Humbled By Choice

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“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”  Luke 6:46

The truth is that I can act like a disciple and not be one.  I can sit on the fringes of discipleship, testing the water, testing and drilling the teacher, and never really become a disciple, while coming often and sitting near Jesus’ feet.  On the other hand, I can act like a disciple sometimes, occasionally showing up at Jesus’ feet.  I can even be there in the middle of Jesus’ closest companions, look like a disciple, act outwardly like a disciple, and fool everybody but Him.  Or, I can be a true disciple.

Many of the scribes and Pharisees called Jesus “Lord, Lord.”  Master, Teacher, those are words like, Lord.  So, when they were calling Him Teacher, were their words lining up with their actions?  I wonder about the young scribe who approached You, Jesus, and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (Matthew 8:19-20)  Were those just words spoken one day?  Did he follow through?  Does his name ever get remembered as a disciple?  Or were the ties of his family and the other scribes and Pharisees too binding?  Was the news that joining with You would mean no longer having a “real” home too foreign?  

And what of the other scribes and Pharisees?  Like the ones there that day you forgave the paralytic man.  And the scribes thought, “This man is blaspheming.” (Matthew 9:3) If You were blaspheming, could You have made that man rise and walk as You did?  When they saw Your authority to heal like that, they should have seen Your authority to forgive.  But they didn’t.  They just kept barrelling down the same track they started on, like a train heading down a doomed stretch of track not knowing the bridge is destroyed ahead of them, even though someone is warning them.

So the scribes and Pharisees are often there, where Jesus is teaching.  And they are posing as learners, but they are really there to find fault in You.  So that when you eat with Matthew’s tax collector and sinner friends, they ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  (Matthew 9:11)  One day they send someone to say, “Teacher,” and the next he is “your teacher.”  After all, there are just some of us who don’t need teachers, right?  There are some of us who are as whole as it comes, right?  There are some of us who don’t need a doctor, right, because we are too busy curing every one else.  But the truth is, some of us are sicker than we want to see, sicker than we want to admit.  We may see ourselves as well, but the truth is that we are the ones in the greatest need of a physician. (Matthew 9:12)  After all, You didn’t come to the world because we were ok.  You came because we all had a problem, every last one of us.  You came to call not the righteous, but sinners.  (Matthew 9:13)  But if I don’t see myself as a sinner, I won’t want to hear Your call either.

Yeah, you can be an upright, so-called God-fearer and totally miss out on God.  You could watch Jesus cast out a demon from a mute man.  You could see everyone else rejoicing.  And you could stand there grumbling in your heart, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” (Matthew 9:34 )  Why?  Because, if you see Jesus as Jesus, you will have to see yourself the way you really are- a sinner in need of Him.

You could act religious and look religious and see Jesus and His disciples hungry and walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath.  Instead of having mercy, like God, you could point a finger at them for doing it all wrong, and plucking corn on the holy day.  In other words, you could take God’s laws and invent more.  Maybe God’s not able to work in people’s hearts on His own.  Maybe men are better guides at helping men to be godly, right?  Ummm, wrong!

You’d think that if someone was a follower of God, then at least their place of worship would be God’s, right?  But what happens when that place becomes theirs?  When Jesus enters their synagogue and finds a man with a withered hand there (who was probably placed there as a test for what Jesus would do on the Sabbath), he heals him and many others.  Wouldn’t a believer in God rejoice?  But the scribes and Pharisees accused him, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (Mattthew 12:24)  

But none of this was a surprise.  Scripture lets us know that Jesus, You knew their thoughts.  (Matthew 12:25)  You even know my thoughts, Lord, every one.  That means that when the scribes and Pharisees approached him as interested disciples, “Teacher,” He wasn’t tricked.  He knew what was in their heart when they said, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” (Matthew 12:38)  

Sometimes, we don’t come to You to ask questions because we really want to know You or the true answer.  Sometimes, we just want to make You see things our way.  How crazy and lame is that?  That’s like asking Jesus “‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  For they do not wash their hands when they eat.’  He answered them, ‘And why do you break the comandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’” (Matthew 15:2,3)   All of a sudden, it got started in our brains that I could make a tradition that was as binding as those God had established?  Really?  What kind of hypocrosy is that?!  Because then I honor what I want to honor and don’t honor what I don’t want to.  What a liar I am then!

The problem was honoring God with our lips but not our hearts.  It’s so easy to teach doctrine of men as commandments of God.  We do it every day, all over the world.  And we still seem to label it as what God wants.  But it’s anything but like what God wants, because we actually don’t care anymore because we are so guided by what we want and what we’ve been taught to want, even in the “religious” world.

