March 2010

Baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 3: 21

When I think about baptism, my mind brings out images of my own, which was very typical of the American church immersion style; it also creates pictures of lakeside baptisms that I have witnessed and participated in; and it shows me the scenes around the river ceremonies that seem to have been the norm in bible times. These are wonderful occasions when people publicly express their commitment to Jesus; yet, none of them equate to salvation. So, Peter must be talking about something very different here.

What I think he is saying is that Christ brings to us a new form of baptism; He gives us the Spirit of God who enters into our hearts and our minds, and we are thus washed from the inside. When we allow the Spirit access to us by accepting the relationship with God that He offers to us through Jesus, we are profoundly changed. The appearance and the effect of that transformation comes in various ways and at different speeds for each person, but the image that God sees and that He counts as either alive in righteousness or dead in sin is changed in the moment of acceptance of Christ. The dirt of this world will continue to land on us, and water will temporarily remove it; however, the git and the grime of sin that have polluted our souls since birth are permanently cleansed by the sacrificial blood of Jesus.

Like the occasions of baptism that my mind calls out, this most personal form of cleansing involves an act of the will and is voluntary for each of us. God does not force anyone to accept a relationship with Him, and He allows us to determine our own pace in the process of embracing transformative change. Still, the areas of my life that God wants to work on, and the changes that He calls upon me to make are all areas where my own sinful self-centeredness are negatively impacting my ability to live in the center of the Lord’s peace, joy, and love. So, what am I waiting for, what are you waiting for? Today is the day to open one of those dark cupboards of sin in your heart, and this is the time to give control of that issue to God so that His Spirit can cleanse it from you with His healing baptism of love.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
1 Peter 3: 18

One was born without sin, was surrounded by all of the temptations that everyone of us faces, lived without giving in to any of Satan’s enticements, and died an undeserved death so that people like me could live. This is the great universal irony of faith in God, for everyone who has lived except for Jesus has earned a death sentence of separation from the only true and unwavering source of love in the universe; that is, we all act in ways that are unrighteous, unloving, and hurtful to God, the Father; so, we are not worthy of being in His presence. Thus, Jesus!

You see, God was never willing to settle for the simple answer of just getting rid of the people that He had created, and He certainly wasn’t going to allow sin to continue to rule this world. There was always a redemptive plan, and God continually works toward restoration. Jesus is the answer to the plan of redemption, accepting Him as Lord of one’s life changes our status from object of that plan to participant in it, and living in the close and intimate relationship with God that can follow after acceptance leads us into the process of personal restoration to the glory that He intended for each of us. Additionally, Jesus is the only answer to God’s desire for the ultimate restoration of this world to its created beauty.

Jesus, who was always alive in spirit, became a man as the gift from the Father to all of us so that we could know that same spirit life; then, the Father allowed people to put the Christ to death so that He could claim God’s victory over the decay and the destruction that sin filled us with. Thus, in Jesus, we too have God’s gift of spirits that are eternally alive. This life is a splendid present that is given to everyone, everywhere. For those who have never accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, it needs to be opened and the victory inside claimed. For those of us who have accepted the gift, we need to explore the contents more fully, seek to truly know Christ, and lay all of the sinful thinking and actions that are still clinging to our flesh before God so that He can put them to death. Christ is the path to victory over death, and He is the One who restores.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?

1 Peter 3: 13

Most of us don’t use the word zealous in our everyday language with any frequency; yet, it is a characteristic that makes a great deal of difference in the way that we approach anything that it can be applied to. A couple of the definitions for the word are; eager desire and enthusiastic interest, or actively and unreservedly enthusiastic. When it comes to doing God’s will and to being a living force for what is good and righteous in this world, this is the attitude and the approach that Jesus modeled for us; His form of zealousness wasn’t always loud, contentious, or totally in the face of others; although, at times it was all of those; yet, it was always lovingly appropriate to the moment and to the person. Regardless of the cost, Jesus never stopped doing and saying what was right from God’s perspective.

