"Is there any doubt that I am a genuine messenger, any doubt that I am a free man? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Are not you yourselves samples of my work for the Lord? Even if other people should refuse to recognize my divine commission, yet to you at any rate I shall always be a true messenger, for you are a living proof of God’s call to me. This is my real ground of defense to those who cross-examine me." 1 Corinthians 9:1-3
And that last sentence is the key - not only to this opening section, but also to Paul's purpose in the previous chapter - to understanding the real Way of the Spirit of Jesus versus settling for a knowledgeable religiosity about Jesus. So, what are the evidences, the "real ground of defense" Paul offers?
A clear-cut acted-upon Calling.
Personal first-hand Experience of Jesus.
And, just as important as the rest, verifiable Spiritual Fruit in others' lives.
And this is actually important enough that I'm going to take the time to write all that again. The evidences of the real Way of the Spirit of Jesus are:
A clear-cut acted-upon Calling.
Personal first-hand Experience of Jesus.
And, just as important as the rest, verifiable Spiritual Fruit in others' lives.
My friends, it's easy to not be free - almost everyone is doing that; it's also fairly easy to assume there's no higher spiritual calling for our lives. We settle in and we're "members" of something or another: but - I believe - each of us is called to be either an Apostle, a Prophet, an Evangelist, a Shepherd or a Teacher (Eph. 4).
And, sadly, too often we've come to accept not expecting first-hand experience of Jesus as the norm: perhaps we think it's too high and heavenly that He'd radically reveal Himself to each of us. And perhaps there's no greater reason for not seeing fruit in others' lives than the simple reality that we've got nothing to share, nothing to witness to. What I mean is: Why would anyone want to know Jesus if we don't know Jesus; how will they come to Abide in Him if we don't Abide in Him?
Oh, friends, let's be free, let's accept our calling, let's experience Jesus for ourselves, so that all lives might encounter, and be changed, by Him!
Some of you know that I did a long fiction-nonfiction writing project, a few years back, to try to bring the Book of Acts into a more first-hand focus. Below is a little bit of it. First, you'll see the passage where some of the disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to go ahead and start preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch, not just the Jews. Then, from there, you'll see my imaginative write-up of, perhaps, what it was like when one of those men suddenly decided that it was time to do so. I tried to bring into focus the potential presence of Simon of Cyrene (who carried the Cross with/for Jesus) among them. Hope it stirs your heart for this Monday!
Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus… (Acts 11:19,20)
A Man of Cyrene on the Road to Antioch
My blood is quickened within and I walk this road and I think on the ways of the Holy Spirit, and, my brothers, I am tempted to throw all constraint on the winds which blow up from the Sea, and past us. Feel them blowing by us, west to east. Smell that scent of adventure that first carried us from the coasts of Africa to there, on Shavuot, and think of all that has happened unto us since! What is man to stand before the whims of our Jesus! Who were we to think this thing could be contained within the Hebrew race! My brothers, as we approach upon Antioch, I’m of a mind to say goodbye to the past; to walk right into the courtyards and marketplaces and, yes, synagogues; to proclaim the name Jesus to any man, woman or child who’s made of flesh and blood like me; to say that it is only in the name of Jesus that anyone finds rest for their souls and a place of heavenly peace for their minds…
Peter has broken the mold – let’s shatter it now, brothers! Let us enter the town with the roving gaze of Jesus and see all mankind as the quarry, the prey, of the whispering will of the Holy Spirit! Let us conquer the hearts of man and woman, Jew or Gentile; have no fear that wrongdoing comes on the voice of the Spirit that gave Jesus life from the dead!
I see the fear in your eyes, Simon, my brother of Cyrene. What for? Did not you yourself once fall under the gaze of the darkhearted Gentiles and are you not the very man whose shoulders quaked under the cross with our Savior, our Jesus? Brother! Have we not come too far to ever turn back now? Sometimes I place myself within your flesh and mind, using of my imagination to imagine that day, and here’s what I come to – tell me if any of this reprises anything like any of your memories…
I am standing, that day, along the road watching him pass. The smell of the crowd is thick and pungent with sweat and rage. Suddenly, all eyes turn from him to me – to you, I mean! – and I’m thrust from within my hiding into the hot sun of the Jerusalem day. I feel naked under the gaze of the people, the soldier who calls, and, most of all, him – Jesus, the sufferer under the weight of the cross. I slip under the right side of the horizontal crossbeam – Jesus slides over – his fleshless shoulders shearing against the grain – and he turns his eyes to meet my eyes.
