And the result? An entire city turned to the mercy of the true God, and not only a city,  but the capitol of an entire nation. 120,000 people testifying in the heart of a heathen nation of the mercy of the God of Heaven? Culture-shaking. Gracious and merciful. Slow to anger. Abundant in lovingkindness. One who relents from doing harm.

No Longer Prodigal

You know what just made me a little bit angry? It was this cute little picture on facebook with a big caption promising that blessings and breakthrough are coming if you can just hold out a little while longer. Don’t worry, your breakthrough is just around the next corner. Have you seen any of those? Maybe you’ve heard the Sunday-morning equivalent, preachers proclaiming tidings of revival soon to come if you can just hang on a little longer, pray just a little harder. There were at least a couple years during my childhood and into teen years that I got a good taste of that pre-revival culture, it seemed like that was all anybody wanted from God.

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Let me tell you something: you don’t need breakthrough, and you don’t need revival.

Everything is yours already.

You don’t have to wait for breakthrough, or blessings, or revival, or healing. Let me tell you something: there were two brothers. One took his inheritance and left home and squandered it away. The other stayed at home and worked. Now get this: both brothers squandered the wealth available to them, and both brothers were born with their wealth already secured. Younger brother takes his inheritance to the world to spend it how he will, older brother continues to serve his father bitterly on the farm.

The younger brother wakes up one day in a pig pen with nothing left, he’s thinking the pig food looks pretty great right about now. But he realizes that in his father’s house even the servants are taken care of. Even the servants. So he gets up and goes back to his father to ask for…a job. But of course you know this story; this dignified middle-eastern father runs full-tilt down the road and bear-hugs his son and brings him back into the house and back into his place as son. 

The older brother…is working in the fields. Hard at it. He comes back to the house–probably tired, probably dirty, probably with that accomplished feeling some people get from a hard day’s work when they believe hard work is the extent of their value–he finds out from one of the servants what all the commotion in the house is all about and he gets mad. He gets so angry he stays outside. Father comes out to him and he goes into an immediate tangent about ‘that son of yours’-this and ‘me and my friends’-that, like ‘Okay Dad if this is how you treat that little brat then you owe me big time…’

Father just looks at him and says ‘Son…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’

And then he says this: ‘it’s right that we should be celebrating; my son was dead, and is alive again – he was lost but now he’s found.’ This doesn’t have anything to do with labor efforts or work-induced loyalty, son, this isn’t about what he or you deserves, it isn’t about whether I’m partial or not, it’s about what you both have already had all along and who you both are to me.

I know, I’m paraphrasing. So sue me–or go read it again for yourself in Luke 15.

But something I’ve never thought about before came to me tonight as I’ve been thinking about this story. This can’t be a typical salvation story. I know what you’re thinking: ‘But context! Jesus just finished telling two parables about repentant sinners! How is this not a salvation story?’

First of all, the only ‘salvation story’ I know is where Jesus died on the cross in our place. And listen, I know this is a great parable for salvation–except that salvation isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. The very word ‘salvationin the original Hebrew of the Bible is interchangeable with Jesus’ name, Yeshua–it’s the same root, and some Jewish scholars believe it should be used in proper noun form every time so that we know, this is a person we’re really talking about here – this is Jesus. And second, if it were really about salvation the younger son could never have made it home on his own, because salvation is about Jesus finding us. Salvation is about Jesus finding that runaway lamb, and that lost coin. But this story is about the son remembering his Father’s favor and hoping that he could be counted worthy to be a servant. It isn’t about the journey back, it’s about the reception. But I digress: I don’t want to make a mountain out of that mole hill just yet.

What I do want to make clear is this: they were both sons. They were in the house, they both already had an inheritance. They both had benefits from their father, they were both in his favor. And they were born that way. If there were a point for a salvation-analogy it might’ve come years before in a generous display of adoption on the father’s part. But they are both already there. And what does that mean? It means both brothers were just as close to their breakthroughs, their blessings and their revivals in the beginning of the story, as they were at the end. It means the only breakthrough you need happens when you realize it’s already yours, because everything Father has is yours, and you’re always with him. You were born in his house.

