For a while now, I've been at a crossroads, and I don't think that I'm a lone - I should say I know I'm not. I watch as a parent keeps their child from eating the donut on the table of the coffee shop, only to replace it with an apple juice and then to start chugging down a froka-mocha-choka latte while eating a "whole grain" bran muffin.
For my entire life, I've been one of those people who was always very interested in and challenged by the health & wellness industry yet never applied - or was interested in applying - the principles that I sparingly learned.
My wife and I would go for a run or long hike and then run into Penn Station subs and grab a 6- or 8-inch sammy with bacon and plenty of meat. And fries, to boot. We would justify it and would even admit to people "We're those people who workout so that we can eat what we wanna eat - We're total foodies."
Meanwhile, the voice of my best friend Alex, was speaking into our lives and saying that this was an excuse because anyone can change or grow in any way and all we needed to do was to change our mindset about food. My reaction? I was defensive and cocky, shamelessly justifying our bad habits to Alex. But he was a true friend, and he told me that day something that I've heard 1000 times since then, "Matt, do you eat to live, or do you live to eat?"...I doubt if he remembers the exact moment, but I remember it well and have heard it repeated by many of our spiritual and business mentors in life.
Being that Alex was a personal trainer, I listened...or I thought that I did... I started applying the plethora of wives tales, addages, and truisms that I knew about dieting or living a healthy lifestyle. If you would have asked me I would have said that I had an everyday habit - But if you followed me around with a telephoto lense, you would've seen differently: Starbucks, Pizza, Wendy's, Five Guys, Gas station junk food, the free cake in the office...you get the picture.
I was essentially an opportunistic binge eater of the worst kind. We would soon learn another principle that was unavoidable, as much as I hated to admit it: EVERYTHING COUNTS. And just because you count everything doesn't mean that you're changing your habits and retraining your instincts and appetites. The snack before bed that you just have to have, the mass quantities of bread thoughtlessly consumed with a token fruit or vegetable added to soothe the conscience.
After a couple of years, I was 40 lbs heavier than the day that I met my wife on August 13, 2009. Nearly 200 lbs and proud of my running and eating habits still. I certainly better than I ever had before, which was likely held at bay by the quality supplements that I was taking, but inside my body was beginning to reap the consequences of my late night trysts with Pizza, Ice Cream, chips or even some "healthy snacks" that should've just been eaten earlier in the day.
It was just a few weeks ago that my brother-in-law Brian sent me a book that he had started reading a few weeks before that seemed to hold all the answers. I was 100% skeptical, but the proof is always in the puddin', and I know Brian has already experienced some pretty ridiculous results in the first couple weeks of changing his lifestyle. I'll let him reveal the true numbers upon completion, but it' seen amazing.
The book's title caught me by the brain "Eat to Live." I'm not all the way through it yet, but I wanted to take a moment to share it with the Interwebs and potentially change your life as ours has been changed, and will continue to change.
To edify the book without destroying its punch line, the questions that it answered were as follows:
1. How come I am exercising and "eating right" and still not losing weight?
2. Why do I eat better than everyone else and still have trouble balancing my weight?
3. Why does it seem perfectly healthy seeming people who eat right and exercise seem to be getting heart disease and cancer?
4. How can I avoid chasing every diet and trend and magical pill that pops up on my Facebook feed and truly live a healthier lifestyle?
5. What am I missing? What is my doctor missing?
6. What happened to the way that my elementary teacher taught to eat? Where did that food pyramid even come from?
7. Can I really afford to be healthy?
8. Will I be able to eat well and have palatable well balanced meals rich in nutrients AND flavor?
9. Do I have to be a vegetarian to have longevity of life?
10. Can I have cheat meals? What do they do to my long term health?
These are the days of having everything that you want in food every single day and still losing weight through your diet program. You may lose weight, lots of it in fact, but the question you should be asking yourself is "What will give me quality of life AND longevity of life so that I can leave a good example to my kids and grandkids?"
Please, if you're skeptical of the book, read the first couple of chapters and see if you can't put it down. That is exactly where I found myself, which is why I am sharing this before I've completed it. I think it will be a blessing to your long healthy life and will drastically change the way that you view food.
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, paid endorser, or "hype guy." Our family believes in results and truth, and if you have comments, positive or negative, either way please share.
This is the first of many Eldredge books I have read over the years but still takes the cake as the most impactful book in my life, after the Word, itself. Eldredge also works alongside his wife on several works about the nature of men and women in relationship to their being made in the image of God.
When my friend John recommended the book, he said that this was the book that taught him to love to learn reading. I kind of believed him; then I read the book. The depth and accuracy of his knowledge of the spirit of a man and a woman is almost as if he had placed a wiretap in my room for the last 20 years of post-developmental struggle.
He doesn’t just answer the question, “Who should the man be?” but “Who is the man? How is he created in the image of God? How does he receive his identity? Where does he usually run when things go awry? How come he cannot get his identity from somewhere else? Why does he always end up searching for danger? Why is he rebellious, discontented, maladjusted? These are questions that every honest man will admit he has faced.
What is sad is that Thoreau’s reality of “quiet desperation” is far too often the perpetual existence of men in need, yet we do not cry out because to do so admits that we need and we lean on something else, something greater. We must become children to accept that our identity and our existence is to be lived out of a greater perspective of Father love that comes from one place (I Jn 4:7).
Yet, what did the poet say about this struggle in the 32nd Psalm? “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” We are often to blame for our own desperation. We fight the help that will really and eternally change every piece of our existence. Jesus, the eternal Son, said Himself “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Yet the strongest impulse that you sense in a group of men is posing. Lots and lots of posing. I call it The Act. Everything is okay, I am strong, I have it all figured out, I have need of no one and nothing…it’s a lie and thus we live stretched between two terrifying realities: we must either completely rely on God or we must figure it out all alone.
Motorcycles, guns, fast cars, women, cooking over an open flame. The list goes on. There is something appealing about an activity where you might die: stay on the edge of danger and on the cusp of rebellion. Most men revel at the idea that they are revolutionary, defiant, and bold. Yet it is mostly a farce, and what they fear the most is that they will be tamed and that the whole world will be able to see behind the mask, into their deepest weakness, into the wound, as Eldredge calls it.
The Wound is an essential identification that every man must make distinctively, because that is where Christ meets us with a Sword of Truth – not to emasculate us with “dos and do nots” or to tame us with “shoulds and oughts” but to slice through the scar tissue to the wound and dwell there at our deepest vulnerability. For me, it was neglect and abandonment from my father who never addressed his own wound – the loss of his father, my Papa Troy.
I can honestly look at every man out there who is seeking and not finding and likely in every scenario, they have not taken their wound to Christ but to Jack Daniels and golf and sex. Eldredge calls this search The Question: Do I have what it takes? Am I worth it? Can I do it? Am I a man, I mean am I a real man? Where each man takes his question will determine the direction of his heart. You need only take a look at his Internet history, his calendar, his bank statements to see where he has sought this validation.
I’ll pause here for a moment to make a proclamation and a directive: 1) Any time a man takes his question to a female, any time he goes to the feminine spirit for strength, he will begin to suffer the greatest of tragedies and without knowing it, steal from her what she seeks the most from him – leadership. 2) Christ commands that the way to the Father is through the Son, not through relationships, not through sex, not through porn or hookers or an affair.
Yet, ironically throughout history men have found that easy-out increasingly available everywhere we turn, and yes, many of us have been down those roads, and we also know where they all lead. Sam Jones once told me “How a man manages his stress will show his character and his heart, I mean look at Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton and so many other adulterers; they took their stress to the woman, and look where it has landed them.” David brought his question to Bathsheba, Samson to Delilah, and Jacob to his own mother. They simultaneously opted out of the blessings that the Father had in store.
