The human body cannot live without blood and water. Just as truly, the Body of Christ, the Church, cannot live without blood (His) and water (His Holy Spirit.)
Are you and I learning to be such quick confessors when we sin that we are living more and more under the power and awareness-of-forgiveness provided by the blood?
Are you and I remembering the already-present presence of the Holy Spirit to such a degree that we are daily only asking for more and more of Him, all the time?
Both are required. Both are readily given. May this day be doubly bathed in both.
"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." 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Oh, the wondrous glory of Jesus; all the endless eternal blessings we reap in the places He has sown:
He is “utterly” dependable; there is no place, person or circumstance where we cannot utterly trust Him.
He gives “stability and protection” to us; we have absolutely nothing to fear in this life, in this world.
He gives us “confidence” in the fruitfulness of our labors for His Kingdom; they are actually His works through us.
And “May he guide our hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ.” Or, in other words, there is never any end to the depths and heights of the glories of this Jesus!
Swim down; climb up; you can’t help but overwhelm yourself in the goodness of the Gospel!
"The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die." 1 John 2:17
Isn't it interesting that the gravest human fear - death - and the highest human aspiration - the hope that our lifetime on this earth will have lasting importance: will "live past us" - are both resolved in joining the Kingdom of Heaven? In it, we become solid and permanent; and death holds no fear.
Isn't that beautiful to remember?
“How wonderful, and precious and lovely it is that our highest and best treasure, the kingdom of God, is not something exterior, but is an indwelling good that we always have with us, hidden from the whole world and from the devil himself so that neither the world nor the devil can take it from us. For it, we need no great skill, speech, or many books, but rather a heart released and surrendered to God. For this purpose let us diligently turn within to this inner, hidden, heavenly, and eternal goodness and kingdom. What should we seek for externally in the world, we who have everything within us, the whole kingdom of God and all its goods? In our hearts and souls is the true school of the Holy Spirit, the true workshop of the Holy Trinity, the true temple of God, ‘the true house of prayer in spirit and in truth’ (Jn 4:23). Although God is in all things through his general presence, not contained within them, but in an incomprehensible way filling heaven and earth, he is still in a special and singular sense in the enlightened souls of those people in whom he dwells and has his resting place (1 Cor 6:19; Is 66:2), as in his own image and likeness. There he performs the works that he himself is. There in our heart he always answers our sighs. How is it possible for him to deny those in whom he has his dwelling, whom he himself moves and draws? Nothing is more delightful and pleasant to him than to give himself to all those who seek him.”
Then the Lord said to Ananias, “Get up and go down to the street called Straight, and enquire at the house of Judas for a man named Saul from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying and he sees in his mind’s eye a man by the name of Ananias coming into the house, and placing his hands upon him to restore his sight.” Acts 9:11,12
The Book of Acts comes back to this time and again, both in Chapter 10 and across Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the rest of Acts, but here we get to see one amazing instance of an amazing facet of God's will. It’s the fact that, in our embracing the full mystery of the mission we’ve been given by Jesus, you and I get to transcend the three dimensions of our physical reality; that we are invited into the space-time construct that lives within the mind of God; that our lives grow fluid with the Holy Spirit’s fluidity. (Does that sound crazy enough for you?) Well, here what I mean:
In this particular Chapter 9 moment, there are two three-dimensional men – with height, width, and depth – living in the midst of normal human time, going about their two independent respective days. And yet – AND YET! – into those two realities comes an outside spiritual force, One who dwells outside the movement of what we call time, and He paints for both of them – one verbally, one visually – AT THE SAME TIME – a picture that is not-yet-real in time- and physical-space, and yet which is the EXACT, PERFECT will of God for both these two lives and the historical movement of the Gospel.
Ananias’ visit to Saul exists already in the timeless, four-dimensional (or more?) mind of God even before he takes a step toward the street called Straight…
THIS, my friends, is how we’re meant to be living, making plans, doing ministry and missions, raising our families: in a posture of three-dimensional waiting and listening and watching for the moments when the supernatural reality breaks in. Had you asked Ananias how to reach into the life and heart of Saul of Tarsus, he would’ve had his own best guesses... bounded by all normal human constraints. The Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, know no such constraints; their imagination should form the basis of all that we dream of doing.
Remember: No one is drawn into the Kingdom by observing what we disapprove of. They are drawn in by the miraculous thought that, through the blood of Jesus, the Father might approve of them. May we never forget this all-important difference in the way we walk, and point to, the Way.
