He Came to Call

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13 

Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” He came to call sinners. The Spirit has me questioning all the things I have taken for granted these many years. So, I started wondering, what does that mean – to call sinners? Here is what I came up with.1 

Jesus came to call, to call out, to call forth from the grave, “to call aloud, utter in a loud voice” like calling Lazarus from the tomb.  

He came to call us to approach and stand before him in hope, unafraid. To receive his mercy, “to embrace the offer of salvation by the Messiah.” 

He came to summon, invite to the banquet. The sinner’s name, my name, on the list, admitted and welcomed at the door. Because he came to name, to give a name to the sinner. Child of God.  

He came to call his sheep by name. He came to call us to follow, “to be his disciples and constant companions.” 

He came to call me and you, the sinners, the sinning, the sinful, the depraved and detestable. He came to call me and you, the ones who every day fall short of what God approves, who are wide of the mark, the blatant sinners. 

Jesus did not come to call the righteous, you know why?  

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:10-12  

Jesus did not come to call the righteous because there aren’t any. 

… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. Romans 3:23-25 

He is calling still, right now, today. He is calling those who know they are not righteous, the ones who long for cleansing and forgiveness and the embrace of his unfailing love. Jesus is offering you redemption, forgiveness, wholeness, peace, and new life, by his blood shed on the cross. He’s offering to remove your filthy clothes of self-righteousness, really bad choices, surrender to temptation, stinking continual failure after failure, and outright rebellion, and envelope you with the robe of his righteousness.  

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30 

Take heart. Get up; he is calling you. Mark 10:49 

1This was written using the definitions and commentary from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, NAS Exhaustive Concordance, and the HELPS Word-Studies found here https://biblehub.com/greek/2564.htm and here https://biblehub.com/greek/268.htm Parts in quotations are direct quotes from these references. 

Photo of tangled flotsam by Sheila Bair 

Bring Back Your Heart

But you must return (repent, return to your starting point, be restored, bring back your heart, do it and do it again, turn back) to your God;  

maintain (protect, guard, keep watch, have charge of the garden, keep, preserve)  

love (goodness, kindness, mercies, pity, merciful kindness, lovingkindness, especially to the lowly and needy and miserable)  

and justice (right, rectitude, judgement, the verdict of God),  

and wait for (patiently, tarry, wait on, wait upon, expect, look eagerly for) your God  

always (continually, constantly, daily like the morning and evening sacrifice, with uninterrupted continuity like the Bread that is always there). Hosea 12:6 

Into the dark night

God brought us his heart  

Laid it in a manger 

A baby’s cry echoing our pain 

A tiny fist clutching life of breast 

Then opening on prickly manger hay 

Wrapped shroud-like against the biting cold 

The heart of God 

The heart of the universe 

The heart to be broken and pierced 

He brought his heart into the darkness 

He brings his heart again tonight 

He brings his heart always 

Uninterrupted continuity 

Like the morning and evening sacrifice 

Like a tiny open hand on manger hay 

Bring back your heart. 

Photo by Jack Bair

In the Middle of the Night

It is always day where the Savior is born. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11 

For unto you is born this day … We have heard over and over what the angel announced when heralding the coming of the Savior. But I read something that Kierkegaard wrote recently that made me think. 

“Unto you is born this day a Saviour – and yet it was night when he was born. That is an eternal illustration: it must be night – becomes day in the middle of the night when the Saviour is born.” — Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals, NB 14:105-106, 1849 

You know, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the darkness: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night … (John 3:1-2). And, in the darkness, Jesus talked to him about two things: being born and coming into the light (John 3:1-21). About being born Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” About coming into the light Jesus said: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. 

I think that what Kierkegaard meant, at least partly, when he wrote, “it must be night – becomes day in the middle of the night when the Saviour is born,” is that we must admit that it is night for us. We must acknowledge our darkness. All the dark things we love and cling to. All our rebellions and excuses and passing the blame. It must be black midnight in the revelation of the dark places of our hearts and in our admitting our need for the Light. In that darkness, the angels are calling still, “For unto you is born this day.” It is always day where the Savior is born. 

They are calling to all of us, cozy in the dark womb of the world, not wanting to be born, afraid to give up our darkness, hiding from the light. Listen to the angels! A great Light has come. A light has dawned in answer to our darkness. Come out into the light so you can see what God is doing. Be born with the Savior. Be born again. 

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. John 12:46 

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light … Ephesians 5:8 

How to be born again. 

Image, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Thomas Cole. In the Public Domain 

Standing There

“He stands in my place, where I should stand and cannot.”

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55 

At this, [Mary Magdalene] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. John 20:14 

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 

There for me the Savior stands,
shows His wounds and spreads His hands:
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps, but loves me still! — Charles Wesley

“’Where does he stand?’ He stands pro me. He stands in my place, where I should stand and cannot … At this place I cannot stand alone. Here Christ stands in the centre, between me and myself, between the old existence and the new.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (emphasis original) 

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31 

When you’ve played out  
Your last chance  
And your directions  
Have all been lost  
When the roads that you look down  
Are all dead ends  
Look up  
You could see if you’d just look up  

You’re on the verge of a miracle  
Standing there  
You’re on the verge of a miracle  
Just waiting to be believed in  
Open your eyes and see  
You’re on the verge of a miraclei 

— Rich Mullins 

For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them. Psalm 109:31 

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:19-20 (ESV) 

You’re on the verge of a miracle … 

Salvation

i Richard Mullins, from Verge of a Miracle lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group 

Photo of door by Jack Bair

Shake Us Forward

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said … “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Job 38:1, 12-13 

From the place where morning gathers 
You can look sometimes forever ’til you see 
What time may never know 
What time may never know 
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world 
And shakes us forward and shakes us free 
To run wild with the hope 
To run wild with the hope 

–from Calling Out Your Name by Rich Mullins 

Lord, shake us forward, out of our caves and entrenchments. Shake us down from our high places and babbling towers. Shake us free from our resistance and resentments, our pain and regrets. Shake us out into the wild wind of your love and promise and hope. 

Image, BREAKING NEWS – EARTHQUAKE! by Michael https://flic.kr/p/8cP1vw  

Layers of Love

I am reblogging a wonderful article by Matt LeRoy this morning. I was especially struck by this observation: “[I]n our way of keeping score, sin covers a multitude of love. But not so with Jesus.”

1 Peter 4:8–11 (NIV)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Reflect

Ask the average person, loosely familiar with the story and Jesus’ life, and he or she will likely remember Peter most for one thing above all else. He denied Jesus. Yes, he was among the inner circle of disciples. He was the disciple who first articulated that foundational confession that Jesus is more than a prophet or teacher, but he is, in fact, the Christ, the very Son of the living God. Peter was the one who stepped out of the boat and onto the waves, who preached the inaugural sermon of the church at its birth, and who became a pioneer in the rising kingdom tide.

And yet we remember his denial above the rest. Why? Because in our way of keeping score, sin covers a multitude of love. But not so with Jesus.

After his resurrection, Jesus directly confronted this defining sin of Peter’s life. With what? With love. “Peter, do you love me?” he asked. Not once, but three times. Jesus covered the one moment Peter would have died to have back with the moment he would never forget. “I love you,” Peter affirmed, once for every time he had denied. And then, in the strength of this love and the power of the Holy Spirit, three thousand people joined the movement of Jesus as Peter preached at Pentecost. Three thousand. One thousand transformed lives for each of his denials.

“Love covers a multitude of sins,” Peter wrote. This isn’t poetry. It’s experience. And once you’ve experienced it, you can’t go on seeing others according to their defining sin. You will see them covered in thick layers of holy love, as Jesus beacons you to join him in piling it on.

Pray

Jesus, thank you for your love. It has not only covered our sins but transformed our hearts. Please keep moving us into deeper awakening until we are defined by our devoted love for God and others.

Conference

Why do we remember Peter most for his defining failure? Name one defining trait for which you want to be remembered. Who do you see according to their defining sin? Name a different defining trait by which you can identify them instead.

For the Awakening,
Matt LeRoy

Reblogged with permission from Seedbed https://www.seedbed.com/layers-of-love-devoted-part-4/

Photo by Jack Bair

Going Forward

But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. Jeremiah 7:24 (ESV) 

Recently I read this verse and the idea of going forward struck me. What does that exactly mean, going forward and not backward? So, I looked up the Hebrew word translated “forward.” I love it when I find hidden treasure! 

The word translated forward here in Jeremiah is paniym, and its primary meaning is “face.” Paniym means face, presence, person, toward, forward, before, in the presence, in the face of, in front of. It is used for the face of God. The Presence. 

The LORD replied [to Moses], “My Presence (paniym) will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14 

Paniym comes from the root verb “to turn,” as in turning the face. As in not going backward anymore, but turning around and going forward. For when you are going backward you have turned your face from God. Turning around, turning your face to the light of his face – which is what repentance is all about – is going forward. Face to face with God. His heart for us. 

I have been pondering holiness a lot lately. Could this be what holiness is all about? Going forward not backward? Turning toward God? Dwelling before the face of God, in His Presence? When our backs are turned away from God we travel deeper into self and all the self-stuff: pride, greed, self-love, self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5:20). But when we are going forward, no matter what, into the refining light and fire of his Presence, dying to self, letting him burn away the dross, we abide more and more in him, becoming more and more like him: his humility, obedience, self-sacrifice, and love.  

In the midst of the chaos and terror and fear of almost certain death for Christians in Afghanistan, I read of one man going directly to the Taliban to share the gospel. The report did not say what happened to him. But it made me think. I don’t know if I could do that, but surely, this is true “going forward.”  

Faith may falter; hope may sink. But love keeps going forward. Toward the face of God, into the Presence, deeper into love. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” John 18:4 (NKJV) 

Image, copyright 2018 Derek Bair

Yet You Are Near

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (ESV) 

The Lord is near (in place, in time, in personal relationship, in kinship, father, brother, friend) 

to the brokenhearted (the heart, mind, soul that is broken, maimed, crippled, wrecked, crushed, shattered) 

and saves (delivers, liberates, gives victory to, defends, helps, preserves, rescues, keeps safe, brings into the spacious place, open, wide, free) 

the crushed (crushed to dust, destroyed, contrite) in spirit. 

When your heart is broken and shattered by this world. When your spirit is crushed into the dust. When you feel like your life is over, that you have messed up irretrievably, and God has turned his back in disgust. Yet – beyond understanding, unfathomable, amazing grace! – that is when God is near. 

Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. Psalm 119:151 

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6 

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 

… the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. Deuteronomy 30:14 

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 

He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Isaiah 50:8 

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (ESV) 

Yet … 

Come near to God Salvation

Image, The Prodigal Son by Sir John Everett Millais. Released by the Tate https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-the-prodigal-son-a00811 Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Voiceless Yearning

… for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance. Romans 8:26 (AMPC) 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 

beyond words 

or thoughts 

my heart drawn 

with voiceless yearning 

incoherent plea  

a long way off 

in the speechless empty road 

you meet my supplication 

wailing 

beyond words 

or thoughts 

Image in the Public Domain. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Christian Rohlfs, 1914.

The Verge of Overthrow

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 

Did you know that the first time the Greek word “you” is used in the above verse it is plural? According to NetBible Study Notes, “This pronoun is plural in the Greek text, so it refers to all the disciples of which Peter is the representative … Satan has demanded permission to put them to the test. The idiom ‘sift (someone) like wheat’ is similar to the English idiom ‘to pick (someone) apart.’” 

That was an eye-opener to me. All of the disciples were to be sifted like wheat, not just Peter. If I count myself as a disciple, I will be too. 

The Greek word translated “sifted” is siniazo, and this verse is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It means to sift, shake in a sieve … “to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow.”i 

All the disciples will be sifted. However, the second time the pronoun “you” is used, “I have prayed for you, Simon,” Jesus is singling out Peter. I find myself shaking my head at Peter, “They’re all going to be sifted, but wow, poor Peter. He needs special prayer.” It is implied that he will turn away from God. “When you have turned back.” The word means to turn one’s self about, turn back, to return, come back to the worship of the true God, to the love and obedience of God, to the love for the children, to love wisdom and righteousness. It means to revert, to come again, to convert. Faith tried to the verge of overthrow. 

But I realize as I ponder this that I have needed Jesus’ special prayers a lot. I have needed to turn back many times – from rebellion, from error and deception, from wandering off on the wrong path, from the verge, the edge of the cliff, from anger at God, and, again, from anger at God. 

The point is that all of the disciples were to be sifted like wheat. All of us will be. And all of us will need the special prayers of Jesus. We can’t just point at Peter and shake our heads. He is our representative in this instance. Peter definitely typifies my struggle. But praise God, Jesus is always and ever interceding for us even today, even right now. And if you look at the verse above you see that Jesus prayed for Peter before he messed up. And – amazing grace!- Jesus said, “When you have turned back.” 

I don’t think (unfortunately) that this sifting is a big, one-time event and then we’re done. Peter messed up again – and probably again. The refining process is life long. But, we can be sure that if we keep yielding, if we keep repenting, if we keep letting him change us, each time we turn back we will have more to give, more to share, a stronger witness to his amazing grace and unfailing love.

Do not despair in the sifting! We will all be picked apart and shaken to remove the little pebbles (and the big stones) and the inedible chaff. But God’s ultimate purpose in the trials and the sifting and the turning back will be accomplished, and afterwards we will be used to “strengthen our brothers” and feed Jesus’ sheep with the good wheat, the Bread from Heaven.  

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34 

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:17 

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish (be lost, ruined, destroyed, rendered useless), and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 

i Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Joseph Thayer. 

Image, Dangerous Cliff Edge, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland, by Anna & Michal https://flic.kr/p/4rz2ga  

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