“Be to me a rock to dwell in, To go into continually. You have given the command to save me, For You are my rock and my stronghold.” (Psalm 71:3 ISR98)
The moment the courageous prophet Elijah appeared on the scene, standing before wicked king Ahab, announcing drought on the land, God affirmed what Elijah testified: this one stood before the face of the Lord. From that place of holy intimacy, everything else in Elijah’s life flowed.
Time and again, whatever Elijah touched literally burned with holy love: God’s love for a person who stood before him with an undivided heart. Elijah’s love for his incredible God. The love God had, and imparted to Elijah, for people who could not receive it, because they wouldn’t let go of everything else they were trying to embrace.
You, too, be blessed to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). It’s the key to everything else.
Did you ever try to use a key that should work, but didn’t? That often happens with a copy of the original. To the eye, it seems a match. But the copy key is off just enough that it doesn’t open what it should fling wide.
Did you ever try to love the Lord with all your heart – but it didn’t seem to work? Try as you might, you couldn’t make it click.
That often happens when we unwittingly use a copy key. We make an honest effort, but come up empty, because we’ve put our own spin on the words love and heart.
To our thinking, we feel with our heart, and think with our mind – and, together, heart and mind comprise the sum total of the “inner person,” the soul. Scripture paints a different picture, one much more complex. Together, the Word and the Spirit reveal us as three-part beings, not just body and soul.
For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that holiness involves our entire “spirit, soul and body.” Deuteronomy 6:5 commands us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength. The two lists seem to correlate. The third item in each list – body, strength – speaks of our physical nature. Soul, in both lists, does seem to encompass the mind and emotions. But what about the first item on each list – spirit and heart?
I’d suggest: They’re parallel too. When God calls us to love him with all our heart, he’s talking about a singleness in yearning toward him that springs from the depths of our innermost being, the part that is one with him. We read those words and think they’re commanding a feeling.
And so, we try to love the Lord from our souls. Mentally, we try to figure out how to do it. Emotionally, we try to summon up an “all our heart” feeling, an over-the-top fireworks kind of love.
But we cannot do it. We cannot conjure up such a feeling. We certainly can’t sustain it. The key will not turn in the lock.
So let’s throw away the copy key.
Instead of trying to conjure up an emotion, ask God to teach you to respond to him from the deepest essence of who you are. Day after day, stand before his face, and open yourself to him, as fully as you know how. Pray to know him and to honor him – and ask for grace to walk whatever path he takes you in order to accomplish both.
As your spirit learns to respond freely to Christ’s Spirit, you’ll find yourself impelled by something stronger than emotion and more certain than intellect. The asking will become yearning – a hunger deep in your spirit to know him, a thirst for his name to be hallowed and his kingdom to come.
Then, to your amazement, your soul will join in. It will echo your spirit-yearnings. Your mind and emotions will participate joyfully in what they could not start. And even when God takes you places that make no sense and where your emotions scream not to go, your spirit will recognize God’s voice, your soul will surrender – and all of you will go with God.
Be blessed to burn as Elijah did with the Lord’s holy love.
. . . . . . .
Adapted from The Elijah Blessing: An Undivided Heart. © 2012 by Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.
In the place where Ahab and Jezebel ruled, Elijah loved fiercely and lived fully. As you peek into lives lived long ago, learn how spiritual schizophrenia opens the way for Ahab and Jezebel to rule today. Receive the Elijah Blessing – the blessing of an undivided heart.
Since writing, “We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church” – and now working on a documentary film based on this book – I’ve heard lots of statements similar to the title of this 2010 post, in which blogger Abagond offers a response we whites may not want to hear, but desperately need to know.
For generations, we’ve let our own defensiveness keep us from acknowledging and addressing what we’ve been party to and/or benefited from that deeply hurts whole groups of people and deeply offends God. Yet, much as we may try to do so, we cannot buy ourselves “a pass from American history,” nor from the racist fallout still occurring today.
Many of us don’t even see that we’re clinging to privilege (and fear and pride), but we’re all experiencing the results of it. For privilege built on grave injustice may seem a blessing, but always carries a curse.
Profound denial will keep us in a cycle of hurting ourselves, mistreating others and misrepresenting God. The only way out is to do what Abagond suggests: face up to these things and seek God’s ways to truly set them right.
Originally posted on Abagond:
“My family never owned slaves” is something you hear White Americans say. Although not racist in itself it has the effect of turning a blind eye towards racism.
The statement by itself is true for most whites: even back in slave days in 1860 fewer than 2% of whites owned slaves! Slaves cost way too much for most people and in half the country it was against the law. On top of that millions of whites came to America long after the slaves were freed, like most Italians and Jews.
The trouble with the statement is not its truth but how it is used: to cut white people off from history. When they say black people live in the past and need to give the slave thing a rest, they are making the very same argument: history does not matter, it somehow magically does not affect anyone alive now…
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In April 2011 and again in April 2014 – on the date when the most state celebrations of the former Confederacy converged – major storms spawned deadly tornadoes and record-breaking floods across the Deep South.
April 2011, states across the Deep South launched a four-year celebration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.
Every year, eight Southern states still officially observe Confederate Memorial Day.
Yet, the God of covenant love has a different plan for this time – a plan that involves confession and cleansing, not celebration of needless bloodshed. To cooperate with him, we have to let him show us what we haven’t wanted to see: The awakened white church across the South in the early 1800s became deeply double-minded and led the region to secede, to go to war and to vow repeatedly never to yield.
Never means never.
Today, the Southern states that still officially observe a Confederate memorial day don’t all do so on the same date. Indeed, each state has chosen its own date (and some, their own name). Texas commemorates Confederate Heroes Day in January (with a second unofficial observance in April); North and South Carolina, hold their observances in May; and Tennessee commemorates Confederate Decoration Day in June.
Five states observe Confederate Memorial Day in April. The five observances don’t necessarily all fall on the same date. But in 2011 and again in 2014, they did.
150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and (unofficially) Texas observed Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.
In We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, I wrote:
It’s May 2011. Last month and this, a series of disasters has plagued the South. In April, devastating droughts sparked wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, five severe weather outbreaks lashed the eastern half of the nation, breaking numerous records in terms of severity, destruction, and deaths. In the words of newscasters themselves, the months’ storms took the heaviest toll in “Dixie.” On the heels of the storms came the Great Flood of 2011. The Mississippi River overflowed its banks from Illinois to the Gulf Coast, nearing and topping 100-year flood levels and causing billions of dollars of damage, most of it in the Deep South.
Of these disasters, the tornadoes produced by far the greatest loss of life. A record-breaking 751 tornadoes occurred – 209 tornadoes more than the previous monthly record, set in May 2003. The two storm systems that primarily hit the Midwest caused great destruction, but no fatalities. Conversely, the three storm systems that plowed through the Deep South resulted in escalating numbers of casualties. April 4-5, nine people died; April 14-16, 43 died; April 25-28, about 340 died.
The April deaths from tornadoes or straight-line winds took place in these states (from greatest to least number of fatalities): Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky.
The month’s last storm system, occurring April 25-28, spawned one of the worst tornado outbreaks in US history. April 27, 2011, became the single deadliest tornado day in the nation since 1925.
Can it be coincidence that April 2011 launched four years of celebrations of Civil War bloodshed? Can it be coincidence that, in the 150th anniversary month, the deadliest tornado day in generations left a staggering death toll across the Deep South, but especially in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia – the day after those three states and two others commemorated Confederate Memorial Day? Can it be coincidence that all the month’s storm-related deaths took place in former slave states or territories and the vast majority of them in states that still officially commemorate the Confederacy?
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and (unofficially) Texas observed Confederate Memorial Day on April 28.
And it happened again. A storm system that launched in Oklahoma and Kansas on Sunday, April 27, quickly turned deadly, taking 15 lives in Arkansas alone. On Monday, April 28, the system careened across Mississippi, Alabama and into Georgia, as well as other Southern states, spewing tornadoes, causing untold destruction and more than doubling the death toll. As the storm pushed eastward on Tuesday, cataclysmic flooding became the greatest devastator, especially on the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast. Repeatedly, areas hardest hit were said to look like war zones. See more details here.
Might the devastating weather events during strategic Confederate celebrations suggest how desperately we need this cleansing? Might the reoccurring siren-sound of wind and waves echo the shouts of a loving Father, crying to the evangelical church culture rooted in the Bible Belt? “Stop pointing fingers at everyone else. I am speaking to you.”
“April 2011” section taken from We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, by Deborah P. Brunt (WestBow Press, 2011), 10-11. All rights reserved.
Learn about the We Confess … documentary.
Whenever you find yourself in a volatile season, remember:
Smile at the future.
The Proverbs 31 woman shows us an illogical key to volatile times: “She smiles at the future” (Prov. 31:25 NASU). “She can laugh at the days to come.” “She looks forward to the future with joy” (NCV).
Watching this woman in action, we wonder: Might explosive times be key times to learn to look ahead, get a glimpse of what God sees there – and smile, chuckle, laugh?
See a future hope.
In terms of bright futures, we Christians tend to make two mistakes: (1) We look only at eternity. (2) We look only at this life. Yet Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha, and his raising of their brother Lazarus from the dead, remind us our Lord has good things in store for us both in time and in eternity.
Don’t assume you know how that will look in any given situation. Rather, ask the Lord what he wants to do. Watch and listen, hoping in him who is the resurrection and the life.
Fight fear with fear.
“The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.” “She always faces tomorrow with a smile” (Prov. 31:30, 25 MSG).
What the Proverbs 31 woman shows us, Isaiah and David teach us: Fight fear of the future with the fear of the Lord.
Indeed, Isaiah said, “God spoke strongly to me, grabbed me with both hands and warned me not to go along with this people. He said: ‘Don’t be like this people, always afraid somebody is plotting against them. Don’t fear what they fear. Don’t take on their worries. If you’re going to worry, worry about The Holy. Fear God-of-the-Angel-Armies’” (Isa. 8:11-13 MSG).
Incredibly, our Lord warns us, not about joining those who openly rebel against him, but about joining those who identify themselves as his, yet fear people and things in this world more than they fear him. Such people name his name, but do not see his unseen world coming, ruling, in the here and now.
If we follow that way, we too become volatile. Misunderstanding people and circumstances, we fluctuate between giddy hope and despair, gaiety and dread. In our frenzy, we stumble and fall over the Sanctuary. Astoundingly, Christ himself becomes to us “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense … a trap and a snare” (Isa. 8:14 NKJV).
Ah, but if we let him, our Lord himself will teach us the fear of the Lord – for that fear dispels every other fear. That fear puts both the earth realm and the spirit realm into perspective. That fear steadies and calms. It ushers in wisdom, deliverance, provision, laughter.
Live in two worlds.
Our Triune Lord himself gives us eyes to see into the unseen world. Redeeming us, he tells us to “be of good cheer” – and he empowers us to do it.
Hallowing the Father, trusting in the Son, walking by the Spirit, we face the very real stuff that every volatile season brings. Our experiences – and emotions – run the gamut. Often, we don’t know what to think.
And yet, we abide in the Sanctuary, utterly enveloped by the One who fiercely protects his creation, his purposes, his people, his name.
From this holy place where God himself encamps around us, we learn to see what’s happening in the physical realm in light of what’s happening in the Kingdom. We learn to do what God has created us to do, calmly, confidently, with joy.
Beloved of the Father, redeemed of the Lamb, intimate of the Spirit: I pray that your heart will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else – not only in this world but also in the world to come. (See Eph. 1:18-21 NLT.)
