"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)."
"You, my brother, are not a servant any longer; you are a son. And, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir of God through Christ.
"At one time when you had no knowledge of God, you were under the authority of gods who had no real existence. But now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by him, how can you revert to dead and sterile principles and consent to be under their power all over again? Your religion is beginning to be a matter of observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Frankly, you stagger me, you make me wonder if all my efforts over you have been wasted!" Galatians 4:7-11
Consider the underlying statements in that second paragraph, one by one:
1) “gods who had no real existence” – Can you picture people who’ve made their own god by their own labor and now bow down to worship it in all its false glory? “Oh, thou Chair that I hath crafted and hath hewn with my own hands, certainly you are the god of all the planets!”
2) “you have come to know God, or rather are known by him” – Aren’t you floored by that sentiment?! The actual God of the universe who actually crafted the entirety of Creation is the One who actually knows you! The One who saw our fallen sinful selves and wouldn’t accept our separation and, so, sent His Son to redeem us by His blood! The One who literally took on flesh and then walked out a perfect life, giving us a glimpse of the immensity of the Godhead in human form! The One who took the penalty of our sin – tried, mocked, flogged, condemned, murdered – so that we might taste His life eternal! The One who strode out of the tomb to show the power of the unquenchable Life and ascended to take His kingly-priestly place at the right hand of the Father! Yes, that One “knows” us!
3) “Your religion” is becoming a matter of “seasons or years” – If you and I choose to become “Sunday-only Christians,” observing only one day as our “season” for worship, we’re taking the enormity of our God and treating Him as befits a mute idol. Essentially, we’re sitting ourselves down in the lap of that false god “Chair”; we just so happen to call it a church pew...
You see, the greatest glory in all human history is the Eternal God conforming Himself into the shape of a man to save us from our sin. But then the greatest human tragedy is when we try to conform that overwhelming glory to the whims of our lifestyle. May it never be so for us, Brothers and Sisters! We are Sons and Daughters now!
“Alas for you, you blind leaders! You say, ‘if anyone swears by the Temple it amounts to nothing, but if he swears by the gold of the Temple he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools, which is the more important, the gold or the Temple which sanctifies the gold? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar it doesn’t matter, but if he swears by the gift placed on the altar he is bound by his oath.’ Have you no eyes—which is more important, the gift, or the altar which sanctifies the gift? Any man who swears by the altar is swearing by the altar and whatever is offered upon it; and anyone who swears by the Temple is swearing by the Temple and by him who dwells in it; and anyone who swears by Heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the one who sits upon that throne." Matthew 23:16-22
Yesterday, at the Anchor gathering, we talked about how, if you invert the wordings/meanings of Matthew 23, you end up with a glorious picture of the New Covenant life that is ours. Take a look at these seven verses, turned upside-down into the Way of Jesus and see what I mean:
“Oh, and blessed are you, you wide-eyed servants! You say, ‘if anyone lives by the Presence of God it amounts to absolutely everything, and if he lives by the inheritance of the Kingdom he is freed by the blood of Jesus.’ You brilliant friends, they are really the same, aren’t they: the Kingdom-inheritance and my Presence that brings the Kingdom? And you also say, ‘If anyone is saved by the Cross, it is life, and if he then lives by the power of the Resurrection, he is given a brand new life.’ Oh! I’m so impressed by your spiritual eyes! For, yes, the two go perfectly together, don’t they: the Cross and the New Life that springs from the tomb? So, any man who lives under the blood of the Cross need only go a step further to meet me at the dawn of Easter and receive the ‘life, life to the full’ I offer. And anyone who lives by my Presence is living already in the Kingdom and by me who dwells in it; and anyone who delves deep into my inheritance is living at the throne of God already, and by me who sits upon that throne."
Isn't it amazing that we follow the Man who spoke Matthew 23's judgments in the new and living Way given by His Spirit? Thank you, Jesus!
"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!
One of the twelve, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came [back from the dead]. The other disciples kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he replied, “Unless I see in his own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe!” (John 20:24,25)
Can you imagine how long this next week must’ve been for Thomas? After arriving back to the upper room, after seeing the looks on those faces, after hearing the explanation of the Resurrection, Thomas probably felt so confused by something so implausible, hurt to be the only outsider, and, maybe, a little annoyed at the appearance of the disciples’ giddy group-dynamic.
