Friday, April 20, 2007

A Test of Faith

Our family recently suffered a double loss, in the unexpected death of Mrs. Manly’s Mom in November, and the very sudden death of her sister Donna in February. This has been a very trying time for all of us. We now know at a very deep and personal level what people mean when they talk about experiencing a test of faith. We have been thoroughly tested, for sure. We walk together, closer now, and by faith, and sometimes faith alone.

Easter arrived. The observance of both the “passing of Jesus” on the cross, and His Resurrection that forms the absolute foundation of the Christian faith, clearly prompts us to think about the ways we recover from tragedy. How God brings good from bad, how He can help us find victory in the midst of defeat, how He can lead us to peace, even joy, after a season of despair.

Spring also arrives in the Northeast, finally, after several false starts. I think the Punxsutawney Phil has been, for several weeks now, on the Ten Most Wanted List in Upstate NY. But warmer weather and sunshine suddenly melts away the hard resolve of a stubborn winter. Outside, we look for signs of what we already feel, inside.

Hope reborn, in a cycle even older than man and woman.

Several family members dwell in grief and sadness, and do not see a reason for a faith they do not feel. There, but by the grace of God, go us.

One remarks that he can’t get motivated by any kind of Supreme Being, who can put his creations through so much of the bad things that go on, every day in this fallen world. Violence, vividly illustrated, if not celebrated. The sudden taking of the lost loved one, the peaceful, the kind, the good, and the cherished. He wonders if this is God’s idea of “Tough Love” for his creations, but instead condemns God as another absentee parent.

It is a hard place to dwell. It is a difficult place to gain a foothold, to reason with a brother, to point him to a faith that feels a cheat, before one even holds it close to heart.

We can share what life held for us, what God offered, what we grabbed hold of, and what happened next, for us. But we cannot pass our personal conviction to another like some kind of cloak, here you go, one size fits all, take mine.

The answers must all be personal, but they don’t need to be private. And so, we try to reason together, but always first and foremost, from the heart of one to another.

Here’s a letter Mrs. Manly sent to our hurting brother, as the only words she could find in answer to his indictment of a callous and uncaring, absentee God.
What kept going through my mind was that the two deaths, so close together (Mom and Donna), and the age of Donna, has certainly shaken my faith. But as I reflected back over my life and struggles, pains, hurts, I realized that it was through these times that I grew in my faith. Not immediately by far, but over time and I can look back now and see and remember.

The other thing that keeps going through my mind is that we do all die. Whether my Mom was 100 or Donna was 90, I would still be devastated by them leaving my life, especially since Mom and Donna were my stability from the day I was born.

There is not anyone in my family that I depended on, could talk to at any time, would not judge me, would love me just as I was and that I had so much fun with, and just loved the way they were. Through my growing up years, there are so many things that only Donna and I knew, that she took care of me in the midst of my Dad’s drinking days, and my Mom was always there for me no matter what I had to say.

Those pieces of my life are totally gone, with no one to take their places.

So for me, I know that Donna and My Mom believed that Jesus Christ lived and died for them, and they believed in eternal life. I'm going to keep asking God to give me truth, reassurance and belief. I need to keep seeking Him because I want to see my family again, and what they believed, is that we all will.

Again, this is me. I cannot make you believe it or see it. We spend so much time finding ways not to believe, and finding fault, than to embrace that this is not our permanent place.

I think back over all the things that I have seen and experienced that were good. I think back to a Mission trip I took with Jeff quite a few years ago. We were with people that had little or nothing compared to us, not even running water. They were happy and were so close to each other, and they believed in God! I left here, thinking I was going to “help” them, and they taught me things I will never forget. They did not know what they were missing, because they never had it.

Yet we question God, why He allows so much tragedy, etc. We are so spoiled compared to almost everyone. No one and nothing promised us this grand life or lifestyles. We are blessed to have had loved these two dear ladies, and they loved us. The gift is, we did have them, and some people never experience people like them in their lives.

I have nothing to lose by believing, I have a lot to lose by not. The devil is real, he gets a foothold in many lives and minds of very intelligent people. Deceiving them and telling them in their minds, “How can you believe in a God that does these things?”

God gives us free will and free choice. I have used this example before: if I'm speeding down the highway and I have a car accident and die from speeding, is it God’s fault, or mine? I made the choice, I had free will. Then, you could say, well what about all the terrible things that happen in the world?

Exactly, the world. From what I read, from what I believe, the Holy Spirit has spoken to my heart. This world is just a stopping point. The part that I need to hang onto, is that Jesus says in his word: in this world, you WILL have trouble, but I have OVERCOME the world.

There is good and there is evil. I don't like some things, I don't understand some things, but I know I'm here and they are not. I need to go on “somehow” and I'm not sure why, other than that God is real.

I have begun to pray again, and read the bible, and listen to Christian Music on my car radio, hearing comforting words, and peace is beginning to take root in my spirit. I will still doubt and wonder and question.

From where my life was before I believed, and how my life is now, that is my personal life, I have to say I would choose to spend the rest of my days living this way, rather than the way I used to, very destructive and miserable.

I know in time, the pain will lessen. I will always miss them and love them, I'm so grateful we all had them, and were together for the years we had. I know that generations upon generations upon generations have believed in Jesus. Why did they? Why did Christ not fade like a fad? Those are the things I need to hang onto.

I will NEVER begin to think that anyone should believe what I do, I believe it is very personal between an individual and God. I just encourage you, in the midst of your pain and sorrow, to cry out to Him and tell Him your disappointment in His taking Donna, or anything else that may be or have been a burden in your life, sorrow in your past, etc. Tell Him the truth, you don't believe!

That is what I did about 18 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing in my dining room of where I lived at the time, yelling and screaming at God. (I was brought up Catholic, and taught to believe so I did believe, because I was told to believe growing up.)

It may sound crazy to you but I know that is the time that my life started to change, and I started to change in positive ways. I totally changed, totally and I know I did not do it myself. There is no way, the way I was living that I just decided to do it, because I did not think that there was anything I had to do, I just wanted this “God” to do it.

Now, I'm grateful for the people along the way who prayed for me, listened to me, loved me, helped me, directed me, guided me, hugged me, let me cry, and loved me just the way I was.
Mrs. Manly has a most precious gift, a God-given empathy and willingness to share, transparently, what fills her heart. It is a gift that brings great pain, but profound healing, as well. I watch her when she displays this gift. I see the Divine that will sometimes shine within, when one of His children acts in the center of His purpose. This is when we can touch God, when we reach out to others.

I completely agree with Mrs. D., that this is all about Free Will, what philosophers and scientists call “Agency.” Who is responsible for what. How much control we have, versus how much God has.

We are powerfully reminded of the human capacity for evil, chaos, and harm this week as people the world over struggle to make sense of the senseless.

I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer, cherished by members and friends of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step groups. One of my readers once shared what she called "the full version." Practitioners of the Roman Catholic faith also embrace this prayer, attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
When I accessed a wonderful online source for prayer seeking the text for the Serenity Prayer, I found a very moving combination of elements.

Just below a soothing image and the Serenity Prayer, they included Proverbs 3:5-6 (New International Version):
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
This carried special meaning for Mrs. Manly and I, as these are the verses that most touched her Mom in the hospital those last days. God has frequently blessed us with reminders of these verses in the days since Mom’s passing, Donna’s sudden death, and the many days of grief and healing since.

As long as we continue to insist that life can only make sense on our terms, life and all its ups and downs will never make sense. Another way to look at it, only God could make sense of what He created, because He has set in motion such complexity -- an infinite amount of interconnected pieces and parts -- that no human being could ever hope to comprehend.

This I know. God, and Faith in Him, can bring peace, because He is bringing peace to Mrs. Dadmanly, and to me, and to millions of others who have trusted Him.

They needed to trust Him before they found the peace. Without Him, there can be none.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Unbelief and Assurance

Friends invited me recently to a Bible Study taught by a man very mature in his Christian walk, Jack, an excellent teacher with a heart for evangelism.

I went to the study as a way of encouraging my wife’s Dad, who’s been struggling to find his way after the recent death of his wife, after sixty years of marriage. I know some of the folks who attend, but would tend to stick with small groups of my own congregation.

As anyone of any maturity in Christ can tell you often happens, God used this divine appointment with me in a special way. Dad may have had his own appointment that night too, but there was a message for me, waiting at that table.

As a way of starting a conversation about the Assurance of Salvation, Jack started in Isaiah, with what he described as “messianic” text. The term “Messianic,” when used to describe portions of the Old Testament, describes those verses of the Old Testament that foretell or hearken to the promise of the coming Messiah, in the form of the Christ, the Son of Man, the Chosen One of God, the Deliverer, hence the term, “Messianic.”

Matthew spends the largest part of his Gospel account highlighting how Jesus fulfilled all manner of Messianic prophesies in the Hebrew testaments, many found in Isaiah, but also in Psalms, Daniel, Jeremiah, and later Prophets. I re-read Isaiah often, but I did not recognize this text (another occasion with which I think mature Christians will relate):
Songs of Praise

1 In that day you will say:
"I will praise you, O LORD.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation."
3 With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say:
"Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you."
(Isaiah 12:1-6, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society)
“In that day, you will say, ‘I will praise you, O Lord.’”

To what day is Isaiah referring? The exuberant praise of Chapter 12 is preceded by prophesy in Chapter 11, about a Branch from Jesse, upon whom the Holy Spirit will rest. The Jesse to whom Isaiah refers is that same Jesse, son of Obed, grandson of Boaz and Ruth, and father of David the King, among whose descendants the Jews expect would appear their Messiah.

This descendant of Jesse would “delight in the fear of the Lord,” “with righteousness judge the needy,” and “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth.” Isaiah proclaims:
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
(Isaiah 11:10, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society)
In the context of the revealed Messiah, thus Isaiah professes, “In that day, you will say, ‘I will praise you, O Lord.’”

Jack then asked several of us, point blank. How confident were we of salvation, of eternal life with Jesus after death? Jack asked all of us to question our hearts, how sure were we? Did we have doubts? How strong was our belief?

How can a follower of Christ hear such praise and acknowledgement of Jesus’ divine nature, and the promises of salvation, read the triumphant passages of Isaiah 11 and 12, and not feel the lifting of his or her heart?

And yet, we may know of times ourselves, or perhaps on the part of brothers or sisters in Christ, when such temporary hopefulness is small consolation indeed, when it should make us feel triumphant.

Doubt happens. Commitment ebbs. Strength departs. Hope fades. Unbelief appears.

Jack didn’t ask me, but he asked the men next to me. One said, “Iffy.” Another said, “How strong should it be? Absolutely certain? Never a doubt at all?”

I thought about belief and unbelief and how we can feel both at the same time, a war within us, with each like a banner, beckoning us follow. Jesus’ own disciples struggled with their doubts, and weakened in their faith, when forced to confront the limits of their own powers and abilities. Peter managed a few steps across the water, before fear overcame his attention, and gravity his divine levitation. He likewise faltered and denied Jesus, and all ran away at Gethsemane.

My father-in-law, at a time of great struggle and loss in his life, seeks comfort and maybe answers from fellow believers who come alongside. “How did you learn so much about the Bible? How can you remember where in scripture to find what you want? There’s no way I can do what Jack and Freddie (another of our friends) can do, quoting scriptures all over the place. Not at my age!”

I love Dad for his honesty, and I share some right back at him. “I have to use the concordance, this index in the back that tells you where certain words appear. Then I only have to remember one important word.” As it happens, Jack’s challenge prompts me to look up the scripture that talks about belief and unbelief, the one I remember but can’t identify, and it turns out it’s in Mark:
The Healing of a Boy with an Evil Spirit

14When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16"What are you arguing with them about?" he asked.
17A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."
19"O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."
20So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"
"From childhood," he answered. 22"It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
23" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
24Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
25When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."
26The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"
29He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."
(Mark 9:24-29, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society)
That’s me, that’s many of us, like that boy’s father. “I believe, but help me with the unbelief I have in equal measure!” (For at those times, if I have more belief than unbelief my belief is sufficient for the fight.) Help us with our unbelief.

As I review Mark’s account, I’m struck by how the disciples found the challenge of the evil spirit, and the fact that none of their efforts could prevail to free the boy. Fully briefed, awash in the Spirit, in the presence of their Lord and the person of their Salvation, they were unable to do what Jesus had instructed, and told them they would have power to accomplish, in His name.

We receive the gift of salvation. We invite Jesus into our hearts. We seek forgiveness for specific sins, we maintain a spiritual inventory, we make amends for any wrongs we have done. We name and claim our victory in Jesus. And yet, we may still doubt, we find unbelief within our hearts and minds. How much like Jesus’ disciples, when they lost their focus on their Lord, and sought in their own strength to do the job He’d set before them. Is it lack of will, or commitment? Or habit of mind, or mental conditioning, or even patience? We have the tools, outside of ourselves, we know they work, but we sometimes don’t keep patience. In the Lord’s time just doesn’t seem soon enough sometimes, as if we knew better than He, what time is best.

Jesus told His disciples that "This kind can come out only by prayer." There are challenges we will confront which will be completely beyond our power, as there were for the disciples. Jesus points us to the Father, as only by lifting our problems to Him will we find any hope. We can’t, but He can. It’s all about where we focus our attention, not what we do or how we do it. Our own strength and power remains insufficient for the task.

This speaks to our attitudes, our habits of heart and mind, our obedience. Obedience often takes the form of waiting patiently upon the Lord. We can be certain of nothing, certainly not in ourselves, nor in the exact how or when of what the Lord will do in response to our prayers. We should be thankful we can be so in doubt and reluctant in our own strengths in these times, there are many times we delude ourselves into thinking we can do it on our own. At least when our courage fails, we’ll more likely turn to Him who saves. But He first and foremost calls us to obedience, and Godly fear (respect) for Him and His purposes.

When He answers, when His Holy Spirit moves in our lives and circumstances, how often we see, less a change in our environment, than we experience a change of self, in our perspective, our outlook, our attitudes towards what we confront.

Belief and unbelief, many of us struggle with both internal voices, sometimes in equal measure, and sometimes, with unbelief at least the louder of the two. It’s a personal and individual struggle to be sure, and I often hear from mature followers of the Faith, that we none of us should waste time comparing ourselves with our brothers and sisters. As we’ve each been gifted differently by God, we each of us as well must strive for deep relationship with God, and let Him speak into our lives of purpose, of praise, and yes oftentimes, of correction.

We find a way to block out the many dissenting voices in our heads that seek to distract, ensnare, impede, or misdirect us. These after all are a reflection of the power of this world. We need to listen for His voice.

Casting Crowns captured this perfectly in their song, The Voice of Truth. They use the two examples of Peter on the waves, and David before Goliath of the Philistines. When we consider the times we experience unbelief alongside belief, we try to put ourselves in the position of those who came before us, were strengthened and lifted up by God, and conquered both fear and challenge. But we hear those other voices, whether the accusation of the crashing waves, or the scorn of the Giant:
Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I'm in
Onto the crashing waves

To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He's holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"
But if we would but choose to listen, we can hear that other Voice:
Chorus: But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, "Do not be afraid!
"The voice of truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth
Fear is what keeps us stuck in ourselves. What God offers is for us to let God be God, let Him be glorified by being our Deliverer in time of trouble.

And what is the Voice of Truth trying to speak into our lives, our circumstances, our hearts and minds, our souls?

That we can dwell in the Assurance of Salvation:
10Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Concluding Remarks

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
(1 John 5:10-13, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society)
Jack finished his lesson with us that night with these, the verses that most concisely capture what God Himself tells us through the Good News of the Gospels, through Paul and all the Saints who’ve come before us, and lived the Christian life with complete confidence in the power of God to transform our circumstances by conforming His children more fully in His perfect image.

As Jesus assured us all:
24"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
(John 5:24, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society)
And of that, we can be so assured.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Grief and Praise

My good friend John of Blogotional encouraged me to share the story of how it came to pass that Mrs. Manly’s Mom passed from life to Life last week. We all grieve and mourn her passing, but God, in His mercy, has used the past few weeks and Ma’s last days on earth in a powerful way.

I called her Ma -- my Mom is always Mom, but I needed a word special for Grandma Manly, and Ma seemed to work for all of us. Ma was a terrific person, daughter, sister, wife, Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma, and friend, and I was honored to get to be her son, even if by marriage.

We found out about a month ago that Ma (81) had Pancreatic Cancer. Two weeks ago the Doctors urged us to have her checked in to a local hospital with blood clots in her lungs. Then found them all through her legs, Liver starting to fail. She was taken off everything this past Saturday.

Ma passed away Wednesday morning, November 29, 2006. There was a lovely obituary in the local paper. We held a Wake the following Friday, and a Funeral Service on Saturday morning at a local Catholic Church.

Ma passed from life to Life peacefully and without pain, Praise God. Everyone is doing well, strong when they need, dwelling in sorrow and grief when they need, coming alongside each other throughout.

Everything was incredibly sudden, for someone who was pretty active and healthy. Grandpa Manly (85) is the same way, taking it very hard, but we think he’ll bounce back. Big family, lots of support, well prepared financially, and Mrs. Manly is the youngest of three surviving sisters – and we’re all sharing the effort, and friends and family have been terrific. We are dealing with the usual silliness, dysfunction, some conflicts, family stuff, but overall much less than could be, and things get resolved or at least set aside fairly quickly.

Best of all, God has been glorified in many ways. Here are a couple.

Little Manly (10 years old, 11 in February) has been considering getting baptized. He accepted Jesus, as he explains, when he was 5, but he didn’t really understand as he does now. He watched as several young people of the church were baptized, and listened to their testimonies intently. He felt convicted that he wasn’t going to do it until he could really commit to being a Christian, as he described it, to get serious about reading the Bible, praying, and being what God wants him to be. (!!!)

The Sunday before Ma went into the hospital (11/12), Little Manly was listening to a Missionary speak at church, as the Missionary explained how he was struggling with the decision to take on mission work, whether he was “up to it,” or prepared for such a calling. Doubts. He described being led to the following verses, 2 Timothy 1:
6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
At that moment, Little Manly connected with that same deliberation and doubt in himself, felt convicted by the testimony and God’s word, and told us straight away that he wanted to be baptized, that he was ready, that he knew that he knew. Obviously, we were overjoyed (as was the missionary when later he was told the impact his story had on our son, and others too). We made arrangements to have our Pastor meet with Little Manly to discuss his intentions the following Saturday.

The very next Tuesday (11/14), Ma went to the hospital. She was fine in every respect, except that her legs were swollen and she couldn’t walk easily without help – and she was told by a nurse, “if you try to get out of that bed, the clots could kill you.” We didn’t know for a few days how advanced the cancer was, how thoroughly run through her organs, the number of clots, etc. By Friday (11/17), the Doctor shared with Mrs. Manly and her sisters how bad things really were.

We had our Pastor come to the hospital Saturday afternoon to meet with Little Manly. He found us in her room, the Pastor visited with Grandma and Grandpa Manly, and one of her sisters. We intended to step away into a conference or prayer room, but after a while, Little Manly started talking to Pastor John at Ma’s bedside. John proceeded to ask him a series of questions, very conversational, about how he came to be a Christian, what that meant to him, what was different now from when he was 5, just getting him to talk about his faith and what he believed. In 20 minutes time, Little Manly just blew us all away with his seriousness, his understanding, and way he described that sense of, “now I KNOW what it means to need salvation, and accept Jesus as Savior.”

Ma listened intently to every word.

John then used Little Manly’s testimony as an opportunity to ask the family if any of them could relate to what he had shared, and whether they had likewise accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, not saved by a Priest (they were all raised Catholic, and Grandma and Grandpa Manly still attended Catholic masses), or by being in a Christian family, or by husbands or wives or parents, but a personal relationship with Jesus.

Ma said she had, about 5 years earlier. (We were with her then, it was a year or two after her elder daughter died of Breast Cancer after being a survivor for 7 years.)

Pastor John highlighted Little Manly’s testimony, explaining that, he was talking about a true repentance and a turning in the heart, of giving oneself to Jesus as Lord. As John discussed with Ma, she described how she felt an immediate peace 5 years ago, like Jesus had indeed come into her heart.

She said something that made him think to follow up, and ask her if there was any bitterness or regret that she harbored, that felt like it was wrapped around her heart.

She said, yes there was. John encouraged her to take some time that night, it could even be just her and God, and speak to God about that hurt or bitterness or regret, and surrender it to Him, that he would receive it from her as a burden she could shed. She said she would.

Mrs. Manly followed up the next day, asked her if she remembered what John had said, she said, “of course,” my wife asked if she had spoke to God about it, she had, did she want to talk to her about it, she said no. But she was very glad, and Mrs. Manly sensed that she did indeed seem freed from whatever it was.

Since then, we all brought an entire Thanksgiving dinner to the hospital, Ma slept all day, then just when we were done, woke up, and asked for a few bites of her favorites, oyster stuffing, mashed potato, stuffing, turkey, gravy, a bite of everything. Grandpa Manly’s brother has 2 grown daughters and 4 sons, and they all showed up later on, spent time with Ma, then many of us joined around Ma’s bedside and lifted her up in prayer, blessed her for her love and honored her as a Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma, Sister, Aunt, Friend.

This past Saturday, the Doctor sat down with Grandpa, Mrs. Manly and her sisters and told her the end was near, and he was stopping any cancer treatments. He recommended, and they agreed, to remove the IV, which was actually promoting the edema and swelling that was making her more uncomfortable. She’d been quite jaundiced all along, and her liver and kidneys were obviously failing day by day.

Since she had entered the hospital, nobody had really explained in detail to Ma what her situation was. Even Dad was spared some of the details, and Mrs. Manly and her sisters, as proxies, asked that conversations go through them. Dad was not functioning well both before and after Ma went in the hospital.

Ma had been trying to talk a lot that day. All most of us could make out was, “I don’t know.” The nurses that evening suggested that it might help if we told her plainly what was happening, and told her it was alright to let go, and go be with God. (The nurses, almost without exception, have been angels and very attached to the family.) Dad started crying, saying, there was no way he could bring himself to say that, however much he knew it was true.)

Mrs. Manly and I drove away from the hospital that night very troubled. My wife called the nurse’s station, talked to the nurse we were closest to, Marcie, and asked her how Ma was. She said, “wide awake.” Ma kept saying, “I don’t know.” Marcie said Ma said she didn’t understand why she wasn’t getting any better.

Mrs. Manly asked if it would be alright if we came back – after visiting hours – and Marcie encouraged us to do so. Her Mom was wide wake, from 9:30 pm straight through until about 3 am. For an hour or so, we spoke with her, explained that she wasn’t going to get better, that she was going to go to be with Jesus, we didn’t want her to, but that was what God wanted to do, to spare her any suffering. She said she knew, that the Doctor had told her. We told her how much we loved her as Mom and Grandma to Little Manly, what a great job she did, how much we all loved her, how much she gave to all of us, how much it meant that she grabbed hold of my daughters as her own Grandchildren, how much she had given to our son and how much he loved her. Ma squeezed her daughter’s hand tight several times, which she hasn’t been able to do, and Mrs. Manly knew that she heard every word. Mrs. Manly asked her Mom if she wanted both of us to stay that night, she nodded yes, so we did.

From about 11 until 3, Mrs. Manly kept lifting her head to see her Mom, who kept looking at her, and my wife would tell her we were right there with her, tell her she was going to be okay, not to be afraid, that God was taking care of her. At 3, Mrs. Manly suggested to the Nurse that maybe she could have something to sleep, which they did, and she did, as we did. The next morning, we explained to Dad and Mrs. Manly’s sisters what happened, they were upset, but okay with it. (Dad has been offered a rollaway bed, but hasn’t wanted to stay (or go home either), and he wants so much to feel like she knows he’s there, and wants to help, but he feels helpless. It’s been very hard on him. But they did take some time this past week, speaking to each other, saying they love each other.

By Monday, Ma could open her eyes with effort, blink, sometimes smile or scrunch up her face. Dad and Mrs. Manly’s sisters, friends and family all had opportunities to tell Ma how much she meant to them, and that if God needed her to come be with Him, it was okay to go.

Ma passed from life to Life Wednesday shortly after 8:00 am in the morning, with her eyes looking up, ever peaceful and free from pain. We prayed around her bedside that morning, commended her to God, praised her and her life, and prayed for peace and comfort. The priest at the hospital came, and administered Last Rites, as customary in her Roman Catholic faith tradition. The Father was very nice, and we started into this season of mourning, but with confidence and joy that Ma indeed had gone to rest in the loving arms of the Heavenly Father.

We all loved Ma very much, and are very, very proud of her legacy as a Wife, Mom, Sister, Grandma, and most of all, precious child of God. I am very proud of Mrs. Manly, too, who along with Dad, her sisters, and nieces, have carried through this difficult time with tremendous grace. They provide a powerful testimony to God’s ability to provision and to sustain, even at times most difficult.

Thanks to all for prayers and encouragement. The family deeply appreciates everyone’s condolences, sympathy, companionship, and comfort. God bless you all, lift us all, in prayer, and I look forward to connecting with everyone again soon.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006


It's been a very long time since I've posted here. Too long. I hope to remedy my neglect.

Here's a short reflection on distractions, that came up in a conversation with a friend.

My friend Kevin is a gifted musician and composer of inspirational, praise and worship music. He knows of my background in Theater, and my recent writings, online and off.

We often discuss the creative arts, and the ways in which we sense God working through the gifts He has provided us, and the challenge of living up to His trust.

Kevin shared some of his sometime struggle with distractions. He has a virtual recording studio in his home, and describes that sometimes fiddling with his equipment or some other technological components consumes more of his “creative time” than he would like. He gets into some equipment or setting things up, then before he knows it, his creative time is over, and nothing’s been created.

I can relate. I suppose any of us who web log (blog) with any regularity or passion deal with the age old problem of creation versus experience. How’s that?

I read a lot online, most often to get ideas for things to write about. I write more of politics than is healthy, I think. Whether military or political, I can spend so much time reading that I run out of time for writing. More than just a matter of time, however, is the matter of attention and focus. I spend too much time watching, reading, absorbing, and dwelling on the wrong things.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Good writers will always tell you that life experience comes before any good writing. You have to have things to write about. Hemingway had to go fight in the Spanish Civil War. (Well, no he didn’t, but his war-time experience gave him lots of material to work with for his writing.) Military bloggers (MILBLOGS) have a ready source for their military commentary, based on their war-time experience.

Writers who spend too much time immersed in their writing often find themselves detached or isolated from communities, public life, or other life experiences. They can often feel out of touch, and many set aside time to explore new circumstances, or reintegrate themselves into familiar settings.

Sometimes I think life is all about the distractions. I think sometimes Art comes from distraction. Art is how those distracted respond to the distraction.

Distraction comes from living in the world. We can’t avoid or eliminate the distractions themselves, and God doesn’t call us to.

God may call us to be a part of this world, but not to be conformed to it.

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

There is one in us that strengthens us to not conform, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allows us to stand apart, and stand strong.

4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Paul describes a thorn in the flesh, an ever-present intrusion or distraction that he must somehow accommodate, and over which he must persevere. Whether in fact this was a chronic injury or illness, or a recurring temptation, Paul’s thorn describes something unhealed and unresolved. A part of life, the thorn represents an opportunity for Paul to rise above his circumstances.

So it can be for us.

We ought not to be too hard on ourselves – and possibly let go of any sense that we are responsible – for the distractions we experience. We ought not to pretend or try to wish away our emotions or emotional responses to events or circumstances that interrupt what otherwise we plan to accomplish or in which we would participate. We can change our behaviors, but we shouldn’t try to become inhuman.

We’re all too human, and we will experience the full range of emotions – and if we try to stuff or ignore them, they will find other ways to present themselves. In and of themselves, our emotions are neither good nor bad. We sin or triumph over sin in how we respond to our emotions. The same is true with distractions.

Some distractions are invitations. Some are signs and warnings.

We must not become the distractions that mislead or tempt others. Don’t be conformed to the world.

So often, we cut corners (or want to). We take steps, more or less than required, to avoid discomfort, or seek out leisure or ease. In the process, we may shirk a responsibility, or miss out on an experience that God divinely appoints.

Sometimes, it’s most important that we feel that thorn as a thorn, and keep looking on distraction for what it is. Only then, will we receive what God has meant for our good, as we allow the Holy Spirit to prompt us to respond in a new and different way. Often, that can be an act of creation.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Stay in Formation

A slight bit of gaming workmanship caught my attention this week. While sipping myself to full consciousness with Mrs. Dadmanly one morning this weekend, I came to the following insight.

Little Manly owns a Playstation game, I believe it’s Call of Duty 2: Big Red One. I will remember that title I think, because the Lad polished off the entire game, all levels, within his first two days of summer vacation.’s.worth. But then, as he paid for it himself, who am I to complain?

One of the levels involves flying in a formation of Liberators I believe. (Would that be B-24s, my historically unchallenged friends?)

Among the many added environmental touches in these games are dialog and other atmospherics that add to the realism, or impact.

That morning I overheard a commander in the game sternly instruct my son at the controller, “Don’t take evasive action, don’t break formation.”

That resonated. I think that’s a useful metaphor for a lot of situations in life, and an important way God works in situations. A way that too frequently we miss, misunderstand, avoid, or try to take for granted.

In the context of the game, “pilots” are ordered to stay in formation, not to take evasive action, as they fly through a shower of anti-aircraft fire. They are to remain on target, not swerve or try to avoid the deadly flak as planes all around them were sent careening ground-ward in flames.

I’m no aerial warfare specialist, but I imagine that this principle of aerial bombing attack follows a rule reminiscent of 18th century infantry tactics: maintain ranks. Many will be struck down but not all. Keep focused on the target.

Individual compliance to the order of the whole is the secret to success.

If each one thinks, I need to protect myself, and takes evasive action, then the whole will falter and the goal likely lost. We can also harm others in formation, if we turn or pull out, we can crash into those next to us, and they fail in their goal as well.

I think God often has multiple people motivated towards a goal. Whether he explicitly sets them all in parallel motion, or whether in the course of His leading of His servants, others join in, either way, there’s a formation towards the goal.

Not all will follow through to the objective. Some will fall away or be struck down. But He intends all to be part of the whole to accomplish His purpose.

I think that tells us something important about the formations in which we will sometimes find ourselves.

We may be the sole reason for accomplishment of some higher purpose, or merely part of a larger whole that fulfills a mission. By our commitment, we may encourage or strengthen others. By our faith, we ensure we don’t collide with others, or shake their confidence.

Ignore the flak. Stay the course. Have confidence in your purpose, and hope in your success. Keep true to your objective, with honor and in fellowship with those flying beside you.

Stay in formation.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Christian Carnival is Up!

