Being Spirit Filled

What I am about to say is not intended to be controversial much less theological. This is just a thought born out of decades of ministry and a continuing commitment to be faithful to the conviction that ministry wrought in me. Listening to the words of “I Surrender All” during a worship service, I was suddenly struck with how accurately these words represent what I have come to call the “infilling” of God’s Spirit as a second work of grace. The words are different but somehow the thought is the same.

I am acutely aware of how theology counters this revelation (if, indeed, it is a revelation that surrendering all of one’s self and being Spirit-filled must be the same thing.) I pastored both in the pentecostal faith and the baptist faith where there is not only disagreement about the role “Speaking in Tongues” plays but whether or not there is a “second” work of grace necessary after salvation. This controversy knows no limits having become the subject of the interpretation of even the grammatical phrase used by pentecostals in support of their doctrine. Dana and Mantey provide a baptist grammar in support of their position; Machen is used by the pentecostals for theirs. (And I thought grammar was neutral territory.)

Then one day on the overhead were these words by CeCe Winans

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live

All to Jesus I surrender
Humbly at His feet I bow
Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me, Jesus, take me now,

All to Jesus I surrender
Make me Savior wholly thine
May Thy Holy Spirit fill me
May I know Thy power divine

I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all

Without pushing verses of Scripture at my reader, let me only mention:

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-21

(This section is followed by exhortations to marital fidelity which may be a change of subject. I leave this to the theologians.)

My thought is somewhere in a no-man’s land of denominational teachings. But I “gave at the office” of decades of honoring denominational positions and distinctions which no longer are required of me. At the same time: I discourage anyone simply agreeing with me outright. It would be ill-advised to confuse God’s people with the rambling opinion of an old man. I encourage you to stay with your teaching on this subject. I, on the other hand, am “released” to encourage the few who, oddly, might find my thoughts a blessing.

I am glad pentecostalism still encourages “tongues-speaking” as a biblically endorsed form of worship. But no one assumes for a nano-second that Baptist people who love the Lord are not totally inside the will of God with an inspired message of Divine love—even though they have all but discarded any interest in “tongues.” My opinion is that “tongues-speaking” is an experience that should not define our theology. I also think there are times when “speaking in tongues” coincides with the “infilling.” Pentecostals call “tongues=speaking” the initial evidence of being filled with the Spirit.  As far as “evidence” goes, I would caution making “tongues” the benchmark experience. Acts 1:8 seems to say that that role belongs to the empowerment to witness.

I don’t like the word “second” as if there is not a “third” or more. “Second” in pentecostal lingo means simply “after” salvation. But what is “after” salvation (the Pentecostals are right about this)—as well as part of it (the Baptists are correct about this) is not “tongues” but the “infilling” or that place and time of total and complete surrender to the Spirit of God. As Winans penned, it is the place of giving everything we have and are to Him, of an abandoned trust in His faithfulness, regardless of circumstances, of a marked disinterest in what this world offers for happiness and pleasure, of a humble resignation to His will. Being Spirit-filled is the impassioned cry of a meek heart, “Lord, I am yours!”  As Winans summed it up:

May Thy Holy Spirit fill me/May I know Thy power divine

An old tract published by the Westminster Press out of Lancaster, PA had described this as a desire to launch out a thousand miles from everything and everyone to be lost to the world in His presence.  It is possible to drift from this sense of closeness to the Lord.  The world is too much with us.  Surrender is a constant need.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. – Hebrews 2:1

We tend to slip away from this position and through prayer we need to return to it. It is like lifting weights for muscle tone which we can lose when we stop lifting them for any length of time.

I enjoyed sitting in a Baptist worship service and listening to the congregation singing a pentecostal song we sang years ago.  I may be wrong about this but perhaps God is slowly taking an eraser to the line of teaching that separates us.

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The Will of God

While in prayer, my thoughts gravitated toward Romans 12:2

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

I am not going to tear this verse down using Greek words, although, that has been my modus operandi while a young man digging into the Book I love.  I wanted to learn all I could about God. Instead, here, no Greek, just the thoughts of a septuagenarian whose love for God’s Word is as excited as it was when I held that first Bible gifted to me as a child. It will be your privilege to affirm or correct my thoughts.

This verse came to me in prayer because our youngest is heading to an interview today for full-time ministry and my prayer is that not only would God’s good pleasure, His desire, His will, be done in this situation—and my son’s life—but that my son and daughter-in-law together would be able to affirm that it is so. This is never a “given” for a christian, else, Paul would not have had to say what he said here.

