"Christianity is not a doctrine, but an existence communication. (This is the source of all the nuisances of orthodoxy, its quarrels about one thing and another, while existence remains totally unchanged.) Christianity is an existence communication and can only be presented – by existing..."
Søren Kierkegaard, from his journals
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"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son."
1 John 1:1-3, Phillips
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Thought for this week: Our "witness" for Jesus is exactly equivalent to our experience of His existence. Nothing else - no "doctrine," no "orthodoxy," no "quarrel" - can stand against our first-hand, practical testimony to His living life. We must prove Him by our personal experience of His present existence.
Jesus ministered out of His perfection (ie. His abandoned will; His will, now, to obey; His flawless obedience, moment to moment) and from His personal intimacy with His Father.
Therefore, we are learning to minister out of our discipleship (ie. our self-denial; our adherence, now, to His voice; our obedience to the Way, moment to moment) and from our personal intimacy with Jesus, our Brother.
Discipleship is nothing without intimacy.
And vice versa.
An amplification of Romans 5:5-8, with the verses in bold and my words in regular text:
Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. The Holy Spirit of God, the atmosphere of Heaven itself, the communion-point of the Father and Son, the animating force of all the greatest deeds of the Old Testament, has been given, without reserve, without end, without any restraint to every believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is within you--now. He is the exact point on earth--within you—where the “love of God”—the life of Heaven—is choosing to express itself. Your inward experience of, your union with, this Holy Spirit is the way in which you meet and experience the incarnate life and love of Jesus. And what is that love like?
And we can see that it was while we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. The love of Jesus is powerful…for the powerless. It is the perfect help of Heaven, sent to earth, for all the people of earth--everyone!—who are unable to help themselves. In fact, that is the best definition of the love of Jesus: that it is heavenly; that it cost His life; that it’s for the powerless, ie. all of us. The love of Jesus is the greatest universal, all-encompassing force that has ever swept across the face of this earth. Listen:
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. And, by the way, it was while we were sinners that He also lived His life for us—just ask Matthew the tax-collector. Or the woman caught in adultery and hauled into the Temple. Or, for that matter, any of His disciples. And, maybe most notably, while He was in the midst of giving His life for the sake of sinners, the criminal who met Him in death—and then met Him again in Paradise. “God’s amazing love” is amazing because of how relentless it is—even beyond the bounds of life and death—in pursuing the sinner. All human history before Jesus was a record of the seeming wrath of God; everything after is a catalogue of the immensity of His love.
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
In working through the latter half of Romans 3, I was drawn to a compare-contrast of the Old and New Covenants—especially the blessings/curses that accompanied the Old, as described in Leviticus 26. For Anchor this week, after having looked at that chapter over and over again, I decided to re-transcribe it in the context of the New—especially highlighting our overwhelming blessings upon blessings. How does this read to you?
“Walk with Me for yourselves, and let my Holy Spirit dwell within you. I am the Lord your God. Live in my rest and enjoy the joy of being my Temple. I am your Lord. As you follow my commandments and walk the path of my Way, my Spirit will become a spring within you, watering your life and yielding great crops of His fruit. Together, we will harvest the fruit of your life—I, the Vine; you, the branch—and you will be fruitful and I will be your fruitfulness.
“I will grant you my peace, and you will rest in Me and no one and nothing will be able to make you afraid. I have already vanquished the words and works of the evil one; swords and strife will not be the experience of your days. The enemy may pursue you, yes; but he is powerless in my presence—I have forever chased Him away by my finished work.
“Now I look on you with favor and I will make you fruitful and increase your fruit, and I will keep the Covenant I have made with my Father. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I have put my dwelling place within you, and I will love you to the moment when you come home. I will walk with you and be your God, and you will be my chosen child forever. For I am the Lord your God, Jesus the Christ, who brought you out of bondage so that you would no longer be slaves to the Law, sin and death. I broke the chains of your slavery and set you under the bars of my yoke and enabled you to walk, alongside Me, with our heads held high.”
