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Thoughts on Friends, Politics, Church, and a Faithful Witness by Rob Haynes

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Thoughts on Friends, Politics, Church, and a Faithful Witness by Rob Haynes

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God’s Breathed Word by Maxie Dunnam


God’s Breathed Word by Maxie Dunnam

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I recently heard this story of a boy who desperately wanted a car for his sixteenth birthday. He didn’t hesitate in making that desire known. When that day finally arrived, he looked out the window, hopefully thinking that surely his new car would be there. But to his great disappointment it wasn’t. 

He asked his parents why he hadn’t gotten a car. The father responded, “Son,” there are three reasons. First, your grades are bad and you never seem to study like you should. Secondly, you don’t go to church and you don’t read the Bible every night. And thirdly, you’ve got that long hair and you won’t get it cut.”

“Well, what do I need to do,” asked the son, ” to get my car?” The dad said, “It’s very simple, you need to study hard and raise your grades. You need to go to church and read your Bible every night. And you need to get that long hair cut.”

Six months passed and the young man came back to his father. “Dad,” he said, “It’s been six months now and I want you to know I’ve made a lot of improvements. In fact I’m getting three A’s and a B this semester. So you see I’ve been studying hard. And I’ve been going to church every Sunday and reading my Bible every night.” The father said, “Yes, I know, and I’m proud of you. But you still haven’t gotten your hair cut.”

The son’s face lit up. “Yes, I know Dad, but I’ve discovered in reading the Bible that Jesus had long hair too.” The father’s reply was really disarming. “Yes, son, I realize that, but if you keep reading the Bible, you’ll also discover that Jesus walked everywhere He went!”

That’s not all we’ll discover if we keep reading the Bible. We will find life – the life God promises in Jesus Christ. We will find direction for living the life we are called to live. We will find strength to persevere, and comfort to live with the problems and the pain life brings.

In my last article I discussed the fact that all the “saints” practiced discipline at the heart of which was prayer. Along with prayer, we can’t think of spiritual disciplines without considering study and living with Scripture. Consider this admonition from the Apostle Paul: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith.” (Col. 2:6-7)  That’s the way the New Revised Standard Version has it. I like Phillips’ translation of the text: “Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so go on living in Him — in simple faith. Grow out of Him as a plant grows out of the soil it is planted in, becoming more and more sure of the faith…”

The point is clear: After we have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, we spend the rest of our lives bringing every aspect of our lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ. That means we choose to grow, to become stronger in our faith. We continue to grow by our study of God’s Word. 

There is a sense in which to live and breathe as Christians we need the “air” of God’s breathed word. Does the designation “God breathed” sound strange? Maybe the clumsiness of that designation will jangle our hearing enough to etch the point solidly in our mind. When Paul says to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God”, that’s what he is literally saying: Scripture is God’s breathed word. 

Now I don’t want to get into a discussion about the words “literal” and “inerrant” as words to describe the Bible as God’s word. More important for me are the words revelation, authority, and sufficient.

The Bible is God’s revealed Word, providing revelation of God’s self. The Bible is the authority of Christian teaching. And, the Bible is sufficient in directing us to salvation, in being disciples of Jesus Christ, and providing the support, comfort, and strength we need for daily Christian living. 

That’s what Paul  said to Timothy, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

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Sons of God or Animals in a Jungle by Maxie Dunnam


Sons of God or Animals in a Jungle by Maxie Dunnam

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Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.

I John 3:2


“The world is still a jungle, Maxie. Man is still an animal in that jungle. The only difference is that the jungle is not as wild as it was in the past, and the animals are a little more refined.” This word came out in a recent conversation. Because of the source and the setting, it grabbed my attention in an unusual way.

In my morning devotional time of Scripture, a different kind of word has been my prayerful focus in 1 John, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”

The person who spoke the ‘animal-in-a-jungle’ word was an earnest-minded young man, a brilliant professor in a state university. His keen intellect is matched by a dominating concern for humanity. His major discipline has been a study of the history of mankind. This should equip him to speak with convincing arguments concerning the epic of man. So, he concludes, “The world is still a jungle. Man is still an animal in that jungle.”

This was no sophisticated egghead speaking; not one who scorns the essence of Christianity. Granted, he looks askance at organized religion today and argues that we have taken the form of religion and made it the essence of the faith. This was one who is sincerely seeking a solution to the dilemma of our times, one who is searching for answers to the great questions of life. We can listen to him because he is sincere. He is not flaunting some rebellion against childhood religion. And he certainly isn’t comfortable in his convictions.

