Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

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For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 7: 6

 

Let me start out by saying that I do know that this verse is about Israel and that it is situated in a passage about God’s choosing of these people to be His enclave of righteousness and also His point of human outreach into the world. However, God’s plan for redemption of this world was bigger than that, and it remains much greater to this day. In Christ, we all are granted the gift of inclusion in the Lord’s grand plan for adoption into the heavenly family of grace. By the blood of Christ all people are now included based solely upon our belief in Him as there are no longer any racial, familial or other external qualifiers for such earthly and eternal status. We are now the ones who carry on the charge to be holy and the calling to be righteous that was originally placed upon Israel. We are the laborers that God has called to do His work in this rich field of spiritual harvest that is the earth in our days.

 

Although this task can be great and carrying it out can seem overwhelming due to the numbers of people who do not know God, in reality it is a very light burden that we carry, for the Lord goes before us in it and He provides the strength and wisdom for doing the work. Additionally, Christ takes full responsibility for the outcome. Our role is to be willing, available, and forthright in our proclamation of our relationship with Christ. It seems that God wants for us to respond to His love for us by bringing that same love into our world so that the way that we are held as treasure by God is reflected onto the people that we encounter along the path of life, and the love that God pours out onto us by virtue of His intensely paternal attitude toward us provides the way and the means for us to truly love others as well.

 

God does set His people apart from this world in that we are to avoid embracing its broken and evil aspects as our own. We are to remain separate from its idolatry, violence, and selfish ambitions so that we are led by God’s Word and infused with His Spirit to live out Christ’s calling to bring the Gospel of Christ to every person that we can contact as we lovingly embrace them in full appreciation of their unique, God-image bearing creation at the hands of the Father. This is a primary purpose for God’s sacrificial work of calling us into relationship with Him. He has set us apart from this world so that we can enter into it as people who are clearly different from the rest; yet, this is not a difference that is born out of superiority but rather it is one that is formed up in humility and by service to the Lord. As we are God’s treasured possession, God desires for us to be people who hold that status with open hands by pouring out Christ into our world and by sharing the truth of His redemption as we go along our way.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7: 51

 

The early church martyr Stephen is stating the hard truth about the way that so many of God’s own people were living. They were granted the presence of God, Himself, in Jesus, and they violently rejected Him. They had a long history of being blessed by God in ways that were special and miraculous; yet, they refused to obey the Lord’s will. These people always seemed to want more than they had, and still they didn’t enjoy contentment when they were given what they requested. Although they had been chosen by God, rescued out of slavery by Him, and provided with all that they could possibly have needed; they refused to fulfill their part of the bargain by giving God all of their hearts and all of their minds. They were holding back, unyielding, and not willing to trust in God to the point where they could have a real impact on the righteousness of their communities.

 

Unfortunately, this sounds like a way that God might describe our times, this community, and our response to Him. This world is one in which the hand of God with His mercy, grace, and love is quite evident. Yet, His heart must be saddened by the way that we continue to reject His offer of life. We rage against the injustice in our lives while we accept the oppression of millions. We complain about the erosion of our incomes and the loss of our quality of life; yet, we turn a blind eye as the unborn are denied the right to even draw breath. We spend a great amount of time and place very real energy into seeking to change our government while we give only passing interest and involvement in our own church bodies, and we put even less of ourselves into promoting the unity of Christ’s body outside of those walls.

 

Although Stephen’s words were filled with condemnation and rebuke, I am certain that his heart’s desire was that at least some of the people in his audience would hear God’s truth in those statements and that those individuals would turn away from their self-centered course of life and back to God. As we hear those same words, that is what I believe God is saying to us. He wants us to examine our own lives. Christ implores us to meditate deeply on His Word and listen carefully to what He is saying to us. Christ desires for His people to become the voice of love, grace, mercy, and peace in our troubled world. He wants us to stop dwelling in the isolation of our own homes and reside in the community of His body. The Holy Spirit is moving in our land, and He is calling for us to repent of our wandering ways. Christ calls, and He wants for us to respond by giving Him our all.