“For You to have mercy is the same thing as for You to see. Your mercy follows after each person as long as he lives, and wherever he goes, just as Your seeing never abandons anyone. As long as a person lives, You do not cease to follow after him and to urge him on with a sweet and interior warning to leave error and to be converted to You in order to live happily. Lord, You are the companion of my pilgrimage. Wherever I go, Your eyes are always upon me. Your seeing is also Your moving. Therefore, You move with me and never cease moving as long as I move. If I am at rest, You are with me; if I ascend or descend, so do You; wherever I go, You are there (Ps 138:8). You do not forsake me in time of tribulation. As often as I call on You, You are there, for to call on You is for me to turn myself to You. You cannot fail a person who turns toward You, nor can anyone turn toward You unless you are there first. You are present before I turn myself to You, for unless you were present and invited me, I would be wholly ignorant of You.”
Nicholas of Cusa
"I am not really writing to tell you of any new command, brothers of mine. It is just the old, original command. You may think that the original message is old, and yet as I give it to you again I know that it is always new and always true - in your life as it was in His." 1 John 2:7,8
Two things are really beautiful to me in these two verses: the fact that John doesn't even really need to name the "old, original command" for his readers to know what he means; and the fact that John has grown so old in the doing of that command that he calls "old and original" what Jesus, when He first spoke it, called "new."
Do you know which command he's talking about?
“Now I am giving you a new command – love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”
To be a "modern American Christian" would seem to require all sorts of things: attendances, reading, a particular worldview, a dash of patriotism, etc, etc.
To be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth requires only one thing: LOVE.
"For Christ suffered for you and left you a personal example, and wants you to follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, nor was guile found in his mouth’. Yet when he was insulted he offered no insult in return. When he suffered he made no threats of revenge. He simply committed his cause to the one who judges fairly. And he personally bore our sins in his own body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and be alive to all that is good. It was the suffering that he bore which has healed you. You had wandered away like so many sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." 1 Peter 2:21b-25
Imagine yourself standing above a large crowd in a Roman-style inner courtyard; the people below filled with rage. And now feel the firm grip of hands upon your shoulders; look behind yourself: it is Him. Without words, He now bids you stand aside and then He takes His stand in the precise spot where you'd stood. And now, watching from the side, you see Him face the crowd as they begin at once to call for His death.
He personally bore all that He bore for you. Let us remember, today.
Joshua set up those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, in Gilgal. He spoke to the children of Israel, saying, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For Yahweh your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you, until you had crossed over, as Yahweh your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we had crossed over; that all the peoples of the earth may know that Yahweh’s hand is mighty; that you may fear Yahweh your God forever.’” (Joshua 4:20-24)
In the second chapter of his first letter, Peter has this to say of us:
“You come to him, as living stones to the immensely valuable living stone (which men rejected but God chose), to be built up into a spiritual House of God, in which you, like holy priests, can offer those spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. There is a passage to this effect in scripture, and it runs like this: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on him will by no means be put to shame.’”
As Joshua piles up the unexpectedly-acquired stones of the Jordan as a testament to the goodness and power of Yahweh, we are getting a glimpse of one of the highest purposes for our own human lives. Allow me to repurpose the end of the chapter in our New Covenant context:
Jesus set up His living stones, which He’d rescued from sin and death, in this world. He spoke to His Sons and Daughters, saying, “When anyone asks in time to come, saying, ‘What do these living stones mean?’ then you shall let all people know, saying, ‘We have entered into life eternal by the blood of Jesus. For Jesus our God laid down His life everyday before us, so that we might know the ways of the Kingdom, and Jesus our God went to death, poured out His blood upon Skull Hill, until we had crossed over to life; that all the peoples of the earth may know that Jesus’ hand is mighty; that you may fear and be loved by Jesus your God forever.’”
My friends, what a joy it is to be His living-breathing-working-loving-ministering “living stones” and His “holy priests” who walk in His ways within this world! Your everyday life-in-Him and His-in-yours is His chosen Ebenezer so that all people have the chance to know and see Him!
This week, Jesus wants personal communion - κοινωνία, "union with" or "fellowship" - with you, just you and Him. It's what He died to provide. Are you willing to oblige Him with your time, with your schedule, with your efforts, with your will, with your personal interest?
I guarantee your answer to that question will define this week.
“Love does not need any cause beyond itself, nor any fruit – its fruit is its use. I love because I love; I love so that I may love. Love is a great thing. If it reverts to its own principle, if it returns to its origin, if it flows back into its source, it always draws from it the power to flow forth continuously. It is love alone of all the motions, perceptions, and affections of the soul by which the creature, though not in equal measure, can repay something to the Creator, weigh back from the same measure.”
Bernard of Clairvaux
In view of this great prospect, we pray for you constantly, that God will think you worthy of this calling, and that he will effect in you all his goodness desires to do, and that your faith makes possible. We pray that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may become more glorious through you, and that you may share something of his glory — all through the grace of our God and Jesus Christ the Lord. (2 Thessalonians 1:11,12)
This is one of those very “Paul paragraphs” that’s so totally packed with phrasing and power that we’ll oftentimes read it and then take nothing from it. Something like, “Ah yes, hmmm, that’s quite deep…”
But, through the lens of Jesus, consider the full reality of what Paul is saying to us:
1. “worthy of this calling” – We read the word “worthy” and think: “Uh, oh. Me? Worthy?” And yet the Greek word utilized there is the exact same word spoken by the Prodigal Son to his father: “I’m not worthy to be called your son.” And the father’s response – really Jesus’ response – to his, and to our, sinful self-assertion of unworthiness? “‘Hurry!’ called out his father to the servants, ‘fetch the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and get that calf we’ve fattened and kill it, and we will have a feast and a celebration! For this is my son — I thought he was dead, and he’s alive again. I thought I had lost him, and he’s found!’ And they began to get the festivities going.” (Luke 15:22-24)
2. “his goodness desires to do” – Or, in other words, HE will effect what HE desires in your life. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)
3. “your faith makes possible” – Yes! That’s the “faith” you can’t get away from in all the four Gospels! In "Luke" alone, consider the statements of Jesus that “It is your faith that has made you well,” cf. Luke 5:20, 7:50, 8:48, 8:50, 17:19, 18:42.
4. “share something of his glory” – If you know the Westminster Shorter Catechism at all, you probably know the first question: “What is the chief end of man?” And the famous answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Yet it’s the Larger Westminster Catechism that adds two additional descriptors that make that question and answer even more fun: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Let’s you and I be “Larger” rather than “Shorter” believers in the way we go after the highest, fullest enjoyment of our Savior, Jesus!
5. “all through the grace” – And, yes, it’s ALL through the grace of Him alone! Thank you, Jesus!
“For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and he who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and by receiving adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality.”
Irenaeus of Lyons
Now it happened that Peter, in the course of travelling about among them all, came to God’s people living at Lydda. There he found a man called Aeneas who had been bed-ridden for eight years through paralysis. Peter said to him “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed.”
He got to his feet at once. And all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:32-35)
In this little vignette, which wastes no time on getting into the action, what’s wonderful to me is what we can see, ie. what’s right there in front of us, and what we can’t see, ie. what’s happening in the heart and mind of Peter, as he follows his Friend, his Teacher, Jesus.
So, first, for us, what is plain here, and can’t be missed? That Simon Peter roves through the world, just like Jesus did, and occasionally comes to rest with particular groups of people; that, there, finding a man constrained by debilitating physical ailment, Peter knows that he may, in the name of Jesus, heal that man; and that that man is healed and, at the preposterous news of such supernatural activity spreading, two whole towns come to believe.
Can we agree on everything I’ve just recapped?
Now here’s what we can’t see and can only wonder about: What was it like for Peter to be led daily by the Presence of his once-bodily Friend? Why and how has he been particularly led to Lydda? What was it like for Peter to simply know that Aeneas was a man who the Lord Jesus wanted to heal on this exact day? Did he pray before or did he just know? In essence, what was it like for Peter to live out a day – any old day of his life – with Jesus?
It was absolutely the same as how it can be for you.
Listen to Peter himself, by now an old man, as he addresses the question of what’s available to us, and how much we might walk as he walked with Jesus:
“Simon Peter, a servant and messenger of Jesus Christ, sends this letter to those who have been given a faith as valuable as ours in the righteousness of our God, and savior Jesus Christ. May you know more and more of grace and peace as your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord grows deeper. He has by his own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life, in allowing us to know the one who has called us to him, through his own glorious goodness. It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature.” (2 Peter 1:1-4)
That’s Peter, right-hand man of Jesus, telling you that you have everything that you need already. Oh, will we believe it?
“…no one learns to know the Father except the Son, and no one learns to know the Son except the Father and him to whom He chooses to reveal Him (Mt 11:27). These are the Lord’s words. The Father and the Son reveal this to certain persons then, to those to whom they will, to those to whom they make it known, that is, to whom they impart the Holy Spirit, who is the common knowing or the common will of both. Those therefore to whom the Father and the Son reveal themselves recognize them as the Father and the Son recognize themselves, because they have within themselves their mutual knowing, because they have within themselves the unity of both, and their will or love: all that the Holy Spirit is.”
William of Saint-Thierry
Isn't it a fascinating thought that the Holy Spirit would constitute the "common knowing" and "common will" of the Father and the Son; that He is their internal means of recognizing each other fully; their mutual knowing of each other; the spiritual mechanism of their unity, will and love?