Many christians, dare I say it, are mentality and, consequently, in life style, too much a part of their current culture. I do not speak of culture as simply the context of a peaceful and meaningful life. I speak of the socially acceptable aspects that we would call “worldly” that endorse sinful practices which displease God. I speak of a frame of mind that God has clearly sought to correct in us. Be not conformed to this world. Be not think like this world thinks. Do not be comfortably a part of this world to the exclusion of what God wants for your life, to the exclusion of participating in His desires toward you.

But to reach this point we may need some form of mental transformation. We need to rethink, relearn, we shape our perspective on life, on our own life. From childhood into adulthood, our minds to one degree or another, have been trained to think of our experiences in a way foreign from God’s way of seeing them. We fail to appreciate what God allows and what He accomplishes in our lives because our mindset, our worldview, our perspective on things that happen to us has been in part formed by our culture, our environment, academia, or in some cases by abuse, grief, and pain.

We need to be renewed in mind. My 1 year old granddaughter does not need to be renewed. She comes “new” with, what I call, an innocent faith. She is more capable of understanding God’s will for her life as acceptable, perfect and good than we are because there are no preconceived forms of logic interfering with that understanding. The drawback for her would be knowing these words but this isn’t a matter knowledge but of faith. It isn’t the words themselves that should be our focus, but the God who spoke them. My granddaughter is showered with love and she is constantly laughing. She is a happy child. Should we be happy children of God. [Is that not what the Beatitudes are saying?].  Shouldn’t we be able to say, Lord, if you accept it for me, I accept it, too.  If you ask me to go there, I pray I shall be as excited to go.  I this is what you want of my life, I pray you help me to want it joyfully, too.

God’s “will” for us is three-fold. It is good for us. God will never lead us where His grace cannot keep us. Jeremiah reminded us [Jere 29:11]

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

His will is perfect for us, it fits our personality, our talents, our abilities, and our preparation for it. It is our virtue, our goodness, what we do best. [2 Peter 1:5]. God’s will for our life is the best thing that could happen to us in terms of our sense of achievement, success, accomplishment, fulfillment, meaningfulness, peace, to name a few.

We have to reach the place with a renewed way of thinking to say to the Lord, “Lord, I want it!” We need to learn to accept His will for us. There are many challenges to this simple fact: fear, laziness, still needing God to work on our minds. We may be scarred from an abusive past or so deeply committed to things we should never have gotten involved with in the first place to find an easy way out and back to God’s will.

Something to “think” about.

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The Lie

I just finished Sharyl Attkisson’s book, “The Smear:How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote.” It is one of a dozen books I have been reading (both liberal and conservative) which detail—as I see it—a conflict between a revived nationalism, America first, and a globally recognized socialism.

“The Smear” is a major, organized effort to control the narrative in the media or the public’s consciousness to marginalize any person or group interested in nationalism.  The narrative or meme is an ideology that, allegedly, addresses more effectively global social and economic concerns.

Nationalism, distinct from globalism, is not a world-wide interest but one that puts country first. Anyone of any importance who tends toward a more patriotic nationalism may find themselves in the crosshairs of smear techniques designed to discredit and marginalize them, and eventually, politically silence them. (Even raising this issue as a legitimate discussion in a public forum must be discouraged because this would give the average citizen an intelligent voice which itself is the ultimate right of a free and democratic nationalism.) Smearing in this context is pushing socialism on an unwary public, slowly converting the way they think to accept it.

Some have become professional in reputation defamation and character assassination. This is the stuff conspiracy theories are made of. There is an ongoing fierce battle politically and socially, using the media, and perhaps, weaponizing intelligence and other government agencies to capture the minds of the masses.  We might be asked eventually by our vote to relinquish any further serious need for that vote!

I didn’t see it until reading a few more books written by a few journalists and economists, smart people,  who documented their works, that Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Social media, and many multi-billion dollar businesses are globalists in this sense. They appear altruistic  but the real truth is that their wealth is tied up in offshore tax-free accounts and a global market that promises to make them wealthier. Much of their investments is in other countries.

As we promote the worthy social vision of “equalitarianism,” raising the social and economic status of the poor around the world, pouring in billions of free U.S. dollars,   companies, formerly part of a U.S. economy, are leaving our shores for distant ones to get richer. Nationalism which favors one’s own country and a democracy built on free enterprise—not socialism—promotes an ideology counter intuitive to these more global corporate interests.

