“Do small things as if they were great, because of the majesty of Christ, who does them in us and lives our life, and great things as if they were small: easy, because of his almighty power.”
Blaise Pascal, Pensées
But there was a man named Ananias who, with this wife Sapphira had sold a piece of property, but with her full knowledge, reserved part of the price for himself. He brought the remainder to put at the apostles’ disposal. But Peter said to him, “Ananias, why has Satan so filled your mind that you could cheat the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the price of the land? Before the land was sold it was yours, and after the sale the disposal of the price you received was entirely in your hands, wasn’t it? Then whatever made you think of such a thing as this? You have not lied to men, but to God!”
As soon as Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died. All who were within earshot were appalled at this incident. The young men got to their feet and after wrapping up his body carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later it happened that his wife came in not knowing what had taken place, Peter spoke directly to her, “Tell me, did you sell your land for so much?” “Yes,” she replied, “that was it.”
Then Peter said to her, “How could you two have agreed to put the Spirit of the Lord to such a test? Listen, you can hear the footsteps of the men who have just buried your husband coming back through the door, and they will carry you out as well!”
Immediately she collapsed at Peter’s feet and died. When the young men came into the room they found her a dead woman, and they carried her out and buried her by the side of her husband. At this happening a deep sense of awe swept over the whole Church and indeed all those who heard about it. (Acts 5:1-11)
When Jesus first spoke the word “Mammon," here was the context in which it came, couched in the center of the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:19-21 & 24)
His usage there, the way He pits one against the other, plus the fact that that word was borrowed from the Syriac culture, where “Mammon” had a god-like connotation, is, I think, actually quite helpful for our understanding of our own wealth, money and possessions. What if, instead of just being stock portfolios, numbers on a bank statement, things, possessions, “toys,” we began to view these things in the context of the power they’d like to wield over us? What if, instead of Jesus’ famous ending to Matthew 6, “Mammon” took off his mask and spoke in your ear what, perhaps, he spoke in the ear of Ananias and Sapphira on their last day?
“Therefore I tell you, be anxious about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink, and about your body, what you will put on. Your life is not more than food, and your body is nothing more than clothing. Look at the ants on the ground: they toil and struggle and gather into their homes; you need to feed yourself like one of them. You are not of more value than they. And perhaps by being anxious you can add an hour to your span of life. So, yes, go on being anxious about clothing. Consider the weeds in the alleyway, how they grow: they spring up, rather hideous, and, yes, I tell you, unless you toil away, you will be arrayed like one of these. You see, if they are so unwanted, undesirable, alive today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, you’d better get to work and clothe yourselves in the best you can find. Therefore be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ and ‘What shall we drink?’ and ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and you know you need them too, so aren’t they wise to have done so? So seek first the kingdom of this world and its present forms of “righteousness,” and work to add all these things to yourself. Be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious… Insufficient for the day is its own trouble – seek out some more.” (Rewritten version of Matthew 6:25-34, changes in bold)
And if you think I’ve overstepped by pitting Jesus’ words against their counterpoints, ask yourself: Is what you just read anything different than what the world daily offers you? Did anything in that rewrite really shock your sensibilities? I doubt it. To me, that’s just a write-up of the evening news – including all the commercials…
In the midst of the Early Church’s freedom, Ananias and Sapphira were bound by shackles they couldn’t see; they were slaves to what they possessed that, in actual fact, possessed them. Are we actually free? In view of the fact that “the Son has set us free,” are we “free indeed”; free in practice, in actuality; free in spirit; free to follow Him, no matter where He leads?
We shouldn't be concerned that people aren't "doing anything" for the Kingdom of Heaven. The real concern is that doing nothing isn't possible when we know this Jesus; that perceived inaction is the same as not knowing Him.
For us, pressing further into Jesus - modeling complete intimacy - is the only answer. We must show everyone as much of His goodness and glory as we personally can. He will provide the work of His call every time we ask. So let's ask. And then live as exhibits of heavenly wonder.
“The value of the individual’s story of Christ’s healing power lies largely in the undeniable fact that each human life stands at a unique point in the total web of human experience, and, as a consequence, each one has an approach to others which is not identical with the opportunity of any other human being. If I do not open the door for another, it may never be opened, for it is possible that I may be the only one who holds this particular key. The worker on the production line may have an entree to the life of his fellow worker on the line which can never be matched by any pastor or teacher or professional evangelist. The responsibility of each individual Christian is to do that which no other person can do as well as he can.”
Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed
Philippians 3:7-9 with some notes in italics -
"Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him… "
I think a lot of times we read these kind of words, are impressed by them, and yet then chalk them up to a sort of superhumanity that only the Early Church had. Don’t do that! For, in fact, Paul is then so kind as to conclude this series of thoughts with the reason by which they’re humanly possible for us: “For now my place is in him…” Paul interpreted his whole earthly life from his location “in Jesus,” from this locale of Union-with-the-God-of-the-Universe. So, in actuality, as he’s tallying up the “Profit & Loss” for his life in verses 7-8, the gains and losses are crystal clear for him. The whole economy of his life is Heavenly now; it’s easy for him to leave behind so much of what the world claims life is about…
"…and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ."
Do you actually believe the things that Paul is saying here? Do you hear him echoing Ephesians 1’s “in Christ we are holy and blameless children”? Too often, I think we think it’s a form of humility to always point to our sin as if that’s still the truest thing about us. Yet it’s our righteousness in Christ that actually proves the power of His incarnation, life, death, resurrection and inhabitation-of-us. Persistent agreement with our former “fallenness” tends to keep our eyes on ourselves; belief in His indwelling righteousness teaches our eyes to be on Him alone.
We sometimes presume that to do God's will, we must know God's will. But, in fact, we must do God's will in order to come to know His will:
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true..." (John 7:14-18a)
On this particular day, may you and I set our wills to do God's will and trust that everything else is already in His all-capable hands. Really, this path He's set us for us - of unknowing - is far more interesting than the other one we so often wish for: making our own way.
Today, let's relish the mysteries of going with the Way, on the Way, even though we may not know our next exact step.
He is with us!
And He is good!
"I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you... Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full." John 16:22b & 24
* * * * *
“Life is fleeting; do not therefore show yourself so hard to please in face of the happiness at hand; make haste to enjoy it.”
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
“I leave behind with you — peace; I give you my own peace and my gift is nothing like the peace of this world. You must not be distressed and you must not be daunted.” John 14:27
Just as He does with “joy” in the next chapter, Jesus here tells us that He’s leaving us with peace, and it’s not some vague sort of peace, is it? “I give you my own peace,” He says – the very same peace with which we see Him operating throughout His life. In the midst of the crushing crowds: peace. In the midst of fierce opposition: peace. In a storm on the water: peace. On the night before a chosen death: peace.
It’s in the context of His offering peace that’s actually His peace that we should read the command on which He then lands: “You must not be distressed and you must not be daunted.” Why? Because whenever we’re “distressed and daunted,” we show we’re not trusting in His personal peace and we make His peace look insufficient for life’s trials. But Jesus’ peace is utterly sufficient for life’s trials. After all, it carried Him through His own! But the only way to prove it is actually to trust Him; to “throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” (1 Peter 5)
I've often noticed that when people are talking about their "quiet times," or the space they make for their "devotions," they will refer to it as "my time with Him." But how much better would it be, how much more likely to lead us into active obedience, if we began to think of it as "His time with me"?
May we each give Him time to move within our hearts, our minds, our spirits, so that our hearts, minds, and spirits are brought into a daily alignment. Such waiting upon Him presumes He is alive and able to be heard from. Anything less verges toward mere religiosity.
"It is in His presence and through His grace that whatever of fragrance or beauty may be found in us comes forth. Of Him as its source, through Him as its instrument, and to Him as it end, is all that is gracious and divine. But HE HIMSELF is better far than all that His grace works in us."
Hudson Taylor, Union and Communion
Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of Yahweh your God.” Joshua said, “By this [miraculous crossing of the Jordan River] you shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Hivite, and the Perizzite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Jebusite out from before you...” Joshua 3:9,10
It’s important that the impetus for the Jordan-crossing miracle be noted before we even imagine the crossing itself: that, for all time, the Israelites might “know that the living God is among” them, and that, in the coming months and years, “he will without fail drive” the enemy peoples from the Promised Land.
For us, it’s always important that what we’ve seen Him do in the past should be our impetus for believing He can always do all things. Remembrance is an important step in believing. Non-remembrance is the first step toward unbelief.
His 33-year union with our humanity set us free. Now, it is as we daily accept, and abide in, union with His sitting-at-the-Father's-right-hand heavenliness that He teaches us to become like Him.
Is that how you read the scriptures? Is that how you pray? Is that how you fellowship? Is that how you worship? Is that how you attend church?
He is truly, presently waiting for you to ask for more of His life, His personality, His exact Way for this day.
"I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me." Philippians 4:12,13
* * *
"Called 'impostors' we must be true, called 'nobodies' we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always 'going through it' yet never 'going under.' We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have 'nothing to bless ourselves with' yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having." 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10
* * *
“She wanted nothing because she had everything.” - Ivan Turgenev, On the Eve
"Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you. If you go along the lines I have indicated above, there is no reason why you should stumble, and if you have lived the sort of life I have recommended God will open wide to you the gates of the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I shall not fail to remind you of things like this although you know them and are already established in the truth. I consider it my duty, as long as I live in the temporary dwelling of this body, to stimulate you by these reminders. I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me." 2 Peter 1:10-14
Those last words are so rich with real life, with real living, and with the power of memory! Here is a man, Simon Peter, writing to men and women scattered all over the Roman Empire, brothers and sisters in the Way of Jesus the Christ, and all this man wants is that his friends should live their lives fully in that Way. That's the import of verses 10-13.
But then verse 14 - "I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me" - is Peter leaning back in his chair and remembering a particular moment. In it, he was standing facing the Risen Jesus. It was early morning on the Sea of Galilee. The breeze was blowing fresh off the water. The sun was only just coming up over the Golan Heights. And Jesus said to him:
“I tell you truly, Peter, that when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you liked, but when you are an old man, you are going to stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and take you where you do not want to go... You must follow me."
That memory, that moment, is precisely what Peter thinks of as he writes these words in 2 Peter 1. And the moment described, that death Jesus foretold for him, is not very far off now...
Friends, what are the memories with Jesus that are animating our lives today? How quickly do we hearken back to our shared history with our Savior, our Lord, our Friend, as we go about our days?
Often, it seems, we are trying to show the world how important Jesus is, or how impressive, or, even, how logical; but how much better it would be if, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we simply showed them lives filled with seeming impossibilities.
The Conversion of the Warder (Acts 16), Philips Galle, 1582
“The unique thing about the early Christians was their radiant relation to a Person. ‘The Lord,’ they called Him tenderly, and when they used the term they gave it its own New Testament meaning. It meant Jesus Christ, who a short while before had been among them but was now gone into the heavens as their High Priest and Advocate. It was this engrossment with a victorious Person that gave verve and vibrancy to their lives and conviction to their testimony. They bore witness joyously to the One who had lived as a true Man among men. Their testimony was not weakened by the pale cast of metaphysical thought. They knew that Jesus was very Man and very God, and He had died, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven. They accepted literally His claim to be invested with authority over everything in heaven, earth and hell. How it could be they never stopped to inquire. They trusted Him absolutely and left the details to their triumphant Lord.”
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
Because Jesus has come, because He has taken on flesh to set us free, because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Him, and because He now sits at the right hand of the Father to dispense all His grace and glory upon those who would believe and ask, our present life in Him is as rich as we would have it be. Any sense of lack is simply you and I not living up to our heavenly privileges.
There is more for us. And it's all to be found in Him. Right now. Today.
“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs. ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’ (Eph. 5:14).”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
God’s Spirit specifically tells us that in later days there will be men who abandon the true faith and allow themselves to be spiritually seduced by teachings of the devil, teachings given by men who are lying hypocrites, whose consciences are as dead as seared flesh. These men forbid marriage, command abstinence from food — good things which, in fact, God intends to be thankfully enjoyed by those who believe in him and know the truth. Everything God made is good, and is meant to be gratefully used, not despised. The holiness or otherwise of a certain food, for instance, depends not on its nature but on whether it is eaten thankfully or not. It is consecrated by the man who has accepted the message, and thanks God for food.
You will be doing your duty as Christ’s minister if you remind your church members of these things, and you will show yourself as one who owes his strength to the truth of the faith he has absorbed and the sound teaching he has followed. But steer clear of all these stupid Godless fictions... (1 Timothy 4:1-7a)
In actuality, either our life with Jesus is a matter of Union-with-Him (in His Life, Way, Death, Resurrection and an Experience-of-His-alive-Life-within-us) or it all becomes external observances, things measurable, rules followable, ie. a state of disunion. I highly doubt that the people trying to foist these ideas upon Timothy’s fellowship were “bad people”; more likely, they were just trying to be careful: “Timothy, this stuff you and Paul are talking about is pretty out there; let's rein it in a little, shall we?”
But, my friends, it’s our personal digging-into-Jesus, our Branch-clinging-to-Vine-ness that’s most imperative for us each playing our proper part in the Body of Christ. Without your Belief and experience of Him, we’re all in danger of descending into “stupid Godless fictions,” into externals disconnected from the Life and Way of Jesus.
So what do you say? Shall we dig in - and delight - this day?
There is really no need to "defend our faith." If you and I would only live it - enjoying all the wonders of the splendor of our inheritances in Jesus - the world's counterpoints would become utterly indefensible.
"There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into churchiness, and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs; but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped and regulated god who is 'a good churchman' according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of a man's worship."
J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small
From John 6's preamble to "The Feeding of the 5,000" with notes in italics -
Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, another disciple, put in, “There is a boy here who has five small barley loaves and a couple of fish, but what’s the good of that for such a crowd?”
Oh, how I love Andrew! The first man to ever call Jesus Messiah, the first to call in another disciple to follow Him, he’s always getting this undercard status to his ridiculous brother. And yet faced with the very same view of this impossibly-large crowd as the rest of the disciples, Andrew approaches Jesus with the contents of a little boy’s lunchbox and, evidenced by the fact that he even makes this statement, a little grain, a little mustard-seed, of Belief.
Do you realize that believing a little bit is infinitely better than unbelief? Anything times zero will always be zero, but Jesus can always make use of our beginning, our small portion, our hope-filled, leaning-in, wide-eyed Belief to do unbelievable things.
In fact, do you want to see what a heart of complete Belief looks like?
Then Jesus said, “Get the people to sit down.”
Now that’s good! The trusting-in-His-Father certainty of Belief that says, “Everyone take a seat; order’s about to be up!”
May that be our heart toward Him today!
What if we began to measure our confidence, not against our personal strengths, or dreams, or plans, or smarts, but only against His immeasurable promises? For instance:
"And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19
"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." 2 Corinthians 1:3,4
“You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon Him, for you are His personal concern.” 1 Peter 5:7
"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6,7
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever." 1 Chronicles 16:34
"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Romans 8:28
"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17
"Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do." Psalm 1:1-3
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
"Faith is not opposed to knowledge; it is opposed to sight. And grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Commitment is not sustained by confusion but by insight."
Dallas Willard, Hearing God
Joshua said to the people [just before the crossing of the Jordan], “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow Yahweh will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)
And rather than asking you to imagine the burning look in Joshua’s eyes while saying these words, or the rapt attention of the millions of people listening, I want you to – for a moment – instead imagine just Jesus and yourself, sitting together, tomorrow morning. You’ve only just woken up and brushed your teeth; you now walk out to the kitchen table; He is sitting there, waiting for you. With the warmest smile, He then motions you to sit directly opposite Him, and, for the longest while, He just looks at you – like the proudest father might look on his little boy or girl. Finally He speaks, short and sweet: “I have sanctified you; today I will do wonders in your midst.” Only that. That’s all He says.
If you and I gave our whole “quiet times” everyday to arriving at that reality, we would be the most fruitful, joyous, connected disciples of Jesus that the Modern Era has ever seen. Our acceptance of what He’s done for us, our expectancy of what He’s bound to do today, would define our every moment.
What do you do, personally, when you meet with Him? Is it time for a change to what's become, perhaps, just a routine?