"To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love. To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!" 1 John 4:7-11
When you look up the word "love" in the dictionary, here are the first four definitions given:
(1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire
(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
Okay. Very nice. Thank you, Merriam-Webster.
But what the apostle John wants you and I to realize, and to walk into this day living, is that, in reality, these are the only true definitions of real love:
(1) : Jesus Himself
(2) : His life that, living among us, gives life
(3) : Literal self-sacrificial, blood-soaked, complete personal atonement that is not only unconditional in scope but, maybe more impressively, without pre-condition: “not in the fact that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Or, to put it another way:
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonor others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”
What a wonder to be loved first by this Man!
"What Mary has conceived is conceived through the Holy Spirit, and she will give birth to a son, whom you will call Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet—‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’. (“Immanuel” means “God with us.”) Matthew 1:20b-23
And what so wonderfully strikes me as we celebrate this particular Christmas, and as we look here at Isaiah's words from Isaiah 7, is how the whole reality of this Jesus, of His Kingdom, of our God, is built on the most wonderful contradictions. Look here:
A virgin... with child.
God... with us.
No other spiritual understanding in all the history of the world, no other pattern of belief, has ever had its Center truly among its people. The way of Jesus contradicts every known normalcy:
His are regular disciples
In His presence, the blind see
The lame walk
The deaf hear
The mute speak
He is a humble King
Executed for His innocence
Whose death brought victory
Life was found in His death
And He retook life after death
He made sinful people holy
His Holy Spirit came to live in common people
His throne is meant to be shared by those commoners
The formerly lost now become their fellow-men's guides
Those who were once in darkness are now illumined by His light
Yes, God is with us
And, even more importantly, God is now within us
Perhaps this Christmas, instead of settling down into the grooves of tradition, of feel-goodness, let's give some meditation to the fact that Jesus came to overthrow everything mankind had ever known... and continues to know. An entirely new way of living is unleashed in the birth of this baby. Nothing should have ever been the same, since.
Has that been our experience?
"But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith, keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses. I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!" 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The language used here, plus the direction of that language, actually teaches this paragraph better than anything I could ever muster. Imagine the first part as if Paul is looking Timothy in the eye: “But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith…”
And then it’s as if Paul’s eyes start to lift as he keeps writing: “...keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses…”
And now he’s looking skyward, up to the heavenly places, as he continues on: “I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things…”
Then Paul begins to grin uncontrollably: “...the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!”
Paul had begun by trying to give Timothy some good quality injunctions for his life and then got lost along the way and ended up with… Jesus! And this should be us too. We should be the people whose heads are so up in the clouds of His glory and goodness that, almost unthinkingly, we just follow His ways. Look at how Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5: “We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.” That’s the whole deal, my friends! To wed the living of our little human lives with the eternal purposes of the all-knowing, all-powerful God; to cease to be ourselves in the presence of the One who indwells our hearts and is capable of eternally overtaking our lives!
Yes, YES, YES!
"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And by common consent they all used to meet in Solomon’s Porch..." Acts 5:12
This was the place in the Temple environs where, two chapters before, they'd preached the message after healing the man that caused 2,000 to believe... and themselves to be arrested for the first time. But, for the original disciples, this place had more meaning than just that. The year before this, during the Festival of Dedication, what is today called Hanukkah, Jesus Himself had gone on a walk through Solomon’s Porch. So for Peter and James and John, to meet in this place was instantly to remember His presence, the way He walked, the way He talked, the way – on that day – He’d spoken these words in this place:
“My sheep recognize my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” … “If I fail to do what my Father does, then do not believe me. But if I do, even though you have no faith in me personally, then believe in the things that I do. Then you may come to know and realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10)
Now, on the very same stones, standing under that same Jerusalem sky, these men and women, His “sheep,” are living their lives as “one” with Him, “He in they and they in Him,” and the life they live in Him is, without a doubt, “eternal.” Their presence together there on these days is the visible proof of the power of His words on that earlier day, walking around Himself, at Hanukkah.