Here’s what’s changed about my perspective: I’ve come to realize that when Jesus says it’s finished, then it’s finished. For almost 2000 years people have been born outside of sin–albeit, into a sin-marred world–because Jesus took care of sin on the cross; sin is no longer God’s issue which means everyone is free, everyone is accepted, and everyone is justified of sin against God. The kingdom has changed hands and you were not born into Adam’s bloodline but Christ is your brother and God is your father. You’re in the house.

Or maybe you’re the prodigal. Maybe you took your rightful inheritance and you squandered it with the world. Maybe you didn’t know just what it was worth, maybe you didn’t understand what it meant. But there is still a place back home for you.

Or maybe you’re the older brother, back home laboring in the fields hoping Father will notice you and give you some favor, but there is still a place in Father’s house for you, and you’ll miss the inheritance you were born with if you live your life believing your value is based on how hard you work rather than who you were born to. 

Do you want a breakthrough? Read Romans. Read Galatians. Read Ephesians. Read Hebrews. Get a handle on what Jesus did once for all time on the cross. Because listen; God is not limited by your faithfulness. He is not limited by whether you decide to be in sin, or not. Whether you decide or not, sin is dealt with.

I heard a story last night about a lady paying it forward to a rich-looking woman behind her in the drive-thru – it turned out the woman was bankrupt and completely out of hope but that one coffee turned everything on its head for her as a sign from God. Someone asked the question, what if that lady hadn’t listened to that voice in her head telling her to pay it forward in spite of the appearances of the woman in the convertible behind her?

And that used to be a gripping question for me – what if? What if I don’t listen to Holy Spirit’s voice? What if I miss it?

But my immediate thought was, God is not limited by my faithfulness. God is not dependent on my faithfulness. If that lady hadn’t paid it forward, I absolutely believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that Father would have given that woman hope some other way, because he’s Father. Of course he’s going to do everything he can for his children. He was probably dropping hints all around that woman so that whatever direction she looked she’d see at least one. And when it comes down to it anyway, the Rock is always present at Rock Bottom

But it’s our opportunity, not his. It’s our opportunity whether we let him use us or not, not his, because he’s going to accomplish his plans either way, but more importantly he’s already accomplished his big plan for us and we are back. That’s why salvation isn’t his opportunity anymore, it’s ours, because he already took his opportunity on the cross, now it’s your turn, to hear that good news, believe it, and let it change your mind because it really is good enough. Boom.

And that opportunity is instantaneous. You want breakthrough? Take it. You want revival? You are revival. You were born revival. You are alive! The life you now live you live by the Spirit of God, and there’s no jury on that because it is finished. 

And I’m not going to paint it pretty, because life isn’t easy, it’s a series of growth-enabling challenges and yes, we do live in a sin-marred world with sin-scarred bodies. But you don’t need breakthrough on your challenges, you need to grow through your challenges–or not, that’s up to you. But your challenges are too important to use to discredit the value and inheritance you already have in Father’s house.

So bottom line? Stop waiting for what you’ve been hoping for and try this thought on for size: Father has already given it to you – you just have to know it’s really yours. All the breakthrough you’ll ever need happened at the cross and Jesus cried out with his dying breath, ‘It is finished.‘ You can’t get any more complete than that. So come on into the house, join the party, because it’s all for you, too.

Wheat and Tares

[Why Bad Things Still Happen]

 

I was weeding my garden (the never-ending task) a week or so ago, engrossed in the fact that my weed harvest was going to be an on-going supply all summer long (if only the things I planted thrived so well!) when I had a small epiphany:

Weed harvest.

And what did that remind me of?

24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” – Matthew 13:24-30

On just a side note, I love that question, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field?” Like ‘Uh, yeah – of course I did – an enemy did this.’ God is still good. 

Now, I don’t know much about wheat, but when plants are as small as mine are, if you aren’t very careful pulling weeds around them, you’re gonna pull up or damage the roots of the very plants you’re trying to cultivate – imagine the trouble even more-so in a field of wheat; there are no rows or spaces, just wheat and weeds as close as grass.

