Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas . . .

It's Christmastime, so this, herefore, is the obligatory Christmas post.

To sum up Christmas would be to say Christ was born, that He stepped down from Heaven, and was born to die for us.
It couldn't be truer. But to say that's an adequacy would be a gross misunderstanding of Christ and His purpose.
To say He merely died for us scarcely does justice to what He truly did. To say He merely performed miracles would be an understatement. To say anything of the like, actually, would be as saying the moon just gives light at night. Yes, that's one thing it does, and that's the most plain and simple thing it does. The miracles, though supernatural, were not just miracles.
The moon causes tides, affects winds, weather, seasons, gravity, animals' behavior, growth of plant life, and so much more. The most obvious effect we can observe, though, is light, so we say it shines in the night. But the fact, and the beauty of it, is that the light is hardly worth noting in comparison to the rest.

To say Christ just gave up His life for us is overlooking so much, though it's the most visible quality of it, so that's what we often focus on.
Anyone can die for another. Many do. Soldiers give their lives daily for their home, friends, and family. People lose their lives in dangerous workplaces trying to provide for their families.

John 15:13 says the all-so-familiar quote of, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
And that's true. Nothing we can do can be more significant a gesture of love than the self-sacrifice of the greatest cost for the cause of preserving another. But this is a human limitation. Jesus is speaking of the greatest thing a "son of man" can do. This is the greatest gesture of love His mortal shell could express.
But He is, while fully man, also fully God. And the eternal, infinite God can -and did- sacrifice so much more than these temporary, finite shells we live in on this earth can.

Philippians 2:5-8 says, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Firstly, our way of thinking should not be to count Him as a mortal dying on a cross. That's only what's going on at the very skin of it.
Have this mind, instead, that Christ was in the form of God; the infinite, eternal, almighty, exalted, and untouchable Ruler of the universe.
Have this mind that He gave that up, not counting that nature as something to be had but to be laid down for your sake.
Have this mind that He not only gave that up, but came as a slave, humbled, ruled by men, and given up to suffer every temptation -and more- than we know.
Have this mind that He was obedient, unquestioning, while being beaten and spit on, whipped (not to be overly graphic, but He was whipped with a "Cat of Nine Tails," which was a nine-stranded whip with shards of glass tied into the ends which stick and must be ripped out; the skin of His back and sides would have been literally torn off with great force, exposing His bones and perhaps more), and then nailed, naked, to a cross which was reserved for thieves, murderers, and absolute degenerates. Left to die. In the name of God. In the name of the God that we didn't recognize--Himself. He was killed in the name of Christ.
Have this mind that He suffered through Hell, infinitely worse than the torture He endured here on earth where His physical body eventually died.

This is what He knowingly gave up for us. Not just His physical life, but He went from one absolute to the other. That was His purpose. To give up everything out of a love greater than we can fathom, greater than the mere laying down of one's life.
The miracles were not just miracles. They were the fulfillment of everything prior to His birth; four-thousand years of prophecy brought into fruition. Four-thousand years of Law embodied. Four-thousand years of man that cried out for a Savior.

This is what Christmas is. It's not just the birth of Christ. It's the conception of hope for mankind, it's the dawn of eternity birthed within us, it's the glory of God walking among -and living within- us. It's God with us. Immanuel! 

I may seem a Scrooge at times around Christmas, but only because our modern images and traditions (namely Santa Claus) take from the glory due to God. But how little can be taken from Him! All creation sings His praise, and the Heavenly beings cry out "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Some Thoughts On The Holy Spirit

Not everyone cares to talk about the Holy Spirit all that much, but i feel we must. As a community of believers, as Christians, as the burning light of God in this world, we must speak not only of God and Christ, but the power that drives us, that fuels us, that energetically sets our hearts aflame and leads us.
I'm not sure the reason the Christian community overlooks the Holy Spirit. It could be due to fear of blasphemy, as blasphemy against the Spirit is said to be the only unforgivable sin.
But think thusly; if speaking ill of your father would get you kicked out of the house and left on the streets, would you do it? Of course not. Would you not talk about them for fear of it? Unlikely. You would act as though they were your parents.
Why then, when speaking about the infinitely merciful and gracious God, do we speak of His Spirit with such reluctance? We should speak of the Holy Spirit all the more, that we have not been kicked out of the house for all the other wrongs we've committed against Him!

Now, the Holy Spirit is an "all-consuming" Fire. He's not "somewhat-consuming," or even "mostly-consuming." He is "all-consuming." Beginning to end, He is there.
We speak of God, of Christ, of salvation, even of the gifts of the Spirit, but we do not speak enough -could not speak enough!- of the Holy Spirit. Speaking of the gifts but not of the source is like saying "I got a guitar," but not saying it was from your friend. It's a massive overlook.
He wants us to give Him glory, but the accreditation is often left out, or worse, given unto ourselves (especially when speaking of words of knowledge or wisdom, or of faith or of love, which are gifts of the Spirit). This attitude is a disgrace. All He wants is for us to recognize Him and say "He gave me this guitar--and He's giving me lessons on it, too."

Again i say, He is an all-consuming Fire. He burns within us passionately, and with the same passion and power as that which was in the Word that said "Let there be light!"
That kind of power is frightening. It can create or destroy with but a single word. That is where the fear of God flows from; not in a terror that pushes us away, but a fear of being on the wrong side of the power behind creation (that is often initially what drives us to Him, but love does not come from being "scared to" something). He does not align Himself with you; you align yourself with Him. And we don't always fear being on the wrong side of this force, you fear being away from this force. This fear is a dependency. And it develops into love; just as a bear cub is terrified of being away from its mother, we should be infinitely more terrified of being separated from the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not some strange, shy thing. He is bold. He is perhaps the boldest characteristic of God.
God reigns. Christ atones. The Holy Spirit links the two together inside of us.
I say He is bold because it is the characteristic of God that makes Him real to us. Faith is a gift of the Spirit.
It's bold because it drives us to be like Christ, it drives us to love God, and it drives us to live for God. Whether or not we give this credit to the Holy Spirit, it is the reason we can preach, we can teach, we can love, we can hope, we can live.
The Holy Spirit is the invisible qualities of God mentioned in Romans 1, the undeniable aspect that makes us to be without excuse.
He's not something to tip-toe around while avoiding eye contact. It is the living force of God living within us, His Spirit, His "Breath of Life" given to Adam and Eve. It is what makes a son of man into a child of God, and transforms the dried-up bones scattering about the valley into a standing army of flesh-and-bone.

Monday, November 4, 2013

So That No One Can Boast . . .

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

These verses are seen whenever i open a book lately, as they're printed on my bookmark. And this passage, though short, is such a profound explanation of the Christian mindset.

"For it is by grace you have been saved..."
This, grace, is the encompassing definition of Christianity. It is the Law fulfilled on our behalf. It is the humility of the Son of God, through Whom the universe was made; a King—The King of the universe, of creation in its entirety; from, through, and to Whom are all things and is all glory due. The King of kings, the Lord of Lords, the roaring Lion and the gentle Lamb, the Conqueror of nations and the seeking Shepherd who searches always for the lost sheep. This is grace, that He gave up His place to not only live like one of us, nor just to die for us, but to go to Hell on our behalf. It's by this that we are saved.

"...through faith..."
Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is belief in something, true, but it goes deeper than that. To say i have faith in my closest friend would not be to say i believe he/she exists, but that i have trust in them to keep something entrusted to them, to look out for my well-being; faith is a sort of love. It's always hoping, always believing, always trusting. Faith ensures loyalty; it is not being able to see the entirety of a situation, yet knowing far deeper than words that all is not lost.
And all is not lost, i tell you, because we have faith. We have faith in God. It's not merely a belief in His existence (for even the demons believe—and shudder!). And that faith is what drives us to give of ourselves, to hope that what little help we can offer will, in turn, change the world over the course of generations for the better. We have faith that drives us on to works, but the idea of works will be addressed presently.

"...and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..."
It's easy to picture this as meaning grace is not from ourselves but from God, but that much is obvious about grace. Grace is always the undeserved gift. It would seem redundant to point this out. Therefore, my opinion is that this is speaking of both faith and grace, the two aforementioned topics. Faith is a gift from God, and this is evident when reading 1 Corinthians 12. It, like prophecy or healing, speaking in tongues or wisdom, is a gift of the Spirit, and we cannot come to faith except, and solely by, the grace of God, the gift of God. Not from ourselves do we enter into the gift of faith, but by the grace of God's calling. We have nothing to do with it except readiness. The moment we think God calls us because we are a good or deserving person, pride has already flecked the heart with blackness. But humility is, like faith, a gift He calls us to; all we have to do is submit. In submission, pride is killed. In submission, the coals of humility are kindled to flame.

