Before [the Israelite spies] had lain down, Rahab came up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that Yahweh has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, and there wasn’t any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Yahweh your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:8-11)
Isn’t it interesting how these calling-cards of the power of Yahweh had made their way to the ears of the people of Jericho, especially since actions like the crossing of the Red Sea were now 40 years in the past? For four decades, these people had trembled at the thought of this moment!
Do you ever stop to think of the way the reputation and renown of Jesus should be going before us as the calling-cards of the Kingdom of Heaven? If we don’t hinder His Way, here is just a taste of what people could perceive of Him, simply by the historical evidence given to us in the four Gospels:
“We know that Jesus has conquered this world, and that the fear of Him has fallen upon Satan, and that all kings will one day bow before Him. For we have heard how Jesus walked across the waters to rescue His friends; what He did to heal the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dead, who were beyond the reach of human help; to sin and hell, whom He utterly destroyed. As soon as we had heard of Him, our hearts melted with hope and dreams of joy, and there wasn’t any more confidence in the flesh, because of Him: for Jesus your King, He is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath.”
Yet, friends, when we don’t ourselves believe in the realities of the statement above, and when we do get in His way, here’s the converse view that the world can form about our Savior:
“We’ve heard that Jesus has given you some sort of salvation, and yet the fears of this life continue to fall on you, just as upon us, and your ‘faith’ most of the time seems to melt away from you. For we have seen how your religion regarding Jesus gives you this dull, dry life; and how you seem to be filled with judgment for nearly everyone around you, which destroys any chance of relationship. As we have watched you, our own hopes melted within us, and there wasn’t any more chance that we’d desire to believe, because of you: for Jesus your God, he is perhaps the God in heaven above, but certainly not of any help upon the earth beneath.”
What sort of calling-card of His Presence does your presence in any room leave; what are the hearts of men told of Jesus because of your life in Him?
People often talk about "the end justifying the means," where the "means" are a series of actions and resolves that have resulted in whatever "end" they happen to be considering. But our "End" is a Person who literally justified our approach to Him; our "means" are now meant to be His own perfect actions and resolves. To be called by Jesus, then to be saved by Jesus, means walking with Jesus, means necessarily to begin to walk like Jesus. The interconnection of elements is supposed to be a thing of awe, of glory.
Acts 2:43-47 - "Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation."
"For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord’s name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word “blessed!” You have heard of Job’s patient endurance and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men." James 5:10,11
That's probably the most casual reference to the sufferings of Job in all the scriptures: "You've heard about Job, right? See, that worked out..."
But, seriously, as we read through both these verses, as we consider the Greek subject-words in all three sentences - "suffering," "patience," "blessed," "endured," "endurance," "outcome," "full of tender mercy" and "compassionate" - we have to remember two important things:
1. The unbelievable, real-time pressure James' original readers were under because of Jesus, because of belief in Him
2. The fact that we are now pretty soft
For us - and let's be honest! - much of what we often call "suffering" is just things not going our way. (And, please, understand me: I'm well aware that many of us have dealt with tragedy before; that we've seen our share of true suffering.) But "things not going my way" was certainly not what James' readers were thinking when they read these words...
Many of those people would live the remainder of their lives, after meeting Jesus, with the strong possibility of death-for-Him hanging over every day of their daily experience. They woke like that; worked like that; raised children like that; had friendships like that; and, most importantly, worshipped like that. And so, in the midst of their sufferings, in the midst of our oftentimes pseudo-sufferings, what is James saying to keep our hearts and minds trained upon?
In the Greek, the "tender mercy" and "compassion" of his brother, Jesus.
We are to keep those attributes right in front of our face, like, "I know He's merciful; I know He's compassionate; so I know I can trust Him to the end."
"So Naaman went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then he and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, 'Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel...'" 2 Kings 5:14,15a
A thought to keep in front of us: What if our daily life could prove to be a proof of both the existence of, and the preeminence of, our God?
