He Who Overcomes

It seems to me that overcoming must be a daily effort so that we will be ready in the end. 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 

Last time I started looking at the concept of overcoming or conquering (Greek = nikaó) and what it means. This week I decided to take a look at the verses in the Bible where the word is used. I found there are a lot of them in Revelation, and they are all accompanied there with promises. 

The one who conquers (nikaó) and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:26-27 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó) will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Revelation 3:5 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó), I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Revelation 3:12 (ESV) 

The one who conquers (nikaó), I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21 (ESV) 

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers (nikaó) will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:16-17 (ESV) 

What struck me about these verses in Revelation was the similarity in outcome and promise to the parables that Jesus told in Matthew 25: 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins: But while they were on their way to buy it, the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later the other virgins arrived and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:10-13 

The Parable of the Talents: His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21 

The Final Judgement: Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Matthew 25:34-36 

Two things stand out to me in all this. First, the readiness and the faithfulness and the true serving of Jesus by loving others must be related to this overcoming thing. For they both have the same reward: to be admitted into the Kingdom and to the family, to sit on the throne and have authority. The second thing is that it seems to me that overcoming must be a daily effort so that we will be ready in the end. 

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 

And how does that happen? John says it is by faith, by believing. But, how does that work in everyday life? In Proverbs there is a verse about a disciplined servant that helped me to see it. 

By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not respond. Proverbs 29:19 

If the Bible is “mere words” to me, by it I cannot/will not be disciplined – chastened, admonished, corrected. It must be more than words, more even than mere understanding of the words. Mere words won’t change the servant. He must be in love with the Master. 

Isn’t that what happened with the virgins who ran out of oil, and the servant who buried his talent, and the “goats” on the Lord’s left hand who did many things, but never out of love, never for the love of the Master. They only heard mere words, they only did just enough to get by, to technically obey. They never let the Master correct their wrong thinking. They never had that close relationship that is requisite, walking along side, carried in the Everlasting Arms. 

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven … But I tell you: love … Matthew 5:20, 44

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22-23 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 

To overcome there must be faith and trust in, and love for, the Author of the word, not just head knowledge. Love of the discipliner, love of the Father. And we can’t love Him unless we know Him. We can’t truly respond except through love. And all of this must be a work of the Spirit of God in us. 

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world … Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:4, 7 (ESV) 

Next week, the glorious key.

Image of oil lamp by Bee Collins https://flic.kr/p/bSdftM 

New Year, Ancient Path

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

… for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. Ephesians 5:8 (ESV)

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. — C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Photo by Jack Bair

Overcoming

Jesus showed us what overcoming means, what success and failure in this world mean.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) 

The word translated “overcomes” in the above verse is nikaó (from nike = victory) and means to conquer, be victorious, to prevail, overcome, subdue. According to Kenneth S. Wuest, “The verb implies a battle.” i 

Yes, to overcome in this world is a continual battle, but one primarily with my “self.” There is an enemy of my soul who wants to destroy me, but the battle to overcome is for holiness, for sanctification, for putting down the flesh and fighting off “human reasoning and to destroy false arguments” and “every proud obstacle that keeps [me] from knowing God” and to capture my “rebellious thoughts” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NLT).

We must overcome the world in us. The way the world has influenced us to think and respond, the world branded on our broken hearts, the world mangling our souls and deforming our hearts. For, before we can truly help anybody else, before we can begin to overcome the evil in the world outwardly, we must first do battle within our own hearts. The Apostle John talks a lot about this battle. 

No New Testament writer makes such frequent use of the metaphors of combat and victory as this gentle Apostle John. None of them seem to have conceived so habitually of the Christian life as being a conflict, and in none of their writings does the clear note of victory in the use of that word ‘overcometh‘ ring out so constantly as it does in those of the very Apostle of Love. Equally characteristic of John’s writings is the prominence which he gives to the still contemplation of, and abiding in, Christ. These two conceptions of the Christian life appear to be discordant, but are really harmonious.MacLaren’s Expositions 

Can the contemplation of our Lord, the fixing of our eyes on Jesus, the abiding in Jesus, be the key to victory in this battle, to overcoming the world? And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 

“Remember, that this is much more important than I can express: fix your eyes on your crucified Lord, and everything will seem easy to you.” — Saint Teresa of Avila ii 

Well, I don’t know about being easy – at least not yet, not for me – yet. But Teresa echoes God’s word and the promise throughout the Bible: 

Be still and know that I am God. The battle is not yours, but God’s. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. iii  

I have overcome the world. 

