Soul Settlers

It’s simple, but true …

Many of us have several children. God has one Son. Just one. He sent Him to die. The previous three sentences — just 11 words — hold many truths from God’s Word. They are simple, but staggering, plain, but potent.

It seems that God prefers the simple and plain. He is grand and glorious, yet shares His love and truth in ways that are well within our reach. I am grateful for that. Consider the announcement of the birth of Jesus. It was delivered by an angel, regal and resplendent, to … shepherds. Simple shepherds. In those times shepherds were humble folk, the least and lowly. If Bath and Body Works released a Christmas candle in tribute to those shepherds it would be called, “Reeking Ragamuffins.” And, those fellows were chosen as the first to hear of the birth of our Savior. Grin, smirk even, because that is how God works. He bypasses the lofty bee-lines right to the regulars, regular folks knee deep in need and steeped in stress. I would guess that you are catching the lyrics and picking up the tune here. God comes to the common and coarse. That’s us.

Soak in one of Jesus’ first sermons. It was fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2 as well as the proclamation of the mission of Jesus. It is the Gospel unpacked and applied:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

Please re-read it slowly. Read it aloud. Breath it in. It’s direct, and directed to us. It is God through Christ focusing His favor on rag-tag folks. Hear the heart and mission of Jesus spoken plainly:

  • He came to proclaim and purchase redemption, forgiveness, and salvation.
  • He came to repair broken hearts and lives.
  • He came to untether the tangled.
  • He came to open eyes to Truth and hope.
  • He came to bend open the bars and usher us to freedom.
  • Then, He said, “this is why I am here.”

To summarize each and all of those — He came to save us. He came to save us from our sins, our struggles, and … ourselves. God’s great gift is salvation through His Son. Though it came at a great price, it is freely offered.

Please pardon the solemn tone of this post. Christmas is joyful, a time of celebration, but remember, it was costly. Embrace the problem of our sin and separation from God. Embrace Jesus’ stepping from heaven to here, a demotion on all counts. Embrace His teaching, His death, His love in both.

As you enjoy your children this Christmas recall that God only has one Son. His Name is Jesus. He sent Him to die. Now, we can be God’s sons and daughters. Embrace your adoption into His family.

Embrace the Gift. Embrace Him …

Merry Christmas to you all!

Happy Birthday to our Redeemer-King!

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Bible study

 

In the previous post I suggested that we approach the “one-anothers” of the New Testament like a walk along a fence row that separates the sheep from relationally odd sheep. Now underway, we will find that Jesus’ words in John 13:35 create a higher, tauter fence than we first imagined. This fence actually separates disciples from disobedient believers and non-believers, or sheep from fence-straddlers and goats.

This passage contains truths that are worthy of fine attention. And once pondered they jolt our senses. Rather than carve up these verses and pass around a portion for all, I will instead provide a sample along with some thoughts. This will allow you to take the passage, and dig in for yourself, which is best.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus states in John 13:34 that he is giving the apostles a new commandment. This is an intriguing statement because in the Old Testament God’s people had been commanded to love in the Law of Moses. They had been told to love God wholly (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love one’s neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). To love was not foreign to them. So, this command was not new in the sense that it had never been prescribed, it was new in what it expected of them.

To be specific, it is the not the “love one another” part of Jesus’ imperative that was new. It was the scope and empowerment necessary to obey it that were new.

The scope and depth of that command are staggering. We are to love other believers “just as,” or in the same manner that Jesus loves us. This doesn’t allow for a micrometer of wiggle room, or for any excuses, or for negligence. We are to love one another “just as” Jesus did, and displayed. It is a love that is evident and sacrificial.

To offer that type of love to other believers seems impossible. It is impossible; we cannot do it on our own. To fulfill this command requires that we depend upon the operative work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Only the Spirit of God can bring the love of Christ to reality in our lives, and then extend it outward to others (Romans 5:5). What begins to come into focus is that growth in the “one-anothers” is a deliberate and precise way of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another.

While the analogy of our walk along the pasture fence began as one that was homespun, now with Jesus’ words from John 13:35 woven in it grows more serious, and surgical. Namely, the thought stands up, clears it throat, and asks, “Can one’s approach to and practice of the “one-anothers” authenticate one’s claim as a Christian or negate it?” The affirmative answer hushes the room.

John 13:35 provides an excellent mirror for self-inspection of our attitudes as well as a magnifying glass for dissection of our behaviors and service to other Christ-followers. There is more than weight to these words of Jesus, there is a density to them as well. Instantly these words, and their implications, kindle our consideration, examination, contrition.

We ponder on those words and use them as motivation to lead us on our uphill walk through the “one-anothers,” which will define and describe how life is to be among Christians. We do this arriving at the realization that love is the barbed wire that connects and supports the “one-another” posts in the fence row.

Along the way we will see artifacts marking the barbed wire: sack cloth and blood, rust, and bits of hair. Each are from those who have walked this fence before us. The sack cloth and blood from those who have climbed over from the non-love side remind us of their courage, which became repentance and obedience. The rust advises us of the rains and seasons of our walk, and that many hands have held onto the fence and catalyzed corrison from one side or the other, while deciding whether or not to cross.  The bits of hair alert us to be on guard as we walk in love; there are enemies of love, wolves among sheep. The strands of hair — the bristled back hair of wolves — doesn’t signal to us from the top strand of the wire. They rest snagged in the bottom strand.  Wolves have their own way of crossing, low and slow.

The fence is only part of the terrain. Before we survey the rest of the scenery in the first leg of our trip, let’s make note that the barbed strands serve as a means of separation and protection. Both are essential.

Barely into our stride we can see that one side of the fence boasts of a calm pasture, flowers, and a kind path smoothed by millions of steps. That leisurely side is not the side of Christ-like love.

The other side has brambles, rocks, and tall grass, with a faint trail, hardly visible. This one is the way of love; it is the way of Christ-fueled desire and discipline that follows him and loves his sheep.

Closing out these stout verses is a crushing thought: Our love for one another will be the mark of our true faith in and following of Christ. In other words, our love for fellow believers becomes an authentication of our discipleship … a disciple’s watermark.

You were warned that this trek would be a tough one — lots of sweating, straining, and aching. The sun is behind us. Grab your things. Set your mind; we have a long walk ahead.

The barbed wire that binds…

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Simple life in Christ

Beautiful work…

 

Matthew 26:1-10

In this passage both the woman and her act are familiar to us.  Jesus said that both would be famous (verse 13). This singular act by a common person will be shared throughout time wherever the Gospel travels. In my mind that is un-get-a-hold-able. To put ourselves in the middle of this passage, and gather in the magnitude of what was being done and said, imagine that Jesus took one of your acts of service to Him and declared that it would be forever known to and remembered by His future followers. Gulp. It is a remarkable scene.

Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders were gathered at “the chief priest’s palace” plotting to kill Jesus (verse 3, note: a good rule of thumb is to avoid any clergy, pastors, or leaders who have “a palace”). While the murder of Jesus was being planned by the elite at a palace, Jesus was settling in at the house of a leper named Simon. Remember that a leper in Jesus’ day was rejected by society and forced to live a hermit’s life, and a life of shame. So, here in the home of this social outcast, reclining at the dinner table was the Lord of the universe and Savior – Jesus of Nazareth. Grace was actually sitting at Simon’s usually vacant and lonely table.

Enter a woman who came to offer to Jesus something that is so humble, intimate, tender, and sacrificial that it is beyond words. In fact, in the original language of the Bible (Greek in the New Testament) it is tricky to translate her act into plain ole’ English.  The phrase for what this woman did is rendered by different translations as “good work,” “noble deed,” and my favorite … “beautiful thing.” It is the only time that this phrase is used in this way in the New Testament. How about that? The word for her deed is multi-faceted. It has the idea of beauty, goodness, and nobility. Wait, there’s more; it also has the idea of an outward beauty or goodness being expressed due to inward beauty or goodness. Yahtzee! Are your eyes moistening up now? Mine are.

This lady comes with a “very expensive” ointment — think months of wages – in an alabaster flask, and anoints Jesus’ head with it … in humble adoration and worship. The disciples then go Baptist-like and complain about the cost of the ointment, and its misuse, and even find a reason to justify their opinion on the matter. Sound familiar? Jesus then tells the tight-waded, bone-headed disciples to hush their fussing and learn from her. He says, “for she has done a beautiful thing to me” to prepare for my burial.

Jesus was telling them that it was about time for His death – His death for them, and for us – and they were missing it because their heads and hearts were wrongly focused and loosely vocal. We all suffer from that malady. Picture this whole scene, and let it unfold in your mind, and soul: the inner beauty of this woman’s heart for Christ was expressed through her humble, sacrificial, and worshipful act. Jesus declared it as “beautiful!”

What a thought that we could be and do something for Christ that he would describe as beautiful. Is there anything any better, or more humbling, or soul-satisfying than that?