I am late in linking, but Christian Canrival is up over at All Kinds of Time. I finally got around to posting the very belated third part of my three part study of the Light under a Bushel imagery from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Check it out if you haven't. And check out the carnival too, lots of spirit filled blog-goodness over at All Kinds of Time.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Light and Darkness (Part Three)

In Part One of this three part study, I discussed Matthew’s Gospel and the context within which the light under a bushel metaphor is presented. In Part Two, I likewise explored the context within which Light and Bushel imagery is presented in the Gospel of Mark. In this the final and third part, I look at the context within which Luke presents the light under the bushel.

Luke’s Gospel

As Mark, Luke recounts the Parable of the Revealed Light immediately following his rendering of the Parable of the Sower.

The Parable of the Sower Explained

11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe
for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:11-15)

More so than Mark, Luke’s account of the Parable of the Sower emphasizes that this parable is a metaphor that speaks of the condition of the heart. The seed of the gospel is sown in the listener’s heart, and the degree to which that seed takes root in the heart dictates what will result.

For some, the seed misses the mark altogether, it hits the wayside, in much the way a salvation message is dismissed and pushed aside. Whether by distraction, or resistance, enmity, or simple carelessness, for these, the Good News is no news of note at all. It is as if a telegraph of gladness is set aside and forgotten, it’s joyful message of no account.

For others, there is an existing hardness of the heart. They receive the message of God’s salvation through His Son with initial joy and excitement. The seed is received, but without a place to find root and grow, when temptation comes, the message is forgotten and the seed falls away.

Some allow competing interests and distractions steal away nourishment for the seed. The emphasis here is that which allows us to bring forth fruit. These cares and distractions may involve sin, and certainly result in temptation, but they may not in themselves be bad things. But by allowing them a greater prominence and attention in our lives, we don’t prepare our hearts to allow the Gospel to bring fruit into our lives. And while that fruit may bless us, the fruit that’s referred to here is a fruit intended to bless others.

Luke’s rendering of the parable describes the “good ground” as those who can hear the word with a “noble and good heart.” The nobility of heart in this context is surely not a gift of birth, but of attention, concentration, and commitment. Noble in the same sense as those noble of heart who love others as God loves them. This leads to a life and witness that is able to “bear fruit with patience.”

There aren’t many fruits that come from the discipled life that don’t require patience. Fruit itself requires time, good husbandry, nurturing care and feeding, and no small amount of pruning (as the previous example of the thorny and weedy ground well illustrates).

Thus Luke prepares the context for the next Parable.

The Parable of the Revealed Light

16 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a
vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter
may see the light. 17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor
anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. 18 Therefore take heed
how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not
have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” (Luke
Consistent with Matthew and Mark, Luke uses the image of the central communal lamp, in this case, so that “those who enter may see the light.” Here too, Luke also compares this light to revelation, to the way in which all secrets will be revealed, all darkness will be chased away.

What starts as common sense – who puts a light under a bed – ends with a warning about things of greater consequence. The Gospel cannot be passively received and not acted upon. How will we respond to the imperatives of revelation? How prepared are we to react? How ready are our hearts for the weights that will be placed upon them?

Just as Mark, Luke relays Jesus’s promise that, as we respond to His call into our lives, we grow in God and understanding of His purposes. Those who don’t prepare their hearts, or neglect His call, what little understanding they have will be lost.
The Gospel carries an obligation for believers. It isn’t just that we acknowledge the need for a savior, or that we turn from sin. There is a work of the heart to be accomplished, that working out of our faith that is all about sanctification and sharing that light with others. We are not our own, we are that vessel of light that God will use, if we are prepared.

Unity in Text, Diversity in Emphasis

In Matthew’s account, Jesus clearly charges His followers to share our faith with our family and friends, “giving light to all who are in the house.” Believers are compared with that communal light that extends our lives beyond the natural limits of daylight. Light here is the source of closeness and connection, and the believer is described as the light by which the connection is established.

Matthew describes the urging of Jesus that we would so shine, that those around them could see their good works. Those who would see those works will glorify the God who is the Author and originator and inspiration for those works. Our good works should give the glory to God, and be merely a reflection of the Light He brought into the world.

In Mark, there is a subtle transformation of the light that Matthew introduced as the light of believers, into a description of light as the revelation of God to all humankind. This light cannot be hidden, and by which the secrets and mystery of faith from the beginning of the world will be revealed.

Mark’s account includes a warning not to hide the Gospel, or constrain it into our preconceptions of what we want it to mean. If we hide it under such a bushel, we will limit what God can do with us. As we respond to His call into our lives, we grow in God, we grow in Jesus.

Luke faithfully presents a Gospel which cannot be passively received and must be acted upon. As we respond to His call into our lives, we grow in God and understanding of His purposes. Those who don’t prepare their hearts, or neglect His call will lose what little understanding they have.

Luke’s account of the Parable of Revealed Light speaks of an obligation for believers. There is a work of the heart to be accomplished. As our hearts receive and nourish the Gospel, we turn and share that light with others. We are not our own, we are that vessel of light that God seeks to use.

Each of the disciples seemed to receive this parable in slightly different ways. The different contexts within which they present the parable, and their differing emphases, reveal a richness of the message that Jesus intended to convey. Each is Gospel, all are divinely intended. Taken together, they point us towards a state of mind and heart that we are well advised to nurture as we walk the disciple’s path.

Much has been revealed. The light is bright. The more we prepare our hearts, the more we are willing to be redeemed as His vessels, the greater we can shine that light that He brought into the world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Thoughts on Sanctification

John Schroeder, posting at Blogotional, discusses Idols and Idolatry (with a little help from the Jollyblogger:
If I am in an upscale community that values family, success and financial freedom I might decide that the way to reach these folks is to build a family friendly church with classes and seminars on marriage and parenting, money management and a biblical view of success, or how to use your success in a godly way. There are many good aspects to all of these emphases, but we can miss the fact that people often value family, money and success for idolatrous reasons. In other words, it may be helpful to give someone biblical principles for budgeting, but it may be that their interest in budgeting is driven by an idol of greed.

And so I am suggesting that we not treat sinners as if they are sinless. For some time now it has been en vogue to listen to the unregenerate and tailor our ministries to their stated needs, desires and values. This has been the case with the church growth movement, the seeker sensitive movement, and in many cases with postmodern and emerging movements. In doing so we often fail to get behind the sinless and idolatrous motives that are driving the needs, desires and values.
John amplifies this thought of the Jollyblogger’s, that otherwise harmless or acceptable behaviors may prove sinful, based on our motivations. John extended this idea into a very interesting area: church growth, and efforts to build fellowship without proper focus on God’s purposes for that fellowship:
Now here's the really insidious part - church growth is not a sin, unless I approach it with an idolatrous attitude - that is to say I operate my church in a fashion to pursue growth when I should be pursuing God.

Anything can become an idol. Have you ever thought that the Pharisees real problem was that they made the Law an idol? Think about it. They were so zealous to do what they thought God wanted, they forgot God, isn't that the very definition of idolatry?
John goes on to ask some good questions and seek feedback on how God wants us to respond in cases when a church may be straying from a focus on God’s purposes, and stumbling off into areas of a sinful (prideful) focus on numbers, attendance, growth for growth’s sake?

For John, leaving the work of change only to the Holy Spirit may be suggested, but that seems troublesome:
Of course, changing people "on the inside" really is the work of the Holy Spirit, but somehow that seems like a cop out. Surely God has a role for us in situations like this?
This resonates with me particularly now. Mrs. Dadmanly and I undertook a 12 week small group study in our fellowship, involving a biblical process for seeking change. The book, and materials, have been written by James MacDonald, called “I Want to Change…So Help Me God.”

In an opening chapter of the book, MacDonald starts by speaking of the need for God’s people to “take out the garbage.” This relates to getting rid of faulty psychological and spiritual methods for change. One of the faulty psychological methods for change was identified as “digging up your past.”

MacDonald, mentioning Freud and alluding to questionable practices like “recovered” memories, makes the point that any attempt to change that involves will, manmade, or other self-centered methods, is bound to fail. Only God can change the heart, based on the tried and true process of true repentance and sanctification.

