Encroachment Two

Like yeast in dough, like a seed planted, sometimes we can’t see what’s going on, but God is always working.

The slow, subtle
deliberate will
subtle encroachment
on all that is evil
immovable
save forward
gentle love
never ceasing
–by Derek Bair*

 

I blogged about this poem before (see Encroachment), but lately I have been thinking again about encroachment. Usually we think of encroachment like an invasive species, growing and expanding and choking off life. I get so tired of the continual encroachment of evil, don’t you? But I have been thinking again on how the Kingdom of God encroaches on evil. Like yeast in dough, like a seed planted, not always visible.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33 (NIV) 

While evil grows very loudly and in-your-face, the Kingdom of God grows silently and mostly unseen. It grows within the hearts and minds of people. Though sometimes not visible, God is always working. And I have a job to do in this work of God. To resist evil – both in myself and in the world – to persevere through hopelessness and the overwhelming flood of the enemy, to keep on believing, to keep doing good.

We push back against wrong and injustice, knowing that we fight with that gentle, unceasing love that never fails. Mix into the world around us the leaven of the Kingdom by loving one person at a time, by planting the seeds, by speaking the truth and life of the Good News. But also, by letting God work the Kingdom, like kneading dough, into our own hearts and minds, letting it change us. Resisting evil outside but yielding to the transforming by the Spirit inside.

I just thought as I was writing this that yeast transforms an inedible glob of dough into a beautiful, nutritious, fragrant loaf of bread. Jesus is the Bread for the life of the world (John 6:33), and as we are changed to be more and more like him, we become like that lovely, fragrant bread right from the oven.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 2 Corinthians 2:14

Lord knead the leaven of your Kingdom in us, that we might be transformed to be like You, into edible, life-giving bread. Help us to persevere with faith in the unseen, but unstoppable and ultimately victorious encroachment of the Kingdom of God. Give us grace to wait for it. Work for it. Hope. Resist. With the gentle love never ceasing.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:8

 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome (conquer, prevail, be victorious over) evil with good. Romans 12:21

 

Image, Kneading bread dough by Michael Richardson https://flic.kr/p/4dknSM

*Poem by Derek Bair, copyright 2019 all rights reserved

My Host

Our prayer becomes a prayer of the heart when we have localized in the center of our inner being the empty space in which our God-filled mind can descend and vanish, and where the distinctions between thinking and feeling, knowing and experience, ideas and emotions are transcended, and where God can become our host. “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), Jesus said. The prayer of the heart takes these words seriously. – Henri Nouwen

One phrase really struck me from this quote: “God can become our host.” In my heart, God the host. I usually think that in the opposite way – that I am hosting God.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

I have thought that if I condescend to open the door and let him in, I can be his gracious host. When all the grace comes from him. And if I have given my heart to him, he is my host. Given as in:

Give: to make a present of; to put into the possession of another for his or her use[i]

Wow, that takes all control away, but also all decision-making and stress. I really stress about hosting anything. I fret about things like, what am I going to serve? How do I cook it? How should I decorate the table? When should the guests arrive? ​ So God being the host really resonated with me. If God is the host, if our hearts are his now, it’s all up to him.

We become the guest in our own hearts. He lays out the banquet – or not. We sit at the table, or maybe, we serve.

 

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

 

[i] Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Image by Jack Bair, all rights reserved

Roadkill

Finding your life in the things of this world is like feeding on roadkill at the side of the path to true Life.

Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” “Where, LORD?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:35-37

In Luke chapter 17, verses 20-37, Jesus talks about his second coming. I don’t think the Pharisees or his disciples, who are listening, comprehend that yet. They still think he is going to come with his kingdom then and there and release them from Roman oppression.

I’ve always wondered about this part of Luke, especially Jesus’ enigmatic statement at the end:

“Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:37

The Pharisees ask him “when?” When will the Kingdom of God come? The disciples ask him, “where?” Where is all this going to happen? Jesus doesn’t answer them as they want, because they are focused on the physical world, on time here on earth and things they can see and touch. But Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation,” but rather, “the kingdom of God is within you.” The Kingdom is outside of place and time.

The “when” will happen when your heart is right with God. The “where” will be there in your heart. He warns them that if they keep looking to find the kingdom – relief from the Romans, freedom, prosperity – here on earth they will be fooled by false Christs. It’s not going to happen like you think it should or how you would like. “But first he [the Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:25).

He tells (Luke 17:26-28) of how in Noah’s day and in Sodom’s day the people were focused on the kingdom of the earth – eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building – right up until the end, and were caught unawares. I think maybe that is the “dead body” Jesus is talking about – the kingdom of this earth. And the people who feed on that death – whose “life” comes from those things only – are the vultures. In contrast Jesus said that he was the Life.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. John 6:53

Finding your life in the things of this world is like feeding on roadkill at the side of the path to true Life. The ones who are looking down, focused on feasting on the roadkill will be left to it. The ones who are looking up, focused on Him, his Life, his coming, will be taken. But the “where” and the “when” really don’t matter to them because Jesus and his Kingdom are already there in their hearts. Let’s allow him to pry our love and focus off this earth. Let’s look up.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:2-4

When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28

 

 

