Walking Humbly?

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Over Christmas, my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her snowbird mother and stepdad. The stepdad is 89 this year. Except for delighting in beating me – or anyone – in any kind of the card game, he is a genuinely nice guy. One of the things he has set for himself to do is to read the Old Testament, figuring – rightly, I believe – that it would not have been given and preserved for us if it was not of value. Still, he was struggling somewhat with the perception that the revelation of God in the Old Testament is nothing like the revelation of Jesus by the New Testament. My father in law is not alone, of course. I have another acquaintance with an much more extreme view; he asserts (because things we might judge as “unfair” like orders for the total destruction of a group of people and their livestock or the wiping out of almost all humanity by flood, are attributed to God) that the “god” the Old Testament is talking about is effectively Satan, and he discounts the text altogether. My extreme friend is just fine with Jesus, though I an not sure how he deals with Jesus’ assertion that “… not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) Jesus did quote the Old Testament quite a bit.

Because I would like to be able to do a better job of helping my father in law with his questions, I have been re-reading a book by pastor Andrew Wommack titled The True Nature of God that puts major emphasis on reconciling the Old and New Testament descriptions of God. I have to admit that I was hooked upon discovery of the title of the first chapter, “Is God Schizophrenic?” I will just say here, that though the book is an easy read, I found it insightful on this subject. Hence my decision to re-read.

Of course, not all the Old Testament is pestilence, warfare and mayhem. Some passages, like the one above from Micah seem more pleasant. How about this one from First Peter quoting from Leviticus?

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.
1 Peter 1:15-16

Does Peter seem over-emphatic for our day? “[A]ll your behavior” – seems pretty inclusive. Peter is simply acknowledging that “holy” means “right and good without inconsistency”. This is not a description we can usually apply to human beings. I can still point to plenty of inconsistency in my own behavior. Yet, here is a reminder that we have that specific instruction from on high to be holy like God is holy.

Jesus seems to have a realistic outlook on our actions when speaking to one identified as the rich young ruler:

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 & Luke 18:19

Jesus was (is) God and good. He just recognized the one he was speaking with did not know it and the young ruler was merely using a flattering greeting when addressing Jesus.

One of the effects of the Law, spelled out in the Old Testament, should be to convince us that we can’t live up to it and therefore need a Savior. Unfortunately, we seem to have a near limitless capacity to ignore facts and excuse ourselves. If only we can find someone that we judge to be worse than ourselves, we think we are not so bad. If we have the humility to perform an accurate self assessment, even the requirements noted in Micah 6:8 seem impossibly tough, compared to God’s holy example. There are times when we think vengeance would be justice and kindness is unwarranted for some particular person who has found a way to greatly offend us.

At the risk of stealing Andrew’s thunder concerning reconciling the testaments, consider this passage about Jesus in Hebrews, remembering that Hebrews was written to those well-versed in the Law and the rest of the Old Testament.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3

This is telling us that total revelation of God’s nature can be found by examining the nature of Jesus. Jesus Himself repeatedly told His disciples that He and the Father were ONE.

The short story is that if God seems different in the Old Testament, it is because the revelation of His nature in the Old Testament is incomplete and our understanding of it, even more so. Given before Jesus, it is incomplete in the same way our instructions to young children fail to tell the whole story. “Don’t play in the street”, we say. “Why?”, comes the childish retort. “Because I said so”, is an expedient answer. More of the truth? If one keeps playing in the street playing attention to things other than the traffic, odds are good that he will eventually be hit by a vehicle driven by an inattentive operator, probably eliminating the chance of having offspring to whom one can say, “Because I said so.”

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. John 16:12-15

These words were spoken to disciples who had been walking with Jesus for three years. He recognized that without the transforming and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in us, we will remain incapable of grasping the truth. Getting to where we can bear all of it, may take an eternity.

Heart Transplant

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:15-16

Ever ask yourself, “Why did I ever do that”? Jeremiah 17:9 gets right at the heart of the matter; more deceitful than all else and desperately sick. The link above will take you to the biblehub.com entry for that verse, where you can discover that the phrase “desperately sick” could be rendered “incurable”. That diagnosis would seem to paint us into the proverbial corner, wouldn’t it? How is one going to make good on well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions if one’s “decider” is broken with an incurable spiritual ailment?

