All in All

A random search of any database of writings such as my digital Bible resource library, will show that authors use the phrase “all in all” to mean “everything considered.” We might say, “Everything considered, the trip to the doctor was a relief.” And of course, there is a great deal of meaning behind that comment when we make it. “The diagnosis may not have been all we wanted; but all-in-all, it could have been a lot worse considering the test results.” This is the way we use the phrase “all in all.” 

Most of the time the phrase as it appears in the Bible is used this way; but in other cases, it has a special meaning with reference to God. The apostle Paul uses it to answer the question, “How much will be under God’s rule when everything is said and done?” How much will be subjected to God? The answer is everything. After the final judgement everything will be subject to Jesus and then the saving work of Jesus will be complete, and he will return from the campaign to the throne room with God. This is what it means when Paul writes that Jesus “Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him.” (1 Corinthians 15:28)

There is a lesson here on how to think about the negatives that we experience in life. We Christ-followers can reframe our negative experiences into God’s ultimate category of “all in all”. We can do this in advance — without waiting until we get to heaven. With Romans 8:28 in mind we can acknowledge that there is just one real category. There are no positives and negatives. God has only one category: “all in all”. When the calculations are all in and the sum total is finally clear, the math will not show a positive or negative integer. It will be labeled “all in all” because all (the total) will be “in all” — that is, in the category of all that has been submitted to God. 

So when I have a negative experience, it is not ultimately negative. It will go in the plus column instead of the negative column. God will work it out for good according to his purposes for me as I live out his call on my life. When Joseph didn’t know where to look next when his father Jacob had sent him out to check on his brothers, he might have given up and returned home, thus avoiding being sold by his brothers as a slave to a caravan headed for Egypt. Instead, he met a guy who knew where the brothers had gone, and he did find them (Genesis 37:15). He might have said to himself, “What a piece of good luck! “But then when he was thrown into the pit by his brothers, he might have changed that and said, “What a piece of bad luck!” 

Things are confusing that way. We don’t know how to categorize our experience. We cannot see far enough into the future to know how things might turn out. But God not only sees into the future, He channels both negatively and positively perceived experiences into one stream. That stream is called the “all in all.”  By faith we can dissolve the artificial categories, avoid any unnecessary unhappiness associated with the negative, and find joy in the all-in-all.  

1 Corinthians 15:28 & Romans 8:28. 

Stephen Williams 9/29/2023

Infant Peter —Rising and Sinking, Sinking and Rising

Jesus is very gentle in his leading. As master, his lordship is patient and filled with kindness. We are much harder on the followers of Jesus than the Lord himself. We are hard on Peter. We are much harder on ourselves as a follower of Jesus than Jesus is hard on us. He does place an unimaginable demand on us; but he then treats us like lambs or infants. 

Take Peter walking on the water for an example. Take Peter falling into the water. Hear Jesus speaking over Peter’s sea-soaked head, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 12:31). At the same time, he is saying this, he is lifting Peter out of the water with his helping hand — at the same time! This echoes what he said to everyone listening to the Sermon on the Mount, “And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? (Matthew 6:30). We do not hear these words about anxiety in Matthew 6 (verses 25-34) as harsh rebuke. We hear them issued in kindness. We hear them — almost — as if they are whispered — whispered into our worried thoughts — issued in kindness. 

These words of Jesus to Peter echo what he said later when the disciples were arguing, “You have so little faith. Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread?” (Matthew 16:8). Don’t you get it yet? Remember the 5000 eating manna in the form of fishes and loaves. We are small children and we do not get it until we have heard it many times and it has had time to sink in. 

We are too hard on Peter when he doubts and sinks like one of the million stones paving the floor of the Sea of Galilee. We will realize this if we just take notice that there is a ship full of disciples still sitting in the boat — not out there with Peter walking on the water. While those disciples have not stepped into violent wind and forceful waves, those disciples are following Jesus, too. He had commanded them all just a short time before the howling wind and crashing waves to get on this boat and go to the other side of the sea (Matthew 12:22). He compelled them to hours of wearisome rowing against waters coming against them like bulldozers. They were following Jesus on the water when they were sitting in the ship on the stormy sea. When they saw the man walk through the rising midst they were terrified. They thought it was a ghost. But Jesus said to them all, “Take courage, do not be afraid. It is I.” Jesus was using the words that would remind them of what Moses heard when God confided his own personal name: “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). 

But Peter was wanting more. He was as safe as the others sitting in the boat; but he was ready for more. He was willing to express a little more faith. He asked, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus is so gentle with us as followers. He waits for our willingness; and he does not condemn anyone sitting in the boat. He does not condemn Peter. These are not condemning words. They are no more condemning than Jesus’ words about worry in the Sermon on the Mount. That are challenging words. They are are words that offer us much much more than we have. But they are words swaddled in patience and in love. They are words that wait to be met on the water of the sea in the daring willingness that comes with aging of spirit and maturity of faith. Jesus is as caring of Peter as he is the disciples still sitting in the ship. 

