Seeing the Invisible

The title for this blog is an oxymoron, a contradiction within itself. It’s a riddle to be solved. This is not my own creation but is a figure of speech lifted directly from the Scriptures. When I ran across it in my reading, I wondered if Scripture itself could help me make sense of seeing something that is unseeable.

I want to see the invisible. Why? Because Paul tells us that, strange as it seems, the things we can now see are temporary and will eventually disappear, while the unseen things of God are eternal. Only the things that are now invisible to us will last forever (2 Cor. 4:18). He instructs us to look at these things that are unseeable!  

I found three passages of Scripture that might be helpful (but not completely, because I think this is among those biblical concepts that will remain in part mysterious). First, this from the first chapter of the book of Romans:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

This passage, I learned in my seminary training, refers to “general revelation.” Both before and after the incarnation of Christ, the existence of God was and is discernable by observing natural phenomena. The intricacy and complexity and very creativity found on earth and in the heavens necessitate belief in a Creator God. Therefore, Paul concludes, even those who haven’t heard the gospel of Jesus Christ have no excuse for rejecting the invisible God, because he can be seen in what He has created.  

As I write this, I am sitting on my patio outside, watching hummingbirds flutter around, feeling the wind on my skin, noticing the leaves and buds unfolding on the trees in perfect timing on this perfect spring day.

Photo by AS R on Pexels.com

While I was taught to believe that these are naturalistic phenomena explainable by millions of years of evolution, I simply cannot accept that argument. I say “Amen” to Frank Turek’s pithy apologetics book title, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.”

 Explaining how hummingbirds—or bumblebees, or elephants, or a thousand other extraordinary creatures–came to be according to evolutionary theory will never pass muster or make sense to me. They are simply too wonderful, and the spirit within me insists that they were created by a divine person with a most fantastical imagination.

This beautiful scene before my eyes is one of many visible fingerprints from the hand of the invisible God.

The next aspect of seeing the unseeable is expressed in Colossians 1:15-16:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

When the “Word became flesh” (John 1:14), we received another revelation of the Creator God. Not general revelation, but very specific revelation.

As a man, Jesus was seeable, touchable, hearable, knowable. He was part of God’s natural world for a short time, but a part of the eternal realm also. While on earth he perfectly reflected and made visible the love, wisdom, holiness, grace, truth, and life that exists eternally in God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He was a tangible representation of the intangible.

On the cross we have a vivid portrayal of the love of God poured out. The ultimate passion play. Love made visible.

A third usage of this figure occurs in reference to the faith of our ancestors, the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 11:1) who believed God when they couldn’t see him. Speaking of Moses, the author of Hebrews declares,

He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (Heb. 11:26-27).

The saints of old did not have the advantage of reading about Jesus, and learning how and when the Messiah burst into the human story. They couldn’t get the visual (with some exceptions in the books of prophecy) of this man of sorrows, this one who washed feet and opened blind eyes and hung bleeding on a cruel tree.

These images were invisible to them because they hadn’t happened yet. And these dear longsuffering believers are honored for persevering in their faith without seeing its outcome. Like Moses cited here, they did see something inside of their own hearts of the Invisible One, and that was enough.

Jesus confirms to the apostle Thomas the blessing of this kind of trusting before we can see, (which is an pretty good, simple definition of faith).

Thomas had been missing when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. When told about Jesus’s appearance, Thomas said, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side”(John 20:25).

But eight days later, he gets his moment to see Jesus in his resurrected body and falls down in awe and worship. Jesus says to Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (v. 29).

Jesus declared blessed those who see enough of the unseeable things of God that they can trust, and obey, and worship, without seeing with their physical eyes.

As we approach this Easter weekend, let us celebrate what we have seen and know about our Risen Savior. And let us ask Holy Spirit to give us the ability to see beyond, into the glory realm, where God’s invisibility becomes as real as what we can see with our eyes.

