June 2010


 

Now, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 9: 1, 2

Just for the sake of clarity this man here named Saul is the same one that we know as Paul. The author of at least thirteen of the books of the New Testament, and the man whose writing brings depth of insight to our relationship with God that is beyond value. This same man who would willingly give everything he had in this life in order to serve Jesus is here seen preparing to go to the ends of the earth and to spare absolutely no effort in seeking to crush the life out of this new religious sect made up of people who were following the teaching of the recently crucified man named Jesus. If the transition, the transformation that takes place in Saul in a matter of hours is not proof of the unending grace and the all-searching love of Christ, then, nothing else could be sufficient to prove them.

The Lord went after the chief tormentor of His people, but He was not out to get revenge or to hold Saul accountable in the ways that most of us seek to do these things with the people that have harmed or hurt us. Saul was confronted with his sin, and he was forced to answer for what he had done; yet, the Lord wanted Saul to see that he was loved despite who he was and what he had done and that God had a place for him to be useful and valuable in both this world and in eternity. The Lord brings this same sort of unyielding, unrelenting, and total pursuit to bear in the lives of everyone; additionally, Christ brings the potential for salvation from eternal death and for the redemption of the rest of this life so that it can be lived for the glory of the Lord.

When I look at this picture of the extraordinary way that God seeks to bring all people under His grace and of the drive that He has to enter into a relationship with each of us, I am humbled by my own lack of the same qualities and the same drive to bring loving truth to others. The Lord desires that each of us would start to see the potential in others rather than focusing on their lostness. The Lord calls on each of His people to follow His lead in bringing the truth of the gospel to everyone in our lives. Just as He does not back away from people because of how they have lived, what they have done, or how unlikely they might seem to be to respond to the Lord, we can not judge either. The next person that I meet on life’s road needs to know the love of Christ.

The Lord has heard my plea, the Lord receives my prayer.

Psalm 6: 9

The surest defense from all of the attacks, stresses, difficult situations, and impossible requirements that life throws our way is found in a place where I too often look as more of a last resort than as my starting point for holding my ground. For I am afraid that I need to admit that I am incredibly inclined to go after my own solutions, and this seems to be especially true when the situation is the most personal and brings the highest levels of anxiety. I am not certain whether I actually think that i have the needed answers or whether I am just concerned about appearing to not have them; yet, either idea is filled with delusion and consistently fails.

The Lord who created the universe and who knows me and all of my needs better than anyone else could ever know them, wants to hear the concerns and the challenges that I am facing. He is continually waiting for me and for everyone to turn away from our stubborn reliance on our own understanding and to seek the loving embrace of God’s wise counsel. The Lord doesn’t require me to come to Him with eloquent words or even with words that actually make sense; rather, He can and will sort out even the most unintelligible expressions of my stressed out heart and mind, and the Lord will return clarity, wisdom, and confidence to me.

The process of turning toward God as my first resort for all of my life is something that requires deliberate practice, and I need to make the conversation with God that is prayer a moment by moment aspect of each of my days. Whatever it takes, whether that is notes on the refrigerator, writing it on my hand, or prompts in my phone, I need to make talking over every part of my life with the Lord more than a priority; I need to make it the foundational way that I live. The Spirit of God is with me always, and I will be blessed beyond my comprehension by talking with Him continually.

The beasts of the field will glorify Me; the jackals and the ostriches; because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people.
Isaiah 43: 20
 
The reader of this verse in the times of Isaiah would have understood exactly how amazing it was to consider that God would bless the lives of creatures such as jackals and ostriches; for, these were both in the category of creatures who had earned the disapproval of righteous people due to their behavior. The jackal would wait around until it found a dead or nearly dead animal or one that was either too young or too weak to defend itself; then, it would find its meal there. Ostriches were considered to be so dumb that they didn’t know how to care for their young or to properly conceal themselves when they were in danger. Still God is glorified by even these members of His created order. The Lord sees the purpose and He has a plan for every thing and for everyone on this earth.
 
Just as the Lord brings water to the very driest places on the planet, and His touch causes rivers to flow in the middle of great deserts, God steps into each of our lives during our times of searing thirst. Then, He provides refreshment and life giving moisture that is completely in keeping with the degree of our need. The abrasive sands that rub our souls raw may be driven by the sinful hardness of our own hearts or they might be propelled by the effects of evil in our world. The loneliness and the desolation of the wilderness is something that the Lord understands, and He never fails to find us even in the farthest corner of that great expanse; for, my God comes looking for me, and He comes ready and equipped to rescue and to restore me.
 
All of us spend time in the barren wildernesses of this world, and everyone experiences times of great loneliness and thirst; yet, these are times when the voice of the Lord seems to become even clearer, and it is in these places that God’s face seems to shine the brightest, and His loving grace truly overcomes the oppression of sin and decay. It is in the wilderness that the dew of Christ’s salvation is the sweetest. Here, in the center of the desert, is the place and now is the time to lift up my voice in praise to the Lord who does save me.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

All of life on this earth is lived in the shadow of death, in this case David speaks of passing through the darkest of times of facing that fact, he is in the bottom of the valley where death looms all around him and seems to be blocking out all light and even seems to threaten to come down upon him from above, to engulf him. Life itself seems to keep providing us with reminders of just how fragile everything is; war, illness, injury, job loss, divorce, anger, and rejection are shouting at us from every corner of it.

