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March Newsletter-Iniquity

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Well, like many folks I know, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I mean that in a limited way. I’m not actually overwhelmed in a ‘completely’ way, just in my human way. Spiritually, I’m excited; I’m ‘completely’ excited. How can that be? What I know in my heart, my spirit, is different than what I know in my head. I’ve heard people say I get it (the Gospel Message) in my head but just can’t get it down in my heart. Actually, I think we’ve been duped about that because our spirit is strong, the fullness of Christ lives there. What we’re actually being challenged by is the wrestling that goes on in our minds versus what is true and has been placed in our hearts by His Spirit. Believers’ hearts don’t need changing nearly as much as our thinking. It’s a battle between a Loving God and our human logic, reason, thinking and fallen mind. It’s how we think, what pictures we paint in our imaginations, that overwhelm us for the most part, not our hearts.

Now, that said, let me explain. I sometimes get to thinking, ‘How can this crazy world keep going?’ The knowledge of all the evil in the world, what we see going on, and yet trying to make sense of what we believe, what we hope for. For sure, there’s so much of the world that’s ‘missing the mark’, a ‘couldn’t care less’, hateful world. Is there a place to recover the hopes and dreams we once had? Do we throw in the towel, just chuck it? Thankfully, I’m not tempted to go to that place as ‘my final answer’. One reason is that I’m not overwhelmed by trouble. There’s always been trouble, lots of it in fact. I stumbled into the 106th Psalm a few days ago which is about God’s people coming out of Egypt after hundreds of years of slavery. It contains a significant bit of human nature in it as it tells the historical story of the parting of the Red Sea. David writes of the fathers not understanding the wonders of, the mercies of God, even after their being saved by that miracle. They believed His works, they even sang praises, but in verse 13, ‘they soon forgot His works; they waited not for His counsel.’ And, God, in spite of knowing full well of people’s nature, nevertheless, saved them for His sake. For His story the Red Sea was parted, for His purpose the impossible became very possible. Had we been standing at the edge of the sea I’m not so sure we could have seen what was next, what He was about to perform.

There’s never been a perfect place, a perfect environment, for humanity to experience the fullness of God. It seems the Gospel has always had to rise to the top at the most oppressed moments. Captivities, barrenness, slavery, dispersions, death, and most terribly, at the focal point of all their faith, the cornerstone of anything they believe, their Hope was cut off, their hope died! Humanly, looked like no recovery possible. The one who had been prophesied from Abraham to John the Baptist- gone! Where was hope to be found then? Treated like a common criminal, the King of Glory was dead. Their leader murdered, their city burned to the ground, believers ran off into the desert. Our lieutenants (his disciples) crucified just as their leader was crucified. They had no printing presses, no campaign professionals to get Jesus’ Message out, no television show to get on and share around the world, no radio commercials ‘For Jesus’, no organization to get any message out let alone The Message. The Gospel was in the worst place for any future hopes, plans, dreams. Humanly, there’s no future to look to. The empire is winning, the religious establishment is rising up in a wave against Jesus and all that’s left is a simple belief that Jesus is Lord in the midst of total oppression. Doomed might be a good expression for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was certainly a bear market for believers. And today, it looks like a bear market for our Faith. Just look around!

March2016John chapter 18 describes a moment that in some unique way is very similar to what is happening today. Jesus and the disciples have withdrawn to the Garden of Gethsemane. An assembly of perhaps 1000 Roman guards (a legion) has come to find Jesus. The chieftains from the Jewish religious leadership had gathered there as well. This was a real Star Wars. The Empire had gathered joined by the Religious powerful and the deal was on. It’s interesting that when Jesus identified himself with the words ‘I am He,’ both Empires fell to the ground. (Don’t you know he could have walked out of there in spite of the overpowering force assembled!) Even though he faced a seemingly overwhelming show of authority; even though it looked bleak, hopeless and with no possible way of escape to the human eye; even though both Empires thought that they had this, assumed they would destroy this Jesus, Jesus was about to destroy all their imaginations and evil deeds, all that had progressed from the Garden of Eden until then in just a few hours time. This was the moment of supreme iniquity! This was not just sin ruling and reigning, it was more than that. Human sin is missing the mark, not coming close to the center of Truth. In that place, iniquity stepped forward to look Jesus in the face, approach the Trinity of God and state boldly and without shame: we reject Your Word, we hate Your Word, we ridicule Your Word, we mock Your Word and completely and totally refuse God’s message of Grace and Peace. I think we’re in that same garden today. The world’s empires say we have Him this time. We’ve finally done our best, got it right and we’ve kicked Him out of everything we can think of. The Empire has made it almost criminal to praise His name. They’ve slaughtered millions in the wake of their violence. You can almost hear their voices: ‘He won’t get away this time, not again like he did the first time. We’re too smart for Him this time. We’ve outdone ourselves this time, for surely God is dead! Start the funeral! We win!’ That’s where I think we’re at today.

