Withered?

12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:

13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

19 And when even was come, he went out of the city.

20 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.

21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,

28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?

29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.

30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.

31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?

32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.

33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.

from Mark 11
Photo by Dave Meckler on Pexels.com

I sat with an acquaintance (who shall remain anonymous) this evening who was recounting one after another of the things he judged to be perpetually wrong in his life, voicing his anger toward this family member or that one, the failure of mental health people to help him, his various “diagnoses”, why others were to blame for Every. Single. Thing. I found only one thing he said that I agreed with: the failure of those working in the mental health profession to help him. The truth can set one free from all these maladies. Coping strategies are, at best, only learning to live with one’s demons. If one has been conditioned that error is truth and truth is error, well, the steering is going to be off. Neither mental health professionals, nor I, nor anyone else can force someone to walk in truth they have discounted. (Why that condition exists in this case is a long story.)

I did try to get this friend to agree to look at the passage in Mark 11, especially verses 23 & 24. If one has a mountain to move, what are his chances of success if he dissipates all his energy giving voice to his inadequacy and the impossibility of the task?

The passage talks about believing and not doubting. Doubting in this context is simply unbelief. Belief vs. unbelief. Verse 22 says “Have faith in God.” That is who we are talking about here. People who know God. This friend says he is in that category.

I am sure the fig tree in this passage serves as an object lesson for exactly how to have a withered life. (Hoping one would choose to avoid that end, of course.) Where is the wisdom in a man cursing his own existence? If one does so, while blaming God for not “fixing” it, what shall we do with that promise in verse 23 that says, “[H]e shall have whatsoever he saith”?

I have written extensively before about the value of lending one’s voice to the truth the scripture proclaims about the believer. That is, acknowledging who we are in Christ.

My unhappy and misguided friend is applying his energy rushing headlong in a diametrically-opposed direction. We would all still be on that path if we were unable or unwilling to believe Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin is sufficient. Something deep inside recognizes the truth that we deserve destruction, except we acknowledge the value He places in us. Redemption in Christ brings us into His glorious light, even from the deepest darkness.

Lord, please open my friend’s eyes, for things are possible with You which are impossible with men. I know also, that he is not alone. I know what it is like. I thank You for leading me away from cursing my own life with the lips you gave me to express gratitude and Your majesty, and to marvel at all You have made and continually sustain for our benefit. I pray these words might give guidance to any who need to find You and learn to say what You say. Blessing and not cursing.

Gripe Not

I am grateful that You are the Sovereign of the universe, and I am not.

Me: Good evening Jesus!

Jesus: Good evening Jon!

Me: I was reading Step Four in the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelves Steps and Twelve Traditions book, and it was talking about various character defects as examples that they might help one learn to examine them. It sort of jumped out at me that this sentence was one of those hit-the-nail-on-the-head moments:

… griping that others failed to recognize my truly exceptional abilities?

While the authors didn’t also mention the desire to say, “I told you so!”, they could have. Then the thought came that You had many fail to recognize Your truly exceptional abilities. Yet, I’m sure You never griped about it and I can’t think of an instance of You telling an individual that they had been warned after things went wrong. What is the secret to being at peace about such “votes of no confidence”?

Jesus: Have you noticed that you do not also have a tendency to analyze ways in which your own shortcomings contribute to various problems, especially failing to help those you are responsible for adequately prepare to meet what is expected of them from those with higher authority in the organization? I know that the items that progress into crisis mode are most evident once someone in authority begins to express they view it as a problem. But as a manager (technically) responsible for directing the work of another you would do well to help them with your experience. I know the “chain of command” that is referred to in military service is often violated in private business; your protege’s get directions you hear nothing about unless there is some kind of trouble. Meanwhile, you tend to assume all is well, whether there is a storm brewing, or not.

I know the end from the beginning. Do you ask Me about these things, and what you should do about them? Recognize My truly exceptional ability to help! I ask My Father about everything. Then I do what He tells Me. This is the answer to your question about how I remained at peace. It is faithless to gripe about things you have asked Me to help with. If you have not, it is because you have asked not.

The best kind of discernment, is My discernment. I will help you with insight into the unseen. I know the thoughts and intents of the heart. Just ask.

Recognize, also, that I chose a few to disciple. These were generally not among those casting no-confidence votes, though they were all works in progress; as are you. This is the secret to multiplying the exceptional abilities that I Am giving you. Seek Me. Listen carefully. See clearly. Be diligent. Abide in Me. Keep My love for you and for your charges in mind. Love them in the power of the Spirit.

If you find you have detractors, so do I. Do not blame them. Pray for them. They are being used by the accuser, almost certainly without consciousness.

Me: Thank You Jesus! I love You! I ask you to help me make a habit of seeking You about these situations. I have so much I need to grow in!

