From Ephesians 2, with some thoughts:
"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…"
Oh goodness! The flow of words here is the absolute glory of our story in Jesus!
Who were we? “We were dead in our sins.” The Greek word used here connotes “corpse,” not some ethereal, spiritual state of deadness. We were actually dead as a doornail.
Who is God? “Rich in mercy.” The word Paul utilizes really means “opulent,” like God is smoking cigars lit with hundred dollar bills while lounging beside pools of His glorious grace.
What motivates God? “The great love he had for us.” The word for “great” there is better translated as “mighty”; every movement, every action, every word of Jesus (even the hard ones) are entirely borne from His mighty love for us.
What did He do? “Gave us life together with Christ.” You and I have been given life just as Jesus, the Crucified One, was given life at the Resurrection! You get the picture of Jesus, only recently a lifeless corpse Himself, suddenly springing out of the tomb with a spring in His step. And you and I are right alongside Him, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes! Perhaps this was the visual that Paul imagined when he penned Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
What’s our situation now? “It is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved.” You can really hear the tone of Paul’s words here! He’s essentially said, “Look, you were actually dead. But God, because He’s rich in mercy and because He’s crazy enough to love you crazily, has actually made you not dead. So let’s not get any stupid ideas about earning this!”
Brothers and sisters, may we live out a day like today with a hope like this hope! We are so wrapped-up in His love that's overwhelmingly, consumingly overpowering; we really don't have any chance of getting away from it, no matter what today holds! Live from that truth. Live in that reality.
One Body, One Spirit, One Calling to One Hope, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God, One Father of us all, the One working through all and the One living in all.
Ephesians 4 walks us beautifully down the road of Union:
"Make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another. You all belong to one body, of which there is one Spirit, just as you all experienced one calling to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father of us all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all." v. 3-6
Paul's words so deeply condemn our perception that denominationalism is natural, organic and helpful to the growth of the Body of Christ. In fact, interpersonal oneness with the Holy Spirit is supposed to "inevitably" lead to oneness in our worship. We are intended to be "one body," powered by the unlimited energies of the "one Spirit," as we chase after our one and only "calling to one hope," Jesus. He is the "one Lord"; Belief in Him is the "one faith"; being buried with Him is the "one baptism"; there is only the "one God," the "one Father of us all, who is the one over all."
And if you wonder where Union with the indwelling Christ fits into this equation, read on: "the one working through all and the one living in all."
"His 'gifts to men' were varied. Some he made his [apostles], some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of the common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the 'fullness of Christ.'" v. 11-13
We talk and talk about our "gifts and giftings" in the Church, and yet the only purpose for these gifts is to push the Body of Christ into greater Union with the Living Jesus. Apostles must bring Heaven to earth; prophets must speak only the words of God; preachers must preach only of the Gospel; pastors must lead their flock only to the Good Shepherd; teachers must instruct the hearts, not just the minds, toward the Way of Jesus.
The great test for any pastoral staff is to ask whether, in any given year, their efforts have caused their congregation to "arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the 'fullness of Christ." Any lesser goal is chaff in the wind; we are meant to be growing up only into Jesus, nothing less, nothing more...
"We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love." v. 14-16
There is nowhere to go but up. There is no other destination for you and for the Body of Christ but Jesus. The more our contemplations, desires, actions and spirits are consumed with Him, the more the Body is as it was meant to be: One and fully His.
The Church is merely you, the one who is reading these words, the one sitting in front of your computer, your iPad or your smart phone, right now. Your pursuit of the One Lord, in the power of the One Spirit, is the only part you can play today in the eternal movements of the Church. Will you play that part? Will you spur the Body? Will you be one of the ones who never ceases after Him and helps us all to become One?
Paul's final words. 2 Timothy 4.
This chapter represents Paul's final words, not only to Timothy, but to us. To listen to a walkthrough of the text, click the button below and scroll down on The Sounds.
A Thought on Belief
I urge you, Timothy, as we live in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus (whose coming in power will judge the living and the dead), to preach the Word of God. Never lose your sense of urgency, in season or out of season. 2 Timothy 4:1,2a
In the Greek, the opening word of this chapter prepares the way for all that's to come, both in this final chapter and in Paul's life: Διαμαρτύρομαι - "to call on gods and men to witness"
As Paul sits in prison and writes his final words to Timothy, both this Greek word and, in the Phillips' translation, the way the next phrase is stated, give us a picture of undeniable power. My friends, we play so much of our lives like we're on a stage, being observed by family, friends, coworkers, bosses, even strangers. We tap-dance or sing our song, and our highest hope is to be noticed and applauded; to be thought worthy by this vast crowd we think observes our life...
