“Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).
PARADOX: Death is normally thought of as tragedy. Jesus suggested that His death would be His entrance to real glory.
The echoes of the shouting crowd against those ancient, yellowing walls were a memory only moments old. Dust settled over a roadway strewn with palm branches. And along the street, as the afternoon shadows lengthened, small clots of people still stood, talking in muted excitement. “Will there be a revolution?” “Could He really be the new King, the Messiah who would restore Israel to her glory and unseat the Romans?” Zechariah, the Old Testament prophet, had said He would come like this—the King riding on a donkey.
The Greek converts to Judaism were the ones who pushed for an audience with Jesus. In Jerusalem for the upcoming festivals, they sensed something of enormous importance surging around this Jesus. When the disciples reached Him with the Greeks’ request, He startled them with His response: “They think these last few hours look like glory? They’ve heard word about some of the healings? Looks like Someone coming into power? Well, tell them to wait. My glory is just ahead. I’m about to die. It’s only as I die that life can be preserved and real glory attained.”
“Father, there’s so much fading, transient glory-important today and forgotten tomorrow. Teach me the eternal, upside-down values of Your Kingdom. Help me, Lord, to make decisions today based on Your character, and, as a result, share in some way in Your glory.”
“It came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached, and began traveling with them” (Luke 24:15).
† PARADOX: On the most important day in human history, His resurrection, Jesus spent hours walking along a dusty road with two obscure, “unimportant” individuals.
Ask me what I would have done if I were Jesus on this most important day in human history, and I would probably suggest calling a press conference on the temple steps.
Jesus-back from the dead! Can you imagine the impact? Why, the Pharisees, Saducees, and all the old power structure would be blown away. It would be the basis for a real revolution.
Think of the headlines! Think of the glory! Think of how all those hateful people who had plotted Jesus’ death would now have to grovel in fear and humiliation. But even beyond those admittedly rather selfishly-oriented motives, think what that kind of public display would do for the disciples—for their confidence and their willing ness to take risks in the future.
However, there wasn’t any playing for the headlines. Here was the King of the universe, on the day which was the pivot point for all our hopes, walking seven miles to a little village with two men we have not heard of before or after this. Strange, isn’t it? Or is it?
“Father, I lay all kinds of plans. I’m sure many times I look for my confidence from the wrong sources. Lord, help me understand Your ways. In the middle of all the action, may I hear and respond to Your voice.”
“We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
† PARADOX: Life’s most important elements seem to be what we can see, touch, taste, or hear. But it’s actually the unseen and unheard that are the keys to eternity.
I took a walk early this morning. It was crisp and cool, just the kind of morning that encourages a brisk pace and helps clear one’s mind. The magnificent trees, the lovely, cared-for homes, the striking blue sky, and freshness of the rain-soaked vegetation- I took them all in. It was all so good; the richness of the sensations were a joy to experience.
But as I walked along I realized two things again. The first was that it’s true–all these things that appeared so beautiful and refreshing to me are from the hand of the Father. They are to be enjoyed and cared for-treasured as any gift of great value should be.
The second reminder that came to me was that I cannot become too attached to all that is around me. After all, it is the Lord Jesus, the Architect behind it all, whom I really want to know and enjoy.
“Father, as I look around today I see delicate beauty, rugged strength, and solid things that ap pear enduring. I hear both exquisite music and crashing sounds. In them all, Lord, help me see beyond what I can grasp with my senses—to hear and understand more of You, and to connect with reality-Your eternity.”
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
† PARADOX: If we push to get our rewards now, that’s all we’ll ever get. Eternity will be an empty place.
I want people to like me. And in talking with friends and acquaintances I find that my feelings are not too unusual. Apparently we all like to be noticed-to have people acknowledge us at least a little.
Jesus’ comments in our verse for today remind me of that old saying that I heard somewhere, “Go looking for love, and you’ll probably never find it. Give love, and you’ll find it coming back to you again and again.”
Somehow in the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of, seeking rewards now means that we lose any chance for rewards in eternity. It seems to be a classic case of the short-term, get-rich-quick view over against the long-term, building for permanence.
I wonder if it isn’t selfishness that is at the center when we want to be the focus of attention, to get the accolades. Weren’t pride and selfishness close to the top of Jesus’ list of things that are most distasteful to the Father-most out of step with His nature?
“I need the desire and the strength, Father, to take the long-term view. Help me today, Lord, to trust You for the rewards that will be permanent-and then to set each of my priorities accordingly.”
“When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall act promptly, for then the Lord will have gone out before you”
(2 Samuel 5:24).
+ PARADOX: Israel’s most experienced fighter, David, was to wait for some strange sound in the trees before launching an attack on an army he had whipped just a few weeks before.
He had looked out over this Valley of Rephaim before. In fact, the last time had been only a few weeks before. His outpost guards had reached the capital, Jerusalem, with word that the Philistines were coming up against Israel with their army and were camped in the Valley of Rephaim.
David had taken his army, gone out to the cliffs overlooking the valley, and asked God if he should go down and fight. God answered, “Yes,” and promised that He would give David the victory. So David went, and God delivered.
Now only weeks later, David was looking down on the same valley and the same enemy army. Apparently the Philistines hadn’t had enough and were back. But one of the remarkable things in this biblical account is that David didn’t take God’s blessing for granted. He asked God again, “Should we go down against them?” And this time God said, “No.”
Instead, God sent David and his army on a strange, circular route behind the enemy and told him to listen for a sound in the trees as the signal for battle–and victory.
“Lord, I tend to think I know what you want done-to take You for granted. Father, give me a dependent heart and mind-on You.”
“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets” (Luke 3:5).
+ PARADOX: Peter, a veteran fisherman, a professional on the Sea of Galilee, took instructions on fishing from a carpenter from an in land town, miles from the nearest water.
The results were spectacular. The nets not only filled, they began to break because of the huge catch. Frantic cries for help rang out over the water to colleagues in other boats. As the catch was pulled into the boats, the boats themselves began to sink because of the quantity of fish.
Finally, the massive job of getting the fish to shore was done. And Peter? He was kneeling at Jesus’ feet.
Is it strange that God should know everything about everything? It may not be strange, but it is certainly hard to remember. Especially when I work so hard to know a little about a few things. It is probably a case of making God my own size rather than seeing Him for who He really is.
There was something about Jesus that caused Peter, the professional fisherman, to be willing to listen to this carpenter. Jesus had arrested Peter’s imagination and his heart. He had Peter’s con fidence, and it produced a faith willing to push off shore and let down the nets-again-when he and his partners were already dead tired from a night of fruitless work. I’ve often wondered if Jesus hadn’t kept the nets empty during the night just so He would fill them in the morning.
“Lord Jesus, You know me. My doubts, fears, my hopes and dreams. You know how weak I am. Give me faith today to trust You-in what seem to be impossible circumstances.”
“Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).
+ PARADOX: An “outsider,” a Gentile, demonstrated the power of faith to God’s chosen people.
The centurion understood that all authority is from God. He knew that the authority he had was real, but that it was limited. He also knew that Jesus had authority-a much higher kind of authority. It was an authority over life and death.
Now you and I have authority. God has given us dominion and stewardship over a variety of things in this world. And God never gives responsibility without authority to carry out that responsibility, But, like the centurion, we need to know the limits of our authority-who to turn to for higher powers for direction and policy.
There was a great humility about the centurion. Luke, in his account, tells that the centurion did not even feel worthy to face Jesus, and so had made his appeal through intermediaries.
Most men of real authority and true greatness that I have ever met have been men of genuine humility. Could it be that it was the humility of this veteran soldier that so appealed to Jesus?
“Father, I know that without You I can do nothing of lasting value. Please take my arro gance and replace it with faith in You for doing the things I need to do today.”
“After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, (Jesus) said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5).
† PARADOX: The Pharisees, leaders committed to a role of spiritual and physical wholeness for the people, hated the one who came to bring that wholeness.
Jealousy, fear, anger. The room was seething with them as Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on a Sabbath.
It’s so easy to read the account today and ask, “How could those Pharisees possibly not have recognized Jesus for who He was? How could anyone be against a man who gave a person back the full use of his body?”
But I wonder how open I am to God’s work both in others’ lives and in my own? It is so easy to get set in my ways, to establish the safe, regular ways of doing things, to set up my own little traditions that become the thing I look to rather than being open to what God might want to do through His Spirit.
One of the reasons stories like this one in Mark3 is so valuable for us is that it provides a window of light, a way of seeing ourselves. As we reflect on the incident we have a chance to put our little traditions and ways of doing things under Jesus’ examination.
“I find, Father, that the people around me, the place I work, the church I attend they all have a way of becoming patterns in my life that I take for granted. Help me see the world through Your eyes and always be open to the change you want to carry out.”
“Jehoshaphat) appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army” (2 Chronicles 20:21).
† PARADOX: That Jehoshaphat should make singers the front line of defense in a battle against three armies.
When the day was done and the battle over, the Children of Israel had not lifted a sword. The armies of Moab, Mount Seir, and Ammon had killed each other! It was a most extraordinary turn of events. And it might have been unex pected as well if the Prophet Jahaziel hadn’t told them the day before, “The battle is not yours, but the Lord’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15).
Jehoshaphat was a man used to fighting. He had fairly recently been through a horrendous battle in which he narrowly escaped with his life. In the heat of the battle when he saw himself in an absolutely impossible situation and trapped, he cried out to God for deliverance and was saved.
On his return to the capital, under the advice of Jehu, Jehoshaphat instituted major reforms, placing God at the center of Judah’s worship. Now he was faced with an even greater threat: combined armies that were “a great multitude” (vs. 12). The response? Jehoshaphat called the whole nation into fasting and prayer.
Priests singing, “Give thanks to the Lord for His loving-kindness is everlasting,” were what the enemy saw when they looked up to meet the army of Judah (vs. 21). It must have been a strange and amazing sight. There was no doubt that it was God’s victory.
“I know, Father, that my work today as well as my relationships with family and friends are Your concern. Show me how to praise You for what You are doing in my behalf—and so see You at work.”
“He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
+ PARADOX: Jesus, the One who holds the creation in His hands, was not independent, not autonomous, but looked to His Father for strength and wisdom.
Jesus had done this before. Sometimes He would get up long before dawn to spend a few hours on a lonely hillside in companionship with His Father. At times the disciples didn’t understand it, and asked why He had gone away when everyone was looking for Him.
I have often thought about it, wondering how I can be so presumptuous thinking I can carry out my day’s activities without the fellowship, in sight, and power that comes from spending time with the Father. Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, the One “who spoke and the worlds were created,” felt He had to spend this private time with the Father. How can I get along with less?
Everything I hear around me is saying, “Do your own thing.” The Father speaks in the quiet ness of my heart, saying, “Abide in Me.”
“Like the disciples, sleeping while Jesus was praying, I often find myself unable to spend the time with You that I want. Thank you, Father, for taking me as I am-with all my weaknesses. I have experienced the joy of time with You and I want more of it- both for the joy and fellowship and for the strength You give me. Help me, Father, to realize my complete dependence on You, and to spend the time with You, growing and learning. You give Yourself generously when I’m willing to go apart and be with You.”
“Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).
+ PARADOX: Being smart or intelligent in a We worldly sense doesn’t get you closer to the Kingdom. In fact, it may keep you out.
There’s no doubt about it, I always want at least a little of the credit. Even when I receive gifts from people who love me, there is always the sub conscious thought that maybe they have given it to me because I am so nice, or because I have been kind to them so their gift is a response. But man has always wanted to feel his importance, to get the credit-to be the one in the cosmic driver’s seat. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God; the builders of Babel’s town wanted to prove their prowess; and Peter was sure that he would do alright when under pressure.
It is a fine line between the stewardship and responsibility that God has given us in the world and presumption about who is in control. I am supposed to be creative, reap the joy of work, care for those resources He has given. I do have abilities and responsibilities. But they are all given to me.
While acting responsibly today-to my family, my colleagues and friends, and in the environment around me, I need to keep in mind that it is all His. That, in the end, I am completely dependent on Him. Jesus’ words, “Unless you are con verted and become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven,” are a heartening reminder that brains are not what bring us closer to the Lord (Matthew 18:3). Thankfully, it is a matter of heart and is accessible to us all.
“Father, take my pride. Give me a healthy dependence on You and Your power. Whatever I do today, may I consciously do it in Your strength.”
“If you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘More from here to there,’ and it shall move” (Matthew 17:20).
† PARADOX: In a world which places priority von bigness, it is encouraging that one of the great Kingdom resources can be powerful
even in tiny amounts. If mustard-seed sized faith can move mountains, imagine what a fistful could do! Jesus suggested that we have plenty of growing room-that the power of the Kingdom is not measured on the same scale as the world’s. That’s good news. Because it means that my tiny amount of belief does have value— that my little faith really can do something, mean something in the regular affairs of life. Sure, I have lots of room to expand my faith, but what faith I do have can be a powerful influence. But then it is just like God to put important, powerful things in small, almost un noticed packages. At times one senses that He actually delights in the paradoxes of the Kingdom. Our ways are not His ways.
Our adversary, Satan, says to us, “You don’t have enough faith. Your relationship with God isn’t good enough. You can’t expect Him to hear you, much less help you accomplish anything.”
Jesus says, “Bring Me that tiny, faltering faith-just as it is—and I will work through it.”
“O God, I have so many doubts-about myself, circumstances around me, and my relationship with You. But I do believe You love me and want to help me. Lord, take that little faith and put it to work. I really need You.”
“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
† PARADOX: The King of the universe was found in a stable, in the animals’ feed trough.
Surely the great God of the cosmos must smile with satisfaction at His ability to demonstrate His freedom and power in such lovely ways. His ways are not our ways, and the scene in the stable of Bethlehem is a vivid reminder.
How would you have had the Saviour of the world introduced? And who were the couriers of the Good News once they found the Saviour in the manger? Shepherds. Unknown, “unimportant,” and wielding no power in any worldly sense. This is another of the Father’s beautiful paradoxes for us to reflect on-to consider in these hectic days when fame and fortune seem to be so important.
It really is good news—isn’t it? God takes very ordinary people in very ordinary circumstances and breaks through with the power and reality of eternity. No matter how obscure or difficult your place today, God has a very special, individual role for you to play-on the stage of eternity. To be faithful where you are that’s the thing!
“O Lord, sometimes I really feel as though I work so hard without anyone noticing-anyone caring. The place seems so lonely, Father, and so unimportant. Please give me a sense of Your love, Your presence- and help me carry on with joy.”
“When you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Joshua 6:5).
† PARADOX: The ark of the covenant, trumpets of rams’ horns, and a good set of vocal cords for each person-a strange set of weapons for
bringing down the walls of a city.
In the ancient world it was not unusual for the siege of a city to go on for months—at times longer than a year. But just as He had demonstrated Himself when He brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt, so Jehovah would show Himself as they entered the Promised Land.
This victory at Jericho was clearly from God. Nothing could be claimed by Joshua and his mighty men. The one thing they brought to the conflict was their faith; that when God promises, He keeps His word.
Can you imagine the people in Jericho leaning over the walls day after day as the Israelites marched around the city? Taunts, jeering-it must have been quite a sight. But no matter how out of step with what General Joshua understood about tactics, he trusted God.
Today so much of what is going on around us seems to challenge us, seems to call us to respond with our own “weapons.” Coming to understand the Kingdom is coming to understand that in Him we are safe, loved, and understood—no matter how circumstances around us may appear. Satan tries to get us to take the battle into our own hands, and in that moment we have lost all.
“One of my problems, Lord, is that I remember- then I forget-that You are in control. Help me take my eyes off the crowd hanging over the walls and keep my eyes on You.”
“For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and af. fliction we were comforted about you through your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:7).
† PARADOX: The Apostle Paul, great pro claimer of liberty and freedom of the Christian life, wrote most of his great letters from jail.
Lonely, cold, and without people to stick with him in the hard moment of accusation, Paul, the great exponent of freedom, continued to write to those he loved from his cell. “And please bring that coat I left behind,” “Come before winter,” and, “If you remember them, please bring those books I had there.” Words scattered through his letters from a condemned man in a Roman jail. But while his body was in a physical jail, Paul’s spirit was free.
“What thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account,” Paul went on just a verse or two after today’s text. Joy in adversity. Freedom in bondage. It is the way of God.
There are times when my circumstances almost seem like bondage because I see no clear way through the difficulties. But in those dark, des pairing moments He is there-granting me complete freedom if I will take it.
“Father, through the power of Your gentle Holy Spirit, grant me the great joy of freedom that You have made possible.”
“Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24).
+ PARADOX: My survival instinct may get in the way of knowing all that God wants to give me.
What is life? When you look into the eyes of someone you love, what is it that you love? What is it about a life that is most important? Jesus suggested there has to be a change of values–the visible for the invisible, the physical for the spiritual. . We desperately cling to our bodies, our material possessions, and the trappings of our little successes. And can easily, in the end, lose eternity.
The idea suggests that hell may be a place where everything is transient, where all you have is the physical, and sensual pleasures are ram pant. But in the midst of it you have this awful, terrifying, haunting sense that goes on and on that there really was a spiritual, there really was something to relationships more than the physical-but that it is absolutely, irreversibly beyond your grasp. That all you will ever know is the imitation, not the real thing. That you know you will exist forever, not only without the spiritual dimension but with the terrible sense of the difference-and your choice.
“Father, help me have Your long-term view. Give me the understanding and the strength to day to not trade real life for an imitation.”
“Jesus answered, My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
+ PARADOX: Jesus called men and women to a Kingdom for which there was no visible throne and no apparent political structure.
Isaiah gave a hint of this Kingdom when he quoted God as saying, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool” (66:1).
Peter wanted to build Jesus a throne, along with one for Moses and Elijah on the top of the mountain, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. The King dom He came to proclaim is a Kingdom of the eternal, a Kingdom of the spirit.
Jesus remindsus-daily, gently–that the Kingdom is inside us. Oh yes, it has outward signs -like love, joy, peace—but those are the result of the Kingdom’s power, not the cause.
No matter what I do today, I can live as though in the very throne room of God. “I am with you always,” Jesus encouraged His fearful, despon dent disciples— fearful and despondent because they had their hopes set on a visible Kingdom.
“Lord Jesus, I know that I’m constantly re minded by Satan that it would sure be good to be part of a visible Kingdom. I’ve come slowly to see that I’m happiest, though, when Your Kingdom reigns in my heart-and out through my life.”
“I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10). + PARADOX: The One who gives life was put to death by people whose life He sustained.
It is a deep mystery. Out of the dim recesses, yet brilliant present of eternity, the Father gives the Son to salvage a derelict humanity in rebellion.
He gave us breath, and now He gives us life once again. And He does so by submitting His Son Jesus to an angry mob. In the great eternal para dox of God’s nature, He is free to set the standard and to save us in our inability to keep it.
Satan motivates the angry mob at Calvary. The Father accepts the willing sacrifice of His Son. And in that moment, Satan is defeated.
“Lord Jesus, except for Your love and sacrifice for me, I deserve only death. Thank You for saving my life by Your death, and for sustaining my life by Your resurrection.”
“The last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).
+ PARADOX: In the Kingdom, usual standards for performance and reward do not apply.
I was in a busy coffee shop. Every seat was taken, so I stood to one side waiting for an opening. After a time another person came and stood some distance away. Well, you know what happened. When an opening came, the other person grabbed it.
I had a couple of reactions. First, irritation that somebody else got what clearly belonged to me. Then a twinge of self pity. It would have been lovely if I had had the freedom to say, “Please take the seat. There’ll be another in a moment.”
Simple things, to be sure, but little moments from which the whole fabric of life is woven. And being willing to be last may be seeing the fabric from God’s side-the side where real, eternal beauty is apparent.
“Lord, I’m so selfish, so shortsighted. Help me be open today to Your spirit, and may that in turn have an effect on my relationships with others.”
“Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38).
† PARADOX: Holding on means losing. Giving away means receiving. The Kingdom of God, which often appears upside down to ordinary principles, is seen clearly in today’s text.
Jesus went on in this verse to say that as we give, we will receive–not just in kind but in abundance. While some suggest that this applies particularly to financial matters (give God’s work $10 and He will make sure you get $100 in return), I doubt that is what Jesus had in mind. He made it clear that God is a Spirit and that we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Giving, no matter what we give, brings a joy and contentment that hoarding can never do.
One Kingdom principle is clear. The world says that as you give away, your supply steadily declines. God says that as you give away, especially your love and encouragement, your supply constantly increases.
“Lord, I know this principle is true. I have seen it work in my own life and others’. But, Father, I need to put it into practice more consistently. Help me with the freedom I need to give-and to see Your wondrous nature at work in the joy I experience as a result.”
“Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” (Luke 18:17).
† PARADOX: A child, seen as helpless and what totally dependent, is the symbol for qualification for a permanent relationship with God.
What is it about children that caused Jesus to point to them as representing Kingdom attitudes?
Today’s text comes in a section where Jesus talked about humility-about the need to realize that on our own we are inadequate that we are totally dependent on God. He pointed out that humility now will mean exaltation later. Could that be the center of childlikeness—the depend ence? Knowing that we need Him to live- now and in eternity?
“Father, just my calling You that indicates that I really am like a child before You: dependent on You for my protection, my daily resources, and my growth. Help me, in simple faith, to praise You for what you have given me, and look forward to how You will sustain me in the future.”
“[Jesus) rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, girded Himself about. Then He poured water into the basin and be gan to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:4-5).
+ PARADOX: He had flung the stars into place. His power provided the atmosphere the disciples breathed. Yet He was their servant.
I have so much to learn about Kingdom living. So much to learn about God’s way of doing things.
When I get a little power or position, my ten dency is to want the privileges that go with the power or position. Oh, maybe not flagrant, big things, but the subtle, little benefits that come from status. Those little benefits seem to elevate me from the “ordinary people around me, to demonstrate that in some way I am special. But Jesus, not only in today’s text, but throughout the Gospels, seems to say something radically different.
The key seems to be in the section just before our text. The Apostle John reports, “Knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands,” Jesus got up to wash His disciples’ feet.
“Lord, help me realize-really know-what You have given me in our relationship. Help me to then be able to freely serve-free from having to prove anything about myself or to others except the reality of Your amazing love.”
“No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
+ PARADOX: That each of us can be a genuine, personal friend of the King of all creation.
I have never known a king personally-haven’t even seen many of them up close. Most kings are surrounded by so many layers of dignitaries, guards, and protocol that they are inaccessible.
In startling contrast, Jesus says that the only qualification for being His friend is to do what He says, and He outlines His principle command ment-that we all love each other the same way He has loved us. What a remarkable way for Him to establish the qualifications for the relationship: friendship with Him born out of our love for each other. We’re not slaves, blindly having to do what the Master orders, but friends, knowing the Father’s mind and having the freedom to choose to respond.
“It sounds simple, Father-loving the way Jesus suggests. I do want to be a real friend-to know that I can count on You in good times and bad. Teach me today in very practical ways how I can express Your kind of love for those around me, and in doing that know more of what real friendship is.”
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
† PARADOX: Without the work of the Spirit, we are lost, but we cannot control His mysterious work.
When we lose control we are often threatened. There is something in most of us that says, “I want to be in charge, to take command of my circum stances.”
Jesus, in His comments to Nicodemus, seemed to be saying to all of us, “Trust Us—the Father, the Spirit, and Me. We have your very best in mind, but you must let Us work the way we will not necessarily your way.”
Nicodemus, a lot like many of us, thought he knew about God’s ways. And, as a diligent stu dent in the tradition of the Pharisees, he did. But Jesus noted, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10).
There is a special kind of freedom-resting in Jesus and the work of the Spirit. But like so many aspects of real, mature freedom, it is a life that is both secure and mysterious. While many times I wish I could reduce my Christian life to easily recited formulas, Jesus says, “Trust Me.”
“There is so much uncertainty, Father, that I need Your patience to trust You completely. I feel insecure much of the time, wondering about my circumstances, my relationships, and the future. Help me grasp the beauty and spontaneity of Your Spirit’s work. I know You have my very best in mind, and in faith I praise You for that.”
“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling ...” (Acts 4:13). † PARADOX: The key men in Jesus’ team of disciples didn’t have the basic qualifications necessary for the assignment-by world standards. How did they do it? How did Peter and John create such a powerful impression that the Jewish leadership considered them a threat and threw them in jail? We find the answer in our text. The leaders “began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”
This passage has a haunting similarity to the pattern of Jesus’ own life. His tendency to spend long hours alone and in communication with the Father. And as a result of those times, Jesus reflected the Father-His will and His power. Now it was Jesus’ disciples’ turn to reflect the light of God’s power, the light of eternity, in the everyday circumstances around them.
Isn’t it good news that God takes ordinary people to press into His service, our only real credentials being that we have been with Him?
“Father, I am coming to see that the only way I can ever really accomplish anything of lasting value is if you are in my life, giving me the power and direction. Today, Lord, may those around me be able to see past me and see You.”
“I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish” (Acts 27:34).
† PARADOX: In the middle of a terrible storm at sec, faced by certain death, an itinerant evangelist tells professional sailors what to do.
For 14 days straight they hadn’t eaten a thing, while they were driven day and night by a horrendous storm on the Adriatic Sea. Now with land approaching, they were sure of shipwreck. Some 276 people were on board, including soldiers who were there to guard their famous prisoner, the Apostle Paul.
Just when everyone else saw disaster ahead, Paul says, “Bring out the food!” They couldn’t believe their ears. Food-at a time like this?
During the night Paul had talked with an angel sent by God, and the word was that everyone would be saved. Not necessarily the ship, but all the people. So Paul, not the captain or the soldiers, took charge and told them how it was going to turn out. Eat first to regain strength, then throw everything overboard to lighten the ship.
When it was over, the ship was destroyed but every last person was saved and brought to a warm fire and food by friendly people on the island of Malta.
“Father, the circumstances around me right now look pretty bad. I know You are in control, despite how things look. Lord, calm my fears. Give me a quiet spirit in the middle of this storm – because You are here. I really need You.”
“Love your enemies, and do good … and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).
+ PARADOX: The “retaliation” of the Kingdom
His love. Even as I write these words the idea still seems as tounding—that I am really supposed to love my enemies. To begin with, I don’t like to admit (even to myself) that I have enemies. Tolerate enemies–maybe. Not respond with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth-maybe. But love?
Then, of course, I am forced to think about what it means to love. What would it look like this loving my enemies? After all, it has to come down to practical, visible action, doesn’t it?
Reflecting over Jesus’ words, “If the Son shall set your free, you shall be free indeed,” (John 8:36) makes me wonder if this isn’t exactly the kind of situation Jesus had in mind- this loving my enemy. Because it is clear: on my own, my natural reaction is to respond in kind-eye for an eye. The only way I can respond with love is to be free of my own petty ambitions, defensiveness, and desire for immediate “justice.”
“Father, on my own there’s little hope that I’m ever going to really love those who have been mean to me, who have talked about me, or been unkind to me. Lord, I need You. Your Spirit alone will make this possible. That much I know. Thank You for hearing my prayer and giving me the practical kind of love that shows.’
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it” (John 12:24-25). + PARADOX: Trying to save your life could mean, in the end, you will lose it. Yet to consciously “lose” it is one of the keys to the Kingdom. One of the hot-selling records a while back was titled, “Looking Out for Number One”; a best selling book, Winning by Intimidation. In a world that says I am at the center of things, the idea of losing my life seems almost incomprehensible, much less a strategy of personal fulfillment.
That phrase in today’s text, “It remains by itself alone,” seems to be a key to understanding this yet another of the Kingdom’s upside-down principles for real living. Desperately trying to cling to my life, there is no way I can relate to, get involved with, or share in the life of someone else. It is only as I am prepared to give up my selfishness that I get prepared for real Kingdom work which means sharing in the lives of others. My privileges, my “rights,” my material things, they all need to be given back to God, who gave them to me in the first place.
I can begin to see just a little daylight around the edges of my understanding. As I am willing to release myself, I make room for God’s life and Spirit. And as I share in the lives of others, I find that sense of personal wholeness I long for.
“Lord, I know that in this day I will want to strike back, to defend my rights. Thank You for the patience You display. Help me, Father, to be always ready to share in another’s life.”
“Each stood in his place around the camp; and all the army ran, crying out as they fled” (Judges 7:21).
+ PARADOX: Not only were the weapons the strangest ever collected, Gideon’s army didn’t even lift a finger in battle-yet they won.
They were few in numbers (God had cut the num bers drastically) and they didn’t have a single sword. Trumpets, empty water pitchers, and hand-held torches and the hand of God: those were the weapons Gideon’s tiny band used against the Amalekites and Midianites-two armies like the sand of the seashore they were so numerous.
It was a midnight “attack,” if you can call blowing trumpets and breaking empty water pitchers an attack. And as Gideon’s men raised the torches high over their heads they didn’t move a muscle to advance. They simply stood their ground, as God had told them, and the Amale kites and the Midianites ran for their lives, screaming as they went.
Things God calls us to do today are often as unexpected as were Gideon’s tactics back then. The important thing is to be open to Him, ready to act once He says go.
“Father, You know I’d like to have a huge army on my side. But I know You say that you are enough. Give me the faith to trust Your great power in facing today.”
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). † PARADOX: Life’s hardest moments are preparing us for remarkable days of joy ahead.
I once overheard a professor tell his ministerial students, “Whenever you stand before people, if you preach to a broken heart, you will always speak to someone in the crowd.”
There are so many tears in the world. Tragedy, sorrow, hardship, loneliness, suffering, and dis appointment—they seem to be all around us. Isn’t it good news that John reports “all tears will be wiped away” when we see Christ again? Weeping people now will be laughing people then.
And possibly there is something which God is doing through our tears to enlarge our understanding, our capacity for understanding joy. Without darkness the brilliant dawning of the sunrise loses its significance. Find a person who has never known hard times and usually you find a person short on appreciation.
Patience and longsuffering are marks of the Spirit’s presence. Tears have a way of building those qualities today so we will know Him to the fullest-not only in our hours of trial but when we see Him face to face.
“It is a great comfort, Lord Jesus, to know that You felt the hot tears of sorrow when you were here on earth. So give me the strength to carry on-and a small sense of the joy that is ahead.”
“Peter continued knocking, and when they had opened the door they saw him and were amazed” (Acts 12:16).
+ PARADOX: Some didn’t even believe their own prayers. When the answer stood at their gate, they were completely taken aback.
First it had been the young girl, Rhoda. Answer ing the knock at the outer gate, she was dumb founded and returned to the house screaming word of Peter’s arrival, but leaving him out on the street. The older people were not any better when they found that Peter really was standing outside. Weren’t their responses like so many of ours? Pray, and then be surprised at the answer! Or don’t really expect an answer!
Peter had been running steadily into conflict with the religious leaders. Now he was in prison, and his friends kept a night vigil of prayer for his release. And even though it was prayer of limited faith, God heard and answered.
“Father, thank You for taking my faith, limited as it is, and making something of lasting value out of it. Help me believe that You care, You hear, and You answer.”