Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.

Ephesians 4: 23

 

Most of us receive opportunities to renew things on a regular basis. It may be a magazine subscription, a warranty on an appliance or on your water pipes, it may be a paid service such as roadside assistance for your car or a care plan for the computer, but that renewal is never as important as the one that Paul is talking about in this widely distributed letter. No other form of renewal is as hard to engage in as is this one, either. In most of these other situations, we grant permission, give over money, and someone else does everything else. When we are considering the renewal of our minds, much more is involved than just our permission and some cash, and considerably more is at stake than just some peace of mind, sense of security, or the continuous flow of words and pictures. Yet, there are some real similarities between this deeply personal renewal that Paul is discussing and these other ones that we encounter in life.

 

When it comes to what happens as Christ enters into each of our lives, God does require us to grant permission for the Spirit to work. This permission does begin with the acceptance of Christ and submission to His rule over our lives, and the Spirit enters into each of us at that time so that the process of transformation starts then. Yet, most of us hold onto significant parts of who and what we have been before Christ and His Spirit entered into us. Almost no one fully submits to God in that hour of coming to know Him. We are all complex beings, who have well established patterns of thinking and of acting that we believe give us identity, strength, and comfort. Additionally, much of what we did and the ways that it was accomplished were not out of conformity to God’s ways of living in this world. Still, all that we are and everything that we think and do, in Christ, is to be submitted to His Lordship and to be ordered under the authority of His loving righteousness.

 

So, we commit ourselves to living a life where in the Spirit is continually at work within us to bring about this renewal. This is both the challenge and the beauty of the way that the Lord relates to us and that He works within us. We like for things to be over and done. We sign the form, send in the fee, and the magazines arrive every month or so. God’s relationship with us is not a sign and forget it sort of thing. He is involved with the reality of living as He engages with our own personal experience of life. Christ asks each of us to turn to Him and to follow His lead for each and every step that we take along the way. This relationship of renewal is such that the Lord is not so much traveling with us through life as that He is continually reshaping our thoughts and the processes that we use to assess our responses to the world around us, and this is done from the inside of our hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit, in His dynamic engagement with the processes of evaluating and thinking about life, works as much as we permit Him to do so in us to transform our responses to the world into ones that reflect Christ and His Gospel of truth and life.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1: 22, 23

 

The Father has given Christ complete authority over all of this earth and over everything that dwells upon it. There is nothing and no one that resides outside of Christ’s area of rule and reign, and not one aspect of what is happening in the world lies beyond His care and concern either. God does not exercise His authority over creation for the sake of His own power and He does not rule over all of this in order to gain position and rank; so, in granting Christ the right to hold direct authority over this world, God has conveyed the same sort of modality of dominion to Him. That is, Christ is King over the entire world, but His primary purposes in exercising that authority are oriented toward building relationships with people, transforming us into righteous beings, and in reconciling the brokenness of creation with the holiness of God.

 

These are attitudes and actions that come forth out of love, mercy, and grace rather than from power, control, and guilt. Although Christ presents this entire world with the hard truth of our fallenness and the shame that sin creates within us, He also provides each of us with the way back into the glory of God’s design intent for our souls, hearts, and bodies. In and through Christ we can be redeemed, and in Him, we are established as new creation on this earth and as newly alive before the presence of God, even God in all of His holiness. These are the acts of a loving Lord. This is the action that a God who cares about His Creation above all else takes in order to overcome that same creation’s rebellion and disobediently destructive bent. For reasons that seem to defy logic we are all born with a rogue spirit when it comes to following God, Christ seeks after each of us in order to grant to us the opportunity to enter into the light of reason through acceptance of His benevolent rule in and over our lives. We are granted the right and the lifelong opportunity to make that choice.

 

This choosing of Christ is a once and an ongoing thing. People are asked by God to make a decision to surrender our old lives to the rule and the reign of Christ, and He takes hold of us in a manner that imprints eternity into the deepest structure of our being. Yet, that is not the end of the process of transformative change that Christ works on and within each of His people. We seldom go easily into this new heavenly orientation for our lives, for each of us carries along with us on this new Christ led and directed road all that we were and everything that we have developed to form our concepts of who and what we are. Not all of this is negative from the perspective of righteousness and holiness, either. Christ takes who we are and molds us and shapes us into people who can use what God has given to us for the sake of God’s Kingdom and toward the spreading of the glory of His name. In Christ, we become the full expression of the wonderful creation that God, Himself, designed each of us to be. Through Christ as our Lord we all together form into one entity, His church, which is intended by God to be the focal point of love, grace, and righteous truth on the earth.

The Lord established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever.

Psalm 104: 5

 

Am I alone in wondering about the accuracy of this comment? The world that I live in seems to be spinning far off of its axis. It seems to be so wobbly that I am amazed when there is a day where I don’t hear about some sort of major natural disaster. Our news is filled with unending accounts of lives turned upside down and whole countries thrust into chaos by what seem to be the whims of climate and instability of the earth. Additionally, these natural events aren’t even the most terrifying and disturbing of happenings, for the cruelty, anger, and hatred that people act out against each other leaves the destructive forces of nature in their wake.