"...not by works..."
This is a particularly interesting section to me, because i am of the sort that believes works are a fruit of the Spirit, and that faith brings forth these fruits. Anyone can do "good" works, but no one can become "good" by them. There is none good but God. Works by themselves are for naught; vain. They are often self-serving if not carried out for the sake of God's glory. By doing things, such as giving to the poor or volunteering, we are seeking glory and recognition. There are, however, two motivations to this. The first is self, which is always pushing us to be seen by our peers, admired and congratulated (not that these things are wrong in and of themselves; they should not be the driving force for anything, for if we do things to be recognized, our fleeting and momentary recognition is our reward). The second motivation is the Spirit, which urges us to always love more deeply, and to be nameless in the sight of man so the glory may be directed to God.
Also, i have been discussing works with people lately, and come to the conclusion that people need to earn something. They feel they must earn their way into Heaven, when the man on the cross beside Jesus is too simple a model for us. We must make our beliefs tangible by changing it from solely Christ's work (the Gospel) to also a few things here and there that we do to "win" Heaven. This ideology is flawed, though it gives us something to grasp. All in all, it is grace, not works, that gave us entry into the kingdom of God.

" that no one can boast."
If we think that something we can do gets us a little more recognition with God, we are deceived by our works. Nothing we can do can make God love us more or gain us entry into Heaven (what is impossible with man is possible with God). We have no boast in anything we do, but we do have exceeding reason to boast because of what Christ already did—before we were even born. If we're at a place where we are praying in thanks that we're not like someone else, we're boasting in our hearts. God desires humility; it was the tax collector that went home justified, having been too ashamed of his human nature to even lift his eyes to Heaven or approach the altar, rent his garments and beat his chest, pleading "God have mercy on me, a sinner," not the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.
Boasting is not as simple as humility in public, but humility in heart. When we approach God, we are to have confidence, not cockiness. We're to be humble, meek, but sure that Christ is our Mediator, our propitiation for sin and that, through His works, and not our own, we can boast and proclaim "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Not by what we can do, but by what He did do.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"See The Storm," a mini-sermon by Mattie Montgomery, is very impressive. Perhaps not contextually correct in its entirety, but it's still a very interesting idea. And we are to be the hands and feet of Christ; this is a variation of that idea.

To think that we, witnesses of God, are the "cloud" of God's glory is a pretty interesting idea.
I'd like to add something to this as well.
A congregation of witnesses, "so great a cloud" of them, would be a very impressive example. If we let go of our past, give up the dead man of the world and take on the living Spirit of God within us, if we no longer live as ourselves but live as Christ living through us, we can embrace the lessons learned from living as the world--we must embrace our testimony, the testimony that God has given us by His grace and for His glory.
If we hold to this this, if we let Christ live through us, if we take our testimony into the world as an example of God's glory to show others what He can do, there is no force on earth more powerful; mobile, pointed Christians who love and want so desperately to see others come under the grace of God have no match in this world, nor do the powers of darkness have a foothold in their presence because Christ is living through them.
And the congregation of these witnesses, a gathering of these examples of His glory; anyone coming into this would be stepping into a great cloud.

A Grain Of Sand

There's something quite fascinating in observing others' perspectives and opinions. I've also found people to be much more receptive of the Gospel if you don't treat it as something to be defended, but rather something that will defend itself. If you offer it as something to be reckoned with as opposed to displaying yourself as something that was reconciled, it's often received about as well as a stubbed toe.

This is not a post about ministering, though. This is, more than anything, a supplemental post to the prior one. Civility, sadly, is often lost when discussing something as polar and encompassing as spiritual beliefs. Sometimes on my part, sometimes on the part of the other party(ies). The thing is, though, is the non-Christian has an excuse. I'm told to expect to be rejected, even hated, because of the hope i have in Christ. I, on the other hand, have no excuse. I'm told to love unconditionally.
As said, i have a fascination with hearing what others have to say about their beliefs or lack thereof. I think the best example i could be to people who differ from me is to display love to them; listening and caring about what they say, and accepting them regardless of where they stand.

More often than not, this kind of observation leads me to hearing the opinions of atheists. Some are downright intriguing.
One that has been weighing on me heavily lately is this: In relation to the universe, we are infinitely, even impossibly small. A grain on sand along the shoreline is monumental compared to me in the universe. So how do i reconcile this feeling of vanity and pointlessness with a God that chose this planet to send His Son to, to die for me, the less-than-a-grain-of-sand human that i am?
Moreover, how do i measure my life against the universe and find worth, or hope, or meaning in death?

Well, firstly, theoretically, there's more in the microcosm (microscopic and smaller) than there is in the macrocosm (the tangible). That means there's more smaller than us than there is larger. With this, we can look into the night sky at the stars and, instead of feeling infinitely small, we feel infinitely important because there's more inside of us than there is outside of us. That is how i reconcile the infinitesimal me to the infinite God; He sees us, those He formed with His fingertips, with more desire and care than He sees the rest of the universe that He spoke into being.
That is where our worth, hope, and meaning come from; the Creator who spun us so intricately together.

But death, with all its unknowns, still poses an issue.
The issue of death is not something to be dreaded if one has their hope in God. It's going to happen, it must happen. Why, then, do we dread it so?
Death is like the night sky. It's dark, mysterious, and infinitely large to those who know no hope of God. To the Christian, it is something to see as a barrier from here to there. An end or a beginning.

In either case, whether we die tonight or in fifty years or in a hundred, it does not matter.
To the one without faith, life is a motion, and death is merely the close, and there would be no observation of anything after, so it wouldn't matter when death comes, because it will eventually come.
The one with faith, it likewise doesn't matter because we have hope in God that it will be for something, and that He has a plan for it.
It shouldn't matter to either Christian nor atheist when death comes for us; one sees death as the unavoidable end that means nothing, the other as a new beginning of which the timing was chosen and proper.

Whereas a non-believer sees a curtain in this life, a Christian intends to witness all that is going on backstage to make sure the visible stays true to course.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cultural Differences

"Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies...Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" (Psalm 27:11, 14 ESV)

The world is entirely opposed to Christianity because Christianity is entirely adjacent the world.
Christianity does not conform to the world nor the "progression" (a misnomer, as progression implies a measure of positive change; progress) of the world in such that the Bible does not change. It is a living thing, it affects everyone differently, but the words stay the same, and the world has an issue with any two-thousand year old text written that shapes lives today in different ways than it did a century or a millennium ago.
What's more, society is against a belief system that says that all people are equal, believers in it or otherwise. We crave exclusion, something that says we're of an elite group, even if we're not. That's why so many organizations exist, as well as titles and such. We always want to have a one-up on everybody else, and the Bible destroys that line of thinking by telling us that anyone can be saved, and that God loves all of us, even the sinners and the "Christ-killers." They are opposed to the idea of a merciful God who loves unconditionally and tells us that if we're to be truly abundant outwardly and inwardly, we must love both our neighbors and our enemies alike (as G. K. Chesterton said, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people”).

The world hates the idea of a murderer being no more a sinner than a petty thief or a liar or an adulterer (being one who looks at another with lust, not only those that have sexual relations outside of marriage). This ideology says that we all have sinned, and that all have broken part of the Law and, therefore, broken the whole Law, and that we must humble ourselves to overcome our offenses. And, simply put, people who have said a seemingly innocent "no" when the answer was "yes" or have malicious/hateful thoughts just don't want to be lumped in together with a murderer or a child molester.
So the only answer to how society sees the Christian culture is for them to shun it.
Jesus covered this, as did certain apostles, in saying the world will hate us because we're not like them, because of Christ's sake.

