Chapter Seven – Opposites Within What God Dictated

Chapter Seven:  The Opposites Within God’s Word 

“For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”   Colossians 3:3


Having examined the law of opposites that reside within God’s creation, from the world that reveals Him to the laws that reflect Him to the creatures that either revere or revile Him, we will now move on to the presence of opposites within the written word of God:  the Holy Bible.  As we spiral in from the outer spoken word (“And God said let there be…”) to the inner written word (“It has been written…”), we see the continuation of the law of opposites.  It shouldn’t surprise us since, just as our words give a testimony of who we are and of what we think, so too do God’s words serve as a representation of who He is.  And, knowing that God, as Alpha and Omega, is always working from the beginning and the end at the same time, we should not find it odd to read verses that represent two sides of a continuum.  In fact, it would be inaccurate and incomplete if the word of God only portrayed one side of His character for, as is true in what God designed, so too is it true in what God dictated:  the world, and the Word, rests upon the pinnacle of paradox.

When we looked at God’s creation, we went to the book of Genesis.  Now, as we look at God’s word, we go to the book of John.  It’s interesting how these two books, Genesis and John, intersect one another.  In Genesis 1:3, we read about God speaking light into existence.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light:  and there was light.’”  In John 1:3, we read that Jesus was present when God spoke the light into being.  “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  Then, by verse four in both books, we learn that God created the light, inhabited the Light, and separated the light/Light from darkness.  And so, while it may seem like a giant leap to move from the galaxies to the gospels, it is but one small step for the God who ordained and orbits them both.

I love the way John introduces Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  There is no mistaking the connection; Jesus is the breath of God, the utterance of God, the manifestation of God.  Want to know what God thinks?  Jesus tells us.  Want to know what God values?  Jesus voices it.  Want to know what God demands?  Jesus declares it.  For every question, Jesus not only has the answer, He is the answer; He is the declarative, definitive, demonstrative Word of the Living God.  And when He speaks…we need to listen to both sides of what He is saying.  We need to listen with our ears and with our hearts, for Jesus’ words are sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of joint and marrow…discerning the thoughts and intents of our heart (Heb. 4:12).

So, just what does the Word have to say about the word?  What does the Incarnate voice have to say about the inscribed vernacular?  When John introduces us to Jesus in the first verse of the first chapter of his first book, he uses logos rather than rhema in describing Jesus.  This is incredibly insightful in that, in Greek, logos means written word and rhema means spoken word.  God didn’t speak Jesus into existence, Jesus has always been an equal part of the Trinity, but God did allow Jesus to portray His words, to personify His truth.  God did embody Truth with flesh so that He could be heard, and seen, and touched, and received.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as from the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  So, when Truth speaks, just what does He say?  Sometimes, it may sound contradictory, but we need to remember that when Jesus addresses an issue, He not only speaks about it…He speaks around it!

Let’s begin by looking at Jesus’ comments about life.  In the latter part of John 10:10, Jesus says,

“I have come so that [you] may have life and have it in abundance,” but in Matthew 16:24, Jesus comes at us from another direction and says we must deny ourselves and take up our cross if we are going to follow Him.  An abundant life on the one hand…a burdensome cross on the other.  Then, in Mark 8:35, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it.”  Again, there are the opposing sides:  save by losing…lose by saving.

 Then, there’s the seemingly contradictory views on how we are to treat others.  In John 13:35, Jesus said others will know that we belong to Him by the way we love one another.  But, in Luke 14:26, Jesus said that, in order to follow Him, we must hate our father and mother, sister and brother.  And then, in Matthew 5, we gain insight about God’s treatment of people.  What has come to be known as the Beatitudes could also be referred to as the Be-Opposites, for in His discourse Jesus challenges us to look at things through an opposing lens…from His perspective rather than from the world’s.  But in doing so, we find ourselves swimming upstream, against the flow, in opposition to the world and to all that floats past us.  According to Jesus, the Logos, we learn it’s…

  • Better to go last…in order to be first
  • Better to weep…in order to know joy
  • Better to hunger for righteousness…in order to be satisfied by its taste
  • Better to be reviled…in order to rejoice