That moment, Simon, what was it like? What came upon your mind? Did you not know that this was the Christ, our Savior, our God?
Together, as yokefellows walking, we trudge up the hill with crowds a-lining both sides of the twisting path and I talk to him of my sin, of their sin, of the whole world’s sin – past, present and for all the futures to come. He listens, walking, and I know he hears. When we finally arrive at the top of Skull Hill, I am shoved aside by that same soldier who first called me, and I disappear from the center of the moment I’d shared with Jesus. I look back down the hill and relive each and every step with him. Coming up and up the path we just trod together, Jesus and I, I see the thick drag-mark of the upright of the cross which has furrowed the dirty of the trail so deeply. His side, the right side of that furrow, is a way marked thick with blood. My side, the left side of that furrow, is clean and spotless…
Brother Simon, look ahead! Look at the town of Antioch! This town is filled with men, women and children who know nothing of the Kingdom of Heaven; who are lost as we once ourselves were; and who hunger and thirst for the taste of life – the taste of that blood – the taste of Jesus of Nazareth! Shall we not go and set them free with the Way you once trod with Him? What have we to fear when you’ve seen him dead and then risen again!
All you, fellow Wayfarers, listen unto me! Where’er and from whence you hail, I renounce all ties to the age-old past! I will descend to this city and preach to Jew and Greek alike!
Who follows? Who walks the way I walk?
I know the One who leads it!
"For who could really understand a man’s inmost thoughts except the spirit of the man himself? How much less could anyone understand the thoughts of God except the very Spirit of God? And the marvelous thing is this, that we now receive not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can actually understand something of God’s generosity towards us... Incredible as it may sound, we who are spiritual have the very mind of Christ!" (1 Cor. 2:11, 12 & 16b)
HAVE the very mind of Christ! "Have": ἔχομεν: Present Indicative Active: we "have, possess, have in keeping, hold, dwell in, may acquire, and enjoy" the very mind of Christ. We HAVE the very mind of Christ - right now. Today. Right this minute.
As it pertains to the human experience - and the human perception of the human experience - what are the three ways that every person on the planet experiences and perceives life? Mind. Body. And spirit. And so, do you you realize that, for every single one of us who calls on the name Jesus, two-thirds of our human experience and perception are instantly raised into the heavenlies? We have the Spirit of God Himself now. We have the very mind of Christ. To the degree that we desire to, we may now - RIGHT NOW - experience the exact thoughts and inner life that Jesus Himself experienced.
How might that change your idea of what this week could hold?
“For this salvation came first through the words of the Lord himself: it was confirmed for our hearing by men who had heard him speak, and God moreover has plainly endorsed their witness by signs and miracles, by all kinds of spiritual power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, all working to the divine plan.” (Hebrews 2:3b,4)
Has all this been your personal experience: this progression of events proceeding outward from you salvation?
Firstly, did your personal salvation come to you as if from the lips of Jesus Himself?
Has it been confirmed and extended by others who also hear from Him?
Has it been endorsed by living in an atmosphere where signs and miracles flourish?
Is “spiritual power” a day-by-day norm for you?
Are “gifts of the Holy Spirit” more to you than just a list to read in Paul’s letters?
Is your life an integral working, a fruitful forward-moving part, of the overall “divine plan”?
If - like me - you feel any sense of deficiency between what you just read and your own experience, have no fear! Because the One who makes all of this so, the One who is the centerpiece of all heavenly power and experience, is also the One who wants to take you, personally, deeper into all of it...
In fact, let's see how far we can go with Him in His wondrous Way! This week is our laboratory for experimentation!
“...we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
A simple thought for a new week:
When it comes to sharing Jesus with the people around us, it's far more about atmosphere than information; the Spirit than any system.
[Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene], on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. News of these things came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this working of God’s grace, he was delighted. He urged them all to be resolute in their faithfulness to the Lord, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. So it happened that a considerable number of people became followers of the Lord. (Acts 11:20-24)
We often think about the kind of people we'd like to be; how we're perceived by others; what we'd hope our eventual life's legacy might look like, looking back. Well, how about if it looked a little like Barnabas?
Here's that final description of him, in the almost exact Greek: “having come and having seen the grace of God, he rejoiced, and exhorted all with resolute purpose of heart to abide in the Lord, for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.”
Barnabas was present. Are we?
Barnabas was open-eyed and observant of the Lord’s visible grace. Are we?
Seeing that grace evidenced, Barnabas rejoiced. Do we?
