Where Peace Is Found

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And they said unto her, ‘There is none of your kindred that is called by this name.”  Luke 1:62

What a strange way to start today’s devotion.  But Lord, there is something special about Your “strange” ways.  I think about the song lyrics where the chorus sings, “But this is such a strange way to save the world.”  And we haven’t even come but to the start of the saving part that we can see.  This is just the birth of the “announcer.”  But even his birth is not according to popular religious tradition.

Popular tradition would have this baby named after his father.  Yet, Elisabeth says his name will be John.  Maybe the others know nothing about the angel Gabriel’s words.  Maybe they know nothing about God having a name for this baby before he was even conceived.  Maybe Elisabeth told them, maybe she didn’t.  But she knew.  But they appear to doubt her decision making abilities.  So they go to Zacharias who is still without speach from the angel’s verdict.  He writes down the name.  He breaks tradition too for something better.  “His name is John,” he writes.  And immediately, his mouth was opened and he spoke and praised God prophetically.  Funny what obedience despite tradition can do, isn’t it?

Now, I read about fear coming on Zacharias when Gabriel spoke to him.  And I read about fear coming upon Mary when Gabriel spoke to her.  Well, there is no angel here but these people have been eyewitness to some nontraditional stuff going on in Zacharias, Elisabeth, and John’s lives.  And all of a sudden this Zacharias is speaking again and prophesying wonderful things and fear came over the people and they spread the news abroad.  And they stored in their hearts wonder about what God’s plans for this child were going to be.

And God gave Zacharias the words to share a preview of what was coming.  God didn’t tell Zacharias to say He was going to come.  The words Zecharias used were that God has visited and redeemed his people.  See, He had already started redemption.  He had at that prior moment raised up a horn of salvation.  What in the world is a horn of salvation?  What does that mean?  David sings about a horn of salvation in Psalm 18:2 when God delivered him from his enemies and from the hand of Saul.  “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock , in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  David had experienced You, Lord, as every one of these, personally.  They weren’t abstract, philosophical ideas.  This was the reality of Your intervention.

Where once Zacharias doubted God’s word through Gabriel, his silence and contemplation over these nine months has so increased his faith in Your word that You aren’t just going to do something, You are already bringing Your word to pass!  But I want to still look at this horn of salvation.  Is it a horn announcing salvation?  Or is it a horn that brings salvation?  If I look back at Psalm 18:2, I see it’s image is equalled with that of a rock, a fortress, a deliverer, a refuge, a shield, and a stronghold.  I don’t think it’s a musical instrument here.  I think it’s something stronger.

John Piper wanted to find out about this horn of salvation mentioned here too.  He also stopped to meditate on the events this day in Zacharias’ life.  Because even though Zacharias’ son, John has been born, most of this song he sings is about Jesus.  And this horn of salvation is all about Jesus.  And it’s a strong phrase.  It’s a deadly weapon known as the wild ox.  And in the eyes of a middle eastern viewer, there was not much more formidable than an angry wild ox.  In Psalm 32:17  there is another reference, “There I will make a horn to sprout for David. I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame.”   That iron-like horn on the ox’s head was worthy of fear in everyone.  But God is the only one who is able to fight for His people, who is strong enough to gain victory over their enemies.  And this horn of salvation is only referred to twice in the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 22.3 and Psalm 18:2 above.   God, You are the shield and the defense (horn) of Your people.  “He is a horn of salvation because he uses his power to secure and protect his people.” (John Piper)

It looks like Zacharias is actually breaking tradition here again.  Who sings praises about another’s son when your own has just been born?  Yet that’s what he is doing.  John wasn’t the redemption of the people.  John wasn’t the horn of salvation and he wasn’t from the line of David.  John couldn’t save the people from their enemies and the hand of those who hate them.  John wasn’t the one to show mercy and bring the covenant to fruition.  John couldn’t deliver the poeople and enable them to serve in holiness and righteousness.  But John would play a part.  He would be called the prophet of the Most High.  He will get to prepare the way for Jesus, to let people know what Jesus was preparing for,  to get their hearts ready for a Savior, for Salvation.  John got to prepare them to be ready for forgiveness, to understand their sin problem.  But it was Jesus who would really give them understanding.  Even John couldn’t shed that kind of light in the darkness.  John couldn’t bring life in the shadow of death, but Jesus does.  John can point but Jesus guides us into the way of peace.

Did Zacharias really get it all?  Did he really understand the fullness of all he said?  Did he really understand how Jesus wasn’t coming to deliver Israel from Rome and their physical oppressors but from a worse oppressor- sin?  Did he really understand how Jesus wasn’t just coming to deliver the people of Israel but that He would even be a light unto the Gentiles?  And did John, as he grew older, fully understand?  When he sat in the prison, at the end of his life, and he sent this message to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3)  did he get it?

But remember, Zacharias told us that Jesus had come to show us mercy and to visit us, “to give us light as we sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Maybe we need deliverance from Rome.  But maybe what we need more is to be delivered from disbelief.  Maybe we need most to be delivered into trusting You in the middle of everything, even the shadow of death.  Maybe even John, the prophet of the Most High, had to break with tradition and learn what true salvation was, and that true salvation was standing in His midst.  Sometimes it’s one thing to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and it’s another thing altogether to let Him handle my own sin.

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  (Matthew 11:4-6)  Here’s a thing that strikes me today.  Zacharias’ doubts, John’s doubts, didn’t hold You back, Lord.  Neither did You condemn them.  You didn’t give up on them.  You taught them more.  And I don’t know if John ever knew, but after You sent that message back to him, You commended this man who doubted before the multitudes gathered around.  Even though this John the Baptist, was doubting at this moment, You talked about his greatness.  You said he was the Elijah who was to come.  Now, how is that for understanding and mercy when we flounder!

See, this is the Christmas story.  There’s no traditional trees or decorations or other traditonal stuff here.  There’s more like failure and victory and doubt and mercy.  It’s not very traditional looking.  But it’s more beautiful than anything I know.  I mean, here is this mighty ox who is Jesus, with these horns that can wreak havoc and terror and hooves that could crush and destroy.  But he comes in like a lamb.  And instead of venting Your anger, You show mercy.  You show mercy to a man named Zacharias and his wife Ellisabeth.  You could have wiped Zacharias off the face of the earth for doubting, but You just gave him time to meditate and grow in You instead.  You could have shouted at John in his doubts and said, “What in the world are you thinking, man?  You’re supposed to be leading my people!  Oh, you make me soooooo angry!”  But You didn’t.  You sent back gentle words of affirmation and even confirmed him as Your chosen and appointed prophet before the people.  And me, what about me?

How many times have I doubted?  How many times do I not really hear what You are trying to tell me?  How many times have I needed to break free from tradition and really listen and really hear and really obey what You are really trying to tell me?  And how have You responded every time I fell, every time I refused, every time I was so hard-headed, every time I think I know how it’s supposed to be?  You respond with the same great mercy.  You sweep down and set my feet back on the path.  You put things in my life to refocus me.  You guard and protect me with the horn of Your salvation.  You haven’t changed.  And I am so grateful.

It’s funny.  My Christmas doesn’t really look very traditional this year.  It doesn’t feel traditional.  I have to admit that I’m having trouble celebrating this particular “season” of Christmas.  And maybe it’s because my Christmas is every day, just like my Easter.  And my Christmas isn’t always wrapped up in pretty packages and colors and with rosy bows.  Sometimes my Christmas comes wrapped around the horn of a Warrior Ox, and sometimes it comes wrapped around the wool of a tender Lamb.  And actually, it comes with both.  And in all honesty, I don’t always understand it all and I don’t always get it all.  But I know that if You understood and had mercy on Zacharias and John, and still loved them and used them, then I know You feel the same about me.  Because this is why You came.  You came to teach us Your ways, to give us the ability to know Your salvation and to know Your forgiveness, to receive Your tender mercy, to visit us, and give us Your light, to take us out of our darkness and out of the shadow of death, and to set us at one with You again, because that’s the only place peace is found.

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Christ, More Than Worth the Wait

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And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  Luke 1:6

Ok.  So that’s the Christmas verse I’m starting with today.  But I think it matters.  Why?  Because I think that faithfully waiting, faithfully waiting and obeying, are integral to the Christmas story.  I think that faithfully waiting and obeying no matter what the situation in your life is like, is an important lesson of the Christmas story.

I remember not waiting one Christmas season when I was a kid.  I remember hearing friends who talked about finding their Christmas presents before Christmas.  I thought I would try.  I remember finding things under Mom and Dad’s bed.  I remember pulling them out and seeing them before they were wrapped.  I remember.  I don’t remember the same excitement on seeing them that I received when unwrapping something in front of the tree on Christmas morning.  But I do remember one more thing.  I remember faking it on Christmas morning when I opened the gifts I had already seen and already knew about.  I remember hating that feeling.  I remember that I never wanted to do that again.  I remember that was the last time I ever looked for my gifts again.  I’d rather wait.

Well, Christmas isn’t about the tree or gifts.  But it does, and even the first one did, teach about waiting.  And Luke starts the story off with Zachariah and Elisabeth.  They are both older and there is a sad fact of their life, at least in their culture it was sad- they had no children.  Elisabeth was barren all these years.  I’m sure they had waited and waited and trusted and trusted and by now Elizabeth was too old to have children.  They gave up that hope.

But even though it probably broke their hearts, they didn’t give up on You, Lord.  Even in the pain You encouraged Luke to say this about them, “they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”  Now, I want to look into what their righteousness consisted of because that has bearing on me.  Why?  Because I need to know what righteousness looks like in my life.  And I see that they were considered righteous because they were “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord…”  It’s interesting where that takes me.

It takes me to Matthew 28:19,20a.  ““Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;”  It takes me to that word “go.”  And looking back into what it meant back then, tells me exactly what God was considering righteousness in Zachariah and Elisabeth and His disciples anywhere, anytime.

“Go.”  That’s a small word that says so much but it doesn’t always say what we think it says.  After doing some research, I found some things that relate here.  Even though “go” usually means “to go or to send” and it’s the Greek word “poreuthentes” from “poreuomai,” (which is the same word used of the way Zacharias and Elisabeth were walking!), it’s an aorist passive participle.

Now, I love this stuff, these little treasure tidbits gleaned from language.  But I’m not the specialist, so I’m going to let a specialist, Skip Moen, explain the grammar here:

“Aorist means that this verb is an action completed in the past.  Passive means that it was an action done to someone.  And a participle connects an action to another part of the sentence (it presents the bare idea of the verb as if it were an adjective describing a noun or pronoun).  Yes, I know this is complicated, but it will be worth it.

Let’s apply these definitions to the text.  The translation cannot be “go” because that would require the word to be in the present tense, like “I go.” Here the word is in the past tense so it must be something like “having gone.”  But it is passive, which means that I didn’t do the “going.”  Someone or something else caused me to go.  So we should read, “Having been caused to go.”  Since it is a participle, this passive action needs to be connected to some noun or pronoun.  But there isn’t any noun or pronoun in this sentence.  By implication, this action is applied to those who are listening even though they aren’t named.  We have to assume that this action describes the listeners.  It doesn’t tell them what to do.  It describes what is already true about them.”

So, no longer is this a command, but it’s saying, “You have been caused to go.”  Now, what was the Hebrew idea continuing behind this?  Skip continues, ” it is most likely that Yeshua used the Hebrew verb halak, ‘to walk, to go in a certain direction.’  This Hebrew idea is an idiom used to describe a way of life, a way that is in conformity with God’s directions.  While the Greek idea suggests a path that leads to God, the Hebrew idea suggests following a path that God has already given.  In other words, ‘to walk in God’s way’ is to live according to the covenant – the Torah.”

Why is this important and what does it have to do with Christmas and waiting.  Because “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him…”  2 Chronicles 16:9  Lord, You are looking today and You were looking 2000 years ago.  And while You were looking, You saw Zacharias and Elisabeth.  And there they were, even in their pain, following the path that You had already given them.  There they were, even in the midst of their disappointment, walking in Your way and living according to Your Word.

And this is exciting Christmas stuff here, now!  This is exciting Gospel stuff happening!  Here’s one of my favorite words in Scripture.  In English I hear and see the words, “And it came to pass.”  Oh, how those words make me jump for joy!  Oh, how those words make me get so excited about what God is going to do!  It’s that Greek word “ginomai” again.  And when You use that word, You are getting ready to do something, like visit a Samaritan woman at a well and change her life, or visit an old man and woman and change their lives forever.  But it never stops there.  Because in changing one person’s life, You are already bringing to pass many more changed lives.  Because You bring things to pass on purpose and not by accident.  Because the little seeming altered plans of “ginomai” turns in life, are Your great masterpieces in bringing Your will to fruition.

How long had Zacharias and Elisabeth waited for a baby?  How long had they continued walking in Your ways faithfully even though they didn’t receive what they prayed for?  What was most important to them?  Did they want the baby most or did they want You most.  And You looked over the whole earth and saw their heart for You even in the midst of pain and shame.  And You chose on that particular day in that particular year, to choose Zacharias and Elisabeth to bear the child You chose and equipped to prepare the world for Your coming Son.

How does, “and it came to pass” adequately express Your deliberate interaction and intervention here?  You chose this particular path for Your particular purpose.  Your angel appeared to Zacharias.  He spoke to him.  He scared him like angels do.  And after all these years of praying for a child, after they had probably stopped praying because now it was impossible, this Angel says “Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call him John.”  But it didn’t stop there.  This was going to be worth more rejoicing and gladness than usual.  Why?  “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord…”  He’ll be set apart and filled with the Holy Ghost even while he’s inside his mother’s womb!  Not only that, but “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  Now, how is that for awesome news!

When the angel says the part about John turning the hearts of the fathers to the children,  that’s actually a reference from Malachi 4:4-6.  “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.  ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”  Now, I want to think about the timeline here, because really, what Zacharias and Elisabeth were ultimately waiting for was taking a lot more time that you would think.  Because here’s a promise that You, Lord, are bringing to pass on this particular day.  Only we’ve got 350-400 years from the time of Elijah to the time of Malachi’s words.  And from the time of Malachi’s words, we have a time of silent waiting for Israel that lasted another 400 years.  And then You choose this day, this couple, to break that silence.

And how do you break the silence?  With the birth of a baby in the middle of an impossible situation.  You break the silence with a birth of a baby who will herald another baby who is coming.  Only this baby herald, will herald a man, will herald and man who is God in the form of man come to save mankind just like what was promised.  And in calling people back to this promise, to Your Christ, hearts of parents and hearts of children would be able to be changed.

Yes, Christmas is about waiting.  It’s about being prepared.  But it’s also about responding.  Christmas is a time to remember my focus on Your Word and Your Way.  To line myself up with the path You set before me.  As a parent, have I been guilty of ignoring my children because of my work or commitments?  Have I been abusive to them?  Have I allowed myself to be swallowed up with bitter disappointment in them?  You have come to change my heart.  Am I lined up with You on these things?

And what if I must look at myself as a child?  Am I in a state of cocky rebellion?  Am I embittered and crying out how much I am the victim?  Am I guilty of neglect?  I cannot change my parents, but You, Lord, can change my heart toward them.

I’d like to share John Piper’s words here:   

“So the word of God to fathers (and mothers!) today is this:

Turn your hearts to your children:  don’t give them the dregs of your life.  Turn your hearts to your children:  don’t be unkind, don’t constantly criticize, don’t even think the wicked thoughts that lead to sexual abuse.  Turn your hearts toward your children: let the bitterness go, at least from your side forgive, and roll the burden onto God.

And the word to children is this:

Turn your hearts toward your father (and mother!):  don’t rebel; obey!  Turn your hearts toward your fathers and mothers and grandparents:  don’t forget them or neglect them; care for them.  Turn your hearts toward your father:  the road to restoration may be as long as life. It may involve extensive counseling with a wise Christian therapist. But in your heart the decisive step can be taken, must be taken: the feeling of having been victimized must cease to justify animosity.

It’s the answer for why our hearts should turn in every one of these cases: Jesus was the ultimate victim. We were the ultimate abusers—our sin nailed him to the cross. And Jesus has turned his heart toward you this morning. That is the meaning of this message. Whether you look back and remember the law of God, or look forward and see the victory of God, the point comes through: God has turned his heart toward you in Jesus Christ. Don’t push it away. It is a sweet and wonderful thing to hold no grudges.”

See, God, here You are preparing us for Christ.  We’re calling that Christmas right now.  But You sent John into the world to declare and prepare us for one thing.  “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  This is what John was preparing us practically for.  This is the kind of gift that You give at Christmas and all year long.  This is the gift of mercy and love and sacrifice and obedience that You are looking for us to give to others on Christmas and all year long.

Today I have one Christmas prayer for You.  Turn my heart to my parents, Lord.  And turn their heart to me.  Turn my heart to my children, and turn their heart to me.  But above all, turn my heart to You, Heavenly Father, and turn Your heart to me.  And, Lord, turn my heart every day, not just on Christmas.  I want to unwrap the joy of Your continued salvation and work in my life daily.  I don’t just want to talk about You, I want to walk in You.  So teach me, know matter what it takes or how long.  But, Lord, I’m also finding that when You make us wait, it’s worth it.

Child of Encouragement

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“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”  Acts 4:32

Now, Lord, I’m not trying to promote my own thoughts here.  I’m trying to look into Your Word and search for Your truth.  I want to see how real people demonstrated their belief in You.  I want to see how real people were changed by their belief in You.  I want to know what belief really looks like in person.  I want to know what You commend as belief.  And it seems like it’s a lot about me.  But that’s how I have to look at it.  Because until I get what You are trying to show me and until I get it Your way, I’m lost.  And if I only get it a little bit, well, then I’m mostly misguided.  And the last thing I want to do is misguide others.  So, I have to get it.  We each do.  On our own.  I have to get it and You have to give it to me.  It’s how You make Yourself known so that it is all about You and not about me.  But I have to get there somehow.  And You are that somehow.

So what led up to these believers all being of one heart and soul and sharing all their things?  I need to do a little review.  This isn’t long after You, Jesus, were crucified and raised from the dead.  The disciples and apostles were still in Jerusalem.  But now they were changed men.  No one was running and hiding and afraid.  What happened?

Here were Peter and John, sharing from Old Testament Scripture and showing how it spoke of what had happened with and to You, Jesus.  Now they were speaking in the authority of the Holy Spirit.  They were speaking with a new boldness and a new power they did not have before.  Their witness was so powerful, I mean, what they were saying through Your word and what they shared about what You had done on the cross, was so powerful that 5000 men came to believe in You.  And what of their families?  And the religious leaders like Caiaphas, the same guy who said it was “expedient that one should die,” take Peter and John and put them in jail. 

What started the uproar?  What started shaking things up?  Peter and John noticed this beggar outside the Temple gate Beautiful.  Zechariah 9:17 says of You, Lord, “For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!”  Isaiah 33:17, I can’t help but think it is referring to the Lord, “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty…”  “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of His people, and for a spirit of judgment to him that sits in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.”  Isaiah 28:5-6

And here is this crippled man, waiting every day outside the Beautiful gate.  I wonder if every day he hoped that the Lord would intervene on his behalf?  I wonder if Peter and John would have given him much thought before they were changed by the power of the resurrection and of the Holy Spirit.  Oh, wait, I know the answer.  They saw a blind man once and wanted to know whose sin caused it.  They weren’t even thinking about his need to be healed.  But now, something has changed.  They see him there, and they feel about him the same way the Beautiful One feels about him.  And they give him the only thing they have of value to give.

I love the fact that Peter and John said they didn’t have any money but they would give what they had.  I can identify with that part of not having money to give most the time.  But I want to give so badly.  And maybe there is something more valuable than giving material things.  Maybe I can give something of eternal value, something of life changing value to others, just like Peter and John.  Well, Peter and John spoke healing in Jesus’ power, in His name, and the man was healed.  And it started such an avalanche of believers that the religious leaders arrested Peter and John.

Now let’s finish a whirl wind tour of the account.  Before the council, Peter testified as the Holy spirit filled him, that they healed this man by the name of Jesus Christ whom the council had crucified and whom God raised from the dead.  Boldly he declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  They recognized his boldness and that they had been with Jesus.  Everyone saw the healed man.  What could they say against Peter and Paul?  The evidence was so overwhelming.

So the council told them, “Speak no more to anyone in this name.”  Well, Paul and John’s answer was basically, “Think about that.  Would God say it’s right to listen to you more or to Him more?  We don’t have the power not to speak about what we’ve seen and heard.”  Then followed threats, their release, because due to the people, they couldn’t punish them.  All were glorifying God,  the evidence was right there.   When the company heard the testimony they “lifted their voice to God with one accord” in thanks and praise, seeing God’s sovereignty-  tying in to Scripture like Psalm 2:1,2 “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed…”  “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”  They prayed for boldness to speak even in the midst of opposition while “He continued to stretch out His hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of His holy servant Jesus.”  The Holy Spirit shook the place, they were filled with the Spirit, and continued speaking the word of God with boldness. 

So here they were, all the believers with the apostles, surrounded by power, and great grace over them all, mega grace.  So I see that belief is boldness.  But it’s a boldness that comes from the filling of the Holy Spirit.  It’s boldness that comes from a personal knowledge of the Holy One and it is empowered by the Holy One.  I see that belief gives me an eye and a heart for those around me.  I have an attitude where my lack doesn’t matter because I don’t want others to lack.   I willingly and lovingly and joyously share all that is mine for the good of all my brothers and sisters.  I want to care for them as I want to care for my own body.  They have become my body. 

You know, today, I’ve heard a lot of my brothers and sisters in Christ say that this idea of selling everything and living this way isn’t for us.  They say this was for the believers then.  It’s irresponsible now.  Why?  What ever changed?  Did something change?  Who told these believers to lay ” all they had before the apostles feet to be shared with their brothers and sisters in Christ”?  Or did believing, I mean REALLY believing really change their hearts and their desires and their “want to’s”?  Interesting. 

You, know, Lord,  (and of course You do!), I don’t think I ever realized before who this particular believer was that’s mentioned today as following along and selling all his property.  It’s this believer named Joses.  He was a Levite.  That means he was one of those religious people, one of the Temple worship crowd.  But now he believed and he was totally changed.  As a matter of fact, You say he was so changed that he was given a new name, Barnabas.    His name means “son of consolation.”  And that’s pretty meaningful because it means  Son of encouragement.   Isn’t this the Barnabas who we read about accompanying Paul later?

His name comes from the word “paraklesis” and it has everything to do with exhorting, encouraging, and comforting.  And it has everything to do with coming up alongside another in order to do that.  But another tremendous truth is that the Holy Spirit is called a “paraklete.”  He is first the One who comes alongside us, well, actually as close as inside us.  And He exhorts, encourages, and comforts believers.  So, what if the response to sell all and equip all was not just Barnabas’ idea or the idea of the other believers who where acting this way?  What if their response to act like this was just the response of the Holy Spirit, the Paraklete, who now abided in them?  So how have You, Holy Spirit, changed my responses and shaped them to be like Yours?  Or have I let You?

I’ll be the first to say that everyone shouldn’t sell all their possessions.  But, if the Lord moves in Your heart to give it all for the sake of others, follow His lead.  Read on in Acts about Barnabas’ journey in the Lord from that point.  The Lord used him in His great adventure to draw others to Christ and to encourage even Paul.  See, there’s danger in taking other people’s steps of faith; it led another couple to their death.  I have to forsake and give out of the generosity and love of the Holy Spirit’s moving in me.  If I forsake or give for any other reason, other than this new generosity I’ve been given, it’s a lie.  And God will not allow Himself to be represented by a lie.  But love and generosity is at the heart of God.  God is love.  God loves a cheerful giver.  Why?  Because He gives to all men freely that which is of Himself.  There is no end to the treasure that is Him. 

I wonder if it’s just part of Your lovingkindness, chesed in Hebrew.   That part of You that just bestows all good things even to those who don’t deserve it?  And what if this is just an evidence of Your lovingkindness flowing through me, or what amount of it is flowing through me?  Maybe those who realize how greatly they have been forgiven, can realize the greatness of Your lovingkindness.  And I don’t just mean realize it intellectually.  I mean realize it by actually experiencing it.  Then how could I, after having experienced that lovingkindness, not overflow with it to others?

Lord, I want to be filled with Your lovingkindness, Your generosity, Your Spirit, so that I love and live and give like You.  You, the King of Kings, didn’t even have a house of Your own.  And it wasn’t because You couldn’t have one.  You knew there were more important things.  Us.  And You generously gave up all Your rights, You had no property of Your own, and even laid Your pride aside and gave everything for us, so we could have all of You.  If You held nothing back for me, how could I hold something back from You?  Lord, teach me to live as selflessly and as generously as You.  And make me a child of encouragement.  Lord, I’m excited about this adventure in You no matter what it costs me.  To know You, to be Yours, is worth everything.

The Race of a Lifetime

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” But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”  John 20:31

I wonder if our focus has been off somewhat.  I mean, I just found out that my focus was off, and I needed a Divine readjustment.  I was so focussed on where I thought the Lord was taking me, that I wasn’t focussing on my here and now rightly.  And what if we have this focus on getting to Heaven?  Is that really what You, Lord, want my focus to be about?

Why did John, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, write all that he wrote?  John says it was so that we could believe (pisteuo) that You, Jesus, are who You say You are, and by understanding who You really are, by coming to terms with that truth as absolute truth, it would bring us into a living relationship with You.  Or, was John just saying that by this believing, we would receive eternal life because of You?

I think I’ve found that for me, there is a difference between focussing all my thoughts on that future goal and focussing the majority of my thoughts on where I am right now.  Sure, Paul talks about running a race to receive the prize at the end.  But I wonder where the strength and satisfaction really arise from?  Is it the prize at the end?  Or is the prize at the end just the commendation of the process, the work beforehand being well completed.  By the time I get there, isn’t my satisfaction in the whole process of having persevered and prepared and readied myself in such a way that now I have completed all that was set before me?  And now, not only I can say, “I did well,” but there is Someone else who affirms my efforts.  Do I really run for the prize or reward or is the real prize or reward the life well run?

I want to look at Paul’s idea of running that race.  He starts out in 1 Corinthians 9:23 with “And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”  Now, Paul has been showing what his race looks like.  The allegory hasn’t started yet verbally, but it has already started in his life.  But I notice that it has to do with participation, with joint participation.  And here, Paul is talking about joint participation with other believers.  And I have found this to be an awesome part of Your design, Lord, for our journey, because I am not running alone.  My brothers and sisters in You are running this race along with me.  And we may be at different “stations” along the way but that gives them, like Paul, the opportunity to give me pointers, or offers me the opportunity to give others pointers and encouragement along the way.  Praise You, Lord, for that design!  It leads to my success in this race called life in You.

Now, here comes the allegory.  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.”  So, what is this saying?  Only one of us is going to get the prize?  Well that would be futile.  Why run this race of belief then?  But that’s not it.  In the world the race is all for a physical prize.  There are lots of runners but only one wins.  And Paul is helping us to look at how a winner gets to be a winner.  But we are not running in an earthly race for a physical goal.  We aren’t competing against other runners.  Our goal is our realtionship with You, Lord.  Heaven is not my goal.  My crown isn’t my goal.  A life wholly given over to You, surrendered to You, and obedient to You is my goal.  This is all about my life and what I am doing with it and who I am living it for.

Some cultures do a much better job at getting people to think, not just to take everything for granted.  Hebrew thinking was good for that.  Everything wasn’t just taken at face value.  I’ve noticed that in other cultures too.  I must not focus on the race.  I must focus on how my life in Christ relates to a race and to it’s preparation.  It’s all about how I am “running” my life.  The running is the most important part.

“Every athlete excercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”  See, we are only like the earthly runner in little ways.  The preparation is hard.  The only way to finish well is to continue well, to be prepared, and to remain steadfast.  But the earthly athlete strives for that concrete prize, a prize that has no value in the Lord.  What about us?  We run as super conquerors running for our relationship in Christ.  You, Lord, are the wreath we run for.  I run to remain in Your presence.  See, I’m this joint heir with You.  I don’t just partake in the race with other believers.  You partake in the race with me.  The race is all about You and running in You.

But a race is like my walk in You in another way.  I race with my body, my soma.  But it’s not just about my body.  My body is all of me.  All of me is pursuing You and pursuing in You.  I am subjected to You, in You in mind and spirit, in every part of me. 

In Philippians 3:14, Paul says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  See, the prize isn’t Heaven.  The prize is the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Jesus has invited us to be united in His Person.  Is that what I run for?  Does everything about my life shout out, “This is all for You, Jesus.  I am all about You.”?

It’s all about the way I am choosing to live my life now and tomorrow.  Matthew 7:14 attests, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  The way I live my life today, moment by moment, and tomorrow, moment by moment, matters.  It wasn’t designed to be an easy way.  It wasn’t designed to be the most easily accessible way.  But it is the only way that leads to life in Christ, to true life, to life that matters.  But it’s all about life now.  Jesus, You created me to live for You.  I bring You glory as a live for You and in You.  Then people see the life of Christ in me.  Every step I take now matters.  When I’m gone from this life, who will see?  When I’m gone from this life, how can I invite others into life with You.  This is the life I was created to live and glorify You in. 

And it had to be a hard life.  We need to see our need for You.  Let’s not disregard John 3:15,16.  What if we looked at that concerning our life on earth also?  You, Jesus, died and rose again for each of us so that “whosoever believes in [You] should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Sometimes, things in life hit us like a curve ball and we get struck down.  But You are perpetually with those who belong to You.  Therefore, I may be struck down, but I am not destroyed.  Paul agrees with that too.  Even should I be sideswiped by sin, I am not destroyed.  You pick me up, we deal with it, and I continue in abundant life.   

See, the life of Christ in the believer is perpetual, it continues without intermission.  No circumstance can interrupt it.  Think about that.  “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

And the love of God is entwined in the life of God in Christ Jesus.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  It’s all about this amazing perpetual life in Christ that starts the moment we receive Him as our Lord and Savior.  The moment that I commit myself, all of me to Him and in Him, and embark on this race of my life and His life with Him, I’m running with the Prize.  And this Prize I run for, well, I can have Him every day and every moment of my life as long as He lives.  How awesome is that?! 

Oh, Lord, I just want to make sure that I am focussing on what You want me to focus on.  And that’s pretty clear.  I need to be focussing on You, moment by moment.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t stop to think about Your desires for the future, or that I don’t need to do some planning, but I have to watch the here and now so I don’t miss my training that will get me to that point.  My life isn’t about attaining You some day although one day I will have fully attained.  But to know You now is to have apprehended You now in such a way that You have inhabited my life and I have entered into Yours.  So, I haven’t fully apprehended You, but You have fully apprehended me.  Lord, let me lead my life in such a way that daily I am growing to apprehend You as fully as You have me.  Make my life, day by day, and moment by moment, the reality of life in You.

“My Lord and My God!” Really?

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“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’  But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place   my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.'”  John 20:25

Sometimes we wind up eating our own words.  I think this wound up being one of those times for Thomas.  It’s so easy to get this idea of how we expect things to go, of how we expect others to respond, of how our circumstances ought to turn out, or what they should look like. But that’s just the problem.  It becomes all about me and my ideas.  And my ideas and Your ideas, Lord, are not the same.

Now, I have no idea what Thomas was doing when the other disciples were blessed by Your appearing with them in the upper room.  All I know is that Scripture says he was not with them when You came.  And the other disciples told him the extraordinary news.  But Thomas didn’t believe them.  Now, I’m not so sure that the problem was just that Thomas didn’t believe.  Because the other disciples didn’t believe Mary’s testimony.  But Thomas’s response seems to come off as harsher and, well, a bit defiant.

What was Thomas saying?  “You guys have absolutely no discernment at all.  Now, me on the other hand, I would not be duped.  I know what to look for.  And when I see it, I will know.  And if I don’t see what I’m looking for, I absolutely will not be fooled.”  Now, I’m not Thomas, so I really don’t know what was in his heart.  But what was he looking for?  Here is a risen Savior.  Was Thomas looking for a risen Savior or was Thomas looking for the physical representation of his crushed dream to rise again?

All I know is that Thomas was looking for something he could feel, and touch, and see, and understand.  He was looking for what he understood already.  He was looking for something he could explain.  And if it didn’t come his way, if he couldn’t explain it, couldn’t put his finger on it, couldn’t control it, then he wasn’t going to believe it.

And that’s the thing about believing.  I’m such a creature of habit that I do the same thing, even after You, Jesus, have changed my habits.  When I’m not careful, I slide back into them.  And as I slide back into them, I am deceived by them.  And then I find myself living in a lie without even realizing it.  But the glorious thing is that you won’t let us remain there.  You have a way of showing us the lie.

So here is Thomas, and it could as well have been me, wallowing in my own pity, wanting things my own way, yes, even as a believer.  My world is falling apart around me and I am trying to fix the pieces myself and put them back together my way.  Because who likes it when their world falls apart?  It hurts.  Everything is turned upside down.  Who wants to wait and stay in that state?  Only, what if it’s not a mistake or an accident or a tragedy after all?  What if it is part of God’s design to bring me to the point where I actually glorify Him?  What if this awful moment had to come so I could learn what I need to learn about You and about my self?

Eight days passed and I doubt Thomas was bringing himself any closer to the resolution he wanted.  Now, I wish the Lord would bring resolution to me in eight days!  I’ve just been going through something probably for more than a year with a Thomas kind of attitude.  That’s painful, painful in the sense of being a real waste of attitude and time and testimony.  And it’s not that I absolutely am not believing in You, Jesus, but it’s just as terrible to not trust in any particular area.  And sometimes we don’t even realize we have this kind of attitude.  Sometimes we want everyone else to change and don’t understand that I’m the one that needs to take the sunglasses off.

So, eight days after Thomas makes his declaration, You show up when he is in the room.  And You, Jesus, turn directly to Thomas and feed him back his exact words and his desire from eight days ago.  “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Now, I wasn’t there, but I don’t think Thomas followed through on any of those actions that he had desired before.  I think in that moment, Thomas realized how foolish and blind his words were.  What was his response now?  “My Lord and my God!” 

Now listen to Jesus’ words.  I need to listen to them too.  “Have you believed because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Thomas saw Jesus.  Jesus, You didn’t say that he touched You.  He saw You.  You were gracious and answered part of his “bossy” request.  But what if Thomas had remembered Your promises through Scripture?  What if he had so believed in them that he had decided to not believe in the physical evidence?  What if it hadn’t mattered to Thomas what the circumstances looked like because he had determined to trust in Your word no matter what?  Could that be what You, Jesus, are talking about here?

Maybe the most tremendous blessing from You comes to those who are most willing to trust You on the basis of Your word.  Because maybe that’s when we’ve stopped putting You into our perspective and lining You up with our desires and dreams.  Maybe that’s when we absolutely really begin to acknowledge that we don’t have the answers but You are the answer.  Have I believed because I think I’ve narrowed You down to a person who acts in particular ways and then I can manipulate those ways to my advantage?  Or have I believed because I can’t narrow You down.  You are above me and Your ways are above my ways.  Have I come to the point of just acknowledging, “My Lord and my God!”  To get there, first I have to stop being my own lord and god. 

Well, this speaks to the heart that hasn’t trusted yet, who hasn’t believed yet.  But as a believer, I know that this can still speak to me.  Because it’s easy after I have surrendered my life to my Lord and Savior, to take it back up again and start being my own lord and savior again.  So, believer beware, lest I be caught up in this lie again. 

So, I think I’ll end today with a prayer.  I’d like to pray for you and me.  This is from Paul, and it’s in Romans 12 :1-3.  Lord, by Your mercy, may we present all that we are, body, soul, spirit, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to You.  This is spiritual worship.  This is what You do in us and make us capable of.  Keep us ever mindful that our purpose is to glorify You, that our purpose isn’t to be served, but to serve, and that our purpose is to sacrifice our selves just as Jesus, for the sake of others.  So, when we try to walk away from the alter of sacrifice, and we do, draw us back and remind us of our purpose.  And as You teach us what true spiritual worship is, conform us to Your image, not the world’s.  Renew our minds by the power and knowledge of Your word which is truth for eternity and power.  Use it to transform us so that we are no longer what we were.  Make us new creations in You.  Teach us to test everything that passes before us according to Your word and not ours so that we can discern Your will in the midst of everything and anything.  You are the Author of everything good and acceptable and perfect and only You can show us those things.  And by Your grace, keep us from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.  Let our high thoughts be in You and in Your grace to work through us.  And may we concentrate on the way that You have assigned us each to act in Your faith, looking to our own faithfulness, and keeping our focus on You.  And in our faithfulness, may we live lives that compliment the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Truth- The Most Glorious Adventure

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Photo credit to Abigail Vencil Photography.

(The one who saw this happen has spoken of it, so that you also may believe. What he said is true, and he knows that he speaks the truth.) “  John 19:35

It’s funny, or maybe not.  I tend to talk in rabbit trails and sometimes even my studies in Your Word, Lord, follow rabbit trails.  But I suppose if I want to catch that rabbit at last, I have to follow it’s trail.  Actually, I’m not really sure if it works that way for catching rabbits.  It’s probably more that they just hop around sporadically.  But I’m finding that following Your leading is always purposeful.  And though I may not see how it is all going to fit together at first, and though I don’t even know that where I started is going to lead to where I finish, it’s beautiful when it all comes together.

So, today all started with watching a video based on an anecdote that promotes that Albert Einstein refuted an atheistic professor about the existence of God.  I love anecdotes.  I write my own sometimes, with Your guidance, Lord.  But I’ve found that I need to check up on a lot of these sweet, lovely stories that say, “Mr. So And So said this.”  And often in the checking of this beautiful anecdote or speech, when I check into the validity of it being said by the person it’s been attested to, I find that often that is not the case.  And I ask myself, “What danger do I do as a believer when I promote something as truth and allow a lie to be attached to it?”  And most people are just trusting that others, maybe other believers, wouldn’t send something out that isn’t all true.  But I think it’s because we don’t verify for ourselves.  We haven’t been trained up to be like the Bereans.  We take it as a personal insult if someone doesn’t believe us.

I don’t see that happening with Paul.  In Berea, he presented the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As he and Silas presented the truth to the Bereans, in the synagogue, so get this- they were Jews, what was their response?  Scripture says, “The people there were more NOBLE than those of Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, EXAMINING THE SCRIPTURES DAILY…”  Why?  “To see if these things were so.”  What then happened?  “Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” 

Did I get that?  They examined to find if what Paul was saying was really true.  And how did Paul and Silas feel about it?  Were they insulted because the Bereans didn’t trust them?  Absolutely not.  Because it’s not about trusting my word.  It’s about trusting Your Word, God.  It’s about each one of us searching to find the truth, even if it means checking out an internet story or video.  So how did Paul and Silas feel about the Bereans searching out the truth?  They said the Bereans were more NOBLE than the Thessalonians who didn’t even check it out to see if it was true.  So maybe if I want to be commended as more noble than the Thessalonians, I need to know how to examine things for the truth.  After all, You are Truth. 

Being the Truth, it is Your desire and the Holy Spirit’s function to guide us into all truth, not just some.  All truth matters.  Darkness can’t dwell where there is light.  All truth matters.  1 Timothy 2:4 tells us You “would have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”  And 2 Timothy 3:7 reminds us that there is a danger of being “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  I can be a Berean or I can be a Thessalonian.  I can eagerly come to the knowledge of the truth or I can ignore the truth and keep learning what I want the way I want, and keep living in all the lies I want, and never really ever stop to see them as lies.

So that’s what started things off today, a beautiful message with a little lie tacked on.  Oh, wait, “little lie” is a part of man’s vocabulary.  But the Truth tells me every lie is DEEP, DARK SIN and STANDS IN THE FACE OF HOLY GOD.  It’s not just any truth that matters.  Your Truth, God, Your Truth, Jesus, is what is real Truth.  Nothing else matters.

Now, here is John, testifying of You, Jesus, that not one bone was broken on the cross.  Here he is, an eye witness to Your life and death on the cross, and soon to be an eye witness to Your resurrection.  And there is one thing that is all important to John, that what he is telling about You is TRUE and he knows that this is the TRUTH.  Because only by sharing the truth through knowing the truth can others believe.  And how do we know that John is telling the TRUTH?  When I go back to Scripture, Old Testament Scripture, it confirms it.  But I need to be a Berean for a moment to do that. 

My youngest daughter really desires adventure.  Her new motto that she is going to put on a throw pillow she is making is “Dare to Roam.”  I love adventure.  But seeking adventure without seeking the TRUTH is an empty exploit.  Daniel 11:32 says, “And such as do wickedly against the convenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”  Now the interesting thing here is that “exploits” is really an added word.  The actual Hebrew word is “asah” and it stops at “do.”  Asah “is a verb that usually means a deliberate action with distinct purpose.”  (Skip Moen)  It’s used in the way that God formed people.  Look up the list of what it means sometimes.  The list is really long.

And maybe how this relates is that I have to search out the Truth, always, in everything.  In the path on the adventures I take.  In the things I read and the songs I sing.  In the things I hear and the words I speak or write.  Because the Truth is the foundation.  To have that foundation in the Truth that is Jesus is to find my purpose.  So here’s the good news.  The people who take the time to seek out the truth and find it in Jesus and then continually seek truth in Him, they won’t be shaken by lies.  They will have this unshakeable foundation in You, Lord.  And everything that is in You, will come forth from them at all the times when it is needed.  The exploits they’ll do will all come from the purpose that You have designed for them and that You are bringing to pass moment by moment.  Living in the Truth is how we glorify You and You glorify Yourself in us. 

Finding the Truth, finding You, and then living in You moment by moment is the most glorious adventure.  And this is the adventure that You have invited us on.  And this is the adventure that You draw us to and give us the desire for.  Will I seek You out?  Will I respond to the Truth You have presented in You?  Will I receive it?  Will I search it out and come to truly believe?  Will You, the Truth, become Everything to me?  Will I choose to handle the word of Truth correctly?  Will my whole life show it?  Will I take that risk and make myself that vulnerable?  Whatever the truth is, will I seek that and obey that?  Will I?  Lord, may I fulfill Your creative and glorious purpose in me to let You perform Your Truth in me and through me.  May I live such a glorious adventure in Truth in You that others are drawn to seek Your truth and presence also. 

How About Some Holy Shock and Awe?

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Not sure who photo credit goes to, but thanks to whoever took this photo.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent Me.”  John 17:20,21

Lord,  what does that really look like?  What does it look like to truly be one?  Because believing in You brings me into this oneness.  It’s one thing to say we must be one, but it’s a whole other thing to be one.  And You ask it, so it’s only something that the Father can do.  So it’s only a place You can take us.  And I use “place” for lack of a better word right now.  See, I know those words, Lord.  I can transmit those words.  But what does it mean?  Has it been transmitted to me in such a way that I really understand what You mean, because if I don’t know the meaning, neither can I transmit the meaning.

I need to look back at Your prayer for us, for me.  And as I look back, I see that it all starts with Your glory and the glory of the Father.  And You are the glory of the Father.  But if it all starts there with Your glory; if that’s the heart of things, then what’s at the heart of me?  Am I all about Your glory?  So I have to ask myself how in the world can I glorify You?  How could I ever be capable of that? 

And then You bring me to the answer.  I’m not.  I’m absolutely incapable of glorifying You…on my own.  But You, Jesus, have the power from and of God to make us, me, a glory to You.  And You do this by giving eternal life.

How can that make me glorifying to You?  How can the fact of You giving me eternal life make me a glory to You?  Well, it’s because it’s not just a fact.  What is it?  What is eternal life?  Eternal life isn’t about going to heaven.  It’s not about a pie in the sky and escape from this world.  This is eternal life- that I might know You, Jesus as God.  But what does it mean to know You?

Does it mean to understand the reality of who You are and who You have always been?  You want me to see the glory that has always been Yours since before You even created the world.  So what if I took my eyes off of everything I know and just got to know You?  How do I do that?

I don’t know how but You make Yourself, God, apparent to us.  You somehow, miraculously, make Yourself “visible” to me.  And somehow it’s tied in with keeping Your word.  But we’re only able to keep Your word because You gave it to us first.  We received it and we believed it.  But it was never by our own power.  You are the One who makes it manifest. 

You pray for what is Yours.  What makes something Yours?  How does one get to be Yours because, being Yours, is being God’s and being God’s is being Yours and to just be in You is to bring glory to You.  Is that amazing?  What did I do?  Nothing.  I’m just inside You.  Maybe it was never about what I’m doing but it’s always about what You are doing in me.

And then You pray that as You leave this world to be fully united with the Father, He would keep us in all that He is.  That He would keep us through His power.  That in keeping us, we would be one, as You and God are one.  One.  One how?  One body?  One will?  One mind?  One what?

You prayed these things for me because I’m not good at this.  It doesn’t come naturally.  You were the One who first saw the danger and You guarded me before I ever saw the need.  And You continually guard me but as I come to know You, Eternal Life, You continually guard me.  How are You glorified in this?  Is it because I come to learn in You how to guard myself by Your power?  Do I come to see things as You see them?  Do I come to recognize the danger and respond Your way?

Because somehow You share the heart of God, Your heart, in Your words and actions, and somehow this fulfills my joy.  How does something go from reading and head knowledge to actually filling me with joy?

You gave us the word, Your word.  How important is that?  Well, somewhere along the line, having Your word causes the world to hate us.  Somewhere along the line Your word causes us to not be like the world.  Somewhere along the line, Your word causes us to not even be of the world any more.  Somewhere along the line, Your word identifies us with and in You.

And though we are no longer of the world, the goal isn’t to rapture us up out of it.  Your goal is to guard us, keep us from the evil one.  So, though I am not of the world, I was created to live in this world, even in this world occuppied by the evil one.  What?  Why?  It’s not all about going to heaven?  Wasn’t I created to be with You?  Or was I created to glorify You?  And was I created to be one in You?  And what if to be one in You in a fallen world, to shine Your glory in a fallen world, to stand and show Your victory against the flow of the evil one, is the goal?  What if shining Your glory forth is what it’s all about?

I’m not of this world just like You are not, Jesus.  But if I’m in a perfect holy place, I don’t need to be set apart.  In a perfect holy place, everything is holy.  You can’t be sanctified in a perfect holy place.  In a perfect holy place everything is perfect already.  But in a world, where the evil one is temporarily reigning, now that’s where I am sanctified.  That’s where I am set apart from the evil one and his ways.  That is where the glory of God needs to shine.  That is where the Truth must reign.  That is where the word is needed desperately.  God, You are already glorified in heaven.  But on earth, You must be glorified.  And You glorify Yourself on earth as You sanctify us and set us apart in You.

Now, as You were sent into the world, that’s how You send us into the world.  How were You sent into the world?  By the power and grace of God, You were sent “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  My glorious God came in all His power, yet in absolute humility, not to receive, but to minister, and to minister to the extent of self-sacrifice.  You gave Your life as a ransom, a payment to free us.  And this is how You send me.  Is that my heart?  Am I desiring to minister more than I am looking to be ministered to?  Is that my heart’s desire, to minister to others.  Would I give my life a ransom for others?  What would I give up?  Or would I?

And here I have this Savior, this God, who though He was God, yet He sanctified Himself so we might be sanctified.  What in the world does that mean?  Why would a holy God need to sanctify Himself?  Is this really so easy to understand?  What does “hagiazo,” “sanctified,” really mean here?

Hagiazo, “entering into a state of holiness” represented “an act of dedication to God’s absolute standard of holiness.”  It was a word strongly related to religious practice and ritual.  For the Jew in Your day, Jesus, it would describe “those who keep Torah and who separate themselves from pagan practices.”  So how did You sanctify Yourself?  Because that is how I am to be sanctified, set apart.  What if it had to do with being a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”?  Am I separated from the world just as You were?  Am I set apart for God, and only for God, as You were?  Am I a living example of Your perfect unity and obedience like You?   Your death was a sacrifice unlike all sacrifices.  You weren’t just an offering.  You were the first offering that ever knew what was happening, that ever willingly of their own accord, said, “Take my life, Lord, it is Yours, not mine.”  You are the first sacrifice ever that died to self in the process.  So You were even set apart from every other sacrifice.  Am I set apart in that way?  Am I so separated that I have died to self?  Because this is where Your truth wants to bring me.  Holiness only comes by dying. 

These things being prayed for the disciples are Your prayers for me and every believer ever, anywhere.  And how do we get there?  By the power of Your word, even as it is shared through a believer.  Because that’s just it.  Your word is that powerful.  It was the power that transformed the first believer.  And it’s the power that transforms every believer.  So Your word that has worked in us, works through us.  Why?  It is the glory of God and it is God glorifying Himself through us.  And how are You glorified?  By making us one, one with You, one with each other, just as You and the Father are One.  In unity with You the world will believe and in unity with You, You are glorified. 

In You alone is perfection and You alone are the One who perfects us, who makes us like You.  And as You make us like You, it brings glory to You.  And as You make us like You, in You, the world sees You.  And as all this is being accomplished in You, Your measureless love is manifested before the world. 

To be with You.  That has always been my dream.  But to know that You prayed that for me because You wanted that for me first, what can I say?  And that because of You, I know the Father?  And that You continually make Yourself known and impart the same love that the Father had for You, to me?  And that love is You?  And You are in me and working in me?

Now, I may seem to be taking a really big jump here.  But the thought was actually already in my mind at the start of the verse.  Because I’m really trying to understand the whole truth of oneness.  And it takes me back to the beginning, back to Genesis 2:24.  “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife:  and they shall be one flesh.”  And I really need to understand this.  I really need to get this, to grasp this in it’s reality and how to make this true in my life.  And I can’t do it without You, Lord.  Because without You, it’s like trying to read a foreign language.

So, when this man “forsakes” his father and his mother, is this like dying to self and entering a new life?  Can this be applied to my walk, even though I’m not a man?  Can the father and mother here be forsaking what I’m “used to” knowing and dying to it to start a new life with You?

And that part about being one flesh, that’s from the Hebrew word “echad.”  And that’s more than interesting because Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD…”  So that’s what made You a stumbling block to the Jews, because God is one.  But You are that One.  In Hebrew thinking it doesn’t just imply oneness as in an “individual, single entity.  The word actually means a ‘unit’ or ‘unified’, a combined entity.  We think of ‘one tree’ as a single entity but, in the Ancient Hebrew mind it is a unit of many parts; roots, trunk, branches, leaves.”(Jeff A. Benner)  So here is this whole idea you’ve been praying for, Jesus, in me, in all believers, this unity of Yourself, the Father, and the Spirit and our unity within that unity, a unit of many parts where You are what brings us all together.  Initiated by and in the Father.  Created by and in the Father.  Sustained by and in the Father.  To glorify the Father, not me.

Like Jesus did.  Die to self.  Turn my back on my rights and my feelings for the love of others.  Leave my ways.  Walk into newness of life.  Cling and adhere to Your new ways that have always been but were just foreign to me.  And when I die to self, leave my self behind, and adhere to You, I shall be one with You and all those who think and do as You.

And it’s not just about me and You, Lord.  It’s about me and my neighbor, and about me and my mom and dad, and it’s about me and my husband, and me and my kids, and about You in it all.  So, even though You are working in me, I’m still not the focus.  The focus is always You.  And the focus is not even on others.  But the focus is on You.  And the focus is on You reaching out to us.  The focus for me is on You and how You can reach out of me back to You and to them. 

So maybe if I really learned this, really appreciated what You were really praying here for each of us, maybe my life would look different then it does right now.  Did you know that learning hurts?  Well, it hurts when it has to do with sin.  Because sin always hurts.  And sometimes sin doesn’t look like what we think it ought.  Sometimes it looks so much more subtle that we don’t recognize it.  Sometimes idols don’t look like idols. 

Jimmy Needham sings a song called “Clear the Stage.”  And some of the lyrics relate so well to today’s thoughts.  “You can sing all you want to and still get it wrong;”  Ever think you were singing the right lyrics only to find out you had misheard some of the words?  It happens in our Christian walk.  Only it’s not just a mistake.  Sin is worse that a mistake.  When I become a hindrance to another because of my “faulty”, no, that need’s to be crossed out, sinful attitude, because I want my will over the Lord’s, it doesn’t matter if I call it my will, if it’s not, it’s sin.  It doesn’t matter what I call it if it’s not Your way.  What You call it matters.

And the lyrics don’t stop there:  “We must not worship something that’s not even worth it.  Clear the stage, make some space for the one who deserves it.  Anything I put before my God is an idol.  Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.  Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.  Anything that I give all my love is an idol”

So though I seem to have gone from one extreme to another, it all relates to me.  Because if I am not wholly letting You be first, be preeminent, be my everything, than I have an idol.  If it’s not all about You, I’m in terrible sin.  There is no little sin.  SIN IS TERRIBLE.  It’s terrible because it’s against You, it’s not of You, it’s foreign to You.  And how can I fulfil my purpose in You, to glorify You, when I submit to sin? 

Lord, there are things that were good and pure that have become sin in my heart and in my mind.  I am so sorry.  I’m sorry beyond measure, Lord.  And I am so thankful beyond measure that still You love me beyond measure.  Even when I allow something to become an idol, You are there to show me that idol and give me the opportunity in Your power to take it captive and demolish it. 

Lord, my worst enemy isn’t on the outside.  It’s not even satan.  ( I don’t even want to capitalize his name, because I love to capitalize all of Your references.) My biggest enemy is my mind.  And You knew that, always, and Paul knew it.  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”  How, Lord?  Because I’ve allowed some foreign strongholds.  “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.”  Lord, I’m taking these thoughts captive now.  Show me how to obey You instead.  I need it straight from You.  Blow these wrong thoughts to obliteration.  Lord, I need Your holy blitzkrieg, Your holy shock and awe.  Teach me to know You so well, make Yourself so known to me, that I know how to submit and obey.  And keep my eyes on You alone.  Let me leave other’s responses to You.  Let me be so focussed in You that Your every desire determines my response to others no matter their response.  And may I be filled with the love and grace that You have shed upon me to overflowing so that that is what flows from me to others.