My Take On Cloth And Wineskins


Have you every been bugged by a portion of Scripture? It just doesn’t seem to fit or make sense in light of what you know or in light of the context?

I’ve struggled in this way with a passage in the book of Matthew. Let me give you the context. Jesus began his public ministry and quickly incurred the ire of the Jewish religious leaders because more than once He healed people on the Sabbath. After calling Matthew to be His disciple, He went home with him for dinner. The Pharisees complained about Him eating and drinking with tax-collectors (corrupt government officials) and sinners (those who didn’t keep the Jewish law). Jesus told them to “go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE’…”

Soon after John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees observed a religious fast. John’s disciples asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t fast, too.

Now His answer.

And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (9:15)

I get that. So far so good. But He continued:

“But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (9:16-17)

Huh?

How did we get from eating with sinners and not keeping a fast, to cloth and wineskins?

Well, obviously, as with the previous part of His answer about the bridegroom, Jesus is making an analogy, but what equals what?

I’ve heard sermons on this passage before and usually the point is this: the old is the Law, the new, the New Covenant. Set aside for the moment that those to whom Jesus was talking would not have understood that analogy at all. The idea of the New Covenant was still just that—an idea. Most people had no clue why the Messiah had actually come.

But the real problem I have here is that the new wine bursts the old wineskin, and both are lost. In addition, the new cloth patch on the old garment in Jesus’s analogies ruins what it was intended to repair.

Yet Jesus clearly said in the Sermon on the Mount that He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:17-18)

My thoughts about the cloth and wineskins analogy came clear to me as I read a passage in Mark where Jesus elaborates on the problem He had with the Pharisees:

(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:3-9 – emphasis mine)

The Pharisees were adding onto the Law, changing what God had given by adding in their new regulations. So back in Matthew, what if the old cloth and the old wineskins stand for God’s true Law? In the verses just prior to these analogies, remember, Jesus told the Pharisees to figure out what Scripture meant when it said God desired compassion rather than sacrifice.

God’s Law was actually to love Him and to love our neighbors.

The new patch of cloth, the new wine, then, represent the traditions the Pharisees heaped on top of what God had said. Their add-ons were tearing apart the fabric, bursting the skins, of God’s perfect Law.

I know this way of looking at these verses flies in the face of the traditional interpretation. Traditional … heh-hem. Maybe that’s not a bad thing because I think it fits the context of the passage and is consistent with what Jesus says about fulfilling God’s law and about the Pharisees’ perversion of it through their tradition.

In the end, I come away more mindful of the need to hold loosely things like worship styles and other extra-Biblical practices. Compassion must not be sacrificed on the altar of tradition.

This article is a reworking of one that first appeared here in May, 2012.

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Published in: on April 3, 2019 at 5:55 pm  Comments (5)  
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To Please Or To Become Pleasing, That Is The Question



Photo: Three Crosses © Mellow Rapp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The distinction I am making is between doing good works to become pleasing to God (works done because of law) and doing good works to please God (works done because of grace).

There’s nothing I can do to become pleasing to God. Not only would my motives be wrong in doing good, my efforts would be futile. My nature is sinful, and all the cleaning up I do amounts to rearranging dirt, not genuine washing.

For the person who believes, the work Christ did on the cross changes everything. Before, as Romans 7 says, the wanting to do good was in me, but the doing ended up being that which I hated—and that which God hates too, I might add.

Because of the new nature God gave me, because of the Holy Spirit in me, and because of the strength Christ provides me, I can now do the good I want to do. And why do I want to do good? To earn points with God? Get jewels for my future crown? Earn a spot closer to the throne?

No. The issue is still not about me becoming good or better or pleasing. Who I am in Christ is fixed. But because of what Christ has done, my response, as is true in any love relationship, is to want to give to Him in return for what He has been given to me.

In one of the most amazing aspects of God’s love for us, He who needs nothing from us, asks something of us so that we can joyously give to Him as an expression of our love. Hence, my desire—a growing desire, not a fully mature thing—is to please Jesus.

Here are some favorite verses that touch on pleasing God:

I Thessalonians 4:1 – “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.”

II Corinthians 5:9 – “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Colossians 1:10 – “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Ephesians 5:8-10 – “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Pleasing God, as I see it, is all about getting to know Him.

Young people in love do this same thing. Does he like his coffee black or with cream, pie for dessert or cake, the beach or the mountains, football or golf, Hondas or Chevys, and on and on.

Why learn all these things?

