“The very center of the Christian faith is the Incarnation, in which the Divine Word becomes flesh – the Idea becomes Fact. All other faiths are the word become word, the idea projected as an idea. In Jesus the Idea walked. It spoke in human life and manifested Itself in human relationships. It transformed religion from idealism to realism. Where this faith is sincerely tried, it becomes incarnate as fact. It works in human relationships. And where it is tried, it produces something so exquisitely beautiful that we stand ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise.’”
E. Stanley Jones, Growing Spiritually
In Matthew 8, we read a particularly rapid-fire series of encounters between Jesus and... great crowds, a leper, a centurion, Peter's mother-in-law, all the sick and possessed of Capernaum, one of the scribes, a nameless disciple, the Twelve, two demon-possessed men, some swineherds, and the townspeople of a town in the Gaderenes district.
And, reading all this, it occurs to me...
That the rest of our life, having encountered Jesus of Nazareth, is our direct reaction to having encountered Him. And, that if our sense of encounter has dimmed, or our reaction has begun to flag or fail, it is time to encounter Him all over again.
Fresh reaction to fresh encounters will always lead to the fruit He desires to see in our, and others', lives. First-handedness is everything. We cannot lead the heart of another to where ours hasn't been; or isn't, presently, itself.
Then Jesus said to them, “I myself am the bread of life. The man who comes to me will never be hungry and the man who believes in me will never again be thirsty. Yet I have told you that you have seen me and do not believe. 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."
John 6:35-38, italics mine
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"Faith is that which, knowing the Lord's will goes and does it; or, not knowing it, stands and waits... But to put God to the question in any other way than by saying, 'What wilt thou have me to do?' is an attempt to compel God to declare Himself, or to hasten His work... The man is therein dissociating himself from God so far that, instead of acting by the divine will from within, he acts in God's face, as it were, to see what He will do. Man's first business is, 'What does God want me to do?', not 'What will God do if I do so and so?'"
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
I've continued on with that writing project I told you about back in January, where, with every single slice of the four Gospels, I write an imaginative vignette that paints either the "before, during or after" of that moment. I was doing some editing this week and came upon one that I really enjoy. Wanted to post it here.
James & John ask for prominence in Jesus’ Kingdom
Then Zebedee’s two sons James and John approached him, saying “Master, we want you to grant us a special request.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” answered Jesus.
“Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I have to drink? Can you go through the baptism I have to bear?”
“Yes, we can,” they replied. Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink the cup I am drinking, and you will undergo the baptism which I have to bear! But as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to give—such places belong to those for whom they are intended.”
When the other ten heard about this, they began to be highly indignant with James and John; so Jesus called them all to him, and said, “You know that the so-called rulers in the heathen world lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”
* * * * *
Many years later…
An old man sits on his stoop and looks out at the view. Below, the breeze is riffling the yellowish-greenish grass back and forth; here and there a stand of wildflowers likewise sways with its onshore gusts. The sun is still and set in its meridian brightness. Distant olive trees are thick with their clumpings of fruit. Even farther down, the land ends sharply at the drop of the cliffs; the color of the sea is as hauntingly blue as it always is. This old fisherman, too tired now to ever overnight again, wonders what this time of year produces for the village’s fleets. He can faintly hear the plash of the waters against the shoreline. It reminds him of the small lake upon which he’d grown up; the call of the sea.
Creakingly, he stands to his feet and returns inside his shanty house. He sits back down to the writing table in the corner. He reads again—still a bit uncertain of its contents—from the letter he’s considering sending out by seven different dispatches. He reads from the opening paragraphs:
Grace and peace be to you from him who is and who was and who is coming, from the seven Spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, first-born of the dead, and ruler of kings upon earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins through his own blood, who has made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and power for timeless ages, amen.
See, he is coming in the clouds and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him, and his coming will mean bitter sorrow to every tribe upon the earth. So let it be!
“I am Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.”
I, John, who am your brother and your companion in the distress, the kingdom and the faithful endurance to which Jesus calls us, was on the island called Patmos because I had spoken God’s message and borne witness to Jesus…
The old man leaves the letter and goes for a walk. He will consider its sending-out as he walks down toward the sea.
