Grace Opportunities

Well this is the time of day when you ought to be getting excited–I know I am, it’s peak-thinking time! Alright, alright, most of you are probably off in the land of Nod by now and I can’t say I’ve had too many fantastic thoughts running through my mind any time of day for the last couple months. Yeah that’s right, the last couple months. I’ve been channeling most of my creative energy into drawing. I say ‘most’ but I haven’t had much energy to begin with–I guess I need to get back into the Word!

Alright, so enough with the prelude, something’s been tossing around my head today and it all came together when I went out for coffee with a friend. It’s roll-up-the-rim time at Tim Hortons and as we were getting ready to go we took a look to see what we’d got. He didn’t get anything, but I got a free coffee. And I shrugged and threw it out.

Now I’m going to stop my soul-thought right now, because in that moment and even as I reflect back now all my mind wants to do is make up excuses as to why I didn’t cash in on my free drink. “Well I never go to Tim Hortons anyway / I don’t play roll up the rim seriously (does that even make sense?) / I’ve never done this before, what the heck to I do with it?!” Those were the kinds of things running through my mind. But as I was reflecting back on it afterwards I had a thought. I don’t cash in on most of the opportunities God gives me–and my soul makes excuses for me to feel okay about it. How many of you can say “Amen” to that?

How many can but don’t want to admit they can say “Amen” to that?

That’s alright, because I’m not here to shame anyone about their shortcomings. They’re my shortcomings too. And this is so ridiculous! I mean, who doesn’t like free stuff? I know I do. So what is it that stops me from receiving from God? He’s there going “Hey, free coffee right here, I got your free coffee” and I’m like “Psh. I don’t drink coffee, dude.” And He says “Well alright, I’ve got a free hot chocolate right here (though I really think you should try the coffee!)” and I’m like “No thanks dude, I don’t need that.”

And I already know, deep down, why I don’t take opportunity. I’m afraid.

Fear is a fine paradox; it drives us. But it doesn’t take us anywhere. It might take you backwards, back to where you were last comfortable. But never forward. So my soul makes up all kinds of fine excuses as to why. “Oh, I don’t want to make a scene and look foolish / I’m not comfortable doing that / What if that’s just my own thoughts I’m hearing / I don’t want to intrude on anyone / What if I miss it!?”

What if you miss a Godly opportunity?

Peter just about missed out on an opportunity. Grab your Bibles and take a look at John 13 (I’m going to be reading from the New King James tonight):

13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Now let’s give Simon a break – he didn’t understand what was going on. Jesus knew that. But if Peter didn’t get it with Jesus kneeling right in front of him with nothing but a towel on ready to wash the filth from his feet (and I’ve heard feet weren’t a pretty sight back in those days), how much more can we expect to understand everything God is longing to do for or give us? Peter flat-out said no.

But oh, the grace of Jesus. He knew pebbles don’t move anywhere fast on their own.

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” John 13:8b

And then it clicked. Or maybe it didn’t – I don’t know if Peter immediately understood it all – but he trusted Jesus, and if Jesus says ‘you won’t have any part with Me unless…’ then you better believe Peter’s gonna make that ‘unless’ happen in a heartbeat a thousand times over if his body will handle the heat! Alright, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but I see Peter as a pretty radical guy, and it shows all so clearly in his response in verse 9:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

Peter was all over that thing. I don’t know what made him say no–maybe he didn’t think Jesus ought to be doing that, maybe he was offended. He didn’t understand what was going on, but Jesus knew, and when Peter realized that his relationship with Jesus was jeopardized you better believe he changed his mind right quick and then some! And Jesus was like “Whoa, slow down dude, we’re still cool if I just get your feet from now on.” Man, Jesus and Peter were tight.

There’s something deeper I want to explore here, along the same lines as what I began with but a little bit deeper. See, I don’t believe Jesus was just telling Peter about physical cleanliness or servitude, I think Jesus had something more in mind, which he alluded to in verse 10:

“He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean … “

This is new covenant stuff right here, and it’s something that I’ve seen people have a hard time grasping as they’re transitioning from old to new covenant thinking. See, Peter had been with Jesus throughout His entire ministry. Luke’s account of their meeting has Jesus just striding up and saying, “Hey guy, let me get in your boat and push me out into the water so I can preach to all these people here,” and afterward, “Hey guy, take your boat out and throw the nets in the water.” And Peter’s response? “We worked hard all night and didn’t catch anything–but if you say so, I’ll do it.

