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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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Some people are oblivious. Or perhaps they are aware but simply do not care. Or maybe it is that they are aware but don't believe X, Y, or Z applies to them.

For months, now, our local Safeway store has had arrows on the floor designating one-way aisles. I have been diligent to observe these directions, even when it means traversing an entire aisle in which I have no interest so that I can enter the desired aisle from the correct end.

It's not that I believe one-way aisles are a great idea, or even particularly effective. It is that the store has asked us to observe them and I am choosing to do so.

Not everyone is as compliant. Without fail, I end up passing people navigating against the current.

Similarly, when my eldest son graduated from MIT, unlike most large university graduation ceremonies, every graduating student was called by name to cross the stage and receive their diploma. The faculty made it clear that as students exited the stage, they were to return to their seats until the close of the ceremony. It was a matter of politeness and respect toward those whose names were called later.

Less than half the student body complied with the directive. Apparently, it didn't apply to them.

God's Instructions to Saul

In 1 Samuel 15, God told King Saul that he was going to punish the Amalekites for the way they treated Israel as they came out of Egyptian slavery. As clearly as the markings on the Safeway floor, God said to Saul:

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. - 1 Samuel 15:3, NIV-1978

I recognize that such a command from God strikes us as terribly harsh, and I want to be clear that I am not addressing that in this blog posting. What is of concern today is that this was the commandment of God. Saul's was not to question that, but rather to obey it.

Having received the command from God, Saul did attack the Amalekites with 210,000 fighting men, and he wiped them out . . . almost.

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs — everything that was good. - 1 Samuel 15:9a, NIV-1978

The instruction God gave Saul didn't apply to him any more than the arrow on the Safeway floor applies to those who choose to ignore it.

Saul's Response to God

When the prophet Samuel learned of Saul's disobedience, he was grieved to the point of crying out to God all night on Saul's behalf. The following day, Samuel went to meet with Saul, and discuss his predicament.

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, 'The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD's instructions.' But Samuel said, 'What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?' - 1 Samuel 15:13-14, NIV-1978

Not only did Saul blatantly disobey God's command, he was so obtuse that he characterized his disobedience as obedience. In an attempt at self-preservation, Saul blamed the acquisition of spoils on the soldiers. "Oh, well yeah, the soldiers took those, but I was obedient."

Then watch how Saul attempted to twist his disobedience into an act of worship by the people.

...they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest. - 1 Samuel 15:15b, NIV-1978

The Peril of Ignoring God

It isn't that God has not revealed himself, or that God has not spoken clearly into human history. He has. The disconnect for us is in our choice to ignore what God has said, a disconnect that extends all the way back to the garden - "Did God really say...?" (Genesis 3:1).

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. - Romans 1:20, ESV

Despite our desperate attempts to make excuses, we are left without excuse. "It wasn't me. It was the soldiers, and besides, they took the animals to sacrifice to God, right?" And it is here we get the beautiful, well-known response from Samuel, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" 1 Samuel 15:22b, NIV-1978.

When we choose to ignore God (and it is a choice), the outcome is never pleasant. God makes choices in response to our own.

Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. - Proverbs 1:24-28, ESV

But we know better how to direct our lives, right? We are an advanced civilization, while God? God is so 'yesterday,' antiquated, irrelevant.

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. - Jeremiah 7:22-24, ESV

They walked in their own counsel. Let that sink in.

The prophet Hosea says, "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge," and it's true. But we are also destroyed by willful ignorance. We are destroyed by arrogant stubbornness. We are destroyed by hard hearts.

The one-way sign is clearly displayed on the floor, not just once, but many times. The signs are everywhere. We can heed them and do well, or we can ignore them and accept the fate we choose for ourselves.

And know this, God will not be the one judging us. There will be a judge, to be sure, but it will not be Jesus.

The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. - John 12:48, ESV

Saul had the spoken word of God. The instruction was clear, and that word judged Saul. We have the word Jesus spoke, and similarly, that word will judge us. We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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We could argue at length regarding what is the most misused word in the English language today, but I do not believe we could argue that one of the top ten misapplied terms is the word, "literally." It literally drives me nuts!

Well, no, not literally. I am still quite sane.

"I literally died laughing." Really? Then how are you standing here telling me of your recent passing?

"There were literally a million people on the beach today." Wow, that must have been uncomfortable. The most I've ever seen there is a couple of hundred.

"I was so scared, I literally jumped out of my skin." Whoa! That's a cool trick. And then you managed to put your skin back on. That's amazing!

Proper use of language in our own presentations, and an understanding of how others use language, is critical to effective communication. This is true for us today, just as it was true for those who lived in biblical times. Furthermore, this principle is important for us as we strive to understand the biblical writings.

Hyperbole in the Bible

One common misunderstanding of biblical literature is the belief that the biblical writers were conveying literal, verbatim facts to communicate truth. Such is simply not the case. It is no truer for them than it is for us. We do not communicate using explicit, factual language to make our points.

What I'm getting at is the reality that the Bible makes extensive use of idiom and hyperbole. Hyperbole is the employment of exaggerative language to emphasize a point. Idiom is biblical "slang" if you will.

Let's assume you and I are conversing over coffee, and in that conversation, you say something like, "Wow, can you believe last night's weather? It was raining cats and dogs!" I respond, "Yeah it was so cool!"

Are you attempting to persuade me that canine and feline creatures were falling from the sky? No. You're telling me that last night's rain was heavy, perhaps even a "gully-washer." Am I attempting to comment on last evening's temperature? No. I am saying I enjoyed the heavy rainfall.

Following a drive from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, I may comment to you, "You guys made great time. You must have been flying!"

Is it my intent to express a genuine belief that you took to the air on your recent drive? No. I'm just saying you drove at a high rate of speed.

Translating Hyperbole

Many modern-day translations tout the extent to which they hold to literal translations from Greek and Hebrew to English. This is a good thing, and it played largely into my purchasing decision thirty-seven years ago as I bought the Bible I would use for the rest of my life. I wanted a literal, yet readable Bible. I landed on the New American Standard Bible.

Other Bible translations do not attempt a literal, verbatim rendering, but rather go for the linguistic nuances to get to the intended meaning.

So, our scenario looks like this:

Translating English to Spanish, the more literal approach translates "It was raining cats and dogs" as, "Estaba lloviendo gatos y perros" - It was raining cats and dogs. That's literally what we said. However, a translator who wishes convey the true meaning behind "It was raining cats and dogs" will say, "Estaba lloviendo muy duro," - It was raining very hard.

Which translation is accurate? I would argue they both are, but one conveys meaning while the other strives for literal wording.

Examples of Biblical Hyperbole

Scripture is replete with hyperbolic language, and it is important to know that because not knowing it, and trying to take a passage literally that is not intended to be taken literally, often results in dangerous and harmful doctrine. Let's look at some examples of such hyperbole in scripture. Some are glaringly obvious while others are more subtle, but hyperbole nonetheless.

You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! - Matthew 23:24, NASB
This is a clear exaggeration by Jesus, and it is such a beautiful example of hyperbole that it has become an idiom common to the English-speaking world. Let's try that again.

Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. - Matthew 19:24
Another beautiful hyperbolic example from Jesus. A camel cannot get through the eye of a needle, and it is exceedingly difficult to not fall in love with wealth and luxury.

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. - Luke 14:26, NASB

Jesus is a preacher of love, not hate. Besides, this is a direct contradiction of the command to honor one's father and mother. The message is that my love for God must outweigh and overrule in every circumstance. It is similar to God saying in Malachi 1, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

Look how the whole world has gone after him. - John 12:19b, NIV-1978

Or, try this one.

And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. - Mark 1:5, NASB

The "whole world" had not gone after Jesus. Not even the whole city, or probably even everyone in one quarter or block. But Jesus did have an impressive following. And neither did all of Judea and all of Jerusalem go out to be baptized by John, but many did.

Here is one of my favorites.

Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. - Judges 20:16, NASB

They were really good shots!

...the cities are large and fortified to heaven. - Deuteronomy 1:28b, NASB

No, the cities were not fortified or walled up to heaven. But the walls were undoubtedly quite high. That's the message.

Where It Becomes Difficult

So, these are easy to spot and it is equally easy to grasp the true meaning. There are literally (and yes, I do mean literally) hundreds of these in the pages of scripture. But let's try one that's a little more difficult.

All things are possible to him who believes. - Mark 9:23b, NASB

Really? All things?

Everything (NIV)?

Anything (NLT)?

If I really believe, can I swan-dive from the pinnacle of the Golden Gate Bridge and survive it? I think not.

When we hit a verse like this, one we have heard people quote to their own advantage, or to bolster up a suffering brother or sister, we need to ask difficult questions of the verse or the passage. For starters, what if what I am after doesn't square with the will or the Word of God? In such a case, it doesn't really matter how intensely I believe or what the hyper-faith teachers tell me. It isn't going to happen.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. - James 4:3, NASB

Furthermore, Jesus said elsewhere, "...apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The apostle Paul teaches directly against this word-of-faith doctrine. "For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Corinthians 13:8).