But i would like to look back, pre-Christ, for an answer, and the verses at the beginning of this post, though not written about this particular situation, are not irrelevant.
I don't want to call the world our enemy, but the world has set itself against Christians, be it in the tame mocking we receive here in the United States, or the martyrdom found in other nations. Persecution, in all its forms, of Christ is becoming quite rampant, so it is safe to say they're our enemies, whereas it's perhaps more precise to call us their enemies.
But if we have faith in God, He will lead us on a level path because of our enemies. So wait, be strong, have courage--wait for the Lord.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Come From The Four Winds

I've been revisiting Ezekiel 36 and 37 lately, and trying to piece together all the ways they tie in together.
In Ezekiel 36, we read that God is going to remove our hearts of stone and put a soft heart of flesh in us, and put His Spirit within us to deliver us from uncleanness and to make us feel shame for our sins and, therefore, turn away from it. For His sake, He would act (this could easily be taken to mean He would set us apart for His glory).
In chapter 37, much of it is about the valley of dry bones, where God asks Ezekiel if the bones could live again. Ezekiel doesn't say yes or no, but rather the only true answer for any question, "O Lord God, You know."* (v. 3)
He's told to prophesy to the bones, and it describes the flesh forming over them. But there is one thing lacking still.

"But there was no breath in them." (There was no הָר֑וּחַ in them.) (v. 8)
There are several translations for the Hebrew word for breath (הָר֑וּחַ).
One is breath. Another is wind. Another, get this, is spirit.
The bodies lived, but they had no spirit.

Because of this, God commands Ezekiel to prophesy again, this time to the "breath."
"'Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.' So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army." (v. 9-10)

"And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord." (v. 13-14)
This entire setting is, from the prior chapter through this one, a prophecy about Christ and the Holy Spirit; through Christ we have resurrection, and then He puts His Spirit in us to live.

What i find perhaps most interesting is this: "Come from the four winds, O breath..."
He's told to tell the Spirit to come from every direction and breathe on the slain, that they may live.
He's telling the Spirit to come from everywhere. The Spirit would be spread across the earth, in every nation; in Jew and Gentile, if you will, and those will make up the resurrected and living people of God, His children. The army of Israel would not consist of a specific race, but people of all ethnicities who have His Spirit within them.

* This should be our mantra in life. As it says in the New Testament (James 4), "...yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'"
It's not for us to even say that our next breath will come, only God knows, and only by His will can air enter our lungs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Distortions of Truths

Satan is a tempter and a deceiver. He twists everything out of context and corrupts.

As a preacher by the name of Mattie Montgomery points out in one of his sermons, Satan doesn't tempt Jesus to break His morals, he says "If You are the Son of God..." and so he tries to get Jesus to doubt who He is.
He also refers back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve was tempted to eat the fruit, and how he told her that she would be like God in knowing good and evil, but God created Adam in His likeness, and so Eve, being formed after Adam, is of divine design.
But this has led me to consider other thoughts along this same line.

It's not just Jesus and Eve that he does this to. It's all of us.
How many Christians can say without presenting a falsehood that they've never felt like they're not a child of God?
None. That's how many.
Satan is good at what he does. He's been sinning from the beginning--he's got experience. Jesus, however, came to destroy the works of Satan. Here's a flipside: through Christ, all things that exist were made (John 1:3). Jesus has more experience creating than Satan has destroying.

Nonetheless, Satan is a pretty good deceiver. I'd be lying to say i've not come under the influence of his lies from time-to-time.
He uses truth to back his deception, though. As seen in the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, he calls out scripture (And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Luke 4, ESV).

A similar kind of temptation has been used against me, though to a lesser degree. Satan has twisted my hearing of the Word of God to his own will, and he does this with many.
Though i believe all who confess and forsake their sins, believe Christ was crucified for their sins and was resurrected by God is a Christian, it's hard to deny the fact that there's dissension within the Church. Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Methodists, and the list goes on. All part of the Body of Christ, but also far from the unified Church He seeks. I believe denominations are where Satan has come in and caused division, though i don't count any of these more or less Christian sects than another. We're all children of God, but we have strife between us, and that comes from Satan.
Are you Methodist? You're a Christian.*
Are you of an Assembly of God? You're a Christian.*
Are you a Baptist? You're a Christian.*
Denominations aren't bad in themselves, so long as the focus is set solely upon Christ. It's the separation that's bad.

I've been convinced at times by Satan that i could never be worthy of the kingdom of God.
He used a very blatant truth to discourage me.
I agree with Satan here; i am unworthy of the kingdom of God. That doesn't mean i should give up, though, but rather that i should press on all the more to imitate Christ.
If you feel you're unworthy of the kingdom of God, embrace that. Accept it as fact and utilize his words as motivation.
When trying to get in shape, one who is out of shape will convince themselves one of two things: 1) "I'm out of shape, i can't work out," or 2) "I'm out of shape, i must work out."
Will you use this attack to motivate yourself, or become lackadaisical from it?

Here's where the Gospel can be used against us; Jesus, talking to the Rich Ruler in Luke 18, ended by saying "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
Sounds pretty tough. Ought to earn us our way into Heaven, right?
That doesn't earn us a thing. Satan has come to me through verses like this to try and tell me that i can inherit the kingdom of God by earning it, and i want everyone to know that no sacrifice, no work that you do, can make you deserving of Heaven. The act of Christ did earn you Heaven. It's His grace alone. It's not by anything you can do. You are a sinner. What right have you to enter the kingdom of God? No, it's only by Christ's actions that we can be saved.
"What is impossible with man is possible with God." (Luke 18:27)
Soli Cristo!
All He asks is that we adhere to His Word.

* Minding that you do the will of God, which is confession and repentance, belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and so on.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Rocks Cry Out

Surely, should mankind cease to give praise unto the Lord God Almighty, even the rocks would cry out. Yes, the trees already reach for Him, the birds sing for Him, the oceans torrent for Him, the wind rushes, the mountains tremble, the clouds dance; all things are made for the glory of God, and give glory they shall. It is not reliant solely upon mankind to glorify God.

Often, we think we are the sole proprietors of praise, practicing worship of Him in exclusivity of ourselves, but we are vain.

God wants our praise, of course, and He desires our love. He craves us more than we crave water in a desert, air under water. He craves intimacy with us. His relationship with each person is like that of a Father to a child who can't even grasp what “I love you” fully means.
But we are not the sole shareholders when it comes to giving Him glory.

When asked by the Pharisees to rebuke His disciples for praising Him as coming “In the name of the Lord,” Jesus said “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
The stones would cry out.
The rocks along the road, the foundations of buildings, the markers for graves; these things would cry out to God, giving Him praise.
And since the dawn of creation, we have not been able to bring enough glory to Him to keep the universe silent.

We were made for fellowship. When God made Adam, He made Eve as well because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone. He made a companion. In everything, we should have fellowship with others.
Where two or three gather in His name, He's there.
To bring confession to fulfillment, it requires a person to confess to.
Even Solomon said it's not good for a person to be on their own because when they fall, they have no one to help them up.

Teams work together in ways that don't make a whole lot of logical sense; the result is greater that the sum of the whole. Three people can get a job done in less than a third of the time it takes one person. It's why we have assembly lines.
So with this thought of a fellowship working together to amass or exude greater glory than the sum of its parts, we should turn our thoughts heavenward. Not necessarily to the place of Heaven, but to the sky, the heavens above.

Suns burn, planets form and circle, and the cosmic ballet ensues.
More than this, they are things crying out for the unquenchable fire of God's glory.
Dust in space sticks together, and with the fellowship that follows, an infinitesimal amount of gravity is displayed, which draws more dust. It piles and combines and grows until it reaches a mass sufficient enough to ignite—and thus a new star is born. A process that, according to physicists, should take billions of years.
But God said “Let there be light,” and there was. It doesn't say over the course of billions of years the sky grew speckled with the light of stars. No, the stars appeared then. At that moment.
The glory of God is so demanding that physics bends to suit it. His voice created the physics in which the dust even exists—it is not a far-fetched thought that certain rules are note so certain when He requires them to take a measure of malleability.

The universe is already crying out for the glory of God, it's a sad fact that we're seldom observant enough to notice.
But this negligibility was spawned at the moment of creation; not by God's negligence, but by the inability of things limited to these few dimensions to quench all that He demands.
The physical realm, this universe, cannot contain Him sufficiently to not be in a constant state of radiance on His behalf.

A prime example would be Moses after receiving the Ten Commandments; his face was glowing with blinding intensity.
Elijah, Moses, and Jesus, at the Transfiguration, were all radiating His glory in the visible spectrum.
Being close enough to someone (as in a level of intimacy), mankind starts to take on certain physical attributes of others (I think there's another post about this).
But being close to God alters the physics of our being. We don't know what He is like, but we know that we'll be like Him (a paraphrase of a verse in 1 John, I think chapter one). We will emanate the same light as they did, because we will be that close to Him, and it will be for His glory, not ours.