Barnabas exhorted others to resolutely set their hearts to abide in Jesus. Do we?
Barnabas was a good man. Are we?
Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. Are we?
Barnabas was full of faith. Are we?
Today, let's consider some of these Barnabasian attributes, notice which ones attract our desire, and pray that the Lord would imbue us with more and more of this spirit toward others. Holy Spirit, you are that Spirit! Fill us with more of Yourself!
"Don’t get your stimulus from wine (for there is always the danger of excessive drinking), but let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God! Thank God at all times for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Ephesians 5:18-20
What part does worship play in your normal daily life? (I’m not asking about that one hour each week that’s stage-managed from up-front; I’m talking about your own spirit bowing down, with awe and delight, before the God of the Universe, just you and Him.) If your answer is “Not very much,” then here’s your first step: Rearrange your personal perspective on worship itself.
In the Greek, Paul actually starts here by saying, “Don’t get drunk on wine, but gorge yourselves with the Spirit.” Gorge yourselves! As in, “You remember when you used to get drunk in that old normal human way; now go ahead and get drunk in this new supernatural eternal way!” We’re supposed to be so filled-up to the brims and borders of ourselves with this wild worshipfulness that the only natural thing is to absolutely spill out the Spirit’s native language: “Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God!”
Worship - whether corporate or individual - can only really begin at the level of your individual heart, soul and mind. Let's each bring our whole heart, soul and mind to worshipping Him today!
"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?
When we had finally said farewell to [the elders of the Ephesian church] we set sail, running a straight course to Cos and the next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. Here we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, and we went aboard her and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and leaving it on our left we sailed to Syria and put in at Tyre, since that was where the ship was to discharge her cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them for a week. They felt led by the Spirit again and again to warn Paul not to go up to Jerusalem... (Acts 21:1-4)
In reading that last sentence, I am struck by the offhand way the Holy Spirit is referenced: “They felt led by the Spirit again and again…” In the original language, it’s even more succinct and informal-sounding: “[they] told Paul, by the Spirit, not to go up to Jerusalem.” These people are described by Luke as “disciples,” not even necessarily as prophets, and yet they think it’s their business to be listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit for other people and then, having heard something, to speak it and not hold back.
We don’t see as much of this anymore, do we?
Well, why not?
Certainly, it’s NOT because the Holy Spirit is any less present, any less powerful, any less vocal; it’s because so few people are actively, presently listening for His actual voice. Why? Perhaps they think this sort of thing is just for “charismatics”; maybe they’re afraid they’ll “hear wrong”; maybe they’re not sure of their recipient’s ability to discern in the midst of what they’re offered.
But flip everything I just wrote on its head and here’s where you’d be: The Holy Spirit is just as present, just as powerful, just as vocal as He was to these brothers and sisters; it’s our greatest earthly-spiritual asset to be active, present listeners. He’s not just for “charismatics,” He’s for all Jesus-followers; He’ll teach you how to “hear right”; and it’s His job to teach your hearers how to discern too.
My friends, let’s listen, hear, and speak from this Spirit today. He is speaking. Let's be active to experience what He's offering!
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?
"This is my prayer: That God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you — the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to us — and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honor in Heaven — a place that is infinitely superior to any conceivable command, authority, power or control, and which carries with it a name far beyond any name that could ever be used in this world or the world to come." Ephesians 1:16b-21
What is the heart of Paul's prayer for his Ephesian friends? It's that they will:
1. Know Jesus better all the time
2. Grasp how limitless is the hope offered by Him
3. Live in the power actually given to them by the Holy Spirit who both raised and ascended Jesus
And where might we find Jesus Himself in the midst of these marvelous verses? At the right hand of the Father, of course! He’s the King and High Priest who's presently reigning and ministering in two places – “up there” and “in you” - even as you read these words. And it's He who'll teach you to know Himself; He who is the limitless hope; He who is the power of your human life. And, by the way, it’s also His work to make those two places (heaven and your heart) into One place – to unite heaven and earth in every believers’ life.
That's the wonderful gentleman you're following! The One who makes it "on earth (in you) as it is in Heaven (where He is)."
