We Do vs. He’s Done

Peter’s bold Pentecost sermon to the men of Israel in Acts 2 explains the giving of God’s prophesied Holy Spirit, and it brought reaction. This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  It is this last phrase that “cut them to the heart.” Their response, befitting anyone under conviction, was, “What shall we do?”

It is here that the beauty of the Christian gospel enters and transforms human bent and impulse. The ‘act’ required is to relinquish, to receive, not to work and perform. And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized [identify with Jesus] every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” Our natural inclination is to want to do something to save ourselves, to contribute, to earn and achieve. If we continue on this path, we are constantly unsettled, riddled with guilt and uncertainty, weary with effort that will always fall short, never be enough. We have no assurance. 

Crucifixion, Dutch Delft, 18th century

But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished”; He has finished the work of redemption, and it is complete. He has done it perfectly and forever. What we could not do Jesus has done once for all. (John 19:30; Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12)

Lord Jesus, You are in me my hope of glory. Thank You for finishing Your work so I can be free to follow and serve You. (Colossians 1:27)

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
  I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”                                                                                              – Charles Wesley (1738)


Barley Bread, Trumpets, and the Glory of God

Judges 7 is a must read for the newly-called and the overwhelmed. In chapter 6, Gideon the farmer had just been tapped by God as the mighty man of valor who would save Israel. His view of God was limited, and of himself, poor. But God had promised to be with him and assured Israel’s victory, and Gideon bravely begins to take on his new assignment. “The Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon,” God graciously answers his test of the fleece, and Gideon rises early with his men to head to battle.

Then God begins to overturn natural practicality and do His supernatural thing. He says, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” 22,000 are winnowed to 10,000 are trimmed to 300, and the LORD promises to save them and give the Midianites into their hand. He even detects Gideon’s fear, and tells him he and his servant can go to the camp and listen to what the enemy is saying, “‘and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.’ Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’ And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’ As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped.

Colorado summit

300 soldiers were indeed only a ‘loaf of barley bread’ compared to the vast army before them, but God’s kind affirmation fueled Gideon’s faith and strategy. He divided his troops into three groups, armed with trumpets and empty jars with torches, and advanced. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’ Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army.” The powerful Midianites, who had oppressed Israel for seven years, turned on themselves in fear of trumpet blasts and fire, and fled only to be overtaken, captured, and killed. God had indeed brought victory.

In any new endeavor or weighty assignment, God is enough. He hears our doubts and answers them; He knows our fears and insecurities, and comes alongside to reassure us. When we feel small, incapable, insignificant, what matters is that God is big, able, and uses us to accomplish significant deeds. He clothes us with His Spirit, and equips us with His fire. He calls the ordinary to do extraordinary things, that He receive the glory. When “with man this is impossible, with God all things are possible.” (Psalm 34:4; Luke 24:49; Matthew 19:26)

Lord, You know the Midianites in my mind, spirit, and life, and they are not too much for You. Help me remember the barley loaf, and to take hold of the trumpet and blow with gusto and praise.


The Power of Prepositions

“Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.” Mark 4:1

Cape Coast, Ghana 10-16

Mrs. Striker’s ninth-grade-level seventh grade English grammar class comes to mind as I marvel at this verse, chock full of prepositions. Our Lord of language takes care even in the particular wording of the Scriptures, fashioning descriptions that bring truth to light and life, and it makes me smile. The Living Word teaches with words and uses them to their full for our greatest understanding and delight.

“The LORD is faithful in all his words.” “Every word of God proves true.” “It is no empty word for you, but your very life.” “These words are trustworthy and true.” Psalm 145:13; Proverbs 30:5; Deuteronomy 32:47; Revelation 22:6

The glorious prepositional purposes of God are to be savored from Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” How thankful I am to be saved by Jesus and able to draw near Him Who is always with me! I am in Christ, forever, bought by His blood; none can snatch me out of His hand.

Lord, none compares with You. There is no God above or beside You; You are Creator of all and over all things. May Your words continue to be to me a joy and the delight of my heart. Keep me abiding in them that I may go to the world with the hope of Christ. (Jeremiah 15:16)

Not To Be Served, But To Serve

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

Two meanings for “servant” are used here. Whoever would be great must be your diakanos, or one who serves others, as a ‘deacon.’ This is a horizontal service. Whoever would be first must be your doulos, one submissive to a Master. This is a vertical service. Jesus came, wholly submissive to His Father’s will and plan, and served unselfishly, with abandon, expending time and energy, comfort and His very life, for others. He calls me to do the same.

