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.
Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and after turning the minds of the people against Paul they stoned him and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead. But while the disciples were gathered in a circle round him, Paul got up and walked back to the city... (Acts 14:19,20a)
Since the very first time that I ever read the Book of Acts – I was probably in my mid-teens – I have always been overwhelmed by this moment. Imagine if you’d seen it; if you’d been standing in that circle around him. You’d seen the mob form; you’d seen the stones start to fly: the sickening sound of their striking Paul’s flesh; you’d watched him crumple; you’d watched the people ripping at his clothes and dragging his (you thought) corpse outside the city gates, where then, like a ragdoll, they’d thrown him into a ditch at the side of the road…
Moments later, he gasps.
Painfully, impossibly slowly, stands to his feet.
Then, turning around, waving away your help, reenters the city whose populace just tried to put him to death for speaking the name Jesus.
With moments like this, you always want to find words that best sum up the spirit and sense of exactly what’s going on; words that simply say it all. Well, I believe I’ve got them for this scene; they are words written later by Paul himself to the Ephesian church. He wrote: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1).
Friends, how highly do you rate “the calling you have received”?
"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?
"Note the implication here — to say that Christ 'ascended' means that he must previously have 'descended,' that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens — that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence." Ephesians 4:9,10
What an amazing picture of the Incarnation and Ascension! Jesus, the One who so humbled Himself that He’d leave His throne and be born into squalor, is the very same One who has now ascended and retaken that throne. You and I are the privileged ones now tasked with making His “presence” known to others; in fact, to “the whole universe.”
Andrew Murray paints this beautifully in The Holiest of All: The Resurrection occurs; forty days pass; Jesus ascends; then, ten days later, come the events of Pentecost. Murray’s assertion is that the Holy Spirit had witnessed the activity and glory of Jesus’ return-to-Heaven and then came to bear witness from within us to that glory.
That is what your day is "for" today. Now let's go live it to the full.
"No proofs were given of [Jesus's] teaching, except the truth, except the correspondence of the teaching with the truth. The whole teaching consisted in the knowledge of the truth and in following it, in a greater and ever greater approximation to it, in matters of life. According to this teaching, there are no acts which can justify a man, make him righteous; there is only the model of truth which attracts all hearts, for the inner perfection — in the person of Christ, and for the outer — in the realization of the kingdom of God. The fulfillment of the teaching is only in the motion along a given path, in the approximation to perfection — the inner — the imitation of Christ, and the outer — the establishment of the kingdom of God."
Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You
"It was through faith that Noah, on receiving God’s warning of impending disaster, reverently constructed an ark to save his household. This action of faith condemned the unbelief of the rest of the world, and won for Noah the righteousness before God which follows such a faith." (Hebrews 11:7)
Have you ever stopped to realize that, when Noah received the command to build the ark, he was just one man; one man tasked with building a boat approximately the size of a US Navy Destroyer; and that that task would appear, based upon the account of Genesis 6, to have consumed 50, 60 or even 70 years of his life? I think we often read the command, his obedient build-out and the flood as one quick story, when the reality is that that building alone might've consumed something like 25,000 days...
So what does faith look like? It looks like rising to the 10,000th of those days of (what appears to everyone else like) an inane, unconscionable project: building the world's biggest vessel of salvation in the midst of everyone else's complete unconcern. Imagine just one day of standing in the desert, pounding away at the hull of a 450-foot-long boat, when no one around you has ever even seen rain before!
Faith will always cast off reputation with its eyes on the salvation-work of Jesus alone. Unbelief says, "I am the center of the world," and, frankly, "To hell with everyone else." Noah teaches us everything we need to know about reputation, obedience and belief. It's one day at a time. It's today alone.
This is another of the parables Jesus told them: “The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole lot had risen.” (Matthew 13:33)
Did you know that, in a typical bread recipe, the dry weight of the active yeast to be added represents 3/10ths of 1% of the total weight of all ingredients? And have you observed that, once mixed into the dough, that little bit of yeast becomes invisible; that, suddenly, it is everywhere and nowhere in the mix?
Over this New Year, I've been reading in T.E. Lawrence - famously remembered as "Lawrence of Arabia" - and I've grown fascinated by his tactical thoughts as he helped steer the Arab uprisings in World War I. Take a look at how he described the difference between his force and the opposing Turkish forces:
“In [our] case the algebraic factor would take first account of the area to be conquered. A casual calculation indicated perhaps 140,000 square miles. How would the Turks defend all that—no doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if the Arabs were an army attacking with banners displayed…but suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapor, blowing where they listed..."
Friends, the Kingdom of Heaven, and we who already inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, are to be yeast, "an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a vapor." And we too, like yeast, are meant to be causing a rising up; really, like Lawrence, an uprising: our Kingdom-Army of Love is meant to be conquering this world with the love of Jesus. Everywhere and seemingly nowhere. The actual aroma of Christ.
Then one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and let no one silence you, FOR I MYSELF AM WITH YOU and no man shall lift a finger to harm you. There are many in this city who belong to me.” (Acts 18:9,10)
Isn’t Jesus wonderful? Not just for Paul on this night, but for us everyday, we need not fear; we always have something to say that is not silenceable; He is always with us; He is our refuge; and belonging with Him means belonging toHim. We are His and no one else’s – forevermore.
Over the last while, I’ve been delighting in one of my little "experiments" around the Psalms, taking some of my favorite sections and verses, and, wherever it reads “God” or “Lord,” substituting in – and being blown away by the glory of! – the name “Jesus.” My friends, with reference to Jesus’ words to Paul here, consider just five such Psalmic sections:
Psalm 27:1 “JESUS is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? JESUS is the stronghold of my life –of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 30:11,12 “O JESUS, you turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you, JESUS, and not be silent. JESUS, my Lord and my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
Psalm 62:1,2 “My soul finds rest in JESUS alone; my salvation comes from Him. JESUS alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
Psalm 18:31-36 – “For who is God besides JESUS? And who is the Rock except Him? It is JESUS who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. JESUS makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights. JESUS trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. JESUS has given me His shield of victory, and His right hand sustains me; He stooped down to make me great. JESUS broadens the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”
Psalm 149:2-4 – “Let the Body rejoice in its Maker; let the people of the Kingdom be glad in their King, the Lord JESUS. Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp. For JESUS takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.”
Then came a violent squall of wind which drove the waves aboard the boat until it was almost swamped. Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion. They awoke him with the words, “Master, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
And he woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Hush now! Be still!” The wind dropped and everything was very still.
“Why are you so frightened? What has happened to your faith?" he asked them. (Mark 4:37-40)
Do you catch the implication implicit in those questions of His? Jesus is saying that faith in Him - belief in the realities of who He really is - should cause us to become fearless. Because if there's a logic in His mind to "Why are you fearful; have you no faith?" then the inverse is almost necessarily true: "Ah, so you have faith; now you need not ever fear."
Really, we should all question any talk of "faith" in Jesus that doesn't exhibit proportionate growth toward fearlessness for His purposes. The better we know Him the riskier it should look. The disciples' transition between the Gospels and Acts is all the proof we need.
"But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith, keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses. I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!" 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The language used here, plus the direction of that language, actually teaches this paragraph better than anything I could ever muster. Imagine the first part as if Paul is looking Timothy in the eye: “But you, O man of God, keep clear of such things. Set your heart not on riches, but on goodness, Christ-likeness, faith, love, patience and humility. Fight the worthwhile battle of the faith…”
And then it’s as if Paul’s eyes start to lift as he keeps writing: “...keep your grip on that life eternal to which you have been called, and to which you boldly professed your loyalty before many witnesses…”
And now he’s looking skyward, up to the heavenly places, as he continues on: “I charge you in the sight of God who gives us life, and Jesus Christ who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate, to keep your commission clean and above reproach until the final coming of Christ. This will be, in his own time, the final revelation of God, who is the blessed controller of all things…”
Then Paul begins to grin uncontrollably: “...the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the one who lives in unapproachable light, the one whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see. To him be acknowledged all honor and power for ever, amen!”
Paul had begun by trying to give Timothy some good quality injunctions for his life and then got lost along the way and ended up with… Jesus! And this should be us too. We should be the people whose heads are so up in the clouds of His glory and goodness that, almost unthinkingly, we just follow His ways. Look at how Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5: “We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.” That’s the whole deal, my friends! To wed the living of our little human lives with the eternal purposes of the all-knowing, all-powerful God; to cease to be ourselves in the presence of the One who indwells our hearts and is capable of eternally overtaking our lives!
Yes, YES, YES!
Large crowds followed him and he healed them all, with the strict injunction that they should not make him conspicuous by their talk, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench, till he sends forth justice to victory. And in his name Gentiles will trust.' (Matthew 12:16-21)
What's so unbelievably wonderful about this Savior, this Man, this Jesus, what's so incredibly lovely about His plans for His Kingdom, is that He's handed all of this, every attribute, act and activity, directly to us: we are the heirs, inheritors and agents of this age-old prophecy. Read again, phrase by phrase, through Isaiah's words and then through Jesus' direct words to us, as He hands off the New Covenant Kingdom-baton:
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen: “For you did not choose me, but I have chosen you and appointed you…” (Jn. 15:16)
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased; “your Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
I will put my Spirit upon him, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8a)
And he shall declare justice to the Gentiles. “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b)
He shall not quarrel nor cry aloud, “and whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:27,28a)
Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26)
A bruised reed shall he not break, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
And smoking flax shall he not quench, “…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
Till he sends forth justice unto victory. “As for the victorious, I will give you the honor of sitting beside me on my throne, just as I myself have won the victory and have taken my seat beside my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 3:21)
And in his name Gentiles will hope. “Go you therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:19)
"For we are not separate units but intimately related to each other in Christ." Ephesians 4:25b
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“Paul’s conception of a Christian community is a body of which the Spirit of Christ is the soul. The individual members are all full of the Spirit, and their individual powers and capacities are laid hold of, vivified, and strengthened by the indwelling Spirit in such a way that each is ‘gifted’ and enabled to do some special service for Christ and for His Church in the society in which he is placed. Every true Christian is ‘gifted’ in this way. In this respect all are equal and of the same spiritual rank. The equality, however, is neither monotonous nor mechanical. Men have different natural endowments, and these lead to a diversity of ‘gifts,’ all of which are serviceable in their places, and enable the separate members to perform different services, useful and necessary, for the spiritual life of the whole community and for the growth in sanctification of every member.”
- Thomas M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries
* * * *
Specifically, what are your spiritual giftings? Have you been using them this week? Will you be using them today?
Because, don't forget: Those gifts are the way that the Holy Spirit is showing Himself to others; they are where the Lord Jesus is laying hold of you, giving you life, strengthening you; they are for the special service of the whole worldwide Body of Christ; they are useful and absolutely necessary for the spiritual life of the Church and all of its members: for we are not separate from each other but intimately - and always - related to each other in this wonderful Jesus!
Ananias set out and went to the house, and there he laid his hands upon Saul, and said, “Saul, brother, the Lord has sent me—Jesus who appeared to you on your journey here—so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got to his feet and was baptized. Then he took some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the disciples in Damascus for some time. Without delay he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues declaring that he is the Son of God. All his hearers were staggered and kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who so bitterly persecuted those who called on the name in Jerusalem, and came down here with the sole object of taking back all such people as prisoners before the chief priests?” Acts 9:17-21
The word Luke uses to describe how “staggered” the crowds were when they heard the heart of Saul’s new message – ἐξίσταντο: 'to be displaced, changed, altered, driven mad, deranged' – is also used thrice to describe people’s amazement with Jesus, twice on the day of Pentecost and, finally, here in this passage. The alive life of Jesus, the never-ending work of the Holy Spirit, and the confluence of those two elements in the lives of men and women like us, are supposed to be, meant to be, cannot help being “staggering” when men and women like us let Him fully have His way.
Remember: Subscribing to a set of beliefs about Jesus will not stagger people.
Don't forget: Being against the ways of this world will not amaze them.
But, rising to each new day, setting your heart upon the Savior who is the truest thing about you, aligning your spirit so as to be a wide-open channel of the Holy Spirit, and then walking out the door with Belief, and open eyes and ears: NOW you are living out your day like Saul learned to do: with the life of Jesus on display, the power of the Holy Spirit always at the ready; full belief in the promises; and eyes of love upon the world’s great need.
Now yes, that will “stagger” the world around you!
So Jesus re-embarked on the boat, crossed the lake, and came to his own town. Immediately some people arrived bringing him a paralytic lying flat on his bed. When Jesus saw the faith of those who brought him he said to the paralytic, “Cheer up, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:1,2
We could talk about the fact that Jesus goes after sin here before going after this man's paralysis; we could go into a little discussion of the actual nature of what "sin" is; but what I want to talk about is the fact that it's his friends' faith - not his own - his friends' faith in Jesus that gets this man set free of his nature of sin. This is just so wonderful to me.
Think about how it must've played out. His friends arrive to his little shack in the rough part of town; help him get dressed; then get him onto a pallet that they can carry through the streets of Capernaum to where they've heard Jesus will be. Along the way they're giddy with hope, not for themselves, but for their friend: "Oh, Jesus," they say to him, "He's a wonder-worker. He looks after people like us, like you. He sees us. What a delight He is! When you get near Him, you'll see. He'll do it. We just know it."
My friends, if these friends' call is also our call - to bring everyone to Jesus of Nazareth - is that the way we're walking them to Him? Do we know Him? Can we tell them what He's like? Can we point to His miraculous power, His heart for the lost, His eyes for the hopeless, His delightful personal presence? And, probably most importantly, do we know what to expect when we arrive with them to Him: is our expectancy formed by our own experience of Him?
Because that's what people truly need to see in us. Expectancy built from personal experience.
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!
Every Sabbath Paul used to speak in the synagogue trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks. By the time Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was completely absorbed in preaching the message, showing the Jews as clearly as he could that Jesus is Christ. (Acts 18:4,5)
I think we often think of Paul as “a man obsessed,” but in that last sentence we get to see what his obsession actually looked like. This translation reads: “Paul was completely absorbed in preaching”; the NIV says, “Paul devoted himself exclusively”; the ESV says, “Paul was occupied with the word”; and the King James reads, “Paul was pressed in the spirit.” That last one is really closest to the best Greek meaning. Paul was συνείχετο – his “shoulders were bent in or contracted upon his chest”; he was “held together” with the Word, we’re told.
When you imagine that physical posture – something "upon your shoulders" that's "holding you together" – what image does it draw up for you? To me, it sounds like a yoke. It sounds like Jesus saying across the years to Paul, across the centuries to us: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) And, indeed, just five verses later in Acts 18, see what Jesus says to Paul: "Then one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and let no one silence you, for I myself am with you..."
This seeming obsession of Paul’s, this compulsion to preach Jesus that just won’t quit, is actually born out of his shared experience with, his wondrous sense of always co-laboring in everything with, Jesus Himself. And it's absolutely beautiful, if you ask me. And it's the experience we're all meant to be having, everyday.
"We know and, to some extent realize, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children, let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!" 1 John 3:16-18
The actual Greek words there in that last sentence are "word and tongue" and "work and truth," ie. the love of Jesus requires more than our mouth; it requires our entirety. And perhaps you've heard this quote before, but it kept coming to me as I was reading these words - it's from Elie Wiesel:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
Jesus of Nazareth was the least indifferent Man who ever lived, and it is our job to carry His spirit into this generation of humanity. And His spirit, His ethos, is literally included within His Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, and who is daily trying to teach us to love in "work and truth," no longer just in indifferent "word and tongue."
That nature of Jesus, living inside you this day, is attempting to teach you to love in His Way. Will you listen? Will you obey?
“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
Remember today: A heart that loves and seeks to serves others has the potential to touch the whole world. But a heart that loves and serves only the Self immediately has no impact; the beginning of that love is its end.