Holier Than Thou

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“You think you’re better.”

I have been remembering two times in my life when I have had this accusation leveled at me.  I was sixteen the first time and was a shy and introverted new student at a new school.  I have mentioned enduring bullying and how books were an escape for me.  After a time, I didn’t need a book.  I could build stories in my own mind-some of them I even attempted writing down-and had acquired the habit of shifting into my thought world any time my attention wasn’t required.  I had done so at this time and only returned to the present moment when another student said my name and then said “you think you’re better than everybody.” 

I was shocked.  This student barely knew me.  I’d only been at the school a few months: how could he possibly say such a thing?  Fury came hard on the heels of shock.  How dare he!  Who did he think he was to presume to tell me what I was thinking!  I said nothing-I couldn’t speak-but any hope of friendship died in that moment.  It was true that I barely knew him as well but he’d proven himself to be untrustworthy and any good opinion I might have had was lost forever.  It was so lost that many years later a co-worker recognized the name of the school and asked if I remembered this student.  I hadn’t thought of him in years but it all came rushing back.  That moment.  Those words.  Those words spoken in front of others and my public humiliation.  Oh yes, I remembered.  My face must have reflected how I felt because this co-worker never brought it up again.

I was once more shocked but this time shocked at how angry I still was.  It was a cold anger and perhaps resentment would be a better word.  That student was frozen in that moment in my mind.  No matter who he was, how he’d grown, what he’d learned in the ensuing years, he was still the one who had falsely accused and embarrassed ME.  I went immediately to God and offered it all up: the student, my feelings, all the unforgiveness I hadn’t known I was holding, it all was placed in the hands of The Father.

I believe the meeting with the co-worker was a divine meeting so that I would see this, offer it all up to the Lord, and the situation would be immersed in the cleansing, redeeming blood of Jesus.  There was no longer any buried resentment to fuel my reactions and I was soon to be grateful for that.  Because, only a short time later, this accusation would be leveled at me again.  This time the words were, “you think you’re better than me,” and the words came from a close family member.  They cut far deeper than the words of that student so long ago because they came from someone I loved. 

 By the time I faced this accusation, I was well into my walk with Jesus and was experiencing tremendous upheaval.  I was seeing Him in a way I never had before and old behaviors were dropping away.  I was figuring out how to live this life in Christ and how to live it in the midst of others.  My loved one made a joke I simply could not laugh at and thus the accusation.  I did try to explain that I was different because Jesus was making me different, that I knew very well I was superior to no one, that I meant no offence, but it was to no avail.  Meetings with this family member became more and more difficult: when I did not laugh at jokes, when I refused to listen to certain music or watch certain television shows, when I would not repeat derogatory things about other people, I was proving I thought I was better.  Not only that, I was being outright disrespectful and, ultimately, my family member cut off all contact with me.

I do not share this in some false humility that really intends to show how great of a Christian I am.  Neither do I deny there are Christians who have a “Holier Than Thou” attitude.  Let us leave them to the Lord.  My struggle is this:  as I shared last week, I am one who is called to come out be separate while still living in the midst of those who not only don’t believe but want nothing to do with Jesus.  I have no wish to offend anyone but neither can I compromise this life I now live in Christ Jesus.  How then do I live?

One of my Bible Teachers said the meaning of separate is more akin to “distinct” than it is “apart”.  I looked it up to be sure.  The Greek word is aphorizo (G873) and it means “to set off by boundary”.  I suppose either “distinct” or “apart” can be seen here but, the more I meditated on it, the more I thought I understood what my Bible Teacher was saying.  Consider, if you will, that the “boundary” mentioned here symbolizes the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus has the preeminence.  I do not live separate from the world so much as I live separated unto Him.  In Him, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  I am joined to Him and thus of one Spirit with Him.  Because I am in Him, I am a new creation.  My life is hidden with Christ in God and in Him I live and move and have my being.  (Galatians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 6:17, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:3, Acts 17:28)  He forms a boundary around me and nothing gets to me but what it also touches Him.  This truth is what I hold on to every moment of my life, in whatever situation I find myself in.  It is the only identity I allow to define me.   