Truly, the universe, nature, and all of creation for that matter, already is brimming because there is not sufficient glory to be given to Him in this realm to sate that which His very presence demands, therefore it all burns for His glory.

For Such A Time As This

First, let me explain that this is, quite simply put, grace. All of this, a derivative of grace bestowed on an undeserving (and apparently simple-minded) fool such as myself.

“Grow where you're planted,” is a quote I've read countless times.
Basically, we can be most effective “here” instead of “there.” God will transplant us if/when He desires to have us there (I would say “need,” but how self-righteous would it be to think that God needs me? Is it beyond Him to create another like me, only exceeding in all ways? Certainly not. Therefore I am, by grace, called according to His purpose, and solely out of grace do I become a tool for Him). But where we are is where we're planted so the obvious thing for us is to grow in the pot we're in. When we're ready for a bigger container, He will transplant, but only in the Good Gardener's perfect timing.
We should never desire to be “there,” because “there” will become our “here” when He wills it (in other words, He will put us there).

Here's where I get a might bit personal. I've shared this thought with few, and only close and trusted friends at that.
I've struggled with why I'm here, free, in America. It's legal for me to worship in my own home, to own a Bible, and even to attend fellowship meetings with other believers two or three times a week, depending on the schedule. I'm blessed.
Why this is a struggle for me is because there are millions, perhaps billions, putting themselves in harm's way for the sake of the Gospel. I believe it's around fifty to fifty-five countries that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is illegal to distribute and/or display, and over ten of which are actively hostile to Christianity.

So why me?

Many ask that question when life is going wrong or they're facing persecution, so I am impelled (inwardly from external source; opposing “compelled,” which means outwardly from internal source) to ask why, on their behalf, I am free to exercise my faith. This has plagued me, kept me awake at night, and turned my stomach to consider. A freedom so basic to me is a crime so treacherous to another. Why do I get water from a faucet, in accommodating quantities that I can shower with, water the dog, water plants, and all with clear and cool water, yet another person is in such desperate need for water that they will drink from a stagnant, murky pool—one I'd scarcely even touch, let alone think to drink from?
And I'm complacent in faith sometimes, all the while enjoying (read: overlooking) blessings that countless in the world will never know.
I'd come to the conclusion that it was grace, and grace alone as to why I'm at this locality and this freedom.

I was wrong. And right.
It is grace. But it's also for a reason I can comprehend.

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, ESV)
For such a time as this,” we're told, Esther was put in place as queen. Not to remain silent in the grace bestowed upon her, but to act. Surely, the salvation for the Jewish people would come from somewhere else and at a different time, but we surrender our crown, our glory, and our hope when we give up the place God has put us in.
“For such a time as this,” then, I am blessed with the freedom to pray, to read, to glorify God in my daily life, to congregate with fellow believers in a building designated for the church to gather in. For such a time as this, we're called not to be silent, but to pray night and day that the Lord of the Harvest would send laborers into the field, for the field is quite ready. And who knows? Maybe I'll be one such laborer? All I can say right now is that my duty is to pray that He will send workers, and be open to the idea that I may be one of them in due time.
For such a time as this!

I am not given grace to enjoy this life without regard, but for such a time as this I am given the grace to act in ways that others are restricted.
This phrase given to Esther by her cousin, Mordecai, is relevant not just to the queen of the Jews of the fifth century before Christ, but to each Christian today that is living in luxury while neglecting the grace not of their material blessing but of the calling of Christ.

Spiritual Gifts

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul mentions the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, it probably goes into more detail than any other section of the Bible on such things. It ends with an interesting phrase, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
This is followed by 1 Corinthians 13, which, as many know, is the chapter that so eloquently and dutifully defines love by its actions and heart (this being the “more excellent way;” to prophesy without love does no good. Love does good, and it gives fruit to the gifts). He says, in chapter 12, to “earnestly desire the higher gifts.”

As he points out two chapters later, prophecy is the greatest gift because it speaks to people to build them up and to encourage them. I wish to stir in a little bit of my own interpretation of this.

The gifts, he measures by their usefulness to the congregation of believers. Prophecy is better than speaking in tongues unless there is an interpreter. Speaking in tongues is pointless to the congregation if they can't understand what's being said, so the interpreter (also by himself is without use, for he has nothing to perceive) brings to fulfillment the gift of speaking in tongues, and likewise the speaker to the translator.

God created two humans; He obviously has design in nature that two (read: fellowship) are required for the greatest manner of things to come unto fruition.
The second eye gives depth to sight; brings us into the third dimension of perception. Otherwise, we could see that distance exists, but it's incredibly difficult to grasp distance with only one eye open. Likewise, ears; a third would not be beneficial as it would only serve to confuse and disorient. With but one, we'd have to spin in a circle to tell what direction a sound originated from.
I don't know if this is universal, but I can lift over twice as much using both arms as opposed to using only one (for the sake of grip and balance).
So of course the fellowship in the gift creates a new dimension, an entirely new level of Spiritual gift, one that impresses upon the receivers to love due to fellowship. Without love, the gifts are empty and fruitless. But when a gift inclines to love, it will be the greatest, no doubt.
But still, of the solitary gifts, prophecy is the greatest.
Not only is it the most beneficial to the whole, it also has a unique quality about it.

Angels, I believe, can understand the speaking of tongues, and interpret. I think it's a Heavenly language and that it's their first language. All the gifts come from the “same Spirit,” and so are from the Holy Spirit alone. They're not something to throw away nor to disregard.
But angels can be wise, intelligent, faithful, etc. They can manifest all the gifts of the Spirit—except one. The “Heavenly Hosts” cannot glimpse the future, nor can Satan or any of his minions. They are stuck in the “now.” God alone knows the day and the hour in which Christ will return; no one and no thing else could guess or know.
Foreknowledge is a gift wholly manifested by God the Father, and by Him alone.
When we receive the gift of prophecy, of true prophecy that details events yet to occur, we are granted something unique to God, withheld from angels and beasts.
This gift is greater not only because it benefits the whole, but because it is only God who can see what is to come to pass and, in so, the intimacy with God that comes with prophecy would be that which is incomparable because it is solely between God the Father and His child.

With this being said, the intertwining of chapters 12 and 13 must not be overlooked; prophecy, without love, makes us a clanging cymbal; a noise and nothing more.
So, as said in the introduction of chapter 14, “Pursue love.” Just as with the gift of speaking in tongues' requisite of an interpreter, so does any gift require love. Love fulfills these gifts, resolves them, and brings the intercourse of believers (in terms of a body of believers being as one in Spirit) to fruition and wholeness.

In short, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, pursue love, and earnestly desire the Spiritual gifts (namely those that bring the furthered level of fellowship with other believers, and greater unity and intimacy with their Source).

Mission Field

After taking a few days off social media, four posts have been amassed. Here is the first.

I've been thinking about what denotes one to missionary work, but the truest and simplest fact of the matter is that we all are called to spread the Word of God. We each are entreated to offer the gift of salvation that we have come to know that is only accessible through the Gospel; we're each designated to share the Gospel. In that, we're all called to missionary work, some domestically and some to be sent abroad.
So then the question arises of who, exactly, is called to go to foreign lands and spread the “Good News” there? Who is determined to become that specific type of missionary?
The question, though a misdiagnosis when deemed a question, is simple, and when asked (pleaded) answers itself through faith.

“Am I called to proclaim the Gospel in other lands?” is not the question to present. It isn't a question at all we should beckon unto God. It's a request; “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

Furthermore, the greatest commandment is to love God, the second to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
If we love Him, we'll keep His commandments. If we love Him, we'll not only be willing to do His will, we'll be excited for His call. And we'll love others as ourselves.
If you love someone, you will no doubt save them if you have the chance. Therefore, if you love others, you'll be willing to offer the Gospel should the opportunity arise. Wherever your neighbor is, that is the place of the mission field (yes, the harvest is indeed abounding). It isn't necessarily on a foreign shore, on an exotic island, or in an uncivilized wilderness—it's there, certainly, but it's here as well; wherever you are, the nearest person to you is part of that harvest.
There is a danger in this, as reckless fanaticism will scarcely be inviting to most. It's not the intention to write a handbook for winning souls, because there is no “method” about it, as each person is an individual, and so cannot be melted down into a stereotype we recite words to. Instead, be Christ to them; love them. The opportunity will arise itself in due time.