There once was a mighty mountain—the tallest in the world. Its heights were so high that no eye had ever seen them. Its craggy, granite summit was wreathed around with clouds. Nothing in all the world could compare to this most permanent peak.
On the other side of the world lived a grain of sand. This speck was one of hundreds of billions of other, similar specks. Every day the grain would rise and fall with the tides. It would flow and tumble and toss with the other sand around it.
—the sand-grain heard the voice of the mountain:
“You are no grain of sand, my little one. You are part of me—a fleck of granite—permanent. Let me bring you home…”
And with that, a divine wind—a mighty blast of air from the mountain’s summit—picked up the speck and carried it all the way to the foot of the mountain. It rested now, granite to granite, like to like. It was invited to enjoy its new, permanent home forever. Around it were all the others who’d found their true identity. All was joy and peace and enjoyment now.
But, then, doubts began to rise.
I don’t look the same as all these other kinds of granite.
Is the mountain really the tallest, best, truest in the world?
I miss the tumble and toss—and togetherness—of the seashore.
Perhaps I might just go back…
The voice of the mountain spoke to the speck again:
“I will never move, change or—ever—forget you. I am the life, the truth, the place to live. You have entertained your doubts now, little speck. I am unchangeable towards you. How—where—will you choose to live?”
Consider some promises, extrapolated, and some realities - already ours! - from the words of Isaiah 51:
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.” Our only comfort is to be found in Him. In God. In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On any given day, you may stop whatever you’re doing, sit perfectly still wherever you are, and actually ask to be internally comforted. He will comfort you, right there and then.
“The cowering prisoners will soon be set free…” Or, better yet: The cowering prisoners have been set free! You are already free--today! The blood of Jesus has already warranted for your perfect, holy blamelessness; you cannot be more free than you already are. He has promised that—and then done the entire work to make it so.
“they will not die in their dungeon…” Your circumstances today are not the whole story. No matter what you’re presently experiencing, no matter the hardships you’re currently enduring, you are not outside of how He would seek to lead and care for you. Can you, today, trust Him? He will not allow you to languish unnecessarily. He is actually working out something in your life, right this minute.
“nor will they lack bread.” He is the only Provider you’ve ever had. Your paycheck isn’t the boss of you. Your boss isn’t the boss of you. The One who easily feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields isn’t without resources that specifically have your name on them. Will you trust Him—and ask?
“I have put my words in your mouth…” Jesus promised His disciples that whenever they were dragged before governors and kings for His sake, He would literally speak His words right from their mouths. Again, here, it’s promised: He will arm you with proper words. He wants His sons and daughters to always have the Holy Spirit-infused vocabulary for every situation: He has promised it.
“And covered you with the shadow of my hand…” Your life lives in the shadow—not of death, or discouragement, nor of sin, or of hopelessness, or despair—but in the cool, fresh shade of His mighty hand. Nothing can get to you that doesn’t have His allowance for your good. No arrow or word or trial can ever outflank Him. You are presently nested right within His will, under the awe-inspiringly, massive power of His hand; you are right where you belong. Your position is assured. You are beloved. You are His.
Isn't our Lord Jesus wonderful?
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 (NASB)
Personally, I can’t recall another question spoken in the Scriptures that holds the same meaning and weight as the question with which this implied promise concludes: “is anything too difficult for Me?” Because if there’s any doubt in our minds as to His ability to encounter, overcome and, even, demolish any difficulty, then--what are we doing? Who do we think we’re going to follow, next, if this One, this God, can’t surmount any challenge, hardship, barrier or impasse?
My friends, I want us to truly know this God, this One: “the Lord, the God of all flesh” who is unstoppable in face of difficulty.. I want you so unshakably resolved upon His power and sheer dynamism that there’s never any more question for you in your day to day.
