“He makes Himself known to those who, after doing all that their powers will allow, confess that they need help from Him.”
* * * *
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, Phillips)
"The inward turning to Him is easy, natural and effortless, because He is at your centre. He is drawing you."
"O Divine Shepherd! Thou feedest Thy sheep with Thine own hand, and Thou art their food from day to day."
* * *
"I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep.
“And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is the reason why the Father loves me—that I lay down my life, and I lay it down to take it up again! No one is taking it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will." (John 10:14-18a)
Imagine you’re sitting in a roadside pub, having an inexpensive cup of some rather foul wine, and you’re not thinking about anything in particular. Around you are the sounds, sights and smells of such a place: the swearing, the dirty jokes, the unkempt-looking and -smelling sorts of people who spend time in this sort of place.
Why are you here? Because, having traveled south to see the baptizer-teacher down at the Jordan—having not been particularly impressed by the weirdness of the experience of that man—you are waiting for your brother, Andrew (who has lagged behind to talk with the baptizer), in order to travel back to the Galilee and get back to work on your fishing boats.
You are sitting here, in this roadside pub, thinking of nothing really at all, when the door opens—the light flooding in—and in comes your brother, just now. There is a very strange look in the look of his eyes. He approaches in the half-darkness of the pub and grips you by both shoulders.
“I have met the Messiah,” he says, “the Anointed of God!”
You take a deep breath in—let it out. “Where?” you ask.
“He is sitting under a tree outside,” Andrew says.
“No,” Andrew replies. “God.”
You wait for him to say something else. He just stares at you. “God is sitting outside under a tree?”
“Outside? Under a tree?”
He nods again.
“Alright,” you say. “Let’s go have a look.”
You pay off your tab and then wind your way through the half-light, following after your brother, out through the day-drinkers of this roadside pub. The outside light is blinding for a moment. You follow after Andrew down the road to the left; then across a narrow path across a field—there is a short stubby tree in the middle-distance. In its shade is another man of the Galilee—the younger brother of James of Zebedee—and then, for the first time, you see the Man your brother was talking about.
He is rising to His feet to meet you in the shade, there.
His eyes are sparkling with the warmest kind of affection.
He steps out of the shade—the sunlight lights His features—He extends His hands toward you—all warmth, all kindness, all joyfulness—and then (quite surprisingly) He embraces you, kisses you on the cheek. He is whispering in your ear as He does so:
“Everyone calls you Simon, but I won’t. For me, you will always be Peter—Petros—a rock.”
You take a step back and away from the intensity of this Man. The look in His eyes is ageless; all-consuming; eternal. You are both awed and slightly afraid of the look in His eyes. This encounter with Him is the beginning of the rest of your life…
Decades later, imagine that man—now an old man—sitting down to a bare-topped table and taking up his writing quill. He is again thinking of that day—of the way it felt to make the acquaintance of God incarnate—and he smiles to himself and then writes this:
Simon PETER, a servant and messenger of Jesus Christ, sends this letter to those who have been given a faith as valuable as ours in the righteousness of our God, and Saviour Jesus Christ. May you know more and more of grace and peace as your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord grows deeper.
He has by his own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life, in allowing us to know the one who has called us to him, through his own glorious goodness. It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature.
"...since our nature has God as its requisite author, it is certain that we must have Him for our teacher that we may be wise; Him, too, to dispense to us spiritual sweetness that we may be blessed."
Augustine of Hippo
The City of God
* * * *
"Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." (Zephaniah 3:16b,17, ESV)
“My children, drive it into your heads that you are on the right road. Love one another; be foolish over it, for love is the stupidity of man and the cleverness of God.”
Today’s openness to the speaking Voice of Jesus (His Holy Spirit) is the guarantee of tomorrow’s leading; too, its potentiality: its adventure.
We will be going then as far as we are willing to listen now.
"We must form our estimate of men less from their achievements and failures, and more from their sufferings. The only profitable relationship to others - and especially to our weaker brethren - is one of love, that is the will to hold fellowship with them. Even God did not despise humanity, but became Man for man's sake."
Letters & Papers from Prison
* * * *
Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, Phillips)
The Kingdom of Heaven is the grandest treasure available to the imagination and possession of mankind--and perhaps the least truly sought. It costs everything to seek and one's self to possess. (Its seeking is, in fact, its finding.) Its possession is its possessing of each individual seeker. It encompasses all eternity, but now: today.