May He be so present, and visibly noticeable, in us this week, my friends!
Large crowds followed him and he healed them all, with the strict injunction that they should not make him conspicuous by their talk, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench, till he sends forth justice to victory. And in his name Gentiles will trust.' (Matthew 12:16-21)
What's so unbelievably wonderful about this Savior, this Man, this Jesus, what's so incredibly lovely about His plans for His Kingdom, is that He's handed all of this, every attribute, act and activity, directly to us: we are the heirs, inheritors and agents of this age-old prophecy. Read again, phrase by phrase, through Isaiah's words and then through Jesus' direct words to us, as He hands off the New Covenant Kingdom-baton:
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen: “For you did not choose me, but I have chosen you and appointed you…” (Jn. 15:16)
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; “your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
I will put my Spirit upon him, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8a)
And he shall declare justice to the Gentiles. “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)
He shall not quarrel nor cry aloud, “and whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:27,28a)
Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26)
A bruised reed shall he not break, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
And smoking flax shall he not quench, “…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
Till he sends forth justice unto victory. “As for the victorious, I will give you the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 3:21)
And in his name Gentiles will hope. “Go you therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:19)
"Later, when Jesus was sitting at dinner in Levi’s house, a large number of tax-collectors and disreputable folk came in and joined him and his disciples. For there were many such people among his followers." Mark 2:15
Jesus' goodness and kindness are simply so good and so kind, aren't they? Here He is: sitting down to dinner in Levi's palatial house on the hill, built with stolen tax-monies, surrounded by all the "tax-collectors and disreputable folk" Galilee has to offer. And why do all these people flock to Him? Because, apparently, there had already been "many such people among His followers," even before Levi was ever called!
This dinner, in fact, provides a clear answer to one of the age-old, all-important questions ranged against human life: From where may righteousness, or goodness, or holiness, be derived?
These broken people, confronted by the personification of Righteousness, Goodness and Holiness Himself, have answered with the correct response: They desire, by proximity, to be made better, to be made righteous and good and holy by this power outside themselves. That is the nature and the basic idea of sanctification...
Except, it's even better for us now, isn't it? Because, now, that Righteous One, Good One, Holy One, Wonderful One, Perfect One, lives within us!
Thank you, Jesus, for your overwhelming kindness to disreputable folk like us!
"For we are not separate units but intimately related to each other in Christ." Ephesians 4:25b
* * * *
“Paul’s conception of a Christian community is a body of which the Spirit of Christ is the soul. The individual members are all full of the Spirit, and their individual powers and capacities are laid hold of, vivified, and strengthened by the indwelling Spirit in such a way that each is ‘gifted’ and enabled to do some special service for Christ and for His Church in the society in which he is placed. Every true Christian is ‘gifted’ in this way. In this respect all are equal and of the same spiritual rank. The equality, however, is neither monotonous nor mechanical. Men have different natural endowments, and these lead to a diversity of ‘gifts,’ all of which are serviceable in their places, and enable the separate members to perform different services, useful and necessary, for the spiritual life of the whole community and for the growth in sanctification of every member.”
- Thomas M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries
* * * *
Specifically, what are your spiritual giftings? Have you been using them this week? Will you be using them today?
Because, don't forget: Those gifts are the way that the Holy Spirit is showing Himself to others; they are where the Lord Jesus is laying hold of you, giving you life, strengthening you; they are for the special service of the whole worldwide Body of Christ; they are useful and absolutely necessary for the spiritual life of the Church and all of its members: for we are not separate from each other but intimately - and always - related to each other in this wonderful Jesus!
The Jews were amazed (at Jesus' teaching) and remarked, “How does this man know all this — he has never been taught?”