"For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time. May the God who inspires men to endure, and gives them a Father’s care, give you a mind united towards one another because of your common loyalty to Jesus Christ. And then, as one man, you will sing from the heart the praises of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened his heart to you, and God will be glorified." (Romans 15:4-7)
Isn't it interesting that when the original readers of these words looked back to "words which were written long ago," they were thinking only of the Old Testament? These words weren't "scripture" to them, then—they were just words written on parchment from a contemporary believer. They thought of Paul as just another follower of Jesus, like themselves. Which, to me, is what makes the last two chapters of Romans just a little more poignant...
And when I think of "endurance," of the "Father's care," of "a mind united towards one another," of a "common loyalty to Jesus Christ," of singing "from the heart," of "opening their hearts to one another as Christ had opened his heart to" them—what period of time do you think I immediately think of?
Those wondrous early days of the Early Church.
In fact, as a Monday refresher for the path we're trying to walk together this week, here's a reminder of what those days were like:
Then those who welcomed [Peter’s Pentecost] message were baptised, and on that day alone about three thousand souls were added to the number of disciples. They continued steadily learning the teaching of the apostles, and joined in their fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer. Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation. (Acts 2:41-47)
Among the large number who had become believers there was complete agreement of heart and soul. Not one of them claimed any of his possessions as his own but everything was common property. The apostles continued to give their witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great force, and a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship. Indeed, there was not a single person in need among them. For those who owned land or property would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and place them at the apostles’ feet. They would distribute to each one according to his need. (Acts 4:32-35)
By common consent they all used to meet now in Solomon’s Porch. But as far as the others were concerned no one dared to associate with them, even though their general popularity was very great. Yet more and more believers in the Lord joined them, both men and women in really large numbers. Many signs and wonders were now happening among the people through the apostles’ ministry. In consequence people would bring out their sick into the streets and lay them down on stretchers or bed, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall upon some of them. In addition a large crowd collected from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those who were suffering from evil spirits. And they were all cured. (Acts 5:12-16)
So the Word of God gained more and more ground. The number of disciples in Jerusalem very greatly increased, while a considerable proportion of the priesthood accepted the faith. (Acts 6:7)
The whole Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria now enjoyed a period of peace. It became established and as it went forward in reverence for the Lord and in the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit, continued to grow in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
[And] the Word of the Lord continued to gain ground and increase its influence. (Acts 12:24)
When you read all that, what specifically sticks out to you for your day today?
"...the present time is of the highest importance—it is time to wake up to reality. Every day brings God’s salvation nearer. The night is nearly over, the day has almost dawned. Let us therefore fling away the things that men do in the dark, let us arm ourselves for the fight of the day! Let us live cleanly, as in the daylight, not in the 'delights' of getting drunk or playing with sex, nor yet in quarrelling or jealousies. Let us be Christ’s men from head to foot, and give no chances to the flesh to have its fling." (Romans 13:11-14)
A few questions for you: What if everybody you ever met knew precisely where you stand, what matters more to you than anything else, because the Way of Jesus--His very life--IS your life? What if, in the world's economies of meaning—its passing fancies: sex, money, power, politics, celebrity—we were absolutely invisible? What if, instead, in the economies of Heaven, the eternal realities of Jesus of Heaven--His holiness, His trust, His authority, His glory—we were conspicuous in the ways He was conspicuous?
What if we only stood out like He stood out?
And what if, the rest of the time, we were quietly busy doing good?
In fact, what if the Early Church had the daily-weekly recipe right?
- enamored only with the life of Jesus...
- fellowshipping joyfully with those likewise moved...
- living simply in the midst of the world's greatest, ever, calling...
- prayerful, together, that He would do it all over again...
- filled with awe...
- seeing signs and wonders consistently...
- sharing peaceably so that all are cared for...
- fundamentally unattached to the material world...
- constantly gathering for the sake of the Holy Spirit's work...
- praising Jesus as their Center, their Head, their Everything.
Now doesn't that sound like an interesting Way to live?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV)
One of the greatest enemies of practicable discipleship—fulsome following of Jesus of Nazareth—is that deadly, almost unnoticed feeling of creeping overfamiliarity. You’ll know the feeling is present when you’re either listening to, or when you’re personally reading through words like these in John 15, and find yourself not stunned by them. That is the work of overfamiliarity.