Image by Larry Lamsa, Road Kill – Dining on Deer https://flic.kr/p/exeqos

Encroachment

 

The slow, unwavering
deliberate will
subtle encroachment
on all that is evil
immovable
save forward
gentle love
never ceasing

by Derek Bair

 

I get so tired at the continual encroachment of evil. Do you ever feel that way, almost suffocating, tempted to despair?  But did you ever think of God’s encroachment on evil? Like yeast in dough, sometimes we don’t see it, but God is working. And we have a job to do in that work. To resist evil – both in ourselves and in the world – to persevere through hopelessness, to keep on believing, to keep doing good. To push back against wrong, knowing that we fight with that gentle, unceasing love that never fails.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

“Perseverance means more than just hanging on, which may be only exposing our fear of letting go and falling. Perseverance is our supreme effort of refusing to believe that our hero is going to be conquered. Our greatest fear is not that we will be damned, but that somehow Jesus Christ will be defeated. Also, our fear is that the very things our Lord stood for— love, justice, forgiveness, and kindness among men— will not win out in the end and will represent an unattainable goal for us. Then there is the call to spiritual perseverance. A call not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately, knowing with certainty that God will never be defeated.”  Oswald Chambers

 

Poem and image copyright 2019 Derek Bair, all rights reserved

To Discover, All Along, to Whom I Belong

Receiving my true identity as accepted in the beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these … Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Matthew 19:14, 16 (NIV)

God has been speaking to me about identity lately. Who am I? What is my real identity as God sees me. Matthew chapter 19 contrasts two different identities. A little child, who is totally dependent for food, clothing, everything. A little child whose identity is in his family – I am somebody’s child; I am somebody’s sister or brother. A little child who clings to his mother and father because they are life itself. A little child aware of his helplessness.

The other person is a very self-sufficient young man intent on building his own identity – what must I do? The child possesses very little, if anything. In fact, especially in those times, a child was legally considered a possession, whereas the rich young man saw himself as having many possessions. To one, the Kingdom is freely given, the other is intent on getting it – what must I do to get? The Greek word means to have i.e. own, possess. His identity was bound up in his doing and his possessions.

The children were invited to simply come to Jesus and the Kingdom was given them. Jesus invited the young man to enter also, to come and follow – but he would have to leave the possessions and the doings, his present identity, outside. He would need to become a dependent child, and that was something he felt he could not do.

For most of us, our identities are broken, the result of rejection and based on hurtful lies we have taken down deep into our souls. I am not (good, pretty, smart, etc.) enough. I am a disappointment. And worse, much worse. We spend our whole lives rebuilding our broken identities by doing, performing, acquiring. Trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations. Trying to be somebody that could be loved and accepted. Performing in the crazy, imaginary theatre in other people’s heads. Or, completely rejecting them all, thumbing our nose at everyone. Either way, writing our scripts and collecting all the props and costumes needed to play the part we choose. I become the book person, or the cat person, the financially successful person. I am the wise professor, the talented musician or mechanic, I am the good prayer warrior, the effective evangelist, the humble servant of Christ. None of those things are bad. Just like the rich young man, we may be doing everything right, but our identities are built on the wrong foundation. I am significant because of what I can do, what I can “get.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen† has written of how self-rejection is the enemy of our true identity. “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection … Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Our core, the essence of our being is our identity – who I am, who I was made to be. Anne Voskamp in The Broken Way writes – “at the core of every one of our issues is this attempt to construct our identity on something else besides Christ” – in other words, to give in and accept the world’s definition of our identity, or to stand defiant and create my own. But, listening to the self-lies, in some kind of self-pitying martyrdom, trying to create my own acceptable identity – is sin and deadly. “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God … Human beings were made not only to believe in God in some general way, but to love him supremely, center their lives on him above anything else, and build their very identities on him. Anything other than this is sin.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God). My identity is not what I “must do” or what I “get,” like the rich young man in Matthew 19. My identity is found in simply accepting the invitation to come and be.

I must receive my true identity as His little child, totally dependent on Him for strength, faith, life, breath, food on the table, shelter over my head, talents and gifts. I’m realizing that even the words that come out of my mouth when I pray for someone, the love in my heart for them, the willingness and passion to serve – it all comes from Him – everything. At least the part that brings life to others. Otherwise, it is just me doing and getting for myself.

Receiving my true identity as accepted in the beloved and a delight and a treasure to Him is like a consuming fire, searing and painful, but cleansing and healing and life-giving. Lord, I pray that you would be all my treasure, all my identity, all my value, all my significance. A dear friend once prayed for me that I would “discover, all along, to whom I belong.” I believe God is answering that prayer. I am finally opening the Invitation.

I am a child of God 

I am beloved 

I am precious in His sight 

I am His 

And you also are among those who are called (invited) to belong to Jesus Christ. Romans 1:6 (NIV) 

They say that love can heal the broken
They say that hope can make you see
They say that faith can find a Savior
If you would follow and believe
With faith like a child
from Like a Child by Jars of Clay

 

† You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. 2017, p. 12.

The image is a photograph of me with my beloved Mom.

This blog post has been revised into a Bible study which may be freely used and copied. It can be accessed at Hidden Treasure Bible Studies here.