Jesus replied to them, “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority…” (John 7:15-17)
Do you see the roadblock that Jesus has thrown up in front of these people? They’ve been wondering about Him, having heard mysterious whisperings that have trickled down from the Galilee, and now here He stands, teaching right before them in the Temple court. Immediately they recognize the power in His words and the knowledge – the sheer immensity of knowledge – that seems to reside in His teachings. And so they want to, from the earthly side, understand it: “How does this man know all this…?” Which is a line of questioning with which He apparently does not want to deal: “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me.”
And then He raises the stakes, so that even listening to Him speak and teach requires the self-abandonment of Belief: “If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority.” It is the desire to be of use to the Father’s will that unlocks the listening understanding; it is not first to understand, then to be about His will. And I’ll prove it to you – consider the exact inverse of these statements: “If anyone does not want to do God’s will, he will not know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority.”
Do you see? It is setting our face to be of Kingdom-use that unlocks the full potential, the full understanding, of all Jesus’ words have to offer. Oh, let's abandon ourselves to Him today!
Jesus, speaking instruction to the Twelve: "Be on your guard against men. For they will take you to the court and flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought into the presence of governors and kings because of me—to give your witness to them and to the heathen. But when they do arrest you, never worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be told at the time what you are to say. For it will not be really you who are speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Matthew 10:17-20
Isn't that the most miraculous promise? Jesus is saying that the external world, with all its pressures and threats and anxieties and trials, is secondary to our internal life. If we are able to meet with the Spirit of the Father in our heart and mind, we have nothing to fear in the whole world outside ourselves.
Do we live that way?
Do we value that inner dialogue above all else?
Are we living situationally - meaning, in every single situation - where our first recourse is to listen for His voice from within?
I can't stop thinking of just how free He was making His friends... just... to truly live!
May the Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father (who has loved us and given us unending encouragement and unfailing hope by his grace) inspire you with courage and confidence in every good thing you say or do. (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17)
Today, if you're ever feeling like your courage is running out, turn immediately to Jesus and ask Him for His encouragement that is “unending.”
Likewise, if your hope feels like it's failing you, lift your eyes to Him and ask Him for His hope that can never, ever, ever fail.
And thank you, Jesus, for the promise of your instantaneously transferable spiritual attributes! What a blessed gift is our life in you today! We belong to you and You belong to us!
Ananias set out and went to the house, and there he laid his hands upon Saul, and said, “Saul, brother, the Lord has sent me—Jesus who appeared to you on your journey here—so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got to his feet and was baptized. Then he took some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the disciples in Damascus for some time. Without delay he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues declaring that he is the Son of God. All his hearers were staggered and kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who so bitterly persecuted those who called on the name in Jerusalem, and came down here with the sole object of taking back all such people as prisoners before the chief priests?” Acts 9:17-21
The word Luke uses to describe how “staggered” the crowds were when they heard the heart of Saul’s new message – ἐξίσταντο: 'to be displaced, changed, altered, driven mad, deranged' – is also used thrice to describe people’s amazement with Jesus, twice on the day of Pentecost and, finally, here in this passage. The alive life of Jesus, the never-ending work of the Holy Spirit, and the confluence of those two elements in the lives of men and women like us, are supposed to be, meant to be, cannot help being “staggering” when men and women like us let Him fully have His way.
Remember: Subscribing to a set of beliefs about Jesus will not stagger people.
Don't forget: Being against the ways of this world will not amaze them.
But, rising to each new day, setting your heart upon the Savior who is the truest thing about you, aligning your spirit so as to be a wide-open channel of the Holy Spirit, and then walking out the door with Belief, and open eyes and ears: NOW you are living out your day like Saul learned to do: with the life of Jesus on display, the power of the Holy Spirit always at the ready; full belief in the promises; and eyes of love upon the world’s great need.
Now yes, that will “stagger” the world around you!
