Words to live by | Online journal of Marc Heriot

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. Proverbs‬ ‭12:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is a particularly painful proverb for me this morning. I am such a fool! I have so many blind spots in my own life. In my dreams last night it was as though I had a movie running of all of the missteps and failures I’ve experienced in a particular circumstance over the past several years, yet at the time, I marched ahead as though there was no other way to approach the situation. Yet, I don’t know what I don’t know. Every person lives from his or her own perspective and experiences, and from my view I am right, but my view is not a complete picture. There is always another view. If I were to have the opportunity to go back and “do over” I suppose I would not do anything differently today, except have a deeper sense of humility and a recognition that blind spots are just that — I don’t see them. I would spend more time trying to understand why you think the way you do and not react emotionally or defensively. And I would double my efforts to love and respect, even if I don’t appreciate the other’s behavior. They too have blind spots and I desire to treat others the way that I’d like to be treated. A fool is not a fool for his differences with another, but rather, for allowing a multiplication of those differences into a posture of incompatibility, alienation, or worse, conflict and killing (whether in real life or in my heart). I kill someone as soon as I cease to acknowledge them in my heart.

Does this blindness make me a fool? In my heart I know I’m my Father’s child and His and my goal is to be transformed into His image and likeness. Until then, or while this process is taking place, I accept that there are foolish things within. My own “right-ness.” So today I invite wisdom and pray that when I step on the scales the predominance of my person and perspective tip in that direction.

The heart of the fool is that of narrowness, limited perspective, quick judgement when not all sides have offered their version or perspective. Foolishness is magnified when based on that limited view, I make decisions that affect others negatively and put something in motion that is insensitive, hurtful, damaging, ignorant… and I could go on. Foolishness has no end to its effect. At its core, it elevates my way above another’s even though in the other person’s eyes, their way is just as valid. What a sticky mess!

But I love the remedy: counsel. The Hebrew interprets it as advice, counsel, advisement and some translate it designs, schemes, strategies. The idea is that there is purpose, collaboration, ideas coming together to bring the best possible outcome. I find it interesting that of all creatures on earth, man has the unique requirement to learn, to be taught or shown how to do something. And I find that in the very act of learning we show our love for our creator. The fact that I am teachable, open to wisdom and counsel, have a heart that wants to know the right thing to do or say, says much about my values and who I am. And it’s a predictor of who I will become. And along these lines, look at the many sources our wise teacher gives us — I’m meditating in Proverbs! He’s a wise and wonderful counselor. He’s put teachers in his church. And he’s given us a promise that if any lack wisdom I simply need to ask for it and he gives it liberally. I have many “counselors” at my disposal:

The counsel of circumstances

When you shoot a basketball, the swoosh through the hoop tells me whether my aim is on or off. When I grow flowers in my garden, the full blooms tell me when I have soil, sunlight, and supply just right. When my car careens off the road or into another vehicle, the sound of twisted metal tells me something has gone wrong. Life, and the good or bad that comes from it, is communicating something to me. Let my circumstances speak to me. The Holy Spirit is very good about pointing out what I need to hear.

The counsel of the Holy Spirit

There are so many benefits to being filled with the Holy Spirit — a quick read of John 14-16 and I am so heartened by what my Father gives me in His infilling presence. The Spirit of Jesus within is the ultimate “Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6).

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

The counsel of friends and others

When I read “listens to counsel” the first fulfillment in my mind is another person who is in the role of a trained counselor. Although I don’t believe people are our only source, they are possibly the intended target of Solomon, and an incredible resource. The body of Christ, my family, those close to me, all speak wisdom and counsel into my life. But I must ask for input, be open to it, recognize it for the gift that it is even when it’s hard to hear.

The disposition of listening to counsel — no matter the source — invites wisdom. Even so, I am thankful that Jesus is the author and finisher of my faith. He’s the one that wants to speak to me and fellowship with me. It’s when I recognize and hear his voice in prayer, in others, in circumstances, and in natural results, that I find real counsel.