All people need to be thankful for this characteristic of God’s, for, in part, it was this zeal for doing good that sent Jesus, the man, to Jerusalem at the beginning of His last week of life in human form. He knew that He would experience pain and suffering to a degree that no one had ever experienced before, but He also knew that His own experience would open the door to eternity for everyone who would accept the opportunity. The love that Jesus had for the Father and for you, for me, and for every person on this earth made it all worthwhile to Him; thus, the good that He was engaging was far more powerful than any force that evil could bring to bear against Him.

We need to embrace this same approach to living our daily lives that Christ brought to His, for it is too easy to become distracted, pushed off track, and caught up in concerns about the consequences when we are seeking to do what is good and what is righteous in all areas of our lives. Christ calls on all people to follow Him; when we accept that calling, His Spirit joins us in the journey, and He opens our eyes so that we can begin to truly see God’s perspective on goodness. Then it is up to each of us to trust God enough to live every day with the zealousness of Christ; for, God will not allow any real harm to fall on those who are following His will.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb,

“I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself,

And spreading out the earth all alone.”

Isaiah 44: 24

Just in case you or I start to think that we are truly in control of the world around us or that we are some how charged with making everything in that world perfect, God wants us to remember and to reflect on the fact that only one of us actually created it all. The last time that I checked, it wasn’t me. Additionally, I owe my own existence and everything that is good, worthy, and worthwhile about me to the creative hand of God; for, He has been at work in me from the moment that I started to exist, and the primary purpose of that effort has been to redeem my sin-plagued soul and damaged existence from the darkness that my ancestors condemned me to into the glory of His constant and eternal presence.

Still, the Lord calls upon us to take care of the world that He created; he designed it as place that would bring Him pleasure, and God placed people into that world to rule over it and to care for it on His behalf. The key to performing this duty seems to be found in the real objective for the actions and the processes that are involved in taking care of our environment. God wants us to do it all as an act of worship of Him; we need to be very clear on the fact that all of nature bows down before its Creator, and that when we take care of our natural world, we should be doing the same thing.

Additionally, from God’s viewpoint, the most important resource in all of this world is the people in it, and everything that we do in our lives should be primarily focused on growing closer to God ourselves and on showing Him to others. Therefore, even such mundane actions as recycling, conserving water, car pooling, and turning off unneeded lights can be acts of worship and should be performed with a spirit of thanksgiving to God for the way that He has blessed us with these resources. This is one of the most natural and easiest ways to carry our relationship with our Creator into every corner of our lives, and it is a simple and a direct way to share the reality of God in our lives with the people around us.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you;

But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6: 8

When I watch high level athletes competing in their sport, I am always amazed at the ease with which they perform so many very hard tasks under the pressure of the competitive environment; there is grace and balance in their movements that is well beyond what most of us are capable of achieving.  It is this same degree of balance that God wants us to seek in our walks with Him, and it is even more important in the spiritual realm than it is in the athletic; for, the stakes are much higher than any national championship, and the opposition is more focused and considerably more fierce.

Micah points out three characteristics to hold onto as we seek to live out God’s will in our world, and each of them is important; however, our most effective approach to life is found by embracing all three in a balanced combination that leads to a graceful and love-filled walk with the Lord. Justice without kindness can be harsh and often becomes self-serving; yet, when kindness stands on its own, people tend to be too accepting of the sinful behaviors and attitudes of others, and that is no more loving than it is to stand in front of someone and shout at them about their failure to live up to God’s standards. Finally, if we embrace justice and kindness without the humility to recognize that our ability to understand these complex characteristics comes from God, Himself, we are likely to make them into causes that become greater than the God who we should be serving by engaging in their implementation.

So, justice is linked to kindness, and kindness is linked to justice, and both are controlled by humility. We need to know God’s standards and view of justice by seeking out His word on everything, and we must be willing to pursue justice in our world with the same zeal that God does. We must also develop a heart that is filled with the Lord’s kindness, for this is what keeps the zeal for justice in check, and this is what makes us willing to take the time and to risk truly getting to know people at the heart level. Then it all becomes functional and balance is achieved when we humbly place our own drive, desires, and thoughts under the control of God’s Spirit. The result is a walk through life that has the grace and the fluid movement of that championship level athlete.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

Proverbs 4: 23

When James Weldon Johnson wrote the well known children’s and Sunday school song Dem Dry Bones, he was basing his words on that very strange and marvelous passage in Ezekiel 37 that discusses the Lord’s commitment to restoration for His people. In the song Weldon describes the connection between the skeletal parts of our bodies and how God is in total command over all the aspects of our physical life. In this Proverb, Solomon is describing another form of close connection that exists in our bodies; however, this is one where we are charged with the decision to control the input that we allow into these closely related and directly connected aspects of ourselves.

The heart is the center of the way that we view ourselves, other people, and our world in general, and it is directly influenced by everything that we allow into it through our mind. The material that we read, the pictures that we view, and the thoughts that we contemplate are all processed into our hearts through our minds. There really is no such thing as an innocent look or a throw away comment, for everything that we let into our minds and each thought that we form does have an influence on the way that our heart responds to God and on the way that we interact with the world around us. This is why there are so many statements in God’s word about guarding ourselves from the input of information and images that surround us and that are readily available to us in our daily lives.

When we choose to fill our minds with the living truth of God’s word and we seek after the Spirit’s guidance in how we should respond to the world around us, we are providing our hearts with the sort of sound and lasting input that creates an environment where we can function in our world as true bearers of God’s image; then, we become the hands and the feet of Christ in our communities. As our hearts are fed with Christ’s love, grace, and wisdom, they will become continual sources of the sort of sweet water that is the answer to the deepest thirsts in the souls of the people that we will encounter.

I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6: 27, 28
First off, when Jesus was saying these things, He was speaking to Himself, for dealing with people who were expressing their hatred and fear of Him would be a regular part of the rest of His earthly life. Also, this is something that God has encountered from the early days of the history of people until this moment in time; we reject His love and follow our own ways, we pour our love out onto other gods of our own choosing, and we do many things and behave in ways that cause God’s heart to be filled with grief for our lost condition; yet, He still accepts us as His own beloved children and forgives us for all of the pain and sadness that we have caused Him. God never stops loving us, and He continually seeks to do what is best for us.
Jesus is asking those who know Him to make this attitude of grace, forgiveness, and blessing a central part of who we are and of how we function; yet, He knew that this is one of the hardest things that He could have asked of most of us. It is normal, reasonable, and highly intuitive to develop defenses against people who hold unloving attitudes toward us, and it is totally within human nature to defend ourselves from the physical and from the emotional attacks of others. Jesus is asking us to take a super natural approach to these relationships. He isn’t saying that we should trust these people, that we should follow them, or that we are wrong for feeling the pain that their sinful behaviors have caused us. Christ is saying that we need to let His Spirit change our heart responses to them.
The ability to love those who are unloving toward us, to seek the best for those who desire the worst for us, and to think in terms of what would ease the pain in the hearts of people who heap curses on ours is the mark of a person whose own heart has been transformed into one that is like Christ’s. This sort of transformation is hard work, and it is something that needs to be continually addressed; for, people will always attack others who love God, and self defense is a very basic instinct. Like all of the hard stuff that is involved in following Christ, we are not alone in this aspect of life, God continually deals with this issue of attitude toward people who think that they hate Him, and He wants to talk through our own attitudes with us; so, He instructs us to pray for the people who are hurting us. As we seek to love the people who are least loving toward us, we are opening our hearts to God’s most intimate and personal form of transformative change.

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