“Some of you are fathers, and if your son asks you for some fish, would you give him a snake instead, or if he asks you for an egg, would you make him a present of a scorpion? So, if you, for all your evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more likely is it that your Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13
This wording is nearly identical to Matthew 7 – “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” – except for that ending! You and I are actually allowed to, meant to, called to pray for more and more and more of the Holy Spirit, all the time, everyday! In fact, He Himself, the glorious Holy Spirit, is almost certainly the highest prayer we can ever pray for.
How often do you ask for, desire for, hope for more and more of a portion of the Holy Spirit in your life? We can daily be like Elisha back in 2 Kings 2: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
Friends, may we never content ourselves with living half-measures in the Spirit when the whole is being offered to us - and by Jesus Himself! Ask today. And expect to receive today. Let your attitude be: more, MORE, MORE!
So Jesus re-embarked on the boat, crossed the lake, and came to his own town. Immediately some people arrived bringing him a paralytic lying flat on his bed. When Jesus saw the faith of those who brought him he said to the paralytic, “Cheer up, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:1,2
We could talk about the fact that Jesus goes after sin here before going after this man's paralysis; we could go into a little discussion of the actual nature of what "sin" is; but what I want to talk about is the fact that it's his friends' faith - not his own - his friends' faith in Jesus that gets this man set free of his nature of sin. This is just so wonderful to me.
Think about how it must've played out. His friends arrive to his little shack in the rough part of town; help him get dressed; then get him onto a pallet that they can carry through the streets of Capernaum to where they've heard Jesus will be. Along the way they're giddy with hope, not for themselves, but for their friend: "Oh, Jesus," they say to him, "He's a wonder-worker. He looks after people like us, like you. He sees us. What a delight He is! When you get near Him, you'll see. He'll do it. We just know it."
My friends, if these friends' call is also our call - to bring everyone to Jesus of Nazareth - is that the way we're walking them to Him? Do we know Him? Can we tell them what He's like? Can we point to His miraculous power, His heart for the lost, His eyes for the hopeless, His delightful personal presence? And, probably most importantly, do we know what to expect when we arrive with them to Him: is our expectancy formed by our own experience of Him?
Because that's what people truly need to see in us. Expectancy built from personal experience.
"I have written like this to you who already believe in the name of God’s Son so that you may be quite sure that, here and now, you possess eternal life. We have such confidence in him that we are certain that he hears every request that is made in accord with his own plan. And since we know that he invariably gives his attention to our prayers, whatever they are about, we can be quite sure that our prayers will be answered." 1 John 5:13-15
Now having read that, I want to describe a particular person to you and then, based upon what I tell you, to have you imagine exactly what that person would be like; how you would describe them in your own words; what it would be like to have that person in your life.
This person I'm thinking of wakes in the morning with no anxiety at all because they are perfectly provided for; they have peace and full-hearted joy; and there's nothing in the day ahead that is stronger or scarier than their peace and joy. All day long, everyday, they are accompanied everywhere by their closest friend, who is the perfect confidante, the ultimate encourager, a friend who cannot fail in any way. There is no fear in this person: life and death hold nothing that brings the slightest palpitation. They take life as it comes, one day at a time, knowing that all of this is moving - both today and everyday - toward an eminent, wondrous, beautiful good.
How would you feel about that person? What is their life and outlook like? What do they look like? How would it be to live your life in the orbit of their life?
Well, friends, that person is you. That reality is your New-Birthright reality. Any sense of deficiency you feel between what I just described and your actual experience of life-in-Jesus is where He would love to have you surrender further. He would love to inhabit the full width and breadth of your heart today. It's His plan to so fill you that the whole world may see Him. Would you let Him?
At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua gathers the people of Israel to give them his last words before he's parted from them forever. Both the final two chapters are his words to them: very poignant and pointed. But it struck me last summer that, if you only changed the context a little, changing some phrasing and the background of which Covenant we're under, his words are amazingly like something Jesus could've said.
