Finding Our Way Into the Presence of God

Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?

Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.

However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)

That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).

Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.

But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

Trust and Obey
(—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”

Thoughts to Ponder Learned from Some of the Giants of the Faith

“Find your purpose, then lose your life fulfilling your purpose” (John C. Maxell).

Learning from the Giants, by John C. Maxwell, started off a little slow for me, but by the end, I was very happy to have persevered in listening my way through it. Maxwell imagined sitting in his study for a day, being visited by a number of the Bible’s great leaders. As I was usually driving while listening, I resorted to writing down my favorite memories of what Maxwell had to say after arriving at my destination, so they may not be perfect quotes, but I wanted to share some provocative bits of advice gleaned from his studies and commend the book to you as encouraging reading. (P.S.—You know how I love to share photos, too, so I picked out some pictures from my last trip to Mackinac Island, although they were chosen more for beauty than connection to the text.)

Queen Anne’s Lace

Elijah:
*God loves you, even on your worst days!
*Wait, serve, and learn while you wait.
*Our purpose must always be more important to us than our position.
*Find your purpose, and then lose your life fulfilling your purpose.
*Brokenness always precedes blessing.

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Job:
*Character is more important than reputation, so work on growing your character.
*Reputation is like a shadow; it has no substance.
*Character is what will enable you to withstand tribulation.
*At the end of Job’s life, he was filled with promise and not pain anymore!

Deborah:
*Be prepared for God to surprise you.
*Expect the unexpected.
*You must deal with your past before God will give you a future.
*God can make nothing out of you until you realize you are nothing without God. (Editorial Note: We are always the objects of God’s love, which gives us great worth, but I think Maxwell was pointing out that God loves the humble in heart.)

Jonah:
*God is a God of second chances.
*Mercy always runs downhill.
*But—think about what you missed by not living right from the beginning!

Joshua:
*God will only give you the promises you claim.

Daniel:
*Be motivated by conviction, not convenience.
*Greatness isn’t doing all you can do; it’s allowing God to do all He wants to do through you.
*You will never lose your way if you never lose your why.
*Courage is like muscle; it is strengthened by exercise.

With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

Thoughts on Trying to Comfort Those Who Grieve

Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.

There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.

Alan and Kathi at Meijer Garden

Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.

Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.

There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!

So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).

Zen Garden at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI

“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.

Hydrangeas in sunshine at Meijer Garden

“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).

“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of  your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).

“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).

“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”

Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).

Listening to History at Meijer Sculpture Park

Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Plaque in the Faith Reflective Garden. Meijer Gardens, Michigan

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?

Free Movie: Have You Started Your Pilgrimage?

Have you ever read The Pilgrim’s Progress? If you’re under thirty, you may not have even heard of The Pilgrim’s Progress, although it’s one of the most significant works ever written in the English language (some say it is the first English novel), and until recently it was second only to the Bible as the most published book in the English language!

“Christian Reading His Book,” by William Blake from the Frick Collection, NYC

If you love reading, this is the one classic I hope you don’t miss. During World War I, many of the English soldiers carried a copy in their pockets to help keep up their courage!

The Pilgrim’s Progress from a 1683 printing

Written almost 350 years ago (1678) by John Bunyan and originally titled The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come, the story is an allegory about the spiritual journey every Christian takes.

If you’re not familiar with the story, this might be the perfect time to learn about it, as an animated version of this great classic has just come out, and anyone can watch it free online August 25-26 (2019) if they register using the link below (which simply asks for your email address so they can send you the link).

https://www.pilgrims.movie/live-event-201908/

When our children were little, Alan read through Little Pilgrim’s Progress several times aloud to our family.

Little Pilgrim’s Progress is a charming adaptation by Helen Taylor and told in a way that will make little eyes grow wide from time to time without causing nightmares! (It can be ordered on Amazon right now for $4.41.)

Although the artwork in older editions of this classic tale
is wonderfully detailed,

and I love all the beautiful pictures,

the 2019 animated version combines more realistic graphics with a more “modern” fairy-tale look that will be familiar to children today

without compromising the story (or so I’ve read).

Heretofore I’ve always reviewed movies after I’ve seen them, but this time I’ll be watching right along with you if you choose to view the movie during their free event. Therefore, I’ll be especially interested to hear any comments you might have about the movie. Is the movie true to the book? Is the message compelling? Are the characters believable and likeable?

Have you started on your own pilgrimage toward heaven? If so, do you identify with all the frightening, disheartening, and thrilling adventures that befall Christian? If you haven’t started your journey, does the movie inspire you to strike out in search of God?

A Plan of the Road from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (1821, Wiki)

Will you join me on the pilgrimage
from this world to that which is to come?

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13, speaking of a multitude of faithful believers who went on their pilgrimage to heaven before Jesus came to earth).

“Find Us Faithful” by Steve Green

“We’re pilgrims on the journey
of the narrow road,
and those who’ve gone before us
line the way.
cheering on the faithful,
encouraging the weary,
their lives a stirring testament
to God’s sustaining grace.
o may all who come behind us
find us faithful,
may the fire of our devotion
light their way.
may the footprints that we leave,
lead them to believe,
and the lives we live
inspire them to obey.
o may all who come behind us
find us faithful.
Surrounded by so great
a cloud of witnesses,
let us run the race
not only for the prize,
but as those who’ve gone before us.
let us leave to those behind us,
the heritage of faithfulness
passed on through godly lives.
o may all who come behind us
find us faithful.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (42): Love Your Enemies??

“You never know God is all you need until God is all you have” (Rick Warren, but possibly from Mother Teresa first). Here is where the rubber meets the road. It’s hard enough to love well even those we do love, but where in the world are we to get the grace to love those who are our enemies . . . those who hate and hurt us, or even those who are opposed to our values and obstruct our freedom to pursue what we believe to be right and good?

Who are our enemies, anyway? In many countries around the world, Christians are miserably persecuted, and so it’s obvious who your enemies are. I pray for you, and I read often about the terrible ways in which believers are tortured and killed. If you are reading this and among those who are suffering persecution for your faith, my heart goes out to you. Psalm 56 provides comfort for those who are pursued by deadly enemies. The title says, “Upon Jonath-elem-rechokin,” which has been translated, “the silent dove in distant places.” Is that you? In this psalm, we learn from David that it’s only through placing the whole weight of our burdens on God that we can overcome fear with faith and overcome evil with good. Jesus was able to go beyond faith to actually love his enemies. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). I read these words, and I know the “theory,” but I would have to be tried by fire to be able to say that I could ever love people so well that I could be put to death and respond the way Jesus did, although I’ve read testaments to martyrs who’ve come close.

In America and many parts of the Western World (and Australia), it’s often not obvious who our enemies are. We’re so well protected by our government that many of us do not have known enemies. For example, can you name your enemies? When I stop to think about it, I can’t! I’m oblivious. Probably if someone doesn’t like me, s/he simply quietly disappears from my life. Is that being an “enemy?” I don’t think of it that way; it seems more like not choosing to be a friend, and in a world of lovely people, of course we all have differences in personal taste and choose to spend time with people who see life most similarly. That’s not being an enemy; that’s just being free to use our limited time to be in community with those we enjoy the most.

So, where are our enemies? Do I need to go out and find some so that I can love them? That brings to mind the admonition about stirring up trouble (Proverbs 26:17). I don’t think God wants us to go there! We have myriad spiritual enemies who are out to destroy our souls, but God doesn’t tell us to love the minions of Satan! Rather we are to resist the devil (James 4:7), flee lusts, and keep company with those who are seeking God (2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart“).

So, we shouldn’t be looking for enemies, but maybe we (or at least I) should be more on the lookout for understanding whom my enemies are. Studying through the Bible passages that speak of enemies, I found three verses that stood out as speaking about God’s enemies:
*Psalm 68:21 Those who continue in their sins
*Romans 5:10 Those who have not yet been reconciled to God
*Psalm 66:3 Those who have yet to submit their wills to his

I’m listening to Running with the Giants (by a New York Times’ best-selling author, John C. Maxwell), and he makes the point that “Submission is laying down the terrible burden of always wanting to have your own way.” I love that! Have you submitted your will to God the Father and Jesus Christ his son yet? If so, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and not only friends but family! If you have not, then technically, we are “enemies” in the sense that we have opposing views on the reality of the God of Love and Light and his worthiness to be our Lord and Master.

God calls us to love our enemies, whether they are abusive people who actively try to hurt us, or dearly loved people with whom we disagree on spiritual matters. Either way. From the most wicked to the most kind—however others respond to us—we are called to love them! Love God; love others—both friends and foes. If we have to, let’s learn to bleed love. How is this possible? Only through experiencing the love of God in our lives and allowing His love to flow out through us. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Texts for this study: Matthew 5:43-45, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies.” Luke 6:27, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies.” Luke 6:35, “But love ye your enemies.”

Subscribing to Scribd

If you love books and have a bit of a budget for continuing education, then you might appreciate Scribd. Have you heard of it? It’s been dubbed the “Netflix for e-books.” Although there have been some serious accusations of copyright infringements since its inception in 2007 (by then Harvard student, Trip Adler), it is my understanding that at this point, Scribd has a clean bill of health and you can become a member without any concern that you’re doing anything shady. I joined last fall and have become a fan. For $8.99 per month, you can listen to as many audio books as you like, choosing from their vast collection of over a million titles and growing. Let me share just a bit of my own experience.

I love reading but all too often “don’t have time” for the pleasure of sitting and learning via the written word. To compensate, I discovered LibriVox (actually, my book-loving editor son told me about it), which self-identifies as “Accoustical liberation of books in the public domain.” This is a marvelous service, and you can access over 12,000 books that have no copyright issues. It’s completely free, closely affiliated with Project Gutenberg (another wonderful volunteer organization that has been digitizing culturally significant books in the public domain), and is always looking for volunteers who are willing to contribute their time and voice to adding to LibrVox’s listings with high quality books. Over the past 10 years, I’ve enjoyed a number of LibriVox’s audio books, and if you have no money for continuing education but have time and the means for listening to audio books, this is an excellent way to go!

And then, last year, I began hearing about more recent books that I really wanted to read but were (are) still under copyright. Again, my son came to my rescue, as did several friends, particularly one friend who travels by car extensively for her work. Scribd will let you have one month as a free trial, and within one month, I was hooked. (Also, if you’re a student and too busy during the year, you could still sign up just for the summer. 🙂 )

There is a seemingly endless array of possibilities out there, but I will tell you that I mostly read non-fiction Christian books, so not everything I want to read is available on Scribd, which is probably good. I love to underline, go back and rethink, and study the books I really love, so it’s good for me to OWN books. However, Scribd opens the door for learning at times that I just can’t read, like when I’m driving, folding laundry, or washing dishes. I hope nothing ever ends our desire to possess paper copies of precious books (the Bible most of all), but every avenue for growth and learning about God and good seems like a blessing to me.

Here are a few of my favorite books from those I’ve enjoyed since last fall (all of which could also be purchased, but I’m just giving you a sampling of what’s out there that I really appreciated):

*King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, by Timothy Keller (excellent study on the life of Christ from the book of Mark, for both seekers and those who have found!)

*Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, by Ravi Zacharias (so helpful for gaining perspective on why a “good” God might allow suffering in this life)

*Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer (highly technical but excellent information for those with scientific minds, providing solid philosophical and scientific arguments for the probability of intelligent design rather than random chance in the creation of the universe)

*Earth Psalms, by Francine Rivers (short, happy devotional thoughts about nature and God; easy listening for tired ears)

*A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Suffering, by Jerry Sittser (learning to accept and grow through tragedy)

*America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation, by Grant Wacker (fascinating, technical biography about one of our world’s most influential religious leaders)

*The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown (“The #1 New York Times bestseller about the Greatest Generation freshly adapted for the next generation” [that’s me]; wonderful account of a motley crew of young men who worked tireless to fulfill their dream of rowing their way to an Olympic Gold Metal back in 1936)

*The Classic Hundred Poems: All-Time Favorites, by William Harmon. The commentary on the poems alone was worth the listen; I felt like I’d taken a crash course in English poetry, and since I love to write poems, it seemed worthwhile to hear what the world loves best.

And more, although I won’t bore you. The point is, if you’re looking for a good resource for spirit and brain food, there are ways to promote learning and growth even during times when your hands are occupied with daily duties. Of course, nothing is as sweet and good as prayer and meditation, but if you have time for some audio books and $9 a month, you might also enjoy this avenue for expansion!

May Jesus bless you this summer as you pursue Him!

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:12-13). “Let no man despise thy youth” . . . or thy old age! Let’s be lifelong learners!!