Drawn by your confidence and joy, may people hurtling who-knows-where on a runaway roller coaster, ask in awe, “The future – how can you smile just thinking about it?”
Smiling at the Future Series
Can laughter be a strategy for victory in a volatile season?
This series is adapted from the Key Truths e-column, “Smiling Just Thinking About It.” © Deborah P. Brunt 2008, 2014. All rights reserved.
The Church’s broken history with race needs to be acknowledged before we can move forward. Our legacy of privilege and injustice has very real consequence for the Kingdom. It is time to prune the branches of our own indifference, so we can bear good fruit for Christ in our witness to the world.
Yes. Yes. Yes! My heart echoes these statements from “Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits,” on Katelin’s blog, By Their Strange Fruit. I discovered Katelin and her blog by way of Jody’s Between Worlds blog post, 101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices.
With eyes wide, I read and reread, “The Church’s broken history with race needs to be acknowledged before we can move forward.” That sentence captures the reason for my writing, We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church.
The unusual name, By Their Strange Fruit, comes from the 1939 Billie Holiday song, “Strange Fruit.” The song’s haunting lyrics capture the chilling paradox of the lynching trees of the Bible Belt. (To see Holiday perform the song, click here and scroll down.)
The blog’s mission? “To promote justice and understanding across racial divides. We examine Christianity’s often bungled history with race/racism, and facilitate reconciliation as we move toward the future.”
Contributors to By Their Strange Fruit do two things essential to accomplishing this purpose:
- Expose the strange fruit – calling us to face and acknowledge the stark reality of the part the church has played in bungled and broken race relations, past and present.
- Cultivate the good fruit – sounding a message of good hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, who is the Head of his Body and who will not rest until he has accomplished, in us and through us, all that he has declared he will do.
Despite our history, the Church has tremendous potential to usher racial justice and reconciliation on earth. It is the hope in Christ’s promise of redemption and holy partnership that is at the heart of By Their Strange Fruit’s mission. The Gospel is powerful in its capacity to affect hearts and mind, if we would only show the world that it is possible in Him.
I believe in the power of Cross to bring redemption to a broken world, to make allies of oppressors, and saints of sinners. This is the transforming image of Christ that we can present to a hurting world.
This is the good fruit that we can bear.
You might not know it, the way we Christians talk. But Jesus Christ says, in essence: “Even in volatile seasons, smile at the future. Laugh at the days to come.”
In John 16:33 (NKJV), he said it this way: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Only when we see his words in context do we begin to grasp their force. Jesus wasn’t dismissing or minimizing the hard stuff. He was facing the worst head-on, and announcing beforehand, “I have conquered it.”
Here, then, is the context:
The night before his crucifixion, Christ ate with his 12 apostles in an upper room. Then, as Judas exited to betray him, Jesus walked with the 11 to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way, he talked. Every word he spoke prepared his followers for the new, volatile season already careening in.
Before entering the garden where he would be betrayed and arrested, Jesus stopped teaching and started praying. He prayed for all his followers of all time (John 17). The last thing he uttered before he prayed – the capstone of his teachings – was this:
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” (John 16:33 AMP).
Seeing the greater reality
With Jesus’ strong words in mind, let’s rewind to the scene in the upper room and replay an excerpt.
First, though, pause to imagine that you’re standing in a doorway between two rooms. The people in one room can see only what’s taking place there. But you can see simultaneously what’s happening in both. You can see how the events in one room dramatically impact and radically alter what happens in the other.
So now, notice what Jesus saw and did, as he stood with eyes wide open to two realities:
“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father … The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” (John 13:1-5).
How could Jesus smile at the future? Facing his own crucifixion, how could he tell his disciples, “Be of good cheer”? Jesus lived in two worlds simultaneously. He walked and taught, healed people and washed feet, wept in agony, died on a cross and rose again in this world. At the same time, he saw and operated in another world, a kingdom that already exists and, though unseen, rules over all.
Taking up the towel in the upper room, Jesus saw his Father handing him “complete charge of everything” (John 13:2 MSG). He saw the cross, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s coming – and the sweeping changes all of that would bring in eternity and in time; in heaven and on earth. Stooping to wash dirty feet, Jesus saw his Father standing in heaven’s doorway, welcoming him triumphantly home.
Jesus knew what his followers would see as the next three days unfolded. He deeply desired that they also see the greater reality:
- Because of that pivotal moment in history, God’s kingdom will come. It will arrive in its glorious fullness the day the Lord Jesus returns in glory.
- Because of that pivotal moment in history, God’s kingdom has come. It’s already here.
With Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the unseen world invaded what is seen. Because he died and rose again, ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, all who confess, “Jesus is Lord,” can also live in two worlds at the same time – the natural world we can see with our eyes, and the supernatural one we can see only by the Spirit.
Living in the One who reigns
From the start, Jesus offered his followers access to a world they couldn’t yet see. Succinctly, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17).
The Greek word translated repent literally means “to change one’s mind.” Bill Johnson writes: “It was as though He said, ‘If you don’t change the way you perceive things, you’ll live your whole life thinking that what you see in the natural is the superior reality. Without changing the way you think you’ll never see the world that is right in front of you. It’s My world, and it fulfills every dream you’ve ever had. And I brought it with me.’”*
At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:19-20).
Later, the apostle Paul wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
What is unseen is eternal. That doesn’t mean it starts at death, or when the temporal world ends. The unseen world always exists. Always. Even now.
Graham Cooke describes how seeing the unseen can impact us:
Imagine that you are on a battlefield. Your army is small, especially in the face of the massive force that opposes you. You’re outnumbered. You’re outgunned … With everything stacked against you, you realize your only hope of survival is to run away. But you are a warrior: retreat is not an option.
In your heart, you decide you will fight as best you can … You turn your gaze onto the tallest, meanest-looking enemy you can see …
Now look eighteen inches above that enemy soldier. Do you see who’s there? It’s Jesus, grinning and waving at you. When you make eye contact with Him, He winks. The enemy has no clue that He’s there – it’s a private joke between Him and you. The Lord flips you a thumbs-up. “He’s really going to enjoy this,” you think to yourself. In your spirit, your resolve is joined by boldness and faith. Everything is different now because the King is here. This is going to be a good fight, because you’re going to overcome all odds and win.**
As Western Christians, we often don’t have a clue how to live in two worlds at the same time. We inhabit the “room” of the natural, and remain oblivious to what is happening simultaneously in the spiritual. Seeing only the “seen,” we deeply fear what lies ahead.
Yet Jesus came, died, rose, ascended and sent the Spirit so we who know him would not live that way.
In the upper room – before the cross – “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.” Jesus Christ could swallow up the death that tried to swallow him, because his Father had literally given ALL into his hands. After the resurrection, Jesus affirmed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). He rules in both worlds!
We don’t yet see it with our physical eyes. But God’s kingdom is here and is increasing. The King of kings is taking territory the enemy just knew was forever his. The Redeemer is overruling the plans of darkness – transforming outcomes, changing lives. He says to those in whose hearts he reigns, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future” (Jer. 29:11 NCV).
Living in him, we do not deny the realities of this world. Rather – like Jesus in the upper room – we see what’s occurring here in light of what’s happening in the unseen realm. Spirit-to-spirit, we cooperate with our Lord. We invite what happens in his world to conquer and redeem what happens in ours.
Seeing his kingdom come, we find peace and confidence rising in us, no matter how volatile the season. We take courage. We remain undaunted. Ah, then, we can be of good cheer.
* Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2003), 38.
** Graham Cooke, Manifesting Your Spirit (Vacaville, CA: Brilliant Book House, 2008), 11-12.
Smiling at the Future Series
Can laughter be a strategy for victory in a volatile season?