 

Yet, as simplistic as this might sound, I trust God to be true to His word and to follow through with what He pledges. Thus, my mind needs to reconcile the fact that the earth seems to be totally off its foundation with God’s commitment to keep it firmly rooted there. My greatest challenge in understanding all of this is my own lack of perspective and my tendency to get caught up in the wrong things. The Lord is looking at this world from a viewpoint that sees its beginning and that contemplates the glory of its restoration through Christ’s return at the end of this age. He is allowing all of this current upheaval so that we will understand the severity of the consequences of our sinful disobedience to His creation plan. Additionally, the disastrous mess that we people cause when we operate outside of God’s will does tend to lead some of us to seek the Lord and to desire His loving involvement in our lives.

 

Although the world around me continues to be touched by earthquake and flood, by disease and famine, and by the horrors of violence and oppression, my understanding of these events is made clearer by my relationship with Christ. He grants me perspective, hope, and confidence in facing today. He also implores me to be involved in doing something about all of the related suffering. As I seek Christ’s perspective, my own world is truly set on its foundation, and nothing can knock me out of the grip of my God. In a day when many of the people around me are shaken and disoriented, the Lord wants me to use my voice to tell about the solid rock that my soul stands upon and of Christ who cares for and comforts the injured, sick, and oppressed around me.

 

Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6: 13

 

The decision to strap on a suit of armor is not one that should be taken lightly. This is not a suit that is intended to convey a light and jovial message. It doesn’t say that the wearer is prepared for a friendly cup of tea and some casual conversation. Armor says, “I am ready for a fight, and I believe in my odds of winning!” These are tools of war. God designed His armor in a way that it would equip us weak and frail humans to engage Satan in this world and to come out as victors.

 

However, like warriors throughout the ages, just deciding to put on the gear isn’t nearly enough. Without training, preparation, and continued practice, the armor is nothing more than a costume. In fact, it is a rather dangerous costume, for it signals a readiness to engage that the forces of evil in our world don’t take lightly. They are always spoiling for a fight. When they see the glint of steel or hear the clink of those ready shoes on pavement Satan’s soldiers come to them like wasps to a picnic table. It is up to each of us, as God’s children, to be committed to our King and to be prepared to follow Him into the battle.

 

The good news is that God’s armor is comprised of the very best materials possible in the universe. Also, it is not hard to learn how to use, for Christ’s Spirit does the training as God’s Word speaks the truth of life that brings strength and confidence to our hearts and minds. Still, we are required to be active participants. As a starting place for preparation we need to submit to the will of God. We also must face our own weakness and sin honestly, confess it openly to God, and enter into deep repentance so that Christ can cleanse and strengthen us. Also, preparation for battle requires us to join ranks with a community of faith who will stand with us, hold us up when we are weak and wounded, and who will speak Christ’s loving truth into our hearts when we waiver from the course that God has set out. God’s armor is perfectly suited for the struggle and wearing it in His will does equip us for the battle that we will need to fight today.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 23: 1

 

Not everyone leads well, and not all leaders do this task with God’s truth in view s they set the course for their work. Some may say pious sounding things and even quote Scripture in the process, but the real intent is to take the flock away from the righteousness of God’s kingdom and into a more worldly perspective on how things should be done. Their goals are usually set along the lines of dominion, power, personal wealth, and oppression for all who have no value in those schemes and destruction for those who themselves differ with them. These shepherds can be very popular as they appeal to our outward desires as they grant access and power to people who agree with them and to those whose wealth and position are useful to gaining more traction in the never ending quest for expansion of a net of influence. This is not a pretty picture, and this sort of thing occurs in governments, in churches, and in secular society with far too much regularity. We need to fear these leaders and we need to guard our own hearts from falling into the trap of their thinking, for the Lord is not honored by them and in it.

 

Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23: 2

 

God places the shepherds who do these things, the ones who lead people away from righteousness and from the clear counsel of Scripture, on notice. He will not allow this sort of thing to go one forever. He may wait for generations to act, but His response will come, and He will bring justice to those who lead unjustly, and righteous anger will be poured out upon those who guide the people of God’s kingdom into the unholy ground of worldly thinking and living. God is not blind to what is happening, and He does hear the words that our hearts and minds utter in response to the needs of the weak and the disadvantaged in our world. His heart is broken when we turn the resources of our world into weapons of dominion and conquest in order to kill and to maim with greater force and efficiency while others starve and are left helpless in the wake of all of this violence. These leaders make wealth the text of their scriptures, power the theme of their gospel, and personal glory the objective of all worship. Again, God sees and knows all of this, and He is not pleased by any who do these things or who support them.

 

Foe who among them has stood in the council of the Lord

to see and to hear his word,

or who has paid attention to his word and listened?

Jeremiah 23: 18

 

This is the question that each and every one of us who claim to follow Christ need to be asking, and we need to be asking it regularly. When we agree with the direction that our social institutions, our church, our community, and our nation are taking, where are those leaders going for wisdom and council? This calls into question the goals and the objectives of everything that forms and frames the structure of our world. There is only one place where truth resides, and that is in God’s Word. The Lord alone authors wisdom, and all other ideas and concepts that claim to be wise are nothing more than the vain foolishness of humanity, and this has led us into paths of destruction and death since the earliest of the days of Creation. As stated above, God does hold the shepherd accountable for the way that the flock is led, but He also holds each of His people accountable for the way that we spoke up for His Gospel of life and for how well we trust in Him as we strive for justice, peace, and the spread of that Gospel as our primary concern and objective in life. Each of us needs to be able to answer Jeremiah’s question with an unflinching, “I do!” And each of us should also be requiring that all of our leaders respond to the same questioning in honest affirmation of the Lord, or we need to counsel them in the truth and oppose those who do not respond in the name of that same Lord.

If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

Matthew 18: 12

 

When I think about this story and create the picture of the scene in my mind, I envision the gentle and compassionate Jesus. He is walking across a smooth meadow with a smallish, fluffy-white sheep across His strong shoulders. The sheep looks peaceful, and Jesus has a satisfied half smile on His face. This is a story about God’s unending pursuit and rescue of all of us sheep as we head off into the wilderness of sin with its separation and grave dangers. This is a wonderful picture of Christ’s saving love that is demonstrated in paintings and captured in songs; yet, I think that there is something very wrong with this image of Christ.

 

We fail to give credit to Jesus for the real journey that He undertook in order to effect this rescue. When I consider the parable of the shepherd that Jesus tells, I need to think about the real conditions that would have existed. This shepherd did not head out across a smooth, grassy meadow in order to follow the lost one’s trail. He stepped away from the comfort of family and friends and the warm safety of the campfire and walked into the dangerous dark of the wilderness. He traveled over rocks and through ravines, and probably faced down predatory animals along the way. When he finds the sheep, it is a reluctant passenger for the journey home. It is also a sheep; that is, dirty and mouthy and not very cooperative with its savior.

 

As mentioned, Jesus is sharing a parable. He speaks about the life of a shepherd and tells of an event in that life that would have been well known to His audience. Yet, He was telling about His own journey as He left Heaven and entered into the Father’s creation intent of walking among His people. However, the world that Jesus joined was violently broken by our sin, and it was openly and aggressively antagonistic to Him. It is this path of opposition, peril, and pain that Jesus traveled in order to find, recover, and save any and all of us lost sheep who will allow it. That bleating and kicking muddy sheep is me as Christ carries my lost soul into His salvation. All I can say in response is, “Thank you, Jesus!”

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2: 25

 

Most people don’t like to admit that this is our own description, but it is. Every single one of us, all of the people who exist on this earth, wander away from God and so from His righteousness. In fact it often looks as if there is some form of opposite polarity at work in our worlds so that the direction that people go is clearly and stridently away from that of God. The old expression that says that someone “seems to be working at” doing whatever it is that is negative or destructive applies to times in almost everyone’s life in response to Godly living. We wander off by ourselves, and we find ample company for traveling the dark path of sin. Some of these journeys involve epic proportions of waste and loss, while others are short duration afternoon strolls through a place that just seemed to be appealing on that day.

 

Jesus secured the means for our return to the place where life is found on His cross of sacrifice. Christ set out the path that we would need to follow in order to return from any and from all of our wanderings, and He also provides the door to dwelling inside of the Kingdom of the Lord that opens to everyone who will submit and turn to Christ. This journey of return to the place of security and prosperity for our souls that was the dwelling place that God designed for people to reside within in His Creation work is exclusive and it is restrictive, but it is also the only place on earth where true freedom is known. The exclusivity exists because many if not most people will not accept Christ’s gift of grace and offer of salvation, and God desires for people to surrender ourselves and the direction of our lives fully to Him in His fullness of existence. God’s Kingdom on earth and in eternity is restrictive because God limits admittance to people who desire to dwell in relationship with Him. We must want to be there and to enter into the active process of knowing God and of being known by Him.

 

Yet, God works aggressively to overcome our objections to that surrender, and He has done so from the beginning of time. It is a part of the amazing, miraculous, and mystical nature of God that He seeks after and pursues everyone on this earth with some form of His Gospel message of love, redemption, and restoration of relationship with our Creator. Left to our own purposes and devices, everyone does wander away from God. Many of us do it to varying degrees on a daily basis. Still, Christ calls us back to Him, and He takes us in despite the messiness of our appearance or the harshness of the rebuke that we may have thrown at His truth. Christ’s grace is abundant and overcomes all of our attempts at unrighteous thought and action. He accepts our repentance from our wandering ways with ready forgiveness and with full engagement in the transformation of our hearts and minds into people who more fully reflect and indicate the righteous nature that is Christ’s character. As sheep we all do wander, and as our Shepherd and Caretaker of our souls, Christ works continually to bring us home again.