Proverbs 12:14 Fruitfulness

A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him. Proverbs‬ ‭12:14‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The fruit, or yield, of my words are like seeds planted in the ears of others. They find soil, receptivity, and growing conditions that produce results. Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind in that the quality of the land (or heart) that hears the words affects the harvest — whether the seed is choked out, or whether it finds good, well-tilled soil that produces good things. The focus in this proverb is the well-placed seed. From my heart I pull the good that my Father has given me and see an opportunity to speak or plant it in another. What a great delight when it helps — when the right word, at the right moment, finds the right person.

There are two kinds of fruitfulness, the first being what comes from my heart and mouth, the second comes from what I do. Solomon often contrasts two extremes or opposites, but here instead he uses succession and intensity— one thing following another with increasing results. The words coming from me can be powerful, but so is the “doing” — the labor or outflow of my work. “The deeds of a man’s hands will return to him” or another translation says, “paid back to him.” The Hebrew means to return, to pull in again, or come home. The idea of a natural circuit, or cycle that when it comes back to me is complete, as if it was a payment owed to me. And I find this to be a trait that is just like my Father — He has an expectation for increase whenever he invests or gives something. When something is sent, it returns. Fruitfulness is in His nature.

My fruitfulness comes from being connected to the vine. My closeness to Jesus, abiding in him and his people yields fruit in both my words and deeds. And to put it more plainly: Jesus expects fruitfulness of me. It is impossible to be connected to him and not yield something tangibly good. I like the progression of this proverb — first I speak, then I do. There is an order in how we humans do something. God plants good seed in our heart, we think about it, meditate upon it, allow it to take root, and it grows. But it is not enough for a thought or idea to remain inside. Experiencing life cannot be accomplished only by reading books or hearing stories. I must touch, taste, feel, and know it myself. It must come out. And before any action, there is something I express whether in word, to a friend, in my journal, in my plans. My heart sets a course before it moves. There is something special and powerful about saying something out loud. Speaking it in prayer, or declaring it to a friend. It’s emboldening. Cementing. From there I act. I must act. Life must be lived. Jesus didn’t teach so that we could simply watch re-runs of season 1 again and again. I am season 2. I must make my own story. And as with all good seed that I speak and do, it will come back to me. Just like it comes back to Jesus.

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. ‭‭Luke‬ ‭8:15‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, But the righteous will escape from trouble. Proverbs‬ ‭12:13‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

The order of the Hebrew helps to better understand the phrase: “By the transgression of the lips is a snare to the evil man.” The word transgression means the violation of a law, or to go beyond a limit or boundary that was set. To be ensnared carries the meaning of bait or a lure, and consequently a trap or snare set by the hunter or trapper.

Solomon’s proverbs hold immense power to teach and align my heart and world with the kingdom of God — and they are simply words that come from our lips (or pen). Although words proceed from the mouth they originate in the heart. They are not the substance but rather the fruit. Like clothing is to the body. Or oil on canvas is to the artist. There is hardly a person alive that hasn’t spoken, even surprisingly, something that really is not the intent of their heart. Yet just because something is communicated that I did not intend, does not remove my responsibility for its impact. I have hidden places that seem to only come out with certain people, or in unique circumstances. Who knows why my heart is unlocked and affected the way that it is in certain moments, but in the end, it’s an opportunity — and thus the catch. For example, if I encounter someone who frustrates me at work regularly, and from my mouth comes, “I’d like that person to fail miserably!” Mean? Yes. Compassionate? No. For me, if I heard myself say this I would pray it is an opportunity for exposure, for light to shine in my dark place, to jolt me to corrective action. Love in action would not say such words. I would rather love, forgive, and pray resolution for this person. Yet, the same thing spoken by someone with no regard for the King or his kingdom starts in the exact same spot. Yet, from those words comes a plan… “fail miserably, yes, I can help make that happen.” And the plot thickens.

I love this conclusion of this proverb: the righteous will escape from trouble! But not without effort, or work, or awareness, or self-reflection, and the Wonderful Counselor’s help. It’s my heart and (flawed) character that spoke such a thought, so I take responsibility for it. The Holy Spirit provides the opportunity. He’s the great alchemist mixing the elements of life to give me the opportunity to become more like him every day. Expect it. Expect surprises and gasps (from me) at what comes from my own mouth. But also expect escape. He always provides it. He’s a good Counselor and never leads me through a situation He can not deliver me from.

