No Wedding Garment

Hovering this morning over Jesus’ parable in the opening verses of Matthew 22. Chilling, if you chew on it for a bit.

The analogy?

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son . . . ”

(Matthew 22:2 ESV)

The big idea?

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”

(Matthew 22:14 ESV)

The chilling part? How close one can get to the king and to his son, even seated at a table in the wedding hall, and still not participate in the wedding feast. And that because he has no wedding garment.

The story is simple. A king is giving a wedding feast for his son. He sends out a general call to those on the guest list — I’m thinking kind of like sending invitations in the mail, or for more modern sensibilities, a group e-mail or text — but no one RSVPs. So, he sends out other messengers to present more personal, face to face, invitations.

The response? Some of the invitees “paid no attention” deeming their daily lives of more importance than accepting the king’s invitation — they couldn’t afford the time to attend the son’s wedding feast. Others though, were quite offended. Something in the invite that didn’t sit right with them. So, they treated the king’s servants “shamelessly”, even killing some of them. The kings response to their response? “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

But the wedding for his son was gonna happen — with or without the initial guest list. And so, he sends out more servants to go out to the population at large, those traveling on “the main roads”, and graciously invites all who would come, “both bad and good.” The king was determined to fill the wedding hall with guests, and he would make the necessary provision to ensure it happened.

By this time we’re picking up what Jesus was laying down. The king is the Father. The son? Well, he’s the Son. The first set of people to be invited to celebrate the Son are the Jews. But they, by and large, were either disinterested, too busy, or became offended and antagonistic towards the invitation. And so, the invitation goes out beyond the Jews, to “the main roads”, the regions of the Gentiles, the realm of those once considered outside the king’s realm. And not just to the “good” Gentiles, but to the “bad” as well. All were invited. All were welcome. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Okay, this is where it get’s really interesting.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

(Matthew 22:11-13 ESV)

A respondent to the invitation. In the wedding hall. Seated at a table. Dancing shoes on. Napkin tucked in under his chin. Thinking he was ready to party and chow down. And the king looks at him and sees no wedding garment. And he’s expelled. How close can you get without crossing the finish line? Chilling!

He didn’t need to rent a tux. Wasn’t left to himself to work wonders with his wardrobe. Apparently ancient practice was that wedding garments would be provided. But to show up without a wedding garment would mean being shown the door to “the outer darkness.”

And I think of those who may be preparing for the Son’s feast but are still dressed only in the filthy rags of their own imagined righteousness (Isa. 64:6). Those talking the talk, even seemingly walking the walk, but have never donned the garment made available to them by the Father, through the Son. A garment of His provision alone, no boasting in self. A garment perfectly suited for a kingdom wedding, because it’s perfection is the King’s perfection. It’s worth, His worth. Ours is to respond to the invitation and, by faith alone, put on the wedding garment — believing in the finished work of Calvary’s cross and the reality of an empty tomb.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)

A robe of righteousness. Provided through the Father’s great love. Comprised of the Son’s unimpeachable righteousness. A garment fit for a wedding feast to end all wedding feasts.

That’s chilling too. But in a different, really good way.

What a magnificent garment. What marvelous grace. To God be the glory.

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A Bad Deal

We made a bad deal. A poor trade. A seriously miscalculated swap. That’s what I’m taking away from one of the most depressing passages in all the New Testament, Romans 1:18-32.

Yesterday, I concluded my Romans 1 reading on a high — the good news of the power of God for salvation. A righteousness independent of our best efforts at trying to be righteous. Available for all who believe. Revealed “from faith for faith.” But there’s no need for such good news if there isn’t the reality of bad news. Cue the end of Romans 1, and Romans 2, and the first part of Romans 3. Heavy sigh.

In past years, it has been the repeated phrase, “God gave them up,” which caught my attention in this reading. It’s the response of God toward those who choose self-determination over God exaltation, He allows them to be more self-determined. For those who resolve to lean on their own understanding, who trust in their own wisdom above their Creator’s, God says, in effect, Go at it. Heavy sigh, again.

But this morning it’s another repeated word that catches my attention.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:22-25 ESV)

All creation points to the Creator. All that’s been made, a testament to the invisible attributes of the Maker. Every person a walking indicator of His eternal power. All of nature pointing to His divine nature. Everything declared to be good in the beginning a conduit towards knowing His glory in the present (Rom. 1:19-20).

But the propensity of fallen men and women is to exchange the glory for goods. To disdain invisible attributes for more tangible aspirations. To not see creation as a means towards knowing about the Creator, but as an end in and of itself. As something worthy of worship. Choosing not to distinguish man from birds from animals or creeping things. All the same. All idol worthy. Exchanging the riches of a supernatural reality “for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (MSG).

It’s equated to exchanging the truth about God for a lie. That, instead of “In the beginning, God,” we think we should rewrite the story, “In the beginning, molecules and matter.” Instead of God creating men and women in His own image, men and women imagined into being God for their own purposes. Rather than living in the here and now with a view towards a there and then, there is no there and then so do what you gotta do to be happy here and now. And the exchange goes on . . . and on . . . and on. Lies supplanting truth, thus mankind becoming increasingly out of sync with reality, as God gives us over to our own “wisdom.”

What a bad deal. Exchanging immortal glory for immaterial gain. Exchanging a revealed reality for a narrative of our own making.

Bad news. But that’s what makes the good news so good!

. . . but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved . . .

(Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

But God. How I love those two words.

We refused His glory shown through creation, but God shows us His great love through His crucified Son.

We traded in His truth for our lies, but God offers to redeem our lives by His amazing grace.

Yeah, we made a bad deal. But praise God for a better deliverance!

By God’s grace alone. For God’s glory alone.

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Rightness vs. Righteousness

As I hover over Romans 1:16-17 this morning the words of Jesus come to mind:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

(Matthew 6:24a ESV)

It makes sense. Divided loyalties have a way of compromising loyalties. Being owned by two directing powers can’t help but result in being misdirected concerning one of them. Specifically, Jesus was talking about the impossibility of being a bondservant of both God and money. In my Romans reading this morning, I see Paul making the same point as to the rightness of man and the righteousness of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

(Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

Been noodling on why Paul should have felt the need to make the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Think about it. Kind of a funny thing to say of a message which is the means to a myriad of blessing. Why be embarrassed by standing alongside the entryway to eternal life? Why be sheepish about something that brings salvation? Why feel guilty about something which is such good news? Because, at least in part, in the prevailing culture in which Paul lived the righteousness of God was valued less than the rightness of man.

A message of good news which first required acknowledgement of the bad news of sin; a promise of a victor’s crown which first involved the suffering of a cross; a declaration of life to the full which required dying to self; well, it just didn’t align with the way “that seems right to a man” (Prov. 14:12). Preaching Christ crucified was a “stumbling block” to the Jews who demanded a sign beyond resurrection if they were to acknowledge Jesus as the King of their expectations. And for the Gentiles, who were determined to follow what was wise in their own eyes, such “good news” was regarded as great folly (1Cor. 1:22-23). That was the prevailing rightness of man. Thus, to serve that worldly master would, of necessity, bring shame for any who would entertain the good news of God’s kingdom.

But the righteousness of God was of far greater worth to Paul. To stand in His presence, to be reconciled through redemption, to be adopted into His family, to be set apart and regarded as holy, this was the way worthy of his life. That it would be a way by faith alone was welcomed for Paul, for he was well aware of his failure at having zealously sought to attain to righteousness through his own effort and misguided good works. For Paul, the righteousness of God would prevail over the rightness of man every time. Thus, he was not ashamed of the gospel.

Through the gospel he knew a righteousness which came from faith and was for faith. What had begun by believing would be completed by believing.

Though the dissonance between the way of the world and the way of God might increase, Paul would serve but one Master — unashamed of the gospel.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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Only A Tenant

Reading in Leviticus 25 this morning. Hovering over the instructions concerning the year of jubilee. Every fifty years a year of reset when everyone was to “return to his property” and “return to his clan” (Lev. 25:10-11).

For forty-nine years the land they possessed could be leveraged as needed in order to provide for their families. Some or all of it could be sold as needed. It could be bought and worked by those who could afford it. At anytime, it could be redeemed by the original owner for an appropriate price calculated against the year of jubilee. But in the year of jubilee, that land was to be returned to its original owner. Everyone was to return to his clan.

