August 2010

To Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Timothy 1: 2

What a blessing, what a wonderful way to greet someone! Here is everything that a person could really need to make it through the day and to do it with something extra still left in the tank when the head hits the pillow at night. If we all could only start out all of our interactions with others with this sort of mind set, this world would be a considerably better place to live.

First off, Paul gets that the most important aspect of his relationship with Timothy is their common bond in and through Christ, for Paul knows at his deepest level that the connection that is made through the blood of Jesus to the true family of God is stronger than his human family ties, and it is eternal. It seems that I often forget that God wants me to be the bearer of His blessings to the people that I engage with every day. If they have a relationship with Him, they are my family for now and for ever, and if they don’t know Him, I might be the one person who shows them what they are missing.

It is my prayer to God this day that I would set aside my cares, concerns, and fears so that I can bear a blessing to the people that I encounter in every corner of my world. I also ask that I would value the people of my family of faith, the living body of Christ, in ways that will bring encouragement to them and glory to God. Lord, I give my heart to You; let its expression be a sweet reflection of Your love and grace.

Now where there is forgiveness of these things (our sins), there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10: 18

There is essentially only one thing that separates people from a close, intimate, on-going, and eternal relationship with God, and that one thing is the orientation of our hearts. Once we accept the sacrificial gift of life that God gave to all of humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have started a life long process of transformation, and our hearts are forever connected through the presence of the Holy Spirit to our Creator. The sacrifice that was required to pay for the sin that fills the souls of people from birth was offered, accepted, and finished by Jesus.

So why do so many of us go on living as if we need to continually come back to the altar and offer up the works of our hands as sacrifices to God that are given in order for Him to accept us as worthy and to look upon us with loving acceptance? The Lord doesn’t want our works; rather, He desires our hearts. God wants us to be committed to serving Him out of the depths of the love that He has poured into us; for, Christ fills me with His presence, and His presence is defined by a sort of love that is not conditional and that never diminishes or grows cold. The absolute sacrifice that Jesus made for me should set me free from the need to perform and from the fear of failure that can strangle my ability to live fully and to function with the sort of deep peace that empowers me.

The only sacrifice that God wants me to make is admittedly a very large one, for He wants me to give my entire being, my whole existence, and every breath that I breathe to Him. Jesus said that He wanted us to pick up our cross and follow Him (1), and surrendering my life to His will is what that looks like. Yet, the path that Christ lays out for us is also the one that brings the greatest sense of peace to the heart, and the efforts that this journey requires are supported by the Spirit of God, for Jesus also promised us that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.(2) 

1. Matthew 16: 24 

2. Matthew 11: 30

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 7, 8

I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of days when my bones could use a little refreshing. This is especially true on those cold and rainy days when the aches and pains and the stiff joints that plague me too much of the time are extraordinarily noticeable. There is at least relief from this pain in the form of a few anti inflammatory pills, a little exercise, and getting on with the day. But when my bones are weary from carrying around the weight of life; that’s another matter. I can go to my personal medicine cabinet of life tricks and search through every corner, look at the labels on every bottle in there, and still not find an effective answer. The meds in that cabinet are of many different types. Some of them are labeled Job Success, Wealth, Activities, Fame and Notoriety, Power, Achievements, Relationships, Possessions, Mind Numbing Agents; the pretty colors of the print and the minimal warnings on their labels don’t give any indication of just how far away from truth they can lead me and of just how addicting that they can become.

This is the point where God says that we need to consult, get on-line and look up our symptoms; seek some timeless advice from the Counselor. In plain words, the Lord says, “Why do you keep thinking that you know everything.” for it is in times of pain and weariness that Satan waits for us. He watches for these moments in our days when we are most vulnerable to listening to his whispers about how to solve our problems, and he always says something to the effect of, “You know the answer; go ahead, it will be alright; one time won’t hurt.” Evil is active in our world, it waits for us to provide it with the opportunity to divert us from God’s truth and away from our intimate connection to the Lord.

