When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)
I think of The Beatitudes as a kind of Magna Carta of the human soul – not a description of the souls’s rights so much as a description the soul’s rightful condition – the state of blessedness God aspires for it. Yet, when asked to offer our testimonies, do we often hear people explain just what the blessing has turned out to be and how they went about qualifying themselves to receive it?
That’s ok. It may be that God in His kindness and wisdom prevents us from doing this math as it pertains directly to ourselves. Yet, Jesus did say these things to His followers. No doubt He knew that throughout their lives they would be rehearsing these other-wordly pronouncements, making observations and asking their questions, if to no-one other than themselves.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? What does the kingdom of heaven look like when it belongs to us? What type of mourning was Jesus referring to? What will our comfort look and feel like? How gentle must one be and to whom? And what does this earth (the whole thing?) look like when one inherits it? Should one expect it in this life? We have only considered three beatitudes. There are five more and a flood of question that would accompany them.
I truly believe the Holy Spirit within us uses the experiences of our life to expound on Jesus’ words. Don’t we know a bit more today about being poor in spirit than we once did? I think we do. Don’t we mourn more today than we did in the prime of our youthful strength and idealism? Hasn’t time and the delayed fulfillment of God’s grand promises produced a kind of hunger and thirst within us. I think for many of us it has.
Hasn’t God been at work in us (beyond slaying us in His Spirit that is), producing a more gentle and mercifull view of our neighbor? Aren’t we a bit purer in heart, having suffered in our relationships, our vocations and our aging bodies? I suspect we have.
And as aliens and strangers in this earth who have identified openly with Jesus, haven’t we experienced ridicule and rejection from this world? I pray so. If these things are ours, we are experiencing the life of Jesus Christ. Even if only in very small ways, we are being transformed, in some measure, into the image of Jesus Christ – the image of God.
We know we have received mercy and our soul’s have known a measure of satisfaction that this world never provided us. When we aimed at inheriting the earth we missed it. When we embrace the kingdom we gain eternity, which contains this world. Ours is the kingdom of God. Even if our vision is incomplete, we are seeing God, in Christ as we behold these transformations in each other. As His sons and daughters, we are being well-equipped to be peacemakers, fulfilling our responsibility as ministers of reconciliation.
May God give us words of Life and lives of the Word to demonstrate with authority our rightful place as blessed souls, called to appear as representative samples of Jesus’ very own life. May we rejoice and be glad, for our reward in heaven is great.
I am regularly impressed at how frequently Jesus relates to His audience as investors, using the language of business to make His points:
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Jesus is the E. F. Hutton of spiritual investment advisors. Those of us who were around in the 70’s remember this name because Madison Avenue branded it into our consciousness. The investment firm’s commercials used scenes with a room full of professionals inadvertently overhearing conversations about investing. When the actor delivered his line, “Well…my broker, E.F. Hutton says that…” a hush ensued. No one dare move and fail to hear what Mr. Hutton had said. Then the narrator interjects the famous line, “When E.F. Hutton speaks people listen.”
Oh, that we might be still enough to hear the words of Jesus, the best-ever advisor for long term investing. I actually think Jesus words and questions, like Mr. Hutton’s, were designed to stop us dead in our tracks and arrest our attention. Jesus asks us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world?” Jesus’ question is rhetorical. The answer is of course that gaining the whole world, as nice a return as that might be, would still be temporal and would essentially amount to nothing in light of the eternal opportunity presented in Christ. We will eventually discover that gaining the world would actually be an investment in eternal misery. Jesus goes on to say, “For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus is advising that even if you owned all the gold in the world and you got in at a $5 an ounce, you would not have a sufficient return to ransom your soul. Souls have infinite worth.
Jesus is warning about a day when there is going to be a radical and sudden adjustment in the spiritual marketplace. On that day, the markets will not be open. There will be no buyers for our gold. Another form of currency will be in use.
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with His holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)
The whole point of the incarnation was to come and put things right—to crush the kingdom of darkness, expose its lies which encourage only short term investments which ultimately cost men there souls. That works out to be a perpetual and abundant negative return.
