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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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"Shelter in place."

"Stay at home."

"Essential trips and services."

These are the familiar messages that bombard our radios, televisions, internet streams. The public reactions are varied, as state upon state issues such executive orders and Subject Matter Expert advisories.

Many had previously volunteered to self-quarantine, recognizing the necessity of doing so, while others marched boldly and defiantly to crowded arenas and beaches, trusting their invincibility in the face of the extant viral threat. Still others have called for an executive order from the federal level to override decisions made by states and municipalities.

My own governor, Jay Inslee, delivered a well-worded address Monday evening, ordering all Washingtonians to remain home for a minimum of two weeks, leaving home only for essential services, such as doctor visits or pharmacy pickups. Interestingly, even physicians are not seeing patients in-person, opting rather to interview and diagnose them remotely via the telephone.

What are we to do as we shelter in place? As I pondered being confined to my home, I thought of Paul, sitting in his own prison for preaching the gospel of Jesus. It would have been easy for Paul to despair, throw up his hands and say, "Well, so much for the gospel."

But no! Though we may be confined, the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be confined.

Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. - 2 Timothy 2:9, NKJV

Whether chained to a Roman guard, or confined to our home offices, the word of God refuses to be confined - refuses to be chained. Though all creature comforts be removed, and we be stuck in a dank, repugnant prison cell, the gospel will march forward. The preacher may be in prison, but the gospel runs free.

Therefore, rather than dwell on what we cannot do, our limitations, we will find ourselves much more productive if we focus on what we can do. Paul was in chains for the gospel, but his tongue was still free, his pen was unchained. While we could truthfully say that Paul was chained to a Roman soldier who was guarding him, it is equally true to say the Roman soldier guarding him was chained to Paul. The apostle had a captive audience.

The evidence of God working good in a less-than-ideal situation is seen in the greeting of Philippians 4:22, where it is clear that Christianity had worked its way into the household of Caesar Nero, a man infamous for his dislike of Christianity. The fact that Paul can have that level of influence while imprisoned is nothing short of astonishing!

Beyond that, Paul's message had reached "the whole Praetorian Guard" (Philippians 1:13), all ten thousand of them being fully aware that he was in chains for Christ. Not only that, but specifically because of Paul's bondage, the body of believers was emboldened to preach the gospel without fear (Philippians 1:14).

While imprisoned in Rome, the apostle Paul penned some of his most beautiful New Testament works, including letters to Timothy, Onesimus, and the churches at Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae.

Our confinements during COVID-19 do not compare to the conditions borne by the apostle Paul and it is not the purpose of this blog posting to attempt a comparison. Rather I'm encouraging us to look not at limitations, but at possibilities. I've said this before and it bears repeating here. We need to get beyond looking at God in light of our circumstances, and begin looking at our circumstances in light of God.

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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03/25/2020
Julie  Julie

The gospel runs free! Love that. 

I know many who view this as at best an inconvenience and at worst something short of martial law. I view this time of isolation as a welcome respite during this Lenten season to turn off the news and turn to God. No doubt Paul felt that way in prison. Instead of being distraught at being chained to his captor, he saw that he had a captive audience and seized upon the opportunity. We can use this time God has given us, or squander it. 

03/25/2020
Damon J. Gray  Damon J. Gray

Yeah, the wide divergence of emotions in response to this is a fascinating thing to watch. It is difficult to see people lose work, particularly those who exchange hours worked for wages paid. I'm exceedingly grateful that my company is able to press on when others cannot. Several of our direct competitors are not able to continue, so the clients are turning to us for help.

We will get through this, and I'm pleased to see that you are able to take what is nightmarish for others and benefit from it as a time of peace and reflection. You're also a writer, and you may be able to record some inspiring and hopeful thoughts for those who need that uplifting.

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I've reestablished my Goodreads account on the advice of a writerly friend, Tonya Kubo (https://www.tonyakubo.com). As part of that, I'm having to write a flurry of book reviews, and get them posted on the Goodreads site. I have in excess of a thousand books in my personal library. I won't, however, be putting up reviews for all of them!

One review I posted this week was for Andy Stanley's controversial book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World. This is one of the more polarizing works to be released in recent years. Many people loved it while others hated it.

What Stanley is trying to do with this work, is draw strong distinctions between what are commonly known as the Old Testament and the New Testament, even going so far as to propose that we refer to the Old Testament as the Hebrew scriptures, and the New Testament as the Christian scriptures.

In Stanley's view, the Hebrew scriptures are not now, and have never been enforceable on me. I'm not a Jew. They were neither written to me nor for me. He feels no compulsion to defend the Hebrew scriptures in any way, and sees them as completely unnecessary for teaching and converting the world to Christ today.

Truly, I get what Stanley is saying, and to a point I agree, but I cannot take the argument to his logical end. He is adamant to make the point that "old" is not bad. Just obsolete - not applicable to our (Christian) context. The old model is set aside for the new model. He illustrates this concept by drawing a parallel to an old cell phone, and a new one. The old phone accomplished its purpose, still functions, but has been set aside in favor of the new cell phone.

What, then, is the current-generation believer's relationship to the Old Testament?

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. - Romans 15:4, ESV

It is foolishness to assert that the Christ-follower can completely ignore the Old Testament and base our faith solely on the New Testament. In the quotation above, the apostle Paul, the man who wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer, relied heavily on the Old Testament Scriptures for his teaching and exposition as an apostle of the church - specifically the apostle to the Gentiles.

Don't let the impact of that reality escape you. The apostle to the Gentiles, those to whom the Hebrew scriptures were not written says those scriptures were written for our instruction! This is the man - the apostle - who expounds doctrine that he received directly from Jesus.

For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. - Romans 15:4, ESV

The longest, and most doctrinally-packed epistle Paul wrote was his letter to Rome. In Paul's epistle to the Roman church, he quotes from the Hebrew scriptures no less than fifty-six times, and that, despite the fact that the Roman letter is addressed predominantly to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13).

Similarly, Paul wrote to the church in the city of Corinth, and following a long discussion of the idolatry of the Jews following their exodus from Egyptian slavery, Paul said, "These things took place as examples for us..." (1 Corinthians 10:6a), also, "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction..." (1 Corinthians 10:11a).

Biblical scholar J. P. Lange said it well, "The immediate design of the entire Old Testament Scriptures for the Jews does not preclude their universal purpose for all ages." Remember, what we call the Old Testament IS the Bible that the apostle Paul carried.

Jesus made repeated reference to the Old Testament scriptures, referencing thirty-one Old Testament books in Revelation alone. I read once that the gospel writers reference Old Testament scripture on average, three times per chapter. The gospel of John goes so far as to say this:

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” - John 5:45-47, ESV

Then in Luke's gospel:

And he said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. - Luke 24:25-27, ESV

And finally, again from Jesus:

But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" - Matthew 4:4, ESV

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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My normal blogging day is Wednesday, but this has weighed on my heart long enough, so this week, you'll get both a Sunday and a Wednesday blog posting.

I'm not anywhere near panic mode. I have seen so many crises come and go (SARS, MERS, Ebola), and I have observed that there are those who treat them as the end of civilization and those who go on with their lives as they would on any other day. I'm closer to the latter than the former.

It's undeniable that people are becoming ill, and a percentage of those who do so are succumbing to the illness. Washington State (my home) has, as of this writing, 642 confirmed cases with forty deaths and one confirmed recovery. The death toll, worldwide, is just shy of 6,000.

Coronaviruses are actually very common and generally mild in their symptoms. The COVID-19 strain, however, is more vicious than common strains. It merits a level of preparation and caution. This is real.