The question is, is he right? Is the world still a jungle? Is man still an animal in that jungle – sophisticated maybe; reined perhaps – but still an animal? 

If my friend is right (and I can’t muster much effective argument against him) he is right because man has not become what he was intended to become. And he is right only in assessing a situation, not in defining a destiny. Man may live like an animal in a jungle, but it is by choice that he does so. This is not God’s intention; it isn’t the pattern Jesus set. 

We are right in emphasizing Jesus as the incarnation of God; but we must not lose our understanding of him as the incarnation of man. Jesus is the proper measurement of man’s destiny, what man ought to be. 

Jesus has proved that man does not have to live as an animal in a jungle. The gospel writer said of him: “He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25 RSV). If he had not felt the way he did about man’s nature, it would be the difficulty, nay, the impossibility of the ages, to account for what he said and what he did for man’s redemption.

Heinrich Heine, famous German poet, once said, “I, too, might have died for men if I had not the suspicion that they were not worth it.” Was Jesus’ work the sentimentalism of one who had put too high a value on man? Was it the heroism of a stoic defying the fate which was destroying him? Or was it the redemptive love of one who knew what was in man and moved out to meet it, calling out the best that is within us?

This was a part of my conversation with my friend. When we answer these questions aright we can come to a proper judgment of man – ourselves included. Then we will not remain an ‘animal in a jungle.’ We can claim our status as a child of God, redeemed by Christ.

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Discipline is Essential by Maxie Dunnam


Discipline is Essential by Maxie Dunnam

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In my previous article I made the claim that in our going on to salvation, struggle is normal and discipline is essential. I want to elaborate on my claim that discipline is essential.

Scripture, especially the New Testament, is replete with calls to a disciplined life. This is the process of sanctification, or we may call it spiritual formation.

Through spiritual discipline, opening ourselves to the shaping power of the indwelling Christ, we grow into the likeness of Christ. It was one of Wesley’s primary concerns and a distinctive emphasis of the early Methodist movement – that the mind of Christ grows in us.

Wesley preached an interesting sermon in 1778 entitled, “The Work of God in North America.” In it, he sought to describe the various dispensations of divine providence in the American colonies as far back as 1736. In the sermon, Wesley commented on the preaching of George Whitefield, which was one of the major contributing factors to the First Great Awakening in America.  The preaching of Whitefield played a significant role in that Awakening.

On his last journey to America, Whitefield lamented that many of his converts had drawn back into perdition. Taking note of that, Wesley sought to account for this “falling away.” This was his telling statement:

And what wonder? For it was a true saying, which was common in the ancient church, “The soul and the body make a man; and the spirit and discipline make him a Christian.” But those who were more or less affected by Mr. Whitefield’s preaching had no discipline at all. They had no shadow of discipline; nothing of the kind. They were formed into no societies. They had no Christian connection with each other, nor were they ever taught to watch over each other’s souls. So that if they fell into luke-warmness, or even into sin, he had none to lift him up. He might fall lower and lower, yea into hell, if he would; for who regarded it? (Sermon, ‘The Works of God in North America” Jackson, Works, 7:411).

Wesley put a great emphasis on proclaiming the gospel, as did Whitefield. He never diminished preaching and teaching the Word. But he insisted upon the discipline of gathering with a class or a band. As the Methodist movement became more established, Wesley noted the deterioration of this discipline, and he warned against it:

Never omit meeting your class or band; never absent yourself from any public meeting. These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens or tends to weaken our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community. The private weekly meetings for prayer, examination, and particular exhortation has been the greatest means of keeping and confirming every blessing that was received by the word preached and diffusing it to others… Without this religious connection and intercourse the most ardent attempts, by mere preaching, have proved no lasting use” (Jackson, Works, 11:433).

There are some warnings to be sounded. We must guard against turning our disciplines into an end. To be disciplined is not the goal; the goal is to stay close to Christ, to keep our lives centered in Him. We must guard against falling into a salvation-by-works pattern. Grace and faith are still the key. We are not saved by disciplines; we are saved by grace through faith.

Spiritual disciplines are channels through which God’s grace is conveyed to us, “outward signs, words or actions, ordained by God, to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to man, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.” Regularly attending to these disciplines means a life of discipleship, a life full of God’s grace.

Discipline is essential for our growth as disciples of Jesus.

