People of the Covenant

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From beginning to end, the Bible makes it totally clear that God is a covenant-seeking and –making God.  His involvement in His creation is to be in a covenant relationship with people He has created in His image to live in intimate communion and even union with Himself.  He does not simply tell us what we should do, He invites us to join with Him in carrying it out.  It all happens when His people respond to His covenant invitation.

From that covenant relationship came both the Old and New Testaments, also regarded as the old covenant and the new covenant.  All the heroes of both testaments lived out their covenants with God—Abraham, Noah, Moses and David and all the prophets of Israel spoke the authoritative words of God from their covenant consciousness and His son, Jesus, who carried on that covenant, even seeing His own death on the cross, producing the new covenant.

At His last supper, He told His disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:25 NASB

He was letting His anxiety-filled followers, who feared being left without His actual presence, know that their covenant relationship could be fully accessed and would produce a union with Him which would make all things possible in Christ.

In the creation account of Genesis 1, we are told that after creating mankind in His own image, which required an expression of His image in the form of both man and woman (Genesis 1:26), He offered an opportunity for the first couple to lead and carry out His intention for the created, yet unfinished world.

God blessed them and God said to the them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves over the earth.”  Genesis 1:28 NASB

Their mission was to subdue and control, indicating that they faced chaos, even in the brand new world.

This sounded very much like some of the orders coming down from headquarters as I was being trained for combat duty in the army.   As I faced the chaos of my world after my stroke, I sensed an answer to my prayers and asked God what I could do to handle the anxieties of my new world. I felt God saying, “Subdue and control.”    The natural world is a combat zone, but in covenant together with God, we will see this new creation continue and be completed—for we will do it in union with Christ.  That provided both hope and confidence for the perilous journey forward. I was commanded to face up to the wildness of nature and a part of that was the wildness of the old sin nature, especially in myself.

As a boy, my favorite thing to do, for which I asked Mom and Dad every birthday and Christmas was horseback riding lessons.  I was glued to the television whenever the Lone Ranger came on—how I admired his noble steed ‘Silver’.  The day came when I visited my godparents at their weekend getaway retreat on which  sat a big barn with many stalls and its own corral.  They had bought a new horse.  It was a white Arabian and it even had a black leather with silver studded saddle—just like my TV hero.  I gazed into the stall and could tell immediately that the horse was not fully broken.  He was kicking the walls and snorting and digging up the floor of the stall.  The horse trainer saddled him for me, pointed at the left stirrup and said, “Bill, are you ready?”  He could see the excitement and trepidation on my face.

“Don’t worry, Son.  Just mount up, grab the reins, subdue and control.  He will respond to your leadership.  And I will be there to help you if needed.”  That was my covenant promise.  With that assurance, I struggled into the saddle and off we started cantering around the corral—what a ride!

The battle started with me having to confront my own fear.  I have returned to that moment many times as I have seen the wildness of nature and my own physical limitations snorting at me, but I have remembered that my Father God through His Son was there with me to assist me in being obedient to His orders in our covenant of life together.  And every now and then even in very tenuous painful darkness, I sense that I am being carried for the ride of my life.  How grateful for this subdue-and-control-covenant.  That covenant still stands for all of us.  Our Father never abandons His children, so mount up and enjoy the ride of your life.

 

Hi-yo, Silver,

Bill

Pain and Suffering

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Just completed my daily little exercise walk back and forth on my driveway.It’s about the only cardio exercise I can do these days.  It’s been nine and a half years since I entered my chaos journey following my stroke, and I am still in the process of trying to regain a semblance of walking.

However, my left foot which was seriously affected in the stroke has developed severe pain in it that covers the entire bottom circumference of my foot.  To walk at all, I must walk very gingerly, placing my foot down softly rather than striking the pavement or else the pain goes to even higher levels.

As I walk, I pray for two things—(1) for God to help me understand why the suffering continues and (2) for what course of action I should be taking in my part of the relationship with Him.  I sensed His direction and His answer which comes as a prompt to consult certain passages of scripture.  I sensed prompting to go back and study the passion of the Christ—the suffering of Jesus on His way to the cross.

I did so and delved deeply into how He must have felt in that severe and emotional suffering that was evoked by those He was giving His life for.   He chose, rather than to stop the pain, to go all the way with the plan that would set all humanity free to choose and receive the grace of God and have an intimate relationship with the Savior of the world.  He chose to steadfastly suffer for our atonement with God and it was His sacrifice that made it possible.

The meaning of that is almost beyond words, but the Apostle Paul attempted to describe the meaning of it in his letter to the Colossians.  He was trying to help the church at Colossi to reject some pagan heresy-thinking that had become a part of their culture. The cross is what made eternal life possible for all those who accept God’s grace.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church. 25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,” Colossians 1:24-25 CSB (Christian Standard Bible)

 

Paul came to that realization and belief because he recognized it was Jesus’ cross that still had room for those who followed Jesus, to join their sufferings with His sufferings which was the source of saving the entire world.  This spoke to me that my own suffering could derive meaning by being shared with Jesus.  Paul said he could rejoice in his own sufferings and rejoicing means to find God’s joy surprise even there.  It was a joy surprise for me to discover this way of embracing and overcoming the pain and suffering.

How grateful I am for this understanding—it has kept me going throughout this journey. That made my suffering no longer absurd, it was just good news—thatI could not just stand at the cross but join Him on the cross.  What an opportunity and what purpose that brings to our suffering and gives me the strength to follow Him in His steadfastness counting on Him with His ability to hang in there with emotions cringing all over His mind and body.

I must admit when this message hit my mind and heart, my pity party was over and I felt as we all feel when spiritual, emotional and even physical suffering comes to us in many circumstances, that we can remember He was there with us in our sins then and He is still there now.

That’s why I wear a cross necklace that still has Jesus on the cross (a crucifix)—to remind me that He was willing to suffer beyond imagination and left room for my suffering to become redeemed.  This gives me an intimacy with my Lord which probably only comes in such pain and suffering.

I still hurt and would like to be free from the pain and suffering but it no longer shuts me down and that’s the good news of being able to do this, not on our own power, but because we can begin with a life in union with Christ and the same miracle occurs in our walk.  So, there’s good news even when the going gets rough.  That’s what I wanted to share with you today.  God bless you as you hang in there.

In union with Christ,

Bill

 

Contentment

Jesus holding a sheep

I love the book of Philippians and return to it frequently when I am searching for God’s direction for handling problems.  As I continue on my daily journey through chaos, I find myself going back to chapter four in which Paul reveals what he learned from his own chaos journey.  He was in prison at the time of writing this letter to his favorite church, which he had himself founded as senior pastor.  In this chapter, Paul shares with his beloved church family a whole list of his greatest discoveries, which he derived from his chaos struggles.  Here is one that speaks to me at the very deepest level of searching for help in handling life’s challenges.  The great apostle writes,

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have…in any and all circumstances…”  Philippians 4:11-12 NRSV.

The word for content in the Greek manuscript is autarkes, which means “self-sufficient.”  Paul is telling his church that he is “just fine,” but not because he is strong or wise enough in himself to handle his tough challenges.  The surrounding verses make it totally clear that he is rejoicing in having discovered that God is with him always and continues to carry him through whatever chaos appears on his path.  In verse 13, Paul succinctly expresses the reason he is able to be content even as he exists on death row in his Roman imprisonment.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13 NRSV

When I remind myself in the experience of fear and trembling of the insight of Paul, and I claim my own relationship with God through Christ, which was the central teaching of Jesus to all of His followers, peace and hope replace the worry and weakness.  I feel nothing but gratitude for hearing the Father’s voice and feeling His smile, and a familiar whisper is heard, “Gotcha covered, Bill.”

Let’s keep on moving—more blessing ahead.  Rejoicing comes naturally in such moments.  Next time you hit a tough patch on your journey, find a little silence and let Philippians 4:13 be God’s presence and whisper to you.  That’s been its purpose from the moment Paul wrote it.

The Lord is our shepherd…We’re covered…Whatever happens…Rejoice and trust Him.

Bill

Grateful

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Life is full of “unchosen journeys” and the fact that they are unchosen brings with them a definite measure of chaos.  Any unplanned detour sets in motion anxiety, frustration and discomfort.  Jesus said as much, in teaching His disciples in preparation for a major unchosen journey—unchosen by the disciples.  He said categorically…

“In the world you have tribulation…”  John 16:33 NASB

Since my stroke nine years ago, we have experienced that unchosen journey into chaos.  I have learned much from that time on detour.  As I have tried to journal my thoughts through this trip, I continue to realize that from this journey, I have learned much about prayer which had been previously left undeveloped.  My prayer life from the very beginning of the chaos was binary in nature.  I asked God for two things.  First, I wanted His help in understanding what had happened to me and secondly, I asked His help in directing me as to what I could do in the midst of the difficulties of the detour.  My bottom line request became not simply to remove the problem detour, but to lead me in the covering of His will.  My perceived answer from the Father was, “And we will need to do that together.”

I now know that prayer is not as much talking to God as it is dwelling with the Father in Christ.  It is cultivating my relationship with Him on a depth level.  Any relationship is improved when the two participants understand their roles in sustaining the relationship.  I have learned that the Father’s role in our relationship is to direct my journey, and my role is to follow His direction.  I have discovered that obeying His commands has become a way of loving God back for the love He has extended to me by being willing to direct my path.  I resonate with the sentiments of Jesus Who said,

“So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.”  John 14:31 NASB

Because this prayer communion has become my life-connection, I am always seeking the Father’s orders.

I have found in my military experience that the key to effectiveness in the chaos of battle is clarity of the orders and fullness of obedience.  So, in my Bible study, I search for action verbs in the imperative voice which is a parsing used in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.

In the New Testament, two-thirds of which was written by the Apostle Paul, I have found that Paul sought in his own relationship with God to be commanded and to be obediently situated in the Father’s will.  In Paul’s writings, he instructed other followers of Jesus in the same process.

One of my favorite writings of Paul is his letter to the church at Thessalonica.  Paul was the founding pastor of that church and 1 Thessalonians is his earliest canonical book which he wrote to the church that was experiencing a great deal of tribulation—another example of “unchosen journeys.”  As he comes close to the close of his letter, he summarizes how to find and live in the will of God in the midst of chaos with these words,

“Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB

There are three clear imperatives Paul uses here and they all go together to be able to do any one of them.  I have found that the third imperative may be the most crucial of all three.  At least it has been that way for me.  “In everything give thanks.” 

How is it possible to give thanks when things are not going as expected or desired?  How does one give thanks when he doesn’t feel very grateful?  I have learned that in any and every circumstance there are valid reasons to express gratefulness to God.  Number one is because God’s name is ‘God is with us.’  He does not leave us alone to try to find our way out of the mess.  Instead, He is with us and loves to transform messes into masterpieces as we journey together.  So, we can always be thankful for His presence and secondly, we can always be thankful for His victorious love through Jesus’ sacrificial atoning death on the cross.  Because of that sacrifice, we can all always know that our sins are forgiven and will not separate us from the Father’s love.  And nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from that love.  The Greek verb in the imperative Paul uses here in verse 18 is eucharisteite.  It is the word which the English word, eucharist, comes from.  The Eucharist is the central event of the mass for Roman Catholics as it focuses on what God did through Christ on the cross for us.

When I was a boy going to mass with my father, I would gaze for long times at the statue of Jesus on the cross behind the altar in the church.  Now, when I contemplate this image, I see my Savior with arms extended upward and outward in love for all of us and my heart melts into gratitude. I understand more clearly what Paul meant as he taught that the road through chaos and tribulation is the road of gratitude.  I also believe that Jesus was choosing that road of gratitude as He gave His life that we might discover how God can and will transform detours into destiny for all who choose, as Jesus did, to live in the will of God.

In all things let us give thanks,

Hang in there,

Grateful Bill

Ready for the Day

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It’s Wednesday morning.  Linda and I are in Florida visiting one of our daughters and her four children.  Our first assignment for the day is to transport our elementary school grandchildren to school.  As I sat in the car during that drive and listened to the sounds of our grandkids, I found my mind flashing back to the times I had the privilege of dedicating each one of them to God and I breathed a prayer to the Father for His guidance in Nana and Papa’s lives which could please God and help guide our beloved grandkids in His paths for their lives.

I was quickly reminded that I had used one particular scripture in the dedications of all of my grandchildren—it is Psalm 118:24—

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” NASB

Psalm 118 is a song of ascents.  King David wrote it for the congregation to use as they gathered in procession and walked into the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was used antiphonally. The worship leader would initiate the worship with the words, “This is the day the Lord has made,” after which the congregation would respond with “let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

A couple of years ago, I had taught that responsive beginning to the kids who were gathered in the backseat this morning.  So, I reminded them of that little Bible study I had done with them and invited them to join with me in starting our day that way together.  I called out the first part, and their voices joined together harmoniously, almost as a cheer, saying, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  I smiled because they had used, without even knowing, the accurate translation of the Hebrew text which uses the imperative voice of the verb rejoice.  It makes the point that rejoicing is presented as a command rather than a simple suggestion and therefore the response is a statement of obedience, anticipatory obedience, which includes excitement for the immediate future under God’s direction.