Jesus: You are welcome! I love you! I am helping you grow. I Am the Vine.

Jesus’ Self Talk

I am grateful for You, Jesus!

1 Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

3 Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

Hosea 6

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

Matthew 16:21

Me: Good morning Jesus!

Jesus: Good morning Jon!

Me: Jesus, most of Hosea is calling Israel and Judah to task for their idol worship and wrongdoing. Yet right in the middle of all that there live these three verses that open chapter 6. Is that the way that You knew that You would be raised up on the third day? Was this a message left to Your human self to prepare Your heart for the sacrifice You would make for us?

Jesus: You have heard the question posed, “What would you say to your future (our younger) self?” You have read of My struggle with consenting to My impending death in the garden (Matthew 26). I tell you that I was strengthened by this passage in Hosea, and with it I strengthened My disciples that they would know what was coming (or at least remember that I had told them when things occurred just as I said).

Me: What about the part of the passage about You coming as the rain? The later and the former rain unto the earth?

Jesus: The farmer knows the benefit of the former rain to sprout the seed and the latter rain to complete the growth of the crop to its full yield. Even so, the one who receives Me shall sprout unto new life, and the one who endures in me shall be brought into full fruition.

Me: I have to recognize, Jesus, that had I been able to go back and speak to My former self, I would still have been full of rebellion and willfulness, serving self with as much vigor as any Israelite ever bowed down to a lifeless image. There has never been a time when I did not need You as my Savior.

Jesus: I had to accept the passage in Hosea by faith, even as you must walk by faith.

Me: I am glad to know that, Jesus! I love You!

Jesus: I am glad to show that faith to you. I love you!

Night Fire

Grateful for Wrath

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

It seems Jesus used some harsh words, calling the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, “hypocrites”, “brood of vipers”, and other such things.

Which stirred up anger.

Resulting in His crucifixion, according to the eternal plan of the Father.

And resulting in the written record of unmistakable condemnation of the hypocritical behavior of the religious leaders.

Satan is also known for wrath, but of a different sort.  There is no turning away or appeasement of Satan’s wrath. He is consumed and identified by it (Revelation 12:12). The Pharisees were channeling it.

Most Bible verses containing the word wrath refer to God’s. God’s wrath is against evil. Satan’s wrath is against God and those who are His.

The Greek is instructive. ὀργῆς (orgēs) wrath – intrinsically/settled and constitutionally opposed. (As used in Revelation 6:16 of the Lamb.)

Ours is usually of a lesser sort. [F]or the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. James 1:20

As you see from the Greek, God’s wrath – His opposition to evil – is precisely because He is good. He cannot be good and wink at evil¹. We visualize wrath from our own experience with anger, which unredeemed, is based in fear, and certainly not of God. His wrath and righteousness are not mutually exclusive, but complementary and protective (of us, for example).

Satan’s wrath fits the same definition but is pointed in the opposite direction; he has become constitutionally opposed to good.

Me:
I have not (ever?) meditated on Your wrath, Father. Probably, I should have. I thank You for Your wrath. I am grateful that it is Your nature to oppose evil – the corruption of Your creation under the influence of sin. I love you! Thank You for Your wrath! Thank You that Jesus bore Your wrath on my account!  It was right that You oppose the evil I have done. Sometimes mindlessly, always selfishly, never justifiable.  It was pure mercy that He bore my penalty.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

[1] Phrase remembered from C. Spurgeon?

In or Not?

I am grateful for being a new creature! I thank you for opening the way to beholding this promise more clearly.


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

 

As I meditated on this verse, I became mindful of all the (many) times since “accepting” Christ as Savior, that I have engaged in bad behavior.  I was reminded that at no time does the Lord override my free choice.  I have to recognize that “in” is not a state that is permanently imposed upon me, it is an invitation.  He has done His part.  Will I come in?  Will I stay?

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; (Luke 21:34)

 

The price for my freedom has been paid.  Choosing to stay free requires vigilance.

IMG_0254
Gwinn MI Clock Tower

End of Perfection

I have seen a limit to all perfection;
Your commandment is exceedingly broad. Psalms 119:96
Me:
Good morning Holy Spirit!
Holy Spirit:
Good morning Jon!
Me:
I have wondered about this verse in the Psalms.

Holy Spirit:
Do not neglect to consider that it is a line from a song; meant to be meditation-provoking, memory-aiding, and beautiful. Fluency in Hebrew would help somewhat with appreciating the beauty of the verse. But, as you have found, there are helps for considering what is behind the translation to English. The Psalm came through David. But you know that I was surely making the heart of the Father known in the heart of David. So this is more than a song reflecting the cleverness of David, it is a song given from the heart of God to enlighten the heart of man, especially those with Me in their hearts to aid in enjoyment. So, I will help you. Let’s paraphrase this verse!