So, as a start to our workweek, consider Joshua 23 in that new, New Covenant way:
Once the forty days after the Resurrection had passed, after Jesus had given 'life and life to the full' to His believers, and He was ready to return to the Father, He called for His disciples, for their hearers and eventual spiritual descendants, for you and for me, and said to all of us, “I have completed the days of my earthly ministry; I have died and, in your sight, lived again. You have seen all that the Father can do through my Name; for it is the Father who has lived His life in me, and I in Him. Behold, I have allotted to you the very same interrelationship – we call it 'Abiding' – to be an inheritance for you, starting in Jerusalem with my disciples, into Judaea, into Samaria and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. By living our heavenly life within you, I, the Father, and our dear friend, the Holy Spirit, will thrust Satan from before you, and drive him from out of your sight. You shall possess my Kingdom, as I have spoken to you.
“Therefore be very courageous to daily approach my Throne with confidence, to Abide in me as I Abide in you, in order that you may keep and do all that I have spoken to my disciples and will speak to your spirit, that you do not turn aside from me to the right hand or to the left; that you do not continue on anymore as a slave to sin, or to the world that remains around you; neither make mention of the name of their cultural gods, nor cause to swear by their seeming power or intrigue, neither serve their idolatrous needs, nor bow down yourselves to the world’s fleeting pleasures and experiences; but Abide in me, and I in you, as I invite you to do everyday.
“For I have driven out the evil one from before you forever. But as for you, no plan of his can prosper against you now that you are part of my Kingdom. One man of you shall stand against a thousand of his temptations; for it is I, Jesus, your Savior who fights for you, as I am speaking to you now. Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you Abide in me, even as I Abide in you.
“But if you do at all go back, if you forget that you are now a slave to righteousness, no longer to sin, if you fall under the sway of the world, of Self, of sin, and make mistakes among them, and go in their ways, and they take over yours; know for a certainty that I, Jesus, will forgive you in my sight; and that I shall take ahold of you, chasten you as a good Father, looking you in the eyes, until you learn to love my good land, my wondrous Kingdom, my Way, which I, Jesus, have given to you personally.
“Behold, today I am going to ascend back to my Father. You know in all your hearts and souls that not one thing has failed to be revealed in Me of all the good things which the Father spoke concerning Me. All has happened so that you may believe. Not one good and glorious promise has failed to be fulfilled in Me. It shall happen that as all the good things of your Heavenly inheritance come to you of which the Father spoke through Me, so the Father will bring on you even more good things, until he has built up in you the fullness of the Kingdom which He has already given you, while you obey the New Covenant, sworn between Myself and My Father, which I have sealed for you in My blood, and then go into all the world to serve Me, and bow your hearts before Me. Then the Father’s delight will be kindled towards you, and you will live forever in the heavenly reality which He has given to you.”
Let's follow Him into this week, Brothers and Sisters!
Large crowds followed Jesus when he came down from the hillside [after delivering the Sermon on the Mount]. There was a leper who came and knelt in front of him. “Sir,” he said, “if you want to, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:1,2)
We can really just stop right there with the impossible loveliness of that statement: the fact that the least person in that whole countryside, a lonely leper, so understands Jesus' reputation and heart that he immediately addresses Him in such a tender way: "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
"If you want to..." He places this whole exchange at the level of Jesus' desire, Jesus' heart, Jesus' plan, Jesus' will. I think we often pray the words "If it's your will" like we're shooting prayer-arrows into some unknown darkness; this man spoke the word "will" while looking directly into Jesus' eyes. He would know the heart and mind and will and want of Jesus right now: "If you want to..."
"...you can make me clean." It's right there inside You, Jesus. All the wondrous power of the Godhead, every ounce of the creative energy that formed the heavens and the earth, is native to Your human frame. If You want to, this is easy for You. I don't have to strain to improve Your will or Your power. Here I am and here You are: "Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean."
Friends, I think this leprous man's life is the perfect model for how our own prayer-life should go. What a combination of boldness, belief, familiarity and expectancy!