And here’s the verse that caused me to pause this morning.

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with Me.”

(Leviticus 25:23 ESV)

While the land flowing with milk and honey was a promised land, though God went before them and allowed them to possess the land, yet they were never to consider themselves as permanent owners in the land. The land was to always be seen as God’s land. They were to consider themselves but tenants. “Only foreigners and temporary residents on My land” (CSB).

The land was theirs to possess but not theirs to do with as they pleased. Promised but not to be considered their property. They were never to forget that that parcel on which they lived had been provided by the God for whom they were to live for.

Hmm. We make a pretty big deal about private ownership in our culture. What’s mine is mine. Mine to do with as I please. Mine to profit from if I choose. Mine to protect, even if it requires lethal force. But chewing on this verse I’m thinking of the benefits of a generational reset that reminds the follower of God that what’s his or hers is actually on loan. A regular reminder that, when it comes right down to it, what we may consider to be our possessions are but a reminder that we tenants and stewards. Strangers in the land. Sojourners here but for a short while, “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Though I think I may be calling the shots, I really don’t get to make decisions “in perpetuity.” Nothing really permanent. In the larger scheme of eternity, actually pretty fleeting.

For the land, and everything on the earth, is Mine, says the LORD. And you have been graced to travel through it with Me.

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given You. For we are strangers before You and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.” ~ King Solomon

(1Chronicles 29:14-15 ESV)

“What do you have that you did not receive?” ~ Paul

(1Corinthians 4:7b ESV)

Only a tenant. Thankful for the abundance given of God. Trusting not in what I might like to think I possess, but only in the One who has made provision. A temporary place in this land, a permanent place in a land yet to come.

By His grace. For His glory.

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No Quid Pro Quo

They were two blind guys by the road. Thus, they were just two more beggars along the by-way. Limited, to say the least, in what they had to offer to others. Lost in a world of darkness, the world around them just as soon they were mute as well. But on this day, their voices wouldn’t be silenced.

And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed [Jesus]. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!

(Matthew 20:29-31 ESV)

Son of David. That’s how they addressed Jesus. Heir to the throne. Promised Messiah. These blind men, with the eyes of faith, saw Jesus for who He was. The coming King. Ruler of all things. Able even to restore sight to the blind. Not that they had any right to sight, but that they hoped only for mercy. And Jesus stops and responds to their faith.

And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes . . .

(Matthew 20:32-34a ESV)

Jesus in pity touched their eyes. That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

Other translations say that Jesus “had compassion on them” or was “moved with compassion.” Peterson says Jesus was “deeply moved” (MSG). Literally, the word has the idea of “being moved to one’s bowels” where the bowels are the seat of love and pity.

I might be reading more into this than I should, but what strikes me is that Jesus healed these blind men not expecting anything in return. There wasn’t a calculated quid pro quo here. No “something for something” expectation. Jesus’ willingness to restore their sight was without any anticipation of what they might do in return. He just had pity on them. Gut sourced compassion. They were blind, beggars, and beyond any remedy the world might offer. He was “the true Light, which gives light to everyone” come into the world (Jn. 1:9). They believed in desperation. He responded to their belief with compassion. End of transaction. Nothing more expected.

But while there may have been no quid pro quo, there was yet the realization of a life altering determination.

. . . and immediately they recovered their sight and followed Him.

(Matthew 20:34b ESV)

Having known the compassion of the Son of David, these blind men now seeing committed themselves to the Son of David. Having experienced kingdom power, they now wanted to know kingdom participation. Having been graced by the King with eyes to see, they now determined to follow the King, offering their whole selves as a living sacrifice.

No quid pro quo, just the heart reaction of those who once were blind, but now they see. Just the response of those who, because of Jesus’ great compassion, had been translated from the realm of darkness and brought into marvelous light.

A response because of the King’s grace. A response only for the King’s glory.

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What the Lord Has Separated Let No One Join Together

Working my way through a catalog of commandments in Leviticus this morning (Lev. 18-20). Most make sense to this 21st century mind, others not so much. But what is clear is that the reason for the LORD laying out all these to do’s and to don’ts is that God’s people should be altogether different.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow My rules and keep My statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.