A follow-up question is: what can we do for Christ that meets that mark? Hold on to your noggin, because the answer is in…

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

The answer is that to do what this woman did only requires you to be yourself in Christ, for Christ. We do not have to be or do things that are extraordinary to honor Christ and serve Him in ways that are beautiful to Him. Really, we don’t!

Check out three straightforward principles in Ephesians 2:10:

1. God created you.
2. You are “His workmanship.”
3. You are created to do good works – and beautiful ones – for Christ.

The second point deserves some un-packing. In the original language the word for “workmanship” is the Greek work “poiema.” Does that look like the word “poem” to you? Indeed, not a coincidence. The idea of that word is workmanship, or craftsmanship, or a work of art. Here’s the point: God made you as His handiwork out of His perfect artisan wisdom and power. So, your status is one of being His child and poetic workmanship; your role is doing good works unto Him out of that status.

Let’s line this up with Matthew 26:10. The woman’s outward, beautiful service was a reflection of her inward beauty and goodness in Christ. That made her deed “beautiful.” Your good service for Christ is a result of you being God’s workmanship. The poetry of her soul and service were aligned, yours can be too…by design and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, fulfill your poiema role in life – namely, you being who God created you to be in the fullness of Christ – and let Him take what He has made you to be and cause it cascade into what you do. Beautiful!

You may feel like a dusty, scratched up fiddle in God’s closet. In Christ, you are a Stradivarius ready to be finely tuned, and played for Him, so that the finely created instrument and music match … beautifully!

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Simple life in Christ

Emptiness to fullness

 

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul states that he wants believers to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with all of the fullness of God.”

Christ’s love for us does something amazing: it surpasses our very knowledge and understanding of it.

When I have thought of the word “surpass” in the past, I have thought of it wrongly — as I have just discovered.

Here are the variety of definitions that I previously had filed in my head for “surpass:”

  • to outrun, or catch up to and run past.
  • to rise above, as in gaining stature or position above something else.
  • to have more than another, as in surpassing riches.

All of my descriptions show an error in thinking. Namely, my error was thinking that two things were equal, or close to being equal, with one eventually overtaking the other. While this may describe an earthly definition of “surpassing,” it is wrong when thinking of the love of Christ surpassing our knowledge. Bad wrong.

Christ’s love and my knowledge, or any human knowledge, have never been peers, or stood within any measure of being comparable. Christ’s love has always exceeded my knowledge, or yours, or all of humanity’s combined. At the bottom of the rung of Christ’s love and the top rung of our knowledge of it lie an incalculable chasm.

The correct definition of “surpass” in Ephesians 3:19 is that one thing (Christ’s love) transcends the reach, capacity, or powers of another (our knowledge). So, Christ’s love for us transcends the reaching hand, available capacity, and weak powers of our knowledge. Or, to put it more plainly, the greatest reach of our knowledge, deepest capacity to learn, and keenest powers to know fall eternally short of comprehending His love. Period.

I can only know the infinite love of Christ when He makes it known to me, and fills my weak, shallow, groping mind beyond its ability to grasp, contain, or appreciate it.

Thankfully, His Holy Spirit will reveal His love to us. In fact, Romans 5:5 tells us that God’s love is poured out (abundantly) into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. So, the pressure is off. My mind and heart cannot strive for, or grab hold of the depth of the love of Christ. Rather, it is given freely by His grace and poured into my heart. It’s the same for you too.

Let’s circle back to last part of Ephesians 3:19. Paul longed for believers to have the fullness of God in Christ. Today, each of us still has that same desire. To receive God’s fullness requires that we must know the love of Christ. To gradually and increasingly — it’s not an event; it’s a process — know this we must first understand that we cannot know it on our own … because it is beyond our reach. So, in a sense, to gain fullness we must continually understand and embrace our emptiness of ability to know His love apart from Him revealing it to us through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.

In sum, realizing our emptiness precedes receiving His fullness. That makes perfect sense; a full container cannot be filled further. If we are full of ourselves, and an expectation that we can attain understanding or growth in Christ on our own, we will not see the need for the thing that we lack. When we see what is missing from or impossible for us, we can then take the first steps toward knowing His love and receiving His fullness. The road to fullness in Christ begins at the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender. It is an intersection that we do not like to approach, but it is where growth begins.

Here are some words of advice: if you decide to proceed to the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender, do not rush through the intersection; pause at the intersection, stop and sit on the curb … and linger there. The time spent there will make a difference later. A big difference.

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