May 2010

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

Living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what seems to be a relentless sort of assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often seems that our thoughts are being held captive by our culture, that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public, that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images, and that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants to us to reclaim our freedom, and He wants us to bring restoration to the world around us, too. 

We need to stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. We become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world; so, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Colossians 3: 5

Here is a really tough personal challenge for most of us. At first glance, we might say that I don’t struggle with those things; they were part of the person that I was before Christ, that was what I did before I grew up and realized that there was a better way, or they are just a casual and a controlled aspect of my much greater new self. The problem with all of that is the standard that Paul sets out in the verse, for he says that we should consider ourselves as dead to them. Dead is a rather absolute statement, and it doesn’t leave much room for occasional involvement or for limited activity. Dead equates to none, to finished, and to buried and put away forever.

We are given an important clue to how all of this is to come about in the idea that, as stated previously in Colossians, Christ’s death and resurrection are what make this sort of fundamental change possible for us. Then, it is our own decision to fully accept the gift of grace and the transformation of our essential selves that are its result that takes these destructive elements that tended to control our lives and to set the tone for our relationships and place them into the permanently sealed coffin that is supplied by redemption.

So, as I look honestly at my life and view the actual way that I think and act, I am forced to note the still active and influential idols of my old self sitting in plain view on their shelf. I am forced to recognize that I still turn to them and allow them to take control of moments and of situations in my days; yet, I also know that Christ has eliminated my need for them, and He has replaced it with His far greater loving capacity to deal with life. The Lord tells me that when the voices of lust, anger, fear, self importance, and greed call to me that I need to be prepared to tell them to leave me for they are nothing but the whispers of the ghosts of my dead and buried past.

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism (self-serving humility) and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.

Colossians 2: 18

We people are an interesting group, for we are frequently drawn to the showy, the spectacular, the impressive personality, and individuals who seem to just have it all together and who appear to possess some form of special knowledge and connection to the divine. Being around them can make us feel as if we have drawn closer to God, and at the same time, they tend to make us believe that our basic and fundamental faith is a lesser form of worship. This sort of star worship is dangerous and it distracts us from our genuine position in our relationship with God.

In God’s design for His involvement with people, there is no one of us who is superior to others and none of us are of a lesser status. Our value, worth, and access to God are all established by our individual and personal relationship to Christ; there is no other requirement that God will place upon us and nothing else that we can do that will increase our righteousness in the eyes of the Lord; for, Christ did it all for us. So, when someone catches our eye with their statements about a superior way to connect with God, or they present us with exciting and interesting ideas regarding the worship of anything other than the Lord, Himself; we need to question the validity of those ideas based upon the truth of God’s word, and we need to focus solely upon Christ and on how His Spirit directs us.

There is more than enough excitement, mystery, and drama for me to be found in getting to know the lord more intimately. There is no reason to spend time in worshiping angels, philosophy, or other people, for these are, like me, the craftsmanship of God’s creative hands. God is the only one who is worthy of praise and worship, and Christ will always lead us to the full and total expression of that worship.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

Here is a blessing that cuts to the very heart of our ability and our capacity to live with the peace, joy, strength, and purpose that God desires for each of His children. Although we may understand grace as that uniquely God given gift of His love and forgiveness that comes our way despite our total lack of merit, most of us don’t do such a good job of taking in that grace so that it resides deep within us and acts as a continual agent for transformative change in our hearts and minds. Yet, that is God’s real intent when He grants His grace to us.

When I realize that no matter how big a mess I make of my life, how far I wander from God’s righteousness, and how difficult I am to love that my Lord will remain faithful to His promise to never leave me, I am, at first, humbled; then, His Spirit works within me to start to change the ways that I think and act so that I am made more like the God-image bearer that I was created to be. As grace works in and on us, we should begin to see that it also cries out to be shared with the world around us. The Spirit of God filling our spirits with His love and grace should be leading us to need to pour out this same grace upon our families, friends, neighbors, and communities.

The transformation that receiving grace can accomplish in our own lives can also be the force that brings about true change in our world. Grace needs to be taken in deeply, but it should never be held onto as if it is a finite and irreplaceable commodity. Instead, we should make it the filter through which we view the rest of our world; then, grace can become the way that we connect with others in a way that brings the living Christ into their lives.