On another day he will say to all the disciples when they are arguing over bread, “You have so little faith!”; but it is Peter who is the one on that not-too-distant day who declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this [sinking—rising] rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:16-17). The disciples in the boat are OK. They are following Jesus on the water. Peter in the boat is OK. Peter on the water is OK. He is following Jesus when walking on the water — faltering and sinking — as we do when we follow Jesus into new and exhilarating spiritual experiences. And Jesus says lovingly to us in our faltering faith and fearing the storm, “Take courage, do not be afraid. It is I.” And Jesus says lovingly to us in our water-walking but still faltering faith, “Take courage, do not be afraid. It is I.”     

So then — ask Peter’s question. It is a prayerful request in the form of a sentence. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Then listen to his bidding. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And don’t worry about sinking. Jesus is ready to take your hand and pull you up until you learn how to walk. 

Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25). 

W. Stephen Williams.  © All rights reserved 7/10/2023

The Book of Daniel and the Last Days

I have just finished reading Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary on Daniel in the “The Bible Speaks Today” series. It is a very inspirational read. In the last chapter of the commentary, Davis asks the question:

“Will the people of God endure when evil does its worst? Will they endure to the end, in the very last and most severe period of suffering? The answer is positive, because of what we have or will be given.”

Really, history gives us the series of trials that are meant to show all the worst that Satan and mankind bring to bear on God’s people and this will increasingly continue to be the case until the very end of this last age. And in Daniel and the New Testament, the faithful who endure until the end are not focused on the personal rewards of “the good life” as the world sees it — a life consisting of things going one’s way, good health, a large and close family, a lucrative profession, and plenty of money in reserve — that is, God’s people are not looking for personal benefit; but they are following God because they love God and because of how Jesus has demonstrated and presently expresses that love to us. Part of the reason Gabriel came to Daniel in Daniel 9:23 was to tell him that he “is deeply loved.” Davis was keen to bring this point out and to elaborate on how much it cost Daniel to do his part in bringing us the word from God that shows that love. It occurs to me then, that the end-times scenario in the book of Daniel is previously pictured for us in the life of Job who was tested to see if this kind of disinterested discipleship — disinterested in personal gain — is really the motivation for his faith. And then when it is in fact pure in its motivation, God affirms and restores Job out of his love. 

“Then Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’” (Job 1:9-10)

Job passes the test. At the end God addresses Job’s “comforters” with an affirmation of Job, “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God says this twice (see 42:7-8) as if to make sure that the four comforters (and us) do not miss it.

In the next to the last chapter of Daniel we have an unnamed king who is worse than any before mentioned in the book of Daniel. This king is the epitome of what to expect at the very end of time. If we were to live into the last of the days of history we will indeed get the chance to show how sincere our faith really is. And it will be the kind of trying time that matches those described in the sobering visions of Daniel. 

W. Stephen Williams

© June 12, 2023 All Wrights Reserved

The Doctor’s Court Room

When illness strikes, we find ourselves in the doctor’s court room and we are the expert witness. In the interrogation, we present all the information we have on what we know better than anyone else: how we feel, where it hurts, what has changed in our health, and so on… and so on… and on… and on. John Donne captured the image in the following sentence from his journal. 

“Arraigned in these fetters, I have presented my evidence, as if dissecting my own anatomy for a court trial, now the doctors deliberate on my fate” (A Companion Crises: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions by Philip Yancey).  

The humor — or horror — whichever it is, cannot be missed. The irony of it is in the question, “Who is the expert in this little story of life?” The doctor? The patient? Somebody else?

In the incident that took place one day in Jesus’ life, a woman approached him and touched the hymn of his garment believing she would be healed (Mark 5:25f). She was! The interview followed and all the questions asked were answered and all the evidence was presented. When the trial was over, it was confirmed and the truth was clear to the jury. There are many experts that influence the way our days play out; but in the end, the expert of experts is the one who has our fate in his hands. His name is Jesus.

By W. Stephen Williams © August 31, 2022

What a King!

John Donne was “lead pastor” (the title was “dean” in 17th century London) of St Paul’s Cathedral during the devastating bubonic plague that kept funeral bells tolling. Later in life, he himself fell into a life threatening illness. During this time on his sickbed, in his prayer journal, in one of the devotions, he offered thanksgiving for his king — the king of England. The act of kindness by his king that brought him to offer this thanks to God in prayer was that the king had sent his personal physician to care for Donne. But the devotion praises this thoughtful king for two acts of kindness. The first was the sending of the physician — “when he can’t heal with his own hands, he sends the gift of his physician” (A Companion in Crises p56).  The second act of kindness on John Donne’s mind was a much deeper rooted act of kindness — an act that had a taproot that was buried into the very center of his heart. 

This is Donne’s prayer to God about his king. “Before anyone else, he saw potential that I might be of use in Your church, and hinted, persuaded, and nearly ordered me to embrace that calling. You, who put that desire into his heart, also put into mine an obedience to his call. At a time when I was sick with dizzy indecision, it was this man of God (this king) who set me straight.” John goes on to pray, “Not only has he sent a physician for my bodily health, he has sent a physician for my spiritual health.”

