2 He says in my heart now, “Come to Me; I will be your enjoyment; find your whole life in Me.” And look! I have found it to be true. He says of joy, “It is I Myself,” and of delight, “It is yours—come and take it.” I looked inside my heart to find the joy of His life—my heart the place of His personal residence—and I found His Spirit there, showing me what is good for His sons and daughters to be, and to do, during the fleeting days of their earthly lives. We are His great work. He is building us up as houses, temples, branches in the vineyard, of His own creation. He is making us into fruitful places, works of art, planting in us the virtues and beauties of His own virtue and beauty. He has filled us with “the oil of joy”—His Holy Spirit—so that our inner lives are ever watered; ever vibrant. We, His servants, are no longer slaves: we have been born a second time into sharing a place at the Family Table. All He has is ours: “the cattle on a thousand hills” belong to Him: now they belong to us. He will give us what we need—our daily bread—from the infinite storehouses of the same One who made manna. He will sing over us, we brothers and sister of His, and He will provide for us: He delights in His sons and daughters.
He is great, and He is beyond everything and everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth. And His Way and wisdom abide with us. And whatever we ask in His name He will not keep from us. He holds nothing back that is for our good, for His heart finds joy in our enjoyment of Him: this is our experience of the life of Heaven. Let us consider all that He has done for us, all the sacrifice and love He has already shown us, and remember! He is our meaning and our purpose within this life, and there is everything to be gained in the Son.
So let us turn to consider His wisdom and Way and righteousness. For what else can the man do who follows after the King of Kings? Only what he sees the Son doing—who thus watched the Father. And thus we see that there is infinitely more to know and gain of Him; there is no end to One who is both light and life. It is our wisdom to watch Him; we walk His Way by following Him. Abiding in Jesus is the heart’s highest sense of perception. Then He may say to our hearts, “What I have done, you may do. I will be your wisdom, and I will make you wise.” And I have found this to be true in my own heart. For if I remember and encounter Jesus, both historically and contemporaneously, I see that the days are rich and robust with His presence. His life and death become wisdom and joy to me! Oh, I love Him, because what the Son is doing in me is glorious beyond all telling, for it is His life and death and resurrection all over again--in me.
Too, I love the work He’s calling me to, seeing the way it spreads His Way to the generations who’ll come after me—who knows how far my life’s work may go? Those to come, the ones to whom I’ll carry the Gospel, may come to know the Son even better than I. Isn’t that wonderful? And it is for that reason that I rise to each new day and give my heart to Him who is the purpose of each new day, for in this way another who is struggling to find wisdom and a way to life may find them—through me—by observing my own pursuit. Isn’t that the highest version of my human life? In the end, what will any man or woman hold in their hands but those strivings and pursuits that have followed in the Way of the Son? Our days with Him are joy; our work for Him is life. Even in the midst of the darkest night, He is with us. For this too He promises.
There is nothing finer for a man or woman than that they should eat of Jesus, drink of Jesus, abide in Jesus, and follow Jesus. His is the hand of God, and, of Him, we may eat and drink and abide and find our full enjoyment. And from this One who perfectly pleases His Father—who has fulfilled all righteousness—we receive all wisdom and knowledge and joy, and this to sinners like us! Yes, to “those who needed a doctor,” He has given the business of knowing Him, following Him, coming into the full pleasure of God. This is our life’s meaning and purpose—and God’s plan.
Last winter, while reading through the book of Ecclesiastes, I became somewhat obsessed with the thought that, in Jesus, everything we read there has already found its inverse in Him. In other words, if all unredeemed human life is a "vanity of vanities," the life of Jesus has already made it possible for us to live a "glorious meaning of all meanings" sort of life in Himself. In essence, He has already rewritten Solomon's words by the perfect living of His divine human life. And is inviting us into the same.
So I decided to extrapolate what that might mean, using Ecclesiastes' words—but in their opposite, their inverse.
For these next twelve posts, I'll be offering a "chapter" each week showing how Jesus has rewired Ecclesiastes into our New Covenant reality. I hope this brings into focus how glorious is His Way, His Kingdom!