Overfamiliarity is the product of a conscious, or unconscious, thought-process whereby we think we already know all there is to know of something. So, reading of that subject again, one’s mind somewhat shuts down. An unthinking instinct seems to take over—like when you sometimes arrive at home without totally remembering your drive there—and Jesus’ words become a sort of background to one’s thoughts. Words like choose, chose, appointed, go, bear fruit, abide, in My name, get filtered out by the noise of whatever the day holds.
Let us together say: Not today! Not this week!
Today, and this week, I would have us wrestling with, and reveling in, the glorious practicalities of fulsome following after that wonderful Man, Jesus of Nazareth. And I want to take two particular different angles on this promise so that these words become a bit unfamiliar, fresh, and new.
To do that, instead of Jesus speaking these words to you in the second person plural (you, as in “all of you many”), let's speak these words aloud to Him in two different voices: the first person singular (“I” and “me”) and the first person plural (“us” and “we”). I want us to do this because, in the day-to-day context in which we live our lives and follow His Way, we often tend to be His disciples very much on our own. And this is natural: He means to lead us individually—and powerfully.
And yet, if we want to overwhelm the world with the wonder of His glory, and really show His Church in the power of its full manifestation, we absolutely must reconstitute the Body of Christ—and properly.
So here’s the plan:
I want you to read aloud, with some authority, the two new versions of these verses (1st person, singular and plural) and what I want you to do is--get carried away!
Repeat these words aloud--loudly—with your whole heart and mind; strip that latent overfamiliarity right out of the equation--make them today’s battle cry! Believe what you’re reading and pronouncing. Pronounce what you desire to believe as you read it.
Here you go—take it away:
"Jesus, I did not choose You, but You chose me and appointed me that I should go and bear fruit and that my fruit should abide, so that whatever I ask the Father in Your name, He may give it to me."
And, as a member of the Body of Christ, say:
Jesus, we did not choose You, but You chose us and appointed us that we should go and bear fruit and that our fruit should abide, so that whatever we ask the Father in Your name, He may give it to us.
My friend, as a member of the Body, and as an integral part of the constantly re-coalescing Whole that is Him, you did not choose—you are chosen. In fact, being chosen, not being in a position powerful enough to choose, Jesus instead decided to appoint you to the most powerful position He could find for you—a messenger of the Gospel and a bearer of its fruit. And that fruit, by the way, will abide--as you abide in Him. And, too, just in case the foregoing information wasn’t enough to stun your sensibilities, you may ask whatever you wish of the Father in Heaven—the Heavenly Father--and He will give it to you.
Now what do you think of all that?
Isn’t this promise absolutely awe-inspiring?
"Now how can [the outsiders] call on one in whom they have never believed? How can they believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear unless someone proclaims him? And who will go to tell them unless he is sent? As the scripture puts it: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’" (Romans 10:14,15)
If you're into this kind of thing, what Paul just gave us is a descending deductive chain argument, where true premises link with each other toward a clear, logical conclusion. And I call it a "descending" deductive chain because it starts at the whole and descends to the level of the individual. Take a look at how it would read if he'd taken it in the reverse, ascending order:
Unless someone is sent, then they will not go, and nothing will be proclaimed, no one will hear, and none will believe or ever call on Jesus.
But let's flip that into the positive, shall we?
If one is sent, and goes, and proclaims, then others will hear, and believe, and call on Jesus.
So let's get down to brass tacks. Who are the ones whose "beautiful feet" are meant to bear the "glad tidings of good things," ie. Who has already been sent? (I'll give you a hint: They were looking at you in the mirror, this morning, while you brushed your teeth.)
You are a "sent" one - an apostle - and it's your beautiful feet that are called to carry forth the Gospel today. If you go, in the Spirit and Way of Jesus, your proclamation will be the actual way that others get to hear. And if they hear - and when they get to see it be true in your life today - there is a wonderful chance they'll believe. That they'll say yes for themselves and call on His name...
Let's let Him do His thing, in us, and through us today!
"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth..." (Matthew 9:9)
And imagine him sitting there in the early afternoon light, tallying the morning's takings, thinking of his later supper and a walk up into the hills after he's done for the day. And imagine, suddenly, the center of town stops. Everyone's holding their breath; ceasing what they're doing; they are all watching the walk of that Man, Jesus, toward the tax collector's table. Matthew glances up from what he's writing. His brow furrows. He is studying the Man who, likewise, studies him. The Stranger leans with both hands on the desk and then, with both love and power in His eyes, says: "Follow Me."
A lightning bolt runs through Matthew.
