September 2010

And He (Jesus) said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Luke 22: 46

Jesus had just finished praying, himself; talking with the Father about the world-changing events that He was about to become the center of; so, He came back to His close friends and followers and found them asleep. Stress does strange things to people; for, it can make sleeping when standing guard seem logical, hiding out when facing the issues becomes rational, and saying nothing when a few simple words of God’s truth would have impacted someone’s life mightily is too easy.

When life throws curves at us and what had seemed orderly in the morning becomes chaos by night, our human tendency is frequently to head into our caves for a long winters nap. Pull the covers up over my head; let the storm pass; stay where it is safe so that I won’t be sorry later. This type of reaction is so very human, and it is exactly what Satan wants us to do. If we are undergoing hard situations, so are people around us; when we are living through challenges, others are watching how we handle them. Jesus told his followers that there is great risk in this sort of behavior and that there is no gain. When we try to handle difficult situations in our own lives and in those of the people around us by essentially turning away from them, we are, in fact, denying God’s capacity to deal with them, His interest in people’s lives, and His intimate involvement with us in all things. We are hiding from God, not from our challenges. Jesus reminds us that our first response to hard situations needs to be prayer; talk it over with God and develop a plan of action with the Spirit’s guidance. Then pray some more as we put the plan into action.

We live in difficult times and in challenging circumstances; we are caught up in the middle of a daily struggle between God and evil for the souls of the world. Jesus tells each of us to stay continually in a state of prayerful contact with God and to follow Him into engagement with the lives of others. Together with the Spirit of God we can be agents for change in our world, helping to turn the very worst of times into the best one for the redemption of people.

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will.

Ephesians 1: 8, 9

Most of us love a well crafted mystery with all of its plot turns and complex characters. This is the sort of story that keeps us guessing; in fact, the writers of these tales frequently work extra hard at making the real facts obscure and even at deliberately leading us to false conclusions. God’s mysteries are written with a different approach, for they are created with a very different intent, by an utterly unique writer, and with the desire that everyone will get the singular clue to its unraveling.

God has been laying the story out before us forever, and He has never been silent or tried to hide the clues to solving the mystery from us. In fact, the Lord is an author who actually goes after His audience, and He desires more than anything else to enter into a close relationship with us. Yet, the great mystery of eternity remains unsolved by vast numbers of people, and every day many see, hear, and are touched by the clues to its resolution; still, they reject the clues as false, they say that they are too busy dealing with life to take the time to think through the puzzle, or they believe that they already possess the true key to open the door of eternity.

In the end, the solution to God’s mystery is found in Christ, and there is no other way to gain access to the sort of wisdom that brings the deep secrets of the universe into a form that is comprehensible to our simple human minds. Because God knows all and understands us completely, in and through Christ He gave us the gift of His Spirit to guide us into His word and to clear away the darkness that sin placed around our hearts and minds, and the Spirit walks with us through life to continually guide us further along the path of God’s will. However, unlike mysteries that are crafted by human writers, God wants us to spoil the ending by revealing the secret to the rest of the audience; thus, the greatest gift that we can give to others who are participating in this grand life play is not the typical respectful silence, but rather we need to proclaim Jesus, the only answer that everyone needs, with every aspect of our lives.

You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6: 11

Here is a simple fact, when we invite Jesus into our lives, we become someone else; we are not the same person that we were before. Yet, many of the behavioral and attitudinal changes will continue to develop over the remainder of our earthly lives. Our newness has to redirect life-long ways of living; the change is really a process of exchange in which self centered and sinful parts of our being are replaced with the spirit of love that is the nature of Christ; thus, Christ’s character becomes our new nature. With this said, should we be willing to accept the fact that we will continue to do and to think in ways that are in opposition to our Lord’s expressed will; should we be alright with our own continuation of sinful living?

