To Die Is Gain

“I used to be afraid to die…” I began.

I went on to explain how the truth and faithfulness of Jesus had won out in my story over fear and death and fear of death. The truth is, I really did used to be afraid to die.

And I’d heard that line Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi over and over but the reality is you just don’t know you don’t know till you know; unless you know Jesus personally, you can’t understand the strength and courage and peace behind the words of someone who knows Jesus personally–it’s just words.

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For[c] I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

 – Philippians 1:19-24

But for me, to live, Christ! To die, gain!

Why is living Christ? Because I live by Christ’s life. Why is death gain? Because death is the end of this sin-riddled flesh, but only the very beginning of Christ’s life. Why does that mean anything? Because I want to know Christ!

It’s something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately–particularly after a friend recently announced the death of his grandmother–and death doesn’t scare me anymore (if anything scares me it’s decay; growing old and turning to mush). I don’t fear anymore either, the possibility that I could die and end up in hell for some unrepentant thing, or for exploring too far–grace and truth gave me a new security in my life now hidden in Christ; love.

And that’s the thing: if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus and you’ve been baptised, symbolizing your acceptance to share in his death and new life, then where, oh Death, is your sting? Where, Hell, is your victory? My hope is hidden in the Lord, the King of Glory, the King above all kings, who was and is and is to come! And it goes right back along with the deep question, “Do you really trust God?” Is your hope in him? And could it be that the hymn spoke of a true hope?

We have this hope that burns within our hearts / Hope in the coming of the Lord / We have this faith that Christ alone imparts / Faith in the promise of His word

– We Have This Hope [Wayne Hooper]

But it’s even better than the words Adventists still sing–better than maybe Mr. Hooper ever knew; because Jesus is alive in me and in every Christian who has shared in His death and resurrection and proclaims Him Lord. I understand now why Paul was able to make such a bold statement about his uncertain future, because I now know the One who he was talking about.

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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.

Honoring God

I was listening to Romans the other day (okay, over two weeks ago, now) and I’ve read this before but it particularly popped out at me again like I’d never heard it before:

Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. -Romans 14:3-6

Paul’s talking to the Romans about people who eat meat versus people who eat only vegetables, and people who observe special holy days versus those who do not. The Mosaic law included pages and pages of rules about what could and could not be eaten, and what days should be observed (and what you could and could not do on those days, etc.) Many people (particular new gentile believers who didn’t know the Mosaic law by heart as did the Jews) were living a much more free Christianity apart from the old ritual rules which many of the Jews continued to observe. So Paul is coming at these two camps saying “Hey – we’re all doing what we do for God, and he honors all of it.”

The thing is, I’ve been in the ‘free’ camp for a while now. Namely, I don’t particularly observe Sabbath, and I eat what I eat, among many other points. But when I heard this I realized something; I’ve been looking down on people–or living down, if you will. While I’ve considered other people ‘weaker’ or ‘misguided’ or ‘deceived’, etc.., the truth is, God is much less petty. Much. The beauty of the new covenant is that it isn’t all wrapped up in what we do, or don’t do. It means that we’re free on an individual basis to decided how we will honor God. By esteeming a day, by doing Church a certain way, whatever. But what God honors God honors.

This has been stored away somewhere in the back of my mind for the last couple weeks, but I got a fresh first-hand glimpse not too long ago of someone (I won’t go in depth on this one) zealously calling out another person for something they ate. Now here’s the thing: I thought it was pretty silly. I mean, come on. But that’s exactly what Paul was talking about. If I could go back now and say something to those two people it would be this:

“Look, you only eat certain things because you believe it honors God and your body–and it does. It’s not about following rules or keeping yourself out of hell, it’s about honoring God and God is honored in so many more ways than you or I can imagine–like giving your life, not just your diet. If you want to honor God by not eating certain things, then by all means do so. But don’t look down on someone else because they choose to honor God in another way, or because your way of honoring God doesn’t mean anything to them.”

Jesus… show me how to honor you, and teach me how to honor others in whatever way they choose to honor you. I want to build bridges between your people, not burn them down. Thank-you for your new covenant that brings all of us together no matter where we come from, or what we believe. 