And yet the audience, Paul tells us, is only really two: "God and Christ Jesus." And the only acceptable act is one: "to preach the Word of God" with urgency and without ceasing.
As you consider Paul in the closing moments of his life, it's that first word that "sets the stage" for the kind of life to which we're all called. For as we call only on God to witness our delight in speaking His name, we must know the root-word that's tucked into Paul's first word: μαρτύρ - martyr.
To what lengths are you willing to go for the sake of the Gospel?
The Glory of Kings
"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings."
In order to reach a destination, it helps to know the terrain of the journey, the distance to be covered; how much better a trip that begins with, at least, a general sense of the journey ahead, rather than one begun in ignorance and followed with foolishness...
The Way of Jesus winds and wends; the Holy Spirit blows from destinations unknown; the mysteries of the Godhead are working themselves out in the midst of your heart, your spirit. May we never be foolish enough to think we "understand" the ways of our God. Ever mysterious is His path. "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter." And it should be the glory of the brothers and sisters of the King to search Him out today, this week.
Holy Spirit, lead us into the clouds of your glorious mystery. Lord Jesus, we desire your mind in this. May we be enraptured by the matters that you're working out, right in our midst.
ἕνωσις in 2 Timothy 3
As Paul draws nearer to the end of his life, he desires only to push Timothy nearer and nearer to Jesus. Click the button below and scroll down on The Sounds to listen.
In Mark 7, we read this: Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret...
What a wonderful advertisement for the necessity of Union! As Believers, our desire is that we might make Jesus known in every day, situation, context or gathering in which we find ourselves. Oftentimes we enter into our day and wonder how we should act, what we should say etc, in order to fulfill that end...
Yet if the truest thing about us is that Jesus lives inside us, the "problem" expressed in Mark 7 becomes our daily life experience: We'll enter a house, or a meeting, or a coffee shop, or a doctor's office, or our children's school, or a sporting event, and Jesus, the One living inside us, will be unable to keep His Presence there secret.
O Believer, your Union-with-Him is His highest idea for the evangelization of the world. It is your only work in that arena. From it springs the fullness of the fruits that He is working to grow in you, tend in you and bear forth into this world that so desperately needs Him.
"Abide in Me, and I in you..."
No fruit without the root
"Christ Jesus lived a life upon earth that He expects us literally to imitate. We often say that we long to be like Christ. We study the traits of His character, mark His footsteps, and pray for grace to be like Him, and yet, somehow, we succeed but very little. And why? Because we are wanting to pluck the fruit while the root is absent. If we want really to understand what the imitation of Christ means, we must go to that which constituted the very root of His life before God. It was a life of absolute dependence, absolute trust, absolute surrender, and until we are one with Him in what is the principle of His life, it is in vain to seek here or there to copy the graces of that life."
Andrew Murray, The Master's Indwelling
His Inversive Way in Us
The opening of 2 Timothy 3: "But you must realize that in the last days the times will be full of danger. Men will become utterly self-centered, greedy for money, full of big words. They will be proud and contemptuous, without any regard for what their parents taught them. They will be utterly lacking in gratitude, purity and normal human affections. They will be men of unscrupulous speech and have no control of themselves. They will be passionate and unprincipled, treacherous, self-willed and conceited, loving all the time what gives them pleasure instead of loving God. They will maintain a facade of 'religion,' but their conduct will deny its validity. You must keep clear of people like this."
No matter where you land on "last days" thinking - whatever eschatology you think is "right" - I'd love to make three simple and essentially incontrovertible statements:
1. We won't fully know about all that until we really and actually know. (After all, the skies "being rolled back as a scroll" etc, should be fairly easy to notice!)
2. Until the exact moment of the End, we are only meant to be about the work of Jesus.
3. In the midst of darkness, Christ-in-you, the "Light of the world," cannot fail to be noticed.
In light of these thoughts, consider 2 Timothy 3:1-5 in the exact inverse, once Jesus has taken over the living of our lives:
"But you must realize that in the last days the times will be full of wonder. His people will become utterly Christ-centered, generous with money, full of kind words. They will be humble and loving, living their lives with great regard for what their parents taught them. They will overflow with gratitude, with holiness, with great affection for others. They will be people of careful speech and have total control of themselves. They will be gentle and highly principled, thoughtful, living Jesus' selfless will, loving all the time what gives God pleasure instead of loving themselves. They will live in the fullness of godliness, and their conduct will prove His validity. You must grab hold of people like this."