This identity makes me special only because I am in Jesus Christ.  I am not in Him because I am special.  I have done nothing to earn it.  I did not even seek God on my own: He revealed Himself to me.  He is the one who called me and laid His hand on me.  It was His goodness that opened my eyes and caused me to want to exchange my mind for His.  I only love Him because He first loved me and revealed that love to me in and through His Spirit.  In my flesh there dwells nothing good and it is He alone who directs my heart into love of God and patience of Christ.  (Matthew 11:27, Romans 2:4, 1 John 4:19, Romans 5:5, Romans 7:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:5)  All of this is for me!  All of this is for everyone else.

There are so many scriptures that state God is the God of all peoples, where He has promised all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, that He wills all men to be saved.  Here are three I must share: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17).  “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).  “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). 

Again, these are a mere handful of scriptures but they ought to put to rest the idea that any believer has the right to think he or she is better than anyone else.  God gave His Son because He loved the world.  When I know how much He loves me, I can begin to understand how much He loves the world.  I can act in no other way towards people while, at the same time, I do not seek to take part in anything that does not reflect the heart of God.  This being so, what can I do when and if someone accuses me of thinking I’m better? 

I live my life from Jesus Christ living in me by His Spirit.  Doing so is a learning process and I am not so arrogant to think I act perfectly in everything I do, despite my desire to do so.  I humble myself before the God who loves me and ask Him if there is any truth in the accusation.  I ask Him to purify me in the fire that He is and burn out all the dross that keeps me from being His perfect reflection.  I offer any apology I owe to the one I have wronged.  If the accusation is false and I owe no apology, then I rejoice!  It means Jesus has been recognized in me and I am blessed to be excluded for His sake! (Luke 6:22)

Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Amen.

Unless noted otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

References:

Strong, James, LLD., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990

A Life Beyond Compare

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This life lived abiding in Jesus Christ is beyond compare.  The fact that I live in fellowship with The Father, in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit leaves me speechless.  The fact that this life is possible because the Father wills it so makes me rejoice in humility.  And yet, this life can be frustrating.  There are so many things I don’t understand and answers to my questions do not come all at once.  I often quote Philippians 1:6 to myself: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  I am confident that the will and purpose of God will be worked out in me but I am not always patient with the process. 

I’ve had some difficult times over the past several months.  I couldn’t put into words how I felt.  I was angry certainly but at the same time broken-hearted.  I also felt isolated.  There were communities I longed to be part of but, as I listened to what they were saying, I knew I could not.  It wasn’t until today when I came across Jeremiah 15:17 that I understood what I was feeling.  This passage states, “I sat not in the assembly of those who make merry, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone because Your [powerful] hand was upon me, for You have filled me with indignation” (Amplified). 

Indignation.  I thought this was a good word to sum up what I was feeling but I looked it up in the dictionary to be sure.  My Webster’s New World Dictionary gives this definition of indignation: “scorn resulting from injustice, ingratitude, or meanness; righteous anger.”  Yes, this is exactly what I have felt.  And, I have sat alone.  Doors have closed all about me and I didn’t understand why.  And then, this week, I had an experience where the same thing kept cropping up.  It was mentioned to me, then it popped up in a newsletter, then someone else mentioned it, then I was sent an email…: six times over the past week this thing was mentioned and, each time, I grew more and more indignant.  Not one of those sources shared my indignation.  I went to God and asked Him if I was overreacting.

I am not.  I remembered the word translated “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia (G1577).  It means “a calling out”.  I was also remembering two portions of scripture and kept repeating them to myself.  One was “Come out from them and be separate,” and the other was “touch not the unclean thing.”  I did not remember these were parts of the same passage:  2 Corinthians 6:17.  For a bit of the context, I’ll start in verse 14: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  For what fellowship had righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For you are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God.  And they shall be My people.” Therefore, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (verses 14-18).

I have often heard this passage quoted to mean “unequally yoked” is a warning against marrying someone who doesn’t share the same faith.  I see it more as a warning for everyday life.  It is practically impossible to reach a goal if I’m trying to get there with someone determined to head in the opposite direction.  No, I take Jesus’ yoke and heed His calling to come out and be separate.  I do not mean I go live in a cave like a hermit (though there are times I wish I could!): I am separate while remaining in the world.  (See 1 Corinthians 5:9-10).  Jesus Himself prays “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).

I look at these scriptures and understand what they are saying but how then do I live?  What does it mean to be separate while still in the world?  For me in this moment, it means holding onto my identity in Jesus in the midst of great pressure.  What is that identity?  I am everything the New Testament tells me I am In Christ.  I am the temple of the Holy Spirit, a living stone in the spiritual house of God, a member of the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, a holy nation, one of God’s special people, made to proclaim the praises of Him who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.  (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9).

I hold on to my identity but remember who everyone else is as well.  I define my actions toward them by the words of God Himself who declares, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh.  Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:43).  I obey the words of the Apostle Paul who says, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

I seek to diffuse His fragrance wherever I go and, knowing my flesh still wars against the Spirit, I pray: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.  Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies” (Psalm 141:3-4).  I trust that my steps are ordered by the Lord, He delights in my way, and though I stumble I won’t fall because He upholds me with His hand (Psalms 37:24). 

And when I must sit alone because His hand is upon me and He has filled me with indignation I accept the loneliness knowing I am not ever alone because He is with me.  I accept and listen to His voice always ever seeking to follow the Lamb withersoever He goest and heed His call to “come out and be separate”.    

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b).

Unless noted otherwise, all scriptures are quoted from:

The New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1982

References

Guralnik, David B., Webster’s New World Dictionary of The American Language, William Collins+World Publishing Company, Cleveland-New York, 1974

Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990

No Other Name

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How does a Christian commit suicide?  How does a person who claims to know Jesus as her personal savior kill one’s self?  If I believe Jesus has overcome the world, shouldn’t suicide be impossible?  I can’t speak to anyone else’s situation but I know that, in February 2020, while I didn’t want to commit suicide; I felt I had no other alternative.

I’ve struggled with thoughts of suicide my entire life.  There were abuses at home and suicide seemed like a good way to make it end.  I endured terrible bullying at school and suicide was a way not only of making it stop but I was sure that, once I had killed myself, those bullying me would see the error of their ways.  Books were a way of escape for me during these years and I have never ceased being grateful to the authors who wrote stories of teenage girls making it through difficult times. 

The last time I ever thought of suicide, before my experience in 2020, happened about a year after my car accident.  I had lost everything and didn’t think I could face living every day brain damaged and in chronic pain.  I remember lying in bed with tears running down my face and praying to die.  I had a series of thoughts then and they started with, what if?  What if I did kill myself?  What if, when I found myself in the presence of God, it turned out He did have a plan for me?  What if my life wasn’t really over?  What if I didn’t kill myself?  Well then, if suicide was no longer as an option, the only thing I could do was get up, put cold water on my face, and take one day at a time.

My hope in Jesus got me through.  Even though there were times when I was so tired and I hurt so badly I did long for it to be over, I never seriously considered suicide.  Even when I faced various crises, even when I wondered if what I believed about Jesus was true, even when I considered whether or not He even existed, I never thought of suicide.  Through these crises, The Holy Spirit opened my eyes and I began a walk with Jesus that was more wonderful than anything I’d ever known.  I knew the joy and peace only Jesus could bring and yet, after seventeen years of walking with Him and learning of Him, I once more found myself considering suicide.  How did it happen?

It didn’t happen overnight.  I had endured years of pain and exhaustion.  There were times of revelation and refreshing from the Holy Spirit that made this life worth living, but there was no end to the pain and exhaustion.  I had other health issues.  One major one culminated in the surgery I’ve mentioned before.  But, before I had to have this surgery, I took a job.  It was for a small company-less than five employees-and it was wonderful.  My co-workers were kind and welcoming.  My boss was also kind, and flexible, and genuinely cared about taking care of the people who worked for him.  I had a quiet office to myself with a large window overlooking a dog park.  My boss was understanding, flexible, supported me through my surgery, and was equally supportive during my recovery.