Are you confused yet?  Does the Word of God (Logos) seem to oppose the word of God (rhema)…or vice versa?  We know that cannot be.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 16:24) and He said that God’s word is truth (John 17:17), so there are no contradictions…and yet the confusion continues and even crescendos with this comment: “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). What do we do with that?  Which way do we turn?  To the right…to the left; forward…backward?  My dead body is alive in Christ?  Does that also mean, by way of the law of opposites, that my undead body (if I have yet to surrender it) is not hidden in Christ…but in self?  Important questions, two-sided questions…with two-directional answers.  Could it be that God wants us to examine things from more than one angle?  Might it be that God wants to exchange our myopic vision for a panoramic view?  Could it be that our Maker knows our thoughts, our perceptions, better than we do (Is. 55:8-9)…and therefore He has established the law of opposite thinking?  Perhaps…just perhaps.

I offer up these excepts from the Word of God not to imply by any stretch of the imagination (for that is exactly what it would be) that God’s word is contradictory, but rather as evidence that the law of opposites resides within the Word of God.  And it should.  If it is evident within the world He developed, the creatures He designed, and the laws He defined, then shouldn’t it be found within the word He declared?  The truth is, we serve a God who has no boundaries.  For our understanding, God set up lefts and rights, tops and bottoms, insides and outsides.  It is for the purpose of our seeing clearly that God tinted the looking glass.  We see more vividly, more accurately, when our frame of reference contains some contrast.  It’s how we learn because it’s how we’re wired; it’s how we’re wired because it’s how we’re designed; it’s how we’re designed because it’s Who we reflect…and the One we reflect is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and First and the Last, the Law and the Grace, the Prosecutor and the Propitiation, the Lion and the Lamb…and in Him there is no contradiction but merely a convergence as all things come from, and together in, Him (Romans 11:36).  Soli Deo Gloria!


Border Fries

Border Fries

 “Oh, that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border …and God granted him what he requested.”        I Chronicles 4:10

         What if God had a drive-thru window in which we could place our orders?  What if the “Golden Arches” truly were golden archways to short-order blessings?  If so, would our American mindset be evident as we rolled down our window, casually leaned out, and said,

                                           “I’ll have the border special, please.”

                                          “Would you like that super-sized?”

                                          “Why, yes, please super-size my border.”

And, in keeping with the fast food analogy, would we check our order when it was handed to us and complain if we didn’t get all we asked for?  I’m thinking that’s exactly what would happen.  Missing ketchup packets and napkins are one thing, but getting a child-sized border when a ¼ pound border was ordered is another matter altogether!  While blessings are not something we can just “order up”, they are requests we make to our Heavenly Father that are often times not handed to us the way we “ordered”.  And, because our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs, regular-sized orders are not quite good enough…we want our requests super-sized.

I thought about this recently while reading over Jabez’s “run for the border” order recorded in 1 Chronicles 4:10.  Perhaps this request took longer to fill than it appears, but the text rendition sure makes it sound like a drive-thru order…that was super-sized.  “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And, within that same verse, the order was made, packed, and handed out the window.  “And God granted him what he requested.”  Order up.  Order out.  Order completed.  I bet there were even extra napkins and ketchup packets in the bag!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some late night hankerings for “border fries”; for a super-sized order that increased the territory God had given me.  Perhaps you’ve had a similar craving.  A desire to reset fence posts, to clear new land, to move beyond the river.  It seems like a purposeful craving…a prosperous hunger.  After all, if the extra land is desired to be used for God, isn’t the request a righteous one…and shouldn’t our order be filled as quickly and completely as Jabez’s?  And Jabez pulled up, rolled down the window, held out his hand, “And God granted him what he requested.”

So, why aren’t our orders filled like Jabez’s?  Why does God allow us to pull up, pull out, and find that what’s in our bag isn’t at all what we ordered?  I believe it’s because God, not unlike our earthly parents, wants us to clean our plates before He gives us more to chew on.  I think that, while our eyes are on the lands beyond, His are on the ground beneath; beneath our feet, that is.  Enlarged territories are good, and we should want them.  Expanded borders are great, and we should request them.  But, what is true physically, is also true spiritually… our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs and our petitions are often larger than our preparations.  If we have not fully cleared and inhabited the land that we’ve been given, why should we be given more to care for?  The need for enlarged borders arises when growth has been curbed due to a lack of expandable space.  When we are closed in by our current borders, God resets our fence posts.  When we’ve been faithful with a little plot, God not only answers our request for more territory, but He supersizes our order!

In Scripture, we find examples of people who fully inhabited their territory of faith and, when they came dangerously close to the edge of their turf, they found their boundary lines extended.  There’s the widow who gave all her flour and oil to prepare food for Elijah (I Kings 17); she found her border enlarged at the end of her provisions.  Then, there’s the widow whose two-bit offering was a bit too generous; she found her border expanded at the end of her stewardship (Luke 21).  And the boy with the loaves and fish (John 6:9)?  He found his border stretched at the end of his imagination.   And then there’s Mary and Martha who, after burying their brother, found their border broadened at the end of their applied hope (John 11).  In each example, the borders were not extended until the present land had been fully inhabited and the need for further territory was completely evident.

And isn’t that how it should be?  Isn’t that what God created us to do?  To inhabit our land so that He could reestablish our borders and let the process start all over again?  I think that’s what Jabez did and that’s why God filled his order so (seemingly) quickly.  I think Jabez needed a larger territory because he had outgrown the one he was in.  He needed God to move his fence line back or he’d cease to be productive.  When you’ve cultivated, planted, and harvested the fields you have, it’s time for more land.  When you’ve been faithful with a little, then God will be faithful to entrust you with a lot (both figuratively…and, sometimes, literally!).

This process of habitation is not only true in how we inhabit that which God has given us but also in how the Holy Spirit indwells that which God has given Him.  In much the same way, the Holy Spirit’s borders are determined by our willingness to allow Him complete access to areas within us.  Here too we tend to offer up supersized orders.  We want to be Spirit filled, but then we start fencing off plots and, often times, we even erect ‘No Trespassing’ signs on some posts.  Until we allow the Holy Spirit to fully indwell the territory that He’s claimed, He won’t move beyond the borders we’ve set, but will wait for there to be a need for extension…a neediness for expansion.

As we prepare to step out of the perimeter of one year and into the boundaries of another, perhaps it is a good time to walk our fence line, survey our territories, and see just how well we’ve inhabited that which God has entrusted to our care.  Are we fully using all God has given us?  Are we about to outgrow the area we’re in, or do we need to go back and rework some sections?  Have we come to the edge of our provisions, our stewardship, our imagination, and our applied hope?  If not, then it’s not our borders but our spiritual muscles that need stretching.  And, when those late night cravings for supersized “border fries” hit, we would all be wise to remember that we can’t have seconds until we’ve finished our firsts!far-side-cow-philosophy




Sidebar…that’s oddly enough located at the bottom…about those cartoons.  Well, I have a thing for the Far Side.  Gary Larson’s insights (if I may elevate his humor to the status of deeply perceptual) crack me up.  That’s it.  I just chuckle when I see the illustrations and capsize when I read the dialogue.  One of my favorites is the one posted at the top of this post.  The reference to being territorial and the obvious presence of fence lines just made this seem like a good fit.  The cow philosophy?  Well, who doesn’t get a kick out of a cow in a toga?  Am I right?  As to either of these being remotely connected to Jabez, prayer, or spiritual borders…they aren’t.  I just wanted you to know that I know that.  So, now you do.  I still hope they make you laugh! 


Which Came First, the Briar or the Fern?

Which Came First, the Briar or the Fern?

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”                                                                                  –Philippians 2:13

 Ah, yes, the age old question of sequencing.  Which came first?  We’ve long heard the arguments over the chicken and the egg, but this one…the briar or the fern…well, that requires serious contemplation.  I realize there are several approaches to answering this question.  First, there is the alphabetical approach which leaves no doubt that briar comes before fern.  Next, there’s the creationist approach which places the fern before the briar since those thorny weeds didn’t come into existence until after the fall of man.  Then, there is the spiritual approach which once again places the briar first.  But, just what is the spiritual approach and why does the briar claim first place?  Well, before answering that question, the initial one must first be addressed.

