Saul’s conversion story in Acts 8 is a great example of our Lord Jesus delegating his work on the earth to other people. Jesus chooses an enemy of his church (Saul) and a faithful disciple (Ananias) and commissions each of them for a job. He gives them assignments. Neither one of them were looking for it. Saul wasn’t looking for a new religion, he wasn’t seeking direction for his life. He was an up-and-comer, he was climbing the ladder of success politically, socially, and religiously. He knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going when Jesus stepped in and stopped him dead in his tracks and changed everything. He gave Saul a job and changed everything. Ananias wasn’t looking for trouble. I don’t know what he was doing that day — eating a sandwich, cleaning out the garage, I don’t know. But Jesus pushed in, he intruded, he went where maybe he wasn’t wanted, and he gave Ananias a job. Both of these guys had their lives turned upside down by the call. They were both sent to places they didn’t want to go, and they both made speeches written by somebody else.
These kinds of episodes — there are a ton of these in Acts — show us that this thing didn’t end at the crucifixion. It continued. But when the earthly Jesus became the risen Christ, a cast of unlikely characters was enlisted to continue the story. People like Saul and Ananias were chosen to play a part. The risen King is standing in the wings, coaching, encouraging, pushing them onto the stage, feeding them their lines. Ordinary people are given jobs. And given the courage and power to perform them.
This is how Jesus does things. We know that whatever the Father called Jesus to do, the Son was never interested in doing it by himself. The first thing he did was call a group of twelve ordinary guys to drop what they were doing and start doing what he wanted them to do instead. And he didn’t seem to be too concerned with their experience or character or skills. Jesus gave jobs to lots of losers and knuckleheads. He chose them and gave them assignments, not because they were open to his teaching, not because he really enjoyed hanging out with them, but because he wanted to put them to work. Jesus said, “Come unto me.” Then he said, “Go into the whole world.”
Again, we see this all over the book of Acts: ordinary people doing extraordinary things just like Jesus. Peter and Paul both healed crippled men, just like Jesus. Paul’s very first sermon in Acts 9 almost gets him killed, just like Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth. Normal men and women are fasting and praying like Jesus, preaching Scripture in the synagogues like Jesus. Their teaching is described by the people as amazing, just like their Lord’s. These people called and commissioned by Christ perform miracles, they’re followed by huge crowds, they’re led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They do everything Jesus was doing. And when they’re murdered for proclaiming the Kingdom of God, like Jesus was, they die just like Jesus. When Stephen was executed for preaching like Jesus, he died with the words of our Lord on his lips, “Father, forgive them.”
These stories in Scripture, ordinary people doing remarkable things, real men and women called and commissioned by Jesus and given extraordinary assignments — this is your story, too. Like Saul on the way to Damascus, as you travel to Dalhart or Dumas or Dallas, as you go along every day, doing your thing, taking care of business, like Peter and his nets, like Matthew counting his money, like Nathanial sitting under his tree, what does Jesus have to do to get your attention? Look for it. Listen for it. Because if he hasn’t already, he will. It’s coming. Jesus is going to give you a job.
“The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is among you.” ~Luke 17:21
The Kingdom of God is not just about Christ’s power on earth. The Kingdom of God is about God’s empowerment of ordinary men and women to be agents of his eternal reign. Not everybody can see it because it’s carried out by a weak little band of disciples. It’s expressed in a single act of forgiveness by a wounded man. It’s realized in a single act of kindness by a little old lady. It’s accomplished in the worship and service rendered by a church in Amarillo.
To talk about conquering power and ruling the world in these tiny little terms might seem silly — as silly as a great tree growing out of a mustard seed. But we see it. You and I have been blessed to see that God in Christ uses these incredibly small things to miraculously grow his eternal Kingdom.
