The Mind of a Man

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A fun photo I thought reminiscent of meeting at night

This week’s post continues my looking at John 3:5.  I have asked myself if “born of water” in this verse really does mean water baptism.  I spent some time on the internet since last week’s post and have seen the same number of blog posts insisting it does mean water baptism as there are posts that insist it does not.  This week, I return to the reference materials I have at hand in attempts to answer the question to my own satisfaction.  As always, I thank the Holy Spirit for being my guide and teacher and opening my eyes to what He would have me see.  Then, I open Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament and begin to read.

I must begin by saying the commentary for Born of Water and the Spirit is beautiful.  Dr. Vincent says wonderful things about baptism which I may end up sharing in future posts.  I must also say that I don’t disagree with anything he says about baptism, especially; “baptism considered merely as a rite, and apart from the operation of the Spirit does not and cannot impart new life.1”  Despite this, I still have a quibble with the assumption that water baptism is what Nicodemus should have realized. 

In order to look at John 3:5, I have to back up to John 3:3 where Jesus says “…unless a person is born again…”  Dr. Vincent expounds on the meaning of the word “again” listing its usages and translations in the New Testament.  Again is translated “From the Top” (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, John 19:23), “From above” (John 3:31 & 19:11, James 1:17 & 3:15, 17) “From the Beginning” (Luke 1:3, Acts 26:5), and “again” (Galatians 4:9)2.  Dr. Vincent concludes his exposition of this verse by stating the closest rendering of this phrase is “except a man be born anew”; a rendering which would explain Nicodemus’ confusion. 

I do find there is agreement on one thing: that Jesus’ words in verse 5 are His explaining what He meant in verse 3.  Being “born of water and the spirit” is synonymous with being “born again or anew.”  Dr. Vincent says, “Thus Jesus’ words included a prophetic reference to the complete ideal of Christian baptism–‘the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost’ (Titus 3: 5; Ephesians 5:26)3

Before I go any further, I must ask consider Nicodemus himself.  Was he someone genuinely seeking answers from Jesus-the “anxious inquirer”-or did he come to Jesus as a member of the Pharisees as a class who, anxious to keep their leadership in religion, desired to discover whether they could come to an understanding with this new teacher?4  I am not ready to declare myself certain one way or another.  What I do say with certainty is Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand what he was saying and I find these arguments for water baptism rely heavily on the New Testament.  It may be too easy for us, partakers of the New Covenant, looking at scripture from the finished work of Christ, to infer meanings that simply would not have been in the mind of a 1st century Pharisee.  To suggest that Jesus was speaking prophetically of the ideal of Christian baptism and then to chastise Nicodemus for not understanding when Jesus was not only at the beginning of His ministry but no one knew for certain what was happening; does make Jesus appear a bit unreasonable.  Even writing that last sentence I know I too am referencing the New Testament-2 Corinthians 2:8 in fact-and so I resolve to forget the New Testament for a moment.

Nicodemus would have had the scriptures called the Old Testament in my bibles.  As a teacher of Israel (John 3:10), Nicodemus would have been familiar with them in a way I can only imagine.  Is it possible, then, for me to get inside the mind of this man?  Not without help certainly and, for that, I turn to The Complete Jewish Study Bible.

When I look up my study text, I find an article entitled ‘“Born Again” John 3:3’.  This article tells me what the concept of being born again might have meant to Nicodemus.  The article states Nicodemus had reached the age of a senior citizen and had already met the Pharisee requirements of being “born again”, that there were six ways of being “born again” in Pharisaic Judaism, that Nicodemus was already qualified in four of those ways, and that the other two would have been impossible for him.  The two this article says were impossible for him were 1, a Gentile was said to be “born again” if he converted to Judaism and 2, Nicodemus would have to have been crowned as king. 

The four requirements Nicodemus already fulfilled were:

  1. When a Jewish boy becomes bar mitzvah at thirteen, he is said to be “born again”.  Nicodemus was well beyond the age of thirteen, had already experienced his bar mitzvah and was thus already “born again”. 
  2. Marriage.  When a Jewish man married he was said to be “born again.”  A member of the Sanhedrin must be married so Nicodemus already fulfilled this requirement since he was already a member of the Sanhedrin. 
  3. A Jew could be “born again” when ordained as a rabbi.  Jesus calls Nicodemus rabbi/teacher (verse 10). 
  4. The head of a rabbinical school was said to be “born again”.  Jesus said Nicodemus “held the office of teacher in Israel” (verse 10) which meant he was already head of a school.5

I found this article fascinating but perhaps it doesn’t really move me toward answering my material question of equating water baptism with being born of water.  The Complete Jewish Study Bible has some commentary on verse 5: “Born from water and the Spirit”.  In Judaism, immersion in water is directly linked to ritual cleansing of the body, while the Spirit enables people to turn from sin and live a holy life.  “Born from water” in its grammatical construction refers to the Holy Spirit (Ezekial 36:25-27; John 7:38-39).  There is no necessary reference to the mikveh (ritual cleansing bath) here.  Rather, the grammatical construction (hendiadys) indicates that “water” is a descriptor of the Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36:25-27.6

This is not the first time I’ve been pointed to Ezekiel 36:25-27 from both sides of the argument.  I have learned to pay attention when the same verse or concept keeps popping up and, thus, I will continue this study next week.