So taking a verse like Mark9:23 literally and misapplying it to one's circumstance is both foolhardy and dangerous. We find ourselves demanding of God something he has not promised because we failed to understand biblical hyperbole. Remember, scripture must always harmonize with itself.

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
Twitter - @DamonJGray
Facebook Author Page
Medium.com
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As I look at my world this week, I do not see a world at peace, or a people at peace. I see fear, anger, suspicion. I see blaming, accusation, interactive speech dripping with venom.

Two weeks ago, we took a deep dive into Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice" ESV. On the heels of that rather unsettling directive, the apostle Paul calls Christ-followers to public displays of gentleness, to the shedding of anxiety and to constant prayers and pleadings, the outcome of which will be a peace that defies explanation, a peace that comes from the God of peace.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:7, NIV-1978

Quite literally, this verse says the peace of God "surpasses all mind." The peace of God is incomprehensible to the human mind. But what is this peace of God?

Whatever the peace of God is, it is juxtapositioned against anxiety. In this same statement of peace, Paul says, "Be anxious for nothing." Do not allow yourself to be pulled in different directions. The God of heaven, the God of peace, pulls us in only one direction, and that is to him and his glory. Our fears and anxieties pull us in quite a different direction.

This peace of God guards or stands vigil over both our hearts and our minds. In other contexts, this same word is used to describe being held prisoner. If my heart and mind are going to be held prisoner by, or to anything, I want that thing to be the peace of God.

So, in Philippians 4:7, Paul presents the peace of God which guards our hearts and minds. Then in verse nine, he presents the God of peace who "will be with you." The peace of God comes from the God of peace.

But look around you. Look at our society, our nation, our world. We are not at peace now, and we have not been at peace since Cain killed Abel. Arguably, we broke peace as soon as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The immediate result of that was estrangement, both from God and from each other.

What we learn from Philippians 4:7, then, is that it is possible to be at peace in an atmosphere that amplifies anything but peace. Maybe society is not at peace, but you are guarded by a personal peace that is not dependent on anything to do with society.

Remember the line from Rudyard Kipling, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs..."

Several other things we know about the God of peace:

  • The God of peace will soon crush Satan under the feet of the believers. - Romans 16:20
  • The God of peace will sanctify us (make us holy) through and through. - 1 Thessalonians 5:23a
  • The "Lord" of peace will grant us peace at all times and in all ways. - 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • The God of peace will equip us for everything good for accomplishing his will. - Hebrews 13:20-21

The apostle Paul also makes reference to peace in his letter to Colossae, there calling it the "peace of Christ."

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. - Colossians 3:5, NIV-1978

We have the peace of God from the God of peace. It stands vigil over our hearts and minds, and transforms us so profoundly that the world sees our non-reaction to the chaos around us, and they have no capacity for understanding what they see. They cannot comprehend such peace, because such things are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. - Isaiah 26:3, NIV-1978

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

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Twitter - @DamonJGray
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While attending a speaker conference in Arizona, I made a request of a friend and in doing so, unknowingly put her in a difficult, awkward position. When I realized what I'd done, I pulled my friend aside and began apologizing, tears in my eyes, genuinely sorrowful for what I'd done.

When my friend saw how my gut was in knots over this, with a tone of deep concern and urgency, she leaned forward, grabbed both of my arms, looked me in the eye, and said both loudly and firmly, "I forgive you!" I was completely taken aback by that response.

Not only did I not get to the point of asking for her forgiveness, I was not aware of how deeply I needed to be forgiven, how much I needed to hear those words, "I forgive you."

The Importance of Asking for Forgiveness

Popular culture emphasizes the need to express sorrow when we have wronged another. We begin this indoctrination with young children. James hits Tommy with a stick while they are playing together, resulting in a shouting match of youthful insults.

As parents, we intervene saying, "Now James, tell Tommy you're sorry."

Without looking at him, and sporting his best scowl, James mutters something of an "I'm sorry" to Tommy, and play continues. Problem solved, right?

No, not really.

When we carry this into adulthood, the problem is exacerbated, resulting in broken friendships, wrecked marriages, parent/child disputes, and grudges we nurse for years.

Imagine this scenario. A husband speaks harshly to his wife and later expresses sorrow to her for having done so. What is her response? What is the expectation? Typically, the wife will lower her eyes, let loose an inaudible sigh, and say, "It's okay."

Is it okay?

If so, what's okay?

Is it okay to speak harshly with one another? No, it is not.

Is she saying, "We're okay?" Doubtful.

Is she saying, "I forgive you?" No, they're not the same thing at all.

What I suspect she's saying is, "I'll get over it. Let's just move on for now."

