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200b

It’s perplexing being a Christian. I’m not seeking sympathy. This is just an attempt to discuss the realities of the Christian life. For example, we are thankful for peace among nations. At the time of this writing, anxiety exists concerning peace on the Korean peninsula and with Iran, and the primary concern is nuclear weapons. Christians sincerely hope, along with the rest of the countries of the world, that peace will be assured, and nuclear holocaust will not loom over us. No one rejoices in the destruction of cities or countries. Christians are to pray for peace in our time: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).1 Yet, we are told this concerning the days to come: “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–3).

Thus, if peace were present around the world, we would be anticipating the worst to happen.

Disconcerting.

In a related way, most people are happy when their community progresses, when a new business arrives in town and provides jobs; proud when it rights a wrong or delivers justice to those who were denied it. Our chests may swell a bit when our soldiers have defeated an evil enemy or, on the contrary, ashamed of how we have wronged others. Whether we are proud or ashamed or both, Christians know that their kingdom is not of this world. We seek a better country. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). We have a higher allegiance. “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world’” (John 18:36).

Thus, when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come,” we are praying that someday our country will be brought to an end.

Christians live in Contraryville.

We enjoy this life. We enjoy our children, grandchildren, our families. We enjoy God’s creation: beautiful sunsets and sunrises, mountains, rivers, flowers, stars—so many created things—even thunderstorms. We enjoy a good laugh and good friends. However, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:1–4).

We love life yet long for it to end.

Perplexing.

Christians are to lead but not as the world does. When Peter and John’s mother came to Jesus and asked that her sons might sit next to Him on His throne, He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28). We are to follow Jesus and lead as He did. He prepared and served the disciples breakfast (John 21:9-13). He washed their feet (John 13:1-20). He, as exalted Lord of all, will serve us at the great banquet in heaven (Luke 12:35-37). He died for us, the ultimate expression of love. We do not understand how to be leaders in these ways. We seem to be able to think only in hierarchical terms

Christians live in Upsidedown Town.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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200t

Before I begin this article, I want to honor and thank those who have suffered loss, injury, or death to protect the rights we now enjoy, that permit me to publish this article. May the Lord bless and comfort you and may these freedoms continue.

Now, on with the matter—the question—at hand.

How does a Christian gain a greater knowledge of God? We have known the answers since we were babes in the faith. Pray. Read the Bible, God’s word to us. Go to church. But Scripture doesn’t tell us how much to read the Bible or how much or how often to pray. Or how often to go to church. Books have been written about this, and no doubt good ideas are contained therein, although I’ve never understood the journaling thing. Where in Scripture are we ever instructed to do this?

Nowhere.

Regardless, no advice of any kind, no “how-to’s,” will have a significant impact on our spiritual lives unless we love God with our whole hearts. If we do not do this, all our praying, Bible reading, and church going become just rote exercises. Too many of us have not seriously considered Jesus’ commandment to take up our crosses and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-26). We have turned it into a metaphor: “Oh that’s just her cross to bear.” No. Picking up a cross and following Him means dying. Yes, certainly, dying to ourselves daily, but also the possibility that you may really have to die for Him. Will you? Jesus told us we cannot be His disciples unless we love Him more than our families, our stuff, and our very lives (Luke 14:25-34). I understand that no one can fully love God as much as we would like to (Matthew 22:34-40). However, we should set that as our goal in life. If we think we do not love God fully, we should be honest with ourselves and Him and ask for such love. Otherwise, Christian friend, you are just going through the motions, and your love will grow cold, no matter how much Christian stuff you are doing. To what Christian stuff am I referring? Not just praying, reading the Bible, and going to church. Serving in ministry. On the worship team. As a pastor. An elder. A leader. A prophet or any believer with gifts. A teacher. A home group leader. Serving in children’s ministry. Therefore, I recommend that you start right now. Ask for a love for Him that is greater than your love for yourself and this world. And keep praying it. Our love is like the morning dew:

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes early away (Hosea 6:4). 1

What’s next? You should consider how you think about Almighty God and about Jesus, God incarnate.

Think about God—about Jesus—as the Creator of all things (Colossians 1:15–16). When He was dying on the cross, the Creator of all things was dying bodily. When people hit Him, they were hitting the Creator of all things. When they mocked Him, they were mocking their Creator. When He walked on water, the Creator was walking on water.

Think of God as perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4). Perfect in ability. Perfect in knowledge. Perfect in everything. He makes no mistakes. He knows what He’s doing—perfectly.

