Archive for April, 2014

Speaking the truth in love

April 30, 2014

The Verse of the Day is found in Ephesians 4:15

Ephesians_4-15

Throughout the New Testament believers are exhorted not only to speak the truth in love but to walk in love, to demonstrate or manifest love, to put on love. Love is to be the guiding principle in all that we say and do.

A previous blog entry encouraged us to follow the Scriptures, whereby we “put off, put on, and put away.” Here is an excerpt from that post:

Colossians 3:12-14 in the Amplified Bible speaks of how believers should behave:

12 Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper].

13 Be gentle and forbearing with one another and, if one has a difference (a grievance or complaint) against another, readily pardoning each other; even as the Lord has [freely] forgiven you, so must you also [forgive].

14 And above all these [put on] love and enfold yourselves with the bond of perfectness [which binds everything together completely in ideal harmony].

 

Poetically speaking, we are directed to

Put off the old. Put on the new and leave the past behind.

Follow Christ and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.

As believers, we are encouraged to change of our minds and develop new thinking patterns. We are to put off the old man and to put on the new man, as we put away lying or any other ungodly practices. Instead of continuing in the direction that habitually takes us away from presence of God, we are encouraged to be

Moving in the Opposite Spirit

Quit backbiting—God doesn’t want to hear it.

Don’t retaliate—move in the opposite spirit.

“Bump it up!”

 

And do not be conformed to this world,          

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

that you may prove what is that good and acceptable

and perfect will of God.        

Romans 12:2

 

Moving in the opposite spirit, not in hate

But walking in love, being kind, tenderhearted;

Not being anxious but learning to patiently wait;

To quench the fiery tongue before it gets started;

Never spewing venom but with our mouth confess

The truth of the Word of God that we might make known

What God declares we are, to always seek to bless

And reap a great harvest from good seed that is sown;

To reverse the curse and counter iniquity.

God orders our steps, and we choose the path of peace,

Not to seek revenge but pray for each enemy,

For all giving assures that favor will increase;

Renewed in the spirit of our mind night and day,

Being transformed “to put off, put on, put away.”

 

In Ephesians 4:22-25 we find a similar exhortation:

22That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;

23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;

24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another

As followers of Christ, each day we must “Put off! Put on! Put away!”

The contemporary Christian vocal group “A cappella” asks, “Are we teaching the truth in love?”

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I know that my redeemer liveth

April 29, 2014

Job 19.25-26

Taken from Job 19:25, the Verse of the Day for April 29, 2014 is an expression of hope, the foundation stone upon which the Book of Job is built. The verse relates to hope, not in the broad, general sense as defined as “an expectation of a future good,” but it alludes to “the Hope,” defined as the return of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. This belief continues to be an imminent possibility that energizes believers. Indeed, the hope of Christ’s return continues to be a theme that runs through much of my poetry, as Titus 2:13 reveals:

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

Despite previous disappointments when I had anticipated that the Lord would return and he did not, when I wavered in my trust in God when He did not deliver me at a precise moment that I thought, I remain resolute that Christ shall return, as expressed in the lyrics of the song “He Shall Return”:

He shall return.

He shall return.

Look up toward the Eastern sky.

He shall return.

He shall return.

Look up; your redemption is drawing nigh.

 

He shall return.

He shall return.

He shall return.

 

No, I am not disappointed, for my soul remains anchored in hope, the essence of the message of the following poem:

 Anchored in Hope

[Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor  

of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under

whoever steps out upon it–a hope] that reaches farther

and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil,

Hebrews 6:19 [Amplified Bible]

 

With deepest gratitude for all that I have learned:

That God is so good, as far as I am concerned.

My heart remains fixed; I continue to seek God’s face,

Striving to please Him, to be faithful to the end.

Despite life’s trials, I press on to reach this place:

No longer a bondslave but esteemed as a friend.

In this time between Passover and Pentecost

We look up, as the fullness of time shall reveal

The King of Glory, before whom all souls shall kneel,

The Kinsman Redeemer sent to redeem the lost.