The wicked covet the catch of evil men, But the root of the righteous yields fruit. Proverbs‬ ‭12:12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬

Or, another translation:

The lawless man craves the prey [gain] of the wicked, But the root of the righteous is enduring. Proverbs 12:12 (Rotherham)

Man craves. I see and I want. Desire combined with my values create the context in which I live. What is it that I want? I endeavor to look in the mirror every morning and have an answer to that question. Whether or not I acknowledge it, what I want, or often what I need, propels my life forward — my behavior every day. It’s so much better to be thoughtful and intentional about that desire than let an impulsive, needy grab for something erupt unexpectedly to the shock of others (and myself!)

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says: There is perhaps an intended contrast between the restless and often fruitless activity of the hunter with his net, and the calm, stedfast fruit-bearing, as by a natural process, of the firmly-rooted tree.

The “catch” or “gain” that Solomon speaks of is a real thing. It’s an increase. If you are an outdoorsman, there is something very exciting about the hunt then the success of the kill. In a way, it is like a drug and when I am successful, the feeling of euphoria from my accomplishment is my opioid. This increase, whatever it is, is material. Temporary. Not self-sustaining. Gained by cunning or method. Or blackmail or deceit. But when the ends justify the means, and there is no discrimination about how I make my gain, one thing is certain… loving God, valuing his ways, aligning with his kingdom, fellowshipping with my creator, is NOT my desire.

On the other hand, living with a kingdom value, loving the king first, honoring and acknowledging my father in all I do is something I was born to live out. The provision that comes from kingdom values is steady, predictable in it’s season, constant year after year, deep — pulling from the nutrients of the earth and the history of those that have preceded me. It does not provide the narcotic-like high that the hunt provides, nor the manic low that failure brings.

The Pulpit Commentary says: The root supplies the sap and vigour needed for healthy produce. Without any evil devices or plotting, the righteous gain all that they want as the natural result of their high principles.

There are two natures inside of me; one pulls me to the excitement of the new, the rush, the catch, the unconventional, without regard for my values, laws, or the goodness others deserve. The other reminds me to be steady, drink deeply, skip the shortcuts, learn from those who have gone before, and prioritize relationships. The conclusion makes me laugh — kingdom life sounds like it may be drab, with no fun or adventure when I put it in these terms. But then I remember, God created fun. He leads us on paths that have spectacular views, incredible discoveries, and increase and provision — but in a context in which he provides great safety and care even in hell-raising adventure.

This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. ‭‭John‬ ‭6:39-40‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I love what Jesus does here — he declares his victory over a foe and doesn’t even give him the courtesy of a name. He simply steps around him without any acknowledgement and declares life. Identity is in a name. It is in being recognized that we are who we are. Even so Jesus focuses on two powerful messages in this conversation: he gives us life that never ends, and he will raise us up on the last day. What audacious claims! How do I reconcile his promise of living forever with our experiences today? We all die. We often fight a brutal fight with sickness, accident, old age and still lose to death. Jesus is addressing death in two moments: both in the present in our current conflict, and in the future, proclaiming a life in a new reality, a new “normal” without death. But these words don’t fully impact me until I purposefully connect the dots with our reality today. To me Death has a name, a forceful name that I cannot ignore.

Death has deeply impacted my psyche and written his affect on my and other’s lives in so many ways. As a child it is emotionally impacting to see my first pet die. Even a goldfish. Or the bird I see lying on the ground. When I was little and my Grandpa Joe died, it was hard to process what it meant. Another time when I was five years old I went to visit my good neighbor Etta who was always willing to talk with me, yet this time she asked me to leave because the ambulance driver was taking away her husband, for good, I later discovered. I won’t see these loved ones again? It just feels wrong! My most primitive instinct is to live. Growing up, it is difficult to extract or identify the “fear of death” in everything I learned because it was the foundation, the unspoken premise of much of what I was taught. From where I played (in the street), to how I played (so I would not be injured), and how I treated others (if I hit my sister, don’t I know that dad would kill me?!) the recognition of death is woven through everything. Choices I make daily, unconsciously, give a nod to Death and my instinctual desire to avoid my inevitable encounter with him. Jesus’ idea of life without death is truly mind-altering. In a similar way if I were asked to consider life without time, or without the obligation to be in a physical body, or without the law of gravity, or without the autonomic nervous system (and I had to deliberately choose to exercise my heart to keep it beating) — the very core of my thinking or the paradigm from which I live would be affected.