There’s a celebration going on by most the world. It clearly sees the end that it’s always imagined. But, I remember the hopelessness of Abraham and Sarah, I’m aware of the story in the 106th Psalm, I’m reminded of the tomb and a stone that was rolled away. I see the history of a people that were dispersed from Jerusalem in 70 AD and I’ve seen their gathering in 1948. I remember impossible things. I’ve always believed there would come a time in world history (His story) when the post-cross generation would crucify Him again, put Him to death. What went on at His first crucifixion would be repeated in this age. What we read in John 18 would take place again, this time, not by ‘His people’ but by the whole world, a world that’s angrily set against His Truth.

As for the end. I’ll have mine both ways. I think the end will come, not when the news is bad; there’s always been heartless news. I think the end will come when the Gospel is no longer preached. I’m not saying that there won’t be religion, there will always be lots of those to choose from, but a time of falling away from Truth of the Gospel as recorded in Matthew 24: 10-12 and Thess. 2:5. However, even with all the bad news of today, there can still be a revival of the Gospel Message. But for that to happen, what occurred in that 106th Psalm will have to happen again, for His name’s sake, God must directly intervene. That’s not impossible. We should not be of those that ‘soon forgot His works; they waited not for His counsel.’ We remember all the other times that God resurrected His Message of Love, even after being ‘buried’ by the world’s rejection. He again will have to say, ‘I am He,’ and every knee will fall to the ground. No matter either way, end or continue, it’s not over. This Gospel will not be defeated. With our human eyes and ears, it may look like it, sound like it, but it’s looked like that thousands of times before. It’s always been opposed, it has always produced resistance. But, He is Lord whether we agree with that or not, whether the world agrees with that or not. Jesus is holding all things together and has been given all judgment, so I can relax a bit and trust a lot. It is not over, or if it should be, either way, we are promised a glorious future! We should not let our ‘human’ thoughts dominate our spirits. He created all things, is upholding all things and in Him all things consist, without Him nothing consists. (Col 1: 16-17) By the Spirit, we know better, no matter what it feels like or what we see, we should not forget His works.

Ken Davis

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February Newsletter-Raspberries

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When I write these newsletters, there’s a sense I’m writing them to myself, while, at the same time I know I have you reading over my shoulder. When I write them, I always learn as much about the Gospel as I share with you. So many times the result of writing them is I feel like ‘I didn’t know I knew that.’ This one comes from standing in the middle of my briar patch, doing one of the routine things I have to do to get ready for a deep winter and prepare for spring. I have to cut my black raspberry bushes back to about 12-18 inches long, leaving just ugly sticks pointing to the blue sky. Before that cutting, some of them will stretch out to maybe 15-20 feet after a full summer of growth. Pruning them made me think of John’s Gospel chapter 15. There Jesus teaches that the Father is the true Vine and how we have been grafted into Him; meaning, there’s a source of Life that comes from simply being connected to Him. Human life, for the most part, is a life of sorrow and confusion, but the Life of God is nothing like that. He is the root from which all true Life springs, all meaning is revealed, and He has invited us to be gathered into that Life with Him. In the winter, if you looked at my raspberry plants you would think there’re probably 40 individual plants; however, if you looked carefully you’d see that they are all coming from another plant, a root supplying life for the start of all the rest. That’s Gospel.

feb16 copyWhen I first start trimming, the berry vines are a tangled mess. Being busy all summer long with all the other ‘around the house’ jobs, I always seem to let them run too far, so I inherit a ball of twisted, mingled, out of control bushes. A jungle of briars. (Something’s romantic and fair about having to wade into that thicket and getting scratched up real good. Somehow you know you should always have to pay that kind of price for the berries you’ve gotten the season before.) Left unattended, they wouldn’t produce the crop of black raspberries I’m expecting next spring. I not only cut them, I also lift the shoots that lay on the ground. I tie them to a wire string, knowing that they have less of a chance of producing fruit if left on the ground. They will also root in the wrong place without training them to stand up. They seem not to like that training very much. They don’t like not being able to do as they wish, but in the long run they will produce more berries and have an easier job doing so than if I permitted them to stay on the ground. I also have to tend the ground around the patch to both protect them from a freeze and organize them for picking the fruit the following July. In the spring I will also ‘tip’ the new vines, in effect, doubling the amount of fruit that’s produced. They take quite a bit of care, black raspberries do!

