“[This] was the answer of God to the world which nailed Christ to the cross: blessing. God does not repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person. No condemning, no railing, but blessing. The world would have not hope if this were not so. The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and of the righteous person. Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world which causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come upon you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word
Just a little reminder of your position and inheritance:
Your past is swallowed up by what Jesus did in the past on the Cross; your present is lived in His presence because He rose - He's alive!; and your future is to spend all eternity with the One who's presently sitting on the throne, loving you, empowering you, being your living hope.
No aspect of your human experience is untouched by His love. No aspect of this particular day is unknown to Him; He is with you.
From Luke 12, with some Unionist notes in italics -
And then, turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them, “Notice that, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form.” Because of the usage of the Greek conjunction δὲ, the Phillips’ translation has chosen to make these next comments an aside “to the disciples.” And I like that. I like how we can see Jesus turning to His friends and saying, “Notice that”; how He is teaching them on the fly to discern between spirit and flesh… "For a man’s real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.” Now there’s a statement! Jesus literally takes our biggest societal demarcation off the table: “In no way” is our life defined by this definition we’re most forced to live under! (And just in case we’d think He’s speaking only in the context of the day He inhabited, He then gives this utterly applicable parable to pull out the rug again…)
Then he gave them a parable in these words, “Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?’” This is this man’s personal moment of decision. Out of his surplus, now what? He already possesses barns that handled previous crops that already allowed him to become a “rich man,” after all! Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods and I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’ So, to recap, this man has had a surplus, pauses to reflect on possible next actions and, lo and behold, lands on actions that are entirely self-directed. Perfect! So let’s see how a long-view self-serving financial mindset is received by His God… But God said to him, ‘You fool (Uh oh!) this very night you will be asked for your soul! (Wow!) Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’” Probably not something our rich barn-building friend was considering when he’d made his plans! And that’s actually what’s so interesting in this parable: The man never did anything but “make plans,” did he? He doesn’t actually “pull down his barns and build bigger ones”; God speaks before he’d even have the chance! It’s the reality of His moment-to-moment use of this particular day that determines how he was viewed in this parable… “That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned.” Jesus puts us on our heels by roundly criticizing so much of our present system of personal financial insulation and bet-hedging against future scenarios. Then, as He loves to do, He’ll give us a heavenly juxtaposition. Now He’ll tell us exactly how He’d have us lives our lives with relation to our money and possessions. The next twelve verses are the totality of His financial principles for His followers:
And then he added to the disciples, “That is why I tell you, don’t worry about life, wondering what you are going to eat. And stop bothering about what clothes you will need. Life is much more important than food, and the body more important than clothes. Think of the ravens. They neither sow nor reap, and they have neither store nor barn, but God feeds them. And how much more valuable do you think you are than birds? Can any of you make himself an inch taller however much he worries about it? And if you can’t manage a little thing like this, why do you worry about anything else? Think of the wild flowers, and how they neither work nor weave. Yet I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass, which flowers in the field today and is burnt in the stove tomorrow, is he not much more likely to clothe you, you little-faiths? You must not set your heart on what you eat or drink, nor must you live in a state of anxiety. The whole heathen world is busy about getting food and drink, and your Father knows well enough that you need such things. No, set your heart on his kingdom, and your food and drink will come as a matter of course.”
Ah, Jesus. Please teach us to live these words today!
You'll often hear people talking about the "patience" of Jesus during His ministry years, how "approachable" He was by anyone and everyone. But it strikes me that His ministry came not from His own clever plans for each day; that there was no plan; that it happened because of each person's approach.
In essence, other people planned Jesus' days, Jesus' ministry years, by simply coming to Him... and He seemed to have absolutely loved that rhythm. What a reminder - for our own approaches and for our ministering in His name!
From John 21's scene on the beach, between Jesus and Peter:
Then Jesus said to him, “You must follow me.”
Then Peter turned round and noticed the disciple whom Jesus loved following behind them. (He was the one who had his head on Jesus’ shoulder at supper and had asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So he said, “Yes, Lord, but what about him?”
“If it is my wish,” returned Jesus, “for him to stay until I come, is that your business, Peter? You must follow me.”