God says that the answer to this risk is to hold Him in a place of reverence and focus our attention on him; fear doesn’t mean to be afraid of, it means to respect, to place first in our thinking; when we do this with God and His word, evil is defeated. When we keep our eyes and our hearts focused on Christ, we can ingest deeply the healing medication that our souls require. The Lord heals our wounds and our pains, and he restores the spring to our steps. He strengthens us for the day’s challenges and He brings the refreshing sleep that we need to be restored for tomorrow.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, and who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Isaiah 52: 7

It is hard to envision these feet as lovely, for they would be covered in the dust and the mud of a long journey, and the messenger certainly would have had no opportunity or time to stop and clean up along the way. His imperative was to get to his people and to end the long suspense by informing them of the great victory that had been won over the enemy. Also, these would be the feet of warrior fresh from a long campaign who had been living in the field with little or no creature comforts. Yet, these feet are lovely as they bring the news that the people of God have been waiting to hear throughout time.

In our times, these might be the feet of someone who has followed the Lord’s calling into a far away country, they might be the feet of a pastor who stands before a crowd and speaks about the life-giving truth that the Spirit has revealed to him in God’s word, or they could belong to any of us who takes the time to reach out with compassion, love, and grace to another person who is struggling to make it through the day. You see, the appearance of the feet is of no importance, and God doesn’t require any sort of skill, training, or experience to be the messenger, either. All that the Lord asks is that we be willing to go the distance. 

Just as the messenger who was returning from this ancient field of battle knew the outcome, we also know the identity of the victor. We need to set out every day with the understanding that we are carrying that message of peace, happiness, and salvation that is the good news of our relationship with Jesus Christ to the world that we will encounter. We can stand on the mountain tops that the Lord leads us to and shout out with enthusiasm and total conviction, “My God reigns!”

I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind, I am like a broken vessel.

Psalm 31: 12

I know that, in Christ, I am supposed to be strong, capable of enduring what comes my way, and able to stand solidly upon the truth of God’s word without wavering or drifting into doubt or uncertainty. If I am being honest, I must also admit that all of these less than stellar conditions of the heart and mind are ones that I experience. I feel the blows of life’s hammer striking my shoulders, the winds of disappointment blow fiercely and they drive the abrasive sand of my desert wilderness into my face, and I lose my grip on God’s perfect truth; then, I fall to the ground with a force that shatters. It is very easy to start to feel like an old pot that has been dropped so many times that there is nothing left except for some barely recognizable shards.

Yet, when I am like this, when I am reduced to being nothing but a few scattered fragments, then I am also most open to the miraculous. For God never sees me as debris which needs to be cleaned up and cleared away; rather, He sees the beautiful colors and the subtle shading of the glazes that He applied to my sides. The Lord looks at the artful curves that His fingers fashioned as He turned me on His wheel; then, His Spirit begins to perform a work that no one else is capable of doing. The Spirit of God gathers up all of the pieces, and He does something that is quite amazing, for He doesn’t just use glue to put them back together as best as can be done with all of the missing chips and large gaps. The touch of my Lord’s hands on my shattered life restores the form and remakes the vessel into something that is even more exquisite than before.

God brings people into our lives who lovingly pick us up and help us to see Christ’s face through the tears of fatigue and pain. He provides us with relationships that help to complete our understanding of Him. Then the Lord shows us His plan for using us to serve the glory of His Kingdom in this life, and He holds us up and shows us off with the pride of the Father that He truly is. When my hours and days are filled with a feeling of broken emptiness and stolen usefulness, I need to turn the energy that I have toward God’s truth and turn off my own voice of despair in order to listen to His words of hope; then, I need to look around me with an openness to the needs of others so that I can become the one that Christ uses to pick up the shattered remnants in someone else’s life.

Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

Isaiah 65: 17

Have you ever caught yourself looking at the new items that are pictured in a magazine, catalogue, or on the sales floor of a store with the sort of longing gaze that suggests considerably more than just casual interest and that actually starts to be a form of lustful desire, as biblical writers might have said it. I think that we have a very strong, inward desire for newness that is, in part, born out of the amount of brokenness and decay that surrounds us in almost every aspect of daily life. Things that we need, others that we find useful, and those that are simply fun or convenient all have the same characteristic; that is, they all wear out and stop working properly. Unfortunately, people and the relationships that we desire to have with them can seem to take this same course; for, they are hard, they become messy, and we are bombarded by stories of the pain and the suffering that we humans cause each other.

Isaiah is sharing with us promises of hope that were given to him by the Lord; since, God is telling us a couple of things. First, He says that He knows that this world is dying. As the cancer that is sin invades more of the cells that make up the underlying fabric of our earthly existence, our environment will become a continually less desirable place to live, and more and more of the things that we tend to rely upon will start to break down and fail. Then, God shares His response to all of this with us, for He has promised to make things right again. Christ’s ultimate mission is to bring restoration to all of Creation, and I believe that I can take it to the bank that He will do just that.

Additionally, God promises us that we won’t need to carry around with us the hard, sad, and painful memories of what happened in our old lives. Since I have a strong drive to avoid pain, especially the sort of pain that is inflicted on my heart by feelings of rejection, disagreement, and conflict that come about in my interactions with others, this idea that my memories will also be renewed is very hopeful. I know that I can handle a little of the sort of emotional suffering that is the inevitable result when I take the risk to be engaged and involved in the lives of others and when I seek to follow the Spirit’s call to action. I can be fine with handling a little heart ache for the glory of God and for the sake of others coming to know Him, too. For in the end, the Lord will wipe all of the hurt and all of the pain away, and it will be replaced by the joy of standing fully in the glory of His presence forever.

We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 9

Some people are known for their drive to please others, and this can be positional, for it is generally thought to be the role of middle children to fly beneath the radar of life; it can also be an adopted strategy that allows someone to remain relatively unobserved. There is nothing essentially wrong with being this sort of person; however, when being pleasing is a way of acting that is forced, it tends to cause the person who is trying to pull off being the pleaser a lot of stress and strain. The truth is that, as humans, we just aren’t all that pleasing that much of the time.

Yet, Paul is a very practical person; he says the sorts of things that are possible; and he tells us to do things that are, in fact, doable. When Paul says that it is his ambition to be pleasing to God, he means anything but flying beneath the radar of life. We are to be engaged in the messiest aspects of people’s worlds, we are to live in the harshest climates that earth can provide, and we are to get squarely in the face of evil as it tries to control the lives of the people that God dearly loves. The Lord has a concept of what is pleasing to Him that would not make a conflict adverse person very comfortable; however, God does not promise us comfort in this world, and He doesn’t even suggest that by following His will our lives will be made easier.

The Lord, my God, who cares greatly about every second of my life, is pleased with me because I have chosen Him as my Lord and Savior. Still, He has a plan for my days that involves doing the sorts of things, embracing the types of thoughts, and allowing His love to infuse my heart so that I will appear to this world as a person who is truly set apart from its sin and decay in order to reach out with Christ’s grace and love to people who need to know that they can have eternal hope and complete joy. When we seek to live as humble vessels who pour out Christ into our world, God smiles upon us as He says, “You are pleasing to me, my beloved child.”

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5: 5

Promises, promises, promises; our lives are interlaced with commitments received and given, others that are kept or broken, and trust or lack of it that is developed through these interactions. Sometimes people fail to keep their pledges because they honestly tried yet failed to follow through; also, people can be disingenuous or even deliberately deceitful; and circumstances can conspire to defeat our best intentions. Additionally, we all know that governments and large corporate entities lack the sort of fundamental integrity that makes their word good; at least that is how it too often seems.

Here Paul gives us a promise from God that we can truly count on, for this is one that we can stake our lives upon. In the verses just before this one Paul has been discussing the fact that this life is filled with pain, struggles, and hardship and that the very fabric of our earthly existence is flawed, failing, and will be destroyed. He also has shared with us the fact that, in Christ, this is actually a good, hopeful, and desirable state of affairs. As the old person with our sin damaged and ravaged makeup is set aside and surrendered to the transformative work of Christ in and on us, we begin to be reformed into the new beings that God has planned for us to be. This process will not be completed in this life, and it is, at best, just a preview of the glory that we will know in eternity with Christ; yet, God promises this new relationship with Him and this new life in His complete presence to everyone who accepts His gift of salvation through Jesus.