That's where the mission field is. It's wherever you are, because there you have neighbors, and your neighbor is the harvest.

Regarding whether or not you, whoever may be reading this, is called to be a missionary in a different country, the answer comes when you beg to God to send workers to the harvest field. He will send out workers. You may be one of those workers. Whether or not you are is between you and God. He will find you a harvest field and you'll be sent there. It could be at a local coffee shop or supermarket, or it could be Guatemala.
Some are called to it. Some aren't. Simply put, the ones called to it know they are.

I'm not trying to persuade nor to dissuade any from extra-national missionary outreach. I am only encouraging all who read this to pray that workers be sent to the harvest field, and to be receptive to the idea that they may be sent somewhere they didn't expect.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fruit of The Spirit pt. II

Some time back, i came to a conclusion about the "Fruits of The Spirit," and recently came to realize something supplemental to that post.

What does an apple tree produce?
Seems a rather pointless question; the obvious answer is apples.
A pear tree produces pears, an orange tree produces oranges, oak tree produces acorns, so on and so forth. A tree produces whatever it's assigned to producing. The thing is, though, it doesn't have to be careful about what it produces. It just does.
An apple tree doesn't have to concern itself with producing apples or not producing peaches. It is given unto producing apples by its nature.
When we give up our earthly nature for Christ's (to be grafted in Him), we don't have to be anxious about what we're producing. A Spirit-borne person will produce Spirit-borne fruit. It just happens because our nature changes into the extraordinary, and the "worldly fruit" (that of self-destruction) is no longer part of us.

If you're going around trying to make sure you're doing things that are of the Spirit, being worried or anxious about what kind of fruit your life is producing, here's part of a verse that i've been fascinated with lately; "Be still, and know that I am God."
Settle down. Relax. Take a breath, and focus on that fact. He's God, He will work through you, will cultivate you. And you don't have to be preoccupied with living a holy life because, frankly, neither you nor i are holy--Christ in us is. Christ in you is righteous. Christ in you is the fruit of the Spirit exuded. It's not by you that you produce Spirit-borne fruit, but by the grace of God through Christ.

Only by acknowledging ourselves as unrighteous can humility be concreted.
Thinking we're worthy of anything, even of being called by Christ to follow Him to our death, is vanity and self-righteousness.
By acknowledging that we're unable to produce wholly good things of our own accord is to confess in our heart that we need Christ for anything and everything. And in the realization of our need for Him, we likewise become compelled to live accordingly, as though we're striving to earn the goodness of Christ's effects on our lives. But we must continually remind ourselves, it's not by our works, it's not by our wills. It's by grace alone that we can do anything good, and so we remind ourselves also to live as Christ-like as we can.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10; ESV)

"Be still," He says, "And know that I am God."
This is a very popular verse, but for great reason. It's a plea from God to us, His children.

If you've ever found a wounded, helpless animal and tried to help it, you can sort of grasp what God is saying here.
You reach for it, it draws back. You try to help it and it bites you, scratches you, does anything to put distance between you and itself, either by running away or trying to hurt you enough to make you leave it alone. But you know what's best for it. You have to get that wire untangled from its leg, that nail out of its foot, that rope off its neck. But it still fights you.
You talk to it, tell it that it'll be okay if it'll just let you help it, tell it to shush and to take it easy.
You say, in other words, "Be still, and know that I want to help you."
But God is more than able to help. And He wants to. He doesn't want you left in your misery, tangled up, bleeding, starving, or just stuck. He wants you to know that you're going to be okay if you just let Him have His way.
Be still. Stop fighting. Relax. It's okay, He's God, He knows what He's doing.
If you don't intervene, sometimes with force, the animal can -and probably will- die. It will not get free, only make things worse, and it will perish without water. You have to cover its head, hold it tight, speak softly, and work diligently. It can be tedious, aggravating at times, trying to get a wild animal past its fear of you.
And when you get it loose, it thinks it was of its own accord. It won't regard you as the one that saved it--not as well as you'd like at the very least.

This is how our plea to a wounded animal works. Scarcely are they willing to cooperate, nor are they in any way concerned about what you're saying, they just want to get out themselves.
We are the wounded animal; we are the ones resisting, the ones that would die if we don't give ourselves to God.

"Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live." (Ezekiel 18:31-32)

We don't want the helpless creature to perish, so we try and save it.
But God is not merely One who tries. He does.
He's able, and He will save those who let Him.
He beseeches you, "Be still, and know that I am God," and "turn and live."
He even asks us why we would die when we have the option to live. It makes no sense. The heart of man is folly, and we choose to die, each of us that does. He doesn't pleasure in that. It grieves Him. He's watching His children choosing to flee from Him and perish as He reaches out to them.
"Be still." Exactly what you're likely to tell a child that's doing something that could harm him- or herself.
Be still, and know that He is God, that He is love, that He is able, and that He is concerned for your best interest.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Love, Justice, And Mercy

There are several ways of writing either "mercy" or "compassion" in Hebrew.
The three most common for compassion are follows:
  1. חֶמלָה
  2. רַחֲמָנוּת 
  3. רַחֲמִים 
And for mercy:
  1. רַחֲמִים
  2. חֶמלָה 
  3. רַחֲמָנוּת 
Same three words.
And to anybody who may be curious, i did use Google Translate for this--shoddy source, but it gets the job done. I'm not a multilinguist; barely have i a grasp on my first language, let alone a second.

This is the reason some versions say God has compassion for us, whereas another would say He has mercy on us. Essentially the same words, same expressed meaning.
A friend and i were discussing how justice and love come together, and how mercy would fit into the mix. This is my personal opinion.

Firstly, i'll state that compassion has the prefix of "com," which means "together" or "with." Passion is "ardent love."
So compassion means, in essence, "with great love."
The Passion of Christ was His transference from King of The Universe to Servant of All and, ultimately, obedience to men unto the point of receiving a criminal's death sentence (Philippians 2:5-8).
We, as Christians, must show mercy to all without exclusion or condition. In this mercy, we show compassion to them for the glory of God. We share with Christ His passion for them.

Galatians 2:20, Paul says it's no longer he that lives, but Christ living in him, as he has been crucified with Christ.
When we show compassion for people for the sake of God's glory, we share in Christ's passion, in His crucifixion, and we crucify ourselves with Him. We cannot show compassion except at the cross, and not because of us, but because of Christ.

Now, love and justice are a tricky pair.
Love is undue. In terms of its nature, it is not treating someone how they deserve to be. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Justice is treating one how they deserve to be treated, taking into account their wrongs and their sins.
Justice and mercy seem to contradict, but there is a point where the two marry.
At the cross.

At the cross, justice for us was set upon the shoulders of Christ, yet by His very nature, He is love (looking over those who had crucified Him, He said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.")
That is love. There is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus, embodying love, was now holding justice upon Himself as He hang from the cross.
They fused at the cross and became something new. They became passion.
For this, as products of that passion, as people set upon by grace, sinners who are forgiven by God's love and mercy, we are to look at others "with great love," or with compassion--with His passion.
When we forgive, when we have compassion for someone, we do as Jesus did; we take their sin upon ourselves to unburden them of it, and in sharing His passion with them, sharing the cross with Christ, He takes it from us ("For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you").
We forgive because He first forgave us.
By forgiving those who have wronged us, we show them love by not counting their transgressions against us. This love expresses mercy. But it's no longer mere mercy that we show them, but justice since the death of Christ. It's justice because God showed us mercy, and it would be unjust for us to not show them the same mercy that was shown to us ("while we were still sinners, Christ died for us").

At the cross, justice and mercy become united, and love is their conduit.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Some Brief Correlating . . .

The other day, i was having a conversation about forgiveness, and who it benefits. I find that forgiving someone does little good for me, but it's me offering grace (what little i have to offer), a wholly Christian theme, to someone who doesn't necessarily deserve it. Christ on the cross, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," (or something along those lines) did little good for Christ's sake but show yet a further example of grace. It was for their sake that He forgave.
I digress. That has little to do with this post. Now to the meat of it.
As said, i was having a discussion about forgiveness. I thought back to what happens if a "brother" wrongs us.

We are told it's our duty to take it up with them, not theirs to come to us. We do this to cause a stirring inside of them so that they may see their wrong and right it, or at least apologize. If they do not hear us, we're to go and gather one or two witnesses so that it may be established by the testimony of two or three (Matthew 18:15-17).