On the first day of the week, when we were assembled for the breaking of bread, Paul, since he intended to leave on the following day, began to speak to them and prolonged his address until almost midnight. There were a great many lamps burning in the upper room where we met, and a young man called Eutychus who was sitting on the window-sill fell asleep as Paul’s address became longer and longer. Finally, completely overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground from the third storey and was picked up as dead. But Paul went down, bent over him and holding him gently in his arms, said, “Don’t be alarmed; he is still alive.” Then he went upstairs again and, when they had broken bread and eaten, continued a long earnest talk with them until daybreak, and so finally departed. As for the boy, they took him home alive, feeling immeasurably relieved. (Acts 20:7-12)
For Luke, later writing down not only these - his eyewitness accounts of the doings of Acts - but also his expertly-assembled eyewitness testimonies of the doings of Jesus - the Gospel of Luke - there had to be an almost eerie feeling of “I’ve seen that before” – déjà vu – and then also “I’ve heard that before” - déjà écouté. Keeping in mind what we’ve just read, I want you to now read a portion of Luke 8:
Then when [Jesus] came to [Jairus, the synagogue leader’s] house, he would not allow anyone to go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s parents. All those already there were weeping and wailing over her, but he said, “Stop crying! She is not dead, she is fast asleep.”
This drew a scornful laugh from them, for they were quite certain that she had died. But he turned them all out, took the little girl’s hand and called out to her, “Wake up, my child!”
And her spirit came back and she got to her feet at once, and Jesus ordered food to be given to her. Her parents were nearly out of their minds with joy, but Jesus told them not to tell anyone what had happened. (Luke 8:51-56)
Perhaps you’re starting to think that I overemphasize my main life-message (but, you see, I actually think it’s the only message) – that Jesus is alive and He’s attempting to live His life over again right through our lives. But I believe, in the midst of the screaming and panic and fear and anxiety of this moment, it is only Paul’s personal communion with the Spirit of Jesus that tells him what to do and how to do it. And I believe, in the midst of the screaming and panic and fear and anxiety of our world, that it is only your personal communion with the Spirit of Jesus that can tell you how to live by revealing His live, alive, in you.
He is alive and He is attempting to live His life over again through your life. Today.
"Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn’t it his action which really justified him in God’s sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? Can’t you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners—that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.’ A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes." James 2:21-24
How does that last verse - 2:24 - read in the language of the original Greek?
"You see that a man is set right by works, and not by faith alone."
Let's examine that idea, step by step: If Jesus came to live the works of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we can see precisely what the life of Heaven is like by reading His exploits in the four Gospels. Yet external works were not enough for Jesus, were they? He wanted to get those works inside the hearts of those who'd repent and believe in Him.
So He died to end the separating influence and condemnation of Sin, thus giving us the possibility of being made a pure dwelling-place of His Presence. And then He rose to conquer human death, and so that He might be alive to reign over the Kingdom and rule it from within us. Then, ascending, He took His place at the head of all Kingdom of Heaven affairs, and, in sending the Holy Spirit, took His place directly in the hearts of His people...
So the reason that our justification - our being "set right" - is found in both faith and works is because, in faith and works, we are a union-place of Jesus-then and Jesus-now: we show the Kingdom as it was in the three years of His personal ministry - when He was making humanity right - and the Kingdom as it is now - with Jesus forever on the throne.
It is our joy - and our job - to act as the junction for the inner and outer workings of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us be living that life with relish this Easter Week!
Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers — Barnabas, for example, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.” At this, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and set them free for this work. (Acts 13:1-3)
For your own Bible-reading interest, this would be the fourth example of the laying-on of hands in the book of Acts, and what is it for, this particular time? To “set them free for this work.”
And compared to every other Biblical translation, this translator, J.B. Phillips, does a pretty good job of giving a properly robust rendering of what Luke actually wrote there. Most every other translation just reads, “And they sent them off.” Blah!
When the Holy Spirit specifically calls a man or woman – which, remember, He’s done for each of us who’ve given their life to Jesus – I want you to read, by the definitions of the word Luke uses, just how totally He calls you out – and then back in:
You are “loosed from,” “set free, released, relieved from,” “acquitted of,” “freed by payment of ransom from,” “discharged from,” “divorced from,” “dismissed from” your former life...
and, on the other side, the Calling side:
you are conversely now bound to, yoked with, harnessed to, drawn deeper into, charged with, purchased by payment of ransom for, called further in, permanently married to, and forever appointed to the Heavenly plans planned exactly for you.
I think we wander around far too often, wondering, “Does God even notice me?” when the better question is: “Do we even notice Him?” That list of definitions and counter-definitions you just read is precisely how freely He’s personally set you free and how fully He’s personally set you apart for His work. Now won’t we just give in and BE HIS today?!