Brothers and sisters, because He is ALIVE and because He LIVES IN US, we have nothing at all to fear today or, later, in the End. In fact, any sensation of it being the "last days" should cause us to redouble our passion, both for Union-with-Him and with His care for the lost world.
May our day say "Amen" to that!
Remembrance of the Impossible
As we follow Jesus, one of our greatest tools is the daily earnest work of remembrance. If we remember His "yesterday-goodness," we will believe today. If we take to heart the impossibilities He has already worked in us, we'll begin to have His view of the possible.
Consider Psalm 78:11-16 in the context, instead, of Israel's pervasive forgetfulness:
They forgot what he had done,
the wonders he had shown them.
He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
He divided the sea and led them through;
he made the water stand up like a wall.
He guided them with the cloud by day
and with light from the fire all night.
He split the rocks in the wilderness
and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
he brought streams out of a rocky crag
and made water flow down like rivers...
Oh, may you and I become so conversant in the impossibilities of our Savior that we never forget what He has done! May the impossible become a springboard for our Belief. In fact, let's rewrite Psalm 78 through the lens of Jesus' works:
They cannot forget what He has done,
the wonders He has shown them.
He did miracles in their sight, as well as 2,000 years ago,
in the land of ancient Israel, as well as right here.
He calmed the sea and led their lives upon the waters;
He made the waters smooth as polished glass.
He guided them with His Spirit by day
and with the Light of His presence by night.
He is the Rock who was tempted in the wilderness
and is the Water for all who thirst;
He causes "streams of living water to flow from within them"
and made the River of Life ever available...
Jesus, would you teach us to remember today, that we might Believe?
ἕνωσις in 2 Timothy 2
A wonderful chapter that draws us ever nearer to Jesus! Click below and scroll down on The Sounds to listen.
From the opening of 2 Timothy 2 -
So, my son, be strong in the grace that Jesus Christ gives. Everything that you have heard me preach in public you should in turn entrust to reliable men, who will be able to pass it on to others. Put up with your share of hardship as a loyal soldier in Christ’s army. Remember: 1) That no soldier on active service gets himself entangled in business, or he will not please his commanding officer. 2) A man who enters an athletic contest wins no prize unless he keeps the rules laid down. 3) Only the man who works on the land has the right to the first share of its produce. Consider these three illustrations of mine and the Lord will help you to understand all that I mean.
For these "three illustrations," a more exact reading would go like this: "No one serving as a soldier entangles himself with pragmatic modes of life, that he might please the one who enlisted him. If anyone also competes, he is not crowned if he has not competed lawfully. For the hardworking farmer, it is necessary first to partake of the fruits."
Did you notice some of the narrowing of the focus there, due to some of the wordings? For me, it was "pragmatic," "lawfully" and "partake of the fruits." For the sake of the Gospel, I am to think non-pragmatically, walk in the straight and narrow of Jesus, and be the first taster of the fruits. How can I go hungry when I'm hanging here on the Vine? How can I miss Jesus when He lives within me? How can I plan for, or try to account for, One whose own ministry strategy was haphazard at best?
Oh, we must follow only Jesus today!
Fresh Insights on our Insides
In Mark 7, Jesus has a confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees that concludes this way:
Then he called the crowd close to him again, and spoke to them, “Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this, There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him ‘common.' It is the things which come out of a man that make him ‘common’!”
Later, when he had gone indoors away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about this parable.
“Oh, are you as dull as they are?” he said. “Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him ‘common’ or unclean? You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough. But,” he went on, “whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man ‘common’ or unclean. For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise — lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance and folly! All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!”
Now, considering that the One-most-uncommon has chosen to live in us, let's revisit that ending from the inverse:
"For it is from inside, from the heart and mind of Jesus in us, that good thoughts arise - love, generosity, life-giving, purity, giving, real goodness, honesty, tangible kindness, encouragement, kind words, humility and wisdom! All these good things come from inside a man filled with Jesus and make him clean and pure!"
On this Monday morning, let's rearm ourselves with all of His glorious attributes by living from the true source of our lives - Jesus Himself! He's ever able to relive His life through ours - including all of its inherent goodness - if we'll only Abide in Him throughout this day and this week!
ἕνωσις in 2 Timothy 1
As Paul confronts the end of his earthly journey, he begins beautifully in this letter to his closest protege. To listen, click the button below and scroll down on The Sounds.