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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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I wrote a blog post about four years ago regarding the believing community's tendency to wrench Jeremiah 29:11 from its context, and how we need to give greater care, and show greater respect when working with passages of scripture. We will revisit that concept today.

Jeremiah 29:11 is ubiquitous, easily found in memes, on Tee Shirts, bumper stickers, and posters. It can be heard in sermons and is sung in praise choruses. It is the ultimate feel-good passage - one with which you are undoubtedly familiar.

'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.' - Jeremiah 29:11, NIV-1978

How can we read, sing, or hear that without smiling and feeling warm inside. It is a verse promising hope, surety, prosperity. We want to do a fist-pump and shout, "YES!"

So, why write about this again? It is because I have heard, or read this verse three times in the last two days, and in each case (as is almost always the case with this verse) it was dislodged from its context and used in a way that suggests that God was/is speaking these words to us. He was not, and is not.

Context

The context of Jeremiah 29 is a context of captivity. As punishment for the sins of Judah, God allowed his people to be carried off into Babylonian captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar. From a worldly standpoint, Nebuchadnezzar did this as a retaliation when Judean King Jehoiakim stopped paying tribute to him.

Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed the city, including the temple, and transplanted some 10,000 Jews from Judea to Babylon. Their lives were completely uprooted. They were vulnerable, destitute, and bewildered, not knowing what to do with themselves.

God's message to the captives, through Jeremiah, was to live their lives in that circumstance. Build homes, plant gardens, marry, have children. God told them they were going to be in Babylon for a very long time, and it is in that context that God says, "I know the plans I have for you..."

Expanding our focal context by backing up one verse to Jeremiah 29:10, Jeremiah assures God's people that the captivity is temporary, and that they will return home after seventy years. Bear in mind, however, this assurance was spoken to them as a nation, a culture. Given a seventy-year captivity, many, if not most of them died in Babylon.

This is what the LORD says, 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.' - Jeremiah 29:11, NIV-1978
This is God's assurance to his people that though they are in captivity, they are not forsaken. They will not be in captivity forever, but rather, they will be restored. God has plans for them as a people, a nation.

Afterward, God said, "'Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity'" (Jeremiah 29:12-14a, NIV-1978).

As with verse eleven, this latter passage was not written or spoken to us, yet you likely recognize it as another meme, tee-shirt, bumper-sticker verse. It was written for a nation of people who were enslaved six centuries before Jesus was even born.

Does that mean, then, that the passage is of no value to me? Is there anything I can glean from it?

Yes, there is.

Continuance

Jeremiah 29:10-14 teaches us about the heart of God for his people, and how he extends grace and mercy toward those he loves. We know he is YHWH, and that he changes not. As God, within his own nature, acts on behalf of those he has chosen and loves, though the specific promises of Jeremiah 29 were not spoken to us, or about us, we can extend the concepts of Jeremiah 29 to the church today.

The explicit promises of Jeremiah 29 were made to the Babylonian exiles, and we have similar promises God has made to the Christ-followers of today, promises of deliverance from our enslavement to sin, promises of righteousness and justification, promises of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Just as God had plans for a hope and a future for the Babylonian exiles, he has plans for hope in Christ, and a future in his presence for us. Those are awe-inspiring realities.

While it is true that Jeremiah 29:11 was never intended to apply to the Christ follower, if we consider our secure blessing in Christ, the sentiment expressed to the exiles by God through Jeremiah is appropriate and applicable. Jesus will never abandon us. The Holy Spirit works within us. We will fully realize our inheritance in Christ when this life is completed.

Blessings upon you. I hope to see you on the other side.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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This coming Sunday (August 11, 2019), I have the privilege of bringing the word of God to the family of faith at Victory Christian Fellowship in Lynden, Washington. We will be talking about the nobleman who went away to receive a kingdom and then returned (Luke 19:12-27). With so many unknowns in the world, so much uncertainty, one thing we can be sure of, King Jesus is returning. Bank on it.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. - Revelation 1:7, NIV-1978
Be very clear - Jesus IS coming, not "will come." Later in this same book, we read, "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed" (Revelation 16:15, NIV-1978).