  1.  Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92.
  2. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 3. Be born again, Page 90.
  3. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92.
  4. The Abingdon Bible Commentary, The Abingdon Press, Inc., 1929, John Chapter II, the Interview with Nicodemus, Page 1069.
  5. The Complete Jewish Study Bible, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2016, Gospel of John, Supplementary Article “Born Again” John 3:3, Page 1525.
  6. The Complete Jewish Study Bible, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 2016, Gospel of John, Commentary, 3:5, Page 1524

Born of Water

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I began a word study on John 3:16 over the weekend because I have been thinking about the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”.  While I don’t feel contempt for scripture-far from it!-I have been thinking about certain verses and how familiarity with them can definitely breed complacency.  This is especially true with John 3:16.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard it quoted and have quoted it myself.  It can be found on t-shirts, hats…it is one of the most widely known verses in the Bible.  With this in mind, I asked myself: am I sure I know what this verse is saying?  Can I be certain I know what it means?  That answer is, of course, no: the Holy Spirit always has something more to reveal.  And so, I started a word study on John 3:16.

I begin any study on scripture with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of my understanding and then I open my Comparative Study Bible and reference books.  I use many references when doing a word study.  I want to know as much as I can about how the word I’m looking at was used elsewhere in scripture, how was it used in the vernacular of the day, and what interpretations there have been by other teachers past and present.  I started with looking up the words in both the Strong’s and Young’s concordances and then took a look at the commentaries I have.  While I did find a few interesting things I hope to share at a later time, my attention was diverted off my selected verse.  I’d prayed about John 3:16 but the Holy Spirit turned my attention to a word study I’d done a few months ago on baptism.  The teacher during Sunday morning’s Zoom church message spoke about the beauty of baptism which made me realize I needed to take a second look at that previous study.  Thus, this post will not be about John 3:16 but rather John 3:5.  Again, I expected one answer from God and He pointed me toward something else. 

I’d first done the study on John 3:5 because of a social media post I’d seen talking about the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  I didn’t disagree with anything the post had said about the importance of baptism and the Eucharist but I wasn’t sure I agreed that baptism was the subject of John 3:5.  Curious, I did a word study, made some notes, and then put them aside until last night when I picked up one of my reference books.  Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament said “That water points definitely to the rite of baptism and that with a twofold reference-to the past and to the future.  Water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John which was then awakening such profound and general interest; and, with this, the symbolical purifications of the Jews, and the Old Testament use of washing as the figure of purifying from sins”.  The scriptures listed by Dr. Vincent for reference are Psalms 51:2&7, Ezekiel 36:25, and Zechariah 13:11

Psalms 51:2 states “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” while verse 7 says “Purge me with hyssop that I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Zechariah 13:1: In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”  The Amplified Bible has Ezekiel 36:25-27 as a reference scripture for John 3:5 so I’m including the passage in its entirety rather than merely verse 25: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness: and from all your idols will I cleanse you.  A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall heed My ordinances and do them.”

I wholeheartedly agree these scriptures speak of a cleansing that comes from the hand of God; a washing for which immersion was symbolic.  I also wholeheartedly agree Nicodemus was aware of John the Baptizer.  Doctor Vincent says as much and references the sending of priests and Levites to question him as related in John 1:19-282. The statement I question is “water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John”.  Dr. Vincent says “Jesus’ words opened to Nicodemus a new and more spiritual significance in both the ceremonial purifications and the baptism of John which the Pharisees had rejected (Luke 7:30) John’s rite had a real and legitimate relation to the kingdom of God which Nicodemus must accept3.” 

Very well.  That sounds plausible.  Except, Nicodemus is still confused.  He asks in John 3:9, “how can all this be possible?” Nicodemus was missing something and I seem to be missing it too.  It got me wondering: if Jesus meant baptism, why didn’t he say baptism? 

