July 2010


Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2: 1

The idea or the concept of strength and of being strong is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, and it is a part of God’s nature that is desirable for His followers to grasp hold of personally, too. Yet, many of the images that we develop of what strength looks like are wrong. Personally, I can think of strength in terms of being able to stand up to everything that comes my way through my individual will and determination. I also see images of bulging muscles, rigid determination, a will that is clad in titanium, and behavioral standards that are unyielding. This describes the sort of strength that Satan loves to see in God’s children.

Strength that is based upon a person’s own ability, will, and desire to stand up to everything that life throws his way makes that person an easy target, and it is not what God has in mind when He tells us to be strong. The Lord wants us to find our strength through the process of surrendering everything that we think equals might and power, and He wants us to find that strength by searching His word and by allowing His Spirit to sift our hearts. 

True strength is found by residing in the center of Christ’s grace; we need to learn to apply the sort of sacrificial willingness to accept the weakness and the failure of others to every moment of our lives; then, we need to allow Christ to be gracious with us during our inevitable times of personal failure. The might, the power, and the deeply rooted core strength that I need to truly live for Christ and to be effective in living for the sake of His kingdom is not found in even the best equipped gym; rather, it is found as I seek out God’s face and allow myself to make my home in the center of His grace.   

 

Since all of these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?

2 Peter 3: 11

Here we have a question that applies to everything that we do, each thought that we have, and all of our life’s work. The simple truth is that our total portfolio of investments, acquisitions, and even the tangible things that we build with our hands will ultimately perish; for, people can not create anything that is not tainted by the damaged and decaying molecules of sin. Yet, this thought is not a frustrating, futile, or hopeless one; as, it leads to the greater question of holy and righteous perspective and orientation.

God created each of us with a plan in His mind, and He designed righteous purpose into us. The Lord has something in mind for everyone to do and to accomplish in this life; so, seeking after that purpose in order to fulfill God’s plan should be the primary life focus for all who know Christ. I admit that I can get very lost in the process of trying to figure out just what that great purpose is. Some of the time I seem to just spin in circles like a dog chasing its tail trying to catch up with the illusive will of God; at other times, I become over whelmed by my lack of skill, training, and qualifications to even attempt to do the things that God seems to be placing on my heart as dreams that are too great for someone like me to even try to achieve.

All of these struggles are the result of a lack of true focus and can be cured through seeking after the things that the Lord considers to be of real importance. God wants me to look at Him and toward Him first and foremost. He wants me to understand how I am to think and to live; then, He will take me into the actions of my life as a natural progression of that relationship with Christ. Thus, my hands can actually create things which will last, and my legacy can be one that endures when my energies are put into living a holy and a righteous life.

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10: 5

Our minds are amazing things, for they are capable of solving complex problems, of grasping difficult concepts, and of creating great beauty; yet, they are also very easily lead down destructive and harmful paths. This is often the way that Satan goes after us; he slips a bit of slightly wrong thinking into the rational patterns of our minds, and he works his way into the smallest point of weakness that we allow to form in our spiritual lives. Then, those toe holds of deception start to grow and to develop into serious areas in our lives where God’s truth and His gracious love are overshadowed.

Yet, there is real hope in all of this; since, the Lord wants to join us in the fight against this very sort of wrong thinking, and He has already provided the answers that we need and the source for finding all of the wisdom that we will require to face life’s challenges. God wants us to take everything that we are thinking about, all actions that we are considering ,and each aspect of our days and check our reason and logic against His word. That means that we need to stay consistently engaged with the Lord through prayer, reading of His word, and by listening to His responses to us.

There is nothing that is too small or insignificant, there is nothing that is too large or complex, and there is no issue that is too contemporary for the Lord to be interested in and capable of responding to. All that we do and every thought that we have fits into God’s design for joyous living. However, we do need to plan and to purpose to surrender our will and to seek God’s wisdom regularly, continually, and in all circumstances. Every thought that crosses my mind needs to be surrounded by the perfect circle of love that is the protective boundary of Christ’s relationship with me.

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Jesus is recognizing the fact that the labor of working and of relating and of just living can be very hard. God understands that this world can be a very harsh place, for stress, strain, fear, loneliness, and grief are too frequently singing the song that accompanies our days. He wants us to learn to turn away from those voices and to open our hearts to His.

The Lord owns all of the resources that we will ever require to make it through the day, and He shares them with the sort of open hands that we will not find anyplace else. There is nothing that we can need that is beyond His capability, outside of His grasp, or uninteresting to God. Stated very simply, He wants to take on the heavy, hard, and disabling aspects of living so that we are free to live joyously in His presence.

The one thing that God requires of us here is that we come to Him, the Lord wants us to realize that we would be so much better off if we would turn toward Him, give up our own weary efforts to handle it all, and let His mighty hands lift the weight off of our backs. Jesus promises that we will receive much more than just respite; we will receive the clarity of thought, the restoration of strength, and the vitalization of purpose that come from our intimate connection with the spirit of God. In turning to Him, we move deeper into the life changing relationship with God that is the center of being joyously alive through and despite of whatever comes our way in this life.

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

Psalm 64: 1

There are times when silence is a very good thing; yet, there are other times when the most productive thing that I can do is speak up and speak out. God wants to participate fully in the things that are going on in my life, and He wants to help me with the process of thinking about and through them, too. Although I am convinced that the Lord knows exactly what I am thinking and the complete details of my state of being, He still wants me to state them so that I can more clearly and accurately identify real concerns and sort out the smoke screens of deception that Satan throws my way.

So, even at the risk of sounding like I am complaining, whining, or self-centered, I should express the concerns and the feelings that are filling my heart and my mind. The Lord does not fail to respond to my expressions of truly felt emotion, and He always brings a reassuring sense of calm to my world. In fact, He seems to speak out in His most powerful voice when I am being overwhelmed by the swirling winds of an out of control day.

The Lord does not promise to remove all of the challenges and concerns from my life, and He certainly does not eliminate the aggressive opposition that His people will face from the forces of evil in this world. Instead, God takes away the doubts, fears, and dread that can work in my heart to disable me. The Lord provides me with the assurance of His protection, wisdom, and insight, and He surrounds me with His loving care. Thus, I can face the challenges of my day with the certainty of Christ’s victory as a solid foundation for my feet.

Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.

Psalm 126: 2, 3

Living a righteous life in full view of a world that is at best apathetic and is more likely antagonistic is serious business. This can become stern, grit your teeth and put your shoulder to it work. Yet, my mental images of Jesus are not all that serious; I imagine him with a look of love and compassion; I see him with his arms open wide in a gesture of welcome that prepares for an embrace; I contemplate him smiling and laughing with those around him. I think that Jesus probably greeted a skeptical world with a smile as his first words; then, perhaps with a disarming laugh at moment of natural humor.

We are beings that were made with the capacity for humor and with a need to laugh and to smile. God created us that way; I think that he enjoyed the smiles and the laughter of Adam and Eve in those pre sin days in the garden. I think that God loves to hear us laughing with the fearless joy of living the life that he has called us to live.

Our faces are the most visible indicators of our heart’s condition; our voices are its expression. Just as God is saddened by our sin, he is delighted by our joy. Sometimes it requires planning and purpose to smile, some days are not so naturally filled with laughter; however, they can be present on our faces and in our hearts if we seek God’s joy and plan to show it to the world. When smiles and laughter come from the center of your being, when God is their source, the Lord will shine out from your face. His truth can speak more clearly through joyous laughter than through the most insightful use of words. This is a world full of people who are longing for laughter and seeking after a smiling face.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip?”

John 14: 9a

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, especially someone that you are close to and realized that you don’t actually know what they are saying? The words are clear, the discussion doesn’t revolve around obscure concepts or, for me, math principles, but the meaning of it all is just not getting through. In the passage that surrounds the verse above, Jesus is trying to explain the basic facts of the events that are about to happen; he has been both clear and repetitive in these explanations; yet, his close friends just don’t understand. They have a very real problem with listening. They hear the words with their ears but not with their hearts; they allow their minds to interpret what Jesus says in the manner that they desire to understand it.

I have much the same problem. I hear what God has to say to me, and he speaks in many ways every day. I read the bible and he talks to me; I pray and he grants me knowledge and insight; I talk to other Christians and get sound feedback; still, God’s actual will can be vague and obscure to me. I think that, like Phillip, I have a problem with my listening skills. I work really hard at seeking God’s voice, but I also work very hard at keeping the filters of my own understanding and my own desired outcomes in place.

Jesus tells us to listen to his words and to stay open in our hearts and in our minds to what he is actually saying. This is much more an act of faith than it is of will; we need to trust Jesus enough to let him speak to us in a very deep way, and then we need to have faith in him to the degree that we will act on what he tells us.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do

John 14:12a

In hope against hope he (Abraham) believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”

Romans 4: 18

If Abraham had lived a perfect life of quiet submission and acceptance of the promises that God had made to him, I would have a very hard time identifying with him, but he was hardly the faith in action poster child for his or for any generation. Still Paul and the author of Hebrews both hold him up as exactly that. Why, what is there that I can learn from this story of inaction followed by impulsively and taking matters into his own hands?