So where can we go? Who can we turn to? What can we do? How can we fix it? I know, I was asking the same question. The answer might hurt. There is literally nothing you can do. But there is something HE can do for you. If you’re willing to face the frightening sword and to let Him pierce even unto the depths of your heart, he will chasten and hone you. On His strength, he will allow you to test your own. In this analogy, I imagined my dad, who stands about 6ft 4in fighting off a 6- and 8-year-old boys as we tried to bring down the giant, testing our strength against his, fighting for the victory. “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
That is His ultimate desire for the Men of God. He wants us to wrestle with Him and to fight beside Him, as He did with Jacob, and we then emerge with a new name, and yes with a limp, haha. I don’t trust a man without limps or lumps. For there is no perfect man, but there is a perfected, completed man in Christ who is filled with the Spirit of Christ.
For what purpose then are we redeemed and renamed and healed? Eldredge suggests that there are three conquests that a man must engage with Him to fulfill his identity: A Battle to Fight, A Beauty to Rescue, and An Adventure to Live. He demonstrates in depth.
A Battle to Fight
You don’t have to look far to find a man looking for a battle to fight. Consider all the causes out there: whether it’s the NRA or the USA, men everywhere are looking for a fight. Deep down they really wish that guy in the checkout isle would give them an excuse to deck them. I dare you to take my parking spot. Don’t judge me if you’ve never felt that way before, but I am willing to bet you have.
The best example I can think of is when Liberty Valance tosses aside Tom Doniphon's steak (played by John Wayne), and you would have thought that the man slapped his mother or put a hole in his hat. The truth is that we all are hard-wired to provide and protect. The wild west remains an epic canvas for the spirit of manhood because it represents this Battle to Fight in its raw, real, rustic sense.
But who do you see in every scene? The Beauty, looking to be rescued.
A Beauty to Rescue
John and Stasi Eldredge also co-author Captivating, the “girls response” to Wild at Heart – a revealing and down-to-earth dispensation of pure womanly wisdom. The pretext is that every woman wants to know that she has her daddy’s heart and that if she never finds this, she will look elsewhere. Men, conversely, need a Beauty to Rescue. Think about every good movie you’ve ever seen…there is always a love story, no matter how masculine the main male character. And he always has to fight for her. This is what she wants to see: her man going to battle for her heart, not taking her for granted or that he loves the convenience of her existence. Why do so many sexually involved relationships before marriage end in hurt? Because she wants to know that she is a catch and that she has value. If she didn’t learn that from Dad, guess what...She might need to know a little extra…this is how she is made.
An Adventure to Live
Why are so many men out there in what seem like stellar marriages struggling spiritually? Because they believe that their greatest accomplishment is being successful, well-dressed, and sensitive, domesticated. The thought sickens me…I am actually sitting in a Starbucks finishing this and all I can think about is getting home to Melissa and maybe going for a trail run or rollerblading on the Greenway, or playing soccer. Men, take initiative. She will appreciate you for it. It will enliven your marriage and bless your life.
For the fairer sex out there that may be reading this, the Adventure to Live is the killer instinct. Burning ants with the magnifying glass, taking out the coyote at 100 yards with the .22 rifle, or pulling the legs off of a grasshopper. We seek it from our youth, and it does not stop. Ladies, don’t roll your eyes. This is the heart of man. If you have a man who is willing to have your back you are among very few, and you should nurture that in him. If you make it a point to control everything he does, you’re not going to like the male that you’ll end up with – I use the word Man sparingly.
Every man was once a boy. And every little boy has dreams, big dreams: dreams of being the hero, of beating the bad guys, of doing daring feats and rescuing the damsel in distress. Every little girl has dreams, too: of being rescued by her prince and swept up into a great adventure, knowing that she is the beauty.
As you can see by the title, I have stretched the bounds of the PBP series by including this paperback that fits into zero of my pockets yet is still a relatively quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. I must say, I have a bias in choosing this book because its author is a man who encouraged me when he had no idea that I was doubting and struggling with my faith. He told me one sentence which carried me through college and my early adult life, and that still echoes on my heart today, "I love you, and I am proud of you." That is the Rhodes way: plain and simple from a heart of compassion.
Kevin Rhodes is no stranger to the literary community. You would also enjoy some of his other works: Shadows of Good Things to Come, A Consequence of Legitimacy, and What God Hath Joined Together. He is the minister of the Granbury St. church of Christ in Cleburne, TX, and also has a great deal of experience in the academic community and in the personal working of discipleship in the home, work, and church. If you were to meet him at the store, in the worship assembly, or in the classroom, he is the same man, with the same commitment to serve one purpose - Following Christ.
The tone of the book is bold, simple, didactic, and passionate, like the gospel message it conveys. If I could distill the book into one sentence, it would be, Discipleship with the Lord Jesus is simple when you allow it be defined by Him.
Rhodes walks the reader through a series of challenges and exhortations to connect them to the fellowship of Christ that occurs when the denial of self is full and complete. The first several chapters focus on the obstacles to true discipleship: tradition, contemporary doctrine, selfish ambition, materialism, and excuse-making. Rhodes submits that discipleship occurs in a progression, and it is not solely based on performance but on the heart of a follower to submit because he longs to be disciplined by a Father who has an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient perspective and Who knows what is best for His children.
Many many ask the question, "What is it with all this talk about 'authentic discipleship'...seems pretty simple to me." Discipleship is certainly simple, but to think it is easy is to vastly underestimate the potential cost of following Christ daily and the blessings that will follow. Restoration is an ever-present need for anyone seeking to emulate someone or something. If you're going to be something or do something, be it. Do it. There is no in between. If you're not it, become it again by following His pattern.
Life is a vacuum that we operate in that causes the following to be true: There is no standing still; God is either propelling you forward or you're being pulled forever backward by another, darker force. If you have not pursued the way of the Savior, you haven't followed him either. If you have not earnestly sought the heart of the Savior, you cannot see yourself in His image. If you cannot walk in faith behind the Savior, you're walking by human sight and operating from a short-term perspective that will land you on your behind right back where you started - or even further back.
The difference between being a Christian and a disciple, is much like the difference between a rectangle and a square. Not all rectangles are squares, but the best square out there cannot help but be an awesome rectangle. Being a true disciple would assume that a person would become a Christian through burial in baptism to become united with the blood of Christ (Romans 6:3f). Discipleship, however, begins in pursuit of Christ and exists in a progressive momentum that consumes all things in the life of a follower, beginning at salvation and continuing unto death (Rev 2:10). There are many who claim to be Christ-like whose time, money, effort, and mental capacity is spent for 6.5 days of the week on themselves. A disciple perceives his or her life as a daily opportunity to serve the Creator by giving Him glory through his values, priorities, judgments, spiritual works, disciplines, self-denial, relationships, and eternal longevity. So while all disciples cannot help but become Christians, not all Christians choose to be discipled.
Anything short of this "authentic discipleship" simply adds distance to the great gulf that exists between the Almighty God and His people (Isaiah 59:1-2). A disciple realizes that his citizenship, purpose, wealth, and health are all primarily spiritual and that the physical aspects of gain in this life flow out of the grace and mercy of the savior. Rhodes gives examples of people who have lost their way because of their pursuit of the dollar bill, status, a charismatic reputation, or leadership value. Never follow a man who is not himself being led by Christ (Matthew 15:14).
I really enjoyed the third chapter, "Leaving the Cares of the World Behind." Rhodes suggests that materialism is not just having a lot, but placing more value on what you have (idolatry) or do not have (covetousness) than on your spiritual worth. I know many people with almost no physical possessions whose primary goal is to have and to gain, yet they are faced with rejection at every turn because their spiritual depravity blocks God's blessings for them. I also know some very poor people whose every moment is spent in service to others and in blessing others to the measure that they have been blessed. The latter are rich in spirit and following Christ. They work hard only to give back because they know where their treasure lies. In stark contrast, you have the the executive big shot or the career woman who chases the dollar bill for 60-80 hours per week for a family and a home and a car that they never get to enjoy. Rhodes suggests that God's glory is not in the constant pursuit of fiscal wealth but in the pursuit of the riches of the glory of God (Matthew 13:11f).
I was speaking with a mentor of mine last night who talked about his desire to be so excited, even after the productivity of a full day, to come home and to spend some time with Jesus in the prayer closet and to internalize and to dispense the gleanings from the Spirit. This is the desire that the true disciple chases day and night: to be wrapped up in the thoughts of Christ and in His Holy Spirit.
Follow Me came to me at a crucial time, as good books always do, and it was a blessing to read and to review my notes, knowing that this work can bless others. I pray that you purchase a copy from iTunes or from Amazon and go through it one chapter a day, or even a chapter a week and to focus on one principle at a time, knowing that you'll only draw closer to a Savior who is calling you and who longs to have a relationship with you.
May God bless your reading and study of the scripture and this book be a beacon on your journey.
This is not the first time that I have read Edwin Cole's Maximized Manhood, and I know it won't be my last. The original copy of the book was a prized possession until I passed it on to a brother in need. I believe that for the conscientious reader, it is a good habit to read a book, mark it up, and pass it on!
Maximized Manhood is but one of Cole's many works regarding Marriage and Family topics. The subtitle of the book is "A Guide to Family Survival, " and appropriately so. Despite the title, this would be an amazing book to read as a couple to get together-together on what it means to be a man and a woman, and a family unit.
Between its 15 chapters and 175 pages, the work represents one of the most comprehensive studies of what God commands the man to be. He doesn't ask. He gives directives. If a man is created in God's image, how is he created? Is he weak and weary, like the portrait of Jesus that pop culture has come to embrace, or is he the rock, the stronghold, the velvet-covered brick?
Because there is a "Man Book" stigma that usually accompanies the literature addressed to men, Cole takes time to address some pre-conceived notions in their extremes that have endangered the identity of the Christian man in his household, business, and social life. He goes into detail about what it means to be truly surrendered to God's image of the male spirit and life.
If it were up to television and music, every man would have to make the decision as to whether he would become a Macho Man or a Pansy. I can totally relate to this since I have some friends who are very BOLD and some that are more GENTEEL. You can likely recall times huddled around a fire, or an engine, or a broken pipe, or guns, or a fishing hole where your manhood was tested. Can you build a fire, fix a car, stop a leak, load and unload a gun, bate a hook, etc? Is that the extent of our Manhood? That we be useful? Maybe that is part of it.
The author takes care to explain the other side of manhood. Not only that he can be depended on to deliver results, but also that he lead from the front in developing and fostering a spiritual intimacy that goes beyond sex and physical touch.
If a woman does not believe that she possesses these things in a marriage or while dating, it's likely that her perception is reality and that she'll look elsewhere. And sadly, women often do. They run to their romantic love stories and their gossip magazines while the "male" (I use the word 'man' sparingly in this context) runs to his porn, beer, friends, golf, work, guns, sports, fishing, camping, etc...
A man is only more of a man when he becomes more surrendered to the Father. He is only more of a disciple when he becomes more disciplined by the Father. And He is only more a leader when he is led by the Father.
Surrendered, Disciplined, Led. That is God's real intention for the Christian man. AND God's intention is that the best kind of man is a Christian, because who better should a man imitate that the Son of God, the incarnation of the Father, Himself?
I was tempted to include a brief chapter summary of all 15 sections, but I believe that you should read the book yourself. It's worth it. A relationship with your First Father is worth it. Your marriage is worth it.
To our awesome I.E.V. readers,
I hope you had an amazing day yesterday remembering those who have sacrificed it all for our country. You'll see flowing through the site a series of Pocket Book Periodicals this month that I'll continue throughout the year. I am excited about this because I often take notes when I am reading and I feel like they could be of value to someone else. I'll limit these to books that I can fit into the back pocket of my jeans (I didn't say comfortably). If you believe that there should be an exception, comment below, but there are reasons for the madness.
1. Content: In the past, I didn't read as much as I wanted to simply because I could not find something honest and of substance that was "on my level."
2. Convenience: When I was reading often, I would get bored quickly with the electronic forms of my favorite books and sometimes need a conveniently-sized paper edition that can fit in the outside pocket of a jacket, backpack, or suitcase.
3. Consistency: I honestly think that this is a series that I will actually do, and although I haven't been asked to, I want to make sure that my honor and integrity as a man are preserved since my brother is a production mad-Man. And I respect that. Also, when something is interesting and simple, we usually prefer it.
At the beginning of the year, I believed that I was a very good reader until my brother, Jon, and my mentor, John, told me what their reading habits were like. I believe that between the two of them there were nearly forty books read by the beginning of May. I thought about doing a challenge where I would read one book a day and write 250 words about each one, but between business meetings and giving my beautiful wife the attention she deserves, that wasn't sustainable and wouldn't give each work due diligence.
So, I'll just work on completing one Pocket Book per week, along with its corresponding Periodical here. Please keep me in your prayers as this is a stretch goal for me, and I pray that this is a blessing to you and every part of your walk.
May God bless you,
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
A little gleaning of my own from this weekend after some thought, devotion, sharing, and communication:
If out of your life chaos protrudes and proliferates, you are not living out of a Christ-life; you're living in your sins, in the past, in control, and out of His will. If from your life emanates light, peace, calm, and rest, you're living in life apart from the thief who is ever trying to convince you of your own righteousness and your own self-doubt. That robber teaches that the past is the future, that walking away and shutting down communication is the answer; that you cannot deal; that you're not enough; that there is no hope.
Then Christ, from a cross says "You can because you're mine...make me yours."
May God bless you with peace and power today.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In my weakness He is strong
Gives my heart the peace of calm
In my brokenness He moves
Lifts me up from habits' grooves
In my darkness He is light
Meekness shines through His might
In confusion He is clear
Removes the paralyzing fear
In the face of doubt He's faith
Sufficient is His matchless grace
For a thorn He trades a cross
When near me is the pain of loss
In pleasure, In reproach, In need
He from the true vine does feed
In persecutions and distresses, He
does lift my soul in anguish, free
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
As we continue our study of the True Vine in John 15, Jesus names His Father as the husbandman, the earth worker (georgos), the vinedresser who serves many roles. Since John likely records this 60 years after the original events occurred, I thought of how deeply he must have understood this relationship, and it really humbled me.
As in posts past, I wanted to observe that the focus in this parable is the Trinity as a source of peace, power, and production, and we should remember that it is through that triune force that we have access to the sonship of Christ.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away"
The role of the Father is multifaceted, much like an earthly father's role. A father provides, protects, heals, and helps, and sometimes he just has to take his children up into his arms for comfort. That alone is of eternal importance.
The phrase "takes away" in the Greek is "airo," whose primary definition is to be lifted up. The branch is not yet cast out but is taken up and given special care. This reminds me of so many times as a boy that I would be ornery, and my father would take me up and carry me away. If you're a parent you know that the acting out can be caused by an unmet need or just by sheer misdirection of energy that, uncorrected, can result in further unmet needs and further disobedience.
For this reason, the Father takes us up and allows us to abide in the vine but fosters us differently than he would a fruit-producing vine. If we need more light, more water, or more nourishment, He'll ensure that we receive them in the way that is most conducive for long-term growth and production so as not to overwhelm with woody distractions.
When you slip up, God doesn't just give up on you! Your salvation is NOT a revolving door. Nor is it a flapping pennant or a badge of honor. The Father is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Thus, His taking us awayand lifting us up is initially for the same purpose that He Prunes the productive branches. Watching "Mama Ruby" bind up the limbs on a small sapling pecan or on a rose bush seemed restrictive and limiting to the plants at first, but she, knowing the energy and potential therein, would have killed the entire plant for the one wild vine having not brought it into subjection to the ties.
"Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit"
When I think of pruning, I am taken back to Texas summers outdoors when I would take shelter from the heat for a few minutes at a time in the shed behind our home. This was where my parents kept all of the lawn tools. There was a pair of pruning shears and a pruning saw that looked different from a chain saw or a bush whacker. They had smaller, curved blades, specifically designed to remove and chip away the unhelpful stems and the dead limbs on our rose bushes and our pear tree.
It is not out of hatred, spite, or judgment that the Father has issued this pruning process but out of pure love. The point is best made by the Hebrews writer in the twelfth chapter:
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
The chastening of the Father is the most glorious chipping away and is proof-and-prosper of His son within us. God does not chasten us in punishment but in purification. Does it hurt? The writer says YES. But what do we experience in Him after suffering? Great and abundant spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22)!