In that moment, the past and future consider each other.
Matthew knows the pattern of his days -- the way this is destined to continue -- and, in the eyes of this Man, he sees something else. He sees a choice. Sonship. Brotherhood. Righteousness. And splendor.
He just doesn't know yet that the choice of a son to be a righteous, splendid brother is the foredecided choice of God...of him. Of Matthew.
Matthew, now the former tax-collector. The one now rising to his feet to follow.
The one who'll finish this day by banqueting with Jesus with all the other tax-collectors and disreputable folk, before, tomorrow, leaving it all behind.
The one who'll, 30 years after this day, be killed for the sake of the Good News of Jesus, 2500 miles away in Ethiopia.
The one who, right now, is still at the banqueting table, forever with Jesus, enjoying the eternal "splendor of life as one of God's sons."
Remember: The call of Jesus, to you, on this Monday, is ever always the same original call that He gave to Matthew on that day:
Yahweh spoke to Joshua, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Assign the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you by Moses, that the man slayer who kills any person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there. They shall be to you for a refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of those cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declare his case in the ears of the elders of that city. They shall take him into the city with them, and give him a place, that he may live among them. If the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver up the man slayer into his hand; because he struck his neighbor unintentionally, and didn’t hate him before. He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days. Then the man slayer shall return, and come to his own city, and to his own house, to the city he fled from.’” (Joshua 20:1-6)
Did you know that you are meant to act like one of these cities of refuge to the world around you? You are meant to rise up each morning – a child of God set free forever by His blood – and invite all people to Jesus by the Spirit of Jesus within you. You are meant to so learn His gracious ways and presence that all men, regardless of their background, mistakes and worldliness, are drawn directly to Him by being around you.
Just consider how Jesus drew all kinds of people to Himself: “Jesus departed there, and came near to the sea of Galilee; and he went up into the mountain, and sat there. Great multitudes came to him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others, and they put them down at his feet. He healed them, so that the multitude wondered when they saw the mute speaking, injured whole, lame walking, and blind seeing — and they glorified the God of Israel.” (Matthew 15)
Now, almost identically, look at the attractive, gracious spirit of the Early Church: “More believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. They even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them. Multitudes also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.” (Acts 15)
My friend, where you go today, Jesus goes today. How He attracted all people to Himself is how you’re meant to attract people. When the world around you is aflame with hatred, bloodguilt, division, confusion, anger, and wrath, you are meant to be a city of refuge for the hearts of men. Are you prepared, today, to be under His inviting yoke with Him? Are you prepared to give your life to this sort of appraisal –
The Father spoke to Jesus, saying, “Speak to the men and women you’ve redeemed, saying, ‘I have assigned you as the places of heavenly refuge, just as I showed you by my Son, that the sinner who sins intentionally or unintentionally may come to you in order to come to Me. You shall be to them a refuge from the grasp of Satan. They may come to you, and shall stand right before you, and declare their sin and brokenness before your non-judging ear. You shall take them into your heart, and show them Jesus, that they may live in Jesus as you live in Jesus. If Satan pursues them, then you shall not deliver the sinner back into his hand; because, before, he sinned unintentionally, and didn’t yet know of Me and My love for him. The sinner shall dwell in your fellowship until he stands before the congregation in repentance, set free by the death of the High Priest who is Jesus Himself. Then the sinner shall return, and come to the heavenly city, and to his own house Jesus has prepared for him, to the home for which he was first made.’”
Oh my friend! that you, that I, that our families, our friends, our churches, our fellowships would all exist for the sake of that paradigm of overwhelming, providential grace! That we would attract all men and women to the heart of Jesus today - this week! Let it be so!
"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.
Most Christians, most "evangelicals," would think they're agreeing with Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, when they say that "the Gospel" reads as such:
Jesus rose again.
Actually, that's not quite correct.
The Gospel Paul was always talking about, the Gospel that actually changes hearts, the Gospel that irrupted with such force into the world of the First Century, is this:
Jesus rose again.
Our emphasis must ever be the Man, not the mechanics: we are following, in the line and Spirit of, Jesus. Let's go follow Him today, and this week.
"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.
"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!
"Men have different gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all. Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it." 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
One of my favorite words in French - and one that came to mind as I read these verses - is élan: it means "impetuous ardor; a combination of style and energetic confidence; a vigorous spirit; an enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness; and spirited self-assurance, verve, dash, enthusiasm."
Because, I don't know about you, but I get a little bit more "dashing" when I remember that the "same Spirit," the very life of Heaven, is inhabiting all of us. I get a little revved up with "impetuous ardor" when, together with you, I realize that I may directly follow and serve the "same Lord" who is Lord of all. My spirit gets a bit "vigorous" when I'm told that the "same God" who created Creation is working to achieve His eternal purposes through me. I can't help feeling a little "enthusiastic," a little "lively," I've got some "verve" for the version of my life where I can "make the most" of what the Holy Spirit's given me.
There are "gifts" - there is "service" - there is "work" - and there is opportunity for glory in this Kingdom of Heaven. Because there is a "Spirit" of this "Lord" who is "God" who is calling our human spirits to the highest heights of Heaven.
Friends, will we live these lives with élan this week? Will we "make the most" of the spiritual gifts He's so readily given us?
"Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself." 1 Corinthians 11:1
Really, this is the exact definition of the generational process we now call "discipleship": to, as closely as possible, imitate and take on the way another person intimately interacts with, imitates and personally follows Jesus. This has been an important thought for our community for years, so let's start off the New Year by saying again: Discipleship is not knowledge-about; it is not knowing-all-the-right-answers; discipleship is the literal process of literally, demonstrably following Jesus of Nazareth. And one of the best ways of doing that is to copy another - to apprentice yourself to another - who is literally, demonstrably doing that already.
Again, as Paul says it: "Copy me... as I copy Christ himself."
Which raises a pair of good New Year's looking-forward-and-looking-back questions to consider:
Who, personally, are you learning the Way from?
Who, right now, are you leading along that Way?
Happy New Year, my friends! May it be a rich one in Him!
Then Jesus made his way round the villages, continuing his teaching. He summoned the twelve, and began to send them out in twos, giving them power over evil spirits...
(Later) The apostles returned to Jesus and reported to him every detail of what they had done and taught. “Now come along to some quiet place by yourselves, and rest for a little while,” said Jesus, for there were people coming and going incessantly so that they had not even time for meals. They went off in the boat to a quiet place by themselves... (Mark 6:7 & 6:30-32)
Those last three verses, along with the sending-and-going verse above them, really give us the whole cycle of face-to-face intimacy, sending, going, ministering, testifying and intimacy that should be the cycle we're never not part of. Think of the disciples' experience of those last few days: being called near to Him, His breath on their face, His hand on their shoulder as He sent them out, two by two; then going out to preach and to cast out evil spirits and to heal many people of their diseases; and then to return, overwhelmed with joy at all they'd seen Him do through them, and to have Him invite them to come and be alone with Him; and to sail off across the waters to an unknown place...
Jesus is showing these men a pattern of life that is THE pattern for life: an ongoing continuum that proceeds from intimacy toward intimacy, traveling over roads that are only passable as we walk in intimacy with Him. Our ability to do anything in the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven is borne from how we're intimate with Him.
Intimacy with Jesus is not part of it.
Let's intimately walk with Him into this New Year of our life!
As we prepare for a national holiday centered around thankfulness, it might be good for us to remember that NO ONE has more grounds for gratitude than ALL followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For, after all, we personally know the One who created and upholds all creation... which is something! And we have had a glimpse of the glories of the Incarnation: His arrival, His life, His words, His sparkling personality. We have been set free - been set free: past tense - by the finished work of the Cross. And we now know that life and death hold nothing daunting for us: we have seen Him walk from the tomb - totally unscathed...
And so, where are we now; who are we now?
The actual, living, flesh-and-blood, personal representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to this generation of humanity...
...who've been imbued with the selfsame Holy Spirit of God that carried that Man through the 33 years of His human existence...
...and who may always - ALWAYS! - stop on a dime, reorient our attentions, and commune with the Living King who sits upon the throne of Heaven.
I'd say we have some reason to be thankful this week! I hope it's a wonderful one for you!
"Is there any doubt that I am a genuine messenger, any doubt that I am a free man? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Are not you yourselves samples of my work for the Lord? Even if other people should refuse to recognize my divine commission, yet to you at any rate I shall always be a true messenger, for you are a living proof of God’s call to me. This is my real ground of defense to those who cross-examine me." 1 Corinthians 9:1-3
And that last sentence is the key - not only to this opening section, but also to Paul's purpose in the previous chapter - to understanding the real Way of the Spirit of Jesus versus settling for a knowledgeable religiosity about Jesus. So, what are the evidences, the "real ground of defense" Paul offers?