Life is accessed through the door of faith

Even today, Jesus’ words seem like a stretch. To understand them I must mix what I read with faith. Like lifting weights at the gymn gives my body more capacity, so also exercising my faith makes me more able to receive the weighty words Jesus spoke. Without connecting Jesus’ promise with faith, it makes my eyes turn glassy, my gaze distant, and my heart and mind are unaffected. “On the last day…” is a promise deferred. It’s delayed to a time that my mind cannot wrap its arms around. How does that help me now, let alone feed me? In effect Jesus is saying, “It’s coming. Today, death is a reality, but don’t be stumbled, tomorrow it won’t be.” One thing for certain, the promises that require believing rarely raise goosebumps of excitement on the natural man. I must always deliberately mix Jesus’ words with faith. A “today faith” — an abiding in a place of unshakable, unstumbled belief that opens the eyes of my heart to see his kingdom in this moment. All roads to the kingdom are paved in believing and trusting. And they lead through the toll booth of Christ. The kingdom is now… not some undefined future. It almost feels like he’s pleading, “listen to me, I will raise you up!” And through repetition, will stick?

Jesus is the new normal

Death is a reality. That sounds like a pretty stupid thing to say. It is all we have known while living on planet earth. Life as man knows it ends. The mortality rate of humans is nearly 99.999% with only two biblical exceptions. Even then, Enoch and Elijah did not remain on terra fima for us to gawk at. The entire cycle of life as we know it and see it is: life, growth, seed, death, then new life again. Rinse. Repeat. Yet the interruption to that cycle, the victory over Death, the new standard, is speaking to them now in person! It’s one thing for a Father to tell the kids, “someday we will go to Disneyland,” and it’s quite another to say it with tickets in the pocket and car waiting in the front driveway. You can almost feel the emotion, the excitement in Christ’s voice. For four thousand years men have been subject to death, but Christ is the ticket! It’s in our hand.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22

The transition to this new kingdom reality will not feel clean. Even if I have super-faith, it’s hard to wrap my mind around what a life without death looks like. It is fundamentally a shift in operations — just like when you move to a new home and must meet the neighbors, find new grocery stores, familiarize yourself with the house’s personality and creaking at night. Or like changing schools, getting a new teacher, new classmates, new subjects to study. Or when you marry and the next morning you wake up next to your life-long companion and wonder what you have just done! The reality of deathlessness is mind-altering. Since Jesus spoke those words, there have been 2,000 years of not very clean transition. Yet, the change appeared with Jesus. A specific point in history. Christ raised Tabitha (Mk 5:39-42) and Lazarus (John 11:41-44) and he himself was raised (Mtt 28:1-6) – the first fruits of all his family of which I am a member (1 Corinthians 15:20). If that was not enough, he gave his disciples authority to raise the dead as well (Matthew 10:8). But his words here remain “I myself will raise him up…” There is a day coming when it will be complete. So, if he’s demonstrated his authority over death, why do we need to wait? Why is life (or deathlessness) deferred?

Death is an enemy

Paul calls him the “last enemy” to be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26). He was the first enemy to be given authority over man (Genesis 2:17). Death is real. He has a name. And when his horrible reign has ended he is disposed of in the fire with his teammate, Hell (Rev 20:14). They are the third and fourth that are tossed into the lake of fire as soon as it is open for business — following only the Beast and False Prophet (in Revelation). In the garden he took ownership of the keys to the car of life which were violently snatched out of Adam’s hands.