So, immediately, Thomas takes up what will become his weeklong litany to the others: “Unless I see, I won’t believe.” Really, Thomas has chosen one of the only three available positions for all mankind in face of the news of the Resurrection. These are:
1) Total disbelief without provisions or conditions
2) Potential belief, entirely conditional upon further proofs (this is Thomas)
3) Belief as the foundation, with expectancy as the new condition of life
Since you’re reading these words from me, chances are you’re not currently in the first group: you’ve probably already opened your heart to, at least, the beginnings of Belief. So then, from there, what sounds better to you: To base your every single decision about belief on the closed system of your own intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion; or, beginning with belief that “It is finished,” that death is dead, that you are a Son or Daughter of God, to instead deliver over your intellect, knowledge, personal experience and emotion, in order to be invested with the very life of Heaven?
Thomas’ first impulse is to say, “If it’s real, Jesus can come to me.” (And you and I do the same - and say the same - and feel the same - all the time.) But, friends, Jesus already has come to us, visited us, done absolutely everything that we might experience the fullness of the heavenly life today. True life is found in being swallowed up in these promises, not in constantly postulating on whether or not belief is in our day-to-day best interest.
Jesus, teach us how to believe you without reservation - today! We want more!
At this point the mother of the sons of Zebedee arrived with her sons and knelt in front of Jesus to ask him a favor. “What is it you want?” he asked her. “Please say that these two sons of mine may sit one on each side of you when you are king!” she said.
“You don’t know what it is you are asking,” replied Jesus. “Can you two drink what I have to drink?” “Yes, we can,” they answered.
“Ah, you will indeed ‘drink my drink’,” Jesus told them, “but as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to grant—that belongs to those for whom my Father has planned it.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
Do you know "for whom the Father has planned it"? Have you ever dug a little deeper into that enigmatic turn of phrase?
From Revelation 20: “And I saw thrones, with appointed judges seated upon them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death cannot touch such men; they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”
And who was the one who saw this vision, this Revelation? John, the son of Zebedee.
And who was one of the "souls" he saw, the first, in fact, to be "beheaded for his witness to Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God"? John's own brother, James.
The two men who, on this day, allow their mother to approach Jesus to secure a position, who so confidently affirm their ability to drink the cup of His sufferings, will eventually stand face to face in the Throneroom of Heaven - one there by revelation, the other by gruesome death - and, you know what?
It'll all be worth it. For the sake of this Man, no sacrifice is any sacrifice at all. Losing all, everything is gained in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even to die is to live. Forever. At the right hand of this Man.
Let us run the race He's given us this week with joy... and endurance. He is worth it all.
"…Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder. For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live, so does the Son give life to any man he chooses…" John 5:20b,21
These two sentences are so unbelievable that I need to take a moment to type out – to get out – all my potential language of hyperbole: magnificent! marvelous! overwhelming! grandiose! transcendent! awesome! utterly stupefying! (Thank you.) But, in all seriousness, as you read through Jesus' words, did you catch the echo of a wording of another of His greatest promises? Go back and reread them and see if you can catch it…
So gloriously preposterous is the conclusion to which I’m about to drive that its foundational truth – foundational! – is the statement: “For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them live…” You know about that, right? How the Heavenly Father, in the presence of death, may simply snap His fingers and – BOOM! – you’re back to life?
To Jesus, this spoken half-sentence seems almost a casual reference; for His First Century Jewish listeners, they’ve only ever heard of three such cases in all recorded human history: Elijah and the widow’s son; Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman; and that guy whose body got thrown into Elisha’s tomb, touched his bones and came back to life. Yes - Jesus says - “For just as the Father raises the dead… so does the Son give life to any man He chooses.”
For me, in preparing to teach through this chapter, I’ve often just stared into space at the wonder of that thought! Do you grasp the equivalency that Jesus is purposely setting up here: “For just as…so…”? How would you react if you were at a funeral and the dead person suddenly sat up in their coffin and came back to life? You would jump out of your skin. Yet, according to Jesus, your natural reaction to that should mirror the way people are consistently reacting to the New Life expressing itself in and through you...
Which brings me to my point: “Yes, and the Father will show the Son even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.” The very next time that that phrasing “even greater things” is used – μείζονα in the Greek – here is what Jesus is saying: “I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Do you understand? According to John 5:20, the Father is planning to show the Son “even greater things” that will fill the world the whole world with wonder; and where, according to John 14:12, will those “even greater things” occur? In our lives!
May it be so today!
"While Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover-time, during the festivities many believed in him as they saw the signs that he gave. But Jesus, on his side, did not trust himself to them — for he knew them all. He did not need anyone to tell him what people were like: he understood human nature." John 2:23-25
There’s a subtlety in the language of these verses that is huge for our understanding of Jesus and Belief. Three times in John 2, we are told that people “believed” in Him – the disciples at Cana, the disciples at the Resurrection, and “many” during this particular week. They had seen a man, seen His actions, heard His voice, watched His ways, and then they “believed” - ἐπίστευσαν - in Him. In our modern usage, this most generally means we’ve given intellectual assent to a set of beliefs about Jesus and what we know of His life. Which, let's be honest, for most of us, most of the time, is most like an add-on to our lifestyle and current way-of-life…
Not so for His disciples.
For them, “belief” implied a complete change of life; a physical following: to “believe” was to entrust one’s whole life to the object of that belief; in this case, Jesus Himself…
And particularly damning of our modern “add-on” accessorizing Christianity are verses 2:24 and 25. Here’s what they say in the precision of the Greek: “But on his side, Jesus Himself did not believe (ἐπίστευεν) in them, because of His knowing all. He had no need that any should testify concerning man; He indeed knew what was in man.” Unregenerated (or half-regenerated) human nature was not “believable” to Jesus. He knew that what was needed was wholesale death of the flesh and rebirth into Hisnature, that nature being the very one His disciples had “believed” in.
Do we understand that He alone – living His life within our lives – is the only life truly believable?
At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua gathers the people of Israel to give them his last words before he's parted from them forever. Both the final two chapters are his words to them: very poignant and pointed. But it struck me last summer that, if you only changed the context a little, changing some phrasing and the background of which Covenant we're under, his words are amazingly like something Jesus could've said.
So, as a start to our workweek, consider Joshua 23 in that new, New Covenant way:
Once the forty days after the Resurrection had passed, after Jesus had given 'life and life to the full' to His believers, and He was ready to return to the Father, He called for His disciples, for their hearers and eventual spiritual descendants, for you and for me, and said to all of us, “I have completed the days of my earthly ministry; I have died and, in your sight, lived again. You have seen all that the Father can do through my Name; for it is the Father who has lived His life in me, and I in Him. Behold, I have allotted to you the very same interrelationship – we call it 'Abiding' – to be an inheritance for you, starting in Jerusalem with my disciples, into Judaea, into Samaria and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. By living our heavenly life within you, I, the Father, and our dear friend, the Holy Spirit, will thrust Satan from before you, and drive him from out of your sight. You shall possess my Kingdom, as I have spoken to you.
“Therefore be very courageous to daily approach my Throne with confidence, to Abide in me as I Abide in you, in order that you may keep and do all that I have spoken to my disciples and will speak to your spirit, that you do not turn aside from me to the right hand or to the left; that you do not continue on anymore as a slave to sin, or to the world that remains around you; neither make mention of the name of their cultural gods, nor cause to swear by their seeming power or intrigue, neither serve their idolatrous needs, nor bow down yourselves to the world’s fleeting pleasures and experiences; but Abide in me, and I in you, as I invite you to do everyday.
“For I have driven out the evil one from before you forever. But as for you, no plan of his can prosper against you now that you are part of my Kingdom. One man of you shall stand against a thousand of his temptations; for it is I, Jesus, your Savior who fights for you, as I am speaking to you now. Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you Abide in me, even as I Abide in you.
“But if you do at all go back, if you forget that you are now a slave to righteousness, no longer to sin, if you fall under the sway of the world, of Self, of sin, and make mistakes among them, and go in their ways, and they take over yours; know for a certainty that I, Jesus, will forgive you in my sight; and that I shall take ahold of you, chasten you as a good Father, looking you in the eyes, until you learn to love my good land, my wondrous Kingdom, my Way, which I, Jesus, have given to you personally.
