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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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There are deceivers, and there are the deceived. I really don't want to be either of those.

I know myself well enough to recognize that I am not immune to being taken in. I want so much to believe the best about people, and part of that inclination is to believe that people are good and honest, rather than corrupt and deceitful.

As Jesus taught and established himself with the people, there were those who were cautious, checking him out, not wanting to be taken in. So Jesus constantly made affirmations of his identity, because the crowds were divided. "Is he the Messiah? Is he who he claims to be? Are the words he speaks from God, or is he a charlatan?"

People are asking those very same questions today!

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" - John 7:37-38, NASB

Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and on the very last day, the seventh day (some say there were eight), Jesus stood amid the crowd and shouted this "living-water" message.

Why this message? And why this day?

Context is Critical

Throughout the Feast of Tabernacles, fathers and mothers built and stayed in tabernacles (tents) constructed of palm and myrtle branches. The families slept in these palm tents, looking at the stars as they explained to their children the way God cared for the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness. The families recounted the promise of God to Abraham, that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars.

Every day, during the feast, the people came up to the temple as one of the priests journeyed down to the pool of Siloam (The Pool of the Sent One) where he drew about three pints of water into a golden pitcher. This water, drawn from Siloam was carried back to the Temple through the Water Gate. As the water approached, the remaining priests surrounded the alter with their palm and myrtle branches, as Isaiah 12:3 was read aloud: "With joy shall we draw water from the wells of salvation."

The crowd, then, joined the celebration, singing sing various Hallel psalms, thousands of voices crying out in celebration. The priests read again, from Isaiah 44:3 "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants (Isaiah 44:3, ESV).

The priest with the water stood at the west end of the alter while another priest with wine stood at the east end of the alter. They each poured their liquid into silver funnels. The wine and water mixed and ran out onto the ground at the base of the alter, signifying God's blessing, and provision, as seen in the rock that followed the Israelites through the wilderness when they left their enslavement in Egypt.

I know that's a lot to absorb, but I believe it is important to understand what's happening in the temple, day after day, during the Feast of Tabernacles. Now we are on the last day of the feast, the "great day." This feast day was solemn and quiet, unlike the previous celebratory days.

The Thirst

On the last day of the feast, the priest went again to the pool of Siloam, but he returned with an empty pitcher to signify the ongoing thirst of Israel, their longing for the Messiah, the one who would come and pour out his spirit on the nation.

Toward the end of the priestly reading, the crowd heard this: "Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!" And it is that context in which Jesus made his loud cry.

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, "From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water." - John 7:37b-38, NASB

Jesus IS the rock that followed the Israelites through the wilderness, providing them an endless stream of water. And now, any who thirst can have that endless flow of living water from their inmost being. If you thirst, come to Jesus and drink.

You know, and I know that Jesus is not talking about physical thirst, because the text tells us he was speaking of the Spirit of God. This is a spiritual craving - a vacuum of the soul. We do thirst. We crave for something to fill our emptiness.

The longing to fill this emptiness is a magnet for inadequate secular solutions - psychotherapy, the drug industry, perverse sexuality, the pursuit of power that causes men to trample one another. Make no mistake, the devil knows we thirst, and that we will bow down to multiple idols promising to fill our void.

Every solution the world offers addresses either the physical body, or the emotional. None of them addresses the spiritual, and as a result, each fails to sate the gnawing emptiness within us. The spiritual man, the spiritual woman - this is where our thirst resides. It is a thirst that can be satisfied with nothing less than the living water Jesus provides.

Neither you nor any human being on earth can offer anything - anything at all - to satisfy the craving in the human spirit. The only thing that can quench that thirst is coming to Jesus as the fountain, and partaking of the water of life.

So in stark contrast to the Dos Equis man, I do not say, "Stay thirsty my friends." No. No, I say let the one who is thirsty come. Come to the fountain and be satisfied.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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It was a gathering of university students, eager, young followers of Jesus. The leader of the discussion asked what was the most important part of being a Christ-follower.

A flurry of answers engulfed us, answers like, "faith" or "love" or "trust." Each such response elicited a host of "yeah" or "uh-huh" or "amen" statements indicating alignment or agreement.

The answers slowed as the group ran out of standard replies to offer, when the student sitting next to me chimed in with a bold and resolute, "obedience!"

Silence. No one said a word. It was both revealing and slightly unnerving.

Obedience is a discomforting word. We're much more at ease with words like love, peace, faith, and trust. But obedience . . . that harsh. It's fundamentalist. It's pharisaic.

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." - John 2:1-4, ESV

Jesus had done no miracle to this point, and he had given no indication that he would do one now. There is nothing to suggest that Mary should expect one. John is unmistakably clear that this was the "beginning of his signs" (John 2:11).

The loss of wine at this wedding feast (typically seven days in length) would be a matter of great embarrassment to the wedding family, and, by extension, to the greater community in which the wedding was held. It is not clear if Mary's concern is with the family as close friends, or if it is that the community would be a source of ridicule.

Whatever the case, Mary turned to her eldest son for help. With Joseph no longer around, Jesus would be the head of the household, and as such, in a position to make some decisions. Perhaps Mary expected him to scrape together the funds to buy more wine. Maybe she thought he might organize a quiet collection from trusted friends and neighbors for a wine purchase. Her expectations are not clear, but her direction is unmistakably clear.

Mary said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." - John 2:5, ESV

Mary delivered this abrupt statement, directing the servants to carry out Jesus' instructions without question or objection. If he directed them to buy wine on his credit, they were to do so. If he told them to quietly take up a collection, they were to do so. If he instructed them to take the headwaiter a ladle filled with dirt . . . are you getting the picture?

Taken literally, Jesus told the servants, "Serve the guests water." I do not believe anyone, not Mary, not the servants, not the disciples had any expectation that what actually happened was what would happen. All of them likely had the same reaction. "Well, I guess we're drinking water now."

Even if we don't understand, even if we have no expectations, we, like the servants, are called to "Do whatever he tells [us]." If Jesus tells us to serve our guests water when they are calling for wine, serve them water. If Jesus tells us to feed the multitude with five barley loaves and two small fish, we do so.

We are not called to understand Jesus, but to obey and follow him.

If any one chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. - John 7:17, NIV-1978

The temptation is to say, "Once I have this all figured out, I'll jump on board and follow Jesus." No, that's not how it works. Obedience precedes understanding. We obey, and then these things become clear. We do not wait for clarity before obeying.

When Jesus told Simon to put out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch, Simon objected briefly, noting a hard night of fishing with no results. Simon was the fisherman here. Simon knew that letting down the nets in the deep water was pointless. But then he said, "But because you say so, I will let down the nets." The nets were so overloaded with fish that they began to tear.

Take a cue from Mary. "Do whatever he tells you."

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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I recently lamented how it has been difficult to find much in the way of truly Christmas-oriented literature and entertainment. For example, just last week I was trying to find a Christmas concert to attend with Alean, and was unable to do so. I found ugly sweater contests, Christmas Bounce-Offs at the local trampoline gym, Christmas beer-fests, and of course, the various retail gimmicks designed to entice me to attend and purchase their store's wares.

To date, I've been unable to find a televised movie depicting the actual birth narrative. I've seen every form of "Santa" movie imaginable (most just silly - some downright offensive), feel-good Hallmarkesque movies wherein some jerk has a traumatic wake-up call and becomes a nice guy, and even the Christmas music has fallen into this downward spiral. "Let's give thanks to the Lord above, 'cause Santa Claus is comin' tonight," or "Simply having a marvelous Christmas time." Give me "O' Holy Night," please!

I have no intention of diving into the various debates that swirl around the origins of Christmas, and whether or not much of the ritual was stolen from paganism (I have little doubt that it was, the same way much of our hymnology was set to the tune of pub songs). I can only say that I want to focus on what is, for me, the true meaning behind was I am celebrating at Christmas.

Though I participate in these traditions, Christmas has little to do with gifts under the tree, or even the tree itself, the lights on the house, though our home is well-decorated, or turkey dinner with the family, even though we have a turkey thawing in the garage as I write this. I'm not worried about whether the Walmart checker greets me with "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays." All of that is nice, but it isn't what captures my attention.

For the Christ-follower, Christmas is an acknowledgment of that moment God entered the human experience, taking on literal flesh, experiencing a human birth complete with every authentic human emotion and experience common to us all, and going beyond that to the endurance of the most horrific human death available at that time.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
- Luke 2:1-20, ESV

What we just read is the story of the ultimate expression of love. Jesus came with a purpose, and he never lost sight of that purpose. We read in the letter to Hebrews:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

"Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'"
- Hebrews 10:5-7

Jesus was born with the purpose of reconciling us, in our sin, to a sinless God. Everything carries a price-tag, and that reality includes our sin. Jesus redeemed us from that price-tag debt, that curse. Jesus made it possible for the sinful and the sinless to be reconciled and to co-exist. Not only that, we are adopted into a royal family, a family of deity. We become sons and daughters of God (1 John 3:2, Isaiah 56:5, Romans 8:14-17, Galatians 3:26).

As cliché as it is, Jesus truly is the reason for the season. Thank God in heaven for taking the initiative and paying the price to reconcile us to himself.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Used by permission.

This week is our final look at the advent of Jesus and how he ushered in an era of forgiveness. Today, we will look at the idea of mandating bilateral activity for forgiveness to occur. There is a concept which holds that for person A to forgive person B, person B must repent, and perhaps even ask person A to grant that forgiveness.

You Can Go It Alone

I understand the bilateral argument well because it is an argument I used to make in my discussions of forgiveness with others. As I wrestle with forgiveness in my own walk with Christ, I have come to understand it as something I can offer unilaterally, regardless of the actions and attitudes of my offenders.

Nothing is required of my offenders for me to be able to pray for them, to work for good in their lives, to release them from any obligation toward me. It is not a requirement that my offender ask for my forgiveness for me to speak well of him or her. It is not a prerequisite that my offender repent for me to petition God to pour blessings upon him.