Turning to the Greek words, “Water” in John 3:5 does mean “water”(Strong’s reference G5204) and “born” carries the definition of “to procreate, regenerate, be born, bring forth (G1080).  There is nothing here about baptism.  The word translated baptize in other scriptures does not appear anywhere in the chapter and is not, in fact, a word that has been translated at all.  The Strong’s reference number is G907 and the word is baptizo.  It would have been very simple for this passage to clearly say baptism if indeed baptism is what Jesus meant.

Why is this important to me?  Let me share verse 5 in the Amplified Bible:  “Jesus answered, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, unless a man is born of water and (even) the Spirit, he cannot (ever) enter the kingdom of God.”  This is a serious statement.  It’s of solemn importance I understand what this means.  All I know for certain at this time is that small word study I did months ago did not go nearly deep enough.

I will continue this study next week.

  1. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91, Hendrickson Publishers
  2. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Gospel of John Chapter 3:2. Rabbi, Page 89, Hendrickson Publishers
  3. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91, Hendrickson Publishers

Anthropopathy

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I recently learned a new word:  anthropopathy.  I’ve heard and used “anthropomorphic/ism” but had never heard of anthropopathy.  I looked it up in my trusty New World Dictionary and found this definition: anthropopathy = the attributing of human feelings and passions to a god animal, etc. 

I came across anthropopathy in a book I’m currently reading entitled Hebrew Word Study: Revealing the Heart of God by Chaim Bentorah.  I quote:  “Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel often referred to what he called “divine anthropopathy.”  We often speak of God as anthropomorphic, symbolically ascribing to Him a human body, but we rarely consider God anthropopathically, as having humanlike feelings.”*  I don’t know if this is true of any, some, or most Christians.  I liked it because one, the word is fun to say, and two, it reinforced my conviction on how important relationship is to God.

I doubt anyone needs me to quote it but John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the word that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  If you’ve been around a Christian for any length of time or attended a church or read a social media post, you’ve no doubt heard that believing in Jesus means you get to go to heaven when you die.  I don’t dispute that but going to heaven when I die is not eternal life.  Don’t believe me?

When I continue reading John’s gospel I come to chapter seventeen and verse 3.  “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  The word “know” in this scripture is the exact same word used for intimacy between a husband and a wife.  It’s the same word used to relate her words when Mary asked, “How can this be, seeing as I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34) Relationship with God is not just knowing about Him.  It’s knowing Him in the most intimate way, like a married couple know each other.  I can’t help thinking of how many times the Bible speaks of weddings, wedding feasts, Jesus as Bridegroom, His people as Bride.  The I Am, the Father, longs for a deep, personal relationship with each one of us.

We can’t know God.  I assume that, if you’ve read this far, you believe in God.  What do you think of Him?  I can’t fathom Him.  I can’t find words.  However, going back to John 3:16, He gave His only Son.  I can know the Father because Jesus has revealed Him (John 1:18).  Staying in John’s gospel, I find John chapter fourteen verses six and seven: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know My Father also.”  In Jesus, I can relate to the Father through someone who is human like me.  In Jesus, the Father has a face.

And yet, I can’t go anywhere on this earth and see the human body that walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee, lived and worked in Nazareth, ate and drank.  So how do I know Jesus?  Wouldn’t it have been better for me to be alive then?  Am I missing something?  No!  Jesus Himself says it’s better for me, expedient, to my benefit that He goes away (John 16:7) because the Comforter will come.  It is through the Holy Spirit living in me where I am knitted to Jesus and, through Him, the Father.  “When He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine…” John 16:13-15a

The Holy Spirit is vital to my relationship with God.  It’s not possible without Him which is why I’ve been talking about Him so much and why I’ll continue to do so as long as God allows.

The importance of relationship, this longing of the heart of the Father, is why I use the hashtag #relationshipnotreligion on my posts.  When I say “religion” I’m not always thinking of a denomination or an ism.  I am thinking of that which perpetuates a false image of who God is and who we are in Christ.  I recently saw a social media post where a dear sweet child of God said that Jesus had to come and die to save us from God.  I can’t even.  Where is that written in the Bible?  Save us from God?  The very same God who so loved-so loved-that He gave.  No one made Him do it.  He did it because His great heart is one of love.  He loves us and, through Jesus, made the way for us to know that love.  To quote on of my favorite songs (Real Love by Blanca), isn’t it true that the veil was torn?  Relationship. 

Religion defined in its original language can mean something beautiful.  Religio means “reverence for the gods, holiness” which is beautiful and true. Religare means to bind back and then, breaking the word down further; re means back and ligare is to bind or bind together.  This too can be beautiful.  In relationship to the Father, we are bound to Him in Jesus through the Spirit, knitted together in such a way that we too can cry “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)  When I say “religion” I think of the system that seeks to bind its converts to a set of rules, to a never-ending hamster wheel of trying to be good enough, not being good enough, trying harder, doing more, and hoping one day to be acceptable to God.  Instead, may your eyes be open to see He is love now.  He so loved He gave.  He has feelings just like we do. 

Maybe I need a better word than anthropopathy.  John really does say it best: We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

*Quote is from the study “God hides His face” page 283

Avowal

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Living with a traumatic brain injury and chronic pain is not easy. I often find it soothing to express my feelings in poetry, most of which is not fit for anyone else’s consumption. I like this one. It’s a reminder that the Joy of the Lord is my strength. With Him, I can face any difficulty.

Avowal

I will not let this beat me

This defeat

This darkness that comes

Sweeping over me

No! Not I.

I shall turn my face to the sun

Forgetting what lies behind

Pressing ever forward

For I still live.

I will not let this overpower me

This despair

These arrows that flame

Bombarding me

I shall not! Not I.

I shall stand with my face in the wind

Counting as naught all I have lost

Eyes fixed on all I have gained

For I still breathe.

I will not let this overwhelm me

This depression

The burden that comes

Choking life from me

Never! Not I.

I shall stand planted on this rock

Holding fast to what I know is true

That all things work for my good

For I still hope.

Blessed Assurance

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I suppose I could call this post “Great Expectations Part Four” because I wish to address a statement I made in my previous post.  I said that I “did not expect specifics” and I wanted to elaborate because I do not expect specifics and yet I do, of course, expect specifics.  Confused?  Allow me to attempt to elaborate.

I do not have a vague prayer life.  My prayer life does not consist of saying to my Heavenly Father, “Well, thy will be done” by which is inferred: “You’re going to do whatever You’re going to do anyway and I just hope You give me the strength to accept whatever happens.”  No!  I’ve been quoting 2 Corinthians 1:20-all the promises of God are ‘yes’ in Christ Jesus-and the promises throughout the entire bible are wonderfully specific.  Neither does my prayer life consist of magic formulas.  What do I mean by that?  I do not pray to an aloof God who is so busy with other far more important problems than mine that I have to try to get His attention, convince Him to do something for me, and strong arm Him into answering me by saying “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”  Again, no!  My prayer life is better described as talking to my Heavenly Father.  It’s conversation held in relationship.  I have very specific cares which, through prayer, I cast on Him because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). 

This is the greatest truth ever revealed to my wondering heart and, despite all my study and prayer and searching to know the heart of my Father, it is one I barely grasp.  He Loves Me.  He cares for me.  He Loves You.  If you doubt this and John 3:16 and especially verse 17 isn’t enough for you, I encourage you to read First, Second, and Third John.  Done? Welcome back! Because I know He loves me, I know I can bring any worry, anxiety, happening, question, and desire to Him and trust Him with it.

One of the greatest examples of what I’m trying to make clear here is the story related in Luke chapter 24 verses 13-35.  I’m sure we’ve all heard it: it’s after Jesus’ crucifixion and all hope has been dashed to pieces.  Two of the disciples are travelling to Emmaus, conversing and reasoning with each other.  Then, Jesus Himself is walking with them though they do not recognize Him.  It’s so exciting.  I never get tired of reading it.  The two ask Jesus if he’s the only one in Jerusalem unaware of what’s been happening.  Now, there are so many things I would have expected the Risen Son of God to do in that moment.  No doubt this would be the perfect time to open their eyes to the truth of who He was but Jesus does not.  Instead, He asks “What things?”  He doesn’t need to ask.  No one knows better than He what has really happened but He asks questions, draws them out, and only after they’ve spilled their guts does He begin to speak. 

I know there is not one thought I have, have had, or will ever have that is not already known to the One who knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). And yet He asks me “what things?” and invites me to spill my guts.  And so, my prayer life is very specific.  It is my expectations as to how He is going to answer me and reveal Himself to me where I have learned to not be specific.  I expect an answer: I do not expect how that answer will come. 

I don’t spend a great deal of time in Lamentations but there are some beautiful verses in it.  In chapter 3 verses 22-24 I read; “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in Him.’”  The Hebrew word my New King James Version translates as “compassions” is defined in my Strong’s Concordance as meaning “favor, blessing, loving-kindness”.  These verses put succinctly what I am struggling to say.  Because He loves me I know it’s safe to tell Him anything.  I know I can expect answers but I also know I can expect to be surprised at how He chooses to answer me. He won’t ever do the same thing twice.

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard it said God does not fit in a box.  I know this to be true. He’s terrifying…in the best sense of that word.  I cast my cares on Him and await His response with fear (awe) and trembling (excitement).  I also expect that the answer I receive might be to a question I didn’t think to ask.  Why does this happen? 

I don’t know.  But, I wonder if it isn’t like sitting down with an architect and going over the blueprints to a fabulous building.  I can barely contain myself as the architect takes me through the plans, shows me how much progress has been made, and shows me the end result.  The architect has samples of the planned materials and I’m so excited by the color and style of the roof I insist on its installation.  The architect tells me I have to wait because the walls aren’t up yet and I ask why because the corner pillars are in place: surely that’s enough to support the roof.  The architect very gently tells me I have no idea how to put a building together but if I will trust him, he will see it through.

Perhaps this is a weak analogy but it came to mind last week during a teaching I was listening to and it made sense to me.  I thought I’d share it here in case it made sense to any of you. 

Truly the Lord is my portion.  Great is His faithfulness and my expectancy is in Him. 

Great Expectations-Part Three

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I had to laugh at myself.  Within two hours of Part Two posting to the blog, I found myself in a situation exactly like the one I described: perhaps some relief from pain but it was going to require a doctor’s visit, a referral, no doubt more co-pays…my insides tightened and I could only think, “great.  I’ll just pay for all that then, shall I?” Then the thought came, “didn’t you just post on how God has taken you through medical stuff and financial hardship?”  Indeed I had.  Had I learned anything from the experience?  Yes, but I have to admit my first inclination is usually stress and anxiety and THEN remembering the goodness of God.  And so, I write these for my own edification. 

In part two I did write about a series of unfortunate events and how I expected my Father to reveal Himself to me as the Lord who healeth me and, instead, found myself face to face with the Father who loved me and wished His name hallowed above every other on earth.  I am still learning all this means and it’s a theme I hope to explore in the future.  For now I wish to answer the questions: if I am to expect that all the promises of God are Yes in Christ yet experience has taught me God rarely does what I expect in the way I expect it, what am I supposed to be expecting when I pray? Is there a secret to a victorious life in Christ?

I believe there is and that the secret isn’t so secret.  I believe the answer is found in the Indwelling Spirit.  1 Corinthians 1:20 says “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”  In Christ.  Two words that appear over and over again throughout the New Testament.  If God’s promises are In Christ, then it must follow I must be in Christ in order to receive them. 

In part two, I also quoted; “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. (Matthew 6: 33, Amplified)  In Luke 17 verse 21 I find, “Nor will people say, Look! Here (it is!) or, See (it is) there!  For behold, the kingdom of God is within you (in your hearts) and among you (surrounding you).  (Amplified)  Acts 17: 28: “For in Him we live and move and have our being…” and the second half of 1 Corinthians 1:20: “And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  In just these few scriptures (I could quote more but I’d end up copying the entire New Testament) I see how important it is to understand “In Christ” and that there must be something in me that shows me what this means and enables me to say “Amen.”  That something is a Who: the Holy Spirit.

There are two beautiful passages about the Indwelling Spirit found in the Gospel of John.  I can’t choose between them so I’m quoting both:  “I have told you these things while I am still with you.  But the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name (in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf), He will teach you all things.  And He will cause you to recall (will remind you of, bring to your remembrance) everything I have told you.” (John 14: 25-26, Amplified)

And then: “But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth).  For He will not speak His own message (on His own authority); but He will tell whatever He hears (from the Father: He will give the message that has been given to Him), and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come (that will happen in the future).  He will honor and glorify Me because He will take of (receive, draw upon) what is Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you.  Everything that the Father has is Mine.  That is what I meant when I said that He (the Spirit) will take the things that are Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you.  (John 16: 13-15, Amplified)

Because I know the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, His spirit dwells in me as me teacher and guide.  As Paul says, “But if you are guided (led) by the (Holy) Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  What is the law?  The law, or Old Covenant, was based on IF/THEN.  Now, under the New Covenant and the Indwelling Spirit, I find there is a different way to live.  Rather than trying to please a remote God and earn blessings from Him with my good behavior and the fact that I (mostly) keep His commands; I live from the fountain of His life within me. 

But, I know some of you will ask, aren’t you taking some of these scriptures out of context?  Doesn’t John 14 also say, “If a person (really) loves Me, he will keep My word (obey My teaching); and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home (abode, special dwelling place) with him.”  (John 14: 23, Amplified).  Doesn’t that sound like it’s an IF/THEN?

It does and I hope to explore the meaning of these scriptures in more depth in later posts.  In closing this one, I say truly, Our Father’s promise in Ezekiel 37 is made reality with the Holy Spirit:  “A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall heed My ordinances and do them.”  Paul assures me in Philippians that, “(Not in your own strength) for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you (energizing and creating in you the power and desire), both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” (Philippians 2:13, Amplified)   

I wasn’t sure how to describe living from the Indwelling Spirit but I chanced to listen to Malcolm Smith’s Webinar # 340 and he put it perfectly.  Now that we have the Indwelling Spirit, we no longer live from IF/THEN but now BECAUSE/THEREFORE.

I love that.  However, with shifting my focus from If/THEN to BECAUSE/THEREFORE, what do I expect from God?  The answer is everything and nothing.  I do not expect specifics.  Rather, I expect that He will keep His word that all His promises are “Yes” in Christ Jesus.  I don’t expect that nothing painful or hurtful will never happen to me.  I do expect that He who lives in me will be everything I need at all times: All in all.  With Paul, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me! (2 Corinthians 12: 9b, Amplified) His joy fills me and, through Him, I say “Amen”.  May He and He alone be glorified.

An excellent study on the Indwelling Spirit.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/indwelling-spirit-andrew-murray/1111009163?ean=9780764202278

Here’s Malcolm Smith’s webinar if you are interested.

Great Expectations-Part Two

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Last week I began writing about my struggle to understand why, if all the promises of God were “Yes” in Jesus, did I not see them manifest in my life, and my feelings of failure because of that lack.  There did seem to be a law in place as expressed in Exodus 15: 26: “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.”   Since I was not healed, I had to have missed a step somewhere. 

I do not wish to infer I’ve spent the last seventeen years pursuing healing. At that time, my Heavenly Father revealed Himself to me in a way I had never known.  At that moment, I realized everything I had ever thought about Him had been mistaken and that I knew nothing at all.  Every day since then has been an opportunity to, in the words of Yoda, unlearn what I have learned. I focused on “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. (Matthew 6: 33, Amplified)  Amen. So be it. 

Then, three years ago, I re-discovered a bible teacher I listened to as a child.  He spoke of the promises of God, especially healing, and said it was so in Jesus and that I should expect!  Expect?  Expect what?  I was seeking Him with my whole heart, what more did I need to do?  I couldn’t argue with the scriptures I heard quoted.  It did seem there was an aspect to my life in Jesus I was failing to appropriate.  How to do so?

There have been moments of intense frustration as I tried to figure it out.  There have been moments when I’ve been so angry I’ve cried out to God; “just tell me what you want!  Why is this so hard?”  It was a deeply confusing time and it was about to get worse.

With my limitations, I only work part-time which means I don’t have a great deal of extra cash.  While I was struggling to figure out why I was not experiencing the fullness of the promises of God, I had a minor procedure that still required my going under anesthesia; a process that proved to be rather expensive.  A month later, I was rear-ended driving into work which aggravated all my old injuries of that car accident from years ago.  I missed work and pay.  A month after that I ended up in the ER as yet another health problem came to a head.  Major surgery was scheduled that was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I had insurance (thank God!) but I still had to pay a portion of the cost.  Less than a month before my surgery I was in another car accident (not my fault!) where I ended up in the ER AGAIN.  More expense.  Then came the surgery and recovery, and then yet again another minor surgical procedure.  I didn’t have insurance for this cost and had to dig into my savings account.

In the midst of these health/physical struggles, the parameters of my job changed.  I couldn’t drive myself anymore but had to take the train to work.  This has always been my one point of refusal when accepting a placement: I don’t go downtown because I can’t take the train.  It is too hard on me physically and I get terribly dizzy and sick to my stomach: probably complications from my TBI.  Now, I had to take the train and I didn’t see any way out.  I had taken some financial hits and would be a fool to quit.  Then there was the job itself.  There was no one else who knew the job the way I did so I didn’t see how I could quit and leave them hanging.  Maybe this was it!  I began to pray that finally, when I needed Him the most, my Father would heal me so I could do what I needed to do.  Trusting He would be my strength, I began to ride the train.

My days ended with indescribable agony.  The pain was so bad I couldn’t breathe. Finally, the pain got so bad I had to say “when” to the job.  I had reached another crisis point.  It was when I had nothing left that my Father came to me, wrapped His arms around me, and opened my eyes.

I saw that, even though He and I had developed a deep, personal relationship, I was still hallowing another’s name above His.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that a word had been spoken to me and the word sounded good and right.  Fulfilling that word seemed to be honoring God and I stepped out in obedience to that word without ever checking it with God and being sure the voice I was listening to was His.  I expected Him to give me the strength to do what I believed I needed to do.   

Why am I telling you all this?

All of these things were piling on each other, one after another, and I was clinging to Jesus by my fingernails.  Why?  When everything seemed to be so opposite of what I believed and it didn’t appear He was with me at all; why didn’t I decide I’d been utterly mistaken, there was no God, and I was on my own to figure out this life as best as I could?  The answer is because I know Him.  He has revealed Himself to me step by step, situation by situation over the years and I KNOW He lives and He loves me. Still, I didn’t quite understand: I expected an answer to healing and He showed me the importance of hearing and obeying no voice but His. 

To be continued…

Great Expectations-Part One

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Yesterday was the anniversary of the car accident that left me differently-abled.  I am grateful to be walking and that, once my hair grew back in, I was not left with visible scars but I do live with limitations; both physical and cognitive.  Which brings me to what I want to discuss in this series of posts:  I say I have a relationship with Jesus…why then am I not healed?

2 Corinthians 1: 20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God”.  There are many promises of healing I could quote from both the Old and New Testaments but, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on Exodus 15: 26 which states, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.”  If He is the Lord who heals me and this promise is “yes” in Jesus, then I should be able to expect healing, right?

And, it does seem Exodus lays out the rules for receiving healing.  IF I pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, THEN He will heal me.  I have attempted to pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees.  I attended churches (not forsaking the assembling like Hebrews 10:25 says!) and attempted to do what they told me to do.  I read my bible, attended multiple services per week, and devoted time to prayer.  Then, I would miss a day of reading or a prayer time. Since I could not do these simple things on a regular basis, how could I expect God to heal me? 

I sought healing through biblical methods.  I had hands laid on me, was anointed with oil, stood in healing lines, and was prayed over.  One traveling evangelist insisted that if he laid hands on me I WOULD be healed so I imagine my disappointment when he did so and I was not.  Of course then the fault was mine because “a double-minded person is unstable in all they do” and “such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1: 8 and 7) so my still being in pain caused me to doubt which meant I didn’t really trust God and didn’t have any faith so He could not heal me. I had these things said to me.

Then I realized that, if I was following the rule laid down in Exodus, all I had to do was pay attention to His commands and keep His decrees.  What simplicity!  Jesus only left me with one: “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  (John 13:34)  Well, has anyone else tried this?  Have you found it as difficult a command to keep as I have?  Failure after failure after failure.  No wonder I didn’t have my healing!  How could God heal someone who so consistently fell short of His standards of behavior?!

Have any of you been subjected to this?  If you have, know I empathize with you.  I have been trapped in this never-ending cycle of just not being good enough to please God and finally receive of His promises.  I was already tired from the effects of the car accident and all this striving only made me more so.  Then, I had a life crisis so devastating I was certain I could not and never had heard from God.  I had failed Him so completely I should just curl up and die so He could send me to hell and get it over with.  It was in this place that I met God!  The living God.  The gentle, loving Father who so desired a relationship with me, He sent Jesus into my darkness and death to get me and bring me out.  (John 3:16 and especially 17!, John 17: 3, Ephesians 2: 4-7)

My feet were set on a new path and I began to get to know The Father.  I do not say the path has been easy.  In fact, it felt like the moment my Father began to show me who He was, the floodgates of hell were opened in my life.  Even though…through every devastating circumstance, my Father has revealed a little more of Himself to me and I have been filled with awe and wonder.

But still I struggled with limitations from the car accident and, as the years went by, I developed other health problems.  I prayed about them, tried to “Amen” all the promises of God, and received no miraculous healing.  I ended up having a major surgery and afterwards had the opportunity to speak with a close friend.  I told her how I had prayed leading up the surgery-that I would be spared having to go through it-and how the answer I had received had been “no”.  I told my friend that, while I could accept the no, I had expected things to be different.  It had been years since I’d come to know The Father in a new way and I’d expected I would level up somehow: like in a spiritual video game. 

We both laughed at that but, after hanging up with her, I continued to think about it.  That had been my expectation: that with greater understanding came greater blessings.  Wasn’t that the rule?  Within a few months of this conversation, I had to have another minor procedure.  I threw up my spiritual hands.  Whatever the secret was, I clearly had not discovered it.

Again, while a painful place to be, it is not a bad place to be.  It has been my experience over the last seventeen years that these valleys of deepest darkness are where my Father’s light shines brightest.  And so it proved.

To be continued…

Bible verses are quoted from the New International Version

Declaration

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May Christ through your faith (actually) dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts!  May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love.  Ephesians 3:17, Amplified


My roots reach deep
Into the One who IS
First of firsts
Within me the rich soil of life
Though the tempest roars
And the locusts swarm
The Harvest comes
I am Faith Unstoppable.

I stand planted
In the One who WAS
Inhabiter of time
The rock of my salvation
Though the mountains crumble
And are swallowed by the waves
I do not falter
I am Faith Unshaken.