 

 

 

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

Deuteronomy 4: 7

 

Moses was speaking about the way that things were in a time and a place long ago and far away. He was reminding everyone about the fact that God was as close to them as was their own breath and that the Lord was involved with His people and with their nation in all matters both great and small. This is the God that Moses had encountered and knew in a deeply personal manner, and this was the God who was truly and in all ways the Lord of and over the land. So much has changed from then until now. It seems that we think that we have become a people who know how to care for ourselves as we now govern our nations and rule over the people of our world with such great skill and success that there is no longer any need for submission and obedience to the ancient God of Moses and to the way of His Word and Law.

 

Actually, as we know from that same word that many of us want to set aside on the dusty shelves of antiquity, it didn’t take long for the people that Moses was addressing here to adopt the same attitude toward God and to attempt to go it on their own in the world. It did not work for them, and it does not work for us, either. We rule over our world with all of our sophistication and knowledge put to full use; yet, people are still starving and homeless, nations continue to settle their differences by waging war, the resources of our earth are squandered and destroyed to serve selfish desires, and life in all forms is treated as a disposable commodity instead of being viewed as God’s gift of Himself in this world. It seems that our attempt at going it on our own in governing and ruling over our world have not been very successful or productive after all.

 

Still, God is patient, and He is faithful to His promise of redemption. The Lord has not given up on us, and people who know the Lord should not give up hope either. I believe that our efforts will not save the world, for that is a work that Christ alone, in His final return, will accomplish. Yet, we are called upon by Him and given the task of bringing His grace, justice, mercy, peace, and their redemption into the world as we encounter and touch it. Our nations and their leaders may not embrace the truth and the counsel of God’s Word as their ongoing rule of law, but that doubt should not stop us or inhibit us from proclaiming its supremacy to them and from demanding that God’s ethical and moral principles be applied to the way that our lands are governed. Most of us have the right and the means to voice our understanding of what is righteous and proper in the way that our leaders guide the course of the nation. All of us have the ability to express these wishes and desires through prayer and as acts of worship to our one true and eternal King. People who know God, we can join with Moses and raise our voices in prayer to the Lord and in expressions of righteousness to the world. So, we should never be silent when it comes to God’s will and truth in our world.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,

and forsake not your mother’s teaching,

for they are a graceful garland for your head,

and pendants for your neck.

Proverbs 1: 7-9

 

Many of the people that I know lament about the condition of our world, and I admit, that I have joined them in these words of complaint and concern. There is a lot of unwise and ungodly thinking and behavior afoot around us. This lack of God’s wisdom in our world starts from the top, from our leaders, and flows down to the rest of us; however, it also starts with each of us and spreads outward to the rest of our culture. I do not think that God intends for us to be helpless in the face of sin and of sinful thinking as it is found around us. He has never been silent on these issues of righteousness or about the need for His people to be holy, that is set apart from the world and from its ways of thinking and acting. The Lord calls upon us to be curative salt and the penetrating light of truth and love in every place where our feet take us.

 

As followers of Christ, I believe that we have a multi-directional responsibility to fulfill to our Lord. We are to live in a transformed and a reformed personal reality that is framed by the first two lines of the passage above. The concept of fear of the Lord contains within it the idea of respect, honor, obedience, following after, and passionate love. When lived out it leads to a life of commitment to God wherein we trust Him to the degree that we are able to confess our sinfulness, repent of it, and enter fully into the grace that Christ grants to us in return. All of this leads to the outworking of transformative change in us, and this brings about the desire to serve Christ in ways that bring that same truth and love into contact with the world that has gone so badly astray from God’s righteous path. Also, as we live in a close and an intimate relationship with Christ, it is much easier to see and to respond to the foolishness of people we encounter who are living outside of the influence of God’s wise counsel.