Before death, God intended man to live without regard for time in his body. I’m not entirely sure what that would have looked like, but it was a possibility. There simply wouldn’t be an end point. Even after the sentence of death in Genesis 3, the life span of man after the fall was nearly 1,000 years. This changed dramatically after the flood — which makes me think something was tweaked in the physical environment on the earth that narrowed our natural life. Originally, our cells would simply regenerate and self-heal. The coding in our DNA compelled us toward life. And it still does, but not entirely now. Age produces decay. Something changed. Our earthly bodies and our environment now reflect the heavenly reality of a newly realized death sentence. We have all sorts of bastardized DNA in our bodies, each declaring all manner of sickness and disease with one goal: to rob life from me. Uncle Charlie, Aunt Freda, Grandpa Griswald, and mom and dad all contributed their particular strain of evil to this grand DNA re-coding project.

Until Christ.

Now there is a refreshed DNA recoding project in my body. And Christ made the outcome clear: Life! My new birth isn’t just a clever mental game to re-align me with a new spiritual objective in my life. It is a real, earth-shaking, foundation-altering, physical reality. The fallen coding in my DNA that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors passed on to me — ends here. Death is defeated. Jesus gave this promise to the children of God. He demonstrated what it looked like. He made the payment. He himself was raised and sits as a testimony to my future. And he tells us of the time it will be the new “normal.” Until that day, the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent among us take it by force. By choice. By faith.

Giving death a moment to speak

Until now, I have spent very little time thinking about death. Life is about what is, not what is not. Life is being present, alive, fully engaged, bursting with goodness and creativity, friendship and love. When I have lost a friend or loved one, I think about my loss, our loss, and move on. I personally haven’t considered my encounter with Death. And like anything I haven’t contemplated, my faith about ceasing-to-be-on-earth are not well-formed. Death is frightening. His boastful prospects are not my future, so why would I want to listen? Yet recently I have many loved ones going through that frightful stare-down with this adversary. When death takes someone, it’s not just the one that he takes, but he takes a piece of something bigger. We are interconnected in a marvelous and frightening way. Just like when I play the wooden block game Jengo. It starts with the blocks stacked and interconnected in a tower and each player in turn takes out a piece with the goal of keeping the tower from falling. Finally, one piece is removed that brings the remaining blocks crashing down. This is what death is doing to the structure of our lives. Which piece or person does he finally remove from my life before the tower comes crumbling down? Although fear makes me want close my eyes and bury my head in my pillow, pull over the covers and wait for it to pass, there is something deeply emboldening about Jesus’ words. Embracing his victory allows me to put on new confidence, even a sense of invincibility. So now, instead of turning away from my foe, I look at him, acknowledge his boastful claims, and reconcile them with Jesus’ words:

Death says to me, “You have failed. Made the wrong choices. You’re guilty of sin. The penalty for sin in death is just. It was sanctioned by heaven’s courts. God himself. And by the way, I really do have authority over your body. Your future is the grave. Dust. An untimely death. Embarrassment. Exposure. Isolation. Loneliness. I have killed good DNA and replaced it with the bad. Now you are afflicted with ugliness instead of beauty. Limping and limitation instead of fierceness and boundarylessness. Although there are dreams and gifts planted within you —breadcrumbs of the divine — they are aborted. You may see them, but you will never realize them. Dashed hope. Failed efforts. In fact, the shorter your life the better. God allowed it, don’t you see that? It’s because he wanted the world to be rid of you. It couldn’t bear you very long — even now, 70-90 years are way too many. It gives you the false sense that you actually have time to accomplish something. That you actually have meaning, blah! Thankfully, I have friends: Toil, Hardship, War, Murder, Barrenness, Difficulty, Unloved, they all keep you distracted enough. You don’t have much time to consider your dreams. And even if you do, I’ll bring other friends to disrupt your sleep. No need to dream all those illusions.”

My reply? “Christ.”

But now, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits [the forerunner, the example, the first of the many that will follow] of those who are asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20

The timing of God

One thing that distinguishes God from his creation is time. On earth one thing follows another. In heaven, things aren’t quite so linear. In fact here in John 6, Jesus has not even died yet, but he’s already leveraging the purchase price he will pay for my life and telling his followers about it — before he actually tendered his physical life as the payment. He’s operating outside the linear. That is where faith must operate. His intent, promise, and devotion, combined with a word from God are just as powerful for Adam and David as they are for Christ, and me today. Stepping into Christ is stepping into timelessness.

My natural body = time. My rebirthed body = timeless.

I see Jesus operating in this new zone of forgiveness, redemption, and the payment for sin. Sin and evil has qualified me for death; the goodness, love, and sacrifice of Christ now qualifies me for life. The payment has been made and the benefit may be withdrawn — sometimes even today, as we see Christ did in so many instances. I wonder, why some may be raised now, and others not? Since Christ clearly demonstrated a victory over death, why can’t I count on it today? I may never understand. But the word of God is clear: there is a time — in the future — when the transaction is fully complete.

Death is an ugly enemy, and it feels wrong to say this, but I must become comfortable with the fact that today my path to life is through through him. One day this will change. But not today. It is so humbling to go through the process of death. So inglorious. Rarely pretty. Whether a fateful splat in an accident, or a long battle with disease — it’s just bad. Shutting down the life in my body and yielding to death, seems so wrong. Yet, however it comes, it is the threshhold to the next. Despite death, my heart cannot be separated from my Father’s, just like the fusion of metals in the heat. I am bound to life! Nothing can separate me from the love of God — even if for a moment I must concede to what happens in my body. The sooner I accept this, the sooner I will be at peace with whatever guillotine the adversary uses. Not a hair from my head is uncounted, nor a bird falls without him knowing it. If I cling to life in this body like it’s my last stop in life, I’m abandoning the peace he offers for a battle he has already won. I was thinking this morning of a story by Madeleine L’engle about her husband Hugh who was diagnosed with cancer and starting to see the symptoms which affected his normally joyful, playful countenance. The family thrust him into aggressive cancer treatment. It caused nausea, weakness, dependency, disconnect, struggle, hair loss, and so many other horrible side effects. Ultimately the disease took him. Although there was a chance the treatment would work and family based their hope on this treatment, it simply extended the battle into months of pain. So I wonder, which is worse, the sickness or the cure? Would they have been remiss to avoid the fight? And if one makes it through such harshness, what type of life is left to live? Would it be wrong to fold the sword on top of my own chest, bow my head and acknowledge the inevitable… on my terms? Courage and life may manifest in many different ways — and it’s a deeply personal choice with today’s hope-filled medicine.

The sting of death

When I consider the real struggle with death, the thing that worries me the most is the accusation of me being inconsequential and not living my dreams. Purpose, gifts, vision, a goal are all seeds for a life that was never intended to end. Yet what makes me put all my eggs in one basket — the basket of this body? If it falls off the table, what do I have? What about those with childhood diseases? Or those who died in service to their community or country? Or those taken from freak accidents or premeditated murders? There is a real future and a real hope in the kingdom of heaven. And just because I cannot see beyond the veil of this current life, the darkness of my understanding does not mean there is no life after death. Unfortunately, it’s not provable. I have never been there. But there is someone who has and He’s returned and says it’s true. And my Father says it’s true —in no uncertain terms.

The kingdom deposits God has made in my life are without regret. He planted them knowing full well the continuity of my life beyond my earthly body. My life being cut short is not a limiter. Those dreams and ambitions may be fulfilled in this body and in my new body which is coming, whether or not I am able to get over the hump which I cannot see beyond. What Jesus is saying here is profound and the although the water of understanding must sit on the callous ground of my flesh until it is slowly absorbed and nourishes, once the realization of his declaration goes in deeply, it is life changing. He’s telling me something very real. I have been looking at death through the eyes of fallen man. A grief-riddled response actually seems selfish and misinformed. “But I can’t talk to my dad any longer!” Who told me that? I must allow my core beliefs to be changed by Jesus’ words.

