"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.
"...live lives worthy of the God who has called you to share the splendour of his own kingdom."
1 Thessalonians 2:12
The Coronation of Alexander III and Maria Fedorovna, Georges Becker (1888)
If the painting above was only an infinitesimal sliver of the "splendour" of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom you are promised one day to "share" with your Savior, your Brother, the Lord Jesus...
if "in all which will one day belong to him we have been promised a share (since we were long ago destined for this by the one who achieves his purposes by his sovereign will)" (Eph. 1:11)...
if you really "are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Pet. 2:9)...
if all that He "claims as his will belong to all of us as well..." (Rom. 8:17)...
...then a question is immediately begged:
Today - and this week - and for the remainder of this month - and this year - and for remainder of the life allotted to you - as a true son or daughter of God, a splendid prince or princess of this Kingdom, an inheritor of His glory, a sharer in His purposes, a chosen one, a royal envoy, a person made holy by His very blood: His own special personal possession...
...what sort of life will you live?
If you listen to the Unionists podcast, then you've already heard this particular thought. But, recently, in my reading, I was reminded of the life and death of the Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke, and of his haunting WWI poem that seemed to foreshadow his approaching death:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rereading those words, I was struck by multiple parallels between Brooke's imagery and our Kingdom of Heaven-reality; how the spirit of Jesus lingers on in this world through us. So, imagining Jesus, the ultimate selfless Soldier, writing similar lines to us, I took a stab at an echoing sonnet:
When I ascend, remember only this of Me:
That there's a Spirit whispering in your soul
That is for ever Mine. There shall be
In that reborn life a richer life entirely whole:
A life which is My own, true, perfect in My Way,
Given, once, and always again, to point out Heaven;
The Spirit of My Body, breathing Heaven's ways,
Washed by My blood, enlivened with a higher leaven.
And know, My heart, all evil scorned fore'er,
My life, eternal, lessened not a mite
Will give you, everywhere, My mind and thoughts:
My wisdom, words; dreams joyous as the wind-fresh air;
And laughter, from My heart; and gentle might
Within peaceful hearts, whom Heaven hath bought.
If you've ever read much from Augustine, especially his autobiography of faith, The Confessions, then perhaps you already know of his breakthrough moment of beginning to believe. In concert with a group of friends, he encounters authentic experience of Jesus in the heart of a fellow North African, Ponticianus, while visiting a villa on the outskirts of Milan.
Read how Ponticianus described the difference between serving the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of the earth:
‘What do we hope to gain by all the efforts we make? What are we looking for? What is our purpose in serving the State? Can we hope for anything better at Court than to be the Emperor’s friends? Even so, surely our position would be precarious and exposed to much danger? We shall meet it at every turn, only to reach another danger which is greater still. And how long is it to be before we reach it? But if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment...’
No matter what sort of day you're expecting, or what sort of week you're in, I want us all to appreciate the grandeur of that thought: 'if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment.'
My friend, you are already a friend of God.
Or a daughter.
So, 'What are we looking for' today?
Only, ever, more of Him.
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.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” …Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-4,6 ESV).
Whenever I think of the return of Jesus—of that Beginning of the Beginning and the End of Ends—my mind often goes to a man whose story lies at the very opening of this whole glorious drama. His name is Enoch, and this is what we’re told of him:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:21-24 NIV).
Naturally, it’s that last sentence that grabs one’s attention. The idea of “walking faithfully with God” we can readily understand; but we tend to sit up in our chairs when we hear of a heavenly disappearing act that is borne from that faithfulness—an evasion of death because of God whisking someone away in His wondrous train. I’ve often imagined that, while walking faithfully with God one afternoon enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, Enoch just suddenly found himself in Heaven! And looking around, getting his bearings, seeing the God who he’d so faithfully walked with so long, he could only laugh and say, with a shake of his head, “You!”
So, why am I talking about Enoch with this final post of 2020?
Because the only way to live with untroubled hearts, believing in God, believing in Jesus; the only way to wait upon our eventual placement in the place He has for us in Heaven; the only way to be watchful for His coming again—His great taking of us to Himself, to His Father, to Heaven—is to walk faithfully with Him today. To rise out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, get ready, get fed, get out the door to work, get home, get in your routine, get back in bed--all with Him. To let every hour of your day be one in fellowship with Him. To let Him become the rhythm of your days. To finally, firmly understand that there’s absolutely nothing higher for your human life than to walk in intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth. And to so do, just like Enoch did.
When Jesus earlier described the times of His return, He put it this way:
“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth there will be dismay among the nations and bewilderment at the roar of the surging sea. Men’s courage will fail completely as they realise what is threatening the world, for the very powers of heaven will be shaken. Then men will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and splendour! But when these things begin to happen, look up, hold your heads high, for you will soon be free” (Luke 21:25-28 Phillips).
My friend, the reality of the mystery of the Return of Jesus is that, being totally unknown in its timing, it could be today! We might be going about the business of our mundane little routine this afternoon and—looking up--it’s happening! Jesus Himself, descending in the same glory in which He once ascended, coming again to take us away, as He promised!
How would He find you?
How would He find me?
With “heads held high” and “free”?
His best friend, the apostle John, writing many years after the Ascension, captured the spirit I would like to see in myself that day. This is how I’d want to be if Jesus happened to decide to return during this particular afternoon:
…Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 3:2 Phillips)
What a thought! That, today, being a son of God, not entirely knowing where my life is going, I can rest assured that, “if reality were to break through” this very afternoon, He would recognize me and I would finally, fully see Him!
The highest prayer I can pray for your life—and the reason I’ve chosen to end the year with these words—is that you’d begin to see your individual life as the place of Jesus’ greatest joy, and that Jesus Himself would overtake everything for you. That perhaps, someday, the following might be written of you:
When they had lived a certain number of years, they became, fully and consciously, a child of God. And after they became this son or daughter of God, they walked faithfully with God every day of their life and helped others to become children of God. Altogether, they walked with God every remaining year of their life, all 365 days of each one. They walked faithfully with God; then they were no more--or Jesus returned--and God took them away.
One day, while “walking faithfully with God,” enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, either Jesus will return, or you will suddenly find yourself in Heaven! And looking around, getting your bearings, seeing the God who you’ve so enjoyed walking with for so long, you’ll laugh and start to say, “You!”
But, even better, Jesus will beat you to the punch.
With that love in His glorious eyes, brimming over with tears of joy that you’re finally, eternally together forever, He’ll whisper, “You!”
Jesus, we await You today (and in this New Year) in the joy of Your presence. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
"All our persuading of men, then, is with this solemn fear of God in our minds. What we are is utterly plain to God—and I hope to your consciences as well. (No, we are not recommending ourselves to you again, but we can give you grounds for legitimate pride in us—if that is what you need to meet those who are so proud of the outward rather than the inward qualification). If we have been “mad” it was for God’s glory; if we are perfectly sane it is for your benefit. At any rate there has been no selfish motive. The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:11-14a)
That last sentence ties this whole chapter together; it is the tie that binds: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." The love of Jesus is a never-ending, bubbling, flowing fountain in the inner life that both satisfies our souls and compels us in our outward, others-focused activities. Think of it these ways: the more you drink, the further it overflows; the deeper you swim, the further it spreads out.
In fact, if you read the whole of 2 Corinthians 5, you get a litany of phrases that point out how the love of Jesus is and operates: it is our "permanent house in Heaven," the "full cover...that will be ours," "the life that is eternal," "power"; the love of Jesus is "His Spirit"; it is "our persuading of men," our "inward qualification," our sanity, our "motive": "the very spring of our actions."
So, if I may, I'd like to discourage you and encourage you.
I would discourage you from attempting any form of the "Christian life" where you're not practically becoming familiar with the inward, outward-flowing, personal, personalized, actual love of Jesus of Nazareth. Don't have anything to do with any such disconnected approach.
But, I would encourage you -- today and everyday -- to make the full focus of your day experience and delight-in just how very much He loves you.
Drink deep... that it may overflow.
Swim deeper and deeper... that it may spread further and further.
Remember: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ."
Our actions will always manifest in the pattern of their truest source.
This letter comes to you from Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as a messenger and appointed for the service of that Gospel of God which was long ago promised by the prophets in the holy scriptures. The Gospel is centred in God’s Son, a descendant of David by human genealogy and patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead. He is our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom we received grace and our commission in his name to forward obedience to the faith in all nations. And of this great number you at Rome are also called to belong to him. To you all then, loved of God and called to be Christ’s men and women, grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
It strikes you, as you read the very first words of this wondrous epistle, what Paul is up to in this opening: he wants the fellowship at Rome—and all of us—so inextricably tied up and tied into the Name and Person of Jesus that there’s nowhere else for us to go. Consider his preamble in this way:
Jesus… whose servant Paul is… as an appointed messenger of the Gospel… which, for ages past, had been promised by the prophets, in the holy scriptures, who were all of them looking only to--
Jesus… who is God’s Son… and the very center of the Gospel’s good news. Really, the Gospel itself is--
Jesus… that descendant of King David… clearly marked as the Son of God--how? By the power of the Holy Spirit, who, seeing Him dead in our sins, raised Him up to life again--
Jesus… who is our Lord… and who personally brought us grace…and who commissioned us each, personally, to bear His name and His Way to all the nations.
Friends, our belongingness, our position as those beloved by God, our calling as men and women, the grace and peace of God the Father all come from--
Let’s go see what He would have us do this day!
"For the Son of God did not come from above to add an external form of worship to the several ways of life that are in the world, and so to leave people to live as they did before, in such tempers and enjoyments as the fashion and spirit of the world approves; but as He came down from Heaven altogether Divine and heavenly in His own nature, so it was to call mankind to a Divine and heavenly life; to the highest change of their own nature and temper; to be born again of the Holy Spirit; to walk in the wisdom and light and love of God, and to be like Him to the utmost of their power; to renounce all the most plausible ways of the world, whether of greatness, business, or pleasure; to a mortification of all their most agreeable passions; and to live in such wisdom, and purity, and holiness, as might fit them to be glorious in the enjoyment of God to all eternity."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
"If I imagined two kingdoms bordering each other, one of which I knew rather well and the other not at all, and if however much I desired it I was not allowed to enter the unknown kingdom, I would still be able to form some idea of it. I would go to the border of the kingdom known to me and follow it all the way, and in doing so I would by my movements describe the outline of that unknown land and thus have a general idea of it, although I had never set foot in it. And if this was a labor that occupied me very much, if I was unflaggingly scrupulous, it presumably would sometimes happen that as I stood with sadness at the border of my kingdom and gazed longingly into that unknown country that was so near and yet so far, I would be granted an occasional little disclosure."
Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
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Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)
But the gift of God through Christ is a very different matter from the “account rendered” through the sin of Adam. For while as a result of one man’s sin death by natural consequence became the common lot of men, it was by the generosity of God, the free giving of the grace of one man Jesus Christ, that the love of God overflowed for the benefit of all men. (Romans 5:15)
You see, it was the reintroduction, as a gift, of all that Adam was meant to be and receive -- all that he had lost as a consequence of the Fall -- that Jesus came to re-invite us into:
Rather than continuing the generational, earthly curse of sin and death, Jesus came to reinstitute our showcasing the full glory of God within the earthly life of man.
Rather than settling for our broken family systems and human-centered understandings of the past and the present, Jesus came to invite us into the Family of God.
Rather than being ruled over by creation -- being defined ourselves by the economies of this world, the evil one, sin, death -- Jesus came (as the new-firstborn, perfectly chosen Son of God) to restart the whole process between God and man.
And, finally, rather than walking in broken, disconnected misunderstanding, disobedience, and imperfect not-doing of the will of the Father, Jesus came to teach us how to walk with God again, just like He'd Himself once walked in Eden with that unFallen first man named Adam.
More "Amplification" in Romans 5, this time in vv. 1,2...
Since then it is by faith that we are justified, “since then”: the language of an accomplished fact. And the fact of the matter is that, by faith, aligning our lives with the life and death of Jesus, we have already been justified: made right. We have been reset to our Garden of Eden, first-creation, new-creation factory setting and there’s nothing we can do to lose that. So…
let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ll reiterate: “have peace.” Not “had for a minute at the moment of your prayer of salvation,” nor “will have at the moment when you breathe your last earthly breath.” No, by faith, and because of faith, and in faith, we are justified--right now—and at peace with God--right now. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the Prince of Peace, came to impart eternal peace to all creation with the victory of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every battle of the great cosmic war is over. Peace is declared. We have peace with God now. And:
Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, Everything we’re doing is meant to be new. It is not by works, not with terror and trepidation, not nebulous in its meaning and practice, not old, not joyless, sterile, or bland. It is through Jesus—that wonderful bearded Man from the Galilee—it is meant to be confident, a solid spiritual construct we can live inside, new, and relational in both grace and joy. We are each of us meant to show the world Jesus…by our confidence…as we enter further and further into the newness of this grace. And how will it look?
and here we take our stand, It is solid. Consequential. Even geographical. It is a place (the Kingdom of Heaven) where we (individually and together) may solidly stand (in the security and surety of all that Jesus has done.) Every single inch of the earth’s surface is able to be inhabited with His goodness--in us: we may take this stand anywhere. And it is not a stand of division, mankind against mankind. It is a stand of spiritual flag-planting that claims all mankind—and the earth—for the Kingdom…which has forever, already, arrived.
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
"Now if a man works his wages are not counted as a gift but as a fair reward. But if a man, irrespective of his work, has faith in him who justifies the sinful, then that man’s faith is counted as righteousness, and that is the gift of God." Romans 4:4,5
This is so important - let's extrapolate it out a bit:
There is a God: the I AM.
His very living essence is goodness, love: righteousness.
When a man or woman - fallen, fleshly, broken and sinful by their very definition - begins to believe in God, they do something. They align their life with the goodness, love, the righteousness, of God, and they begin a different journey through their human existence.
When they believe in God, when they trust in God's ways and means, they begin choosing against all forms of self-righteousness. It is not their works - the sweat of their spiritual brow - that will justify them: it is the gift of God who, by belief, lines up His Way (His goodness, love: His righteousness) with this new, redeemed human being.
The whole thing is perfectly natural and perfectly supernatural.
It is "the gift of God" to the individual who, simply, believes.
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?”
"A life… devoted unto God, looking wholly unto Him in all our actions, and doing all things suitably to His glory, is so far from being dull and uncomfortable, that it creates new comforts in everything that we do."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
When we typically think of "evangelism"—of the commission we hold to tell everyone, everywhere, all the time, of the Gospel of Jesus—it's been my observation that we tend to then get strategic, carried away by logistics, and sometimes end up hamstringing our potential best efforts. It reminds me of a particular moment from history.
After the French Revolution had (mostly) solidified and was starting to find its legs, the other European nations began to want to fight France to ensure its revolution didn't spread further. And, for the most part, the revolutionary French army did fairly well. But then, as stronger, more strident French voices started calling for further outward battles of conquest, a gentleman named Vergniaud—a Girondist—said this:
"Citizens, let us profit from the lessons of experience. We can overturn empires by victories but we can only make revolutions for other peoples by the spectacle of our own happiness."
My friends, that is what we're after! To so enjoy the glory, honor and peace that Jesus so readily provides that we spark off revolutions "by the spectacle of our own happiness." That the look of the joy of our experience of abiding in Him is intoxicating, overwhelming, and eminently inviting. That everyone would want what we have.
Because we actually have what we actually have.
"You ought to know by this time that Christ is in you, unless you are not real Christians at all. And when you have applied your test, I am confident that you will soon find that I myself am a genuine Christian. I pray God that you may find the right answer to your test, not because I have any need of your approval, but because I earnestly want you to find the right answer, even if that should make me no real Christian." 2 Corinthians 13:6,7
And, having read that, I want you to internalize this eternal, internal truth from this section: according to Paul of Tarsus, the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them. (Let me type that again: the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them.)
Not just having all the rote Christian knowledges.
Nor a perfect record of faithful Sunday attendances.
Or, even, a reputation for doing nice "Christian" things.
The "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them.
"Verifiable" by who? You and the Holy Spirit.
"Inward" meaning what? This all works from the inside out.
The "life of Jesus living"--how? To the fullest, full extent of His own heavenly-earthly power and glory--to the degree that you'll abide in Him and let Him.
It's interesting: where Phillips translates verse 6 as "unless you are not real Christians at all," the simple Greek says, "if you are not unapproved"--ἀδόκιμοι. The meanings of that word are: "discredited, not approved, unsatisfactory, unconvincing, and (to me, the most interesting) not legal tender."
So let's flip this on its head, shall we? As we choose to engage more and more with the inward reality of the indwelling of Jesus within us, what will we become--and be? Creditable with His words and witness; approved by Him for the purposes of His Kingdom; utterly, meaningfully satisfactory to His very own heart; mightily convincing--to Him and others--in the devotion of our lives; and (and, again, my favorite) legal tender of the heavenly economy, ready to spend and be spent, unable to be counterfeited because our weights and measures are GLORY.
One last time: the "real Christian" is he or she with verifiable, inward experience of the life of Jesus living within them. My friends, let us never stop moving in the direction of greater and greater encounter with Him, right here within!
At the end of 2 Corinthians 12, Paul, writing from a position of remove, writes the following of his potential upcoming visit to Corinth:
Are you thinking that I am trying to justify myself in your eyes? Actually I am speaking in Christ before God himself, and my only reason for so doing is to help you in your spiritual life. For I must confess that I am afraid that when I come I shall not perhaps find you as I should like to find you, and that you will not find me coming quite as you would like me to come. I am afraid of finding arguments, jealousy, ill-feeling, divided loyalties, slander, whispering, pride and disharmony. When I come, will God make me feel ashamed of you as I stand among you? Shall I have to grieve over many who have sinned already and are not yet sorry for the impurity, the immorality and the lustfulness of which they are guilty? (2 Corinthians 12:19-21)
Reading this, in its clearly negative tone, made me think of where we've been, in the (relatively) much more positive, as we've transited through these last few strange months. In all this time, rather than being together—at places like Anchor, church, out to coffee, out to lunch, etc.—we have all been living in varying degrees of isolation and remove.
And I remember saying to Jenny, about the middle of the first full week of the shutdown: "Well, now begins the battle of the inner life."
Is that how you've found it to be, too? As a battle to win the battlefield of your heart and mind? As a time to fight the feelings of desperation and, instead, to present your inner life as a ready place for communion with Jesus?
Indeed, reading through this Chapter 12 conclusion this week, I've been hearing Paul's words in a different way:
All this time, we have had ample opportunity to dig down deep into the realities of our forever-finished justification. Christ Himself, God Himself, has been leaning forward to speak to us personally; His only reason for so doing is to establish His spiritual life in us. For He professes that He’s always delighted to come to us and to make us into the people He should like to find us being, and I guarantee that, when His presence is fully manifest, we will find Him even better than we'd hoped He could be. He will come to end all argument, all human need for comparison, hatred, division, lying speech, rumor-milling, pride and disharmony--within us. And when He comes, He will be so proud of our inviting Him to come! He will wipe the every tear from our eyes, remind us of our perfect freedom from sin—eradicating all guilt and shame—and He will teach us of the glory of His Way and of the righteousness He’s already imputed to us.
Friends, isn’t Jesus wonderful?
"We do not exceed our duty when we embrace your interests, for it was our preaching of the Gospel which brought us into contact with you. Our pride is not in matters beyond our proper sphere nor in the labours of other men. No, our hope is that your growing faith will mean the expansion of our sphere of action, so that before long we shall be preaching the Gospel in districts beyond you, instead of being proud of work that has already been done in someone else’s province. But, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’. It is not self-commendation that matters, it is winning the approval of God." 2 Corinthians 10:15-18
The word for “sphere” (or “measure” or “rule” in other translations), in the Greek, is kanona. It means “a straight rod, a weaver’s rod (to which the threads of a tapestry’s warp were attached), a mason’s line, a rule, a standard, a limit, a boundary.” And, interestingly, etymologically, it’s also the exact word from which our English word, “canon,” as in “the canon of scripture,” comes.
My friends, knowing Jesus, following Jesus, the call He has for you today is the call He has for you. The “straight, narrow way” is the straight rod for your measure. He is the weaver’s rod for your life, forming a tapestry of relationships and circumstances that are only fully known to Him. He is the rule, standard, limit, and boundary for your day today; He is the One forming the canon of your earthly life.
So… will you follow Him today? Will you let Him love the world, to the ends of yourself?
This is what He has for your life!
This is the best version of you that’s imaginable!