Smart Like A Rock

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) John 18:10

I often wonder about Malchus, the servant of Caiaphas whose ear was cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane. Naturally, I did some digging. Ironically, the name Malchus means “My king; kingdom; or counselor”. The Bible doesn’t say what he believed before the attack. It would seem that he lived his life according to the collective religious consensus into which he was born. Like many people today, he probably never questioned the assumptions that undergirded his worldview. One day he was simply performing his usual duties when a lunatic named Peter chopped off his ear. If that wasn’t crazy enough the zealot insurrectionist named Jesus whom he’d come to help arrest picked up his ear and stuck it back on his head.

That Jesus’ final miracle before he was crucified was to miraculously restore Malchus’s ability to hear strikes me as poignant if not prophetic.

The Bible says nothing about Malchus after Jesus was arrested. But extra-biblical historical texts indicate that he was converted and went to live in a monastery in Greece until the end of his life.

Smart like a Rock

It is uncertain whether or not Peter was a Zealot (Jewish nationalist). We do know that his initial hope was in a physical messiah that would fulfill the prophecy as they understood it.  Peter thought Jesus would conquer Israel’s enemies once and for all, and then reign like King David. More than a few professing Christians are prone to similar errors today.

But His “Kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36

Peter is fishing, when Jesus calls Him. He simply drops his net and follows. The Bible isn’t clear about what went through Peter’s mind when he followed Jesus. But his actions before the resurrection imply anything but a divine revelation of Jesus’s true identity and plan. 

None of the disciples truly understood Jesus until after the resurrection.

Peter’s first encounter with the true identity of Jesus is found in Mat 8:14-17 when He heals Peter’s mother-in-law.  Healing is a primary basis of faith for many today. I could be completely wrong but I imagine Jesus rolling His eyes a lot. His healings often seem like a concession rather than His primary point.

So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” John 4:48

While I am only listing scriptures where Peter is at the center, we should keep in mind that he is present throughout all of Jesus’s teachings and miracles including His calming the storm. Mat 8:23-27

The next paradigm-shifting encounter comes when Jesus sends the disciples out in a boat and then follows them later on foot. Peter sees Jesus walking on water and tells Him to command him to get out of the boat and walk – if in fact, He is really Jesus.  He does. So Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking. Then the wind scares him and he starts to sink. 

Jesus takes Peter’s hand and pulls him up before admonishing him.

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Mat 14:22-33

Peter had his eyes and faith fixed on Jesus as he stepped out of the boat. Then he was distracted by the wind. His focus moved from Jesus to his external circumstances and he began to sink.

If I am honest, I’m a lot like Peter.  I know that I know I was supernaturally delivered from a point-blank shotgun blast and over two decades of addiction that I’d tried everything known to man to beat. It is empirically verifiable that my life made a 180-degree turn from that moment on. Still, I have occasionally been tempted to question and consider alternative explanations. Was that really you Jesus? It was of course. Still, it got me thinking. Maybe, miracles, signs, and wonders come with a shelf life. They point to the source upon which our focus should remain. 

Or they expire and leave us craving another experience. Mat 16:4

In Mat 15:10-20 Jesus explains to the Pharisees that it’s what comes out of one’s mouth that defiles them not what goes in. Peter still doesn’t understand and Jesus explains it to him.

Next, we have an amazing display of discernment in Peter’s revelation that Jesus is the Christ to which Jesus replies “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” Mat 16:13-18 Some people think Peter was the rock.

He was referring to Peter’s revelation that He Jesus was the Rock. 

Somehow Peter assumed the authority to rebuke the one he’d just acknowledged as the Messiah. Peter determined that he would not allow Jesus to go to the cross in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 and at least 351 other prophetic scriptures. So Jesus rebuked Peter,

get behind me Satan” Mat 16:23

Peter was sincere but earthly-minded.


Next, in Mat 17:1-8 Peter is one of the disciples accompanying Jesus to the mount of Transfiguration where He Jesus, attended by Moses and Elijah, reveals His deity. Peter was busy wondering if he should make tents for the three when suddenly,

Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Later as they walked down into the valley. Jesus commands Peter and the others, 

“Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Mat 17:9

Apparently, this wasn’t a problem because based on their reaction to Jesus’ crucifixion no one understood what he was saying anyway.

Back in the valley, Peter watches Jesus cast out a demon and admonishes the other disciples for their faith that apparently was a lot smaller than a mustard seed. Mat 17:20

Next, we have money collectors asking Peter if Jesus will pay tribute in Capernaum.  “Of course, He will”, says Peter. Then he asks Jesus. Jesus says “No”. But just to avoid offending people He tells Peter to catch a fish and give them whatever he finds in its mouth. Peter loves fishing.  He finds a gold coin in its mouth and gives it to the collectors.

One would think that would have rattled Peters’s worldly paradigm.

Given that I can so identify with Peter’s misunderstandings, mistakes, and failures, I have to wonder. Was it apathy born of Peter’s familiarity with Jesus? Was Peter so consumed with his view of things and the hope of a coming overthrow of the Roman empire? Or was he simply naive and uneducated?

Jesus gives an in-depth teaching in Mat 18 about cutting off everything that leads to sin. Peter has heard all the other teachings about forgiveness and still asks ‘How many times do I have to forgive? Is seven enough?’

No, Peter.

“70 times 7”. Mat 18:21-22

Jesus teaches about the potential bondage of material wealth in Mat 19 and finishes with the idea that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom of God. Luckily all things are possible with God. 

How does Peter respond?

Ok….but what about us? We gave up everything. What do we get? Mat 19:27 Like so many of us Peter lost sight of the fact that he already had the most valuable gift in Jesus Himself.

Well, Peter, here’s the deal. Y’all get to rule with me from 12 thrones in heaven.

Still, Peter sincerely loves Jesus. He swears that he is different from the others and will never deny Him. Jesus looks at Peter and says, actually Peter you will. In fact,

you are going to deny me before the rooster crows three times… Mat 26:34

Peter is incensed and responds with even greater determination. “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. Verse 35

Things come to a head in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter has one of the two swords that Jesus told them to bring. Jesus goes off to pray and asks them to watch and pray with Him. Naturally, Peter and the others fall asleep. Peter gets the brunt of Jesus’s anger. “So, could you not watch with me one hour?!” Maybe Peter is overcompensating for crushed self-esteem born of his failure. Now more than ever he stands ready to defend Jesus as the soldiers come to arrest Him. If I were Peter I probably would assume that Jesus told me to bring a sword so I could use it. I’d be wondering if this moment marked the beginning of the zealot rebellion for which I’d been waiting.

