From Joshua 3's preparations for crossing the Jordan, with some notes in italics -
After three days, the officers went through the middle of the camp; and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of Yahweh your God’s covenant, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then leave your place, and follow it.” As many as 2 million people will then rise suddenly, grab their personal belongings, assemble their families, and physically follow the representatives and the representation of the way of the (Old) Covenant. You and I are called to rise each day, abandon our belongings and Self, lead the way for our families, and physically follow the One who is Himself the Way of the New Covenant.
“Yet there shall be a space between you and the ark, about two thousand cubits by measure. Don’t come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go; for you have not passed this way before.” And, here, it’s impossible for me to overstate how much there’s NOT a “space between” you and Jesus as you’ll follow Him with your day today! Perhaps that perception is the greatest pitfall in the Modern Church. We individually exist as if we’re following a distant external deity named Jesus; we try to “walk with Him” as if we’re separated by more than 2,000 cubits – in fact, by 2,000 years.
Wrong and wrong.
The purpose of Jesus’ Ascension was that, by taking the throne at the right hand of the Father, He might bestow on us – within us – the promised Holy Spirit and, by that Spirit, He Himself. Our opportunity now – that glorious truth we call “Abiding in Him” (John 15) – is well described if we’ll only slightly change Joshua’s officers’ words to the assembled Israelites:
“Yet there shall be no space between you and Me; I will actually live within you. Come near to Me; that you may know the way of the One who is the Way; for I have already passed this way before.”
"I beg you, as those whom I love, to live in this world as strangers and “temporary residents”, to keep clear of the desires of your lower natures, for they are always at war with your souls. Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always be good and right, so that although they may in the usual way slander you as evil-doers yet when disasters come, they may glorify God when they see how well you conduct yourselves." 1 Peter 2:11,12
To get to the crux of these two verses, we have to go back to one word in the first sentence - in the Greek, ὡς: "as" - "Beloved, I exhort you as strangers and exiles..."
I think we think that, as followers of Jesus, we have to actively withdraw from the world, ie. make ourselves as if strangers and exiles. But Peter is saying, no, as followers of Jesus, you are already strangers and exiles: you already don't quite belong.
But where do we not belong?
Well, obviously, amidst the broken ways of the world, amidst its "slanders" and absurdities. But where else? Amidst "the desires of your lower natures," ie. in the way of the flesh within: we are exiled from even part of ourselves.
That is at the heart of what Jesus meant when He said to His friends: "It is the Spirit which gives life. The flesh will not help you." (John 6:63) And that's why we must give our greatest attentions to the ways of the Holy Spirit; otherwise we'll always be sitting on the sidelines of every battle, both in and around us.
Remember today: No words will ever speak louder than your joy in Him.
“[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
"So brace up your minds, and, as those who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be molded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'" 1 Peter 1:13-16
Which, with those last words, we can begin to register as another of those scriptural impossibilities unless we consider, here, the context of what's just been said. In the third sentence, what are we told not to do? "Don't let your character be molded by the desires of your ignorant days..." Which, if it sounds familiar, almost perfectly echoes Romans 12:2 - "Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold..."
So how are we to avoid these "wrong moldings" of our lives and character? Well, let's read the remainder of Romans 12:2 - "...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.” Which accords perfectly with the ending of our section in 1 Peter: "...but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'"
So, since the One who lives within us is righteous and holy, the writer of a plan for our lives that is good, it is daily submission to Him that defeats the cookie-cutter moldings that this world is after for each of us. Or to put it another way: Our lives will be molded, one way or the other: but the choice is, really, truly, in our hands and hearts which way that goes...
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!
“It takes many differing instruments to make up a symphony. We must let the Spirit pull out all the stops and play every key of our personalities. We must be utterly ourselves. We must be natural. But we must also remember that we need other Spirit-played instruments to complement and complete our partial tones. The one who most differs from us may have most to give us. The Spirit comes not to uniform us but to unify us.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
"Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord. Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.
Here is a last piece of advice. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good. Model your conduct on what you have learned from me, on what I have told you and shown you, and you will find the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:4-9
So much of our own personal expression of Jesus’ goodness often uses “outward language,” yet it was Paul’s joyous “inner life” that was belying his circumstances at every turn. Consider this famous set of verses through the lens, not of comfortable American Christianity, but instead as written by a Roman prisoner imprisoned because of adherence to a small and controversial new faith-movement:
1) “Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times.” With chains clanking on his wrists, Paul is looking out the window of his prison-cell with a goofy grin on his face, writing the Philippians. He writes the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” and then laughs out loud. Then continues, “Again I say, Rejoice!” Brothers and sisters, our personal joy – meaning Jesus’ joy pouring forth from us – must be the Church’s great witness to the world. Our lack-of-joy, in the face of all that we already have in Him, may be the greatest problem in the American Church today…
2) “Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.” The first phrase of this sentence needs to be read in light of the second. Paul, originally one of the least “gentle” people you ever could meet, now sits in house-arrest absolutely relishing the nearness (both locationally and, according to the Greek used, “the akin-to”-ness) of Jesus. Genuine gentleness is a natural byproduct of proximity to our Savior.
3) “Don’t worry over anything whatever…” Stop right there. Do you even begin to understand that both here and in Matthew 6:25, we are actually commanded not to worry about anything? Commanded. Not to worry. Even without Paul’s wonderful sentences that will follow these five clear words, we should be given pause by the seriousness of the language he utilizes. Then comes the promise: “…tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” This language is perfect because, presumably, Paul was looking out the window at the Roman guards standing guard over him as he wrote these words. And it’s with that level of personal watchfulness that the peace of God will watch over those hearts determined not ever to worry in His presence! My favorite wording of the privileged position we inhabit? “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” (1 Peter 5:7)
4) “If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and good.” Again, don’t forget that Paul is sitting in house-arrest in Rome, calling us – in our relative ease – to mine down deep into the “holy, right, pure, beautiful and good” goodness of Jesus. Just scratching at the surface should never be enough for us; nor should we be barely delving down with any old hand-trowel. No, we should be – by the power of the Holy Spirit – drilling down deeper and deeper until we freefall into the caverns of gold that are to be found in Jesus! We should be swimming in the vats of His glorious grace, spiritual inheritors of a spiritual lifestyle like the cartoon character Scrooge McDuck!
If we struggle or suffer in a general day-to-day way, we may look to Him in the spirit of Hebrews 12: "Bear what you have to bear as 'chastening' — as God’s dealing with you as sons." He is a good Father and He is clearly at work upon us.
If we suffer specifically for the purposes of the Kingdom, we may count ourselves fortunate to "complete in our own bodies the sufferings of Christ" (Col. 1:24). He is a good Brother, a glorious Savior, and to know Him better in that way is to know Life better Himself.
Truly, all our sufferings may end in greater intimacy with this Jesus. Every challenge gives a connection toward His heart.
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
Before [the Israelite spies] had lain down, Rahab came up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that Yahweh has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, and there wasn’t any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Yahweh your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:8-11)
Isn’t it interesting how these calling-cards of the power of Yahweh had made their way to the ears of the people of Jericho, especially since actions like the crossing of the Red Sea were now 40 years in the past? For four decades, these people had trembled at the thought of this moment!
Do you ever stop to think of the way the reputation and renown of Jesus should be going before us as the calling-cards of the Kingdom of Heaven? If we don’t hinder His Way, here is just a taste of what people could perceive of Him, simply by the historical evidence given to us in the four Gospels:
“We know that Jesus has conquered this world, and that the fear of Him has fallen upon Satan, and that all kings will one day bow before Him. For we have heard how Jesus walked across the waters to rescue His friends; what He did to heal the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dead, who were beyond the reach of human help; to sin and hell, whom He utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard of Him, our hearts melted with hope and dreams of joy, and there wasn’t any more confidence in the flesh, because of Him: for Jesus your King, He is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath.”
Yet, friends, when we don’t ourselves believe in the realities of the statement above, and when we do get in His way, here’s the converse view that the world can form about our Savior:
“We’ve heard that Jesus has given you some sort of salvation, and yet the fears of this life continue to fall on you, just as upon us, and your ‘faith’ most of the time seems to melt away from you. For we have seen how your religion regarding Jesus gives you this dull, dry life; and how you seem to be filled with judgment for nearly everyone around you, which destroys any chance of relationship. As we have watched you, our own hopes melted within us, and there wasn’t any more chance that we’d desire to believe, because of you: for Jesus your God, he is perhaps the God in heaven above, but certainly not of any help upon the earth beneath.”
What sort of calling-card of His Presence does your presence in any room leave; what are the hearts of men told of Jesus because of your life in Him?
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."
"So Naaman went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then he and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, 'Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel...'" 2 Kings 5:14,15a
A thought to keep in front of us: What if our daily life could prove to be a proof of both the existence of, and the preeminence of, our God?
“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
Acts 4:13 with some notes in italics -
"When the Sanhedrin saw the complete assurance of Peter and John – the “παρρησίαν”: the outspokenness, the frankness, the freedom of speech, the freedom of action, the fearlessness, the liberality and lavishness – even though they were obviously uneducated and untrained men, they were staggered. They recognized them as men who had been with Jesus…"
And not in some sort of facial-recognition sort of “recognized them” - that would not have “staggered” the members of the Council. No, “they recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” – Jesus, the protagonist of that sentence, the antagonist of the Old Way, the One who somehow died, lived again, and now seemed to be standing here right before them – HE is the power that, through these two uneducated untrained men, “staggers” this whole group of educated, well-trained ones. Nothing is more frightening to their foundational historical religious-spirited suppositions than this earthquake of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven impossible: Jesus somehow lives on – in His followers. What the Council had attempted to murder cannot be killed!
And, since you know me well, you know where I’m going next: Have we been with Jesus in that same way? Have we accepted His call to “Follow Me” not as only a prayer of salvation, but as His actual invitation to be saved, to be changed, to be made fruitful; indeed to actually, everyday, learn to better follow Him? Have we grown hungrier and thirstier for understanding of the four Gospels, not just intellectually, but as the way His life still hungers and thirsts to break forth out of our hearts? Have we gone to the Cross and died with Him? Is it only His life that now raises us up, breathes in us, speaks through us, shows the world that He’s never ceased to live?
Friends, is there anything about our “Christianity” that staggers anyone? Oh, that it would be so! And ever more, everyday!
Remember: What we speak generally says what we know. It's our actions that, most of the time, most clearly say what we believe.
“[Bishop Bienvenu] was then alone with himself, contemplative, peaceful, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with that of the ether, affected in the darkness by the visible splendor of the constellations, and the invisible splendor of God, and opening his soul to thoughts which fall from the unknown. At such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the nocturnal flowers offer up their perfumes, he could not have said himself, possibly, what was passing in his mind; but he felt something fly out of him and something descend into him… He dreamed of the grandeur and presence of God… He did not study God; he was dazzled by Him.”
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Then people began to bring babies to him so that he could put his hands on them. But when the disciples noticed it, they frowned on them. But Jesus called them to him, and said, “You must let little children come to me, and you must never prevent their coming. The kingdom of God belongs to little children like these. I tell you, the man who will not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never get into it at all.” Luke 18:15-17
Now that’s a big statement; certainly one that bids us pause to consider the lives and lifestyle of “little children.” (And while I was pondering that exact thought, my three-year-old son woke up and came to join me in the kitchen. So, for the next 20ish minutes, I simply watched him and wrote down everything he happened to do.) Here’s a list of attributes that might help us and lead us in our intimacy with Jesus…
Trying to "reason our way to God" is asking the infinite immensity of all He is to squeeze into the limited finite housing of our mind and mental processes. An honest reasoning has to be prepared to allow one's mind to open out into that immensity: out where the mysteries lives in His glory. And that's precisely what we're invited to do as recipients of the Holy Spirit.
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee.
Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings
Joshua spoke to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh [before crossing the Jordan], saying, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of Yahweh commanded you, saying, ‘Yahweh your God gives you rest, and will give you this land. Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock, shall live in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but you shall pass over before your brothers armed, all the mighty men of valor, and shall help them until Yahweh has given your brothers rest, as he has given you, and they have also possessed the land which Yahweh your God gives them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession, and possess it, which Moses the servant of Yahweh gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.’”
They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we listened to Moses in all things, so will we listen to you. Only may Yahweh your God be with you, as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your commandment, and doesn’t listen to your words in all that you command him shall himself be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” Joshua 1:12-18
I think these men of “the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh” provide a perfect picture of how we’re meant to understand our place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us, everyday, is in the vanguard of the Kingdom – “passing before our brothers” and sisters – called to be “mighty” in “valor” – “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6) – and we’re meant to help all people find their “rest” in “possessing” the Kingdom. But, in order to do all this, we must likewise turn and face the Commander who leads our every step, who is the Way, and answer just like they once did:
“All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us, Jesus, we will go. Just as the Early Church showed us how to listen to you in all things, so will we listen to you today. Only may your Holy Spirit be with us in ever greater measure, as he was with you while you walked among us. We’re going to love the ones who rebel against your Way, the ones who don’t listen to your words, and, by your love, save them from death. Only be Strength and Courage within us, Jesus.”