Our life after death

I’m aware that my time in my body offers me a unique ability to transact in my world. Now. And I fully desire to engage every day with all of my heart. Yet, one thing that frightens me about death is that I will be disengaged with life. I will miss opportunity. Since my only frame of reference is life in this body, I jump to all sorts of conclusions about what happens when my body returns to dust. The reality is, my role simply changes. There is an accounting all men must make for their deeds and words while in the body, and I fully understand how that may strike fear in the heart of man — especially when he has not lived in the context of being accountable for his thoughts and deeds — but the accounting for the children of God is pretty straightforward: I have failed and Jesus has paid for my failure. I am immersed in the grace of God. If I want credit for my good, then I must equally take credit for my bad. So the accounting is simple, it relies on grace which I am still trying to comprehend. But just like Jesus went away and is alive, I will be as well. To be in the body is to be constrained by earth’s laws of physics. When I’m released, there is no such constraint. When my body stops living, I am not dead, rather, my container is simply not here (or asleep, as Jesus said). I’m convinced that the life Jesus has for me and all of his brothers and sisters will not be missed because of death. He came to give us not just life, but abundant life! In fact, when he first appears, Paul makes it clear that those who have fallen asleep in him are raised first, then those who are alive and remain (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). Why? So we may be encouraged. Recognize that departing and all of its worldly grief is temporary. We are NOT without hope. None of his kids will be excluded from the front row seat of the incredible life about to engulf our planet. Because I have a passion for how things wrap up on this earth in the coming days, I’m aware there are many significant events that will occur. Whether I’m on earth in my body, or not, I will be fully engaged with Christ in all that is about to take place.

The last day is closer than I may think

One of the most compelling things Jesus said over and over was that in him there was life — particularly here in John 6. If we believe in him we would never die. But here in John he makes the point of saying: “I will raise him up on the last day.” This is not a consolation promise. “Oh sorry, you missed 2000 years of life because of these weak and wobbly bodies.” He promises that although the timing is yet to come, the death of my body is NOT the end of the story. There will be a second act (and probably a third and a fourth). And I am convinced from a timing perspective, it is nearly upon us. Eschatology (or the study of the last days) can be a controversial topic. Every few years someone claims a date of Christ’s return and the day comes and goes with only a laugh from those looking on. The world and even the church roll their eyes wanting to avoid all discussion about his return, particularly the timing. I get it, yet he will return. He promised it. The day will come. So how can I say it’s closer than I may think? For one, it’s been nearly 2,000 years since he said he would return — so logically, we are closer to that date. Much closer than when the disciples first heard the promise. When I look at all the prophetic indicators, there is a season in which the church may discern it is near. One of the duties of the Holy Spirit is that he would disclose to us things to come. When Jesus first walked in Galilee, it had been nearly 4,000 years since Adam heard the promise of his coming. The Pharisees were just as dismissive of the actual coming of the Christ then, as we are about his second coming today. Yet Jesus expected them to see the signs of the season.

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? Luke‬ ‭12:54-56‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬

So, just like we see the summer heat end and the cool fall breeze approach, we know a change is at hand. When all the dogs and birds in the neighborhood are quiet, there is something different going on. This is a deep topic and I don’t want to oversimplify it. Yet… when he comes, it will be significant just like the crescendo at the end of a symphony, a movie plot that has unfolded, the burst of blooms in your garden, the sunset before the night. There are things which point to the timing of the sons of God. The purpose of God in this creation may be seen in the church — the people of God. We are the object of his affection. And the sons and daughters of God are nearly ready. Ready for a wedding. Ready for a position and place in the heavens with Christ. Ready to believe and live our true identity. This makes me so incredibly excited. I think of those who die in Christ now… whatever state you are in will not last long. And what about those that are alive and remain until he comes? Neither of us will miss a thing! I’m convinced of it by the Spirit. Oh to shed this narrow, dark thinking about death. He is life and we have his life and promise of immortality within us!

“The last day” sounds very final and concluding. Yet it is still a day to be lived in! The days of creation ended on the sixth. The last day was a day of rest. The seventh and last was an opportunity to joy in the work of the previous six. When we reach that day, whether we are alive and remain, or are raised as he promised, it will be a period of rest, refreshing, and joy. It will be a good day. And it will be an opportunity to continue to live and pursue the dreams, ambitions, and promises he’s planted within.