Peter swings hard. I’m guessing that splitting Malchus’s head was his goal.  Instead, he misses and cuts off his ear. Malchus and Peter stare in dumbfounded amazement as Jesus exclaims “No more of this!” Luke 22:51 picks up the ear and reattaches it. Then He blasts poor Peter again.

“Peter! Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:11

It wasn’t long after that Peter denied Jesus three times. John 18:17-27

Fast forward

Jesus is crucified and resurrected. Everyone is standing around the tomb talking about the fact that everything happened just as Jesus said it would. Now what? Peter is even more confused than before.  He runs into the tomb in apparent unbelief to see if Jesus’s body is there.

…for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:4-10

Soon after Jesus shows himself to the disciples. Peter still doesn’t get it and characteristically replies,

“I’m going fishing!”

He and the disciples spend a fish-free night on the water. In the morning Jesus calls to them from shore and instructs them where to throw their nets.  Suddenly, “the one whom Jesus loved” (John) realizes it is the resurrected Jesus standing on the beach. What does Peter do? 

He puts all his clothes on, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore.

Later during a beach breakfast fish fry, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. The irony that Peter had denied Him three times just three days ago seems lost on Peter as he passionately affirms His love. Jesus replies that if Peter loves Him then he should “feed my sheep”. Then He prophesied Peter’s death. John 21:15-19 Peter still did not have the remotest clue as to what Jesus was saying as evidenced by Peter’s next question. What about that guy? John 21:21

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

How often have I been so focused on what I think God is doing or wants to do in others that I remain oblivious to what God was doing in me?

There is a story about Charles Darwin as he arrived in Patagonia on the HMS Beagle, a colossal steel brigantine ship. Darwin and his crew rowed ashore in rowboats. To his surprise, the Patagonians who had canoes themselves clearly saw the row boats. But they did not perceive the HMS Beagle. Why? Because a ship so large was so far outside the realm of their experience and resulting presuppositions that it was too much for their brains to process. Instead, their brains filtered it. They literally could not see it.

I often wonder, as I read about Peter, how much I fail to see?

Peter wasn’t stupid. He simply had his own ideas about God. They prevented him from seeing. It didn’t matter how many times Jesus explained God’s plan. Peter filtered what didn’t fit his paradigm.

In the Marine Corps, we referred to guys like Peter as “Rocks”.

Still, Peter’s heart and intentions were in the right place. It didn’t matter how many times he failed and was rebuked. Peter loved Jesus and never stopped pursuing Him. He remained “Semper Fi“. Ironically, it wasn’t until after Jesus ascended Acts 1:11 and Holy Spirit was poured out in the Upper Room that Peter finally understood everything Jesus had taught.

He preached the entire Gospel in his first sermon beginning in Acts 2:14-15

“For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…”

Peter was apprehended by Holy Spirit in the upper room. Paul was apprehended on the road to Damascus. I was apprehended at gunpoint on a beach. We don’t know for certain what happened to Malchus and I may just be projecting. But I suspect he was apprehended the moment his hearing was restored. I know a lot of people who were miraculously apprehended by Jesus. I am convinced that a truly transformed life is always the fruit of divine apprehension, not merely an act of human will. John 15:16

Even so, our will often gets us into position for our appointed arrest.

1st and 2nd Peter address some hard topics. Let’s keep in mind that like Peter, every one of us is prone to be smart like a rock. It is only through the power of Holy Spirit in conjunction with the whole counsel of God through His Word that we gain the right perspective and ability to joyfully walk out the hard things to which every Christian is called.

Maranatha

Knowledge Applied

As I’ve said, Roland Baker reminds me of Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid. I remember listening as people tried to debate him on theological topics in Harvest School. “Is God like this or is God like that?…” “Well…this and that.” Roland would reply. “Do we have free will?”

“Yes and no.”

Have you ever found yourself in a discussion with other believers on something as seemingly clear as salvation a.k.a Soteriology and left feeling more conflicted and confused? How could two believers read the same Bible and arrive at such different conclusions?

If you aren’t Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Coptic then you are Protestant. The roots of every Protestant denomination began with the Protestant Reformation. Over time, these denominations continued to split over theological disagreements. Blatant heresies like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses aside, these disagreements were almost always rooted in the views of two theologians, John Calvin, 1509-1564, and Jacobus Arminius 1560-1609. Both arguments are rooted in five opposing points as follows.

Calvinism

  • Total depravity – Mankind is incapable of obeying the law of God. No one is righteous Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23 We are “dead in trespasses and sins”. Ephesians 2:1 We have no hope of salvation apart from divine intervention.
  • Limited atonement – Jesus’ death and resurrection made salvation possible. However, it is only definite for those elected (Predestined) by God. At the end of the day we don’t choose salvation we are appointed to it. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:48
  • Unconditional election – Those who are saved are predestined to be saved. Ephesians 1:4-5 God chose them before the foundation of the world. Salvation is in no way influenced by our decisions or actions but by the sovereign will of God.
  • The irresistibility of grace – No one can be saved unless God draws them. No one can resist God when they are drawn. John 6:44 “All that the Father gives me will come to me,” John 6:37  Whom God calls He will justify, sanctify and glorify. Romans 8:28-30. Those predestined to be saved can not stop God from saving them.
  • Perseverance of the saints – Once saved ALWAYS SAVED John 10:28-29. We immediately obtain eternal life the moment we believe. John 5:246:47 Our salvation cannot be lost John 10:27-28Romans 8:31-39.

Denominations that lean toward Calvinism include Primitive Baptist or Reformed Baptist Churches, Presbyterian Churches, and Reformed Churches. The United Church of Christ, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America.

Arminianism

  • Human Free Will – God does not want anyone to perish 2 Peter 3:9 but many do. If God is sovereign, then part of that sovereignty must include that he gave man free will to choose Him or reject Him.   
  • Conditional Election – God has foreknowledge of who will be saved because He is omniscient. He does not pre-determine who will be saved. In the end, we make the final decision whether we will be obedient to the call. 1 Peter 1:1–2
  • Prevenient Grace – We absolutely CAN reject salvation via our own free will. We hear the Gospel John 6:45 are convicted John 16:8 and exercise free will to believe in Christ. Holy Spirit makes us open to the message  Acts 16:14, Luke 24:45 and draws us to God. John 6:4412:32 Still, we must exercise our free will to believe. 
  • Universal Atonement – Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived not just the elect. 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10
  • Persistence of salvation – A person can fall from grace and lose his salvation.  Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 10:26-29, Hebrews 6:4–6 The NT is a higher standard than the OT. Mat 7:21-23, Mat 5:28 We must “endure” to be saved. Mat 24:13

Denominations that lean toward Arminianism include The Evangelical Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, and the Salvation Army. The Assemblies of God, Church of God, and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

The Division

Calvinists accuse Arminians of minimizing or even denying the sovereignty of God. Arminians see Calvinists as robots living in a proverbial Truman Show before Truman realized he had free will.

Most debates concerning the character, nature, and will of God are reduceable to the subject of free will or the lack thereof. Exactly how much free will a.k.a POWER do I have? Arminius says, “Some”. Calvin says, “None”. Consider this. Suppose every thought and action of yours was in fact predetermined by God.

How would you know?

That’s a deep rabbit hole

Roland Baker frequently writes provocative FB posts illuminating this seemingly bottomless rabbit hole and Ecc 1:9 debate.

If Roland’s posts don’t clarify the confusion the comments certainly do.

“Who cares!” some of you say. “That’s theology or “religion”. “I’m led by Holy Spirit!” Ok. But doesn’t every believer makes that claim? Like it or not we all have a theology especially those “religiously irreligious” people who claim they do not. That said, anyone who has studied theology understands the Ecc 1:9 nature of most unresolved theological debates.

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

One thing is certain, our theology is at least partly shaped by the denomination or faith stream we choose. Hardly anyone reads their Bible without also consulting books and commentaries written by theologians and teachers aligned with their stream. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this unless you don’t read the Bible and only read books by theologians and teachers aligned with your stream. Think about it. How many of those aligned with Bill Johnson read books by Paul Washer or God forbid the likes of John MacArthur? If they do it is usually through the lens of Bill Johnson.

“That’s not right! Bill Johnson says…”

Of course, the opposing side is just as guilty. The point is that too many determine the truth by who said it. This is the Genetic Fallacy and always results in Christian tribalism otherwise known as denominations and streams.

So much for attaining the unity of the faith…Eph 4:13

Call me crazy but maybe we have never agreed on the answers to certain questions because we are asking the wrong questions. “Can I lose my salvation? Or in the words of Martin Luther, am I free to “love God and sin boldly?” “How righteous or unrighteous am I? “What is my true identity?” “How much power have I been granted?” “Does more faith mean more power?” “Can I choose to grow in faith or am I stuck with the measure I have been given?” It seems to me that a better question might be,

Does Jesus know me?

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Mat 7:21-23

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Prov 9:10

Some of you were just triggered.

For the record, fear is never the goal. 1 John 4:18 Most fears among believers are rooted in groundless accusations from people and the accuser of the brethren. Still, sometimes fear points to things that we are reluctant to address Phil 2:12

All fear aside, What if it is only possible to understand what matters to God in the context of doing what matters to God?

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25

For example, Ephesians chapter five speaks of marriage between Christ and His Church in the context of the relationship between a husband and a wife. It follows that learning about marriage would be a good way to understand Paul’s words to the Ephesians.

Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Eph 5:25-27

I could study about being a husband, and read opposing arguments about loving a wife. I could read books about family dynamics. I could get a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I could memorize all the love languages, read books on human sexuality, and neuropsychology, and become an authority on the differences between the male and female brain. I could lead marriage seminars and debate other credentialed therapists before writing my own expert opinion on marriage. I might even become a celebrated expert cited by other credentialed experts. I might have paid speaking engagements, sell millions of books and God forbid, find millions of people rebutting arguments with,

“But Brian Gray says…”

At the end of the day, the only way to know anything about being a husband and loving a wife is to be married to one. Even then most of what I know is beyond what mere words can convey. The same applies to walking with God as a part of His body and bride. For the record that is not an excuse to not study yourselves approved. 2 Tim 2:15 Faith (still) comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Rom 10:17. God’s Word remains Truth. John 17:17. The full understanding of God’s word comes by walking it out. Eph 5:9-10 Don’t go beyond what is written. 1 Cor 4:6 And don’t extrapolate weird abstract meanings from scriptures. Focus on what is clearly stated in the text.

Then walk it out

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Eph 5:1-2

Roland Baker is a theologian. More importantly, he is an imitator of God. That’s not an invitation to put him on a pedestal as another celebrity idol.

You’ve missed the point entirely if you do.

If you’ve been to Mozambique and seen the suffering that surrounds him and spoken with the locals alongside whom he and Heidi suffer, then you know Roland’s knowledge of God is beyond words he can express. It is rooted in his best attempt at walking in love, just as Christ also loved him. Again I’m not suggesting that Roland is some elevated saint whose shadow heals and whose touch turns everything to gold or that he can mystically impart his knowledge and anointing through his hands. That’s Harry Potter Christian silliness. I am saying that he is an example of what it looks like to imitate God’s faithfulness the best way he knows how. God calls us to be faithful, not successful. Mat 25:23 Faith precedes knowledge. Everything else is the fruit of

knowledge applied. 2 Peter 1:5-11

Chew on that…

MARANATHA

The Paradox of “I”

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:1-2

Beloved is agapētós: esteemed, favorite, worthy of love. It is the same word the Father spoke immediately following Jesus’ baptism.

“And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved (agapētós) Son, with whom I am well pleased.Mat 3:17

God’s love in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” is agapáō love in a social or moral sense, to be fond of, to love dearly.

The difference is subtle but profound. Agapáō in John 3:16 is the love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our trespassesby nature children of wrath. Eph 2:1-3. This is a statement of God’s character. He loved us because of who He is despite who we were. In contrast, Agapētós in Eph 5:1 is a statement about us. As believers made alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Eph 2:5-6 we are now esteemed as His favorites, worthy of His love.

The reason for the change in our status remains the same. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:8-9 Nevertheless we have been promoted to the rank of favored children with Jesus and seated with Him as if we’d been there the entire time.

Let that sink in…

When viewed correctly this revelation should provoke both

Gratitude and Fear.

Historically, believers embrace one or the other. We are consumed with Rom 7:15-25 “Oh what a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” Or we redact Romans 7 completely in lieu of Romans 8.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Rom 8:1-2

Mind you this is Paul the Apostle speaking about himself. He went a step further in 1 Cor 4:13 when he described himself as the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. He said this in the context of addressing what I call “celebrityism” beginning in chapter three.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Cor 3:7

“Celebrityism” is born of the “self” that Jesus requires us to deny. Mat 16:24 “I” becomes doctrine such that “My identity” supersedes His wherever “self” is not slain. It is so subtle, so seemingly normal that most do not give it a second thought. The doctrine of “I” is most clearly seen in an obsession with “My Ministry”, “My Calling”, “My gift”, “My significance” etc.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1Cor 4:6-7

“Celebrityism” begins with a sincere desire to be used by God and becomes idolatry when we idolize those we wish we could be in the world. “Celebrityism” is pride unwittingly instilled by culture. It is carnal- a work of the flesh. 1 Cor 3:1-4 It is a desire to be something or someone in the world in Jesus’ name. It is a fruit of immaturity, comparison, performance, and a perverted understanding of what it means to be

beloved children.