Conversely, an offender can repent while I stew in the morass of my anger and bitterness. My refusal to forgive does not trap the offender in their sin. He or she can carry that directly to God as I scowl and lick my wounds.

My refusal to forgive because my offender hasn't asked or repented, ties me to them with an umbilical that nourishes my bitterness and misery. The ultimate tragedy in this is that the offender may never repent. They may even die leaving me with a gaping wound that cannot be healed, because I have tied my healing to their coming on their knees begging my forgiveness.

It's Better Not to Go It Alone

Even though forgiveness and repentance can occur unilaterally, we do well to bear in mind that reconciliation is always preferred. Consider Jesus' comments here:

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. - Matthew 5:23-24, NASB

In context, bringing one's gift to the alter is the equivalent of saying "When you come to worship..." We cannot come to God in a posture of worship when we carry a briefcase of injustices against our fellow man. We have a God-mandated duty to pursue reconciliation with others when we have caused them injury.

So strong is this truth that Jesus says, "Don't even come to me with worship while you have these issues unresolved." Reconciliation trumps worship. This may help explain the sensation of emptiness we sometimes carry away from our devotions. We are attempting to worship while refusing to repent and reconcile.

It is worth noting that the charge is not to ask God to forgive me, but instead to go to the one against whom I have sinned and do whatever I have to do to be reconciled. This reconciliation will almost certainly require me to swallow my pride, to humble myself before one against whom I have sinned, to ask for their forgiveness, and possibly to make restitution if there has been some loss. It may even be that the other party is unjustifiably sore with me. Go anyway. Be reconciled. Engage in what David Dockory calls "a greater righteousness."

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. - Matthew 18:15, ESV

Just as Jesus taught that I am to go be reconciled to my brother when I have sinned against him, Jesus also taught that I go to be reconciled when I have been sinned against. In each case, the onus is upon me to initiate the reconciliation, what Lange calls "an assault of love" upon the heart of this brother or sister in Christ.

As we continue through Advent, embrace these concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Practice them. It is then that we can pray with confidence, "Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us" (Matthew 6:12).

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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© 2019 Chris Sowder. All Rights Reserved. Unsplash.
Used by permission.

Last week, we looked at the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, as a bold move on God's part to spread forgiveness to humanity, and to reconcile the human race to himself.

Last week's assertion was that in our striving to be conformed to the image of Christ, forgiveness and reconciliation is integral to that striving. We further argued that our forgiving others is not optional, but that it is, rather, something God requires of us.

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

But They Didn't Repent

But what if they don't repent? What if there is no godly-sorrow on their part? And what if they don't ask me to forgive them? What then?

We forgive anyway. There is no clearer picture of this than what happened as Jesus was dying on the cross.

And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." - Luke 23:34a, ESV

In this one, brief statement, Jesus has asked the Father to forgive the men who were crucifying him as they were carrying out that crucifixion. They were nowhere near repentance, and certainly did not ask for his forgiveness, yet Jesus earnestly desired that they be forgiven.

Why?

Is it because Jesus needed that? Did he need to clear his conscience, or he need it for his own peace of mind and emotional well-being?

No!

Jesus wanted the crowd to be forgiven, not because he needed them forgiven, but because they needed to be forgiven. It's the same reason God forgives us, and the same reason we forgive those who sin against us.

Of course, it's nice if they repent, but their repentance is not required for our forgiveness to be extended to them.

Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13, BSB

Do not read too quickly past that closing qualifier. We are to forgive one another in the same way the Lord has forgiven us. That is a reality that should drive us to our knees. We forgive whether or not they repent, and whether or not they ask for it.

But That's Like Saying it's Okay

Another frequent objection to forgiving and instead holding tightly to my grudge is the idea that my forgiving a person is the same as saying their abuse is okay.

No. That is not the case.

Forgiving a person is not excusing their abuse or sin. Neither is it a statement that what they did was just fine. It was not fine. That's precisely why it requires repentance on their part and forgiveness on ours. What is wrong is wrong. What is sin is sin.

Neither does forgiving the person prevent the abuse from happening again. It may. That's why Jesus said we forgive ad infinitum. A single repentance/forgiveness scenario may play out numerous times before (if ever) coming to an end.

What it does mean is that we refuse to look at our offenders through condemning eyes. We refuse to throw their sin in their faces with each sunrise. We actively pray for them and serve them and work for God's greatest good in their lives. In the case of another believer, we esteem them and honor them as a brother or sister in Christ.

A Word of Caution

When I speak of forgiving our offenders I need to be clear that I am not proposing that one should stay in an environment where personal, bodily well-being is at risk. Nothing in the call to forgive and reconcile requires us to remain in an environment of physical danger.

One who is suffering violent physical abuse needs to find refuge from that abuse.

If you are in such a place, find a trusted counselor, friend, or pastor who has expertise dealing with violent abuse. If necessary, get a restraining order to protect yourself, and possibly your children and grandchildren. In no way does an attempt at reconciliation require you to give in, or submit to abusive behaviors.

We can forgive seventy times seven, while maintaining a safe, protective distance.

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