The Breath of Jesus

“When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:20-22, ESV

We have an eye-witness account of the most fantastic and amazing event in all of human history!  The risen Jesus, who definitely is not dead flesh, appears in a room that the disciples have hid out in.  He is flesh and blood, as real as you or me.  The disciples are pretty much freaked out by this.  “What is this–who is this?”

The risen Lord walks in with 22 eyes fixed on him.  He is confident,  and walking with resurrection authority.  He holds out his hands–they see for themselves the wounds the nails made.  He lifts his robe, and they kneel down to see for themselves the holes.  In spite of His brutal wounds, He is still approachable and affable.  He indeed is Jesus!

The disciples are ecstatic!  They are emotionally overwhelmed, and are spontaneously laughing and crying and leaping around the room.  It’s like they just won the World Series!  Pure and unadulterated joy pulsates through them.  He is very much alive! He Lives!

In this intense moment, he speaks–they become quiet.  He “injects” peace into their hearts and minds with a simple command. Peace is a vital ingredient in the heart of a disciple.  It is quite valuable, especially coming off the lips of Jesus.  He directs them to complete the work–it is the work the Father gave him to do.  He extends the torch of responsibility and calling.

The excited emotion of the moment must now put on ‘work gloves.’

Jesus does something peculiar.  He leans over each disciple and exhales on them.  His breath is saturated with resurrection life, and they inspire into their lungs the life of a risen man!  They now carry his ‘life essence,’ and in the light of Jesus’ previous statement, they will need it.

When God created Adam, he gave him his life.  Life is more than existence, it is the energy to “live.” When you really experience the resurrected Jesus, you will need more than good and noble ideas.  You need him, you will rely on his breath.  Jesus breathes on his witnesses–those who have been picked to follow.  His breath fills our lungs, the oxygen enters our blood stream, it powers us on a cellular level.  You can never, ever be the same.  Never.

 

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Tensile Prayer

“Please be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, we are simply asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so you can acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.”

“We concentrate on this, and pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.”

“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the ‘long haul”—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the “glory-strength”  God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable, and then spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. ”

–Amen.

This is a paraphrase that I made of Colossians 1:9-12, using the Message Bible.  This is one of those “scripture” prayers, often found in the Psalms, but also in the Epistles.  It does seem as Paul actually prayed as he wrote.  This prayer is indeed evidence of this.  It has the wonderful side effect of praying while doing something else, and what that might look like, especially when done discreetly and appropriately.

“Tensile” is a most interesting word, and concept.  It has the idea of being stretched without being torn apart.  A perfect word to describe intercessory prayer.

Do we really pray enough?  It isn’t a question of “volume”  but of quality, and precision.  When I am focused and begin to be directed to a certain person, or a very idea— I start to pray, focused and accurate.  But in the “quantity” aspect.  I do admit I often falter and fumble this.

The content of this man’s prayer was fabulous, and incredibly strong.  It does seem that it covers quite a few bases.  We can draw out so much.  And yet I keep coming back to the manner in which  Paul prayed.  I wonder if we could be taught to do the same?

Somehow we start praying in this same level. By faith we can weave that  tensile strength into hearts of those we love, and understand the hearts of our brothers, or sisters.

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Working in the Time of Grace

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 “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”

Matt. 20:12, NIV

Matthew 20 irritates me.  People are working the entire day, and along comes people who have only worked for one hour.  This discrepancy drives the believer nuts.  How in the world could such a thing take place?  It is foolishness to us who insist on a ‘grace of appropriateness.’  We want grace to be fair, recognizing the person who has worked very hard.

The problem is that God is outrageous with His grace and love.  He completely expands us to a point where we must embrace a grace that is completely beyond us.  We have to break down and accept what is available to us.  Grace completely dumps us upside down.

We can only proceed if we accept His definition of Grace.

Those who have labored the least are made equal to those who work the hardest.  This seems incredibly unfair and we revolt against such extravagance.  It strikes us as outrageously unfair.  How can those who worked only an hour receive the exact same amount as those who have labored a full eight?

The miracle of  this shockingly outrageous grace is that we are confronted by a profound freedom.  We basically get brought to the point where we get stripped of these illusions and need to walk out the scripture.  It has the tendency to eliminate the issues that could block us and bring us to a most receptive position.

“But he replied to one of them, ‘My friend, I’m not being unjust to you. Wasn’t our agreement for a silver coin a day? Take your money and go home. It is my wish to give the latecomers as much as I give you. May I not do what I like with what belongs to me? Must you be jealous because I am generous?’

16 “So, many who are the last now will be the first then and the first last.”

Matthew 20:13-16

We must admit that God’s grace reaches out to everyone. 

That He has the deep, deep desire to see that each of us connect with His love.  This is indeed the radicalness of the gospel.  It is outrageous and astonishing.  That He would love us who have hated Him.  Our sense of equity is completely undone.  His grace completely turns us upside down. I think that is a good thing.

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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

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Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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The Mystery of Each Other

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12

As believers we should be confident of the mysterious substitution that has happened between Jesus and us.  He has exchanged places with us, giving to us his righteousness in exchange for our sin.  Verses in 1 John make it clear. Every encounter we have with a brother is an encounter with Jesus.  This is an astounding truth.

Every brother, every sister is a rendezvous of wonderful significance.  When we serve them, we are really serving the Lord Himself.  I guess it can also be a sobering experience if we should mistreat or neglect them.  What we say and what we do has consequences.

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:40

There is no escaping the Gospel logic that our personal contact with each other carries an eternal weight.  Immaturity and pride keep us from seeing the delicate connections that believers have with each other, and perhaps suggesting a new basis for our relationships is a bit much to hope for.

Every believer is someone who will be covered in glory someday.

Without a complete mind removal renewal we will continue to see others as rivals or people to control.  We use the H.S. gifts to ascend rather than serve.  The disciples had to make their adjustments.  They were told that they were to lay it all down and wash each others feet.

We must begin to realize that when we touch someone, when we speak to a friend, we are doing that to the Lord.  Every believer is someone who will be covered in glory someday.  We are to live out this wonderful mystery of Jesus living in our brother.  He is that close!

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.”   

Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

 

Ministry & the Mentally Ill

“Turning Your Back,” Russian Folk Art

Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, the Condemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “

— Michael Yaconelli

Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches.  We are pushed into hiding our true identity;  we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules.  We are expected to censor ourselves, and say proper things at the right time.  Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.]

If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or desperate, I will upset the apple cart and muddle up everything.  “Truth?  You can’t handle the truth?”, [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.] 

But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority.

Christians with mental illnesses, have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church.  The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers.  He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.

We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re the audio/visual department of the church.

If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses, have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture.  If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere.  We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.

But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine!  Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness.  Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him.  Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?

I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open. 

That we become transparent before others.  As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love.  They look at me and they see Jesus.  And that is our ministry as mentally ill people to the Church.  Our weaknesses are really our strengths.

9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.”  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” 

10 “So because of Christ,  I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

                               2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

 

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[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within, and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]

 

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Go Lower Yet

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“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

John 13:14

Some Christians reading this part of scripture, have concluded that foot washing should be part of the Churches customary routine.  Their case is compelling, and they may be right in their interpretation.  There is as much support for this as with other things, and Lord knows we could use the humility by getting on your knees with a basin and towel before a brother.  It probably would relieve issues between saints. It may even heal Church splits. (Oh my!)

Jesus pronounced that His act of service was to be imitated by everyone who would follow.  He further would assert that His example would be emulated by every believer that followed after Him.  Our service to our brother, or sister is to help them become clean Christians.  We have this ministry of the basin and towel to remove the dirt and filth that comes from walking in this world.  Of course, we cannot remove sins.  But we can serve as Jesus would and intervene with His power.

Cleansing people we encounter will be a demanding challenge.  It will call us to strip our lives down to a minimum, and to get lower.  We need to get so low that we’re on the floor.  This requires much grace and discipline.  We must weed out every pretense and pride–especially the kind that says, “Look at me serving; am I not wonderful?  I am a true disciple now.”  We are to shake off thoughts like that.  We are to love others, and be brutal on ourselves. (Not in a morbid way, just less of ‘yourself.’)

While in my first year of Bible college, I developed a bitter dislike for a classmate.  He had been a lead guitarist; he was handsome and popular, and he oozed pride from every pore (at least I could see it).  I actually took it on myself to be God’s hand in humbling him.  I became antagonistic and scorned him every chance I could.

Within days, my prayer life shut down, the heavens became brass.  One day I was praying and the Holy Spirit graciously zapped me.  I became aware of my sin toward my brother, and I repented. There was a real definite leading, to find a basin and a towel, and then to wash his feet.

God reconciled us, as I kneeled at his feet in that dorm room.  From that point on we became very good friends.

We must go lower still.  We must scrub our way into the heart of our sister and brother with a basin and towel.  Water always finds the lowest point, were it pools and gathers.  When we lower ourselves even deeper we find His presence waiting for us.  But we must cleanse our own hands first, and His blood must work its ministry on me. It’s then I can proceed to clean the filth off of their feet.  If I am not clean myself I will only perpetuate the dirt on to my brother with my dirty hands.

The challenge for us is exceptionally real.  Christlikeness will always demand this humble grace.  When we think about being like Jesus we must make sure we are following the Jesus in the Bible.  The Jesus who washed dirty feet as a slave.

Let us not have any foolish nonsense of a discipleship that doesn’t kneel before our brothers in humility.

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