Where did John learn the expression? Who was it that first used it? It comes from that never-to-be-forgotten night in that upper room; where, with His life’s purpose apparently crushed into nothing, and the world just ready to exercise its last power over Him by killing Him, Jesus Christ breaks out into such a strange strain of triumph, and in the midst of apparent defeat lifts up that clarion note of victory:- ‘I have overcome the world.’ He had not made much of it, according to usual standards, had He? His life had been the life of a poor man. Neither fame nor influence, nor what people call success, had He won, judged from the ordinary points of view, and at three-and-thirty is about to be murdered; and yet He says, ’I have beaten it all, and here I stand a conqueror!’ That threw a flood of light for John, and for all that had listened to Christ, on the whole conditions of human life, and on what victory and defeat, success and failure in this world mean.” — MacLaren’s Expositions 

Jesus showed us what overcoming means, what success and failure in this world mean. Not the outer accumulations and renown, but the inner triumph, the doing of God’s will, the being faithful to the end. Jesus has overcome, and – Praise God! – he accomplishes the overcoming in us. It’s only when you think of things this way, that all of a sudden, scriptures like this one in James make sense. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3 

This sort of success, this overcoming, is an invisible victory as far as the world is concerned. What J.D. Walt calls this “learning the way of ‘yetting,’ the mystery of joy, and the practice of ‘rejoicing in the Lord,’ and yes all of this before anything changes.” It happens deep down. 

“As we learn to rejoice in the Lord at the bottom, we find a strange shifting of the center of our gravity. We go from all manner of striving after any form of strength we can find (including endlessly asking God to help us) to realizing ‘The Sovereign Lord is my strength.’” — J.D. Walt iv 

“Discipleship does not mean to use God when we can no longer function ourselves. On the contrary, it means to recognize that we can do nothing at all, but that God can do everything through us.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen 

Each self-thing as God puts his finger on it, every lingering Eden-sin, he will give me the grace to overcome, to subdue. God will work his overcoming in me. But I have to cooperate with this working, I have to renounce the sin, hate the sin, be brutal with the sin. I have to cut off the hand and gouge out the offending eye (Matthew 5:29-30). As Charles Spurgeon said, “grace saves no man to make him like a log of wood.” We have something to do; we need to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).  

There is so much more to overcoming I am finding. So, I would like to continue this wonderful discovery of hidden treasure next time. 

“He conquered once for all, and His victory will pass, with electric power, into my life if I trust Him.” — Alexander MacLaren 

i Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans. 

ii Saint Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, or, The Mansions https://archive.org/details/St.TeresaOfAvilaTheInteriorCastleOrTheMansionsIncludingSomeOfHerMoreInterestingLetters 

iii Psalm 46:10; 2 Chronicles 20:15; Matthew 11:30 

iv J.D. Walt, Why the Glass Is Not Half Empty, Nor Half Full—There Is No Glass https://www.seedbed.com/why-the-glass-is-not-half-empty-or-half-full-there-is-no-glass/ 

Image of lightning by Duane Schoon https://flic.kr/p/8nTDnP

Emptied

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV) 

Jesus “emptied himself.” The word means to make empty, to abase (humble, lower oneself), make of no reputation. Isaiah says it even more starkly: 

He [Messiah] was despised (held in contempt, disdained) and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed (valued) him not. Isaiah 53:3 

Did you ever think that, out of his deep love for us, Jesus emptied and abased himself to become of no reputation, a weak human, taking on our sin, enduring the shame of being crucified on a cross – in order that we might be crucified with him, cleansed of our shame, emptied out of our sin, made pure and holy in him, so that we could truly love others? 

Loving others is what it is all about. Loving others is what I wish I could do. Loving others is pretty much what I fail to do continually. But to do that I have to start at the cross. I have to start with being crucified with him. I have to die, be emptied of self, of all the self-stuff, and let him live in me every day – and that is hard.   

