One of the invisible substances that gives us forward motion in life is legitimacy. Whether you’ve ever experienced it or not, our enemy attacks legitimacy at every opportunity, sometimes with frightening vigor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned adult, who has earned some relational authority in your life, or an innocent child, who has not yet developed a grid to process such an advanced adversity. For both unfortunately, once your legitimacy has been successfully neutralized, it is very difficult to regain. Intentionality is the hinge mechanism of legitimacy and can be observed across the entire spectrum of relational things. It’s present in the macro laws of nature; for example the intentionality of gravity holding things fast to the earth, as well as the micro laws of relationship that hold us fast to each other, such as honor and patience. I could write of such things exclusively for the rest of my life and not even scratch the surface of legitimacy.
I’ve come to realize through experience that the same holds true for land. It can be locked up as an unintended consequence of having been deﬁled, and as such it will yield neither strength nor peace for any sustained period of time, despite our best coaxing. While I’m not writing about such a thing as an expert, I am opening the topic as a first hand witness to such conditions. I have felt the blight of defilement in places that were glossed over with attractive features and experienced the unreciprocating hardness to my loving intentionality.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” and throughout most of my life I have bounced my generous share of difficult and/or gut-wrenching circumstances. There’s nothing special about me for that, but where those problems intersected with my very legitimacy, I stood by as more of a dumbfounded spectator, without a preconceived battle plans. Bruised and bloody was usually the result. But Jesus is also the ultimate ophthalmologist, with the rest of that verse emblazoned on his lab coat. “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Since roughly one-third of the world consists of land, its important to look at that verse with new lenses. See, its not necessarily troubles themselves which vex us, but the misalignment of relational issues in those troubles. I think sometimes Father wants us to fully understand a problem, and all of its nefarious, hidden tentacles, rather than grapple straight away for a solution to what we merely see above ground.
I have ﬁrst-hand experience in the rip tides that ﬂow under the calm surfaces of deﬁled land. Like the ocean’s rip tides, they nearly cost me my life. Stories for another day. Recently though, after several visits with the ultimate ophthalmologist and multiple lens changes, I became a little more aware of what “overcoming the world” was, and the walk-on part that I could accept in it. I had recently heard a favorite teacher mention a weak moment of ministering to someone with a difficult, long standing problem, which produced verifiable, sustained success. That struck me. Maybe it was the seemingly “weak” effort producing strong results, which reminded me of a Biblical spiritual principle. While I can’t recall the particular teaching this example was found in, the notion of it stuck in my craw over time.
So, when I faced down some deﬁled land recently, which was undeniably unyielding, having had its legitimacy defeated long ago, I decided to bring my own weakness to bear. I had never done anything like this before, but held tight to the example that was sticking with me. Who knows how to overcome land? Its seemingly so much bigger than us. In my spirit, I was dressed in a custom-tailored suit, bursting through the double doors of Heaven’s Supreme Court, with Jesus, the ultimate ophthalmologist, as my pro-bono attorney. In reality, I felt like I was kicking a brick wall as hard as I could with my bare feet. The words didn’t come naturally. Though not immediately apparent, my own “weak” effort was successful. The land is now free, having its legitimacy at least partially restored to it.
The invisible, forward-propelling substance of legitimacy in every aspect of our relational selves, is the gold we should be mining in others. It’s also the the deeper well we should dig on any piece of ground over which we have authority, which in spiritual principle, is any place on which the sole of our foot treads. See, the Gospel of Peace is all about legitimacy, and what our feet are to be shod with anyway.
Photo Credit: Artist Ragen Gee, @ Rae’sWorks, used by permission. Her work is amazing and available here: https://www.facebook.com/raeworks2017/
This morning I was reading in Isaiah 33, where it talks about sinners being afraid. Interestingly, you could surmise that they weren’t afraid of the fact that they were sinning. This text, written nearly three thousand years ago, was both factual for the day and prophetic for the future. As I read on, I could see what they were afraid of. They recognized God as an everlasting devouring fire. So sad that these fearful sinners gave no thought to changing their ways.
I was like that in my life at one time. With no immediate consequences and no one to call me out on my sins, I went on about enjoying them in fearless fashion. But the Hounds of Heaven pursue us all and hem us in to a point of decision about our lives. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, reassess what has come in and out of your life, especially what you’ve blown off, or at the very least, start looking over your shoulder.
