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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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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

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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
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By way of disclaimer, I'm stating outright that prior to a couple of weeks ago, I did not know who Rachel Held Evans was, though I'd heard of her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Its premise reminded me of the guy who ate exclusively at McDonald's for an entire year.) Neither have I read any of Rachel's writings, nor heard her speak.

I note these things only to emphasize that I have no desire to debate Rachel's theology, or alleged heresy. Doing so is completely out of scope for this week's blog posting.

I became intrigued by Rachel Held Evans when I read the flurry of social media posts regarding her hospitalization and medically induced coma. I was taken aback by the wide swings of the emotional pendulum regarding her condition. The reactions were shocking, ranging in intensity from borderline worship to chilling vitriol, neither of which is appropriate. Today, I want to focus on the acerbic backlash many are unleashing in response to Rachel's hospitalization and subsequent passing.

I understand our charge as Christ-followers to "contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 1:3), and I embrace that calling. I also know there is a way to address men and women holding views other than my own that is endearing and conducive to fruitful discussion, just as there is a way to speak to them that is off-putting and rude.

Rotten Speech

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. - Ephesians 4:19, NIV-1978

Over the past week, I have read venomous, hateful writings in the online world, from pastors no less, shepherds of God's flock, and I find myself thinking, Dear God, I am so thankful that I am not under this pastor's care. Such online attacks and rants are, in no way, "helpful for building others up."

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. - 1 Peter 2:12, NASB

Unleashing a barrage of vitriol does not qualify as excellent behavior, and does nothing to persuade the "Gentiles" to the cause of Christ. Far too many wearing the name of Christ appear to be more concerned with rightness than they are with righteousness.

The term "unwholesome" used by Paul in the Ephesians quote above is the word sapros. It is a word of putrefaction, describing things that are rotten, corrupt, foul. Consider the stench of rotting flesh, or fruit that is decaying. It is a revolting smell, and this is precisely what Paul says we "smell" like when we allow such bile to escape our lips, or our computer keyboards.

Sapros words nourish no one. To the contrary, they reek and contaminate. They are a revulsion to all who read or hear them, and we should be as put off by them as we are by the smell of rotting fish.

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
- Proverbs 29:20, ESV

The Mouth-Heart Connection

What is most unsettling is the reality that what comes out of our mouths/keyboards is a direct measure of the condition of our hearts. "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34b). The impurity of my mouth is a reflection of the impurity of my heart. The online bitterness of this week can be halted only from the inside out.

A heart filled with Galatians 5:22 spiritual fruit will respond to any circumstance with spiritual fruit, even the confrontation of sin. Never forget, we are to correct one another "with gentleness" (2 Timothy 2:25), to restore one another "in a spirit of gentleness" (Galatians 6:1).

Jesus said, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36), and also " For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2). If I am kind, gracious, and gentle with others, particularly those with whom I disagree, then people are generally kind, gracious, and gentle with me, even when they disagree with me.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
- Proverbs 10:19, ESV

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray
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Some time ago, I proposed that those of us in the community of Christ need to lose the absurd phrase, "God showed up." This week, I want to look at another "Christianese" phrase that needs to die a quick death - the phrase, "I led [insert name here] to the Lord."

This phrase is almost always presented as a badge of honor, a boast, as though we strategically, or through great effort, accomplished something admirable.

"Added another one to my resume. I won Jackie to Christ." There is something so "look at me, look at me" and self-aggrandizing in that statement.

Before we go any further, let's just set that in perspective against what the apostle Paul told the church at Corinth.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. - 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, ESV

It is important to understand the context of this statement. Just prior to this, Paul was sternly rebuking the believers in Corinth, going so far as to say that he couldn't even address them as "spiritual" men and women because they were so obsessed with human alignments. He called them "infants!"

I follow John Piper!

Oh that's nothing. I follow Ravi Zacharias.

Oh, I've got you both beat. I was led to Christ by J. I. Packer!