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 

Philippians 2:5 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” And, in fact, 1 Corinthians 2:16 declares that we do have the mind of Christ. We just have to be willing to yield. I want to be willing – will you make me willing Lord? – to forsake reputation and honor and pride and self-reliance and my own thinking and to have this mind that was in Christ Jesus. Work in me, Lord, to be willing to be emptied and abased, a “fool for Christ,” “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things,” to be crucified with Christ, in order that you can love people through me. That they may know “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  

We are fools for Christ’s sake …When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 1 Corinthians 4:10, 12-13 (ESV) 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him … We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:9, 19 (ESV) 

He was a man of no reputation  

And by the wise, considered a fool  

When He spoke about faith and forgiveness  

In a time when the strongest arms ruled  

But this man of no reputation  

Loves us all with relentless affection  

And He loves all those poor in spirit, come as you are  

To the man of no reputation — Rich Mullins 

Come as you are Salvation  

Image: Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet [1852-6], Tate Archive, image  released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Something Missing

I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

“Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.’” 1 Kings 8:25 

The above verse is part of the long prayer that Solomon gave at the dedication of the new Temple. It is the prayer that God responded to with the famous “if my people who are called by my Name” promise. 

As I was reading Solomon’s prayer this time, I realized that something was missing. God promised David that He would be with his descendants IF they were careful to walk before God as David had done. I was expecting a response to that. But the heartfelt response to God didn’t come. You know what was missing? Something like this: 

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 

What I see instead is Solomon basically saying to God, “We are going to sin. But if we turn back and repent when that happens, please forgive us and bless us.” Yes, absolutely, we sin and we will sin and we need God’s mercy and strength to be victorious, and only the blood of the Lamb can save us. But what I don’t see here, in this prayer, is the I-will-follow-no-matter-what determination, the even-if-he-slay-me trust, the tenacious “nevertheless” decision to obey, the our-eyes-are-on-you commitment. I don’t hear the “yet.” I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth 1:16 

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16 

“If we [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego] are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 

How did God reply to Solomon’s prayer? “You must serve me as your father David did” (1 Kings 9:4). And David certainly messed up many times. But David served God wholeheartedly. He did not leave room in his heart for idols, presuming that God would forgive him in the end.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (idolatrous) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) 

It seems to me that Solomon said the words, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers” (1 Kings 8:58), but didn’t follow through. He talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. He actually broke a lot of God’s decrees and regulations (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). And he never fully committed to walk with God. 

Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. 1 Kings 3:3 

I know that everyone admires Solomon’s prayer and often repeats God’s answer to “hear from heaven,” but without the wholehearted part, without the complete commitment, the no-matter-what part, it seems presumptuous to me. “If I keep saying I’m sorry, surely you will keep forgiving, right? Even though I don’t submit, even though I don’t change, even though I don’t obey, even though I don’t follow.” 

And without that commitment to be careful in what he did and to walk before God as David had walked, what happened to Solomon? He kept his religious obligations to the Temple, sacrificing three times a year (1 Kings 9:25), but he ended up worshiping horrible idols associated with human sacrifice.i 

For when Solomon was old … his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.etestable god of the Ammonites. 1 Kings 11:7 (ESV)

What a fall from grace! Lord, help me to pray David’s prayer. Show me the things in my heart that grieve you and give me grace to turn away from them. Give me grace and strength to follow after you wholeheartedly. Nothing missing. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 

i New World Encyclopedia https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/chemosh 

Image in the Public Domain 

Left Vacant

I know that for the right practice of [the Presence of God] the heart must be empty of all other things, because God will possess the heart alone; and as He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. — Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Fifth Letter.

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood

God’s Proposal

Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (prothesis). For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)

I have always read this verse and stopped at the comfort of its promise: that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. This time I thought I would go through it carefully, word by word, and study it. When I got to the word translated “purpose” I was stopped in my tracks at the amazing depth and fullness and loving message hidden there.

The Greek word is prothesis. It means “a setting forth of a thing,” figuratively, a proposal or intention. Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention? The word prothesis also contains the answer to that question.

Prothesis also means a setting forth of the shewbread in the Temple, as exposed before God. The shewbread, or showbread, was the Bread of the Presence, which God commanded to be always before him.

Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. Exodus 25:30 (NIV)

Prothesis is the same word that Jesus used in Matthew:

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread (shewbread, loaves of presentation)—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Matthew 12:3-4 (NIV)

The noun prothesis comes from the verb protithemai, which means to place before, to set forth to be looked at, expose to public view. It was used of the bodies of the dead that were let lie in state. In ancient Greek it referred to the laying out of a dead body during the funeral (exposing the body for viewing), also called lying in repose. The laying out, or exposing of, the shewbread in the temple was like the lying in repose of the body of Christ. It was the exposing of God’s intention, his Grand Proposal to save the world.

God’s purpose, his proposal, his intention, that, Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Bread of the Presence, Immanuel, God with us, would die for us.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:48-51 (NIV)

This was always God’s intent, but there is more in Romans 8:28-29: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. He wants us to be like Jesus. To lay our lives down too. To help bring this life, this Bread, to the world. To share the good news of God’s grand proposal: that Jesus died and rose again from the dead to save us from our sins.

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:7-11 (NIV)

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Matthew 26:26 (NIV)

 

Rise up and help us; redeem us because of (for the sake of, for the purpose of, to the intent of, on account of) your unfailing love. Psalm 44:26 (NIV)

 

Image by Heartlight https://www.heartlight.org/articles/201703/20170304_worthy.html

The Subversive Act of Worship

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace.

So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:13-14 (NLT)

For some reason I always read this verse, “let us go out with him,” as in “let us go with him carrying our cross.” And we are supposed to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). But this verse says, “let us go out to him.” And with that little change there is a different message, a different focus. Let us go out to where he is – outside the camp. He has always been outside the camp.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. Exodus 33:7 (NASB)

“Our permanent home,” mentioned in the above verse, is the place we meno. The Greek word meno means to stay, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand. It is not this temporary world-camp where we are to abide. Meno is the word used in John 15.

Remain (meno) in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (meno) in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (NIV)

This world is not our meno-home. Jesus is our meno-home, and where he is, there we are to be – plugged into the Vine. And Jesus is outside the camp because He chose the cross.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let’s go out to him … Hebrews 13:11-13 (NLT)

To the people of Jesus’ day death on a cross was worse than a disgrace. Cicero said that it should not even be in the thoughts of a Roman citizen; it should not even be mentioned in connection with a citizen.[i] Yet, this is where Jesus willingly chose to go. Outside the city gates. Outside the temporary camp. Outside the culture of the day. Outside the religious systems. Outside the politics and governments of the day. Outside the traditions and popular beliefs. Outside of all the hopes and dreams for this life. James V. Brownson says it better than I can:

The cross collides with the values and assumptions that shape the world around us. It shocks us out of the status quo, out of the norms and assumptions that surround us, and calls us to an alternative vision … “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The “foolishness” Paul is writing of here is not a certain theological axiom about the cross of Jesus; it is the blatant offensiveness of the cross, both to Jews and to Gentiles. The point of the divine foolishness is simply this: If God has raised from the dead someone who was crucified, if we worship someone who was crucified, we can no longer hold on to the common values of respectability that are characteristic of normal human society. All our assumptions about what constitutes right and wrong, about what is worthwhile, about what really matters – all that has to be revised and reversed, if you engage in the subversive act of worshiping someone who was crucified. In other words, if you are going to worship someone who was crucified, you have to undergo radical conversion.[ii]

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace. He had already chosen to be identified with the lowly and meek, the poor and unclean and diseased and despised. If we engage in the subversive act of worshiping our crucified Lord, we need to identify there too. Let us go out to him. Let us meno there.

 

For more on “meno” see The Art of Remaining Present

Image: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the Cross, by Darren Barefoot https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=jesus%20cross

[i] Hengel, Martin Hengel. Crucifixion. 1977

[ii] Brownson, James V. Holiness and Hermeneutics. 1999.

With Tears

I have this picture in my head of my grandmother packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage.

As I get older, I have become interested in genealogy. I especially like to explore the less-trod histories of the “Grammas.” In doing so I recently dug up a real hidden treasure. The story starts with my great-grandfather, Nathan Douglas. According to the History of Oakland County Michigan, my grandfather, as a young man, accompanied his father, the Rev. Caleb Douglas and the pastor of their church, Rev. Elon Galusha on a mission trip from Whitesboro, New York to the wilderness of Michigan in the fall of 1822. There, they preached to the scattered pioneer families and founded the first Baptist church near Pontiac. In June of the following year Nathan came back to Michigan in the company of his father “who preached and broke bread to the church.”[i]

Exhilarated with the success of the missions and, I’m sure, loving the beautiful Michigan wilderness, the young man, who would later come to be called “Deacon Nathan,” went home determined to return. Apparently, as the story goes, my great-grandmother was not so thrilled with the idea. But, in 1824, the Deacon and his bride of six months, Frances, packed up all their belongings into an oxen-drawn wagon and started the 570-mile trek to, what is now, Troy, Michigan. The History of Macomb County Michigan relates that they “located in the primal wilderness, cleared a space and built a log home, in which they lived four weeks before doors and windows could be procured.  The time was made interesting by the screeching of owls and howling of wolves.”[ii]

I have this picture in my head of Gramma Frances packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets[iii] and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage with the white picket fence and flower arbor and perhaps a secluded rose garden retreat in the back.

The story continues with the bride walking ahead of the slow-moving oxen, weeping as she went, and sometimes sitting down on a fallen log to have a good cry, “of homesickness and dread of the trials of pioneer life.”[iv]

Yup. That would be me – the one being dragged kicking and screaming. I wonder if it is genetic.

I think Jesus understood the feeling. With grace and mercy, he told a parable of two brothers.

 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 (NIV)

So, what was Jesus saying here? That the son, who at first, kicking and screaming, wailed, “I don’t wanna!” but who went anyway, was the one who did the will of the Father, the one who pleased God. It’s part of that picking up your cross daily decision, “dying to the flesh,” getting out of your comfort zone, leaving your cozy little cottage and trekking into the wilderness where there are wolves and mosquitoes and hard work. It’s about perseverance and endurance. It’s about how you end, not so much how you start out.

My grandmother raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. Four sons were dentists and one was a minister, and the rest of the children sturdy farmers. Deacon Nathan and Frances celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1874. They continued on working in the church that whole time. It is said that grandmother “sang in the church choir a great many years, having a fine contralto voice.”[v]

But I think I will remember her mostly walking and weeping, putting one foot in front of the other. Persevering. Anyway. Yet.

I hope that is genetic too.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)

Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:6-7 (Amplified Bible)

Photograph is of my grandmother, Mrs. Nathan Douglas (née Frances B. Smith), which has been passed down in the family.

[i] Durant, Samuel W. History of Oakland County, Michigan, p. 96.

[ii] Leeson, Michael A. History of Macomb County Michigan, pp. 653-654.

[iii] My grandmother was a talented sewer. A sampler and two coverlets made from cloth that she spun herself now reside in the Romeo Historical Society Museum, Romeo, Michigan.

[iv] From James H. Downie and Elizabeth Clark Douglas’s scrapbook. Transcribed by great-granddaughter Aug. 2010.

[v] Ibid.

Am I Hostile to God?

Beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:5-7 (NIV)

Did you ever think that when you are crabby and despairing, unthankful and complaining, angry and resentful, that your mind is set on the flesh and that you are being hostile toward God? I woke up being all of those things the other day and read this verse in my daily devotions. I was shocked when the Spirit showed me I was hostile to God and his purposes. Why? Because what God desires, what God is all about is love and life, healing and redemption, peace and hope. God is always focused outward. But, my mind, set on the flesh, was focused inward, full of hopelessness and death. Death for me and death for those around me.

In Psalm 73 David complains that the wicked don’t seem to have any problems. Everything goes right for them. He concludes, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” In other words, what’s the point? But then David realizes, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children (dealt deceitfully, treacherously, unfaithfully).” He would have been hostile to God and God’s children.

But David turned himself around. He went back and repented in the Presence and there was able to set his mind not on the flesh, but on God. And then he was able to see as God sees. And he cried out one of my favorite verses in the Bible, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”  Yet! My life may be falling apart; the whole world may be crumbling, but yet (!) God is with me!

This is the mind governed by the Spirit. This is the mind of life and peace. For faith is knowing for sure that what we DON’T see is what’s real and true. That beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh. God is with me! God is always doing life and reconciliation and redemption, and I have a place beside him doing those things too if I keep my mind set on what the Spirit desires. If I “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Lord, help me to keep turning myself around, to keep coming back to your Presence. Help me to be focused outward toward your love, not inward. I don’t have the strength to do it myself, but You are with me. Help me to keep setting my mind on You. Help me say worthy not Worthless Words. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Colossians 1:21-23 (NASB)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain

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