Short, simple and oh so sweet!
"A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?" Proverbs 20:24
There's something elegant about the mystery woven into this little thought; simplicity and the mystic walking hand-in-hand. For, truly, if the God of the universe determines the way of our lives, what can we truly ascertain with our limited minds and intellect?
How much more delightful to purposefully throw ourselves into His wondrous mysteries, learn His mind, and then trust Him for His higher path! What a daily life of adventure in Union! What a thing to follow the One who is the Way!
From 2 Timothy 1 -
"I often think of that genuine faith of yours—a faith that first appeared in your grandmother Lois, then in Eunice your mother, and is now, I am convinced, in you as well. Because you have this faith, I now remind you to stir up that inner fire which God gave you at your ordination. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and a sound mind."
That last sentence is a classic on the Sunday school memorization circuit, but may I make a bold statement? You will never have a "spirit of power and love and a sound mind" if you will not believe. The foundation of Paul's statements, here, is Timothy's "faith" (πίστεως), which didn't denote observance of a system of beliefs, but rather belief, trust, in the One who Himself is Life, the Truth, the Way. Every moment of your life gives opportunity for Belief in the person and promises of Jesus; Belief, too, is the foundation upon which the "gift of God" in you will be built (v. 6).
And how good is that "stir up that inner fire" command! The Greek there is "rekindle anew the gift of God." Can you picture that? In the darkness of night, turning over the remnants of a fire and seeing the low-glowing embers still alive. My friends, the Jesus in you never ceases to burn; His gifts for His Gospel will never be quenched.
Today, let us "rekindle anew" the fire of His love by believing Him in all things, in every moment!
From Matthew 26 - While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."
Just before that, in Matthew 25 - “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
Both of these sets of verses are troubling for us, the first for Jesus' seeming callousness, the second for its conviction of our oftentimes unobservant lifestyle. After all, are we really doing all we can for the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the prisoners in our midst?
But consider this proverb that unites our Union-with-Him and our duty-to-them:
Proverbs 19:17 - "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done."
With our eyes only upon Jesus, the faces we encounter become His face; the needs amongst us are simply His needs, expressed through others. How simple a thing to "lend to the Lord" when we know that He's the One who's living in us, providing for us, making ever greater use of our lives! A simple walk down the city sidewalk becomes an opportunity to walk His Way; we are transacting love only between ourselves and Him!
Brothers and sisters, may we "lend" generously to all who are "always with us" today, for whatever we do for "one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine," we're actually privileged to do for Him!
The shortest of Paul's pastoral letters is brimming with the glories of Jesus! Simply click below and scroll down on The Sounds page to listen.
What is the fruit of three disparate interactions with Jesus?
In 2 Corinthians 13:3, translator J.B. Phillips looked at the Greek prepositions used by Paul and came out with a much stronger wording than the NIV's. Compare them for yourself:
NIV: "[Christ] is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you."
Phillips: "The Christ you have to deal with is not a weak person outside you, but a tremendous power inside you."
Even though there could be argument as to the translative decisions made here, the differences serve as an apt illustration for the subtleties of belief/unbelief. In reality, two people talking in the above two ways might be sitting next to each other in the pews on any given Sunday in any given church. They are both hardworking, upright, solid examples of nice Christian people. The first one has a general sense of Jesus' presence in the collective "among you." The second one has a specific belief and expectation-of-the-Presence operating "inside" himself.
My questions: What will be the fruit of these varying beliefs by that Friday? Do generic, lofty "beliefs" hold up against the onslaught of a workweek, when compared to "Belief" in the ever-present Presence that's in one's chest?
Softened views of the external Jesus almost necessarily become beliefs in a weak Jesus. But day-by-day Belief that another lives inside you lends itself to power - and ever-growing awe and hopeful expectancy.
What sort of translation are you?
Proverbs 16:9 - "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."
Galatians 5:25 - "If we live by the Spirit, with the Spirit also we should keep in step." (Or, really, in the Greek: "go in battle-order.")
As we live out our lives, do we understand that our Past (His redemption of us from the brokenness of sin), our Present (our calling to live for Him as "new creations") and our Future (living with Him forevermore) are all wrapped up in the eternal NOW "steps" He is taking in our life TODAY? Oh, may we not spend too much of our lives being the man who "plans his course"; let's be the eternally-minded step-by-steppers who are going in the POWER of His Holy Spirit NOW, TODAY!
His steps are the plan for our course which lead to His greatest glory. May you and I be learning to go in beautiful battle-order this day, brothers and sisters!
This final chapter of Paul's first letter to Timothy brims with goodness! Just click the button below and scroll to the bottom of The Sounds to listen.
From 2 Thessalonians 3, with thoughts:
Yet the Lord is utterly to be depended upon by all who have faith in him, and he will give you stability and protection against all that is evil. It is he who makes us feel confident about you, that you are acting and will act in accordance with our commands. May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ.
Oh, the glorious glory of Jesus! All the wondrous blessings we will reap in places He has sown! He is “utterly” dependable; there is no place, person or circumstance with which we cannot utterly trust Him. He gives “stability and protection” to us; we have absolutely nothing to fear. He gives us “confidence” in the fruitfulness of our labors for His Kingdom; they are actually His works, all along. And “May he guide our hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ.” There is never any end to the depths and heights of the glory of this Jesus!
May we overwhelm ourselves in the goodness of His Gospel today!
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." Matthew 13
"Yes, to me (Paul), less than the least of all Christians, has God given this grace, to enable me to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ..." Ephesians 3
Imagine if you were walking along through your life and came upon a deep dark well with an old-fashioned hand-crank, pulley and a bucket able to descend down deep into the earth below. You try it to see what that darkness holds. As the bucket rises up toward you with each rotation of the pulley-handle, the sunlight catches glints and glimmers, not of water, but of a bucketful of gold, precious jewels and riches unimaginable. All you have to do is drop the bucket again. Then bring it up. Every single time that you do so is another experience of overwhelming wealth.
What would you do next? Would you only occasionally approach the well, because your life is so busy and stressful? Would you continue to think that your life is defined by how your career is going; "Well, I'd like to go back to that well, but I'm pretty important over at my job..."?
Not likely. My guess is you would give the fullness of your time and energy and strength to the simple daily task of bringing up wealth from the well. And you would delight in it. And you'd constantly be chuckling to yourself at the "luck" that had brought you across that find.
Well, Jesus is better than that. His "treasure hidden in a field," His "incalculable riches" are far greater than any earthly treasure of which you or I could ever conceive. His mysteries shock the angels, shake the foundations of the earth and are presently available to you who are reading this. Will you delve down today? Will you give your all to possessing the ALL of Christ that the Holy Spirit makes available?
May we never stop going to the well of His grace and mercy and knowledge and truth and goodness and righteousness and kindness and joy and peace and longsuffering and LOVE that's been lavished upon us!
Today, may we revel in the impracticality of Belief at every step. Let us pause, trust Him, and delight in the ways His Way runs contrary to the world's ways and worries. For, in fact, His whims for you are LIFE for you. He will lead you today. And, oh! that today would teach you trust that, tomorrow, would lead to greater miracles of faith.
He is trustworthy. Trust Him. Delight in Him. This day is His.
Here's a walk through the majesties of Ephesians 3. Just click below and scroll down The Sounds page to listen!
Take a deep breath, approach this text without your foreknowledge of what it says, and simply enjoy the goodness of Roman 8's midsection:
The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. Think what that means. If we are his children we share his treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory.
In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!
And now let's put it into words that draw it into our own hearts:
The Spirit himself should be so steadily listened-to and observable in our spirits that we know we really are the children of God. We must know what that means. Since we are his children, we can readily share his treasures today, and all that Christ claims as his now belongs to all of us as well! Yes, as we share in his sufferings (counting it as all joy!) we are certainly sharing in his glory too.
Whatever we have to go through now is literally less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation - including the lost people around you - are on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation - including the lost people around you - cannot as yet see reality, not because they choose to be blind, but because in God's purpose they have been so limited - yet they have given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty - the liberty you are blessed to be enjoying today - which can only belong to the children of God!
Oh, may it be so! May it be so in us today!
A picture of the inescapable, onrushing love of Jesus as He walks out across the water.
This past Saturday, I was with a group of Young Life student leaders and we were talking about our ability to both approach confidently, and then listen for the responses of, the Living God. As always, when talking about hearing God's voice, the room was a mixture of belief/expectancy and unbelief/skepticism. One of the last verses we read, discussed and challenged these kids to believe was from Jeremiah 33:
"While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him a second time: 'This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it — the Lord is his name: "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."'"
After reading that, they left the room and were tasked with 40 minutes of simply listening for the "great and unsearchable things" they didn't know...
One of the girls, who'd left the room with a fairly skeptical look on her face, returned with a smile of the greatest beaming joy you'd ever want to see. She couldn't contain herself. She explained that, after waiting for a while, she suddenly found that her heart was beating out of control. And then she felt like she was drawn to the whiteboard sitting across the room from her. So she walked over, wrote the name "Jesus" and then, when prompted, began writing up all the words and descriptors and adjectives that came to her mind.
Below is a photo of that whiteboard:
The God of the universe came for us, lived for us, died for us, ROSE for us. He now sits at the right hand of His Father, always ready to dispense His glorious wisdom and revelation upon those who'd stop to listen. Will you listen today? Will you be the touchpoint with the Heavenlies through whom the world will see Jesus on this after-Easter Monday?
O Church, there's nothing that can stand between your Savior and your experience of your Savior! His is this day!
"Of all the inspired certainties which sparkle on that sea of confidence in God which is the New Testament, the resounding triumph of Jesus Christ over man's last enemy is perhaps the most magnificent. 'Jesus Christ hath abolished death,' Paul wrote to Timothy; and what more categorical statement could anyone want than that?
"The force of such utter conviction as this is often lost to us simply because of our over-familiarity with the text. Moreover, when we present-day Christians use New Testament expressions we are more often than not borrowing a radiance from the past. We are often merely 'quoting texts,' but we need to remind ourselves quite sharply that Paul and his fellow-writers were doing nothing of the kind. They were writing truths, which have since become familiar to generations of Christians, for the first time."
J.B. Phillips, Good News
May our Easter day be one of Belief, not just "beliefs." May are Easter theology be proved by our actions, not just the way we think. He is Alive, O Church; seated in Heaven; reigning in us! May we worship Him today with abandon, joy and reckless belief!
Have you ever been struggling with a tough situation in your life and, upon waking up, experienced the feeling when it first pops back into mind? For just a moment after you open your eyes, all is well, the day will be good, you have nothing at all to worry about. And then... you remember... it. That problem at work; that thing that person said; that anxiety that's been haunting you. And, now that you remember it, it's as if you can't begin to forget.
Now imagine the Saturday that followed the events at Calvary. Imagine Jesus' disciples as they woke today, stretched their arms over their head and then.... remembered. Remembered that He was gone. Remembered His kind eyes and quick smile. Remembered that they'd just given the last three years of their life to a Teacher who was dead.
For the disciples on this Saturday morning, there was no hope of the Hope that was soon to be theirs...
May it never be so for us. Brothers and sisters, we must never be the people who allow the silence of this Saturday to be the truth of our lives; who act as if the Living, Breathing, New-Life-Giving Jesus isn't our present reality. The arrival of the first Easter was the end of human hopelessness. The grinding, rolling, moving sound of the tomb's stone being pushed aside was the end of our fear, the beginning of our fearlessness.
Do you know that? Do you source your life, not in Saturday's silence, but in this Sunday's supernatural invitation into never thirsting again? Do you know those "streams of living water" that first began flowing from the open tomb?
O Church, HE IS ALIVE.
Luke's Cross narrative, with some thoughts:
The people stood and stared while their rulers continued to scoff, saying, “He saved other people, let’s see him save himself, if he is really God’s Christ — his chosen!” Their irony is itself ironic. He was the Chosen One of His Father, but He was chosen for this: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53).
The soldiers also mocked him by coming up and presenting sour wine to him, saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, why not save yourself?” For there was a placard over his head which read, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Then plays out the great drama of the thieves on either side of Him; the whole picture of humanity since that day, two thousand years ago. This is the reality of the human race: Our sin earns a death; all humanity is bound by death, just as these criminal were. Their two reactions to Him – rejection and acceptance – are the only two reactions available to every human who’s lived since. The drama of the thieves is our drama…
One of the criminals hanging there covered him with abuse, and said, “Aren’t you Christ? Why don’t you save yourself—and us?” But the other one checked him with the words, “Aren’t you afraid of God even when you’re getting the same punishment as he is? And it’s fair enough for us, for we’ve only got what we deserve, but this man never did anything wrong in his life.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This thief is the clearest-eyed believer who ever lived. Because, while seeing Jesus in the midst of His sufferings, this man looked upon His broken face and saw the whole Kingdom! I’ve heard many people talk about the theology of this man’s salvation (“How is he redeemed?”; “What the meaning of paradise’ here?” etc), but I’ll say this in response: Our arm-chair theologies are absolutely nothing next to the suffering-Jesus this man saw! And this criminal, looking at this dying man, saw Life Abundant, and even chose to call Jesus by His first name! It’s so wonderfully personal and poignantly beautiful! Some day, in Glory, we will smile to meet this man!
And Jesus answered, “I tell you truly, this day you will be with me in paradise.” This is what we have in Jesus and nothing less! Is that your personal experience of Him, right now? Are you in Paradise? If not, you don’t understand what you have in Jesus! Your circumstances and trials are nothing beside His goodness!
It was now about midday, but darkness came over the whole countryside until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. It’s already been a scene of intense emotion, the women and some disciples watching in anguish, and then full darkness covers the land. All in the crowd look skyward in wonder… The veil in the Temple sanctuary was split in two. Boy, does Luke undersell this moment! The image of Heavenly Hands reaching down and tearing the curtain from top to bottom is absolutely everything for us who believe! Until that moment, here was our standing in God’s sight: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and you sins have hid his face from you…” (Is. 59)
But, in the moment of that tearing, we don’t just gain access to the Holy of Holies forever, the Spirit of God is out and about now in the “temple” of our bodies! The Holy of Holies is available, now, everyday: “So by virtue of the blood of Jesus, you and I, my brothers, may now have courage to enter the holy of holies by way of the one who died and is yet alive, who has made for us a holy means of entry by himself passing through the curtain, that is, his own human nature. Further, since we have a great High Priest set over the household of God, let us draw near with true hearts and fullest confidence, knowing that our inmost souls have been purified by the sprinkling of his blood just as our bodies are cleansed by the washing of clean water. In this confidence let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation—for he is utterly dependable…” (Heb. 10)
Then Jesus gave a great cry and said, “Father, ‘into your hands I commend my spirit.’” And with these words, he died. And, in dying, put to death our sin! He accomplished everything of the following: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2); “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9); “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 J. 2); “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5); “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5); “Who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2); “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9); “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2)
Oh, may the goodness of this "Good Friday" be the truest thing about us tomorrow, too! May we be forever marked by the costliness of the New Life we enjoy in Jesus!