Think about Him as sovereign (1 Timothy 6:12-16). Perfectly sovereign. Nothing happens on the earth or in the universe that He does not cause or allow.

Think of Him as perfect in knowledge. He knows you perfectly. When you go in. When you go out. Your thoughts (Psalm 139:1-4). The names and numbers of the stars (Psalm 147:4). Every sparrow that falls. The number of the hairs on your head (Luke 12:6-7).

Think of Him as the perfect and good law-giver (Psalm 119:165). All His commands are for your good. Strive to follow them, although you will surely fail. Then you can thank Him for His grace, repent, and keep striving, asking for His help.

Think of God as eternal. He knew about what you are presently experiencing and the end of them before the worlds were. He loves you now, and He will love you forever. Because you are a Christian, you will live forever. The rewards you will be given are yours forever. Your sonship is yours forever. His rulership is forever, and His government will not change. No primaries. No elections.

Think of Him in these ways. Think about Him this way when you wake up and make Him among your first thoughts of the day. Say good morning to your Creator, your Savior, your Father.

Think of Him in these ways during the day. Thank Him for His creation. The flowers you see. The birds. The clouds. The rain and snow. The mountains, hills, rivers, and streams. All created things on earth, under the sea and in heaven. Thank Him for your salvation. Thank Him for ultimate truth. For eternal life. For His sovereign rulership in all things.

Think of Him in these ways when you lie down to go to sleep. Say goodnight to your Creator. Thank Him that, incredibly, you are able to know and talk to the Creator sovereign God—the only such Being in the universe—and that you could have never entered that relationship on your own. That you are a son, a co-heir with Jesus, through no doing of your own whatsoever. A holy one, a saint. That you have been given His righteousness, the state to which you would never have attained. Ever.

If you continue this path, I am deeply convinced that you will grow in your knowledge of God.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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A pleasant surprise arrived on my now-defunct-tech iPod the other day. I was listening to a message by Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas. Here’s a transcript of the part that made me happy (I edited it a bit for clarity):

This is the world to come. But here’s the question. Who rules it? Now, don’t let Sunday School bust outta ya. ‘Cause you can always answer, “Jesus,” and you’re somewhat right. You can, “Yeah, somehow Jesus can empower that,” but that’s not where the author of Hebrews goes. As much as our heart goes, “Jesus rules the world to come. Jesus does,” that’s not what the writer of Hebrews says. The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm Eight. Do you know who Psalm Eight’s about? Psalm Eight’s about you. Psalm Eight’s about me. Who rules the world to come? We do. Put your pitchfork away. Let me do some work. This is not the first time this idea is present in Scripture. Here’s the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Ephesus through his disciple, Timothy: “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also”—what with Him? “Reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us…” And one of my favorite phrases: “…if we are faithless,” He remains what? “Faithful” (2 Timothy 2:11–12) 1

Do you see it? This is not the only place. The apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). By what criteria? Here’s my theologically informed answer: I have no idea. But here’s what I know: that glory is not me on a cloud playing a harp, singing forever. That glory is me in the full faith in Jesus Christ ruling and reigning alongside of Him forever. This is the dynasty that we’ve been talking about. This is the ammunition we have against the shallow, vain promises of this present world. Right. You want me to trade that for what? This dirt?2

I am glad Matt addressed this truth. And here are few more scriptures which deserve our consideration, that will add to our wondrous bewilderment:

“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” (1 Corinthians 6:1–2).

I think Matt Chandler would have the same theologically informed answer for this one, too—“I have no idea”—and I have no idea, either; nor does anyone else. This is wondrous bafflement—but it seems to me that, somehow, saints will be functioning in the full, sinless mind of Jesus then, unlike the cloudy condition in which we find ourselves today: “The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:15–16). In addition, we won’t be reigning alone, but with Him, as Paul told Timothy in the scripture Chandler quoted from 2 Timothy.

To continue the divine perplexity, we should consider these verses: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17).

What will it mean in eternity to be an heir of Christ? Again, scriptural information is sparse. However, we should ask, “Are we heirs with God, fellow heirs with Jesus, if we suffer with Him?” The passage from 2 Timothy says, “…if we endure, we will also reign with Him.”

Do these verses indicate that our reigning with Jesus is conditional?

Other puzzling passages exist, two of them from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

These two verses seem to me to be a corollary to Jesus saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Endurance. Steadfastness. Meekness. Poverty of spirit. Powerless, like children.