I’ve heard that parable over and over all my life. I’ve also heard people rail on and on with endless reasoning why bad things happen, and that argument in my experience generally comes down to the reasoning that God somehow can’t or won’t interfere with the world–that freedom of choice or divine justice or some other part of his otherwise flawless character keeps him from stopping bad things happening to good people.

But I’ve never heard them both in the same argument; the matter is much simpler. The fact is, there’s bad in the world; it isn’t what God intended for us. There are tares mixed with the wheat.

I used to think of the tares and wheat solely to represent people, but I hold a view a little less narrow now. It’s a minor detail but I say this because I don’t believe that peoples’ destinies are nearly as set as the destinies of weeds – Jesus changes people. In this context I think of tares simply as general evil–sin–in the world.

So you want to know why bad things still happen to good people? Because there are still weeds out there. They’re so ingrained into this world and the people that if God were to uproot all sin the whole place would be overturned. Bad things are still allowed not because God is weak or his hands are tied by our personal choices but because the final purge of sin will mean the destruction of everything and including any chance for anyone else to be changed by what Jesus did. So until the end when the harvest is at it’s ripest and the wheat can be sorted out of the mess, we’re going to have to grow around the tares.

And the best part? This is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven; God isn’t just about annihilation – the flood wasn’t his modus operandi – he’s about saving every. last. one. that can be saved and restored to the Kingdom. Awesome. And that’s the Kingdom we belong to.

 

The Lord is My Portion

I’ve been ‘stuck’ in Deuteronomy for a while.

I say stuck because Deuteronomy is a pretty thick book, especially in the Old King James, but actually I’ve learned a lot through it. You may recall Giants in the Land, which was the first portion that really stood out from the passages and passages of law-in-review. And I say review but really I think the book of Deuteronomy was really Moses’ re-clarification – a ‘here’s what you should do in this instance’ reference for the leaders and judges after him.

But another point that caught my attention was this: multiple times Moses reiterates an arrangement God made for the Levites – their whole tribe is to get no inheritance in the Promised Land (didn’t you ever notice there is no place called ‘Levi’ ever talked about in Old Testament history/geography?) They’re going into a Promise they have no part in among all their brothers; and why? It almost sounds like they got slighted. But we get the explanation for this in chapter 18:

18 “The priests, the Levites—all the tribe of Levi—shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and His portion. Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the Lord is their inheritance, as He said to them.

“And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, whether it is bull or sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain and your new wine and your oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons forever. – Deuteronomy 18:1-5

So here’s the thing. The Levites didn’t get any land because they were called by God to be priests. Instead, God gave them himself as an inheritance. Boom, #howdoyoulikethatReuben? Just kidding, but the Levites didn’t just get encumbered with the task of ministry work to an entire nation, they were also given the promise that God would take special care of them; they didn’t have to worry about land, or money, or even food, because God arranged it all.

So you know what I immediately think of?

The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
“You [Prophesying of Jesus] are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek. – Psalm 110:4

And then…

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,[a] if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”[b]

Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,[c]

“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,”[d]

and

“A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense.”[e]

They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. – 1 Peter 2:1-10

The Levites were chosen by God for the Old Covenant priesthood, but when the covenants changed, so did the priesthood; the Levitical line was fulfilled by John the Baptist, and the New Covenant priesthood, the order of Melchizedek, was begun by Jesus, God-with-us Emmanuel, who is forever a priest at the right hand of God the Father after shedding his own blood before the Father to buy us out of bondage – I can’t think of anything else when I start remembering that sacrifice for me.

I don’t know who Peter was writing to – I assume to Jewish Christians, since the Jewish church was Peter’s particular calling – but I don’t think it matters; we’re all the body of Christ, and now, like the Levites, we’re called to a royal priesthood. Which means two things: inheritance (royal) and intercessory ministry (priesthood) – like the Levites we’ve been tasked as ministers, not to one nation but to all nations. But we’ve also been adopted and called into royalty, as sons and daughters of God. Some might call that recompense – I just call it an undeniable, unquenchable joy that can’t be hidden or kept inside. The real call is to step into inheritance with Jesus; the natural result is a desire to minister to the nations.We weren’t called to minister merely out of desire for payment or reward – God didn’t hold back the Levites’ inheritance to get them to serve him – but in full confidence that there will always be enough for me no matter how much of myself I give. No worries, no concerns, because the LORD is my portion!