His coming is a sure thing, but it will happen with no preamble, no "ready, set, go." Thus, it is something for which we need always to be prepared, expectant.

The Timing

The coming of Jesus is a future event for those of us alive today. Yet, in Revelation 1:7 it is spoken of with such surety, as though it had already taken place. The verse says he "is coming," or "cometh," as though it is happening as we speak.

We humans are time-bound and linear. We have a past, and we remember it. We have right now, and we have what is yet to come. It is difficult (but helpful) for us to grasp what it means not to be bound by time, to exist outside of time, where it is always "now," which is itself an expression of time.

That's where Jesus is - outside if time - so, he can say he "is actively coming" even though, for us, it is a future event, just as Jesus can say, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58).

Just bank on it, and be ready. Though it is a future event, Christ will return.

The Clouds

Revelation says he is coming with the clouds. The cloud theme is popular with God. You'll recall that a pillar of cloud led the Hebrew people on their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:21-22). Now, Jesus is coming "with" the clouds just as the prophet Daniel prophesied.

I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. - Daniel 7:13, NASB
Jesus echoed this reality in Matthew's gospel. "Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30, ESV) That sounds very much like what the apostle John said above in our focal verse from Revelation.

Similarly, Jesus said this in Mark's gospel, "And Jesus said, 'I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Following Jesus' resurrection, he was talking with the disciples and was taken to heaven in a cloud right before their eyes. It had to mess with their minds just a bit to watch that happen.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." - Acts 1:9-11
According to the German scholar Friedrick Düsterdieck, later Jews referred to the Messiah as the "Cloud-Man."

The Clatter

When this cloud return happens, it will be no secret. Everyone will know!

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. - 1 Thessalonians 4:16, NASB
I'm not certain what the shout from an archangel and the trumpet of God sound like but I fully expect it will have my complete attention!

John says, "Every eye shall see him," and he does not specifically say that includes only those who are alive at the time. This seems to include the living and the dead, Jew and Gentile, saved and unsaved. We will all see this amazing return! For some it will be thrilling, and for others, terrifying.

Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." - John 20:29, NASB

The Response

Though John does not specify this, for those who are in Christ, the bride of Christ, this will be a very exciting event. Not so much for those who are not in Christ.

The tormentors of Christ will be in great distress. Those who pierced him will be in anguish as it becomes clear what are the consequences of their actions. Clearly, this is a reference to Israel, but by extension, the collective sins of all humanity pierced Jesus.

Some have been reconciled to God through the sinless blood of the Lamb (Jesus), and we will delight at his appearing. Others have not been reconciled and refuse to be so. Even so, he is coming. Trim your wick and keep your lamp lit. When you least expect it, expect it.

Blessings upon you. I hope to see you there.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Sometimes the simplest passage or single verse of scripture can be profound in its impact, packing a punch that is easy to read past. Occasionally I find myself reading through a chapter, or an entire book and though I would never verbalize it, in my mind I subconsciously say, "Yeah, yeah, I've read this before. I know what it says. Move along - move along."

There is a verse just like this in the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Rome. It is a very well-known verse, one I have read dozens of times, and one I have used extensively in my evangelistic efforts. Most of you will recognize it and likely many of you can quote it verbatim.

The Gospel in a Single Verse

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23, ESV

This brief verse is commonly paired with Romans 3:23, where we read that we have all sinned, every one of us, and we all fall short of God's glory. In our target verse, we see what the result of that sin is, and historically, evangelistically, I have focused on the hammer-blow of "death" in that verse.

While that pairing of verses and focal point is not inaccurate, it misses the full beauty of what is contained in Romans 6:23, and as I read it last evening, I was struck by how much I have been missing in this single verse from Paul's letter. From a certain perspective, Paul has laid out the entire gospel in one sentence.