So, for that reason, I want to take you on a journey of His ability, over the aeons, to overcome every difficulty, every trial, every divide, every impossibility that might’ve seemed insurmountable. And, to do that, I want us to consider, in each era or day, His and our “state of existence”—Who He was and who we were—during that precise period of time (or, even, pre-time).
Before Creation – God was. We weren’t. He existed and we didn’t exist at all. And yet He manifested existence and time and space and being, and made the triune choice to make us “in His image.”
In the Garden of Eden – He was. We were now also. And He overcame any potential boundary lying between the Divine and those Made-in-the-Image-of-the-Divine, and He walked with us “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8, ESV).
From the Fall until the Incarnation – He was God: perfect and holy. We were fallen: imperfect and broken. And yet, for the remainder of human history until His coming, He continued to manifest His grace and to reveal His voice across the divide. It was only by His grace that “history” didn’t end with the Fall: He might’ve scrapped the whole thing because humanity was no longer perfect.
The Incarnation – He was Himself and yet with us. We were still imperfect and yet with Him. He actually allowed humanity to see the very face of God.
The Cross – He was Himself and yet totally in our place, on our behalf. We were our broken selves, and yet our sin-existence hung suspended-in-time upon that Man on the Cross. And He personally overcame sin, that separating force that had destroyed mankind ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection – He was alive again—God and Man—entirely by His own power. We were still imperfect, and yet now offered a new sinless, deathless, human existence. And He had permanently, once for all time, overcome death, “the last enemy” of mankind (1 Cor. 15:26, NIV).
The Ascension – He was Himself—Man and God—on the throne again. We were able, by His blood, to have direct access. And nothing can now separate our confident earth-to-Heaven approach: He has said “It is finished” to all human-to-God separation.
Pentecost until Today – He is with the Father--and with us: within our hearts. We are here on earth, as new Kingdom creations--and yet “raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6, NIV). His and our shared, bi-locational reality means there’s no difficulty unable to be overcome, no provision meant to be unmet, no spiritual deficit He won’t personally invade, overwhelm and conquer. He is there and here; we are here and there.
In every portion of history and pre-history, we have dealt with a God who is unable to be stopped, unable to encounter any natural or supernatural difficulty that has any ounce of power against Him. Let us say to our hearts today: Behold, I am following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for Him!
Lack of seeming substance? He created existence!
Lack of connection? He personally comes to encounter us!
Lack of holiness? He will never stop pursuing His people!
Lack of understanding of God? He has showed us His face!
Fear of the consequences of sin? He ended it!
Fear in the face of death? He has conquered it forever!
Desire to know God? He invites you into the throneroom of Heaven!
Desire for a new life? He invites Himself right into your heart!
Let me type it once again with confidence, from me to you: Behold, you and I are following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing in the heavens or the earth is too difficult for Him
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20, NASB)
What’s most fascinating about the words of this well-known, well-worn promise almost aren’t the words themselves, but instead the hearers who first heard them read aloud: the “lukewarm” church at Laodicea, one of the seven First Century churches spoken about in the Book of Revelation. Can you imagine sitting in the fellowship at Laodicea, receiving that miraculous, written-down revelation-of-Heaven from John, and then hearing that you were, more likely than anything, to be “spit out of [Jesus’] mouth”? That, even though you’d been week-by-weekly going through the motions of meeting, doing your nice little services, you’d been deluding yourselves about the reality of your obedience?
What a moment that must’ve been!
But even more remarkable is the fact that, after all the difficult words Jesus speaks to this wayward fellowship, He then turns right around and offers up today’s promise to them. He changes the subject by saying, “All those whom I love I correct and discipline. Therefore, shake off your complacency and repent” (Rev. 3:19, PNT) and then speaks that “Behold…”
How wonderful is Jesus! That no matter how we’ve lost our way, wandered from His Way, got into patterns of self-delusion, fruitless living, lukewarm folly--He calls us back! He knocks at the door of our heart and—if we’ll only crack the door, say, “Who’s there?”—He’ll walk right in and set the table for dinner together! This is the glorious God we belong to! This is the Savior with that salvation-smirk on His face!