Giants in the Land

Do you know what the Israelites were doing for nearly 40 years after getting to the Promised Land?

I thought I knew, too. Wandering in the wilderness, right? Well, not exactly.

At the beginning of Deuteronomy, the Israelites have finished their 40-year excursion through the wilderness, they’ve defeated their first enemies just outside of the Promised Land and Moses stands up for a speech:

“Not another speech, Moe,” someone groans.

Moses summarizes for us what happened from the time of God’s first command to enter the Promised Land while the Israelites were camped in Horeb, to present. I’ll summarize the summary: the Israelites left Horeb and came to the land of the Amorites–not yet even to the Promised Land. The people said “Hey, let’s send scouts ahead to check this place out!” (1:19-22) And as you’ll remember, Moses sent twelve scouts into the land who came back reporting that the land was wonderful! But there’s a catch – the cities are strong and tall, the enemies are numerous, and the sons of giants called the Anakim are in the land. (1:29)

So the Israelites rebelled and refused to go up into the land. And God made an oath that their entire generation would lose their inheritance in the land – when the people heard that they said, “Okay, we’ll go up!” but in spite of God’s warning not to go they went anyway and suffered crushing defeat at the hands of their enemies and were driven back by the Amorites. (1:34-46) And that brings us to the beginning of their 4o-year detour in the wilderness.

“Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness of the Way of the Red Sea, as the Lord spoke to me, and we skirted Mount Seir for many days.

“And the Lord spoke to me, saying: ‘You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward. And command the people, saying, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. Therefore watch yourselves carefully. Do not meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as one footstep, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall buy food from them with money, that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink. -Deuteronomy 2:1-6

“Okay, that’s interesting, but what’s your point, Mo?”

That’s just stop number one. After going through Seir they traveled to Moab:

“And when we passed beyond our brethren, the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir, away from the road of the plain, away from Elath and Ezion Geber, we turned and passed by way of the Wilderness of Moab.Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.’” -Deuteronomy 2:8-9

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Moses explains with an aside:

10 (The Emim had dwelt there in times past, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. 11 They were also regarded as giants, like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim. 12 The Horites formerly dwelt in Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the Lord gave them.) -Deuteronomy 2:10-12

Ooh, wait a minute; something important is going on here.

God is taking his people on a tour of the lands he’s delivered to their relatives from their own giants. And there’s one more stop – Ammon:

13 “‘Now rise and cross over the Valley of the Zered.’ So we crossed over the Valley of the Zered. 14 And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the midst of the camp until they were consumed.

16 “So it was, when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, 17 that the Lord spoke to me, saying: 18 ‘This day you are to cross over at Ar, the boundary of Moab. 19 And when you come near the people of Ammon, do not harass them or meddle with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the descendants of Lot as a possession.’” -Deuteronomy 2:13-19

Moses goes on to explain that this was also a land known to have been possessed by giants called the Zamzummim prior to the Ammonites’ entrance – people who were ‘as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim’.

It’s like God said, “Okay – you don’t trust that I’ll deliver this land to you? You don’t think I’m big enough for your giants? Come along, I’ll show you the promised lands I delivered to your cousins from enemies and giants as numerous and big as the ones in the land I gave you–no you can’t stay here, this is their inheritance, you’ve got your own to possess.”

The Horites, the Emim and the Zamzummim, and God delivered their lands to Abraham’s descendants for an inheritance – and now it was time for the Israelites to go take their own land. And you know something? Maybe they were all fired up by seeing all the land God gave to their relatives, and hearing the histories of God driving out giants, but when God told them it was finally time to go and take over the Promised Land, they went whooping and hollering for war.

The rest of chapter two tells the story of their first victory; God sent them back to the Amorites with instructions to destroy them. Moses, as he had done for all the lands they had traveled through during the last 38-some-years, sent messengers ahead to King Sihon offering to purchase food, water, and to pass peacefully through the land. But Sihon came out in force because God ‘hardened his spirit’, and the Israelites utterly defeated him; no city too strong, no army too large. It must have been a big morale boost after that 40-year walk-of-shame.

So what do they do next? In chapter 3 they go on up the road to Bashan, ruled by a giant king named Og who sleeps on a 13.5-foot-by-6-foot bed of iron; he’s big, he’s the last of the giants in the region, and he’s the first giant the Israelites defeat: they completely annihilate his kingdom. And finally, the Israelites can go up, cross the Jordan river and enter their Promised Land. Boom. God wins again.

I’ve been feeling pretty burned out in the wilderness. I heard an expression recently that went along the lines of, ‘you’re either in the wilderness, on your way into the wilderness, or on your way out of the wilderness’. It was in the context of the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness. Because I used to think that God sent the Israelites to just sort of aimlessly wander in the wilderness, I never realized that maybe, God had something for me to see there–something that might give me the key to fighting some giants.

I said the wilderness might hold keys for fighting your giants.

So why a wilderness? I don’t know. But what I do know–even if I don’t feel it–is that it isn’t a place where God is absent; he’s right there in my stubbornness, showing me the promises he’s come through on.

Learning Lowliness [Philippians 4:13]

There is something profoundly holy about learning to be lowly.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

– Philippians 4:11-13

I don’t know about you, but I always used to think Paul was talking about high and lofty things – great things, super-natural super-human things. And I’ve thought that all my life–up to a minute ago when I read the context to that infamously quoted verse, Philippians 4:13.

See, the thing is, Paul wasn’t talking about moving mountains.

Go back and read verse 12 again:

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

‘Oh yeah, and I can do all things through Christ.’

Well, all what things did he say? How to be abased. How to abound. How to be full, and empty, to abound, and to suffer.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Jesus can empower me to see miracles happen right before my eyes – I’ve seen them happen. But there’s something profoundly comforting about knowing this: that I can be empty by the power of Jesus. I can be hungry by the power of Jesus (I don’t say because of). I can suffer by the strength of Jesus.

It’s about rest again. Paul learned to be content no matter what the external circumstances. Why? Because he knew that Jesus is enough strength for anything. I said Jesus is enough! I can trust absolutely that no matter what, whether I’m hungry, whether I’m so full I don’t want to see another bite of food again, whether I have enough money to sow into others or I’m just barely scraping myself by, I can do all things through Christ who is my strength. I can rest and be content in his love no matter what circumstance. And you know what the first thing that came to mind was when this all hit me?

Maybe Jesus wants me to learn how to ‘do’ abased in the strength of him.

What if there is more blessing for me in learning how to be content in suffering by Jesus’ strength than there is in learning how to move a mountain? Or do you think it could be possible there’s something profoundly holy about learning to be lowly? Maybe this is the next step in learning to rest – learning to rest in the strength of Jesus anywhere; hungry, fed, rich or poor.

Jesus, teach me how to rest in your strength no matter what circumstance you send me into.

Unconditionally

I wrote this some time back intentionally as the fourth edition to my series of posts on Ephesians, but it stands alone now more than ever before because over the last couple of weeks I’ve been very strongly convicted. When I originally wrote this, I had no idea what I was saying, the burden that I was implying. And I knew something was missing, it didn’t feel right, so I didn’t post it then. But I’m starting to get the picture, so with present additions included, here you go:

Have you ever noticed how there’s a general tendency for men to jump onto the bandwagon of Ephesians 5 for their God-given right to respect and admiration? Even the ensuing ‘Husbands, love your wives,’ doesn’t always do much to squelch the immediate ego-inflation, if he ever gets down to that portion.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. -Ephesians 5:22-27

But here’s the thing, men. It’s better than that. The role of ‘husband’ is so much more full than a right to have your household in complete submission to you – as I’m only just beginning to learn. Let’s continue through the rest of the chapter:

28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body,[d] of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”[e] 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. -Ephesians 5:28-33

You probably already know marriage is a picture of Jesus’ relationship to the Church – the Bible is full of imagery to this extent. But Paul bold-faces it here; the husband’s relationship to his wife should be as Christ’s to the Church–to you. That means everything we’ve talked to up to this point regarding relationship with Jesus also has a marriage counter-part.