(Leviticus 18:1-4 ESV)

I am the LORD your God. I am the LORD. Twenty-one times over these ninety-four verses that reality is invoked as the meta-motivation for obedience. More than once every five verses is that truth brought home. In the midst of the commands that make sense and in those less than intuitive to modern sensibilities, what matters is that the LORD was their LORD. Not just through the act of creation, but more personally because of the act of deliverance. A people rescued from bondage. A people on their way to a promised land. A people with a personal connection to God — the LORD of creation their LORD through salvation.

And what really hits me as I finish up chapter 20, is that God is also the LORD of their separation.

“But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. . . . You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”

(Leviticus 20:24, 26 ESV)

God knew the propensity of his people to wanna go back to Egypt. He also knew their hearts would be attracted to the shiny, sin-filled practices of the nations living in the land they were to possess. So they needed to know that they were a separated people. A people severed from the rest, set apart from all others. A distinct and different sort of re-creation. Separated from the peoples. And what the LORD has separated, let no one join together.

In the world but not of the world. Walking in the land but not walking in its ways. While wholly invested as ambassadors, yet remaining holy as unto the Lord.

Fact of the matter is, God’s people are to be a different sort of people. Marching to the beat of a different drummer. Living a life which, by the very nature of being a separated people, is counter-cultural.

Bears some examination, I think. If we’re no longer marked by how different we are from the world, then have we joined together what was God has separated? Nestled in with nations? Partnered with the pagans? Adopting the ways of the world, rather than maintaining the distinctives which mark the kingdom of heaven? Not that we should live in exile from the world, for we’re commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. But that we would live in separation to the LORD our God. A holy people, for He is holy. A transcendent people, for He is transcendent. A people marked by truth, light, and conduct which reflects we are those set apart for a heavenly kingdom which is now though still yet to come.

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.”

(2Corinthians 6:16-18 ESV)

Our God has separated us from the peoples that we might be His people in order to reach all peoples. Let’s beware lest we join together what God has separated.

By His grace. For His glory.

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No More Goat Demons

You can take the people out of Egypt, but the God who made them knew how hard it would be to take Egypt out of the people. For 400 years the people of Israel had lived in the land of Joseph. But over four centuries, the land remembered Joseph less and less. Whatever influence he may have had over the land in his time concerning the God of his fathers had passed long ago. While there may have been shadowy stories of their fading folklore told at bedtime, before Moses generation after generation would have grown up more familiar with how to live with fake gods than how to dwell with the one true God now in their midst. A verse in Leviticus reminds me of that this morning.

“So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.”

(Leviticus 17:7 ESV)

Context? A warning about offering sacrifices at home. A prohibition against presenting sin offerings, burnt offerings, peace offerings, or any other offerings “in the open field” (v. 5). It would seem that’s how they rolled in Egypt. Implies to me that back in the land of slavery, whenever they thought Pan, the goat demon, needed to be appeased they’d just head out to the backyard and do the deed. Quick, convenient, do it yourself sacrifice — whenever you want, wherever you want.

But not so for a people now en route to a promised land. A redeemed people. A purchased people. A people no longer their own but now the inheritance of the one true God of all creation. Worship of this God would need to happen inside the camp, not outside in their own fields. Their offerings brought to the tent of meeting and offered only by a set apart priest, no longer taken out to the back yard and offered on a self-serve basis. They had left the land of Egypt, they were to leave its ways as well.

As I chew on these opening verses of Leviticus 17, I’m thinking there’s something instructive for us here.

Though they were free from bondage, they weren’t free to do as they pleased. Deliverance by the God of their fathers demanded deference to the God of their fathers. Old things had to pass away if they were to fully realize the promise of a new life. No longer were goat demons to be a thing. Thus, they needed to stop living as if they were. Instead, the holy God who created them, who reclaimed them, and who desired to dwell with them was to be revered and obeyed by them. And a big part of that was in the manner of their offerings.

How prone might we be to improvising with our worship as were Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-3)? How tempted might we be towards settling for convenience rather than pressing into true consecration? How easy might it be for us to find ourselves falling back to behaving in the old ways while claiming to be walking according to a new life? Pretty prone, pretty tempted, pretty easy, I’m thinking.

No more, says the God of deliverance, through His deliverer, to the people He has delivered.

Bring your offerings inside the camp. Present your sacrifices in My presence — at the tent of meeting, the place where My glory resides.

Come to Me, and keep coming to Me. Walk in My ways, not in the ways of the world.

No more goat demons.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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The God of My Life

In one sense it strikes me as an apt psalm for expressing some of the collateral damage experienced during a pandemic.

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? . . . These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

(Psalm 42:1-2, 4 ESV)

Don’t know what was keeping the songwriter from “church”, but he was about done. Dying of thirst to again connect with the living God. And that by entering again into His house, along with many others, to gather before the God worthy of shouts of joy, songs of praise, and festive celebration. Connecting with God’s people in congregational worship inseparable from connecting with God Himself.

Almost a year after we first were told to shelter in place, many still have not been able to re-experience the joy of connecting with the living God by connecting with other living believers. And for those of us who have, we certainly couldn’t say we’ve being going “with the throng” or joining “a multitude” in our weekly, socially distanced worship.

But beyond the gathering with the saints, the song seems aptly appropriate for this seemingly never-ending season because of the cloud of depression that is threaded throughout the lyrics. Three times the psalmist is keenly aware of his “cast down” soul (v. 5a, 6a, 11a), and of the unceasing turbulence of anxiety that ebbs and flows within him. The very core of his being relentlessly bowed low because of the pressure of his surrounding circumstance. Waves of despair his almost daily unshakeable reality. This too a pandemic reality. Mental health almost as much a concern as COVID for those who, though unaffected by the virus, have had their lives turned upside down by of the “treatment.”

Yet, for the songwriter, the remedy for a cast down soul is hope in a living God. The antidote for the unrelenting pressure of the effects of isolation being the anticipation of the fulfillment of one day again praising Him with the people, and of an even greater day praising Him in His very presence (v.5b, 11b). And what fuels such hope? What continues to prime the pump of such assurance?

Verse 8 caught my attention this morning. Chewing on “the God of my life.”

By day the LORD commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

(Psalm 42:8 ESV)

Though tears had been his food day and night (v.3), for way too many days and nights, yet every day He knew — if but only in his head and not so much his heart — that God enveloped Him with a steadfast love. And every night the Spirit interceded with his spirit that there was still a song to sing — even if only a cappella, even if as a choir of one, even if apart from a festive procession. And that, because the songwriter’s God had become the God of my life.

El Chay, the God of my life. That’s who the prayer prayed to, who the songwriter sung to, who the worshiper longed again to worship before in the place of worship. So entwined was the life of the psalmist with the God of life that even in the deepest of depression his cast down soul could affirm his hope in God. His life, though impacted by his circumstance, not defined by his circumstance. His soul, though suppressed by the season, yet not sunk by the season. And that because he knew the God of my life.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

(Colossians 3:2-3 ESV)

Our lives hidden with Christ.

The Father, the God of my life. Because of the Son. Through the Spirit.

By His grace. For His glory.

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On Being a Little One

Their question, if not the right question, is certainly an understandable question. After all, they were getting in on the ground floor. They were initial investors. That they should be the first to be let in on what the kingdom of heaven was about could easily have caused them to think that, as it grew, they should naturally be the foremost in the kingdom of heaven. But there were twelve of them. So they were curious, who would be the foremost of the foremost?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

(Matthew 18:1 ESV)

They weren’t looking to the throne. They weren’t wanting to supplant Gabriel, or Michael, or any other awesome angelic being. But amongst themselves, these who were called to be founders of the faith, who was going to be the stronger founder, the elder originator, the most influential initiator? The question makes sense . . . naturally. Yeah, but the kingdom of heaven is anything but a natural kingdom.

And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. . . .

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones.

(Matthew 18:2-6, 10a ESV)

We have many ways that we like to reference one another as the redeemed. Like, calling them the redeemed, or the elect. Referring to each other as believers, saints, or brothers and sisters. But when’s the last time you ever heard someone refer to you as a little one?

What if, when we went to church each Sunday (if you’re back to doing that now) and looked one another in eye (still a while, I’m guessing, before we can actually look at one another face to face), and bumped elbows or pounded fists (or did whatever we do to substitute for shaking hands), we greeted each other with, “Good morning, small one! How was your week, less than others? Gonna watch the game this afternoon, least of these?” Uh, maybe there’s a reason little one has never gained traction like brother, sister, or saint has.

This morning, I’m chewing on being a little one.

The least of these. Small in stature. Not taking up much space. Not really allotted a lot of time. Not much in the way of rank or influence. Yet, great in the kingdom of heaven. Really? Are we willing to live so counter-cultural to the world? Can we truly be happy, content, fulfilled with such an upside down standard? If not, maybe we need to turn, humble ourselves, and become like children.

Jesus says “do not despise” such a thought. Don’t disdain being thought of as diminutive. Don’t hold in contempt being considered but a kid. Don’t think little of, well, being thought of as little.

Certainly not natural. Buy hey, we’re indwelt with the Spirit of God, we’re up for the supernatural! And, after all, we believed Jesus enough to receive Jesus, so why wouldn’t we trust Him with our “greatness” by letting go of it. By coming to Him, and being before one another, as but children. Happy to be a child, as long as we’re a child of the King. Willing to be known as the least of these. Content on being a little one.

Only by His grace. But I’m thinking, if we’re able to walk in it, another means of bringing Him glory.

Amen?

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Belief and Behavior

Been reading a book on asking the right questions when it comes to thinking through how to be intentional in leading people in the church towards following Christ. It’s what we’re commissioned to do, “Go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19-20). Baptize them into the body of believers and teach them how to follow the Head of the body.

The church is to make disciples, not just coddle believers. And a disciple is a learner and a follower. An imitator of their Teacher, walking in His ways, wanting what He wants. The Greg Laurie quote resonates with me: “Every disciple is a believer, but not every believer is necessarily a disciple.”

In the book I’m reading, the author suggests three fundamental areas of learning which are vital for making followers: bible, belief, and spiritual habits. Knowing the story, understanding theology, practicing the rhythms and ways of the kingdom.

Many get the need to at least read their bible if they want to mature as followers of Christ, some also will buy into the need to study their bible. The idea that spiritual disciplines are also helpful, also resonates with some, at least in my circles, as to their importance for growing in Christ. But mention doctrine, talk about getting a handle on theology, and the herd seems to thin pretty quickly. Seems too theoretical, some would argue, too ethereal. They want application, not academics.

But something I read in Acts this morning emphasized for me, again, the connection between right belief and right behavior.

“But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.”

(Romans 24:14-16 ESV)

Paul is testifying before Felix, governor of Judea, at the governor’s residence in Caesarea (Acts 23:23-34). Defending himself against accusations of “stirring up riots among all the Jews” and “profaning the temple” (24:5-6). Paul’s rebuttal, in essence? Not true. They didn’t find me arguing with or stirring up the crowd. They can’t prove that I profaned our temple, because I didn’t. And here’s why I didn’t act in such a way, my theology. I believe that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

The resurrection of the just and unjust, that’s doctrine. That our bodies will materially be raised, reunited with our spirits, and required to stand before God at the resurrection is deep doctrine. And because Paul worshipped the God of his fathers by knowing and believing in such theology, he took great pains to maintain a clear conscience before both God and man. What Paul believed had a direct impact on how he sought to behave. What, by faith, he knew to be the certainty of standing before the throne of God someday, had a great influence on how he ordered his life today.

To be sure, we can be true believers and have very little knowledge of the divine and the ways of the kingdom of heaven. It’s how we all start. Born again, babes in Christ, the gospel so rudimentary that even children can respond. But to be true followers, to be deep disciples of Jesus Christ? That’s gonna require growing up a bit, require maturing in the things of Christ.

That part of making disciples is to teach, implies that part of being a disciple is to learn. That part of being a sojourner is also being a student. That part of being “doers of the word” is to first be “hearers” (James 1:22). Learning, not for the sake of knowledge alone, but so that we might live — practically, purposefully, and productively — as followers of Jesus Christ.

By His grace. For His glory.

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