Who Are You? – Song of Songs 2:8-17
How many believers claim the Song of Songs as their favorite book in the Bible? Not too many; Paul definitely outsells Solomon. Paul is loved mostly because he so masterfully unpacks the doctrine of justification. In Romans, Paul breaks the mystery down about as far as is humanly possible. Evangelicals continue to ply their cognitive powers to the doctrine as if more applied logic and reason might yield a more complete relationship with God. Then Solomon interrupts with an odd statement, “Excuse me …
Behold he is standing behind the wall, he is looking through the windows, he is peering through the lattice.”
I wonder, as we do our bible studies, if God is not peering through our latticework, saying …
Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. Let me see your form, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your form is lovely.
The intimacy of The Song of Songs is not secondary to the understanding of justification by faith. It is the point of it. There is no chasm between Solomon and Paul. Justification is not just a bridge back to intimacy. Reason and passion are now conjoined in Christ. Emotions and thought are not enemies. In Christ, they are partners.
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:23-24
Solomon’s language of love is plausible because of Paul’s theological language. In the Spirit, they are working in tandem to say, “In Christ, there is no longer any distance between God and man. Abide in this reality. Come and learn to be alone with him, to be comfortable in his presence. Open the door to the One who desires you, who has been looking in upon you.”
Behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; the time has come for the pruning of the vines and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land. The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!
The good news of the gospel is much greater than Jesus just saving us from Hell. Jesus has become the mediator between us and God, and more. The veil between the outer court and the inner sanctuary has been torn in two, giving us unhindered access to God. Jesus has restored spirit- to-Spirit intimacy between God and man. The outcome of Jesus work does not begin when we die and go to heaven. The reward of Christ’s suffering is our restored communion with God, now. Christ is our life.
This week, the Blue Book has asked “Who Are You?” Hopefully you can respond, “I am his.”
Father, deliver us from the winter of our religion and escort us into the springtime of relationship with you. Thank you we do not have to establish this pathway. Thank you that you yourself are the Way, that you have freely given yourself to us. Help us to discover not only the brilliance of Truth but the glory of his presence. Amen.
Who Are You? – Luke 15:11-32
The Parable of the Prodigal Son could have easily been called The Parable of The Elder Brother or The Parable of The Father’s Heart. The following account explains this comment …
As a prodigal, I too left home and squandered some of my father’s estate. I chose a place geographically removed from my family and disregarded every moral boundary. By God’s grace, this resulted in a loneliness and famine of spirit that led to my return. When I arrived at home, Father ran out to meet me; he embraced and kissed me. I wore the ring and the robe, enjoying a feast, the likes of which I had never seen. So how could such a blessed prodigal ever become an elder brother, estranged from his Father’s affection? The short answer is that, with his lies, Satan aspires …
to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Matt 24:24
If he can find an entrance, the enemy will still crawl over the fence and get into the sheepfold. One of those entrances is where a believer does not have a revelation of who they are in Christ. We are vulnerable when we do not know who we are.
Granted, in Adam, we are rebels intent on ruling our own lives, but there is more to our story. In Adam, we are also orphans, nursing a cosmic-sized rejection complex and identity vacuum. Even prodigals can become tantalizing morsels for demons when they compensate for their insecurity with deeds of righteousness, which they have labeled as obedience and think of as the proof of their love for God. After all …
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. John 14:21
When the agents of darkness can maneuver a sheep into this corner of the pen, they don’t want to devour it. They want to keep it around to snack on; elder brothers are tasty. They are also strategic. Full of conviction and zeal, elder brothers will attract others. If they can recruit enough saints who are laboring to please God, for all the wrong reasons, they can reach a critical mass and redefine normal Christianity. Its not that difficult since insecure sheep compare themselves to each other and modify their behavior accordingly. Fortunately, Paul, a master in counter-spiritual warfare weighs in …
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 2 Cor 10:12
A person whose identity is not secure will sell themselves cheap to whatever or whoever might ease the pain of their orphaned spirits. The church was the first community of people who told me I had worth and potential. What do you think this kind of hope is worth to an insecure soul? What was I willing to pay in order to belong? I tell you the truth – just about anything.
