Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
There is a tension in me I pray will not dissipate, and it has its roots in this verse. It has to do with my desire that others might see the goodness of God. My strain has to do with the fact that men seem to carry on nicely without giving God a second thought. You might ask, “What do you care about their attitude toward God?” My answer: the scriptures have equipped me with a vision that places these people in great peril. I am not at ease with this, and I pray that I never shall be. But what am I supposed to do with this tension?
This evening will give me some release. Today is Valentines Day, but the Cummins use it as an excuse to gather our family in Christ around us. Our community of friends (which we think of as the Church) includes siblings from a dozen different denominations. It probably won’t catch on, but I would like to reclaim this occasion as Bride of Christ Day—a day where we acknowledge that we, who have been joined one-to-another in Christ, are the same community that was birthed in Acts 2. As a steward of God’s grace I would like for our gathering to convey to all the right personalities that the Church is neither a physical location nor an event. The Church is a family of holy and blameless children who are making their way together through this life as a bold statement of who God is and what he is like. This remains the kingdom mission of the original church. Paul put in nicely:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose, which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8-12
Daneille and I came to Christ in the awakening known as The Jesus Movement. Our earliest days as a married couple were lived in a community of believers who held many of their earthly goods in common. We did not own a building. We did not have a pastor, per se. (However, even though they were not crowned with that title or compensated for their gifting, there were many pastors among us.) These believers were the spiritual aunts and uncles to our children. We educated our kids together and chose to work along side each other in a handful of vocations. Our gatherings often included teaching, but they almost always incorporated food and music. For us, church was never an institution. It was always family.
That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. John 17:21
If the church is to ever live out the unity Jesus has called her to, she will have to reclaim and celebrate the irreducible minimums of New Testament life. Luke nailed four of them in one verse: “They all gave full attention to; 1) the teaching of the apostles and to; 2) the common life, to; 3) the breaking of bread and; 4) the prayers” (Acts 2:42 N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” Translation).
This evening, much like the communion we read of in Corinthians, believers will gather in Jesus’ name. We will share a nice meal, wine, conversation, and a concert with Bob Bennett, whom I have dubbed the Troubadour Laureate of the Jesus Movement. As blameless children, we will innocently and boldly flaunt our liberty to all the spiritual principalities and powers that oppose Christ’s Kingdom—as well as to all the earthly institutions that want to promote His Kingdom.
Father, be gracious to us for we ache for your rule. Make our souls be glad! For you, Lord, are good; You are ready to forgive and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call on you. Give ear, O Lord, to our prayer, and give heed to the voice of our supplications. For you are great and do wondrous deeds. You alone are God! Teach us your way, O Lord. We will walk in your truth. Unite our hearts to love and fear your name. We will give thanks to you with all our hearts and will glorify your name. Amen.
David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon, saying, “Is not the Lord your God with you? And has He not given you rest on every side? For He has given the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the Lord and before His people. Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the Lord.
In the Old Testament the sanctuary of the Lord was a building; in the New Testament it becomes human hearts. That a holy God would inhabit a fallen man with a will of his own as opposed to a neutral stack of bricks and mortar is a radical concept isn’t it? Holy God living in fallen man? Do we truly grasp this scandalous concept?
On Sunday mornings most devout people head out to their various places of worship. Church begins when the liturgy commences. Many of us entering these buildings were taught since infancy, with hands clasped, “Here’s the church”, with index fingers pointed skyward, “Here’s the steeple,” with clasped hands turned upside down revealing 10 wiggly digits, “Ta da! Here’s all the people!” And, as we grew, regularly entering the building, we were taught another ditty:
Up there’s the pastor
Beneath him, his staff,
Lower yet, the pews
Where the people are counted
I know. It doesn’t rhyme. But it doesn’t have to for it to do its job. It becomes established by tradition. Our indoctrination into religion continues with the next verse:
With Pastor is Bible
Taught him by masters
Mama has chewed her food
Now shares it with her chicks
This poem not only doesn’t rhyme; it makes no sense if the New Testament is our plumb line.