As we pulled up to the unloading awning and they began their disembarking ritual, I reminded them that rejoicing means looking for God’s little joy surprises in all they would do throughout the day.  I prepped them by asking them to tell me what the joy surprises were when we picked them up after school.

I have learned to use this biblical direction in my own journey through chaos, and it has always given me a sense of God’s directing presence and it is easy to be filled with gratitude from such an awareness.  So, I settled down after returning to the house with another look at the text of Psalm 118 and I discovered once again that David, under the inspiration of the Spirit, was calling for rejoicing with a background of chaos rather than a luxurious life of the Jamaican slogan “no problem, man.”

Rejoicing is God’s direction for partnering with Him in the midst of a world where evil is real, yet, is always conquered by His steadfast love.

The final verse of Psalm 118 is a shout of victory, praise and thanksgiving.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  Psalm 118:29 NASB

Jesus knew this so well, which enabled Him to endure the horrible suffering of the cross looking toward the joy surprise of the resurrection.

I grew up in New Orleans and remember vividly seeing jazz funeral processions through the streets of the French Quarter and hearing the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the mourners celebrated the ultimate joy surprise of eternal life for their loved one because of what Jesus did for all of us. I have learned that God is always ahead of us and can’t wait to see us celebrate when we find His prepared joy surprises.

So, here we go, “This is the day the Lord has made…”  Now, it’s your turn…live every step in joy.

Blessings,

Bill

After the Earthquake

**Originally posted on November 8, 2018, this blog was not posted on billelder.org due to a connection issue.  Some of my email subscribers may have missed it.  I’m sorry for the duplication.  Thanks for reading.

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“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” 

Sometimes life in this world looks like the aftermath of an earthquake, an overwhelming mess of destruction and rubble.  It’s a crisis time meaning a time for a decision.  What should be the attitude of a survivor as he contemplates how to move forward after such a loss and with nothing to work with but a huge mess?  Oftentimes, that’s where the seeds of despair and depression are sown.

There was a time when Jesus saw such an earthquake coming.  Out of love and concern for His friends and disciples, He tried to prepare them for the anguish and agony which was coming as the suffering and disgrace of execution by crucifixion drew near.  I have found that the insights He shared through this preparatory instruction has helped me greatly.

In my own journey, I have imagined that this lesson may have been taught in a rubble-evident area of which there were many in and around Jerusalem because of the many invasions and destructions that the city had experienced.  Jesus’ first words were an imperative, an order, not a suggestion.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled!  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  John 14: 1 NRSV

My seminary professor of New Testament called my attention to Jesus’ phrase, “in my Father’s house,” used here as a metaphor for all of creation and its experiences in addition to the image of heaven itself.  I can see Jesus raising His hand and arm in a gesture of the panoramic landscape and calling it “my Father’s house,” rubble and all.

The message Jesus wanted to communicate was that whatever happens to us God can work with it and creatively build structures for new beginnings and that Jesus, Who was called the logos, the creating Genius, through which God created the world to begin with (John 1:1), would be His instrument of re-creation.

Jesus wanted His followers to know that He was already preparing dwelling places, new homes, for them in which they could abide with Him in this rubble-ridden world and they would together abound throughout this life and into the life beyond in heaven.  What an amazing hopeful visionary promise for us to trust and count on.

No matter what happens, we can anticipate our Lord’s presence and production of real dwelling places in this real word, to be together with Christ and to continue following His lead into His gift of meaningful and joy-filled futures.

When we live with that sense of newness and expectation in receiving God’s limitless creativity, it becomes possible to carry out Jesus’ order to reject the temptation to allow our feelings of disappointment and worry to determine our handling of earthquakes which are part of life in our messy world.

In England when someone moves into a new apartment or flat, it is referred to as enjoying his “new digs.”  The 23rd Psalm expresses a similar kind of anticipatory joy that comes from knowing the Lord as one’s Shepherd.  It ends with this hopeful celebratory exclamation—

“Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6

So, let not your hearts be troubled and enjoy your “new digs.”

Bill

“How Ya Doin’?”

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I have learned from my journey through chaos when asked that question to answer, “Just grateful.”  I say that to remind myself that I have discovered that the right path to seek through the chaos is always the path of gratitude.  I have learned that God prepares the way for us by placing in our path little joy surprises.  It brings Him great joy to see His children find and receive His joy surprises, thus, I am truly ‘just grateful’ for the journey following Jesus.