* * * * *
"There is no more subtle temptation than to wait with what God calls us to do till we are first informed what others are to do, or what God is to do with the rest of the world. We may safely leave to Him who is ruler of all, the All-wise, what will come of obedience to His commands. To every question, And what shall this man do? Christ's answer is, What is that to thee? Follow thou Me. If we are disciples of Christ, each one of us must seek to have as much of His Spirit as can be. If we are to be led by Him in the new and living way, to live with Him in the Holiest of All, we must, like Him, live here as pilgrims and strangers."
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
People often talk about "the end justifying the means," where the "means" are a series of actions and resolves that have resulted in whatever "end" they happen to be considering. But our "End" is a Person who literally justified our approach to Him; our "means" are now meant to be His own perfect actions and resolves. To be called by Jesus, then to be saved by Jesus, means walking with Jesus, means necessarily to begin to walk like Jesus. The interconnection of elements is supposed to be a thing of awe, of glory.
Acts 2:43-47 - "Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation."
"For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord’s name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word “blessed!” You have heard of Job’s patient endurance and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men." James 5:10,11
That's probably the most casual reference to the sufferings of Job in all the scriptures: "You've heard about Job, right? See, that worked out..."
But, seriously, as we read through both these verses, as we consider the Greek subject-words in all three sentences - "suffering," "patience," "blessed," "endured," "endurance," "outcome," "full of tender mercy" and "compassionate" - we have to remember two important things:
1. The unbelievable, real-time pressure James' original readers were under because of Jesus, because of belief in Him
2. The fact that we are now pretty soft
For us - and let's be honest! - much of what we often call "suffering" is just things not going our way. (And, please, understand me: I'm well aware that many of us have dealt with tragedy before; that we've seen our share of true suffering.) But "things not going my way" was certainly not what James' readers were thinking when they read these words...
Many of those people would live the remainder of their lives, after meeting Jesus, with the strong possibility of death-for-Him hanging over every day of their daily experience. They woke like that; worked like that; raised children like that; had friendships like that; and, most importantly, worshipped like that. And so, in the midst of their sufferings, in the midst of our oftentimes pseudo-sufferings, what is James saying to keep our hearts and minds trained upon?
In the Greek, the "tender mercy" and "compassion" of his brother, Jesus.
We are to keep those attributes right in front of our face, like, "I know He's merciful; I know He's compassionate; so I know I can trust Him to the end."
“He ‘breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”’ (John 20:22). This was the beginning of Pentecost, but not its fullness. It is from the lips of Jesus that we must ever receive the fullness of the Comforter, even as His very breath. He waits to breathe on each of us, as often as He touches us, the fresh anointing of the very same Spirit who dwelt in Him and who comes to us colored, softened, sweetened by His indwelling in the blessed Jesus and as the very Spirit of Jesus. This is our power, and this power we must receive by appropriating faith.”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
Focusing solely on our own personal holiness very rarely draws others to Jesus. It's the joy, the peace, the hope, the love - the otherworldly fruits welling up and out of us - that are the most attractive parts of this New Life in Him.
Let us abide and produce and attract, in His own manner, today!
Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God’s enemy. Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? (James 4:4b,5a)
Which begs the question: What would that latter question have meant to James' original readers, given that the New Testament didn't, at this time, exist? Well, consider some of the Old Testament context to which, perhaps, James was pointing their minds:
That's the War He's still fighting in and through us today. Let us march out under His orders only.
The Pharisees came up to him in a body, and one of them, an expert in the Law, put this test-question: “Master, what are we to consider the Law’s greatest commandment?”
Jesus answered him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And there is a second like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34b-40
* * * * *
“There are people who think that the two commandments of Jesus are somehow a watering-down of the ten commandments of Moses. If they think that, then they plainly have not tried the way of Christ, which is the way of love. If we follow that way seriously, we shall find it far surpasses the demands of Moses’ Law. The ten commandments may produce law-abiding people, but the Law of Christ produces sons and daughters of God.”
J.B. Phillips, Good News
“If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, carry his cross every day and keep close behind me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it, but the man who loses his life for my sake will save it..." Luke 9:23,24
* * * * *
"With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers and sisters, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity." Romans 12:1,2
* * * * *
“Everyone has to give up a great deal of life to live anything deeply. But it’s worth it.”
John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers
"If you obey the royal law, expressed by the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' all is well..." James 2:8
And here's one quick thought on this version of the Golden Rule, a basic pattern to remember. When you're trying to follow it, to literally "love your neighbor as yourself," and "do unto them as you would have them do unto you," the first step is not to think of yourself: not to think, "Let's see, I like to pamper myself and love myself and so now I'm going to pamper and love you like that..."
No! First, observe the other person with love and curiosity about what would make them feel loved and, in the spirit of Jesus, and now outside of yourself, you will begin to love the other person with a first-handedness that is how you yourself want to be loved.
I've shared this quote here before, but I love the old writer Henry Scougall's words, "Perfect love is a kind of self-dereliction, a wandering out of ourselves..."
Let's you and I become great wanderers of that sort, my friends! Especially at Christmas, as we seek to prove the Incarnation with our lives!
“Thus I stretch out my arms to my Savior, who, after being foretold for four thousand years, came on earth to die and suffer for me at the time and in the circumstances foretold. By his grace I peaceably await death, in the hope of being eternally united to him, and meanwhile I live joyfully, whether in the blessings which he is pleased to bestow on me or in the afflictions he sends me for my own good and taught me how to endure by example." (Blaise Pascal, Pensees)
"Yes, and I shall go on being very happy, for I know that what is happening will be for the good of my own soul, thanks to your prayers and the resources of the spirit of Jesus Christ. It all accords with my own earnest wishes and hopes, which are that I should never be in any way ashamed, but that now, as always, I should honor Christ with the utmost boldness by the way I live, whether that means I am to face death or to go on living. For living to me means simply 'Christ,' and if I die I should merely gain more of him." (Philippians 1:18b-21)
"Now what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he 'has faith' if his actions do not correspond with it? Could that sort of faith save anyone’s soul?" (James 2:14)
And without reading any further into the famous "faith & works" section of James' letter, we have to stop right there, because THAT'S THE WHOLE QUESTION FOR US. The question of faith and works has everything to do with what we believe really happens because of "faith" at the level of the individual soul. Or let me put it to you this way: There was a real living person named Jesus, a man from Nazareth in Israel, who lived 2,000 years ago, in the midst of the Roman Empire.
Now what does that have to do with your soul?
(Insert you and I having coffee or talking on the phone this week, right here, because I'd really like to hear you answer that question.)
I think the reason we get into so many arguments and confusions about the "faith & works" question is because we don't really know what we actually believe about "faith." The true Christian faith - at least the one the first believers lived and died for - is that repentance and belief lead not only to salvation, but also to Jesus now living His life inside of you. And imagine questioning whether Jesus Himself would be able to show works and actions like... Himself! I truly dare us to have His presence inside us and to try and stop Him!
Really, the "faith & works" question should be a moot point for us, if we really believe the things we say we believe about Jesus, our soul, and the work of the Holy Spirit. (And I'd encourage you to read the rest of James 2 through the lens of His indwelling: it changes the whole scope of the argument entirely.)
As Jesus went on his way, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at his desk in the tax office and he said to him, “Follow me!” Levi got up and followed him. Later, when Jesus was sitting at dinner in Levi’s house, a large number of tax-collectors and disreputable folk came in and joined him and his disciples. For there were many such people among his followers. When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eating in the company of tax-collectors and outsiders, they remarked to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:14-16)
It occurs to me that it never occurred to Jesus not to eat with the tax-collectors and sinners and disreputable folk. He didn't ever even seem to have a second thought about it. Nor was this some "ministry strategy." His actions were ever and always the most natural inclinations of His heart and will: this is the actual heart of God on display. And thank you, Jesus, for that Kingdom of Heaven reality!
The Calling of St. Matthew, Caravaggio
Here's the opening of John 9 (specifically verses 1-5) with some interspersed notes in italics:
Later, as Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been blind from birth... And let’s take a moment to understand what that fully would've meant for this man. At his birth, there would’ve been great rejoicing in his parents’ hearts over the arrival of a son, an heir, and then there would’ve been an equal measure of exactly the opposite when it was realized that this boy couldn’t see. In that culture, as is evidenced by the disciples’ immediate question of Jesus (see below), blindness was seen as a mark against the family and the individual. Even in the Levitical laws, a blind priest was purposefully kept away from the service – it was literally called a “defect.”
Imagine that life. Imagine this man growing up under that cloud and in the darkness of both his blindness and the surrounding cultural stigma. Unable to attend any school and properly learn, he is now sitting near the Temple of Jerusalem, doing the only thing that’s available to him – begging of passersby. He has woken to this day without hope, without standing, without any form of mercy other that the few coins that perhaps will clink in his cup today.
He has no expectation of a visit from God Himself.
“Master, whose sin caused this man’s blindness,” asked the disciples, “his own or his parents’?” A question that our blind friend was probably not unused to hearing. Jesus’ response, however, would’ve had him leaning in…
“He was not born blind because of his own sin or that of his parents,” returned Jesus, “but to show the power of God at work in him. We must carry on the work of him who sent me while the daylight lasts. Night is coming, when no one can work. I am the world’s light as long as I am in it.” May I stop us right here and put a challenging idea in front of you? When we look at these statements of Jesus from outside of them, as readers, not first-hand hearers, I think we should hear His words from a blended vantage-point, as both His disciples and the blind man. We are people who ourselves often struggle situationally - whether they’re huge struggles or little day-to-day challenges - and we are the ones tasked with “carrying on the work of him who sent Jesus.” So, on any given day, as living embodiments of both components of this account - the disciple and the blind man - what should be our first thought whenever we’re confronted with any sort of hardship? Jesus’ words: “He was not [insert your personal struggle here] because of sin, but to show the power of God at work in him.” It reminds me of John the Baptist’s words back in John Chapter 3: “A man can receive nothing at all unless it is given him from heaven.”
But this gets even better!
The word John has Jesus using here for “show the power of God” means, yes, to “make manifest,” but it also can mean “to make famous.” My friends, every challenge, every struggle, every hardship has the possibility – contains the opportunity – to make Jesus famous as we allow Him to do His work! Can we learn to trust Him that way? Do you believe it’s true that even your hardships can give Him great glory?
Oh, may it be so today!
Just this morning, I was reading through Romans 5 and relishing how Paul describes our freedom from the Old and our complete, joyous inheritance of the New through Jesus. And reading the latter half of the chapter, I started realizing the degree to which he was using point- and counter-point analysis to show us what's now ours.
Below, for your reading pleasure are his phrase-by-phrase juxtapositions from Romans 5:15-21. I found it helpful to see it broken out by columns...
This is the story of how good our life in Jesus really is! Let's relish it, and Him, today!
"It is through the Son, at the cost of his own blood, that we are redeemed, freely forgiven through that full and generous grace which has overflowed into our lives and opened our eyes to the truth. For God had allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: he purposes in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in him. And here is the staggering thing — that in all which will one day belong to him we have been promised a share (since we were long ago destined for this by the one who achieves his purposes by his sovereign will), so that we, as the first to put our confidence in Christ, may bring praise to his glory!" Ephesians 1:7-12
"Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11
Isn't it interesting that our life in Jesus is the juxtaposition of these two elements: inestimable inheritance and complete cost? Yet what a beautiful, impossible balance it creates within us: our only hope to live it rightly will be He Himself!
Then on the same day (Easter) we find two of them going off to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they went they were deep in conversation about everything that had happened. While they were absorbed in their serious talk and discussion, Jesus himself approached and walked along with them, but something prevented them from recognizing him. Then he spoke to them, “What is all this discussion that you are having on your walk?” (Luke 24:13-17)
Before Jesus can take over our lives, it seems to me that we must let him overtake our lives. I pray that my and your "Today," every minute of this particular day, may be a personal experience of the road to Emmaus.
Let's keep an eye out, my friends! For here He comes - risen and alive!