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (39): To Resist or Not to Resist

The real problem with meditating on the commands of Christ is that many of them seem (and are) totally contrary to our human nature and therefore very confusing. It’s as if we’re on a hurdles course, and each new hurdle is higher or harder than the last in some respect. Last week, we learned about the need for a heart transplant, but at least we can rest in the knowledge that God, as our Great Physician, is standing by, ready to perform the surgery that only He can perform: Birthing within us a new spiritual heart that lives and breathes the pure, eternal life of Christ.

That is mystery and miracle enough, but what about today’s texts?!:

*Matthew 5:39 “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

*Luke 6:29, “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.

Wait a minute! This makes no sense at all, and I can prove it with a lot of other texts:

*James 4:7 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

*1 Peter 5:8-10 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

*Hebrews 12:3-4 “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Well, these verses clearly teach us to resist the Evil One and sin, but I guess they don’t really tell us to resist any and everybody who might be trying to take advantage of us. In fact, the New Testament teaches, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). Some scholars believe that Jesus’ commands to withstand the abuses mentioned regard submitting to unjust authorities, since it was possible for a Roman soldier to demand a civilian to give the soldier his coat or carry the soldier’s burdens for a mile (or so I’ve heard).

As unpleasant and unpopular as it is, God wants us to submit to those who are over us in authority, such as wives to husbands (Oh, no!!! Oh, yes: Colossians 3:18), those who are younger to their elders (1 Peter 5:5), servants to their masters (and not just those employers who are kind and fair, 1 Peter 2:18: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward“), all of us to the man-made ordinances of government (1 Peter 2:13), and all of us out of deferential love for one another “in the fear of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21).

Wow! That’s a long list of high hurdles God expects us to jump! I understand that God will take care of those who rest in Him when we are obedient but cornered: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13), but are their limits to how much abuse we’re supposed to take, and are we just supposed to become “doormats” for evil people to walk all over?

And, what about in the Old Testament? What about Joshua and David, and all the kings of Israel who fought against the surrounding tribes and conquered Canaan? Is it wrong to go to war against evil and oppression? Some people quote Romans 13:3-5 to say NO:For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” So, it appears to be reasonable, under the authority of your country, to defend “liberty and justice for all.”

I think the bottom line of Jesus’ command for us to “resist not evil” refers not to random acts of violence, but to authorized acts of unfairness . . . even EVIL ones, like the government “smiting us on the mouth” through an unjust ruling in court or demanding more of our money in taxes than we deem fair. Even on the personal level, we are told, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This is a little easier to understand and work out, because it gives us an action point: Overcome evil with good. Seems a little easier than to “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4). However, both are implicit in Jesus’ teaching. Sometimes we have to “take it” and sometimes we’re asked to “give it,” but always to give back good, even if we’ve been given evil.

Truly, I don’t think this is possible apart from the grace of God! In my flesh, I resist evil—especially directed against me—with every fiber of my being. But, there are times when God wants us to submit rather than resist, and I think only his Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom to know when to submit and when to resist, and then to provide the grace to do so.

Lest we become weary in well doing, God does give some promises along the way to encourage us: “Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the Lord will hear when I call unto him . . . Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:3,5). He will hear us. He will rescue us (1 Peter 8:10).

Finally, look back up at the verses listed above (and the passage listed below) on resisting. Each hurdle comes with a promise. If we “resist not evil” but submit first to God and then respond with patience and kindness, we will find that:

*The devil will flee from us.
*God will make us mature, establish, strengthen, and settle us.
*We will become partakers of his holiness and bear the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

Sound like what you’ve always wanted? No? Well, it wasn’t really on my bucket list either, but nobody said being a disciple of Christ would be easy or natural. It’s the way of the cross, but it’s the right way, and God wants us to walk in it! Maybe we can pray for each other as we practice trying to jump these high hurdles! God is watching, cheering us on!!

If you’re interested in the real-life struggles of two missionaries trying to grapple with this command, I highly recommend In The Presence of My Enemies, a heart-rending book about a couple who were abducted in the Philippines. I heard Gracia speak at a ladies’ conference a few years ago . . . amazing story of the power of God to transform us! Our heavenly Father is the Great Physician . . .but he is also the Final Head Master! Yes, the Force of All Good is with God alone, but it’s the greatest Force in the Universe!! May this Force be with us!!

Hebrews 12:3-15 “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

Texts for this Meditation: Matthew 5:39 “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Luke 6:29, “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.