These sinners in Isaiah 33 asked instead; “Who can dwell with that devouring fire?” and “Who among us can dwell with those everlasting burnings?” In other words, God isn’t going away. He will not withdraw and dwell doesn’t mean to live with, it means to “live in.” Anyone want to live in a burning house? Isaiah had the answer, though. Those who:
Walk righteously (always doing the right things, just because those things are, well… right).
Speak uprightly (truth without condemnation, even when its hard on the hearer).
Despise gain from fraud and oppression. (we could spend months on this).
Do not take bribes (think politicians and the lobbyists who pursue them, for starters).
Stop your ears from hearing of bloodshed (turn off the news).
Shut your eyes from looking upon evil (again, turn off the news and restrict social media).
Do these things, consistently and across all aspects of your being and you can “live in” the fire. Yes the same fire that consumes others and their sinful works. When I read this today, I immediately thought of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three Hebrew slaves, who through the very integrity outlined in Isaiah’s conditions above, were recognized and gained favor and closeness with King Nebuchadnezzar, who was their captor and held their nation in slavery. The pagan king liked these guys for those very qualities. However, when they didn’t bow down to his hand-made golden god, he threw them in a fire so hot, it killed the men who bound and threw them into it.
In that fire Jesus came to them, and the four of them walked around in it. I’m sure Jesus wasn’t saying, “okay thirty seconds, we’ve got thirty seconds here.” No. They could have stayed as long as they wanted. They met the conditions ahead of time, so they could live in it.
Our culture thrusts sin upon us in ways so subtle that we scarcely recognize them. If I purpose to look at the gal in the grocery store, who is wearing sleek shiny yoga pants, for more than an instant, then I’m guilty of having committed adultery. I’m tired sometimes for just trying to keep track of recognizing those “little things” and have to judge myself constantly. But elsewhere in scripture, I’m told that “it’s the little foxes” (sins), which spoil all of me. (Song of Solomon 2:15). Here’s the thing though; judging myself is an activity which that very fire I want to live in, will burn up. I will get scorched when it does too, so where does that leave me? Right back where I started. I’ll just pay attention to the principles which God Himself has laid out for this. If I feel the heat, I’ll adjust until I don’t. That’s the sweet spot where people recognize that I have something they want, and I’ll know then, that I have the earned authority, to help them get it for themselves.
Yes. Somewhere, people still make and keep promises.
They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through.
They stick to seemingly lost causes.
They hold on to a love grown cold.
They stay with people who have become pains in the neck.
They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make.
I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like the One, True God, Creator of the universe and the original inventor and pioneer of promises.
What a marvelous thing a promise is!
When a person makes a promise, they reach out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: that they will be there even when being there costs more than they want to pay.
When a person makes a promise, they stretch themselves out into circumstances that no one can control and yet, controls at least one thing: that they will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be.
With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.
When a person makes a promise, they stake a claim on personal freedom and power.
When you make a promise, you take a hand in creating your own future.
[Keeping Promises, Citation: Lewis Smedes, “The Power of Promises,” A Chorus of Witnesses, edited by Long and Plantinga, (Eerdmans, 1994)]
A Guest Post, by; Bethany Carson
Photo Credit: Artistically Revealing the Spirit; Artist, Richmond Futch Jr. If you like the painting attached to this article, please take the time to view Richmond’s other amazing work at: http://www.artsrichmondfutchjr.com
Dear spirit of religion;
You are cruel. You create bondage. You enslave people by your demands. You inhibit freedom. You operate by heaping guilt and hesitation on people for how to be, how to act, what to say, and how to live. You bind people with chains called fear and control. You place people on the hamster wheel of “What ifs?” - that spinning wheel of death - and leave them to run incessantly, where they neither achieve, or advance. You accuse. You condemn. You seek to destroy people from the inside out.
You are an ice cold princess, spirit of religion. You seek to be right and to self-protect more than you seek to love. Your division of the church, first by denomination, then by congregation, is the calling card of your ruthless and reckless destruction. I find comfort that Jesus actually came to bring division and I trust that His sovereign hand will use your attempts to destroy, to prune that which is dying and powerless and in turn, strengthen His bride. After all, his message walked in direct opposition to religion far more than it did against the broken sinner. I choose His division, because it is what safely separates me from you. The yeast of the Pharisees is what puts the true believer on guard (Luke 12). That yeast, which you cleverly attempt to hide, destroys what Jesus wants to do and accomplish through his Bride, the church.