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3: 8

This is the great evangelistic teacher and writer Paul speaking, and he was very clear in his understanding of what God had given to him as a life’s work. He also understood that everything that he brought to the table so far as knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and skill was also a gift from God; for, all of the talent and the hard work that Paul had invested in preparation for life had been proven to be futile in a few moments of direct contact with the Living God; yet, the same Lord who brought him to his knees also filled him with all of the knowledge and truth that he would ever need to follow Christ and to serve Him fully.

The thing that strikes me about Paul’s statement here is that it does not apply solely to him; this should be a true statement that anyone who knows Christ can claim. We may not be gifted with the ability of Paul to teach, write, and preach, but we are all given the same sort of grace, and we are given a mission to fulfill in this world. As the Spirit fills us with the ability to understand God’s word, He also grants to everyone the ability to live it. For most of us preaching is not going to be something that we do in front of a crowd, but it is something that we can do every day. Every time that we pick up the neighbor’s wind tossed trash can, when we return kindness for indifference, as we give up advantage for compassion, and through each and every act of loving grace that we engage we are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 As we are blessed by the extraordinary riches of Christ’s love, we are called upon by God to do the same for the people of the world where we live. Consider the impact that you can have on your community and on this world by simply showing the fullness of Christ to them. For most people God is at best an abstract concept, a distant image, or something too mystical to be a part of their daily reality; however, you and I have the ability through the grace that Christ has granted to us to change all of that. We can make Christ real for anyone who has a heart to look and to see, and that is our Divine calling.

By God all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth.

Colossians 1: 16

This is a very simple statement that says a great deal; for, when you consider it, Paul is saying that God’s hand is in literally everything that has ever existed or that ever will come into being in each and every environment and dimension of existence. That is a truly sweeping and all-inclusive thought. All of it, in absolutely all corners of this world, and the entirety of the physical and the spiritual realms are the result of God’s creative touch.

What this means to me is that there is nothing that I might encounter in life that God does not want me to take an interest in and that He will not go into with me for the sake of His glory. The Lord is disturbed, saddened, and anguished at the sin-ravaged and fallen state of His creation. He set up a plan for its management and for its restoration, and we are at the center of both of those aspects of God’s plan. Christ is the focal point, the center piece, and the agent who effects the plan for restoration; so, when we come into a relationship with Jesus, we add the role of restoration agent to our previously given one of manager. Prior to the intrusion of sin into our relationship with God, He had given us the responsibility for managing all of the earth (Gen 1:26); now, through Christ, we have the ability to bring the cleansing light of God’s loving grace into every corner of the world.

God has a plan for the final restoration and for the total glorification of this world and all that is in it, and only He knows the timing and the exact details for the execution of that plan. Until then, the Lord has handed over the responsibility for seeking to bring the truth of His redemption to all of the people on this earth and into every aspect of life in it to His followers; that is, He directs each of us to live every day in a manner that seeks for opportunity to make a difference in the hearts and the minds of people. God wants us to engage with our families, communities, and our world in ways that reclaims them from the darkness of sin. Everyone and everything on this earth belongs to God, and He wants it all to know the healing touch of His love. We are His agents whose mission is to do the touching.

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.

Romans 1: 1

This is the opening thought that Paul sets forth in Romans, and he states two really big ideas in this short sentence. First, Paul was called by God; the Lord had something in mind for Paul to be doing, and He communicated that something to Paul. Second, in responding to God, Paul was set apart; he was removed from the place in the world that he had previously occupied, and through the miracle of inclusion into God’s household, he was granted a new identity and a new purpose in life; thus, Paul became a distinct individual whose greatest mission was to do the will of God.

This is also true for everyone else who decides to follow Jesus. You and I are also called by God; He has a plan for our lives and He has given each of us specific skills and granted us certain favors that He will use in us to answer that calling. Also, God takes everyone who responds to Him, and He takes us out of the world that we were living in before and provides us with a new perspective and a new mission within that life. It is not like we are living in some form of fairy tale, however, where the changes happen to us, and we are not really participants in them. God effects the essential change within us by giving us His Spirit; yet, He continues to dialogue with us over the remainder of our lives, and He continues to reveal His calling to us, and we continue to surrender ourselves to being separated from our old lives.

The daily challenge that I face is in listening to God’s call and in humbly giving up control of aspects of my life to Him so that I can respond to it more fully. The Lord is speaking every day, and He has a mission in mind for each of us to respond to every day. Am I willing to follow Paul’s leading and set aside my own desires and anticipations in order to answer?

O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.

Daniel 9: 19

What a prayer Daniel offers up to God; we hear the voice of a person who desires from the deepest places in his being for God to take clear and decisive action. This sort of request requires a tremendous amount of faith and an unshakable trust in the Lord; for, what Daniel is asking for God to do removes all human input and control from the equation. This is not a prayer in which the one asking favor from God is stating any of the desired outcomes or providing a list of wants or even of wishes. It is a prayer of total surrender to the will of the Lord.

This is a great model for all of us. You see, it demonstrates the sort of yielding and submission to God’s much more accurate and complete understanding of what we and our world actually need than our frequently self-centered concepts of where and how the Lord should respond to us. Ultimately our own best interests are always served when God deals with the true, root issues of our lives; thus, when we seek out the Lord it is important to let Him know what is on our hearts and on our minds, and He will listen. It is also important to recognize the ways and the areas of our lives where we have failed to follow Him, and He will forgive us; also, it is important to trust the Lord to respond in the manner that will best serve the purposes of His kingdom, and He will act.

If this is the approach that we take to talking with the Lord each day, and this is the attitude of anticipatory trust that we hold throughout our days, we will hear the voice of the Lord, and we will experience His gracious blessing in our lives. This God-focused perspective removes our own anticipated outcome from its usual place of importance. When we live with this sort of close, trusting, and yielded attitude toward God as our daily foundation, we will experience the full calling of the Lord.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Jesus said.

Matthew 20: 1

This is something that Jesus did frequently; He told stories that illustrated principles about life in ways that had a framework that was readily identifiable to His audience; yet, the stories always carried within them a depth of meaning that was much greater than the simple facts that were being presented. Since the actual teaching point of the story is concealed or buried within the facts of the tale and requires the reader to think and to consider what the true implications might be, we refer to many of these stories as parables, for they use real life people and situations to teach about a broader life principle.

I think that this must be a way of communicating that God considers to be highly effective in connecting with people; for, the Old Testament is also filled with stories of how people lived, the way that God interacted with them, and the outcomes of those relationships. The entirety of the word of God is filled with stories that are intended to tell us about the people who are featured in them, and that are also intended to guide us into an understanding of just who God is and of how He relates to people just like us. The Lord wants us to continually seek to know Him better, and He has provided us with a full, rich picture of His kingdom and of His ways of ruling it in His word. The Lord also has given us a guide and an interpreter for the mysteries of these stories in the Holy Spirit.

People who know God are already living inside of the Kingdom of Heaven; the Lord has provided us with the perfect, complete, and ultimate guidebook to living in this wondrous place in His word. The more time that we spend in searching out the hidden treasures and the extraordinary sights of our homeland, the more we will get to know our Father who rules over it. Today is a day that will be spent in the presence and in the company of the Lord, today we are living in His land, and today would be a great day to seek out one of those hidden treasures that His guidebook has ready to reveal to anyone who seeks after them.

The Lord says,” I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.”

Isaiah 44:3

If there ever were a dry and a thirsty land, this is it; for, evil is everywhere soaking up all of the refreshing and life sustaining moisture; thus, this world can be an arid and an inhospitable place for the soul to reside. The effects of dehydration can wear down the will to continue on, and change a forward looking perspective into a survival driven quest. Yet, it is to this very need that the Lord is speaking, and He speaks with a voice that is authoritative, reassuring, and convincing, and He tells me to stop worrying about my parched throat, for God will give me all of the water that I will ever need, and all I have to do to drink my fill is open my heart to His truth.

It is not that this thirsty condition is not natural or that is is in some way wrong, for it is actually a useful state of being. Thirst is a powerful driver in people that causes us to set aside other interests and pursuits in order to satisfy its cravings before they reach the level of life or death urgency. So, when my mouth is being chocked with the dust of this world and my personal sources of liquid replenishment have been drained, I am forced to slow down my relentless motion, and I am required to start searching for a source of resupply and restoration. These are the sorts of times when the voice of the Lord seems to speak with the sort of clarity and strength that penetrates through the thirst to overcome all of my self-directed attempts to meet this need.

God’s Spirit is the great diviner of the type of water that actually works to satisfy the powerful needs of my heart. He leads me deeper into the truths that flow from and through His word. Sometimes they pour out like a great river, at other times they roll gently along with the soft gurgling sound of a mountain stream, and there are truths that need to be dug from deep inside the core; yet, there is always far more available to me than I can possibly consume, and the Lord is more than generous with this gift. So, when life’s desert starts to fill your day with dryness, look to the true water of God’s word for the unending refreshment that will not fail.

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