It is inevitable that we will walk down the street where evil lives, the world is corrupted by sin and Satan has a powerful influence in it; he tries to confuse us and to cause us to lose hope and to then lose our focus on the Lord. As the valley floor becomes ever darker, in our worst times, we most need to keep a steady gaze fixed on God and the truths of our relationship with him; there will be no other light falling on the path that we need to take except for His.

As we stay close, perhaps closer than we have ever been before, to the Lord, David’s reality can become our own; we can truly fear not due to the comfort, protection, empathy, and guidance that God gives. The Lord provides the protection of his rod to drive away the forces, to defend against the blows of evil, and He provides his shepherd’s staff to show us the way through to the safety and the good pasture that is not only his promise to us but is also our birthright as children of God.

You are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Corinthians 3: 3

Do you feel like you just left a long session with a tattoo artist? Well, I am not sure exactly sure what that would feel like, but every day that I live with Christ in my world, I seem to walk away from it with something new imprinted on my heart and my mind. The Lord is continually inscribing us with more of His truth, wisdom, and understanding so that we are living documents that testify to His grace, love, and salvation. Just as the entire natural world is the result of God’s creative touch; so, each person who seeks to know Him becomes a living statement and commentary on our Creator.

As we live our lives we will be read by others, and we will tell a tale that relates the ways that God has touched our story. In fact, the impact of God on our lives is often more apparent to the people that we encounter by the way that our thoughts and actions speak than it is through the words that we utter. We should be individuals whose hearts for service and capacity to love despite what comes our way will sing the song of Christ’s loving sacrifice and of the Spirit’s continual involvement with us. The Body of Christ is intended to be a living testament to Him.

The sort of writing that God seeks to do lasts much longer than anything that has ever been set down on paper or on stone. The living word of God is expressed through our lives into the lives of others, and this process will continue until the end of time. As we open our hearts to receive God’s penmanship, we possess ever more of His character to take out into our world so that people that we meet will be given the opportunity to read the only story that can transform this world from a place of despair into one of hope.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4: 13

This is an interesting little verse that can and often is misapplied; as, it can be viewed as a sort of magic answer to all of a person’s wishes, hopes, and desires. This sort of thinking leads to the idea that if I want it to be so, and I frame that desire in the context of faith and trust in Christ; then, it will become so regardless of whether I am truly seeking to serve God and His kingdom through my actions. This can lead to profound disappointment in God for not keeping His side of the bargain, and it also leads people to express superiority over others who don’t have the same sort of faith.

The key to all of this is that simple little expression “through Christ”. This would actually be more accurately stated as “in Christ”, or, if I want to be even more particular about it, it would read “in the Lord”. The idea is that all of my capacity, ability, and understanding regarding living my life is found in the center of my relationship with Christ. Additionally, He is the one who empowers me and who encourages me to live righteously regardless of the circumstances of my current existence. For me, in order to stay clearly focused on this vital reality, I need to remain humbly submitted to Christ as the Lord of my life.

This is a good place to start a day; it is also a very valuable touch stone for the middle of one, and it is a great place to visit in reflection at the end of the day and in preparation for what tomorrow will bring. Each and every thing that will come my way, all of the people who I will encounter, and all of the decisions that I will need to make will be blessed by the touch of the Lord’s wisdom, understanding, and strength when I approach all of my life in submission to my Lord and with the confidence that I can truly do all that He will require me to do.

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.”

1 Samuel 17: 45

Fortunately it is a rare day in my neighborhood when a sword and spear wielding giant appears in my yard bearing ill intentions and a very bad disposition while seeking to take possession of my home. Although the specifics of this day’s events are not common to us, there is a striking similarity between them and the way that so many events in life do come our way. Just as using the conventional weapons and tactics of his day must have seemed futile to David, so does applying the skill, training, and experience of my past to these contemporary giants seem like a sure road to defeat.

Also. just as surely as Goliath stood before David and taunted, sin and the forces of evil stand before us and seek to provoke us to take action that is foolish and ill conceived. Satan wants us to get so caught up with the challenge and in the struggle that we act out of our own strength and by using our personal strength and skill. Yet, David turned the tables on his enemy, for he saw the situation that he was facing in the light of truth. Since David knew that his worth, strength, and purpose all came from God, when Goliath expressed his defiant, angry, and hurtful words to David, he knew that the giant was actually attacking the Lord, and David could respond accordingly.

Like David, we need to face our battles with the confidence that comes from knowing that the Lord is with us. Then we can turn the confrontation into a time of worship, praise, and rejoicing in the promise of victory that God gives to His people. God’s victory is perfected and completed through Jesus, and the giant that is evil in this world is on his death bed; thus, his weapons may seem sharp and dangerous, but they are, in fact, broken and of no use in the face of the Lord.

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