What a king! This king gives us a reflection of our King Jesus (Revelation 19:16). Jesus is truly king — a king with all power. He has nothing to compel him to love me. But, not only has he sent a physician to meet my material needs, he has sent a physician to minister to my soul. King Jesus offers the same thoughtful kindness to you as well.

Donne’s devotion reflects on the limitations of his king. His king was susceptible to sickness. His king was susceptible to death. His king’s hands were limited on how much help they could offer. But our King’s hands are not! Our King’s hands are more than capable of bringing both our physical needs into His purposes (Romans 8:28) and our spiritual welfare into a perfect state of deliverance. Nothing is impossible!” 

By W. Stephen Williams © August 29, 2022

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

“The gracious king has sent me his own physician” (A Companion Crises: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions by Philip Yancey)

Practice Humility

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” James 4:10 (NLT)

Yes, we are to practice humility; but it simply must be true. It can not be false humility. False humility is for show. They say, “ Nothing is done in secret.” But, if you think there is any way — when you can choose — do what you do graciously and do it as if hiding in a field of purple sage. Let the aroma of the flower have the floor. Do not take the stage. Do it as if crouching behind the door. Do not enter but release the treasure which will announce itself with its own power and pleasure. The gift will adorn your soul in secret (Matthew 6:4) like apples of gold on platters of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

Your mind will go crazy with justifications for doing it the public way. It will question you, “What does it matter?” If you take that option, your brain will push out like a man bearing his big chest and flexing his muscles; but it will just as rapidly deflate and the air will escape. The mind has its own scheme. It will object, “If I hide it, but hide it for reward it matters not!” As the mind fills with its irrefutable logic, the disciplined way of humility will crown you with grace if you dispute that glittering project. The shinning logic will grace you with a garland; but the sensation is fleeting. It’s green will wither. The vine will dry like dust. While the gracious gift given, wrapped and tied with the ribbon of humility, will expand the size of your heart eternally and in the intimate company of God you will share its beauty.

By W. Stephen Williams © 8/26/2022

Equally Situated

“Those we esteem express their likeness to God better in their humility than in their highness.” (p 55, A Companion in Crisis: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions paraphrased by Philip Yancey.)

Donne is reflecting on how vulnerable a king is to the threat of sickness. Of course John Donne was surrounded by the persistent and truly devastating pandemic that belonged to his time. His refection comes from his own personal sickbed. Since everyone is equally situated in the same pool of vulnerabilities, then “highness” is such a tenuous position to happen to have. We are vulnerable to all kinds of weakness. Humility must be the most secure place we can hope to be. Thanks be unto God that He treasures humility as His home-place with a fire blazing with His bright and warm presence. 

Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” NASB

by Stephen Williams © 8/25/2022

Hope is like…

The Lord has already graciously blessed me with the sermon for Sunday. Sometimes it takes all week and I am still struggling with the scripture text. The heart is so warm when God opens the ears of our soul to his tender voice and this is especially true when he opens a floodgate and releases eternal hope. Hope is like a rest that comes without the need of sleep. Hope is like cold water that comes without the need for quenching. Hope is like the rescue that is long in coming but comes in a way you would have never guessed it would. 

“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost!” Isaiah 55:1

Sounds of Summer

The chickadee sings over sunflower seed. The cicada flexes its “tymbal” for the sake of its descendant. The dove calls for its lifelong mate. The hummingbird buzzes and wars to be dominant. The wasp is swooshing down to carve pulp for its massive place. The dragonfly hovers to consume mosquitos in mass. The cricket strikes its musical legs — sawing forth in resonance. 

The sounds of summer are prone to stir. Its lazy days take us back into time. The hazy days of childhood summers come to mind. Time to daydream about late seasons of life when the summer sounds tend to time-travel us back — thoughts flowing like sound waves —  pushing air onto air across tall oceans of grass that bend back and forth greeting us or bidding us goodby. 

The cicada nymph hides for seventeen years  — burrowing through its grave as if buried alive. It emerges through its metamorphosis with just six months to live; and I delve through summer days — plenty — into my resurrection on to infinity. 

By Stephen Williams, August 13, 2022 © all rights reserved

1 Peter 1:23–25 (NASB): “…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,  “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.”

Morning Song

I heave my worries, imprisoned in my prayers — resistant, reticent, rebellious — onto the morning like a blight. Twenty blackbirds are holding vigil with me as a choir of songbirds sing. One takes flight and its path flees any known hindrance. The mind of a bird is as free as its will to fly. She just finds herself flying. There is no consternation, no concentration, no thoughts contradicting. With slippery ease, she slips into the sky with no notice of gravity pulling downward. No strain. No acknowledgment of pain. No question of successful upward gain. In her wake, all hazards wane. 

Written by Stephen Williams on July 30, 2022 (c) all rights reserved

I will remember my song in the night; 

I will meditate with my heart, 

And my spirit ponders

Psalm 77:6 (NASB 2020):