And then comes even another amazing word spoken to the hearers of this promise, that same lukewarm Laodicean fellowship:
As for the victorious, I will give him the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:21, PNT).
My friends, the Jesus who is knocking at your door today, wanting to take His meals at your table, is also the Jesus who will one day invite you up onto His throne. The One who’s made you holy and blameless—fit for Heaven—victorious with His victory—is the One who can’t wait to say to His Father, “Could you slide over a little? One of my best friends has finally arrived. This one who heard My knock, opened the door, let Me in, and dined with Me—well, now he’s here with us, Father. Slide on over. Let’s let him sit between us—forever.”
Thank you, Jesus.
"Certain people declared in my hearing, ‘Unless I can find a thing in our ancient records, I refuse to believe it in the Gospel’; and when I assured them that it is indeed in the ancient scriptures, they retorted, ‘That has got to be proved.’ But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me, the sacrosanct records are His cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through Him. And it is by these, and by the help of your prayers, that I am hoping to be justified.
"The priests of old, I admit, were estimable men; but our own High Priest is greater, for He has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies, and to Him alone are the secret things of God committed. He is the doorway to the Father, and it is by Him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets go in, no less than the Apostles and the whole Church; for all these have their part in God’s unity. Nevertheless, the Gospel has a distinction all its own, in the advent of our Savior Jesus Christ, and His Passion and Resurrection. We are fond of the prophets, and they did indeed point forward to Him in their preaching; yet it is the Gospel that sets the coping-stone on man’s immortality."
Ignatius of Antioch
from his letter to the Philadelphian fellowship
ca. Early 2nd Century
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this — though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You fathers — if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:5-13, NLT (Italics mine)
So, suppose instead you went to the house of your friend, Jesus, whether at midnight or whenever, wanting to borrow a dash of His Holy Spirit. You say to Him, “The whole world is in need of your presence, a fresh experience of your visitation, and I myself have nothing to give them.” And instead of, say, calling out from His bedroom, you can hear Him rushing to the door; it gets thrown open and almost pulls you in with its gust of wind blowing by. “I’m so glad you called on me first,” Jesus smiles. “My door is never locked, and I’m absolutely never in bed. I can help any time, any minute, any day.”
And, furthermore, Jesus tells us this Himself — that what He does He does for friendship’s sake – you are His friend – and if you continually knock, He will continually answer because of your joyous persistence. And it is He Himself who tells you, keep on asking, and you will literally receive what you actually ask for. He says: Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door of the Kingdom will be opened to you. For everyone who asks… “everyone” most certainly including you… receives. Everyone who seeks… “everyone” still most certainly including you… finds. And to everyone who knocks… and you are still a part of “everyone” here… the door will be opened.
If you yourself are a father – or if you can imagine a good father – if his children ask for a fish, he would not give them a snake, would he? Or if they ask him for an egg, would he give them a scorpion?
“Of course not!” Jesus laughs, as He says.
“So if sinful people know how to give good gifts to their children” – and here Jesus grins with the readiness of a wonderful reminder coming – “or, if formerly sinful people who I’ve set free with my blood know how, then how much more – listen… HOW MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
"Jesus got [His] divine life by depending absolutely upon the Father all His life long, depending upon Him even down into death. Jesus got that life in the full glory of the Spirit to be poured out, by giving Himself up in obedience and surrender to God alone, and leaving God even in the grave to work out His mighty power; and that very Christ will live out His life in you and me. Oh, the mystery! Oh, the glory! And oh, the Divine certainty! Jesus Christ means to live out that life in you and me."
Andrew Murray, The Believer’s Secret of the Master’s Indwelling
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"The writers of the New Testament Epistles never regarded the Christian religion as an ‘ethic,’ still less a performance. To them it was an invasion of their own lives by the living Spirit of God; their response in repentance and faith provided the means by which the divine could penetrate the merely human. They lived lives of super-human quality because they believed quite simply that Christ Himself was alive within them."