We know that with the coming of Jesus, the old world is losing its grip and a new world is being born. Rome’s rule is coming to an end — for people who thought too highly of the Roman Empire, that was unsettling news. The U.S.A.’s rule is coming to an end — that’s unsettling news for people who think too highly of the American Empire. But it’s true. The Kingdom of God has come and it is coming. Among us. And King Jesus says, “Give up your agenda and take up mine!” Or, to actually quote him:
“The time has come! The Kingdom of God is here! Repent and believe the good news!” ~Mark 1:15
God’s purposes have already been accomplished in Christ. What remains is the unfolding of what’s already been established. So, repent. Repent. Change your life. The realities of the Kingdom of God among us demand it. It’s not feeling differently in your heart; it’s living differently on the ground. The Kingdom of God is not a new religion or a fuzzy spiritual experience or even a plan for personal salvation. The Kingdom of God is about the whole world at last becoming what God has always intended it to be. A whole new world where mourners are always comforted and the hungry are always filled.
So, our lives have to be changed. It’s not just conversion, it’s discipleship; not just individual faith, but Christian unity; not merely forgiveness of sins, but a brand new creation! Jesus’ challenge is not, “How can I have a more meaningful life?” It’s “How can I get my life aligned with God’s will for the world?”
The way Jesus acted, the way he thought, the way he behaved is not how we get into the Kingdom. It’s not “Behave this way and perform all this really well and someday you’ll be worthy to enter the Kingdom of God.” No! Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection says that God’s Kingdom has come to us and is coming among us. Right here, right now, today! So, wake up and live in the light of these new facts of life!
Sometimes we’ll hear people say, “Forgiveness is noble, up to a point, as long as you’re realistic about its limits.” Or, “Prayer can be powerful, but sometimes you just have to face the facts.” Hey, for those of us who have been given the eyes to see the coming of God’s Kingdom, God’s promised victory is an accomplished fact! It is the true reality!
So, we must live it right now. Not like the world lives — no, just the opposite. Like Jesus lives. Unconditional love, unlimited forgiveness, sacrificial service, never violence or threat, always peace and joy. Not so that we’re doormats for the world. No, that’s living and thinking in the wrong reality, the reality that’s being conquered and taken over, fading away. We live in mercy and love actually as a way of taking charge of the world in the name and manner of our Lord, joining the revolution, living in and practicing the great turnaround toward the ultimate reality that one day will be trumpeted as:
“The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for ever and ever!” ~Revelation 11:15
Confidence to live every day like Jesus in the world he rules comes from conviction. The problem is, we’re not convinced of the truth of our own good news. We’re too inattentive, too distracted. What Jesus shows us about the Kingdom of God should dramatically impact us. We must give attention to his rule. We must be defined by it. We must solve our problems by applying it.
We think the church is a place that puts on services. Please, come on! God is sovereign and Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit lives among us and the powers of the world are in big trouble! This is the truth! This is the reality! And we are called to re-order everything to live into it.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and prayer that precedes Good Friday and Easter Sunday on the Church calendar. Going back to the early years of church history, Lent has traditionally been a time for personal abstinence and self-discipline. In the middle ages, it became particularly associated with a fast from eating meat. It developed into a teaching tool for the church and a reminder for all Christians: in your hunger, be reminded of all that Jesus suffered and sacrificed to win your salvation.
As you enter this season of Lent on your own or together with your family or community of faith, allow me to suggest that it’s not just about giving something up. It’s not only about sacrificing a certain type or amount of food or some other regular pleasure in order to participate in the sufferings of Christ or to remember his selfless preparation for the cross. At least as important is the idea and practice of taking something on, adding something new to your life in Christ.
Not only the surrender of material things, but the taking on of spiritual things, eternal things that draw us closer to Christ and, by the power of the Spirit, transform us more into his image is the best way to prepare for Easter. A new ministry. A new discipline. A new work for the benefit of others. A new prayer. A new friend. A new passage of Scripture. While you’re cleaning out your house over the next six weeks, pay attention to what you’re moving in to the empty spaces. Add something important. Commit to something Spirit-filled.
If you’ve met our oldest daughter, Whitney, then you already like her. You like her smile, her good manners, her willingness to serve, her desire to make others happy, and her warmth. You really like that about Whitney.
If you’ve spent any time with her at all, then you already love her. You love her laugh, her bright outlook on life, her gullibility, her passion for her favorite things and favorite people, her silly trash-talk, her fierce loyalty, and her hugs that last for twelve days. It takes about six minutes with her to experience all of that. You already love that about Whitney.
If you are Whitney’s dad…
…well, let me tell you. If you are Whitney’s dad, there’s so much more to love about her that not everybody knows.
I love how hard Whitney tries to do things right. Whether it’s tying her shoes and hitting a baseball as a little girl or learning to drive a car or sack groceries as a young lady, Whitney wants instruction and practice. She focuses on doing things with excellence, doing things the right way. She’s patient, she’s determined, she’s committed. And I love that.
I love Whitney’s optimism and positive disposition in the middle of pain and disappointment. Our oldest girl has suffered plenty of both in her life. You probably already know a little about the meningitis and the surgeries and the results of that time in her childhood that still impact her today. You know about the hearing aids and fine motor skill limitations and balance issues. You haven’t seen her the day before a surgery or the night before a doctor’s appointment or the hours leading up to an entrance exam or a job interview. I have. Everything’s upbeat. Everything’s positive. Everything’s going to work out fine. And then, because things don’t always work out just fine, the bounce-back. Whitney’s great gift is her bounce-back. Yes, she can wallow in disappointment and heartbreak — for about ten minutes. And then it’s on to the next thing with faith and trust and great joy. Unabashed joy. And I love that about Whitney.
And I really love what God is doing with our daughter and, more surprisingly, through our daughter. Whitney shocks us quite often with her perception of what’s happening around us. She can lead a prayer for someone, as she did this past Sunday night during our small group, that penetrates to the very soul of what’s going on inside that person. Things few of us would have remembered, things few of us would ever say out loud, Whitney remembers and, somehow, ties it all together, and blesses in the name of Jesus. I think God puts Whitney in people’s lives on purpose in order to bless them. It seems to me that the people in Whitney’s life need her as much as she needs them, the people hugging Whitney need those hugs as much as she does. God uses Whitney to bless others. She seems to be increasingly aware of it. She’s paying attention more and articulating more what God is up to in this world and how she’s actually in on it. And I love that.
I love you, blue-eyed angel. Happy Birthday.
Jesus came to save for the sake of relationship. All of salvation history is motivated by God’s desire to restore relationship with the men and women he created and loves. I think we see this in just about every paragraph of the Gospels. But my eyes have been opened only recently to see this aspect of salvation in the reasons Jesus heals.
Our Lord tells the disciples of John the Baptist to pay attention to what’s happening in the world now that Jesus has come:
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” ~Luke 7:22
(By the way, Jesus puts preaching in the same category as healing the blind and raising the dead? Did you notice that? I notice that every time.)
Let me remind you that a man with leprosy was not allowed in the temple. If you were blind or lame, if you were deaf or mute, if you were bleeding, if you had a skin disease, you could not enter the temple. You could not approach the presence of God. You couldn’t worship God in his holiest place with his holy people. To those afflicted with these imperfections, the presence of God was off limits. Relationship with God and relationship with his people was impossible.
But when Jesus heals them…
See, Jesus is doing much more than just restoring sight to the blind and causing the crippled to walk. Jesus is allowing these people he touched to get past the bouncers at the temple doors. He makes it possible to approach God. That’s why Jesus saves: for relationship. They were unable to come to God, so God in Christ comes to them.
Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. With all our sins and mixed motivations and limitations, we can’t come to God. That’s why God comes to us. That’s why he heals us. He makes us clean and whole, he gives us his own righteousness so we can bask in his holy presence. Jesus saves for the sake of relationship.