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Weekly Observations and Commentary

Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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This week, we entered a time for Christ-followers that is traditionally referred to as "Advent," a celebration of the arrival of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. As with many holidays, this one has been commercialized and all but stripped of its meaning. Much of the populace has no idea that Christmas has anything at all to do with Jesus, and many of those who do know of that connection cannot say much beyond the fact that Jesus was born, and we celebrate that.

But why? Why was he born?

The driving force behind the events we celebrate as the Christmas holiday is the reconciliation of humanity to God. That's the reason we have the incarnation, the virgin birth, the visit of the angels to the shepherds, the visit of the magi. It's all wrapped up in reconciliation.

The God of heaven taking on flesh, enduring the passion, death, burial, and resurrection inspires nothing less than awe from an attentive humanity, and it screams at us the extent to which God earnestly desires to forgive us, and for us to be reconciled to him. It is his gift - his expression of love.

As we are increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29), seeking and setting our minds on things that are above (Colossians 3:1-2), our entire worldview changes. We move from judgment and begrudging to being Christlike dispensers of mercy, reconciliation, love, and peace. Taking our cue from the Jesus, we become conduits of grace, restoration, and renewal.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. - Colossians 3:12-13, ESV

So critical is this concept that Jesus makes my granting of forgiveness a foundation for my receiving forgiveness from the Father.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. - Matthew 6:14-15, ESV

It is not a one-time event. The same person may sin against us repeatedly, and we forgive just as repeatedly (Luke 17:3-4). Multiple sins require multiple forgivenesses. Seventy times seven.

One may object, however, saying, "But wait! They haven't repented of their sin. They haven't even asked for me to forgive them." The idea here is that one who is unrepentant or who has not asked to be forgiven exempts us from extending forgiveness.

It's a good argument! We will look at that in next week's blog posting.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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One of the great difficulties for many to get beyond is the posture of viewing God as against us, accusing us, waiting in eager anticipation for our next stumble. God is viewed as endlessly shoving his finger in our faces, expressing his disappointment in (if not anger toward) how poorly we measure up.

It is more aligned with reality to see God as repeatedly using his finger to assist us, than to accuse us - to defend us, than to destroy us. God has always worked for the good of his people.

When the Hebrew nation suffered under the cruel slavery of the Egyptians, God raised up a leader in Moses, a leader to deliver his people from the yoke of enslavement. After observing a series of miraculous works done by Yahweh through Moses and his brother Aaron, even the Pharaoh's magicians were forced to admit, "This is the finger of God" working on behalf of his people (Exodus 8:19, ESV).

After leaving enslavement in Egypt, when Moses led the Hebrews to the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses climbed the mountain, and there, the finger of God wrote the tables of testimony.

And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. - Exodus 31:18, ESV
The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. - Deuteronomy 9:10, ESV

Moving to the time of Jesus, we see the finger of God cleansing those possessed of demons. The Pharisees accused Jesus of working by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. In response, Jesus made his renowned statements regarding Satan casting out Satan, and a kingdom divided against itself. He then said, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20, ESV).

But the most well-known incident involving the finger of God is that of the adultery accusation in John's gospel. For those unfamiliar with the story, I'll relate the core of it here:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?"  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. - John 8:3-9, ESV

Discussion abounds regarding what Jesus wrote in the ground each time he stooped, and while there is an element of curiosity regarding that, the greater issue is the involvement of that finger in the pardon of the woman standing before him. We know this is a trap for Jesus, and the woman was just a pawn in the game of the accusers.

Technically, the accusers are correct - that the Law does call for the death of the woman. But, curiously, it calls for the death of the man as well (Deuteronomy 22:22). Yet the man is conspicuously absent from this scene.

It is also commonly asserted that Jesus forgave the woman. Again, technically, he did not. He never spoke forgiveness to her, as he did to the woman who tended his feet as he dined with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:48). Forgiveness may be implied, however, in his refusal to condemn her. The finger that wrote in the dirt is the finger of the same God who wrote the Law into the tablets of stone, a Law that called for the death of the adulterers. Yet when given the opportunity to execute that Law, the finger of God rescued the woman from judgment.

Throughout history, the finger of God has worked for humanity rather than against us. Be comforted in that fact.

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say — if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters. Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. - Psalm 124:1-8, ESV

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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In the tenth chapter of Luke's gospel, and the twenty-second chapter of Matthew's gospel, we find Jesus speaking of the greatest and second-greatest commandments. The greatest commandment, of course, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Luke's rendering includes all your strength.

The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as our self. On this and on the greatest commandment hangs all the law and the prophets.

