“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”
1 Corinthians 4:11-13, NIV
The apostle Paul isn’t ashamed to be called ‘scum.’ He realizes that this is his ‘standing’ in this world’s opinion. He is regarded as a nobody and of little value. A tension exists between the believer and the world system. The expectations that the world has is part of the package that we have been given. The message of the Cross is the ultimate foolishness. Jesus told his own disciples that:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”
John 15:18-19, NLT
The world hates us because we belong to Jesus. It is his reproach we bear. We should not see the trial and sorrows as our issue, and we shouldn’t get upset by the world’s snub. The tension is real and we can expect being ostracized. In fact, we might do well to be concerned if we don’t see it.
After all, hatred is a hard word. And the stigma should humble us— it has a supernatural origin. We shouldn’t expect otherwise. To follow Jesus means we will only experience what he is already gone through. Some of us will follow him even to martyrdom. The hardships and challenges do not invalidate our walk, rather they confirm what he said would happen. The world is under seige by Satan, it is his spirit that controls the unbelieving world.
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Father of all comfort, please come to your servants who are suffering for their faith in you. Meet them and hold them close to you. Give them boldness and awareness. Seek them out and make them your witnesses in a hostile world. Give them the Spirit of Jesus and help them overcome by their love. ~In Jesus Name, Amen
There are some who may not understand the term, but back on the farm in Wisconsin, “barnburning” meant one of two things:
1. A person who burns down a barn, (obviously literal.)
2. Something amazing or noteworthy. To be strong, impressive, or of interest, (metaphorical.)
The following verses have made a tremendous influence on me. Here are five “barn burners” — incendiary verses that have directed me and given me support in challenging times. I hope at least one will fire up your heart.
It is a challenge to limit myself to just these five, so much has blessed me over 40 years–I should have at least 500. Scraping up five was really not the problem, there could be so many more.
So here are five which have made a definite impact on my thinking. (I reserve the right to change my mind as necessary, LOL.) All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV), such as it is. Get ready for some “spiritual napalm.”
ONE: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
This is a very precise chapter in my mind. A great deal of attention is given to Paul and Barnabas’ relationship to the people. At first, they are deified, but moments later the crowds pick up rocks to stone him. However Paul’s message to the local church was impressive. He strengthens, and he encourages. The reality of difficulty and tribulation has become the very doorway for them to come into the kingdom. This encourages me, and helps me in the conflicts I deal with.
TWO: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32
This verse tells me of God’s commitment to me. First, I’m part of a little flock. Nothing of any significance. The world evaluates me, but I’m just a simple guy involved with a simple group of people, nothing more. However in this verse, fear is the primary issue. “Fear not, little flock.” Our fear is supposed to be eradicated and extracted.
The word “pleasure” is an interesting choice of words. We understand pleasure, or at least we think we do. This verse implies that the Father has put into play His intensity. Pleasure is often a way of doing intensity. God is “ultra-involved” and is exceptionally extravagant in His treatment of us. We are brought into this place of grace, by His kindness and grace. He can’t wait to pour out his love on us.
THREE: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil. 1:6
What confidence! That is a vital ingredient in our lives, this confidence and boldness. Our God is active in bringing us to a deeper place of maturity. Paul understands this, and uses God’s diligence as the basis for his growth. This verse is a real confidence builder for me. A promise that He will continue His work in me, no matter what. This is a great promise for young Christians. I often look at my own issues, and I give up after I accrue a certain frequency–a certain “sin-ratio.”
Shortly before I became a Christian, I spent a lot of time with Fred Tsholl who was the night-shift announcer at a nearby Christian radio station. He was so patient and kind to me. I would sit with him in the studio, all night long. When it was time for me to leave he would quote this verse to me. Looking back, this verse became quite significant. I would take it as a promise from the Lord Himself.
FOUR: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7
‘Jars of clay,’ really nothing more than this. We are weak and vulnerable, we so easily can be broken. But a treasure, I don’t think we grasp the value of treasure. But, if it resides in us, we become a repository of great significance. This magnificent work is not of our own effort. It belongs to God. It is nothing we can claim from any working on our part.
FIVE: “Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” Song of Sol. 8:5
This world is a tangled place, it is a dense and difficult wilderness. There doesn’t seem to be a smooth road anywhere. We make our way slowly, through much suffering and personal doubt. This particular verse gives me an assurance of His presence, even in the middle of hardship and challenge. He is present with me.
We come up out of this ugliness, precisely because of that close presence. We lean on the Lord, as we traverse this hard place. His dear presence will bring us through this darkness, He gives me the amazing strength to do this journey.
“Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”
– Amy Carmichael
“Seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”
“Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”
John 13:23, Amplified
“One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder.”
John 13:23, The Message
(Two translations of the same verse.)
Good posture is one of those intangibles that parents are always trying to influence. “Sit up straight” or the classic, “stop slouching”. I’m convinced that this is purely genetics at work. The apostle, traditionally John, is found sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples. It is an intimate and relaxing affair as they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room.
John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor. The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder. And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior. Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting. I remember in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends. I have heard that this is true in other cultures as well.
The intimacy between Jesus and John strikes us as a little weird. But for Jesus it was encouraging. He felt John’s love and perhaps confidence. There certainly was no impropriety or anything suggestive. It was an immensely precious moment, especially for the apostle John. Artists always paint John with a sincere and peaceful countenance. This moment most likely contributed to his serenity.
It was getting dark. Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be. We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted. He is encouraged by our affection.
We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.
The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets. They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God. We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time. I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence. But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus. Our Savior is strong enough to carry our immense burdens and all of our loads.
The gospel is a profound mystery that has been made quite simple. A little child could grasp it. We have the deep sense that it is quite complicated, but it is really straightforward. For years, day after day after day, I have tried to jump high enough to attain a semblance of peace, but to no avail. After a long period I finally realized I couldn’t make it work. If God was going to save me, He was going to have to personally intervene. I just didn’t have it in me. The simplicity of our faith needs to be declared; too many believe it is unattainable. C.S. Lewis once wrote about this simple gospel:
“We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. … That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.”
–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over time I realized, (actually it was more like a lightning bolt) that it wasn’t how high I could jump— but how low I could go. The ‘good news’ is designed for the simple; not for the spiritual athlete. We must become as “little children to enter the kingdom of God.” There is no other way. Jesus has made it clear. I simply can not attain salvation by my own merits, rather it is given out to those who can’t arrive at some vague legal standard.
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We are a people who are engineered for achievement. We value those who have ‘arrived.’ But what if the opposite was true? What if it wasn’t greatness, but ‘smallness’ that opened heaven’s doors? Would you qualify? I ask these questions not to demean you, but to reassure you. I would only suggest that you reexamine your faith. It is only prudent after all.
Adopting the world’s attitudes is not surprising. We are saturated by her presence. She makes her presence known by everything we perceive. It is the basic environment that surrounds all that we do or think. Jesus’ gospel asks us to rethink some basic things:
Do I belong here?
Is this my real home?
What am I living for?
Am I a loving person?
What am I living for?
We ask these questions, not because they are somewhat profound; we ask them because they are basic. Yet so much rests on each. We must clear away the world’s confusion, in order to grasp each question. We must become like little children, again. When we start to ask these questions— we are on our way.
“Nothing paralyzes our lives like the attitude that things can never change. We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory.”
“…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”
“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.