Such silliness exalts humanity over deity in direct violation of the very principle Paul is battling in his quote above. The people at Corinth were dividing into factions, or camps, on the basis of whose personality or theology they best aligned with.

Some said, "I follow Paul," while others said, "I follow Apollos." And still others said, (get this!) "I follow Christ." Do not lose sight of the reality that it is possible to declare yourself a follower of Christ in a way that is divisive!

Evangelistic outreach is important, and while it is not within the scope of this blog posting to investigate this, I do believe it is the responsibility of every follower after Christ to contribute to the evangelistic work of the kingdom of God. But I completely reject the idea that our evangelistic work is a cause for boasting.

Furthermore, I reject the idea that any one person completely on their own "leads a person to Christ." Paul planted. Apollos watered. God caused the increase. There are three entities involved in that process.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. - 1 Corinthians 3:10, ESV
We might say, "Damon laid a foundation, while Aaron and Cheryl gathered construction materials. Phyllis served as morale officer. David and Tim trued up the framework while Jackson cut and built girders and rafters." And when all of our human efforts are completed, it is still God who grants the increase.

We throw seed, and we water seed thrown. Sometimes I am watering seed I have thrown, and other times I am watering seed others have thrown. Seeding and watering are tremendous responsibilities and privileges, because they have eternal implications. But in every case, it is God who causes the growth.

Many years ago, I reported to a board of elders who failed to understand the reality that we are seeders and waterers only. They would regularly berate me for what they considered a low conversion rate. I was throwing and watering seed on a daily basis, even on weekends and days off. Though I never did so, I wanted to point out to them that their their irritation with and indictment of me, was in reality an irritation with and indictment of God who gives or does not give the increase.

Keep sowing, and keep watering, and pray the Lord of harvest will send forth reapers (Matthew 9:38), or better yet, BE a reaper, as the fields are white unto harvest (John 4:35), and the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Luke 10:2).

But just don't say, "I led [insert name here] to the Lord."

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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While serving in full-time ministry at Kansas University, a student to whom I was ministering saw me making notes in the pages of my Bible, and reacted with great intensity, as though my doing so was evil played out before his eyes. For the record, I write all over the pages of my Bible. I have decades of notes, underlines, circles, and highlights.

I can understand, and even appreciate one wanting to reverence the message contained in the book, but we need to understand that it is a book, and as such, I grant it the same care I render every other book I own.

I won't drop my Bible in a bathtub. I won't crack its spine, or violently fling it across the room. But neither will I object to stacking my Bible with other books, underneath or atop other books, and I may even lay a DVD or a pair of scissors on it, and have been known to stand my water bottle atop it as it lay on the table or counter-top.

In short, I will not worship my Bible any more than I worship my Webster's Dictionary. I value it more than the dictionary, but that is only because of what it contains, not because of what it is. It is a book - a bound collection of printed pages.

And at the risk of sounding self-contradictory, that's all it is, and yet it is so much more!

The Book

The English word Bible is simply a transliteration (phonetic draw of a word from one language to another) of the word βιβλιον (biblion). It is not a holy, or religious word. It refers to a written document, a certificate, a written notice, a scroll. Our closest translation of biblion would probably be "book," though at the time of the word's inception, books in the sense that we think of them did not exist.

The Bible is not a book of formulas or incantations that, spoken in the right order or with the proper emphasis, can cause specific desired outcomes. It is not a magical object that we can hold out in front of us to displace evil from the path we are walking. No magical energy will transfer from the book to me by me sleeping with it under my pillow, or by grasping it tightly to my chest.

Proclamations of biblio-idolatry are faddish in certain circles today, and I have no wish to add my voice to that choir of shouting combatants. Instead, my intent is to help us grasp the Bible for what it is so we can glean the most benefit from it in our walk with Jesus.

Assuming we agree that the Bible is a bound collection of printed pages, just as is the Linux System Administrator's Guide on the shelf next to me, what is it that makes the Bible special? The beauty is found in the message it contains, and the truth of that message.