2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 with some notes in italics -
But we can thank God continually for you, brothers, whom the Lord loves. He has chosen you from the beginning to save you, to make you holy by the work of his Spirit and your own belief in the truth. Or, in other words: There’s a chosenness from the dawn of time that works hand-in-hand with our (in the Greek) “salvation in the sanctification of the Spirit” and our “belief of the truth.” Or, to put it even more simply: Our Belief, while the Holy Spirit does His inner work in us, is our experience of our "chosen" status.
It was his call that you followed when we preached the Gospel to you, and he has set before you the prospect of sharing the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So stand firm, and hold on! Be loyal to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or in writings. In essence, Paul is saying to the Thessalonians: “Just believe what you already know.” And what a perfect word for us too, today! You and I must cultivate the abiding, deep and first-hand knowledge of Jesus that we presently possess and then live so as to believe Him.
Living all you know of Him is all you have to do today. It really is just that simple!
“It is impossible for a good tree to produce bad fruit — as impossible as it is for a bad tree to produce good fruit. Do not men know what a tree is by its fruit? You cannot pick figs from briars, or gather a bunch of grapes from a blackberry bush! A good man produces good things from the good stored up in his heart, and a bad man produce evil things from his own stores of evil.” (Luke 6:43-45a)
What do you think Jesus’ “fruit” really is; where does it come from? Well, how do you usually define earthly, natural fruit? Isn’t it the sum total of the nutrients, water, oxygen and nourishing sap that flows into the grapes or apples or oranges or berries that are then mindlessly borne?
In the same way, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5).
Remember: You and I aren’t called to muscle it out as “good Christians” today. Those who are saturated with the Spirit of Jesus will never fail to bear His fruit…
"Now that you are employed by God, you owe no duty to sin, and you reap the fruit of being made righteous, while at the end of the road there is life forevermore." (Romans 6:22)
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Hebrews 8:10
Friends, this is so important for us to note: What are the qualifications for His being our God and we being His people?
'He will put His laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.'
And how much of that sounds like studiousness, self-discipline or rigorous Christian self-education? Read it again:
'He will put His laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.'
And so, how does the Father "put" and "write" His Way onto the canvas of our human minds and hearts? It is only the work of His Holy Spirit. Other actions and works may be helpful for our growth in knowing Jesus, but they can never supplant that which He is planting in us Himself.
Our personal study, our church-attendance, our fellowship groups, our podcast-listening, our reading-the-latest-Christian-book must never preempt the all-importance of the direct work of the Holy Spirit within. Otherwise we're not just putting the cart before the horse; we're staring at a cart without a horse and wondering why it will not go...
'He will put His laws in our minds and write them on our hearts.'
“The work that our life accomplishes, the whole of this work, the meaning of it is not, nor can it be, intelligible to me… To understand it, to understand the whole of the Master’s will is not in my power. But to do His will, that is written down in my conscience, is in my power; that I know for certain. And when I am fulfilling it I have sureness and peace.”
Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection
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"...Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." Isaiah 30:20b,21
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen....
Once they heard [all his story of Cornelius and his household accepting the message and receiving the Holy Spirit] they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-3 & 18)
And that, by the way, is that. End of story. That’s how thousands of years of entrenched religious tradition and belief went out the window in the presence of a group of men and women whose first recourse was to follow the Holy Spirit only. But, you see, eleven of the men standing in that room had once sat in another room, on a particular Thursday night, and listened intently as Jesus spoke these words:
“I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now. Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes — the Spirit of truth — he will guide you into everything that is true. For he will not be speaking of his own accord but exactly as he hears, and he will inform you about what is to come. He will bring glory to me for he will draw on my truth and reveal it to you.” (John 16:12-14)
My friends, what's your relationship like - today - with this very same Spirit of truth? And how nimble-in-obedience are you becoming as you learn to hear His voice, day by day?
"Note the implication here — to say that Christ 'ascended' means that he must previously have 'descended,' that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens — that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence." Ephesians 4:9,10
What an amazing picture of the Incarnation and Ascension! Jesus, the One who so humbled Himself that He’d leave His throne and be born into squalor, is the very same One who has now ascended and retaken that throne. You and I are the privileged ones now tasked with making His “presence” known to others; in fact, to “the whole universe.”
Andrew Murray paints this beautifully in The Holiest of All: The Resurrection occurs; forty days pass; Jesus ascends; then, ten days later, come the events of Pentecost. Murray’s assertion is that the Holy Spirit had witnessed the activity and glory of Jesus’ return-to-Heaven and then came to bear witness from within us to that glory.
That is what your day is "for" today. Now let's go live it to the full.
"For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty. But if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him. This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear. They are the living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.' But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it. Yes, and they longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it." Matthew 13:12-17
Because Jesus is meaning, is life, is the Way, is God, is Heaven come to set all things right, then we are perfectly within our rights to revisit everything He's just said from the vantage-point of what His chosen proximity to us has accomplished. We should not just understand, but experience this:
“For when a man, a woman, has JESUS, more and more is given to him until he has plenty: his cup truly overflows. And if he has JESUS even his little will be added to until he has absolutely everything. This is why He speaks to us in our hearts by His Spirit; so that we may go through life with our eyes open, seeing EVERYTHING, and with our ears open, understanding EVERYTHING HE HAS FOR US. We will be a living fulfillment – in reverse – of Isaiah’s prophecy, which would say: ‘Hearing we will hear and shall forever understand, and seeing we will see and be blessed to perceive; for the heart of His people has grown vibrant and alive: full of life. Our ears are keen to hear His voice, and our eyes He has opened, so that we may see Him with our eyes and hear Him with our ears, and that we may understand with our hearts and turn, and there He is: our Healer. And oh! how fortunate we are to have eyes that see and ears that hear HIM! It is true: a great many prophets and good men once longed to see JESUS and yet they never saw HIM. Yes, and they longed to hear what we are hearing - and they never heard HIM.”
Friends, are we not overwhelmed with joy to be in the Heavenly position we are?! Our lives are the inheritance the whole Old Testament full of saints positively yearned for! Thank you, Jesus!
This is another of the parables Jesus told them: “The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole lot had risen.” (Matthew 13:33)
Did you know that, in a typical bread recipe, the dry weight of the active yeast to be added represents 3/10ths of 1% of the total weight of all ingredients? And have you observed that, once mixed into the dough, that little bit of yeast becomes invisible; that, suddenly, it is everywhere and nowhere in the mix?
Over this New Year, I've been reading in T.E. Lawrence - famously remembered as "Lawrence of Arabia" - and I've grown fascinated by his tactical thoughts as he helped steer the Arab uprisings in World War I. Take a look at how he described the difference between his force and the opposing Turkish forces:
“In [our] case the algebraic factor would take first account of the area to be conquered. A casual calculation indicated perhaps 140,000 square miles. How would the Turks defend all that—no doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if the Arabs were an army attacking with banners displayed…but suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapor, blowing where they listed..."
Friends, the Kingdom of Heaven, and we who already inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, are to be yeast, "an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a vapor." And we too, like yeast, are meant to be causing a rising up; really, like Lawrence, an uprising: our Kingdom-Army of Love is meant to be conquering this world with the love of Jesus. Everywhere and seemingly nowhere. The actual aroma of Christ.
Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well: “If you knew what God can give,” Jesus replied, “and if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink’, I think you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water!” (John 4:10)
These first substantive words that Jesus speaks to this woman contain four clauses – two conditional, one connective and one resultant – that are each contingent upon each other... and on Belief. Here’s the phrases: The conditional ones – “If you knew what God can give” and “if you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink’”; the connective clause – “I think you would have asked him”; and the resultant clause – “and he would have given you living water.”
I bet the woman’s initial response to these must've been: “…Uh…okay... what?” I think our response to these words, as those who call on the name Jesus, should be complete and all-consuming.
1) “If you knew what God can give” – If you knew what God can give. My friends, do we know? Have we even begun to scratch the surface of what is offered here, offered by One whose opening argument was the Incarnation and who was just getting started at the Cross and the Resurrection? Do you want to know what all He can give?
2) “If you knew who it is that said to you, ‘Give me a drink...'" Jesus. On that particular day, sweat dripping down His face, hungry, thirsty, wishing He had a fresh tunic on-hand. Today, while you’re reading these words, sitting next to His Father in the Throneroom, the answer to our hunger and thirst, the Light and Life of Heaven, always alive – alive on your behalf. Brothers and Sisters, do you know Jesus better than you did a week ago? Have you come to know Him in new ways since the New Year began? You always can. And you always must.
3) “I think you would have asked him” – Engulfed by the glories of what He offers and who He is, can you hear the prodding tone of this simple statement? Since Jesus offers all, and is Himself all that is Life, will we not ask for all of Him that’s available to us?
4) “And he would have given you living water” – “would have given you”! As it relates to the asking-for and receiving-of Jesus’ living water, when should we not only have asked for, but received it? Yesterday! So ready is He to fill us with His Holy Spirit and with His very life that its availability can only be explained like it should’ve been yours already. Wow!