I don’t mean to be trite. Eternity in heaven or hell is the most sobering of all subjects. Even so, I will leave the fire-breathing sermons and cajoling altar calls to those who think they’re called to scare the hell out of people. I believe that fear of hell, in and of itself, is an inadequate motivation to follow Jesus. There is a higher road; from “O Holy Night”: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth”
I suspect that Hell is a real place created for the devil and those who have, in their unbelief, brought condemnation upon themselves. However, I believe Jesus’ life message was anything but condemnation. His incarnation reveals the value and worth God places upon our souls. Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for our sin said all we need to know about our worth.
Many people have heard Jesus’ words, but there are a couple of problems. One is that many would-be investors have not seen the promised return on this investment. Many are aware of the profound impact Christianity had on the culture in the first few centuries. They are even familiar with the transformational claims of the Christian religion. The problem is that these onlookers cannot make the association with this and anything that might resemble the Light of the World shining brightly from any hilltop. While it is infinitely more, God’s enemy uses the media to insure that would-be investors only see Christianity as a demographic—a narrow thinking faction of the voting block who have taken stands on homosexuality, abortion, and limited government. I pray that the Church, through her Christ-like love and good deeds will, hopefully soon, be known for her love and unity even more so than her political advocacy.
The second problem is the apparent high cost of investing long-term with Jesus Christ, i.e. becoming His follower. If you listen to Him, it is as if He discourages investors. Listen to the pitch from the best long-term investment advisor that has ever lived;
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 will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
As an ambassador for Christ, which, by the way, all Christians are, whether we have acknowledged it or not, I want to say something about the apparent hard tone to this statement and its apparent impossibility. This investor-qualification statement was made by the same man who invited children up onto His lap at the same time the disciples were shooing them away. My point? His heart is very, very tender. And, as to its level of difficulty, the Christian life truly is impossible. It becomes possible only because Christ Himself lives in us becoming our life. The rediscovery of this great mystery, Christ in us, is the only thing that has or ever will enable us to live as the light of this world. Christ in us truly is THE only hope of glory, which is the ultimate objective of all investments—His glory.
His arms are wide open to those who are hungry, aware or suspicious that their portfolios are unbalanced toward the short-term. All those who have taken Jesus’ advice and placed all their talents into a long-term kingdom account know that the apparent cost, as impossible as it seems, is inconsequential in light of the abundant return in both this life and the next. (Phil 3:7-9)
Perhaps it’s time to consider a review of our portfolio. Knowing God and His commitment to us, I suspect there is a kingdom investment advisor somewhere near you. Look for the right one. They will be more than just moral and religious. In fact, if all they have is strong convictions don’t even stop and listen. The right one will be honest, joyful, humble and free. Hint: Some of the best ones are usually great question askers and listeners. They will also want to tell you about the eternal dividends that the Father has already paid out to them. Blessings to you, and may the Lord prosper you body, soul and spirit.s
Father, Have mercy on us and this earth that so desperately needs You. May You raise up the prophetic voices that will expose the lies the enemy has sown into our minds and into our culture that encourage our investments into the seemingly unlimited options of short-term-no-profit deals. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
In God’s economy, where the mystery of predestination is in play, where He works out all things after the counsel of His will, one might wonder then, just what is the point of any decision we make or anything we say or do. It would seem that whatever our motivation might be, good or evil, it is really of no account, because it is ultimately trumped by God’s will which we must assume is entirely good. Wouldn’t this undermine any personal motivation, knowing that our contribution has no essential bearing on any outcome?
Another puzzle of sorts has to do with why God, being omniscient, would ever ask us a question. In fact, as Psalm 139 has informed us, even the content of our thoughts, which have not even been expressed, is known to Him. No, God is not deficient in knowledge. Yet, He asks Peter; “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Most of us probably know that Jesus asked this same question three times, with an increasingly grieved Peter always responding, “Yes Lord.” He finally said, correctly, “Lord, you know all things!” Peter had to be wondering what the point of this exchange was. And we note that Jesus didn’t say the expected thing, “Yes, Peter, and I love you too.” Instead, three times, He simply repeated the simple and straightforward instruction, “Then, shepherd My flock.”
