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Weekly Observations and Commentary

Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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© 2019 Greg Reese. All Rights Reserved. Unsplash.
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Alean and I were headed to Boston to visit our son and his fiancée, and to attend his graduation from MIT. We decided to get to the airport using my older vehicle since it was our intent to park it at the hotel for a week rather than pay the exorbitant prices for parking at Seattle-Tacoma International. My car is fifteen years old, whereas hers was new last year, so we thought this was the smarter move.

We hit Seattle traffic on the tail end of rush hour, so cars were breaking loose and flying along pretty smoothly just about the time our car decided it was done. Dead. Nothing. No warning ... just dead. There was no chugging, no gradual slow down. It was just alive and well one second, completely dead the next.

Sadly, since there was no warning, we were unable to work our way to the side of the road, instead dying in lane three of six lanes on this interstate bypass. This is the most unnerving thing I have experienced in recent memory, so much so that we almost canceled our trip to Boston.

The cars behind us were sympathetic, gesturing their support toward us in our predicament, and offering excellent advice through honking. Others, unconcerned, flew by our stopped vehicle at break-neck speed. It was a terribly unsafe circumstance, one against which Alean was prayerfully asking for a hedge of angelic protection around our stalled vehicle. God provided.

Turning Chaos Into Blessing

It was at this point that the blessings began to flow, and person after person became a gift from God to us, beginning with the professional woman on the other end of the 911 call. With me at my wit's end, she calmly and methodically walked me through her questions, and quickly determined that we were out-of-towners who had no clue regarding the specifics of our location. Yet she had a Washington State Trooper on the scene in less than five minutes, and an incident response truck behind him less than two minutes after that.

The trooper was another wonderful, calming influence, attempting to diagnose the problem while simultaneously watching out for our safety, having us stand in specific places at different times. The incident response gentleman was so kind and so professional as he attempted to determine why the car had died, and how to get it out of Park (it was jammed there) so we could use his truck to push the car to the shoulder of the highway.

The trooper and incident response man took care of calling the tow-truck for us, relieving us of that burden. Then they carefully instructed us exactly how they were going to stop traffic and get our car safely to the side of the road. And together, we did it.

Three times over the next twenty minutes, the incident response man drove by to make certain we were still safe, and to tell us how many minutes out the tow-truck was. He was such a blessing!

When the tow truck arrived, the driver would not allow us to exit the vehicle. We sat inside, where it was safe and comfortable, as he raised all four wheels off the ground (it's an all-wheel-drive car), and then we discussed where we should take the car.

It didn't take the tow-truck driver long to discover that we were far from home, completely vulnerable, and unsure of our decisions. He advised us regarding our various options and strongly urged us to let him tow our vehicle to Ali's Bellevue Auto Repair, steering us away from more costly options. We agreed.

Also sensing our frustrating day, the driver joked and gabbed with us the entire drive from break-down to delivery at Ali's repair shop. Clearly, he had communicated with Ali's shop, because when we arrived, the staff knew our entire story, where we were going, our hotel, the issue with the car ... all of it. They were ready to receive us.

The car was dropped off (with us) just prior to closing time at Ali's Bellevue Auto Repair, and we needed to get an Uber or Lyft from there to the hotel down by the airport. Traffic would be heavy and the ride costly, so Ali and his wife suggested we go get dinner and let traffic die down a bit so we could save money on the fare. They were offering to stay open late for US, to save US money.

At dinner, our server picked up on our story, and said, "That was you? I drove by you on the 405 on my way into work." Shortly thereafter, the manager of the Bar & Grill came to our table to discuss options for getting us to our hotel quickly and inexpensively. We were just out-of-town customers, yet they were bending over backward to try to help us.

When we got to the hotel, they also knew the story, and upgraded us from a regular room to an Executive Room on the top floor, while simultaneously knocking $75 off our hotel bill.

Ali's shop called us while we were in Boston to tell us they had found the problem, and what it cost to repair it. They had already done the work.