Me and You:
Of the things that are made, that which I can see with my eyes, I can appreciate the unanswerable perfection of them. Everything is made to relate to every other thing; each particle of the cosmos depending on others of every kind and and affecting all in ways that I will probably never comprehend in this life. These are coalesced into every astounding thing in an array of great beauty and complexity and swirl and pull with strange and unimaginable forces. A lifetime is insufficient to consider all the magnificence of the things that God has spoken into existence and that You, Holy Spirit, have brooded over, and that Jesus has authority over. Even so, at the last, these things are temporary and the time of their physical existence is running out. Your Word, with its instructions and power and lessons and majesty, though, will never come to an end. Time cannot measure the extent of the perfection that has come by Your voice, eye has not seen nor can the mind of man even begin to encompass all that has been made known by You. Your heart is carried to me by contemplating these things with Your help and I come to understand that I am loved by You and am blessed by You in ways that are exceedingly broad, even unmeasurable.

Holy Spirit:
How is that?

Me:
Thank You! You are magnificent beyond understanding! I love You!

Holy Spirit:
You are welcome! I love you!

Not Roughshod

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. Romans 15:1-2

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Me:
Good morning Holy Spirit!

Holy Spirit:
Good morning Jon!

Me:
I need Your hope, Holy Spirit! In dealing with my brother, I am prone to expect only more of the same. More of the same that led to his state of homelessness, though we were paying his rent and utilities. I don’t know what Paul was talking about here. What did he mean to “bear the weaknesses of those without strength”? I plainly see my brothers physical impairments. How would one bear those weaknesses of his? Does paying his rent because he in not equipped to work qualify? That did not keep him from getting tossed out last June because of his actions and refusal to cooperate with his landlord about her demand that he stop running a cockroach breeding operation in her apartment; or his insistence in accommodating feral cats in a doors-always-open fashion. Once he was evicted, we didn’t even know where he was for more than six months. Six months including the punishing heat of summer and freezing cold of winter. When he called week before last because his car quit, he said he had been staying in an “unheated barn” and that he had to get out of there. After a couple of other calls, it came out that he was really staying in town in the metal building of an auto repair business. And, he said he had seen us “sneaking around” when we drove a thousand miles one way last June to try to help him. Now he says “he is dieing here” and doesn’t know what to do. I don’t doubt that is close to true. Yet he vehemently refuses to call his doctor, though that amazing man has continued to treat him in spite of enduring many curses to his face. He also rejects the many that are ministering to the homeless in various ways.

Well, You see what I mean. I need Your hope. And wisdom. The help given to him before only led to reinforcement of the hate toward me that our mother fed in him for her own inscrutable reasons. I can see the resentment because he can’t do for himself, though he is wired to be fiercely independent. I get that. I also know You wired me to be responsible. Please help me do that with the right attitude: in joy and not in guilt.

Holy Spirit:
I Am well aware of these things. You should not lose sight of the fact that he has survived six months with no contact from you whatsoever. It is Me that you need to be believing in, if you want all joy and peace. I have not given you an end-all answer for how to proceed because if I did, you would feel driven to embark on it in your own power. That is not a harsh criticism. I know the way you are formed in your inmost parts. I Am at work in this situation and you will be involved with Me one step at a time. As for your brother, strong motivation is necessary in order to get change in a stubborn heart. You would rescue immediately, if it were possible. Trust me when I tell you that would be counter-productive. Even the salvation that Jesus purchased for you, in His own blood, does not automatically cover you. You must recognize your need and repent of your wrongdoing and surrender your pride and consent by asking Him to bring you in. Though this is your greatest need, We do not run roughshod over your will.

Me:
Thank You Holy Spirit! I love you! I submit myself to Your plan, though I have not seen it yet. I will follow the steps that You reveal.

Holy Spirit:
You are welcome! I love you!

Courage Within from Above

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:31

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Me:

Good morning Holy Spirit!

Holy Spirit:

Good morning Jon!

Me:

Thank you for the reassurances that Your work involves giving courage to do that which You call me to do, even when the truth is unpopular and the enemy appears to make inroads of corruption into every life. We hear so many lies that we become accustomed to them. What a contrast to You unfaltering truth and to Your reliability!

Holy Spirit:

Consider this psalm: Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; This I know, that God is for me. Psalm 56:9 I Am listening for the cry of your heart. My help does not require you to foresee the plan or the method. If you seek Me for what I Am doing, and you run to wherever I show you that My banner is raised, there you will see the mighty hand of Jehovah Nissi, God your Banner. The battle is fierce and the enemy is ruthless and he misleads many after him, but My victory is assured and all who can find courage in Me will see triumph and will play a part even in snatching the perishing from the flames.

Me:

Oh, let me keep my eyes on the Lord and walk in confidence in You! Often the enemy reminds me how I fall short. Thank You that the strength required is Yours and not mine! In You I trust! Only you can get through to us when we are blinded by our willfulness. Only Your voice can penetrate our ears deafened by falsehood. I cannot count the times that You have spoken gently to me when I deserved only condemnation; when You have shown light into dark dungeons of fear in which I was bound. I treasure the freedom that is granted in Jesus! Thank You, Holy Spirit, for enabling a new life of liberty!

I love You!

Holy Spirit:

You are welcome! I love You!

The Spirit of Christmas Past

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 59)

Me:
Good morning Holy Spirit!

Holy Spirit:
Good morning Jon!

Me:
It never ceases to amaze me, Holy Spirit, the sight that You gave to the prophet Isaiah, concerning the coming of Jesus. Last night, we read dozens of passages in Isaiah for our traditional lesson and carol service. Some are almost like they were written at the same time as the Gospel of Luke, though I know they preceded the virgin birth by probably 700 years.

Holy Spirit:
What is seven hundred years to Me? I Am One who is eternal, without beginning and without end.

Me:
You are always amazing in all Your works! I think the thing that is hard to grasp is Isaiah’s willingness and ability to listen to You and to hear so faultlessly.

Holy Spirit:
That is the primary qualification of a prophet.

Me:
Still, I have the scriptures to test what I hear from You and all the New Testament and the benefit of the salvation wrought by Jesus on our behalf. Whereas, Isaiah was only looking forward to the incarnation.

Holy Spirit:
I Am not constrained by time. We have talked about how Jesus’ sacrifice is not constrained by time either. It is the fact that the words of the law and the prophets, which became the scriptures, point to the cross and the desire of God to save that enabled all who would seek and listen to prepare their hearts to receive. The apparent constraint of their lives being in time before the incarnation of the Christ is no hindrance. The true difficulty is lack of faith and an unwilling heart clinging to its sin.

Me:
Oh, Holy Spirit, there is so much that has been beyond me. Trying to grapple with the concept of time and Your freedom from it boggles my mind.

Holy Spirit:
That is why your salvation, and in fact, all your relationship with Us is based on faith and not on understanding. A child can love his mother before he is capable of understanding all that he will eventually come to know about her. Your relationship with Me is like that, and will remain so on this side of the grave. In the end, the limitations imposed on you by the ravages of sin will be swept away and you will know Me face to face.

Me:
I look forward to that, Holy Spirit. Yet, at the same time, I cannot shake the apprehension that accompanies contemplation of the end of my days. Is that a lack of faith?

Holy Spirit:
Do not worry about that. You only feel the sense of self-preservation that I built into all. It is primarily there to counter the evil whispers of the deceiver that either recklessness or suicide are answers to anything. As a woman is prepared for birth during the months of pregnancy, so those who are Mine are prepared for the end of their days, when it is time.

Me:
Then I thank You for being spared the struggles of some in that regard, and I ask You to shine Your light on them and fill them with the knowledge of Your majesty and their hearts with Your Joy! I love You! Thank You for speaking with Me! What a treasure this time is! What a great gift to know You and to be known by You!

Holy Spirit:
You are certainly welcome! This relationship with you is My desire and I place more value on it than you can know. I love you!

Delegated Authority – What will I do with it?

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government[a] will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government[a] and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. [Isaiah 9; [a] rule, dominion]

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. [Ephesians 1]

Me:
Good morning Father!
ABBA:
Good morning Jon!
Me:
I look forward to the fulfillment of Your plan! In our current governmental systems, we have nothing like unity or unending peace.
ABBA:
I have given among men the freedom to choose. When the times reach their fulfillment, all things will be brought into unity. In the mean time, you have the freedom to choose. All the things that are under your authority can, even today, be brought into unity under the Son.
Me:
What things are under my authority?
ABBA:
What you will believe. What you will do with the time alloted to you. What you will speak. What you will give. Whether you will follow My Word and heed My Spirit, and love my Son. Will you love others? Will you show compassion? Will you trust Me when others deny Me? The matters of your own heart and of your own mind, these are under your authority. Will you stand on the Truth or compromise for safety or convenience? In My Son, I have freely given you life in place of the wage of death that you had earned in sin. No one can take you out of My hand. Therefore, no one can take away the choices of what you decide to do under the authority that I have given you. In these things, under Jesus, in the Spirit, by My zeal for this plan of redemption, let your mind be transformed and let your spirit be renewed. In the world, lies abound, but they will be shown for what they are and will go the way of death to which they lead. My Word is Truth and it will never pass away. Stand on that foundation and you will never be shaken.
Me:
Thank You Father! When I consider Your Word and Your mighty promises, my confidence is renewed and joy rises in my heart! I love You!
ABBA:
You’re welcome! The joy is a gift for you to enjoy and to share. I love you!