There seem to be two main components to the way that the events of his life play out. First, God never waivers in his commitment to Abraham; the promises that God made to him were absolute and they were permanent; also, they required nothing out of Abraham in order for God to honor them. The Lord stuck with Abraham through all of his wandering and every moment of doubt and sinful self determined action; thus, Abraham’s hope was continually being restored by God, for the Lord was Abraham’s only reliable and unchanging source of hope just as He is ours. Secondly, Abraham accepted the truth of God’s grace and His commitment; he kept coming back to God and seeking out His voice of truth and purpose for life.

My life has had far too many episodes and even periods of time where I took off on my own and decided that my way was the right way to go; although, I have always been wrong when I have done this, God has consistently stayed with me to redirect my thinking and to pick me up when I have fallen down. Abraham was not really a special case and his situation was not all that different from those that we all encounter, and, like He was with Abraham, God will always fulfill His promises to us.

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53: 5

At the end of the meal there is always the check, after the car comes out of the shop there will be an invoice, in most of our interactions with people we get something and we are expected to give back in return. We act like humans; therefore, we act badly, we sin, and God presents us with his invoice; our lives are demanded in payment. We can make the choice of how the bill gets paid; we can pull out our wallet but there is no cash; hand over our platinum card, but it has been cancelled; offer to work off the debt, we don’t have the needed skills. We can even pledge our homes, our jewelry, and all of our other possessions, but God already has the title to them. This is truth facing time; we have nothing that God wants or needs that we can give to him.

There is more to this story. When we take a closer look at the bill in our hands; there is a strange and totally unique clause in the Terms and Conditions paragraph. It states that under certain, specific circumstances the bill has been paid in full; the demand is satisfied, the document is for filing purposes only. At a moment in time, on a little knoll outside of Jerusalem all of the evil that the world could summon was focused on Jesus. Every life invoice that would be charged against every person who would ever live was stacked on top of him; the weight of all of our sin was greater than the forces that are generated at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean; yet, Jesus took it on willingly. God loves us all so much that he gave his son to pay the price; Jesus loves us all so much that he endured unimaginable agony in order for everyone of us to be close to him forever.

So, that special “Paid In Full” clause states that this bill is paid upon acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord and surrender of one’s heart to him. A simple price, easy terms when the size of the bill is considered. We need to look at two things here, people who are still carrying around the unpaid invoice, people who do not know God  must be shown how important it is to take care of this matter and how easily it can be done. People who do know God but are still trying to pay back what they believe to be a loan from him, need to understand that Jesus paid the entire bill, and that payment was a gift, not a loan. The disease that sin caused in our souls has been healed; we need to focus our energies on sharing that story with the people who are still living with God’s unpaid demand on their hearts.

I will heal their apostasy;

I will love them freely;

For my anger has turned from them.

Hosea 14: 4

Of the forms of hurt that exist in our relationships, one of the most painful happens when someone that we care about begins to think and to act in a manner that is contrary to their basic values and principles. I think that we have all witnessed this type of behavior. It can suddenly appear; it can develop over time; it can manifest in co workers, neighbors, friends, pastors, teachers, and family members. Sometimes we are the ones who are guilty.

How often do you use the very church-speak word apostasy? Not very often, I suspect; according to the American College Dictionary here is what it means, “a total desertion of, or separation from, one’s principles, party, cause, etc.”. Here is what it looks like in life; dishonesty, deceit, disrespectful attitudes, anger, adultery, abandonment, faithlessness; this list can continue for the rest of the page, for we people are capable of all manner of sinful attitudes and actions; we can be very proficient at turning away from, at deserting, our God when that action seems to fit our own needs.

God tells us, more so, he promises us that there is healing for these behaviors; He wants to take us back. In the verses just before verse 4, the prophet Hosea said that all God needed from his children was their stated willingness to return to him. God didn’t say that we could come back, but that we would be on probation for the first year; he didn’t tell us that we could live with Him again, but in the garage. The Lord wants us to recognize our wrongdoing, accept him as Lord, and follow Him again. He wants us to say with conviction, “we will say no more, Our God, to the work of our hands” Hosea 4: 3b.

God calls us to stop participating in self-centered and self-directed lives; he wants us to go to him and to seek his guidance. Return to the center of the Lord’s will, and be healed from the isolation, separation, and hurtfulness of the apostate life. Despite our prior failings, no matter how little respect we have shown Him, God loves us without condition; He does not stay angry with his children; He does heal our wounded hearts.

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