J.B. Phillips, Making Men Whole
"For I should like to remind you, my brothers, that our ancestors all had the experience of being guided by the cloud in the desert and of crossing the sea dry-shod. They were all, so to speak, 'baptized' into Moses by these experiences. They all shared the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (for they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ). Yet in spite of all these wonderful experiences many of them failed to please God, and left their bones in the desert. Now in these events our ancestors stand as examples to us, warning us not to crave after evil things as they did." 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
When we hear of the idea of "failing to please God," it is easy to accidentally fall into an Old Covenant way of thinking. Like: "I hope that I don't fail to please Him..." or, "Uh oh. Am I pleasing?" But, again, that's Old Covenant thinking; that's a walking-around-in-the-wilderness sort of view of our new spiritual scenario...
In the New Covenant, Jesus is the guarantor - the perpetual keeper of His Father's good pleasure - the whole "pleasing" account is rendered through Him. This new arrangement isn't contingent upon your goodness in the Father's sight; the whole thing hangs upon Jesus' perfection, Jesus' relation to the Father. And so it's only when we stand outside of Jesus - whether to do "bad" or, even, sometimes to do our own idea of "good" - that we get ourselves in trouble.
You see, our whole job now is to Abide in Jesus, to disappear into Jesus. For we will always ALWAYS be pleasing to the Father as we hide our lives in His perfect Son: that is the perfect finished work of Jesus for us.
Shall we engage with that wondrous work this workweek?
"In this matter, then, of eating meat which has been offered to idols, knowledge tells us that no idol has any real existence, and that there is no God but one. For though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth, gods and lords galore in fact, to us there is only one God, the Father, from whom everything comes, and for who we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom everything exists, and by whom we ourselves are alive." 1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Let's approach these verses from the angle of that ending: "Jesus Christ... by whom we ourselves are alive." Or, rather, let's use that present position-in-Him as a counterpoint to the other items Paul's talking about. Like this:
"In this matter, then, of eating meat which has been offered to idols..." we ourselves are alive!
Or: "knowledge tells us that no idol has any real existence..." but we ourselves are alive!
Or: "though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth, gods and lords galore in fact..." we ourselves are alive!
You see, it's really our experience of - and, really, it's the degree of our experience of - our aliveness in Jesus that overturns all fearfulness of, argumentation about, and even comparison with the false economies flying all around us in the world. Those Christians who are constantly shaking their fist at the world tend to be Christians having a low-dose experience of the Christ. Close friends of Jesus should be unafraid and ALIVE.
Let's take a measure of our own experience this week, shall we?
Christ came to open up the way, and bring us back to God. It was God who created us for himself: that he might be our blessedness and we his: that we might have our abode in him, and he in us. It is God we have lost through sin; it is to God Christ would win and take us back. God is more, infinitely more, than salvation, and than heaven: God is the eternal life and eternal love who longs to live in us, and to fill us with his love and with himself. For this Christ came; for this he suffered; that he might bring us to God.
Andrew Murray, The Cross of Christ
"The eleven went to the hill-side in Galilee where Jesus had arranged to meet them, and when they had seen him they worshipped him, though some of them were doubtful. But Jesus came and spoke these words to them, 'All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. You, then, are to go and make disciples of all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you and, remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.'" Matthew 28:16-20
Friends, all the power in the universe has been put into the hands of the One who's our Friend, our Teacher, our Savior (who’s with us always, including right now, right this minute, today) and, in that power, we’re called to go. Not to stay. To Go. To Go Out.
And we are called to make NOT church-attendees, Christians, or converts; we are called to make disciples: students of Jesus who are coming, ever more, to look like Him.
These disciples should be from every nation, every tribe, every tongue: there are no national or ethnic boundaries available to us anymore. And WE ALL must repent, be baptized into the Way of Jesus, by the Father and the Spirit, and FOLLOW ONLY HIS VOICE. No one else’s…
WHAT AN ADVENTURE. WHAT A CALL. WHAT A LIFE.