Now in Romans 3, we have this little passage: "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (v. 20)

As those two seemingly unrelated passages came to mind, so did a revelation.
The law, the Torah, is from God. It is how we become conscious of our sin. In Matthew, it's our duty to make our brother conscious of his sin against us by telling him what he's done.
God does just that; through the law of the Old Covenant, the Torah, He confronts us, He brings the wrongs we've committed against Him to our attention.
Then Matthew 18 goes on to say that, if they do not hear us, we're to get one or two witnesses and confront him again.
God did that, too. He sent His Son, through Whom all things were made to be. He came back with a witness. Christ. We killed Christ. What greater witness to our wrongs than the very One we crucified?
No, not just one witness; He sent another. The Comforter, the Helper, the Advocate. The Advocate. An Advocate that stirs up our heart to repentance. Through the Holy Spirit, we are inclined to godly or spiritual sorrow, which is seeking penitence with God through Christ.
We sinned against God.
He sent Christ.
We crucified Him, emphasizing our breaking of the Torah.
He sent the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit inclines us to apologize for our wrongs.

In this, the selected passage from Matthew 18 is fulfilled; God made known our sins by means of the law (Romans 3). We didn't hear Him, so He came to us with the two Witnesses.

"Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
"Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!"
(Ezekiel 18:25-32)

We know we've wronged Him the moment we accept the Torah as His law. That is His beckon to you; He wants you to repent. He wants you to seek Him. He wants you to live.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Emptying Of Self

What does it mean to be empty of oneself? There are books and books about overcoming greed, pride, ego, and the like.
Getting over the "evil" of "self," is a simple act. It's called love.

When the social stereotypes of Christians come to mind, the world thinks of either Ned Flanders, or else a hypocrite that forces their beliefs on others, condemning sinners and portraying themselves as self-righteous.

After some recent experiences, i've realized why the world thinks we're all self-righteous bigots. Because many are, and because those are the ones they have contact with; the ones telling them, personally, "You're going to Hell!" The one bad apple spoils the bunch.
Sin does condemn. There's no denying that. But the thing we are to do, instead of beating them with religious rhetoric, is to break the religion of it and fall into the personal love that Jesus displayed (and embodied). Sin condemns, Christ does not. Christ builds, sin destroys, simple as that. To be like Christ, we must encourage, welcome, and above all, love sinners.

We should not encourage anyone to sin--grace is grace, and just because God makes a greater display of grace with a worse sinner, we should not all strive to be the worst sinner and, therefore, the greatest display of grace. We should strive to be the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when God says "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." We should strive to be the one that needs no grace, but has it nonetheless. We should encourage by being examples of a life with a purpose, hope, and love. We should encourage by being Christ-like, and it wasn't the lowly that He rebuked in the Gospels; religious people and demons. All others, adulterers, thieves, tax collectors, and anyone that would call on Him, He received at the price of their "self."

If we're to welcome someone, we have to make the first move. We have to be accommodating. We have to meet people where they are and work with them in their situations. To the Romans, we must become Romans. To the sinner, we must become a person with a sinful past. We must acknowledge the need they have for a Savior by first acknowledging to them that we need a Savior ourselves, and that we were sinful as well, but have reconciliation through Christ, that very Savior we need.

And what good is anything without love?
If we have religious or selfish motivation for spreading the Gospel, we have gained nothing because we failed to do it out of love. If we prophesy, even, and not out of love, its benefit is null.
We are unable to do anything worthwhile for ourselves if we do it for ourselves. Only when we bless others out of love can it be counted as a blessing to us, because we are otherwise a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. To love is to put others first--to humble yourself. And when you humble yourself, you will be exalted.
The heart is a tricky piece of equipment; difficult to convince, and even moreso to understand the motives of. But one way to overcome this issue is by seeking Christ first. Seek above all things the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. When He becomes your motivation, you don't have to understand your heart because it will not be the same thing as it was before. God will put a new heart in you, and put His Spirit within you. Only that can alter the motivation of the heart to a loving motivation.
When we abandon any hope of our own righteousness and cast it away like dirty garments, searching instead for God's righteousness; only then can we become righteous. Not because of our own righteousness, but because of Christ's. When we set ourselves as the tax collector in the parable in Luke 18, beating our chests, knowing ourselves to be unworthy to even look up to Heaven, crying out "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" we are acknowledging that we are unworthy and that our only hope rests in mercy, which is, by definition, undeserved.

When we become nothing, we gain everything. That may not be material things that perish and rot away. I'm talking of eternal things, things that are permanent and will outlast the sun itself.
A Christian is not self-righteous. A Christian is a sinner, forgiven by grace, righteous not in his/her own eyes, humble, and striving to embody love as Christ did.

That's what it means to be empty of oneself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Not By Faith, Nor By Works . . .

Most of us know the line, "Faith without works is dead." James 2 says it rather bluntly. James even goes so far as to call one who believes in faith apart from works a "foolish person." He then says it was Abraham's works that justified him when he offered Isaac on the altar.
So there's an example of works justifying a person, but note it does not say works alone. "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works..."
See, it's not faith alone, but certainly not works alone either. Faith is completed by works, by the heart of servitude, but a heart of servitude is nothing of itself. Faith; it says even the demons believe—and shudder. Faith in itself is without merit, lest we respect the demons for their belief that Christ is the Son of God.

Romans 3 seems to have another perspective on this; if we preach, if we do works in the name of God, it's nothing.
"For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."
If we are a good person, living by the Law (Torah) of the Bible, it does no good. Therefore, Paul says, no human being will be justified by his works.
It seems to contradict, but they fit together in a puzzle of logic that, after it's realized, is quite plain. It goes back to several things Jesus spoke of, which i will reference in a moment.
Faith justifies, not works of the Law, Paul says.
Works justify, not faith alone, James says.
The contradiction melts when you see that Paul and James both amount to faith requiring a resolution. To bring one's faith to fruition, we become inclined to follow the Law of God. And in order to follow the Law, we are to love others as ourselves. This singular commandment is manifested by doing what we to align others to our own level, or else lower ourselves to theirs. This commandment, this Law, is fulfilled when we have works, not just when we say to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body.

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"

There are the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:21-23
He makes it very clear in this that "workers of lawlessness" will be cast out. Not everyone who says to Him "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of Heaven. Not by faith, but by works.
However, many who have cast out demons and done works will also be cast out. Not by works.
The culmination here is the very seeming contradiction between Paul and James; faith is justified by works, and works justified by faith. Works alone are futile, likewise faith alone is futile.

I think most anyone reading this would know the story of the "Rich young ruler," but i'll post it anyways.
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
This is interesting to me because it emphasizes that which was said in Matthew 7; a man came to Christ and wanted to inherit eternal life. He called Jesus "Good," which was a no-no, because only God is Good. This implies he has faith.
Jesus then set out a list of commandments and said to follow them. He had since youth. This implies he has works.
He should be good. But no. One more thing is necessary. Show a work of faith. He has faith, and he has works, but he has them apart from one another. Now Jesus is calling him to have works entwined with his faith. And that's where he falters. He is not able to do works out of faith.
And he leaves very sad, because he was extremely rich.

By no works can a man enter Heaven, nor by faith alone. It's impossible for man to enter Heaven by earthly means. However, what is impossible with man, Jesus says, is possible with God. Only with God can we be saved. Do not rest on your faith, nor on your works, but let your faith change your heart and resolve it in works--and know it's not by your doing that you're saved, but by the grace of God.

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Ironic Turn Of Events . . .

If you want to learn something new, you must step into new territory. If you open your Bible, don't go to the familiar passages of faithfulness or hope or patience or love or whatever it is that you need to read about, because those principles are the foundation of God's Word. There is not a piece of paper between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 that is void of these things.
So i encourage you to open to a random page, and start to read something new.
Take it for what it is, and take it for what you are.