“And what does this have to do with the Bible and Christianity?” You ask, knowing that I eventually would go there.  Isn’t the Bible in favor of helping the poor out of their poverty? It says of the earliest form of Christian benevolence, “They had all things in common.” [Acts 2:44-45].  In fact, I endorse the Biblical approach to meeting the needs of the poor—even if equalitarianism might be a pipe dream. I maintain that the benefits and blessings of Christ (material and spiritual) recognize no race, gender, or any other artificial human categorization or status. [Galatians 3:28] I am more a socialist in tone according to some of the liberals I have worked beside over the years. And yet Christianity stands to be “smeared” for two reasons:

  • One, as with the early church, we want a free choice to give [Acts 5:4], which is a democratic idea—not have our resources taken from us by a government that purports to care about the poor without a trustworthy track record of caring.
  • And secondly, and more importantly, democracy and christianity share a common sense of freedom: democracy from tyranny and christianity from sin.  The link between blind justice and grace should not be overlooked. As the late President Reagan reminded us in His “Last Best Hope” speech:

“Freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted. The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight…. …this experiment in liberty, this last best hope of man…” – President Reagan

“Smearing” is a carefully calculated form of lying, using propaganda and misinformation to educate thinking people in accepting false premises and conclusions designed to discredit, trivialize, and ultimately disenfranchise someone. It is the ultimate way of winning an argument on the public stage. That “stage” might be the church.  The ideology in question might be a church vision or a corporate goal or a doctrinal inquiry over issues not clarified in the congregation’s consciousness.  It might condense down to a disagreement between a pastor and a board member which the parishioners get light of and through gossip channels and secret meetings a good christian is ostracized. They no longer have the sense of fellowship that initially drew them to this church.  They have been smeared.

Smearing is a another word for “the lie.”  Smearing someone we oppose either because of their politics or because we don’t subscribe to their religious tenets—or for any other reason—is only possible because we have become expert at hyperbole and deception—at lying. We know how to lie and by mere repetition have it eventually sound truthful. Regarding those we oppose, unless they are the devil incarnate, if they are impassioned about their ideology or faith, there has to be even a little truth in what they are promoting—even if we contend that most of it is gobbledygook. Incidentally, they feel the same way about us!

Simple and unbiased truth, then, is the smear-a-cide that kills the lie.  But who is unbiased!?

Without wanting to document it here (too dark), I observe in reading and writing that there is available a plethora of terms to describe “the lie,” disparaging or derogatory remarks. [James 3:6] It is easier to express hate than love almost as if it were a more natural and spontaneous expression of the self. For a christian, it takes a Christlikeness or a closeness to the Spirit to avoid this pitfall [Galatians 5:22-23]—and that is not “a given” in today’s politically charged world.

The Scripture delineates the lie as a list of verbiage: shaming, putting another down, belittling, insulting, slandering, blurting out misplaced sarcasm, condemning, speaking evil of someone, projecting blame, [whew!] accusing (which is Satan’s job), humiliating, using abusive language. Some of these terms, though, seem mild compared to their modern counterparts. We have, as a civilized people gotten quite good at being verbally hurtful—even without expletives.  Some christians, even in democracies, are beginning to wonder where this is going.  Are we close to our Lord’s return?

According to the prophet Zephaniah [Zephaniah 1:12] there are those who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad’” about such abuse.  “God is not involved,”  they [atheists, and deists among others.]  say, “neither will He get involved.” They imagine that He does not see any need to interfere or intervene in the affairs of this life. They “neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.” [Zephaniah 1:6]

Ah, but wait! The burden of the prophet is to warn a world of hurting people how untrue this supposition is.  Consider what Jesus concluded:

Blessed are you when people defame you, hunt you down and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. – Jesus. [Matthew 5:11]

God may seem not to care much about political races.  I get that. Partisanship engenders intense levels of passion and has divided our nation, but there is a line we dare not cross if we don’t want Him involved. If a believer is thrown into the furnace prepared—in a sense—seven times hotter by the connivances of hatefulness and embittered feelings, we need not be surprised seeing another in there with them likened to the “Son of God.” (I trust you understand the reference: Daniel 3:24-25) There are some whose hubris cannot understand this providential aspect of a caring God. [Zechariah 2:8; 8:17; 1 Peter 5:5]

Ultimately and most assuredly we can hope for and anticipate Zephaniah’s encouraging prophecy. [Zephaniah 3:13] He reassures those who trust in the Lord that a time is coming when in God’s kingdom (under His government), they  “…will do no wrong [injustice and lawlessness].”

…and then the prophet prophesied, “they will tell no lies.

Propaganda, misinformation, false reports, character assassinations, smears, and all forms of “the lie” purged from all our lips. “A deceitful tongue [false promises and words intended to lure, entrap, sting] will not be found in their mouths.” [Revelation 21:8]


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Lost and Found

Zephaniah 1:14 The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. :15 That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness:16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 3:10 From beyond the rivers of Cush [the Nile] my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings. :13 They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.” :17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” :19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame;
 I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. :20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [captivity] before your very eyes,” says the Lord. [NIV]

We need to take a few steps back from the immediate context of Judah in Babylonian captivity to see into the spiritual realm where God’s people need rescuing from this evil age. The message, in other words, is eschatological as well as historical.  God’s people will return not just to the Old Jerusalem but to the New One as well.

The prophet makes no mention of God’s people as the sheep of His fold. [Psalms 23] The reason I choose to describe Judah’s salvation as a rescued lost lamb? Jesus did. [Mt. 18:12-13; Jn 10:7, 11, 27; 21:17].  I am also more comfortable with the Hebrew term translated “lie down” in 3:13, which the lexicon tells us is “used of quadrupeds.” In Genesis 29:2 it is used specifically of sheep. The word “eat” here means “to graze.” Also, the words “scattered” in 3:10, “oppressed” and “lame” in 3:19 remind me of Matthew 9:36.  These are only a few of the many scriptures using this analogy.

Zephaniah prophesied of Israel’s—and by extension all God’s children’s—ultimate restoration. As Walter Brueggmann  summarized,

It is the same “warrior” who makes a future for Israel who had terminated Israel’s present. – [“An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2012. p 279]

Zephaniah 1:15 uses troubling language: 2 words for tribulation (no way out) “That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish,  2 words to speak of total ruin, a wasteland “a day of trouble and ruin, and 3 word to describe absolute darkness (spiritual and in every other way) a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness

The Scriptures intertwine, though, for one cannot talk of restoration without talk of peace. And even though the word SHALOM, peace, is not on the prophet’s lips, it is the beat of his heart.  As Micah said it:

Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. Micah’s 4:4

There are other lessons here. I tried to put some in a poem, but the one overarching one to take away is that God discovered us in the “lost [life ] & found.” [Luke 15:4]

Zephaniah is the prophetic account of a nation that had to discover that the only way to gain tomorrow was to lose today. God had to allow circumstances to humble them, to purge them of a pride that kept them from trusting Him.

But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the LORD. Zephaniah 3:12

Jesus gave us this lesson on perhaps a sunnier day while picnicking on some remote hillside. We listened enthusiastically hanging on His every word, though, perhaps, we may have failed to understand the dynamic in such an idea:

Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. Luke 17:33

This life and its sufferings are not what its ultimately all about. [Matthew 5:10-12; 6:20; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18] The Beatitudes may have been an early lesson in such truth. It was John, perhaps, who first perceived what the Savior was promoting.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:25

“Lose …hate”!? To lose means to waste, ruin, render useless. Hate is, well, hate! But somethings are proper to hate. I like to freely translate this:

Whoever finds this world a friend will waste their life instead of investing it in God. [a lose that is eternal] while whoever finds friendship with this world, and its lack of godliness, abhorrent [Philippians 3:20] will guard their lives [1 Corinthians 9:27] onto eternal life. [2 Timothy 4:18]

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Taking Refuge In the Lord

There is a Hebrew word which means “to take refuge” that is consistently translated “to trust” in the King James Version.  There is a difference in meaning between the two ideas. So, you can imagine my surprise to find such a rarity.The word “trust” has a long history signifying a sense of security originally based on the economy (the “haves” had security; the “have nots” didn’t) and then eventually for those devoted to God, on knowing Him who—as we say—owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Knowing that the Lord provides (Jehovah-Jireh) brings a sense of peace.

Even the common term “Peace” (SHALOM) was tied to ones’s health and prosperity, not just a time of no war.  The ancients were tied to the land. They had a natural inclination to rely on natural resources—not the Lord—for any sense of personal security.  National security included an army, whether their own or through an alliance with another nation.

Even with us, devoted to God as we might be, “trust” in God could be just a religious concept that during times of prosperity we do not need to learn.  Our faith in God might be more a belief or a commitment to church than a genuine and necessary dependence on God for sustenance and support.

Isaiah gave these terms new meaning when he tied our trust and peace solely to a relationship with the Lord. This is a lesson often learned in times of want when we are absolutely dependent on God.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

We also are dependent on certain emotional/spiritual resources like “being loved,” “christian fellowship,” and the “encouragement/support of others to remain faithful to God.” We require these even if our finances are comfortably in order.

So I was surprised to read even in the NIV of Nahum 1:7 the word “to trust” instead of “to take refuge.”

The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.

A far better translation would be the NASB:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

The word is found 37 times in the Old Testament and each time the King James Version translates it “trust” when it means “take refuge”

Psalm 91:4 reads in the KJV:

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

but the NIV reads better:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

The NIV reads more naturally, metaphorically calling God’s protection his wings. (Like a mother eagle protecting her eaglets or a hen her chicks.) This is the point: This word speaks of fleeing to the Lord for protection from circumstances that might otherwise harm or ruin us.  The context of both Psalm 91 and Nahum’s prophecy is fraught with danger and trouble.  It isn’t a statement of faith alone that is required here but an action: fleeing to the Lord for protection.  We flee to Him because we trust Him, but flee we must to survive spiritually as well as in any natural sense.

Isaiah 30:1-2 makes this point clearer:

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit who  go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge!” [KJV: to trust in the shadow of Egypt!]

Judah didn’t just hope that Pharaoh would come to the rescue, they didn’t just trust in Egyptian military might to shoo away the Assyrians.  They went to Egypt and formed an alliance, etc.

God wants us to form that alliance with His Spirit, with Him. Trust is a passive idea, while taking refuge for a believer is active: praying, remaining faithful to God, and living a Christ-centric faith: Christian love in action.

You might want to call “taking refuge under His wing” an active trust or active faith. ..and rightly so…

God … is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5

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The prophet Nahum, scholarship informs, “celebrates the wrathful judgment of YHWH” (the Lord) [against the city of Nineveh].  The second verse uses the Hebrew word translated “vengeance/avenging” 3 times.

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. Nahum 1:2

Did God let his anger get the better of him? Did He  flail about in a vengeful, ‘I’ll-get-even-with-them-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do‘ rage? Is retribution attributable to God or have we misread the truth?

In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he philosophized:

“All anger has a certain pleasure in the expectation of retribution.”

Did God feel “good” to get even with a city He once forgave?

I argue, “No!”

How might a God of love, then, explain His decision to destroy the city?

His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. Nahum 1:6-7

Perhaps, many Christians share David’s sentiment: Any enemy of God is an enemy of mine.  Our zeal to see sin come to an end is only a reflection of God’s greater zeal to do so.

Do I not hate  those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Ps 139:21-22

Theologically we may have disregarded the heart of God while showing a greater interest in what His counsel deemed necessary to end the evil that separated us from Him.

In Ezekiel, vengeance correctly includes “comfort”  (Not Aristotle’s “pleasure” but a compassion for one that requires justice to be administered as judgment on another).  [The Hebrew word from which the prophet Nahum gets his name, all commentators agree means “comfort.”]

“Then my anger will cease … and I will be avenged [comforted]. … they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal….” Ezekiel 5:13

The word “zeal” in Ezekiel 5:13 is elsewhere translated “jealous.”  The unfaithfulness of God’s creation has stirred the great heart to action! God has been “zealous” for renewing the relationship with us He shared with Adam in the beginning. God’s creation through idolatrous practices had abandoned the God who gave them life and His pain has been outside our imagination.

In Nahum [Nahum 1:3], God is not “losing it” in rage as much He is “zealous” to come to the aid of His people, Israel.  And this also puts His great heart at ease.  There is a sense in which anger comforts when it is administered as a form of justice.

God’s jealousy, His unrequited love for His creation, drove Him to so much grief that He could not do nothing.  His sole source of comfort was self-comfort.  In Nahum’s prophecy we have in microcosm God moving against such evil to bring to an end the atrocities inflicted on His people by Nineveh. In the larger context, this is the spirit in which God brings salvation and eradicates all evil.

He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; … so my own arm achieved salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. Isaiah 59:16; 63:5

Another less talked about point is how much grief God endures before He has had “enough”

I am tired of holding back. Of having compassion Jere 15:6

God’s compassion does not have a short fuse but inevitably He must address sin.  [Psalms 86:15; Lamentations 3:22]

The LORD is slow to anger [but eventually, He must have] His way is in the whirlwind and the storm Nahum 1:3

The Apostle Paul, in referring to this word vengeance in Isaiah 63:4 translated it to mean “justice.” [Hebrews 10:30]  What gives it an avenging character is not because God is getting even. (There is no such connotation with this word.)  It is vengeful because it is intense.  It is full of a pathos, a zeal, that needs to see sin finally dealt with.  It is a matter of justice not rage.  Sharon Baker in her book, “Executing God” (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press) explaining Calvary calls Jesus’ death a “… restoration without retaliation [which] demonstrates the most profound level of justice.” [p. 95]

On the Cross God’s throbbing heart tore at the world with every beat—the guard at the cross saw the earthquake [Matthew 27:54]—not out of vengeance but the co-lateral effect of how intensely God was in the moment. Sharon Baker wants us along with the centurion to look up at Jesus and exclaim, “Surely, God does love His creation!”

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The Heart of the Matter

In reading the story of Jonah in the Bible I was struck by the peculiar emphasis given to God’s compassion toward the city of Nineveh.  At a time when the prophets were preaching  woe and exile in Israel, Nineveh was being shown the gentler side of God. Five of the six Old Testament words for compassion are found here.

 He prayed to the LORD, “…I knew that you are a gracious [Ps 116:5] and compassionate [Ps 145:8] God, slow to anger and abounding in love, [Ps 51:1] a God who relents [Ps 119:76] from sending calamity. …

God”s response: And should I not have concern  [Ps 72:13 grieved] for the great city of Nineveh…? Jonah 4:2, 11

If my reader is waiting for a profound explanation (in 800 words!) they expect too much; for, these words expose the heart of God in dealing with His creation.  And how do we fathom this depth!? It has been noted that trying to define God’s grace is like marking out the boundaries of a lake only to discover that we have come to the immeasurable sea.

  • We know that grace, according to the Apostle Paul, is undeserved favor: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. [Ephesians 2:8].
  • We know it is unending:  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace. expressed in his kindness to us  [Ephesians 2:7].

(Toward sin, He went to war [Colossians 2:15] but toward us He shows His gentler side.)

  • We also know it is relational, something harder to explain since we live in the age of consumerism where gifts are ‘things:’ blessings, healings, financial miracles.  In contrast, the gift of God is ultimately nothing more nor less than the Gift of God HIMSELF. [John 3:16]

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Romans 5:8]. The whole idea of God’s compassion toward us—which we accept through repentance—is built grammatically on the idea of something called the “passive.”  In English, the passive idea means: accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance.  In other words, whatever happens to us is in no way because of us. The Classical Hebrew language and Old Testament theology do not represent this idea clearly. [Job 34:11; Matthew 16:27; John 9:2] One Hebrew scholar, Gesenius, teaches that grace in Ancient Israel comes to mean a passive idea “in consequence of a looseness of thought.” [Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford, England:Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 1909), 137.]

The Old Testament word for “grace” does not have the New Testament emphasis for the same word, requiring the prophets to replace it with the word Mercy. A study of this word shows that it refers only to God. The New Testament word for “compassion” likewise only refers to Christ and His church.  The Word for “love” [agape] is new to Scripture and is descriptive of who God is according to the Apostle John [I John 4:8]. 2 Timothy 1:9 would sound confusing in Old Israel: For God saved us … not because we deserved it, but … to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

So what about Nineveh?  Jonah understood.  He was depressed because as he said, “I knew it!  They repent and you, God, go to mush and forgive them!  And they are our enemy!  … Leave me alone to die!!

I come from ‘Nineveh’—and so do you (If you are not Jewish)!

Jonah was invited to participate in God’s grief [our word; concern], to have a glimpse of God’s great heart of compassion and love.  Someday the Apostle Paul would declare this truth as mysterious as it was glorious, when Jesus, God’s Son, would be “…preached among the nations, … and believed on in the world…” [I Timothy 3:16]

Walter Brueggmann, an Old Testament scholar, spoke of “a revolutionary shift in God’s will,” “the language of amazement,” and “God’s radical freedom” to describe this moment to all Jonah’s who still do not get it, that God will show mercy on whomever He wants. [Exodus 33:19]

“When Jesus died on the cross the mercy of God did not become any greater. It could not become any greater, for it was already infinite. We get the odd notion that God is showing mercy because Jesus died. No–Jesus died because God is showing mercy. It was the mercy of God that gave us Calvary, not Calvary that gave us mercy. If God had not been merciful there would have been no incarnation, no babe in the manger, no man on a cross and no open tomb.” [A.W. Tozier The Attributes of God: A Journey Into the Father’s Heart]

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I’m bored.  I am not depressed, though, perhaps, a tad discouraged.  But I am clearly bored! I wake up around 4:00 each morning and l lie there wondering what I want to do this day of my retirement, but I come up with nothing.

I looked up the word “bored” in the Bible and got this:

But Jehoiada the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it…. – 2 Kings 12:9

I found this, though, in the Message translation:

“Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me! … This is God speaking to you! = Malachi 1:12-13


I’m still bored.  Is it the medication? I got a hormone shot and 20 pills plus my “markers” [injections before radiation for treating my cancer].  I don’t even find the young women on the news particularly attractive anymore.  I do know I love my wife but beside the occasional hug … nothing. [‘nough said.  Too much said!!]

I’m bored.

I don’t want to return to work. Each time I visit any place of business shopping or just cruising stores I am thankful I don’t have to do that for a living.

I am reading a book which is interesting (I have many such books) but I don’t know why I choose this one over the others and when I finish this book, if I finish this book, will I reread another from my library?  I spend time fishing in my study for a good book with no bites.

I got excited about studying the minor prophets—our pastors are into these on Sunday mornings.  So, I decided to study along which is a great idea for a guy like me (a former pastor), but I ran into a road block—my brain cell count.  You see: I study from the classical Hebrew but I am running into new words “up-the-wazoo” and my brain cannot keep up.  (I wish I were at least 20 years younger.)  And there are so many exceptions to some rule of grammar that even the commentators are in total disagreement as to the translation.  Well, that’s that.

I am not depressed.  I still cling to life.  I discovered this about myself this past week while in recovery in the hospital (I had a “procedure” in the O.R.) when my blood pressure nose dived to 60 over 40.  I could feel myself losing consciousness.  I had my finger on the buzzer like in a quiz show and the doctor and nurses were right there to address the situation.  I am O.K.—now—but I didn’t “feel” ready yet to leave this sphere.  I firmly believe that when the time comes God’s grace will herald the glorious moment and all will be peace.

We dropped Netflix …nothing to watch!  There are movies to watch except none that interest me and I am through for now looking down lists.

Facebook?  Social networking?  Not really interested right now.  I watched a little YouTube.  I like the old hymns I find out there.  And I watch old episodes of “Gunsmoke” on DVR, prerecorded. (I used to watch these as a kid with my uncle.) But I delete most of them without watching.

The news!? Yuck!  I get a little bit of news first thing in the morning.  I “catch up” then but I am embarrassed by the childishness that passes for congressional activity these days.

I like  walking but not in the rain or bitter cold. (Guess what kind of weather we have been having?)

There is one thing I enjoy …PEOPLE!  I like talking to the wife and an occasional phone conversation with a friend.  But is boredom contagious? I don’t need to wear out my welcome with them.

Well, I am bored typing and I don’t know what I want to do next ….  Maybe another cup of coffee.

Oh, count the words. there are 666.

I’m still bored.

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God, through Amos, writes the words to His dirge, [“lamentation” Amos 5:1], which we might be loathe to study because it is so grim.  Israel is seen here as a wasteland, desolate and forsaken.  “Professional mourners” [Amos 5:16] walked the devastation.  There was no hoped for tomorrow described here.

Lying hidden within this sacred text is the message of a heartbroken God.  Amos’ words have relevance to our time and should stir the soul and awaken us to consider its woeful cry. Though dark and foreboding there is much in this prophecy that parallels the current age in a postmodern world; so, we do good to review this book with the heart not just the head, with a look at the pain Israel has caused God through their faithless wanderings into idol worship.  We need to empathize with His efforts to win them back rather than only have an eschatological [book of Revelation] perspective.

God has feelings—deep feelings. He knows jealousy [Exodus 34:14]. And sinful man lacks the empathic understanding to discern the spiritual significance of this at their own peril. But God has shared His thoughts with those of faith who love Him.

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan [in familiar and intimate converse] to his servants…. [Amos 3:7]

So when Amos asked, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” [Amos 3:3] God is alerting us to the appointment He has made with His church, as He once did with Abraham, to provide opportunity for us to intercede in prayer for those who are strolling cockily into His crosshairs. The commentator correctly calls this “more than a trivial truth” [Keil Commentary of the Old Testament, vol X. p260.]

In this ancient picture of Israel’s maverick indifference to an impassioned God we see in microcosm the direction and end of all humanity. Amos’ question, “Does a lion roar .. when it has no prey?” [Amos 3:4], is an aphoristic way, perhaps, of alerting all of us to God’s roar [Hosea 11:10].

Amos’ prophecy is a description of a spiritual darkness [Amos 5:20] deeper than the blackness of a sunless earth in the beginning [Genesis 1:2] Here is the record of a people who abhorred God’s correction [Amos 5:10] as though He had no right to His desire to have them back.  His longing after us would inevitably cost Him; for, no effort short of Calvary was sufficient to create a people capable of being faithful to Him.

Amos’ picture was bleak. Israel’s spiritual and political leaders were sprawled out on couches comfortably gorging themselves, banqueting [Amos 6:4].  Thinking themselves like David, who wrote many a psalm in praise of God’s faithfulness and mercy, the wealthy in Amos’ day were composing and singing “frivolous nonsense” tunes [Keil, p300], pure “noise” [Amos 5:23 KJV] as they bragged on about their religious commitments (to idols).  They boasted of their giving [Amos 4:4] and their attendance at the required festivals. They sacrificed leavened meal [Amos 4:5] in violation of the ceremonial law while the poor were dying of starvation [Amos 8:4].  The “cows,” the elite ladies of Israel, demanded of their husbands, “Bring us a tall, cool drink!” [Amos 4:1 MSG] in total disregard for what was happening in the real world outside. And justice could be purchased for a price [Amos 2:6]; she was not blind.

…And what was happening in the heart of God? God resists the proud, now [James 4:6] as then [Amos 6:8].  He lamented, “yet have you not returned unto me” [oft repeated, Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11].  Then God trumpeted the alarm, “Therefore this is what I will do to you, … Israel, prepare to meet your God.” [Amos 4:12]

How does Israel, or this present age, “prepare” to “meet” Him! I thought the church might have an answer but Amos seemed to discourage dialogue:

Those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time [Amos 5:13 NLT]

“Warnings are of no avail,” interprets the commentator [Keil, p. 284]. The time for talking,  is past?

In a complete or final sense, historically, we are not there yet.  But there are a few for whom our words are meaningless chatter and prayer is the only recourse.

If you think about it: The Bible is the story of God’s, how-be-it, broken relationship with His creation and the pain He carried through the centuries of human history because of it. Mankind was always religious but somehow we needed our props and relics to have a sense of the divine. We were too tightly tied to the physical or natural world (and some through science still are) to understand that God could be accessible through faithful worship of Him and Him alone.

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The Assembly

Hiding in plain site when we read the Bible devotionally are countless nuggets of truth that await that prayerful moment to be revealed.  Sometimes it’s a word; sometimes it is in the language.  And sometimes we might look at the punctuation.

Look at Hebrews 12:22-23:

But you have come to Mount Zion, …. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly….

In the original: assembly is a single word. The original word is not “assembly” but “joyous assembly.” The word speaks to a festive occasion, a celebration where there’s dancing and singing. The translators of the Old Testament into the Greek language used this word in Isaiah 66:10 to describe the Hebrew word “to dance and leap for joy.”

Isaiah descriptively adds: “rejoice greatly.”  The word “rejoice” in the Hebrew suggests a horselike “prancing,” an almost giddy, fidgeting where the participants are too overjoyed to stand still.  The praise of God is on their lips and in their feet!

This in not just an assembly; it is a festive one. It is heaven’s version of a New Year’s Eve at the start of all new beginnings in Christ, a celebration heightened by the appearance of Jesus and the saints of previous spiritual victories.  It undoubtedly highlights the songs of praise to God for Calvary.

Jesus spoke of this excitement among the angels over a single person coming to faith.

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents – Luke 15:10

How much greater should we suppose their joyous celebration now that the innumerable company of the saints is assembled!  Oh, how we have longed for this moment!!

But who is in this “assembly”?  Are they just the angels?  Or does this assembly include the church? It is not clear who the “angels” are in verse 22.  In Matthew 11:10 John the Baptist is called an “angel” because the word means “messenger”.  If these are the “cloud of witnesses” in verse 1, the saints who have preceded us, dare we expand this group to include the entire (verse 23) “…church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven”?

It is in part a question of punctuation (punctuation is not inspired) whether our word “assembly” is the last word of verse 22 or the first word of verse 23.  If it belongs in verse 23, it is better understood to refer to the church.  If it is part of verse 22, it refers to the thousands of messengers (angels?) in attendance.

So, who exactly is celebrating God’s achievements among His people?

The entire twelfth  chapter is a caution to remain faithful, to be holy, to stay on the straight and narrow even if persecuted. Writing to the church, the  writer’s tone changes to that of a solemn warning when he reminds us of unfaithful Israel’s lost opportunity under Moses.

The writer of Hebrews (may I say, Paul?) rolls back the curtain. We have the privilege here to be in attendance at—from our present perspective—this unimaginable and glorious festivity on Mount Zion in contrast to Israel’s experience (in the Old Testament) at the foot of Mount Sinai on fire.  That scene was so terrifying that even Moses was “trembling with fear.” [verse 21] 

Paul, then, speaking to us,  adds:

 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.  … let us be thankful, and … worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, — verse 25, 28.

(We should put this verse on a  plaque hanging on our bedroom wall.)

Be thankful, and …
worship God acceptably
with reverence and awe.

The words reverence and awe take on a more somber tone.

There is no room here for the fear of persecution or shame from living outside a life of holiness.    This is a celebration of the grace of God!

… throw off … the sin that so easily entangles – verse 1

Worship includes service—an idea common in Paul’s writings.  This is not the church service but the church in service—non-compulsory service.  We serve Him because we love Him.

This is a pious fear of God.  Piety, yes!  But also a fear, a respect, a profound acknowledgment of His omnipotent love.  It is a devotion to God resolved to forevermore honor Him.

This word, scholarship says, describes a “repugnance” (a shame) to doing anything that might dishonor God. Our awe speaks to a lasting humility that must never lose sight of what God has done for us.

It behooves us, especially when our faith is most tested or the cross we carry feels heaviest, that we, as Paul began, “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

To those who overcome: There is a great victory celebration coming!

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