1 The words of a follower of Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Kings.
Glorious meaning of all meanings, says this disciple,
glorious meaning of all meanings! All is now worthwhile.
What do men and women gain by following Jesus
in the day by day of life?
Lives made new, generational experience of the Kingdom,
the world of creation seeing “sons of God coming into their own.”
The Son has given His life! And risen!
He has ascended back to the place from which He came--Glory!
His Spirit now flows into our lives
and travels over the face of the earth in us;
through and through us flows the Holy Spirit,
making all things new.
Streams of His joy pour down inside us,
overflowing and then flowing over:
into the lives of others around us,
that they may see Him.
His Way is rich with life—life to the full;
human lips cannot compass it;
our eyes are full of the wonder of His glory,
our ears with the sound of His voice.
“Even greater things” will He do through us,
and what has been in Him is what we shall do:
all is new and real under the aegis of the Son.
Are there impossible things of which it can be said,
“No, this is clearly impossible”?
He has said we can do these things;
we have heard His promise.
We remember how He did it in His day;
we remember, yes—yet remembrance
of earlier things is not His Way:
for He still speaks.
I, by His own choosing, have come to be a disciple of this Jesus from Nazareth. And I have given my heart and mind to seeking and searching out His wisdom, His Way, right in the midst of the ways of the world around us. It is a wondrous business that He has given to His brothers and sisters to be focused upon. We have seen some of what He has done with a life, and look! all in Him is glory and joy and peace: a daily experience of encounter and following after Him.
The way is narrow and straight,
and we shall lack for nothing upon it.
I rejoice in my heart now, “I know Jesus: He is the Way, the truth, the life: He surpasses all who have ever lived: He lives in my heart right now, bringing with Him all wisdom and knowledge.” And I have given my heart and mind to knowing Him—and also my awareness to all that is not Him. All else that is, is not: it is like chaff in the wind.
But knowing Jesus is knowing Life Himself:
he who comes to know Jesus has attained to Life.
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead
The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
BY G. K. CHESTERTON
It is a warm languid early-afternoon; you are sitting amidst the trees and flowers in a slight clearing. The ground is nearly flat; it rises just above you, following the climbing of the Mount of Olives; Gethsemane is just below. A patchwork quilt of patchwork quilts carpets over the meadowgrasses; all the followers of Jesus have carried up their lunches. The sun is just past the meridian point; the warmth of the air is restful; everyone is eating; it is a lovely sort of early-afternoon.
Jesus sits near the center of these concentric picnickers.
He is eating some bread and meat, holding them with His nail-scarred hands...
* * *
When was the last time that I simply sat with Jesus—out in the open air, under the trilling of the birdsong, in the wash of the sunlight, breeze, and bright blue skies—and relished how wonderfully alive and present to me He is? Is that the look in the eyes of my “Christianity”?
“All our attempts to crucify the flesh, or to keep it crucified, are vain: we need the light and joy of the Holy Spirit to show us what is ours in Christ, what has been given in our union with him, and what he himself will make true in our experience. The very thought of having to keep the flesh crucified may be, very often is, as of a burden, and a strain, and an impossibility: the knowledge and acceptance and faith of the indwelling Spirit makes it part of the great salvation God effectually works out in us.
“Believer, you have the Spirit of the living God dwelling in you. All we tell you of the cross and the crucified life and the crucifixion of the flesh is not to tell you what you are to do, but what you may confidently expect the Holy Spirit to do in you. It is to show you what his work is, that you may in deep humility and entire dependence, but also with joyous faith, claim and receive it. Do begin, at once, to believe, to praise God, to rejoice that you can do nothing but through the Spirit, that you are sure that you can do all things through Christ’s Spirit strengthening you.”
