Having experience with both following and leading, I often think about the nature of authority; Where does it come from? How does it develop? Today’s passage will help answer these questions. We will focus today’s MwM exploration on the idea of legitimate authority and launch from this inspired sentence:
Take now your son…and offer him as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:2)
The scripture do not record any reaction by Abraham other than his prompt obedience. There just had to be a “You-Can’t-Be-Serious!!” moment in there somewhere, “Slay Isaac! But God, he is the miraculous fulfillment of your promise to Sarah and I. And—need I remind you? He is the means to the fulfillment of your promise to make nations from my seed. Isaac has brought laughter into our lives, replacing the sorrow of Sarah’s barrenness.” It is recorded that Abraham is God’s friend. Has it ever bothered you how God treats His friends? How about His children, each of whom He scourges?
Words like scourging and discipline sound so Old Testament. But it is the New Testament writer of Hebrews who goes so far as to call us illegitimate if we are without them. Here is a question for those of us who lead; What have we said, by way of our words and our lives, that have helped clarify how discipline works itself out? Or, have our notions of grace undermined the place of discipline?
Legitimate leaders are those whose lives and teachings help clarify this challenging aspect of following Christ. By teaching on pet themes (which often exclude correction), we fail to equip would-be disciples with this essential part of the vision that should be forming in their hearts. Without this understanding of God’s ways, how will the would-be disciple react when the path becomes steep with some discipline from the Lord or narrow with some challenging circumstance?
We should appeal to our pastors: “Please do not just share from the latest book you’ve read (or whatever source of inspiration you depend upon) and expect us to prosper as his disciples.” True disciples will balk at that voice. Unless it is lived truth, it remains a potentially lifeless proposition. Second hand truths do not fan cold embers into fires, nor can they sustain the fires that already glow within hungry hearts.
Speak to us instead from your legitimizing experience with God, those seasons where the Word, through trial and testing, has become flesh in you. Model for us what life with Him and each other is to look like. There are many who are looking and longing for those who can speak to them and live along side them with the authority that only come from life-experience, shaped by God’s Word and His Spirit.
In his becoming a friend to God, Abraham had to let go of the thing that was most precious to him on this earth. Contrary to every fiber of his being, he had to relinquish his rights to God’s promise and entrust that promise back to Yahweh to do with as He pleased. For Abraham and for the author of Hebrews, it boiled down to this:
It is God with whom we have to do. (from Hebrews 4:13)
Those who enjoy friendship status with the Father have been weaned (often through discipline or pruning) from their earthly ambitions. Having let go of their ego-driven agendas they have become equipped with the legitimate authority found only in broken men and women, saints whose false foundations have been demolished, disciples who are progressively resting in Christ alone as their life and are now living for His larger kingdom-agenda.
Father, please raise up authentic spiritual fathers whose lives and words will honor the whole counsel of scripture and help us to understand Your loving heart so that we may process life as You intend us to, so that we might grow up as legitimate children, accurately representing who You are to the world around us. Amen.
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
The scriptures teach us that we are temporarily located in a body which is located temporarily in a temporary world, so, its not too surprising we are powerfully conditioned by temporariness. This is a real problem since, created in His (eternal) image, we are anything but temporary. The apostle John, an intimate friend to Jesus, knew it was in man to give his affections either to the temporal or the eternal. His Master had taught Him that men are either going to love one or the other and that “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him.”
Religion recognizes worldliness and addresses it by way of laws. “Thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” are the spirit of all systems of religiosity. Consequently its portrayal of the fear of God is centered on what may happen to them if they run afoul of these laws. Contrastingly, those who are resting in Christ’s righteousness are also in this world, but they recognize the futility of religion in dealing with it. They are focused on a promise: “And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.”
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23)
So how are we to live out our lives as eternal spirits in a temporal world, one that is passing away before our very eyes? All of scripture speaks to this in one way or another but John gives us a keen insight with 1 John 2:29: “Little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”
The scripture tells us that Satan has some authority in this temporary world, which he wields through deception. By leveraging the temporal, as if it were all there was, the prince of this (temporary) age, reigns over a network of ideas, which are designed to distract us from the eternal. But… “The anointing (gift of the Spirit) which you received from Him abides in you…. His anointing teaches you about all (these) things” (1 John 2:27). And in verse 17, John tells us if we will do the will of God, we will abide forever. (parentheses mine)
We will succeed in “not loving the world” best by not turning this apostolic command into a law. We will succeed best in loving God by simply abiding in His promises and abiding in intimate fellowship with Him.
As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will also abide in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)
Father, may we hear and respond to the anointing of Your Holy Spirit within us, Who is helping us renew our minds where we have been conditioned and conformed to the temporal. Holy Spirit, please teach us to reinvest our affections in You. When Jesus appears once again may our abiding have been highly visible. Amen.
Hopefully you can pause and read Philippians 3:1-14, a description of a transformed heart.
In this passage we see the words losses, gains, and counting. Why is an apostle using CPA language? In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus tells us we must all do some critical math in calculating the cost of following Him. In today’s scriptures, the Spirit gives us a peek into Paul’s heart. We get to see how he processed Jesus’ commands and how the accounting within Paul’s heart worked itself out.
Why did the Spirit include in scripture such a transparent view of Paul? Was it to display his heart as an exception, a bar set so high it could only be cleared with apostolic muscle? I don’t think so. I believe Paul’s heart is intended as a reference point for all Christ’s followers. The apostle’s story, like our own, is intended to be a catalyst to others as we work out our salvation (i.e. living our life).
Paul’s pre-Christ balance sheet was loaded with what he had thought of as stout assets; he was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee blameless regarding Law-based righteousness, and he was a zealous persecutor of the Church. Yet, by the time he wrote this letter, Paul’s balance sheet had flipped! Whatever he had experienced since those days as a Pharisee had completely undermined the value of his former assets. His pre-Christ life had become, in his counting, worth less than nothing. It was as though he had experienced a joyful sort of bankruptcy, suffering the loss of all things. Paul lived in awe of his windfall–Jesus Christ, alone.
With Christ Himself as his only remaining asset, Paul has become a benchmark for transformation, capable of assisting us in the calculations we each must make. What happened in Paul’s experience that transformed him from proud Pharisee into the humble chief of sinners? What events, what process, took place that left Jesus as Paul’s sole asset? Just how did God bring about this transformation?
If we are making claims on the name of Jesus, the calculation Jesus instructs us to make must eventually include question like these: In what ways has my own heart been transformed? Am I becoming less and less while He is becoming more and more? When the books are finally opened, will Jesus appear as my sole asset? As my Lord, have I given Him the combination to my heart?
Note. If you believe God held Paul’s heart, in its apostolic-ness, to higher standards than he does yours, please read the balance of our passage. Also note the consequence for those who had replaced the cross with their own preferences.
Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:15-21)
Father, on that day when you ask us to give an accounting of ourselves, may our books be in order—may our righteousness be that which comes from you alone on the basis of faith, and as it was with Paul, may You alone be our treasure. May we encounter You in our circumstances and may we see Your strong, loving heart’s efforts to transform us and to reveal Christ to us and though us. May Your eyes soon see Your Bride pressing on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:1-3)
Paul, as one of the natural Jewish branches, is writing to the unnatural Gentile branches who, by a mysterious and extravagant gesture of kindness and grace, God has grafted into Jesus, the deep and rich root of the olive tree. This was a big deal to Paul:
Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! …For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. (Romans 11:33&36)
Anyone who goes from chief detractor to chief advocate, with suffering as his or her anticipated reward, wins my attention. It is doubtful to me his words are mere hyperbole; I believe he stretches language to its limits in an effort to describe even the shallower reaches of Jesus Christ, who has become his all-consuming passion. He is urging us to listen as he explains how this can happen for us as well. Paul carries the burden of a man consumed; by the strength of Christ in him, he proclaims Jesus with all deliberation and all zeal.
When people in Paul’s era heard the word sacrifice, their minds recalled images of sacrificed animals whose blood was offered to appease some god. Paul throws the Romans a major league curve ball when he tells them they are now the sacrifice. He tells them in their living they would become sacrifices, fulfilling their calling as worshipers. No longer was the primary act of worship going to be limited to the attending of ceremonies or observance of rituals. Worship’s primary expression from this point forward was going to be the living of life.