In order to provide him with what he wants, in order to choose his preferences, in order to please him as often as possible.

When I stand before God washed of my sins, that should spark in me a response—more and more I should like what He likes, do what He does, speak as He speaks. When I do, I am not more pleasing to God, but He is pleased.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in August, 2015.

Published in: on April 2, 2019 at 4:54 pm  Comments (4)  
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Spring Has Sprung



Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Ready or not, here it is. Today, being the spring equinox in which days and nights are the same length, marks the official beginning of spring.

Here in California we have had the last hurrah of winter rain. I know other parts of the US are dealing with horrific flood conditions. Still other places may be recovering from a late winter blizzard. But spring, it is.

Weather doesn’t seem to pay attention to the calendar.

The most notable evidence of spring here in SoCal is the incredible “super bloom” in the local deserts, particularly noticeable because of the fields of poppies.

When I was a kid, my dad, who loved all things outdoor, took us to see a “super bloom” before anyone was calling it that. In addition he took picture after picture, none of which we have. At the time I was initially wowed and then quickly bored. I mean, all it was, was acres of flowers. Brilliant orange flowers, mostly. I didn’t understand that this abundance was not typical.

Interestingly, this year’s super bloom is the second we’ve had in the last three years. I don’t remember as much attention focused on it in 2017, but that might be because I was busy having a stroke that year. At any rate, this year we have had so many people “sightseeing” in the desert that there have been traffic jams.

Not only the ground has been thirsty during the drought. We who love the outdoors have been starved for the beauty of nature.


Abundance is the key word here. One wild flower by itself is not all that impressive. Not like a rose or an orchid or even a tulip in its simplicity. But when a hillside is covered with these blossoms . . . There’s really nothing left to say. It is breathtaking.

What strikes me spiritually in all this super bloom, is that God promises a life of super bloom—an abundant life. Not at some future time. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In other words, for believers, the abundant life is already underway.

Jesus went on in the John passage to describe what He would do for the sheep in His care. The most notable action was to lay down His life.

Sort of like all those flowers that were dead, that had no life in themselves until the rains came. The desert went from barren to blooming not on it’s own. It could not, by itself, produce the abundance we see and enjoy today, no more than a sinner who does not receive the Savior can experience the abundant life.

Contrary to what some may think, the abundance Christ was talking about was not long life or fame or riches. It was really beauty—that which comes from reflecting Christ Himself.

The more we hang around someone, the more we become like Him. So too, for the Christian who spends time with God, who abides in Christ, who does not quench the Holy Spirit living inside. How can we not experience abundance if we are the mirror image of our Savior?

Published in: on March 20, 2019 at 5:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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Are We Over-complicating Life?



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I’ve heard of oh, so many people who are stressed out, and any number of new books are hitting the shelves about managing our anxiety. I’ve even written blog posts on the subject (such as this one or this one).

Worse, the suicide rate among teens is on the rise, and there’s apparently so much pressure on kids to get good grades, to get into the right universities, that some people have simply thrown away the book on right and wrong.

What’s the matter with us? Our technology is supposed to make life easier, but teens are now getting killed because they allow their screens to dictate their lives. They get lured into places by dangerous people, they text while they drive, they tarnish their reputation by foolish pictures or comments or arguments.

And parents aren’t far behind. They work so hard to accomplish so much and then face their empty nest without a relationship with the kids they thought they were doing all their frantic activity for.

I didn’t mean to get started on the negative stuff. The fact is, even if we’re not living it, we rub shoulders with those who are.

But we ought to live differently. God put all people on this earth that He might enter into a friendship with each of us, that we can enjoy Him, that we can shine a spotlight on Him to show others how great He is.

Isn’t that what we do with our family? Pull out the phone and show pictures of the new baby or post the graduation shots on social media? We want people to know how great our kids are. How cute, how accomplished, how hard working. We want everyone to know what we know about them.

So, why shouldn’t we want to do the same about our Father? Our Heavenly Father? It’s a normal, natural family reaction—hold up the picture so everyone can see Him. Tell others how great He is.

Of course we can’t tell people about what we don’t know, so we need to wrap ourselves in this relationship and learn all we can about the God who made us, who loves us, with whom we will spend eternity.

Instead, we scurry and storm about trying to accomplish all the things the world tells us are important. We need to earn, accomplish, move up the corporate ladder.

But why?

If we were made for one thing, just one thing, why do we trouble ourselves with doing so many other things?

Jesus put it this way to His friend Martha:

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42; emphasis mine)

What had Mary chosen? To sit at Jesus’s feet and learn from Him. Enter into relationship with Him. Spend time with Him.

I don’t know how that would look for others living in western society in the 21st century. Each person has to decide that for himself or herself, but I’m pretty sure we all think there’s more than one thing that “is necessary.”

Jesus said, No. Only one is necessary.

The rest? We put them into places of importance, sometimes even crowding out the necessary to work on our other stuff.

Ironic. I recently heard a pastor preach on knowing God’s will. He gave something like eight questions that he asks to know what God wants for him—the ones he suggests everyone else asks in order to figure out God’s will. In the back of my mind I thought, Really? Jesus put two things before us: love God and love our neighbor. That’s what God’s will is. I don’t need to over complicate this issue. To Martha, He narrowed that down to one thing: the necessary thing.

We love God by sitting at His feet until we desire what He desires, until we do what He directs us to do. We love our neighbors by putting the needs of those who cross our paths before our own needs. I could give examples, but really it’s not up to me to define what this means for other people. I have to know what God is saying by His Holy Spirit, to me.

But it’s not complicated. Not really.

Solomon’s Warning


I’ve never liked the book of Ecclesiastes. I thought parts were cool—a cord of three strands cannot be broken, for instance. And a time to laugh, a time to cry and so on. But the book? I didn’t really get it.

Then some pastor explained that the phrase repeated over and over, “under the sun” was Solomon’s way of saying, “Apart from God.” I wasn’t convinced. How did the scholars know that’s what Solomon meant? Finally I became convinced that’s truly what he was saying, but that just made me angry. I mean, the wisest man on earth, and he came up with some of the nonsense in that book?

And there was plenty of nonsense. Mostly his conclusions are nihilistic. Everything totals out to, zero. Even that passage made famous by the folk rock band The Byrds in their song “Turn Turn Turn.” I used to like that passage. Yes, I thought. It’s a statement of the rightness of the place all these things have in a person’s life. In my life. Until that same pastor pointed out that actually what Solomon was saying was that these things cancel each other out and the sum of them all is, zero.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

It gets worse when Solomon says, essentially that riches and poverty make no difference because the one who is rich and dies and leaves all his wealth to . . . he doesn’t know who. Will the one who takes control of his estate use it well or squander it? Or how about the wise man and the fool? No advantage, Solomon says, because they both die and end up going to the same place.

Uh, no, I think. This brilliant guy Solomon, is missing the truth. He is ignoring God and the ways He makes a difference, now and in the hereafter.

And that’s the point.

I heard a message by one of my favorite pastors on the radio, Philip De Courcy, and it “happened to be” his introduction to his series on Ecclesiastes.

What I learned from Pastor De Courcy is that God used Solomon and his own personal struggles to find meaning in life, to inform us, so that we don’t have to go through the same crash into meaninglessness before we resurface and find God to be our anchor.

That was Solomon’s trajectory. He was the thirsty man building broken cisterns that could hold no water. He tried to achieve by building all kinds of awesome structures. He tried to acquire by gaining more wealth than anyone. He lived for personal pleasure—wine, women, and song. He tried to hone his wisdom. In the end, he concluded none of it was satisfying. It all left him empty.

And that lesson is for us. We don’t have to follow in Solomon’s steps. We can read his testimony, and we can skip to the last chapter so that his end and be the guide in our own lives:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Instead of being angry at Solomon, I should be grateful to God for including in His word the struggles of this intelligent, capable, powerful king who “had the world on a string,” yet strayed from the truth. All those women he married brought into his palace and into his heart and mind, the foreign gods they brought with them. Which explains how someone so wise could go so far astray.

He lost his relationship with God and that left him trying to find meaning apart from God. It wasn’t in any of his stuff, his pleasures, his brilliance. Earlier in the book he said everything added up to zero. Life was futile. A miscarriage was better than a rich man because he didn’t have to face the struggle.

That’s worse than sad. It’s bleak, the words of someone who has no hope. But for the grace of God, his life, and the book of warning could have ended there. But no. God gave him clarity before it was too late. His conclusion to all his struggles is the most important part of the book: fear God—treat Him with reverence and awe—and keep His commandments.

Published in: on March 11, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (7)  
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Reverence – An Expanded View


My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels; consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.”

Professor Spencer quickly moved from an introduction to his subject, to Scripture—specifically to the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the these reactions to the holy, these postures before the holy, inform our understanding of reverence?

Professor Spencer uses the physical attitude of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. As he describes it, the concept has two prongs. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling or falling on our faces before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieve God’s heart. At one point He says He wants justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He then chastises His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

I admit. I know that Proverbs tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but I seldom think what that fear, that awe, that reverence looks like. These metaphors, drawn from our posture before God, help me to understand both avenues our Heavenly Father wishes His followers to take: kneeling before the sacred; standing against the profane.

From the archives: this article contains minor revisions from one posted here in January, 2011.

About That Loving Your Neighbor Command


The Bible is really clear about how Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—are to treat our neighbors. Jesus broadened the command further by identifying our neighbor as the person we come across who is in need.

So love them. Give them what they need to reach a point in which they are no longer in need. Like the Good Samaritan did. He gave medical attention to the guy he came across who had been mugged. Further, he put the wounded guy on his own donkey, took him to a nearby inn and paid the man in charge to provide for the next layer of needs. I take that to be shelter and food and perhaps clothes. For how long? The Samaritan didn’t know, so he gave an open-ended promise. Whatever the innkeeper spent on the wounded man, above and beyond the money he’d already been paid, the Samaritan would cover the cost.

It’s a great story of selflessness and generosity and letting go of ethnic stereotypes. Of refusing to give in to prejudice.

But here’s what I’m thinking about. What if the Samaritan took him home instead of to an inn. What if the Jewish victim proved to be . . . difficult. What if he was unappreciative and demanding? What if he wanted to argue politics or religion? What if he was not someone the Samaritan liked?

More often than not, I think that’s our challenge today. We are fine if we can throw some money at a problem, as if our generosity equates with love. We forget that the Samaritan was committed to coming back, that he would be checking in on the wounded Jew, that his responsibility was more than a one-time donation.

We forget that he first took a risk. After all, he could have been walking into a trap. He set aside his own needs, even his religious ones—his interaction with the wounded man made him spiritually unclean, because it’s hard to imagine that he tended the man’s wounds without getting his hands a bit bloody and that maybe he’d be touching a dead body. Then there was the change in his plans. The delay, the inconvenience of walking while the Jewish man rode. The commitment to put him up and check in on him and to pay more if needed.

All this makes me aware that loving our neighbor requires some level of commitment, of interaction, of relationship.

Which brings me back to the question: what if our neighbor is someone we don’t like?

I don’t think our likes or dislikes change God’s command. We don’t get to say to God, Well, I’d love him if I liked him a little better, because You do know, He’s a Jew. Set aside for a moment that Jesus was also a Jew. The point is, He told that story particularly because love crossed the ethnic divide.

What if the Jewish man was cursing and complaining the whole way to the inn? What if he was demanding and simply had an irritating personality? Jesus doesn’t give us an out because someone is not easy to love. He simply says, love your neighbors.

So here’s what I think. Paul tells us that when we are weak, we are strong. Because when we are weak we turn to God and let Him give us the strength we need. My guess is, if a neighbor is hard to like, God will give us the strength to love them anyway, and maybe even to like them.

I’ve had that experience, more than once. When I was teaching, there were a few times that I had a student I didn’t really like. They were . . . annoying. But as soon as I realized I was having a hard time, I started praying. And in each instance, the student and I actually developed a close relationship by the time they moved on to another grade. In other words, God took my willingness to follow Him and my admission that I was weak and needed His strength, and He forged a better relationship than I could have ever imagined.

In truth, I would have been poorer if I had missed out, if I had let my likes and dislikes dictate who I loved or didn’t love.

God really knows what He’s talking about when He tells us to love our neighbors!

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm  Comments (2)  
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Best Intentions


Best intentions really aren’t enough. Addicts often have the best intentions but can’t break the vise of their vice. Children frequently have the best intentions, only to forget a few minutes later what it is their parents have told them to do. I don’t doubt that Presidents and senators and representatives, governors, assemblymen, all have the best intentions to rule well and keep their campaign promises. Sadly, we know how that works out more times than not.

Clearly, intending to do well isn’t the same as doing well.

The people of Israel were a perfect example of this basic fact. They declared their intentions as they prepared to follow Joshua into the Promised Land:

They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. (Joshua 1:16)

How quickly “all you have commanded” turned into Achan taking a bit of gold, some silver, and a fancy piece of cloth—things Joshua, at God’s direction, had said Israel was not to take.

In the end, best intentions are only as good as the act of following through. It’s not enough to intend to serve others if we turn around and serve ourselves instead. It’s not sufficient to intend to obey God if we go our own way when we don’t like what He says. It’s not OK to intend to keep our promises if we break them when it’s more expedient to do so.

Are intentions worthless? No. They reveal our hearts at a moment in time. But our hearts are fickle, weak, wicked, and deceptive. The person who says, “Mine isn’t” proves how deceived he is by his heart.

The point is, intentions need to be propped up by commitment which turns into action. God didn’t just intend to send a Redeemer, He actually committed Himself to that role, and then took on the form of Man and went to the cross to implement what He intended.

If we are to go beyond intentions—intending to obey God, to live righteously, to love our neighbors as ourselves—we will know we mean it when we commit, when we start, and when we stay with it.

The people of Israel intended to possess the Promised Land. They couldn’t stand on the bank of the Jordan and simply intend to conquer Jericho. The priests needed to step into the water, and the people needed to walk to the other side with a wall of water billowing up beside them. They needed to march around the city for days, and they needed to charge ahead once the walls were down.

Best intentions? They aren’t worthless. But they aren’t really even a start. They are hopes, plans, and for the Christian, the perfect thing to take to God in prayer.

This post is a revised reprint of one that appeared here originally in October 2012.

Published in: on February 19, 2019 at 5:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Internal Witness Of The Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit doesn’t get a lot of press. From what I’ve understood, He doesn’t want a lot of press, either. His job is to throw the light of revelation on Jesus Christ. Of course, I can’t tell you where the Holy Spirit ends and Jesus begins, because God is One. We refer to the three persons of the trinity, but They are really a He. So the internal witness of the Holy Spirit is actually the internal witness of God.

But what is an “internal witness?”

When I was a kid I didn’t even know what the Holy Spirit was or if I had anything to do with Him. But the longer I live as a Christian, the more sensitive I become to the Holy Spirit.

I know some people attribute all kinds of wild things to the Holy Spirit—being “slain in the spirit,” “laughing in the spirit,” “being drunk in the spirit,” and the like. I simply don’t see those things in Scripture.

Rather, I see things like the Spirit will guide us in all truth; He will teach and bring to a believer’s memory what Jesus said; He will comfort; He prays on our behalf when we don’t know ourselves how to pray; He speaks through the prophets; He resides with every believer. And more.

The point for this post is this: the Holy Spirit communicates to believers, giving assurance, peace, joy, and the various other gifts we refer to as the gifts of the Spirit. These are inside things. In our heart. In our soul. They are not tangible or physical apart from the actions or the words which they promote.

But they are real.

When I was in college years ago, one of the popular things for Christians to talk about was “practicing the presence” of God. I honestly didn’t get it. I didn’t know or understand what that could possibly mean.

The fact is, the more time you spend with God, the more you can recognize His voice. After college I had a few experiences that were awesome. I felt as loved by God as I could possibly feel. I felt as if I’d sat with Him and enjoyed . . . yep, you guessed it . . . His presence. And definitely, I wanted more.

But that was just it, I wanted the spiritual high more than I actually wanted to be with God. I went through a time when my spiritual life was a bit of a roller coaster—when I felt close to God and then when I felt distant. Finally things leveled out when I realized wanting what God gives instead of wanting God Himself is a twisted kind of relationship.

It’s like a story I recently heard about a bride wanting a perfect wedding. When the day comes she can’t take her eyes off the flowers, the beautiful bridesmaid dresses that came out perfectly, her own beautiful dress, the cake and streamers in the reception hall. It all turned out just as she imagined. “And what about the groom?” someone asks. “The groom?” Maybe he was there, maybe he wasn’t. She couldn’t be sure because she was looking at all the trappings instead.

My point is, wanting to feel the love of God, isn’t the same thing as wanting God.

In some way which I don’t understand, God does make Himself known. It’s between the pages of the Bible, in a still inner voice, in a soul-prick that says to stop, or to speak, or to listen. Sometimes it’s an inner response to a song or to something a friend says or to something in a book. It’s right and true and from God, as surely as if He’d said it out loud. And a few times it even seems as if it’s just Him whispering in my soul. It’s not something low lights and soft music produce, though sometimes the words to a song can be the words He says.

I’ve finally decided that God, the Holy Spirit, is simply doing what He wants to do most: He’s witnessing in my inner being to who Jesus is. That’s actually what the Bible says:

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:9-12; emphasis mine)

Jesus told the Pharisees this same thing—that there were those that witnessed of Him, that He is the Christ, the Son of God, One with the Father. In the Jewish culture, a single witness to anything was not adequate. They needed two or three witnesses. Jesus gave four.

First was John the Baptist who identified Jesus as Messiah. Then there were the works that Jesus did—healing the lame and such, as He’d just done right before that conversation. A third witness is Scripture—the prophets spoke of Jesus, and so did the Mosaic Law. Before Jesus mentioned the Scriptures, He listed God’s own testimony. The Father did declare Jesus as His Son at Jesus’s baptism. But the Holy Spirit did as well, alighting on Him in the form of a dove. And then we read in John’s letter that line that we who believe in God have His testimony within us.

It’s strong and irrefutable, but also not easy to explain.

Pascal, I think, said we have a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. Well, the Holy Spirit fills it.

Published in: on February 18, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Satisfies


Years ago I read a book by author, speaker, psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb that left a lasting impact. He based his thoughts on Jeremiah 2:13.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

God gives living water. We need living water. But instead of staying beside that Fountain that provides in abundance, we take another tack. We go to our own wells which we have to dig for ourselves and which are actually broken and can’t keep any water in them.

This is a great picture of what we humans do.

God offers, we reject. But we still have our basic needs, so we turn to our own solutions.

Just recently I found another passage of Scripture that basically says the exact same thing. This one is in Isaiah:

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live (55:1-3a)

I’m guessing not many people know the word ho appears in the Bible. It’s an interjection and the Hebrew transliteration of the original is howy. It’s most often translated as woe but sometimes as ah or alas or even O. The point is, it’s not a happy word. It’s drawing the reader’s attention to something that isn’t really a happy circumstance.

I had been reading the first lines as a carnival barker might call out to the crowd: “Listen up, people. Step right up! I have a special you don’t want to miss.” But the following lines are not in that cavalier vein.

Rather, this portion of Scripture is sober and sobering. The offer of water is there, but this is more than water. It’s nourishment. It’s fulfilling. And it’s free. But then the questions upon which the verses turn: Why do you spend money (when you’ve been offered something for free) when it isn’t even anything that will sustain you? I mean, you need food. You need water. But you’re paying out for stuff that will not keep you alive.

It gets worse. You’re working long hours to turn your earnings over to someone selling stuff that gives you no satisfaction. In other words, you’re just as hungry, just as malnourished, when you finish eating as when you started.

Just like the broken cisterns.

What is it with us humans that we pursue empty goals, empty pleasures, empty dreams, empty relationships. If it’s empty, we’re all over it, like a miner panning for fools gold.

We bite on every offer for the next new shinny thing. We buy lottery tickets because, you know, instant millionaire! It looks so inviting. We drink too much because for that moment we feel so good about ourselves. We do drugs for the next high. We dabble or dive into promiscuous sex because it’s candy to our appetites.

On and on. We think we know what will fulfill us. Maybe it’s a younger wife. Or taking a little money under the table. Or cheating on our income taxes. Or a church that says God wants me to be rich.

Who wants a “follow me” message that involves denying myself and taking up a cross. My cross. A place where I am to die to myself. That sounds counter intuitive to fulfillment.

I suppose it is. God is that way. In fact He says as much later in that Isaiah passage:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)

This is where trust comes in. The way things look to me: if I want water, I need to go look for some, dig a well, collect it. What God says: Come to Me. Listen to Me and live.

My efforts give me mud, at best. Zilch, nada, nothing, at worst. In truth, we can’t live that way.

Then why do we spend money for what is not bread and our wages for what does not satisfy?

Are we afraid to trust God? Do we think Jesus was wrong when He said we should take up our cross daily? Do we really think we can do better than God?

The thing is, some people do look as if they are doing fine without God. They appear to have it all together. Except when we look at increasing instances of divorce, drug use, prescription drug use, anxiety, suicide, pornography, abortion, mass murders, homelessness—things that should not be in society if we were all happily fulfilled with our marriages, our jobs, our homes, our friendships.

It really is kind of astounding. As the anonymous quote says, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” That’s where mankind lives. We know going our own way does not satisfy, but we go our own way regardless.

I’d say that could be a result of a person not knowing there’s a different way. Not knowing seems unlikely in our western culture, at least. But I’m coming to understand that many who think they know about God and His way, really are mistaken. They have believed a lie. So they keep rolling the stone up the hill, trying to reach the top, even though it continues to slip into reverse and come down upon us as it returns to the bottom of the hill.

Why do we do it?

The solution to our cracked and broken wells, to our cycle of buying what is not bread and what does not satisfy, is not so complicated.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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