“He ‘breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”’ (John 20:22). This was the beginning of Pentecost, but not its fullness. It is from the lips of Jesus that we must ever receive the fullness of the Comforter, even as His very breath. He waits to breathe on each of us, as often as He touches us, the fresh anointing of the very same Spirit who dwelt in Him and who comes to us colored, softened, sweetened by His indwelling in the blessed Jesus and as the very Spirit of Jesus. This is our power, and this power we must receive by appropriating faith.”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
Acts 4:13 with some notes in italics -
"When the Sanhedrin saw the complete assurance of Peter and John – the “παρρησίαν”: the outspokenness, the frankness, the freedom of speech, the freedom of action, the fearlessness, the liberality and lavishness – even though they were obviously uneducated and untrained men, they were staggered. They recognized them as men who had been with Jesus…"
And not in some sort of facial-recognition sort of “recognized them” - that would not have “staggered” the members of the Council. No, “they recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” – Jesus, the protagonist of that sentence, the antagonist of the Old Way, the One who somehow died, lived again, and now seemed to be standing here right before them – HE is the power that, through these two uneducated untrained men, “staggers” this whole group of educated, well-trained ones. Nothing is more frightening to their foundational historical religious-spirited suppositions than this earthquake of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven impossible: Jesus somehow lives on – in His followers. What the Council had attempted to murder cannot be killed!
And, since you know me well, you know where I’m going next: Have we been with Jesus in that same way? Have we accepted His call to “Follow Me” not as only a prayer of salvation, but as His actual invitation to be saved, to be changed, to be made fruitful; indeed to actually, everyday, learn to better follow Him? Have we grown hungrier and thirstier for understanding of the four Gospels, not just intellectually, but as the way His life still hungers and thirsts to break forth out of our hearts? Have we gone to the Cross and died with Him? Is it only His life that now raises us up, breathes in us, speaks through us, shows the world that He’s never ceased to live?
Friends, is there anything about our “Christianity” that staggers anyone? Oh, that it would be so! And ever more, everyday!
Remember: What we speak generally says what we know. It's our actions that, most of the time, most clearly say what we believe.
“[Bishop Bienvenu] was then alone with himself, contemplative, peaceful, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with that of the ether, affected in the darkness by the visible splendor of the constellations, and the invisible splendor of God, and opening his soul to thoughts which fall from the unknown. At such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the nocturnal flowers offer up their perfumes, he could not have said himself, possibly, what was passing in his mind; but he felt something fly out of him and something descend into him… He dreamed of the grandeur and presence of God… He did not study God; he was dazzled by Him.”
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Then people began to bring babies to him so that he could put his hands on them. But when the disciples noticed it, they frowned on them. But Jesus called them to him, and said, “You must let little children come to me, and you must never prevent their coming. The kingdom of God belongs to little children like these. I tell you, the man who will not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never get into it at all.” Luke 18:15-17
Now that’s a big statement; certainly one that bids us pause to consider the lives and lifestyle of “little children.” (And while I was pondering that exact thought, my three-year-old son woke up and came to join me in the kitchen. So, for the next 20ish minutes, I simply watched him and wrote down everything he happened to do.) Here’s a list of attributes that might help us and lead us in our intimacy with Jesus…
Trying to "reason our way to God" is asking the infinite immensity of all He is to squeeze into the limited finite housing of our mind and mental processes. An honest reasoning has to be prepared to allow one's mind to open out into that immensity: out where the mysteries lives in His glory. And that's precisely what we're invited to do as recipients of the Holy Spirit.
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee.
Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings
Joshua spoke to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh [before crossing the Jordan], saying, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of Yahweh commanded you, saying, ‘Yahweh your God gives you rest, and will give you this land. Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock, shall live in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but you shall pass over before your brothers armed, all the mighty men of valor, and shall help them until Yahweh has given your brothers rest, as he has given you, and they have also possessed the land which Yahweh your God gives them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession, and possess it, which Moses the servant of Yahweh gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.’”
They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we listened to Moses in all things, so will we listen to you. Only may Yahweh your God be with you, as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your commandment, and doesn’t listen to your words in all that you command him shall himself be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” Joshua 1:12-18
I think these men of “the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh” provide a perfect picture of how we’re meant to understand our place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us, everyday, is in the vanguard of the Kingdom – “passing before our brothers” and sisters – called to be “mighty” in “valor” – “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6) – and we’re meant to help all people find their “rest” in “possessing” the Kingdom. But, in order to do all this, we must likewise turn and face the Commander who leads our every step, who is the Way, and answer just like they once did:
“All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us, Jesus, we will go. Just as the Early Church showed us how to listen to you in all things, so will we listen to you today. Only may your Holy Spirit be with us in ever greater measure, as he was with you while you walked among us. We’re going to love the ones who rebel against your Way, the ones who don’t listen to your words, and, by your love, save them from death. Only be Strength and Courage within us, Jesus.”
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!
“The man who has been taught by the Holy Spirit will be a seer rather than a scholar. The difference is that the scholar sees and the seer sees through; and that is a mighty difference indeed.”
A.W. Tozer, Man - The Dwelling Place of God
Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God’s enemy. Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? (James 4:4b,5a)
Which begs the question: What would that latter question have meant to James' original readers, given that the New Testament didn't, at this time, exist? Well, consider some of the Old Testament context to which, perhaps, James was pointing their minds:
That's the War He's still fighting in and through us today. Let us march out under His orders only.
"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
"Beasts, birds, reptiles and all kinds of sea-creatures can be, and in fact are, tamed by man, but no one can tame the human tongue. It is an evil always liable to break out, and the poison it spreads is deadly. We use the tongue to bless our Father, God, and we use the same tongue to curse our fellow-men, who are all created in God’s likeness. Blessing and curses come out of the same mouth — surely, my brothers, this is the sort of thing that never ought to happen! Have you ever known a spring to give sweet and bitter water simultaneously? Have you ever seen a fig-tree with a crop of olives, or seen figs growing on a vine? It is just as impossible for a spring to give fresh and salt water at the same time." James 3:7-12
James really gives the best of teaching-metaphors throughout Chapter 3, because they say what they say and yet there's even more behind them...
Think, for a moment, about the nature of a freshwater, sweetwater spring: how would you describe how it "works"? It comes from deep inside the earth; it's cool; it's clean; it's fresh; it brings life and refreshment to them that drink from it. And why can't it bring up bitter water alongside the sweet? Well, because that would mean that the source itself had been tainted; that something was wrong down at its essence; that it no longer is what it was.
And how about the fig tree and the olive tree: what can we learn from looking at their example? Personally, I would say that we see two distinct types of trees, with their own fundamental identities; yet both must source their life from soil, roots, air and water; both will be noted for the quality of their fruit.
So, with both the examples of the waters and the trees, James is not only teaching us about incongruity between fresh- and bitterwater, fig- and olive-trees, he is also pointing our minds and hearts to consider the essence of those things, the inner hidden life from which they spring and grow.
And now listen to James' brother get going on the same tack: “It is impossible for a good tree to produce bad fruit — as impossible as it is for a bad tree to produce good fruit. Do not men know what a tree is by its fruit? You cannot pick figs from briars, or gather a bunch of grapes from a blackberry bush! A good man produces good things from the good stored up in his heart, and a bad man produce evil things from his own stores of evil. For a man’s words will always express what has been treasured in his heart.” (Luke 6:43-45)
Friends, our words are the portal to get a real, true glimpse of what our real, true inner life is like. "For a man’s words will always express what has been treasured in his heart." If our inner life is all caught up in the great adventure of abiding in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we'll find our words are becoming His sort of words. It's our relish over the Kingdom of Heaven taking over the landscape of our heart that changes the outflow of our speech: don't forget it!
Truly, gloriously, to Abide in Him alters the very essence of our being!
Don't forget: His overabundance of love, goodness and mercy can always conquer our sense of feeling overwhelmed. No matter what.
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!