"The gospel provides, among other things, two utter necessities for human living: a static norm and a progressive ideal. In presenting the character of Christ, fixed in history, it provides an anchoring place for our minds and keeps them from going adrift in every passing wind of modern speculation and tendency. But it goes further: in its teaching concerning the Holy Spirit it provides a progressive dynamic that is capable of infinite adaptation to a growing life. The Spirit ‘guides us into all truth.’ Hence the Spirit is forever unfolding what was infolded in the person of Christ and is forever applying it to changing conditions. The gospel has, therefore, about it a sense of newness, of surprise, of eternal freshness. He who lives under the sway of the Spirit lives under a perpetual dawn. A surprise awaits him around every corner. Vistas open everywhere. He knows in the inmost depths of his being that what he has cannot be outgrown, for he knows that he possesses, not a set of dead truths, but the very Spirit of truth. The gospel will, therefore, never be out-known nor out-grown. The Spirit is its principle and power of rejuvenation.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
"Do not be swept off your feet by various peculiar teachings. Spiritual stability depends on the grace of God, and not on rules of diet — which after all have not spiritually benefited those who have made a speciality of that kind of thing. We have an Altar from which those who still serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. When the blood of animals was presented as a sin-offering by the High Priest in the sanctuary, their bodies were burned outside the precincts of the camp. That is why Jesus, when he sanctified men by the shedding of his own blood, suffered and died outside the city gates. Let us go out to him, then, beyond the boundaries of the camp, proudly bearing his 'disgrace.'" Hebrews 13:9-13
Like so much of what we've seen throughout Hebrews, these few verses have hidden deep depths of goodness and richness for us to enjoy. There's also a kind of rhetorical elegance here. Have any of you ever heard the term "chiasmus" before? It's a figure of speech that turns in on itself in the arrangement A-B-B-A; the most famous example of which is probably JFK's, "Ask not what your country (A) can do for you (B), ask what you (B) can do for your country(A)." These kind of expressions stick with us because they tend to pull us in, and sort of enwrap us in their logic...
That's what happening here in Hebrews 13:9-13. As it now pertains to the priesthood of believers over against the old Hebraic systems of the priests:
"Grace is not to be found through our food and our location, it is by His food and His location that we are invited into His grace."
In the Old Covenant, the priests sought and maintained grace by the careful keeping of meal and meat offerings in the cloistered confines of holy sequestered spaces not open to the common man. In the New Covenant, by feasting upon Jesus, by going outside the religious camp, we encounter His grace, even while "sharing in his disgrace," and show His availability to everyone we meet.
That's why - all along - the writer of Hebrews has been saying, "Don't let the Way of Jesus get under its own systems" - because that had been Judaism and it was no longer the way. The engine of this thing is now the Holy Spirit and He is miles ahead of our best human-religious systems and plans. All this happens outside of safe churchly spaces and at the pace of the Spirit, not our pace. And may we never forget that!
“In the course of our Lord’s interactions with His disciples on earth He spared no pains to teach and train them, to renew and sanctify them. In most respects, however, they remained just what they were. The reason was that up to this point He was ever still nothing more than an external Christ who stood outside of them and from without sought to work upon them by His word and His personal influence. With the advent of Pentecost this condition was entirely changed. In the Holy Spirit He came down as the inward, indwelling Christ, to become in the very innermost recesses of their being the life of their life. This is what He Himself had promised in the words: 'I will not leave you orphans: I will come unto you. In that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.' This was the source of all the other blessings that came with Pentecost. Jesus Christ, the Crucified, the Glorified, the Lord from heaven, came in spiritual power, by the Spirit, to impart to them that ever-abiding presence of their Lord that had been promised to them; and that indeed in a way that was at once most intimate, all powerful, and wholly divine: by the indwelling which makes Him in truth their life (1 John xiv. 18, 20). Him whom they had had in the flesh, living with them on earth, they now received by the Spirit in His heavenly glory within them. Instead of an outward Jesus near them, they now obtained the inward Jesus within them.”
Andrew Murray, The Full Blessing of Pentecost
As a consequence of [hearing Jesus talk about His flesh and blood being real food and drink], many of his disciples withdrew and no longer followed him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “And are you too wanting to go away?”
“Lord,” answered Simon Peter, “who else should we go to? You have the words of eternal life! And we believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.” (John 6:66-69)
Are all three parts of Peter’s confession here your confession?
1) “Lord, who else should we go to?” – Having lived, having struggled, having succeeded, having tasted what the world has to offer, have you become firmly convinced that there is no other safe-harbor for your heart and soul but this Jesus? The reality: Until we actually know this to be the truth, we will always continue to dabble with other destinations.
2) “You have the words of eternal life!” – Is that how sweet they are to you? Do you feel fabulously rich because you hold in your hands and actually possess His words and His Word? Do you know that every utterance of His lips imparts life: is life? Just consider some of the joy the Psalmists experienced as they gloried in both knowing and holding the words of our God: