"The true meaning of grace... is the love that God breathes into us, which enables us with a holy delight to carry out the duty that we know."
Augustine of Hippo
"Against Two Letters of the Pelagians"
“Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again: for forgiveness has risen from the grave!”
4th Century, A.D.
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He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:10-14)
Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women. (Ephesians 6:14-18)
Let me make this stupidly simple for our hearts today.
The “truth” is Jesus; Jesus has already made us “righteous”; the “Gospel” is the Good News of Heaven about Jesus; our “salvation” is the free gift of Jesus; the “Word” is Jesus Himself; our “faith” is belief and trust in Jesus; we talk to the Father through the Way that Jesus made.
Paul, in his letter to the Roman believers, actually said this famous section better, more succinctly, when he simply wrote: “Put on THE LORD JESUS…” (Rom. 13:14)
So, our everyday work is what? Abiding in Jesus.
Because, abiding is what? Going inside; living; “putting on.”
“...the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God's love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”
No Man Is An Island
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If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. (1 John 1:8,9)
"Perhaps Jesus is asking of you a little task, and, if you find it, later He will ask of you something that is greater. Always keep your eyes open for the little task, because it is the little task which is important to Jesus Christ. The future of the Kingdom of God does not depend on the enthusiasm of this or that powerful person; those great ones are necessary too, but it is equally necessary to have a great number of little people who will do a little thing in the service of Christ..."
"The demands of Jesus are difficult just because they require us to do something extraordinary. At the same time he asks us to regard these as something usual, ordinary."
"I believe that I possess this value: to serve Jesus. I am less at peace than if my goal would be to attain a professorship and a good life, but I live. And that gives me the tremendous feeling of happiness, as if one would hear music. One feels uprooted, because one asks, what lies ahead, what decisions should I make -- but more alive, happier than those anchored in life. To drift with released anchor..."
"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 the 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, Phillips)
* * * *
"The genius of Christianity is to have proclaimed that the path to the deepest mystery is the path of love."
Our dear friend, Laura Hegstrom, sent me a series of proclamations this week that were written by Pope John XXIII. Three of the stanzas seemed perfect for the start of this (or any) week:
"Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes...
"Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
"Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life."
Pope John XXIII
"The Daily Decalogue"
“He makes Himself known to those who, after doing all that their powers will allow, confess that they need help from Him.”
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“Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, Phillips)
"The inward turning to Him is easy, natural and effortless, because He is at your centre. He is drawing you."
"O Divine Shepherd! Thou feedest Thy sheep with Thine own hand, and Thou art their food from day to day."
* * *
"I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep.
“And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is the reason why the Father loves me—that I lay down my life, and I lay it down to take it up again! No one is taking it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will." (John 10:14-18a)
Imagine you’re sitting in a roadside pub, having an inexpensive cup of some rather foul wine, and you’re not thinking about anything in particular. Around you are the sounds, sights and smells of such a place: the swearing, the dirty jokes, the unkempt-looking and -smelling sorts of people who spend time in this sort of place.
Why are you here? Because, having traveled south to see the baptizer-teacher down at the Jordan—having not been particularly impressed by the weirdness of the experience of that man—you are waiting for your brother, Andrew (who has lagged behind to talk with the baptizer), in order to travel back to the Galilee and get back to work on your fishing boats.
You are sitting here, in this roadside pub, thinking of nothing really at all, when the door opens—the light flooding in—and in comes your brother, just now. There is a very strange look in the look of his eyes. He approaches in the half-darkness of the pub and grips you by both shoulders.
“I have met the Messiah,” he says, “the Anointed of God!”
You take a deep breath in—let it out. “Where?” you ask.
“He is sitting under a tree outside,” Andrew says.
“No,” Andrew replies. “God.”
You wait for him to say something else. He just stares at you. “God is sitting outside under a tree?”
“Outside? Under a tree?”
He nods again.
“Alright,” you say. “Let’s go have a look.”
You pay off your tab and then wind your way through the half-light, following after your brother, out through the day-drinkers of this roadside pub. The outside light is blinding for a moment. You follow after Andrew down the road to the left; then across a narrow path across a field—there is a short stubby tree in the middle-distance. In its shade is another man of the Galilee—the younger brother of James of Zebedee—and then, for the first time, you see the Man your brother was talking about.
He is rising to His feet to meet you in the shade, there.
His eyes are sparkling with the warmest kind of affection.
He steps out of the shade—the sunlight lights His features—He extends His hands toward you—all warmth, all kindness, all joyfulness—and then (quite surprisingly) He embraces you, kisses you on the cheek. He is whispering in your ear as He does so:
“Everyone calls you Simon, but I won’t. For me, you will always be Peter—Petros—a rock.”
You take a step back and away from the intensity of this Man. The look in His eyes is ageless; all-consuming; eternal. You are both awed and slightly afraid of the look in His eyes. This encounter with Him is the beginning of the rest of your life…
Decades later, imagine that man—now an old man—sitting down to a bare-topped table and taking up his writing quill. He is again thinking of that day—of the way it felt to make the acquaintance of God incarnate—and he smiles to himself and then writes this:
Simon PETER, a servant and messenger of Jesus Christ, sends this letter to those who have been given a faith as valuable as ours in the righteousness of our God, and Saviour Jesus Christ. May you know more and more of grace and peace as your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord grows deeper.
He has by his own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life, in allowing us to know the one who has called us to him, through his own glorious goodness. It is through him that God’s greatest and most precious promises have become available to us men, making it possible for you to escape the inevitable disintegration that lust produces in the world and to share in God’s essential nature.
"...since our nature has God as its requisite author, it is certain that we must have Him for our teacher that we may be wise; Him, too, to dispense to us spiritual sweetness that we may be blessed."
Augustine of Hippo
The City of God
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"Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." (Zephaniah 3:16b,17, ESV)
“My children, drive it into your heads that you are on the right road. Love one another; be foolish over it, for love is the stupidity of man and the cleverness of God.”
Today’s openness to the speaking Voice of Jesus (His Holy Spirit) is the guarantee of tomorrow’s leading; too, its potentiality: its adventure.
We will be going then as far as we are willing to listen now.
"We must form our estimate of men less from their achievements and failures, and more from their sufferings. The only profitable relationship to others - and especially to our weaker brethren - is one of love, that is the will to hold fellowship with them. Even God did not despise humanity, but became Man for man's sake."
Letters & Papers from Prison
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Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, Phillips)
The Kingdom of Heaven is the grandest treasure available to the imagination and possession of mankind--and perhaps the least truly sought. It costs everything to seek and one's self to possess. (Its seeking is, in fact, its finding.) Its possession is its possessing of each individual seeker. It encompasses all eternity, but now: today.
"The meek person is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day."
The Pursuit of God
"Oh what great thanks am I bound to give Thee, who hast vouchsafed to show me and all faithful people the good and right way to Thine eternal kingdom, for Thy way is our way, and by holy patience we walk to Thee who art our Crown. If Thou hadst not gone before and taught us, who would care to follow? Oh, how far would they have gone backward if they had not beheld Thy glorious example! Behold we are still lukewarm, though we have heard of Thy many signs and discourses; what would become of us if we had not such a light to help us follow Thee?"
Thomas à Kempis
The Imitation of Christ
You have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, “Father, my Father”. The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. Think what that means. If we are his children we share his treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory.
In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! (Romans 8:15b-21, Phillips)
“It is absolutely necessary for us to recapture the sense that this limited human life is surrounded and interpenetrated by a timeless spiritual dimension. Christ spoke unequivocally about ‘coming from’ the Father, and ‘going to’ the Father. It was said of him that ‘he went about doing good and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people.’ He claimed that the work which he did, whether it was the healing of body, mind or soul was the work of God himself. Yet at the same time he stated quite definitely that his ‘Kingdom is not of this world.’ In other words, while he operated within the time-and-space situation, and neither despised nor detached himself from actual human living, he lived in continual awareness of what, for want of a better word, we call ‘eternity.’…
“It is those who know God to be eternal who most satisfactorily prove that God is their contemporary.”
God Our Contemporary
“We have been rescued, ransomed, redeemed out of our old natural life, under the power of sin, utterly and eternally. Sin has not the slightest claim on us, nor the slightest power over us, except as our ignorance or unbelief or half-heartedness allows it to have dominion. Our New Covenant birthright is to stand in the freedom with which Christ has made us free. Until the soul sees, and accepts and desires, and claims the redemption and the liberty which has the blood of the Son of God for its purchase price, and its measure, and its security, it never can fully live the New Covenant life.”