Just in case you are wondering, the correct answer to the pop quiz question above is, no. God reminds us of some of the basics of what He does for and with us when we invite Him into our lives. He cleans us up, but this is not just an external scrubbing; God purifies our hearts so that our essential nature is changed from an orientation toward evil to one that God sees as pure. Then He separates us from the rest of the world, from the unsaved world. God marks us as holy, His sacred children, and He engages the battle with Satan when evil tries to grab us and pull us back into its den. Finally, in those times of struggle, when sin causes doubt and when its darkness is swirling around our heads and especially when we do fail to follow God’s plan, when we sin, Jesus speaks out for us before God; and He claims us as His own.

Our part in all of this is to recognize our newness, realize its impact on our core being, and allow the Spirit of God the opportunity to work his miraculous magic of change in our lives. For, in Christ, it is reasonable and totally rational to expect that during each hour of every day we can claim fresh territory within our own hearts for the new person that we have already become.

How can you believe when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God.

John 5: 44

Jesus is questioning how far we will go and what we would be willing to do in order to gain recognition, fame, and glory. We live in a culture that is constantly elevating individuals to places of notoriety and that seeks to find people who have accomplished something special or who have achieved something that sets them apart from the pack; however, the problem that we have in all of this is that we seem to have such an insatiable thirst for vicariously viewing the activities of these celebrities that behaviors that are noteworthy only for their stupidity, harmfulness, or lack of righteousness are too often the ones that gain recognition. The other element of this thirst for prominence that was troubling to Jesus and that should disturb us is that people, in general, will gravitate toward sources of easy praise and will set standards of behavior for themselves that are intended to gain it.

Sadly, we humans will settle for the dim light of this sort of recognition when a radiance like the sun could be ours. There is only one source of true light, for it comes from the Creator of all lights; also, real, lasting glory is the reflection of the character of God, Himself. Since God wants to be with us and to engage with us in our lives, and He works in our hearts and minds to transform us from being darkened by the stain of sin and its death to being radiantly alive in Christ, we have access to the glory of God. 

The question that Jesus posed and that we should be asking ourselves is why do I seek the praises of people and compromise God’s standards for living righteously when I already have the gift of recognition from the great and generous Father? God continually pours out His blessings onto His children, they rain down like an unending stream of brightly colored confetti, and the Lord celebrates each and every moment that we choose to follow Him and bring light into our world. Let’s take the glory of Christ into the darkness that is trying to surround us so that we can share our knowledge of it’s one and only source with people who desperately are in need of something to celebrate and of someone who will lovingly care for their needs.

So teach us to number our days so that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90: 12

How many days have you had? A simple bit of math can figure this out; yet, if your life has gone anything like mine, the simple number of them is going to be a frustrating thing to consider, for I have not done nearly enough good with them and have not spent the sort of time that I could have in true worshipful service to God. This accounting would show that I have consumed many of those days in ways that were self-centered or in seeking after things that were safe, comfortable, and within easy reach rather than in trusting the Lord to take me to the heights that His word promises me I can reach by pursuing His will. The good news in this is that God cares far more about the days that are to come than about what I have done with the ones that are past.

So, in preparing to go after today, it seems that the first thing that God desires for me to do is to focus on His instructions for it. When I consider the fact that God has a plan for my life, I am amazed that the Lord of the universe cares so much about something as insignificant as that, but, based upon the promise of His word and upon the things that He has already done, I know that He does care. Also, God is interested in and will be involved with the details of each day, and He already has a workable plan for this day. So, God does want me to look at my life and to count each of the days that I have remaining, but He doesn’t want me to become focused on the finish of my life as the goal; rather, He wants me to consider each day as His and to dig deep into His word so that I can understand the Lord’s will as it relates to today.

God is showing me that He wants me to count every day of my life as something to be offered to Him in worship, and like the soldier in battle who needs to make every bullet count or the teacher in a classroom who desires to make each word meaningful, the Lord desires for me to make this day one where He is at the center of all that I consider, plan, and do. This is not a matter of priorities, for the Lord doesn’t desire to be a part of a list of the things that are most important to me; it is a matter of the orientation of my entire being. Then, I can establish my priorities based upon the eternal wisdom that God writes on my heart.

The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.