You certainly don’t operate with love. You place demands on people that are immobilizing and unattainable. You demand that churches have boards of leaders to establish accountability and to protect an already too-safe American church from anything that might be outside of the comfort zones you impose upon them. But the Holy Spirit of the Living God empowers churches with warrior leaders who will cover, protect, and champion an army of fellow believers into their rightful place of power and authority over the power of sin and death and darkness in a fallen, hurting world.
If perfect love casts out ALL fear, then I cannot and will not bow to you and worship you, religion, because you walk in direct contradiction to the Gospel and power of Jesus Christ. I will never bow to your religious doctrine without first bowing to the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was freely given to set captives free, to loosen the chains that bind, to unshackle people from hindrances. Jesus Christ is my doctrine. He gives us a very clear moral compass through his Word for how to live and how to filter all the circumstances we face. I trust the Holy Spirit in me and other like me, who reject your powerless splendor, to lead and guide us in all truth. My heart is fixed to honor Him and to seek Him, and God promises us that we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole heart.
While this open letter to you, spirit of religion, is from my pure, but resilient heart, I bear these words up with the good news of truth from my Father. The good news of truth that became the person of Jesus, who then poured Himself out to fulfill it, and avenge me in the process. You try to convince us that your voice is louder than the Holy Spirit’s voice. But the Word of God is my weapon and I will lift this sword confidently and courageously toward you for the rest of my life, letting the Holy Spirit’s power burst forth like water pouring forth from a cracked dam. On guard!
1 Corinthians 14:1 says, “Earnestly desire (Greek - to have strong affection towards, be ardently devoted to, to make a show of affection and devotion towards) the spiritual gifts (Greek - pertaining to the soul, as distinguished differently from what concerns the body, pertaining to the nature of spirits, pertaining or relating to the influences of the Holy Spirit, superior in process to the natural course of things, the miraculous), but especially that you may prophesy… Again, if the bugle gives an uncertain call, who will get ready for battle?”
Prophecies, in the Greek we know and trust, are a prediction of future events, a matter of divine teachings set forth by spiritual gift. Prophecy, in direct contrast to tongues, is to provide a clear battle call to believers! We are called to make a show of affection toward the influences of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of this deep desire for prophecy is to edify and strengthen people, to encourage them, and to console them. It’s to build up and strengthen the church and to cause an unbelieving world to pause and take note of our Jesus! Prophecy is an impartation of a revelation or knowledge from heaven that is meant to give strength to the believer.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, “Do NOT quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; then hold on to what is good and reject every kind of evil.”
You, spirit of religion, seduce people into apathy. You leave people content to have knowledge and leadership, and to be skeptical and cynical of other spiritual gifts. You treat prophecies with contempt and encourage people to quench them. The word for quench in the Greek is to hinder, extinguish, or thwart. You are the master of extinguishing any flame of awakening and revival, no matter how frail, because you fear it could become a wildfire. How foolish and cowardly of you. You continue to set the church in a backward motion and hinder the work of the one, true God.
1 Corinthians 14:12-15 tells the church to excel in those that build up the church, to pray and sing with our spirit and with our understanding (Greek - our minds/intellect). The Pharisees of Jesus’ day always demanded that He bow to intellect alone; intellect they themselves presumed to possess. Jesus always resisted their demands, demonstrating that it was the heart of a person through which their identity flowed. Jesus always included the heart. In so doing, He was constantly whispered about, muttered about, abandoned, and ultimately murdered. Spirit of religion, you were there. You looked on approvingly. But He died to set us free from you. This freedom should press us into an unwavering fear of the Lord, but its precisely the fear of the Lord ends up returning us to TRUE freedom.
We are at war and it’s not enough to know God in our heads as the Pharisees did. We must know him in our hearts. He must envelop every part of our being. He must strengthen and establish himself with power DEEP in our spirits. To evade your virulent tactics, spirit of religion, we must allow Him this access to our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “The one who calls you will do it. He is SURELY faithful.” Therefore, we can confidently and continually trust the Spirit of God in us.
And we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to be afraid of getting it wrong, we don’t have to be afraid of wolves and their false teachings. We are to be shrewd as serpents and yet innocent as doves. This means we love people in the most pure and innocent ways, just like a child would, while maintaining a sharp radar against things that could pervert the Gospel. But we never operate in fear. We celebrate the gold in people. Though they may be different than us and though they may be lacking a complete understanding of God, like we all do in different ways, we don’t abandon
them. We are all being perfected and moving from glory to glory. We choose to rely upon each other to have a more accurate and complete picture of Jesus.