I think I'd like a fuller indwelling of that Spirit!
How would it change your interaction with, and your theology about, the Holy Spirit if you began to understand that He can probably best be described, adjectivally, as "reckless?"
Most churches talk about Him as if He's a nice, mysterious figure sitting in a back boardroom, rubberstamping our exciting ministry plans for growth and better giving.
He is the flame whose fire lit ablaze the life of the First Generation, man by man, woman by woman, and, over time, burnt whole empires to ashes. That's the Holy Spirit of God.
How will you personally listen for His voice today?
“For Christians see that with Jesus human and divine nature began to be woven together, so that by fellowship with divinity human nature might become divine, not only in Jesus, but also in all those who believe and go on to undertake the life which Jesus taught, the life which leads everyone who lives according to Jesus’ commandments to friendship with God and fellowship with Jesus."
Origen of Alexandria
Now Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have discovered the man whom Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the Prophets wrote too. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph and comes from Nazareth.”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” retorted Nathanael. “You come and see,” replied Philip.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and remarked, “Now here is a true man of Israel; there is no deceit in him!”
“How can you know me?” returned Nathanael.
“When you were underneath that fig-tree,” replied Jesus, “before Philip called you, I saw you.”
At which Nathanael exclaimed, “Master, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel!”
“Do you believe in me,” replied Jesus, “because I said I had seen you underneath that fig-tree? You are going to see something greater than that! Believe me,” he added, “I tell you all that you will see Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man!” (John 1:45-51)
Years ago, I was in a seminar given by the wonderful Dale Bruner, and he was teaching through this particular chapter. And I’ll never forget his conclusion here. He asked – and I ask you – when you hear the phrase “Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending,” does that ring any scriptural bell for you? Does any certain passage from the Old Testament come to mind?
From Genesis 28 – “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
What a scene! And Jacob’s immediate reaction is one of fitting awe: “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”
Thus, by conjuring this moment in Nathanael’s memory of the Torah, Jesus not only associates Himself with that passage, but also with the place in that passage – Beth’el, "the house of God." And did you notice how He transposed Himself for the place: “you will see Heaven wide open and God’s angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man”?
So now reconsider Jacob’s reaction when in the frame-of-reference of Jesus: “‘Surely the Lord is in this Jesus, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this Jesus! This Jesus is none other than the house of God, and this Jesus is the gate of Heaven.”
How good is that!
Today, if you would consider yourself to be a Nathanael, an "enlightened Christian skeptic," (Ha!) I challenge you to bring your every doubt to Jesus Himself. For not only will He answer your doubts, He’ll so raise the stakes that your highest questioning considerations don’t stand a chance; His personal presence undoes unbelief.
I was reading an article last week about the direct democracy employed by the provinces ("cantons") of Switzerland, in order to bind the whole country into a solid directly democratic union. The German word they use to describe how this works is "willensnation" - they are a "nation by the will" - they can only be united as they follow the true will of the provinces.
We often wonder how the Body of Christ, the Church, might actually come into the unity prayed for by Jesus in John 17. But doesn't Switzerland's system, and its name, give us a clue? Should we not be the "willenslieb" - the "Body by the Will" - who find true unity only as our individual members follow the Will? And isn't that Will simply the Way of Jesus, as taught by Him, and as recorded throughout the four Gospels, and as lived very clearly by the Early Church?
Your life is your vote; your day today expresses what you believe of Him: may you and I show the Will that will unite the Body to Jesus Himself.
“Give me strength to seek, you who have made me find you and given me the hope of finding you more and more. My strength and my infirmity are in your sight: preserve the one, and heal the other. My knowledge and my ignorance are in your sight; where you have opened to me, receive me as I enter; where you have closed, open to me as I knock. May I remember you, understand you, love you. Increase these things in me, until you fully refashion me.”
The children of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, as Yahweh spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel. They carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. (Joshua 4:8,9)
So, over on the shore, there would be those twelve stones picked up and arranged by the twelve men, while, in the middle of the river-channel, now stand twelve stones picked up and arranged by Joshua himself. In a few moments, the river-waters will hurtle down the dry riverbed and engulf the pile of stones that Joshua set up to commemorate the crossing, but, up above, the other stack will stand.
Can you see these two ebenezers in your mind’s eye? The visible one onshore and the other submerged beneath the green waters?
I love this idea that we should have markers to the majesty of Jesus that others can see and ask about, and also other memorials that are unseen, private to us and Him, swallowed up within an impenetrable flood of our shared intimacy.
Would you say that you have some of both?