The Jewish teachers of Jesus' day took the word of God and applied their own interpretive filter to it, defining "neighbor" as their own nation, their own race, their own religious affiliates, their friends. It is easy to love people in these categories. It is easy to love people who are just like me, because . . . they are just like me.

Just as we are often wont to do, the Jewish teachers made inferences from what God said, reading further into it to determine truths (errant conclusions) from what God didn't say. If God said we should love our neighbor (nation, race, religion, friends) then, by extension, he must also be saying that we should hate our enemies.

Love Your Enemy

If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. - Exodus 23:4-5, ESV
You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. - Deuteronomy 23:7, ESV

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, we are to believe he means it. Jesus is the one who set the example, loving us while we were hostile toward him. Infused with that grace, and the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, we are called and empowered to jettison the profane bitterness that boils in our stomachs.

Where there is a tendency to curse, we bless. Where there is an inclination to hate, we love. Where there are lies, we speak truth. Where there is ridicule, we show honor. Where there is bitterness, we grant forgiveness.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. - 1 Peter 3:9, ESV

Active Love

What Jesus is calling us to is action beyond words - action beyond emotion. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus tells us to καλως ποιειτε - to perform nobly, rightly, honorably on their behalf. This goes far beyond just "feeling better" toward them. We are actively engaging on their behalf, for their good. In speaking of enemies, Archbishop Cranmer said, "Be ready to do them all the real kindness you can, and glad of an opportunity to do it."

The cliché today holds that actions speak louder than words, and that is true in this case as well. We can speak lovingly to or about our persecutors, but to actually perform nobly on their behalf, well, that's a whole no level of bizarre! When the army of Jesus begins to take this seriously, and engages the world at this level, it will blow their minds, because the world does not behave in this way, and cannot even comprehend such behavior.

Fervent Prayer

We are to "pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you." It is no great shock to Christ followers that we are hated and persecuted. Jesus was very clear that this would happen. What we need to see now is that such persecutions present us with an opportunity to follow in Christ's steps by praying for our persecutors.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus we pray that God will forgive them, that they suffer no ill-will for their foul treatment of us. We pray on their behalf, and ours, that God will allow us to be at peace with our enemies.

Perfection

Having this attitude toward our enemies, we project the character of God, who causes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). We become τελεις (telios). The idea behind telios is not one of sinless perfection, but rather completeness, or maturity.

These calls from Jesus are deeply challenging, but they are fully in line with what we have experienced in our own coming to Christ. In Christ, our heavenly Father loved us, his enemies, and cleared the way for us to be his children. In similar fashion, we offer forgiveness and friendship to our enemies.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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I am not a politician, though I did once run for public office, and seriously doubt I will ever do so again. It is too messy. I even got so far as to serve as the County Vice-Chair for a major political party. I have been unaffiliated for about ten years now. The more deeply one dives into politics, the uglier the environment becomes, regardless of affiliation.

It's no great secret that politicians often do not mean what they say, and do not expect to be believed, or taken seriously. By and large a candidate will say what must be said to secure the vote. A candidate can say "I hate glug, but love rapft" to a given crowd, then travel to the next town and say, "I love glug but hate rapft" without feeling the slightest bit contradictory.

Jesus was not, and is not a politician. He does not speak out of both sides of his mouth. He does expect both to be believed and to be taken seriously.

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:43-48, ESV

Jesus is not speaking rhetoric or hyperbole. He's serious! We are to love our enemies and pray on behalf of (not against) our persecutors. Jesus is so serious about this that he will say it again.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. - Luke 6:27-31, ESV

I am convinced to the core of my being that Jesus, our Lord and Master, is speaking quite literally, and he expects to be taken seriously by his followers - by us. This command, direct from the mouth of God-in-the-flesh is ubiquitous in its application. There is none owning an exemption from the command, and there is none to whom its instruction does not apply.

Neither do I see any possibility of following through on Jesus' command if we stand in stubborn refusal to forgive our enemies. Through obedience to Jesus, our enemy, by definition, becomes our neighbor, and the object of our love. In his cursing, our enemy is granted our blessing. In his abuse, he is the object of our intercession before the throne of God.

How can Jesus ask this of us? How can he possibly expect us to follow through on such a lofty command?

Jesus can ask this of us because it is what Jesus offered us in himself.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8, NASB
Jesus did not wait for us to clean up our act. He did not instruct us to first purify ourselves. No. While we were eyebrows deep, mired in sin, at enmity with God, Jesus died, was buried, and rose for our forgiveness. How then can we deny anything less than active, loving engagement on behalf of those who live in enmity with us?

When we bless those who curse us, do good for those who hate us, pray for those who selfishly abuse us, it bleeds the bitterness out of our sentiment toward them, bending us to a posture of compassion. It is difficult to hate a man while I am praying for the blessing of God on his life.

When we behave in this way, we show ourselves to be children of the Father in heaven. We invest in the lives of men and women who need the grace of God every bit to the degree that we need it.

I believe this introductory look at a difficult call from Jesus is a steep enough challenge for this week. Next week we will take up our literary shovel and dig just a little more deeply into this astonishing command from the Lord and Master, Jesus.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Last week I had an unexpected exchange of ideas with a handful of people in the comments section of my literary agent's blog. My agent, Tamela, had written a blog posting titled I Have No Plans to Write That Book. She was pressing us to write what it makes sense for us to write, while avoiding the enticement of topics that might be interesting to us, but outside our area of expertise and influence.

As always, Tamela ended her posting with a couple of questions, in this case, both of them asking what we blog post readers could, or should be writing.

I pondered Tamela's questions at length, and came close to moving on without responding because I could not come up with anything I believed to be a satisfying answer. I did eventually respond, doing so with that same sensation we have as students taking an essay test, when you know you have to write something, even if it is ignorant nonsense. One cannot simply leave the answer blank.

Here is what I wrote:

I faced down death twice in 2012, once in February and again in October, surviving a physical condition in a way that defied medical science, a condition usually diagnosed during the autopsy. When I questioned the doctors as to why I am alive, the only response they could give was, "You’re just lucky, I guess."

I concluded, rather, that there is something God wants me to do - some purpose I am to accomplish. My task, then, is/was to identify that task, that calling. So, perhaps the manuscript to write is one on how to identify your purpose or calling.

I haven’t researched it, but I suspect there is already a pile of such books available.

I thought that was the end of it. I had answered the essay question, and was now moving on.

Before the morning was half-over, my reply had received a flurry of responses from other blog readers saying, "Write that book, brother! Write that book! You should definitely consider doing so." One gentleman even suggested the title for the proposed manuscript, taken from my comment - Just Lucky, I Guess.

I was completely taken aback by the reaction to what I'd said, but then God often uses experiences like this to rattle our cage and get our attention. In response to this abrupt and unexpected experience, for the past few days I have been thinking about and interacting with others on this idea of "calling."

We Are Called

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, - Ephesians 4:1, ESV

The usual focus when analyzing this verse from the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesian church is to elaborate on those ideas incorporated in "worthy," debating what does, or does not, constitute a worthy walk. Today, I would rather you note nothing more than that there is a call. You have been called with a calling! And we will look at that calling from the 30,000 foot level.

A Calling of Location

As Christ-followers, we have been "called out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9). We were "in" darkness, believing we see but not seeing, believing we understand but not understanding.

There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains. - Psalm 107:10, NASB

Our location has changed. We are no longer in darkness, but in light, and not just light, but "his marvelous light."

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. - Isaiah 9:2, ESV

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. - 1 John 1:6-7, ESV

A Calling of Quality

Our calling is characterized as "a heavenly calling" (Hebrews 3:1), and it is a calling we share. Much emphasis is given, I believe inappropriately, to the "personal" relationship with Chtist, to the neglect of the shared blessing of the entire body, or family of Christ. Here, the writer of Hebrews uses the term μετχος (metochos) to emphasize the shared, or mutual participation in that heavenly calling.

Our calling is an upward call, high and majestic. "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).

A Calling of Purpose

Our calling in Christ comes with responsibility. We do not come passively to a blessing party. We are not simply hanging out with Jesus. The much loved verse, Romans 8:28, makes it clear that our calling in Christ comes with purpose.

For starters, we are "called saints" (Romans 1:7), αγιος (hagios), holy, set-apart. Our purpose in being called in Christ, to be chosen in him, is a call to holiness as men and women of God. I recognize many translations render this something like "called to be saints" or even more closely "called as saints." It is literally two words, "kleitois hagios," called saints.

Our calling is not to be or to become saints. As the called of God, we are saints. We are made holy in that calling.

Immediately preceding this, Paul told the church at Rome that we are "called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:6). Again, more literally, we are of Christ, certainly in the sense of being his possession (genitive), but almost as though we are of his essence, perhaps lending itself to the oft-seen phrase, "in Christ." We are the face of Christ to a lost and dying world.

Everything in our lifestyle should center around the reality that "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10).

A Calling to be Protected & Cherished

The apostle Peter urges us to give diligence and eagerness to confirming our calling, to make it a surety. We are told to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Cherish and strive after that calling. Confirm it in your every waking moment, and guard it as a precious jewel.

Your life in Christ is no accident, cherished one. You are in Christ because you have been called there. Walk confidently and worthily in that calling.

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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