Being in the road building business makes me familiar with signage – the posted instructions to the traveling public. As I was reading our passage, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to post: “Beware – Miracles Ahead” at the beginning of Mark 8. That way the traveller would have a chance to consider the right gear choice. Do I shift down to that gear which assumes no risk because miracles no longer occur? Do I stay in the gear I am in which says some things are possible with God but not all things? Or, do I shift up into that risky gear of childlike faith that says, all things are possible with God?
After feeding the 4,000 Jesus moved on to Dalmanutha where He encountered a group of Pharisees. They had a different attitude than the multitude who had gone out of their way, at some risk, to remain in Jesus’ company. These Jewish VIP’s preferred to let Jesus take the initiative. Their attitude was, “Let him, come to us and if he has something to say, let him first validate his authority with a miracle.” In other words, “Don’t make us take any risks and discern Truth with our own hearts. Give us proof.”
We learn something important about Jesus in this passage; something inside him shuts down when people demand proof from Him. Listen;
And sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation seek a sign”? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation”. (Mark 8:12)
I will be honest, I shift back and forth when I encounter the supernatural in scripture. I really just want to pull over at a rest stop, put it in park, and ask for directions. But, I usually press on, lurching erratically from gear to gear. However, I know my options are limited. Because of my own conversion experience, I don’t really have an option to down shift into some gear that says God is done with miracles or is finished speaking to men. He shelled that part of my transmission in the first 6 months of relationship with him. Even though my shifting is still a bit like a student driver’s, I try to find that gear that defers to God as he was, and (I believe) is, and always shall be – the God to whom all things are still possible. But, even in saying this, I must add that I don’t believe the primary thing on God’s heart is miracles.
I think I understand (a little bit) why Jesus was resistant to promoting himself by way of the miraculous. As one who signs checks and has a little authority to make things happen, I too experience a deep involuntary sigh when I awaken to find out that a would-be friend was really just posturing to gain some kind of favor. This leads me to believe that Jesus preferred hanging out with those who simply enjoyed his company – who loved him for who he was, independent of what he could do for them.
Father, awaken us. Lead us into that new day where our innocence and childlikeness are restored. Allow the “all things are possible” to come into our view by faith. In the context of intimate friendship with You, bring heavenly reality to bear upon us and bring glory and honor to Your wonderful name. Amen.
Someday your Mom and Dad will give you a book. It will be from me – your Pop. It will probably be called In The Middle With Mystery. If you read it, you will hopefully see that your grandpa had not just thrown up his hands, frustrated with some mystery, rather he abided in that Mystery the best he knew how. Today’s passage contains one of the great mandates of the New Testament Church. Let’s use it to talk about Mystery.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:14)
You have grown up attending Christian schools. If you have stayed on the same course, you have also attended Sunday School and church; so did your Mom and her siblings. I am so grateful to those people who gave themselves to you (and them) as teachers and mentors over the years. Whether you are fully conscious of it or not, you have already assembled a number of ideas about what this command means. It would be quite natural for you (depending on your age) to conclude that education is required to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The logic imparted in your classic Christian education would equip you to reason; “Isn’t putting on the Lord Jesus Christ what I have been doing all these years in school?”
Here is a question for your beautiful and logical mind; “What education did those people have to whom the Apostle Paul was speaking?” My point? Even the best education is not how this command is to be fulfilled. Next to Jesus, Paul has been the most influential of all people to me, but this metaphor of “putting on” has mislead many a saint, including your Pop.
Putting something on implies that that something is external to you. You asked Jesus to come into your life when you were six years old. Neither you nor I should doubt that that was exactly what Jesus did. From that day forward Jesus has not been external to you. Far from it. Believing he is external to you is a subtle notion that is unintentionally reinforced by us teachers and mentors. This idea is so destructive it can even make an elder brother out of a prodigal son. Let me explain.
I didn’t invite Jesus into my life until I was twenty three. And for the record; I did not technically invite him into my heart. It would be more accurate to say that I gave my life to him to do with as he pleased. (I knew I was wrecking it.) That eventful morning, the worship leader was desperately trying to get me to pray-the-prayer, to repeat after him; “Lord Jesus I know I am a sinner and I believe you died for my sin. I invite you into my heart.” I had a revulsion for formulas as did most of my baby-boomer generation. I recall saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about but I am willing to give my life to Jesus to do with as he pleases.” I recall the aspiring evangelist (with a bit of frustration) saying, “Then pray it.”
I was the classic prodigal. Read Luke 15:11-24 and you have my story. I was spared worlds of sorrow by the Man of Sorrows. I owed him my life. With all my heart, I aspired to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. Because, regarding those lusts, they seemed to have survived my conversion! I endeavored to put on the Lord Jesus Christ with all my might. I read and studied the Bible. I memorized passages and verses. I was trying to educate myself; to renew my mind; to wash it with the water of God’s Word. God knew a wretch like me needed this (or so I thought).
