January 2011

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

 Some days are just quite simply worse than others. There are situations that come up and interactions that develop which can take normal, calm, acceptable and turn it into a boiling pot of stress. Some of these situations are the product of long developing concerns; the car’s temp light has been on the high side for six weeks or months and now when I have twelve critical places to be and no extra money in the bank account the thing stops running. Others arrive with a suddenness that seems to knock breath out of us. Either way, the carefully crafted balance of the day is driven off its axis and our heads start to spin from the challenge of dealing with situations for which we had not budgeted any energy.

 In my world, the last thing that I am inclined to do when these events are standing in front of me shouting and demanding all of my attention is to stop and thank God for the joy and the blessing of the moment. I also am not very likely to even consider the idea that the challenge that I am dealing with is something that belongs to God. My broken car in my fault, the fool that I am talking to on the phone who is giving me stunning “customer service”, the coworker or boss who doesn’t see our work world in a sane and reasonable manner; you can insert your own day’s situation here, all of these events are ones that I will simply stress over and then try to fight through to resolution. Elevated heart rate, hit the steering wheel, raise my voice and my heart rate with the other person; all of this in the name of solving the problem in my own strength.

 Jesus seems to be saying something quite different to me when I look more carefully at His words above. He was preparing the disciples for the events that were to come soon, but He was also telling us something very profound about the living in this world today. If we are in Christ, then He is in and with us in everything, all of the time. There is no separation or compartmentalization in our lives. This doesn’t mean that the stresses won’t come; Jesus says that they will and He knew this reality personally, and some will be very big and some will be more trivial; however, struggles, stressors, and tribulation will exist for every one of us.

These words were the last expression of Jesus’ teaching for us before He turned Himself over to the Father in the beautiful prayer of consecration that is expressed in John 17. Jesus wants us all to prepare for the bad moments, the tribulation of our days. He doesn’t want us to be caught off guard and knocked to our knees by the struggles that come in this life. I admit to not doing this so well; I do get angry at the person who is not solving my problem, at the broken objects that are crucial to my day, and at illness, pain, and suffering. Jesus wants me to prepare; He tells me to trust Him with everything; He promises me that nothing will defeat me, for He has already overcome all of it. My Lord desires that I function in a manner where peace, joy, and love are my condition. I see this as something very different from a blissed out, Zen like state of denial and acceptance; rather, it is an active and participatory form of trust and reliance wherein I stay close to Christ, take care of what is needful in life, and know that when situations happen He has an answer. I can also be certain that His answer will work to move me closer to Him. Jesus wants me to model Him in the tough times in my day, He wants me deal with incompetence and brokenness and rudeness with a peaceful assurance that the solution, the resolution is already completed. He wants me to model His love for all people in the ways that I deal with them and with my situations in life.

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise.

1 Corinthians 3: 18

Self deception is one of the great enemies of clear thinking; the problem is often one of thinking that I have it all figured out, and that the topic at hand is one that I really understand. This sort of confidence in my own ability to handle life and to solve my own problems has been trained and conditioned in through a lifetime. This is how our society teaches us to behave; this is the type of activity that gets us praise and recognition. The ability to think and to make independent decisions can be a perfectly worthy attribute in many areas of life, but it can create a huge problem when it is carried over into the most important one. When we start to believe that we can devise our own concept of rightness, then we are heading for trouble.

Most of us don’t deliberately set out to change the basic truths of living that God has established for us; we simply start to interpret their meaning. We don’t intentionally make decisions that are contrary to God’s desire for our behavior; we just listen to the counsel of the world around us and clarify our understanding of what is right by incorporating this culturally current thinking into our decision making. Yet, there is a serious problem with this approach. All moral and ethical concepts need to be founded upon everlasting principles; these values are not culturally changeable and they are not relative to our current environment. In fact, moral and ethical values have a spiritual foundation. These are an essential underpinning of healthy living as designed from Creation by God.

In our world they have been corrupted; for, they have been made relative by the deceptive influence of Satan. The voice that cries out to us saying that there is a better, a modern way to act in this time and in this place is cruelly deceptive and intent upon enticing people away from spiritually sound living. Evil’s voice is everywhere; we need to stop listening. If our values are God’s values, it doesn’t matter what others say. If our decisions are loving, just, and respectful; they are honoring to God; therefore, they are eternally wise.

I rejoice at your word,

like one who finds great spoil.

Psalm 119:162

God speaks about everything that happens in this life; He also provides guidance through it all. The Lord is very clear about who He is and about how He wants people to live, for He doesn’t want us to be left guessing, and He wants us to know His heart and to know who we truly are in Him.

As children of God we have joined into a relationship with the Creator, the Father; we have come into that relationship through knowing Jesus intimately; then, we are given an interactive involvement with the Holy Spirit so that all of the mysteries of eternity, of God, and of this life have a source of explanation. We are granted the great gift of the continual and unending presence of Christ in our lives.

God speaks to us through his written word as found in the Bible; He also speaks to our hearts through the voice of The Holy Spirit, and He provides us with his flesh and blood agents by way of people in our lives who also know and serve Him. God’s word is dynamic, solid as granite, and always available; the Lord tells us to rejoice in it, to have an attitude of total delight in the connection that we have to our Creator through his all-enveloping word. We are to follow God’s map to the great spoil, the enormous storehouse of treasure that is His gift which is ours for the taking.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

John 15: 5

This is a really big deal; this is the contra statement to every totally independent bone of every believer’s body. We like to think of ourselves as strong, independent, capable, and oh so competent. Education and training mixed with a lifetime of experience have taught us to do it all, to be mighty and bold and to stand like granite pillars in the face of each and every storm. How deluded have we been? Where does all of this false bravado find its origin?

The moment that we begin to think that we are the source of wisdom, and the instant that our brains conceive of our own brilliance; we have set ourselves up for a stunning fall. There is only one main trunk to the tree of life, and we are not even close to being it. In fact, we are the parts of the plant that are trimmed off if we should fail to produce, and after that happens, the plant becomes healthier. Then we are nothing other than fire starter, kindling; one spark and we are smoke.

Still, the Lord says that we should be bearers of the luscious and exquisite fruit of His spirit; our lives can have huge impact upon our world if we are willing to humble ourselves and become connected to that main trunk and then stay there. This is how we were designed to live, but a little taste of fruit got in the way of doing it. This is how we are meant to live, but our will separates us. Christ calls us back out of the nothingness of separation from Him; He calls us into the fulfillment of His community. The Lord wants each of us to drink deeply from the water of life that flows from Him; stay close and be fed, stay connected and be very fruitful.

O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.

O God, hear my prayer, give ear to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 54: 1, 2

One of the first things that we are taught in life is self reliance. We learn to take care of ourselves and to solve our own problems. An attitude of “I got it, no problem, no help needed” is praised and encouraged by parents, teachers, mentors, and by our culture. This isn’t all bad; for, there is a lot of a best life practice quality to these skills and the attitudes that produce them. But there are times and there are situations when we need help and partnership. There have been far too many times in my life when I really needed help and didn’t seek it. I think that, in fact, we all need help and guidance and counsel every day.

These verses were written by David at a time when he was trying to solve his own problems and when he had run out of resources. He was in fear for his life due to King Saul’s anger, and he had been hiding out among the Ziphites; then, they sold him out to Saul. David’s plan was in ruins around him, and he was feeling very exposed and totally vulnerable.

The issues that we are facing may not be this big; as, there may not be a spear pointed at our hearts, but they still often feel like that is true; however, some of our issues are every bit as urgent and dangerous as David’s. When he came to his senses, when he went deep inside his heart and focused on the truth that life experience had taught him to rely upon, he started to focus on his real source of protection and on the only absolutely reliable place to go for direction. We need to see that it is through the might of God that we can make it through this world; it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we are saved from evil. Like David, we need to turn our hearts to Christ, and speak our fears, concerns, and needs to Him. Then we can hear the blessing of His voice as He leads us to safety and to strength.

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?

Who shall dwell in your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

And speaks truth in his heart.

Psalm 15: 1, 2

What does the voice of a heart sound like? If you are listening through a stethoscope, you will hear the lub dub rhythmic sound of the muscle as in contracts and relaxes. From the world of film and television we have all seen the electronic track and heard the beeping sound of a heart monitor. Somehow, I don’t think that David was thinking in terms of this type of voice. The heart that he was considering speaks with considerably more eloquence, with greater variety, and expresses a wide range of emotion. As it is the essential core of who we truly are, the heart that God is interested in beats at the very center of our being; The heart that God desires is the organ that pumps the life blood of our spirits through our bodies and governs how we view and deal with the world. This is especially true in regards to the way we deal with people. The Lord surrounds himself with people whose hearts are pure, blameless and truthful.

Unfortunately, those requirements for entry into God’s tent exclude me and everyone else that I know. But, there is a clause, an exemption, a way in. There has been only one man who ever lived on earth who met the entrance requirements, Jesus. The Lord says that when we have accepted Jesus into our hearts, God, the Father, immediately starts to view us exactly as he views His Son, blameless and true. Our diseased and sin damaged hearts are started down a road of recovery and of restoration. We are welcome to hang with God, to stay in his presence and to put our feet on His holy ground. 

So the Lord calls us to bring our hearts to Him for healing, for Christ wants our company in His home; then, Christ’s Spirit wants to walk with us through life so that we can live well in front of Him and other people; then, our hearts can shout truth. I think that David’s point is that our actions speak volumes about the condition of our hearts, and the condition of the heart is governed by how close we are to Christ. The key to a healthy heart is to stay close to God so that the rhythm of our hearts will become aligned to the beat of His heart.

He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147: 3

Of all of the pain that we can experience, pain that comes from the heart is the deepest. A hurting heart seems to pump it’s suffering through us with every beat; even the tips of our toes can feel it. There are many causes for this profound type of pain: lost love, losing a loved one, rejection, isolation, abandonment; all of these causes are huge; we are deeply hurt when we experience them. Yet, I think that the single biggest cause of heart-deep pain is separation from God.

For people who do not know Christ, have not allowed Him into their lives, do not have access to the services of the only physician who is competent to deal with everything that ails them, and the singular one who is licensed to practice in all locales and under every circumstance. The fatal wound to their hearts has already been inflicted; life is merely a process of slowly bleeding to death. For those who have turned to Jesus and have accepted him, a very strange thing has happened; they have been healed from the same mortal injury. There is still pain in life, we still experience hurtful situations and damaged and damaging relationships; so, we have an ongoing need to stay close to the Healer. 

Only God can reach through our flesh into our hearts, into the depths of our souls, and touch the pain. Only Christ can lead our minds out of the dark hopelessness of deep sorrow into His joy. The Lord knows our hurts and understands the treatment that each situation requires; thus, He tenderly cares for us, and then He places soothing ointment and a protective bandage on the wound so that it can heal properly. However, we do have one very important part to play in our own healing, for we need to go to the doctor; we need to allow Christ access to our hurts and to our hearts; we have to make the appointment, go into the clinic. He still makes house calls too; in fact, Christ makes heart calls. We do need to let Him in, firstly as Savior; then, as healer. The brokenness and the pain of his children are God’s primary mission, and He promises to have a cure for your suffering.

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