Isaiah 45: 7

It’s right there on the page, words that are attributed to God where He seems to be saying that He is responsible for the evil that runs rampant in the world, but is that what He is really saying? It is an inescapable fact that natural disasters happen, for there are times when it seems like all of the elements that we count on for our well being such as wind, water, fire, and earth have taken on an evil character and are out to destroy our world. When we look at the news or listen to the stories that people have to tell, the presence of evil in the actions of some people is equally apparent. The reality of pain, oppression, destruction, and death surrounds us daily. Perhaps God is just powerless or maybe He is indifferent when it comes to these sorts of things?

Those thoughts are inconsistent with the nature and the character of the God that I have come to know and Whose involvement in my life I have experienced, and they also defy the reason and the logic of the way that God has been engaged in the affairs of people throughout history. So, there must be something else going on when there is so much hurt and so many calamities occurring in our world. Although God could stop any and all of it, I think that He allows the effects of sin to continue because He knows that we are, in fact, reaping the harvest of our own actions, and He also knows that we people tend to worship the illusions of human goodness and endeavor and natural beauty and our control over it rather than focusing on the Lord’s perfect righteousness and His gift of natural resources.

In order to make sense out of large and small destructive events and out of national and individual losses, we need to realize that these do have a purpose in God’s perspective on our lives. For we need God’s wisdom and understanding the most when the situation is the most difficult, the need for restoration is the greatest in these times; especially, we need the Lord’s perspective in times when our human logic fails to make any sense out of what has happened. God’s love, compassion, and capacity for mercy in conjunction with His strength and ability to bring infinite resources to bear are what we require to not only face the challenges that come our way when we become involved in the lives of those who have been injured, but they also show us and the world the face of the true giver of salvation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Ephesians 1: 3

It is amazing, totally remarkable, and beyond my understanding that God, the Creator and the Ruler of the entire universe, would be so interested in me that He would grant to me a gift such as this. As magical and special as many of the gifts that I have received during my life have been, none of them starts to compare with the gift of relationship with Him that the Lord has handed to me. Yet, as extraordinary as that is, there is much more, for the Spirit of God opens the eyes of my heart to a new dimension of life that is also mine through my acceptance of Christ.

God has changed me from being spiritually dead to being fully engaged with the totality of His realm; now, I do not understand all that is of God or see everything that God sees, for His knowledge and understanding goes far beyond my capacity, and the Lord doesn’t need to or choose to reveal everything that is happening in the dimension of spirit to me. Still, in Christ, heaven has come to live in me, and my perspective on my world can now be a heavenly one. God grants to me the gift of His insight, wisdom, understanding, compassion, mercy, and love; and He tells me to bless Him by living in a different manner than people who don’t know Him.

You see, it strikes me that God wants me and all of His own people to live each day like we are, in fact, living in a heavenly place. God gives us a picture of what that looks like in the way that Jesus lived His life on earth, and the Lord says that He wants us to follow Him. We need to take the view and the vision of life that we have gained due to our spiritual awareness and live in a manner that clearly demonstrates that we are different. The difference that God wants me to bring into this world is not one that is expressed in a superior air of separation; rather, the Lord wants the people that I touch to know that they have been touched by heaven.

Good understanding produces favor.

Proverbs 13: 15

Unfortunately, I have found that developing a level of understanding that is actually good is not all that easy to do. There have been too many occasions when there were still parts left over when the midnight toy building session was finished, and some of those parts were too big and significant looking to label as “extra”. As regards wrong turns and frustration in trying to get somewhere on time when the directions were explained in great detail but I didn’t listen to those details; well, guilty is my plea. It would seem that I have been given far more chances to gain understanding during my life than I have taken advantage of, and my unwillingness to surrender my pride and to take the required time to listen and to study well has resulted in items that don’t work properly, time wasted, hurt feelings, lost opportunity, and damaged relationships.