Every Sabbath Paul used to speak in the synagogue trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks. By the time Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was completely absorbed in preaching the message, showing the Jews as clearly as he could that Jesus is Christ. (Acts 18:4,5)
I think we often think of Paul as “a man obsessed,” but in that last sentence we get to see what his obsession actually looked like. This translation reads: “Paul was completely absorbed in preaching”; the NIV says, “Paul devoted himself exclusively”; the ESV says, “Paul was occupied with the word”; and the King James reads, “Paul was pressed in the spirit.” That last one is really closest to the best Greek meaning. Paul was συνείχετο – his “shoulders were bent in or contracted upon his chest”; he was “held together” with the Word, we’re told.
When you imagine that physical posture – something "upon your shoulders" that's "holding you together" – what image does it draw up for you? To me, it sounds like a yoke. It sounds like Jesus saying across the years to Paul, across the centuries to us: “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.” (Matt. 11:28-30) And, indeed, just five verses later in Acts 18, see what Jesus says to Paul: "Then one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and let no one silence you, for I myself am with you..."
This seeming obsession of Paul’s, this compulsion to preach Jesus that just won’t quit, is actually born out of his shared experience with, his wondrous sense of always co-laboring in everything with, Jesus Himself. And it's absolutely beautiful, if you ask me. And it's the experience we're all meant to be having, everyday.
Then Jesus got up and went straight from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever, and they lost no time in telling Jesus about her. He went up to her, took her hand and helped her to her feet. The fever left her, and she began to see to their needs.
Late that evening, after sunset, they kept bringing to him all who were sick or troubled by evil spirits. The whole population of the town gathered round the doorway. (Mark 1:29-33)
From their relatively brief glimpse of Jesus down at the synagogue, from only one experience of His teaching and healing, this entire town believes that this one solitary man, sitting in the half-darkness on a humble doorstep, has the power to deal with the individual needs of everyone. Can't you imagine them coming up the footpath: limping, on makeshift crutches, blind and being led, others who scream out under the bondage of demon-possession? And at the end of their journey sits Jesus, smiling, waving them to come nearer, hearing their needs, asking questions, delighted that they'd be so bold as to come...
Let me ask you a question: Which is more difficult for you to believe - that Jesus has time for absolutely everyone, or that Jesus has time for you personally? Think about it before you answer too quickly. Because in all my many meetings with believers at various points of their journeys, I find that more people are more comfortable with generic ideas of Jesus' love for everyone, for His broad desire for intimacy with all people, than they are with the idea of, by themselves, walking up to Him alone. There's something reassuring to us about standing in a room, or standing in a church, or walking up the path toward Him, surrounded by people all thinking something similar... even if that something's a bit vague.
But He wants you - only you. He wants to watch you leave your house, light your lantern, and wind your way out toward Him, knowing that it'll only be you and Him at the end. That's what He wants with you everyday. Yes, others may happen to come to Him too; but, even if they don't, all He really wanted was to see you.
Do you come?
Will you come?
At the wedding in Cana -
Then Jesus said to the servants, “Now draw some water out and take it to the master of ceremonies,” which they did. When this man tasted the water, which had now become wine, without knowing where it came from (though naturally the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called out to the bridegroom and said to him, “Everybody I know puts his good wine on first and then when men have had plenty to drink, he brings out the poor stuff. But you have kept back your good wine till now!” Jesus gave this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee. He demonstrated his power and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:8-11)
Does this actually accord with the Jesus you actually know? (Oh yes, I know: you’ve heard this account countless times and know it backwards and forwards: “Ah yes, His first miracle – water into wine – ahem.”) What I mean is: Do you personally know the Jesus who’s invited to a fairly raucous party, goes, mixes in with those who’ve had a little too much to drink, and, seeing the wine gone, the party ruined, the bride and groom potentially shamed, ramps it up to levels never seen before or since? Is that the kind of unexpectedly-acting, edgy-doing, mischievous-twinkle-in-His-eye sort of Savior you’re daily walking with?