While I might objected to an outright dismissal of various psychological methods for change, I think MacDonald makes a point here that I need to absorb. I still have some concerns that MacDonald’s treatment of these methods as “garbage” are too negative and judgmental, but I know I have things I WANT to change and haven’t been able to, and I know that God needs to change my heart. And I think that’s where this is best suited, lingering sin and resistance to God. NOT that everything else is garbage, but just not what’s needed now, for these circumstances and sin areas. And I also think, McDonald describes Therapy in VERY limited and archaic terms, more Psychiatry than psychology, Freud, etc., and did not mention 12 step (which is not exactly self-help in my opinion), recovery from addiction, Christian counseling, etc.

Mrs. Dadmanly and I received healing from 12 step, both secular and Christian based, and from secular and Christian counseling. The twelve steps themselves are scriptural (even if widely misunderstood). Yes, people get stuck in the past, and latch on to human beings, and never really come to know their Higher Power intimately, but that’s a failing of the individual (and sometimes groups that don’t hold themselves accountable), not to a weakness of the program per se.

I want to make one other observation about change. A CORRECT or appropriate identification of what a person REALLY needs to change is not trivial or properly dismissed with a joke along the lines of “Now what could I possibly need to change, I am so near perfect…” (As an aside, I think any time we say to ourselves, “Ordinarily I don’t like negative [critical] teaching, but…” that should be a warning sign. Attacking anything or other alternative approaches is a weaker place to start than why a different approach is RIGHT.

In my experience, one reason (among many) some Christians from dysfunctional families have not been able to “change” is because they identify the wrong things to change, and the wrong things as sins. In an abusive or dysfunctional family, the pressure is overwhelmingly that the abused “get with the program” and stop making waves. Putting up with the abuse and putting it out of mind is the fix. “I am the problem” can be very destructive and counter-effective. I can think of several current circumstances that people remain in bondage by thinking it’s all them, and they “conform” to what they think is right. Hitting someone over the head with the Bible may seem simple, but it can backfire (and represent the garbage bag candidate of a Legalistic approach by the way).

Mrs. Dadmanly observes that she needs no practice looking in the mirror and saying, “what a wretched, worthless creature am I.” Many of us spent the better part of our lives doing just that. As I said, I think it is vitally important that we in pastoral and teaching roles (and in Christian counseling, for that matter) be alert to what people focus on as what needs to change. Yes, we can only change ourselves, but we need to know what things God wants us to change, and what we are being “pushed” into change for conformity or to fit some Legalistic definition. I think McDonald’s approach could continue to work oppression on some, and reinforce an external (legalistic) conformity. Makes for a lot of sick fellowships (and bad counseling) if not properly accountable to God, and each other.

So how does all of this relate to what Jollyblogger and John Schroeder are discussing? I think they are the two wider paths upon which well-intentioned believers can stray.

Seekers and the searching bring a lot of diverse points of view, opinions, and life experiences, and many of these will be blended in what could be a much richer tapestry of the Christian life. Sure, there are non-negotiables, but all of us have prejudices and limitations to our experiences, areas where a brother or sister can reveal that God works in at least some mysterious ways that we ourselves have not experienced directly.

I can argue this point of view all day long. And Jesus associated with all manner of sinners in His ministry, that the religious purists of his day were shocked to observe. But if we never reach beyond that initial invitation, and we continue in what we want to be true fellowship, we do need to be attentive to each other’s walk, even if it is difficult to fully understand or identify with our brothers and sisters. We can risk discarding or neglecting important issues of sin, mutual accountability, sanctification, walking through salvation, in the interest of reaching people “just as they are.” Reaching people is one thing, helping them transform is another. I came to faith with a lot of “unchurched” areas of my life, and if I was never confronted with the distinctives to which my new brothers and sisters attend, I would have missed out on a very important process of prayerful reflection, conviction, and eventual sanctification (at least in individual areas).

It may be as simple as learning table manners, and it might be ways that my behavior is hurting my friends and family, and I have lacked an ability to perceive the effects of my behavior. It may be an area of addiction or compulsion that I was not willing to deal with until God had worked sanctification far enough in me to accept correction.

On the flip side, a fellowship can set standards so high, that many are turned away in despair. Sadly, many of us who spent time in recovery, have first experiences with other Christians outside recovery and therapeutic settings that greatly limited the positive influence that broader Christian fellowship might have had, both for our sanctification, and for theirs.

We all sin, and fall short of the glory of God. When we set conditions for the types of sin we can work with, and others that we can’t, or criteria for “how saved” we must be to participate in fellowship, we limit what God can do in our midst. Too frequently, it’s not just that we don’t give each other room to grow, but we discourage the kind of sharing lead to living a transparent life with each other. We may also be so used to our own way – say, what it means to be a foot in the Body of Christ – that we can’t recognize the differences on the part of the Body that is an arm.

Change is needed, and there is no time to waste. And surely the change most needed is a change of heart. Sometimes, the change will be some outward behavior and manifestation of rebellion, and loving correction that continues the lifetime process of sanctification. And sometimes, that change needs to be in the heart of him who would sit in judgment.

For me, I know I have to watch myself both ways. Because I still rebel at times, and need more sanctification. And I know I need to grow in tolerance for my brothers and sisters in Christ, because they struggle as I do too. And joining each other in that struggle is what God has called us to do.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Light and Darkness (Part Two)

In Part One of this three part study, I discussed Matthew’s Gospel and the context within which the light under a bushel metaphor is presented. In Part Two, I will likewise explore the context within which Light and Bushel imagery is presented in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s Gospel

Matthew presented his explanation of the Light under a Basket teaching immediately following the Sermon on the Mount. In contrast, Mark makes no direct mention of the teaching of the Beautitudes. Instead, Mark explains Jesus’s teaching of the light we are to be immediately following the Parable of the Sower.
The Parable of the Sower Explained

13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” (Mark 4:13-20)
The Parable of the Sower describes evangelism and the spreading of the Gospel, the Good News, to a hungry world. Quite intentionally, Jesus uses an agricultural example for what His disciples would experience. The lesson here is not about where to sow and where not to -- people are sometimes far harder to read and spiritually navigate than the highways and byways – but rather describing what causes some “soil” to be more fertile than others.

Throughout the Old and New Testament, God through His prophets speaks the metaphor of shaking the dust from your sandals when confronted with those hostile or resistant to the work of God. But not here. Here in the Parable of the Sower, Mark captures Jesus’s teaching that is so much more about the fertile and infertile ground, those who He would have us witness to, not anything of substance about the sower. For truly, it is Jesus who sows, not us, we are merely His messenger.

The ground, hearers of the word but not yet doers, are described as: the wayside (think the shoulder of a modern highway perhaps); stony ground, hard and allowinf no roots to penetrate; ground overgrown with thorns; and good, fertile ground that bears fruit in abundance. The seed we sow is that which we carry from God, a message of good news that will be tidings of great joy to all peoples.

Mark relates how Jesus taught on the quality of the soil. For some who hear the word, Satan comes immediately and snatches away what seeds have landed in their hearts. The enemy confounds the good news, distracts the hearer, and causes that which might have taken root to be pushed aside before any good can come.

For some who hear the word, they take an immediate interest and experience an immediate but transitory joy from the good news. Jesus describes these who “have no root in themselves, and whatever grows from the witness they’ve received will not long ensure. Troubles, tribulations, or persecution for His sake will cause them to stumble. They are stony in that they have no depth of soil, no permanence or rootedness to their faith.

Some hear the world amid a tumult of competing desires and cares, and while the good news may cause peace and understanding for a time, ultimately these will fall away into distraction. The thorns are the cares of this world, “deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things.” Just as with trials and tribulations, riches can pull us away from the perfect peace and fulfillment that God seeks to give us through the Gospel.

Jesus sums up the goal of the Sower, as providing listeners with the opportunity to “Hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit.” When hearers of the word become doers of the word, as admonished by James 1:22), they bear the fruit that Jesus speaks of in this parable. And in completion of the cycle, when they then proceed to witness to others themselves.