Supplies

I stopped by Walmart a couple of weeks ago to pick up some supplies Alean wanted but was unable to find at the local Safeway. One of those items was a bottle of rubbing alcohol. When combined with aloe gel, rubbing alcohol makes a decent hand sanitizer. There were three bottles of rubbing alcohol still on the shelf and just as I approached to collect one, a woman grabbed all three bottles.

As she straightened up from securing the bottles from the bottom shelf, she saw me and realized that I had hoped to buy a bottle of rubbing alcohol. She smiled slightly and offered me one of the three she was holding. It was a gracious moment.

In times of crisis, we are treated to a buffet of the best and the worst of humanity. We see kind hearts actively seeking ways to be helpful, coming to the aid of those in need. In the same store, we can also witness shouting matches and physical brawls over who gets the last case of bottled water.

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.' For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. - Romans 15:1–4, NIV-1978

Selfishness

Few things are uglier than selfishness. It is a personal attribute that has no place in the life of a Christ-follower. Rather than trample the weak, we bear with them, building them up. That is the pattern of Jesus, our Lord and our Master.

Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we go to extreme measures, joyously embracing severe levels of self-denial in order to carry the weak to safety. No sacrifice I make, be it food, water, toilet paper, or hand-sanitizer - none of that can measure up to the sacrifice of Christ on my behalf. That is the measuring line Paul has thrown before me. Measure yourself by that, he says.

Trust

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
- Psalm 20:6-7, ESV

This sounds very similar to what David said when he stared down Goliath. "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted" (1 Samuel 17:45, NASB).

I am not suggesting that we be reckless, but rather recognize that God is still on his throne, and therefore all is right with our world. Come what may, yet will we trust him. Help one another. Love your neighbor as Christ has loved you. Help rather than hoard.

I want to close with a quote from the prayer of Jehoshaphat as the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites were bearing down on him in battle. Jehoshaphat declared a fast and then prayed before the people of Israel. In that prayer, he spoke this astonishing line:

If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you — for your name is in this house — and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. - 2 Chronicles 20:9, ESV

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray
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I have a predilection for lists and repeated ideas or phrases. For example, shortly after becoming a Christ-follower in January of 1983, I began noticing a recurring phrase in my Bible, the phrase "in Christ." Intrigued, I began keeping a list of all the places I found that phrase. (You can download this list from my web site - damonjgray.org)

Over the past few weeks, I have noted a marked increase in the number of people I have read or overheard speaking of fear. I see it in email, on Twitter and Facebook. I hear it in conversations with my coworkers, and from other believers at conferences.

Fear is a powerful emotion. This reality makes fear a frequent tool of choice for those who wish to persuade us to some action, whether that is making a purchase, or exhibiting some specific behavior.

Unquenchable fear drives us to powerlessness, paralyzes us, and causes us to curl up into the fetal position (figuratively, if not literally). It drives us into isolation. Fear may cause someone not even to try, whether it is fear of failure, fear of success, fear of ridicule – any fear that causes us not to engage or even make an attempt to do so.

Fear in the Exodus

Two years following the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, Israel was encamped along the southern border of the Promised Land. The land was theirs. It was promised as far back as the call to Abraham, a gift wherein their descendants would reside and rule as a great nation from which all the families of the Earth would be blessed. God assured His people that He would send an angel before them to drive out the inhabitants of the land. The Israelites needed only to walk over the boundary and take possession of the land.

God instructed Moses to send some men to explore the land. (Some versions of the account say they were sent to spy out the land.) In either case, God made it clear that they were supposed to go take a good, hard look at the land, "which I am going to give to the sons of Israel." There was no real danger. Perceived danger? Yes, but the land was theirs. Yet ten of the twelve men sent to explore the land returned from the assignment terrified by what they saw. Oh yes, the land was fruitful, flowing with milk and honey, but it was also nightmarish, devouring its inhabitants, filled with giants, and impregnable walled cities.

Their recommendation? "The men who had gone up with him said, 'We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.'" Based on what? Did they spar with them a little bit? I get the impression that the mission was relatively stealth in nature. "Just go look at the land." In stark contrast to this, Caleb, never doubting the word of God, stated quite bluntly, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." I read once that "fear doubts the supremacy of the divine arrangement," meaning there is a direct lack of trust that God actually means what He says.

While most of the Israelites were moaning, grumbling, tearing their clothing, and contemplating stoning Moses, Caleb, and Joshua, Caleb understood that God is trustworthy and that when He says a thing is so, it is so! Perhaps Caleb remembered the impossibility of the situation with Abram and Sari. While all this was going on, God had it in mind to strike down the entire lot of them with a plague!

Hear the energy in Caleb’s plea: "Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." Powerful, inspiring words! Their protection is gone, but "the Lord is with us!" Oh, that we could learn that truth and take it to heart.

Listen to Isaiah’s thoughts along this same line: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior..."

Paul had this same confidence: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" This is followed by a list of potential candidates that try to threaten our secure position in God’s love; trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and even the sword. "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

Fear and David

In 1 Samuel 17, we read an account of the armies of the Philistines and the armies of Israel having drawn up battle lines, each on their own mountainside with the valley between them. One of the Philistines, a very large man named Goliath, came out of his camp and began shouting insults against the armies of Israel. The text says plainly that the Israelites were greatly afraid. It is easy for us to read this and think they were just a bunch of pansies, but this is most certainly not the case. At this point in the history of Israel, these were battle-hardened soldiers. They had fought many battles in the taking of the land, so for them to greatly fear Goliath was no small thing. Goliath was genuinely bad news!

Into this scene strolled David, the youngest son of Jesse, a sheepherder and musician. We all know the story of how David struck down Goliath with a stone launched from his sling. It is a great story, but not what interests me here. What intrigues me is the stark contrast in attitude and perspective between David and the battle-hardened men of Israel. The soldiers were saying, "Have you seen this man who is coming up? Surely he is coming up to defy Israel." This was undoubtedly true: I am confident Goliath’s intent was absolutely to defy Israel. But look at David’s take on it: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" For the men of Israel this was a personal reproach: "This guy is insulting us!" For David, it was an entirely different matter: "This guy is insulting the armies of the living God!" In other words, "This is not our issue. This is an affront to God! This is God’s issue!"

Fear and Jonathan

Shortly before this happened, King Saul’s son, Jonathan, who would later become very dear friends with David, had a similar reaction, rooted in a similar faith in God. Jonathan, accompanied only by his armor-bearer, went to the camp of the Philistines to attack them.

Now, think this through with me. Two men decide to attack an entire garrison of Philistines. We also know from the previous chapter that only Jonathan had a sword, which means his armor-bearer was either unarmed, or armed with something like a pitchfork. What I am getting at is, this was either very dumb, completely reckless behavior … or this was someone with a deep faith who understood how his God operates, and who refused to let human wisdom and human fear dictate how he trusted his God.

Look at what Jonathan said: "Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few." It is God’s issue.

Fear and Nehemiah

Recall how the Jewish remnant rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem after their return from Babylonian exile. Those carrying materials for the work did so with one hand, while carrying their weapons in the other. They were vigilant, yet understood who actually fought the battles for God’s people. Remember what Nehemiah said when the workers struggled to balance work on the wall with the need to defend themselves. Nehemiah declared, “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” Why is this so? Why will God fight for us? It is because God is so much better at defending His own honor than we are at defending it for Him! It is not our issue. It is God’s issue.