A Trio of Duplets

In Paul's single-verse gospel, we have two phrases connected with "but." When I look at the two phrases, I see three key elements in each phrase with a corresponding element in the other phrase. The elements point out the contrast between where we were and where we are, in the case of Christ-followers, and where we are versus where we need to be in the case of non-Christ-followers.

The Wage verses The Gift

Note the opening of each phrase - the wages verses the gift. The use of the term "wages" is interesting to me because my wage is something I earn. I work for a wage. It is due me because of my efforts. So, my actions and choices have earned me this result. In the Romans 6 case, it is a result (death) that I really don't care for, but I cannot argue with my due. It's what I have earned.

A gift, on the other hand, is not earned and may even be undeserved. It is something freely given to me. The gift, in this case, is an expression of God’s character. God is love, and out of that love he sends his good gifts to us like water cascading over the rocks of a waterfall. All we need to do is accept the gifts.

Sin verses God

Next we look at the sources. In the former, the source of the wage is my sin - not Satan. Me, my sin. In the latter, the source of the gift is God. So we have a contrast of sinful and sinless, and from that wages and gifts. It is a contrast of opposites. The sinful requires a wage, a payment, while the sinless offers the gift. Sin takes away while God freely gives.

Death Outcome verses Life Outcome

In our final contrast, we see opposing outcomes - death versus life. We have eternal conscious existence completely separated from God in contrast with eternal conscious existence in the presence of God. We have a choice of an existence cut off from all love, light, goodness, mercy, compassion - basically everything that God is - a choice between being separated from those things, or bathing in their presence in abundance. Death versus life.

The Location

The gift is found in a specific location. It is "in Christ," because it is based on the completed work of Christ. Jesus is the one who took on the wages of my sin and your sin. And through faith in him and his work, we accept that gift from him.

If you would like a fuller study of the implications of being "in Christ," you can download a copy of my in Christ study here.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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There is a phrase that has been growing in popularity, one you may or may not have heard, but one you most certainly will hear if you are paying attention. I am uncertain of the origin or first use of the phrase "post-truth," but it seems to have gained momentum with the Oxford Dictionary's choosing it as their 2016 "Word of the Year."

The Oxford Dictionary defines post-truth as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." With the post-truth mentality fully embedded, we live in a society in which many view adherences to truth as less virtuous than our arrival at a desired end or outcome.

Post-truth is a logical extension of post-modernism, a belief system which professes the denial of objective truth as a reality. From this position, post-modernism claims an absence of absolute reality, which is a self-denying proposition. If there are no absolutes, then we cannot say (absolutely) that there are no absolutes.

Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary defines truth as "Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be..."

When the Roman Prefect, Pilate, asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), he was asking one of the most vital questions our society can ask. If we cannot know what is true or untrue, what is real or unreal, then Jesus' very reason for taking on flesh and coming to the earth is a proposition of insanity.

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.. - John 18:37b, ESV

If Jesus came to testify to the truth, but there is no such thing as truth, then Jesus' entire purpose was an exercise in futility, and he is arguably a nutball. 1 John 3:8 says Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, the one Jesus says "is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). Jesus seems pretty clear on the idea that there is truth, and there are lies.

In his book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and deception in contemporary life, Ralph Keyes says, "At one time we had truth and lies. Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false."

Isaiah and Jeremiah describe the current-generation attitude toward truth well, saying "truth has stumbled in the streets" (Isaiah 59:14). "Truth is nowhere to be found..." (Isaiah 59:15). "Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips" (Jeremiah 7:28).

Keys points out that deception is now called "spin," and lying is merely "misspeaking," or "remembering differently." Bold-faced lies are now considered "casual dishonesty." We also participate in this reclassification carnival, characterizing lies in news broadcasts not as lies, but as "fake news."

"This is post-truth. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit" says Keyes.

Amid such societal chaos, a voice ringing with truth and clarity is a welcome boon.

Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. - John 18:37b, NIV - 1978

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." - John 14:6a, ESV

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. - John 8:32, NIV-1978

The apostle Paul confirms the reality of truth and absolutes, saying that men "suppress the truth" in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), and that the god of this world has blinded the world against the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). He describes the church as a "pillar and buttress of the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4).

John tells us that both grace and truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). One key apparatus in the armor of God is the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14). The indwelling Holy Spirit of God is called "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16-17). Paul describes one who surrenders to Christ for salvation as one who has "come to a knowledge of truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

We cannot treat the abandonment of objective, absolute truth as a small matter. It is not. Indeed, this is a matter of utmost importance. Life itself depends on our view of truth.

I'll close with this exhortation from the apostle Paul to the believers in Thessalonica. Notice, especially their refusal to believe the truth. It's not that they did not see it. They refused it.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. - 2 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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I took three semesters of New Testament Greek while studying at Harding University - School of Biblical Studies. One of my fondest memories is of a road trip I took with a brother in Christ, a drive from Arkansas to Kansas and back. I don't recall the purpose of the trip, but what I do recall is that rather than listen to the radio, we opted to use our time on the road to translate the book of Colossians. (Remember that, Smokey?)

I'm sure our translational work was lacking in many respects, and laughable to genuine translational scholars, but the point is, we did it. We were able to do it. Now? Not so much.

Just recently, I purchased Jonathan Kline's Keep Up Your Biblical Greek in Two Minutes a Day. As I work through it each morning, I see how woefully inadequate my translational abilities have become through non-use. It is going to take genuine effort to get them back to the level they once were.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- 2 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV

The Gift Needs Stirring/Fanning to Flame

Note what the apostle Paul is saying and not saying to Timothy. Paul is not directing Timothy to pursue new spiritual gifting, but rather to stir afresh what is already there, to rekindle the flames of his gifting. Over the years, I have worked with believers who obsess over chasing newer and better gifts, all the while neglecting the gifts already within them.

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. - 1 Timothy 4:14, ESV

Neglecting our gifts causes them to atrophy. The Spirit of God does not leave us (John 14:16), but neglecting the spiritual gift within us will cause its flame to wane, and to need "kindling afresh." Remember, friend, it is possible both to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

The Gift is Not Timid

for God gave us a spirit not of fear - 2 Timothy 1:7a, ESV

The word for fear, δειλιος (deilios), signifies something along the lines of timidity or cowardice, rather than terror. Just as our spiritual gifting can atrophy, it is equally useless if we are too timid or cowardly to use it.

The Gift is Not Power, but it Comes With Power

It is easy to confuse the gift with the power. The gift is not power, but the spiritual gift comes with power. It is enhanced by power. It comes with everything we need to put the gift to effective use.

God has given us not a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of δυναμις (dunamis), power! This is the word from which we derive our term "dynamite." That's power, folks! Light that fuse and fan that flame. Let loose the spiritual power within you.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. - Romans 12:11, NIV-1978
Power and timidity polar opposites, as are power and cowardice.

The Gift is Not Love, but it Comes With Love

The gift also comes with love. As with the power, so it is with love. Love is not the gift, but the gift comes with love. The fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22).

Love regulates our gifting, because without love, we fall to the temptation to misuse the gifts, to distort them, and use them for personal glory and fulfillment. We go the way of Diotrephes who advanced himself and despised authority (3 John 1:9).

Love is the perfect answer to timidity and cowardice, becasue "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).

The Gift is Not Self-Control, but it Comes With Self-Control

The gift is not self-control, but the gift comes with self-control, and self-control regulates the gift. As with love, self-control, σωπφρονισμου (sophronismou), is fruit of the Spirit. It is a combination term, melding two verbs, to save and to control, thus safe control, or even control that saves. Whatever the case, with power, love, and safe control, believers can radically transform the world in which we live.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. - 1 Peter 4:10, NIV-1978

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
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Twitter - @DamonJGray
Bible Gateway Blogger Grid
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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν