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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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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.


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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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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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Should Christians actively struggle and fight as they live out their lives with Jesus? Should they strive? If they did that, would they be falling into a legalistic trap? A destructive pietism that emphasizes law over grace?

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I sometimes ask people if Jesus were to walk into the room in which we were meeting and said, “There are those outside on the street who, if you walk outside with Me, will beat you with clubs and pipes. You will be severely injured and may possibly die. I’m asking you now: Will you follow Me through this door?”

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I’d like to take a brief break from the series, The God Who Is Low and Humble in Heart, and investigate a passage of Scripture that caught my attention the other day.

“On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:6–8).

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I listened to a podcast a few days ago from Theology Refresh. It was an interview about discipleship with a man who has been with Navigators for sixty years. Unfortunately, I found myself at odds with what was being said. I found myself in this condition not because these two men aren’t men of faith, honor, and integrity. They are. It was that I continue to be bewildered by the absence of understanding in the Church concerning what discipleship is according to Jesus. This truth isn’t a patchwork of verses stitched together from various places in the gospels and letters. This is in plain sight, right out there for all of us to see, with no need of proof texting. We’ll look at this passage in a moment.

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