The System Administrator's guide contains truth, and it will teach me everything I need to know to set up a Linux operating system on a computer, and that has value. My Bible, however, teaches me everything I need to know for life, for holy living, and I cannot place a value on that!

The Words

Another popular, albeit misguided, belief is that we derive some mystical gain from the quoting of scripture. Support for this practice is drawn, primarily, from Jesus' experience in the desert temptations. Proponents believe that Jesus overcame Satan by quoting scripture at him, and a cursory reading of the temptation account in the gospel could lead one to that conclusion. Satan did throw temptations in front of Jesus, and Jesus did quote scripture to Satan.

The theory is that I can fend off spiritual attacks by quoting scripture "at" the attacks, and by my doing so, the attackers will flee, or die the same way the Wicked Witch of the West shriveled up when Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her. The witch could not endure contact with water, and supposedly, demons cannot endure hearing scripture. This suggests that there is some disempowering, enchanted ring to the sound of the words.

The quoting of scripture is not what made Jesus victorious over Satan. What made him victorious is that Jesus lived the truth of scripture. He embodied scripture's truths. It is the living of scripture that empowers me to overcome, not the quoting of it.

We know that Satan has no aversion either to hearing scripture, or to speaking it. The very passage used to push the idea proves it false. Satan quoted scripture to Jesus as a part of his temptation.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

"He will command his angels concerning you,"

and

"On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone."'
- Matthew 4:5-6, ESV

The Memory

When I went through seminary, we had an instructor who could accurately quote almost the entire Bible from about six or seven different translations. He could do this because he read through the New Testament once a week and the Old Testament once a month. But his scripture memory was not what made him so powerful. The man's impact was fueled by the way his life lined up with what his mind held on to.

Similarly, I once witnessed a man preach a sermon who didn't really preach it. It took a moment before I realized, and thought to myself, He's quoting Colossians.

The opening of his sermon was a memorized recitation of the entire book of Colossians. It was powerful, not because he had memorized it, but because it was so much a part of him that he strolled around the stage and spoke to us as naturally as if we were sitting down to morning tea.

I have witnessed men and women quote scripture in such a way that it shows a deliberate effort. In some cases, they even strike a pose to do it, as if I'm talking now as myself, but in a moment I'm going to strike my 'scripture stance' to quote the passage.

I don't want to come off as saying memorizing scripture is not of value. That's not what I'm saying at all. Where memorization of scripture becomes of tremendous value is when it becomes so much a part of who we are that it flows from us as a natural element of our entirety. It is woven into our conversation with such fluidity that those with whom we are conversing might even miss the fact that we just quoted scripture as easily and naturally as we discussed last Saturday's soccer game.

I once knew a man who prayed in that way. We would be walking together, talking about any given issue, and in the next sentence he would be talking to God, and then to me again, and then to God. The fact that there were three of us on that walk, me, him, and God, was an active reality for this man. Memorized scripture should flow from us as naturally as my friend's prayers.

The Summation of It All

What makes the Bible so special is not that it says "Holy Bible" on the spine, or that I can read or quote relevant passages at specific contexts, or that I have memorized great quantities of scripture. What makes the Bible special is the way all of that combines to impact my life and make me the man that I am.

Yes! The Bible is a holy writing, and as such, it alters me from the inside out. The thing that makes my memorization and quoting of scripture so powerful is not the act in and of itself, but rather that I am living a life that is in agreement with, or consistent with what my mouth is speaking.

Read your Bible. Devour it. Cherish those things you read. But do those things with a view toward allowing the God those words reveal to you to transform your inner man, your inner woman. Otherwise, you may as well be reading the Linux System Administrator's Guide.

The Bible is not God, but its pages can reveal God to you. The Bible is not grace, but it can show you the pathway to grace. The Bible is not salvation, but it can explain to you God's plan for salvation. The Bible is a tool, and it is one of the most valuable tools in your tool chest.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray
Bible Gateway Blogger Grid
YouTube Channel


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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν