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?
"In this work, we work with God..." 1 Corinthians 3:9a
What an important thought for us to fully grasp: "In this work, we work with God." WE (you and I) work WITH (as in, together with) God. In some translations, it will say "co-workers," "fellow-workers" or "partners working" with God - same difference! - "we work with God." The God of the universe. The God who created everything we see. The God who took on flesh to show us His exact nature. That God: "We work with Him."
I don't know of any other way in which the human experience could be more heightened, more dignified, than by this idea of our lives being really useful to God. And, really, not just useful: needed, necessary. Our working with God totally undercuts any of those statements people make, like, "God doesn't need us, but He can use us" - it is very clear: He wants us and needs us. Just as Jesus perfectly incarnated the Way, the Truth, the Life of God so that humans could finally grasp His glory, it is needful now, necessary now, for His followers to do the same. We work with God as we allow His Spirit and Son to use our lives, possess our lives, and go out and live His life all over again for all to see.
Friends, we are called this week to work WITH God!
"Christ wants us to show Him to the world. Our argument is not our logic and theology, but our Lord Himself: ‘you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). This is all He needs, that we shall tell about Him and make Him real to men. This also is the solution of all the sinner’s difficulties. You cannot save him by preaching theology to him, but show him Christ, his crucified, living, welcoming Savior, and all his doubts will flee. This is the solution to all questions about sanctification. We may seek for blessings and experiences, for states and conditions and find that we have to go over it all again and again; but let us only see Jesus ‘who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30) and we are satisfied, and go forth with the joyful cry, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ (Phil. 4:13). This is the solution to all questions about healing. It is not enough to know the theory and doctrine; we must behold the life and receive it from Him."
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
“When Jesus had finished talking on these matters, he left Galilee and went on to the district of Judea on the far side of the Jordan. Vast crowds followed him, and he cured them” (Mt. 19:1,2).
The word for “cure” there is ἐθεράπευσεν, from the root verb θεραπεύω (/THerə-pyoo ‘o/): “To serve, to pay attention to, to attend to, to take care of, to devote oneself to, to brood over, to treat medically, to heal, to cure.” And now go back and read the phonetic spelling of that Greek word again – say it out loud to yourself: Which of our English words comes from that word?
“And Jesus therapied them there.” Yes, Jesus served, Jesus paid attention to, attended to, took care of, devoted Himself to, brooded over, treated them medically, healed them, cured them there. What these vast crowds received, what every individual who ever approached Jesus received, is precisely what the whole world may yet receive, what every individual may today enjoy, of Jesus: perfect, individualized, “therapeutic,” heart-mind-body care – person to person – from this Man.
Let's take full advantage of what He's offering us this week.
“Now I am giving you a new command — love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)
The Disciples of this new command, the Body of Believers of this new Way, will be characterized by the selfsame love as Jesus’ love. No difference at all. Exactly the same in every way. Which begs the question, just as certainly as it begged the question on the night of the Last Supper: How did Jesus love? What makes for that difference between people who talk about Jesus’ love and those ones where we can actually see His love flowing from them?
Well, first, let’s talk about what Jesus’ love was not; what it didn’t contain:
It was without self-absorption, self-advancement, self-belief, self-conceit, any overdone self-confidence, self-congratulation, self-consciousness, or self-criticism. It was without any self-deception, self-defense, self-delusion, self-determination, any grounds for self-doubt, no self-excitation, certainly no self-flattery, entirely bereft of self-importance. It was without self-indulgence, self-interest, self-justification, self-love, self-pity, self-pleasure, self-preservation, or self-promotion. It was totally disinterested in any form of self-reliance, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, self-seeking, self-styling, self-sufficiency, or self-support.
And most importantly: Jesus loved without self-protection. He gave His all that all might know His love.
For us, the Self-life is the final wall that needs to be toppled over in order to enjoy the kind of love that He’s ready now to give us, to pour forth from us. That selfsame love as Jesus’, the love we see play out all across the Church of Acts, actually has no need of the human Self. It only needs Jesus Himself.
A simple thought for a new week:
When it comes to sharing Jesus with the people around us, it's far more about atmosphere than information; the Spirit than any system.
[Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene], on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. News of these things came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this working of God’s grace, he was delighted. He urged them all to be resolute in their faithfulness to the Lord, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. So it happened that a considerable number of people became followers of the Lord. (Acts 11:20-24)
We often think about the kind of people we'd like to be; how we're perceived by others; what we'd hope our eventual life's legacy might look like, looking back. Well, how about if it looked a little like Barnabas?
Here's that final description of him, in the almost exact Greek: “having come and having seen the grace of God, he rejoiced, and exhorted all with resolute purpose of heart to abide in the Lord, for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.”
Barnabas was present. Are we?
Barnabas was open-eyed and observant of the Lord’s visible grace. Are we?
Seeing that grace evidenced, Barnabas rejoiced. Do we?
Barnabas exhorted others to resolutely set their hearts to abide in Jesus. Do we?
Barnabas was a good man. Are we?
Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. Are we?
Barnabas was full of faith. Are we?
Today, let's consider some of these Barnabasian attributes, notice which ones attract our desire, and pray that the Lord would imbue us with more and more of this spirit toward others. Holy Spirit, you are that Spirit! Fill us with more of Yourself!
After this, Jesus moved about in Galilee but decided not to do so in Judea since the people there were planning to take his life. (John 7:1)
Have you ever stopped to consider the almost unbelievable pressure under which Jesus lived and ministered throughout His life? All of His loving, gracious actions and words were given with the complete certainty hanging over His head that this all would end in excruciating death. And, even worse, He had to live carefully throughout, in order to avoid the wrong death!
Let’s let this be an immediate reminder for us, as we open up this new week: There is no circumstance or struggle in your life right now that precludes your faithfully, lovingly ministering in the spirit of Jesus. In fact, take a deep breath right this minute, think of “the thing” (or things) hanging over you, and, in actuality, hand it over to Him. He can certainly handle whatever it is and, of course, you and I need to always be in the habit of handing over our life and its struggles to our Savior.
And thank you, Jesus, that you’re willing to receive them!
A little inter-linear walkthrough of Luke 17:3,4 -
“If your brother offends you, take him to task about it." Which is helpful. Because Jesus doesn’t say to embrace an unthinking Christian passive-aggressiveness. He says, “If you’re hurt, you should talk to that person. Don’t be afraid to be open about wrong-doing and hurt…"
"And if your brother is sorry, forgive him." "Oh no, Jesus! But this person really did me wrong! I was thinking of holding onto this offense for one, maybe two, decades… Well, at least I only have to forgive this guy once, right?"
"Yes, if he wrongs you seven times in one day and turns to you and says, ‘I am sorry’ seven times, you must forgive him." Or, in other words: We must learn to become experts in forgiveness. In fact, following Jesus, our best posture is to forfeit all rights or expectations of ever actually “being right.” As Paul said, “Why not rather be wronged?” (1 Cor. 6); why not learn to enjoy the fellowship with Jesus that comes from not getting your own way, ever?
Friends, we will never grow in our faith while refusing to forgive; there’s simply no way to dam the tides of His grace and personally experience His grace at all. Today, let's look for new and unexpected ways to let loose of our offense, our past hurts; anything that He'd bring to mind.
"The eleven went to the hill-side in Galilee where Jesus had arranged to meet them, and when they had seen him they worshipped him, though some of them were doubtful. But Jesus came and spoke these words to them, 'All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. You, then, are to go and make disciples of all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you and, remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.'" Matthew 28:16-20
Friends, all the power in the universe has been put into the hands of the One who's our Friend, our Teacher, our Savior (who’s with us always, including right now, right this minute, today) and, in that power, we’re called to go. Not to stay. To Go. To Go Out.
And we are called to make NOT church-attendees, Christians, or converts; we are called to make disciples: students of Jesus who are coming, ever more, to look like Him.
These disciples should be from every nation, every tribe, every tongue: there are no national or ethnic boundaries available to us anymore. And WE ALL must repent, be baptized into the Way of Jesus, by the Father and the Spirit, and FOLLOW ONLY HIS VOICE. No one else’s…
WHAT AN ADVENTURE. WHAT A CALL. WHAT A LIFE.
THANK YOU, LORD JESUS.
“Then the king will say to those on his right ‘Come, you who have won my Father’s blessing! Take your inheritance—the kingdom reserved for you since the foundation of the world! For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was lonely and you made me welcome. I was naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you came and looked after me. I was in prison and you came to see me there.”
“Then the true men will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you lonely and make you welcome, or see you naked and clothe you, or see you ill or in prison and go to see you?’
“And the king will reply, ‘I assure you that whatever you did for the humblest of my brothers you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Because - did you know? - this Jesus made all flesh - created it as the "Word" whose voice breathes life - and He made all men sacred by making them "in his own image and likeness, and then He took on flesh Himself, so that He might experience this journey alongside us, and then He returned to the Throneroom of Heaven - as that Man! - so that humanity now has a place there, with Him...
Everyday, meeting each other, we are always meeting Him. No matter the place or station we each, as people, inhabit.
How might that change the way we encounter this particular day ahead?
For this Jesus has been considered worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the founder of a house may be truly said to have more honor than the house itself. Every house is founded by someone, but the founder of everything is God himself. Moses was certainly faithful in all his duties in God’s household, but he was faithful as a servant and his work was only a foreshadowing of the truth that would be known later. (Hebrews 3:3-5)
The actual words that are translated there for "foreshadowing" run like this: "a testimony of the things going to be spoken." And isn't that a beautiful definition of what our lives are meant to be?
Our lives - not our words - our lives, our actions, our activities are meant to be a testimony of the things that are going to be (future tense) spoken by Jesus to the people all around us. We're never not on display, and it gives Jesus every opportunity to do marvelous things in us and around us!
That's your life today. That's your life, today, in Him.
What a glorious adventure this is!
On the first day of the week, when we were assembled for the breaking of bread, Paul, since he intended to leave on the following day, began to speak to them and prolonged his address until almost midnight. There were a great many lamps burning in the upper room where we met, and a young man called Eutychus who was sitting on the window-sill fell asleep as Paul’s address became longer and longer. Finally, completely overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground from the third storey and was picked up as dead. But Paul went down, bent over him and holding him gently in his arms, said, “Don’t be alarmed; he is still alive.” Then he went upstairs again and, when they had broken bread and eaten, continued a long earnest talk with them until daybreak, and so finally departed. As for the boy, they took him home alive, feeling immeasurably relieved. (Acts 20:7-12)
For Luke, later writing down not only these - his eyewitness accounts of the doings of Acts - but also his expertly-assembled eyewitness testimonies of the doings of Jesus - the Gospel of Luke - there had to be an almost eerie feeling of “I’ve seen that before” – déjà vu – and then also “I’ve heard that before” - déjà écouté. Keeping in mind what we’ve just read, I want you to now read a portion of Luke 8:
Then when [Jesus] came to [Jairus, the synagogue leader’s] house, he would not allow anyone to go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s parents. All those already there were weeping and wailing over her, but he said, “Stop crying! She is not dead, she is fast asleep.”
This drew a scornful laugh from them, for they were quite certain that she had died. But he turned them all out, took the little girl’s hand and called out to her, “Wake up, my child!”
And her spirit came back and she got to her feet at once, and Jesus ordered food to be given to her. Her parents were nearly out of their minds with joy, but Jesus told them not to tell anyone what had happened. (Luke 8:51-56)
Perhaps you’re starting to think that I overemphasize my main life-message (but, you see, I actually think it’s the only message) – that Jesus is alive and He’s attempting to live His life over again right through our lives. But I believe, in the midst of the screaming and panic and fear and anxiety of this moment, it is only Paul’s personal communion with the Spirit of Jesus that tells him what to do and how to do it. And I believe, in the midst of the screaming and panic and fear and anxiety of our world, that it is only your personal communion with the Spirit of Jesus that can tell you how to live by revealing His live, alive, in you.
He is alive and He is attempting to live His life over again through your life. Today.
Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers — Barnabas, for example, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.” At this, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and set them free for this work. (Acts 13:1-3)
For your own Bible-reading interest, this would be the fourth example of the laying-on of hands in the book of Acts, and what is it for, this particular time? To “set them free for this work.”
And compared to every other Biblical translation, this translator, J.B. Phillips, does a pretty good job of giving a properly robust rendering of what Luke actually wrote there. Most every other translation just reads, “And they sent them off.” Blah!