“Behold, today I am going to ascend back to my Father. You know in all your hearts and souls that not one thing has failed to be revealed in Me of all the good things which the Father spoke concerning Me. All has happened so that you may believe. Not one good and glorious promise has failed to be fulfilled in Me. It shall happen that as all the good things of your Heavenly inheritance come to you of which the Father spoke through Me, so the Father will bring on you even more good things, until he has built up in you the fullness of the Kingdom which He has already given you, while you obey the New Covenant, sworn between Myself and My Father, which I have sealed for you in My blood, and then go into all the world to serve Me, and bow your hearts before Me. Then the Father’s delight will be kindled towards you, and you will live forever in the heavenly reality which He has given to you.”
Let's follow Him into this week, Brothers and Sisters!
The whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled themselves together at Shiloh, and set up the Tent of Meeting there. The land was subdued before them. Seven tribes remained among the children of Israel, which had not yet divided their inheritance. Joshua said to the children of Israel, “How long will you neglect to go in to possess the land, which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has given you? Appoint for yourselves three men from each tribe. I will send them, and they shall arise, walk through the land, and describe it according to their inheritance; and they shall come to me.” Joshua 18:1-4
May I speak boldly to you right now? May I, in fact, proclaim a piece of identity that you need to lay hold of?
You are meant to be one of these surveyors of the inheritance. You are meant to rise up each morning – a citizen of Heaven – and go walking through the splendors of what the blood of Jesus has bought you. You are meant to learn to describe what you have seen so that it’s of value for the teaching, admonition and encouragement of all the Body.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes: “When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has another language, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to build each other up.” His words begin with the phrase “when you come together,” meaning that all of what he then says is meant to precede that physical gathering-together. Meaning that – on your own – you are tasked with receiving – directly from the hand and heart of Jesus – “a psalm, teaching, revelation, another language, an interpretation” that will “build up” the whole Body. Meaning that your “quiet time” isn’t meant to be so quiet – or only for you. In truth, your personal meditations upon Jesus – even the way you’re reading this post – are probably just as much for the Body as they are for your own “walk.”
What’s the most recent piece of your inheritance that He’s teaching you about? And who have you given that away to, already? You and I must remember: We only truly possess those heavenly things by which our own lives have been seized and possessed.
On the very night that Herod was planning to bring him out, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, chained with double chains, while guards maintained a strict watch in the doorway of the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side. His chains fell away from his hands and the angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.”
And he did so. Then the angel continued, “Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.” So Peter followed him out, not knowing whether what the angel was doing were real—indeed he felt he must be taking part in a vision. So they passed right through the first and second guard-points and came to the iron gate that led out into the city. This opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and had passed along the street when the angel suddenly vanished from Peter’s sight. Then Peter came to himself and said aloud, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel to rescue me from the power of Herod and from all that the Jewish people are expecting.” Acts 12:7-11
This little narrative – from the man sleeping in his cell to now standing outside unchained – is so fun, despite its seriousness, that to me it’s almost silly. This is the wild, whimsical, all-powerful, uncontrollable way of the God we're serving! This, in fact, is actually our story – let me prove it to you:
Under the darkness of this world, it was as if we were asleep between sin and death, chained with double chains, while the Accuser maintained a strict watch in the doorway of our prison. Suddenly the Lord Jesus appeared, and His light shone throughout the world. He took our stripes and woke us from our deathly sleep, saying, “Get up quickly, for I have risen.” Our chains fell away from our hands and then Jesus said to us, “Fasten on the Belt of Truth and put on your sandals fitted with the Gospel of peace.” (Eph. 6)
And we did so. Then Jesus continued, “Wrap the robe of my righteousness (Isa. 61:10) round you and follow me.” So we followed Him out of the old life, not knowing whether all of this was real, it seemed so good — indeed we felt we must be taking part in some heavenly dream. So we passed right through the condemnation of sin and death and came to the curtain that led into the presence of God. This tore of its own accord from top to bottom, and we went through and passed into the Holy of Holies, into the Throneroom of the Father and, at His right hand, Jesus. And there we came to ourselves and said aloud, “Now I know for certain that the Father has sent Jesus to rescue me from the power of sin and from all that the evil one was expecting...”
For just a moment, try to imagine that night alongside Peter. Feel the cold wet stones of the prison floor; smell the filth, the sickness of that place; look out into the unlit darkness of the cell: that sort of darkness that hurts the eyes as they find nothing to focus upon…
And now, moments later, imagine standing in an empty city street, looking up at the twinkling of the stars overhead! Friends, this is how good Jesus is, how fully free He’s set us free; we must learn to relish in our absolute freedom! We are free!
“The System gnashed on them with its teeth, struck out at them and broke its own arm in the striking. The disciples smiled their way through threats, rejoiced their way through stripes, sang their way through prisons, and triumphed their way through death. And the multitudes watching found themselves wanting the very thing the disciples had. This freedom! This poise! This moral power! Here religion, while on the offensive, was not offensive; it was winsome, compelling. Their weapons were strange indeed – they turned other cheeks, went the second mile, gave the cloak also, refused to do anything but love their persecutors. And they won! Of course they did. What can you do with a thing like that? It never knows when it is defeated, for it turns its defeats into victories and it turns its Calvaries into Easter mornings.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
"Everything that my Father gives me will come to me and I will never refuse anyone who comes to me. For I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of him who sent me. The will of him who sent me is that I should not lose anything of what he has given me, but should raise it up when the last day comes. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and trusts in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up when the last day comes." John 6:37-40
How often we hear people say, and even say ourselves, "Oh, I wish I knew the Lord's will" for some decision we need to make, or crisis, or question we’re presently pondering. But in those last two verses, Jesus tells us the Will of God: 1) that He "should not lose anything of what [the Father] has given [Him]" and 2) "that everyone who sees the Son and trusts Him should have eternal life." THE Will of God is to possess and redeem. How stunning!
But did you notice that each of these will-of-God statements is binary, meaning they’re composed of two parts? The first part in each was different, but the second was the same: He will "raise [them] up when the last day comes." The word John uses there for "raise up" means just that - "to raise up" or "raise from the dead" - but it also has a lesser definition that goes beautifully with what we know to be one of the truest definitions of our lives-in-Him: "to produce a witness."
THE Will of God is to possess and redeem, that we might be raised up - raised from the dead, in fact - and produced as witnesses of what we know and have seen of Him.
“But, Eugene,” you might say, “it would still really help to know His particular will in this one particular decision I’m trying to make.” Well, here’s your decision-making grid: “I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of Him who sent me.” The “wants” of Jesus were nothing when compared to His delighted, intimate, listening, waiting-upon expectation of having the will of God daily revealed to Him. Can’t you see Him out in those lonely places in the pre-dawn hours, simply waiting and receiving word of the Father’s particular will for each particular day?
May it be so for us as well!
Here's a simple way to describe what we could be after today:
Psalm 48:8a - "As we have heard, so have we seen..."
Let's spend today in expectation of seeing, experiencing, and living those beliefs that we have always heard so much about. Rather than listening to a sermon, nodding our heads, and going out the door into our "normal lives," let's listen with a heart that will expect all those truths to live in our lives in reality.
For either this Jesus is truly alive and ready to minister in/through us by His Holy Spirit... or we should stop pretending that we believe what we say we believe.
After a number of the disciples are arrested, from Acts 5:
Then Peter and the apostles answered the High Priest, “It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men. It was the God of our fathers who raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging him on a cross of wood. God has raised this man to his own right hand as prince and savior, to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel. What is more, we are witnesses to these matters, and so is the Holy Spirit which God gives to those who obey his commands.”
Such bold and courageous words. Such trust in the realities of the Gospel. And while these words read like an amalgam of the messages given in Acts 2, 3 and 4, it’s the opening words Peter uses that capture my heart: “It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men.” As I read and reread those words in thinking through this section, a snippet of scripture kept coming into my mind – “I am under vows to you” – even though I couldn’t remember where exactly that was from. Turns out it’s Psalm 56, when David himself had also been arrested.
My friend, I don’t where today finds you – whether happy or feeling harassed – but, in light of the example of the apostles, their stoutheartedness for the sake of this Gospel we share with them, consider with full heart and ready spirit all of Psalm 56:
Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise--
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll--
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise--
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
Yes, Jesus, teach us to follow you like the saints of old! Teach us to live the bold spirit of your Early Church, your first friends!
From the Lazarus account in John 11 -
“I myself am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus told [Martha]. “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?”
It would be difficult to rate or order the “I AM” statements in terms of their incomprehensibility – they are all impossibly glorious and mysterious in their own way – and yet, given the grieving woman standing in front of Him, and the clouded Jewish understanding of the concept of resurrection, this statement almost has to take the cake.
Isn’t it striking? The Resurrection is not an event, He is a person. Who yet lives, even today! And that’s because, of His own volition, out of that part of His "Resurrection-personality" with the power to do so, He Himself was resurrected from the dead for our sake.
And did you notice our point of access for both partaking in, and enjoying the benefits of, His being the Resurrection? “The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die at all. Can you believe that?” Belief is the only currency that holds open the door of death for life to come walking through; Belief is the only human possession that grants fearlessness in the face of death. To know and believe in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life grants us full understanding and experience of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1: “For you are the sons of God now; the live, permanent Word of the living God has given you his own indestructible heredity.”
As Jesus just asked Martha, “Can you believe that?”
“We have no business to be living subnormal, unhealthy, anaemic spiritual lives and call them Christian. They are sub-Christian. Our greatest difficulty is not antichristianity, but this sub-Christianity. It takes the facts of Christ’s life – his life, his death, his resurrection – but not the living fact of Christ. To take the first three and miss this is, I repeat, the supreme tragedy in present-day Christian living.”
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of Every Road
“The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure. He is all love, and those who trust Him need never know anything but that love. He is just indeed and He will not condone sin; but through the blood of the everlasting covenant He is able to act toward us exactly as if we had never sinned. Toward the trusting sons of men His mercy will always triumph over justice. The fellowship of God is delightful beyond all telling. He communes with His redeemed ones in an easy, uninhibited fellowship that is restful and healing to the soul. He is not sensitive or selfish nor temperamental. What He is today we shall find Him tomorrow and the next day and the next year. He is not hard to please, though He may be hard to satisfy. He expects of us only what He has Himself first supplied. He is quick to mark every simple effort to please Him, and just as quick to overlook imperfections when He knows we meant to do His will. He loves us for ourselves and values our love more than galaxies of new created worlds.”
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
Before the festival of the Passover began, Jesus realized that the time had come for him to leave this world and return to the Father... (John 13:1a)
You often hear statements like, “Jesus was born to die,” and “Jesus’ one mission was the Cross,” and yet here, and also in Luke 9, we are told that Jesus Himself marked time by His impending ascension, not by the Cross or Resurrection.
Here’s how Luke writes it: “Now as the days before he should be taken back into Heaven were running out, he resolved to go to Jerusalem…” (Luke 9:51)
It was out of His own love for the Father, with His eyes on their reunion, that He dared to approach the Cross. It was out of His love for us, with His eyes on our reunion with the Father through Himself, that He carried through the plan of the Cross. And yet it’s only as the ascended Heavenly High Priest that Jesus can administer the gifts that are ours because of the Cross and Resurrection. If He were not there, we’re not here. Let us meditate today on His Ascension and place at the right hand of the Father.
The children of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, as Yahweh spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel. They carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. (Joshua 4:8,9)
So, over on the shore, there would be those twelve stones picked up and arranged by the twelve men, while, in the middle of the river-channel, now stand twelve stones picked up and arranged by Joshua himself. In a few moments, the river-waters will hurtle down the dry riverbed and engulf the pile of stones that Joshua set up to commemorate the crossing, but, up above, the other stack will stand.
Can you see these two ebenezers in your mind’s eye? The visible one onshore and the other submerged beneath the green waters?
I love this idea that we should have markers to the majesty of Jesus that others can see and ask about, and also other memorials that are unseen, private to us and Him, swallowed up within an impenetrable flood of our shared intimacy.
Would you say that you have some of both?
"I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you... Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full." John 16:22b & 24
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“Life is fleeting; do not therefore show yourself so hard to please in face of the happiness at hand; make haste to enjoy it.”
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
I've often noticed that when people are talking about their "quiet times," or the space they make for their "devotions," they will refer to it as "my time with Him." But how much better would it be, how much more likely to lead us into active obedience, if we began to think of it as "His time with me"?
May we each give Him time to move within our hearts, our minds, our spirits, so that our hearts, minds, and spirits are brought into a daily alignment. Such waiting upon Him presumes He is alive and able to be heard from. Anything less verges toward mere religiosity.
"Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you. If you go along the lines I have indicated above, there is no reason why you should stumble, and if you have lived the sort of life I have recommended God will open wide to you the gates of the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I shall not fail to remind you of things like this although you know them and are already established in the truth. I consider it my duty, as long as I live in the temporary dwelling of this body, to stimulate you by these reminders. I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me." 2 Peter 1:10-14
Those last words are so rich with real life, with real living, and with the power of memory! Here is a man, Simon Peter, writing to men and women scattered all over the Roman Empire, brothers and sisters in the Way of Jesus the Christ, and all this man wants is that his friends should live their lives fully in that Way. That's the import of verses 10-13.
But then verse 14 - "I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me" - is Peter leaning back in his chair and remembering a particular moment. In it, he was standing facing the Risen Jesus. It was early morning on the Sea of Galilee. The breeze was blowing fresh off the water. The sun was only just coming up over the Golan Heights. And Jesus said to him:
“I tell you truly, Peter, that when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you liked, but when you are an old man, you are going to stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and take you where you do not want to go... You must follow me."
That memory, that moment, is precisely what Peter thinks of as he writes these words in 2 Peter 1. And the moment described, that death Jesus foretold for him, is not very far off now...
Friends, what are the memories with Jesus that are animating our lives today? How quickly do we hearken back to our shared history with our Savior, our Lord, our Friend, as we go about our days?
“The unique thing about the early Christians was their radiant relation to a Person. ‘The Lord,’ they called Him tenderly, and when they used the term they gave it its own New Testament meaning. It meant Jesus Christ, who a short while before had been among them but was now gone into the heavens as their High Priest and Advocate. It was this engrossment with a victorious Person that gave verve and vibrancy to their lives and conviction to their testimony. They bore witness joyously to the One who had lived as a true Man among men. Their testimony was not weakened by the pale cast of metaphysical thought. They knew that Jesus was very Man and very God, and He had died, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven. They accepted literally His claim to be invested with authority over everything in heaven, earth and hell. How it could be they never stopped to inquire. They trusted Him absolutely and left the details to their triumphant Lord.”
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
God’s Spirit specifically tells us that in later days there will be men who abandon the true faith and allow themselves to be spiritually seduced by teachings of the devil, teachings given by men who are lying hypocrites, whose consciences are as dead as seared flesh. These men forbid marriage, command abstinence from food — good things which, in fact, God intends to be thankfully enjoyed by those who believe in him and know the truth. Everything God made is good, and is meant to be gratefully used, not despised. The holiness or otherwise of a certain food, for instance, depends not on its nature but on whether it is eaten thankfully or not. It is consecrated by the man who has accepted the message, and thanks God for food.
You will be doing your duty as Christ’s minister if you remind your church members of these things, and you will show yourself as one who owes his strength to the truth of the faith he has absorbed and the sound teaching he has followed. But steer clear of all these stupid Godless fictions... (1 Timothy 4:1-7a)
In actuality, either our life with Jesus is a matter of Union-with-Him (in His Life, Way, Death, Resurrection and an Experience-of-His-alive-Life-within-us) or it all becomes external observances, things measurable, rules followable, ie. a state of disunion. I highly doubt that the people trying to foist these ideas upon Timothy’s fellowship were “bad people”; more likely, they were just trying to be careful: “Timothy, this stuff you and Paul are talking about is pretty out there; let's rein it in a little, shall we?”
But, my friends, it’s our personal digging-into-Jesus, our Branch-clinging-to-Vine-ness that’s most imperative for us each playing our proper part in the Body of Christ. Without your Belief and experience of Him, we’re all in danger of descending into “stupid Godless fictions,” into externals disconnected from the Life and Way of Jesus.
So what do you say? Shall we dig in - and delight - this day?