Fear and the Furnace

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were three young men from Judah who were taken into captivity during the first deportation of the Israelites to Babylon. They were made to serve in the court of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar commissioned a ninety-foot golden statue to be made – a statue of himself, some speculate. This certainly would not be out of character for Nebuchadnezzar. An edict was issued that whenever they heard specific music played, citizens were to fall down and worship the monstrosity of a statue. Failure to do so was punishable by death; offenders were burned alive in a blazing furnace. This was a rather serious matter, as evidenced by the fact that even people from other nations were willing to obey this decree. One day, it was brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s attention that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not obey the decree, and this news infuriated him. He had the three young men brought before him, confronted them with their disobedience, and threatened to throw them into the fire, saying, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

It was an excellent question to be sure, but the three young men had an even more excellent answer:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

Do not be afraid. Just believe. It is God’s issue. He will handle it. And even if God does not rescue us from the fire, we are not bowing to anyone or anything but him.

Fear and Gideon

In Judges 7, Gideon defeated the entire Midianite army with a mere 300 men who drank water like dogs, and they did so without striking a single blow. God caused the Midianites to pound one another into mulch. When the Israelites were finally ready to cross the Jordan River and take the land, God told Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Fear and You

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” Do not fear. Believe. Our God will fight for us.

(Adapted from Finding Faith in Slow Motion - Chapter 13)

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Jesus has been working in the town of Capernaum, on the northwest shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. Prior to journeying to Capernaum, he had irritated the people of Nazareth by proclaiming himself to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me...," saying, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21b, NIV-1978).

Well, to be fair, it had a lot to do with his follow-up on that reading and quotation, but the people of Nazareth, Jesus' hometown, were furious with him, drove him out of town, and tried to toss him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Those were the events that led to Jesus moving to Capernaum.

In Capernaum

In Capernaum, Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath, and continued the logical progression from his teaching into healing. He exorcised demons, and not just silly, ignorant demons. These demons knew who he was. They talked with him. Jesus' teaching and healing astonished the people, because Jesus had been teaching with authority, and now he demonstrated authority over demonic spirits.

Leaving the synagogue, Jesus moved to a house ministry, entering the home of Simon (later named Peter). There Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law, rebuking her fever. Jesus' demonstrated authority was expanding. Before, he was speaking to demons; now he speaks to fevers.

As the sun set, the people of Capernaum brought to Jesus all who were ill, diseased, demon-possessed ... he healed them all. After teaching and healing from sunset to sunrise, Jesus withdrew to a secluded place, but he couldn't get away.

Living With Purpose

And the people [of Capernaum] sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.' - Luke 4:42b-43, ESV - insert mine

Let that phrase resonate with you: 'for I was sent for this purpose.' Jesus never lost sight of his purpose. He refused to allow the overwhelming, pressing needs of the crowd to deter him from his mission, his purpose.

  • Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). A statement of purpose.
  • For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). A statement of purpose.
  • God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17). A declaration of purpose.
  • Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Purpose!
  • He came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47). Jesus always keeps his purpose in the sites.

Then Pilate said to him, 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.' - John 18:37, ESV

Jesus views his calling, his purpose, as one immersed in moral obligation. He must fulfill his purpose, not just to Capernaum, or to Israel, but to the entirety of creation.

In John 6, when the people tried to force Jesus to be king, he moved away from them because his purpose was not to be their earthly king. Later, in that same chapter, when Jesus left the crowd behind him, he explained to them that his purpose was not merely to fill their bellies with food.

As a Christ-follower, a giver, a servant, you'll find that many people will take as much of your time as you are willing to give them. It is what Charles Hummel called "The Tyranny of the Urgent," where urgent (Gotta get this done now!) issues press themselves to the fore, crowding out important issues. For the undisciplined, urgent always trumps the important.

There are times when urgent and important are driving in the same direction, even in the same lane, but the more frequent reality is that the urgent collides broadside with the important and wins the day. This is when it is vital to keep your calling clearly in view, because this will allow you to make wise, informed choices that are in line with your purpose.

...for I was sent for this purpose.

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Medium.com
Facebook Author Page
Twitter - @DamonJGray
Bible Gateway Blogger Grid
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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν