"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
“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!
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."
"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.
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…
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.”
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!
"When the Bible calls for action it does not refer a man to his own powers but to Jesus Christ Himself. ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15.5). This sentence is to be taken in its strictest sense. There is really no action without Jesus Christ. All the innumerable different activities which in general assume the appearance of action are, in the judgment of Jesus, as though nothing had been done."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
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
Then Philip began, and using this scripture as a starting point, he told the eunuch the good news about Jesus. As they proceeded along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, here is some water; is there any reason why I should not be baptized now?” And he gave orders for the carriage to stop. Then both of them went down to the water and Philip baptized the eunuch... (Acts 8:35-38)
Isn’t the whole narrative of this man’s salvation a thrill and a joy? He was riding back from a probably painful worship trip to Jerusalem (being, after all, "unclean" because of his condition), confused by a scripture, when he looks out the window of his carriage and sees a man jogging alongside. For his part, Philip had been going about his day when, by the voice of an angel and the Holy Spirit, he was sent out on this slightly absurd adventure.
This is the joyous way of the wonderful God we serve!
And the before-and-after qualities of this scene remind me of Paul’s glorious descriptions of the befores-and-afters of our own salvation:
“To you, who were spiritually dead all the time that you drifted along on the stream of this world’s ideas of living, and obeyed its unseen ruler (who is still operating in those who do not respond to the truth of God), to you Christ has given life! We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature, being in fact under the wrath of God by nature, like everyone else. But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ — it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved — and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens…” (Ephesians 2)
Thank you, Jesus!
A simple thought for our first day of the New Year:
"Later on the Lord commissioned seventy other disciples and sent them off in twos as advance-parties into every town and district where he intended to go." Luke 10:1
Our daily personal work for the Gospel is a procession that goes before His personal revelation of Himself. Where He “intends to go,” He’s happy to send us out as His envoys, even though, in reality, He's already always going there before us. As Paul saw it: “Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume!” (2 Cor. 2:14)
Let's be fully present in the places where He intends to go today!
The ending of 1 Thessalonians 1 (vv. 6b-10), with some thoughts in italics -
You remember how, although accepting the message meant bitter persecution, yet you experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit. And, by the way, the Holy Spirit is joy. No circumstances, no human hardships, trump the Holy Spirit’s ability to invest our spirits with His wondrous and eternal joy! (Test that fact today – and everyday - and you'll see what I mean.)
You thus became examples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia. You have become a sort of sounding-board from which the Word of the Lord has rung out, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere where the story of your faith in God has become known. We find we don’t have to tell people about it. They tell us the story of our coming to you: how you turned from idols to serve the true living God, and how your whole lives now look forward to the coming of his Son from heaven…
Don’t you just love the sentiment of that section? How absolutely wonderful that these believers, simply by believing and loving and hoping in Jesus, have become a “sounding-board” for the whole Gospel to the whole world! Their story needs no telling because the fruit is so obvious. And what joy Paul felt at how his friends were making the name Jesus famous!
And where did the Thessalonian church source its spiritual power? … the Son Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, and who personally delivered us from the judgment which hung over our heads.
And right there is the source of the Early Church’s zeal and steadfastness: their foremost belief in Jesus’ present “aliveness.” Nothing could faze them in the face of a Living Christ. For them, the Resurrection perfectly proved the power of the atoning Cross forevermore and they’d learned to live in this “personally delivered” posture with wild and unflappable joy.
How about us today?
The eleven went to the hill-side in Galilee where Jesus had arranged to meet them, and when they had seen him they worshipped him, though some of them were doubtful. But Jesus came and spoke these words to them, "All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. You, then, are to go and make disciples of all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you and, remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:16-20)
* * * * *
On one occasion, while he was eating a meal with them, he emphasized that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “You have already heard me speak about this,” he said, “for John used to baptize with water, but before many days are passed you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
This naturally brought them all together, and they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
To this he replied, “You cannot know times and dates which have been fixed by the Father’s sole authority. But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth!”
When he had said these words he was lifted up before their eyes till a cloud hid him from their sight… (Acts 1:4-9)
* * * * *
“Great expectations are the proof of great love.”
- Honore de Balzac, The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau
Now after the death of Moses the servant of Yahweh, Yahweh spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go across this Jordan, you, and all these people, to the land which I am giving to them, even to the children of Israel. I have given you every place that the sole of your foot will tread on, as I told Moses. From the wilderness, and this Lebanon, even to the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your border. No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you nor forsake you…” Joshua 1:1-5
Imagine being Joshua and standing upon the brow of a hill, looking into Canaan, with the voice of the Lord speaking whisperingly in your ear, like this. That morning you’d awoken with fear and anxiety about leading His people; now, at sunset, He is narrating the glories of your eternal possession, even as He shows it to you. Perhaps He even lengthened Joshua’s sights in order to see these lengths and breadths of the land He was set to give to his people. But can you feel the power of the Presence that had inhabited the cloud-by-day and the fire-by-night, as He's leaning over Joshua to point the way?
Abraham could certainly relate – both to the Presence and the precise words used:
“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.’” (Genesis 13)
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.’” (Genesis 15)
For us, it is our own knowledge that He never “fails nor forsakes us,” our remembrance that He’s never “failed nor forsook us,” and our belief that He never will in the future “fail nor forsake us” that gives us the ability – today – to arise, to go, to take, to tread, and to be dauntless in His leading and presence. Immediately, here, as we’re reading the opening words of the 24 chapters that make up the Book of Joshua, we must lift our gaze to examine the steadfast face of Yeshua, our Savior, our Leader, Jesus. For we’re only as good for His service as the measure to which we believe He is good; we must stand intimately with Him, today, as Joshua once stood breath-to-breath with Yahweh.
"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!
"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.)
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!
"So Paul warned [the ship's crew], and said, “Men, I can see that this voyage is likely to result in damage and considerable loss—not only to ship and cargo—but even of our lives as well.” But [the centurion] Julius paid more attention to the helmsman and the captain than to Paul’s words of warning. Moreover, since the harbor is unsuitable for a ship to winter in, the majority were in favor of setting sail again in the hope of reaching Phoenix and wintering there. Phoenix is a harbor in Crete, facing south-west and north-west. So, when a moderate breeze sprang up, thinking they had obtained just what they wanted, they weighed anchor, and coasted along, hugging the shores of Crete. But before long a terrific gale, which they called a north-easter, swept down upon us from the land. The ship was caught by it and since she could not be brought up into the wind we had to let her fall off and run before it. Then, running under the lee of a small island called Clauda, we managed with some difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it aboard they used cables to brace the ship. To add to the difficulties they were afraid all the time of drifting on to the Syrtis banks, so they shortened sail and lay to, drifting. The next day, as we were still at the mercy of the violent storm, they began to throw cargo overboard. On the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle over the side. Then, when for many days there was no glimpse of sun or stars and we were still in the grip of the gale, all hope of our being saved was given up..." (Acts 27:10-20)
I don't think it'd be too literary, or philosophical, or, in writing about this section, self-serving, to say that the series of events that culminates in this moment of complete hopelessness is a pretty good picture of our last century and a bit. At the beginning of the 20th Century, humanity, relatively speaking, was in a period of peace and prosperity almost unrivaled in human history. The century before it - again relatively speaking - had been less punctuated by war; technologies were making great strides in many areas; economies were, overall, booming; "faith" was easy...
Then, over the last 100+ years, it's been as if a great northeaster hit. In fact, to follow the course of Paul's ship, consider a re-rendering:
“The world was caught in this wind of change and since it could not be brought up into the wind humanity had to let itself fall off and run before it. Two world wars, national revolutions, ethnic hatreds, genocides, nihilism, anarchy then resulted. Then, running under the lee of post-war peace, we managed with some difficulty to secure the world’s ways via economic restructuring, better governance, and nominal religious conviction. We used this trio of ties to brace the ship. But to add to the difficulties we were afraid all the time of drifting back toward a humanism that would redevelop into atheism, so we shortened sail and lay to, drifting. The Church drifted right along with the world. The next era, as we were now at the mercy of storms of cultural overthrow, caused many to throw their 'faith convictions' away entirely. Eventually with our own hands we threw Biblical morality, the purifying realities of the Gospel, and the power of the Body of Christ overboard as well. Then, when for many years there was no glimpse of any light and we were still in the grip of the gale, all hope of the world’s being saved was given up by all around us.”
Do I overstate my case? Truly, I don't think so. And so what's required? Let's continue on in Acts 27 with Paul...
"Nobody had eaten for some time, when Paul came forward among the men and said, 'Men, you should have listened to me and not set sail from Crete and suffered this damage and loss. However, now I beg you to keep up your spirits for no one’s life is going to be lost, though we shall lose the ship. I know this because last night, the angel of the God to whom I belong, and whom I serve, stood by me and said, "Have no fear, Paul! You must stand before Caesar. And God, as a mark of his favor towards you, has granted you the lives of those who are sailing with you." Take courage then, men, for I believe God, and I am certain that everything will happen exactly as I have been told. But we shall have to run the ship ashore on some island.'" (Acts 27:21-26)
How different is the posture of Paul when thrown in contrast against the manic fear of everyone around him! Do you understand that that, in the midst of the storms assailing this world, is how we're supposed to appear? Our lives, not just our words, must stand steadfast and say to all:
“Men and Women, you must listen to me and not keep sailing toward this hopelessness and suffering this damage and loss to your eternal souls. Now I beg you, and by my life and action, and my love for you, I impel you, to turn your spirits toward the One who ensures that not one of His is lost, though it cost Him His life. I know this because everyday, this Jesus to whom I belong, and whom I serve, stands by me and says, ‘Have no fear! You must stand for me before this world. And I, as a mark of my favor towards you, have granted you the lives of those around you who will hear my truth from your lips.’ Take courage then, Men and Women, for I believe Jesus, and I am certain that everything will happen exactly as I have been told, and as I have seen Him do before. But this world shall run itself ashore on the rocks.”
Friends, is that an accurate representation of the stoutheartedness of our belief amidst the Shipwreck that is this world?
May it be so!