Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

1 Peter 5: 5

 

There is something about pride that just gets in the way. As it controls our thoughts and the actions that result from our thinking, pride seems to inevitably construct barriers to relationships. It is that human characteristic that keeps us from saying that we are sorry even when we know that we wronged someone. As pride separates us from others it also seems to talk us through the rationalizations that tell our minds and our hearts that we are right and that those we are now distant from are wrong. Yet, the most significant negative effect that pride has in people is found in the way that it keeps us away from God.

 

There is something about this self-directed and self-energized quality in people that makes us take on life without the counsel, wisdom, or direction of God. It is often a form of pride that seems to be holding the throttle down on our drive to control all and to know all of the answers. This thing that we call pride tends to tell us to look within for our strength and competency and to gain our sense of worth and satisfaction from that same source. As our pridefulness separates us from God, it also pulls us away from other people.

 

So, it seems to me that relationship is the primary reason that God holds such a negative attitude when it comes to our pride. He sees the degree to which human pride contributes to our sinfulness. The Lord witnesses the struggle that so many people have when it comes to kneeling in humility before Him in order to admit that we are lost and that we need Jesus in order to know life, for it seems that pride is often the personal element that keeps the knees locked and the heart hardened to accepting the grace and the love that Christ so freely offers. Even when we know Christ, pride continues to be a cause of our relational struggles; so, God desires for us to set it aside, be humbly submitted to loving each other, and open our hearts to the grace that has been given to us so that we can, in turn, grant that same grace to others.

We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

1 Timothy 4: 10

 

Most of us need something to hold onto. We want to believe that there is a future that will be better than the past and that will exceed the present in quality, too. This thing that we call hope becomes an anchor point for us that helps hold us upright when things get crazy in our world, and it gives us the will to face the new day when, otherwise, dawn promises little beyond frustration and futility. Yet, many of the things that we can attach our hope to prove to be weak, temporary, or futile, themselves. Christ is the only point of attachment that is anchored at the center of all Creation. Thus, when we seek to find our hope in Him and hold onto the things of God as its source, we are looking to hope’s true author and its only real Creator.

 

God has made this same potential for living in a hope filled reality available and possible for all people. He brings the brightness of His glory into the lives of everyone who will turn to Him. The Lord does all of this with a willingness that indicates His great desire to have people live in the fullest expression of peace and love. However, in order to truly know the hope that God brings into this harsh world, we need to accept His gift of grace that leads to salvation through a relationship with Jesus. For some people this means turning their lives around and submitting them to the great, sovereign King of Glory. For those of us who know Christ, it means accepting and submitting to the fact that we still must surrender control and allow that our hope is in His hands.

 

When we have come to know and to be blessed by this eternal hope that is found in a relationship with Christ, it becomes our responsibility to spread the word about the peace, joy, and freedom that we have found in and through Jesus with people who are still seeking their hope in the things that they can do, the work that they perform, and in the status that they can achieve. We live in a darkly hopeless world. People who may seem to have all of life under control surround us, but they are desperate for real peace and joy on the inside. Hope in Christ is a gift from God to be accepted, pursued, embraced, enjoyed, and shared with others.

 

 

Then those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Luke 7: 49

 

This is the sort of thing that is noteworthy, for forgiveness is among the rarest of things in our world. We often carry the burden of our transgressions with us for much of our lives, and we also hold the wrongs committed by others deeply and tightly. Thus, for most people, a lifetime of living equals a personal history that is loaded with debts incurred and those that others owe to us. This burden of sin is a weighty thing to handle. It is back breaking, mind numbing, and soul defeating. Jesus provides us with an answer to this.

 

He tells us that our sins are forgiven. When He does this Christ is not speaking on His own authority; instead, He is speaking the will of God, the Father. God does not want our sinfulness to remain as a barrier to relationship with Him, and He also desires that all people would turn to Him and be set free from the damaging effects that our sins bring upon our lives and our human relationships. The gift that God gave to people in Jesus is enormous. It is beyond the grasp of my simple mind. Rather than attempt to adequately define and describe it, I need to simply accept the reality of forgiveness and live as one who is truly and totally set free.

 

God’s grace is greater than my capacity to measure, and His love drives that grace deep into the fabric of my soul. Christ cleanses me of all of the wrongdoing that has stained my being, and He brings me before the Father dressed in the purity of His righteousness. This is the ultimate expression of forgiveness. When God looks upon my wandering self and sees only the purity of Christ, I am truly forgiven, and this is what has occurred for me as a result of my commitment to Christ. In Jesus and in Jesus alone all is forgiven.

For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30: 15

 

If only they had listened. In the days of Isaiah, God tells it like it really is, and His people still go off on their own and try to do it all in their own strength and based upon their human wisdom. The result is nothing but disaster. They are taken captive and their land is decimated and then occupied by foreign invaders. The simple take-away from all of this is that when God speaks, we should listen and respond. Yet, this is not often the way that people engage with God. We are truly a stubborn and a proud bunch that are filled with a sense of our own importance. We might like to have God around for comfort and for a sense of ritual order, but we aren’t all that willing to live as He directs.

 

So what was it that God wanted of His people in the days of the prophet? The Lord asks for something that we all struggle with giving as He asks them to return. This means that God wants their repentance, a turning away from the sinful path that the people have found to be so enticing. Like He did then, today God wants us to stop following the ways of culture and the seemingly easy course of our world. Then we can enter into a time of confession and prayer wherein we recognize the painful reality of our ownership of the harm that we have caused to ourselves and to creation and the grief that our separation from God has caused for Him. God calls the people of this world to confession and prayer that is followed by listening and responding to His voice by living out the truth of His holy word.

 

As we return to God we can truly rest in His presence. Over the long term of history the Lord has demonstrated His faithful love and His unchanging righteousness. His character and His word form the foundation for all that is trustworthy in our world. We can rely upon that word and follow the teaching of the people who were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit to set out its instruction and direction for us. There is freedom to be found in doing this. Our worried minds can find rest and our troubled souls will be soothed by the quietness that comes from the presence of the Lord, and from this position of quiet rest, the Lord will grant to us the strength that is required to live today in the truth of His unchanging will.

 

 

Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given us.

Romans 5: 5

 

People need hope. It is the objective or the anticipated results that can start our day and keep our feet moving forward through out it. Our hearts hope for love, peace, and contentment; then, our minds draw a picture of what that might look like. Life’s harder times are redeemed by the hope that there is better to come. Yet, hope in the tangible world and in its system of rewards and the treasure that it promises can be brutally deceptive. The rules of this world’s game are written in sand, and its payoff is tendered in decaying currency. So, where is my hope to come from?

 

When I hope in Christ there is permanence to the desire. This does not come about due to any strength of will or character that I possess. Instead, it is the direct result of God’s total faithfulness and absolute loving care. In the earliest days of humanity’s history God granted his creation the hope of salvation and of restoration through the promise of the coming of Christ. Not only did God follow through with that promise, but He continues to seek after all of humanity with His gift of grace and its outworking in restoration of relationship with our Creator.

 

Thus, hoping in Christ will never cause us to experience true shame. This world may attempt to cast that faith as futile, weak, or to ridicule it and us in other ways, but these words are the mutterings of the deceived. Our culture may cast followers of Christ off as unnecessary or as antagonistic to community peace and harmony; however, it is Christ who brings about the only true and lasting peace and reconciliation in our world. As followers of Christ we do have hope. We live in the certainty of tomorrow, a certainty that has little to do with circumstances or with earthly outcomes. As Christ through His Spirit brings this imperishable hope to our hearts, so we can bring it to those of our neighbors. So, where does my hope come from? It comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

1 Peter 4: 7

 

Given that Peter lived a couple thousand years ago, he may have gotten things wrong. You see, we are still here, and the world continues to be a chaotic mess. Another possibility is that Peter spoke all of this with complete accuracy and an excellent understanding of the way that God works. In Peter’s day the end of the things that were necessary in order for God’s plan for redemption of people and of His creation had come about. Jesus had come, been sacrificed, and was risen. The Holy Spirit was resident in our world and dwelling in the hearts of people of faith. The only thing that was and is left in order for God to complete His work of final restoration rests solely in the Lord’s hands. That is the fullness of time.

 

It seems that Peter is calling followers of Christ to something quite different from an escape plan that has us sitting in meditative readiness for all of the insanity of life to end in Christ’s return. That could happen, but that is not the hope that we are to focus our minds and our hearts upon. Instead, Christ-followers are to be people who look to Him continually and who surrender our desires and our wants to Christ’s cleansing truth. We are to live in a state of readiness for that day when we will be face to face with Christ. It will come for everyone, but people who know Christ are prepared for that moment of glorious reckoning.

 

The centerpiece of this preparation is prayer. This is an on-going conversation with God in which we expose the deepest aspects of our being to our Lord and listen with absolute attentiveness to all that He says to us. Engaging in deep prayer requires us to be people who set aside the various devices that our world uses to distract us from attention to God’s will. The Holy Spirit will empower us to live within His control and to relinquish the escapism that our world invites us to engage with. God intends that this Christ-focused and Spirit-energized living will grant to His people the ability to live in continual engagement with His will and in response to Christ’s call to follow Him.

 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

2 Corinthians 2: 14

 

Parades are fun. They are filled with creativity and color. They are loud with their music and vibrant in their motion. Participation in a parade is exhilarating, and watching one from the side of the street can be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a gathering of community and of family. It is no wonder that Paul uses the image of a parade to frame his statement of thanksgiving to God. Yet, the parades that Paul has in mind were not quite like the ones that we experience. They were big, loud, and very showy. However, they involved a clear demonstration of power in opposition to the humiliation of the defeated. There is life and there is death present.

 

Paul’s parade is a lot like the world where we live. In Christ, we are the victors. The outcome of the war is decided, recorded for history, and Christ’s triumph is declared for the entire world to hear and see. Still, many people have not listened to the news, have failed to respond to God’s call to join His triumph, and as a result, are numbered among the defeated. I admit that it is not always so easy to appreciate Christ’s victory and to comprehend its absolute nature and permanent duration. The end of the campaign skirmishes and enemy assaults are still fierce. There will be some very intense battles fought in the days to come. Still, none of these final battles will affect the outcome.

 

However, each of us who follow Christ can influence the direction of the day for some of those people who are still in the ranks of the defeated. Christ does lead us through each of our days, and He desires for us to live them in the full experience and expression of His victory. Some of the time we are limping from our wounds, and on certain days we need to be carried by our brothers and sisters as we are not able to walk. Even on those hardest of days, Christ’s victory is complete in us. His anointing oil of love, grace, and redemption is powerfully sweet in the air around us. Unlike the conquering generals of Rome, our Lord reaches out His hand of salvation to those who have not chosen to join in His victory, and through us, Christ invites them to come and be anointed and accept life among the victors.

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