I could keep pulling example after example from Matthew alone.  It’s funny, in a morbid way, but I was just thinking of the verse in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that says, “Bad company ruins good morals.”  You’d think that would be talking about riff-raff, you know, people who don’t know better or who are just intent on doing bad, the troublemakers.  But, apparently that includes religious people who don’t surrender their thoughts and wills wholly to God but pave their own road and lead others down it with them.

Why did the Pharisees ask about divorce?  Did they want to know how to please God?  Did they want to discourage divorce?  Or did they just want to trip up Jesus?  Why ask about how to find eternal life if you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to assure it?  Why not worry more about who is really standing in front of you or riding through Jerusalem on a donkey as was prophesied than worrying about what people are saying?  Why wonder where Your authority comes from, when You’ve already made it apparent and God has given all the evidence we need in fulfilled Scripture? Why ask Jesus to prove himself, when you won’t be honest about your own self?  Why is it ok for you to speak badly about Jesus but when he speaks badly about you, you get angry?  What if the truth about ourselves just hurts and if we want to be whole we just need to face it?  We are the ones who need help.  We are the broken ones just as much as any other person.  If you know that Jesus is true and teaches the ways of God, then why don’t you do them?   If you know that Jesus isn’t swayed by personal opinion, why are you so easily swayed?  

And that’s just the scribes and Pharisees!  What about those among the disciples?  I might be one of those who wants to go and bury my father, even though he’s not dead yet.  (Matthew 8:21)  In other words, being a disciple might be risky and I might need to hedge my bets first, make sure I have myself covered.  Sound like a true disciple?  What if I followed Jesus and let Him take care of things in their time?  Would that be faith?

We find so many reasons to not follow right now.  I have a sick loved one.  It doesn’t matter if God has provided somene to care for them.  We want an excuse to not obey.  Or maybe, they don’t deserve forgiveness!  Hmm, last time I checked, neither do we.  I just don’t feel like it.  That’s honest.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I just feel all wrong and negative.  But that’s not an excuse to not obey.  Maybe I don’t have enough money or there is some other need.  Well, somehow if God invited others to live without a bed and to not take any money in their pouch and still took care of them, I think He will still take care of me when I choose to obey Him.  

All the disciples ran at one point.  And of course we know the story of Judas, who had been robbing from the money bag all along.  Jesus knew, even if the other disciples never new until the end.  We’re just not used to letting God totally change our lives.  Scribes and Pharisees aren’t the only ones who fight God’s will in their lives.  We all have our dreams and desires and notions that we want Jesus to line up with.  But that’s not how it works.  To be a disciple, I have to line up my dreams and desires and notions to take on God’s.

“‘What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.  And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?”  (Matthew 21:28-31)  Well, which?  The first, right?  It doesn’t matter what our mouths say if our actions don’t follow.  Faith is more than words.  Faith is living in God’s will, not ours.  But if we live in God’s will and live with You long enough, Your will, will become the delight of our life just as You are.

I don’t want to fight You.  I don’t want to figure out my own way.  It’s hard, so hard.  I want to come to You.  I need You.  I admit it, wholeheartedly.  I need rest from the work and the heavy burdens of bearing weight I was not created to bear on my shoulders.  I shouldn’t be carrying around Your load.  I should be letting You be God.  I want to take Your yoke upon me.  I want to learn from You.  I am so grateful for Your gentleness with me and that You are lowly in heart, so low that You would even take time to let me get to know You intimately.  I want to find rest for my soul in You, because that’s the only place rest exists.  I want to be Your disciple, not in word alone, but in reality.  I want to walk Your walk with You with me.  I want to do what I can’t do without You, solely because You are with me.  I want the burden to be light because You carry it as You walk with me and teach me and as You live in me.

I don’t want to seek opportunities like the scribes or Pharisees or Judas to fulfill my own will.  I want to fulfill Yourselves.  But I am so dependent upon You to do that.  But that’s ok.  Because there is no better, safer place to be than to be humbled under the mighty hand of God by choice.

Peace, Power, and Purpose

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“Whose soever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins you retain, they are retained.”  John 20:23Image

At first glance it seems as though what You are saying here, Lord, goes against what You have already said to us.  It’s all over Your New Testament, but here’s what You say, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  but if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  (Matthew 6:14,15)  So how do Your words here agree.  Because the fact of the matter is that Your word will always be in agreement and if it is not, it is because I don’t understand it clearly or rightly.  So, guide me to see clearly what You are saying.

Now, in John 20 we’ve been seeing Your resurrection and then Your commissioning of Your followers by giving them Your peace, Your shalom.  You’re sending us out to be Your representatives.  You’re sending us out prepared for success by equipping us with Your shalom.  What You have, we have.  You breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Ghost…”  And it wasn’t that they were fully prepared when You breathed on them, but it gave them the opportunity to start living by faith in that promise, to start believing and receiving Your word.  Because the Holy Spirit was coming.  The power to fulfill this commission was going to dwell in them soon.  As long as they acted upon the truth of the words.  As long as they were faithful and waited as Jesus would tell them.  Because we can’t have peace, we can’t have shalom without the Holy Spirit.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”  (Acts 1:8)  Why do we need power?  Because all that You require of us is not humanly possible.  You alone come where no one else can come.  You reach inside of us where no one else can reach.  You come to us in the middle of our fears.  You don’t wait for us to straighten up, because we can’t on our own.  You are the Straightener Upper.  But You don’t just straighten us up.  You change us altogether.  And You’er close, so close, You are right in the middle of me!

You offer us peace, shalom.  You accomplished our peace, shalom on the cross.  By the nature of who You are and the power of the Holy Spirit, You bring it into our lives.  We have shalom between us and You, between us and God, between us and others who are in Christ, between us and our own souls, and with the world. (Thanks to John Piper for that list)  You gave us this and offered this to us in order for us to be able to accomplish Your purpose.  See, this was Your purpose, to glorify God by making everything of Him and reconciling us to Him.  Now, by Your power, You hand the baton over to Your children.  As You were Light, we are to be Your representatives of light and continue what You started by making everything of God and reconciling others to Him.  Only, we have no power to do that on our own.  You had to give us Your power.  

So here’s the power we have all wrapped up in the purpose to glorify You and bring others to You.  “Whose soever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins you retain, they are retained.”  We do it the same way You did it Jesus.  We tell them and we show them the Gospel truth!  Every time we share Your Word and Your truth in the power of the Holy Spirit, each hearer has an opportunity to receive You.  If they receive the Word and receive You, then their sins are forgiven because they will receive Your shalom, Your peace, You.  But if they reject our words of You, then they remain in their sin, and reject You and all that is enjoined with You.  

Whoever receives Your Word as true, You as true, and receives You, “whoever has seen the Lord, has been in touch with Him, and has felt his heart filled with gladness, is the recipient of this great commission.”  (Alexander Maclaren)  It’s not spoken to only the apostles or only the clergy and pastoral staff.  This is for me or you if we have received Him by faith.  And the fact is, this never ends.  God didn’t just send Jesus once.  He sent Him for every moment.  And that is how He is sending us and will continue to send us.   This was a moment of great transition.  Jesus was shifting things around.  The work He was doing, He is now handing over to be done through His servants.  ” What He does by another, He does by Himself. We Christian men and women do not understand our function in the world, unless we have realized this: ‘Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ’ and His interests and His work are entrusted to our hands…‘as My Father hath sent Me, so send I you,’—then we are not only to carry on His work in the world, but if one might venture to say so, we are to reproduce His attitude towards God and the world. He was sent to be ‘the Light of the world’; and so are we. He was sent to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’; so are we. He was sent not to do His own will, but the will of the Father that sent Him; so are we. He took upon Himself with all cheerfulness the office to which He was appointed, and said, ‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me,—and to finish His work’; and that must be our voice too. He was sent to pity, to look upon the multitudes with compassion, to carry to them the healing of His touch, and the sympathy of His heart; so must we. We are the representatives of Jesus Christ, and if I might dare to use such a phrase, He is to be incarnated again in the hearts, and manifested again in the lives, of His servants.”(Alexander Maclaren)

So, that is the commission.  And Jesus breathes into us life through the Holy Spirit, that we might have the power to fulfill His commission for us.  To receive Christ is to recieve all the equipement of our new life, the life of the risen Lord.  Alexander Maclaren continues to say, “the life is given to every believer in correspondence with the clearness and the contents of his faith…It is the power that will fit any of us for the work for which we are sent into the world.  If we are here to represent Jesus Christ, and if it is true of us that ‘as He is, so are we, in this world,’ that likeness can only come about by our receiving into our spirits a kindred life which will effloresce and manifest itself to men in kindred beauty of foliage and of fruit…If we are to be Christ’s representatives, we must have Christ’s life in us. Here, too, is the only source of strength and life to us Christian people, when we look at the difficulties of our task and measure our own feebleness against the work that lies before us.  I suppose no man has ever tried honestly to be what Christ wished him to be amidst his fellows, whether as preacher or teacher or guide in any fashion, who has not hundreds of times clasped his hands in all but despair, and said, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ That is the temper into which the power will come…It is for lack of it that so much of so-called ‘Christian effort’ comes to nothing. The priests may pile the wood upon the altar, and compass it all day long with vain cries, and nothing happens. It is not till the fire comes down from heaven that sacrifice and altar and wood and water in the trench, are licked up and converted into fiery light.  So, dear brethren, it is because the Christian Church as a whole, and we as individual members of it, so imperfectly realize the A B C of our faith, our absolute dependence on the inbreathed life of Jesus Christ, to fit us for any of our work, that so much of our work is ploughing the sands, and so often we labour for vanity and spend our strength for nought. ..even we, are not altogether passive in the reception of that gift.”

“Receive the Holy Ghost.”  “Take hold of the Holy Ghost.”  There has to be a giver to receive.  But there has to be an outstretched hand ready to hold and grasp what is given.   But this is an extra interesting gift.  Some gifts we can receive without ever realizing our need.  But not this one.  This gift is one in which we can only receive it upon realizing our need for it.  Alexander Maclaren again explains ” things in the spiritual realm that are given have to be asked for, because asking opens the heart for their entrance. True, that gift was given once for all, and continuously, but the appropriation and the continual possession of it largely depend upon ourselves. There must be desire before there can be possession. If a man does not take his pitcher to the fountain the pitcher remains empty, though the fountain never ceases to spring. There must be taking by patient waiting… Wait on the Lord, and the life will rise like a tide in the heart. There must be a taking by the faithful use of what we possess. ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ There must be a taking by careful avoidance of what would hinder. In the winter weather the water supply sometimes fails in a house. Why? Because there is a plug of ice in the service-pipe. Some of us have a plug of ice, and so the water has not come…”

So, we bring this all together again as John Piper and Alexander Maclaren have  directed us in the power of the Holy Spirit.  I think it’s interesting that John Piper is a contemporary of ours in today’s world, whereas Alexander Maclaren passed from this life in 1910.  Yet the Holy Spirit has led both to the same conclusion in such a sweet way.  Pastor Piper calls it peace, power, and purpose.  Pastor Maclaren calls it  peace, mission, and purpose.  It’s just different words for the same truth.  

So, we join in with God in proclaiming “the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!”  “[T]o  him who receives it his sins melt away, and the preacher of forgiveness through Christ has the right to say to his brother, ‘Thy sins are forgiven because thou believest on Him.’ The rejecter or the neglecter binds his sin upon himself by his rejection or neglect. The same message is, as the Apostle puts it, ‘a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.’…The message of the word will either couch a blind eye, and let in the light, or draw another film of obscuration over the visual orb….And so, Christian men and women have to feel that to them is entrusted a solemn message, that they walk in the world charged with a mighty power, that by the preaching of the Word, and by their own utterance of the forgiving mercy of the Lord Jesus, they may ‘remit’ or ‘retain’ not only the punishment of sin, but sin itself. How tender, how diligent, how reverent, how—not bowed down, but—erect under the weight of our obligations, we should be, if we realized that solemn thought!”

John Piper sums it up this way, ” Jesus says to the disciples: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’…What he means is this: When you tell people about what I have done, speaking my word, about my work, in the power of my Spirit, I am the one speaking through you, so that if anyone believes your word, I forgive their sins. And if any does not believe your words, I don’t’ forgive them. And since you are my voice and my truth, I speak of you forgiving them, and you withholding forgiveness…Which simply means that right now: what you make of this message from this fallible, sinful, human messenger will decide whether you are forgiven or not. As an ambassador of Christ, I urge you be reconciled to God: receive as a free gift his peace, his power, his purpose. In the name of Jesus. Amen…”

And that is my same prayer.  Only I also pray that we who are believers would be faithful in our commission.  Lord, let me share Your Good News in the power and love of the Holy Spirit.  Neither let me be withheld nor let me withhold it for any reason.  I think of Your words in Luke 12:48 “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:  and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”  You have given me the deposit, the indwelling of the power and love of Your Holy Spirit, of You.  Your Spirit is limitless.  So I’ve been given much.  According to the measure of mercy and power I’ve been given, I’m expected to give of You.  To the one in which much has been deposited, much is expected.  What goes in, must come out.  And my prayer, Lord, would be that You flow from me in the proportion that You are in me.  So, in any and every area of my life where that is not happening, open my eyes to see, and my heart to weep, that I may correct that deficiency.  May my life be a demonstration and witness of Your peace, power, and purpose.