Many believers wrestle with the paradox of identity IN Him. Either we are so consumed with beholding our reflection in His eyes as we imagine it that we can not even see Him. Or we are so consumed with guilt, shame, and condemnation that we can not see Him. Either way, the enemy doesn’t care if we are consumed with narcissism or self-hatred. He only needs us to be focused on the unholy trinity of

Me, Myself and I

It’s been the same game since the fall when Adam and Eve’s attention went from perfect fellowship with God to an obsession with self when their eyes went from Him to themselves and they realized they were naked. Gen 3 The enemy doesn’t need us to choose sin. He just needs us to be focused on sin. He is perfectly happy to have me indulging with impunity or shamefully struggling in the flesh to avoid it. If only we would realize that all of us are born addicted to self, that

Selfishness and self-centeredness are the root of all our troubles.

We’d understand our identity as beloved children and be free.

That identity is a dead child of wrath revived, redeemed, and now beloved because of who God is, not because of who I am. He does not need me. He wants me. His plans are not contingent upon anything I do or fail to do. My participation is an undeserved privilege granted to me as a beloved son. If I rule and reign with Him it is only because my life is in Him. Today, I do not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it because it is covered by the blood of Jesus. Hence, my brokenness has become my blessing, my rap sheet my resume. I don’t need to affirm my or your identity in Him because the “I” is dead or still needs to be slain.

i die daily.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Col 3:3

You are a beloved child.

Embrace the paradox

Maranatha

Walking in Dust

Unity in Littelness

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Eph 4:1-3 ESV

We continued to focus on unity this week. How can we or will we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of ChristEph 4:13

Why is Paul so redundant? 

Ephesians chapters four through six, known as the marching orders for the church, begin with establishing the character qualities required for unity.  Humility seems to be the most foundational. Still, our friend Leon made an interesting point. The root of the issue is power. Humility is the fruit of giving our power away instead of hoarding it for our own prosperity and prestige etc.. This is counter-intuitive in a world driven by the idolatry of celebrity. Add to that an obsession with personal identity and imagined significance and we’ve got a recipe for God’s opposition in our lives. James 4:6

He opposes the proud…

According to some scholars, the Greeks didn’t have a word for humility until the New Testament. When they did it became a pejorative. Paul’s redundancy may indicate that Jewish and Gentile believers were still struggling to lay their biases and pride aside. In any case, Jesus is our example. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing incarnate God who humbled Himself and gave everything so that one day we might be unified in one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph 4:4-6

How many of us are willing to give everything?

A gift made by South Sudanese children. It was all they had.

It was 2016 and we were with South Sudanese Refugees in the Rhino Refugee camp in Northern Uganda. Our outreach team was asked to address leaders from different tribes who had been fighting one another in an ongoing civil war. Now fifty thousand of them were unified in their

loss

Given that I was the oldest male on the team they asked me to speak first. Unity was the theme. Nearly every sect and denomination were represented. There were Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Congregationalists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians to name just a few. Even Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses were there. Suffice it to say, I felt thoroughly inadequate. What could I, a spoiled American from Hawaii tell these men about unity amid such suffering? I had everything. They had been stripped of everything. I babbled some kind of message that I can’t recall. I only remember one South Sudanese man, a former “Lost Boy” (child soldier) who stood up at the end and proclaimed,

“There is no good tribe! There are no good people! Only one is good! That one is Jesus!”

These doctors, nurses, lawyers engineers, teachers, professors, and preachers never imagined they’d end up living in the dust with their children without food or water for days at a time.  They never imagined that one of their children would die daily due to starvation or a lack of medical care. Now they understood the utter futility of human power, resolutions, and pride.

Toy truck made from hard-to-find cardboard and wheels cut from worn-out flip-flops

Having come to the end of themselves they’d found unity in the dust.

I’m certainly not on a quest to suffer. Yet as much as we may deny it, the path of Rom 5:3-5 tribulation is unavoidable in this life unless, of course, we refuse to persevere. Tribulation is thlîpsis anguish, burden, persecution, distress, oppression, affliction, pressing together, and pressure. Paul doesn’t specifically mention humility here. But he further clarifies the connection in 2 Cor 12

... I refrain from it (boasting), so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. …to keep me from becoming conceited… But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:5-10

That is humility in action.

The joy in James 1:2-4 is a fruit of 2 Cor 12:5-10.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

James 1:2-4 in action looks like the South Sudanese man with whom Cathy walked in the Rhino camp.

After praying with a woman whose child had just died, Cathy asked the man “How do you cope with all this pain?”  “We have lost everything…”  He smiled,

“…but we have Jesus!”

James 1:2-4 looks like our friend who lost two children to suicide. She wrote the following after she lost her third child to an accidental overdose in October.

As I sit in my cozy home with my Bible and too much food in my kitchen and so, so many blessings, it seems to me that God is good. Not because of material things, but more so in the area of loss. I have lost three of my children, the three youngest, three that loved me, three that did not hold my failings over my head. three that I am convinced we’re saved! And so there is hope. Hope that we will be together again, one day- minus all the baloney of this life. Hope that they now- at last, have a full understanding of “why?”
What has happened, how my life has transpired, the hardships, sufferings, pain, and sorrow, is nothing compared to the glory which shall be revealed in Heaven. So many people have suffered hardship and grief throughout the ages. Many folks have had it ALOT worse than I do. Among those are many stories of strength and perseverance. The ability to continue on with this life in the face of great loss. To continue in hope. To know that God is sovereign

and God is good.

James 1:2-4 leads to completeness. Completeness leads to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of ChristEph 4:13

Hence, Paul begins with lowliness (humility) in Eph 4:1-3 KJV + Strong’s

It occurs to me as I ponder the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, Eph 3:9 that somewhere in the neighborhood of eight trillion people have walked the earth since the fall of man. Gen 3. Every one of them became the dust upon which we walk until the day we become dust ourselves. Gen 3:19

It seems to me that if humility begins with giving power away, then giving power away begins with facing the dusty nature of what many call

“I-dentity”

Hard Red Pill.