A clear-cut acted-upon Calling.
Personal first-hand Experience of Jesus.
And, just as important as the rest, verifiable Spiritual Fruit in others' lives.
And this is actually important enough that I'm going to take the time to write all that again. The evidences of the real Way of the Spirit of Jesus are:
A clear-cut acted-upon Calling.
Personal first-hand Experience of Jesus.
And, just as important as the rest, verifiable Spiritual Fruit in others' lives.
My friends, it's easy to not be free - almost everyone is doing that; it's also fairly easy to assume there's no higher spiritual calling for our lives. We settle in and we're "members" of something or another: but - I believe - each of us is called to be either an Apostle, a Prophet, an Evangelist, a Shepherd or a Teacher (Eph. 4).
And, sadly, too often we've come to accept not expecting first-hand experience of Jesus as the norm: perhaps we think it's too high and heavenly that He'd radically reveal Himself to each of us. And perhaps there's no greater reason for not seeing fruit in others' lives than the simple reality that we've got nothing to share, nothing to witness to. What I mean is: Why would anyone want to know Jesus if we don't know Jesus; how will they come to Abide in Him if we don't Abide in Him?
Oh, friends, let's be free, let's accept our calling, let's experience Jesus for ourselves, so that all lives might encounter, and be changed, by Him!
Some of you know that I did a long fiction-nonfiction writing project, a few years back, to try to bring the Book of Acts into a more first-hand focus. Below is a little bit of it. First, you'll see the passage where some of the disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to go ahead and start preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch, not just the Jews. Then, from there, you'll see my imaginative write-up of, perhaps, what it was like when one of those men suddenly decided that it was time to do so. I tried to bring into focus the potential presence of Simon of Cyrene (who carried the Cross with/for Jesus) among them. Hope it stirs your heart for this Monday!
Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus… (Acts 11:19,20)
A Man of Cyrene on the Road to Antioch
My blood is quickened within and I walk this road and I think on the ways of the Holy Spirit, and, my brothers, I am tempted to throw all constraint on the winds which blow up from the Sea, and past us. Feel them blowing by us, west to east. Smell that scent of adventure that first carried us from the coasts of Africa to there, on Shavuot, and think of all that has happened unto us since! What is man to stand before the whims of our Jesus! Who were we to think this thing could be contained within the Hebrew race! My brothers, as we approach upon Antioch, I’m of a mind to say goodbye to the past; to walk right into the courtyards and marketplaces and, yes, synagogues; to proclaim the name Jesus to any man, woman or child who’s made of flesh and blood like me; to say that it is only in the name of Jesus that anyone finds rest for their souls and a place of heavenly peace for their minds…
Peter has broken the mold – let’s shatter it now, brothers! Let us enter the town with the roving gaze of Jesus and see all mankind as the quarry, the prey, of the whispering will of the Holy Spirit! Let us conquer the hearts of man and woman, Jew or Gentile; have no fear that wrongdoing comes on the voice of the Spirit that gave Jesus life from the dead!
I see the fear in your eyes, Simon, my brother of Cyrene. What for? Did not you yourself once fall under the gaze of the darkhearted Gentiles and are you not the very man whose shoulders quaked under the cross with our Savior, our Jesus? Brother! Have we not come too far to ever turn back now? Sometimes I place myself within your flesh and mind, using of my imagination to imagine that day, and here’s what I come to – tell me if any of this reprises anything like any of your memories…
I am standing, that day, along the road watching him pass. The smell of the crowd is thick and pungent with sweat and rage. Suddenly, all eyes turn from him to me – to you, I mean! – and I’m thrust from within my hiding into the hot sun of the Jerusalem day. I feel naked under the gaze of the people, the soldier who calls, and, most of all, him – Jesus, the sufferer under the weight of the cross. I slip under the right side of the horizontal crossbeam – Jesus slides over – his fleshless shoulders shearing against the grain – and he turns his eyes to meet my eyes.
That moment, Simon, what was it like? What came upon your mind? Did you not know that this was the Christ, our Savior, our God?
Together, as yokefellows walking, we trudge up the hill with crowds a-lining both sides of the twisting path and I talk to him of my sin, of their sin, of the whole world’s sin – past, present and for all the futures to come. He listens, walking, and I know he hears. When we finally arrive at the top of Skull Hill, I am shoved aside by that same soldier who first called me, and I disappear from the center of the moment I’d shared with Jesus. I look back down the hill and relive each and every step with him. Coming up and up the path we just trod together, Jesus and I, I see the thick drag-mark of the upright of the cross which has furrowed the dirty of the trail so deeply. His side, the right side of that furrow, is a way marked thick with blood. My side, the left side of that furrow, is clean and spotless…
Brother Simon, look ahead! Look at the town of Antioch! This town is filled with men, women and children who know nothing of the Kingdom of Heaven; who are lost as we once ourselves were; and who hunger and thirst for the taste of life – the taste of that blood – the taste of Jesus of Nazareth! Shall we not go and set them free with the Way you once trod with Him? What have we to fear when you’ve seen him dead and then risen again!
All you, fellow Wayfarers, listen unto me! Where’er and from whence you hail, I renounce all ties to the age-old past! I will descend to this city and preach to Jew and Greek alike!
Who follows? Who walks the way I walk?
I know the One who leads it!
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (Mt. 9:35-38)
The pivot in this section between Jesus’ own doings and His famous words on the plentiful harvest is the “compassion” He feels when He sees the shepherdless crowds.
compassion (noun) : sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
I think the Church of our day too often meditates upon Jesus having compassion on us because we’re “harassed and helpless,” wearied and cast-off; but remember, that’s the look of sheep “without a shepherd.” That’s no longer us; that’s over now! We stand now shoulder-to-shoulder with the Good Shepherd: our new life’s work is meant to be the “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” And how is their distress to be alleviated? He just told us: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Friends, we must either be reaping today or praying for reapers. The harvest is plentiful; it’s the harvesting that isn’t. In any given week, we spend far more time thinking of our own harassed helplessness when, because we already have a Good Shepherd, we’re supposed to be knee-deep next to Him in the work. Along very similar lines, my favorite of the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus, had this to say in his day:
‘From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress… And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now, you are at the Olympic games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day or a single event. This is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be Socrates.’
My friends, although we are not yet totally like Jesus, we should be living as men and women who at least want to be totally like Jesus. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Let's do it!
"Your pride in your church is lamentably out of place. Don’t you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump? Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread! We Christians have had a Passover lamb sacrificed for us—none other than Christ himself! So let us 'keep the feast' with no trace of the yeast of the old life, nor the yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of unadulterated truth!" 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
So, literally and figuratively, Jesus brings to the table, to the "feast," Himself: the perfect Passover Lamb. And what does Paul say that we're invited to bring? The unleavened bread. That combination of salt, water and flour.
The "salt" that is the Good News, the Gospel, the Reality of who Jesus was and is, and all that's He's done and is doing.
The "water" that is His Holy Spirit, the Spring of Life that wells up within us, the inward experience of His very life.
And the "flour," our personal personalities, refined and made ready for His purposes: consecrated for new, beautiful things.
Friends, there is NO NEED for the "yeast of the old life," here: we are a New Ingredient of a New Life in a New Covenant.
All things have been made New on this Monday!
"You should look upon us as ministers of Christ, as trustees (or stewards) of the secrets of God. And it is a prime requisite in a trustee that he should prove worthy of his trust." 1 Corinthians 4:1,2
It seems to me that Paul is very clearly using particular words here to make a very clear point for his friends. He is - they were - we are - "ministers of Christ," "stewards of the secrets of God," and it is of the highest importance that we "prove worthy of our trust." I think we think of "ministers of Christ" as being ministers toward others; "stewardship of His secrets" as being personal and, ultimately hidden; and the measure of the "trustworthiness" of our stewardship of His secrets as being synonymous with just "keeping the faith."
No, no, and no.
A "minister of Christ" is a minister to Christ: he is an armor-bearer, a helper to Him in His work. A "steward of the secrets" of the Kingdom of Heaven is an explorer, an adventurer, a spelunker: his whole life is lived lost in these treasures for a purpose. And the measure of our "trustworthiness" in all this is the measure to which we make it plain, make it speak, to the world around us.
So, we minister to Jesus by disappearing into His mysteries, so that we might constantly return to the world to hand off more and more of His treasure!
How's that sound to you?