Throughout the history of human interaction with God, the Lord has continually provided us with a clear picture of His intent for having an active and ongoing relationship with us, and He has made the sincerity of His intentions known to us by making promises to us. This is another of those promises. Here God has done more than give His word; here God has provided His presence in our lives as a tangible sign that functions much like the earnest money that we put down when we commit to make a major purchase such as a house. The Spirit of God is with us throughout our lives, and He is an ever present and very tangible reminder of the fact that God has promised to never leave me in this life, and He helps me to see and to hope for the promise of my eternal future.

For to set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8: 6

God made a choice, He wants to be with us; He desires our companionship and our worship. He could leave us in our lost states, and He could walk away when we start to live like the lost again; but then He wouldn’t be the one true God. For the Lord has made promises to us; He shows us a clear picture of who He is and of how He behaves. God has been demonstrating His faithful love and His unending involvement with people through all of history, and He has been holding onto me for as long as I can remember.

Yet, I have made a lot of choices in my life that were not so good. I continue to make choices that are clearly not in God’s plan for me, and in these thoughts and actions I have a lot of company. Everyone faces struggles like this; for, we all make the decision to sin, and it is easy to rationalize and to say that I was just caught off-guard or that it was the bad behavior of someone else that sent me over the edge, but, speaking truth, the sinful things that we do are the result of personal choice. And that choice leads to a form of death, for it separates us from God’s will and from the intimate, close relationship that we have with him. Isaiah said it this way,

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you”

Isaiah 59: 2

Thus, choosing to think, to act, and to live like someone who does not know the Lord is making a decision to live in a state like that of death; yet, climbing into the coffin and pulling the lid shut simply makes no sense. God tells us that there are alternatives, and He provides us with a better way to approach life. We are instructed to set our minds  so that we are steering a course that has the purpose and the precision of piloting a ship or a plane; thus, we need to go through life focused very clearly and specifically on the Spirit of God. It is important to actively and purposefully do this, for it won’t just happen all of the time. We need to start every day by pointing our hearts and minds into the center of God’s will for us; then, we need to recheck where we are during the day; finally, we need to end each day with another check on position and spiritual status.  

The life that God wants to lead us to is full of adventure, and it will satisfy us totally. The life that my Lord has planned for me will give me everything that I desire and much more, and it is a life that is characterized by a heart-deep peace that is unbreakable. All of this is there for each of us if we will simply choose to follow the leading of the Spirit of God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Romans 8: 9a

This is one of those highly personal, and truly in my face statements; Paul is really good at hitting me with thoughts that can penetrate to the depths of my heart. Note the twist of irony in his expression; “if indeed”, I think that he is saying that all of my times of living badly, particularly of thinking badly, should cause me to stop and to consider my life’s primary orientation. In essence, ask myself the question, “Does the Spirit of God live in me?” I know that He does, I know it with the certainty of God’s promises to me and this fact is confirmed through His Word and by His interaction with me every day of my life. Yet, I can still act like the spiritually dead person that I no longer am.

It is not that I should expect the temptations and the challenging times to disappear; they will always be with me. It is my response to them that is in question. The Spirit of God gives me a lot of room to navigate through my world as I choose; He also gives me wisdom and insight to do it without crashing into too many walls and causing harm to myself and to others; yet, He allows me the opportunity to decide whether I want to turn on the GPS or not. There are times when I wish that He would just force me to use his guidance, when He would equip my life with a sort of spiritual breathalyzer test that would not allow me to start driving if I can’t pass a standard for spiritually safe movement. He won’t do that, for He wants me to grow in trust; therefore, I will be better equipped to deal with life in the moment and to show Christ to those I am involved with by the way that I do it.

It is this trust in God, linked to Him through His Spirit, with the connection created by Christ, which makes us alive. For, although we draw breath and blood courses through our veins, we are living a dead life in a dying world without this relationship; we are made alive by entering into the relationship with God. Thus, as we allow the Spirit access to our daily living, as we let our old thinking die, our spirits will become more alive with the new life that is found only in Christ. As Paul continues in Romans 8:11, “But if the spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.”

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