Serve God 18th century Dutch Delft plate

Serving must be fueled not by what I prefer to be needed (or do), not by my own strength and impetus, but by my submission to my Master. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” I cling to Him, I yield to Him, I get caught up in what He is doing. As I learn from Him and hear from Him, so shall I go. (Psalm 123:2)

“Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you.
Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you”                                                                                                                                      -Chris Tomlin (2012)

So be it, Lord and Master.


Give Him Room!

Years ago, I discovered that one of our children had lied to me; a teacher informed me of the truth. I began to pray, and asked this child a general question that gave an opening to confess. Nothing. Over the next hours, I continued to pray for the Spirit to soften that child’s heart and bring conviction. Later in the day, I asked, “Is there anything you want to talk about while it’s just ‘us’?” and the head dropped, the words of confession came. God had done it! I was able to tell this child that the Holy Spirit is always with us and knows everything. He wants what is good for us, and will bring guilt when we have done wrong; He forgives and cleanses immediately when we confess and repent. The Lord also taught me that He is the better, always-present and perfect One to bring about conviction, that our children are His to deal with, that I need not (should not) try to do His sanctifying work. This approach is modeled all through Scripture.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'” Isaac questions conniving Jacob repeatedly, “Who are you, my son? Are you really my son Esau?,” giving him numerous chances to fess up about his elaborate, deceptive plot. Nathan tells David a heart-wrenching story that mirrors his own weakly-excused greed and malice. Peter asks Sapphira to explain what happened, giving her a chance to come clean after her husband had already borne punishment for their agreed-upon lying. ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.’ And she said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ But Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?'” (Genesis 3:8-9; 27:18-24; 2 Samuel 12:1-13; Acts 5:8-9) In every case, the truth eventually comes out, but conviction is deeper and the results more effective when the Spirit is given time and space to work.

Sequoias, looking skyward

Lord, You sent Your Spirit to convict, and to restore to comfort and abundant life. Open my ears to hear your “Where are you?” and my heart to admit the truth. Keep my lips from interrupting Your work, and teach me instead through intercessory prayer. May I willingly give You room to do your thing and have Your way– with me, with those I love. (John 10:10; 14:16-17; 16:7-9,13)




Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”   Psalm 2:1-3

Acts 4 could be describing America and other lands today: religious and political leaders and others with culture-imposed clout get greatly annoyed because of any proclamation about Jesus. They gather together, pool their biblical ignorance, fret over the spread and influence of this teaching, and plot how to suppress the truth.

But the Spirit-filled apostles in the early church were undeterred. When the rulers, elders, scribes, and priestly family inquire about the power and name behind the miracles being done (where was their compassion and marveling gratitude?), Peter replied, “‘Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” 

Nepalese children in farm field

Still, the frustrated men had to quell this ‘threatening movement.’ “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” Not only were Peter and John bold in their conviction, but they went to their friends and all “lifted their voices together” in praise and thanksgiving. Undeterred, they prayed, And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” God upheld His own, who cared more for His kingdom purposes and glory than their own lives or reputation. “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” 

As the heat rises in our culture, keep Your people true to You, Lord, undeterred in speaking and living Your word. Fill us with Your Spirit, increase in us dependent and bold faith. Stretch out Your hand of grace on us and through us to a needy, inquiring world.



Regarding the Small

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.” “For who has despised the day of small things?” Psalm 104:24-25; 
Zechariah 4:10

Walking the beach yesterday morning, I prayed through several situations and thought through my day and upcoming week, hoofing it in mind and foot at an energetic clip. My sights were ahead and beyond where I actually was. I needed to turn around because of time, and then I saw the first one: a perfect coin-sized sand dollar before me on the smooth, surf-firmed surface. I picked it up, then another, then another. Each was distinct in shade and miniature size, resting on a shell, or half-buried in the sand, or drying white in the early sun. Within minutes, because I looked, I’d found dozens, God’s tiny treasures that my distracted thinking and speed would have caused me to overlook had I not adjusted my focus. O, Lord, how much do I miss?

 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Matthew 6:26,28-29

When I regard the small, Lord, You remind me You are great. This is the day You have made, may I rejoice and be glad in it. May I look for and savor the small things, and savor You above all. (Psalm 118:24)