And in everything, we rejoice. We rejoice in our sufferings because of your cruel hand. These sufferings, the distressing circumstances, the distress of mind, the pressure, affliction and trials; they produce our endurance, which produces our character and thus produces our HOPE. And our hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5). All of that occurs independent of you and the control you so wickedly crave.
The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at work. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” So, I worship the person and work of Jesus because worship is my warfare. As I worship, He works; and you, spirit of religion, become less powerful. As I fix my eyes on Jesus, you become smaller and smaller and I realize that the illusion of your power and strength, exists to stop God’s army from daring to dream and from being willing to take risks that your lies would love to keep us from taking! Hallelujah! To God be the GLORY!
Signed, A Warrior Tigress for the TRUE Gospel of Jesus Christ
During my federal government career in Small City, USA, promotions were few and far between. Many of the folks that I knew of in my agency and other agencies and departments like it who were being promoted more quickly had to make sacrifices to achieve them. They typically traveled abnormally often, or lived and worked in less desirable locations. When promotion opportunities did come around to those of us who chose to commit ourselves and our families to small towns and stable lives, the competition for them was enormous and inevitably positioned friend against friend. But the reward almost never went to the most qualified. It went to the ones who made a political campaign of their aspirations, independent of their qualifications.
Applying for these opportunities certainly made me aware of the elevated qualifications that each of them required, and caused me to squeeze every drop of relevant experience onto my application in a vainglorious attempt to be good enough, but to no avail. Once the position was filled by the secretly aligned though, another picture began to emerge. The job into which they were promoted became a platform from which to disperse its duties onto the lower ranks, thereby freeing themselves to time and interests that really had nothing to do with the new position.
Let’s contrast that with Kingdom government and the Believers’ mandate to bring Heaven to earth.
I believe God speaks through Believers today. I believe in the overarching themes which I’ve heard consistently, that God is bringing “revival” and that God is going to “pour out.” But the picture I’m personally seeing about what that looks like is different than what I sense is the prevailing thought; which is that God is going to sovereignly do these things, and when He does everyone will recognize them and take their places automatically. Some to disciple and teach others with church programs, and some to be discipled and taught in those church programs. How happy we will all be.
I believe these two themes, but beneath them is where I’ve heard an ad-nauseum abundance of detailed prophecies, from so many sources that they’ve become confusing. My Bible clearly identifies the author of confusion, and it isn’t God.
But while everyone is busy preparing with scheduled activities, organized structure, and slick production, which I presume are being done to make ready, no one is really being transformed in them. When Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, people flocked to Him from miles around to hear His teaching, which adjusted their thinking to line up with those miracles and the grace of God in them. It was definitely a “revival” and a “pouring out.” The overarching theme then, is what it is today. God wants you to be with Him in eternity, and wants you to be free until you get there.
When was the last time someone had a need and we said we’d pray for them, but didn’t do it in that moment? When was the last time that, when we did pray over someone, we commanded the spirit(s) troubling them to leave? Did we keep at it until the Holy Spirit bore witness with our spirit that they were actually gone? Why should we earnestly desire the gifts, as scripture encourages us to, if we don’t have the confidence to use them? Could it be that we don’t fully walk in the yielding that those things require? Maybe, like my example of earthly government responsibility above, we feel we’re called to direct what God is doing rather than do what God is directing.
God isn’t looking for those who would compete for a promotion in His kingdom, or manufacture a position for themselves when it doesn’t come. He doesn’t look for someone to assume a leadership role in name and title, or website and business card. His leaders are the walk-ons, who have put aside life’s distractions to hear His voice and act on it. His leaders are those who understand that by simply yielding and being available, all of Heaven trusts them to heal, deliver, and set free the captives around them.
See, we’ve taken the prophetic words that would propel us forward to our heads and our hearts, but we seldom put them on our feet. But walking out what Jesus said we would do, that’s what brings revival, and that’s a clear picture of God pouring out.
You’ve heard it said that sometimes life can be overwhelming. Most, if not all of us can attest to that, because we have all experienced the crushing effects of unpleasant circumstances at times. Some more than others. There doesn’t seem to be a fair scale that weighs out trouble equally for all. We envy those who seem to have little, and pity those who have much.