I am also truly grateful for the many lessons on life He has taught and continues to teach me on this journey.  The number one discovery I have made which has become a major key in my life is that the steadfast life is the life of faith.  Steadfast means according to the Bible to keep moving forward little by little, step by step, never stopping, never quitting, without veering off onto some other path.

In the New Testament which was written in Greek, the word for steadfastness is hupomonè.  It is made up of two Greek words.  Hupo means ‘by’ and monè is from the verb meaning ‘to remain.’  When they come together they convey the meaning of ‘remaining by’ the One Whom we follow, the living presence of Jesus, Himself.

I am ‘just grateful’ to know that my faith, which makes possible the experience of Jesus’ gift of abundant and eternal life, grows when I seek to be steadfast.

The next most helpful learning for me has been God’s clarification on how to keep on keeping on.  I have found that to be steadfast, I must be able to defeat the temptations of the evil one.  I have learned that his favorite approach to taking me down is the attraction to self-exaltation, therefore the defensive movement—just like hand-to-hand combat—for defeating his attack is to get rid of the cravings for self-exaltation we have as human beings and replace them with actions that healthily nourishes our faith.  Jesus, Himself, worked on these disciplines and being in a covenant relationship with Him gives us His spirit to empower this maneuver.

In the 1st century church when people presented themselves for baptism as a covenant-making act in becoming a disciple following Jesus, the community of believers would sing a baptismal hymn.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross, therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV

One of Jesus disciples was the Apostle Peter who had to learn a lot about following Jesus into humility and away from self-exaltation.  This was a key learning for Peter who sought to teach the same lesson to the church which was being persecuted by the evil emperor, Nero.  Peter wrote in the midst of this persecution,

“Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you in due time…discipline yourselves, keep alert.  Like a roaring lion, your adversary, the devil, prowls around, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” 1Peter 5:6-9 NRSV

Therefore, the lesson is that we must get rid of our cravings for self-exaltation, replacing them with 1. obedience, 2. servanthood and 3. exalting God ourselves in worship and obedience.

In Genesis 3, we read about how evil tempts people.  It is at the point of self-exaltation.  After God had given so much to the first couple and entrusted to them the roll of responsible dominion over His creation, He commanded them not to eat from only one of the many allowable fruit trees in the garden.  It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which is an Hebraic poetic way of saying the ‘knowledge of everything’ which was an attribute only of God.  It was a way of warning them not to try to make themselves God for themselves, thereby giving in to the temptation of self-exaltation, which is precisely the type of temptation attack the evil one brought on them.  The voice of evil sought to persuade them to doubt God’s love and veracity and we are told that they chose not to obey God, but gave in to the temptation of self-exaltation which is considered the great Fall of humanity—this same decision has been made by human beings ever since except for One, Jesus Himself.

After His baptism, Jesus went into the desert to confront evil and we read in Matthew 4 that the evil one came at Jesus with the same tactic of self-exaltation.  Self-exaltation means to lift up for praise and applause.  All three of his temptations appealed to Jesus at the point of self-exaltation:  turning stones into bread, jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple and compromising with evil for a shortcut to power over people.

Jesus rejected every thrust with a quote of scripture from the book of Deuteronomy whose theme is obedience and expressing exaltation for God.  The evil one failed because of the choices Jesus made in each case to trust and obey the Father.  And this explains the power and wisdom Jesus displayed throughout His life, even through the cross itself.  Jesus chose to remain in the disgrace and physical suffering of the cross and He rejected all cravings for self-exaltation, awaiting the Father’s lifting Him up in due time.  The Greek behind the translation ‘in due time’ (1 Peter 5:7) is one word, kairos.  It is a word for ‘time’ which means the intention of God for the moment not the quantity of time on a clock.  It means at the perfect time.

No wonder the very last words Jesus struggled to shout in His weakened state were, “It is perfect!”  That is a cry of victory, not ceasing or quitting, a cry of steadfastness.

I am ‘just grateful’ to be learning how His victory can become a daily experience for me as I seek to follow Him with the help of His own Spirit into obedience and servanthood.  When I choose that route, I do much better at finding God’s joy surprises on the battlefield of life.  Knowing and applying these learnings are moment by moment challenges, but have made all the difference as I seek to experience the steadfast life.

As I look back over my journey through chaos, I can truly say when asked, “How ya doin’?”, my answer is, “Just grateful.”

How ya doin’?

Bill