The good news is that we are offered a spiritual heart transplant. Really, give that new heart free reign, and it can permeate the entire being, transforming and renewing everything!

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

That sure sounds like good news to me! If you haven’t made that decision yet, I pray you will put it at the top of your list and not put it off any longer.

Looking Back on 2019 with Gratitude

Thinking about the year in retrospect, I thought I might share some selected entries from my gratitude journal. Some of these were addressed specifically to God the Father, some to Jesus, some to the Holy Spirit (all of whom are One, despite their distinct personalities and relationships with us).

I am grateful…

… for Jesus’ faithful heart and sacrifice for me!

… that Jesus it the Truth and the Holy Spirit is sent to guide us into all the truth!

… for rest.

… for a loving wife!

… to be healthy!

… for your Word and the Truth; an anchor against the tempest of deception the enemy is driving into this world as the unwitting give him opportunity.

… for time to dedicate to worship and to become better acquainted with Your Word.

… for those who share lessons they have gleaned from Your Word.

… for encouragement!

… for Your peace!

… that You are merciful!

… that You teach us many things!

… for Your kind intention!

… for the negotiations the President has been engaged in to improve our trade position.

… for the good economy and record-low unemployment!

… for the $10 bill I found in the yard and that the nearest neighbor is a half-mile away.

… for Your guidance!

… that all the promises of God, in You Jesus, are “Yes!” and “Amen!” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

… for the capacity to be grateful, and the benefits of being grateful!

… for forgiveness in Jesus!

… for all the unappreciated ways I have been helped by You!

… for a warm hug from my grand-daughter after traveling to see her recital.

… for the remainder of the year off from work to rest (after 12/21).

… that You have faithfully brought me this far!

… for Your generous heart!

… And, I am grateful the thermometer doesn’t say -22F very often!

All Things

I have been having a conversation with the Holy Spirit the past couple of days. For you who think “conversation” has a narrow definition, the Spirit has been making certain impressions on my heart, which then leak into my mind when I am in a meditative mood (often). In turn, I prayerfully pose questions to the Spirit, asking for clarification. Often a pertinent verse of scripture will come to mind; a process that is only possible if one has taken the trouble to put verses of scripture into one’s mind in the first place. One of those, John 16:13, is relevant to the description that I am giving:

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

In any event, the this conversation concerns several notable times in my life when my circumstance turned dramatically and more-or-less permanently for the better, as a direct result of someone close to me either making a decision which negatively impacted them long term, or in another case, absorbed some grievous abuse such that I did not become a target of the same. I think I will not share the details of these, since the persons I am thinking of are deceased now and unable to consent to my sharing.

However, as I meditated on these life-changing events, I was led to a couple of passages. The first is Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

All things – even decisions made of those close to us – decisions which proved to be good for me as this passage in Romans 8 promises even while apparently detrimental to the person following the path they decided upon. As I contemplated these situations from my past, the Spirit showed me that I was, in a way, a beneficiary of Judas’ decision to betray Jesus. (You can read about the beginning of that in John chapter 13.) We all needed Jesus to go to the cross to bear our sin and the death-wage we earned though it. Judas played a part in that, and you can see that Jesus acknowledged that it was necessary. If you follow the story, you find out that it did not end well for Judas, at least in life. Jesus Himself then suffered in our stead on that cruel Roman cross that we might be restored to the position of having God as our Father. I find it humbling to consider that I may thrive as a result of the troubles of others. Did God “do bad things” to them that I might prosper? No, no, no. He is not like that. Their choices were their own. (And in Jesus’ case, it was the reason He came.) Yet mysteriously, His grace persists, causing even the most unlikely of “all things” to work out for my good.

Am I? Are You? #15

I Am… at peace with God. (Romans 5:1) And I am grateful for it.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Me: Good afternoon Father!

ABBA: Good afternoon Jon!

Me: This passage in Romans is one of those where You are obviously active in all of Your aspects, Father, Son, and Spirit.

ABBA: That is always so, for I Am One. Have you considered My wrath in verse nine? Let me tell you about that, as well. It is in light of my wrath that peace with Me is even worth mentioning.

My wrath speaks of My settled opposition to evil and all its out-workings. What does my word say Jesus’ mission was, as far as the devil?