For those of us who have made Jesus our refuge, one of the lessons we soon learn is that our adherence to Him doesn’t necessarily mitigate the trouble that can so easily find us. We have the promises from Him that troubles can not harm us, because He has overcome the world, but we also have the promise from Him that they will still find us.
Understanding that brings the battlefield from without to within, on the battlefield of our mind, which is ultimately where all battles are won or lost. Without Christ, that battlefield is still enemy territory, with Christ, it can actually be Holy ground.
Recently condemnation came upon that battlefield for me very strongly, turning into a protracted fight that stretched into two days. This, in spite of the truth which Romans 8:1 guarantees, that there is “no” condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But it was vicious and unrelenting, nonetheless. When it was over, I don’t think I won anything, as much as I thought I was left for dead. I felt as though my ship had tossed me overboard and I struggled greatly to keep from drowning in the churning deep.
It was on that metaphor though, that I later realized I was thrashing about in merely a few feet of water. All I had to do to win the battle, was stand up.
What defines a true warrior? Assuming there is a collective of strengths and mastered craft that makes up one of these, where is the comprehensive list of those? What if there are fifteen things on that list and one who calls himself a warrior has only mastered eleven of them, is he still a warrior? Or are they posers and “wannabes” until they show themselves capable in all the necessary warrior criteria?
The world in which we live, sometimes a difficult place to find peace in, almost requires that each of us becomes a warrior in order to establish that peace. Because that’s why we war, don’t we? To have peace. To create a defensible position from which we and those we go to war for, besides ourselves, can live harmoniously with each other and our environments.
Ah, but usually, though, as we seek out those collective strengths and craft that makes for good warriors, what we discover is the ever long list of vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and gaps that allow the trouble into our defensible position, before we’ve become proficient enough in war to effectively keep it out. We are forced to confront the nefarious enemies of all we defend from a compromised position, doing the best we can with what we know. Sometimes that doesn’t work well and then we, along with everyone we’re trying to protect, has to compromise and adapt. Messy business war is, and far-reaching are its effects.
So, calling it an art, as in the ‘Art of War’ seems flippant and whimsically inaccurate. But is it?
I’ve watched a friend who is an artist, or is he a warrior? Both, I’ve presumed. Anyway, I’ve watched him paint wondrously gorgeous paintings, many of which grace our home, and in so doing there is always a circle of chaos around him. Colors so spattered and mixed on easels, aprons, clothing, and skin, that you almost feel sorry for him. He puzzles and broods over every stroke. Some of his best works have the history of their lesser equivalents, which fell short of his own conceived perfection, lying underneath the finished product by a few thin layers of paint.
Consider the writers of old with the tiny shreds of graphite, lead, and rubber eraser lying around them, or the brick layer whose work shoes are no longer flexible beneath accumulating layers of mortar, or the mother who collapses into her bed each night with the myriad messes that befit small children, lying barely atoned for just feet away. One-of-a-kind masterpieces, victories, and defensible security is the common goal of each and every brand of warfare, clearly visible to their warriors, on a horizon which lies on the other side of the battlefield.
And, so, we war.
About a year ago, my wife and I bought a house in an inner-city neighborhood which had been established more than one hundred years ago. In fact, at that time it was a farmland community that turned into a village, and then settled into a neighborhood as the city of now more than 2.5 million people grew outward to meet it. Then it kept on going. Our house was a rebuild, its previous version having been torn down to the foundation and a fresh design built in its place with updated materials. Its decent-sized front and back yards have been obviously well-trodden, and often tell tales of their past hosts by revealing interesting items just beneath their surfaces, especially after heavy rains. When we moved in, the house had been finished and dormant more than a year prior, so the lawns were a bit disheveled-looking. But in my ensconced western culture thinking, they were blank canvases on which I could not fail to produce masterpieces, because everyone is an artist and it’s not the canvas that is overly important, but the opportunity. That’s a topic for another day, though.
As the first mild winter came and went, I somehow failed to notice that the lawn I did have in the back yard, sparse as it was, had completely vanished. As I sulked through a plan of attack to correct this, I was mildly comforted that my front lawn was thick and probably the brightest shade of green in the neighborhood. Excellent. But, then again, that’s how crabgrass is: thick, bright and drought-resistant. Perfectly reliable while requiring nothing of you. It was ugly, but it was green and it was present. As the summer heat cranked up more and more toward
record levels, I became less and less interested in recovering for myself and our house the magazine quality lawns in my mind.