I think most Christians, and certainly the world around us, most of the time view Jesus like water: fine for quenching your thirst when He’s needed, but flavorless, flat, nothing to write home about. Some might see Him as – to use the master of ceremonies’ words – the “poor stuff”: there’s a hint of something there, but He’s more of a last resort than anything else…
Jesus Himself is the party; Jesus is the “good wine”; He is the joy, the flavor, the savor, the atmosphere of life that is really Life. And how wonderful that in the midst of a party whose level is never forced to drop, His disciples saw this miracle, looked at each other and “believed in him.” What a way for belief to begin!
Remember, my friends: This Man's inner life is a vast sea of the New Wine: the "Oil of Joy." Let's not forget that fact today, or this whole week!
Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit. Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come. There is no doubt about this at all, and Christians should remember it. It is because we realize the paramount importance of the spiritual that we labor and struggle. We place our whole confidence in the living God, the savior of all men, and particularly of those who believe in him. These convictions should be the basis of your instruction and teaching. (1 Timothy 4:6b-11)
As you and I daily consider the “paramount importance of the spiritual,” how are each of us to stay “spiritually fit,” as Paul says? Well, how does one stay physically fit?
Utilizing that wondrous concordance known as the World Wide Web, you can find all kinds of helps and theories on the topic of a "great workout." One website I found was especially fun, listing these five attributes:
1. Rate of Perceived Exertion
2. Actual Heart Rate
3. Quality over Quantity
4. Muscle Fatigue
5. Increased Hunger
How perfect are those descriptions for what we’re after in Jesus!
As we daily spend time with Him, may our own “rate of perceived exertion” go down in stepping under His yoke in His strength! May we never leave our time with Him without a marked uptick in heart-rate: pay attention to your emotions: don’t ignore them! May our quantities be overwhelmed by an experience of His quality, His goodness, His palpable Presence within us! May we exhaust our spiritual energy, letting our spiritual muscles get pulled, worn and fatigued, doing His sort of daily work! And, above all else, may our life-in-Him create a hunger that is unending; may more Jesus lead to hunger for only more Jesus!
Thank you, Savior and Friend, that all the hard work is really actually yours... and "it is finished!"
“The Holy Spirit is the great gift of the [New] Covenant. His coming from heaven was the proof that the Mediator of the Covenant was on the throne in glory, and could now make us partakers of the heavenly life.
"He is the only teacher of what the Covenant means: dwelling in our heart, He wakens there the thought and the desire for what God has prepared for us.
"He is the Spirit of faith, who enables us to believe the otherwise incomprehensible blessing and power in which the New Covenant works, and to claim it as our own.
"He is the Spirit of grace and of power, by whom the obedience of the Covenant and the fellowship with God can be maintained without interruption.
"He Himself is the Possessor and the Bearer and the Communicator of all the Covenant promises, the Revealer and the Glorifier of Jesus, its Mediator and Surety.
"To believe fully in the Holy Spirit, as the present and abiding and all-comprehending gift of the New Covenant, has been to many a one an entrance into its fullness of blessing.”
Andrew Murray, The Two Covenants
About eight days after these sayings, Jesus took Peter, James and John and went off to the hill-side to pray. And then, while he was praying, the whole appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and dazzling. And two men were talking with Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah—revealed in heavenly splendor, and their talk was about the way he must take and the end he must fulfill in Jerusalem.
But Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep and it was as they struggled into wakefulness that they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. Just as they were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still talking, a cloud overshadowed them and awe swept over them as it enveloped them. A voice came out of the cloud, saying “This is my Son, my chosen! Listen to him!”
And while the voice was speaking, they found there was no one there at all but Jesus. The disciples were reduced to silence, and in those days never breathed a word to anyone of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
Now let’s go back and reexamine this whole scene, putting ourselves there - here are the main elements:
You see, the truth of the matter is that we’re actually in a better vantage than Peter, James and John: we have the ability to know Jesus' attributes through their writings of Him plus He’s now glorified all the time with the Father plus He now chooses to dwell right here within us. On this side of the Risen Jesus, there’s no such thing as “valleys,” only new “Mounts of Transfiguration” alongside Him.
The question is: Will we stay awake in His glorious presence and experience consistent ongoing revelation of His Glory? They are available. Today.
"We know and, to some extent realize, 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. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children, let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!" 1 John 3:16-18
The actual Greek words there in that last sentence are "word and tongue" and "work and truth," ie. the love of Jesus requires more than our mouth; it requires our entirety. And perhaps you've heard this quote before, but it kept coming to me as I was reading these words - it's from Elie Wiesel:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
Jesus of Nazareth was the least indifferent Man who ever lived, and it is our job to carry His spirit into this generation of humanity. And His spirit, His ethos, is literally included within His Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, and who is daily trying to teach us to love in "work and truth," no longer just in indifferent "word and tongue."
That nature of Jesus, living inside you this day, is attempting to teach you to love in His Way. Will you listen? Will you obey?
The whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled themselves together at Shiloh, and set up the Tent of Meeting there. The land was subdued before them. Seven tribes remained among the children of Israel, which had not yet divided their inheritance. Joshua said to the children of Israel, “How long will you neglect to go in to possess the land, which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has given you? Appoint for yourselves three men from each tribe. I will send them, and they shall arise, walk through the land, and describe it according to their inheritance; and they shall come to me.” Joshua 18:1-4
May I speak boldly to you right now? May I, in fact, proclaim a piece of identity that you need to lay hold of?
You are meant to be one of these surveyors of the inheritance. You are meant to rise up each morning – a citizen of Heaven – and go walking through the splendors of what the blood of Jesus has bought you. You are meant to learn to describe what you have seen so that it’s of value for the teaching, admonition and encouragement of all the Body.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes: “When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has another language, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to build each other up.” His words begin with the phrase “when you come together,” meaning that all of what he then says is meant to precede that physical gathering-together. Meaning that – on your own – you are tasked with receiving – directly from the hand and heart of Jesus – “a psalm, teaching, revelation, another language, an interpretation” that will “build up” the whole Body. Meaning that your “quiet time” isn’t meant to be so quiet – or only for you. In truth, your personal meditations upon Jesus – even the way you’re reading this post – are probably just as much for the Body as they are for your own “walk.”
What’s the most recent piece of your inheritance that He’s teaching you about? And who have you given that away to, already? You and I must remember: We only truly possess those heavenly things by which our own lives have been seized and possessed.
"God has given you all a certain amount of spiritual insight..." 1 John 2:20a, Phillips translation
If you were reading along through 1 John 2 and came across this clause, you'd probably keep on reading without giving it much additional attention. But I want us to stop and check on the translation given here and, really, the translation given to this verse in almost every major English Bible translation. If you went and grabbed your own Bible, it'd probably read close to what the ESV says: "You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth."
But what that last part of that phrase really says in the Greek is far more thrilling, far more in line with a promise that Jesus made to us Himself: "and you know all things." Do you see the difference?
"All of you know the truth" v. "You know all things"
When Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit "will teach you all things" (Jn. 14:26), when the Apostle Paul wrote that we "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), do you think that we were supposed to receive those promises as "all having some of the truth," like a scratching at the surface, or, as John appears to be hinting at here, and by the glorious power of the Holy Spirit, that all of us are meant to be learning to know all of Jesus?
What Jesus promised, and what Paul later wrote and proclaimed, are both part of the New Birth experience; we are actually called to hear, to learn and to know - as both Jesus and John say it - "all things."
Hear me: There's more for you. Today. Now feel free to go and get what's yours!