One thing certain about Death. He will die. One thing certain about those in Christ, we will live. Forever. Let’s start today.

He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense. Proverbs‬ ‭12:11‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I have land! I don’t own a farm or field but I own land! Every person alive has been given something to be productive and self-sustaining. Like the parable of the talents (money) Jesus references the fact that I have been given something of value. But in that same parable he also showed that a man’s view of himself and his world either constrained or enabled what he did with it. And just like Solomon, he showed that fruitfulness was something that proceeds from my heart and intentions. The point: use what I have been given! Take advantage of my field and earn a living at the same time.

There are so many incredible things to explore on this earth. When I walk into a library, I’m overwhelmed with the possibilities of subjects within which I may immerse myself. What would qualify something as worthless? There are different shades of meaning depending on the translation: “But he who pursues (NKJV) follows frivolity, or (NIV) or chase fantasies, or (MSG) chase whims and fancies, or (Rotherham) runneth after worthless men.” The thing which I spend my time on should produce something. There should be an outflow from my life that feeds another. It may be bread. It may be art. Or an invention. Or music. My life should be interconnected with others in a way where we nourish each other physically, mentally, spiritually. The contrast Solomon is making seems plain enough: be useful.

I was reading a book recently about a period during World War II on the Island of Crete which explored the incredible athleticism of the Cretans. These men had a deep devotion to their community of fellow Cretans. And they were incredibly fit and capable athletically. Although they did not outwardly look buff or sculpted like our modern gym rats, they could do more than most men — from lifting heavy objects to enduring climbs over treacherous mountains with very little nourishment. Their motto: “Be fit to be helpful.”

But to me, the better questions are: What is worthy? What holds value? Where is the kingdom of heaven for me today? I want to seek it first. Discovering where I may produce bread is often a value decision: Is what I am doing right now the right thing to do? It’s easy to get lost in the moment — the iPhone news stream, the program on TV, the binging on a book, but I want to live out my love for God and for my family in deed. Jesus says that when I do, the other things I have need of will be added.

Proverbs 12:10 Compassion

The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. Proverbs‬ ‭12:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

When I am righteous I am simply reflecting the nature of God, his character, and his attitudes. Even though I’m the focus of his love and attention, within an animal is also the very life of God. The Gospel of John begins with “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) Life, any life, is reflective of God. His spirit. His breath. His pneuma. For me to be kind to my animal is to have the natural, God-given empathy for another life, especially when they are in service to me. Whether a dog, horse, or farm animal, I have a respect for their contribution and relationship and all that they provide to me. I have a tendency to be anthropomorphic: projecting human traits to animals or other processes (imaginations are very fertile). It’s coded within me. Although a goldfish really isn’t thinking about missing a turkey dinner, I still give it an extra helping of fish food on Thanksgiving. As silly as this sounds, I’m good with it. Our Father has planted desire in our hearts to be kind and good to our beasts. And to especially to others.

What is it that happens to a man that would sabotage or short circuit his natural empathy? The New King James Version translates “kindest acts” as “tender mercies.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says: Tender mercies – Better, “the feelings, the emotions,” all that should have led to mercy and pity toward man. Throughout life my heart is either inclined toward God or away from him. What a distance I have traveled if the very natural affection and goodness I would offer another would be cruel. When I read this, I think of a person who has become self-focused, extraordinarily self-absorbed, even narcissistic. Every transaction in life becomes about what benefits me. When I am the center of my universe, it is a lonely place indeed. Although there may be some question about the control a person may have over another relationship, or another human, it’s clear that a man’s animal belongs to him. Yet to the wicked, if cruelty is the fruit, imagine what he thinks about himself. Isn’t it ironic? If my world revolves around me, you would think it was because of an excessive self-love. Quite the opposite.

There is a tread wear on a tire over it’s life. Its natural suppleness becomes worn, less rubbery, and has less grip on the road than when first installed on my car. That’s what life can do to my compassion to others without a connection to the life-giver. Yet, connected to him, he renews me. Daily. Speaks life and healing in transactions with others that have been hurtful. Like a young child who is super sensitive to animals and others, he helps me return to childlikeness through all of life’s transactions.