Grafted In [Ephesians Part I]

For “whatever reason” I’ve been reading in Ephesians the last couple days, thinking about what it means for me to live “in” Jesus, and more deeply, wondering if I would really say I do. Actually, that has been my question for a long time now: “am I really doing this?” To which the resounding answer in my core is “No way.”

I’ll come back to that.

I’m looking at the first three chapters as a whole, starting with the redemption story that never gets old though Paul could tell it a hundred times to bring a new gem to the surface with each retelling. He takes two chapters to remind the Ephesians how Jesus saved them and it’s all just too wonderful not to read all at once and over and over. If it made any sense I would copy those whole two chapters down, but you can read them for yourself and spend all the time you like reveling in the wonder of God’s goodness.

But alright, here’s just a smidgen of what I’m talking about:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. [!]

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both[a] which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.[!]11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.[!] -Ephesians 1:3-12

Don’t get weird on me, but I just want to go through that all and insert an exclamation mark on the end of every sentence, because Holy Gracious Redeeming Loving Father God! It just can’t get any better (but it does).

I want to close in on chapter three where Paul calls Gentile salvation a mystery – for of course; until Jesus’ arrival, the Jews were the only people chosen by God and yet, He had a plan for the rest of the nations all along:

The Mystery Revealed

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.

Purpose of the Mystery

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship[a] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;[b] 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:3-13

Everyone that had been in the outer circle, now grafted into the body of Christ, dwelling jointly in Abundant, Eternal Life. And the result?

Appreciation of the Mystery

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,[c]15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21

I’ve gotta stop right here and tell you, this isn’t going where I thought it would, because I keep finding more every time I go back.

Jesus, through his love sacrifice, delivered on the Promise he made with Abraham and forever gave himself an inheritance to the Jews, and grafted the Gentiles into that Promise. And this is what Paul desires, when grace and salvation and righteousness have been realized, ‘guys, now that your faith is solid, and you get love, here’s what I want for you:’ and I just love the way the Old King James puts it:

17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. – Ephesians 3:17-19

‘And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.’

Now that you dwell in Christ, I pray that Christ dwells in you.

Now that Jesus knows you fully, I pray that you would know Jesus fully.

Oh, And P.S…

Welcome to the family!

Jesus, I choose to live rooted in you; thank-you so much for this immeasurable gift. I live so often with you so far from my mind, I think, because I have no measure for what you offer. Give me a new revelation of the breadth, the length, the depth and the height of your love for me daily – or should I say, help me to notice these revelations you’ve already set in motion for me!

Heed the Yeast

While scrolling through the Bible app on my phone during church today I came across a number of passages that blew me right out of the water (and I thought I knew it all, aready?). One passage in particular totally affirmed what I’ve been struggling with these months, which has been initially doubt. Not doubting God but doubting myself and the decisions and choices I’ve made in the last 6-8 months that have brought me here, out of the religiousBecause I have to be honest; I’ve been taking opposition, and while the feeling of knowing truth is so powerful, this stuff has been wearing on me.

Anyway, I was skimming through 2 Timothy 3 and verse 5 leaped off the page at me, so I just had to go back to the beginning of the chapter and find out what was going on here:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 

– 2 Timothy 3:1-5 [emphasis mine]

Did you catch that? Paul is warning Timothy (and all of us young men) about perilous times and perilous people: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God …” this description sounds like it came right out of his list of the fruits of the flesh over in Galatians 5; this is heavy stuff.

But do you know what kind of people he’s talking about? It isn’t the world, it’s the religious! It is the religious. He says in verse five, “[they have] a form of godliness…” Is it a reputation? A name? A claim to a church pew? These people probably appear quite godly.

Just let that sink in a little. And what is the danger?