I put on the Lord Jesus Christ in this vain for the next few decades. What did this produce? Read Luke 15:25-32 and you will have the rest of the story. I became an Elder Brother. Dear Gray. I write to spare you (if this is possible) from the fruitless religion of putting on Jesus Christ as though he is external to you. He is not. We who are trusting in Jesus are the temples of God. Christ is in us. Jesus Christ is our Life. This is the Mystery of the ages. This is not learned in classrooms built with bricks and mortar; it can only be learned in the classroom of our hearts. Paul knew this.
Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Colossians 1:25-29)
I have written “In The Middle With Mystery” to dislodge the myths and undermine the ideas that I have found to be destructive to the simplicity of life in Christ. By all means continue to read and to study and to learn. God gave you a good mind. Just try and avoid the idea that Life Himself is in the ideas you encounter. Life is in Jesus Christ and he is in your heart. Bless you dear sweet child.
Father, I pray that our hearts would be awakened to the fulness of glory in Christ. May our hearts and minds work as quickly as possible through all the lies that prolong our search. May we work through our religious strivings and find ourselves safely at rest in your arms. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
After reviewing several “Road To Emmaus” paintings, I noticed that Jesus is never smiling! In each one he is undertaking the apparently somber business of awakening two of his disheartened followers. Each of the artists must have believed this task was heavy lifting for Jesus. I don’t think so. Jesus’ sobriety seems out of place to me. Seriously! How could he awaken fulness of joy within us (as he said he would) if he himself is a sad sack? I believe the artist’s portrayal of Jesus say much about our distorted views of God. How did this alliance between frowns and holiness take place?
And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. (Luke 24:14-15)
It is always helpful when envisioning Jesus’ face to recall that as the One who spoke the cosmos into existence, it is unlikely he has lost control of it. He was not under-the-weather due to a couple of guys who did not yet understand. Staying moored to this reality tends to brighten one’s outlook and loosen the religious muscles that can contort our lips into frowns, preventing their more natural curvature. It is also helpful to understand the origin of the disciple’s perception problems. What was preventing them from seeing?
Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (Luke 24:16-18)
I not only think smiles come easy to Jesus, I believe he has the best sense of humor in the cosmos. He no doubt has shared a good laugh with these men since this day hike. Can you imagine Cleopas’ reflections on this encounter? He essentially stood eye to eye with God and said, “Are you the most clueless being on the planet?” I can’t help but think the Creator of the planet found this humorous. I could just hear Jesus’ reply, “Oh, there might be one or two others.”
Jesus, who is the perfect representation of God, is no longer thundering commands down from the heights of Mt Sinai; instead, he is walking along side men asking them what they are thinking. How amazing that our God is approachable and listens to us even as we spill out our profound ignorance which is, in large part, the origin of our smile-deficits. I believe God wants us to have winsome outlooks – like his.
With his well aimed questions, Jesus is searching their hearts, preparing them for their awakening. I believe there is value to us in hearing ourselves say what is in our hearts. This Emmaus Road encounter reveals what can happen when we expose our thoughts. Like Cleopas, when we get our thoughts out into the light we often discover that our grasp of the light is pretty thin.
And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. (Luke 24:19-20)
Jesus had just spent three years teaching them in word and deed that he was the Promised One – the Suffering Servant of Israel and they were honoring his memory as a mere prophet! Jesus’ discovery that his legacy was going to be discounted from resurrected Messiah to dead prophet might have been cause for him to throw up. Instead, he just began patiently working on their understanding, reviewing the facts, helping them out of their sadness into a place where they could have the same joyful confidence that filled his heart.
When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32)
After Jesus had flushed out their confusion and hopelessness he opened their eyes and revealed himself to them. As soon as he knew he had restored an accurate vision to them of who he was (insuring that the appropriate facial muscles would not atrophy) he vanished. So, what was the byproduct of their encounter with the resurrected Christ?
They got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:33-35)
As we find that our smiles are being influenced directly by the nearness of God and his promises, we too shall arise and give fresh accounts of our awakening. Until this muscle group is activated and sustained by Christ alone, it may be best for us to postpone our sermons. If we think ours or the human race’s problems are heavy lifting for God, we should probably not move our lips too much. Perhaps our smiles will be rescued if we will remember that we have in fact been rescued; that God is good; that he knows us; that he is in control; that we are not victims of random circumstance; that it is not a big task for God to turn on the light; that even our ignorance and unbelief are not insurmountable obstacles to him.
Is your Jesus smiling or frowning?
Father, restore to us the joy of our salvation. Let a confident eternity-driven smile replace our short-sighted frowns as we grasp how firm Your grip is on us and the affairs of men (however lost the cause may seem to us). Grant us our own Emmaus Road and may your words burn appropriately in our hearts. So be it.
I’m just trying to be honest. One of my greatest challenges is the supernatural. It’s a challenge because the world of the bible seems filled with the miraculous and the world (and the body I live in) doesn’t. Why is this? A confident part of my Christian family has the answer. With utmost certainty, they explain my escalating pain as a satanic attack. They imply it has lingered for 14 years because of my deficient faith. They reject my assertion that God has withheld no good thing from me and that there is redemption in suffering. Our conversations are often brief.
Another, equally confident part of my Christian family believes miracles and the gifts of the Spirit are not functioning in this current dispensation. That there are miracles in scripture and not in life create no tension for them because miracles were for then, not for now. For them, all is as God intended it to be. God is sovereign and the world is functioning consistent with their expectation. If they were to intercede for me, they would pray, “Lord heal Rob, if it by Thy will.”
For many though, myself included, God is still perceived as willing and able to do miracles. I have decided the challenge I sense while considering the supernatural is the normal state of affairs of one being awakened. The key is how I relate to the challenge.
If you were to ask me, why do I have constant joint and back pain, I would have to say that I have no clue. If you were to ask me why am I not healed (if God still heals) I would again say, “I have no idea.” If my friends were of the listening type (not all of them are – certainty seems to impair listening), I might explain that I have been unwilling to view God as either obligated or indifferent to the healing I have requested. Pain and suffering are simply a mystery as is the unshakable confidence of my Christian family with their irreconcilable positions on suffering.
If you read MwM, you have recently heard me say, “the truth is in the tension.” For those being transformed nothing could be more natural than an inner tension between the temporal and the eternal. As we are endeavoring by faith to live in an invisible eternal kingdom, a collision with the visible and the temporary is inevitable.
The phrase that stands out to me most in today’s passage is, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” This was spoken by Elisha, a man who was practiced in seeing the bigger picture. While his attendant was seeing an overwhelming force and anticipating the worse, Elisha saw an even more overwhelming force and was at peace. Was this an isolated event recorded to preserve a miraculous moment in history? Or, was it recorded to give us a vision of an even more solid reality – one that is just beyond our natural view – one we are to acknowledge and relate to by faith?
One last question. We know Elisha asked for and received a double portion of Elijah’s anointing. As we consider that Christ is our life and that the Holy Spirit lives in us, what multiple (or fraction) of Elijah’s anointing do you think we have? My prayer this morning is the same as Elisha’s.
Father, I pray that You would open our eyes that we may see and that we might assess the battle with new eyes; that we would discover a new fearlessness and boldness growing within our hearts as we discover You, the Lord over all, dwelling within us. Help us also to repent of our dependencies on logic and reason as our primary weapon against the threats that gather around us. Help us to see the victory You have won and the overwhelming army you have assembled that surrounds us in even our most threatening circumstances. Amen.
It was a time when visions and words from the Lord were infrequent yet Samuel, still a child, was about to receive a word of great significance to Israel. This young apprentice was in full-time service but he did not yet know God because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. But Eli was teaching him to listen. It is tragic though that he did not teach this to his natural sons, Hophni and Phinehas; because the word God gave Samuel was a word of final judgement against Eli for his failure in disciplining his own sons! What had gone wrong in the house of Eli? Are there any parallels for us?
Through our religious ceremonies and rituals most of us have been introduced to the comforting aspect of God’s voice. However, God’s voice can also be corrective. In it’s corrective tone His voice inevitably provokes tension as it exposes the differences between his agenda and our own – his thoughts and our thoughts.
Accordingly, a spiritual father’s words provoke tensions as well, because they contain corrections that cut across our existing agendas and our beliefs which we, in the formation of our religious sub-cultures, both deify and codify. Its critical to remember that the heart of the Father does not delight in seeing pain as His children process His discipline. He does however delight in the outcome. He rejoices when the discipline has had its perfect result, when the hearts of his beloved children are transformed from glory to glory, from old into new wineskins.
To deify an idea is to attribute a divine status to it. To codify an idea is to adopt it and build it into the set of ideas we live by (both individually and corporately). Deifying and codifying ideas that God has never spoken or is no longer speaking is how wineskins become hard.
Why was it that words of the Lord were infrequent in Israel during Eli’s time? In that season God was apparently quiet for His own reasons. I wonder though if the problem today has as much to do with with God speaking as it has to do with our listening. Could there be a connection to the impotency of western Christianity to leaders (in the vein of Eli) who have not taught the sons and daughters to listen for the full range of God’s voice? Perhaps God’s words are in fact being spoken but they are just not being received. Perhaps we do not have ears to hear.
Eli (and contemporary leaders) know that the cost of hearing and speaking corrective words are high. Perhaps Israel’s leaders had been conditioned to speak only softer words, having learned the hard way they would loose their jobs when they spoke the harder ones? Is it possible that in our religious subcultures, where we are more familiar with the comforting and agreeable tone of God’s voice that a similar trade off has occurred? That trade being; the pastor’s job security for the comforting weekly installments of words from the bible? I have often wondered about the unspoken contracts established between pastors and parishioners in light of 2 Timothy 4:3. Note: The formation of these unspoken contracts is an aspect of codification. The sum of them form the essence of the religious subcultures we create.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Words of discipline can initially impress our insecure hearts as judgements because we incorrectly think God is mad and disappointed with us, when in fact, His love is strong and consistent, always working in each moment to draw us deeper (individually and corporately) into the realities of His abundant LIfe. We must have the bedrock value in our hearts and in our communities that God is good. Discipline comes from the most fond and jealous parts of God’s heart.
His Word can be troubling as it shakes the foundations we have built from comfort-only words. True spiritual fathers do not withhold words of correction. Authentic fathers are secure enough to withstand the pushback and fallout of sharing a full gospel which includes the full-range of God’s voice. Because of their personal cycles of correction, brokenness and restoration, true spiritual fathers can speak with genuine authority regarding the love of God. Because they have endured seasons of discipline they have learned to hear the word of the Lord. In the process they received their identities in Christ – a foundation independent of man’s approval. The absence of this foundation is the source of so many of our woes.
Thank You Father for Your voice that it is being heard in Your written Word and in Your Spirit. May it be said of us, that we lived in a time when you were raising up spiritual fathers and Your voice was being heard more frequently throughout the earth. May we learn to recognize it when You speak. May we become consecrated to you; predisposed to obey when you speak. May it be said of us that we had ears to hear and that we learned to worship You both in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.
In Genesis, we see man evicted from the Garden and the ruling rights to the earth turned over to a fallen angel. Even so, we know God will one day reclaim it as His own. In this passage from Exodus we see God’s first move in the repossession of His property. He begins by honoring a two-part promise made to Jacob. The first part; that Israel would be great in number had happened, at least enough that they were deemed a national security threat to Egypt. The second part was that they would be a blessing to the whole earth. This promise had to be inconceivable to an enslaved and oppressed people. How audacious is God to begin this grand reclamation scheme with a single individual who took the time to investigate a supernatural sight – a burning bush.
That Moses was attracted to this miracle seemed to please God; “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look (at the phenomena), God called to Him….“. From that point on Moses was an instrument of supernatural expression designed to confront the power (Egypt) that held Israel in slavery.
Even though Canaan is a small sliver of real estate God says it is a choice one, “good and spacious, a land flowing with milk and honey.” It just happened to be occupied by others who thought it was theirs (Canaanites, Hittites, etc). God was demonstrating something to us with Moses, the Exodus and Israel in their conquest of Canaan.
How will God ultimately reestablish dominion over the earth? Will he use angels? Will he use saints with new and glorified bodies received after a rapture? Whatever the plan, It is going to take a lot of power because there are forces, supernaturally powerful ones (Col 1:16) who have claimed it as theirs. I believe that God will be so audacious as to use His Bride – the Church to accomplish this task which was originally given to the first man and woman (Genesis 1:28).
Theologically speaking, some of you may be sensing “a disturbance in the force” right now. Many of us have been taught that the gospel will be preached to the whole earth and then “the end” will come, which (in Left Behind theology) is preceded by a rapture. Maybe. When these things play out is not etched in stone for me. I have decided to go with Jesus’ teaching that we are not going to know the timing of those things and to just expect God, who, I am assuming, is just as audacious as ever, to continue to do miracles through human beings and move forward with the increase in Kingdom government until it displaces every last trace of His enemy’s influence in the earth and it is completely reclaimed for His glory.
I have a growing picture in my mind of Christ revealing Himself to the world once more, not just in the clouds coming from the east, but in and through His people – the Church. What we think about ourselves, knowing ourselves (as we think we do), it seems inconceivable to that we could pull this off (bogged down, as we are, in the flesh and in committee). It also seemed impossible to Moses, to Pharaoh and to the nation of Israel that God would liberate an entire nation from captivity. But, he did.
Now to the King eternal who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light….to Him be honor, glory and eternal dominion forever and ever. (1 Tim 1:16, 6:16)
Father, forgive us for, in any way, short-selling You or ourselves. Let our heart’s ambition and our prayers be committed to that day when “you bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in You, who created all things; in order that Your manifold wisdom might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” We know that “this was in accordance with the eternal purpose which You carried out in Your Son.” Awaken us to see any burning bushes in our proximity; reawaken us to the supernatural and let us serve in taking dominion over the arenas of influence You have entrusted to us. Amen.