"The meek person is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day."
The Pursuit of God
"Oh what great thanks am I bound to give Thee, who hast vouchsafed to show me and all faithful people the good and right way to Thine eternal kingdom, for Thy way is our way, and by holy patience we walk to Thee who art our Crown. If Thou hadst not gone before and taught us, who would care to follow? Oh, how far would they have gone backward if they had not beheld Thy glorious example! Behold we are still lukewarm, though we have heard of Thy many signs and discourses; what would become of us if we had not such a light to help us follow Thee?"
Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ
You have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, “Father, my Father”. The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. Think what that means. If we are his children we share his treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory.
In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! (Romans 8:15b-21, Phillips)
“It is absolutely necessary for us to recapture the sense that this limited human life is surrounded and interpenetrated by a timeless spiritual dimension. Christ spoke unequivocally about ‘coming from’ the Father, and ‘going to’ the Father. It was said of him that ‘he went about doing good and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people.’ He claimed that the work which he did, whether it was the healing of body, mind or soul was the work of God himself. Yet at the same time he stated quite definitely that his ‘Kingdom is not of this world.’ In other words, while he operated within the time-and-space situation, and neither despised nor detached himself from actual human living, he lived in continual awareness of what, for want of a better word, we call ‘eternity.’…
“It is those who know God to be eternal who most satisfactorily prove that God is their contemporary.”
God Our Contemporary
“We have been rescued, ransomed, redeemed out of our old natural life, under the power of sin, utterly and eternally. Sin has not the slightest claim on us, nor the slightest power over us, except as our ignorance or unbelief or half-heartedness allows it to have dominion. Our New Covenant birthright is to stand in the freedom with which Christ has made us free. Until the soul sees, and accepts and desires, and claims the redemption and the liberty which has the blood of the Son of God for its purchase price, and its measure, and its security, it never can fully live the New Covenant life.”
Andrew Murray, The Two Covenants
O Father, thou art my eternity.
Not on the clasp of consciousness—on thee
My life depends; and I can well afford
All to forget, so thou remember, Lord.
In thee I rest; in sleep thou dost me fold;
In thee I labour; still in thee, grow old;
And dying, shall I not in thee, my Life, be bold?
- George MacDonald
from The Diary of an Old Soul
* * * *
Listen, and I will tell you a secret. We shall not all die, but suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, every one of us will be changed as the trumpet sounds! The trumpet will sound and the dead shall be raised beyond the reach of corruption, and we who are still alive shall suddenly be utterly changed. For this perishable nature of ours must be wrapped in imperishability, these bodies which are mortal must be wrapped in immortality.
So when the perishable is lost in the imperishable, the mortal lost in the immortal, this saying will come true: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ‘O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’
It is sin which gives death its power, and it is the Law which gives sin its strength. All thanks to God, then, who gives us the victory over these things through our Lord Jesus Christ!
And so brothers and sisters of mine, stand firm! Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be sure that nothing you do for him is ever lost or ever wasted. (1 Corinthians 15:51-58, Phillips)
"Nothing interrupts the normal flow of ordinary life so much as love."
The World of Silence
* * * *
We know and, to some extent realise, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers...
And if, dear friends of mine, when we realise this our hearts no longer accuse us, we may have the utmost confidence in God’s presence. We receive whatever we ask for, because we are obeying his orders and following his plans. His orders are that we should put our trust in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another—as we used to hear him say in person. (1 John 3:16, 21-23)
Then Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, according to his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read the scriptures and the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book and found the place where these words are written—‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.
Then he shut the book, handed it back to the attendant and resumed his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him and he began to tell them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you were listening to it!” (Luke 4:16-21, Phillips)
* * *
A couple months ago, it struck me that this may be one of the most instructive moments we ever witness in the life of Jesus. At the very beginning of what we would call His “ministry years,” He is essentially saying He’s already finished: His personal presence is the eternal answer to our hearts’ every question. Yes, we still require to know Him better, to hear His teaching, to watch the miracles in all they reveal to us of the heart of God. Yes, the Cross will represent the required atonement for our sin; the Resurrection the needful freeing we require from death.
But… here with Jesus, here at the beginning of His ministry, here with some of His first hearers hearing His teachings, He is telling them and us--what?
That He Himself is the place of the Spirit’s presence; that He Himself is the Good News of the Kingdom; that He Himself is the place of perpetual, once-for-all-time freedom; that He Himself is the experience of finally receiving sight; that He Himself is deliverance—both for each of us and for others; that He Himself is the Jubilee, the final freeing, the heart’s release; that He Himself is the beginning, means and end of everything intended for humankind since the moment of our Creation.
Is that how you understand the totality of the Person of Jesus? Is He Himself--for you—everything that He truly is?
"This fact of the historical Christ brings a high degree of certainty and authority, but not full certainty and authority. For, after all, if Jesus is only historical, it would be authority outside ourselves standing in history. No authority from without can be complete authority for us, unless it can become identified with our very selves, and can speak from within. The Christ of history must become the Christ within. We cannot live upon a remembrance, however beautiful. We can only live upon a realization. But Jesus becomes that. He told his disciples that it was expedient for him to go away, so he went, but ‘he changed his presence for his omnipresence.’ He came back more vital than before. Timid believers became irresistible apostles, for Christ had moved into their inmost souls. Life became merged: ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; and yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ cries the transformed Paul. Archimedes, after pondering a mathematical problem, suddenly finds the solution, and in his excitement rushes up the street crying, ‘Eureka, I’ve got it!’ These men, pondering deeper problems, find a deeper solution, and cry from deeper depths: ‘We’ve got it.’ Christ becomes self-evidencing. The historical passes into the experimental. They become witnesses."
E. Stanley Jones
Christ at the Round Table
"The power and life of [faith] may be better expressed in actions than in words, because actions are more lively things, and do better represent the inward principle whence they proceed: and therefore we may take the best measure of those gracious endowments from the deportment of those in whom they reside."
The Life of God in the Soul of Man
“The Spirit took his own means to found and to spread Christendom before a single apostolic step had left Jerusalem. It prepared the way before itself. Yet this was but a demonstration, as it were; the real work was now to begin, and the burden of the work was accepted by the group [of disciples] in the city. That work was the regeneration of mankind. That word has, too often, lost its force; it should be recovered. The apostles set out to generate mankind anew.
“They had not the language; they had not the ideas; they had to discover everything. They had only one fact, and that was that it had happened. Messiah had come, and been killed, and risen; and they had been dead ‘in trespasses and sin,’ and now they were not. They were regenerate; so might everyone be.”
The Descent of the Dove
“I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that [simply ‘holding on to’] sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.)…
“The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor’s prescription. — But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. — Once you have been turned round, you must stay turned round…
“…faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.”
from a notebook
“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none. Eternal years lie in His heart. For Him time does not pass, it remains; and those who are in Christ share with Him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the new creation time crouches and purrs and licks their hands. The foe of the old human race becomes the friend of the new, and the stars in their courses fight for the man God delights to honor. This we may learn from the divine infinitude.
“But there is more. God’s gifts in nature have their limitations. They are finite because they have been created, but the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is as limitless as God. The Christian man possesses God’s own life and shares His infinitude with Him. In God there is life enough for all and time enough to enjoy it. Whatever is possessed of natural life runs through its cycle from birth to death and ceases to be, but the life of God returns upon itself and ceases never. And this is life eternal: to know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.”
The Knowledge of the Holy
Two criminals crucified with Jesus
TWO CRIMINALS WERE ALSO LED out with him for execution…
One of the criminals hanging there covered him with abuse, and said, “Aren’t you Christ? Why don’t you save yourself—and us?”
But the other one checked him with the words, “Aren’t you afraid of God even when you’re getting the same punishment as he is? And it’s fair enough for us, for we’ve only got what we deserve, but this man never did anything wrong in his life.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus answered, “I tell you truly, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
Later that evening…
TOWARDS THE END, he would cast his glance to the left—to the now-empty cross of the teacher—and his struggling breaths would continually offer up last words. He offered up his last words perhaps one hundred times that evening. (They had broken his legs an hour or two before this.) When he turned his gaze, his darting glimpse a fragmentary impression of the scene, he would snatch another look at that empty cross; consider it. From the horizontal downward, the vertical was a river’s delta of dried blood. Its color veined and spider-webbed its way down to the earth. The earth below had a black puddle; blood drops all around. The empty cross seemed to tell a story he didn’t fully understand.
The flesh of his hands and arms was beginning to tear from the full weight of his body hanging—his broken legs sagged, twisted, beneath him. Each and every breath was shallower; agony. He could hear the groans of his former partner-in-crime, farther past.
When the end came, it came, mercifully, quickly.
The breaths became exhausting, exhausted.
He could feel his head start swaying forward and to the right.
His neck now held no power to hold it up…
And when he “awoke,” he was walking through a grand overwhelming door (more like a gateway), all of gold, entering into an impossibly cavernous interior space. He was vaguely aware of infinitudes of forms—huge glorious figures and radiant-faced individuals—watching him: but he focused all his attentions on continuing forward.
For there—up ahead—up a three-stepped stairway ending in a molten golden dais—was the Throne of Heaven and--
The happy thief, for the second time that day, spoke aloud his name:
And the man on the Throne smiled and said to him: “Now didn’t I tell you?”
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thoughts in Solitude
Last week, I asked a circle of friends from all over the world to send me the "latest, freshest" experiences they were having with the Lord. What a week of constant delights in reading their replies!
Here are some of my favorite lines and thoughts from their return emails:
A quote from an interview with Tim Keller (who passed away just a few days before) - "There is a famous short story by J.R.R. Tolkien called “Leaf by Niggle.” Niggle is a painter who spends his entire life trying to paint a mural of a tree. By the end of his life, he has only gotten one leaf completed. Then he dies. But when he gets to heaven, he sees the tree that was always there in his mind. That is the way of the Christian."
"I have been struck in a fresh way by the accessibility that Jesus offers me - that I don’t have to muster up or do anything to earn access to Him. I can come just as I am with nothing to offer but myself."
"No matter what I am facing, which some days feels like a lot, to know and trust and believe and rely on this amazing truth. JESUS IS WITH ME. Right here. With me. Thank you Jesus. Truly."
"Jesus shows up in everyone, if our eyes are open. The bummer is that sometimes it takes [really difficult times] to…open my eyes…..to see all of what he has for us……this is the Kingdom of God come down."
"[During a meeting this week,] I found my mind wandering to a walk with Jesus. Mind you: this never happens to me. But it was just enough cacophony of the world that I wished that I could leave. I pictured a quiet walk with Jesus and the peace & gratitude for all that I have. And that... that moment is enough."
"Psalms 3:5- (modified into my own language for myself and those who I’m mourning for) - When I sweep my sin under the door, my body wastes away. As long as I pretend I’m fine without God, I will face one disappointment after another. Even my wins will be blunted and fall short of full satisfaction. My vitality gets drained just as the earth is when scorched by fire. But when I acknowledge my need for help and stop ignoring my shortcomings, you are there waiting calmly and peacefully ready to forgive me and bring true life back into my mind and body. You sprout new growth in my life and nourish and strengthen me."
"I have just been thinking about and so grateful for Jesus’ kindness this week. He’s so kind and really does not need to be or owe it to us. There are a couple of places in my life that he is making such a clear “way” where I thought there was no way. What’s been getting me this week is that He always does it with His loving kindness. It’s often (not always) so gentle that I don’t even realize He’s doing it or correcting me or guiding me until I am through it."
In pondering on the Ascension of Jesus: "It feels impossible to rise from that place of utter love, full of tears and sorrow and confusion - to a place in my brain that processes language."
Friends, isn't it amazing to think that, anywhere anyone opens their heart to our Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He still speaks like this!
Remember, this day: He is alive!
Then one of the scribes approached Jesus. He had been listening to the discussion [with the Sadducees], and noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he put this question to him, “What are we to consider the greatest commandment of all?”
“The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.”
“I am well answered,” replied the scribe. “You are absolutely right when you say that there is one God and no other God exists but him; and to love him with the whole of our hearts, the whole of our intelligence and the whole of our energy, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is infinitely more important than all these burnt-offerings and sacrifices.”
Then Jesus, noting the thoughtfulness of his reply, said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God!
* * *
I've been moved this week that, according to Jesus Himself, entry-into and experience-of the Kingdom of God are both synonymous with love. It is as we actively love God (which He tells us He receives through our obedience to His alive, living voice) and personally love each person whom we meet (extending to them the affection of God we've received) that we have day-by-day experience of the Kingdom. "Knowledge" about the Kingdom is nothing. It is a Kingdom that courses; it never eddies or pools. We must live it. The world must experience it, alive and active, in us.