Watching, waiting, in my heart I have prepared room,

Assured by the promise of the faithful bridegroom.

Looking to see far beyond my limited scope,

I am steadfast– my soul remains anchored in hope.

 

The verse from Job brings to mind George Friedrich Handel’s “Messiah,” the renowned oratorio based on texts from the King James Version of the Bible. One of the most well known selections from this frequently performed musical composition is based Job 19:25-26: “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.”

Putting on the mind of Christ: Taking on the form of a servant

April 28, 2014

Philippians-2 5-7

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5-8 KJV

The passage that comprises the Verse of the Day for April 28, 2014 from Philippians 2:5-8 was, in part, the inspiration for the blog entry entitled “The way down is the way up” which is re-posted here:

This scripture reminds us that humility is the key to promotion. Of course, the ultimate example to illustrate this paradox is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:5-9 in the Amplified Bible offer this reminder:

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]

Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,

But stripped Himself [of all privileges and [rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

Jesus Christ points to the duality of humility and promotion when he says in Luke 14:11:

For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted

Jesus Christ associates being humble with a child in Matthew 18:4 (Amplified Bible)

Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The same point is made in a different way in Matthew 23:13 (Amplified Bible)

Whoever exalts himself [with haughtiness and empty pride] shall be humbled (brought low), and whoever humbles himself [whoever has a modest opinion of himself and behaves accordingly] shall be raised to honor.

The essence of this discussion of the paradox of humility and promotion is so clearly expressed in the title prayer from a collection edited by Arthur Bennett: The Valley of VisionA Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox thatthe way down is the way up
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.

JD Sebastian offers a worship song and prayer inspired by Philippians 2:

Without question, in terms of promotion with God, humility is the key. Indeed, the way down is the way up.

The forgiving Father receives the Prodigal Son

April 27, 2014

Rembrandt's Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son

Luke 19_10

As I reflected upon the Verse of the Day for April 27, 2014, I thought of three parables of “lost” items recorded in Luke 15: “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” –Luke 15:3-7; “The Parable of the Lost Coin”—Luke 15:8-10 and “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”—Luke 15:11-32. I recall seeing for the first time the Rembrandt portrait of the “Return of the Prodigal Son” which moved me in a most remarkable manner. That particular parable is a favorite of mine, and I have personalized and poetically expressed my identification with the Prodigal Son, who is impacted and forever changed by the compassion of his “Forgiving Father,” the “Real Hero” of the passage. Each time I read this account, I think of this poetic rendering:

 Homecoming

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32

 

I prodigalled

and partied

and boogied my

nights away.

 

I humped and bumped

and stumbled

till I found myself

in a ditch.

 

I squandered all

of my bread,

down to my

very last crumb.

 

I had no friends

to turn to

I had no place to go

but home.

 

I tried to sneak back

unnoticed,

but Daddy ran

to meet me

and greet me with

open arms

(like I’d been down

the road apiece,

or just got

back from town,

or never been

gone at all).

 

He didn’t ask me

where I’d been,

didn’t ask how

much I’d spent.

 

He forgave me,

just forgot

all the times I’d

plumb missed the mark.

 

He spread the

welcome table

and had a

family feast

to satisfy

my hunger

and meet my

every need.

 

Later on in the

midnight peace

when Pa and I

were alone,

we said nothing,

yet so much;

then through tears

of joy he said,

 

“It’s all right, son–

it’s all right, now.”

The song that comes to mind in thinking about “that which was lost” is the ever-popular “Amazing Grace” with the opening stanza:

 Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found.

Was blind but now I see.

Recorded countless times, without a doubt “Amazing Grace” has become one of the most recognized musical compositions in the English language. Listen as Wintley Phipps gives the history of song and closes with an unforgettable rendition of the most popular hymn of all time.

Jesus, our savior to the uttermost

April 26, 2014

Hebrews-7 25

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 KJV

The Amplified Bible offers this powerful rendering of the Verse of the Day for April 26, 2014:

Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him, since He is always living to make petition to God and intercede with Him and intervene for them.

This verse makes known that Jesus Christ is a complete Savior, who fulfills his purpose as the Son of God:

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10)

The Psalmist offers these comforting words to remind us of God’s faithfulness to rescue those who are lost:

Psalm 31:8

And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.

Psalm 106:10

And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

Psalm 107:2

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;

In thinking about Jesus Christ who saves to the uttermost, I recall a blog entry where I commented on our being rescued from a “horrible pit.” What follows is an excerpt from the post entitled “There is no pit so deep. . .”

A couple of days ago, I read a commentary regarding Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, who were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps because they helped Jews to escape in Holland. They found themselves in a horrible situation, in a deep pit, and Betsy’s last words before she died spoke of hope, even in a most difficult situation. Corrie ten Boom, was later rescued and gave her testimony of the amazing power of God’s love that sustained her over the years of her life. Betsy said these words which became the opening line and the title of the following poem:

 “There is no pit so deep. . .”

 

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

Betsy ten Boom

 

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock,
and established my steps.

Psalm 40:2              

            

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

In times of turmoil and deep distress we rest until

We see that God’s Word comes to pass, for we have no doubt

That He will again deliver us and bring us out

With renewed strength to climb an even steeper hill.

 

We are assured that every promise God will fulfill.

When we are exhausted, God will refresh and refill.

No matter how severe the problem we thought about,

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

 

Despite our best efforts, at times life goes all downhill.

In times of despair we seek courage and strength to instill,

As we persevere to triumph along this treacherous route.

Rooted and grounded, we are no longer tossed about.

We remember these words as we strive to fulfill God’s will:

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

 

As I was growing up, I recall the song “He Brought Me Out” performed here as a congregational hymn from the Church of God, a suitable way to close out this blog entry.

Oh, To See the Mystery

April 25, 2014

Colossians-1-27

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Colossians 1:27-28KJV

The Verse of the Day for April 25, 2014 mentions the concept of “the mystery” which Dr. Mark Hanby refers to as part of the “progressive revelation of God”—reflected in God’s desire for a dwelling place, displayed in Tabernacle in the Wilderness (first dimension) leading to Solomon’s Temple (second dimension), and culminating in the Temple of the Living God, the Body of Christ (third dimension).

Derived from the Greek word musterion translated “sacred secret,” the essence of “this mystery” is that Jews and Gentiles would be united in one body, the Body of Christ. This “great mystery” was hidden in Christ before the foundations of the earth. Had Satan known this mystery or great secret, the Scriptures declare that he never would have crucified the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ. The mystery was revealed to the Apostle Paul, as the context of the Verse of the Day indicates.

In Chapter 3 of Ephesians, Paul speaks of the spiritual impact that the Church, the Body of Christ, was designed to demonstrate:

Ephesians 3:10 (New Living Translation)

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

God’s desire is that members of the Body of Christ, both individually and corporately, might know and apprehend more fully the meaning of the mystery of the one body. I express my yearning to understand the riches of the glory of this mystery to a greater degree in this way:

Oh, To See the Mystery

Ephesians 3

 

Enlighten my eyes that I might openly see;

Expand my mind and widen my comprehension

To understand the temple of the mystery.

Teach me to fully comprehend each dimension

And ascertain the magnitude without measure:

Reveal to me the true length,

though it is endless;

Teach me to find the full breadth,

though it is boundless;

Help me to reach the vast height,

though it is measureless;

Teach me to probe the great depth,

though it is fathomless.

 

Show me your divine design for the inner man.

Make plain the purpose, the pattern, the symmetry

Unfolded in the blueprints of your master plan

For the One Body, temple of awesome beauty.

Share with me the value of this priceless treasure,

The riches of the glory of this mystery

Held in the secret places of your good pleasure.

Take my hand and lead me, as you would guide a youth,

A son who lives to explore the depths of your truth.

CampaignKerusso offers a musical composition based on Colossians 1:27:

 

Redeemed by the Kinsman Redeemer

April 24, 2014

KINSMAN REDEEMER

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 1 Peter 1:18-19 KJV

The Verse of the Day for April 24, 2014 brings to mind that as believers we have been redeemed or purchased back from hand of the enemy by the blood of Jesus Christ, who performs the role of a Kinsman Redeemer. This heroic figure is foreshadowed in the Book of Ruth, where a male relative assumes the responsibility to act on behalf of a family member who is in danger or trouble or in need of vindication.

A scripture memory song describes this Old Testament prototype

The Kinsman Redeemer, our wonderful savior.

The Kinsman Redeemer, we know that He is able

To restore and to bless, to turn sadness into joy.

When we read the Word of God and learn the truth,

We see that the Kinsman Redeemer was Boaz who married Ruth.

I recall a series of teachings in which Pastor Michael Bivens discussed the Book of Ruth and some of the lessons to be learned from that amazing love story that reveals the heroic figure of the Kinsman Redeemer. The teachings inspired this poem which the Verse of the Day brought to mind:

“If the truth be told”:  A Lesson from the Book of Ruth

If the truth be told, we were like that Moabite,

Who wanted to stay and then do what was right.

At first she prospered but then ended with much less,

As death and hunger surfaced, causing much distress.

 

For this Gentile widow the future was not bright.

Like Ruth, we also want to be the Lord’s delight

And stay committed at all times and not take flight,

For the Kinsman Redeemer will restore and bless,

If the truth be told.

 

In times of famine when there seems to be no light,

Hope shines on the horizon, though ever so slight.

Some say these are the worst of times, nevertheless,

Our Redeemer transforms trash into loveliness.

Like Ruth, we too must learn to obey day and night,

If the truth be told.

 

The teachings also inspired a second poem:

 

Another Lesson from the Book of Ruth

For whatever was thus written in former days was written

 for our instruction, that by [our steadfast and patient]

endurance and the encouragement [drawn] from the Scriptures

we might hold fast to and cherish hope.

Romans 15:4

                                                                                                                                              

In times of crisis when famine engulfs the land,

Those willing to glean, to sacrifice will survive.

Like Ruth, they shall be satisfied and even thrive

To see blessings flow from the Father’s own right hand.

As a Kinsman Redeemer arose to rescue

Two brave women in despair, Naomi and Ruth,

So their example reveals an eternal truth:

What God did then, He does no less for me and you.

We have Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior,

Who dismisses failures and overlooks each flaw

When he calls us by name and sets the captives free.

Even in the times of famine we will know favor,

For the price of redemption voided penalty

When he redeemed our souls from the curse of the Law.

 

The portrait of the family guardian or kinsman redeemer is vividly dramatized in this excerpt from a production by Kenneth Berg.

Heidi French Lovett offers a musical expression of Jesus our Redeemer:

Tattooed in the palms of God’s hands

April 22, 2014

Isaiah 49 15-16

Without question, tattooing or body art, as some call it, has becoming increasingly popular in recent years. According to nbcnews.com, studies from the American Academy of Dermatology indicate that 24 percent of Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed. Annually Americans spend $1.65 Billion on tattoos, so say statistics.

Among the reasons individuals give for getting tattoos is to honor loved ones, using their name or a verse or some other design as a permanent tribute worn on their bodies. Similarly, in a most unusual manner, God, our Father, not only holds us in the palms of His hands, but the scriptures also reveal that He has tattooed portraits of those whom He loves in the palms of His hands. The Amplified Bible translates Isaiah 49:16 in this manner:

Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands; [O Zion] your walls are continually before Me.

New Living Translation renders the verse this way:

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.

Although tattooing is extremely popular today, what God has done to honor and express His love for His people is unique. Bishop KC Pillai, converted Hindu and Bible teacher, relates a specific Orientalism, a custom or practice from the Eastern sectors of the world, explaining that tattooing is the oriental way of remembering people expressed in Isaiah 49:16:

If you give a present you may lose it, but if you tattoo something on an individual you will never lose it. Therefore, we always remember you. They tattoo all over the arm [in] different places, but never in the palm. . . . No man can engrave on palms, because the area is tender and the needle is hot and hurts too much. It takes time to look for other tattoos, but here in the hand [there is] no time to look, just as open as your palm.

Every time God “does something with His hand,” those whom He loves come to mind, for He remembers everything about them. The Psalmist asks,

What are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? (Psalm 2:8)

In response, God, our Father,  expresses His love and concern for His creation when He engraves our image in the palms of His hands—we are always before Him. Beyond the lyrics of Willie Nelson’s love song, “We are always on His mind.” God tells His beloved just how special we are in a special way.

Selah, in singing the classic hymn “Before the Throne of God above,” makes a reference to Isaiah 49:16 with the line “My name is graven on His hands.”

Final Victory: Death is swallowed up

April 20, 2014

1-corinthians-15 57

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 KJV

The Verse of the Day for April 20, 2014 comes to mind not only on Resurrection Sunday, but the passage also reminds me of remarks that I shared during a memorial service for a church member who passed away a few years ago. I also included verse 54:

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The phrase “swallowed up in victory” brought to mind an illustration that I used during the eulogy. A few years ago as I was walking to the mailbox, I noticed a dead mouse on the sidewalk leading up to our condo. It had probably been deposited by a cat that may have tired of playing “cat and mouse.” When I saw the mouse, I returned and went to the garage to find a broom and small plastic bag, into which I scooped the dead animal before tying the ends of the bag. In the trash receptacle in the garage was a large trash bag from the kitchen, holding the deposits from earlier in the week.

The small rodent about 4 inches long was placed inside the small plastic bag that had been stuffed inside the 13-gallon trash bag that would be tossed into a dumpster that would compress hundreds of similar-sized trash bags, all of which would be taken to a massive landfill encompassing several acres. I could see that in the same way the dead mouse would be “swallowed up” when it eventually found its way to the landfill, even so to an even great degree, “Death is swallowed up (utterly vanquished forever)in and unto victory,” according to the Amplified Bible. I rejoiced as I saw how God illustrated in such a striking manner just how inconsequential death, the last enemy, has become because of Jesus Christ’s triumphant defeat of him “who has the power over death, that is the devil.”

The selected passage from I Corinthians 15 was used as the epigraph or introductory scripture for “Final Victory”, an original blues poem that speaks of “Old Man Crab”, referring to cancer, the dreaded disease that takes its name from the constellation Cancer, portrayed as “the crab.” I was first inspired to compose the poem after my father, Lonnie Johnson, died of complications from cancer in 1996. My mother, Jessie Marie Johnson, survived two bouts with “Old Man Crab” and after another valiant fight, died of cancer in 2002. I revised the poem in 2001 when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the entire poem took on even greater significance.

Final Victory

I Corinthians 15:53-57 & Romans 8:37-39

 

Old man crab is mighty sneaky,

always creepin and up to no good,

Old man crab, is mighty sneaky,

always creepin and up to no good,

That low-down dirty rascal,

Messin with folk all round the neighborhood.

 

One dark day old man crab came callin,

Crawlin in like some uninvited mouse,

One dark day old man crab came callin,

Crawlin in like some uninvited mouse,

That nasty dirty devil,

Sneakin in the back door of my sister’s house.

 

First you first attacked my mama, old man crab,

You tried to pinch her with your greatest fears,

First you first attacked my mama, old man crab,

You tried to pinch her with your greatest fears,

But she didn’t want no she-crab soup,

You tried to served with pain and bitter tears.

 

You may have come to our house, old man crab,

But I’m sorry, you can’t stay.

You may have come to our house, old man crab,

But I’m sorry, you can’t stay.

Whatsonever in the world you may do,

Everyday we still gonna watch, fight, and pray.

 

Nothin’ low down on earth, old man crab,

Or nothin high up in heaven above,

Nothin’ low down on earth, old man crab,

Or nothin high up in heaven above,

Not even death, your creepin pardner,

Can ever separate us from God’s love.