It was during this same time period, in this same summer heat, I began to reluctantly notice that the grass pastures of my inner man were in the same condition as the lawns of my abode. The front, which was the me I presented to the world that everyone observed, was thick and green, giving the appearance of health, but was none other than crabgrass, the woeful imposter. The back yard of my inner self, surrounded by a privacy fence, as was my real yard, had also become void of grass. It was a desert of dust in the heat and also a revealer of hidden unpleasantries after the heavy rains of life’s circumstances. I soon began to see that the Divine Artist was painting a picture around the outside of me that mirrored what was going on around the inside of me, and it was a spot-on match.
I prayed to and questioned the Lord who, throughout my life, has manifested His grace toward me time and time again, walking and talking with me. Nothing. I prayed some more, asked harder questions, while at the same time having to rise up to fight the accusations flying at me as to why He, who had always been patient for me to return while I explored little rabbit trails that led me away from Him, had withdrawn. Was I on a rabbit trail now? Still, nothing. Somewhat distraught, I put everything down: my projects, my to do lists, emails, texts, all of my “what-have-yous.” I had to go find Him. Immediately. I had to find my Gardener.
Joe the Landscaper had come to my attention on a recommendation. I contacted him not long after we moved into our house, to get help with the lawns. He came almost immediately at my call. He aerated, seeded, fertilized, and instructed me in a manner that should have all but guaranteed my success. “Water,” he said. “Water every day.” He also told me of worse- looking lawns and scenarios of decay that were beyond what I was experiencing which he had remedied, tended to, and brought back to a beauty that was better than before. The inner familiarity I had with the Gardener of my heart, which closely resembled Joe’s outward attentive presence and instruction for my lawns, let me know he was my guy. I did what he said to do for a little while, but for whatever reason I missed a day or two here and there, which made it easier not to continue when I remembered the instructions he had given me. As the weather got hotter and hotter, it was reasonably easy for me to justify over time a “why bother?” attitude. I had already missed enough opportunities to see the decay that defied what my guy, Joe the Landscaper, and I had discussed with confidence.
So, for weeks, I went looking for Him each day and many nights. The Lord. The Gardener and Landscaper of the pasture in my heart. Because I believed Him when He said, “I will never leave you, or forsake you,” I knew I needed to look no further than the lawns and pastures of the inner abode in my own heart which, because of Him, were far bigger than I remembered. A friend of mine, who was also familiar with the Lord as a Gardener and Landscaper, was gracious enough to
notice that I was looking, and spent some time helping me search. As we did, the soil yielded up things that I had long ago buried and forgotten. The problem was that I had uncovered some of these things before, but left them in place to ultimately be buried yet again, never having properly disposed of them. There was no getting around these now. I was on a mission and they were in my way. If I didn’t permanently remove them, they would continue to contaminate the soil, prohibit growth, and make the gardening harder if not impossible. Just like it is with my guy, Joe the Landscaper, I have a responsibility to do things that contribute to what he’s trying to help me do.
Speaking of Joe, I called him one day when I was dismayed. Dismayed by the false front lawn of crabgrass and dejected by the desert of dirt around my back yard patio. I couldn’t take it anymore and I ripped into him a little bit about what HE had failed to accomplish. Again, he came almost immediately. He asked me a few questions about the instructions he had given me and then boldly said, “I see what’s happening here. You didn’t keep up with what I told you to do and are blaming me for what we’re seeing.” Me: “Well, umm…” Joe the Landscaper had just quickly and efficiently shamed me back into reality by exposing me to myself. But he was gracious in doing so.
My hunch that the Gardener of my heart couldn’t leave or forsake me, because He had promised not to, was correct. I found Him. I found Him because He was leading me all along, though I hadn’t perceived it. He chose this way in our
relationship and in this instance so I could take note of things I had to do for myself, which I had stopped doing. Things that were necessary because the clutter between us, of those things being undone, was becoming prohibitive. He, likewise, had exposed me to myself and was gracious in doing so.
At about this time, having found again the Gardener of my heart, Joe and I resumed our partnership. He killed the crabgrass in front of our home, and though that made things look even worse, I felt great about it. He aerated, seeded, fertilized, and instructed me afresh. “Water. Water every day.” This time I’m doing my part consistently, both within and without, and new shoots of real grass are everywhere, both within and without. Joe doesn’t come over to water; I do it. Joe doesn’t come over to pick up the endless saw blades, broomsticks, broken glass, and other junk that work their way to the surface of the well-trodden soil; I do it.