Take your everyday ordinary life, your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life, and place it before God as an offering. (Romans 12:1 The Message)
Paul goes on to reveal a major roadblock to this transformation God desires. Our hindrance is the false ideas we hold about Him, the world, and ourselves. This collection of beliefs represents our reality. That is why change is so difficult. Our “reality” is our foundation. It is what has become familiar and therefore sacred. From here we have learned to make life work out to some acceptable degree. Threaten these core ideas with new ones and we tremble and retreat, lest our whole superstructure be shaken and topple.
This is another reason Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended with Me.” Jesus’ words and the words of His apostles run counter to the philosophies of this world, which have infected us without our even knowing it. This is the strategy of this world’s prince who oversees a vast network of well-coordinated lies. This is the kingdom of darkness out of which God is calling the children of Light.
But how am I going to abandon the foundational values I have come to terms with and operate by? It is by the renewal of the mind (i.e. repentance) and by that measure of faith which God has allotted to each man. In God’s unsearchable wisdom, in His unfathomable ways, He has given us faith to embrace the values of His kingdom that may first appear to us as unnatural and even threatening.
Father, may we not forget there is still an original place in Your heart for the natural branches, that we gentiles have a season of grace to respond to You. As the beneficiaries and heirs of such extravagant grace, may our daily, walk-around lives bring about your good and acceptable will. May our new lives in You radiate so brightly as to be an attraction to the Jews and a validation of Jesus’ rightful status as Messiah. And may we not so quickly run from the ideas that may both threaten and save us. Amen.
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him because he was plainly stating that he must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Mark 8:32-33)
How does this scene grab you? Previously, I have read this and thought, “Peter, what in the name of all that is holy, were you thinking? This was the Son of God and you had the hutzpah to take him to task! Who did you think he was? And who did you think you were?” That reaction is now mostly historical. My pointed questions are fewer today and I carry around fewer stones to throw.
One of my good friends is faithful to pass on adages, especially ones with wry humor as their basis. One dovetails nicely with Peter’s experience with Jesus: “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” I suppose we will have to amend this now to read: “If you want to hear God’s rebuke, give him your opinion.”
That’s not as funny is it? Buried inside my older attitude was this question, “Lord, why did you associate Peter’s shot at candor as Satanic?” I believe Jesus anticipated this question and answered it when he followed that tough get-behind-me-Satan comment by:
Summoning the crowd with His disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:34-36)
Another adage (with humorous intent): “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Although it didn’t come about in a face-to-face encounter, I believe I have had similar experiences with Jesus, where circumstances, scripture, and wise, truthful brothers and sisters weighed in, confirming that my thinking was askew. Quite honestly, I find zero humor in these occasions. In fact, discovering I am wrong slams the needle on my worst-nightmare scale. “I’m wrong? You mean to tell me I have been expending my life’s energies based on lies? This cannot be!” This is a major crossroads where we will say to God, either; “Unacceptable,” or, “Please remove any hurtful way from my heart.” I believe what Jesus is saying to Peter (and to all who call him Lord) is:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. (Isaiah 55:8)
Isn’t Jesus saying to us that if anyone wishes to call him Lord, he must deny his right to be right? That by having rigid inflexible positions we preserve our lives as we have learned to live them? It is no wonder my experience with God lacked humor. When we find the ideas we are living out of are false, it’s the equivalent to a powerful earthquake in our souls.
How counter-intuitive it is to let go of our convictions, as the solid rocks on which we stand, so that Jesus can have that rightful place. Even when I write, I am frequently compelled to add, “I may still be clueless on this, but then…(my 2 cents worth).” Reporting on my explorations and experience as a sojourner is the primary intention of MwM. I don’t want to pontificate with certainty on matters. However….
Neither am I writing from a total vacuum. Most of what I am sharing is born of a previous earthquake–occasions when I believed everything I was thinking. My expectation is that following Jesus as Lord will include numerous episodes of this nature—each one providing opportunity for repentance (i.e. the changing of the mind) and transformation (i.e. the changing of my heart). I believe following Jesus is to live within a mobile classroom in which all that touches us is intended to educate and to transform. He uses circumstances (external and internal), people around us, His Word, and His Spirit to lead us deeper into the Truth, which liberates us and gives us joy.
I don’t believe Jesus just came to save our souls from an eternity of hell. I believe that he came and died to save us, through his life, from the collections of ideas we hold so firmly, thinking they, in themselves, are what sustains our lives. I believe Jesus invites us to take up our cross, an act in which our human explanations die. Only at the cross will he himself become the replacement for the other convictions we use to make life work. He knows we will forfeit abundant life if we succeed in living out of a collection of ideas as opposed to his own resurrection life.
I believe Jesus was harsh with Peter and that he permits harsh things to touch us at times because he knows our thoughts and ways are destructive to us and counter-productive to his kingdom. He wants us to let go that we may live. If we die by letting go we live in Him; if we try and live by holding on to our thoughts and ways, tragically, we forfeit life.
Father, when all is said and done, we are left with You – our sufficiency and our abundance. Thank you that class is always in session, that you remain our patient counselor and teacher even when we think we have it down pat. Help us to let go of and die to all the idols we have placed our trust in. Amen.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
What does this divine audience have to do with our battle with sin and the outcome of the race? How will we become any more or less motivated by playing to this crowd? Who were these people anyway? You have to read all of Hebrews 11 for the answer. One thing we discover about them: they were above the crowd before they became the crowd above.
Their acts of faith are what distinguished them, set them above the crowd…an act of faith is what God noticed and approved as righteous. They believed both that he existed and that he cared enough to respond to those who seek him. Each one of them died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believed. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.
What do we envision on the horizons of our imaginations? Is there something out there we are intentionally pursuing? Hopefully it is Jesus. In Jesus Christ, who has become our life, we have in hand what these saints were running toward by faith. This audience is applauding our faith, this faith which makes us sojourners as opposed to squatters. Our Hebrews 11 audience is our example. They remind us that in our race there will be much to endure. While our race may become grueling through some stretches, it will really be much shorter than it may seem in those moments. And, regardless of the cost, running it will win divine applause.
Jesus too is our example. He persevered in sufferings more severe than most will ever know. In the midst of them, he overtook the joy that was set before Him. Jesus continually did the math: “Whatever I encounter is mine to conquer or endure.” In our running some of our greatest hurdles will be questions, such as: “What bearing on my race does the life of Jesus have?” “Will a mental inventory of Christ’s sufferings somehow fortify my stride?” I have tried this. I won’t say it is useless. I will only say that I think there is more to it than mere reflection and volition. I believe the Holy Spirit is integral to our race in ways the author of Hebrews assumes we understand.
God’s Spirit has breathed Life back into our mortal bodies, raising us from the dead. His Spirit rarely comes upon us as it did in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit has now come to dwell in us. So the same Spirit, which is God’s Life, is what equipped Jesus and the Hebrews 11 crowd. He will equip us as well for the long haul of our journey. And once again, at the risk of wearing the point thin, our journey is not really that long. The Spirit’s presence has altered our nature. It is our nature which animates the thinking and the choosing of our running. It is really no longer about God’s part and our part as if they were separate tracks. In Christ, a great mystery exists. In Christ, God and man have merged. The exertion of running is now a commingled partnership with Christ as the controlling partner.
We must continually rest in Jesus’ promise that he will complete what he has begun. As our controlling partner (the head), he is the originator and perfecter of our faith. We will each be tempted to grow weary and loose heart but in our malaise we must discover, in our own experience, God’s Spirit within. It is in these moments when the winds of inspiration are absent, where temptations are so tangible, that Hebrews 12:1-3 is most helpful. It is here in the unwanted place of our doldrums that His best faith-perfecting work is advanced. Isn’t it just like God—that His ways and His thoughts are so unlike our own? While we think we may be perishing, we are in reality being perfected!
Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Father, may you train us to run our race well, persevering by faith, putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that you are the ground beneath our feet and the very path we are traveling. However fraught our race is with discouraging circumstances lead us again to the realization that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. Right now, in the midst of our inspirational vacuums, breathe endurance and vision into us. Succeed wildly in your mission to perfect our faith. With our eyes fixed obediently upon You, may we each cross our finish lines in full-stride. All to your glory. Amen.