What? Just like that? Yeah, really. Check it out in Luke 5, cause I’m just going to paraphrase this. And by the way, when Peter’s nets filled with so many fish he had to call for help to bring them all in, he repented right there. He said “Lord, leave me, I’m too great a sinner for you to be around!” And Jesus was just like “Don’t be afraid Dude, from now on you’re gonna be fishing for people!” and just like that, Peter was hooked; as soon as they landed he and James and John who were his fishing buddies left everything to follow Jesus:

 1 So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.        

                      – Luke 5:1-11

Faith in Jesus followed by repentance for sin. That’s how the new covenant works. That’s how sinners become saints, disciples, set apart. See, I think this moment is what Jesus was alluding to as he was preparing to wash Peter’s feet, because this is the moment when everything changed for Peter. This is the moment when he repented, and because of his faith in Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – God counted him righteous from that moment on. He got his bath among the miracle catch. And because God considered him righteous, the only further cleansing Peter needed was his feet–the part of him that connects him with the world, that place in him where the flesh still has a foothold (I’m just laying the heat on the puns tonight oh boy!). Because the truth is, all Peter’s sins were forgiven by faith when he repented, and in deed at the cross when Jesus paid for everyone’s sins – past, present and future. His future sins were forgiven because he was going to sin in the future–until Jesus comes back to deal with the world there will still be sin trying to gain a foothold in your life. The only thing left for Peter was to remain in relationship with Jesus, and to let Jesus do whatever cleansing was needed. Notice, Jesus washed Peter’s feet for him. Peter didn’t even have to repent of his dirty feet, Jesus just did it, because Peter already repented that day in the boat. And Jesus didn’t give him a full re-baptism either, even at Peter’s request. It wasn’t needed!

How many of you believe your future sins are already forgiven? How many of you don’t think that could be right? In perspective, how many of you think that Jesus must suffer death again and again each time you sin, so that your sins can be forgiven? Does that seem right? See, when Jesus gave up his spirit he said, “It is finished.” Either he paid for all your sins, or he didn’t pay for any. Either he paid for the sins of the future, or your sins aren’t covered by his blood. Think about it; you are now 2000-some years into Jesus’ future; if Jesus’ sacrifice didn’t cover future sins, not even your past sins would be now covered by the blood of Jesus. But Jesus suffered for all your sins–past, present and future. I cannot emphasize this enough; all your sins are forgiven.

BAM.

But some will pass up such an opportunity of grace just as I threw out that free drink, or pass up the opportunities God brings me daily. They will make excuses, saying that they have to repent again before their sins will be forgiven. Brother let me tell you, after you repent the first time for your sins, repentance is no longer an issue. I’m not advocating a once-saved-always-saved attitude, don’t misunderstand, but like Peter, you don’t have to turn again from your sin – you already abhor sin! That’s why it’s on your conscience now! You don’t have to have your whole body washed because your spirit is now the Spirit of Christ. All that you now need is to accept and trust the active work of the Spirit of God in your life. Your body is already clean, it’s just your feet that are a little messy, and that’s okay because Jesus is ready and waiting, kneeling at your feet to wash the daily grime off. Keep saying you’re sorry; everyone needs to hear and say that more often. But know that your sins are already forgiven, and it’s not about what you do anymore, it’s about who you know, and who you know will change what you do. Who you know will change that soul-man to desire to do the things that please God instead of doing things against God.

So here’s your opportunity. Will you take it? It’s not about you anymore, it’s about Jesus.
Jesus will deal with the sin in your flesh – just let him wash your feet.

Advertisements

$3.80 and the Goodness of God

I was working on my budget on Friday when I came up short. Exactly $6.60 was missing. I was baffled, because I could not account for that extra $6.60-expenditure anywhere. Even after I added in the missing A&W receipt (which I had to calculate the price of using nothing but all my other receipts and change – thank goodness I save all the change rather than reusing it), even after I included that it still wouldn’t balance, but now I had exactly $3.80 extra. I tried to reconcile that number; it just didn’t make sense – it’s just too small a number to be a mix-up in bi-monthly grocery receipts. Finally I just sat back, completely confounded. And then I thought of something.

What if God gave me $3.80–just to mess up my budget so much that I would never be able to explain it any other way?

Of course, my inner-cynic went wild at that–

“God wouldn’t do that, especially not to you,”
“You probably just missed it in your calculations, you should do them again,”
“That’s a dumb idea, why would God do that?”

But I looked back over all my figures and $3.80 just didn’t fit anywhere. It couldn’t be in the cash since there’s nothing smaller than a $5 bill there, it couldn’t be in the change jar because I’d already calculated out the change to get the exact price on the missing A&W receipt, and it certainly couldn’t be in the bank because I can look back on the account for as long as I’ve had it and see that everything is accounted for. Everything is accounted for and I still have $3.80 more than I should. What’s going on?

So despite my inner-cynic, I dropped an extra $3.80 into an empty income field on my budget. And I laughed.

Why? Because even if it’s just $3.80, it’s $3.80 more than I had at the beginning of the month, and God was there in that moment saying, “Look son, I’m taking care of your finances, and the more you entrust to me, the more I will entrust to you.”

Someone said recently about tithing, “You can live better off 90% than off 100%”, and I can testify to that. Yes, I “tithe”. It’s not 10%, it’s actually a little more (I haven’t done any precise calculations, I just set aside so much). Last month I got a rather large bill in the mail, but in spite of all the expenses, I still somehow had $200 left over which I took to the grocery store for a good restocking of my shelves. Between tax returns, free groceries and money multiplying to meet every need, I have more than enough on my eighty-something-percent. And I can’t help but see the providence of God for a cheerful giver living with open hands rather than clenched fists.

Because I believe God rewards the good steward, and entrusts more to him. And I continue to be amazed by even the smallest show of His goodness–even if it’s “only” $3.80.

Grace for John de Stogumber

I might not have mentioned that I didn’t read the preface.

That’s right, I hadn’t forgotten Joan of Arc just yet! I’m not going to take any time giving you an overview of the story of Joan of Arc, you can find that on Wikipedia. I am going to share some of the profound things I took away, particularly from the character of John de Stogumber. But first, a small quotation from the Epilogue (not necessarily a spoiler, but you’ll appreciate it far more after having read the play yourself, which you can do here):

CAUCHON [kneeling to her(Joan)] The girls in the field praise thee; for thou hast raised their eyes; and they see that there is nothing between them and heaven.

DUNOIS. [kneeling to her] The dying soldiers praise thee, because thou art a shield of glory between them and the judgment.

THE ARCHBISHOP [kneeling to her] The princes of the Church praise thee, because thou hast redeemed the faith their worldlinesses have dragged through the mire.

WARWICK [kneeling to her] The cunning counsellors praise thee, because thou hast cut the knots in which they have tied their own souls.

DE STOGUMBER [kneeling to her] The foolish old men on their deathbeds praise thee, because their sins against thee are turned into blessings.

THE INQUISITOR [kneeling to her] The judges in the blindness and bondage of the law praise thee, because thou hast vindicated the vision and the freedom of the living soul.

THE SOLDIER [kneeling to her] The wicked out of hell praise thee, because thou hast shewn them that the fire that is not quenched is a holy fire.

THE EXECUTIONER [kneeling to her] The tormentors and executioners praise thee, because thou hast shewn that their hands are guiltless of the death of the soul.

CHARLES [kneeling to her] The unpretending praise thee, because thou hast taken upon thyself the heroic burdens that are too heavy for them.

Now, none of those statements won’t be half as profound if you haven’t read the rest of the book to understand everything behind the characters making them (so go read the book!) but I’m just going to focus in on a few of these characters and shed some light on why I found their stories so profound.

Let’s take a look at this John de Stogumber character. Stogumber was zealous for his English blood, for the church and, as he supposed, for God–but mostly for his English blood:

“We were not fairly beaten, my lord. No Englishman is ever fairly beaten.” [p89]

“Englishmen heretics!!! My lord: must we endure this? His lordship is beside himself. How can what an Englishman believes be heresy? It is a contradiction in terms.” [p96]

Scene IV is where we first meet John de Stogumber in a conversation between himself, the Earl of Warwick and Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. The Earl of Warwick comes with a purely political perspective: Joan must be burned. Still, he pities her and claims to hate the severity of burning. He will spare her if he can. Peter Cauchon is of a similar mind but comes with the perspective of The Church; he will strive for Joan’s salvation–but only to save his own soul. Stogumber, on the other hand is adamant; Joan is a sorceress and must die:

“Certainly England for the English goes without saying: it is the simple law of nature. But this woman denies to England her legitimate conquests, given her by God because of her peculiar fitness to rule over less civilized races for their own good. I do not understand what your lordship means by Protestant and Nationalist (terms used in reference to Joan): you are too learned and subtle for a poor clerk like myself. But I know as a matter of plain commonsense that the woman is a rebel; and that is enough for me. She rebels against Nature by wearing man’s clothes, and fighting. She rebels against The Church by usurping the divine authority of the Pope. She rebels against God by her damnable league with Satan and his evil spirits against our army. And all these rebellions are only excuses for her great rebellion against England. That is not to be endured. Let her perish. Let her burn. Let her not infect the whole flock. It is expedient that one woman die for the people. … I would burn her with my own hands.”

Although the motives of Warwick and Cauchon are far from pure themselves, John de Stogumber will have nothing short of a burning. But although even up to her trial and execution poor old John holds to his belief vehemently, something happens when he witnesses the execution of Joan. He gets a hard reality check:

WARWICK. Hallo: some attendance here! [Silence]. Hallo, there! [Silence]. Hallo! Brian, you young blackguard, where are you? [Silence]. Guard! [Silence]. They have all gone to see the burning: even that child.

The silence is broken by someone frantically howling and sobbing.

WARWICK. What in the devil’s name–?

The Chaplain staggers in from the courtyard like a demented creature, his face streaming with tears, making the piteous sounds that Warwick has heard. He stumbles to the prisoner’s stool, and throws himself upon it with heartrending sobs.

WARWICK [going to him and patting him on the shoulder] What is it, Master John? What is the matter?

THE CHAPLAIN [clutching at his hand] My lord, my lord: for Christ’s sake pray for my wretched guilty soul.

WARWICK [soothing him] Yes, yes: of course I will. Calmly, gently–

THE CHAPLAIN [blubbering miserably] I am not a bad man, my lord.

WARWICK. No, no: not at all.

THE CHAPLAIN. I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like.

WARWICK [hardening] Oh! You saw it, then?

THE CHAPLAIN. I did not know what I was doing. I am a hotheaded fool; and I shall be damned to all eternity for it.

WARWICK. Nonsense! Very distressing, no doubt; but it was not your doing.

THE CHAPLAIN [lamentably] I let them do it. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don’t know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then–then–[Falling on his knees] O God, take away this sight from me! O Christ, deliver me from this fire that is consuming me! She cried to Thee in the midst of it: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! She is in Thy bosom; and I am in hell for evermore.

WARWICK [summarily hauling him to his feet] Come come, man! you must pull yourself together. We shall have the whole town talking of this. [He throws him not too gently into a chair at the table] If you have not the nerve to see these things, why do you not do as I do, and stay away?

THE CHAPLAIN [bewildered and submissive] She asked for a cross. A soldier gave her two sticks tied together. Thank God he was an Englishman! I might have done it; but I did not: I am a coward, a mad dog, a fool. But he was an Englishman too.

WARWICK. The fool! they will burn him too if the priests get hold of him.

THE CHAPLAIN [shaken with a convulsion] Some of the people laughed at her. They would have laughed at Christ. They were French people, my lord: I know they were French.

WARWICK. Hush! someone is coming. Control yourself.

– Scene VI, p141-142

De Stogumber had become so wrapped up in his own self-righteousness that he fairly went mad when Joan was nearly acquitted entirely, neither had he been happy to learn that the customary torture was not to be performed on Joan. But when he stood in the crowd as she was burning, his house of cards came collapsing in on him and he saw everything as it was. He saw the Law staring him down and knew he was fit for hell.

And it changed him.
John de Stogumber, chaplain to the cardinal, came to the end of himself, and received a revelation of grace. We find him in the epilogue, a much different man:

The door opens; and an old priest, white-haired, bent, with a silly but benevolent smile, comes in and trots over to Joan.

THE NEWCOMER. Excuse me, gentle lords and ladies. Do not let me disturb you. Only a poor old harmless English rector. Formerly chaplain to the cardinal: to my lord of Winchester. John de Stogumber, at your service. [He looks at them inquiringly] Did you say anything? I am a little deaf, unfortunately. Also a little–well, not always in my right mind, perhaps; but still, it is a small village with a few simple people. I suffice: I suffice: they love me there; and I am able to do a little good. I am well connected, you see; and they indulge me.

JOAN. Poor old John! What brought thee to this state?

DE STOGUMBER. I tell my folks they must be very careful. I say to them, ‘If you only saw what you think about you would think quite differently about it. It would give you a great shock. Oh, a great shock.’ And they all say ‘Yes, Parson: we all know you are a kind man, and would not harm a fly.’ That is a great comfort to me. For I am not cruel by nature, you know.

THE SOLDIER. Who said you were?

DE STOGUMBER. Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.

CAUCHON. Were not the sufferings of our Lord Christ enough for you?

DE STOGUMBER. No. Oh no: not at all. I had seen them in pictures, and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them, as I thought. But it was no use: it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful: oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits sometimes.

-Epilogue, p153-154

“Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.”

Isn’t that so GRACE for you, to say nothing of the purpose of the Law! Stogumber puts it like no other; he did not know what cruelty was until he saw it. Neither do we see sin until the Law reveals it in our lives. And you must see it, and then you are redeemed and saved–grace. And he was. How I wonder what would be the response of the disillusioned could they but receive a revelation like Stogumber’s. Salvation would come to every house.

And then there is his final blessing over Joan: “The foolish old men on their deathbeds praise thee, because their sins against thee are turned into blessings.” And that’s just how incredible our God is, that He could transform all our mistakes to blessing.

And I love this character, because out of all of them, his is the most felt transformation. He stands out to me as the one who was the most changed, and in the end more righteous than all the rest because of his allowance to the grace of God. The man with the greater sin loves that much more after he has received forgiveness, but also the man who is more than passive in his repentance. Many others such as the Earl of Warwick felt justified enough in that The Church made Joan a saint, but not John de Stogumber; he may have become only a gentle, white-haired and possible slightly senile old man, but on the day the fire was lit to burn Joan of Arc, a Holy fire was kindled to consume him also, spirit and soul for a God of unending grace.

Love Notes from Faithful and True

Being yet rather encumbered several years back by a debilitating inability to cook, I one day had made myself a rice casserole. Back then–those were the dark ages–if I had to cook for myself, it was pretty basic, and I held primarily to those staples I could actually make something of, being rice, potatoes and pasta. Needless to say, most meals weren’t too exciting.

Anyway. I had gotten rice pretty well down to a science and after devouring half the pan I reasoned that I would have eating for another meal–hurrah! The next day I spread the rice back out in the dish and put it back in the oven. Once it was heated I commenced to eat the other half of the casserole, roughly the same amount as the day before.

And when I was finished, there was half a pan of casserole left.

In fact, from taking the pan out in the first place I’d noticed a general full-ness going on in my meager lunch plans. So I said–paraphrasing–“Thank-you Jesus for more than enough,” and went on to eat my fill. The day after that I had my third meal of rice casserole.

Yeah, so God might’ve just multiplied my least favorite food.

That’s just the trivial part of the story. I just happened to throw up a comment to my Facebook profile saying something along the lines of “God just multiplied my rice”. It might’ve been more in-depth than that, but you’ve already got the gist.

Someone whom I had respected and looked up to for some time (who will of course, also remain nameless) commented on my post and basically discredited the whole thing with an attempt at a natural explanation. I immediately felt about 2o founds lighter as I heard my respect hit the floor.

Bam.

So that’s what you think of the goodness of God.

I wasn’t devastated. I knew not to put infallible stock into a person. But I was surprised and my eyes were opened; previously if anything I would have expected some positive affirmation from this person in particular. But now I realized something: faith bigger than a mustard seed misses God’s romantic subtleties.

Let me explain why I use this expression.

I looked up to this person because I perceived that they had a lot of faith–and I still believe that they did. They’d been into God’s presence and seen some mighty things–movements of the Spirit, healing, hearts changed.

But where there is no doubt, where there is no weakness, where there are no visible cracks, there is that much less room for the goodness of God to be manifest fully.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t desire faith, strength, or even perfection. I’m not condoning the idea that being under grace, we should sin to increase the power of God. That’s not what I’m getting at.

What I mean is simply this: God spoke to me in a little thing. He wrote a love note to me in rice and veggies and signed it with a wink because just maybe He saw the humor and the irony in me eating rice for three days instead of two, and challenged me to accept His goodness as it comes new every day.

And the miracle was passed over by this one who was more interested in moving mountains. But what they never knew was that it was more than just a little extra rice for another day, it was God showing up in the white noise of my doubts.

I don’t look at people the same way any more. I don’t look up so much to those people that are on the “cutting edge” of Spiritual moves of God. I look at people who hear God in the silent moments, in the small things. I look at the man who said “Lord, I believe; help now my unbelief!” and the man who said “Lord, forgive me, I’m a sinner.” when the “leaders” around him waere standing tall to boast of what they had accomplished for God, to boast in what they were and what they were not. Those Pharisees missed Jesus in the minute things, in the sparrows and the lilies of the field dressed more radiantly than King Solomon. And it seems to me, that people missed when Jesus said “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” for a meal for 5,000 from five loaves and two fish.

Joan of Arc, Peanuts and Other Brief Musings

I just finished reading Bernard Shaw’s play “Saint Joan” based, of course, on the military movement of Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc), her trial and eventual execution as a heretic. While I don’t necessarily know what to make of Catholic theology or Joan’s saintly visitations this isn’t going to be a debate over the authenticity of her spiritual life. I do however, strongly suggest that you read Shaw’s play and perhaps do some research on her life. You can find the play over at Project Gutenberg Australia available freely as an e-book; it’s a short read and took me only a couple days to finish. (To those who know me well enough this is significant because I do not enjoy reading all that much and am not a fast reader). Personally, this book is good enough to have your own physical copy of.

I’ll put it to you straight, because that’s the way I like to hear it best: I have little doubt that God directed me to re-read this book for such a time as this. I don’t have the words now, so take a few days and read it for yourself and perhaps I will comment more fully on it later on; for now I won’t spoil the story by sharing my own experience just yet. So there’s your reading assignment for the week; look forward to another post about it and get to it!

Shifting gears now, someone recently shared a tid-bit of information regarding a man by the name of George Washington Carver. I went searching and pulled up this quote:

“When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.” -George Washington Carver

That prayer resulted in a reputed 300 new uses for peanuts discovered by Carver, revealed to him by God. Cool, right? Well the other day I asked God for my own bit of wisdom; I asked God to reveal some mysteries to me about people. Alright, so maybe I was a little more ambitious that Carver, minus the universe of course, but I’m still shy of King Solomon’s request. (I’m also shy of his calling). Anyway, however the case may be, God didn’t say it was too big. But He did say it would take a while.

Anyway, I forgot all about it till a while later when I nearly banged my hand into my bedroom wall. Instinctively I said outloud, “Ow!

And then the ensuing mental conversation went something like this:

“Why did I say that? That didn’t hurt, I barely even hit the wall!”

It was purely monologue.

And then a thought came to me. In many (probably mundane) instances such as this, I respond before I even have time to think. That isn’t the first time I’ve instinctively said “Ow,” before something hurt, even when it didn’t end up hurting all that much. Huh. Interesting. And then the thought followed through – people respond before they even have time to think. Just think about that.

Alright, so maybe you’re not catching the revelation like I did because God didn’t whisper in your ear, “See? You’re learning mysteries already,” directly afterwards. That’s okay, because it was for me.

But think about this. People respond to things before they even have time to think. We’re so practiced up that it just comes naturally. Sometimes before anything even happens. I was about to say that’s not always bad, but I changed my mind; I think it is always bad. No, it isn’t dangerous to be conditioned to something good, but think about it. I’m still fighting my way out of a performance conditioning–the idea that how well I perform before God matters. It’s Law-based and it’s some dangerous conditioning. Conditioning is at its heart, numbing. We label every situation and circumstance and file it, neatly referenced to what we believe is the appropriate response. But if your filing cabinet is anything like mine, it doesn’t stay organized without constant reevaluation.

The problem with conditioning is that we’re open-minded people–that is, so open-minded that the categorizations we make for our replay-responses become generalized. “Oh, I’ve experienced something like this before, this must be the appropriate response,” followed by a new file in the cabinet under the heading “Bad Reactions, [A-H]”. Our most hardened defenses begin to leap out regularly at any innocent passer-by simply because they looked at us a certain way. We begin simply accepting wrong ideas from others simply because we are trained to accept ideas from sources A B and C but not D. But the reality is that every moment is new, requiring a new response. But with so much reevaluation required to make our conditioning realistic to a world continually spinning, is it worth being conditioned any more?

I came from a system where people were conditioned to accept just about anything as truth if it came from an authoritative figure. No questions asked–and how dare you challenge your elders, they obviously know more than you because they’ve lived longer.

Unless they’ve lived longer under a system of false conditioning.

Because now the system gives authority to people above Biblical truth–or at the very least it gives people the authority to make what they will of the Bible so that it agrees with them instead of the other way around. That’s some dangerous conditioning, because that conditioning is costing them the gospel of grace. So I hit my hand against the wall. But contrary to my conditioning, it didn’t really hurt.

Because do you know what is at the core of conditioning? Wrong believing.

If we let our conditioning lead us, it will feed us a false reality, and we will–even to our own shame and demise–believe it.

Covenants: Revisiting Jesus

There is one point that those teaching old-covenant Law with new-covenant faith (or pseudo-covenant as I like to call it) always come back to, and one which has been the near-forced subject of several discussions I’ve been watching. Sabbath-keeping. Does New Covenant belief continue to observe nine commandments and toss out the sabbath law? Or are all New-Covenant believers liars, cheats, murderers, adulterers, idolaters, rebellious, etc. etc… The sabbath is under attack as they say; not from us, but from their poor understanding of the Word of God.

I’ve heard some argue for the sabbath day by saying that God instituted it at creation, so even if the other nine are done away with as Paul continually preached, the sabbath must still be in effect. Alternatively I’ve heard it argued (and often from the same lips that said the Sabbath was separate from the law) that God gave Adam and Eve the Law–the ten commandments–at the Fall. I haven’t read that anywhere in my Bible and till I do I won’t uphold that belief. At the Fall Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong because they had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In essence, the tree had the same purpose as the Law, but God didn’t hand the ten commandments over to them when He evicted them from the garden. So here’s the question to jump-start our conversation today:

When did Sabbath begin?

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts and to individuals on occasion, the Hebrew word translated as “Sabbath” doesn’t show up in the Old Testament till the Israelites are picking manna in the wilderness. But that’s not a good enough starting point. We have to go back to the beginning, 6 days after God said “Let there be light.” Everyone knows that God rested on the seventh day, and He made it holy. That’s in Genesis 2:2-3:

[2] And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [3] Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  – Genesis 2:3 [NKJV]

But notice something: God didn’t call the seventh day “Sabbath,” the only thing He did was blessed the day and sanctified it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discrediting or undermining what God did here. But this wasn’t an institution of the sabbath day–Adam and Eve didn’t need a sabbath day anyway; God was readily available to them at any moment of any day before the Fall; He created them to live in communion with Him and that is what they had available to them.

So where did this sabbath thing get started? If you’ll remember my previous post, Jesus Christ, Our Sabbath Rest, the Bible first mentions Sabbath in Exodus 16:23-29. You may want to return to that post to refresh on the earliest mentions of the sabbath in the Bible. The second place the sabbath is mentioned is in Exodus 20 when God dishes out the Old Covenant to the Children of Israel (that’s the guy that used to be Jacob).

The thing is, God didn’t make the seventh day at creation to point forward to the sabbath law, He gave the Israelites the sabbath to point back to His rest after creation. I’ll say that again: God’s day of rest after creation didn’t point forward to a sabbath law, the sabbath law pointed back to God’s day of rest–initially, as God declared to Moses in Exodus 31:17:

” ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ” [NKJV]

Further, the sabbath was a testament to God’s ability to sanctify not only a day, but an entire people, as declared in verse 13 of Exodus 31:

” ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.’ ” [NKJV]

Also notice that keeping the sabbath day was a sign between God and the Israelites – a sign of what? A sign that they continued to observe this covenant. God tied observance of the sabbath day right into the core of the Old Covenant, as He also did the ten commandments, which were not just Law, but these were the terms of the covenant.

All this should be merely overview by now if you’ve been studying and believing New Covenant.

I’ll answer the question now: I don’t keep any of the ten commandments, including the fourth one regarding the sabbath day. The Law was not meant for me–or for you.

Before you sharpen your moral pitchforks, no, that doesn’t mean I approve of killing, stealing, lying, covetousness, idolatry, adultery, disrespecting my parents, being rebellious, or any other thing you want to throw in there. Living without the Law does not mean we live lawlessly. Living under the New Covenant rather than the old simply means this: I leave the knowledge of what is good and what is evil up to God, just as Adam and Eve should have done in the garden. I don’t live under the Old Covenant Law because I have the spirit of Jesus Christ in occupation of my life, and He satisfied the requirements of that Law so that all I have to do is believe in Him. It’s as simple as the gospel which Paul and Silas shared with the jailer in Acts 16:29-31; “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your whole household!” I no longer live up to a Law system, but Christ lives in me, and His spirit produces good works in my life – this is what James was talking about when he preached faith+works, because real faith in Jesus leads to an indwelling of the Spirit of God and it is the Spirit of God which causes good works.

But what about the commands of God we see all throughout the new testament, and in the New Covenant? Again this should be review. The Old Covenant “Law” is not the same as the “commands” or “commandments” of God that we see in the New Covenant. Adam and Eve had a command from God: “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, though they did not have the ten commandments (and they were not even in a fallen state at that time). Similarly, we have commandments from God still, and we find the core of God’s commandments in the entirety of 1 John (I recommend reading this book in its entirety), and John brings it down to this:

” [22] And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. [23] And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. [24] Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. ” – 1 John 3:22-24

Golly, that’s all we need! Believe and love. And when we believe, Christ lives in and loves through us. And by the way, Jesus showed in his own life that love was the essence of everything in the Law – not that by loving we live under or keep the Law, but there is no contradiction in the New Covenant with the Old, nor is there contradiction in love with the justice of the Law; I may appear to keep the Law because the Spirit of God produces good things through my life, but I do not keep it nor do I live under it anymore.

So where does that leave the Law? Completely unnecessary. And look at it this way, if you will: the Old Covenant was given specifically to the Israelites–to Jacob’s descendants. It was given exclusively to Jacob’s descendants. God didn’t give the Old Covenant to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, or even Jacob himself, for that matter. God gave it to the Israelites camped around mount Sinai. God gave this covenant to the people who had just come out of a pagan land (Egypt) to show them how sinful they were and to show them that He alone could sanctify them; He had chosen them as a special people, and this covenant He made with them was to show them what perfect righteousness looked like – not to give them a way to enter into perfect righteousness. The whole system pointed towards Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice–Jesus’ sacrifice to sanctify them and be their perfect righteousness. But what about everyone else? Jesus made it clear that everyone could have a piece of the promise when He ministered to a gentile woman–a non-Jew. (You can find that story in Matthew 15:21-28). But the Old Covenant system was exclusive to the Jews; God only signed this contract with the leaders of Israel on mount Sinai back in Exodus 24:9-11. A new covenant had had to be made; not a change in the old system, but a brand new covenant, the agreement between God and Man that every piece of previous history pointed toward. This New Covenant included not only the Israelite people, but everyone! 