I wish I had greater understanding of this, but Scripture is not as defining as we would like it to be. That should be no surprise. Jesus said many things that, after centuries, cause the studying saints to scratch their heads and question—much as His disciples did. However, these truths are in Scripture, the very words of God. We know that, somehow, we will be judges, reigning with Jesus, and those eternal realities are connected to suffering, enduring with Him, humility, and powerlessness. These are all good things. We should take heed, consider, and obey.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

2The Entry and Death of Jesus, March 28, 2018. The Village Church.

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In last week’s article, we addressed the fantasy that Christians can, by their actions, gain access to God’s power. This week, I’d like to address the thinking that claims Christians must be quiet and still to hear God’s voice.

The biblical examples that put the boot to this error are manifold. Let’s look at the very first example in Scripture. Adam heard God’s voice in the garden readily. He commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). “Well,” the reader may say, “of course he heard His voice. He was sinless.” However, after they had sinned, the Lord spoke to both Adam and Eve—while they were hiding (Genesis 3:8-19).

How about Noah? No biblical evidence exists that Noah was praying when he heard the Lord say, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:13)1

Abraham? This is the account of the Lord’s first words to him when he was living in Haran: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing’” (Genesis 12:1–2). Abraham wasn’t praying. In fact, as far as we know, he and his family probably worshiped idols: “Haran was an Aramaean city and was famous for its worship of the lunar Sin-and-Nikkal cult. This system was an offspring of the cult found in Sumerian Ur. Sin and his wife Nikkal were not only revered here, but throughout Canaan and even in Egypt.” 2

Moses? He had turned aside the see a bush that was burning but not consumed. “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’” (Exodus 3:4). No praying there. He was out shepherding the sheep (Exodus 3:1).

None of these men were quietly waiting so they could hear Him.

Joshua? “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel’” (Joshua 1:1–2).

Should I go on? How about the prophets? The very first verse of Isaiah begins this way: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isaiah 1:1).

I trust that this is enough Old Testament evidence to put to flight the thought that a person must be quiet and still to hear God’s voice.

However, perhaps things changed in the New Testament. This is an interesting example from the life of Peter: “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth” (Acts 10:9–11).

I think it is noteworthy —and a bit humorous—that while he was praying, he realized he was hungry, so he asked some ladies, I assume, to rustle up some grub—and after he had made the request, he received a vision. It’s not a stretch to say that the Lord waited until after he was done praying to give the vision.

We could go on, of course. Mary. Joseph. The shepherds. No one praying in those cases.

The outstanding example that provides contrary evidence is John, in the Book of Revelation. It’s possible John was praying when this happened: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea’” (Revelation 1:10–11).

There are always exceptions, but the biblical evidence is substantial: If God wants to speak to you, you will know it. Period. However, I am not maintaining that God does not speak when people pray. He has spoken to me as I was praying or worshipping but often when I was not—in particular, three calls to ministry, two of them by place name. The warning of judgment I wrote of last week is another example among many.

The current teaching about how to hear God’s voice by being quiet and still is unnecessary, to put it kindly. In much the same way that Christians cannot do something to “access God’s power,” they likewise cannot do something to hear the voice of God Almighty. He will speak to you when He pleases. If it’s Him, there is no doubt you will hear Him. I encourage the reader to study this claim in Scripture to discover the truth of it.

One word of caution. If you hear words that are contrary to Scripture, you will know the voice is not His.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

2Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Haran (Place). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 927). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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My wife and I watched a movie entitled The Nativity Story the other night. I know, I know. It’s not Christmas. I’m thankful for this film, although like all such cinematic endeavors concerning biblical accounts, liberties were taken, but none that gave us much heartburn. I am thankful because it showed, with some accuracy, hopefully, the raw reality of those days in Judea, as the Romans called it, in particular the distances Mary and Joseph had to cover in order to be participants in God’s call to them. And a wondrous call it was. To give birth to and provide a family for, the Lord God Almighty Incarnate.

Quite a calling.

You all know the story, surely, so we’ll just cover some highlights that are pertinent to this piece.

One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said,

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:31–33). 1

You know. Just normal stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I have never had an angel appear to me, much less have him speak to me. (I have had three dreams from the Lord, and none of them was pleasant.) Joseph, the man to whom she was betrothed, had four different divine encounters: The Lord Himself originally spoke to him in a dream and told him to take Mary to be his wife. An angel in a dream told him to flee Bethlehem and travel to Egypt. He was warned in a dream to leave Egypt and return to Israel, and then, specifically to Nazareth.

Both Joseph and Mary were called to this task. We are not told why the Lord chose them, that there was anything “special” about them. Keep this in mind, please, when the Lord chooses you or someone else to do a task. There is nothing special about you or them. And, as it was with Joseph and Mary, engaging in that task may involve some harsh experiences along the way.