The parallels, or prophetic connection, of these two scenarios happening to me at the same time this past summer have instructed me greatly. Through it all, just as I had faith to believe that the seeds of grass would fall into the ground and die, then rise anew to grace the abode of my home, my faith to know that the Gardener of my heart had, in like manner, fallen into the ground and died to rise anew and grace the abode of my inner man. Who I truly am required something of me. Something that I once again live to give and give to live.
John chapter seventeen is a fascinating portion of scripture, that in twenty six verses paints a three dimensional picture God’s hope for each of us and what our position with Him is if we indulge Him in that hope. That place for us in the verses of this chapter, is found in the detailed prayer that Jesus makes to the Father, in a frank and conversational tone, wherein He asks for very specific things. That alone is interesting. As the Son of God who knew He was about to be betrayed and murdered at the hands of men, He demonstrates His own self-assurance in His relationship with the Father in this prayer and yet does not assume that God was so familiar with the intentions of His heart, that He didn’t ask for them specifically. Though He and the Father were One, Jesus laid out His desire in very specific words.
This is a great lesson in and of itself to the point I want to get across here, because I have had a tendency to do the very opposite. I assume that God knows, understands and therefore grants me the intentions of my heart, without specifically talking with Him about them. It’s a presumptuous and diminishing way to handle a relationship that can create confusion (in me, because God is never confused) and stall forward progress. Jesus had complete confidence. Not in a presumptuous way, but a fearless way, knowing that His Father was completely approachable. I know that I’ve been blessed and elevated in pursuing my relationship with God, but there’s still higher ground to be had in the blessings and it’s up to me to understand that, get to it and stay there. If you want to consider that point more completely right now, measure these words against the most important earthly relationships in your life. Whoever they’re with, for all of us they could probably be richer in different ways, bringing them more in line with ideals we know are better, but end up compromising by not giving them the proper attention or doing the required work.
In verse three of chapter seventeen, Jesus makes the statement, to His Father that the secret to eternal life is to know Him. Jesus knew the Father and the Father knew Jesus. He knows us, but do we know Him? We endeavor to pursue a form of relationship in part and parcel, but too few of us do this vigorously enough, or in a sacrificially enough, to take and hold the higher ground. A little further on, in verse six, Jesus makes another statement to God, acknowledging back to Him something that God already did. He said; “I have manifested Your name to those you have given me out of the world.” Recently, I read that verse again and it struck me differently.
As we get to know, and as I got to know, the disciples throughout Jesus’ ministry and well into their New Covenant writings, we can quickly understand that they are genuinely human and largely just “regular guys” in their culture. But before Jesus even knew who they were God had prepared each one of them, in all their human fault and frailty, to install His kingdom in the earth beyond the murder of His Son. Jesus didn’t choose His disciples, God did. Then at the appropriate time, He revealed them to Jesus, who simply extended to them an invitation.
Later Jesus declares something incredible, recorded in verse sixteen. That because of what He had deposited into these men during His time with them, by teaching about the very Father that He intimately knew had chosen them, that they were no longer of this world.
Think about that.
Imperceptibly these twelve disciples, without even knowing it, had emigrated in citizenship from earth to heaven and would retain that privilege, on that much higher ground so to speak, through their remaining life’s trials on earth, their physical deaths and thus to this very day.
If that isn’t fascinating enough, Jesus continued to pray saying; “not only these do I pray for (meaning the twelve), but for ALL those who would come to believe in me, based on their teaching and that they ALL would be one, just as You and I are one.” As Christianity has grown like a vine over the face of the earth to what it is today, it’s important to remember that God has “chosen” and prepared each of us to receive the same invitation Jesus extended to the twelve. We’ve been hand-picked.
None of them had to change who they were, they just had to say “Yes” to the invitation.
And so like them, we, regardless of our struggles and the way we sometimes feel detached or even dirty because of wrong things we’ve done, said, or had done and said to us. Regardless of the confusion or isolation we feel deep within, because of unanswered prayers, or receiving things we feel we didn’t deserve. Regardless of the realizations that we were ultimately powerless to keep the things we wanted more than anything, but lost them anyway. These kinds of things are endless, all them indigenous to the fallen human nature. But the only sure way to overcome them is to remember that we are never “un”-chosen, that is unless we choose to be. Say ‘Yes” and begin the journey.