The husband’s role is completely selfless to his wife; all she is directed to do is submit to him. But to him Paul lays the complete responsibility of selfless, life-disregarding care; he is her glory, sanctification and cleansing, and he is to love her as his own body.

But here’s the bigger picture again: the Church is Jesus’ bride. He loves and cherishes her as his own body, and literally she is his body – He and she are one flesh. And you are the Church. Grace takes on a new meaning because yes, the Church submits and respects Jesus (and rightly so) but Jesus takes the far bigger burden on himself of taking care of the Church.

I’m having a difficult time finding the right thing without sounding like I’m just parroting Paul but guys! Your experience of Jesus is meant to flow out from you onto your wives! How can you be bitter or angry with her (I’ve [past] been taking in this implication myself over the last few days) when Jesus has never been bitter or angry with you? There is no way your sacrifice for her will ever be as great as His for His Bride.

I [present] started to get a real revelation of this around a week or a week and a half ago, and it wasn’t a light thing as Father began opening my eyes and heart up to it. He began showing me moment-to-moment that the grace he shows for me I am so very incapable of extending onto my bride; he is continually patient in my anger, gracious to my shortcomings, faithful to all of my hidden, developing future potential, and he loves it. He loves it. I don’t just mean he loves me I mean he loves loving me in that totally 100% for-me way. But me for my wife? Let’s just say dating-to-present we have a shadowed history. To be completely honest for just a minute, I’ve reevaluated my marriage increasingly and particularly over the last two years, particularly in the last six months, we’ve been so close to breaking point. And God through it all just says “Come under the shadow of my wing,” but I’m just up in here saying “What about me?”

Well, what about me? It’s not about me, it’s about her. 

“But Jesus she did this and this and she has this problem and she always brings such-and-such up–“

“Son, my love for you never falters.”

“But she doesn’t deserve unfailing love, how–“

“Neither did you.”

” … But I don’t have that kind of love, Jesus … “ 

It’s not a debate anymore in my heart who’s right or wrong. The debate is, am I going to love like Jesus, or am I going to love like I think? And let me tell you I can make things pretty good if I love like I think I should, for a while, on the surface. But the reality is I just don’t represent love right because there’s still a little bit of dead man trying to take control of me and sometimes [read: most of the time] he wins.

I can’t love my wife like Jesus loves me and the rest of his bride and let that dead man live.

I said I can’t let that dead man live.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

So Jesus, fill me with you. Cover me with your love. Don’t let anything come out of me that isn’t your love. I’m saying no to the dead man, and yes to you, the LIVING MAN. 

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Staying Rooted is Hard [Ephesians Part III]

(But it’s not).

Something interesting to me is that now Paul gets into the heavy stuff. He’s talked about salvation and righteousness for everyone freely through Jesus; he’s talked about how the church functions to build itself up into the Bride, and now he starts talking about living right, walking the walk. From the end of chapter 4 through a fair chunk of chapter 5 (and really, on to the end of the letter,) he’s talking about right living. Let’s pick up in chapter 5:

Walk in Love

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know,[a] that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.

Walk in Light

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit[b] is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

Walk in Wisdom

15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. -Ephesians 5:1-21

There’s three parts to this: Love, Light and Wisdom. I used to think (a long time ago) that living right was totally up to me and that I was responsible for being sinless at least post-cross, if not pre-cross as well. What I didn’t get then was that being sinless was a free gift, and just because Jesus expects us now to use the gift He gave us doesn’t mean it isn’t still a free gift.

Let me explain with each part.

Look at verses 1-7; it’s about walking in love, and I believe it comes first not only because love is most important, but because everything else flows naturally out of love, which is why it’s so important in the first place! But it comes with a stern warning; if you live in disobedience you welcome the wrath of God. Of course, by now Paul’s talking to more than day-old Christians; we all want to live and act totally in love, right? But the best news is, if you understand what Jesus did, love is a natural response.

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 

I don’t mean it’s a natural response like you ought to love because he did – I mean it’s a natural response like you can’t help but love like he did because you understand what his love did for you! Boom! The goodness of God does more than lead men to repentance; it leads them to act in the nature they were created in – love.

And again concerning walking in the light it’s the same story; we desire to walk in the light because Jesus’ light is burning in us. This isn’t a stern warning, it’s a somber reminder of the power living and creating right desire in us. We can live more and more purely daily by opening up new places to that light. And it isn’t a matter of inviting his light in all over again every day, but simply waking up and enjoying the Son-rise.

And finally, walk in wisdom. Be wise. How? By allowing the Holy Spirit access continually through thanksgiving, through worship.

“So,” you might ask, “What does this look like, exactly – on a day-to-day basis?”

Well, in my life it looks like remembering how far the love of Jesus went for me, reveling in that and allowing my love for other people to well out of that experience. It looks like continually going to God any time I feel that I’ve started to move toward darker corners of my mind, the continual reminder that that old man is just itching to get his hands on my will again. It means purposely praising – usually in the form of singing to him quietly throughout the day. This is all a part of what I usually refer to as staying rooted. 

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s not that easy.

Yes! I want to love; more than anything else the continual desire to love rarely goes very far from me and it always brings me back because I remember why that desire is in me. I want to live right, I want to do right, I want to walk in the light and have a perfect life and not give in to temptations and always praise Jesus and worship Elohim Jehovah and never have a sin-natured thought or motive ever again and it’s a daily battle between desires!

But the thing is, it’s natural.

And since Jesus ransomed you, it’s more natural than sin-natural; the right side is winning your heart! You have good, Godly desires because you live in him and he is steadily living more and more in you! And as soon as I let in to those desires, my whole world flips right back around because I am rooted, and Jesus is still my Savior King.

The lie I think people (and I certainly do, too) is that after salvation, living right somehow becomes our responsibility to do. But the truth is, it’s only our responsibility to keep inviting, and then the Holy Spirit brings life and power and desire and Jesus’ very nature into our core being and now you tell me how you can stop yourself from doing right when you’ve got that living inside you!

I’d like to take a moment to bring to light something that seems to be a big fear to many people opposing the grace movement; that if we allow grace in excess in the church, sin will abound. And what’s important about the order here is that all this living right stuff already has the backing of free righteousness and a Gifted Church. Power and accountability, which brings with it the opportunity for encouragement from people walking the same road we are. Because the provision is there it makes so much more sense that Paul has said all this almost in an overtone of high expectation; not because he’s afraid the Ephesians are going to start to slip in greasy grace, but because he’s just finished showing them that they have the grace, power and the new-man nature from Jesus to live like this!

I don’t know what the Gifted Church’s role looks like here, but I’ll tell you this; there shouldn’t have to be this insecurity regarding grace in the corporate church.

So yes…staying rooted is hard. But when you get salvation, and when you get where the Church can come into play… I can tell you plainly it takes such a load off my shoulders to know that I don’t have to worry so hard about trying to be right, because living right is less about trying to change what you do naturally because of what you know about Jesus, and more about letting what you know about Jesus naturally change what you do.

Living Church [Ephesians Part II]

It might make you happy to know this might stretch out a while longer – the more I give opportunity for Jesus to teach me, the more I see and learn where before I only saw one thing – he opens my eyes to the murals all around me.

So this one’s about Church.

I don’t mean like that place you go once a week (but maybe you’ve been reading here long enough to know that already) but the living organism that is every person across the globe that lives in Christ Jesus the King. And maybe this will help me answer the yet-unanswered question of, “how do you live Church?”