Even after my powerful prodigal-reunion, I still absolutely craved the approval of men. I wanted to hear someone (on earth with skin on) saying my name and telling me, “Well done.” Without my identity rooted and established in-Christ, I traded my religious labors for the kudos they could earn me. Even though elder brothers stay and do their chores, in their hearts, they can be miles from home.
Elder brother’s problems begin when they are very young. At the first sign of rejection (it might even begin in the womb), the soul cries out, “This must not be!” With its inborn survival response, the inner man scrambles for security. The personality is formed as the insecure heart finds those places which offer it the most safety from that threatening idea of worthlessness. Interestingly, the same wound produces both the extrovert and introvert, the manipulator and the manipulated. This process of survival is the birthplace of our many false selves. Even a Christian’s heart can become a wasteland if it is still asking “Who am I?”
The bondage of elder brothers is strong because they look great on the outside and they have supporting networks of people and programs, dependent on them, applauding and often paying for their labors. The light of the world is quite dim isn’t it, if it is being radiated for all the wrong reasons?
If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness ! Matthew 6:23
This is my story. Father had to come to this elder brother and persuade him to join the celebration. Just like the one in our parable, I pushed back. Even though I knew I belonged in the gathering , there were powerful things in me that were repulsed by this idea.
Why are elder brothers angry and offended? They may be jockeying for inheritance or they may be working on their image, uncertain of their own worth independent of their completed chores. Who are we really? We may never know, until we can be still and know God in the absence of our production. Our worth to God is intrinsic not conditional.
I could easily relate to the elder brother’s pain as he paused from his chores and heard music and dancing. I could relate to his anger and unwillingness to go in. I could especially relate to the Father’s appeal to his son and this son’s protest …
Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat.
Father had to speak to me about my attitude toward others, whose burden seemed light in comparison to mine. Why? Because I sat in bitter judgement over them. During this interview (which lasted a few years, in my story), Father exposed my heart’s “O”-list. Everyone who had ever Offended me by welching on their end of my performance-for-approval bargain was on this list. My heart had written off and condemned each of these people for their complicity in the unforgivable sin of alienating, ignoring, marginalizing or discounting who I was. In one form or another, every transgressor, real or imagined, had been written off and condemned. These people had not been forgiven from my heart. God himself, who seemed aloof and had permitted these unpleasant things (and others) to touch my life, was at the top of my list.
I had all the elder brother symptoms. I did my chores which were numerous. I was a teaching elder, worship leader and Sunday school teacher. In season or out, I did my chores. Oh yes, I saw Father approaching but I was in no mood to talk. I was angry and depressed and had no clue as to why. Today, in retrospect, my vision is clearer. Here is a sampler of some of my misshapen elder-brother logic …
“Oh well, what’s a little depression? I may not exactly be filled with the joy of the Lord, but my works are evidence of God’s presence in my life.” And my anger? “My anger is only natural, given my circumstances.” Bitterness and resentment? “These are mere attitudes which I can better manage with some recommitment.” Moving on … Judgements against others? “These Philistines and Cretans are deserving of whatever God dishes out to them. I wash my hands of them all.” About this time, having no clue who I was, I probably looked like a chocolate-coated Ding Dong or a Frosted Twinky to the powers of darkness.
The brothers in this parable shared more in common than they probably knew – a complete misunderstanding of their father’s heart. Astonishingly, contrary to our vision of God, the Father’s affections are never cut off by debauchery, nor are they enhanced by performance. They were his boys. Their lives could not alter the fact that they were the beloved sons of an exceptional father.
Father, by all means, lead a host of prodigals out of sensual and indulgent sin. But also, by any means, rescue a host of elder brothers and lead them into the light of your love. Not only stock heaven’s shelves with these stories but publish them on earth for your name’s sake. Amen.
