February 2010

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 46: 1

For most of us there is always something else there; for we plan and create contingencies, we have that rainy day fund, and mostly we rely on our skill, training, and wits to figure out answers to the challenges that life throws our way. Much of the time this works, sometimes it is more effect than it is at others, but it works good enough to satisfy our basic needs. However, there are other times when there is nothing that we have or can summon up out of our resources that even come close to touching the beast of a challenge that has come into view.

These are the times when many of us are forced to turn to God in ways that we otherwise just don’t consider. I am not certain if it is because of pride, stubbornness, or arrogance, but I hold onto the ownership of the answer to my life challenges for way too long. When I think about it for a few minutes, I think that my own biggest issue here is one of trust; it is easy to mouth the words that speak of trusting in God and that recognize dependence on Him, but is a very different thing to actually let go of the props that have been holding me up throughout my life and allow that the Lord will lift me to heights that I can not even imagine.

The Lord, God Almighty, stands with each of us in the middle of every trial, struggle, and hard time that we will encounter. He brings the calm and the clear-headed thinking that we need to stand tall in the face of the dragon’s breath, and regardless of how large or complex the situation, He never backs down or away from it. It is in these hardest of times when all of my resources, strength, and capacity are depleted that God becomes more real, and His presence in my life becomes more vital. Trials are times of letting go of self and of being filled with Christ.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Psalm 103: 1

This is a prayer; and it is a wish, a hopeful desire of the heart; it is also a focus statement that could be set forth every day. Consider the possibilities that open up if you set your heart and your mind on blessing the Lord through everything that you do during the day; also, think of what your own life could be like if you truly sought out the Lord’s view of the people that you will encounter so that you could respond to them with Christ’s love and grace.

From the vantage point of a blesser, old annoyances and long-standing problem people can seem different. The creaking floorboard is still there, the difficult coworker is just the same, and the hard to live with habits of your loved one haven’t gone away overnight; however, it can become possible to look beyond these issues and to see the gift that God has provided for you. That gift might be in the form of something that He has provided for you, or it might be a person to care about and to demonstrate His concern for. Seeking to be the one who brings a blessing to God through the way that I live also fills my heart with the presence of His Spirit.

The Lord wants all of me; He asks me to give every aspect of my being and to use all that I have in serving Him. Yet, this all-in approach to living inside of the will of God is actually the easiest way to go, for it actually takes less energy to love than it does to fight, is simpler to listen than to argue, and blessing fills me up while cursing drains me dry. Let this hopeful prayer of blessing guide the thoughts and the actions of your day; then, you can judge whether you end it with a greater sense of peace than on a day where this is not the goal.

You were running well, who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Galatians 5: 7

The strides are coming in a smooth and easy rhythm, ground is flying past with little effort, and the race is going just as you had planned for it to go; then, there is that sudden sense of a foot being nailed to the track or that disorienting sensation that comes when one foot is knocked off line by an outside force. In a moment order and progress have become chaos and pain, victory tasted has become defeat experienced. This is the nature of life when we dare to venture into the world of truly engaging in the contest against the forces of evil; for they don’t compete in a fair and above board manner. They want to win, and will do and say anything to achieve that end; so, we need to be willing to fight even harder to stay true to the calling that Christ has set before us.

It seems that one of the things that Paul is telling us here is that we need to be continually on the alert for the sorts of false information and misleading thoughts or ideas that will be set before us to try to get us off of God’s desired course. Living a life in the center of God’s will is never going to be a sit back and let it all come to me sort of existence; there will always be a need for effort and focus on our parts. We need to be students of God, studying His truth and its application in our lives through continual and thorough study of His word. The Spirit of God will provide us with the discernment and understanding that we need to test everything that we are told and taught so that we will not be tripped up by false teaching.

In my own experience, I am often my own greatest hindrance in running this spiritual race well; for it seems that I fail to condition and to train consistently and adequately; then, my legs become weak, my cardio conditioning fails me, and my form is flawed so that I end up tripping and falling into an inglorious heap on the side of the track because I stepped on my own foot. What I mean is that the same exercise of study, prayer, and fellowship that is the best way to defeat false teaching is also the best way to stay conditioned for the rigors of living a life of righteous joy in the center of God’s will. Truth wins the race in this life, truth is defined by God, Himself, and truth becomes real and tangible as we grow in our relationship with Christ.