Me: In 1 John 3:8, it says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”

ABBA: That is right, starting with death that is earned through sin.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

You are called to that same purpose.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

You see, many recognize their sinfulness and assume that mention of My wrath means I Am mad at them over it. I am not. Toward them, I am compassionate. My wrath is directed toward the evil that enslaves them and had doomed them to destruction. I sent My Son to bear their death-wage in their place, if only they will turn and accept the gift of peace with Me, purchased by His blood.

Me: Thank You for that explanation of Your wrath, Father! And thank You for Your unimaginable Gift! I love you!

ABBA: You are welcome! I love you!

Christy Mitropoulos Signature

Am I? Are You? #14

I Am… Accepted in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world , that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. Ephesians 1:3-10

Before there was a single molecule of earth. Depending on how expansive one is willing to be with the word “world” [Greek κόσμου – kosmou], possibly before there was a single physical particle of anything, anywhere; we were chosen. I shared at some length in my last post the conversation I had with God the Father on the intriguing subject of predestination as an aspect of God knowing the end from the beginning, so I am not going to divert into that mystery here, other than to recognize again that the scripture is replete with these references that center around God being omniscient and eternal. Since we are bound in time (at least for now) and He is not, we presently have little concept of just how these things work.

The important thing for me to see, is that before there was any “there” there, God looked at my need to be rescued from the downward death-spiral of sin and disobedience and determined to save me by the sacrifice of the Son. The word “grace” in verse six also connotes that it is a free gift and contingent only upon my willingness to accept it. In other words, when Jesus uttered, “It is finished.” from the cross, there was no further action necessary from God’s side of things.

God is truly extravagant in His giving. Paul used the word “lavished”. Marvelous. Marvelous! Marvelous indeed! No wonder verse six mentions praise! I return for a moment to the words “He chose” in verse four. We are not accidental beneficiaries. No, we are adopted (verse five). I daresay any adoptive parent will attest that adoption is not a random-chance event; no one ever said, “then an adoption happened”.

One last thing. It says “in the beloved”. I am a first-born son, as far as my natural family goes. Like most first-born children, I was trained early in a performance-based sense of self. I need to lay this mindset down. I understand that intellectually now but it is deeply ingrained. Some might ask, “Just why do you need to abandon this sense of yourself”? The answer is precisely because in my self I cannot live up to the holy life that is being spoken of, life that is even capable of true communion with God. Only One has ever managed it. The real mystery is that He made a way for me to be “in” Him. That is the way of acceptance, the way of salvation, the way of communion, of joy, of peace, of adoption. Of love.

I Am the way… John 14:6

Am I? Are You? #13

I am grateful, Father, to be in Your family!

I Am… An heir of God. – Romans 8:17

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

16 The Spirit itself* beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

* Short side trip: Greek αὐτὸ is the third-person pronoun (he, she, it) determined by context. I believe the Holy Spirit is a person, an essential part of the Person of God (Deuteronomy 6:4), even as our spirit is an essential part of our being. I don’t presume to fault the KJV translation too much; it is impossible for the mind of man to contain a full understanding of God any more than a child knows a parent fully. We may know the Spirit as He incrementally reveals Himself to us in our spirit when we become intentionally still enough to hear.

17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Me: Good morning Father!

ABBA: Good morning Jon!

Me: When I went to investigate Romans 8:17 further, I began to meditate on all of Romans 8, and I found it to be a cache of endless treasure (and a few hard concepts).

ABBA: When you were raising children, did you find that they were usually able to comprehend the full depth of things that they asked questions about?

Me: No, they were able to recognize and ask about many things that were both mysterious to them and wonderful at the same time. Deeper understanding often required more intellectual background than they yet possessed. Really, more than I yet possess.

ABBA: How would you answer them?

Me: Some dads would say, “Ask your mother” but I have always been disposed to try to give some response. I wish I could say I generally gave a heart-centered answer, merely acknowledging that it was a complicated question. At a young age, they were usually trying to decide how to relate to the thing, not learn how it was designed. I wasn’t heart-centered enough myself in those days and would ususally give an answer they were unprepared to make use of. I suppose I am still prone to do that if anyone asks me something.

ABBA: Yes, most young children are trying to learn, whereas some adults are trying to control. I understand you want to be accurate. I made you that way. Still, you have to consider the questioner and their frame of reference. I sent My Son, in part, to communicate My love for you (John 3:16) in a way that was unmistakable.

Me: The heart message in verse fifteen is one that is at the very center of the good news of the Gospel – that in Jesus we are adopted into Your family and no longer under the fearful severity of the law (which we instinctively understand we have violated). Now, we are brought in by love (1 John 4:8).

ABBA: You understand that the law is satisfied because Jesus suffered the penalty due to you. Do you also understand that as heir you have all of My resources available to carry out our mission? Do you know, you inherited a part of My mission as well? (Matthew 28:16-20)

Look at Romans 5:5. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Do you understand that this promise is that My very nature is being manifest in you?

Me: I am trying to understand. I hope that is what this series is accomplishing for me and for any who read it with a spirit of contemplation. I know these things intellectually. I can read them in the scriptures. It is the heart that is stubborn. Usually, I don’t even realize that it is being so obstinate or that I have some negative self-talk running in the background. I do know that I need to repent of those internal messages that run contrary to the promises You have made to us.

ABBA: Keep listening for My Spirit to guide you into all the Truth. Keep delving into the scripture while looking to Me for Guidance. Commit My promises to memory and the Spirit will bring them to remembrance when you need them.

Now, what do you consider a hard concept?

Me: As I read on in Romans 8, I got to wondering about the “predestination” concepts in verses 29-30 (and many other places). I decided to read a bunch of other’s take on those verses. I was surprised by what I found.

ABBA: How so?

Me: I found a lot of people identifying as “Calvinists”, making all kinds of assertions about You and what this passage means. Some were mostly taking aim at “Armenians” whom they said were wrong to not put enough emphasis on it. Some seemed to be emphasizing Your loving nature, but perhaps only to some particular insiders of Your choosing. Others took what I would say are extreme views, claiming any foresight You have is equivalent to a final determination and that man has no free will and therefore no responsibility. Some claimed they were saved and others were irrevocably out because You had not chosen them. I found that the banner of Calvinist flies over all kinds of doctrinal positions. So much so, that I would say it is meaningless in a practical sense. I am sure I have not scratched the surface, nor that I want to.

Why do people feel the need to put You in some kind of box that they can circumnavigate? Don’t they even have a sense of Your limitless nature? Don’t they ever go outside at night and look up at some of what You have done? And how do some so handily ignore the Great Commission, or the fact expounded in Scripture that You are not willing that any should perish, while recognizing that some choose to reject. And that is another thing, some of these particular Calvinists used the fact that some reject You as “proof” that You did not choose them. If I know You at all, I know that is not true.

I believe you led me to these related scriptures:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance

Romans 3 – Speaks of the inclusive will of God.

Ephesians 4: Grieve not the Holy Spirit. (Why give this instruction if, as I understand the extreme position of some, that the will of God is irresistible?)

Proverbs 14:12 – There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (This explains well enough to me why it is hard to get a persons to change their mind. Their way seems right to them. Convinced of it they are, yes. They don’t see the end because it is, well, at the end.)

John 1:12-13 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

ABBA: Of course I led you to these scriptures and you know your identity as My child. The philosophies of men do not and can not describe Me. I have repeatedly shown you that a few of those who emphasize My sovereignty do so in order to be dogmatic about something they think they know about Me – that they really have no choice. At least they recognize the universe is not all about them. But they miss this fact; the only one who can restrict Me is Me. You are made in My image in this regard. You can control what you do, too. To belabor the point, I can of My own will, let you act according to your own will. It should not be lost on you that true love between us is not possible under other circumstances.

Me: Thank you Father! I love you!

ABBA: You are welcome! I love you!

Postscript:

I live and work in a community where perhaps the majority of the population attends churches where the members would identify as Calvinists. Many have been schooled at Calvin College, or one of the many similar institutions. Please understand that I know something of the hearts of these people and I am in no wise intending to paint my friends and acquaintances with a broad brush because of the extreme views of the few internet denizens that I mentioned above. I know from conversations with friends that these local churches have active missionary programs. Why would they do that, if salvation was an irrevocably-settled issue through “predestination”? It was through one of these churches that I initially learned that I could have a direct and intimate conversation with God and expect to hear from Him in my spirit through His Spirit.

On the other hand, if any finds him or herself subscribing to the notion that we don’t really have a choice, please keep seeking. Consider this: Why would the scripture spend so much time telling us how to live in alignment with God’s plan, if we could not fail to do so?