Andrew Murray, The Two Covenants
O Father, thou art my eternity.
Not on the clasp of consciousness—on thee
My life depends; and I can well afford
All to forget, so thou remember, Lord.
In thee I rest; in sleep thou dost me fold;
In thee I labour; still in thee, grow old;
And dying, shall I not in thee, my Life, be bold?
- George MacDonald
from The Diary of an Old Soul
* * * *
Listen, and I will tell you a secret. We shall not all die, but suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, every one of us will be changed as the trumpet sounds! The trumpet will sound and the dead shall be raised beyond the reach of corruption, and we who are still alive shall suddenly be utterly changed. For this perishable nature of ours must be wrapped in imperishability, these bodies which are mortal must be wrapped in immortality.
So when the perishable is lost in the imperishable, the mortal lost in the immortal, this saying will come true: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ‘O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’
It is sin which gives death its power, and it is the Law which gives sin its strength. All thanks to God, then, who gives us the victory over these things through our Lord Jesus Christ!
And so brothers and sisters of mine, stand firm! Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be sure that nothing you do for him is ever lost or ever wasted. (1 Corinthians 15:51-58, Phillips)
Then Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, according to his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read the scriptures and the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book and found the place where these words are written—‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.
Then he shut the book, handed it back to the attendant and resumed his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him and he began to tell them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you were listening to it!” (Luke 4:16-21, Phillips)
* * *
A couple months ago, it struck me that this may be one of the most instructive moments we ever witness in the life of Jesus. At the very beginning of what we would call His “ministry years,” He is essentially saying He’s already finished: His personal presence is the eternal answer to our hearts’ every question. Yes, we still require to know Him better, to hear His teaching, to watch the miracles in all they reveal to us of the heart of God. Yes, the Cross will represent the required atonement for our sin; the Resurrection the needful freeing we require from death.
But… here with Jesus, here at the beginning of His ministry, here with some of His first hearers hearing His teachings, He is telling them and us--what?
That He Himself is the place of the Spirit’s presence; that He Himself is the Good News of the Kingdom; that He Himself is the place of perpetual, once-for-all-time freedom; that He Himself is the experience of finally receiving sight; that He Himself is deliverance—both for each of us and for others; that He Himself is the Jubilee, the final freeing, the heart’s release; that He Himself is the beginning, means and end of everything intended for humankind since the moment of our Creation.
Is that how you understand the totality of the Person of Jesus? Is He Himself--for you—everything that He truly is?
"This fact of the historical Christ brings a high degree of certainty and authority, but not full certainty and authority. For, after all, if Jesus is only historical, it would be authority outside ourselves standing in history. No authority from without can be complete authority for us, unless it can become identified with our very selves, and can speak from within. The Christ of history must become the Christ within. We cannot live upon a remembrance, however beautiful. We can only live upon a realization. But Jesus becomes that. He told his disciples that it was expedient for him to go away, so he went, but ‘he changed his presence for his omnipresence.’ He came back more vital than before. Timid believers became irresistible apostles, for Christ had moved into their inmost souls. Life became merged: ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; and yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ cries the transformed Paul. Archimedes, after pondering a mathematical problem, suddenly finds the solution, and in his excitement rushes up the street crying, ‘Eureka, I’ve got it!’ These men, pondering deeper problems, find a deeper solution, and cry from deeper depths: ‘We’ve got it.’ Christ becomes self-evidencing. The historical passes into the experimental. They become witnesses."
E. Stanley Jones
Christ at the Round Table
"The power and life of [faith] may be better expressed in actions than in words, because actions are more lively things, and do better represent the inward principle whence they proceed: and therefore we may take the best measure of those gracious endowments from the deportment of those in whom they reside."
The Life of God in the Soul of Man
“The Spirit took his own means to found and to spread Christendom before a single apostolic step had left Jerusalem. It prepared the way before itself. Yet this was but a demonstration, as it were; the real work was now to begin, and the burden of the work was accepted by the group [of disciples] in the city. That work was the regeneration of mankind. That word has, too often, lost its force; it should be recovered. The apostles set out to generate mankind anew.
“They had not the language; they had not the ideas; they had to discover everything. They had only one fact, and that was that it had happened. Messiah had come, and been killed, and risen; and they had been dead ‘in trespasses and sin,’ and now they were not. They were regenerate; so might everyone be.”
The Descent of the Dove