One thing we could project happening from Peter’s final conversation with Jesus is that, unless Peter was actually engaged in caring for His followers, his conscience, unless it grew very hard, could never entertain the notion that his love for Christ was authentic. I think there was also something else going on in this exchange that might be less obvious.
Just as there was affirmation of calling in triplicate so had there been denial. Just as Jesus foretold, Peter had denied Him three times. I don’t think Jesus wanted to leave the earth with Peter’s words of denial being the last words he heard himself say—ringing on in his ears and resounding in his heart. This may shed some light on why God asks us questions when He already knows the answers. Our answers help us hear what’s in our own hearts, things we must take ownership of.
As our heart motivations are somehow converted into thoughts and then into words that are eventually expressed publicly there is a powerful spiritual dynamic. Questions draw us out. They invite us to make ourselves known to ourselves and to each other. Peter was no doubt horrified with himself at failing three times to openly associate with his increasingly unpopular friend. He did not really know himself. He had previously thought of himself in a heroic light, as one prepared to suffer and even die with Jesus. To continue as a follower of Christ, it was essential for Peter to take ownership of the reality of what was in his heart. From Peter’s denial to his affirmation of love, the Lord provided sufficient time for him to reflect, mourn, and repent.
It was fortunate that the Good Shepherd tended to Peter, his wounded young lamb, providing him, and others, an opportunity to hear him say, “I love you Jesus.” Jesus’ questions drew Peter out so that he could discover and take ownership of something more real within himself than the self-image of a coward and a traitor. Peter’s destiny was that of a lover of God. His public statement to this effect reinforced his identity as a beloved lamb of God. So, what is the application for us?
Our public profession and association with Jesus is a very big deal! I invite you to read Matt. 10:32,33 and then, the larger context of those verses Matt 10:24-42.
Peter’s profession, “I love You,” are, I believe, the words God longs to hear from us. I know He loves our sacrifices of praise: “We worship you Oh Lord,” and “We praise You.” How appropriate for us to regularly sing to a Being so glorious and powerful, the great omniscient and omnipotent Alpha and Omega and King of Kings. Yet, utterly astounding, He is also, Abba Father, which invites another level of response—something that should be by no means a sacrifice—a heart felt, “Oh Lord how I love You; I aspire only to love You more!” In light of who God is and what He has done, “What is it really in our worship that we are sacrificing?”
The Spirit He has given to those who are trusting in Him exclusively as their savior is a Spirit of adoption by which they cry out, “Abba! Father!” Just based on the way I read scripture and have processed my own experience as a father, I believe that our I love you’s, especially our regular and privately expressed ones, are the consummation of worship. These all-inclusive words of adoration cover the gamut of other expressions of praise. Coming from our hearts, which have been refined as Peter’s was, these words are the Father’s reward of His suffering. Hearing your child say, “I love you, Dad, and I am utterly content in You,” pretty much says it all.
Where the line is defining the conflict between God’s sovereignty and man’s is a mystery. The problem for us westerners, allergic to mystery as we are, is that we want to fit God into the rational grid of our logic where He just will not fit. Our natural constructs are far too fragile and minuscule to contain God’s Life. Our reason and logic tend to provide only either/or explanations when the reality within God’s eternal economy is that the God/man-sovereignty conflict is only an apparent one to us, who remain, at this time, partially sight-impaired. In His vast domain, it is really a both/and reality, regardless of how it offends our almighty-rigid wine skins of western reason.
As there is scholarship making cases for both sides, I have decided to start a new file for my wineskin ( i.e. my vision). I have labeled it “Mystery.” In this file, like David, I try to place the things of scripture and of life experience that I cannot currently attain to, things too high and too wonderful for me. Before I place it in that file though, I try to make sure it is stamped, God Is Good.