Now, bear in mind, they had us over a barrel. He could have fed me any story he wanted to, and quoted me $1,500 repair bill, and I would have had no recourse but to pay what they wanted. Instead, he told me that I was exactly correct in what I suspected. They reworked a specific solder connection on the back of the instrument panel in the dash and charged me just $200 for labor.

The Pressing Question

How can I reconcile one individual after another looking out for our best interest? These people had us backed into a corner, ripe for taking advantage, yet not one of them did so. Every one of them was putting themselves out in order to serve us!

I have been taught since my youth that humanity is totally depraved, wicked, evil, incapable of doing anything good. Yet, when given a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that, not one of these people did so.

Next week, we will look at this question in greater depth. This week I just wanted to throw it out there and let you gnaw on it for a bit. Are there good people?

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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© 2019 Andre Hunter. All Rights Reserved. Unsplash.
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In its day, Rome was a proud city and empire, home of the elite, the statesmen, philosophers, artisans.

The Roman empire had no great love for the Jews, and little respect for their "capital" city, Jerusalem. To the Roman, a Jew was a commoner at best, and a slave at worst.

From this nation of troublemakers and their oddball religion had sprung something new - a fable about some low-income carpenter/prophet whom the Romans executed using their basest form of punishment, a prophet who has supposedly been resurrected from the dead.

Now, a Jewish tent-maker with some set of credentials in this tedious religion is going to go to the high-society Romans to preach this bizarre message to them? It is laughable!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. - Romans 1:16, ESV
Paul has alluded numerous times to his desire, or his need to go to Rome. It is almost as though some believed he was afraid to go to Rome, so Paul felt the need to repeatedly emphasize, or state his desire to do so. Or it may be that Paul is being told that he dare not go to Rome because it would be terribly dangerous for him to do so.

Paul is neither afraid, nor ashamed to take the gospel anywhere. The gospel is the most powerful thing available to humanity. Neither is Paul ashamed of the gospel's simplicity in such a culture-center of the world.

The Gospel is Power

I want you to notice that it is the gospel that is the power. Paul is the preacher. He is the instrument by which the gospel is spread, but the power is not dependent upon Paul. Neither is it dependent upon you when you share the gospel.

The gospel is not the presentation of an idea, but the operation of a power! When you or I teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not the mere speaking of words. It is an event. Something occurs. Power is loosed.

The Gospel is Positive

Take note of the positive way in which Paul speaks of the gospel. There is a world of difference between saying, "the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes," and saying "only for those who believe is the gospel God's power for salvation."

When we are careless, we can turn even faith into a legalistic requirement, as though it is something demanded of men and women. I hear this subtlety creep into conversations in which people discuss the "conditions" of salvation.

I encourage you to resist the urge to see faith as a "requirement" for salvation. Viewing it that way makes faith something of an achievement. We then begin looking at God and looking at humanity to determine what each can contribute to this salvation process.

Instead, approach faith as something within the individual that allows the power of the gospel to bear its fruit. It is a subtle difference, but I believe it is a significant one.

The gospel is preached, and the gospel is the power. Our faith is merely evidence that the gospel has loosed its power within us. It is not our faith that activates the gospel, or that gives the gospel its power, but rather it is the power of the gospel that makes it possible for us to believe.

The Gospel is Revealing

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.' - Romans 1:17, ESV
To fully grasp what is being said here, we need to understand what the term "righteousness" meant to the first-century mind and the Hebrew (and largely also Gentile) culture. Consider this quote from W.R. Smith's book, The Prophets of Israel.
"The ideas of right and wrong among the Hebrews are forensic ideas; that is, the Hebrew always thinks of the right and the wrong as if they were to be settled before a judge. Righteousness is, to the Hebrew, not so much a moral quality as a legal status. The word righteous means simply, 'in the right,' and the word wicked means, 'in the wrong.'"
To say "God is righteous" is not to make a moral statement about God, but rather a legal one, and by extension, those men and women who are "righteous" are legally in the right as far as God is concerned. In the gospel, this righteousness of God is revealed in that we are informed how to be in the right where God is concerned.

In making his righteousness statement to the Romans, Paul is drawing on the phrase "The righteous by faith shall live," from Habakkuk 2:4, quoted below.

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. - Habakkuk 2:4, ESV

Paul uses that idea from Habakkuk to expand on the rather confusing phrase "from faith to faith."

That could mean:

  • From our faith to their faith (Romans 10:17). Because of our faith, we teach the word, and others are led to have faith.
  • From a message of faith to trusting faith (Romans 3:22). By means of the gospel, people are led to believe.
  • From a beginning faith to a mature faith.
  • Or a faith that is both the beginning and the culmination.

In the Talmud, we find Habakkuk 2:4 quoted alongside Amos 5:4 which gives us, "The righteous by faith shall live" quoted right next to "Seek me and you shall live." Life and salvation, to the Hebrew mind, were practically synonymous terms.

I do not believe Paul is saying here that the righteous man or woman will spend their entire life in faith (the righteous, will live by faith), but rather that it is faith that declares a man or a woman as righteous, thus resulting in life. (the righteous by faith, will live). Both may be true, but I take the latter to be Paul's meaning in this context.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. - Hebrews 11:6, ESV

Summation

The righteousness of God is revealed in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Our faith in that gospel declares us to be righteous - in the right. Those declared righteous by that faith will live, just at those who seek God in faith will live. The gospel is power to those of us who believe, and in that power, we live!

What possible cause for shame could we find in such a reality as that?

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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It sure is a good thing Jesus went away. I know that to be true, because he said so.

I was reading in John 16 this morning, pondering Jesus' monologue to the disciples. He is about to die, knows it, and considering that reality, is pouring his heart out to the disciples.

In John 16:5, Jesus told the disciples he was leaving, going to the one who sent him. Again, in John 16:16, he told them that in just a little while they would no longer see him. Sandwiched between those two statements lies a fascinating series of statements on the work of the Holy Spirit, beginning with this ...

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. - John 16:7, NIV-1978
I would think that the ultimate good would be to be with Jesus forever, right? I mean we talk about that often. We want to be with Jesus forever - to be where he is. But Jesus says, "No, it is better for you that you not be with me, because if I don't go away, the Holy Spirit cannot come. THAT is what's better."

So, if Jesus goes away, and the Holy Spirit/Comforter/Counselor comes, what happens? Well, what happens is a whole lot of conviction.

"And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:" (John 16:8)

Conviction Regarding Sin

"concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;" (John 16:9).

Here we will do a semi-deep dive into a theological concept that will cause some of you to disagree with me, and some may even label me a heretic. That's fine. It's been said before. Yet, I am convinced this is truth.

All sin but one has been forgiven. It's a done deal. Gone.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. - 1 John 2:2, NIV-1978
The only sin that condemns men and women today is the sin of unbelief. The forgiveness is already there, but so many refuse to pick it up, to embrace it, to believe. Light has come into the world, yet we choose to love and live in darkness because our deeds are evil (John 3:19).

Do not miss what Jesus said about the Spirit's conviction. Of what is the world convicted? Unbelief! And that truth weighs heavy on the body of Christ, because the Spirit of God is with us, in us, and that Holy Spirit conviction will come to the world only when we take the message of Jesus to those who do not believe.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' - Romans 10:14-15, NIV-1978
How are your feet?

Conviction Regarding Righteousness

"concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;" (John 16:10).

Note that the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of righteousness, not unrighteousness. The wagging finger of guilt shaken in the face of the world is the finger of humanity, not the finger of God. Too many in the body of Christ appear to delight in shaming the world, pointing out their many sins. Of course they sin! They're in the world! What's worse is we sin and we are in Christ!

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV-1978). The Spirit of God convicts the world of righteousness as Christ's righteousness is lived out in his body of believers. The world sees the righteousness of Jesus by the Spirit of God, only when they see that righteousness in us. Thus, we keep our behavior excellent among the unbelieving so that God may be glorified as a result of that (1 Peter 2:2).

Conviction Regarding Judgment

"concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged" (John 16:11).

Jesus sealed the judgment of Satan through his death and resurrection (John 12:31). Satan may indeed be the prince of this world for now, but he is a prince that stands condemned and defeated.

I have noted, over the last decade, a rise in the display of occult symbols, and satanic tokens, whether it's the Baphomet, pentagrams, or the latest craze in Hollywood and the music industry of covering one eye (an Illuminati thing). I'm sure there are varying levels of awareness in those participating, and that for many of them, it's faddish, and this is what's "cool" right now. It's cool to be a "bad boy" or "bad girl."

If the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the world (because in their eyes, we're worshiping a defeated, dead guy), then aligning with the defeated prince of this world is completely asinine. That is the judgment of which the Holy Spirit of God will convict the world.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes - Romans 1:16a, ESV
Get your "beautiful feet" moving brothers and sisters. "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV-1978).

Delight yourself in sharing the gospel. Speak truth to your neighbor and allow the Spirit of God to bring about the fruit of conviction.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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© 2019 taliesin. All Rights Reserved. Morguefile
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When a brother or sister in Christ finds themselves in a difficult circumstance, we want to help. Indeed, we are called to do so, as we "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2, ESV). Love demands we do this.

In that spirit, one will often ask, "How can I help?" or "What can I do?"

Sometimes the answer is obvious, and there is no need to ask. We see what needs done, so we end up buying groceries to deliver, we prepare meals, we shuttle kids to and from school or activities, we shovel snow from walkways, or we take the laundry home with us and return it washed and folded. Sometimes we sit and listen with a sympathetic ear.

Other times, we want to help and offer to help, but we do not know how to do so. Thus, we ask the question, "How can I help?" and far too often the answer that comes back makes me cringe.

"Oh ... just pray."

That phrase - just pray - is one that needs to be extricated from our Christianese vocabulary. It needs to be taken out, shot, stomped on, and buried in a seventeen-foot-deep hole, never to be seen again.

In the 1980s, I was listening to a keynoter at the National Campus Minister's Seminar in Tuscaloosa Alabama as he exhorted us to be men and women of prayer. He described a situation wherein, as a small child, his mother had given him two quarters to put in the collection plate during Sunday School. Later, at home, as he was changing clothes he discovered, to his horror, that the two quarters were still in his pocket. He was devastated and unsure what to do.

The man described how he propped a chair against the door to prevent his parents from entering and discovering his grievous error. With the door secured, he sat on his bed and pleaded with God repeatedly to take the money as he threw the quarters toward the ceiling. "Please God, just take the money. I’m sorry I forgot. Just take the money."

It was an adorable story, and we all identified with the child, his stomach in knots, pleading with God and throwing the quarters at the ceiling . . . right up until he said something that stunned me.

He said, "You know, looking back on that, I’m really surprised that He didn’t take it."

Why was I stunned by that rather than nodding my head in agreement? Do I believe, or don't I? Is God listening, or are my prayers just bouncing off the walls?

My reaction to the man's story was an indictment of my own disbelief in a God who is living and active today; a God who hears and responds to prayer. It drops me into the "just pray" camp.

"Just pray" is a minimizing of our communication and communion with God. We do not just pray. We pray!

I am so pleased to know that my local church family has a reputation in our city. We are known as "that praying church." Just recently my pastor attended a meeting, seated next to a woman he did not know, and when she learned who he was, she exclaimed, "Oh, you're the pastor of that praying church!"

Yeah ... yeah, that's us. We don't "just pray." We pray. Even better is when we combine our prayer with fasting.

