January 2011

I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through their iron bars. And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, In order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.

Isaiah 45:2, 3

There seems to be a way too common connection between traveling through life and taking turns down streets that are perpetually under repair, or in going toward the door that appears to be the right one and only to find it locked tightly. Even when I am at my sharpest and my intelligence and wit are fully engaged, I seem to find that the way through this world is littered with the debris of its fallen state.

I think that there is a very real relationship between our desire to trust Christ in the processes of life’s journey and the amount of opposition that will be thrown before us. Satan wants us to be confused and to look for new road maps other than the truth of God’s word; for, he wants us to give up on the journey, to get frustrated with life in the community of Christ, and to settle for the comfort of the ordinary. Evil fights against us in order to push the fight for righteousness out of us.

God’s promise is to be the pathfinder for us, to smooth the path, and make it so that we can run with confidence and not stumble or fall. He also commits to providing us with the resources that we will need for the journey. I think that Isaiah is saying that, in fact, God will take some delight in not just giving us what we need but in bringing it to us from hidden sources. He wants us to be very clear in our understanding that Christ is the source of all that sustains us through this journey of trust.

There is none like God, O Jershurun, who rides through the heavens to your help,

through the skies in his majesty.

The eternal God is your dwelling place,

and underneath are the everlasting arms

Deuteronomy 33: 27

Picture this; the classic White Knight of fiction, the Marshall of a western town, or Indiana Jones riding into the scene of impending disaster at the last moment and saving the day. Now envision that same scene but remove the constraints of physical law, give the hero infinite knowledge and power; then, you have begun to contemplate the scope of view and the capacity of God. Consider the fact the One who rescues you from Satan’s traps and tricks and angry followers is everywhere at once as if he is mounted on the fastest horse, or powered by the most powerful rocket as He crosses the heavens.

More importantly than even the Lord’s ability to cover all of time and space in an instant is His ability and desire to go deep into human hearts and minds. Christ came into this world to defeat the very nature of death, and the most important aspect of this is His complete conquest over the destructiveness of sin in and to people. Where ever there is fear, sadness, grief, and shame, Christ is there to bring the peace of eternal joy. Any time that we experience heartache, Christ understands and He feels the pain with us; also, He joins with us in the process of healing from the wounds that life has caused.

Now, complete the superhero picture by staying focused on the fact that, in Christ, you live with God and that it is His arms that hold you up; His wisdom that guides through the day; and His love that embraces you. Consider the majesty, the incomparable nature of the God who chose you and who calls you His own; consider, then, embrace His loving presence in your life, and live through the day in the freedom of these truths.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5

One of the most common jokes in our society involves men and asking for directions; the reason that it is so common and also the reason that it is so funny is that almost everyone can relate an actual event when one of us men managed to get hopelessly lost while we were literally surrounded by potential direction givers. Every teacher and every seminar leader knows that they will need to implore their audiences to ask questions, it doesn’t matter whether the listener’s grade depends on the understanding or whether they have paid handsomely for the knowledge. We people are arrogantly stubborn; this is especially true when our egos are on the line.

When James says, “If”, he is posing a rhetorical question, for there is no person who does not lack wisdom. Wisdom, the very essence of wisdom, starts with God, and it resides with God. This understanding of how to live life, these life-success skills, are not held tightly; for, the Lord tells us that He desires with his parent’s heart to share them totally. Yet, God does not waste wisdom on deaf ears. He wants us to realize our need, to focus our request, and to ask Him specifically for the skills and the understanding that we require. This is where the relationship with our Lord is very special, for He not only possesses all the wisdom that we need, but, unlike an encyclopedia, Wikipedia, or even a really good How-To-Do-It book, God will enter into life with us. When we seek wisdom from God, we get a partner in the implementation of what we learn. We also get all of the updates, add-ons, new versions and enhancements; we are in a relationship with the One who will make every twist and turn in life work out for our good. 

Back to human nature; if we consider the benefit from asking God for the wisdom that we all need to live well each day, why don’t we do it, why don’t we consistently and passionately pursue His wisdom throughout every day? The answer is probably the same as the reasons that we don’t ask for directions or pose other needed questions, we are stubborn and our egos are both over sized and very fragile. This is why James directs us to two of God’s attributes: He is a very generous giver, and He never tells us that our requests are dumb or silly. In fact, God’s heart is warmed, He is delighted, by our turning to Him; for, when we realize our need for wisdom, we are not showing weakness; rather, we are demonstrating maturity.

This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Thy face.

Psalm 24: 6

In the history of the world, there have never been more people who are seeking after God; these God-seekers are to be found in every part of the globe and in every type of setting from isolated village to major city, from the most modern to the most primitive. Humans were created with a need for a relationship with their Creator, and we have a spiritual emptiness that seeks filling.

Additionally, God is a relentless pursuer. He never stops seeking after us, and He always cares about the state of our souls. The Lord did not make us with the intent to abandon us; He is not upset or angry with us in a way that would cause Him to desire to distance Himself from us, either. He is present in every part of the physical world, and He is active in every aspect of human endeavor. Yet, one of the biggest challenges that we face on a daily basis is in determining which voices to listen to and in clearly understanding God’s desire for us. Evil shouts loudly and constantly to confuse and to distract people away from Christ. This is a constant struggle that everyone faces.

We need to listen to the voice that affirms His love for us, that directs us out of ourselves and toward others, that seeks to meet our deepest needs and that shows us how to meet the needs of people around us. Seeking God starts on our knees in prayer, and it continues on our feet in service to Him. Seeking God’s presence and His will needs to be the primary occupation of every day regardless of what it is that we are doing. The wonder of this pursuit is that it will never be futile, for God is so very close and so completely committed to us that He will always be there with us.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.

Psalm 139: 23, 24

In academic and professional circles peer review can be highly nerve wracking. Handing your work over to someone else for critique is hard. Opening up the heart to someone in an accountability partnership is frightening. If we were to accept these verses personally, we would be asking God to look closely at our hearts and to give us honest feedback about our condition; now, that can be more than scary. Yet, this is the type of deep intimacy that God desires with all people. Think about this; who else can you trust to know you at this level, who else will use nothing learned for personal advantage, and who else will provide absolutely honest, totally accurate and actionable information.

We are created in a manner that gives us the opportunity to seek life advice and direction from multiple sources. We are also made in a way that gives us the ability and the right to choose the voices that we listen to. God took the risk of creating people with this ability; yet, He wants us to want to turn to Him, and God wants us to be truly ready to listen and to act upon what He says. Thus, when we say words like the ones that David wrote in this Psalm, God is both delighted, and He is ready to speak to us. 

It is important to let him in at this deep level; I also think that it is important to be rather open about the request. I know that I do not always, maybe almost never, see clearly into my own heart and the actions that I take as a result of its condition. Asking God to search out my deeper motives can be very challenging, truly painful; but the results will be rewarding. The Lord always provides me with the sort of insight that I can do something about; He always shows me how the change is possible, and He makes clear the steps to take to make it happen. The changes that God asks me to make may not be easy, but they are achievable, and they always takes me along a pathway that leads deeper into His righteousness.

You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4: 29

Where do I find you, God?

What does your face look like?

If I call will you answer, or will you tell me to go away and never bother you again?

The days can be filled with questions; the hours cluttered with the act of seeking answers; and a lifetime can be consumed in the pursuit. 

I find God in all the usual places; in church buildings and in prayer groups, in books written about Him and in the books of the Bible, in friends and family, and in the beauty of the created world. God speaks and reveals Himself through every imaginable means. He also appears in the strangest of locations; in the face of a poor child from the slums of Manila, in the actions of characters portrayed by openly non-Christian actors working in truly secular films, in the simple love expressed by a friend or a spouse that remains strong despite my unloveliness, and through the response of my heart to hurt and disappointment in life.

The Lord is in everything, and He is involved with all that we do. Whether I am touched by traditional hymns or by the power of rock music, God can be found in its harmonics and resonance. If I am with people who are gathered in a cathedral crafted from massive stone or sitting on the floor in a suburban home or in a coffee shop or a farm field, God’s face is looking on those who are there. 

Location and time of day are of no consequence to Him. The only real reason that I struggle to find Him is found in me; the only thing that God requires from me in order that He show Himself to me is my attitude in the search. If I turn my heart and my soul toward Him, He will be there, for as I open myself to God’s truth, my heart and my soul become receptive to His love that is already living there.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;

Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

Psalm 37: 3

Gardening is a strange and interesting hobby; it brings joy and delight, and it causes frustration and a feeling of utter helplessness against the forces of nature. There certainly have been times when I have been convinced that God is laughing mightily at my failed efforts and that, at the same time, He is hoping that I am considering the fundamental truths of my relationship to Him that are depicted in my futility. We do sometimes fail to think about the fact that the last consequence for their sin that God pronounced upon Adam and Eve was that their efforts to grow things, their work, would become difficult; for, their efforts would be frustrated and frustrating. Thus, I can blame the serpent when my garden doesn’t thrive, and I can shift the blame away from my own poor skills and claim that the tomato worms are demons in my greenery.

You know, I think that this is a true concept in the rest of life. There are demons in our gardens; there is evil that will do anything, truly anything, to cause our lives to wither and to fail. It is really easy to let it happen, too. Most of the time, the effects of evil are subtle and small; although, there are times when a large, furry and horned worm can be found chewing greedily on the leaves of my life, these events are rare in comparison to the days when I am just angry, impatient, and unloving. There are days when I go about my business and don’t actually growl at people; yet, if I also don’t do anything to bring Christ’s goodness and grace to them, these days are equally wormy.

Setting out to grow a garden involves an act of trust; we need to believe that the seeds will sprout, that they are what they claim to be, that the tiny plants will grow, and we trust in our memories of the superiority of the taste or of the color of the product. Living a life that is resistant to evil also requires trust, and it requires practice and determination. We can choose to allow the Lord to take control, and we can trust Him to take control of our attitudes; also, we can plan to make every encounter of our day one that God will smile about. When we do this, we are truly living well in the land that the Lord has given to us, we are taking care of it in the manner that he desires; and our crops will be bountiful.

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