The first three chapters of Ephesians follow salvation (particularly for the Gentiles whom this letter is addressed); dwelling in Christ and growing steadily toward a Christ-indwelling in each of us. Paul has taught us how to grow in Christ – but what about the Church? What does it look like to grow in Christ–with other people? Let’s pick up in Ephesians 4:

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you[a] all.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:

“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”[b

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ  – Ephesians 4:1-12

I noticed something interesting when I read this part in the King James – the punctuation. The verses following verse eleven are written as a list. I’ll show you what I’m talking about:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. – Ephesians 4:11-16

Okay, I know; so it’s a list. Big deal, right? Probably. But maybe not, because any other time I read this I got this vague picture of the giftings (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers) being there in the body, but the real business is being done by Jesus. Well yes…but no! It’s written in a sort of cause-and-effect list-format, which means you can take each point back to the initial statement which is, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”

Gave them for what?

First Point – 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Second Point – 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Third Point – 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

Fourth Point – 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

I’m all good up until verse 16, and then it messes with me a little. See, I always thought verse 16 was still talking about Jesus, but if this is really meant to be a direct list of affects the Giftings have on the body, then verse 16 is a whole new point and the whom is still the Giftings – us. Suddenly it’s not a vague picture of all the wonderful things Jesus does for us, but instead a flooding mural of all the wonderful things Jesus wants to do for us through others. And through us for others.

And I know what you might be thinking – it’s the same thing that runs through the back of my mind every now and then: newer, more ‘relevant’ and easier to understand translations don’t read the same way; it’s just an archaic form that wasn’t really meant to be that way.

Well damn you, Devil. Because you know what? It doesn’t matter if it reads differently in other translations; there are so many different ways to look at translations alone let alone translations of the Bible. What does matter is that where before there was a vague picture, now there’s a purpose.

A purpose for the church.

It’s a statement; Jesus is giving these gifts to you, and here’s how you can use them as a community, as a people. Suddenly it’s so much more than just about how corporate church government works to further the work of Jesus in the body; it’s about Jesus giving a gift to every person to use to reach out to every other person to bring the Body into perfect oneness, grown up into Christ. I don’t have words yet for how amazing this picture is, I’m just reveling in it and trying to throw out adjectives that match what I’m seeing; it’s a glorious Church.

So how do you live Church? Well, to be honest, I still can’t answer that. But I have a better picture of how Jesus would have it – living, breathing, growing in Him by the tugging of his Spirit on each heart for each other member. The most fitting thing I can point you to is what Paul pointed the Ephesians to next: actively allowing the New Man to be alive in you.

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of[d] the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:17-24

Paul’s giving them some practical advice; ‘Don’t live like everybody else anymore,’ he says, ‘You know better now!’ 

I think the problem the corporate church today is having is ‘Well, how do we keep people on the straight and narrow?’ and maybe it’s a noble gesture but here’s something to think about: Paul taught the gifts, and then reminded the Ephesians to choose daily to act differently, to disregard that old sinful nature and put on the New Man and act in His character. The thing is, when you get your mind renewed, you remember Jesus’ desires in you; you remember His nature in you, and you are the new man. The place of us as the Church is to support this process in everyone around us, and corporate church gets this. But what they might miss is that Jesus orchestrates and performs it individually, and more importantly, that Jesus can be trusted to orchestrate and perform it in the hearts if everyone who lets him.

And then we take this New-Man-Nature to the Body:

25 Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,”[e] for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and do not sin”:[f] do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32

So the Church body is gifted to build us up and on an individual basis the more we choose to be rooted in Jesus and live in His nature, the more His gift comes alive in us and in turn we build the Body. It is a beautiful and intricate dance from individual to community to individual to community and each continues giving in to the wellness of the whole living Body. The place where it all might come down so easily is when we stop trusting the Spirit and His gifts in each other.

Jesus, lead us into all truth – together. Thank-you for the gifts you’ve given to each of us that you would flow in us and through us. Renew us, continue to grace us with kindness and tenderheartedness for each other that we would have hearts for each other and to bring the church together into perfection, a Glorious Bride. Teach us to know and trust your Spirit in the people around us who also seek to know you more.

So are you still with me? Let’s build a Church!