There’s Gospel to be found in that patch. It’s subtle, but God doesn’t just stand by our side and watch from afar, offering to do something about our lives only when we ask correctly or only when we stumble into getting something right about the Gospel. He actually enters into the patch, grafts us into His Life. Our tears, our smiles, are a part of our experience, and His, with us. Like those berry vines, we sometimes go through the winters of our lives being strengthened and rested for the coming summer to bear much fruit. He doesn’t leave us in the tangle, but shows us, helps us to improve the fruitfulness of our lives. Scripture identifies only one fruit that the Father is seeking from us, Fruit of the Spirit. That’s what He’s looking to be expressed in Life: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness and Self Control. All those come out of our character, not our labor– not what we might do in a moment, but what we are doing in a lifetime.

Many times it’s interesting to look at scripture’s original language to redefine how we see texts like John 15:2. In that verse, the words ‘take away’ in the Greek language is airo. Specifically, it means to lift up, it does not mean to cut off. It’s very much like when I lift those berry shoots off the ground to give them a chance to mature. The word translated pruned/purged in that verse is the Greek word kahairo uniquely meaning to cleanse from filth. (In the dry climate of Israel, with little rain, the vine leaves had to have the dust washed so that photosynthesis could take place.) Thafeb16a copyt’s a different spin on the nature and character of God with those Greek meanings exposed. There’re four or five verses in the scripture that have been pillars of my trust and understanding of the Father. Isaiah 42:3 is one of those: a bruised reed He will not break and a smoking flax He will not quench. (For me) He will mend the broken, He will blow the Breath of His life on the smallest ember to bring both to Life. That’s my Trust, my Hope. (And, yes, I’m aware of the next thought ‘until He has set Judgment’. He has done that having placed all judgment on Jesus Christ.)

Serendipity is the effect by which someone accidently discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. In this Christian journey I began looking for the best religion I could find. I wanted to know the truth about which one was the most correct, most moral, best ethical argument. I searched books, cassettes and lectures looking for the perfect religion to believe in. I looked for the ‘good life’. Amazingly, along the way what I discovered was not a religion at all but a True and Living Way. Not just a good way to live but I found the Giver of a powerful Life, a Life that left you without a thirst for anything else but The Life. A Life that isn’t simply about Right and Wrong, but a Life blended with His creative, exciting, spontaneous Life of the Trinity of God. On the Vine of John 15, you cannot tell where the Vine and the branches join one another. The Vine’s rooted self and the grafted branch’s beginnings look as one. Isaiah 40:31 says that those that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, the original text refers to those that braid together much like a rope is braided, will be strong. Instead of finding a religious God, I discovered the True God Who embraces us into His Life, gets us tangled in the things of His Life, leads us into a new and living Way.

If we permit Him to do so, God is the husbandman of our Lives. He is busy lifting us up, rather than holding us down. There’s no pleasure in God to destroy His children, but He is all about teaching, leading, encouraging. When we fall, He grabs our hand and helps us recover our walk. He cleanses us as He forgives. We should not be surprised that this and the next generation are struggling to make sense of life, so many have not been promised or had expressed to them any Hope of His Life. If fact, we’ve been taught by the world and have taught our children that God might no longer exist or at the very least is not to be trusted. We only know the reward of self-effort, self accomplishment, a life of making our own way and have not been exposed to the shared Life of Christ with the Father and Spirit, Life on the Vine. Many have no confidence that there’s even a Life that competes with their own self-sufficiency.

We were never created to grow up and be independent and self sufficient; just the opposite, we were created to grow up in Him, be dependent upon Him, mingled with Him. Things that the Spirit bears cannot be found any other way than partnering with His Life. He is the Way, the Truth and Life and no one yields that fruit except by Him. We can do very well financially, create positive self images, we can go our own way and survive with what the world promises, but we cannot experience Life separated from God. That’s the real story of Genesis; when men chose to be independent, the internal and the eternal part of them died to that Vine. Jesus came to graft (atonement) us back into the Life of God, give us at-one-ness with Father Son and Spirit. As we yield to the Husbandman and His care, we discover that we bear more Fruit of the Spirit and are able to come closer to reaching the full potential that was Hoped for us in God’s heart before Genesis.

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