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)]
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.
How many times have we earnestly and fervently prayed for something only to not receive it? Or how many times have we held back that kind of prayer, to settle for whatever happens because we’re uncomfortably aware that we have kept the God of answered prayers, to whom we should be praying, at a “safe distance” from ourselves. This has probably happened to all of us if we’re honest, maybe more than once or twice, but if in those moments we don’t stop and re-consider the totality of those happenings, we can create the less than desirable effect of widening the gap of that “safe distance”.
To begin with, the grace that we all have experienced in our lives, to the point of sometimes taking it for granted, as well as our past prayers that have been magnificently answered, can become diminished and somehow insignificant.
I have found that many times my unanswered prayers have been for people who have succumbed to illness or injury and passed away, in spite of our great faith that God could heal and raise them up and our offering of those very prayers has seemingly come to nothing. That hurts. Imperceptibly, those unanswered prayers can quietly usher in a false sense of unfulfilled promises. The very promises that we know exist and may have been taught to us from our youth.
Could it be true that we just plain abhor investing ourselves into something like fervent prayer, settling for cursory topical ones? How then do we become offended at not receiving the answer we desire. Meager investments yield meager returns, no matter what the currency. More on that in a moment.
Recently, while with some friends in a time of prayer together, one of them stepped up to lead us in a slightly different manner, suggesting a time worship followed by an invitation for us to pray freely afterward. Her instructions for our worship were this though: Take ourselves COMPLETELY out of it. Even to the point of not including our thanksgiving in it, because that thanksgiving would have some aspect of “self” attached to it. Just purpose to make declarations to God, purely and solely acknowledging who He is.
No mine. No my. No I, we, ours, theirs, them, us, etc. Just… Him.
It was surprisingly hard to do this at first and I immediately realized that I had never, ever purposed to do it, always adding a little (or a lot) of myself whenever I worshiped God. Within a few moments though, I began to detect a change. I sensed that worshiping Him in this way took me to a place of wider spaces of peace that seemed fresh, new and unfamiliar, because I had never purposed to go there in that way before. In that space EVERYTHING was okay, past, present and future. Gone. Gone were the voices and callings of the world and my life, that beckoned for the attention due to them, which is never truly satisfied, by the way. It was amazing.
Scripture is full of covenantal promises for us, some of them very direct and specific, but how are we to respond when our hope in them evaporates, sometimes in a single moment, because a heart’s desire would go unfulfilled? Difficult as it may be, we must pry our clenched fists off of the doubt that invites itself into our very lap in those moments and grasp for the truth that no longer seems available because of those moments. A traveling preacher, named Tom Skinner, began a series of teachings years ago which he started and ended with these statements:
“I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts, and suddenly realized that I had better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I cannot answer, to the reality of answers that I cannot escape, and it’s a great relief.”
I believe that somehow grace… is as big as the universe and has the characteristics of a liquid, always seeping to the lowest place it can go. That’s where people live, unfortunately. It’s the smallish definitions we’ve given to grace, that just don’t contain the revelation to give us recognition of it’s presence with us at all times. As a result, disappointment finds its way into our human lives more often than it should.
But in going to a place of pure selfless worship, even for a few fleeting moments, I found that it had no choice but to stay behind. Standing in a very small part of that, away from my “self” became bigger and more secure than anything I’ve ever experienced.