Jesus spoke of soil, of sowing seeds. Mark then relates how Jesus spoke of the need to be the Sower he speaks of, and not keep all the seeds to oneself.
Light Under a Basket

21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
24 Then He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. 25 For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25)
Granted, Jesus speaks of a different metaphor here, but it is a continuation of a train of thought. You get the sense, reading the Gospels, that Jesus often shifted from one metaphorical construct to another as necessary, to press home the messages He needed to communicate, in terms His listeners needed, in order to fully understand. And as we know, they were sometimes still confused, although things became clearer as the mystery of faith was revealed in Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Jesus says these words often, “Anyone who has ears to hear, let him hear,” words not only of hope, but also of caution and admonition. Today, perhaps they would be rendered something like, “Alright, Listen up!”

The image of a lampstand may be somewhat alien to modern ears. We may think of a night table, a lamp for reading perhaps, something alongside the sofa or easy chair. I think this misses an essential element of Jesus’s meaning here.

The lamp on the lampstand would form a primary means of illumination, used for all purposes of work, cooking or other food preparation, other household labor. Light was a valuable commodity, as were the implements of sustaining it, oil, oil lamps, wicks, lampstands, and often these objects were prominently featured in religious observances, as well. Lighting the lamps, stories of lamps, figure in major legends of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, as well as sacramental practices (the Mennorah, etc.)

I mentioned in Part One, that the image here is of a central communal lamp, by which the members of a household might gather for an evening meal, or share stories, or otherwise go about making a life extend beyond the natural limits of daylight. It creates possibilities where they would not exist otherwise. And in doing so, this light brings things to light, it is part of a process of revelation. In fact, Jesus here claims that there is “nothing hidden which will not be revealed,” and that any secrets kept will be revealed.

Here in Mark, there is a subtle transformation of the light that Matthew introduced as the light of believers, sharing the gospel. Mark’s description of Jesus’s light under the bushel takes on a deeper significance, as the light is the revelation of God to all humankind, and that that light will not be restrained, and the secrets and mystery of faith from the beginning of the world will be revealed, with witnesses to that light, but without any particular witness.

Jesus exhorts His disciples to hear the words He speaks, and to “take heed.” As they listen to His teachings, as we listen to His teachings, we are to carefully measure His words and their meaning. By constraining the Gospel into our preconceptions or prejudices of what we want it to mean (or sincerely but wrongly believe it to mean), we constrain and limit what God can do with us, the ways He will use us.

Jesus promises that, as we fully hear and take to heart, even more understanding wikll be given us. As we respond to His call into our lives, we are made more ready for the more He has in store for us. We grow in God, we grow in Jesus.

Yet there is a warning of contrast, as well. Those who cannot or will not hear, will lose even that which they have. The sense here is not so much physical or material possessions, but understanding and wisdom. As we receive, hear, absorb, and put into practice His words for our lives, we grow into better containers for the light He gives us to share with others.
The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
Mark chronicles how Jesus now returns to the earth, for images of growth and harvest. Yet something more, Jesus now speaks of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus describes it here, is that which is part of the ‘natural order” of things, with the Sower spreading seeds, but God in His wisdom growing the harvest. And in the natural order of things, when the harvest is ready, the Harvester will put “in the sickle, because the harvest is come.”

This is another image that a modern reader might not fully appreciate. The allusion here is of a great burgeoning of a plentiful harvest, one that grows by the grace of God, but as men sow, they may watch in wonder as His bounty proliferates. But this very growth, explosive and vibrant though it may be, is a harbinger of something much more serious. As a latter Hebrew Prophet warned, “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow – for their wickedness is great.” (Joel 3:13).

In another parable, Jesus describes that the tare (weeds) will grow along with the wheat, but in the harvest, the seed will be gathered while the tares will b e bundled and tossed in the fire, with “great weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Harvest metaphors often speak to fond experiences of seasons, regeneration and rebirth. But in a spiritual sense, the harvest is a “day of reckoning,” as well. When those of us who have been charged with “sharing the light,” may also be held to account for what we shared, and what we did not share, what seeds we sowed, and what seeds we let fall to the ground, or get devoured.

In Part Three, I will complete my exploration of the context within which Light and Bushel imagery is presented, in the Gospel of Luke.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Christian Carnival XCIII is Up!

Christian Carnival #93 is up over at White Ribbon Warriors.

The first part of my series on Light and Darkness is featured. Lots of fine and enlightening reading up at the Carnival, check it out!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Light and Darkness (Part One)

In looking up the Bible reference for Jesus’ teaching related to hiding “a light under a bushel," I discovered some variances on how this parable is presented in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

The nuances of the three presentations suggest something very remarkable about what I believe Jesus taught in this example. What’s more, the adjacent passages in all three gospels demonstrate the difference in emphasis that each of these disciples may have attached to this teaching.

As the first of a three part study, I first examine and discuss Matthew’s Gospel and the context within which the light under a bushel metaphor is presented.

Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew is the primary source for some of the most powerful and evocative rendering of the Christian Gospel in the New Testament. Jesus’s cautionary teaching about keeping our light under a bushel is sandwiched between the Beautitudes, in which God describes those who receive special favor in His heart and eyes, and the assertion that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law of the Old Testament prophets, to whom God had promised to “write the Law upon their hearts.”
3 “ Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew’s gospel presents the Beautitudes immediately prior to the passages that present Jesus’s teaching on the light under a bushel. These aptly named verses beautifully capture those who are closest to God’s heart. God is especially attentive to the people and situations that this passage describes, the meek, the peacemakers, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

God provides a special blessing for those who are persecuted for His sake, and promises such as these a greater reward in heaven.
Believers Are Salt and Light
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
In contrast, the opening of Matthew’s verses on the Light we are to be, speaks about believers as the “salt of the earth.” Commonly understood, this would be the natural occurrence of salt inland, far from the ocean, which in the days of Jesus would signify a rare and valuable find. It would be that special blessing by God, and a thing of need and value for the people of a community.

Salt was a preservative, and it often meant that people could preserve meat and fish longer than this sustenance would last without preservation. That could mean life or death for people who had to live hand to mouth in an ancient economy.

People in those days would spend great sums of money or trade dearly for salt, which would otherwise be acquired from a trader who had arranged transport from an ocean coastline or other salt deposit. Given that salt mines were widely known in history and legend as places of terrible toil, having a community of believers perceived as “salt,” would mean that their availability would preclude having others mine that same salt themselves.

In this way, by sharing the good news, Believers whose “salt” retains its flavor can spare those who hear and respond to their invitation the toil associated with mining their salt “the hard way.”

The worst thing that could happen is for believers to lose their purpose, and be “good for nothing,” like salt that loses its flavor. God has called out those followers who He entrusts with His good news, the Gospel of His Son Jesus. He makes them salt for those who need “preservation.”

Matthew’s account then moves into the reference that began my search, speaking of how believers are the Light of the World, “a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” This is the Biblical source of the “Shining City on a Hill” allusion most recently popularized by President Ronald Reagan.

The Founders and many admirers since frequently refer to America as the “shining city on the hill,” not least because of our widespread Christian faith, but also because of the particular way in which America has been chartered as the foremost exporter of liberty and freedom for more than 200 years.

As followers of Christ, God clearly charges us in the Gospel to share our faith and join Him in His purposes, with our family and friends and in our communities. In these places, our faith is to be like the lamp placed on a lampstand, “giving light to all who are in the house.” This is in the days of oil lamps and cooking fires, not candles, and certainly no kind of artificial lighting.

The image here is of the central communal lamp, by which the members of a household might gather for an evening meal, or share stories, or otherwise go about making a life extend beyond the natural limits of daylight. This is an intentional harkening to a time and place of closeness and connection, by which the believer is the light by which the connection is established.

Lastly in these middle verses, Matthew describes the urging of Jesus upon His followers, that they would so shine that those around them, their community, the people with whom they shared, could see their good works. In seeing, those who would see will glorify the God who is the Author and originator and inspiration for those works.

This is an important admonition, too, that our good works should be cause for witnesses to give the glory to God. If they give the glory to us, it may well be that we distract their attention and detract from what God intends: namely, that the light we shine be merely a reflection of the Light He brought into the world, for all mankind.
Christ Fulfills the Law
17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Matthew ends his account of Jesus’s teaching with Jesus cautioning His followers that He did not come to lead His followers to abandon their scripture or faith, as exemplified by the law of the Prophets. Jesus plainly declares that not until the end of time, “One jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled.” (In other words, not one bit will pass away.)

This last segment of Jesus’s teaching actually led to great dissension within the early church. Jewish believers thought Jesus meant that one had to be an observant Jew first, and obey all of the law, following “every jot and tittle.” Gentiles, urged on by Paul among others, asserted that the critical portion of Jesus’s pronouncement was “Until all is fulfilled,” and hold that Jesus’s death on the cross represents the fulfillment of all for the purposes of this teaching.

Still others would hold that the law is still intact in its entirety as God gave the law to Moses and the Prophets, but that that is the grace and mercy of faith in Jesus, that while we were still sinners, our faith allows us to stand as if we stand righteous in all fullness of the law. We are presented before God blameless, and counted as heirs with Christ.

Matthew is back where he always prefers to be, where Jesus fulfills the prophesies of Torah (Old Testament). But we as believers, function in the text, as we are to function in the world, as a bridge between God’s unwarranted favor and the fulfillment of the Law in the hearts of those who would seek Him. For it is only because a fellow believer brings the “good news” to us that any of us became believers in the faith.

In Part Two, I will likewise explore the context within which Light and Bushel imagery is presented in the Gospel of Mark.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Death and Rebirth (Part Two)

A continuation to an earlier post, Faith and Adversity.

In the first part of Romans Chapter 5, Paul spoke of how faith perseveres and even triumphs through adversity. It is the refiner’s fire, where gloss is burned away leaving that which is pure and unblemished. But Paul speaks of more, of something else God is doing in these experiences, not just scourge, but succor and restoration. We are chastined, but we are also rebuilt from the inside out.
Christ in Our Place

6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
Paul explains how the Reconciliation spoken of here allows those of us who sin to be reconciled to the Perfect Lord and God of all creation. This is one of the great mysteries of faith, and perfect resolution to the problem of sin since the Fall. For God to be God in any meaningful sense, He must be that Perfect Divine Will before which no impurity or fault can stand. We are ungodly before we come into saving knowledge and acknowledgement of the One True God. This is the ultimate separation between those things that seem good to a man, a sense of good enough or earned acceptance, and the standard that would need to attain for the Supreme Being, Creator of all Life and Substance, He that spoke all things into existence and answers the question of who He is with the essential, “I AM that I AM.”
Death in Adam, Life in Christ

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) (Romans 5:12-17)

18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:18-21)
That reconciliation makes all the difference in this world, and the next. It eliminates all the generations of rebellion, it ends the intergenerational curse, it perfectly and completely obliterates any sense of the sin of the Fathers being transmitted to their children, not to any generations at all, let alone the third and fourth in the fullness of time.

That reconciliation starts the process of redemption, rejuvenation, renewal. All things are new again. We become the promised new creations. As sin entered the world through our Ancient first born, with the arrival of consciousness and intellect, so too God’s restoration and redemption, through the atoning sacrifice of One, the Perfect One. For with perfect wisdom and precision, God finds the way to turn our greatest defeat into His greatest victory through us His created. In striving to be like gods unto ourselves, we fell. By being made co-inheritors with Christ, we are made His children, and this sanctified and made whole in His eyes.

What once was lost has now been found.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Christian Carnival is Up!

This week's Christian Carnival is up at In the Spirit of Grace. The theme for this week is a little deeper than it appears at first glance...looking at mind, body, and spirit in a variety of contexts.

The Carnival this week includes my earlier post, A Eulogy for the Fallen, which includes reflections from Sandberg, King David, and Shakespeare. We march, each of us, through the endless pendulum swings of eternity, here to mark the time for such a brief moment.

Lots of other reflections on mind, body, and spirit over at In the Spirit of Grace.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Christian Carnival #88 is Up!

Christian Carnival #88 is up over at Digitus, Finger & Co. Lots of good carnival entries this week, including my recent The War Within post.

Check out the Carnival, and be blessed!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Faith and Adversity (Part One)

Many non-believers, and perhaps, many a new Christian, are very curious about how some Christians seem to maintain such stoicism in the face of adversity, crisis, or catastrophe. Those of us who believe, and yet struggle with doubt sometimes over God’s purposes in tribulations, can take courage and comfort from Chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Faith Triumphs in Trouble

1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Faith in Jesus Christ is our pathway to peace, for Jesus is that ultimate Righteousness asked of Man by God. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah, in promising that our reward for Righteousness would be peace, quietness (the absence of inner turmoil or contention), and assurance for eternity: This is the “peace that surpasses all understanding,” that so fascinates yet confounds those who have not found Him:
17 The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. (Isaiah 32:17)
Yet we can’t achieve this in our own selves, when competing without a Champion with our own sinful natures. “There is none righteous, no not one,” and in our own strength without faith we cannot achieve that perfect Righteousness that would bring the peace of the Lord. But in faith, our belief in Jesus, the Son of God, cloaks us in His perfect righteousness and gives us access to that peace.

Accepting Jesus as Savior and asking that our sins be forgiven allows us to approach the throne of grace without fault or blemish. Not that we are pure, but that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, of his sacrifice on the cross, presents us as pure before the throne of judgment. We can this have hope in the future, precisely because we can stand in His presence forgiven, and be accounted as righteous.

The promise of our redemption is about our eternal future, but dwelling in the hope of God can bring us joy and contentment today, a peace that God is our guide, a quietness of mind and heart, not that we may not be troubled, but that the concerns of each day will not eat away at our insides, that we may maintain a quietness of soul. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” goes the hymn, “O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.” (Blessed Assurance, words by Fanny Crosby.)

He’s broken down the wall of separation between Creator and created; He has torn the curtain asunder to allow us entrance to the Holy of Holies, and usher us into His presence:
14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

6 but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:6)
This is the meaning of being Heirs of Salvation and partakers in the inheritance. Jesus has made it possible for us to be first fruits too, and join Him as new creations.

And this assurance then gives us courage and strength to endure tribulations, even find glory in them, as God lifts us up, protects and sustains us, and brings us out the other side. We persevere; we stand on God’s promise. As we endure and persevere, we grow stronger, perhaps wiser too, and more knowing of the way in which we can keep God ever-present throughout our struggles, that we might remain hopeful and not despair.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11, 12)

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2-3)
God thus works with our character, He makes us more than we would have been, without the tribulation, and without His love, and His Holy Spirit He gives to us, which dwells in us as believers. We become born of His spirit, as it indwells; we are washed in His redeeming blood, which is the start and finish of our faith and the author of our peace in Him.
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
We are forgiven in Christ once for all; we are purchased at the greatest price possible, the sacrifice of His own Son Jesus. As we all learn eventually when we come to faith, God’s promise does not mean our lives will be all sweetness and light ever after; but He does assure us, and we can experience, that He is with us in every trial and tribulation, and like silver or gold in a refiners fire, can be made better than what we were. God has placed His seal upon us:
21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, 22 who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
Jesus said, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

That is what the disciples did, and they were to be anointed with the Holy Spirit of God, the Promise that Jesus spoke of. And so might all of us receive that Promise upon us, if we but put our faith in the Lord our God, and believe on His Son Jesus.

It is the indwelling Holy Spirit in us that is God’s guarantee that He will be with always, “even to the end of the Age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Coming in Part Two: Death and Rebirth