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Dying And Rising With Christ by Maxie Dunnam

I have a friend who is a Benedictine monk. The way we live out our lives is vastly different, but I feel a real kinship, a oneness of spirit with Brother Sam. One of the most memorable evenings, one to which I return often in my mind, is the time he and I spent together alone in our home, in sharing our Christian pilgrimages.  

The vivid highlight of that evening still alive in my mind was his sharing with me the occasion of his solemn vows, the service when he made his life commitment to the Benedictine community and the monastic life. It’s difficult to grasp how serious that is. When a person makes a decision to become a monk, they make the decision to really remove themselves from the world and to be separated from the world for the rest of their life, and they take the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

Brother Sam said that on that signal day, he prostrated himself before the altar of the church, face down, prostrate, in the very place where his coffin will sit when he dies. As he was prostrated there, he was covered with a funeral pall and the death bell began to toll, the bell that rings at the earthly parting of a brother, and it sounded the solemn gongs of death. Then there was silence, the deep silence of death.  

That silence was broken by the singing of the Colossian word, “for you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) After that powerful word, there was more silence as Brother Sam reflected upon his solemn vow. Then the community broke into singing Psalms 118, which is always a part of the Easter liturgy in the Benedictine community.  One verse of that Psalms says, ‘I shall not die, but live and declare the wonderful works of the Lord.’ Psalm 118:117) 

After this resurrection proclamation, the liturgists shouted the word from Ephesians, ‘awake you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you life.’ (5:17) Then the bells of the Abbey begin to ring joyfully and loudly.  Brother Sam rose, the funeral pall fell off, the white robe of the Benedictine order was placed upon him, he received the kiss of peace from all of his brothers and was welcomed into that community to live a life hidden with Christ. 

It is a great liturgy of death and resurrection. When Brother Sam and I shared, I relived in vivid memory my own baptism, in a rather cold creek in rural Mississippi. Paul gave a powerful witness to it. Over and over again, I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. 

This Wednesday, February 14, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, what should be one of the most significant time periods for Christ Followers. This is a 40 day period when we deliberately concentrate on Jesus’ passion, suffering and death, all for our salvation. 

The season will climax with Easter, the resurrection of Christ. There is a sense in which the dynamic of the Christian life is dying and rising with Christ. I urge you to join me during this season, seeking to deliberately die to sin and self, that our Hallelujah on Easter will be our most joyful ever.

Being And Living In Christ by Maxie Dunnam

In my last article I introduced the fact that “In Christ” is the central category of Paul’s thinking. This phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus,” is used by Paul in his letters 169 times. His definition of a Christian is an illustration of this. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

We continue our thinking. Persons who are in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted.

I think of that in two ways. First, from the perspective of what we might call imitation, then from the perspective of immersion.

There is a sense in which the Christian walk is an imitation of Christ – a call to walk as Christ walked. Isn’t that the way it should be with Christians? “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”(Col.2:6)

There are all sorts of legends and fairy tales about people who pretended to be someone they weren’t – but one day they actually became that person they pretended to be. And there’s truth in that. Someone may say that it’s hypocrisy – pretending to be someone you really aren’t. But not in the Christian walk – when we walk in Christ, we seek to walk as Christ would walk. And, as Martin Luther would say, “We actually become little Christs.”

So, there is a sense in which the Christian walk is an imitation of Christ.

But it’s more than that. We must go beyond the imitation of Christ to immerse ourselves in Christ. Persons in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted.

Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the Gospel. Stop. Don’t continue reading until you read that sentence again –

Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the Gospel. 

Persons in Christ are people in whom a new principle of life has been implanted.

You can remember those key words. Conversion, immersion, perversion. My hope is that remembering those three words will bring awareness of the whole thought. Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the Gospel.

John A. Mackay, former Dean of Princeton University Theological Seminary, has captured the truth with succinct clarity in just two sentences: “We receive Jesus Christ without cost because of what he has done for us, but it becomes costly business to receive him, because of what he will do in us.” And then the second sentence, “God’s free grace in Jesus Christ, to which faith responds, becomes costly grace when Christ takes command.” (God’s Order: The Ephesian Letter and This Present Time, New York: The McMillan Company, 1953, p. 111).

Now what that means in a practical way is that our choice is not whether we will be new persons or not – that is a matter of grace. Christ makes us new creatures. Our choice is whether we will start to become new persons. It is our choice to start that gives Grace the opportunity to make us new persons.