Yes, the body has many parts 1 Cor 12:12-31. But what good is a hand or a foot apart from the rest of the body? Parts only matter in the context of the whole. Unity is the joints that connect the parts. Eph 4:16

Only unified parts can make a whole.

Humility – tapeinophrosýnēa deep sense of one‘s littleness.

Maranatha

The Bread of Life

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Eph 4

The Acts 17:11 Bereans Bible study begins Ephesians 4 this week. Given the “season”, I’m going to jump ahead for in this blog post.

And God said, Let there be lights in the 
firmament of the heaven to divide the day
from the night; and let them be for signs,
and for seasons, and for days, and years:
Gen 1:14.

Seasons is “mowed“: “an appointed feast”.

Specific instructions and times for these feasts were given to Moses in Leviticus 23.

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Lev 23:2

Convocation is “miqra“: a “dress rehearsal”.

What many regard as obscure, obsolete Old Testament feasts are in fact the Lord’s feasts appointed 1,948 years before Go made His covenant with Abraham. Gen 17 Each of the seven feasts is a type and shadow of God’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Eph 1:9-10

Passover Ex 12:1-11 Lev 23:48 2023 began on April 5th at sunset. The Gospels tell us Jesus was crucified “on the day of preparation” John 19:14.  “The day of preparation” was the Jewish idiom for “Friday”.  John is referring to preparation for the Sabbath that fell during Passover week. It was not the preparation for the Passover meal that Jesus had already eaten. Mat 26:17-29 The Feast of Unleavened Bread Lev 23:6-8 begins on Passover and continues for seven days. Jesus was crucified during Passover and resurrected three days later on the Feast of First Fruits. Lev 23:10-11 The day after Passover begins the Feast of Weeks and the counting of the Omer (sheaves of wheat) for fifty days leading up to Shavuot Lev 23:15-16. Passover to Shavuot marks the beginning and end of the wheat harvest. Christians call Shavuot Pentecost because it means “fifty”. One hundred twenty people waited fifty days in the upper room until Pentecost was fulfilled in Acts 2.

When the law was given from Sinai, God appeared in a thick cloud. Exod 19 Then the Lord spoke to the Israelites from the midst of the fire Deut 4 He showed them his great fire and they heard his words from the midst it. In Jerusalem, there was the rushing of a violent wind from heaven divided tongues, as of fire, which rested upon each one of them, and the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel in tongues. Acts 2 The Old Testament Pentecost was the giving of the 1st Covenant, the Law. The New Testament Pentecost was the giving of the 2nd Covenant, the Holy Spirit.

As For Easter…

Easter actually originated as an ancient pagan celebration of the spring equinox. In Christianity, the day was dedicated to observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebrated around the time of the Jewish Passover. However, with the spread of the Gospel of Christ, early Christians who did not participate in Jewish customs eventually merged their observances with the pagan spring festival, recognizing Easter as “resurrection day.” History of Easter

The Passover meal that Jesus ate with His disciples and is repeated yearly by Orthodox Jews and Messianic believers is called the Seddar. It has fifteen steps the first of which is the removal of Leaven from the home.  Leaven (yeast) represents Egypt out of which Israel emerged into the desert. For us, it is worldliness, false teaching, sin, etc. The leaven is not to be touched so the father takes a candle for light and a feather and goes about the house sweeping the hidden leaven into a bag. When all the leaven is collected both bag and feather are burned. Of course, yeast is not found scattered in most houses today. Therefore pieces of unleavened bread are traditionally hidden like the pagan easter eggs parents hide for children today.

Jesus was removing Leaven in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple during the feast of Unleavened Bread.

It was Passover when He fed the five thousand and The Feast of Unleavened Bread when He declared

I am the bread of life. John 6

Where Passover represents our justification (the remission of sin), The Feast of Unleavened Bread represents our ongoing sanctification. Justification is an exclusive work of God. Sanctification takes place in partnership with God. Justification is instantaneous. Sanctification is ongoing as we become Holy even as He is Holy. “Holy” is to be separate from the world.

Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 2 Cor 6:14-18

This is not an obsolete Old Testament ceremonial law but a New Testament command for those already justified by grace through faith. Eph 2:8-10 Our part in sweeping the leaven from our lives is illustrated by Paul in the book of Romans.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Rom 12:1-2

As for those who claim the feasts are not for today Paul is clear that they are. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.1 Cor 5:8

Leaven includes but is not limited to the thoughts, words, and actions that we do not want to acknowledge as sin. It is the worldliness we justify, rationalize, and minimize to avoid the fact that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Opposition implies stubbornness which is idolatry. 1 Sam 15:23 Active opposition looks like a violent attack.

Enmity is active opposition. James 4:4

Leaven compels us to make idols of politicians, celebrities, political parties, denominations, faith streams and wealth, etc. Mark 14:8-20 Leaven might be the music or tattoo that we think gives us the “cultural cred” we covet. We rationalize that they open doors for the gospel.

Leaven is the beloved tradition that emerges from syncretism. Syncretism pleases man in the name of God rather than God for the sake of man.

Easter 2023 at Transformation Church in Knoxville TN.

Leaven is false prophecy, false signs and wonders, and, the false teaching that deep down we suspect or even know is unbiblical.

But it tickles our ears in such a sweet way. 2 Tim 4:1-4 1 Tim 4:1

Leaven confuses loyalty with faithfulness, pride with anointing, intention with action, and cognitive dissonance with faith. Leaven fuels offense and even rage when our loyalties and wrong beliefs are challenged. Leaven always seeks its own and with it approval from the world rather than God who opposes it. 1 John 2:15-16

A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Gal 5:9

I’m not a Methodist. But given that I live in Appalachia, I find the alleged connection between John and Charles Wesley, the Methodist revival, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather poignant. After having profound personal encounters with God, the Wesleys preached the necessity of sanctification through personal holiness in thoughts, words, and actions. This is the point for Christians during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was in this context that Paul wrote.

Now, this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph 4:17-32

Maranatha

His Surpassing Love

Ephesians 3:18-19

March 1st marked a year since we moved to Greeneville TN and since I last wrote about my best childhood friend Craig Hammerly. Craig was the unauthorized friend with whom I used to play in the woods between our houses when we were 6 or 7 years old. I say “unauthorized” because Craig was that “bad kid”.  My mother forbade our friendship. So I’d grab my Tonka dump truck, excavator, and matchbox cars and meet Craig secretly to play.  Craig didn’t have any toys so it was up to me. Craig lived alone with his grandfather. Rumor had it that he “did… things to Craig” – the kind of things that people didn’t talk about let alone do anything about in those days.  Craig got held back in the third grade and we eventually grew apart. He grew grew more angry and became the school bully that everyone was afraid to fight. Craig couldn’t read but he was good at fighting. Man could he punch hard. Elementary school mythology had it that “he’d knocked out a high school kid when he was in the sixth grade. Even the teachers were afraid of him.” He moved away before we got to Jr. High. Ironically after 50 years I felt prompted to look him up on the internet. He was all over the internet. Craig, who called himself Damien Knight had been on drugs and in and out of jail for most of his life.  He’d been arrested again just a week before.

Craig beat his roommate to death with his fists.

Craig is by definition,dead in his trespasses. Eph 2:1

The Acts 17:11 Bereans Bible study just finished Ephesians chapter 3. We ended last session with all of us pondering the breadth and length and height and depth and the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, Eph 3:18-19 We all agreed that His love is best understood in contrast with who we were; dead people appointed to wrath Eph 2:1-3 versus who we are today

in Christ Jesus. Eph 2:4-6

God’s definition of love is counterintuitive to that of the world.

Even more counterintuitive is that “Dead in our trespasses” puts all of us on equal footing with Craig and even the worst serial killer.

That’s a hard red pill for some.

It’s not that our actions here on earth equal those of Dahlmer. Rather it is that all dead people are equally dead. Jesus clearly illustrates this principle in Luke 13:1-5 …No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish...

At the end of the day the only thing that any of us brings to our salvation is our sin.

That should be really good news to all but the unholy trinity of

Me, Myself and I.

Thankfully Jesus prescribed the antidote. Mat 16:24-26

“My Identity”

“My Identity” is a favorite theme in the church these days. If there is anything good in me now it is Jesus. My identity is in him Col 3:3 “But what about 2 Cor 5:17?” “I thought all things are made new.” Yes, they are and yes you are. But only in Christ Jesus. Narcissism hates that. Narcissism can not survive in Christ Jesus. Thankfully, the Father is conforming us to the image of His Son Rom 8:29 in an ongoing process of transformation and renewal Rom 12:1-2.

Once again we don’t worship a God of this or that. Our God is a God of this and that. So often believers skip Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?Rom 7:24-25 to the so much sweeter Rom 8:1-2 where There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus… Yet, we must embrace and internalize both if we are to do more than just scratch the surface of His love that surpasses knowledge.

Oh wretched man…

I raised a few eyebrows when I wrote about my Holston experience in For the Love of Sid. It was inspired by the Toy Story character that everyone loves to hate. Some were disturbed that I would still identify with the evil Sid. “I refuse to see you as Sid,” said one friend. “But you have a new identity now!” assured another. Well…

Yes and No

I ended up living on my own at 14 and subsequently took Craigs place in the community. Suddenly I was that bad kid with whom mothers forbade their children to associate. I walked a lonely angry path that eventually landed me in jail. I could have easily been where Craig is today. But I came face to face with the love that surpasses knowledge amidst a point blank shotgun blast. I wasn’t looking for God. I was looking to die. Little did I know I was already dead. Jesus showed up and saved me. And not just from the shotgun. He saved me from me. Why me and not Craig? If you say it is because there was something different about me then you’ve missed the point entirely.

I’m no longer dead in my trespasses. Nor am I consumed by guilt, shame, and condemnation. Still, I am very much Sid. I am Craig. I am Jeffery Dahlmer. The only difference is that I am in Christ Jesus.

God loved me and still loves me in spite of me not because of me.

God loves me because of who He is. 

This is such a deep core truth and just the beginning of His love that surpasses knowledge.

The best I can do today is to be grateful and love the people like me that He sends my way. Luke 7:47

I shared the story of Craig and me with some of the boys with whom I work. You know you’ve hit a nerve in boys when they just look you long and hard in the eye and don’t say word. Only one boy asked a question. “How does that make you feel Mr. Brian?” “Sad” I began

“And Grateful.”

We ended the Bible study session with my favorite allegory about a righteous African King whom everyone loved and respected. His word was unshakable. He said what he meant and meant what he said.

One day his administrators reported that someone was stealing chickens in the village. If you’ve been to places like Mozambique then you know that “chicken thieves die!” So the King made a decree. When the thief was caught he would receive one hundred stripes, enough to potentially kill a grown man.

The next day the thief was caught and brought before the king. It was the kings mother. The king was distraught. Still he commanded that she be stripped and tied to the whipping post. “One hundred lashes!” cried the king, “and not one less.” “If I even think you are holding back I will have you executed.” The men assigned to the task moved solemnly toward the kings mother. “Wait!” cried the King. “There’s one more thing.” The King stood and removed his shirt. Then covering his mother with his own body the King exclaimed,

Proceed!

Even this does not begin to describe the love that surpasses knowledge.

Even so, Passover has officially started as I publish this.

Maranatha

A Spotless Bride

“In the crushing – in the pressing, you are making new wine.”

-Hillsong Worship-

It was during a Sunday service in 2003 or maybe 2004 when we first heard our pastor lift a teenage girl in prayer. Her name was Crystal. She’d been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. We became acquainted with her over the next decade as she frequented the same circle of believers. Much to her chagrin she always ended up the center of attention. I remember wondering if she felt like cancer had become her identity as people faithfully and fervently prayed for healing. While there were significant periods of remission, the cancer always returned.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom 8:5-6

If there was one thing about Crystal that stood out most, it was a profound, almost palpable peace that seemed to envelop her. When I last saw her she was having horrific seizures several times a day. Yet, we never would have known it if she hadn’t told us herself. Maybe it was my imagination but her eyes only seemed to grow brighter as her life drew to a close. I remember the hospital room being filled with “persistent widows” praying for the miracle healing they just knew had to come.  Ironically, Crystal was far more concerned with comforting them.  There was something she wanted to share. Could it be that healing for the sake of healing alone is never the point, that there are deeper things, bigger things than mere physical health? But she was slow to speak and soft-spoken when she did.  No one could hear her amidst the desperate invocations of the miraculous before visiting hours ended. I’m not being sarcastic. Surrendering to life’s end is hard for all involved even though the same natural end awaits us all. Very few truly embrace what the Bible says about this. I worked in nursing when I was young and used to care for the dying. They always had so much to impart as they shed the superficial layers of their lives. I really wanted to hear Crystal. I wanted people to embrace rather than just give lip service to the fact that “the world and everything in it is passing away.” 1John 2:15-17 It was clear to me that

Cancer was Crystal’s ministry.

Everything she loved in and about the world had been repeatedly torn from her grasp. In truth, she was dying in every picture taken of her as an adult. The light and life in her eyes was a result of all the crushing and pressing that had transformed her into new wine. I could see that she yearned to pour it out. To be honest, I remember feeling angry…really angry! While people prayed for healing I prayed they would shut up and listen. Meanwhile, Crystal was patient, surrendered, desiring nothing.  I remember looking into those crystal clear eyes – her head and body covered in praying hands. I wanted her to know that I shared her frustration. Instead, I saw Jesus staring back at me – convicting me of my petty anger and resentment.

Crystal died soon after.

It may be my counseling background that has me viewing the current state of the world through the lens of Crystal and the five stages of grief through which every terminally ill patient must theoretically pass. They are denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and finally acceptance. They speak for themselves. What is most relevant here is that these stages apply to all who dwell on the earth. I have observed that some people get stuck in one stage or another. Some form of emotional /spiritual illness often results. Today people are losing their sanity over the sudden recognition of their own mortality. It’s as if death didn’t exist before COVID. Similar to those who prayed for Crystal’s healing to the exclusion of all else, many are failing to embrace the reality that can only be seen amidst

True Trust and Surrender to God.

If you ask me COVID is just a symptom of a much deeper illness. People are desperately praying as I write, that God will heal our land. Yet the faith to which so many cling is really just denial. I’ve said many times, that as a nation, we are guilty of the same sins that resulted in God’s judgment of ancient Israel. He is judging us now. Still, many remain unable or unwilling to grasp the reality that individual justification is possible amidst God’s simultaneous judgment of a nation. Biblical illiteracy causes others to confuse God’s discipline with His wrath. Jeremiah 29 While people do everything in their power to cling to passing moments of bliss and preserve bliss’s beauty in its prime, it’s getting harder to deny that the world and especially the USA is in fact terminally ill. It has been for a very long time. Periodic lulls or remissions simply perpetuate the illusion that all is well. Meanwhile, God is speaking in and through the illness that he has no intention of healing. At least not in the way so many of us desire.

Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear and hear not: for they are a rebellious house. Eze 12:2

One thing seems certain. People will respond to what is coming in accordance with their respective stages of grief.  Those in the denial and bargaining stages will continue to work and pray and cling to ideas and prophecies that a coming messianic POTUS will save the day. Meanwhile, the devil laughs, “Heads I win. Tails you lose”. Some will call for national repentance and like Jeremiah intercede on behalf of the nation. These often rail at unjust government as if we are righteous. But don’t expect to see Big Eva or any mega-church calling upon themselves to “turn from their wicked ways“. The fear of rejection is just too strong. Those in the anger stage may react foolishly and perhaps even violently while embracing a false belief in another 1776. Once again the devil flips a coin. “Heads he wins. Tails you lose.” Others will be so grieved that they become despondent. Some will even take their own lives. Still, others will step into Prov 3:5-8 driven acceptance and like Jesus in Gethsemane and perhaps Crystal on Kauai, walk-in Col 3:3 and James 1:2-4 knowing that “to live is Christ. To die is gain.” Phil 1:21. A place where worldly desire is seen for what it is and the only prayer that remains is

“Thy will, not mine be done” 

By the way, this is a benchmark, not a platitude.

I didn’t know Crystal well enough to say when her transformation took place. I only saw the result. One thing is certain. She made peace with God and her own mortality long before I stood at her bedside. All she wanted was Jesus. And while she never had the time or opportunity for a husband, the crushing and pressing and suffering that was her life produced a new wine of grace and holiness becoming of a spotless bride.  2 Cor 11:2, Eph 5:27, Rev 19:7

A spotless bride, not a prosperous person or nation, was and is the ultimate purpose of Jesus’s coming.

May we “Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth

May we be spotless like Crystal.


May our only cry be,

  

Maranatha!

From What Am I Saved?

One of the biggest errors we make as Christians is to present the love of God apart from His wrath.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Eph 2:1-3

How many people come to the altar to be saved from their earthy circumstances and or trials they attribute to the devil?

The root is…

God warned Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the KNOWLEDGE of good and evil in Gen 3. It was the one and only thing they could not eat. If they did God said they would die. This was an objective truth given by the source of objective truth. Many people argue over the fairness of this. Yet they can only do so subjectively.

In the end, it amounts to arguing about the fairness of gravity.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Then their focus went from God to themselves.

Self-centeredness was born.

While the devil is the adversary of all true believers, he is NOT adverse to the earthly well-being of unbelievers. Think about it. Why would he give them more reason to flee into the arms of God?

“You attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

The enemy baits people with earthly good, things that serve, and inflate our pride and sense of self-importance. Then he attempts to invalidate the goodness of God based on subjective earthly reasoning.

“How could a loving God allow_____?”

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”C.S. Lewis

That’s right. The pain and suffering that drive us to God are caused by God or at the very least allowed by Him. To say otherwise is to give something or someone else more power and authority than Jesus. Mat 28:18. Healing doesn’t happen because God wants us to bring heaven onto earth. Supernatural signs and wonders are real and necessary because people are stubborn and refuse to believe unless they see proof. John 4:48. Even then many refuse to believe. Matthew 8:28 Others only believe for a while. Mat 11:20

There are consequences for unaddressed sin both individually and collectively as a nation.

Think of it as a friend who punches you in the face because you refuse to get out of the path of an oncoming train. Or the dog you want to teach to ride in the back of a pickup truck. Maybe you drive 10mph in a grassy field, let him jump out, and feel the pain in the grass instead of perishing on the pavement at 60mph.

By His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

Just to be clear, the context of the word “Healed” here is primarily in reference to the restoration of a people group. Hence, it is through Jesus alone that we are restored to our original right standing with God.

How does that work?

There is an African tale about a King who was confronted with the fact that someone under his rule was stealing chickens. He ruled that anyone caught stealing chickens would receive 100 lashes; enough to kill most people. Soon after, the thief was caught and brought before the King. Much to his surprise, the chicken thief was his mother. The King ordered that she be strapped to the whipping pole. “You will give her the full 100 lashings,” said the King. ” “And one more thing,” he said standing to remove his shirt. “Do not diminish the severity of these lashes or you will be executed.” The king wrapped his arms around his mother and covered her with his body. “Proceed!” he said.

We are saved by God from God’s own wrath.

Today people hate Him because of the original sentence.

As for the suffering endured by believers…

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” Heb 12:5-8

Suffering produces character and hope. Rom 5:1-5 Testing of our faith produces patience. James 1:1-4 The end game is that patience will have her perfect work so that we become complete, desiring “NO THING” but “knowing Christ and Him crucified”. 1 Cor 2:2 The Kingdom of heaven is upside down from the subjective system of values and standards on earth. Jesus beat the devil through submission when He could have just kicked butt and taken names. “A student is not above His teacher. “We win the same way. Mat 10:24-25

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Mat 7:13-14

That word “narrow” means “with persecutions”.

We are saved by God from God’s wrath. We must endure to the end. Mat 24:13

He is God. We are not. Isaiah 55:8-9

Anything else is a counterfeit Christianity.

Unfortunately, 94% of Americans prefer the counterfeit .

Maranatha

Jesus King of Worms

The Passion of the Christ has become our primary ice breaker for preaching the gospel in Honduras. We just showed it in the mountains above our mountain last night.

Just like the Bible itself, the Lord seems to highlight a different point every time we watch it.  Last night was marked by the scene where Jesus receives the crown of thorns. It is the first time we noticed that the Roman soldiers crowned Jesus

“King of the Worms”.

There are at least 350 Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus. Several involve the original Tabernacle built by Moses approximately 1500 years before the birth of Jesus. If you have ever had the benefit of hearing Cathy’s Tabernacle teaching then you know that everything down to the smallest construction detail points directly to Jesus.

Cathy teaching indigenous missionary students in the Ecuadoran Amazon basin.

When I say small, I mean small.

Kermes vermilio

Kermes vermilion or  “coccus ilicis” looks more like a Beatle than a worm. Nevertheless, it was labeled a worm possibly because it loses the use of its legs after attaching itself to a tree to give birth.

Why does this matter? 

Because Psalm 22, probably written 1000 years before His birth is one of the major prophetic passages concerning Jesus.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. Psalm 22:6

The Hebrew word for “Worm” in the OT is “Rimmah” which means maggot and is exclusively associated with decay. However, the word for “worm” in psalm 22 is Towla “scarlet stuff, crimson, a dye made from the dried body of the female of the worm coccus ilicis.” Interestingly, the word “crimson” is from a Sanskrit word KṚMI-JĀ meaning “worm-made.”

One of the most poignant points for me in the Tabernacle teaching was concerning the crimson dye that was used to color the tabernacle curtains and coverings. Exodus 26 It was obtained from the coccus ilicis worm.

According to Henry Morris,

“When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted.” 

Not only did the worm have to die but her offspring would feed on her corpse until they were strong enough to go off on their own.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. John 6:53-55

Everything down to even the tiniest worm that died and shed its blood on a tree so that others may live was a prophetic depiction of the final sacrifice of Jesus who shed His blood for us on the cross so that all who believe and repent might be saved. It was the original act of communion whereby we symbolically eat His flesh and drink His blood in remembrance of why He came and is coming. Who would have ever imagined that in a world that idolizes fame, fortune, power, and charisma, a world where everyone is vying to be seen and heard, that the God of all creation would use a worm to point us back to Himself and the reality of Maranatha.

We never cease to be amazed at His intricacy and depth. Hence, awe remains my primary expression of worship.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Prov 25:2

May you be a King.

MARANATHA

To Laugh or To Mourn

Like so many of his teachings and posts, this one by Rolland Baker (a.k.a. Mr. Miagi in my mind) resulted in a tirade of disagreement among proverbial dissenting Daniel-sans. Some were appalled. Some were confused.  Others simply assumed he was mocking Pharisees and the religion of man. He later explained that he might have been doing all of these or none of these or all of these and more. In any case, I did some Acts 17:11 research. As it turns out the word “joy” is used 171 times in the ESV. “Mourn” is only mentioned 39 times and “mourning” 51.

That ought to tell you something! 

Amirite?

Here’s the thing.  The passage in question never once mentioned “joy”- only laughter. Laughter is mentioned 9 times in the ESV.  Job 8:21 and Psalm 126:2 sound nice. Gen 21:6, Prov 14:13, Ecc 2:2, Ecc 7:3, Ecc 10:19, Jas 4:9 not so much. Especially James 4:9.

“…Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:8-9

It occurs to me that the automatic correlation of joy with laughter may be a bit flippant. 

Still context matters.

I’ve experienced what is called Holy laughter amidst deep repentance and face-to-face encounters with the absurdity of my filthy rag self-importance. It is the light of God’s power and grace that causes me to laugh at the narcissistic me whom I behold in the dark glass. I’ve also seen it amidst others being delivered from homicidal rage, chronic depression, and suicidality, etc. Still, as positive as its fruits can be, this laughter seems soulish to me. Relatively speaking it is also rare in a world filled with coarse joking and foolish talk.  

On the other hand, I have experienced some of the deepest and most profound joy of, and in the Lord amidst suffering and weeping. There is a depth and a  sweetness in that place that transcends any laughter I have experienced to date.

When I inquired how many dissenters to the post are living on the mission field? One person responded with “everywhere is the mission field”  “That’s true.” I said “Everywhere is also the world. The question is; where are you living?”

Point missed entirely. 

Perhaps it’s the relative material barrenness and the utter dependency upon Jesus that barrenness cultivates.   Maybe it’s the raw testing of faith where faith isn’t normally required. Maybe it’s the nature of the third world that facilitates tribulation becoming the seed of hope that does not disappoint. Then again maybe it’s just the sincere intention to endure whatever God chooses that opens the door.  But it seems easier to encounter that paradoxical, electric, mournful joy that is so often utterly devoid of laughter and so filled with tears from a place of suffering rather than prosperity.

There’s a lot of confusion.

What I hear people calling blessing and purpose today seems contingent upon material comfort and prosperity rather than its absence. Yet Jesus was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief with no place to lay His head.  He prayed for His torturers while He hung on the cross. He cried “my God my God why have you forsaken me!” in the peak of His suffering that no one can comprehend. He did it for the joy set before Him. But we want to turn Him into a laughing Jesus, a North American prosperity Jesus who would never let His children suffer even though that is the one thing of which He assured every believer on earth. 

Hence as time goes on what charismatics typically call Holy laughter seems increasingly shallow to me and the world’s laughter evil in the face of it. Maybe that’s what these mystics whom so many mock and call legalistic were getting at. Maybe that’s what Rolland Baker is getting at too. Then again maybe they are just speaking in the context of James chapter 4. This begs the question; is the collective angst expressed on Rolland’s post more indicative of drawing close to God or of friendship with the world?

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Psalm 119:66-72

Maranatha.