A year after my surgery, the job ended.  The company was sold to another and I was kept on to help with both the wrapping up of the company I worked for and the transfer of information to the new company.  Operations transferred to an area outside of the boundaries I am comfortable driving on my own.  Making it to and from the job now meant I’d have to take the train.

I don’t ride the train.  I have equilibrium issues with my brain injury and the swaying motion of the train makes train travel a nightmare.  Even if I can secure a seat in the very front car, I am dizzy and nauseous after even a short train ride.  Then, there’s my physical problems.  I don’t know how many of you ride public transportation but those seats are not made for someone who has back problems.  And yet, that was where the job had gone and I had no choice.  No matter.  I could use ginger chews to help steady my stomach.  I would use topical analgesics and pain killers to endure the physical side of things.  The rides would be unpleasant but endurable.  Besides, what did I know?  Maybe this was a chance to step out in faith that God would finally heal me.  Together, we had this.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, right?

Wrong.  I lasted less than a month.  Those days are a bit of a blur memory wise but I do remember the agony.  I could not continue.  I was going to let down the boss who had been so kind to me.  Here was another situation where I could not meet expectations.  I was not strong enough and I obviously wasn’t smart enough because I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.  More than that, it was clear God wasn’t stepping up to help me.  I was a failure.  And, even if I quit and found another job, I was bound to fail no matter where I went.  I would always carry my disability with me.  Not only this, but it was obvious God wasn’t helping me.  Somewhere, I had missed whatever His grand plan was so I had failed Him as well.  Whatever He’d been trying to tell me over the years, I hadn’t heard it.  If I needed proof that the life of a broken down, disabled, mentally deficient human being could not be used of God, here it was.  There really was only one alternative.

I was in a strange headspace.  I had no strong desire to die.  I didn’t really want to commit suicide but suicide felt inevitable.  While I had everything I needed to make it painless, I couldn’t go through with it because I didn’t want to hurt my family: especially my mother.  I didn’t want her to have to find me.  Before I did anything, I had to speak to my boss and tell him I could no longer ride the train.

The Word of the Lord came to me.  A meeting of a Christian Women’s group popped up in my Facebook feed.  The location was close so driving would not be a problem and was in a neighborhood I was familiar with so there was no problem finding it.  I had a strong urge to go but it didn’t make any sense.  I tend to avoid women’s groups as I cannot join in conversations about husbands and kids.  But, I felt I was being told to go and I obeyed.  Besides, they were offering donuts so the morning wouldn’t be a total loss.

Those poor women.  They weren’t through their first worship song before I started to cry.  I continued to cry all through the opening worship and prayer time.  Ugly crying.  I was able to get it under control for the message though I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks which I could do nothing to stop.  At least I’d graduated to silent crying.  I had about a half a box of Kleenex in my bag and I used every bit of it along with a good portion of the napkins reserved for donut consumption.  I barely remember the message.  What I do remember is the presence of The Holy Spirit all around me: holding me, loving me, and comforting me.  By the closing prayer, He had restored me and given me revelation. 

It wasn’t that I had failed God and now He was done with me.  He loved me.  Neither had He failed me.  I hadn’t ever asked Him what He was doing in the situation.  I had listened to what my boss said he needed and determined to meet that need no matter what.  I had agreed with him and expected God would strengthen me to do what I was sure I needed to do.  What I had done in heeding my boss’s words was hallow his name above that of God. 

We believers pray “Hallowed be thy name” whenever we pray the family prayer.  Do we ever take the time to consider what we are praying?  To hallow means to make holy, purify or consecrate, to venerate (hagiazo G37).  How do we do this?  If we are focusing on God alone, that means we listen to what He is saying to us in The Word Jesus, we listen to the words He has spoken through others recorded for us in scripture, and we listen to the words spoken to us in and by His Spirit.  By listening and obeying we venerate Him alone and are agreeing with the rest of the prayer: Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done.  When we listen and obey any other voice, even when the words are coming from someone we like and respect, or perhaps someone we love, we are repeating the folly of Adam and Eve. 

One thing I think we believers don’t pay enough attention to is the nature of the sin committed in the Garden of Eden.  It wasn’t to murder or steal or to do anything evil.  Rather it was a good thing.  To be as God, to know good and evil, surely that was a good thing to become.  All it required was listening to and obeying the serpent rather than God.  I have found our enemy has not had to change his tactics in all these eons. Why would he when they continue to work?

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but its end is the way of death.”  These choices to listen to another voice seem like the right thing to do.  The trap I am particularly susceptible to falling into is when people need my help.  There’s often a “no one else can do it” attached to it and, before I know it, I’m sucked in.  But, how can it be a bad thing to help people?  It isn’t, of course, but the voice I choose to listen to means the difference between trying to live life in my own strength-which is quickly depleted-and living life from the very source of life; Jesus.  It is quenching the Spirit rather than abiding in the vine. 

I am convinced the secret to this life of abiding is listening.  I have to ignore my reflex reaction to run out and fix things and instead, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).  I trust Him and, because I know He loves me, I know that I can cast all my cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).  I do cast everything on Him and then I wait and I listen.  When He speaks, I obey.

I’m not overly fond of clichés however I do feel as though I have a new lease on life.  I want to tell anyone who might be experiencing what I experienced and feeling as I felt that you are loved by God with a love you cannot begin to fathom.  Your life is of supreme importance.  If you are tired, come to Jesus.  If you are burdened, come to Jesus.  Listen to His voice alone.  Learn from Him.  You will find rest.

All scriptures are quoted from:

The New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1982

Because He Lives

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Today, the Fourth of October, is the twenty-third anniversary of the car accident that left me differently-abled.  Since Post Day for the blog fell on Anniversary Day, I wanted to do something special.  I thought and thought and searched for the perfect words to say…what?  What do I know after twenty-three years of living differently-abled that will mean anything to anybody?

I recently read a quote by a spiritual leader whose writings I have read and admired in the past, something that made the quote so astonishing.  This leader was talking about us believers taking a carnal rather than a spiritual approach to our enemies and said our carnal approach could put us in a place where God cannot help us.  I don’t have the full context of this quote so perhaps I am interpreting these words in a way the writer never intended. However, I was struck by any leader saying we humans could end up in a place where God could not help us, regardless of the context.  I declare to you today such a statement is not true. I know Paul’s words are the truth: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created things, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). He is truly the One who keeps His promise never to leave nor forsake us and I know from experience we are never beyond His help.

At the time of the car accident, I was not living a life in Jesus Christ. I believed in Him certainly but, sick of the rules and regulations and a Father God I could not please no matter what, I had walked away from trying to live a Christian life. I was miserable, of course, but God never once let go of me.  In fact, He was with me the moment I woke up in that car after the accident.  His presence urged me to get out of the car and He was with me every step of the mile and a half journey I had to take to find help.  He was with me as I went away from rather than towards town and He was with me when I found the men who, by a remarkable coincidence, had postponed their fishing trip a week and were thus close by to get me to help and save my life. 

I didn’t die in my car accident and I know that isn’t the outcome for many. I lost a family member in an accident a few short months after my own. What about death? Isn’t that a sign that God didn’t help? That is not a subject that can be addressed in the limited space I have today but let me quote again that neither death nor life…shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I can tell you He was with me through this experience as well and I can assert along with Paul that death and the grave do not have the final word (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). We can trust Jesus even in these circumstances. He is the Living One and he holds the keys of death and hell (Revelation 1:18). (Note: while these passages have the words grave and hell respectively, the Greek word in both places is the same-hades [G86]).

But what about consequences, I can hear some asking.  We make our own choices and God doesn’t spare us the consequences of our actions.  We suffer from our own choices and we suffer because of the choices of others.  I don’t disagree.  I do disagree-utterly-with the idea that the choices we or anyone else make somehow thwarts God.  For a beautiful story of what God can do when others mean evil toward us and our sufferings do not stem from anything we did, read the story of Joseph related in Genesis Chapters 37-48.  But, what about situations like mine where, while it was an accident, I can’t deny I made my own choices. I have already shared how I did not put myself in a situation where not even God could help me, but there have been life changing consequences from this accident. What can I now hope for? I find reassurance in a story from Paul’s life in Chapters 20-23 of the Book of Acts.

I do wonder if this story doesn’t start in Chapter 18.  The end of verse 18 says, “He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.”  I’ve read various commentaries on just what this vow was and whether the cutting of the hair meant completion of the vow as such a completion usually meant the necessity of a sacrifice in Jerusalem.  I cannot say one way or another but this vow is something I can’t help but keep in mind as I read Chapters 20-23.  Paul is determined to get to Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 20:16) and nothing, not even the Holy Spirit Himself, is going to stop him. 

Paul states, “And see now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.  But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself…” 

The Holy Spirit spoke to Paul through another as well.  Chapter 21 relates how a prophet named Agabus comes down from Judea, takes Paul’s belt, binds his own hands and feet and says, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles” (verses 10-11).  Those with Paul plead with him to change his mind but he will not be persuaded.  I have to laugh a little when I read verse 14: “So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”  I do wonder just what they meant by that…

Paul goes to Jerusalem and everything happens exactly the way the Holy Spirit warned it would.  You can read the details of his time in Jerusalem and arrest through the rest of Chapter 21 and into Chapter 23.  And so…wouldn’t you think that disregarding warnings from THE HOLY SPIRIT would be a terrible sin?  Wouldn’t you think God would have no choice but to wash His hands of Paul and find someone else, someone more willing to be obedient?  Wouldn’t you think Paul’s choices had put him in a place where not even God could help him?

God doesn’t abandon him.  Verse 11 of Chapter 23 starts with “But”.  I always pay attention to the ‘buts’ I find in scripture and focus what came before.  Verse 10 says, “Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.”  And then verse 11: “But…”

I spent some time between verses 10 and 11, imagining what Paul might be thinking and feeling.  He knew what to expect.  The Holy Spirit made clear what was going to happen if he chose to come to Jerusalem.  I wonder if Paul felt like a failure. I wonder if he was sure God would have to use someone else, someone less stubborn, more malleable.  I wonder if he had any hope of being used to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever again.  I wonder if he was overwhelmed with thoughts of “what if” and “if only”. I wonder all of this and then read verse 11: “BUT the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

What would Paul have been if he had heeded the warnings of the Holy Spirit and bypassed Jerusalem?  I think the question is worth asking but the answer really is “it doesn’t matter.”  The wonderful lesson I glean from this story is our choices cannot thwart the plan of God.  God was with Paul through his imprisonments and the things that happened to him as he was transferred from one place of incarceration to another.  And we have his letters, some written during these times of imprisonment, like the Epistle to the Philippians which bubbles over with the Joy of The Lord.

There’s a phrase, “You made your bed: now lie in it.”  What breaks my heart is when I hear the disdain in this phrase echoed in the words of Believers.  We ought to know better because we see Jesus.  If God, who is love, could possibly have in His heart the idea of “you made your bed: now lie in it”, He never would have given the promises of the One to come throughout the entire Old Testament and would have never given Jesus.  This is what I know.  I know He loves me and I know there is nothing I can ever do to stop Him loving me.  I know there is no mistake I can make He cannot redeem.  I know He is with me in this mess I have made of my life and that He is making it all work for good and for His purposes.  I know because Jesus lives, and lives in me through His Spirit, I can face whatever this life might hold.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know, He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives. 

All scriptures are quoted from:

The New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1982

Seasons

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Seasons

You speak to me and bring forth Life
The hidden seed is quickening
My barren ground is thus transformed
As I burst forth in wondrous Spring

Summer comes with sudden storms
And brings intensifying heat
Both are necessary for
Without them fruit would not be sweet

Then comes the harvest time
The ripened fruit-it satisfies
Though what is reaped is bountiful
I anticipate darkening skies

My world turns dark and cold and gray
Impossible to bring forth fruit
But though it looks blanketed in death
Nothing quenches the Life in the Root

Seasons change-I know it’s time
I wait for fruit with burgeoning pride
But instead here comes the Husbandman
Branches are pruned and cast aside

My Father God, in You I trust
I cling to You through all this pain
I know You prune to increase fruit
Not one of these seasons are in vain

Bring me to that glorious day
When pruned and purged and purified
All I am images You
And You alone are glorified