October 2010

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you, I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

Psalm 9:1, 2

When He was through with the process of creating all of the earth, God took time to look at it and to enjoy the intricate detail of the beauty that He had devised. God asks us to do the same thing; for, He wants us to step back from the tasks, take a break from the pursuit, be quiet for a moment and look at what He has done. He wants us to appreciate His presence and His provision, and wants us to be able to do this from deep inside, from our hearts. God has no need for words of thanks; he doesn’t gain anything even when we speak the most eloquent prayer of thanksgiving. The Lord knows that it is very important for our hearts to focus on Him; as, this is the deep worship that brings us closer to Him, that aligns us with His will.

As we go through life, we should be expressing our worship for the Lord by much more than just our words. Christ leads us to care for other people with sincerity of heart and with passion in our souls so that the source of that passion and the depth of that integrity is clearly shown to be found in Christ. Just as Jesus touched the lives of the wounded and desperate people during His days on earth as a tangible form of worship of the Father, He calls upon us to reach out without regard to the cost to the people that we encounter, and those acts of mercy, compassion, grace, and love are the most elevated forms of worship of our Lord.

When we sing praises to God, even if we do it silently, we are recognizing the source of the goodness, and the resource for life strength that is only found in Him. God commands that we praise and worship him, not because He needs to hear how wonderful He is; rather, He commands it because we need to stay focused and to retain clarity. God never waivers from His commitments to us, we are the ones who require time to stop our race through life and recall and reflect on who God is and on just how much He does for us. God doesn’t seek our words, He yearns for our hearts.

Arise sleeper, awake from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5: 14

When Christ comes into our lives He changes the status of our souls from ones that are dead and already in the process of decaying into ones that are fully alive and that are then in the process of being transformed into ones that shine with the glory of Christ. Turning my life over to the Lord and following His path of righteousness in my life has the effect of quite literally awaking me from the deep and dark sleep of that spiritually dead state into the light of awareness. As Christ shows me truth and His Spirit makes acting upon that truth an imperative, my now wide open eyes begin to see that my world has a profound level of need for a savior.

This awareness is not a part of the thinking of a person who is still asleep, and, I fear, that there are times when those of us who do know Christ are also caught napping. We tune out the voice of Christ as He points us toward the hurt, the broken, and the spiritually needy people around us, and we excuse our untimely slumber by pointing to how much energy we are using in order to survive the day or to all of the really good things that we are already doing for the sale of our religious practices. To Christ, these statements are simply excuses, and He asks, “Am I not enough, am I not all that you need?”

The honest, true, and real answer is, “Yes, You are more than all that I ever need.” Awaken, arise, if your heart and mind have slipped into a drowsy state, it is time to pull back the curtains and let the glory of Christ in; then, it is also time to become like a rooster in your world crying out in celebration of the new dawn of life that is to be found in and through Christ.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by.

Psalm 57: 1

There are some days when the air is just filled with a sense that something is going to go very wrong or be incredibly hard to handle. In some of these instances I have a very good idea about the causes of my concern; since, I was likely responsible for causing the situation that is threatening me. At other times, I have absolutely no idea why I am experiencing this sensation of having the hair on the back of my neck standing up and my stomach churning with anticipation of what might come next. This world is certainly filled with enough evil to make anticipatory concern a very rational state of being, and I have an exceptional capacity for providing my own input to the chaos of this world.

That is probably why David’s words strike me with such intensity and with a heart felt realization that he is speaking for me; so, I can readily claim his words as mine and sing along with him this prayer of request for God’s grace to be generously poured out onto me. From experience, my Lord is very quick to provide the sort of gracious mercy, compassion, and protection that I need in these personally challenging times. He protects me from the assault of evil, and He sooths any wounds that I might have incurred in the fight. God’s Spirit hovers over my heart and my soul like a protective mother eagle who will sacrifice everything in order to guard her nest. He provides me with a safe place to be until I have regained the strength and the resources that I need to face the world again.