THANK YOU, LORD JESUS.
John the Baptist, speaking: "For the one whom God sent speaks the authentic words of God — and there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him! The Father loves the Son and has put everything into his hand. The man who believes in the Son has eternal life. The man who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; he lives under the anger of God." (John 3:34-36)
While John the Baptist lands with a THUD on that position of non-acceptance, let’s go back and consider all the glories he first attributes to Jesus:
1) He “speaks the authentic words of God” – The Incarnate God, the “Word,” cannot fail, every time He opens His mouth, to speak the authentic, fresh, original words of God. In other words, Jesus letting out a sigh is Scripture!
2) “there can be no measuring of the Spirit given to him” – And, actually, because the Greek in this phrase is fairly porous, it can also mean that there’s no measuring of the Holy Spirit Jesus can give. Glory!
3) “The Father loves the Son…” – John the Baptist is the first Christ-follower who understands the Father-Son relationship going on in front of him; he’s the first to speak of the Father-God as Father.
4) “and [the Father] has put everything into his hand” – It’s difficult to put this concept into other words. It’s almost like the exact polar opposite to the power of the U.S. President as he carries around with him the nuclear launch-codes. That power, in the negative, is the power of universal catastrophic death. Instead, Jesus carried with Him the fullness of all the heavenly things; He, a Man, walked along holding universal supernatural LIFE.
5) So, INDEED “the man who believes in the Son has eternal life” – And that’s not just “someday in Heaven” sort of language. The word for “has” here is in the 3rd Person, Present Indicative Active; the one “believing” today “HAS life eternal," ALREADY, TODAY. Are you presently experiencing that verb-tensing as your inheritance-in-Him?
And how do all these descriptions hit your heart today?
Then Jesus took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be in terrible distress and misery. “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them, “stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he walked on a little way and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me—yet it must not be what I want, but what you want.” (Matthew 26:37-39)
Words with which we're intimately familiar. We've all heard all the talks and sermons about this passage before.
But: did you know that, in Matthew's account, that's not actually what He says? Read it in the original:
"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you."
Out of His own experience of being human, Jesus has learned the inner reality of what it means to have a will and to express - to act upon - that will. Like us, He had a mind that perceived, pondered and made decisions; like us, He had a will that operated at His soul/spirit level. But read it again:
"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you."
What if Jesus is telling us here that what we think of as "the will of God" is inseparable from the very nature of God: "but as you"? What if the seat of the so-called "will" in God is actually only His soul/spirit, ie. the Holy Spirit? Thus, what if to know the Spirit is to know all the mysteries of God? What if to release our own will is the first step into a complete absorption into His very being: "but as you"?
I think we think of our lives as this balancing act between "my will" and "God's will"; what if it's actually a question of your will vs. the I AM? Your little drop in the bucket vs. THE WHOLE OCEAN?
In Luke's Gospel, we get to witness an interesting little scene between Jesus and His disciples, regarding prayer and "how to pray." The text from Luke 11 is below in bold italics with some thoughts to follow each stanza:
One day it happened that Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John used to teach his disciples.”
"When you pray,” returned Jesus, and you can picture the Twelve piously closing their eyes…
“you should say, ‘Father… All their eyes must’ve immediately opened. “No, Jesus! We want you to teach us how to pray, not just hear how you do it! Something like, ‘O Eternal Smiter of the Amalekites, Jebusites, Hittites etc…’” But Jesus actually meant this opener, didn't He? He wants you and I to draw near to the Creator and Sustainer of all things, lifting up our hands and hearts to Him, and begin with…"Dad!" Doesn’t that thought make your heart leap with joy?
may your name be honored… By which we’re expressing both our desire and our personal intent. Do we want to see His name honored? Well then, let’s honor it ourselves...
may your kingdom come! When we pray these words, we’re doing three concurrent things: 1) We’re drawing a demarcation between this world and the Heavenly Kingdom of Jesus 2) We’re expressing our desire that His Kingdom’s “otherness” would actually show up 3) Hopefully we’re aligning our lives and hearts with the doings that actually cause that Kingdom to arrive on the scene.