Andrew Murray, The Cross of Christ
"'Jesus Christ yesterday, to-day, and for ever' (Heb. xiii, 8), says the Apostle. From the beginning of the world He was, as God, the first cause of the existence of souls. He has participated as man from the first instant of His incarnation, in this prerogative of His divinity. During the whole course of our life He acts within our souls. The time that will elapse till the end of the world is but as a day; and this day abounds with His action. Jesus Christ has lived and lives still. He began from Himself and will continue in His Saints a life that will never end. O life of Jesus! comprehending and extending beyond all the centuries of time, life effecting new operations of grace at every moment; if no one is capable of understanding all that could be written of the actual life of Jesus, all that He did and said while He was on earth; if the Gospel merely outlines a few of its features; how many Gospels would have to be written to record the history of all the moments of this mystical life of Jesus Christ in which miracles are multiplied to infinity and eternity. If the beginning of His natural life is so hidden yet so fruitful, what can be said of the divine action of that life of which every age of the world is the history?...
"I will now become Your disciple, and will frequent no other school than Yours. Like the Prodigal Son I return hungering for Your bread. I relinquish the ideas which tend only to the satisfaction of mental curiosity; I will no longer run after masters and books but will only make use of them as of other things that present themselves, not for my own satisfaction, but in dependence on the divine action and in obedience to You. For love of You and to discharge my debts I will confine myself to the one essential business, that of the present moment, and thus enable You to act..."
Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Abandonment to Divine Providence
"When at last the disciples awakened the sleeping Christ, He asked them a question. You remember it well! It was, 'Where is your faith?' Where was it? Had it dropped into the depths of the sea on which they sailed? Had it fled on the shoulders of the storm? Had it been dissolved in the spray that washed their boat? Their Faith was with them all the time. The mistake they made was in forgetting the fact of His presence, while discerning the fact of the storm! Their Faith was not far away. Remember the words of our Lord, 'Without me ye can do nothing.'
"Then Jesus advanced to the bow of the boat. He looked into the face of the tempest and hurled His command into the teeth of the storm. The waves obeyed. The wind halted in its tracks. Jesus had spoken, and the disciples stood awed in the presence of His power. Where was their faith? Do you not know? Can you not see? It was just as near to them as it is to you and me; for let me assure you that the fact of the storm does not mean that He has gone! To be needy is no proof that you have been deserted. It may be the door that leads to a miracle! It may be God’s method of making you say, 'What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the seas obey Him?' ...
"Roll on, blue waves of Galilee! Blow and moan, ye winds that rage, and ye tempests that blow. You laugh at my seeming helplessness. You ridicule my endeavors to stand in the midst of the rocking of the boat. You ask me where my faith is. You taunt me about my condition. My Faith is not far away! He sleeps awhile, to teach me to rely upon Him. He sleeps, that confidence in self might be turned to trust in His promise and in the power of His presence. No, my Faith is not far away. I look at Him and smile; for His voice whispers to this poor heart of mine, and tells me that if He can rest in the midst of the tempest and the storm, then I can sweetly rest in Him."
Charles S. Price, The Real Faith
He heals a blind man
THEN, AS HE WAS APPROACHING Jericho, it happened that there was a blind man sitting by the roadside, begging. He heard the crowd passing and enquired what it was all about. And they told him, “Jesus the man from Nazareth is going past you.” So he shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
Those who were in front tried to hush his cries. But that made him call out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!”
So Jesus stood quite still and ordered the man to be brought to him. And when he was quite close, he said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, make me see,” he cried.
“You can see! Your faith has cured you,” returned Jesus. And his sight was restored at once, and he followed Jesus, praising God. All the people who saw it thanked God too.
THEY ARE AN INTERESTING SIGHT—this wild-eyed man, gazing at everything with frenzied, half-crazed countenance; and this other: calm, smiling, delighted—as they walk onward toward the city of Jericho. The former will sprint ahead, and then come back to the latter.
“What are those distant upward places?” he asks.
“Hills,” says the other.
“And what is their color called?”
“Brown. Or, perhaps…sandy-brown.”
The wild-eyed man has hit upon a pattern, he realizes.
He looks up. “And this, I imagine, is the ‘sky’ I’ve heard so much about?”
The other nods.
“And what do you call this color I see?”
“And those soft-looking things that move across its blue and stain the ground with blackness?”
Then he begins, without explanation, to point to different trees, plants and bushes. The other man, knowing his meaning, simply lists the name of each toward which he points: “Palm… Almond… Pine… Olive… Date… Papyrus reeds…”
They are now arriving at the outside edge of Jericho.
A street or two in, they happen upon a shop of fineries. The quiet man escorts the other inside; into the cool, dark interior.
The two men stand and look into a bronze mirror, housed within a gaudy gilded frame. There they are, reflected: the wild-eyed man and the smiling other.
“And, you see,” says the latter, “that’s you.”
"Our Gospel belongs to the miraculous. It was projected on the miraculous plane. It cannot be maintained but by the supernatural. Take the supernatural out of our holy religion, and its life and power are gone, and it degenerates into a mere mode of morals. The miraculous is Divine power. Prayer has in it this same power. Prayer brings this Divine power into the ranks of men and puts it to work. Prayer brings into the affairs of earth a supernatural element. Our Gospel when truly presented is the power of God. Never was the Church more in need of those who can and will test (ie. prove) Almighty God. Never did the Church need more than now those who can raise up everywhere memorials of God’s supernatural power, memorials of answers to prayer, memorials of promises fulfilled. These would do more to silence the enemy of souls, the foe of God and the adversary of the Church than any modern scheme or present-day plan for the success of the Gospel. Such memorials reared by praying people would dumbfound God’s foes, strengthen weak saints, and would fill strong saints with triumphant rapture."
E.M. Bounds, The Possibilities of Prayer
“It is a blessed thing for a man, when he has brought his desires into a focus, so that they all centre in one object. When he has fifty different desires, his heart resembles a mire of stagnant water, spread out into a marsh, breeding miasma and pestilence; but when all his desires are brought into one channel, his heart becomes like a river of pure water, running swiftly to fertilize the fields. Happy is he who hath one desire, if that one desire be set on Christ, though it may not yet have been realized. If Jesus be a soul’s desire, it is a blessed sign of divine work within. Such a man will never be content with mere ordinances. He will say, ‘I want Christ; I must have him—mere ordinances are of no use to me; I want himself; do not offer me these; you offer me the empty pitcher, while I am dying of thirst; give me water, or I die. Jesus is my soul’s desire. I would see Jesus!’
“Is this thy condition, my reader, at this moment? Hast thou but one desire, and is that after Christ? Then thou art not far from the kingdom of heaven. Hast thou but one wish in thy heart, and that one wish that thou mayst be washed from all thy sins in Jesus’ blood? Canst thou really say, ‘I would give all I have to be a Christian; I would give up everything I have and hope for, if I might but feel that I have an interest in Christ?’ Then, despite all thy fears, be of good cheer, the Lord loveth thee, and thou shalt come out into daylight soon, and rejoice in the liberty wherewith Christ makes men free.”
Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening
“Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare tomorrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
* * *
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...” (Hebrews 1:1,2a)
* * *
I’ve been thinking about that Chesterton quote for the last couple of weeks. And thinking, in light of Hebrews 1, of how it might most clearly read for us:
“Jesus is the truth; and Jesus is alive. Jesus has startled us by being the image of the invisible God; and Jesus may startle us at any time and in manifold ways. Just imagine that we may live with such a Man living, and know that He is always speaking, always teaching, and that at any moment He can shatter everything with a single word. The man or woman who lives in contact with what we know to be a Living Christ is a man or woman expecting Him today and tomorrow at breakfast. He or she is always expecting to see Him, to hear Him, just as clearly as those disciples did at the beginning.”
“Would Jesus Christ have made [union with Himself] the most perfect and necessary way had there been evil or danger therein? No! all can travel this road to blessedness; and all are called thereto, as to the enjoyment of God, which alone is beatitude, both in this world and the next. I say the enjoyment of God Himself and not His gifts which, as they do not constitute essential beatitude, cannot fully content an immortal spirit: the soul is so noble, so great, that the most exalted gifts of God cannot fill its immense capacity with happiness unless the Giver also bestows Himself. Now the whole desire of the Divine Being is to give Himself to every creature, according to the capacity with which it is endued; and yet, alas! how reluctantly man suffers himself to be drawn to God! how fearful is he to prepare for Divine Union!
“Some say that we should not attempt, by our own ability, to place ourselves in this state. I grant it: but what a poor subterfuge is this? since I have all along asserted and proved that the utmost exertion of the highest created being could never accomplish this of itself: it is God alone must do it. The creature may, indeed, open the window; but it is the sun himself that must give the light...
“Since then none can attain this blessed state save those whom God Himself leads and places therein, we do not pretend to introduce any into it, but only to point out the shortest and safest road that leads to it: beseeching you not to be slowed in your progress by any external exercises, not to sit down a resident at the first inn, nor to be satisfied with the sweets which are tasted in the milk for babes. If the Water of Eternal Life is shown to some thirsty souls, how inexpressibly cruel would it be, by confining them to a round of external forms, to prevent their approaching it, so that their longing shall never be satisfied but they shall perish with thirst!
“Let us all agree in the way, as we all agree in the end, which is evident and incontrovertible. The way has its beginning, progress, and end; and the nearer we approach the end, the farther is the beginning behind us: it is only by proceeding from one that we can ever arrive at the other...”
A Method of Prayer
I was reading through Ephesians 1:3-14 this week, and was so transported by the over-and-over-and-over repetition of all that He has accomplished for us! Below is a rendering of the Phillips translation, placing His actions at the head of each sentence/verse. This is what He's done, and who He is, for us:
"HE CHOSE" us to become, in Christ, His holy and blameless children living within His constant care.
"HE PLANNED", in His purpose of love, that we should be adopted as His own children through Jesus Christ...
"HIS GLORIOUS GENEROSITY", so praiseworthy, has made us welcome in the everlasting love He bears toward the Beloved.
"THROUGH HIM", at the cost of His own blood, we are redeemed, freely forgiven through that full and generous grace which has overflowed into our lives and opened our eyes to the truth.
"GOD HAS ALLOWED" us to know the secret of His plan, and it is this:
"HE PURPOSES" in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him. And here is the staggering thing - that in all which will one day belong to Him we have been promised a share...
"SINCE HE DESTINED" us for this long ago, this One who achieves His purposes by His sovereign will, so that we, as the first to put our confidence in Christ, may bring praise to His glory! And you too trusted Him, when you had heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
Then "HE STAMPED YOU WITH HIS PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT", after you gave your confidence to Him, as a guarantee of purchase...
And "HE HAS PAID FOR US AS HIS OWN" and will complete the redemption, which will again be to the praise of His glory.
My friends, in view of all that He has done, been, allowed, planned, and carried out for us, what sort of people ought we to be this week? How will the world around us experience His life within us? How will we experience His life within us?
Many of you have been intimately involved with a two-year-long journey that is ending tomorrow: the arrival of Moments with Jesus, my children's Bible! Thank you to so many of you who've read snippets of the writing and given me comments on the illustrations by our team--I'm truly grateful.
I'm including here a really lovely illustration from the Garden of Gethsemane: the moment when He speaks and it bowls all the soldiers to the ground.
This is the glorious, all-powerful One with whom we're walking!
“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
“It is possible to look at everything as Christ is looking at it and see it as you shall see it when all is ended. It is possible to pray as Christ prays from heaven and to be conscious that our glorious great High Priest is commanding and executing it from on high, and that all things must give way before His power and will. It is possible to recognize ourselves in the light of a few years from now, when we shall be sitting with Him in the seats where our names are already written and our place prepared, where God ever regards us as already seated. What dignity and triumph this will give to the humblest career, and we shall walk through earth as the children of the King, the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. He who sits there is but the other part of our personal life; and as we enter into closer union with His person, we shall rise into the constant realization of His glorious power, and learn to shout with the most tried and yet the most triumphant of mortals, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
"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?
In the last two weeks, the final version of my children's Bible, Moments with Jesus, went through its last revisions and is on its way to production for a fall release. Friends, I'm very excited about this! It's been such a joy to get to look at these files in final form.
I wanted to send you a two-page spread as my weekly "thought" this week--the moment when Mary Magdalene runs into the risen Jesus near the tomb. I pray these words and visuals are a sweet reminder of His Resurrection for your Monday!
In The Confessions, Augustine of Hippo will occasionally break out into spontaneous, lovely, uplifting prayers of personal gratitude. I so appreciate his modeling of how, right in the midst of telling a story, one may turn aside to a separate conversation with Heaven. Isn't that how we want to learn to live?
Here are a couple of my favorites of those:
"You are there to free us from the misery of error which leads us astray, to set us on your own path and to comfort us by saying, ‘Run on, for I shall hold you up. I shall lead you and carry you on to the end.’"
"Come, O Lord, and stir our hearts. Call us back to yourself. Kindle your fire in us and carry us away. Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let us love you and hasten to your side."
This week, for myself and you, I pray we run along His path, letting Him hold us up, being led by Him and carried by Him toward His own ends. And, as we live each day, that He'd personally stir our hearts: drawing us nearer, kindling a heavenly fire, giving us scents and tastes of Himself. Friends, let's use these days - fleeting as they are! - to learn to love Him more and to hasten into more experience of His nearness.
This week, I was reminded of where C.S. Lewis took his book title, Surprised by Joy, from: a particularly mournful poem by William Wordsworth about the loss of his daughter; the way all present and future joys would be tempered by his sadness. In some ways, it is a perfect poem to describe the disciples' anguish on the Friday and Saturday of the Cross and waking to a dead-and-gone Jesus: give it a read:
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
But then came that Sunday--Jesus is alive! Then came the neverending realization that the human journey would never again be lived alone; that the life of God would always triumph over life, death, sin and the grave!
So, feeling a little poetical this week, I reimagined Wordsworth's words in the context of our new, never-to-be-forgotten Resurrection-Reality. Let's let this be our posture on this day:
Surprised by joy—inspirited by the Word
We turn again toward the the Living One—Oh! to Him,
To Thee, so briefly swaddled in the burial scrim,
Until your mortal ear heard Heaven's resurrection-word.
Love, faithful Love, recalls me to your heart--
You will never, ever forget me!—In your love,
Never for the least division of any part,
Have you been e'er distracted by your work above
To loose your eye from mine!—That knowledge's knowing
Is the greatest joy my heart forever wears,
My Lord, My God, forever, and ever, sowing,
And knowing my heart’s treasure I may always bear;
That in both present time, and those years unrolling,
Can my reborn sight to your heavenly face repair.
"...live lives worthy of the God who has called you to share the splendour of his own kingdom."
1 Thessalonians 2:12
The Coronation of Alexander III and Maria Fedorovna, Georges Becker (1888)
If the painting above was only an infinitesimal sliver of the "splendour" of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom you are promised one day to "share" with your Savior, your Brother, the Lord Jesus...
if "in all which will one day belong to him we have been promised a share (since we were long ago destined for this by the one who achieves his purposes by his sovereign will)" (Eph. 1:11)...
if you really "are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Pet. 2:9)...
if all that He "claims as his will belong to all of us as well..." (Rom. 8:17)...
...then a question is immediately begged:
Today - and this week - and for the remainder of this month - and this year - and for remainder of the life allotted to you - as a true son or daughter of God, a splendid prince or princess of this Kingdom, an inheritor of His glory, a sharer in His purposes, a chosen one, a royal envoy, a person made holy by His very blood: His own special personal possession...
...what sort of life will you live?
If you've ever read much from Augustine, especially his autobiography of faith, The Confessions, then perhaps you already know of his breakthrough moment of beginning to believe. In concert with a group of friends, he encounters authentic experience of Jesus in the heart of a fellow North African, Ponticianus, while visiting a villa on the outskirts of Milan.
Read how Ponticianus described the difference between serving the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of the earth:
‘What do we hope to gain by all the efforts we make? What are we looking for? What is our purpose in serving the State? Can we hope for anything better at Court than to be the Emperor’s friends? Even so, surely our position would be precarious and exposed to much danger? We shall meet it at every turn, only to reach another danger which is greater still. And how long is it to be before we reach it? But if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment...’