As a vinedresser tends the vines Year to year, there may have grown ten feet of unproductive wood throughout the year, perhaps even strong resilient wood! But when the dresser sees no fruit, he cuts the branch back to a nub - many times within inches from the original cut. The image is an emotional one. There is a loss, but there is gain for the spirit which blossoms for the freedom to produce fruit free of religiosity and ritualism.
After a month or six months or a year, I'll experience a whole string of disappointments or setbacks, and I'll realize that God is in the process of doing for me microcosmically what he did for His true children on a larger scope: "the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." (Mt. 21:43). Paul himself testified to this in I Corinthians chapter 3, verse 15 "If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
The man-made fabrications of our philosophies will be lopped off in the pruning, and yes they'll be burned, and yes it will be in pain, but it is for the growth of the spirit and its reliance on the True Vine and the Husbandman. The wood is cut away, and the fruit abounds.
The $100,000 Bible and English degree that sits on the shelf at home makes a pretty ornament for decoration, but it does not prove that I grew in the spirit. Nor does it make me a better child of God or a more fruitful branch. The stack of attendance cards from numerous worship services doesn't make me a veteran Christian. It makes me a person who has sat through numerous worship services. If you were to never miss a worship service yet never give your fruit producing capabilities to the Lord, you might as well stop collecting check marks and stop scratching off your spiritual To-Do lists.
"If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered, and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned."
PLEASE PAY ATTENTION: This casting forth is "ekballo" in the Greek, and describes both the separation of the fruitless wood from the rootstalk and its eventual and imminent purging in fire. Separation unto Punishment.
It is to the first separation that I would turn your attention to briefly. Upon being cut off (Gal 5:4), the soul has "fallen from Grace" and no longer has access to Grace that flows through the blood of Christ. Being unfruitful and lifted up and being cast out are two different concerns. The casting out places the soul apart from the Vine, and apart from grace that flows through it (Romans 6:3-4; Gal 3:26-27).
The myth that a soul once loved or redeemed can never pass onto the branch heap has been sold at every turn by the next opportunistic evangelist seeking to offer hope. This is a false hope. Consider the words of Simon Peter:
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (II Peter 2:18-22 NKJV)
"By this the father is glorified, when you bear much fruit."
Note who receives the glory. The praise. The honor. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).
Why is it that when we see a beautiful sculpture we praise the sculptor, when we see a fruitful orchard we praise the arborist, yet when we see a beautiful work for the Lord we praise a man? Vanity? Ego? Human Nature? Perhaps...
Or maybe its because throughout our lives we are actually convinced that the chastening of the Lord is just Mother Nature throwing her proverbial weight around--on us. Or that God just made some people better, more equipped, capable of more fruit? Seriously?!
Do you remember the excuse that Moses gave the Almighty God when going up against pharaoh? "But-but-but-I don't talk good." Then God gave him Aaron as a speaker and--don't you know it--Moses steals the show from Aaron and leads millions out of Egypt. God knows our excuses and our regrets and our hearts deeper than we could ever imagine. He provides an out and then he equips the called to perform the duty to His glory. We are his workmanship. He builds us up and He will return His blessings to us one hundred fold.
"As the Father loved me, I also have loved you...Because they do not know Him who sent me"
God the Father set Love in motion as the master gardener and watched as this "tender plant...a root out of dry ground" (Isaiah 53) grew forth into a massive vineyard - the church of Christ (Romans 16:16) - not a denomination or a distillation of other religious sects, but the true and original body of Christ Jesus, also known as "the way" or "the kingdom." God set the example of love that He would give of Himself His Unique Son (Jn 3:16), the only true vine, to reconcile the world while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" I John 4:10.
God is not just the teacher of what love is and how it manifested but also how to love in a world that is against the spirit and that lives in spite of the spiritual reality that surrounds us. Christ in the flesh was the ONLY way to prove that love prevails over all (Romans 13).
"For all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you."
God is not a bitter clock maker who sits back and laughs as we carry out petty lives in the flesh. He prepared everything so that we might enjoy life more abundantly, in spirit (Jn 10:10). He is not an author of confusion (I Cor 14:33) but grants us all things that pertain to life and godliness (II Pt 1:3). Man attempts to conjure up a God who could have forsaken us, could have let us burn, could have watched as we roasted, yet God in His character could have never searched for such a self (James 1:10f).
He didn't leave us guessing about a Savior (Gen 3, Dan 2, Joel 2, Acts 2), and He would never leave us unprepared to make a fully informed decision. Yet the flesh can veil what is right before us...consider the savior who lived among the apostles and had prophesied and had taught and had hinted, yet they are met with surprise at His crucifixion and ascension (Acts 1). Let it not be said that we were surprised at His second coming.
"Whatever you ask in my name, He will give to you."
What could this ever mean? God can grant us everything that we ask in the name of Jesus...that's a tall order, huh? The emphasis here is on Him. HE will give. We must never stop asking, but HE gives the increase as we plant, water, and cultivate (I Cor 3:6). That being said, He'll also be the one in the next season who comes back to cut away the woody imperfections and to cast them out to be burned (I Cor 3:15).
"He who hates me hates my Father also."
There is fruit that is clearly not of the alethinos ampelos, Christ Jesus. They talk about other gods. They speak of another messiah, another prophet, another gospel. Anything apart from the original life source is a conjuring of the mind of man. When we claim that there are other true fellowships other than that of the blood of Christ, we are adulterating the gospel, the Absolute Reality of the Father and Creator who gave us mouths to oppose Him and hands to sin against Him. We call Him "Liar" and "Cheat." He is either a lunatic or he is Almighty King. There is no in-between.
"The spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father"
Father God dispenses the Holy Spirit who can only agree with Him. There is nothing in the Word that has been "unrevealed" through someone's personal prophecy or revelation through the Spirit. God does not conflict with Himself because he is the Ultimate Truth and Reality of the universe. He is the only being that has always been and always will be, and we can scarcely fathom the depths of His knowing. We can know that He never lies, is always dependable, always consistent. If there is a problem with what we understand, let's not try to change what He proclaimed in the spirit but to align our spirit with what he proclaimed.
I know the last couple of paragraphs could have bore more comparison to the analogy and more similitude to the parable, but I am leaving them as-is. The Father of the Kingdom is the worker in the earth who is still involved in the pruning process. But God is never so close to His children as when he is binding them up, pruning them , chastening, and purging (Hebrews 12).
God we dedicate this post, this blog, these lives to you in your paternal glory. Thank you for your closeness, your discipline unto discipleship, and your abiding presence. Please grant us peace through your word and let us simply be branches, aligned with you; bound up and pruned for your glory. Amen.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Before we explore the nature of the True Vine I want us to explore the purpose of the parable: Was it to encourage production, performance, or perfection? Was it only to give a scathing indictment of wild and woody branches? Was it a lecture on sound horticultural practices?
I am going to go out on a limb and say No. And that is where Jesus begins. He doesn't begin the parable to explain how we can perform better or how we can produce more or how we can persist, heal, or overcome. He begins with the Source by which we may do all these things. Religion is useless, production is vain, work is wearisome, unless it be from and for the glory of Christ.
As you read the first seventeen verses of the chapter note that they all go back to verse 1, specifically to this first phrase, "I am the true vine." The meaning, method, and message of every verse returns to one this one truth.
The Greek phrase that John chooses here for "the true vine" is the "he alethinos ampelos," which is the straightforward mirror image in English. He simply means "the," and indicates uniqueness and exclusivity. There is no other true vine through which we receive life; not of works, not of religion, not of winning souls. Our life is merged with the life of Christ within us (Romans 6:3-4).
Alethinos conveys the idea of being completely genuine to the name given to describe it, the complete opposite of anything fictitious or counterfeit. Not only is Jesus exclusively the source and the means of our reconciliation and rejuvenation, but He also exists as The Vine in its purest and most effective sense.
The ampelos that Jesus refers to is the lifeblood of the branches. They live by no other life and produce through no other sap.
Often times, as branches, we search for peace, comfort, retribution, or reward through every medium except for that which is true and genuine and nourishing. We try to alter our personalities, change our view of the world, or shift the mere circumstantial fabric of our lives. Christ's spirit does not pulse through our branches for convenience or luxury, but as the ultimate resource and help-meet: the living complement to our spiritual depravity.
Perhaps instead of striving to be a good branch or a productive branch, we should start by asking ourselves, "Am I living in the True Vine through the blood of Jesus, or am I fabricating a spirituality based on my own wisdom and tradition?"
Father, help us this day and everyday to realize that it is through submission to the vine that fruit is produced and that any fruit not produced of the vine is in vain. Please help us to rest and abide and seek comfort and nourishment in Christ Jesus through His Blood, His Word, and His Spirit. Bring us close to Him alone, the only cause for comfort, the only Truth, Light, and Hope for all man. Before we act, before we produce, before we wind about wildly, bind us up to simply commune with Him.
As the New Year approaches, I want to consider three points of stewardship that my beautiful wife, Melissa, and I are exploring that will bring peace, physical health, and prosperity to our home in the next year. 2015 is almost upon us, and if you're like the majority of Americans, you may be over-leveraged, over-budget, and overweight. Contrary to the typical doom-and-gloom that you typically hear this time of year, I would like to posit some wise words regarding the faithful keeping of the calendar, the bank account, the mindset, and the physique.
Thanks to the Word and to the mindset and thought process of some very close people to my family, we have learned to protect these areas of responsibility because of their direct effect on our marriage, our fellowship, and our friendships. To be a blessing, we must channel effectively the blessings that we have been given by the Master of the house.
A man once told his Bible class teacher, "I have no idea where to keep my car while I am on vacation"
The wise instructor said, "Well, you can keep it in my garage."
"Well that wouldn't be fair; I don't want to take up space you could use," replied the humble student.
The professor considered the matter and concluded, "To be fair, it's God's garage, so I am sure He wouldn't mind."
I heard that story From Bro. Bill Watkins on Sunday, and I am not sure I told it right, but you get the idea. The things that we have are being lent to us, to be returned to the Father upon our departure from this world: our time, our money, our bodies, our family, our minds, our souls - Everything Is His.
James 4:14: Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
You've probably heard the old Yiddish proverb, "Man plans, God Laughs." There is a reason that he is the Almighty. For, "It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23) and "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25). There is but one way to ensure that our expectations are returned back to Him, and that is to let His will determine your plans, praying the promises of God over your household.
Paul reminds the churches at Ephesus and Colossi that they should be "redeeming the time." There are two different immediate contexts, but to the same end. For the Ephesians, it is to expose the "unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph 5:11) through the light of Christ. And for the brethren at Colossi, to "walk in wisdom toward those who are outside," "that God would open to us a door for the word to speak the mystery of Christ" (Col. 4:1-6).
Eternal God and father in heaven, please grant us grace and patience for our wastefulness of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades that we have not passionately and patiently consumed and abided in your will. Please grant us a spirit of urgency that we might redeem the time that is before us to expose the unfruitful works of darkness and that we might proclaim and embody Your Light, Your Son, Your Might. Father please open our eyes to the days, which are an illusion, and enlighten us with your presence. God if it is your will, please let us dwell in you in 2015, if not eternally, ephemerally, that we might grow in you. In the name of your Son Jesus, the Christ. Amen
On to what has become the focus of the holidays and what most likely plagues the spirit the most - Things.
Luke 16:1-13 records the story of an Unfair Steward who has wasted his master's resources and, to save his behind, takes from those whose debts are not yet due in full. A Bible scholar could likely provide more historical context here, but look at verses ten and twelve: "One who is faithgul in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much...And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own."
You probably know many, many people with a lot of money and very little time or, in contrast people with an exorbitant amount of time and barely enough or nary enough money to get by. The previous example is subject to a large corporation, and the latter is subject to the welfare system. The the first is an over-leveraged millionaire; the second is the homeless man on the street. There are many differences between them, yet, they are extremely similar.
They are both enslaved to the dollar bill. They are both constantly thinking about money - how much or how little they have. So the solution is to be middle-class, right? Wrong, the solution is to be a good steward of your time and money so that it frees you to work for the glory of God, not for the dollar bill. When you go into work for His Glory, you reap His reward. When your Boss is the Creator, you take pleasure in the work of your hands because it is, in effect, His Hand working. If you're working to become more happy, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you're working happily, no one can steal your joy.
When I think upon the provisions that God has given us, I think of course of Money, of Family, of Friends, of shelter and food and talent. It's All His. It is neither wrong to have a little or a lot of things as long as you work diligently with God as your master. Luke continues in verse 13, "No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money"
Paul learned as a minister of Christ, no matter the situation, to be content, whether it was hunger or even abundance (Phil. 4:11). He writes to his son in the Faith "godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content...for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (I Tim. 6:6-8, 10).
The wise apostle wouldn't condemn a Christian for being wealthy or for wanting to provide more for His family--to the glory of God. What is it that is being condemned? "Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' (Heb. 13:8)" Money does not bring you closer to God, neither does it force you away from Him. It is a neutral idea that the government uses to symbolize worth and production. It does not determine the worth of your soul or the value of your humanity. The word "content" here conveys the idea of being at peace, rather than complacent.
Some very broke-minded people idolize money, so when you talk about wanting more for your family (speaking of more choices, more blessings, more peace), an average person may assume that you mean "I want more money." They take the opposite stance: the hatred of money. I have spoken the words "I hate money" with the impression that money caused all of the fights between my parents, my father's unhappiness at various jobs, his depression, his adultery, the divorce, etc. I was greatly mistaken. It was the attitude toward money -- perhaps even the love of it -- and the failure to surrender to God was what caused all these things.
Heed the words of the savior, "one who is dishonest in very little is dishonest in much."
Our heavenly Provider, please give us a spirit of humility and a mind for your surrender. Grant us a heart of gratefulness and appreciation and rid us of greed and desire. God we know that in your presence and your blessedness, the man of God may see wealth and riches, that his righteousness endures forever, and that he gives freely to the poor, returning the gift to the Source. Father please give us peace from on high and faithful use of our funds and our family that we might prolong the call of the gospel to those who are not yet yours. Open our hearts to your coming kingdom that we might give our all to the work of the Glory of God, in the name of your most Majestic and Priceless Son, the Messiah.
Finally, we read Romans 12 and see that this life, these bodies, these souls, are not our own but the Lord's. They'll return to him one day for reconstitution, redemption, or restitution because our lives rest solidly in His hands. With everything that is in me, I pray that in the coming year, we heed the words of the apostle that I'll include here to close this post.
Romans 12: 1-21: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. 20 Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”[b]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As we explore in the next couple of weeks, I would recommend reading this excerpt from John's gospel account.
John 15 - The True Vine
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and thatyour joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.17 These things I command you, that you love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
New King James Version (NKJV)Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Alright, before you gasp and cover your children's ears, give me a paragraph to explain!
This Sunday, I had the opportunity to catch up with a Christian brother of mine who was experiencing some anxiety and some doubt, and as I listened I could almost complete each sentence. I probably could have told him exactly what he was thinking to the very detail; how it affected him; the guilt, the shame, the restlessness he was experiencing; the sleepless nights and never-ending days. I knew it well because I had done what he was doing--and sometimes I still do.
I had told myself so many times, "All I want to be is a fruit-bearing Christian! I want to be effective and productive. I want to be efficient and reliable." Sometimes I cannot sleep at night for all the dreams that run across my closed eyelids that I have yet to see in real time. It is a stressful cycle to do and to do and to do. You get into a rut very quickly, and you stay there, digging deeper and deeper into your own misery and self-doubt, and you accomplish nothing--at least visibly.
The faithful, spirit-led Christian often results to the following self-talk:
"Persistence! Persistence! Persistence!"
There is value to persistence, but slow the mechanism for a sec...What I am thinking about here is the "Do-Do Disorder," so named for it's effect on the spirit when ones attempts at-length to do it all and for it's potential to make life really stink sometimes. I debated on changing the name, but maybe it'll help you remember the conundrum.
So what do you do when you don't know what to do? Have you ever tried doing NOTHING? Think about Abraham (Genesis 20), Jacob (27), Judah (38)--not to mention their women! What if in their weak moments they could have relied a little more on God? I know one thing. None of them prayed before taking action in their weak moments. None of them took some alone time and had communion with Jehovah God.
Discipline is good. Self-discipline is essential. In all the success books, you'll read, "If it's to be, it's up to me," which is helpful when you have direction. The revision--"If it's to be, it's up to He"--has become a new favorite aphorism of late. If you can look past the obvious grammatical error, it may prove helpful to you too. I have relied on me a whole lot in the past, and to be quite honest, I often found myself knee-deep.
Great Matt, so do nothing! Okay, here I am doing nothing. Whew this is nice...haven't NOT done a thing in a while...Alright, this is getting a little weird. Maybe I need to go for a walk...or go running! Or-hey-I'll visit that family from church, or maybe I'll memorize some verses. I'll pray for a whole hour! That would be great. I bet no one else in my church did that today. I'll be the MOST prayerful!...ad nauseum.
Doing nothing can be the start. It may last 30 seconds or a minute. It may be for an hour. It may result in a nap. Your back deck would probably work, but so would your car, your recliner, or the bathroom (yeah, I said it). But then what?
("How Do You Process?") When you are at rest, relying on God, you'll be prepared to receive communion and counsel from Him.
My friend and I got to this point in the conversation when he had recounted all the things he had tried to do to fix this feeling that he had in the pit of his stomach that he just could not do it all. Part of me agreed that no you cannot do it all and you shouldn't hold yourself accountable to doing it all. If you could do it all, then Jesus would never have had to come here, suffer, be rejected, ultimately murdered, resurrected, or ascended.
I asked, "Have you ever just tried sitting there?"
"Well, no" he smiled.
"You should try it sometime, He's pretty great, even when you're doing nothing."
When God's children are at rest and when they rely on Him, He allows them to tune into some spiritual activities beyond prayer and meditation that can make a huge difference: visualization, verbalization, realization, and actualization. They aren't just "works" or activities. They, through the power of the Holy Spirit through his Word can connect you to the Son and His spiritual provision.
1. Visualization is a skill that we can develop that is based in the very spirit of the inner man. It gives us the ability to see where it is that God can empower us to go. He does not give us a dream or vision that we could never possibly realize. What does Satan do when he leads us astray? He gives us an image of what it would look like to choose him. Observe the tempter's method as he Jesus is tried in the wilderness...
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
When you encounter a negative, satanic attack, you counter it, not with a positive thought, but with the Everlasting, Lifegiving, WORD OF GOD!!
2. Verbalization is largely misused, misunderstood, and misappropriated in the denominational world as a "name it and claim it" theology closely tied to the "prosperity gospel" that prevails among televangelists worldwide. It's important to understand God's time frame and the activity of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament versus today's world, but God has given us the ability to give life to our visions through the tongue, the smallest and most excellent rudder ever created.
If you don't believe this in the positive, try it in the negative. Tell the receptionist at your office today, "Wow, are you feeling okay?" and just watch her reaction. Get a few others to join in, and you'll have her in the hospital by 5.
3. Realization is the act of drawing a mind picture of what it will take--for God and for man--to see in the physical realm the reflection of what is going on inside the heart of a man.
4. Actualization is the spiritual and practical activity that builds the bridge from the unseen to the seen.
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you,[d] Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”[e]
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
2. Verbalization is largely misused, misunderstood, and misappropriated in the denominational world as a "name it and claim it" theology closely tied to the "prosperity gospel" that prevails among televangelists worldwide. It's important to understand God's time frame and the activity of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament versus today's world, but God has given us the ability to give life to our visions through the tongue, the smallest and most excellent rudder ever created. If you don't believe this in the positive, try it in the negative. Tell Miss Alice at the office today, "Wow, are you feeling okay?" and just watch her reaction. Get a few others to join in, and you'll have her in the hospital by 5.
3. Realization is the act of drawing a mind picture of what it will take--for God and for man--to see in the physical realm the reflection of what is going on inside the heart of a man.
4. Actualization is the spiritual and practical activity that builds the bridge from the unseen to the seen.
Everything within me is wild.
I long for the hills and the forest,
For freedom and the fight.
I am wild, created with might.
Everything within me is fierce.
I long to be sharpened and shaped,
Like a handsome sword.
I am fierce, created by word.
Everything within me is steadfast.
I long to have said and done,
So when comes the moon and stars,
I am steadfast, like the Sun.
Everything in me is humbled.
I long to be as children are,
So when the Father is near
I am humbled in my fear.
Everything in me is broken.
I long in him to be whole
As never before I have been.
I am broken, because of my sin.
Everything in me is hidden.
I long by Him to be seen
To wear no mask before the throne.
I am hidden, by Him to be clean.
Everything in Him is wild.
He longs for communion,
Not my wildness to tame,
But to be one with His Son,
Redeemed and alive,
He fans me to life, I am wild like a flame.
Dedicated to my beloved "Mama Ruby" who would have been 99 years old today, March 31, 2014. Granny passed away on February 11, 2014 and left a legacy of Christ's love and His passionate permeability. It was in her Texas pastures that I found my heart and that it was broken and renewed.
And to every man who knows who and whose He is and so that the glory of God's new image rests inside and all about him (Colossians 3:10).
~ Matt Burnett
A close friend told me recently that he had been praying for a few things on my behalf. One of them was that I would continually become open to God and searching for communion with the Spirit. I didn't know to be thankful or offended, so I thanked him and asked God why I was offended. I was reading a chapter John Eldredge's Waking the Dead last night, when I believe both prayers were answered. The passage took me back immediately when I read it. I am curious where it will take you. But I know where it took me: the broken place.
Ironically enough, I texted my wife earlier and told her about it, and then this morning, the Daily Reading on John's site was the same that had practically leapt out at me sitting at the kitchen table at midnight:
"There is a civil war waged between the new heart and the old nature. Romans 7-8 describes it quite well. Part of me doesn't want to love my neighbor—not when his son just backed his car into my Jeep and smashed it up. I want to take the little brat to court. Part of me knows that prayer is essential; another part of me would rather turn on the TV and check out. And that whole bit about long-suffering—no way. Part of me wants to just get drunk. And that is the part I must crucify daily, give no ground to, make no alliance with. It's not the true me (Rom. 7:22). It's my battle with the flesh. We all know that battle well. But that is not what I'm wanting to explore here.
No, there's something else we are describing when we say, "Well, part of me wants to and part of me doesn't." It's more than a figure of speech. We might not know it, but something really significant is being revealed in those remarks. There are these places that we cannot seem to get beyond. Everything is going along just fine, and then—boom. Something suddenly brings you to tears or makes you furious, depressed, or anxious, and you cannot say why. I'll tell you why.
We are not wholehearted."
Paul in the Roman letter paints a pretty accurate picture of how things tend to go when our hearts are characterized by any level of brokenness. In context, Eldredge refers to an intense personal conflict between the broken heart of a man and his ransomed soul. When you talk to a recovering addict or someone reft with memories of abuse or neglect, you will find that no level of Bible reading, study, prayer, or fellowship alone can repair a broken heart. Disagree?
"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10 NKJV).
Part of Satan's effectiveness depends on the illusion that we can essentially "fix" spiritual problems by our own human effort. No doubt, God needs cooperation and openness (Ps 32:3) in order to enact His will in your spirit, but reducing this submission to action and effort is seriously undermining His work.
Have you ever felt, regardless of your "good works" (Matthew 5:14-16) that your lamp was dim and ineffective? Paul recommends staying the course so that we may reap so long as we not lose what? Heart.
Our wholeness is of great interest to our Father. Our salvation is of highest priority to Him, but let's not forget that he cares about our continual healing. Show me a congregation of ineffective, bored Christians, and I'll show you a congregation that is broken hearted and hurting and in great need of the Healer.
Especially on the cusp of a New Year, I begin to feel anxious, abandoned, and alone. The unkept promises, to myself and others, overwhelm me completely at times. I begin to question everything:
Is this where I really want to be?
Who am I?
Why am I afraid to answer the phone sometimes?
Why do I feel this way about this particular person?
Why do I experience anxiety?
Who ever told me that I couldn't be or do this way?
A barrage of questioning--
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that I have tried for so many years to handle it. Put up, shut up, and suck it up. Reign it in, brush it off. That's a very human thing to do, I think. My life is a little shanty off the beaten path, clinging to the side of a hill, and the last person I expect to visit--the last person I invite--is the Person who has the power and the patience to fill me up.
In 2014, I have made 1 resolution. Invite Him in. Take him to the very place where the hurt springs forth. Show him the leak. Open up to Him the infestation. Let Him see the open wound. And let him heal and restore.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in his Mere Christianity, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it ."
What God has planned for us would probably terrify us, but if we could catch a glimpse of the potential He has placed in our hearts for eternity, we would see that we are not redeemed for brokenness and hurt but to be rebuilt and reformed. Salvation is the beginning of a road of healing. Please don't let it stop there.
Invite Him in when you feel the fear, and remember who He is: the One who "heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds" (Ps 147:3).
It doesn't take an addiction or an abuse or an attack to cause a terminal broken heart, but perhaps you are addicted, abused, or assaulted. He knows, He always knows.
Will you open the door to Him in 2014, or will you stay in the broken place? (Luke 12:36)
This is a time of year that most people wonder why they are where they are, what they could have done differently, and what victories they feel comfortable celebrating over the last 365 days. Some people choose to make resolutions, some make promises, and some make peace with their past and try to survive. I have definitely been in all three places, sometimes just praying that I don’t fowl things up as badly as the year before, treading water and looking for land.
Perhaps you were raised with the same idea of struggle that I was: that you just make the attempt to power through and get the job done. I think I have finally realized that the personal pursuit of peace is awarded, rather than achieved, and it is sourced in the power and grace of God, not from my internal will to overpower the Devil on my own. I have always resolved to read more, pray more, study more, evangelize more, worship more. Is that right? Yes, yes, and yes. Why is it right? Not because I had now achieved spiritual awesomeness, but because I had put myself in the presence of God’s awesomeness.
Consider Moses’ ascent to the mountain to receive counsel from God. Whenever he returned to camp, he would veil his face because the people would not draw near him otherwise (Exodus 34:29-35). When he came back, people saw God’s awesomeness all over him, like the moon’s reflection of the sun’s light, we are a reflection of the Son’s light (Jn 1; I Jn 1).
The question is, when we desperately need answers, guidance, or counsel, who do we approach first? Our spouses? A mentor? A close friend? Same here: all three sometimes. What’s ironic is that the last counselor that I am accustomed to approach is God, the Father, who has the most power, visibility, and wisdom and whose will is pure and holy.
Something that he has revealed in 2013 and that has been affirmed in counsel with my wife and close friends is that sometimes, we need to rest, receive, and reflect before we react, respond, or reply. The difference is not necessarily in the time it takes for us to come back with an answer but the counsel we sought in the meantime. Give a fool a year to think on a problem, and he’ll spend the year convincing himself passionately that his original decision was the right one. There are many passionate performers in the world. Let’s think about proactive processing through the eyes of scripture:
1. Rest/Rely – lean on God, primarily, purposefully, and perfectly in your emotions and heart
2. Receive – learn from God in prayer, wait for His counsel, and be open to His response
3. Reflect – count the cost and consider the implications of His will being done
4. Rejoin – meet Him there in agreement
5. Recognize – know how you should perceive the stress, strain, or success
6. Recommend – praise God for His revelation
7. Resolve – make the decision to act according to God will
8. Respond – act specifically toward the situation in the way that will please God the most. Don’t react.
9. Relinquish – give to Him any remaining concerns and let Him take the weight
10. Rest – take peace and tranquility and do not act. This could even mean lying down!
Please don’t take this as a ten-step perfectly accurate depiction of every processing scenario. Sometimes, I rest on Him, and then I realize that He has already given the answer, so I praise Him and move forward, but the key is REST ON HIM. I prefer that focus because it doesn’t try to say “Do all this stuff and you’ll never be stressed.” God knows just what we need.
Question for you: How do you process life events, deep questions, losses, opportunities, wounds, ailments, stresses, pet peeves, successes, joys, blessings, and triumphs? Bringing God our thanks is just as significant as bringing him our complaints. I was told by my Bible class teacher that we should thank God twice as much as we ask of Him, and if we expect Him to do what we ask, we ought to do what He asks of us. Of course the ratio wasn’t the significant part, but the motives behind our communion with God are exceedingly important to Him because he values our hearts.
Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year, despite the cold weather, but for the last couple years, there has been an anxiety that creeps up on me that I have never really been able to explain. Last night, I came in from shopping for groceries for the week and I stooped down to the couch in tears. My wife just let me weep on her shoulder for a moment, which was much appreciated, and I let the feelings come forth that had been knocking at my door all day.
The holidays are a time of gifts and busyness and stress for many, and I have made a conscious effort to avoid letting it come to that. This year, after family was gone and all the presents had been unwrapped, and I realized that it was all over, I felt exceedingly empty. For the longest time, I have been afraid to admit what the problem was, and I think, as I told my wife, I am ready to talk about it.
People need people....and...People need freedom to be with their people.
We had the opportunity to hop on skype briefly with my brother and sister-in-law in the Hamptons and my brother and his wife in Maryland, and that kept my emotions at bay, but the simple truth was that I was not satisfied with just a few minutes. We never are really. Can you think of a time that you just wish that there were no jobs and no appointments and no commitments. Do you ever wish that you could just have more time?
Well, I am right there with you. A similar feeling came when I got a text message from my mom in Texas letting me know she wished she could be with us. It was an angst that I could not quench and that made everything seem so unfair. "Why couldn't it be like in high school and college when we got a month off for break? Do I really have to go in to work tomorrow?"
There's a reason that it seems so unfair. We crave relationships. We crave liberty to pursue those relationships. What if there was a way to have time for family whenever you wanted? What if there was a way to please God doing it? What if it also enhanced your faith, family, and finances? That would be a pursuit I could spend myself in.
Careers are great for a lot of people, don't get me wrong, but I would be willing to bet that most people, if offered the opportunity to have the end result of a job without having to spend time away from their families for 50 hours a week, would take it in an instant. I think any honest man could admit it. Even if you love your job or career, you know that it takes you away from the ones you love most.
Melissa and I have been rather successful in every job that we have held, but I earnestly pray for the glory of God and of the Kingdom that we do not spend another 2 years working in the job world. Whatever we do will be for His glory, but honestly, we love family entirely too much to give another ten thousand hours toward something that does not end in freedom. Our family and our God deserve more.
Maybe you feel the same, maybe not, but there came a point where I had to admit that the job that I was doing wasn't getting the job done. I hope you'll honestly consider if your career or job is getting you where you want to be in your spiritual life, with your loved ones, and even with the dollar bill. If not, why not?
Something that will help us is to get some feedback. We are inspired by the dreams of others. I want you to paint me a picture, even if it's just a sentence of what that Dream looks like. Be specific. These word pictures are given by God because He can empower you to fulfill them. God does not endue dreams that he cannot equip us for. Don't quit on those dreams.
What does freedom mean to you? (post below)
As a Greek student, my professor had us memorize this prayer. I do not recall if it was for a recitation grade or not, but I certainly enjoyed the translation of it at the time as well as praying it to God coherently. Once I was able. I was asked by a friend to share this, so that he could share it with a close friend. I have included the Greek text here with the English pronunciation, the English transliteration, and the English translation below that. It's just a bit rough as I have not studied Greek in almost 3 years. If you are an auditory learner, try listening to the recording along with the reading. The reading has a slight rhythm to it, so I know you'll have it in a couple days!
πατερ ημων ο εν τοις ουρανοις αγιασθητω το ονομα σου
Pater hemon ho en tois uranois hagiastheto to onoma sou
Father our who in the heavens are holy your name is
Father in heaven, holy is your name
ελθετω η βασιλεια σου γενηθητω το θελημα σου ως εν ουρανω και επι γης
eltheto he basileia sou genetheto to thelema sou hos en urano kai epi geis
may kingdom your come, let it be as in heaven even upon earth
may your kingdom come, may your will be done, as it is in heaven, on earth
τον αρτον ημων τον επιουσιον δος ημιν σημερον
ton arton hemon ton epiousion dos hemin semeron
in bread ours in daily give us this day
Our daily bread give us this day
και αφες ημιν τα οφειληματα ημων ως και ημεις αφηκαμεν τοις οφειλεταις ημων
kai aphes hemin opheileimata hemon hos kai hemeis aphekamen tois opheleitais hemon
and forgive us trespasses our the even our debtors the tresspasses their
and forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who have sinned against us
και μη εισενεγκης ημας εις πειρασμον αλλα ρυσαι ημας απο του πονηρου
kai me esenenkeis hemas eis perasmon alla rusai hemas apo tou ponerou
and not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one
A family is driving 55 mph down a sunlit country road, swerving now and then. It is cold enough outside that the windows are fogging up from the warmth inside the vehicle. The kids are pestering each other, kicking and hitting one another in the back seat, saying all sorts of awful things. Mom finally turns around and curses at them to stop, that they are almost at the church building so it's time to quiet down. As the minivan pulls under the awning and comes to a stop, the bickering children grow silent and politely file out in single file through the glass double doors, through the foyer and into the auditorium. Here there is no fidgeting. There is no cursing. There is no kicking. They are perfect.
After the service, the children meet up with their friends, and their parents do the same. They speak kindly and respectfully to their Christian brothers and sisters, and everything is clean and neat and predictable and safe. After lunch plans have played out and the children return home, mom and dad begin shedding the layers. Dad strips off his belt and his tie, and mom hangs her overcoat in the closet and kicks off her shoes clumsily into the corner. Before long they are talking about money and begin to argue about the money wasted on Dad's hunting trips and Mom's hair appointments. They raise their voices to each other as if it was what their voices were made for.
And the children watch and listen...and follow suit. The youngsters begin to bicker and bother and whine. Fast forward to evening worship. Perfection. Home...chaos. Wednesday Bible study. Tranquility. Home...a battlefield. There are some obvious dysfunctions in the story. Should the parents fight and treat each other with hatred and pride? No. Should the children follow their lead and spiral downward into immaturity? No.
But the saddest effect is that the children begin to think that around the church, they must be perfect. At home, they can "be themselves." Their parents were convinced of this long ago. At home, the primary mode of communication is argument and complaint. In the worship setting, it is edification and flattery. When at home, problems are obvious and glaring. In the assembly, they are hidden, we are all perfect and sparkling. At home, we see behind the mask. In the church house, we are marble statues of purity.
I have often heard that the church is a hospital, not a museum, but I never understood that we were the patients and that Jesus was the Great Physician. I thought that I was there as a sterile surgeon, or at least a nurse, conducting an open heart surgery and dumping in the word of God. I got it all wrong.
It is easy to see the problem but the solution demands a great measure of grace, mercy and transparency with God and with others. And it is a solution that requires growth and time. We are in great need of a savior. No one was "raised in the church." No one was born into salvation. We all are at some point lost in need of a savior and separated from God. The churched heathen is no more saved or alive than an unchurched heathen, and vice versa.
The problems that Jesus came to heal in us are not a joke, but those problems are not our identity. For a short time, we wear a mask. We operate with the assumption that everyone can see and the prayer that no one can see. We protect our egos and our self-images with the pretense of perfection, though we are all hypocrites. The reason there are hypocrites in the church is that no one is perfect, but you know what? I would rather be sick in a hospital than contaminate everyone and everything around me. Christ heals and purifies and cauterizes our wounds. He purges with hyssop. It hurts big time, but remember, we are always on the Potter's wheel. We are always being chiseled and sharpened.
Some of us have seen the insides of prison cells, padded rooms and police cars. Some of us have pasts that would shock almost any congregation. But they shouldn't. The porn-addicted preacher is just as lost as the prostitute. The merciless mother is just as lost as the murderer. The wrathful railer is just as lost as the rapist. And the liar is just as lost as the looter . What reconciles? What unites? What cleanses?
GOD, the chief surgeon (Ps 51).
Some of our favorite Bible characters lived Behind the Mask every once in a while. We read of Adam, the taker; Noah, the drunkard; Abraham, the liar; Sarah, the mocker; Moses, the doubter; Rahab, the harlot; David, the adulterer, fornicator and murderer; Matthew, the thief; Peter, the racist ; and Paul, the persecutor. God honors the faith of the sinner-seeker who hungers and thirsts for what he needs most (Mt5:6). We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). It is important that parents allow their children to see them figuring things out: to see the struggle to victory that is achieved through faith in Christ. For when we seek God first (Mt 6:33), we become identified with him, and there is no need for the mask.
I have had the embarrassing experience in the past of hearing leaders in the church refer to "family problems," of which I had personally suffered. We should not treat sinners as lepers but as people who need healing. Spiritual healing will eventually subsume the physical and the psychological, but we should consider the amount of damage that sin can cause on the instinct, the intellect and the integrity of the new Christian to assist in healing alongside them. Perhaps the most significant wound that new believers could experience is that of Judgment, yes from the world, but also from their brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are all in remission. We have all worn masks. We have all hidden. We have all taken. We have all lied. We have blasphemed. Yet, we are all forgiven. We are resurrected (Rom 6:3-4).
1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
When we put on Christ, we have no need for the mask. We are hidden with Christ, in God. He is our rock, our shelter, our fortress and our sheild (Ps 144:1-2). We need not be ashamed of our past because it is the glory of God's forgiveness revealed, for which we owe him all our love (Lk 7:36-50). May your love, life and mercy be abundant (Jn 10:10).
Every great story begins with safety, comfort and provision: with a premonition of rightness and tidiness. And then comes the plot. We are thrust into a maze of conflict, obstruction and uncertainty as the frame of our asylum is contorted beyond recognition and the picture of our world shattered forever (Genesis 3).
I grew up with the notion that Christianity was safe and secure and comfy and perfectionist. That perception caused me much guilt and others worlds of pain because I expected perfection. The man who seeks perfection is destined to misery. I sought salvation by my own merit and by my own works. While I was to be recreated in Christ for that purpose, I was proud enough to believe that they would be my salvation. It involved a scorecard, and it was spiritually tedious (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Christian life was to me an oscillation between salvation and damnation. Forgive the illustration: I had Satan on speed dial, but I had God on Facebook, and I Liked everything He posted and commented and made sure that everyone knew that He and I knew of each other. Yet my spirit was dead. Why? Because I knew of Him, but we did not have a relationship. Though he sought me diligently, I was cheapening His grace by trying to earn it all the time.
The opposite was not the solution either. We would make as great a mistake to take His grace for granted and “continue to sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1-2). Yet faith without works is dead faith (James 2:14-26). Ultimately each of us must answer the question, “Does what I do matter?”
What is “matter?” If something has the ability to matter, it means that one is judging himself and even others by some absolute, universal standard. Yep, he believes in absolute truth. I pinch a relativist, she does not like it. “Ow, that hurt! Why did you do that?” With I sigh, I respond “Well, it sure felt good. Do I need a reason?” Yet she still feels hurt because she has hard-wired into her the eternity of God and the perception of right and wrong because she is 100% spirit and 100% flesh (Genesis 2:7). So if some action, word or aroma of the heart can matter, it must matter.
It’s the same realization that every one of us must make in the story that we’ve been born into: we have an impact physically, spiritually and psychologically on everything and everyone in every chapter. There is a turning point; a cross roads; a point of no return that we all come to when we have realized things here really are not how we thought they were. And if they are different, we are different. And if we are different, our lives matter to someone. That someone is Jesus, who came that we may live a life truly alive (John 10:10).
It is the story of Rose and the Tardis, the Pevensies and Narnia, Frodo and the Fellowship. It is Alice and Wonderland, Luke and the Dark Side, Neo and the Matrix. It is fishermen, tax collectors, sadducees and pharisees for the Great Commission. It is you and me and eternity. We are strangers here. We all live in a frame within a frame, and the end is in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).