Give us each day the bread we need… This phrase reminds our minds and hearts that only He provides for our needs. And that our need/desire/gratitude should only look to this particular day, not to the future. For He gives no frame of reference for weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual consumption of bread, does He? He is the provider of the manna, after all...
and forgive us our sins, for we forgive anyone who owes anything to us… This is the only phrase He prays with a qualifying clause: “Please do this for us because we’re already doing it ourselves…” And I love how casually He seems to throw that last part in! Imagine Him looking at His friends with twinkling eyes and a hint of a smile, as He prayed these words. That clause calls up - or it should call up - hearts of true forgiveness in us everyday: Our forgiveness by Him must elicit forgiveness of others for Him...
and keep us clear of temptation.’” Remember: Our greatest weapon against sin – in fact, our only weapon against sin – is the hand and presence of our God, leading us along. Truly, we have nothing else but Him!
"…Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder. For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live, so does the Son give life to any man he chooses…" John 5:20b,21
These two sentences are so unbelievable that I need to take a moment to type out – to get out – all my potential language of hyperbole: magnificent! marvelous! overwhelming! grandiose! transcendent! awesome! utterly stupefying! (Thank you.) But, in all seriousness, as you read through Jesus' words, did you catch the echo of a wording of another of His greatest promises? Go back and reread them and see if you can catch it…
So gloriously preposterous is the conclusion to which I’m about to drive that its foundational truth – foundational! – is the statement: “For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live…” You know about that, right? How the Heavenly Father, in the presence of death, may simply snap His fingers and – BOOM! – you’re back to life?
To Jesus, this spoken half-sentence seems almost a casual reference; for His First Century Jewish listeners, they’ve only ever heard of three such cases in all recorded human history: Elijah and the widow’s son; Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman; and that guy whose body got thrown into Elisha’s tomb, touched his bones and came back to life. Yes - Jesus says - “For just as the Father raises the dead… so does the Son give life to any man He chooses.”
For me, in preparing to teach through this chapter, I’ve often just stared into space at the wonder of that thought! Do you grasp the equivalency that Jesus is purposely setting up here: “For just as…so…”? How would you react if you were at a funeral and the dead person suddenly sat up in their coffin and came back to life? You would jump out of your skin. Yet, according to Jesus, your natural reaction to that should mirror the way people are consistently reacting to the New Life expressing itself in and through you...
Which brings me to my point: “Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.” The very next time that that phrasing “even greater things” is used – μείζονα in the Greek – here is what Jesus is saying: “I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Do you understand? According to John 5:20, the Father is planning to show the Son “even greater things” that will fill the world the whole world with wonder; and where, according to John 14:12, will those “even greater things” occur? In our lives!
May it be so today!
"We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realize that we Christians must expect such things. Actually we did warn you what to expect, when we were with you, and our words have come true, as you know. You will understand that, when the suspense became unbearable, I sent someone to find out how your faith was standing the strain, and to make sure that the tempter’s activities had not destroyed our work." 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Hear Jesus Himself along these same lines: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own. But because you do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of it, the world will hate you. Do you remember what I said to you, ‘The servant is not greater than his master’? If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you as well, but if they have followed my teaching, they will also follow yours. They will do all these things to you as my disciples because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. The man who hates me, hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them things that no other man has ever done, they would not have been guilty of sin, but as it is they have seen and they have hated both me and my Father. Yet this only fulfills what is written in their Law — ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the helper comes, that is, the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father and whom I myself will send to you from the Father, he will speak plainly about me. And you yourselves will also speak plainly about me for you have been with me from the first.” (John 15)
Certainly Paul had sat with Peter and John and the others, and been told of these very words from Jesus. He knew plain-speaking about Him would invariably result in trouble… and so must we! But if we learn to receive our life, good and bad, as if from the Lord’s hand, we’ll learn to look to Him at all times, even in hardship. The pains we bear we’ll learn to bear for this exalted reason:
“Your fight against sin has not yet meant the shedding of blood, and you have perhaps lost sight of that piece of advice which reminds you of our sonship in God: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives’. Bear what you have to bear as ‘chastening’ — as God’s dealing with you as sons. No true son ever grows up uncorrected by his father. For if you had no experience of the correction which all sons have to bear you might well doubt the legitimacy of your sonship. After all, when we were children we had fathers who corrected us, and we respected them for it. Can we not much more readily submit to a heavenly Father’s discipline, and learn how to live?” (Hebrews 12:4-9)
"To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love. To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!" 1 John 4:7-11
When you look up the word "love" in the dictionary, here are the first four definitions given:
(1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire
(3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
Okay. Very nice. Thank you, Merriam-Webster.
But what the apostle John wants you and I to realize, and to walk into this day living, is that, in reality, these are the only true definitions of real love:
(1) : Jesus Himself
(2) : His life that, living among us, gives life
(3) : Literal self-sacrificial, blood-soaked, complete personal atonement that is not only unconditional in scope but, maybe more impressively, without pre-condition: “not in the fact that we loved God, but that He loved us…”
Or, to put it another way:
“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus does not dishonor others, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”
What a wonder to be loved first by this Man!
"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And by common consent they all used to meet in Solomon’s Porch..." Acts 5:12
This was the place in the Temple environs where, two chapters before, they'd preached the message after healing the man that caused 2,000 to believe... and themselves to be arrested for the first time. But, for the original disciples, this place had more meaning than just that. The year before this, during the Festival of Dedication, what is today called Hanukkah, Jesus Himself had gone on a walk through Solomon’s Porch. So for Peter and James and John, to meet in this place was instantly to remember His presence, the way He walked, the way He talked, the way – on that day – He’d spoken these words in this place:
“My sheep recognize my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.” … “If I fail to do what my Father does, then do not believe me. But if I do, even though you have no faith in me personally, then believe in the things that I do. Then you may come to know and realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10)
Now, on the very same stones, standing under that same Jerusalem sky, these men and women, His “sheep,” are living their lives as “one” with Him, “He in they and they in Him,” and the life they live in Him is, without a doubt, “eternal.” Their presence together there on these days is the visible proof of the power of His words on that earlier day, walking around Himself, at Hanukkah.
May He be so present, and visibly noticeable, in us this week, my friends!
Jesus, speaking instruction to the Twelve: "Be on your guard against men. For they will take you to the court and flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought into the presence of governors and kings because of me—to give your witness to them and to the heathen. But when they do arrest you, never worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be told at the time what you are to say. For it will not be really you who are speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Matthew 10:17-20
Isn't that the most miraculous promise? Jesus is saying that the external world, with all its pressures and threats and anxieties and trials, is secondary to our internal life. If we are able to meet with the Spirit of the Father in our heart and mind, we have nothing to fear in the whole world outside ourselves.
Do we live that way?
Do we value that inner dialogue above all else?
Are we living situationally - meaning, in every single situation - where our first recourse is to listen for His voice from within?
I can't stop thinking of just how free He was making His friends... just... to truly live!
May the Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father (who has loved us and given us unending encouragement and unfailing hope by his grace) inspire you with courage and confidence in every good thing you say or do. (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17)
Today, if you're ever feeling like your courage is running out, turn immediately to Jesus and ask Him for His encouragement that is “unending.”
Likewise, if your hope feels like it's failing you, lift your eyes to Him and ask Him for His hope that can never, ever, ever fail.
And thank you, Jesus, for the promise of your instantaneously transferable spiritual attributes! What a blessed gift is our life in you today! We belong to you and You belong to us!