So now we get back to the New Covenant. The good news is that Jesus is and has provided everything in and of himself. He was our perfect sacrifice to fulfill the terms of the Old Covenant so that a new covenant could be made. He shed his blood and provided eternal remission of sin. He became our high priest – not under the Levitical priesthood which the Old Covenant operated by, but under the priesthood of Melchizedek – and He guarantees this New Covenant with God (Hebrews 7:15-22).

And getting back to the issue of the sabbath, remember that we learned that to the Israelites, keeping the sabbath represented sanctification by God. But in the New Covenant, Jesus represents our sanctification, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:3,

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” [NKJV]

Wisdom from God. Remember what the tree in the garden of Eden was? Knowledge of good and evil. Now Jesus is not only knowledge for us but wisdom as well! That means if we have Christ in us, we can trust him to be our understanding of right and wrong, and to direct each of us accordingly. Really, it comes down to trust; do you trust Jesus enough to lead you into paths of righteousness?

And further, we find our rest in Jesus as well, as He himself declares in Matthew 11:28-29:

” [28] Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [NKJV]

Life in Christ is abiding–resting–in Christ. That’s what New Covenant is all about, because HE does it all for us.

Still Striving?

I had a bit of a revelation last night.

I have invested an incredible amount of my lifetime into trying to perfect myself. Now, I’m not even talking about all I did when I was younger to impress everyone with my knowledge and ‘spirituality’, that was just a drop in the bucket. No, I’m talking about every moment since then. Even today I’m still investing an incredible amount of time into becoming perfect under my own strength.

And all I can ask myself is, why?

If I really believe everything I’ve been thinking, studying, writing and talking about, and if I really expect anyone to look at me and see evidence of the truth in my life, why am I still working to earn God’s favor? My automatic response is, of course, “Well I guess I better try harder to get this grace-lifestyle-thing down…”

I think Paul knew how I feel…

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

– Romans 7:21-25

I don’t know how to stop striving. But like Paul, I can say, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!” by grace I am made right with God, and He cuts away my sinful nature (Colossians 2:11-13). It is him that works to perfect me for his own glory. And I don’t have to work and worry to sustain anything.

 

And so, the only standard I need to hold myself to is grace. Belief and love. I don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. And so my prayer is this: “Father God, teach me your ways; I accept the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to do Your will.”

 

Living Under Grace – Realtime

This week I have been continually reminded how legalistic and pseudo-covenant my thought process and way of going about things is and has been. That’s right; I haven’t even arrived.

I began talking with an old friend again recently. It has been a number of years since we last talked, and because of a regrettable end with her, for the last several years I’d been rather afraid to speak to her. However, circumstances brought us back into contact recently, and it all came to the surface in me again. And I realized something. For the last six years I’ve been holding on to a guilty conscience. What’s more, for no reason other than my own shame. And it held me back considerably, so that when I began talking with her again, I held a fear complex, feeling as though I needed to make something of myself to be acceptable.

Of course, upon bringing all this up, she was quick to put me at ease, and I was able to put that six-year-old ghost to rest. But it really made me think; if I am under grace, why do I hold on to all these feelings of guilt over things in the past? Even things that shouldn’t be that major, that have likely long-since been forgotten by everyone else involved? The nature of grace says I don’t have to carry feelings of guilt any further than the cross and that “I forgive you, Son.”

But I do. I was brought up in such a way that I do. I learned it, though I never would have known it for what it was. Praise Jesus I am coming out of pseudo-covenant.

I was reminded this morning about something that happened a couple of years ago now. I had just failed big time and I was crying out to God. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went down, but it was something like this:

Me: “God, I need your purity, mine’s no good…”

God: “Of course you do. It isn’t about your purity, it’s about mine.”

Whatever the discourse, God made it clear to me then and there that all I could ever do to be pure wasn’t going to be nearly enough, I needed to put on His purity.

“Wait a minute!” I wanted to say, “That can’t be right!” And although I embraced His words that day, I never really understood what He was directing me to. That’s why it was such a huge revelation to me this morning when this came to mind; because now I get it.

All I can ever do to be pure, to be righteous, to live rightly, isn’t nearly enough. I can’t do it. But that’s okay. Because when Jesus Christ died on the cross to settle my debt with God’s perfect justice, He offered me His robe of righteousness. Now He calls me righteous, and pure, because of His holy righteousness and purity.

Now, does that mean I’m licensed to do whatever I like because I’m covered with the blood of Jesus and all my sins are forgiven and forgotten? Of course not! Because under the new covenant, God has written His laws in my heart and mind. Grace is no permit to live in sin and still be called righteous; but it is the omnipotent enabler that says “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more!”