In order to participate in this glorious calling, Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to Egypt, and Egypt back to Nazareth, a journey which covered hundreds of miles. Exact numbers are hard to come by, since we don’t know which routes they took. We don’t know how many miles they walked in a day (Mary was either pregnant or they were toting the child, Jesus), nor do we know if they used a donkey or not. Nevertheless, they spent many days, weeks, months on the road in all sorts of weather and possible dangers from robbers, animals, and iffy road conditions.

What would you say to the Lord if He asked you to walk hundreds of miles and spend months on the road in possibly treacherous conditions so you could to participate in His “wonderful plan for your life?”

Or to suffer soul-challenging humiliation?

I hope you would answer affirmatively.

Think about this.

At first the angel Gabriel told only Mary. Why didn’t He tell Joseph right away? Their families? The townsfolk? Because He didn’t, Mary faced fearful disgrace because of her pregnancy, as did Joseph. This is why, I think, Mary quickly left Nazareth to visit Elizabeth. Note the phrase “with haste” in this passage:

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (Luke 1:39–40).

Remember, Gabriel had told Mary some wonderful news:

And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren (Luke 1:36).

I can’t help but wonder if another reason Mary fled to Elizabeth is because she—Elizabeth—was the only person she knew of who had also had a divine encounter with God.

There’s something to be said about such fellowship. No one else understands it. “Right. You’re pregnant by the Holy Spirit with God’s son. Um…”

Finally, the Lord told Joseph to return to Nazareth after their time in Egypt, back to their families, back to those townsfolk—back to that humiliation.

So, Christian, do you want to be chosen by God? It may involve brutal travel. Humiliation. More humiliation. More harsh travel.

But the blessing involved? Glorious. Immensely soul-satisfying. I told the Lord just the other morning that I would not trade the humiliations, the arduous hours of travel, the sicknesses, those wonderous experiences, for all the gold in the world.

It is true. I would not, and my wife agrees.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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200w

I’d rather not be broken to pieces, thank you very much.

However, that is what God has in mind for me and for you.

Yes. God will break us, more than once.

Welcome to life with Jesus, the Almighty God. This brokenness is what He desires:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).1

The meaning of the Hebrew word “broken” here is clear. It means shatter or smash.

Something like Captain America told the Hulk to do.

And the word “contrite,” while seeming to be a little less, um, destructive, isn’t.

דָּכָה [dakah /daw·kaw/] v. A primitive root (compare 1790, 1792); TWOT 428; GK 1920; Five occurrences; AV translates as “break” three times, “contrite” once, and “crouch” once. 1 to crush, be crushed, be contrite, be broken. 1A (Qal) to be crushed, collapse. 1B (Niphal) to be crushed, be contrite, be broken. 1C (Piel). 1C1 to crush down. 1C2 to crush to pieces.2

So, how does a Christian go about obtaining a broken and contrite spirit? I think the reality of this uncomfortable truth is that it will just simply happen, and, to a lesser or greater extent, is always difficult. No one is immune. Remember, our God will shake everything that can be shaken and is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:25-29).

After telling the Parable of the Master of the Vineyard, and how the vinedressers had refused the owner of the vineyard, this happened:

But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Luke 20:17–18).3

Yes, Christian brothers and sisters, you and I will be broken because at one time in our lives we fell upon the Stone, acknowledging our need, our sinful malady. Nevertheless, we may bristle a bit at these words in the wonderful hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

We may say, “Now, wait a minute. Come on, now. I’m not completely helpless.”

I hope you do not think this way, but the truth is, all too often, I’m not sure that I don’t think this way, too. Oh, prideful humans, created by God, the ones whom God resists.

The good news is that we, if we follow our Savior, will come to admit how feeble we are. It’s a threatening admission. We do not want our weakness to be revealed. Helplessness is contrary to our human thinking. We want to be strong. We want to show how in control we are, how intelligent; how we just know we will come out swinging and winning.

I get that. I do, too. But sooner or later, we will encounter something which will force us to admit that none of the positive attributes we have relied upon will work. And after a series of such events, we will be much more eager to fall on our knees and admit our weakness, our inability to solve problems on our own.

We are not like cultures which, when life is difficult, turn to idols for help. We do not worship idols in the West.

We worship ourselves. When I write, “We worship ourselves,” I do not mean that we fall on our knees, raise our hands and praise and offer thanks, repeating our names. No, worship of another entails trusting in it above all others.

This idol-worshiping human pride God intends to break for our own good. Break, so He can heal and restore because His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9),

God is good and only does what is good for us, so that all might praise His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:3-6).

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).4

 

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

3The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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giphy 4

The Christian God is so full of wonder, overflowing in adventurous mystery. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will not fully comprehend the nature of this stunning, sovereign God. His ways are higher than ours. Not just a little higher: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). 1

So, as a case in point, I’d like to dig with you into the call of Paul. No, not the conversion of Saul, but his calling to the mission field.

Here are the verses we’ll be looking at, as well as the portion that will follow:

“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1–3).

So, a question. How did those gathered know the Holy Spirit said this? Did He speak through a prophet? Who? That is unknown. And here is where those who deny the present reality of the gifts of the Spirit cannot comprehend what happened that day. I think we can properly assume that more than one person heard from the Holy Spirit in that gathering. Or, relying upon my experience in such circumstances, many of those in that place experienced what is often called a “witness in their spirit.” I guess it could also be called a divine amen. You just know that you know that you know that it’s the Lord.

So, based upon this biblical experience—and that’s what it was—these believers fasted, prayed, and “laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

All is well, right? Well, not if you are Paul and Barnabas, because immediately the question must have come to mind, “Where are we to go?”

We are not told in the verses that follow this sending off how these two men decided where to go. We read next, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them” (Acts 13:4–5).

Here is their journey thus far.

Selucia. Nothing happened.

Cyprus. Nothing happened.

Salamis. Nothing happened.

Then, according to the narrative that follows, they went to Paphos. Here, a magician named Elymas was saved (Acts 13:6-12). They met no resistance in Paphos; nevertheless, they moved on to Perga, where again, nothing of note was done by the Lord.

This is when John Mark left for Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

Paul and Barnabas then traveled to Antioch in Pisidia. Paul preached a great message, probably for ten or fifteen minutes. The Gentiles, whom Paul in his sermon had notified could receive eternal life, rejoiced. However, the Jews were unhappy and forced the two men to leave (Acts 13:14-52).

Paul and Barnabas then traveled to Iconium, “where a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). By His grace, the Lord did wondrous things there: “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

However, once again, the Jews resisted them, and they fled to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:5-7).

What lesson can we learn from this narrative?

We don’t know how Paul and Barnabas made the decision to head off first of all to Selucia, Cyprus, Salamis, and Paphos. We are not told in Scripture why John Mark left. Paul was angry with him (Acts 15:37-40), although they later reconciled (2 Timothy 4:11). But I can’t help wondering if John questioned why they should leave Paphos after the only spiritual event yet had just occurred—a powerful one. “Why leave now?” If John had stuck around, however, he would have been with them when things began to pop in Iconium.

However, this dispute is not the focus of this article. The point I’m attempting to make is the mysterious process of discerning the Lord’s specific, directional will. Yes, the call comes. Yes, we act upon it. However, the Lord gives us no further input. What are we to do?

You were called, so go. Pray. Act. Seek. Move. Keep moving. Keep seeking. Keep praying. The first three attempts—Selucia, Cyprus, and Salamis—may seem to be outside of God’s plan. Members of our group may think we have erred, missed God’s leading. Paphos may seem to be what God intended because miraculous ministry occurred, but Paul and Barnabas felt the need—prayerfully, we assume—to move on. Antioch seemed good. But they stayed in Iconium “for a long time.”

I hope this little treatise is helpful to you. We must be sure of the Lord’s call. Then we pray. Seek. Move. Love one another despite differences. Honor elders, those who have been called. Forgive when you think they have missed it. And always remember that the Lord is perfect in all His ways and is not hindered by your mistakes. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). His ways are so high above yours that you cannot see them. You will never know them unless He reveals them to you, and that revelation is not a given.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Gif compliments of giphy.com

 

2004-07-11_1145_FromJoeWatson

Have you ever been concerned about the state of the Church?

I have, especially in the last twenty years or so.

However, let’s consider the existence of an obedient, God-loving group of people, who, experiencing tremendous struggle at times, determinately remained faithful.

Below is a very abbreviated account of this reality.

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A Philadelphia Anabaptist Immersion during a Storm

Fighting to obtain peace sounds like an oxymoron. No, I’m not talking about conflicts between nations. I’m talking about conflicts between your head, heart, and soul, and the realities of life.

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scorpion

It’s so fun, isn’t it, to discover how far we fall short of what God requires of us.

Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, Jesus said (Matthew 5:48). 1

Oh, my.

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