Expressing the phrase, "I'm sorry," has become something of a default abdication of responsibility. I've said "I'm sorry," even if it was less than sincere, and thus I no longer carry that burden of any obligation. How often have we seen the "I'm sorry," muttered, while the tension persists until one explodes onto the other saying, "Look, I said 'I'm sorry!' What else do you want from me?"

In contemporary practice, when we have sinned against another and uttered the required phrase, we then believe the ball is in their court. They must do something now, something like get over it. This is true to such an extent that we feel a level of discomfort when there is a pregnant pause or a non-response from the other party in response to our utterance of the required phrase.

Party one says, "I'm sorry." There is the expectation of a response. Right? I said my part, now you say yours.

"It's okay."

A New Approach

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. - James 5:16, ESV

A phrase I have used for years, to the point of annoyance with some, is that we need to "own our sin." What I mean is, we need to reach a point of humility that allows us to shed our smugness and pride, a point that allows us to embrace the reality - "Yeah, I did that," or "I said that and it hurt you."

We own our sin, and when we can do that, we reach a point of godly sorrow that brings repentance, a repentance that seeks reconciliation with the one we have injured.

From that baseline, the phrase "I'm sorry," should always have appended to it, "Will you please forgive me?" With that addendum, the ball does move to the other party's court. They have been asked for something and they can now respond. Either they will forgive, or they will choose not to do so.

Serendipitous to this approach is that it relieves the hurt party of the obligation to say, "It's okay," because it isn't okay. But it is forgivable, and that makes us okay.

Saying "I'm sorry," is easy. Asking for forgiveness is difficult because it requires owning our sin, and it requires a significant dose of humility. But the more often we do it, the easier it becomes, the more natural it feels. And you know you're close to mastering the concept when you can humble yourself enough to ask your own child to forgive you.

Asking for forgiveness, granting forgiveness, and experiencing the restored relationships that result from that transaction are at the core of our shared faith. We ask God for forgiveness on a regular basis. He grants us that forgiveness, and as a result, we find restored relationship with our heavenly Father, with the incarnate Son, and the indwelling Spirit of God.

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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I'm writing this blog posting with just a bit of a grumpy spirit. I'm dealing with some pain issues and trying very hard not to take pain pills.

A short time ago, I was leaning over the edge of the hot tub sucking debris out of the bottom when I felt a huge CRACK in my lower-left ribcage. Yup, it's a bummer getting older.

As our bodies age, our bones become less flexible, and the weight of my torso leaning over the edge of the tub was all it took to bring that reality to my attention.

So I have the right to be grumpy, don't I? I don't feel well, and those around me are just going to have to understand and cut me some slack!

No. Not so much.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. - Philippians 4:4, ESV

Always, Paul says. This is not just rhetoric. The context of this statement is two sisters in Christ who are disputing to such an extent that it is threatening unity in the body of believers. Add to that, a similar dispute taking place in the church at Rome (Philippians 1:12-17). And to really stoke Paul's fire, he had to be concerned about the potential for his own death!

So when Paul says rejoice in the Lord always we need to take him seriously, because he had more than sufficient reason to grouse.

But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy;
And may You shelter them,
That those who love Your name may exult in You.
- Psalm 5:11, NASB

Circumstances fluctuate and vary. Feelings vacillate between euphoria and discouragement. For the apostle Paul, then, to say we are to rejoice at all times, and to emphasize that by saying it twice, there has to be something of this rejoicing "in the Lord" that is distinct from or unaffected by my emotional state or my circumstances.

Paul is not suggesting we try really hard to be happy. This is second person, active, imperative - χαιρετε, chairete. To employ a good southern vernacular, it's as if Paul is saying, "Y'all do this! Rejoice!" It is a duty. He's not giving us a choice.

The night before Jesus died (again, bad circumstance) he told the disciples, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV). In the next chapter (same context) Jesus reveals some terribly unpleasant events, including their deaths (John 16:2), yet in the middle of that discourse, he speaks of their joy, "so that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). Even the writer of Hebrews chimes in saying of Jesus . . .

who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross - Hebrews 12:2, ESV

Reading through the Psalms, we see David running for his life, hiding, scrambling to survive, yet rejoicing. Reading through the letters of the apostle Paul, we see him persecuted, stoned to the point of death, imprisoned, beaten, yet rejoicing. We have the indwelling Spirit of God, and the fruit of the Spirit is joy.

We can rejoice in horrific circumstances, because we know the deeper truths. We know that our life here is but a vapor. This is not to say that we are never sad, or that we never know suffering, but it does help us recognize that rejoicing, or joy, is less a feeling and more a state of mind - one that transcends circumstances.

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. - 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10, 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
Bible Gateway Blogger Grid
YouTube Channel


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