Theirs Is the Kingdom

Who are the children of God? Who will dwell eternally with Him? Am I one of these blessed souls? Are you?

We’ve been asking this question for millennia (Ps 15:1), and God’s been answering (2), but it’s easy to miss Him if we aren’t seeking. (Ro 10:16)

As Christ begins His public ministry, He gives us a window into this precious company of eternal souls, telling us what we’re like, how to begin to identify us. He doesn’t describe those with a particular theology or doctrine; rather, Christ shows us what we believe by describing our behavior, how we live. (Mt 7:20)

He begins with the poor in spirit (Mt 5:2): we who, finding ourselves entirely insufficient to meet God’s righteous standard on our own merit (Ro 7:18), to please Him in any way in our own strength (2Co 2:16), to even think clearly without Him – find God Himself to be our sufficiency. (2Co 3:5) We enter into His rest by faith. (He 4:10)

Note this well: these blessed souls, the poor in spirit, comprise the kingdom of God: in other words, all in God’s kingdom are poor in spirit, and no one else is – the kingdom is ours. (Mt 5:2b)

He continues to describe these precious souls – God calls us saints (Ep 1:1) – as those who mourn (Mt 5:4), who grieve as God’s law is broken (Ps 119:158), especially within the church. (1Co 5:2) Saints find no ease in the midst of sin (1Co 13:6); we’re afflicted in it, we mourn and weep over sin, both within and without. (Ja 4:9) As we do, we’re comforted: Christ is our sin, and He’s making us righteous. (2Co 5:21) He’s also restraining sin in the wicked according to His perfect will and plan (Ps 76:10), so we thank Him in and for everything. (Ep 5:20)

Christ continues to describe the blessed: we’re meek (Mt 5:5), submitted to God and obedient to Him (1Pe 1:2); we hunger and thirst after righteousness (Mt 5:6), continually pursuing the living God and wanting to be more like Him (Ro 2:7); we’re merciful (Mt 5:7), rejoicing when others repent and turn from their sin. (Lk 15:10); we’re pure in heart (Mt 5:8), cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2Co 7:1); we’re peacemakers (Mt 5:9), encouraging every soul around us to align with the eternal God. Consequently, we’re also persecuted (Mt 5:10), we don’t fit in with the world because we’re no longer of it. (Jn 15:19)

When we find God at work in our souls like this, conforming us to the image of His beloved Son, we confirm we’re blessed, bound for eternity with God: ours is the kingdom – it belongs to us, and no one else. (Ep 5:5-6)

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Wait Only on God

Jehovah promises that if I wait on Him, my strength will be renewed. (Is 40:31) This isn’t merely a call to silence and inactivity, if it is that at all; wait relates more to having an expectation that God will be faithful to His Word, to His name, to His character — that He will keep His promises. (Nu 23:19)

When I expect God to be as He has revealed Himself to be, and to do as He has promised, I honor Him and please Him. When I take God at His Word, and live as if He is as He truly is, I’m aligning myself with reality, and this is the place of strength; this is when I’m at my best, living according to my design, as strong as I can be.

But when I alienate myself from the life of God through my ignorance of His Way (Ep 4:18), when I cling to false ways in my unwillingness to fully trust Him, I emulate the world (17), living in anxiety, frustration and fear, which steals my joy – which is my strength. (Ne 8:10)

My motive for distrusting God appears to be a fear of being let down should God fail me, as if it’s better to anticipate being disappointed and brace for a fall than to fall flat on my face. But in living like this I’m calling God a liar (1Jn 5:10), and I’ll eventually be ashamed of every moment I’ve lived apart from Him like this. (1Jn 2:28)

If God isn’t faithful, if He isn’t good, if He can’t be trusted, then nothing else matters anyway; then life has no meaning, I have no purpose, no hope. And how’s that working out for me? I’m saved by hope. (Ro 8:24) There’s nothing else worth having, so what do I have to lose by trusting Him? Nothing: I’ve everything to gain.

I should trust Him, and I should trust Him implicitly. But I must also study Him and seek His face (Ps 28:7) so that I may know Him as He is, so I don’t trust in a false image of Him that I’ve created for myself. My trust in Him is only as helpful as the accuracy of the perception I have of Him; I must seek to know Him as He truly is (Php 3:10), and not merely as I wish for Him to be.

And I should only trust in God (Ps 62:5), not man. (Je 17:5) I should not ultimately expect anyone else to be perfectly faithful on their own, apart from God: only God is good, and He works in all of us according to His pleasure (Php 2:13), so I can safely trust Him to work all things for my good (Ro 8:28), and thank Him for all things (Ep 5:20), regardless of appearances.

God’s after one thing – making me like His Son, along with all others who’ll have Him (Ep 5:26-27), that we should be to the praise of His glory. (Ep 1:11-12) So, this is what I should expect Him to do; this is God’s agenda, and I should joyfully pursue Him in it.

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The Spirit Shall Return

Death is so final. One minute we’re taking a life for granted, and the next it’s snuffed out forever; only dust remains.

Or is it final?

Hoolah Hayes

Yesterday, a sweet old friend died, our 12-year old dog, Hoolah. She had a wonderful life; brought such delight to us and our children, as well as many, many others.

I’ll never forget – walking her one morning when a complete stranger pulled up beside us in her car and asked, “Are you Hoolah’s owner?” As I affirmed she said, “I just LOVE Hoolah! She brightens my day every time I see her. Look here! See?”, showing me her phone … Hoolah was her wallpaper.

That was Hoolah, not just cute — she was adorable; her fur was as soft as a stuffed animal toy, and she was so gentle she’d lay down in a crouched position when strangers approached so she wouldn’t intimidate them. People would exclaim, “Oh! How sweet!! How did you train her to do that?” We didn’t train Hoolah; that was just her temperament.

A 50-lb Great Pyrenees + Golden Retriever mix, Hoolah was the perfect family dog.  She was gentle but also fierce; when I’d roughhouse with my Down’s Syndrome son and we’d do our 7-step slap-bump-clap (which delighted him unto squealing), Hoolah would literally lunge into us barking and growling and body-slam me! She didn’t like anyone messing with Jonathan, not even in fun.

Yet when Hoolah saw a tennis ball or a frisbee all else vanished; she’d fetch until she dropped from exhaustion, rest a bit, and beg for more! She had a certain bark that simply demanded we play with her. She’d hike the frisbee back and forth across the back yard all day long — as long as someone was watching, but never by herself. She loved being noticed, engaging with her family.

And she had this uncanny ability to do what we called her bucking-bronco; whirling round and round like a wild bull in a rodeo, sometimes with a short, fat rope in her mouth, smacking it on the ground and into anyone who dared draw near, like she was killing a viper. She had so much energy at times she just didn’t know what to do with herself!

And there was the day Hoolah was nearly killed by a Pit Bull. Tough day! So thankful it wasn’t so much worse. (Ep 5:20)

Then, like many larger breeds, she developed hip dysplasia, which my wife Elizabeth carefully nursed for 6 long years, then finally laryngeal paralysis: yesterday Hoolah’s breathing finally became so labored the vet put her down. She didn’t suffer much, or for long, and showed her chipper, spunky, playful demeanor right up to the end.

I feel so privileged to have known Hoolah, to have cared for her and enjoyed her. My grief even has a bittersweetness to it because she was such a joy. She will be sorely missed; we’ve no hope of ever finding a sweeter animal.

Perhaps our lives are somewhat like this; life is so short, yet the death of the righteous is a blessing (Ps 116:15), and their memory is sweet. (Nu 23:10b) I see a lesson in Hoolah: live so I’ll be missed. (Ac 20:37-38)

But I’m finding that there’s more than mere memory here for me – like Hoolah’s not really gone for good, more like she’s just stepped away for a bit, still aware of her family. Is this an illusion? wishful thinking? or another window into eternal reality …

Scripture says all Creation is waiting for the Resurrection (Ro 8:19), for the restitution of all things; this includes Hoolah. If she was just a body, and didn’t transcend her physical life, this makes no sense. She’s a spirit (Ec 3:21) who’s now returned to God (Ec 12:7), still looking forward to the end of all things, what so few of us can see.

We have a body, but we aren’t just a body: we’re a living soul (Ge 2:7) with body and spirit (1Th 5:23); death for the believer is simply the shedding of the earthly body for the heavenly one (2Co 5:2); it’s a final transformation, becoming a new creation, as from a caterpillar into a butterfly. (2Co 5:17)

For those in Christ, there’s hope beyond the grave; we sorrow and grieve in losing loved ones in death (Php 2:27), but not as those without hope. (1Th 4:13) Whether I’ll ever reconnect with Hoolah again isn’t the point — maybe so, maybe not — but every precious relationship is a shadow of the fullness we’re promised in God. (Ep 3:19) That’s Who we’re ultimately after. (Php 3:8)

Heaven is beyond our wildest dreams, perfection (1Co 2:9); however God’s designed it, we know one thing for sure: our joy will be complete.

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I Am a Worm

The Crucifixion is a mysterious intermingling of the eternal and temporal, of the spiritual and physical, of unbearable horror and indescribable wonder. In the midst of it, center stage, dies the most wonderful, holy, perfect Man who ever lived, betrayed by friend and foe alike, born for this moment (Jn 12:27) … to be forsaken by God. (Mt 27:46)

As Christ hangs upon the nails, writhing between Heaven and Earth, being tortured by His enemies, He’s praying, thinking back upon all the times God has intervened and mercifully rescued His people. (Ps 22:4) They weren’t confounded; they were delivered (5), but He’s suffering alone.

Christ then admits something profound: “I am a worm, and no man.” (6) It is as if He’s saying He’s less than a man, unworthy of deliverance, irredeemable. Perhaps in becoming our sin for us (2Co 5:21), He occupied, for one brief hour, some unthinkable place beneath humanity, reserved for the unutterably wicked.

This worm that Christ identifies with is peculiar and unique; the word refers to actual worms (Ex 16:20, (De 28:39), and also to the colors scarlet (Ex 39:8, Le 14:49) and crimson (Is 1:18). So the specific worm with which Christ is identifying is the crimson worm, from which crimson and scarlet dyes were made for use in the temple and priestly garments.

The Crimson worm [coccus ilicis] female reproduces only once, by attaching her body firmly to a piece of wood and forming a hard crimson shell, which is anchored so well it can’t be moved without killing her. She then lays eggs under her body inside the shell. When the eggs hatch, the young feed on the living mother’s body for a few days until she dies. As she dies, she dispenses a crimson / scarlet red dye onto the young and the wood, staining the young worms for life. Three days later, the dead mother’s body transforms into white wax and falls away.

There are so many parallels here with Christ’s work that it’s uncanny; it is no coincidence that He identifies with this unique, lowly creature during His most intense suffering. For those whom He is bringing eternal life, He gives Himself in His death as our food (Jn 6:55), and cleanses us with His blood. (1Pe 1:2)

God is so creative in His work, so unexpected in how He reveals Himself. The riches of Christ are unsearchable (Ep 3:8), and the depth of His wisdom and ways are so beyond us. (Ro 11:33) The heavens reveal His glory (Ps 19:1), and worms evidently do as well.

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Toward the Mark

Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. To live with no aim, no goals or purpose, is to miss life altogether. We’re created with a sense that life has a purpose, and this purpose relates to a goal. As we pursue our goals we fulfill our purpose, and experience deep satisfaction and fulfillment. This makes for a much more rewarding and satisfying life. (2Ti 4:7)

Frustration is what we feel when we’re being blocked from achieving a goal. Something which seems beyond our immediate control is making it difficult or impossible for us to reach a goal and fulfill our sense of purpose. For example, trying to balance a budget when our spouse is constantly overspending. This can cause feelings of anger, grief and depression – and lead to envy, strife, coercion and manipulation (1Co 3:3), passive-aggression and/or violence to try to overcome what’s blocking our way.

The very nature of frustration tells us how we overcome it. By definition, there’s only one way: change – we must adapt and grow. (Ep 4:15) Frustration is God’s way of telling us we’re missing something; the only remedy is to discover what we’re missing – and put another precious piece into the puzzle of our life.

We might have an improper goal: we might be aiming at the wrong thing, or have an expectation that’s misaligned with reality. This often happens when our goals are not within our power to achieve, as when they involve the will of other people — who tend to have different goals than we do. (1Co 16:12)

Proper goals will always be within our personal control, and relate to our own behavior, not that of others. (1Pe 4:15) When the reality of other people’s goals gets in our way, as they inevitably will, we must ether course-correct or continue to bump heads with the universe. The universe will eventually win, needless to say. Wisdom is choosing to grow up by refining our goals, and learning to aim at better things. (Ep 5:17)

Yet, even if our goal is wholesome and good, aligned with reality, within our personal control, we may still be frustrated if we aren’t pursuing it correctly, or with the correct mindset. In this case, we grow by disciplining and controlling ourselves, praying, and adjusting and refining our beliefs, behaviors and expectations so we pursue our goal more patiently and efficiently, reaching our goal in a timely fashion, in accordance with reality.

If our goal is godly, we need not sin against ourselves or anyone else to achieve it. (Ja 1:16) If sinful behavior is necessary to achieve a goal, then it’s not a good goal by definition; it’s misaligned with eternal reality and pursuing it will bring us to ruin. (Ro 6:23)

As we address our frustrations in wisdom, seeking the will of God as our ultimate goal (Php 1:21), we can receive frustration itself as a welcome friend, a gift from God, exposing another area in our lives where He wants us to grow.

As we ask God to show us our hidden goals and motives, and prayerfully expose them to the light of God’s Word (Ps 119:105), He will reveal Himself and His way to us, that we may cleanse our way (Ps 119:9) and have His perfect peace. (Php 4:6-7)

The path of life is full of challenges and difficulty. It is at times bewilderingly painful and complex. As we face each trial in our pursuit God, we should count it all joy (Ja 1:2), realizing God’s glorious intent, constantly adjusting, shifting and growing to be conformed into the image of Christ. (Ro 8:29) This is how we work out our sanctification (Php 2:12), how we press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ. (Php 3:14)

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Be Kind

Since God is kind, and since He commands us to be kind (Ep 4:32), we ought to understand what kindness is.

Kind is not nice, avoiding conflict, difficulty or discomfort; at times we’re called to speak the truth (Ep 4:15) even when it wounds. (Pr 27:6) Nice is generally selfish and fearful; seeking approval and acceptance; this isn’t the servant of Christ. (Ga 1:10)

Kindness isn’t passive, weak, insecure or timid; God commands us to be strong (1Co 16:13); Kindness can be bold (Pr 28:1), standing firm (Ep 6:13), confronting evil and defending ourselves as needed. (Lk 22:36)

The root words from which we get our English word kind also give us our word kin; as if God’s calling us to treat one another like family: we are all related, members one of another. (Ep 4:25) The Greek is chrestos or useful, suggesting moral helpfulness and benevolence, also translated easy (Mt 11:30), good (Ro 2:4), and gracious. (1Pe 2:3) It’s how we treat our loved ones.

Kindness is love in action (Tit 3:4), loving my neighbor as myself, seeking their ultimate welfare. Love persists in kindness (1Co 13:4), for love perfects and completes kindness. (2Pe 1:7)

The opposite of kindness is evidently malice (Ep 4:31): having ill will, animosity, wanting less than the best for another. This is often rooted in vengeance, thinking others deserve less than the best, rendering our own sense of justice rather than letting God do so. This is, at it’s root, unbelief in the goodness of God (Ro 2:2), refusing to walk in love and let God be God.

If God is ever inviting us to what is best, both for ourselves and others, if He is never malicious, then we should be like Him. (Lk 6:35) This is our design, when we’re at our best and bring Him glory, being like Him, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:17)

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The Whole Matter

Solomon sums up our entire duty very simply: Fear God and obey Him. (Ec 12:13) Summarizing well takes insight, and is often very useful in helping us focus.

I’ve been trying to summarize what I see going on in our post-election limbo, not knowing who our next president will be, convinced that vast voter fraud is in play to unseat president Trump. How do we view the hand of God in all this, especially if the deep state, the Left and big Tech are successful in their veritable coup? To do so, I need to step back a bit and identify a biblical perspective.

God’s goal in history is simple: He’s redeeming and purifying a bride for Himself (Tit 2:14), in the way that brings Himself the most glory. (Ps 145:10) Nothing else matters; it’s mere dust in the balance. (Is 45:15)

God is choosing to Himself souls who love the truth and pursue it (2Th 2:10); we’ll find the truth (Mt 7:8) because He’s teaching us. (1Jn 2:27)  And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Ro 8:31)

As for the world, it’s lost, steeped in wickedness. (1Jn 5:19) Yet God is restraining evil according to His perfect timing and will (2Th 2:7); He’s always in complete control of everything. (Da 4:35) Nothing takes Him by surprise; nothing frustrates Him. He’s very patient, and what He’s doing, tending His golden harvest, will be precious beyond description. (Ja 5:7)

God must let His enemies act like enemies in order to reveal and glorify Himself; there’s a purpose in all of it, even the timing; it’s perfectly designed for our good. (Ro 8:28) Only by His mercy is humanity not already so much worse than it already is, so much more dishonest and rebellious and deceitful. The final age of Man is prophesied, and it will be an order of magnitude more corrupt than anything we see today.

God has chosen certain dear believers to walk with Him during the evil days to come (Re 7:14), shining as lights in the darkness (Php 2:!5); He’s calling us all to prepare and train for battle, to be ready. (Ep 6:13) If we aren’t willing to follow Him there, then who would we send in our place? If not now, when?

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Puffed Up

How do I feel when I find myself in the right and others in the wrong, or in the know when others are ignorant? Do I feel superior, more important, more significant, more valued? Do I tend to get puffed up in my knowledge? (1Co 8:1b) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4); it’s rooted in pride, and tends toward alienation and division.

How does knowing more than others make me better? Why should this move God to love or value me more? It doesn’t; God loves each of us infinitely, because He’s made us each in His image: His love is truly unconditional. (Jn 3:16) I can’t do or be anything to get God to love or value me any more or less.

Yet false religion tries to use spirituality to make itself look better than others (Mt 23:5), to exalt itself (Lk 18:11) because it isn’t grounded in the love of God. (Ep 3:17-19) At it’s core, this is ugly and uninviting, and I think we all know it.

Love is concerned for others who are misinformed, deceived, carnal (Php 3:18) and disobedient (Ps 119:136); Love esteems other better than itself and humbly seeks to help. (2Ti 2:25) This is pure religion (Ja 1:28): without love, I am nothing. (1Co 13:2)

The love of God equalizes everyone, levels the playing field, so to speak. We all have the same invitation to come (Re 22:17), to be as close to God as we like, to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4) and joy in Him. (1Pe 1:8) What we do with this amazing invitation, how we employ our skills, abilities and resources in going after God, is what defines success. (Mt 25:21)

As we pursue God we’ll come to know Him better (Php 3:8) and understand more of His Way. (He 11:6) We should be deeply thankful for such a precious privilege to know and walk with the living God (1Jn 1:3-4); it shouldn’t make us feel better about ourselves (Ep 3:8), or move us to devalue those who don’t get it.

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Great Peace

Peace is the tranquility of order in the midst of turmoil and chaos; it’s the very nature of Christ in us (Jn 14:27): an implicit, thankful trust in the eternal purposes of God, enabling us to walk in unspeakable joy in every circumstance. (1Pe 1:7-8) Christ is always at peace in Himself, and He offers Himself to us as peace; His yoke for us is easy, and His burden is light. (Mt 11:29)

Even so, peace seems elusive since our old nature resists the prescription, though it’s elegantly straightforward: Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them. (Ps 119:165)

The life of Christ in us loves Torah (Ro 7:22), and those who love Torah not only find peace, we find great peace.

The goal of Torah is to equip us for the godly life (1Ti 1:5), enabling us to understand that God has a plan, a purpose in all He allows, that His plan is good, and that He’s carrying out His plan according to His pleasure; nothing can stop Him. (Da 4:35)

In this knowledge, it’s impossible to be offended, to lose confidence in God, or to lose our hope in Him; with our eyes in eternal focus, nothing can happen to us or about us that will cause us to stumble in pursuing Him, or in seeking to please Him. (2Co 4:16-18) Torah defines moral reality; nothing else can, so being aligned with moral reality inoculates us against being offended, and maintains our internal order in the midst of conflict.

Peace isn’t the absence of conflict, it’s understanding that God’s in control in the midst of trouble, working out His glorious purpose. Peace is glorying in and rejoicing in His purpose, knowing He will glorify Himself in everything He allows. (Ro 5:3) The Father isn’t worried, anxious or afraid, and the Son is always doing what He sees the Father doing. Abiding in the Father and the Son (Jn 14:23), this is where we find life and peace. (Jn  17:3)

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Every Weight

What’s keeping me from being closer to God? What am I holding tightly, unwilling to release? It might not be a bad thing, in itself; it might even be a good thing. If I knew God wanted me to let go of it, would I resist?

Letting go of sin is a given, but how do I know when God wants me to let go of something that isn’t necessarily sinful?

This isn’t straightforward; there’s an ascetic temptation that isn’t good, a self-denial that isn’t godly, a will-worship that isn’t Spirit-filled. (Co 2:23) God gives us richly all things to enjoy (1Ti 6:17); as a general rule, we should be giving thanks and enjoying every perfect gift in Him. (Ja 1:17)

This is about the voice of God: when He speaks, we’ll know. If we don’t know God wants us to give something up, then He doesn’t, at least not yet. But He does call us to inspect our lives, examine ourselves, and be open-handed before Him. (Ps 139:23-24) As we pursue Him (Php 3:12), seeking His face, He’s always faithful to show us the next step. (Php 3:15)

In taking stock of our life, we may begin to note dead weight: things we’re doing or thinking that aren’t aligned with scripture, false ways that need to be rooted out; we may find some of our possessions distracting us, consuming precious energy and time; we may discover certain relationships that are consistently sapping our strength, luring us from the Way, creating needless drama in our lives. If duty isn’t calling, if it isn’t healthy, enabling us to serve or providing wholesome balance, if it’s a handicap or liability, bogging us down, weakening us, tripping us up … consider letting go.

God says, lay aside every weight. (He 12:1) It’s a matter of the heart, of attachment. If we’re not mindful of it, if it isn’t in our way, holding us back or slowing us down, then it isn’t a weight.

Travel light, disentangled from needless encumbrance. (2Ti 2:4) Maintain an eternal focus (Php 3:13-14): an earthy, temporal focus is enmity toward God. (Php 3:18-19) Life is a vapor; it isn’t about possessions (Lk 12:15), or ultimately even family (Lk 14:26) or country: we have no home here (He 13:14); our citizenship’s in heaven. (Php 3:20)

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