 

So, we are also called by God to enter into all aspects of the world around us in order to participate in bringing the wisdom of the Lord into its decision-making discourse. Jesus entered into all areas of life without reservation or hesitation, and He poured out God’s righteous truth, unending love, and the hope of redemption onto the tired and ravaged landscape of this world. As His followers, we are to do the same thing. We are to take action where it is needed, and we are to speak up when truth is lacking. Additionally, God places a mandate upon us to teach this same righteousness to others. Although the writer of this proverb speaks about children, we can safely interpret that to include literal children and grand-children as well as other people that we come into contact with. As we know Christ, we are to share that knowledge. As He works in us to shape and to mold us into His glorious image, we must take this new life that we have been granted and do as our Lord did by pouring its truth, love, grace, and redemption out into our world as an offering of worship to God.

 

If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

 

There are elements of my being that are very hard to change. They just continue to come to the surface whenever the situation or the circumstances are right, and I am not talking about good things like courage or resolve, either. These are the parts of me that cause me to seek to go it on my own, to hurt others rather than take the pain myself, or to operate out of fear and doubt rather than from complete trust in God. Fortunately, the Spirit of Christ continues to point out all of this to me, and He faithfully takes on the fight that is needed to effect the changes in me that will get me beyond my weakness.

 

Jesus died a very public death so that everyone who desires to become completely alive would have the opportunity to do so. He gave His blood to free us from a state of eternal servitude to sin. That eternity of oppressive bondage begins at birth and never ends unless we accept the gracious gift of salvation that comes through Christ. Even after we have accepted this transformative gift, the change process is not close to completion; for, there are elements of our temperament and personality that have been infected with sin’s unhealthy way of thinking and acting, and the process of cleansing, healing, and retraining takes wisdom, recognition, understanding, and time.

 

It is important for me to continually seek the wisdom that the Holy Spirit brings so that I can recognize these undesirable traits in myself. Sometimes He speaks to me through God’s written word, at other times He uses the voices and the heartfelt concerns of people, and there are situations where the voice of understanding that leads to my desire for change comes from inside me. God wants me to take these ways of thinking and the behaviors that result from them and surrender control over them to Him. He wants me to publicly put them to death by talking with Him about what I am seeking to change in my life and by sharing this area of needed transformation with someone who will walk with me through the process. Finally, I need to realize and to accept the fact that as I surrender control and seek Christ’s work in me, then I am truly alive.

 

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

1 Corinthians 10: 16

 

Paul is talking about the formal celebration of the Eucharist or as we in the church often refer to it, The Lord’s Table or Holy Communion. Yet, he is also speaking to something bigger, more expansive, than just that. Paul is sharing his thoughts on what it means to be a part of the totality of the body of Christ. In certain ways, this is a very real union of people with other people and together with God. This is the most significant thing that occurs as we come into a relationship with God through Christ beyond the fact of God’s entry into us through the presence of the Holy Spirit within. It is firstly in union with Christ and then in union with His body that we are made useful and granted purpose and mission in this world. This is wherein our lives are transformed into ones that carry eternal weight and enter into God’s everlasting glory.

 

This participation that Paul mentions is not a form of ritual, either. It is life, itself. When people come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we are infused with Him, with God, in a manner that is mystical and wonderful. There is present in us both the reality of change within our beings, and at the same time, we carry forward an unlimited potential for transformative change and growth. This brings to light the concept of participation, for in Christ, we are called by God to engage with this world in ways that bring the revelation of love, grace, and truth that was the life that Jesus lived into direct and continual contact with all that is lost, broken, and without God in the course of our days. This engagement with the world is the truest expression of our communion with Christ that we can pour out.

 

So, if life itself is an expression of the sacred and the holy in that it is formed up and participated in by the presence of Christ within our hearts, minds, and souls, so then the conduct of our lives must follow along in that it too will be in all ways a statement of Christ’s presence within us. This is carried out in the way that we treat others and in the manner in which we enter into the discourse and the actions of our world. Christ brought love, respect, and equality of treatment into His interaction with all and so should we. The Lord granted healing to those who were sick in body, mind, spirit, and being, and we are to be His instruments of healing in these troubled days. Christ sought peace within people and peace in the world’s social order, so too, we need to be the people in our world who set aside its violence and turn to other means for resolving our differences. These are but a few of the ways that those of us who follow Christ participate in His blood and in His body so that every day of our lives can be an expression of our holy communion with the Lord.