God’s protective and restorative drive is fundamental to who He is, and He readily gives the gift of His active presence to people. The Lord wants us to turn to Him as our source of encouragement as we prepare to face into each day of our lives. God wants us to remember that through Christ the war with evil has already been won; now, we are dealing with the guerrilla warfare style skirmishes that a defeated enemy uses to cause us to suffer pain and to distract us from bringing the message of Christ’s victory to more of the world. Instead, let’s join David in singing praise to God, the only true source of comfort, strength, and salvation.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

Psalm 100: 1, 2

Do you ever have days when the last thing that you would consider doing is singing, especially singing joyfully? I do; in fact, I do have those sorts of days too much of the time. So what is it that goes wrong? Well, it seems that life is what happens. There are bills to be paid, there are pressures and stresses at work, the world is full of sadness and anger, the news is full of nothing but apprehension, I don’t feel good, my important relationships are going sideways or worse; the list could continue for pages. The point is that there are always issues and events and feelings that make starting out the day in a positive and joyful frame of mind very hard to do.

Life can become a very painful place to exist; and existing is about all that we can accomplish when life is like this. We just hang on and hope that something will change, and if we are feeling especially optimistic, we hope that something will change for the better, too. God gives us a simple antidote to the day starting state of mind that tends to set an already defeated tone for our day; for, He says to crawl out of bed and sing some songs of praise. Now you may find that those who you encounter in the morning or your neighbors may take something of an exception to your operatic style renditions of praise songs. That is not exactly what the writer of this Psalm (a song, by the way) is saying to do.

He is saying to start off the day by talking to God about the peace, the joy, the answers to needs, the protection; about the ways that God is faithful to us; that is, the Lord wants us to sing a joyful song. God still wants to hear about our fears and our pain and our struggles; however, in order to set our minds into a frame of reference that is positively focused on answers, He also wants us to focus on His responses to our needs, and on Christ’s saving love. He is telling us that we can go out into our day with an attitude that is characterized by a heart that is singing the joyful song of a beloved child of the Lord.

You made known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16: 11

There is a deep and unquenchable thirst, a longing, an empty or a blank space in life that defies human filling. Almost everyone has a sense of need that is rooted deep inside the heart; a need that can take on a life of it’s own, that can demand immediate attention. Sometimes it hangs out in the background and nags at us; at other times it is ravenous like a pack of teenage boys. It is almost as if something vital to healthy function is missing from us. The need and the drive to satisfy it are so great that most people seek after its resolution on a continual basis. We try out things that enthrall, exhilarate, motivate, and captivate us. We pour work, hobbies, avocation, and passion down our throats in gag inducing quantities. Powerful emotions and drives are given control of our hearts; yet, the void remains. Nothing satisfies; nothing meets the need.

That is, nothing meets this fundamental need other than Christ; the empty place is the void created when people rejected the relationship with the divine that God designed into them; satisfaction is found only in becoming filled with the Spirit of God, and that is done through Jesus. But there is more; the craving doesn’t go away completely. In a way it is like a desire to eat sweet foods; we may have an ample supply of good basic food to eat, but we still eat the candy, continue to fill a big bowl with ice cream. 

God knows us; therefore, He keeps reminding us to seek satisfaction in the place where it is certain; thus, the Lord continually calls us to His side. By staying focused on the Lord, life’s emptiness will be filled to overflowing with joy, and every need will be met with unfailing delight. When those age-old cravings that we have learned to fill with the emptiness of sin’s confections call to us, God says that we need to turn instead to Him, and Christ will provide us with a feast, a banquet table loaded to overflowing with soul satisfying nourishment.

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3: 18

The language of love is a complex and a very interesting thing, and most of us go through our lives trying to learn how to speak it while also trying to learn how to understand the words that others are saying to us. It can be a bit like trying to learn two complex foreign languages at the same time, for the meaning of the words can get confused and the messages can be confusing or at least perplexing; yet, we have such a strong drive to learn how to communicate at this deep level that we are willing to put an enormous amount of work into making this strange tongue our own.

God has made the acquisition of His love language a lot simpler; however, there is a catch. The new vocabulary that is best learned and has to be applied as we go about living our lives. It seems that the Lord is true inventor of the immersion concept of learning, for He wants us to go into our world and engage with the lives of others with our goal being to bring a living picture of Christ’s love to them, and God also makes it very clear that we are to show our growing mastery of His speech by demonstrating genuine love for each other within the family of God. Christ leaves us with no means to express superiority, exclusion, separating differences, and inequality; so, when we do or say anything that leads to these sorts of divisive words or actions, we are using a vocabulary that comes to us from our former, fallen flesh.

Christ leads us and He calls us to live in a higher place here His righteousness demands that we take the risks and perform the sacrifices of self that allow us to embrace all people with ready openness and with willing acceptance. However, there is one more aspect to this form of love expression, and that is truth. When we love others completely and when we are able to extend the grace of God to them, we are also required to be honest with them. Yet, as Christ demonstrated, God’s truth is a compelling part of the vocabulary of His love, and giving His love to others requires us to share His truth as well.

Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

Romans 15: 7

Who doesn’t want to be accepted? There are times when it seems like that is really the thing that many people desire most. The need and drive for acceptance can be greater than the need to be loved or than the drive to succeed, for our sense of acceptance can, in fact, define our own personal understanding of how much we are loved and how successful we have become. So, the things that we will do in order to gain this sort of status with others can go way beyond what is good or healthy and can cause a frightening degree of imbalance in life.

God recognizes this need in us, and He grants a much higher form of acceptance to anyone who is willing to set aside pride, fear, and the stubborn need to hang onto the past by accepting the saving sacrifice of Christ and surrendering to His lordship. God doesn’t set out any prequalifications or have us take an entrance exam before He is willing to let us into His kingdom, and the Lord won’t require anyone to put on fancy or even clean clothes prior to letting them in to His grace. We are not even required to really understand who God is or what He is capable of doing first. You see, God desires to accept people, and He seeks out everyone on the earth with His message of hope, love, and grace in order to bring about the restoration of our lives to the glorious form that His creation design intended.

Christ also tells us that He wants us to recognize that our acceptance is absolute, unconditional, and complete; then, He sends us into our world to meet the need for acceptance that other people have. It is only when we learn to give acceptance to others that we will begin to fully grasp and to completely enjoy the sort of unconditional acceptance that we have gained in God’s eyes through Christ.

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; and yet, your heavenly Father feeds them.

Matthew 6:25, 26

It is important for us to work, to be gainfully employed and to earn an income that allows us to take care of the needs of life. God instructs us that this is so. So why does Jesus tell us to not be concerned about life’s basic necessities such as food, drink, and clothing? I think that He was addressing a problem that is common to most of us. It is not so much an issue of occupation as it is an issue of preoccupation. Worry, concern, and anxiety can become powerful inhibiters to our ability to open up to God and to our capacity to maintain perspective. We can get so caught up in the search for the higher paying job, the right career move, or even just for employment that we forget that God has promised us that He will provide us with what we need in all situations.

He does desire for us to be well employed, He wants us to be able to use the skills, intellect, and talents that are, after all, His own handiwork. Remember that God tells us to work and to be productive. What Jesus is saying is to not worry about the outcome of the search; He wants us to very actively engage the process, but the Lord wants us to trust Him with the outcome, to open our minds and to take the risks that are sometimes essential in order to move more deeply into His will for us.

 I think that Jesus used song birds for His illustration because they are industrious, very active in their daily work, and they have absolutely nothing that God does not provide for them; still, they are well clothed, and they go about their literally life or death occupation of food gathering with an ever present song. God wants us to free up our energy and to be able to focus our attention on what is important, mostly on Him, and not let anxiety and worry inhibit our ability to go through life with a song on our hearts and showing off the beautiful garment that is the Lord’s unceasing grace and love.

Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2: 7

By this point in his time of service to God, Paul had every right to expect that people would listen to what he had to say. He knew that he had been called and commissioned by God to speak and to write about the relationship that the Lord wanted to have with all people; also, Paul was aware of the special training and the extraordinary knowledge that Christ had entrusted in him, and he had committed his life to bringing that knowledge to others. Still, Paul knew that his words were never going to be enough, and he was fully aware that the deepest thinking, the clearest writing, and the most persuasive speaking were not going to work on their own or even together to win souls out of darkness.

The totality of what people do is futile if God is not behind it. In fact, when people use their minds and seek to develop a new truth about God that is not founded in complete, humble submission to the Lord’s will and surrounded by worship of Him, they tend to start deviating from the truth, and they create false religions that only serve the purposes of evil. However, the thoughts and the words of people who are seeking after God’s truth are good and worthy; yet, they gain their deepest meaning and their true application through the special revelation that the Spirit of God gives to His people. The Lord validates and He vitalizes the words that He has inspired in others.

So, Paul calls upon us to consider the words that he wrote. I think that he wanted us to do more than just read them, and Paul knew that on their own even his most profound thoughts were nothing more than shadows of the truths that God wants us to enjoy. The Lord wants us to take His word into our minds through our eyes and our ears; then, He wants us to allow the word an opportunity to stay there, for most of us need to slow down, to breath deeply, and to give the Spirit time to make the deep truths a part of our essential being. We also need to take the word with us into the day so that it can shape the way that we respond to everything that comes our way; then, we will have a greater ability to see others as Christ sees them, and they will be granted the blessing of the living presence of the word in their day.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Acts 20: 32

At the end of his talk with the elders of the church at Ephesus Paul delivered this blessing to them, for he was not going to spend time in their city with them on the current journey, and he had only a moment to personally connect with them. Yet, it strikes me that this simple sentence contains a fundamental truth about making it through this day and the next one with my head held up in righteousness and my spirits filled with Christ’s joy. Now Paul was a great teacher of God’s truth, and it seems that he probably had a very strong personality and was a compelling leader; still, he knew that people needed more than his presence and personal leadership to live fully in the manner that God intended for them, and he trusted totally in something much greater than himself and more capable than any person.

Life will ultimately require each of us to dig deep into ourselves in order to respond to the situations and the pressures that come at us. The way that we do this is going to depend upon the resources that we have stored away in our hearts and our minds and upon the strength of character that we have allowed the Lord the opportunity to develop within us. It seems that something very special, amazing, and even mystical happens when God’s people spend time in reading and meditating on His word, for the words on the page seem to gain new meaning and dimensions of application that exceed the simple scope of the language. This is one of the times when God’s Spirit interacts with us in ways that are a central part of the special gift of faith that God has given to His own, and this is one of the primary ways that God works in us to prepare us to follow Him absolutely through each day of our lives. 

God has set aside for all of His people a very special gift that is a part of His promise of salvation from our lost and sin governed lives, and that gift is in the form of an inheritance. This extraordinary legacy originated before there was time, and it has been preserved in a perfect condition throughout history; although, it has been handed out over and over again, there is no limit to its availability. God wants everyone to enjoy the benefits of a full and complete knowledge of Him, and He also wants each of us to go through our days with our hearts and our minds bathed in all of the love, grace, joy, peace, wisdom, compassion, mercy, and understanding that the Lord has to give. The inheritance that God has for us is restoration. He wants to work in us to bring us ever closer to the state of living that His creation plan intended; all that the Lord asks of us is that we believe in His promises and trust Him, and His word and His Spirit will perform the miracle of restoration in us.

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