For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

– 2 Timothy 3:6-7

Making captives out of the gullible to lust, loading them down with sins, always chasing knowledge but never able to grasp the real substance of the knowledge of the truth. Doesn’t that sound like the religious? It sounds a lot like some of those I’ve seen and heard speaking from behind the pulpit. And I think these two verses are key, because this is what the religious is full of–church is full of this! Everyone looking for the next new piece of wisdom as though their salvation and their usefulness to the kingdom depends on how much they can learn. To the religious of his day Jesus said something to the affect of “You search the scriptures because you think knowing them will save you, but you miss completely that they’re all about me!” (John 5:39, my paraphrase). Always hearing, never understanding. Loading sin after sin onto their fellow captives, because what else can you do with a system based off works and sin-consciousness?

I think back on my recent encounters, some with peers, others with older, more respected leader figures; I’m thinking about how perfectly my experiences and the feelings I’ve gotten from some individuals fit Paul’s description perfectly. I’m thinking about the people who had reputations in my eyes as great leaders on solid foundations.

Having a form of godliness.

This sort creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins.

“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” Jesus warned his disciples (Matthew 16:6) The infectious beliefs of those who believe no righteousness exists out of your perfect observance of the Law, and those who believe there is no resurrection life. Righteousness at the cost of death and no resurrection hope. And you can hear an awful lot of teaching and preaching in church today about what you must do to meet the requirements for salvation, in various forms and flavors. Having a form of godliness.

“Perilous times and perilous men will come,” warns Paul, “But it’s okay; you’ll know them by their fruit. They appear godly, but they bring devastation. Turn away from them!”

Turn away from them.

Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

– 2 Timothy 3:8-9

Are you in a dead movement? Faith in the finished work of Jesus will always promote progress. Jannes and Jambres were among the people that left Egypt; Moses delivered them. A form of godliness. What more can I say? Paul gives us the answer to remain steadfast in a time when false Christians and the religious will encroach us with doubt:

10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. [And here comes the one-two punch:] 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:10-17

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus! Amen! How do you keep from faltering in the face of those who would question, deride and shame you for the truth of the gospel? Continue in what you know, know who you learned it from, and be confident in the Scripture where your 100-percent-faith-based salvation is found! I’m not going to stop believing in the finished work of Christ, I know I learned this gospel straight from God, and I know that I’m not only on a solid scriptural foundation, but I’m on the foundation of Christ himself! And I’ll tell you something, not only have I found confidence in the gospel by Scripture, but I’ve been able to respond to the naysayers with the truth straight out of the book itself; what better feeling than to know that you know that your foundation is Christ the Solid Rock, and all other ground is sinking sand.

As I began with, this passage just totally blew me out of the water, affirmed my whole understanding and put such a peace-enabling reassurance over me–I know I’m on the right track, I don’t need to be intimidated or put off by anyone regardless of who they are or what their reputation or standing is, and the danger in the religious culture is real, and it’s alive and well.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’ll end off with this: I’ve thought for a long time that I had to be learned to be able to carry any authority in the Christian culture. Now I realize, Christianity shouldn’t even be defined in a culture. All the so-called Christian Culture is, I think, is modernized religion. So I don’t need to be educated to be completely equipped, I just need to allow the Word of God to be alive in me–that’s all you need in order to be able to stand up to religious bullies–I don’t need to be learned, I just need to be listening to the voice of Jesus in me.

Reunited With I AM (The New-Covenant Sinner)

One question in various forms I’ve heard over and over again is, “So you’ve done away with the law – now you can freely do whatever you want without consequence because grace means tolerance?” The thought is that discontinuing observance of the Law is the same as being without moral and free to do every wrong.

I respond to this testing question with a resounding “No. No. No!” I am not preaching freedom to do anything you like! If you’ve ever read James, you’ll see that grace does not now allow us to live in sin and still inherit life. Paul did not preach this belief that grace licenses us to live in sin and lawlessness either.

A regularly-quoted scripture showing this is Romans 3:31 which says, “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Now, many people jump in with this verse alone to prove that the old covenant Law is still in effect, but they miss the rest of the chapter in which Paul declares that the purpose of the law is to show sinners how sinful they are, and that they need Jesus Christ’s free gift of righteousness to be righteous before God. The Law was never intended to make us righteous but to show us our unrighteousness. Does Romans 3 prove that the Law is done away with to those who keep the new covenant? Not necessarily, but I’ve covered scriptures that do in previous posts so I won’t go into detail on it here–that’s not where I want to focus today. Suffice it to say, the Law was meant for those still outside of the new covenant, to guide them to the new covenant.

So now we’re getting in on the new covenant, Jesus has saved us, cut away our sinful nature and we find rest abiding in Him. Do we now do whatever we wish? Certainly not! Then are we still living in accordance with the Law? Some may see it that way, but no; we live in accordance not with the Law of the old system, but rather with the Spirit of God.

Let me take you back a while – a long while – to understand this. We’ll look right back to the garden of Eden when God placed Adam and Eve on the earth and directed them to rule and reign. This is something I’ve had on my mind for a few days, and shared briefly the other day. I’ll go a little more in-depth here.

In Genesis 2:15-17 we find God’s commission and command to Adam: 15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God gave Adam charge of the garden and gave him a command: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat … “

Genesis 3 tells the saddest tragedy we all know – the fall of man, the moment of sin’s entrance into a perfect world. We’ll take a look at verses 1-13.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

                                                  –  Genesis 3:1-13

Here’s my first question: where is the sin in this picture? I’ll tell you this, the problem was a lot bigger than Adam’s wife eating a bit of fruit. We see the real root of it in the serpent’s first words: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”He brought into question God’s knowledge and understanding. And when Eve confirmed that God had, indeed, said this, the serpent came back with “You will not surely die.For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And that certainly was what the tree would give Eve – a concept of right and wrong. But we see the sin in the next verse, the rebellion and separation from God’s instruction in the next verse:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

So when the woman saw. What did she see? That the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. This is, I believe, where it all took place. Eve chose to disregard the instruction of God (based, might I add, on His understanding of His own creation) and trust her own understanding of how things were. She disregarded God’s understanding and chose her own understanding, which seems to have been rather limited. She deviated from God’s direct instruction and took her own perspective from what the serpent had said; that the tree was good food, pretty, and desirable to make her wise. And so, having chosen to rely on her own understanding rather than the understanding of the Creator, Eve at the fruit–and then gave some to Adam who was right beside her, and he ate some too.

And did the tree work? You bet. Suddenly they realized they were naked–and afraid–and they made clothes out of fig leaves to cover themselves.

Suddenly they realized something was wrong–something was missing. And they happened to notice they were naked – that must be it! Let’s fix up some fig leaves, maybe that will help our situation. But then God came along, and they hid from him. Alright, what? They hid from God.

I laugh a little at this – Adam and Eve were so innocent. First they hid from God, and then when God called for him, Adam goes “Hey, I’m right here… hiding from you…” The wave of knowledge and emotions that must have hit them that they had no idea about…

Verse 10 says Adam heard God’s voice in the garden and he hid, because he was naked and afraid. What has happened here? Adam and Eve are in the garden, they’ve realized they’re naked. They’ve probably realized a lot more than that but don’t have any idea what all these other things they’re experiencing even are, they’re practically children. Adam knows two things: he is naked and he is afraid. Why afraid? Probably because now he has a concept of right, wrong, and consequence, and that the wrong he’s done will be followed by consequence – death. (whatever that is?) And not only is there a sense of right and wrong but there is a sense of inadequacy, the real problem behind the nakedness. Why inadequacy? Because they chose separation from their Beginning and End. Choosing to step away from God meant choosing to step away from their completeness in Him. It may have only been a small thing–the choice to disregard one instruction–but the sense of separation it brought them, having never before felt any amount of separation from God, must have seemed massive. Oh, to be so innocent, so sensitive to such separation!

So to finish out verses 10-13,

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

There’s one more effect of the tree; neither Adam nor Eve could give God a straight answer.

God: “Adam, where are you?”
Adam: (doesn’t really answer the question;) “I heard you coming; I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
God: “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to?”
Adam: (still avoiding the question) “The woman that you put here with me gave me the fruit and I ate.”
God: (now to Eve) “What have you done?”
Eve: (definitely avoiding the question;) “It was the serpent’s fault, he tricked me into eating it.”

They couldn’t outrightly admit to God that they had eaten from the tree. Adam even completely overlooked God’s question of who had told him he was naked. Now as a brief aside, who did tell Adam he was naked? Was it the serpent? If so, it’s not recorded, but I’m sure the serpent didn’t need to tell Adam that. It was the tree that opened their eyes to their own nakedness, and this is the nature of the old covenant Law also, that it opens our eyes to our inadequacies. Keep that in mind for later. Now, I don’t know how things were back in the garden, but I can guarantee Adam and Eve’s circumstance would have turned out a lot different if they had come right back to God to say “God, we ate from the tree and now something’s terribly wrong and we don’t know what to do, we’re scared, please help us.”

But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, they continued to rely on their own understanding of what was happening to them, rather than going back to the Creator to get His assessment of the situation. At this point perhaps we can derive a basic definition of sin; since God is, in essence, life, and sin leads to death (the wages of sin is death) then the core of sin in action must be willful separation from God, from life. This was the root of Adam and Eve’s problem when they chose to go by their own understanding rather than God’s instruction.

To say more I would have to begin repeating myself. So going back to Adam’s nakedness and the Law, the purpose of the Law was to show us our sin, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:19, 7:7-10 for example. The law’s purpose was to give us knowledge of sin versus the perfection of God, just as the tree’s purpose was to give knowledge of good and evil–the difference between ‘sinful‘ and ‘sinless’. So we see that the Law and the tree had the same purpose. The law was given to show the people of Israel that sin was still an issue, otherwise they wouldn’t later understand the need for Jesus to come.

But the Law wasn’t given as the solution. God did not give the Law as the solution to the sin problem! He gave His only son to do that. When Jesus died, He restored our right–which Adam lost–to approach God freely and blamelessly. Because our original position with God is now restored, we live in a similar state to that which Adam and Eve held in the garden. No, the world still is not perfect – yes, there still is sin and satan’s judgement has not been passed. But God has called us righteous and blameless through the blood of Jesus Christ, and if we believe in the name of Jesus then that is what we are. On our acceptance of Jesus’ free gift for us, we receive the Spirit of God who dwells in us, and we abide in Christ through God’s spirit. The Spirit of God produces good fruit in our lives–the works which James declares keep our faith alive–and we live once again complete in our Creator.

Now here’s the crunch: Jesus removed the sin separation problem and invited us back to God; this is the new covenant. The tree of Life–the other tree in the garden that we so easily forget about–was there to provide eternal unification with God. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and brought in the new – essentially uprooting the tree of knowledge and replanting the tree of Life for all to eat from. And it isn’t that the tree of knowledge wasn’t good–God declared everything he had made to be good. It was that the tree of Life was so much better, and of so much more importance. The Law is of no purpose to the one who believes in Jesus. It is and has always been about our reunification to I Am through Christ, and since Christ’s death, we are united with God in Christ through His blood.

So what does sin look like in the new covenant? Choosing again our own knowledge, as Adam and Eve did in the beginning, and stepping out of unity with Christ. That doesn’t mean stealing, killing, committing adultery and all the rest are now justifiably right, it means that we get to the root of the problem now, while all those things were only ever the after-effects–mere evidences–of the original sin separation problem begun by Adam and Eve in the garden 6,000 some years ago.

The final question is, where then does that leave our morals? At the root of the tree of knowledge. All Adam and Eve had to know about right and wrong was that God knew and would do what was best for them. In essence, by stepping into the new covenant we put the knowledge of what’s right and wrong back at the throne of God where it belongs, and put our entire trust in God to direct us step by step in what is best for us.

I think part of what makes this so difficult for others to understand is that I live this in theory; this is the goal I aim for, and while the work of the Spirit leading me to perfection is not yet complete, and I can’t honestly say I live moment-by-moment with 100% of my trust in God’s knowledge of right and wrong for me, I’ve come a long way, and at the end of the beginning of the story, I’ll be right back where I belong. But this IS the good news, that the focus is no longer on my knowledge of right and wrong but on God’s knowledge of what is best for me, since Christ made it possible for me to be once again completed in my Alpha and Omega, Creator God.

A Second Helping of Grace

I’ve given up on trying to paraphrase a letter I wrote today regarding some of what I’ve been learning, so I’m just going to put it down like I said it the first time and revise from there. This is what I have been learning today.

Romans 3:31 was brought to my attention today:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”

We know that Paul declares that the law is good; it is just and right. But what about righteousness by faith? Where does law fit with a new covenant that does away with the ten commandments?

God showed the Israelites his character through teaching them the ten commandments. The law is good, and perfect – it is God’s character, after all, and James shows us the importance of the law, but reminds us that keeping God’s law (works) is a result of faith, (James 2:14-26) and that you can’t see faith in action without the action. John, too, declared the importance of the law, but explained that all the law and character of God culminates into one commandment for us – belief in the name of Jesus Christ, and love to others (1 John 3:23).

Under the old covenant we were in bondage to the law; the ten commandments were the very terms of the old covenant. Paul, however, declares that under the new covenant our salvation is not based on obeying the law we’ll get to that now, as well as Romans 3:31.

Take a look at Romans 3:27 and read on down to verse 31 to get a little more context here:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

– Romans 3:27-31

Notice as an aside that in the New King James (the above is from the NLT) Paul notes two laws, the law of works which we cannot boast in for our salvation, and the law of faith, which we can boast in (boasting in the saving power of Jesus). And how is the law established by faith? Faith working through love (Galatians 5:6b – … What is important is faith expressing itself in love”). Then could we not say that the law of faith is, as John put God’s command, “That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)

God’s character hasn’t changed, and that is why Paul declares that the law is good. But let’s go back to Galatians 5:16-26 briefly.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

– Galatians 5:16-26

We’re called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us, and it is the Spirit of God which aligns our lives with the character of God (of course, because the Spirit of God is God, after all). In verse 16 Paul calls us to walk in the Spirit, explaining in verse 17 that the sinful nature and the Spirit of God are complete opposites, and unless we walk in the Spirit of God, we won’t ever be able to live the good ways that we wish to. But then Paul makes this statement in verse 18 – that if we walk in the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. So as important as the law is, it is ONLY important because it is the character of God. When the Spirit of God lives in us, the written law is no longer necessary, because all the lusts of the flesh that kept us from entering God’s kingdom before (verse 19-21) are the fruits of our sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God living in us produces fruits (verse 22-23) in alignment with the nature and character of God. And we know that the fruits of the Spirit do not go against the character of God, because Paul tells us there is no law against them.

Going back the 1 John 3, we find that John confirms this in verses 4-6:

Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

This is from the NLT, but I prefer the language in the New King James:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Sin is lawlessness, and the law is God’s character. But the way out of sin isn’t by keeping the law of works (e.g.: keeping the ten commandments perfectly), as Paul said; the way out of sin is an indwelling of the Spirit of God, as John stated in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin.” It isn’t that we stop sinning in order to abide in Jesus, in order to live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but we abide in Jesus (believe in His name and love others 1 John 3:23) and live by and walk in the Spirit so that we can be sinless. It’s Jesus, after all, that cuts away our sinful nature. And recalling that sin is lawlessness, abiding in Jesus and living/walking in the Spirit fulfills the law without our having to keep it. Lawlessness is the natural result of sin (separation from God); lawfulness is the natural result of abiding in Jesus.

Spirit of God does not live in us to merely enable us to keep the law and produce the fruit; the fruit we produce is no good! But Paul is talking about something much greater, he’s talking about the Spirit of God doing it all; it is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the change in our life from sinful, lawless nature to Godly nature, and that is how the law – God’s character, really – fits into grace.

Gifts and Fruits

(context: Galatians 5)

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

           – Galatians 5:16-26

I am a rock-star.

I’ve known it for quite some time, though I rarely, if ever, thought it.

I’m also a dancer. I’m moved by rhythms and vibrations. It’s just “Me”.

I wanted to say “And primarily I’m…” But whatever would follow that statement I probably would later revoke as a lie, because my immediate response to realizing my giftings and passions is to shut them right down again, usually with something along the lines of “There are much more important things to do than dance around like a fool.”

I’m not putting my paper heart out on my sleeve. But neither am I bragging. I recently heard someone declare openly what their giftings were, and my first response was something along the lines of “Please. How arrogant can you get?” But my mind didn’t stop there, because my second thought was, “Well, why not?”

The reality of my life is, those closest to me don’t really know my deep passions. They don’t know what makes my heart beat, what fills my lungs in every breath. They don’t know because I have never found the courage to trust them with things so deeply ingrained in me. My heart says “Just let it out, express yourself!” My mind says, “They won’t understand what it means to me, they won’t respect the significance of my passions,” or flat out, “They won’t care.”

I take myself too seriously. It is the most crippling of my disabilities, because I do not allow the Spirit the freedom to express Himself throughin or to me.

It’s all well and good when Christ has set me free by spiritually cutting off my sinful nature of Galatians 5:19-21, but I make the work of Christ no benefit to me by denying and disallowing the working of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23 that keeps me free. Ignoring Paul’s exhortations of Galatians 5:1 to not fall back under bondage to the law, I condemn the fruits of the Spirit before they even begin to ripen in me.

I’ve been largely silent here for some weeks; I spent some time pouring over the epistle of James and my faith has been tested, challenged, and developed. I’d like to say I’ve been taking time off to ponder James, but that wouldn’t be consciously true; my life virtually shut down for a while and I’ve been reduced to a state of basic function. I’ve had to realize again and still again that all my knowledge, wisdom, abilities and strengths are nothing, and if I rely on them I cannot be any greater or more functional in the Kingdom of God than they are. If I do not allow the power of the Spirit to abide in and work throughout my life, I will continue to live under the law and my own sinful nature.

You might be wondering where the passions I was talking about fit into this. You’re not alone; I’m wondering too.

I think I got it backwards, or turned around. Actually, I’m not sure how I got it, because I stepped away and lost the train of thought I had when I wrote that opening sentence. So here it is straight: my deep inner passions are not the moving of the Spirit in me, but my response to the moving of the Spirit in me. The passions of my heart are a personal strain of worship of the Lord of Lords. When I deny my passions, I deny the outcry of my heart in revere of God. These  passions I’ve had ingrained in me from the very beginning, then, are not the fruit, they are my response. I’ve recently been pondering worship, and it fits now, just what worship is really about, and how it takes shape in my own life. I’ll leave a fuller explanation of this realization for a later post, but I now have a fuller picture of what it means to be a worship leader.

The Ministry of Death

“The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?”

                         – 2 Corinthians 3:7-8 NLT

If you want to know about law in regards to the new covenant, Paul is your man. Romans and Galatians especially are just full of grace and new covenant. And this guy was no amateur, either; he told the Galatian church that he had been far ahead of his Jewish peers in zeal for their ancestral traditions (Galatians 1:14) and we all know the story, Paul was raised up and trained carefully in the Jewish laws and traditions, as he testified to at the beginning of his defense in Acts 22:1-3. I think we can all agree; Paul knew his stuff when it came to the old covenant. He was young and zealous, and God got a hold of him and turned that zeal right over to Christ. And so this is where we turn to first, in his second letter to the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 3 – Take a few minutes and read through the chapter (don’t worry, it’s only 18 verses).

Now that I have begun learning to live under the new covenant, it seems absurd that people still in the Adventist church–or any old covenant based system of religion–cannot see the new covenant as I do. Why couldn’t the Pharisees and teachers of the law see Jesus for what He is? Paul gives us the answer in this chapter; “Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.” (Verse 15) Focus on the old covenant blinds our hearts to the new covenant. To truly see the new covenant in all the glory that Paul was talking about in verses 7-11, we must begin to let the old covenant be…the old covenant. Dead. Gone and done with. And, Paul goes on to say in verses 16-18, “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (Amen?!) So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

It is important to notice that in verse 7 Paul tells us that the “old way,” the old covenant, had “laws etched in stone”. The ten commandments are not only part of the old covenant, Paul places them at the core of what the King James Bible calls here the “ministration (ministry) of death”, the old covenant. (Grab a King James bible and take a look at the language in these verses)