When Simon Peter saw that (the miraculous catch of fish), he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5: 8

This is just how God is; He enters into our lives in ways that simply make sense. In this case He had spoken a few words and an entire night of futility had turned into a record haul of fish; yet, what had happened was also absolutely miraculous in that it had never happened before, was contrary to all of the laws of professional fishermen, and demonstrated a form of control over Creation that only God can possess. Finally, Peter responds to the presence of God in his life in a very real and vitally important way; for Peter recognizes his own sinful inadequacy, and this acknowledgement opens his heart to the transformational work of Christ.

The Lord walks into my life in this same manner; He brings answers to my needs and shows me the mighty love that He has for me by the fact that He does this despite the condition of my heart and the faithfulness of my mind. In fact, it seems that He often brings these miraculous moments into my view at times when I have simply gone off fishing on my own and walked away from His will. Still, Christ is there, calling my name, preparing a feast for my tired soul, and expressing His desire for my return to Him.

Peter’s response is appropriate, for we all need to recognize and to express the sinfulness of our hearts. This is how we realize our deep need for the changes that God wants to make in us, and this is how we release the grip that Satan tries to maintain on parts of our beings. The real beauty to me in this situation is the way that Jesus responds to this vulnerability and confession of weakness. Christ says that we should not fear, for He has great things in store for us, He has a path of travel planned for us, and God, Himself, is committed to walk it at our sides.

All flesh is like grass, and its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flowers fall off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.

1 Peter 1: 24, 25

We tend to spend a lot of time, energy, and focus a remarkable amount of attention on things which have a very short life and that don’t provide much in the way of real, lasting value. We develop our bodies and we even exercise our minds in ways that make them stronger; yet, most of that effort does nothing to gain us a clearer perspective on things that have eternal significance.

If we want to be involved in efforts that have a life span that exceeds the moment, and we desire to expend our energy on an activity that brings real benefit to ourselves and to others; then, the best investment that we can make is in time with God’s word. As we read His word, we gain understanding of the Lord’s viewpoint on our own life. As we talk to God about what He is saying, we become more intimate with Him, and He becomes more real to us. 

Time invested in God’s word, whether it is a single verse or a long passage, will always pay great rewards. If you choose to decorate your heart with the flowers of the Lord’s love, grace, and mercy, He will bless every day of your life with His eternal presence.

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.

Psalm 50: 14

No matter what we do or how much effort we put out in attempting to serve God, it is all of little importance if our hearts are not thankful. We can be continually engaged in doing good works and in churchy-type activities and still be doing it all in order to feel good or to appear righteous to other people. It is the internal attitude that matters most, and that attitude is formed out of an understanding of why we need to be thankful to God.

There is something about the act of thanking God for who He is, for what He does, and for His amazing love that orients the heart and the mind to better connect with God’s will. Thanksgiving leads to freedom from my preconceived notions of what I should be doing and opens my mind to grasp entering into the things that will truly bring glory to God. Expressing my thanks to God places Him in the center of my focus and takes me out out of that position, and that change in orientation leads to the sort of empowerment that sets true service into motion.

My prayer for this day is that my heart will stay in a continuous attitude of thankfulness to my Lord, that my mind will not drift away from that focus, and that everything that I do throughout this day will be engaged from a desire to bring glory to God. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my Lord. Thank you.

Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26: 4

Trust can be hard thing to do; yet, we all do it continually throughout every day. We trust the floor to hold us up when we get out of bed in the morning, in the water that we drink to not poison us, and in numerous human relationships that we engage in during the day. It is the ability to trust that often defines just how we negotiate our way through life, and it greatly impacts our ability to enjoy the deeply felt freedom that God wants us to enjoy. 

When the stresses of living are resulting in that form of tension that seems to grip every fiber of the body, and it seems that it is impossible to find a clear and reasoned thought in your mind, you may be experiencing a trust-deprived time in your relationship with God. It is our all too human tendency to want and to need to own all of the answers to each of the situations that we encounter in life. After all, we were designed and equipped by God, Himself, to navigate our way through this world; however, the problem with this thinking is that it leaves out the most important part of the Lord’s plan for us. In God’s plan we are also intended to be actively involved in a relationship of trust with Him, and this is where true and lasting freedom is found.

The sort of trust that allows us to face into the hard issues and the difficult uncertainties of life is founded on an understanding of who God is and of how much He cares for each of us. The Lord is that rock solid foundation under me that will not fail and can not be knocked out from under my feet by any forces or pressures; He is the rock that will crush all of the Satan’s attempts to attack my spirit; the Lord is the grinding stone of truth that will polish my mind so that the lies that creep into it are turned into dust to be blown away by the refreshing breeze of God’s Spirit; and God is my Lord, He is the rock solid fortress where I can dwell always in complete safety and freedom.

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.

Titus 2: 11

This is one of the greatest thoughts that has ever been expressed in human history; it is simple and direct yet filled with a power and importance that is greater than anything else. God has fulfilled His promise to restore humans to our creation place at His side, and He has provided the means for this eternal state to be true for each of us. Jesus is the appearance of love, forgiveness, and restoration into our world; thus, He makes the grace of God real for anyone who is willing to accept it.

So, why is it so hard to live like this is my personal reality? If I were truly embracing God’s grace as my own state of being, then I wouldn’t be angry, frustrated, hurt, and condemning. If my heart had settled on the truths of God’s promised victory over all of my sin-induced weakness, then I wouldn’t be fearful and indecisive. If? This is a big question which leads to a better one, and that is; Why not?

For salvation is much more than eternity, it is this day, my life, and all that happens in it. In Christ we are saved from the fears and the failure of sin, and we are set free to live for the glory of God in our homes, workplace, and in our community. That is why the appearing of grace in the person of Jesus matters so much, for He shows us how to do it, and He gives us a life story to claim and to follow as our own road map to victory over this world. In Christ I am saved, and His grace will carry me through everything and all that life brings my way today.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

Comfort can be a hard habit to break, and it is frequently a condition of the inner person that calls upon us when we are tired and troubled; for comfort brings to mind the ways that we have found personal peace and have escaped from dealing with hard times in the past. Unfortunately, the places that many of our minds call upon us to go can be bigger traps and more destructive than the momentary stresses of the current challenges.

When comfort takes the form of the overstuffed chair of religion, it can be very damaging to our ability to truly represent Christ. Everyone whether raised in a home where God was openly celebrated and worshiped or in one where atheism was the mantra, comes from a religious background. Then, we all continue to develop our personal concepts and ideas of who God is and of how He is to be served; Christ sets us free from all of the human devised ideas and practices that divert us from the absolutely freeing truth of God’s word; yet, most of us still continue to go back to old ways of thinking and to devising our own ideas of what God actually meant for us to believe, for we still continue to find that comfort inside of ourselves rather than through trusting Christ to give us all that we will need.

In Christ we are given the freedom to be sad, to be tired, to be troubled, and to find comfort in Him; in Christ we are free to care about others regardless of who they are, what they are doing, and how they view our God; in Christ we released from the need to serve the additional gods of tradition and practice. Freedom comes through trust and by faith in the Lord’s totally loving, superior way of viewing life, and His freedom brings all of the comfort that my weary body can ever need.

The Lord sustains him on his sick bed; in his illness you restore him to full health.

Psalm 41: 3

David had been ill; he was weak and his spirit was getting down, for he just didn’t have the energy or the desire to go about the business of life. Additionally, he was facing the usual array of challenges and threats that seemed to plague his life and that seem to haunt most of our days, also. Enemies, opponents, and even people that he thought he could trust were obviously wishing him ill. This is a hard time and place to be in, and it is the sort of place where life takes everyone.

Sometimes the sickness is of the short term physical kind, at other times it has a long duration, and some illness is of the heart and of the soul; whatever form it takes, it all can take us to a place where we just can’t keep going on our own. Maybe that is the point that God wants to get across to us. There simply are issues in life and times of coping with them that require something more powerful than what is contained in the boxes, bottles, and blister packs of magical medicines at the drug store; for these are the times when we need to start our healing process from the spirit and let God’s healing Spirit bring us the strength to deal with the current situation.

Whether it is a cold or the coldness of loss, regret, and fear that are grasping your heart and wrapping your mind in its grip of confusion and uncertainty, the Lord promises a cure. When we start looking closely at who God is and at how He works in our lives, He brings clarity to the mind and strength to the heart. God’s word brings His promises, His Spirit brings hope, and His loving grace provides healing for all that is causing distress.

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