 

So git out my face, old man crab,

I got your number, don’t you see.

So git out my face, old man crab,

I got your number, don’t you see.

You may win this li’l biddy battle,

But we show-nuff got the final victory.

 

Some say our Savior’s comin in the mornin;

Some say in the midnight hour or high noon

Some say our Savior’s comin in the mornin;

Some say in the midnight hour or high noon

I got a feelin He’s comin back

To gather us together soon . . . and very soon.

 

Because of Jesus Christ and mighty triumph over sin, disease, and death, as believers in his resurrection, we have a decidedly different perspective on death. We rejoice, as we anticipate the manifestation of the ultimate triumph over the last enemy when we shall experience the reality of the “Final Victory.”

The closing phrase of the poem is taken from a song performed by Andrae Crouch, along with CeCe Winans and the Gaithers, “Soon and Very Soon.”

Firstfruits: Taking a look

April 19, 2014

1 Corinthians-15-Verse-20

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 KJV

The Verse of the Day for April 19, 2013 with its reference to “firstfruits” brought to mind a journal entry that I made in January of 2004, after having received Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, as a Christmas gift. The book was divided into 40 chapters, each of which was read daily for forty days. There were scripture verses to memorize and journal entries to be made each day as I, the reader, sought to discover “What on earth am I here for?” I made particular entries in my Journal for the Journey in 2004 in response to the “Question to Consider” at the end of each chapter. Here is one such question:

In what area of my life do I need to ask for the Spirit’s power to be like Christ today?

I responded, “. . . I am continually striving to become more Christ-like, not just in what I say but in how I live.” Two poems came to mind as I reflected upon this desire, one of which is entitled “Firstfruits.” The same term is also used in I Corinthians 15:23, the next verse following the Verse of the Day:

But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

Firstfruits

I Corinthians 15:23

James 1:18

Transform and then so fashion my visage

To be like Christ, the brightness of your glory.

In your refiner’s fire melt and mold me,

Cast my being in His express image:

As boldface type printed upon the page,

As a new coin minted in your treasure,

Stamped with the essence of your character

To convey the power of your message.

So saturate my spirit, heart, soul and mind,

Every fiber of my being, each pore;

So permeate my presence that I might find

My true calling as Christ’s ambassador.

More than vessel, vehicle, or instrument,

Like Christ, I am firstfruits of God’s intent.

 

In actuality, “firstfruits” refers to one of the three feasts instituted by God for the Children of Israel to observe when they left Egypt for the Promised. Land. Passover was instituted on Day 14 of Nisan (the first month), the Feast of the Unleaven Bread was to begin the next day, Nisan15, and the Feast of the First Fruits to begin three days following Passover on Nisan 17. They are referred to as one feast.

Firstfruits was a feast of a thanksgiving offering to God for His goodness in providing food from the land for the Israelites, acknowledging that all good things come from God and that everything belongs to God. Giving the firstfruits was also a way of expressing trust in God’s provision; just as He provided the first fruits, so He would provide the rest of the crops that were needed. A firstfruits ceremony is described in detail in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.

Note that the Feast of Firstfruits was instituted when the nation of Israel was still wandering, without land or crops. It was observed in faith that God would lead the people to the land He had promised.

In its most literal sense, firstfruits refers to the “first born” which belonged to God, whether humans or livestock as Exodus 22:29 notes:

You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.

Exodus 34:19 echoes the same pronouncement:

All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep.

Israel was described as the “firstfruits of God’s harvest” (Jeremiah 2:3). Israel was to be a pledge or a token of a greater harvest, inasmuch as she would experience God’s redemption and witness of this redemption to the nations, that they too might come to know the God of Israel.

In a similar manner all believers are especially dedicated to God in the manner of first fruits, as James 1:18 declares,

Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

The recognition of our lives as “firstfruits” remind us that we belong to God. Our Father desires that we know who we are as well as whose we are, recognizing that we are dedicated and set aside for His service.

Steve McConnell provides a musical offering “Firstfruits.”