I have my shelter
In the One who IS TO COME
Making all things new
My fortress, my tower, my strength
Though I'm bombarded
By flaming arrows
I stand strong in the gap
I am Faith Immovable.
 
 

Making My Footsteps the First

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This coffee mug was a Christmas gift from my Mother.  The phrase on it spoke to me but I was not purchasing things for myself so put it back on the shelf. My mother had seen and surprised me with it.  In case you can’t read it (I’ve had the mug for some years and it’s been through many washings), the phrase is “Each new wave rearranges the patterns in the sand so we can pretend our footsteps are the first”.  I can’t tell you why this phrase spoke to me the way it did but, as the Holy Spirit has worked in me, opening the eyes of my heart to the truth of who Jesus is in me; I have garnered a deeper understanding of this phrase.  Even though the Holy Spirit has been at work in God’s people for over 2,000 years, each revelation is new to me. When my eyes are opened to see, it’s a brand new discovery. 

For instance:

There was a time I used to read Matthew 27:46 where Jesus cries out “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” and thought I understood how He felt.  There have been so many times when I’ve walked through such darkness I was certain God had forsaken me.  I couldn’t hold that against Him though because He’d forsaken Jesus too so at least Jesus understood how I felt.  This is a terrible belief to hold and I thank God He didn’t let me keep it for long.  The Holy Spirit led me to Hebrews 13:5 where I read, and the Amplified translation says it best: “Let your character [your moral essence, your inner nature] be free from the love of money [shun greed—be financially ethical], being content with what you have; for He has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!”  While this passage is more about financial worries, this promise of God appeared to hold true for every aspect of my life especially when the verse 16 says “So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently say, “The Lord is my Helper [in time of need], I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”

Here was a thought:  If God promised to never leave nor forsake me, was my belief that He had forsaken Jesus mistaken?

I began to read the bible with this question in mind and saw Isaiah 53:4 which states, “surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him and afflicted.”  This struck me.  “Punished by God” is how I saw Jesus’ sufferings and death but this scripture appeared to tell me that wasn’t true.  Then the Holy Spirit drew my eyes to 2 Corinthians 5:19 where Paul writes “…God was reconciling the word to Himself in Christ” and Colossians 2:9 which states “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  With these two passages ringing in my mind, I began to question my interpretation of Matthew 27:46.  If I were incorrect and The Father had not forsaken His son, what did Jesus’ words mean?

Then came the day when the Holy Spirit answered that question.  I was reading Psalm 22.  I cannot count how many times I’d read it before and felt David’s pain but had NEVER realized what was going on.  The opening lines of this Psalm are exactly Jesus’ words on the cross.  I have read the writings of bible teachers who have said that every Jew within earshot would not have needed Jesus to say anything more.  They would have known the Psalm in its entirety just hearing the first lines and would know exactly what He was saying.  What was He saying?

Even though David wrote this Psalm hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, this entire Psalm is about Him.  As the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to that truth, I read through the Psalm in dawning wonder.  Passages leapt out at me.  “He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him” (verse 8) I found paralleled in Matthew 27:43.  I discovered the horror and shame of crucifixion in verses 16-18 of the Psalm: “they pierce my hands and my feet.  All my bones are on display, people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

I read David’s words and saw that they mirrored Jesus’ agony.  I continued reading and knew for certain God had not forsaken Jesus on the cross for the Psalm itself declares Jesus was not forsaken in verse 24: “He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” 

The Psalm ends on a note of exultation.  Verse 31 says, “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”  The last words of the Psalm, “He has done it”, are exactly Jesus’ words when He cries “It is finished!”

I couldn’t believe it. It was like I’d never read the Psalm before.  My entire mind was flooded with revelation and I had an entirely new bible.  I also had an entirely new understanding of Jesus’ cry on the cross. I read the Psalm again and then went back to Matthew 27 to read the entire passage.  And then I read it again because I finally saw what Matthew’s gospel was saying. Jesus’ cry on the cross was not a cry of agony at being abandoned by God.  Rather, it was a shout of triumph.  Even when the situation looks as bad as it possibly can, my God shouts His triumph.

This was a brand new discovery for me and the Holy Spirit and I delighted in it together.  I felt like I’d been the only one ever to have seen this to be true even though, at the same time, I knew I could not be.  Indeed, I am not the first nor will I be the last but it doesn’t matter.  I delight in my seeing.  Those who have already seen share my delight and I have an equal share in the delight of their having seen.  Even though many have walked the shoreline of this particular revelation, the Holy Spirit made the sand smooth so that I felt my footsteps were the first.  He makes it smooth again once I’ve passed so that another can discover Him for the first time.

*All scriptures are quoted from the Amplified and NIV translations.