What does that mean? That means that when Paul says the law was fulfilled and done away with, he’s talking about the whole law. Not just the “ceremonial” law, but the ten commandments. And we see in examples such as Romans 7:6-7 that Paul makes no distinction between the “ceremonial” laws and the ten commandments. Let’s take a brief look:

“But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” “

                         – Romans 7:6-7 NLT

These two verses are absolutely packed. If you have some time, read through the whole chapter, but for now I just want to emphasize these two things: 1) Paul says that we are released from the law, and 2) refers to the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17)  in his example. Neither did the Pharisees and teachers of the law (who taught Paul everything he knew about the law) distinguish between the ten commandments and the rest of the laws God gave to Moses.

So to recap:

1) Focus on the old covenant blinds our hearts to the new covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:15)

2) The ten commandments are an inseparable part–the core–of the old covenant.

So now the law is abolished and we just do whatever we want? If you’ve ever read James you’ll know that’s not the way the new covenant works. Living under the new covenant means rather than the old covenant’s ten commandments, written on stone, we now have the commands of God written on our minds and in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). It’s the core of the new covenant–God teaching His people His ways personally. And we know from Jesus’ ministry here on the earth that God’s command is to believe in the name of Jesus, love God and love our neighbors–essentially, to love as He loves us. (1 John 3:23)

At this point it may be very helpful and clarifying for you to read 1st John. That’s right, the whole thing. John just lathered the love of God on his church in this letter; a holy, sinless love.

And God’s command to love isn’t new; John says as much in 1 John 2:7-8. Love has been God’s character for as long as God has been God! The ten commandments were a spittin’ image of the just character of God, but they also summed up to love in two commandments (Matthew 22:34-40). So it really shouldn’t be any big deal that the listed ten got thrown out with all the ceremonial stuff, because God is still God; it isn’t that God’s justice was abolished with the law, but:

“now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

                                   – Romans 3:21-22

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”

                                    – Romans 8:1-4

But you know what? Why don’t you close down my blog now, and go check it out for yourself?

Fruit of the Spirit

In light of my last post, while I was searching through my old blog looking for something entirely different, I stumbled across the post in which I recounted the story originally of what God taught me about his purity, back in April of 2011. You can read the whole post here, but here’s the original story:

A week or so ago God spoke to me about purity. As some of you know I have struggled a very long time in the area of purity. This particular day I was feeling quite discouraged, having just fallen down under my own burden of sin, and I was talking to myself, beating myself up over this incident. But then God told me something quite clearly and it was this: “I don’t want you to be pure for Me; I want to be Pure for you.”

I’m reminded once again that no longer do I have to struggle on my own; quite the opposite! Christ has now stepped in; it isn’t about me, it’s all about him and what he did for me! My works won’t and can’t earn my righteousness, but the good things I now do are because the Spirit of God lives in me, because God has written his laws in my heart and on my mind. So then the good things I do are not really my works but the works of the Spirit of God in me. I love Paul’s admonition to the Galatians to allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. 

                                                                          – Galatians 5:16-25

So when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our lives, we no longer have need of the old system, the law, and we are no longer under the law when the Holy Spirit is in us. And we no longer have to worry, because when we allow the Holy Spirit to live in us, he produces goodness within us. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it isn’t really like I learned it under the Adventist system of thinking, that these “fruits of the spirit” were something I had to achieve, no! Paul is very clear in verse 22: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives” AMEN! It isn’t even my responsibility to live right anymore if the Holy Spirit lives in me! And that brings me back to what God said to me: “I don’t want you to be pure for Me; I want to be Pure for you.” 

None of my effort or strength comes anywhere near to God’s matchless all-powerfulness. None of my attempts toward purity or righteousness compare at all to Christ’s robe of righteousness which he has wrapped around me. Nothing could ever be more complete or perfect than what Jesus did that day some two thousand years ago on the cross – what the Holy Spirit now does right within me. And I can only wonder: how could anyone not accept such an unmatched, priceless gift?

P.S.: I’ve been studying lately about the Sabbath of the new covenant; I’ll be writing more on that very soon.