 Which came first, the briar or the fern?  While I find it to be a perfectly logical question that bears examination, I do realize that not everyone conjures up such deeply philosophical inquiries.  (Which leads me to another question…do I have an overly high, and somewhat distorted… view of my thought process?  And, if so, how am I to know?)  The question arose while I was in the woods, surveying my vast kingdom which, through much toil and tenacity, I’d cleared last fall.  As I walked through the places that, just months ago, had been massive groves of briars, I was delighted to see beds of ferns emerging all around.  It was amazing to see the transformation and in my mind, the before and after images flashed in succession. And that’s when the question arose…which came first, the briar or the fern?  Had the ferns been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed them because they were shrouded by briars, or, having cleared away the briars, were the ferns now able to inhabit a formerly impenetrable area?  As I rolled this question over in my mind God added another thought to the mix:  Isn’t there a Biblical truth here among the ferns and the thorns?  Shouldn’t that be the answer you seek…oh deep philosophical thinker…?  (Yes, God has a sense of humor…and impeccable timing.)

And so there it was.  No longer an environmental question but now a spiritual one:  Which came first, the briar or the fern?  As I thought about this, I thought how beautiful ferns are and how readily they develop if they have the right environment.  But then I also thought how fragile and dependent they are; if they don’t have the right soil along with the right amount of light and water, they will not survive.   Briars, on the other hand, need no tender care and are anything but fragile.  They show up in all terrain and thrive even under the worst of conditions.  They choke out all that is around them and, once their thorny vines have laid hold of a neighboring plant, they actually climb upon their victim in order to reach their next prey.  They are relentless and unwilling to “go gentle into that good night”.  (Poem by Dylan Thomas.)

Having thought about the contrasts between ferns and briars, I then allowed them to represent that which grows in man’s heart.  If I view my heart as a place where both ferns and briars may grow then, just as my wooded area needed a gardener, so too does my heart.  While God is represented as a gardener in various places in Scripture, two examples are recorded in Isaiah 5:7 and John 1:1.

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in.”     – Isaiah 5:7a

I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener.”       -John 1:1

So, recognizing God as my Gardener, and my heart as His garden, I now had only to identify the role of the fern and the briar, and that wasn’t too difficult.  The ferns…beautiful, delicate, and dependent…were those things that God tended and nurtured.  In my heart, they may unfold as fronds of compassion, love, and forgiveness and they only propagate under the right conditions.  Much clearing away needs to be done before they will emerge and, even then, they must be handled carefully for though they may be quick to appear, they are also quick to disappear if their growing conditions change.  Then there are the briars…prickly, stickly, and ickly.  Their purpose is to live for self, at the cost of everything else around them.  These are the sinful thorns of selfishness, pridefulness, and ungratefulness.  They make the heart uninhabitable…impenetrable…desolate.  Not until they have been cleared out will the growth of compassion, love, and forgiveness emerge.  Just as in the woods, the briars had to go so that the ferns could come forth.  So which came first?  The briars.  How do I know this?  Because, as Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” (Jer. 17:9) and David, in agreement, made this request to the Lord, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”  (Ps. 51:10)  In its natural state, the heart is prone to briars and that’s why we all need a gardener…The Gardener.

Without God, the sinful briars not only stay, they take over; without some serious under-brushing…followed by a dose or two of Round-Up…our hearts will never be prepared for the emergence of godly ferns.  And, in keeping with the laws of nature, the cleared area will have to be retreated from time to time.  Briars do not go down without a fight and they will rear their thorny heads again.  But, as is also true in nature, with each cutting and spraying, fewer and fewer briars return because the area is now tended and maintained.  Small briars are pulled up before they have the opportunity to choke or smother developing ferns.  And as the uninhibited light now shines upon this new growth, the reproduction rate is prolific.  (I really wanted to say it is spore-adic; get it?  Ferns…spores?  But the definition doesn’t work.  God’s reproduction in our hearts is anything but sporadic; specific, yes…purposeful, definitely…haphazard, never.  But, in keeping with my misdirected thought process, I felt led to share this thematically creative, though inappropriate, word.)

Now, as I stroll through my ferny kingdom, I’ll think more about the condition of my heart than about the condition of the woods.  And, when I see the briars straining to retake their former plot, I’ll search my heart for reemerging sin that threatens to lay hold of new growth.  Then, when God pulls out the pruning shears and the Round-Up, I’ll be thankful that He continues to complete that which He has begun in me:  a cleared lot, a prepared plot, a productive spot.