Moments ago, i posted that on Facebook. I just tried it myself. I have come to the conclusion that God is a very humorous Being (mostly with ironic humor, it seems), and this is no exception.
1 Chronicles 5:23-6:32. Are you kidding me? This? Lineage. Ancestral record keeping. The descendants of the half-tribe of M'nasheh (Manasseh), the heads of their families, their exile, and then the list begins.
Nearly a page and a half of "The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. The children of Amram . . ." and so on.
So i'm sitting here trying to figure out the hope, faithfulness, love, etc., that is here on these two pages.
It hits me. Lineage is legacy. What more evidence of faithfulness can be asked than to bear witness to the lineage of Levi, the tribe "set apart" by God?
Granted, i'm having a hard time reading the entirety of these two pages (it's dizzying, to be honest), it's truly a beautiful thing to see this heritage, this promise fulfilled, this grace bestowed upon an entire tribe from their ancestry.

God visits the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him (Deuteronomy 5:9). This is evident in the "half-tribe of M'naseh."

That may seem bleak, but there's a wonderful, beauteous flipside to it; the following verse says that He shows steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments. The tribe of Levi comes to mind. How wonderful it is that the descendants of Levi are named and numbered.
What's even more wonderful about this is that when we're simply flesh-and-blood, we are bound to the ancestral curses (call it what you will, as many who do not take the Bible to be literal would prefer a different terminology to give credence here, but i see it as wholly literal and, therefore, will call it an ancestral curse). If your great-grandfather hated God, chances are, God will visit that iniquity upon you, because He does not fail in keeping His Word. However, when you give up your flesh-and-blood nature and become a new being in the Spirit, through Christ, you are no longer bound by this, because God becomes your Father--and He keeps His commandments. He will bless to the thousandth generation because you are His child, not a child of this earth.

See in this; "Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.
"And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’" (Ezekiel 16)
You have no place in this world anymore, and only God is your Father. He makes a covenant, He makes beautiful, He restores that which is no longer of this world. In this chapter, the girl found is Jerusalem, and she turns away, but God remembers His covenant.

And look at this; "Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life." (Ezekiel 18:25-27)
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (v. 30-32)

The patrimonial curse is nullified when God becomes your Father, and you receive Him as such. It turns, instead, into ancestral blessing.
Your lineage is not one that can be simply bound in a book because it exceeds time itself. Your ancestry is Divine and Eternal.
Just imagine, opening a book and seeing five words: "The children of God: You."
Now i'm fully convinced that there is hope, life, faithfulness, and love emanating from each and every half-opaque page between the flyleaves of a Bible, even if it's but a list of names.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


God made us adaptive.
We get into things that aren't good, even if we don't partake ourselves, and we start looking "dark". Not in complexion, but in nature. We just look like what we surround ourselves with.

That's why, when Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets, his face was shining. He had been close enough to God that he had become sort of like him; God's glory was embedded in him, and he radiated. He didn't know it was happening, but eventually put on a veil to cover it. He had been in the presence of God, seen God pass by (not His face), and it caused him to glow (Exodus 34).

That's not the only instance of this happening, either. In Luke's account of the Transfiguration, there's one noticeable variation from the other two accounts. There are other accounts where Jesus' face was shining (Matthew's version compared Jesus' face to the sun), and His clothes were bright as lightning, but this account says Moses and Elijah were in "glorious splendor." (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9)
Quite possibly shining along with Jesus.

The angels at the tomb of Jesus are described as wearing clothes that were like lightning.

1 John 3 says that what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears, we will be like Him.
God made us adaptive. When we are in the presence of God, our nature alters to be more like His--even to the point of literally glowing. Personally, i've never glowed, nor seen someone who did. I do know, however, that when He comes in His full glory, in comparison to His prior earthly existence as a butterfly is to a caterpillar, we will also be transfigured. We will radiate. We will shine like Him.

Lastly, and not least, there is Revelation 22. The final chapter of the final book of the Bible.
When God has wiped every tear from our eyes, when He has given the water of life to the thirsty, when He dwells among us, He will replace the sun. 
"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light." (22:5)
And we're going to get to be near Him, and we will become more like Him, because He made us to be like what we surround ourselves with.

Solomon, In All His Splendor . . .

Ecclesiastes sticks out as a rather obscure book of the Bible. It holds much wisdom, but it is also a dangerous book. It can damage a person's outlook, leaving them with a measure of depression--or feeling of meaninglessness ("all is vanity!")
Take this for instance, chapter 4 verse 1; "Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun."
Yes, there's a portion of the Bible where Solomon, the wisest man aside from the wisdom of God Himself (Christ), says it's better to be dead than living, and even better still to have never been born. In fact, there are five times in that chapter alone where things are "meaningless," a "chasing after wind," or both.
The prior chapter, he says all is wickedness; every facet of society has been infiltrated by wickedness, even our sense of "justice." I can't deny that. But having the Bible tell me this can be disheartening.
Even pleasure and laughter, joy; these things are, in this wise man's words, meaningless. Vanity.
He sees his own wisdom as being better than foolishness just as light is better than darkness, yet concedes that the same fate overtakes the foolish and the wise.

"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."
The wisest man saying the more wisdom, the more sorrow, more knowledge more grief. This is true. I'm not wise, yet i know that the more i can understand, the more i cannot do. The greater that i can perceive and know, the more i know i can't change. Ignorance is bliss is basically the essence of that.

If we consult the book of Matthew, Jesus references Solomon in chapter 6; "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?"
Jesus is acknowledging Solomon's depression and futility. All these things, the plants and animals, are cared for by God, so much more must His children be! Yes, we have the same fate as the grass and the animals, but God cares even for the grass, therefore all is not vanity because God favors us over the grass of the field.

Continuing on to 1 Corinthians 12, we read about gifts of the Spirit. In verse 8, we get this: "To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit."
The gifts of wisdom, and of knowledge. Solomon had these things, as Ecclesiastes 1 closes with pointing out. And he said it was only upsetting.
In the following chapter (of Corinthians, not Ecclesiastes), Paul says "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."
Paul perceives wisdom and knowledge to be great, but he also notices that without love, they do nothing for a person. A person who is wise but has no love is nothing.

Solomon had 300 concubines, and 700 wives. The man was chasing after wind, so to speak.
But many of them were of different faiths, and are attributed to a fall from grace (or God) and Judaism, and "turned his heart after other gods."
Now, the Bible says more than once that God, Adonai, Yahweh, is Love. As in a manifestation of love. This very same God is the one Solomon had turned away from and followed other gods. The man lost love. Without love, he became nothing. His depression overtook him because he had wisdom and knowledge, but was still just a resounding gong.
I don't know about you, but if you had great knowledge and wisdom, yet you felt empty, you'd probably set out your life (worrying, as said in Matthew 6) in some vain attempt to understand it. And you would end up just where Solomon did.
Love is everything. Without it, we are nothing.

Solomon, the poor fellow, lacked the true God, the God of love, and so became meaningless through the very gifts God had given him, because he didn't use them out of love.
Ecclesiastes is a warning, i think. If God grants you something -anything- you better use it out of love, and for love. Life can be really vain if you don't.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It's Absurdly Logical

Mark 11:12-13, Jesus curses a fig tree that had no figs.

And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

The fig tree (and it points out that figs were out of season) didn't do anything, one might think.  But with a closer examination, we see that is precisely the reason it was cursed.
The fig tree had no fruit on it, and Jesus was hungry, so He cursed it. This smacks of being a tantrum, but it's not. It's asking the fig tree to go against its very nature, which denotes asking the absurd.
But maybe Jesus' request was absurd. ("absurd: [of an idea or suggestion] wildly unreasonable, illogical")
Maybe His very way is absurd. In this life, it certainly is absurdity, because it's not of worldly nature.

He was demanding of the tree, in essence, "Go against your nature, and do as I wish in the moment I call on you, or else perish."
He couldn't seriously expect a fig tree to listen to Him, though, could He?
Get this; "As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.'" (Mark 11:20-21)
The fig tree withered because He told it to. It did alter its nature to do as He commanded. But He didn't command it to bear fruit, so one would be led to think it was still unreasonable to expect it to have fruit on it out of season.
But we're not talking about just a man here, we're talking about the Son of God. The Word made flesh, the Way, the Truth, the Life--get that? The Life. That's exactly why He could expect it. Because His very presence blesses. He makes the tree fruitful. He designed the nature of the tree, He could expect it to produce any time of year He desires. But this tree rebelled, in a sense. Instead of saying "Yield fruit!" and it happen, He said “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

This tree is much like people. He expects us to be fruitful and to multiply. This was God's first command to mankind. It wasn't a new command that, at Christ's approach, life should be teeming, even amongst the trees. Nature should be conforming to His every step. Mankind should be conforming to His approach instead of conforming to the world.
He could say "Yield fruit!" to every person on the day of judgment, when we meet Him face-to-face, and it happen. Even if it's not in our time to be productive, we should be yielding fruit for we know He is coming. Instead of saying that, though, He is going to say to many, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again," because they have lived of a nature of this world instead of a nature of the Spirit.
After all, living by the Spirit produces a fruitful life (Galatians 5: . . . I think 20-something). Life of the flesh does not produce any fruit.
He expects us, as with the fig tree, to produce fruit because we are near Him. Many don't, and will subsequently be cursed.