No matter what sort of day you're expecting, or what sort of week you're in, I want us all to appreciate the grandeur of that thought: 'if I wish, I can become the friend of God at this very moment.'
My friend, you are already a friend of God.
Or a daughter.
So, 'What are we looking for' today?
Only, ever, more of Him.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” …Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-4,6 ESV).
Whenever I think of the return of Jesus—of that Beginning of the Beginning and the End of Ends—my mind often goes to a man whose story lies at the very opening of this whole glorious drama. His name is Enoch, and this is what we’re told of him:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:21-24 NIV).
Naturally, it’s that last sentence that grabs one’s attention. The idea of “walking faithfully with God” we can readily understand; but we tend to sit up in our chairs when we hear of a heavenly disappearing act that is borne from that faithfulness—an evasion of death because of God whisking someone away in His wondrous train. I’ve often imagined that, while walking faithfully with God one afternoon enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, Enoch just suddenly found himself in Heaven! And looking around, getting his bearings, seeing the God who he’d so faithfully walked with so long, he could only laugh and say, with a shake of his head, “You!”
So, why am I talking about Enoch with this final post of 2020?
Because the only way to live with untroubled hearts, believing in God, believing in Jesus; the only way to wait upon our eventual placement in the place He has for us in Heaven; the only way to be watchful for His coming again—His great taking of us to Himself, to His Father, to Heaven—is to walk faithfully with Him today. To rise out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, get ready, get fed, get out the door to work, get home, get in your routine, get back in bed--all with Him. To let every hour of your day be one in fellowship with Him. To let Him become the rhythm of your days. To finally, firmly understand that there’s absolutely nothing higher for your human life than to walk in intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth. And to so do, just like Enoch did.
When Jesus earlier described the times of His return, He put it this way:
“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth there will be dismay among the nations and bewilderment at the roar of the surging sea. Men’s courage will fail completely as they realise what is threatening the world, for the very powers of heaven will be shaken. Then men will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and splendour! But when these things begin to happen, look up, hold your heads high, for you will soon be free” (Luke 21:25-28 Phillips).
My friend, the reality of the mystery of the Return of Jesus is that, being totally unknown in its timing, it could be today! We might be going about the business of our mundane little routine this afternoon and—looking up--it’s happening! Jesus Himself, descending in the same glory in which He once ascended, coming again to take us away, as He promised!
How would He find you?
How would He find me?
With “heads held high” and “free”?
His best friend, the apostle John, writing many years after the Ascension, captured the spirit I would like to see in myself that day. This is how I’d want to be if Jesus happened to decide to return during this particular afternoon:
…Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! (1 John 3:2 Phillips)
What a thought! That, today, being a son of God, not entirely knowing where my life is going, I can rest assured that, “if reality were to break through” this very afternoon, He would recognize me and I would finally, fully see Him!
The highest prayer I can pray for your life—and the reason I’ve chosen to end the year with these words—is that you’d begin to see your individual life as the place of Jesus’ greatest joy, and that Jesus Himself would overtake everything for you. That perhaps, someday, the following might be written of you:
When they had lived a certain number of years, they became, fully and consciously, a child of God. And after they became this son or daughter of God, they walked faithfully with God every day of their life and helped others to become children of God. Altogether, they walked with God every remaining year of their life, all 365 days of each one. They walked faithfully with God; then they were no more--or Jesus returned--and God took them away.
One day, while “walking faithfully with God,” enjoying the splendors of yet another day of enjoying Him, either Jesus will return, or you will suddenly find yourself in Heaven! And looking around, getting your bearings, seeing the God who you’ve so enjoyed walking with for so long, you’ll laugh and start to say, “You!”
But, even better, Jesus will beat you to the punch.
With that love in His glorious eyes, brimming over with tears of joy that you’re finally, eternally together forever, He’ll whisper, “You!”
Jesus, we await You today (and in this New Year) in the joy of Your presence. Come, Lord Jesus, come!