Just as God will take all of the time that we require to help us understand everything that we need to function at a very high level in life, He also wants us to be committed to seeking the understanding that we need. In order to gain understanding of God’s truth, we need to get to know Him well; and like any relationship, it takes time and attention to get to truly know the Lord. We need to read His word in detail and keep on reading it until the details begin to reveal themselves to us. We need to talk with God and listen for His response; then, we need to continue to listen as He continues to clarify and to amplify the wisdom that He is providing.

Yet, when we take the time to gain this sort of deep understanding, God promises us that we will receive favor. To me God’s favor is an expression of His grace, for it is not something that I can pay for or earn, and it is something that He wants to grant to people in great abundance. Favor looks and feels like a sense of peace, joy, and contentment that comes from deep inside and that has little connection to life’s circumstances. Still, favor is something that other people will notice even if they can’t define what it is that they are seeing. Favor is to be worn like an exquisite silk scarf that compliments all of our best features, and it comes to us as a present given to us by God in love and in honor of our intimate knowledge of Him.

“So shall My word which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” declares the Lord.

God is known for His resolve; when He determines to do something, He just doesn’t stop going after it until it is done. Granted, the timing of reaching that finish line is also His to control, and that part of the entire process is often the one that seems the most mysterious and perplexing to me. For there are a lot of things that I am certain are the expressed desire of God’s heart that He just seems to take way too long to bring to completion, and either my attention span or my willingness to stick it out, or both, are tested beyond their limits of endurance.

However, that is really my problem, and, also, these situations provide me with a chance to engage in a little spiritual and emotional workout session. The simple truth is that I can trust that God really means what He says here; so, if I am hearing His word and perceiving His desire, God will make those things happen, and regardless of my skill, intelligence, or patience with the process, He will cause a great result to come out of it all. What I am seeing here as the greater truth is that God’s true desire is not about the situation, itself; He did not send His word of truth specifically to heal the illness, to provide the job, or to free the oppressed; rather, God gives us His word to bring us to Him. The Lord’s desire is fulfilled when people learn to love and to trust Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds.

As we grow in our ability to trust God and to wait on His timing, His word starts to open up to our hearts in ways that it had not before, and the deeper truths that the Lord wants us to hear and to understand start to reveal themselves to us. I have found that as I start to embrace the fact that God will respond to everything in my life that is reflective of His heart’s desire and wait in trusting obedience on Him while continuing to act on what He has revealed to me, God’s word speaks ever more clearly and with a voice that is impossible to ignore.

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit is, there is liberty.

2 Corinthians 3: 17

This seems like an idea that is too simple; yet, God doesn’t really try to make the important things so complex that a poor, frail human brain like mine can’t grasp them. Yet, it strikes me that in this short statement lies the essence of what we often call the New Covenant. God always said that He would provide an answer to the evil that had entered into the perfect world of His creation and that He would give people a way back into the intimate relationship with Him that was severed by our own disobedience. When that promise was brought to life by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God upheld His part of the promise to people that is the New Covenant.

In this new contract that God designed to govern the way that He would interact with people and that we would be able to live, He eliminated the constraining rigidity of requiring us to live our lives inside of the framework of a set of rules; instead, God provided us with the ability to know Him and to understand His righteous way of living from the inside of our hearts and minds. This is what Paul is talking about in this verse. He is pointing us to the direct and personal connection to the truths of eternity that God gave to everyone who knows Him through Christ. The Holy Spirit speaks to us because He is continually with us, and He continually seeks to guide us to the sort of liberty that comes from intimate knowledge of the heart of God.

Almost everyone has areas in our lives where we feel burdened, bound up, or constrained; yet, God wants us to enjoy the peace that comes from total freedom. Many people experience days where their best hope is for that momentary glimpse of sunlight that might slip through the small window that is high up on the wall of the emotional cell where the burdens of life have confined them; still, God says that even in here there is light and you can know liberty. In the center of oppression, we need to seek the Spirit of God; from the darkness, we should turn toward the light of His presence; in the midst of our confusion, God’s word provides truth; and through all of life, God’s Spirit is actively with us. This is God’s new contract with us, His New Covenant, and because He completely fulfills every detail of it, we are set free from sin, and we have the liberty to pursue righteousness in every aspect of our lives.

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