The start requires the two things we have indicated: requires imitation and immersion. We begin to walk as we think Christ would have us walk, and we immerse ourselves in Christ – that is we surrender ourselves to His Spirit within, and allow His grace to make us, in fact, the new persons we already are, in principle.

“All on my own,” you may be thinking and asking. Not at all! Paul, the person who most clearly and powerful sounded this in Christ reality speaks for all of us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’m sure you know people as I know – a young woman who is just finding it – a life in Christ and a source of strength to rear three little children alone; a 45 year old man who is suddenly alone because of the death of his wife – but is not going it alone – Christ dwells in him; I could name five recovering alcoholics who make it one day at a time and they would tell you they make it by the power of Christ.  

Scores of people are serving God’s people in need in my community with a love not their own. It is the love of Jesus in them. Many of them are new at this and could not have pictured themselves loving and serving in this fashion even a year ago. There are persons who are breaking out of prisons of prejudice, and are beginning to think in terms of brotherhood and community. They will tell you it’s not their doing; that they’ve been as racist as any of us – but something new is operating within them – a new source of strength.

I close this article the way I began. Remember the story I repeated in the beginning – about three year old Ryan – and Jesus walking around inside. When I told that story to a group some time ago, Tom, our Director of Youth Ministries, told me a similar experience he had had with his then four-year old son, Thomas. 

Tom and Thomas were playing doctor. Tom held the stethoscope to his own heart so Thomas could listen. He got still and quiet. “What do you hear?”Tom asked.

Four-year old Thomas said, “It’s Jesus; He’s walking around.” But then he added. “Dad, why can’t Jesus get out?”

That says something about the mystery of the indwelling Christ. He dwells within – but He does get out. He gets out in power and his presence is known through us to others, when we walk in Christ.

In Christ by Maxie Dunnam

Three-year-old Ryan and his five-year-old sister, Lisa, were playing on the floor following a family dinner while the adults tried to have a conversation. Lisa opened her new toy nurse’s kit and convinced Ryan to be her patient. She took the little stethoscope and placed it on her brother’s heart, listened intently – as good nurses do. Suddenly she announced, “I hear somebody walking around in there.”

The adults smiled at this, but Ryan, matter-of-factly answered, “Why, that must be Jesus.”

That’s the amazing promise, and one of the central claims of the Christian Gospel – that Christ may live in us. Indeed that was Paul’s definition of a Christian – a person in Christ. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).

When we think of Paul’s contribution to Christian thought we usually think, justification by grace through faith. The fact is “In Christ” is the central category of Paul’s thinking. This phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus”, is used by Paul in his letters 169 times.

What does Paul mean by this vital image? Hundreds of books have been written on the theme. Boldly, I’m going to write a couple of articles that will at least introduce the dynamic meaning of our being IN CHRIST.

To be in Christ is to become a new creation. Phillips’ translation of Paul’s definition of a Christian could not express the truth more vividly. “If a man is in Christ, he becomes a new person altogether – the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.”

So it is – to be a believer is the identifying fact of one’s being a Christian. But I insist that being in Christ is more than just another way of talking about the Christian experience; it is the definitive word. To be in Christ is to have our being, our life,  in the very life of God. It is to live a God-centered existence.

To be in Christ implies spiritual renewal, a new creation, as Paul put it. I remember a family experience some years ago that helps picture it. In fact it’s quite a graphic picture of it. Jerry, my wife, gave her brother, Randy, a bone-marrow transplant.

The doctors were brutally honest. It was going to be tough for Randy – he was going to be brought to the door of death as all his marrow was destroyed and his immune system reduced to zero before he received the transplant – and even after that, if the transplant worked it would be a flirtation with death for a while. But his only hope was the transplant. What rejoicing there was when it was discovered that Jerry was a perfect match for the transplant.

I think I’ll never forget, and I know Jerry and Randy could ever forget, the day February 1 (1990), when the doctors made the transplant. Jerry was in a room down the hall from Randy – coming out from the anesthesia, as her marrow was being fed into Randy’s system. I was back and forth between the rooms during that six-hour process.

When the last drop of the  marrow had gone into his system, the nurse took the i.v. bag down and said, “That’s it, Randy, this is your new birthday. You’ve been given a new life.”

I can only imagine the joy of Randy  and the special oneness Randy and Jerry had – her life creating life in him.

That’s at least suggestive of the opportunity that is ours with Christ. Receiving Him, and cultivating His presence, we have a new life, a Christ-centered existence.

In ChristWe are who we are because of the personal love of God that comes to us in Jesus Christ.

I’ll talk more about this in my next article.

Saved to the Uttermost by Maxie Dunnam

In my last article I discussed assurance. Wesley testified about his Aldersgate experience,

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Assurance is the privilege of all believers, and there is a connection between assurance and perfection. Continuing his reflection on Aldersgate, Wesley wrote,

After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He sent me help from His holy place. And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

The two convictions, all can know they are saved and all can be saved to the uttermost, issued in Wesley’s teaching on perfection. For him, “Christian perfection,” was another term for sanctification.

There must have been confusion among his followers about this issue, because he wrote his brother Charles a lengthy letter, seeking understanding and agreement.

Dear Brother, some thoughts occurred to my mind this morning which I believe may be useful to set down: the rather because it may be a means of our understanding each other clearly; that we may agree as far as ever we can and then let all the world know it.

I was thinking of Christian Perfection, with regard to the thing, the manner, and the time.

  1. By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God ruling all the tempers, words, and actions, the whole heart by the whole life. I do not include an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole … I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object to it …
  1. As to the manner, I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by faith, consequently in an instant. But I believe in a gradual work both preceding and following that instant.

For Wesley, the terms Christian perfection, sanctification, and holiness carried the same meaning. Holiness is not optional for Christians. Jesus was forthright: “You shall be perfect, your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NJKV). The Holy Spirit, through Inspiration given to Peter, confirms the call: “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” (1 Peter 1:15 NKJV).

Since our reflection may be hazy, if not clear, we need to remember that, for Wesley, the whole of salvation and the Christian life was all grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit, accessed through undoubting prayer and surrender.

With that, I will continue my reflection on sanctification in my next article.

Leading like Ananias: Prominence vs Significance in Pastoral Ministry by James Petticrew

“Prominence does not equal significance in the Kingdom of God.” I am not sure who said that first, but whenever I hear it my mind always goes to the book of Acts and Ananias. No, not Ananias who with his wife Sapphira lied to the Apostles and tried to defraud God and met an unfortunate end, but the simple believer we only hear of in a couple of verses in Acts 9. My fellow Scottish minister William Barclay called him one of the great forgotten heroes of the Bible and I want to do a little bit to help us remember his significance for our leadership.  

You know the background; Saul has been on a violent crusade to stamp out the fledgling Church. He is now on his way to Damascus to carry out the next stage of this literally murderous campaign. Then he meets Jesus and everything changes.  Saul is told to go to Damascus. Luke tells us this is what happens next.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’

 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:10-19)

Tom Wright makes this comment about our unsung hero: “We know nothing about him except this passage, and it’s enough: that he was a believer, that he knew how to listen for the voice of Jesus, that he was prepared to obey it even though it seemed ridiculously dangerous.” (N.T. Wright, Acts For Everyone) Wright’s words capture why Ananias is my unsung hero. Although we have few recorded words from his lips, his life speaks loud and clear about what it means to follow Jesus. He reminds us that being a disciple is about openness and obedience to Jesus. Ananias was a simple believer who was open to hearing the voice of Jesus and then was prepared to obey it wherever it led and whatever it cost. His life is a reminder to us that openness and obedience to Jesus are the essence of following Jesus.

We see this willingness to hear and obey Jesus in his encounter with Saul. To understand the full significance of what happened on Straight Street, remember that Saul had been carrying out a terror campaign against Christians. There is every chance that Ananias knew people whose death Saul had been responsible for. In all likelihood, Ananias himself was on Saul’s hit list for Damascus. Jesus tells Ananias to go and meet the man responsible for the death and torture of some of his friends and fellow believers and who was out to harm him personally.

 I wonder what I would have done in that situation?

I wonder what my first words would have been to Saul?

The first thing Ananias did was to go to where Saul was. He obeyed Jesus. He obeyed despite the fact he seems to have had worries that it might be a suicide mission. Once he heard Jesus’ words, Ananias was willing to obey whatever the personal cost to himself. Now there is an example that the contemporary church could do with embracing.

I never fail to be deeply moved by what Ananias does and says when he finally encounters Saul. “Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul…’” I find that nothing short of incredible.  Ananias embraced Saul, the arch-enemy of believers. The first words that Saul heard from a fellow believer following his conversion was not “killer,” but “brother.”

The only explanation I have for what happened in Judas’ house is that at some point, Ananias had heard Jesus say that his disciples had to love their enemies, so that is what he did. No questions asked. Saul couldn’t see Ananias but, in his words and embrace, I suspect he felt the grace and acceptance of Jesus through his fellow believer’s hands.

As a leader, I wonder whether Ananias’ example suggests I have been guilty of making being a disciple way more complicated than it is? This last year I’ve been caught up in theologizing and strategizing about discipleship, as our church tries to get serious about being and making disciples. But Ananias reminds me that fundamentally, I need to challenge people (and myself) to simply make time to hear Jesus’ voice and then do what he says. (I said it was simple, not easy.)

We are a congregation of ex-pats here in Switzerland; many of our people have stressful jobs that consume time voraciously. It’s a familiar challenge – I think our enemy successfully pulls us into a cycle of busyness which leaves us with little room to be open to hearing Jesus. I have been contemplating whether or not we are obeying Jesus – not because of stubborn disobedience, but because we are not making the time to hear what he is saying. After the Covid restrictions are rolled back and church life goes back to “normal” will that “normal” have enough space built in to allow us time discerning the voice of Jesus?

Does your life? Have you regularly cut out a chunk of time to be open to Jesus? Recently, a powerful revival has broken out at Longhollow Baptist Church in Tennessee. Its pastor, Robbie Galatay, has spoken about how this revival can be traced back to him finally scheduling time to simply be with and be open to Jesus. There is a lesson there for all of us in leadership.

I am in the final phase of my ministry now. In all likelihood, I am never going to be a megachurch pastor whose sermons attract millions of views on YouTube.  Nothing I write will knock My Utmost for His Highest or The Purpose Driven Life off the Christian bestsellers list. A few years after my retirement, I doubt if many people will remember my second name. But as I contemplate that, I come back to my original thought: prominence doesn’t equal significance in the Kingdom of God.

Was Ananias prominent in the early Church? No. But did his ministry have significance? Of course it did! Ananias’ ministry of love and prayer to Saul unleashed into the world a spiritual tornado whose impact is still very much with us. I wonder if Ananias lived to see the impact that Saul-turned-Paul would have? I wonder how many other people Ananias loved, embraced, forgave, and prayed for in his ministry? I wonder what impact they made? His ministry reminds me that my ministry may not have prominence, but in the Kingdom of God it can have a significance I cannot even begin to imagine.

Can I remind you? That’s true for you too, wherever and whomever you minister to.

Featured image courtesy Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

Staring at the Sky: Living after the Ascension by Brian Yeich

I have always been fascinated by two particular verses in the first chapter of the book of Acts. In Acts 1:10-11 (NLT) we read, “As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!’”  I can picture the disciples standing there looking off into space as Jesus ascends and suddenly is gone. I am sure many of us have had similar experiences where we saw something so awe-inspiring that we just couldn’t stop looking – even though the event may have ended. I think that our human desire is to preserve those moments, like when we take a photograph. Perhaps that is why so many today share their life events through pictures on social media. We want to preserve those moments and maybe even cling to them. Unfortunately, if we cling too hard, we can miss the world going on right in front of us. I think this was the temptation that those disciples faced on Ascension Day. 

This wasn’t the only time they had struggled to move past the moment. Craig Keener, in his impressive four-volume commentary on the book of Acts, reminds us that this event in Acts has a strong parallel to Luke’s recounting of the empty tomb in Luke 24:6-7. Keener suggests that the angels ask the disciples why they are standing there staring at the sky because they should have believed what Jesus had already told them – they should have expected it.[1] The disciples at the empty tomb also seemed frozen by the shock of the revelation that, “He is not here, but has risen.”[2] They had heard Jesus say that this is what would happen, but when faced with the reality of the resurrection, it was challenging to get beyond the angel’s revelation. Similarly, at the ascension of Jesus, the disciples were in awe and perhaps shock. Jesus had left them. However, again they forgot the promise of Jesus – that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower the Kingdom work that he had called them to.

Perhaps as disciples today, like those early followers we also struggle to believe Jesus’ promises and to move past staring into the sky. Perhaps we have experienced God’s amazing grace, but rather than moving past that moment of initial salvation, we struggle to press on and work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Maybe we have experienced the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but we find ourselves frozen. Perhaps we are staring at the sky, forgetting that while Jesus has promised to return, in the meantime he has promised the Holy Spirit who will propel us into mission in our everyday ordinary lives. Our world needs disciples who move beyond staring at the sky and embrace the promises of Jesus as we walk with him each day.

[1] Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Volume 1. 2012.

[2] Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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