This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. - 1 John 5:14, NIV-1978

So, let's jettison this phrase, "just pray" and immerse ourselves in the power and privilege of being able to converse and commune with the Almighty Creator of the universe. Let's commit ourselves to praying within God’s will at all times believing, not doubting, that God is indeed good and that he desires what is best for us.

"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done."

The longer I walk with Christ, the more I am inclined to pray that God’s will be done and that I understand it, than that a specific thing occur. Through the indwelling of God’s Spirit, we can have a spirit of acceptance of whatever God’s will in our lives may be, and with that, we can always pray in faith!

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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© 2019 Yomare. All Rights Reserved. Pixabay
Used by permission.

Pastor Lawrence Lottatalk finished his rousing sermon with a whirlwind summation as the onlookers beamed with amazement and thanksgiving that they are privileged to sit, week after week, at the feet of such a brilliant orator. Following the service, Pastor Lottatalk stood by the exit so he could shake hands and greet his parishioners on their way out.

Grasping the pastor's hand with great enthusiasm, sister Bessie Blather gushed, "Oh, Pastor Lawrence, that sermon today was wonderful! Just wonderful!" Sporting his patented, sheepish grin of humility, Pastor Lottatalk said, "Well, Bessie, you know I just wanna be used by God."

I am stating, publicly, for the record, I do not want to be used by God, and I believe this is yet another misguided phrase from our "Christianese" language base that the body of Christ needs to jettison.

Time Warp - 1975

In 1975 I was entering my freshman year of high school. There is something about crossing this threshold from middle to high school, that results in a serious change to guy/girl relationships. Prior to crossing the border into Freshmandom, we were in middle school and elementary school, where "romance" consisted of peeks and giggles, blushing cheeks because you were caught looking, and the passing of notes asking, "Do you like me? Yes/No."

But now we are in high school, and the relationships have become more calculated and strategic. No more giggles and blushing. Now we "date" and we project our "cool" to others. We see where we fall in the pecking order based on who will, or will not ally with us.

As the couples pair off, onlookers must, of course, whisper about the relationships. There is analysis to perform regarding who is with whom, and why they are together. We must discern why X no longer associates with their former friend Y, and we even do strategic breakdowns of the underlying structure of the relationships.

And inevitably, we hear it - that phrase - "Oh, you know she's just using him," or "He's just using her." This phrase is never uttered in a positive context.

Most often the "using" statement refers to some hormone-enraged boy who was said to be "using" some girl to selfishly satisfy his physical drives. She was considered weak for allowing it, and he a heartless cad for pressing her into it.

Used By God vs Serving God

I understand the "Use me" phrase is frequently said or sung with a sincere desire for our lives to have a kingdom impact, that we want to ensure our lives count for something beyond our meager existence. We want to appear submissive and obedient - "Oh, I just wanna be used by God, you know." But this is a phrase that, over time, has made my skin crawl.

I am persuaded that, in God's eyes, we are not mere cogs functioning in God's kingdom machine, but rather we are men and women subjects in a kingdom, subjects who have a special relationship with the king. "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends" (John 15:15a, ESV).

Jesus actively pursues this relationship with us. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20, ESV). He knocks to be with us, not to use us. That is the meaning behind Immanuel - God with us.

Jesus answered him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.' - John 14:23, ESV
That does not sound like God using me. That sounds like God loving me and wanting to be with me.

Even better, we are adopted as family, with Jesus as our brother. We cry out "Abba, Father." (Romans 8:15)

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. - John 1:11-12, ESV
I don't "use" my children. I don't "use" my wife. I don't "use" my friends, or my church family, or my siblings, or my grandchildren.

No. I "relate" to each of these people in a way that is appropriate to that relational context. I enjoy relationship with them.

God is not a user. He is a loving Father, a selfless brother, an indwelling, comforting Spirit.

We are not doormats or puppets. We are children of the King, joint-heirs with the Son. We are beloved and chosen.

Brothers and sisters, let's offload this phrase, "I just wanna be used by God," and replace it with a far better phrase, "I so much enjoy being loved by God."

Blessings upon you.

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