Let the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the “firstborn among many” (Rom. 8:29) fill us with faith and hope as we await our own resurrection and union with him.

Duty to Joy

As I was doing my devotional reading in 2 Corinthians and asking for new light this week, the thought that emerged was that as believers we have a duty to joy. We are to bring joyful praises to God. We are to experience joy that strengthens us in our walk with him. And we are to practice our faith in a way that brings joy to each other and to our spiritual leaders.

The Apostle Paul had founded and then pastored the church at Corinth through his direct presence and through written correspondence. Two of his letters to them became part of the biblical canon. We know that there were more letters, but these are the two Holy Spirit ordained to become part of his Book.

I’ve always considered 1 Corinthians (along with the book of Acts) as the essential manual for establishing a healthy, caring Christian community. It is instructional, encouraging, challenging, and corrective of many mostly practical errors that commonly occur in community life and worship.

Second Corinthians has a very different flavor and tone. It is apparent that there had been conflict between Paul and this church he dearly loved. Having planted the church, Paul felt a sense of ownership, and expected that his apostolic leadership would be respected. It’s clear that he also wanted them to love him. His feelings were hurt. Where he once had shared joyful fellowship with them, they had come to a point where they were causing each other pain.

This comes through clearly in this passage:

So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit. For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved. That is why I wrote to you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful. (2 Cor. 2:1-3, NLT).

My pain brings you pain. Your joy brings me joy. Paul’s steady reiteration of this dichotomy of pain and joy really caught my attention. He seems to place great importance on bringing joy to our brothers and sisters, and our leaders, and avoiding words and behaviors that will bring pain.

Sometimes hard words need to be said when there’s a conflict, and it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end (or, quite often, the sending end either). Conflict is difficult for most of us. If we grew up in a family or environment in which conflict escalated to violence or cut us off from love and belonging, we naturally associate conflict with pain and rejection.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially in a community of Jesus-followers. Our fellowship together around the truth of the gospel and our common love for the Lord is to be characterized by love and joy, whether we are dealing with conflict or not.

Jesus was realistic about human relationships and gave lengthy instruction on how we can walk through conflict without destroying the love and joy.

He preached,

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:10-12).

Jesus wanted us not only to love one another, but to find great joy in loving one another. Our fellowship is purposed on bringing Jesus and our spiritual family “complete” joy. Whole, wholehearted joy.

In Jesus’s deep prayer to the Father shortly before he departed the earth, Jesus cried out,

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them…” (John 17:13).

He wanted us to be obedient, respectful, honorable children. But his underlying purpose in wanting this for us is that we would experience the deepest and best type of joy available to human beings this side of heaven.

Going back to Paul, we find further reinforcement regarding this concept of complete joy. Philippians 2:2 is a beautiful example:

“…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

Leaders who have the hearts of servants and shepherds are pained when the sheep don’t live in like-mindedness, mutual caring, and unity. But when we walk in the steps of Jesus, at one with him and one another, our leaders experience an overwhelming joy. It’s like the joy we feel when our own children play well together and show lovingkindness toward each other. There are few things that are more fulfilling to witness in this life.

In the letter to the Hebrews, the author emphasizes this point:

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you “(Heb. 13:17).

In order to not leave out another very important Apostle, I’ll end with Peter’s statement that sums up well the fruit of our faith,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Pet. 1:8).

I want to be the kind of disciple who brings joy to my savior, who spreads joy amongst my friends and neighbors, and to the shepherds who watch over my soul. Will you join me in this duty to pursue joy?

Holding on and Letting Go

(I’m sharing this from a post from way back in 2018, and it came to mind as I still experience this today–God’s tender love and patience with me as I’m still holding on to the things he wants me to eventually surrender…)

Last week was trying for me, at work and at home. Nothing life-threatening or overwhelming, but more impacting and challenging than usual. And I observed some things about myself and how God deals with me at times like this.

Acquaintances might say that I am a rather calm and studious individual. But those who know me better know that I have a very passionate, determined aspect to my personality. I have a fire within me. But I don’t typically react to things with emotions at first. I am a thinker.

When things come at me fast and furiously, my instinct is to retreat and process. Like a dog with a bone, I have to chew on things for a while before I even understand how I feel, or what actions I am to take in response. You might say I have to brood and wait and feel the ache. I feel so very human and vulnerable at these times.

What I’ve noticed is that God is gracious toward me and allows me to hold on to my troubles for a bit. He allows me to be angry, frustrated, disappointed, hurt, or anxious. He never forces me to let go before I am ready.

God gave us our minds and our emotions. Each of us has a unique blend of emotional responsiveness and intellectual reasoning. We need both. Sometimes we need to take time to get them to match up and lead us to a good decision about what to do next. We must respond with both what feels right and what is right.

I’m reminded of the story of Jacob wrestling with God all night. At daybreak, he tells God’s angel, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob receives his blessing, and a change of his name from Jacob to Israel, signifying, “You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome” (Gen 32:26-28).

Like Jacob, if I wrestle with God and man from a rebellious spirit and with an ungodly motive, I will lose in the end. But if I wrestle to gain God’s blessing and his wisdom, there is fruit to be gained. The fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). When the fruit comes, I realize that I am so much better off than I would be if the struggle had never come. I am stronger, freer, and more at peace.

Another biblical allusion is Jesus contending with Satan in the wilderness.  Jesus won, the devil departed, and “angels came and attended him” (Matt. 4:11). Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Staying in the fight until it is time to let go and then letting God move in to bless and heal us.

The moment of letting go can be so lovely. A few days ago, while I was out walking my little dogs and listening to beautiful worship music, I felt that moment come. I was flooded with gratitude for God’s fatherly kindness. He didn’t yank the bone out of my mouth but let me hold it as long as I needed to. I felt as though he trusted me—that I would let go when the time was right, and that I would respond rightly to his guidance. This greatly enriched my communion with him.

I’ve written this in the first person, but I’m sure some of you who read this can relate, and I hope it helps. Our loving Father knows us so well and deals with us so personally to reveal his good thoughts and plans, when we are ready. Because he is always holding on to us, we can be secure in the letting go.

Letting Go in the Eastern Sierras, 2019

Doors to Open or Shut

As you know if you’ve been reading my writing for any period of time, I am drawn to metaphor in a big way. This is how the Holy Spirit often communicates deep things to me, in figurative, metaphoric terms. Biblical metaphors catch my attention constantly. When I share what I’m seeing, those metaphors become part of the flow of thoughts about how Scripture comes to life for us.

The metaphor that has caught me this week is that of doors.

There are 154 references to doors in the Old and New Testaments. Many of these refer to literal doors, and many biblical authors use doors as a metaphor.

So, before we look at some of these instances and find applications, a few things about doors in general, their characteristics and uses.

Doors can be made of many different substances—glass, wood, metal, plastic, or other natural or manmade materials. They can be flimsy, or they can be strong and impenetrable unless they are opened.

Most doors have hinges that allow them to swing open or swing shut. If they don’t have hinges, doors must be able to be pushed or pulled out of the way, as with pocket doors, sliding barn doors, or garage doors. If a door can’t be opened and shut at will, then it’s functioning as a wall, and not as a door.

Doors have to be tall enough for a fairly tall person to walk through without bending. They also have to be wide enough for a fairly broad person to pass through. If a door is too short or too narrow, it will not give equal access to a variety of sizes of people or animals.

Doors are to keep some things in and other things out. They are a barrier of protection, giving the owners of said doors the choice of who is allowed to share their space or come and go freely. Some doors have locks on them, which provide an additional layer of security against trespassers.

We’ll see now some of the ways that these purposes for doors figure in Scripture and come to life for us.

The first biblical reference to a door relates to sin. Isn’t that interesting? Early in the Genesis account of the first family, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but finds Cain’s unworthy. Cain complains that God is unfair in his assessment of his offering, and God replies:

 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)

Just outside the door of Cain’s heart crouched a roaring lion of sin, ready to pounce. Cain opened the door, murdering his own brother, and had to live the rest of his life as an outcast and fugitive. Sin came and marred the perfection of God’s garden, and ever since, sin has been crouching at the door of the human heart, ready to pounce.

Even after we place our lives in God’s hands and he saves us, we still must often deal with this unwelcome trespasser who crouches at the door. Will we open the door, as Cain did, or say, “Get behind me, Satan” as Jesus did, and shoo him away?

Think now about the Israelites just before their exodus from Egypt. Their ability to save their firstborn sons depended on the applying of blood to the doorways of their homes as a sign.

Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Ex. 12:22-23, NIV).

The doorframes daubed with blood were the key to distinguishing those who were to be saved from the devastation of the final curse on Egypt as a consequence of their treatment of the Hebrew people.

After their exodus, Moses received the Law at Sinai, and when he reiterated the laws of God before they entered the Promised land, he instructed the people to “write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Dt. 6:8). This parallel to the Passover story reveal’s God’s apparent love of irony. The prescription of Deuteronomy 6 is still a good prescription today. As we come and go from the relative safety of our home to a larger world, we are wise to post reminders at the doors or our homes and hearts.

Religious Jews still hang mezuzah’s next to their doors that contain a small scroll imprinted with Scripture representing their covenant with God. They lovingly touch the mezuzah when they enter and exit the home.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

As a new believer living in New York, I remember tacking a piece of paper with Romans 12:2 inside the door of my apartment, reminding me not to conform myself to the world I was about to enter, but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. This would remind me of the doorway in my heart and mind that I had the power to open or shut, depending on what was seeking to enter.

As the Jews began their long sojourn in the wilderness, they built an elaborate tabernacle of worship and carried it with them. This was a holy structure that had doors. Guarding the tabernacle warranted the commissioning of Levites to be doorkeepers. It was essential that the holiness of the sacred space inside would be guarded and separated from the profane atmosphere and activities outside.

Doors, both literally and figuratively—have always been necessary to divide the sacred from the ordinary. Our places of worship should be honored and kept holy. And because God seeks worshippers who will worship him “in spirit and in truth,” our bodies and minds need also to be kept holy and set apart. We are to guard the doors of our hearts from any physical or cultural elements that might make us unclean.

A favorite Psalm verse reads,

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10. NIV). When given a choice between the peace and honor of serving humbly as a member of God’s household or partying and luxuriating with the sinful and scornful, which will we choose? Door number one or door number two?

In many cases the door in question is the door or our mouths. Psalm 141:3 includes the prayer, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Just as God’s physically sanctuary required doorkeepers, the sanctuary of our hearts must be guarded at the door of our lips. This corresponds to Jesus’ teachings about how the words of our mouths reveal the contents of our hearts. What have we been letting in and what have we been keeping out? Our words will reveal both, for better or worse.

Jesus utilized the door metaphor in some other ways. When teaching about spiritual disciplines, he emphasized their private nature:

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt. 6:6).

Behind our doors is where our loving relationship with our Lord is nourished and cultivated. It is a secret sanctuary. Jesus wants us to be satisfied with our intimate, private worship, and not require the praise of humans. Looking for human affirmation actually robs us of the rewards of our worship.

As we pray (behind those doors) for provision, wisdom, understanding, or divine help, Jesus exhorts us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). Prayer opens the doors of heaven and God pours out blessings.

Doors also play a part in Jesus’ parables illustrating the Kingdom of Heaven. The virgins who had not brought oil for their lamps found themselves shut outside the doors of the wedding feast (Matt. 25:10). Jesus describes his worthy servants as those who are watching for the return of the Master, ready to open the door for him upon his return from a far country (Luke 12:35-37). We are to be near to the door, alert, watching for him, quick to welcome him.

A negative reference to doors applies to the “teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” when they “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt. 23:13, NIV). Ironically, it is these kinds of religiously prideful and arrogant people who will find the door shut in their faces when Jesus fully establishes his glorious kingdom.

This is not a popular teaching in these post-modern times, but Jesus clearly stated those who will be saved are those who “enter through the narrow door.” Many travel the wide way and when they come to the door, “many…will try to enter and will not be able to…you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us,’ but he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’” (Luke 13:24-25, NIV). This can be a frightening thought, but our fear of God hopefully motivates us to ever be seeking his will and pleasure, and not just our own.

I hope I’ve provided enough examples to convince you of the value in considering this metaphor of doors in Scripture and applying it to our work and worship until Jesus returns. I’ll conclude with a well-known and loved biblical reference to a door:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev.3:20).

This could almost serve as a summary statement of much of what has already identified about doors. Jesus is always on one side of the door. Will we open the door to him? When we come to his door, will he open it to us?

This depends on our choice, our clear decision that we want to be in his company always and forever. Then we consciously and consistently live in ways that demonstrate our choice to love him above all else.

There is No Try

This is a revisiting of the idea of reframing–challenging the self-defeating strategy of “trying” to pursue a worthy goal, and actually “training” to do it.

Ruth E. Stitt

If you are a Star Wars fan, you’ll recognize this title as part of Yoda’s famous proverb: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I’m borrowing this from Yoda and applying it to how Scripture comes to life when we are faced with the hard things.

One of my avenues for ministry for many years has been my work as a Licensed Professional Counselor. In the initial stages of therapy, it is essential to help clients to identify, define, and refine their goals in life and use those goals to inform the goals for therapy. Much is revealed in the process about the client’s worldview, values, history, and temperament. If we skip over this important step, both client and therapist may wind up frustrated or unsatisfied, because neither of us is clear about where we are headed. We may have to readjust the coordinates later, but it’s…

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Loneliness and Belonging

I wasn’t planning to write about loneliness this week. But as I was preparing to lead a couple of recovery groups, the Lord led me to it, and I became curious about how Scripture comes to life on the topic of loneliness as an aspect of human suffering.

Scripture attests to–and life demonstrates in myriad ways–our need for human connection.  Loneliness is a plague upon us worse than COVID, worse than influenza, worse than addiction, worse than whatever other affliction you might name. In fact, loneliness is a causal factor in many of the human problems and sicknesses we might name.

Addiction is especially understood to be a disease rooted in loneliness. In the absence of love and belonging, genuine human connection, we will do just about anything to quiet the pain of our disconnection, our lack of attachment and belonging.

Even in the very beginning, when there was just God speaking into darkness and chaos and creating good things, he declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him…” (Gen. 2:18). God recognized that people need not only God, but other people as well.

Loneliness happens to all of us, and for some, it becomes so normal that they don’t notice or call it loneliness anymore. It’s just the way things are, and they live lives of “quiet desperation,” to borrow a phrase from the brilliant Henry David Thoreau, who probably knew a little bit about loneliness himself.

This is not God’s plan or intention, for any of us, and especially those who are part of his family, to make loneliness a normal, accepted way of life. We should not accept and adapt to it. I believe getting connected to God and others, and staying connected, is an important thing to fight for.

Next to marriage as an illustration of the need for intimate connection, the church as Christ’s body is the best illustration of our connectedness and our need to constantly recognize it.

Paul writes to the Corinthians, instructing them on the proper application of spiritual gifts. He rebukes them, because in their community life, they were not always being practiced in love or in recognition of the interdependence of the connected parts. As one organism, he pictures an eye telling a hand, “I don’t need you!” or a head telling a foot, “I don’t need you!” What an absurd notion! I picture Paul smirking as he writes or dictates that part. Then he elaborates:

 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (Rom.12:22-27).

In other words, every part is needed, every part is important, and every part belongs. Period. Whether we want it that way or not, that is how the body is created and how it is to function.