Note; You may blame or thank C.S. Lewis for the imagery of the demonic appetite for the human personality. This is borrowed from his book The Screwtape Letters.
Who Are You – John 10:1-18
Theology, sociology, psychology and other “ogies” have added their two cents worth on life. While I respect many of their theories, they have not relieved us of suffering and oppression. Yet, mankind continues to look to these pseudo-saviors for answers. Wise men know our plagues are systemic; there is a common backstory, something deeper and foundational we must drill down into if we are to find root causes. However, academics, who have expelled God from their thinking, cannot drill deep enough. Followers of Christ can. A single verse of scripture has served me more than all the “-ogies” in thinking about the foundations of reality.
A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. John 10:10 MSG
This is Jesus’ one sentence pronouncement on ultimate cause and effect. As a follower of the Shepherd, this verse has natural governance over the way I understand the bible and the mystery of life. In both the scriptures and living there are many things I cannot fully understand or explain. John 10:10 does as much to explain the foundational reality of our mysterious backstory as any sentence I know of.
This story involves a very accomplished thief and a very good Shepherd. The Shepherd is also a King who is vying for our hearts, and through them, the dominion of this earth. When I see something that has been stolen or is being stolen; when I see something that is dead or is dying; when I see something that has been destroyed or is being destroyed, I immediately presume its the thief – the Shepherd’s enemy and ours, who has climbed over the fence somehow and has gotten into the sheepfold.
Where I see new things being birthed and growing, I assume the Shepherd is involved. I have adopted this basic premise as a cornerstone to my cosmology (i.e. – my understanding of the mystery). Stated even more simply: God is good. Satan is purely evil. This foundational truth is not only a key to wisdom and discernment, it is essential in hearing the Shepherd’s voice.
He calls His own sheep by name…and the sheep hear His voice…and He leads them out…I am the Good Shepherd…and I know my own, and my own know me. (verses 3 & 14)
I will have followed this Shepherd for 40 years, this Spring. He has never permitted the enemy to ravage me. But the wolf has dug his teeth into me on occasion. It required the help of a few of the Shepherd’s apprentices to help me identify the tracks of the beast which had somehow crawled over the fence and had bitten into my heart. The doorway (or gate) into my heart is through my eyes and through my mind. The enemy had been trafficking in the domain of my thoughts in subtle ways since I was a child. He had covered his tracks masterfully. So thorough was the dissemination of his lies in my belief system, it had effected who I believed myself to be.
After discovering this, we (his under-shepherds and I), identified those patterns of thought that were contributing to death in all it expressions. I broke my associations and agreements with those old familiar lies about God, myself and others. Since then, I am more apt to recognize the enemy’s tone of voice, with its condemnation and accusation. That is the voice of the stranger who I will not follow.
And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.
In 1976, I entered through the gate and was saved. Jesus served as a living bridge that I crossed over from the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Here, I have been given safety and pardon. I am a son of God with some bite marks but they only serve to remind me we are still at war. Now in my sixth decade, I reflect on the story God is writing on my life and I concur with John 10:10; He truly is a good Shepherd and is faithful to provide eternal life, an abundantly better one than I ever dreamed possible.
Father, may you teach us to recognize the enemy’s voice where it is entangled in the roots of our depressions, our sickness, our hopelessness, our fear and all other places where death and decay are stealing and eroding away the foundations of our life, robbing us of our
truest identities in Christ and the abundance that is intended to flow from our innermost beings in Christ. In Your precious and wonderful name. Amen.
Who Are You? – John 15:1-11
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1
A branch that is in-Christ that does not bear fruit? That puzzles me. And branches that are taken away? That troubles me. Taken away where? Deep concern is my reaction to the answer in verse 6;
He is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned.
This verse reminds me that, in Christ, there is both kindness and severity. As I reflect on my earthly father who loved me, I recall this same duality, unbalanced however, toward severity. Dad may have wanted to be kind but my behavior made it nearly impossible, necessitating the more severe expression of his love for me.
Behold then the kindness and the severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you will also be cut off. (Rom 11:22)
I am having an epiphany of sorts as I write. It is that my Dad‘s love was more like God’s than I had thought. About God’s love we know …
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. John 15:10
My defiance to Dad’s authority, his instructions and desires estranged me from his love. He loved me but my penchant for trouble demanded severity. I deeply regret, that beyond arguments, reproofs and silence, I recall no conversation between us. I take responsibility for this and I certainly don’t want history to repeat itself with my heavenly Father. We can avoid that outcome by abiding in him.
What does abiding look like? John 15:10 suggests that abiding might be as straightforward as the doing of obedience. I have tried this and the connection between abiding and obeying is not as direct as it first appeared. The Christian life, at the outset, equipped with fresh zeal, looked to me, as doable – “Yes. I have God’s will and my good intentions, that ought to do it.”
I read my bible, prayed, witnessed and fellowshipped. This seemed to work for a while but I was still haunted with the lack of intimacy this formula was producing. I believed I saw others with more of God than I had. I reasoned this “more of God” could be attained by doubling down on doing. My new regimen became; Read my bible and study it, pray and fast, witness and do it (preferably) in a foreign country, fellowship and … don’t you forget it!
I just knew my “more of God ” was just around the corner. Soon I would be that disciple, worthy of his sacrifice. I wish I could report that I saw my heart as the hamster-wheel of religious activity it was, but I did not. By the time I finally saw it, I was collapsing under the supposed light load Jesus had promised. Somehow, in my wounded heart, I had turned the obedience of discipleship into a religious treadmill that would never – could never stop. My borrowed yet working definition of religion is;
Religion is any system of thought or practice whereby the doing of it causes me to think that I have gained the favor of God.
Once upon a time, I would have heard that raised, severe, father-tone of voice, weighing in with correction. Out of fear I would motivate. Today, I hear …
Beloved, I am persuaded of better things concerning you.” (Heb 6:9)
Abiding is impossible if we are motivated by fear. Having the commandments, willing and failing to do them, then rallying out of vanity and guilt, makes for a branch that needs pruning. Having commands, cowering beneath the assumed displeasure of a a frustrated God, is a form of slavery. The New Testament reveals a promised land where we are given a new identity in Christ, enabling us to live, motivated by love. Being must precede doing or one will inevitably be enslaved by religion and its inferior motivations of fear, guilt and shame.
Abiding is not just obedience to bible commands. It is responding to the person of the Holy Spirit. Abiding, in it’s essence, is anti-religion. It rejects outright that any doing or obeying can in any way enhance the relationship we have with God in Christ. Abiding is simply resting in one’s new nature and identity in Christ. Abiding is not a doctrinal position that one can have strong convictions about. Abiding is a spirit-to-Spirit experience. Abiding cannot be attained through study. It can only be discovered through revelation and encounter.
Father, may we come to the place where we are exhausted with our works and disillusioned with religion. May we acknowledge the impossible nature of the Christian life and transfer our dependency to Jesus, who lives in us, and is the only hope of glory. May we discover the abiding which is accompanied by the asking and receiving of whatever we wish. Thank you that you have loved us just as the Father has loved you. Thank you for inviting us to abide in your love. Thank you that you spoke these words to us that our joy may be full. May we press on in your kindness rather than your severity, for your name’s sake. Amen.
Who Are You? – Revelation 19:1-10
I am God’s son.
I’m not quoting Jesus. I am speaking for myself. I, Rob Cummins, am God’s son. After having lived my first 23 years as a son of darkness, it has always been a joy to say this. Being adopted by the King of the Universe trumps every fairy tail. Condemned men are not only acquitted; they are made innocent! I pray that you too can make this claim with ease. If not, let’s talk.