Churches have their doctrinal statements and their bylaws but far, far more powerful than those documents are the traditions of men branded over time into our hearts and minds, hallowed (and thus unchallengeable) by practice. All our unspoken practices form the rigid wineskin of our religious sub-culture. Here we inordinately place our trust in things that never entered the minds of the apostles, prophets, and teachers of the powerful early church.
While our childhood rhyme is cute, it turns out that it is by no means innocent. Neither are the extra-biblical ideas it spawned in our institutions where unfathomable amounts of resources have been devoted to maintaining the bricks and mortar, while the mystery of Christ in us (the temples of God) has gone unattended.
I propose that we inaugurate a new church tradition. We can call it Biblical Church Day where we devote our honor to the New Testament church. On BC Day, we will not patronize the buildings the early church never had. We won’t participate in a single program of which they never would have conceived. We will simply gather in small groups and perhaps read the scriptures. We can share a meal together. Perhaps we could call it communion. In our gatherings, we will not only remember Jesus and the blood he shed, but also the church for which it was so effectually shed—the New Testament church, the last (and coming) wineskin strong enough to serve as God’s habitation.
As I am sure you have perceived, I am proposing that our good vision of church is at cross-purposes with a great vision, the kingdom-driven one that Jesus inaugurated. In this coming kingdom, we shall not only see good delivered through the institutional mechanism, but the greatness (or glory if you will) of abundant Life, expressed through a living body of saints – people whose identities have been upgraded from attenders to kingdom citizens, friends, and offspring.
As the army breaks camp, leaving behind its dependencies on the old wineskin and its administration, and transfers them to Christ, the actual head of the Church, it will rediscover the more broadly distributed gifts of pastor, prophet, and, perhaps, even apostles, operating in ways that reinforce the fact that in Christ, we have always had everything we need. While my comments cannot be reconciled with our traditions and will likely anger some, I pray that the stones (for hurling) might be put back on the ground and some might instead pick up the pen and tell me where I have departed from biblical orthodoxy—or perhaps refer me to the Council of This or That which gave our current traditional practices the holy stamp of approval.
Father, may you inaugurate the culture of your kingdom and eclipse our traditions with the simplistic, powerful radically good news of your Son. May we burst with wonder and joy as we discover that He has been dwelling in us all along waiting to be re-birthed into a world starving for the inevitable freedom of the sons of God. Yes Lord, truly you are with us. In you, we have rest. In us, you have your home. Through us, you shall subdue your enemies. We shall set our hearts and our souls to seek you. We shall arise and acknowledge, with awe and wonder, that we ourselves are the flesh-and-blood spirit sanctuaries in which you now dwell. How absolutely astonishing. Thank you.
The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. 1 Timothy 4:1 MSG
You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. 1 Timothy 4:6-9 MSG
Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use. Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation. 1 Timothy 4: 1-16 MSG
JLB is the author of the Blue Book, which some of us use as a launching pad into our devotions. Thousands of people who have discovered this un-copyrighted, unadvertised devotional say it opened a door into God’s heart for them. I can testify that a small army of BB devotees in Oklahoma will be forever grateful to JLB for doing what today’s passage describes—teaching us with his life. (Since JLB has come to Oklahoma to meet us, we call him Jim.)
Jim spent much of his adult life with an organization that served high school students. In that context, he did what this verse describes—he took the Message to heart; he exercised daily in God; he got the word out; he passed it along to others; but most importantly, he learned to teach believers with his life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. He kept his ministry gifts dusted off and in use. He cultivated and immersed himself in them. He has kept a firm grasp on his character and teaching.
A bit more about Jim: he graduated from that youth ministry and was promoted into the larger theater of everyday life where he simply kept at it. While the process of graduation might have been unpleasant, he was not diverted. Jim is an extraordinary ordinary man not because of his popularity but because he has been maturing right before the eyes of those around him. Because he has been teaching those around him with his life, both he and those who are connected to him are experiencing salvation (which is eternally more than just avoiding hell!).
In the current wineskins of Christian understanding, which require buildings, budgets, digital media, religious professionals and their staffs, it might be easy to overlook Jim’s greatest contribution—the vision he is casting as a prototypical citizen of God’s kingdom. He has no real title. He has no large sending organization behind him. What he does have is Christ in him and he has others who Christ loves around him. He has the scriptures, the Spirit and the circumstances through which he is working out his salvation—the exact things with which God has equipped you and me. Jim’s authentic life casts down the illusion that the kingdom of God’s expansion is dependent on professional religious workers with their buildings and budgets. It simply is not so. The kingdom is dependent on Christ alone, Christ in us.
If religious institutions are going to make a contribution to the ever expanding kingdom of God, they will be the ones that figure out how to cast the same vision that Jim is infected with, which has equipped him to live out of the life of Christ in him – loving those God entrusts to him with the unique gifts God has placed in Him, which makes him (and can make us) the extraordinary ordinary people tasked to build the eternal kingdom of God.
Father, for a little while longer we will be in the world but not of it. Your Life shall radiate from us in such a way that the world will see you and will glorify you. Come quickly Lord, not to rapture us out of this fallen place, but to empower and equip us to overcome and take dominion of this planet as you originally intended. Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
One of Jesus’ bond-slaves, in this case Peter, offers others sharing in a faith equal to his, a condensed summary of how to live as a Christian. Parts of this passage are popular; perhaps most familiar is, “He has given us…his precious and wonderful promises.” Oh how we love his promises! Let’s look at just three of them.
Verse 3 reads, “God has bestowed on us, through his divine power, everything that we need for life and godliness”; verse 4, “that you may become partakers of his divine nature”; and verse 11, “You will have, richly laid out before you, an entrance into the kingdom of God’s coming age, the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah.”
In the contemporary practice of the Christian religion, the gospel has been corrupted with some ideas that need to be challenged if we are to ever radiate great light. One of them is the idea that Peter was a bond-slave, and that we are just believers; Peter was called to build the church; we, on the other hand, are called to attend one. Without buildings and programs to attend, this idea would have been nonsensical to Peter’s audience. It should be ludicrous to us as well. I believe Peter’s audience not only shared a faith on par to his but also had the clear understanding they were no longer their own masters; they had been bought with an exceedingly high price and that they too, were bond-slaves of Jesus Christ.
That is why we pick and choose the verses that appeal to us and ignore the one’s that don’t. We who remain our own masters are those who omit the meat of today’s passage:
So, because of this, you should strain every nerve to supplement your faith with virtue, and your virtue with knowledge, and your knowledge with self-control, and your self-control with patience, and your patience with piety, and your piety with family affection, and your family affection with love. If you have these things in plentiful supply, you see, you will not be wasting your time, or failing to bear fruit, in relation to your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Someone who doesn’t have these things, in fact is so shortsighted as to be actually blind, and has forgotten what it means to be cleansed from earlier sins. So, my dear family, you must make the effort all the more to confirm that God has called you and chosen you. If you do this, you will never trip up. 2 Peter 1:5-10 (N.T. Wright Translation)
As a very young believer, I did trip up one weekend. The sense that I had betrayed Jesus was intense because I had experienced the power of God in my conversion and had enjoyed his presence for many weeks. As I sought his forgiveness, he spoke to me (if you could call it speech) in the clearest, most profoundly intimate way imaginable conveying, “In your life you are going to fall many times but if you will reach up to me, I will never fail to rescue you.” As I wept and laughed and rejoiced (as I was driving), something was deeply reinforced between God and me: “I am his and he is mine.”
The next time I fell and was bogged down in the mire of dark thoughts, excuses, and rationalizations, I didn’t just wait for God to reach down and lift me up. I had to reach up, as he had instructed, to validate his promise. His rescues always involve the thinking and the choosing associated with faith, knowledge, self-control, patience and love. As his son, this is how I confirmed that he had indeed chosen and called me. In lifting up my hand, I experienced the promises in today’s passage. I discovered that he really had bestowed sufficient power for me to get up and resume the journey and that he really had richly laid out a kingdom before me to inherit.
I don’t know how God will do this, but somehow the roles of Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord must be reconnected for western Christianity to radiate great light. I do not believe that Christ ever intended there to be a track for “called” and super zealous disciples and a separate one for those who just believe and attend a local church. Peter clearly explains that the divine life of God is evidenced by a merger of our faith and our will power that produces a vigorous and intentional lifestyle. He concludes by saying the presence of this lifestyle assures our hearts of our calling; by it, we have a rich entrance into the kingdom of God.
Father, let prophets emerge in the body of Christ with grace filled words of correction. Let the stock value of those who only preach the appealing promises crash. Incise our hearts with the scalpel of your word cutting away any delusions we entertain about our faith. May your Word and Spirit prevail in our hearts. Amen
Nowhere in my Bible is there such a splash of red ink than in Matthew 21 to 25. Jesus has entered Jerusalem and has some poignant things to say before he departs. It is as though the valve has popped and His heart gushes out;
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Matthew 23:37 NAS
Most of His words are in the form of parables spoken in front of his disciples to the officials of the Jewish nation. The punch lines alone are worth a review;
Parable of the Two Sons; Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him. Matthew 21:31-32 NAS
Parable of the Landowner; Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” Matthew 21:43-44 NAS
Parable of the Marriage Feat: Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:13-14 NAS
I have not even mentioned the blistering Seven Woes he spoke to the Pharisees.
Can you imagine what his disciples were thinking? For eleven of them it was; “If Jesus is not quickly crowned king, we are toast!” For the remaining one it was; “Ok, it is probably time to cash in my chips.”
As all Jews were, they were deeply impressed with the Temple – the awe inspiring centerpiece of Jewish culture. When they pointed it out to Jesus, his tone become apocalyptic. He tells them;
Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down. Matthew 24:2 NAS
He tells them (in light of this demolition) to be ready and he hammers it home with two more famous parables and a short sermon. The punch lines here are no less ominous than the previous ones;
The Parable of the Talents: For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:29-30 NAS
The Judgement Discourse; Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:45-46 NAS
Then there is our passage where Jesus is telling a pointed story about 10 girls. Who were these girls? Let’s look at the Parable of the Ten Virgins together;
Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.‘ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13 NAS
We are all on a journey where we will ultimately meet our maker. The great question is “When we arrive, will He turn out to be our Father or our Judge?” In that popular Jewish style of writing which contrasted the wise and the foolish, Jesus is once again saying to all men, “You must not be asleep at the wheel! Every mile of your journey is essential to the destination, which may appear before you with no warning.” In the form of wisdom writing and story telling, Jesus is saying, “Truly, truly, today is the day of salvation.” To think otherwise is folly.”
This reality seems to provoke 3 different responses. The first, is the saddest. It is deafness. Some do not hear because they do not want to hear. They have chosen their route. That it is their route is enough for them even though the bridge is out. In the context of our parable, their lamps have run out of oil.
A second response is a both-hands-on-the-wheel, white knuckle approach – Our foe doth seek to work us woe and given our natural depravity, we might cross the center line at any moment and, like a fool, crash headlong into some hell of our own making. This traveler will likely arrive but he has burned his oil very inneficiently, dependent as he was on his fretting vows of righteousness and his vigils in keeping them. He sees himself as God’s slave and he must labor to please his Master.
A third response and the one I believe Jesus is after is simply keeping our lamps full by keeping company with Him. This is the narrow path. On this route we are not just servants hide bound to do his will. On this route He becomes our Father and our Friend. We do his bidding because we love Him, which is God’s end game. Knowing and loving God is where our story began. That is also where it will end. On the narrow path our hands are on the wheel, but only lightly; our choices are still involved but they are not driven by fear. Equipped with the knowledge that Father is in charge, that He is training us as we go, that mistakes will be made and that we may even become sleepy, we can be at rest. Our lamps are filled knowing that He Himself is our origin, our fuel and our destination. Jesus is our all-in-all. With our hearts, operative in this revelation, in a real sense, we have already arrived.
If you can pause your heart for 3 more minutes, check out Maranatha’s You Tube “Now Unto Him”
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 3:14-22 NAS
One religious term we have assigned to our side of the relational exchange with God is devotion. Accordingly, I might frame my invitation thus, “Let’s explore this passage together in this morning’s daily devotion.” While I know devotion is a good word, it sounds strangely one-sided and flat to me. “Peter, are you devoted to me more than these?” “Yes Lord you know that I am devoted to you.”
I wonder if the Lord too doesn’t find us a bit strange as we apply our wills in order to “do” our daily devotion. How intimate (sarcasm intended). I am not sure what being lukewarm means or exactly what God meant by spitting these people from his mouth, but I could well imagine this bland flavor of devotion being a bit hard to swallow.
I once heard President Bush speak. Half of his sentences began with, “Here’s the deal.” (Thanks GW because we really, really do want to know what the deal is.) In this passage I believe God is pretty much saying, “Here’s the deal. We have a situation here. I know your deeds, but you do not. ”
I believe God does want us to, but the sad consequence of the Adamic-plunge is that we simply do not see ourselves vey honestly. In fact, while we are thinking all is well with our souls, our hearts may well be impoverished. The Spirit is saying that he has eye salve that, when applied, will enable us to see. In the same breath he says that he reproves those whom he loves. I believe the salve that opens our eyes and leads us to repentance is generated by the heat of God’s refining and disciplining love. Not all, by any means, but some of life’s experiences are permitted as God’s searching to see if there are things operating in our hearts hurtful to us and those he’s entrusted to us.
I believe that even while we remain in a fleshly body, we can walk in the Spirit. This means that while we have a propensity toward deceit, we, at the same time, have hearts kindred to Truth and that we are called to walk in Truth. Far greater is the Truth within us than any appealing lie from within or without. The Truth is always standing at the door of our hearts, knocking and saying, “I want to give you gold refined by fire. I know its almost unbearably hot at times, but eventually, if you will persevere, this faith I have given you, which is being purified, will one day, sooner than you might imagine, be perfect.”
For the record, I am not advocating a devotional practice of intentional introspection where we take it upon ourselves to search out the dark places of our hearts. I tried this style of devotion, and I discovered God at my door, knocking, if not loudly, at least persistently with specific instruction; “Enough already of your preoccupation with fallenness!”
I think this type of fleshly-repentance is nauseating to God. There are many voices at our door seeking entrance. Unfortunately, for many of us religious souls, the voice we hear is, “You had best straighten up and fly right, or I will reject you.” If we are to watch over our hearts with all diligence, we must learn to not let that speaker in. He is our accuser. He means us great harm.
What I hear these days is not, “You better open this door to me and do some devotionals, or I’ll be repulsed.” No, what I hear is more like, “That white garment becomes you. I hope you grow more and more comfortable in it. Sit here on the throne with me. Let’s live out my overcoming life in you with your brothers and sisters. And, by the way, I love you and our time together. Let’s keep doing that.” This is pretty much what the conversation between the Lord and me sounds like when I diligently watch over my heart—keeping the accusatory voice at bay. Because I cherish the flow of our conversation (not a devotional), I am more alert than ever to watch over my heart in this way.
What a precious thing it is that we might call you our Father and friend. Oh Lord, that we might not debase and undermine our relationship with formulas and techniques. Help us to reconsider our orientation to you in light of your finished work by which you clothed us in your very own righteousness and gave us bold access to your throne. Teach us to presume, in childlike wonder, upon your goodness. Give us ears to hear what you are saying to your Church. Let it be.