I had previously had a file labeled Is God Really Good? It was huge and growing as I accumulated more and more observations that questioned this apparent contradiction between His sovereignty and His goodness, which inevitably undermined the notion of His goodness. My spirit was being crushed by the weight of the unanswered questions that I had filed away. In this season, the only praise that escaped my lips was indeed a sacrifice and, sadly, it was often no more than lip service. There were certainly no heart felt ‘I love you’s’ flowing from my heart. Those were overshadowed by my ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’s!’
I don’t understand cancer, tragic accidents, abuse, or poverty and perversion, or the hundreds of other evils that are crouching at the door, prepared to waylay us. I do not believe they came from heaven. I don’t believe they are God’s will. We are caught up into a cosmic battle and these things are to me a mystery. Before the creation of this “Mystery” file, the either/or options in my mind haunted me. Something was amiss.
Since I have more fully embraced “mystery,” I have noticed that the Lord is answering an important prayer of mine: to restore my heart to innocence and simplicity in devotion. I have noticed that two sentences more frequently escape my lips these days. The first is: “I don’t know.” I don’t know why everything happens, but I will not credit God with evil, regardless of how theologically sound it may seem within a Calvinistic mindset . Many would call this denial—others, error. I call it mystery. I just don’t know. My prayer is that the content of this file would continue to break my heart and lead me into prayer. I just do not want to pull it out regularly and subject its content to the why’s of my human scrutiny.
The other sentence is “I love You.” From my heart, without shame or guilt, with boldness and joy, I am learning to come before Him and simply and innocently say, “I love you, Father.” This is where my journey with Christ started, and it is the sweetest spot I have found as a sojourner traveling with Him. Therefore, I aspire, wherever I can, to tell my story and make public profession in regards to Jesus. I have discovered that our individual stories are high protein spiritual nourishment to each other. We can each tend the flock and feed quite a lot of lambs with this food.
Father, make us to lie down in green pastures where we can listen to the questions You are posing to us. Lead us beside quiet waters, where our hearts can frame our answers. Create safe spaces for us, like this, where real authentic conversations can take place. Restore our souls so that we can reciprocate the love with which You have loved us. Help each of us in Your family learn to live in Your holy presence with simplicity of devotion so that You hear a rising tide of ‘I love you’s coming from Your vast family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging… And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:15,17)
This story begins with a man attempting to flee from God’s presence whose rebellion had put others near him in crisis. Their response was to cry out to their various gods and take desperate measures to survive. They were all clueless that they had simply been caught up into a lopsided battle between Jonah and His God—the Lord of Circumstance.
Jonah begins this story with a heart opposed to God’s will, suffering in the deception that one could successfully flee from Him. I really think Jonah knew better. If he’d been exposed to the Psalms, he would have known: “Where can I go from Thy Spirit, Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn…(Psalm 139). I think this psalm came back to Him as his circumstances were growing more sever; he might have recalled the next verse: “If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.”
Then Jonah instructed the ship’s crew, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea.” He probably didn’t know just how God’s right hand would lay hold of him, but he may have calculated that this was at least the best odds for this this crew. In Jonah’s case the hand of God took the form of the open jaws of an even more threatening circumstance—a monstrous fish. As Jonah moved from the mouth, through the gullet, into the stomach, eventually finding himself wrapped in seaweed, immersed in bile and gasping for breath, he is progressively delivered from his delusion. In his tight quarters, he is transported to Nineveh by submarine rather than sailing vessel. It may have been here, over his three-day journey, that the Lord reminded him of another part of his Psalm for the day, “Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, And laid Thy hand (or jaw, as the case may be) upon me.”
Entangled, engulfed by the great deep, encompassed by water and near death, he was concerned that he had been expelled from God’s sight. His heart softens though (with God’s mild encouragement), such that he finally prays, “Thou hast cast me into the deep.” He then engages his will and deliberately proclaims with his own heart, “Nevertheless (in spite of my feelings and my circumstances), I will look again to Thy holy temple.”
As he becomes more intentional, his confidence returns and the deception lifts from his heart. Truth gains traction now in his innermost being. Even as he stews in the fish’s juices, he finds the strength to further proclaims: “While I was feinting away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee, into Thy holy temple.”
Perhaps it was early morning as the beast surfaced in the shallows, blowing air out its blowhole. Suddenly there was a change of pressure in Jonah’s berth, awakening him to a tiny dot of light at the cabin door. Seconds later, he heard something going on with the plumbing and he was suddenly belched up as a bleached-out wad onto the Assyrian shoreline, God’s original destination. Perhaps it was then Jonah concluded with this proclamation: “Thou hast brought up my life from the pit, Oh Lord, my God.” (from Jonah 2:6)
And, hopefully, there on the beach, he was able to complete his reflections on Psalm 139: “Even there (in the remotest part of the deep), Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me. If I say (or think), ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee… Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”
I think Paul had come to a similar conclusion after his dramatic encounter with Jesus. Yes, Paul had experience with the same Travel Agent. When he was going one way in his deception on the Damascus Road, he was intercepted and laid hold of by the same capable, strong set of hands that laid hold of Jonah. They proved so strong there was hardly a point in squirming or complaining. I believe Paul and Jonah arrived at a similar conclusion about their God by way of the same means: the severe yet tender mercies of the Father. God was obviously in charge; therefore, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). This orientation to God became part and parcel to who Paul was. Listen to this man’s heart: “I press on in order that I may lay hold of “that” for which I had been laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Paul perceived that that was “the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I pray that the applications are obvious. All of us are entangled in circumstances of one kind or another (even if its just an aging body). But simultaneously, we are also caught up into a lop-sided contest, which is ultimately between God and His enemy. Aren’t we all wrapped up in seaweed of one variety or another? Regardless of our circumstances, whether we were thrown into the sea or under the bus, whether we are merely reaping what we have sown, or whether we even know the source of our plague, no one ever has any recourse other than to God Himself, just as He, the Lord of Circumstance, would have it. Always, it is with Him, Who is good, with whom we have to do.
So, in spite of our feelings or our circumstances, we will look to You, Father. If You are endeavoring to deliver us this day from the evil of some deception, permit our hardened hearts to soften and learn wisdom from the inherent discipline of life. If, on the other hand, You want to deliver us from the evil of some circumstance, grant us the discernment, the boldness, the courage, and faith to reclaim that which he has stolen, and send Satan back from whence he came—which is Your original itinerary for him in this lopsided battle. May we all acknowledge that we have arrived today at our destinations, just as Jonah had with our stories of Your goodness, faithfulness, and deliverance. And may You open up to us new doors to be the ambassadors of reconciliation You’ve called us to be. And in doing so, strengthen us to press on in our destinies to reach the goal and the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Paul is on his knees again doing everything within his power to convey the revelation of Christ and its implications for our orientation toward each other. He works hard to get the Philippians to answer yes to his rhetorical questions. Is there any consolation of love? Is there any fellowship in the Spirit? Is there and affection and compassion? Well, if the answer is yes, please, “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” So what is that same thing we are to be so intentional about?
A summary of verses 3 and 4 is the answer: essentially, we are to intentionally give each other preference above ourselves. Why should we do this? Because this attitude was in Christ, our example. Some of us meet Paul’s commentary with something like this: “There is just one small problem here, Lord: You are God and I am not. Your ways are higher than the heavens are above the earth. Is it really fair to ask me to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” when it is my very nature to do everything from selfishness and empty conceit? Is it possible for me to turn a switch and be humble when my flesh is inherently prideful? And, by the way, why did you allow evil? Let the records show that I didn’t get to vote on this old nature that You are now so opposed to!”
God may listen to our protests. He’s probably not even angry with us. But He isn’t buying it either. Our protest won’t exempt us from the obedience of faith.
How far down did God come from heaven to earth? Was it a million light years? Maybe it was so far down that it cannot be measured. Perhaps His domain is so large it swallows all of time and space. And, how much of a change was it for the Creator of all realms to take on the form of a human being? This question may not wow us too much if we are our own standard of measure, our own reference point. Jesus, however, was wowed. His intimate awareness of the answers to these questions led Him, as God’s own Son, to conclude that any comparison to God, even for Himself, was a thing that could not be grasped. He has not asked us to bow quite as far. He just wants us to defer to others who happen to jointly share our current humble estate: “let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Having tried to make many of these arguments to God, I know He is not sympathetic. He just reminds me that He has been tempted in all the same ways I have, that He would not ask me to do anything that He has not equipped me for, that my experience of selfish behavior does not somehow confirm my fate as a victim to some fundamental and superior “sin-charged” nature. Just because we have a low opinion of ourselves does not mean that He shares our view.
God looks down and sees Christ in us, the hope of glory. We look down into our selves and see depravity, the guarantor of futility. I have lived a big portion of my Christian life with Solomon’s perspective: that “all is futility and striving after the wind,” with my own stumbling life as the obvious proof of His wisdom. I have recently shifted my focus, by faith, to a wisdom that is higher than Solomon’s that says, “The deepest Truth about me is not that I am a monster-of-iniquity; rather I am a new-creation with a new nature in Christ.”
Those who are still arguing with God over the unfairness of their lot, and that of mankind’s, will want absolute proof of this new life before they budge an inch. God will probably not accommodate them. He will probably offer them the same deal He gives all of His sons and daughters: the opportunity to entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator in the midst of our low opinion of Him and of ourselves. Is it possible that the futility we encounter with our flesh is an inevitability born of our fundamental assumptions about our depravity? Could our view of ourselves as sinners be disconnecting us from our truest selves and the power that is inherent to Christ in us? Could our false identity be in the way of our true destiny?
When Jesus says that we must take up our cross and follow Him, it may mean different things to different people at different times. For me, “my cross” has involved a surrender of certain opinions and beliefs I have held. The pain of this death, or cross, was necessary because these beliefs were my reality (my wineskin). They were foundational in how I explained to myself how the world works and how I interfaced with it. When God shakes you at this level, you may feel as though you are losing control, and the flesh will protest with everything it has. This inner war is especially interesting when you believe that your wineskin was doctrinally and biblically adequate (if not perfect). Oh dear, I am having flashbacks.
May I be so bold as to suggest that God is saying, “Quit your mournful introspections. They do not produce any righteousness, peace, or joy. Look up! Embrace My kingdom! It has come and it is within you! Discover who you really are! The dirge has been out of style since My resurrection!”
“If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
It is an irony to me that I found myself as an elder in a church, having complied with the minimal standards of leadership: having one wife and being free from drunkenness. The irony is that I was in compliance to all the biblical standards I was aware of with the exception of “joy”—which is integral to life in the kingdom. It is the very tone of Paul’s fatherly words to the Philippians.
The irony was that I had to repent of many of my views of scripture which were formed from my vantage point as a man who viewed himself as a victim of a selfish, lustful, prideful, greedy nature. I promise you, you can come up with some hard views toward yourself and others by seeing life through this lens. I also promise you the battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil is much harder when your basic assumption about your identity is that it is depraved. Life is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You become what you behold. Obsess with your own sin nature: you empower sin. Obsess with Christ, and you live and think in harmony with your new nature and you’re transformed from glory to glory.
So, indeed we are fallen; but indeed we have been raised with Christ. Our depravity is a little “t” truth. Our new nature is a big “T” Truth! We will be far more righteous, peaceful, and joyful when we begin living out of the reality of Christ in us—our very Life, as the deeper Truth anchoring our identities. Then we shall fulfill our destinies as lights in this world, “blameless and innocent children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)
Because we will have lived our lives honoring Him (in our new identities) as the One who has earned (through His “surrender of obedience) the title King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we will stand in joyful company on that day when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those who are in heaven and earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
Father, may you grant that Your Bride adorn herself with raiment of festive color as she discovers the reality of who she really is in Christ. May her countenance be lifted up as she beholds You, Her Bridegroom, calling to her, telling her to get ready, that today is the day of salvation. May our personal and our collective discovery of our kingdom identities constitute a reformation for our present day. May its impact be proportional to You, who desire to do exceedingly above and beyond our expectations. To You Lord, to whom all things are possible. In Jesus Name. Amen.
And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this (betrayal of Jesus) thing. And then there arose also a dispute among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest. (22:22-23)
What caught my attention was how quickly the disciples went from thinking lowly of themselves to thinking of themselves very highly. In one breath they are considering their capacity for betrayal. In the next they are exalting themselves, considering their capacity for greatness. Would the real friends of Jesus and the sons of God please stand up.
These are the men that Jesus carefully chose to pick up, with the Holy Spirit, where He, the Word made flesh, would leave off. In regards to the kingdom of God, everything is going to depend on these guys and the Holy Spirit. So…, what was it that he saw in them that qualified them for such powerful ministry and glorious destinies? It apparently was not the steadfastness of either their confidence or their humility. While these men no doubt did have specific gifts, I believe their primary qualifications was something else. It was this; In their nature and capacity, the original twelve were exactly like you and I. We all have natures, and consequently identities, that were wrecked with Adam’s at the Fall.
I believe the cosmos itself is agonizing, looking ahead to a special day, asking, if as soon as possible, “Could the real friends of Jesus and the sons of God please stand up.” The question remains for us; “So.., what is our greatest capacity; Is it for unfaithfulness and betrayal or is it for greatness?” The question that Adam has left us with lingers within; “Who am I really?” Am I, at the core of my being, predisposed toward good or toward evil? At my foundation, am I a son of darkness, or am I a child of light? May I share with you a chapter from my story?
I showed up for my week of counseling with Charlie Finck with a heart that sounded like one of the disciples; in one moment it could be very up and yet more often it was down, sometimes very down. It also sounded like the heart-conscience of the Gentiles that Paul described in Romans 2:15, where the thoughts of their hearts were alternately accusing or defending them. I will never forget an observation Charlie made very early in our sessions; “Rob, you don’t know who you are.” I have shared much of my story on previous occasions; but to summarize, I could say that I arrived at his office believing that Jeremiah 17:9 best portrayed my identity. It says…
“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.”
I left Mr. Finck’s office with an understanding that my core identity is better portrayed by 2 Cor 5:17;
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
The key doctrine of my life had centered around the fallenness of man. I speculated endlessly as to the human capacity for depravity. God knows my own experience, and the evening news, daily confirmed my conviction! Relating to God involved the personalization of this doctrine which amounted to introspection. If I were deeply serious enough and was successful at being totally honest about the depths of my corruption, then Godly sorrow would follow; then, just around the corner, my heart could attain that hallowed state of brokenness and contrition the Lord so cherishes. Then I could be cleansed at the depth of my repentence and move forward in my relationship with God.
I arrived at the counselor’s office as an accomplished soul in “sin-management”. My stumbles and falls were all just the recurring proofs to me of my depraved identity. I knew I was just a sinner saved by grace. I might have been going to heaven but there was certainly no heaven on earth for my heart. After Charlie had helped me in becoming honest about, and taking responsibility for, the judgements, bitterness and resentment (which I had rationalized as righteous indignation) something shifted in my heart. Note; It is interesting that my own supposedly wholehearted, self-generated attempts at repentance had not uncovered some very basic issues of unforgiveness!
That shift in my heart, which I now think of as the redirection of repentance, seemed to permit another truth, a much deeper one than my depravity, to take hold and begin to dismantle a world of hard, rigid religious attitudes and thoughts toward myself and others. Where my heart and identity had been vacillating like a spiritual schizophrenic, between its capacity for evil and greatness, it now is inclined to simply defer to the greater reality – the far greater reality of “Christ in me, the hope of glory. While that might sound arrogant, as it most certainly would have to me four years ago; today it is simply a childlike assumption about who I understand myself fundamentally to be.
So, when I consider the question, “Would the real friends of God please stand?” or, “Would the real sons of God please stand?” I arise and identify myself. You might ask me, “What is the occasion when you are asked to to do this?” Great question! It happens with every breath I take as I consider the fulness of this gospel of the kingdom; the new heart that I received in this new covenant between God and I; this finished work of the Cross that has settled once and for all the question of who I am. My intentionality at nourishing this truth is how I live out Proverbs 4:23;
“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.”
The Kingdom of God is within us. Our hearts are that space where time and eternity overlap; where the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God are both vying for the rights to rule and reign. Because it is so devastatingly effective, the devil, the accuser of the brethren, uses this tactic to attack the would-be Kingdom within over and over. His strategy is simply to challenge our identity in any way possible. He is not about to quit. Why would he? It has kept the army of God on the defensive for a long time.
We saw this tactic used on the Lord Himself during His wilderness trial. Satan said, “If you are the son of God, then..…” His tactic was to misapply scripture in an effort to lead Jesus astray. It didn’t work at all because Jesus knew who He was and this was the ground He fought from. This enabled Him to sift through Satan’s proposals, discern the lies and respond accordingly.
Satan is a master lier. He rules exclusively through deception. His kingdom will last just as long as mankind lives in agreement with his lies which are embedded in the hearts and minds of men. When Satan comes to us with some line, that begins with, “You are just a sinner, with those special names he has assigned to us; those customized fiery missiles he aims at our identities. Perhaps he has persuaded you that, in your core nature, you are just a looser; just a fool; just kind of dumb; just a joke or just an addict. Does this voice sound at all familiar? I had no idea how pervasive this voice was within me until I found (with Charlie’s help); 1) a safe space to be myself and; 2) a person who knew, from experience and scripture, the inner kingdom-landscape of the believing human heart.
When Satan comes, and he will, with his accusing and condemning words that say, “You are just a (you fill in the blank); I have learned to respond, “No. That’s a lie. That is not the Good Shepherd’s voice. I know His voice and I will not follow another’s. The voice of the Trinity is never vacillating and it is never condemning.” It does not matter whether he follows up, which he will, with a reminders of my deeply stained past or my most recent sin. I am learning to keep my guard up and watch over this precious heart of mine. I declare to to the enemy, myself and to the great cloud of witnesses…..
“I am a son of God. I am His friend. I am a co-heir with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Life. The Holy Spirit has sealed me as God’s very own. I am seated with Christ (even now in the presence of my most recent sin) in heavenly places.” An irony: There is not an iota of pride in these (apparently prideful) declarations.” They are simply my agreements with God, regarding the deeper truths He has spoken about my identity.
It is surprising to me which of the enemy’s “just-accusations” have been the most debilitating in my Christian life. By far, the most destructive is the great overarching half-truth: “You are just a sinner saved by grace.” This statement is 100% true with the exception of one word; the word “just”. No! We are much more. God has gone to great trouble and expense to give us new natures that contain new identities.
This is the place I now fight my battles from. I have discovered that, from here, far fewer fiery missiles penetrate than they used to. If that word “if” is still in the vocabulary of our hearts it is like painting on ourselves a big bullseye. Once our identities are secure in Christ, he has a much harder time acquiring his target and accomplishing his mission which is getting us to vacillate; tempting us to ask “if” we are really His sons and daughters; “if” we are really God’s friends.
My story is, that from this very solid ground in-Christ, I have rediscovered intimacy with God and far more victory over sin.
I believe the Church, which includes every soul that is trusting in Christ as payment for their sin, has a powerful destiny which includes crucial contributions to The King’s conquest of this world. This implies that a lot is riding on you and I as well. Jesus has gladly given us the kingdom and is waiting to see what we will do with it. We have the same qualifications that the first disciples did; nothing. When the final chapters are written, all things, related to the Bride’s glory, will be summed up in Christ. It is Christ, who is in us, who is the hope of glory.
Father, may the Word of God in us be made flesh in this hour that the world might be provoked to entrust their hearts to You, our faithful Creator, Father and friend. May we discover and rediscover our identities as the children of light who are called to shine the light of Your glory into this earth’s dark spaces with increasing intensity as the Day draws near. In Jesus name. Amen.