Even in the Old Testament reality, the psalmist understood by the spirit and by intuition that God, a Father to the fatherless and a defender of widows and orphans, “places the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5-6). It is not good for the man, the woman, the child to be alone.

Deep thinkers and feelers like David and Elijah were most vulnerable to sin and rebellion when they were alone and bereft. This is true for all of us. David wrote,

I am like an owl in the desert, like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.
I lie awake, lonely as a solitary bird on the roof”
(Ps.102:6-7).  Can you picture that wee owl alone in the wilderness? Can you relate to that image? David cries out in another place,

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish”
(Ps. 25:16-17).

Photo Agto Nugroho

To feel afflicted is painful enough. To be afflicted AND lonely with our affliction is more than our hearts are meant to bear. When we suffer, we are to draw near to others and let them share in our suffering, just as we let them rejoice with us in the good times.

Jesus often “withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He also knew the feeling of loneliness and can therefore relate to us when we are caught up in it. But like David, his loneliness drew him to the arms of his Father, and we can follow their example.

We also are wise to continually seek communion, connection, and healthy fellowship with other humans. If we give up this quest, research supports the hypothesis that our loneliness leads to mental and physical illness, and even early death.

In conclusion, we do well to remember Paul’s very comforting exhortation:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

And while we’re at it, we are wise to also remember our need for each other, and all the ways we are to:

 Love and serve one another (Jn 13:14; 15:12, 17)    Honor one another (Rom 12:10)    Instruct one another (Rom 15:14)                           Care for one another (1 Cor 12:25)

Comfort one another (2 Cor 13:11)                          Bear one another’s burdens (Eph 4:25)   Forgive one another (Eph 4:32)                              Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)

Admonish one another (Col 3:16)                            Encourage one another (1 Thess 4:18)

Do good to one another (1Th 5:15)                         Exhort one another  (Heb 3:13)                     Confess our sins to one another (James 5:15)      Show hospitality to one another (Rom. 12:13)

Why would the Holy Spirit command so many “one anothers?” Perhaps to make it abundantly clear that we are not to live out this walk of faith alone, or accept loneliness as a way of life. We are to join with one another in the messy work of mutual discipling and care. Our flourishing, and even our very survival depend upon it. 

Photo by Helena Lopes

Brothers and Sisters of Other Mothers

Here’s a revisit of a post from 2020 that celebrates the faith that binds us together as one family in Christ… we

Ruth E. Stitt

Jazz band on a white background Stock Vector - 60008033

It seems like eons ago when I was preparing to be a professional jazz guitarist and vocalist. I was in college studying jazz, and it was the only music on my turntable. I practiced jazz tunes for hours every day. I sought out gigs of my own and live performances by some of the best musicians in the world. This was New York in the 1980’s for me.

Sometimes my father would come into the city to hear me play or attend a jazz concert with me. He was always mystified by the non-verbal communication that takes place when a jazz band is improvising together. I would explain to him that the musicians are rooted in a common repertoire, moving through familiar harmonic structures, listening for a melody or rhythm to creatively add color and texture to the familiar landscape of each song.

To this day, wherever I might travel…

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Stay Warm!

In previous blog essays, I have exhorted us to stay connected, stay salty, stay put, stay watchful, etc. This week, as I was reading in the Gospel of Matthew, I came across this prophecy by Jesus about the dramatic end of the age before his return, and it inspired me to consider our need to stay warm.

(I’m also writing this on one of the coldest days of winter so far, so that also might be part of my motivation to pursue this theme! 😊)

“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 24:10-13).

The implication of this part of Jesus’ prophecy is that we as his followers are not to allow our hearts to grow cold, no matter how frigid the environments that surround us. We are to stay warm. Warm toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, warm toward the people in our lives, and warm—I dare say even hot— in our passion for justice and mercy.

Allow me to clarify this: we must keep in mind Jesus’ warning to the churches in Revelation against lukewarmness:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold (invigorating, refreshing) nor hot (healing, therapeutic); I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev 3:15, AMP).

I’m not talking about lukewarm here. I’m talking about the maintaining the right temperature. Warm like the first cup of coffee or tea in the morning that goes down and fills our innards with comfort and readies us for the day. When my coffee sits too long and starts to cool, it’s gross. I won’t drink it until it is warmed up again. (I really appreciate my microwave.)

And I’m not talking about the refreshing, invigorating kind of cold either Jesus mentions in Revelation. I’m talking about the cold that gets into our bones and makes us stiff, frozen, and stuck.

When reading the exposition of prophesied events in Matthew 24, it is tempting to focus on the timing and not the communicative intent of the Savior. Any time Jesus’ disciples would try to get him to reveal the times and seasons for cataclysmic future events to occur, Jesus never took the bait. He always clarified that though the Father had given him all authority, this didn’t extend to the timing of things. Only the Father knows the timetable and holds the master plan, which Jesus will execute in his authority as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Therefore, even if we are convinced that the extended prophecy of end-time events in Matthew 24 (of which I’ve only quoted a small portion) corresponds with what we are seeing in the news or on social media, we can’t be sure.

Jesus says in various places that rather than being concerned with time, we need to be concerned with our hearts, our behaviors, and our actions. But especially our hearts, because out of the heart flow all of the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Maybe we are the generation who will see the end of this present system of things, and maybe not. But either way, we will be held to account for the condition of our hearts and how we live accordingly.

We must not grow cold. What are signs of growing cold?

Lack of zeal for the word of God for an extended time. Wickedness. Unforgiveness. Injustice toward the poor, widows, and orphans all indicate hearts that are growing cold. Refusal to submit to authorities that God has ordained can freeze us out. Disconnection from his church and living in isolation have a chilling effect.

Like the charcoal briquette that is scattered too far from the center of the flame will quickly grow cold and useless, this happens to us if we move away from our spiritual family. We must stay close to our brothers and sisters, however challenging this may be at times. Our survival truly depends on it.

lit bonfire in closeup photography
Photo by Benjamin DeYoung

 We are to extend warmth even to our enemies! Paul exhorts us in Romans not to seek vengeance upon our enemies:

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom. 12:20).

This Scripture implies that by staying warm toward those who are cold toward us, our warmth will transfer to them and convict their hearts. It is hard to stay mad at someone who insists on showing grace, love, and forgiveness from a warm heart.

This may be a challenging concept for us, especially if we are caught up in a millennial focus, that everything in the church and the world is just going to get worse and worse, and there’s little to be done about it. As Bill Johnson points out in his brilliant When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, this belief system requires no faith, and no courage. And I would add, no warmth. This philosophy can cause the most noble of hearts to grow cold.

Instead, we can embrace our mission to serve Christ by serving others and keep the heat on in our own hearts each day. We do this through consistent time in Scripture, through fervent prayer, through steady fellowship, through ministering gifts of healing and deliverance, and through giving generously. By all of these means we keep ourselves close to the flame and have plenty of warmth to share with others.

Stay warm, very warm my friends!

Grieving with the Head and with the Heart

This is an article I wrote on the blog in 2018, and it was also published in Sharing Magazine. It is based on John 11, the fascinating story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But the miraculous resurrection is not my main focus; my focus is on the different ways that Jesus ministers to Martha and to Mary. We know from other stories about them that these two women have different personality styles and priorities. If you are going through any kind of grief process, I hope this will speak to you in some way and bring you comfort and reassurance that Jesus sees your need whether you’re grieving with the heart, the head, or both!

Ruth E. Stitt

I find the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (in John 11) to be one of the most fascinating, exhilarating stories of the Gospels. Of course it is!

A beloved friend of Jesus is dead for four days, his body beginning to decompose, and Jesus calls him back to life. His friends remove his grave-clothes and he has another chance at life as a regenerated human being. This event foreshadows in Scripture the resurrection power that Jesus promises will call us back to him at the time the Father has appointed. Lazarus eventually died again but will rise again when Jesus returns. We will die once, and we who have trusted in Christ will rise with him when the trumpet sounds. These truths from the story are powerfully comforting and meaningful.

But there are other meanings to be applied from the story as well. One of these…

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Alone with Jesus in the Crowd

Have you ever been in a worship service or at a conference, looked around and decided everyone in the room was having a wonderful spiritual experience except you? People are getting blessed and healed all around you it seems, and there you are, feeling alone, empty, uninspired, passed over.

I have experienced that feeling. It is painful. Sometimes we just don’t know how to connect to the source.

But we must never believe that we are forsaken. He doesn’t change, and he doesn’t forsake. Sometimes we’re just hindered for some reason from experiencing his presence or receiving his blessing.

I have found comfort studying the stories recorded in the early Chapters of the Gospel of Mark. These stories prove to me that in the midst of the maddening crowd, Jesus sees the individual heart, and he responds to individual need when we approach him in desperate faith.

These chapters contain constant reference to crowds. Jesus, at this point in his ministry, had become quite famous in Israel and drew large crowds wherever he went. This made it much harder for him logistically to move around and get his Father’s work done.

Until I got this insight, I never understood why Jesus so often told people he’d healed or delivered from demonic control to keep the miracle quiet. Wouldn’t you think he’d want them to broadcast it far and wide? After all, miracles are pretty good for publicity when you have a message you want to spread, as Jesus certainly did.

But Jesus understood that all things were happening in God’s time, and he was concerned with always being perfectly in step with the Father’s will. Talking too much at the wrong time would only impede his progress in the long run.

On one of these very crowded occasions, Jesus was walking through a town in the region of the Galilee, “and all the people followed, crowding around him” (Mark 5:24). We are told that a nameless woman pressed through the crowd to come closer to Jesus. She had been suffering for years with constant bleeding. Many doctors had drained her resources dry without helping her. Endometriosis? Cancer? We don’t know, and neither did she. No one could give her a diagnosis or a cure for 12 years!

If you’ve ever read Leviticus, you’ll know that there are lots of laws and instructions about dealing with bodily discharges, including blood. They automatically rendered a man or woman ceremonially unclean. Women were isolated in quarantine during their monthly periods, unable to fellowship with others for a full seven days. But, the law continues,

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period” (Lev. 15:25).

Imagine the loneliness and pain of this woman! She had been labeled unclean for a full twelve years, excluded, an outcast from her community, because anyone who touched her would become unclean also.

As this stricken, unfortunate woman approached the Savior, the narrator takes us inside her mind, where she believes, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed” (v.28).

We don’t know how she has come to believe this so strongly, but she does. And she touches that robe. And she receives her healing instantly!

Her faith was rewarded, and Jesus knew it! He hadn’t intentioned a healing at that moment. He didn’t even know who had received it or what had happened. He just knew that something had flowed out from him to an individual in that crowd, and he needed to connect with that individual.

He asks his close disciples and they laughed at the idea of figuring it out. That tells us just how tightly packed the crowd was.

I must directly quote this part, so perfectly stunning it is:

“Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’ (Mk. 5:33-34).

Woman with the issue of blood Bible study chapter art

With all of those people, she pressed through and got the healing she had needed for so long, and even more. She also received Jesus’ blessing and his public declaration of her new freedom. She needed no longer feel unclean, ashamed, or unworthy to take her place in the family of Israel.

Scripture comes to life so poignantly here, doesn’t it? It helps me to trust that whatever I may be feeling, or whatever persistent issue has seemed resistant to prayer, Jesus knows me. When I approach in my brokenness and need, his virtue and healing power will extend itself to me.

Jesus has compassion on crowds. But Jesus extends himself in extraordinary ways to individuals too. When we draw near in faith, he responds with supernatural mercy and favor.