After we have told others who we are, we can also be sensitive for that opportunity to give an account of our hope, as children of light. If our hope is attached to Jesus Christ, and him alone, our stories shine and bear repeating. If our hope is attached to nothing more than our lucky stars and good deeds, we should talk. Being born again, should be our topic. We were called to be lights to this world – high-wattage stories, developing in the public domain. He means to publish us.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck measure, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Identifying ourselves publicly as Christ’s was not meant to be a one-off event occuring at our baptism. Our public profession of faith was intended to be the beginning of a life-long public identification with the invisible yet resurrected Son of God. It is the invisible part that makes the telling of our story a bit intimidating, isn’t it?
Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words. Francis of Assisi
I could not agree more but I don’t think the good monk’s intention was to silence our voices. The apostle Peter seemed to understand it was a matter of both words and deeds.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the exellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; ….Beloved I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent ….so that….they may, on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2 :9-12
Today’s passage speaks of the Marriage of the Lamb, that day of visitation where the sheep have already been separated from the goats. On this day, the sojourners will be evident, those strangers to this world, who were looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. There will also be those who are conspicuously absent, those who maintained their friendship with the world. We really do need to know who we are, and make ourselves known.
Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:33)
For whoever is ashamed of me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
If this word makes you uncomfortable, be encouraged. Truth is just doing what Truth does. At certain places in our journey, becoming uncomfortable with our lives (or even shaken in them) is evidence of a new work of the Holy Spirit. The birthing of new things is painful for a season, yet worth it, eternally.
His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it – no matter what. Hebrews 4:12 MSG
Father, lay us bare in the light of your truth so that we may change our attire if necessary or fill our lamps in preparation for the celebration ahead. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Who Are You – Isaiah 62:1-12
How are we, believers in the 21st century, connected to the story of ancient Israel? Paul and Isaiah helps us …
And you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became a partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree. Romans 11:17
There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the gentiles, in Him shall the gentiles hope. Rom 15:12 (Paul quoting Isaiah 11:10)
Isaiah and the other prophets speak of a day when Israel’s fortunes will be restored through a new covenant but there are events which must come first, such as; the Jews returning to Yahweh, provoked by jealousy of those grafted in, who, with their lives, prove the efficacy of this New Covenant. Apparently, they have not yet seen anything sufficient to provoke their interest. However, it remains; this new covenant is our connection to the ancient story. The New Testament teachers labor to equip the Bride of Christ to see herself as the light of the world – a material reflection of Yahweh himself, one so bright that Israel, and all nations, take note.
On your wall, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchman; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth. Isaiah 62:6-7
I have a friend who daily walks the ancient walls of Jerusalem, giving God no rest, reminding him to remember his promises. As God listens, I’m sure his heart is moved to consider, not only his local real estate and Israel’s current citizenry, but his Bride.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the acts of the saints. And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” Revelation 19:7
I believe God’s zeal is to assemble his family. The prelude to this, then and now, is to transfer the light of his life to his people so that they may shine brightly. The scriptures may call this Zion, the Holy City, the Church or the Body of Christ, but it all boils down to the manifestation of God’s life, in Christ. In light of these assumptions, I take a Gentile’s interpretive liberty with the opening verse of our passage.
For Zion’s (the Bride’s) sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s (the Bride’s) sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. And the nations (particularly Israel) will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory.
More than anything, I aspire to attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb but there are some sobering things said in regard to it. The lamps of those attending must be filled with oil. I am assuming this oil is the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit’s presence would provoke longing and anticipation. In Matt 25:1-13 (The Parable of the Ten Virgins) Father uses incentives and disincentives to motivate us. The bottom line is always …
Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. Matt 24:42
Father, teach us to number our days that we may present to you, hearts of wisdom. May your Bride hear her alarm going off, saying; “Awake sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. May your life be manifest in our anticipation, our longing and our prayers. May we live to see the day when your people are no longer seen as forsaken. Let us witness that day when the nations say, “These are a holy people, redeemed of the Lord. His delight is obviously upon them.” Amen.