When the Holy Spirit specifically calls a man or woman – which, remember, He’s done for each of us who’ve given their life to Jesus – I want you to read, by the definitions of the word Luke uses, just how totally He calls you out – and then back in:
You are “loosed from,” “set free, released, relieved from,” “acquitted of,” “freed by payment of ransom from,” “discharged from,” “divorced from,” “dismissed from” your former life...
and, on the other side, the Calling side:
you are conversely now bound to, yoked with, harnessed to, drawn deeper into, charged with, purchased by payment of ransom for, called further in, permanently married to, and forever appointed to the Heavenly plans planned exactly for you.
I think we wander around far too often, wondering, “Does God even notice me?” when the better question is: “Do we even notice Him?” That list of definitions and counter-definitions you just read is precisely how freely He’s personally set you free and how fully He’s personally set you apart for His work. Now won’t we just give in and BE HIS today?!
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.
“The work that our life accomplishes, the whole of this work, the meaning of it is not, nor can it be, intelligible to me… To understand it, to understand the whole of the Master’s will is not in my power. But to do His will, that is written down in my conscience, is in my power; that I know for certain. And when I am fulfilling it I have sureness and peace.”
Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection
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"...Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." Isaiah 30:20b,21
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen....
Once they heard [all his story of Cornelius and his household accepting the message and receiving the Holy Spirit] they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-3 & 18)
And that, by the way, is that. End of story. That’s how thousands of years of entrenched religious tradition and belief went out the window in the presence of a group of men and women whose first recourse was to follow the Holy Spirit only. But, you see, eleven of the men standing in that room had once sat in another room, on a particular Thursday night, and listened intently as Jesus spoke these words:
“I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now. Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes — the Spirit of truth — he will guide you into everything that is true. For he will not be speaking of his own accord but exactly as he hears, and he will inform you about what is to come. He will bring glory to me for he will draw on my truth and reveal it to you.” (John 16:12-14)
My friends, what's your relationship like - today - with this very same Spirit of truth? And how nimble-in-obedience are you becoming as you learn to hear His voice, day by day?
"…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!
“My friend George Mallory, for instance, who later disappeared close to the summit of Mount Everest, once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Lliwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climbers’ Club climbs are never named in honor of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here. The climb was recorded as follows: ‘Mallory’s Pipe, a variation on Route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr. G.H.L. Mallory.’” Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That
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"But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us," the father said to Jesus.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24)
Then Jesus reprimanded the evil spirit and it went out of the boy, who was cured from that moment. Afterwards the disciples approached Jesus privately and asked, “Why weren’t we able to get rid of it?”
“Because you have so little faith,” replied Jesus. “I assure you that if you have as much faith as a grain of mustard-seed you can say to this hill, ‘Up you get and move over there!’ and it will move—you will find nothing is impossible.” Matthew 17:18-21
This is one of those encouraging-discouraging texts that can hit us totally differently depending on how our life's going, how we're feeling, how we're perceiving the nearness or distance of Jesus on a particular day. But reading it, this week, I couldn't stop thinking of something my friend, Joe Farrell, said a few weeks back, when the Anchor class was "out on the water" with Peter, walking on water to Jesus. Joe said, "Given the fact that a little tiny mustard seed is the Kingdom of Heaven, isn't it sort of a compliment to Peter to even be called a 'little-faith'?" And so here we are again: A mustard seed-sized faith, which again is the starting-point for the growth and flourishing of the Kingdom, is all that's needed to do the impossible within that Kingdom. If you can believe just that little, tiny, teensy-weensy bit, the rest is entirely Him.
But the most hideous activity possible in the Church is comparing faiths: the kind of thing where people say, or imply, "Well, you must not have believed enough for that..." How silly. Do we really think the relative size of our mustard seeds matters in that way, like, "Well, mine is this big; yours is only that big"?
The animating force in all this is Jesus: Jesus alone!
So when you're in a situation requiring belief - for a healing, an answer to prayer, just to get through a day - here is your only job: Believe in this Man just a little seed-sized amount. That way, if - in that moment - you don't see the exact answer you were praying for, you may confidently take His answer for what it is. No more wheedling, wishy-washy talk of "His Will" is needed. You can know His Will by believing that little amount, asking Him, and weighing His exact response... NOW.