The reason i say the essence of His expectation of the tree involves the moment that Christ calls upon the tree is because of two of the three men at the end of Luke 9; one wanted to bury his father, another wanted to say goodbye to his family. Jesus was there at that moment. The moment He calls upon us, we should not have anything in our way too pressing as to not be able to drop, nothing else should be as important as following Christ. We should always be ready to give up all else and follow Him, because we don't know the moment that He'll call us.

But still arisen is the issue of not being the time for it to produce figs . . . "For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:2)
We know He's on His way. We should, therefore, regardless of our earthly nature, be prepared, because we don't know the day in which He will arrive, only that He is on His way.

Woe To Worthless Salvation . . .

You know, i find it interesting that so many people see their salvation as being for them. They say "I'm saved." That's a result of salvation, sure, but that's not the purpose of it. Something that a lot of people don't seem to realize is that the Holy Spirit wasn't sent for our good.
I think the newly redeemed know this without knowing it consciously. They are fervent; they're excited to spread the news about what God has done for them. That is true salvation. It's glorifying God for what He's done for us. That's the reason the Holy Spirit was sent. Not so we could say "I'm saved," but more specifically that "God saved me."
I don't know that this is even making sense, so i'll put up a passage to emphasize this point.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel."
That's Ezekiel 26:22-32, ESV.

That's a little clearer. He cleanses us, gives us definition of holiness, so that we can see that we were not holy nor righteous, and it causes us to be disgusted with who we were without Him. But it's for His sake that He puts the Holy Spirit in us; so we glorify Him. Being saved from damnation is only a benefit of it, something for us to look at and say "Hey, see? That's what we deserve, but He saved us from it so that we would be inclined to do anything for His glory."
But here we are, in a state of spiritual decline because we're slowly allowing the world into our hearts, turning us back to stone. Are we truly so vain that we can have salvation and not be exuberant about it forevermore?

This is going to sound rather harsh, but i think it needs to be said. Yes, you're a Christian. Shut up, and act like it. Stop convincing people you are by your words and prove it with your actions. If you have faith, you will not be content to merely stand with hands raised saying in your heart "Thank You," but you will be compelled beyond your ability to resist to help others. If you have driven faith, you will not have to say "I'm a Christian," because people will know by how you love others--and act upon that love.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14)
"But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?" (James 2:18-20)
"For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (James 2:26)

Nothing we can do can earn us salvation. Only God has secured that for us, and He made Christ the only way so that we would be dependent on His grace, dependent on giving Him glory. Works alone cannot save. Faith alone withers and dies. Faith needs revitalized; it needs kicked every now and then.
See, doing good will do nothing for us if we do nothing out of faith.
Show me what your faith is without action, and you show me nothing. If i show you a good work, it's only because of my faith.
And even at this, it's not for our sake that we have faith and works; it's for the glory of God, and God alone. All glory we receive is due Him.

Therefore, i end with this single woe: "Woe to the sluggard in faith, the bestowed upon of inactive Salvation!"

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Most Tradeful Craft

Think for a moment what the most tradeful (a trade requiring the most utility from the tradesman) occupation is. Personally, I'd like to claim my own, just for some measure of significance. But such is not the case.
The most basic occupation would be one where even the implements are made by the worker. Farmer, maybe (maybe the reason so many parables were concerning farmers, plows, fields, crops, etc.)?
I think not, though.

Carpentry is the most utilitarian occupation (at least in the days before Lowe's and McCoy's). No other tradesman than a carpenter was ever required to make their own implements, gather their own resources, work to carve a tree into planks, have the brute strength to work in such undefined generalities, make precise measurements then close in on intricate details such as an artist does.
It requires a knowledge of the tools, utilization of them in ways only a skilled craftsman could perceive, know what goes where, and see a finished product before work has even begun.
That's why I'm thankful Jesus was a carpenter.
Through Him all things were made. He toiled away painstakingly to gather His resources Himself. He uses the tools (us) that He made Himself to work through, refining and whittling down to absolute precision the resources. He has in mind the absolute finished product--and uses His tools to complete it with incomparable precision.
He must know His craft better than any other craftsman. He must know how to work with His hands. He must know how to use each tool for its purpose, and to use it in ways that others wouldn't know how to.

When I think of Jesus as a carpenter, it's kind of hard not to trust Him.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

All Things Work Together for Good . . .

Romans 8:28.
Many of us have it memorized without knowing what verse of what chapter of what book it's in.
"Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with His purpose;"
That's the CJB translation. That verse doesn't apply to everyone, obviously. "Those who love God and are called in accordance with His purpose."
This verse is speaking specifically to the "called" to God. Some have a natural tendency towards faith, and what a blessing that must be.

But let's look at the two promises in this.
"We know that God causes everything to work together for the good . . ."
That is only one statement, but two things are actually being promised here.
First, we have things working out for the good of God's people. This seems a joyous promise -and oh, how it is!- but we must look at what good is when it comes to humanity. Good is the fruit of the Spirit. Good is loving, good is humility, good is being gentle, good is having hope, good is . . . Good is such matters.
Now look at some other verses for the second promise of this.

Romans 5:3-5;
"But not only that, let us also boast in our troubles; because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and this hope does not let us down, because God’s love for us has already been poured out in our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) who has been given to us."

2 Corinthians 12:7;
"Therefore, to keep me from becoming overly proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from the Adversary to pound away at me, so that I wouldn’t grow conceited."

1 Corinthians 13:4-7;
"Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful,
not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered,
and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over other people’s sins
but takes its delight in the truth.
Love always bears up, always trusts,
always hopes, always endures."

Now, look at those verses. These are how we gain hope, humility, and love (for many years, I did not know that 1 Corinthians 13 was a poem), respectively.

1) Hope; through tribulation, trouble, suffering, pain, misery . . . Despair! The very antonym of hope is the means by which we achieve it. We must suffer to gain hope.
We must suffer to achieve this good--and not by our own means, but by the Holy Spirit. Not only are we to accept our trials, but we're to delight in them because they will be used by God for our good.

2) Humility; through a thorn in the flesh, through a messenger of Satan himself. It was likely a constant reminder of his past (it could be anything, but i perceive it to be a memory, possibly of a Christian he'd killed "in the name of God." But that's just my imagination). It was this very thing, this demon, this tormentor, this thing "pound[ing] away" at him that kept him humble.
Humility achieved through, again, suffering. God used this suffering for good.

3) Love; we often think of this passage as being all kind and sweet and soft and mellow . . . But it should be applied to us.
Someone getting on your nerves and not leaving you alone? Be patient (or, literally, long-suffering; suffer endlessly through what you're being put through; that is love).
Return evil with kindness. Don't be jealous that someone who has wronged you is being promoted over you--be happy for them. Don't boast that you have this certain skill, or you have achieved something great. Don't build yourself up in the eyes of others, but elevate them. If someone insults you, hold your tongue; don't be rude, but rather, again, kind.
So on and so forth.
This isn't so easy when it's seen as an application for your own life. Are you living in love?
Do you forgive completely, keeping no record of wrongs (not seven times, but seventy times seven; that's how often we're to forgive a person in a single day--losing track of their sins against us probably around the fourth or fifth)? Do you always bear up, though you have little encouragement to offer? Are you always trusting, to the point of naivete? Do you always have a hopeful perspective to a situation, confident that God is in control, even to the loss of a loved one? Do you persevere, enduring to the end, despite being in a sea where the end is a horizon that is retreating at the exact same pace in which you pursue it?
That is what good is. It's self-sacrifice. It's loss of self for the benefit of others. Our love is good, because it is selfless.

Now, let's look again at Romans 8:28; "Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with His purpose;"
See the second promise in this? God is promising we will be tested, we will be stressed, we will suffer, we will know despair and pain and torment.
But the first promise, the obvious one, says that He will work it together for our good, if we wait it out. If we trust. If we hope. If we endure.