February 2011


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55: 8

When the things that I am thinking about and the way that I am thinking are different than what God says that I should be thinking, which set of thoughts is right? When the thing that I am doing and the actions that I have taken are focused on what I want or think that I need, how well am I doing at following the example of healthy living that Jesus gave me? It is easy to argue that I know what is required for this moment in life or that this particular situation was extraordinary, and it demanded that I do and say what I did. Yet, those arguments are the same ones that people have been using for thousands of years to justify going against the Lord’s will. God has heard them all, and there is no real creativity that the human mind can utilize successfully in its attempt to rationalize living in ways that are different from God’s design for life. 

There are ways of thinking and ways of living that God has told us will work; there are others that He has clearly marked as bad ideas. The road map to follow through life is universally available. The system even comes with an on board set of helps and an interpreter for those hard to understand situations. All that is required of us is a willingness to join with Jesus, to allow Him into our lives. It is very simple; yet, the decision to let Him in is the most elusive action point in life for many people. There is something in our natures that clings very tightly to a mind-set and a heart-felt determination to live life the way that we think is best. The problem with this way of thinking is that God’s way is proven to actually work, and for every person this I always true.

The proof of this statement is recorded throughout human history in the Bible. The living proof of the fact that God’s ways are superior to anything that we people can come up with on our own is demonstrated in each of our lives. The Lord designed life this way, He made it so that we can look closely at each other, and we can observe the way that other people think and the actions that they take. The challenge for me and for any of us who know God is to examine our own thoughts and our own actions; then, we need to allow Christ access to our hearts and our minds to change us so that we think and act like Him. One way of thinking and one way of acting works; for, one has wisdom, peace, joy, and life sustaining grace driving it. One has the Father’s love flowing out of it. We get to choose to make God’s way ours.

 

Keep me as the apple of your eye,

hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 17: 8

There are times when my primary need is to be taken care of, and I am not talking about days when I am physically ill, colds and the flu and such, I am talking about days when my heart is heavy, my feet are made of cement, and dread is my middle name. These are the times when strength is defined by drawing breath and where courage is counted by opening the front door and maybe looking out. These are not attractive, engaging, or pleasant times. Certainly no one wants to be around me when I am like this; that is, no one except God. I think that it must have been a day like this that prompted David to cry out to the Lord with these words.

At times of extreme uncertainty and doubt, we need a sure thing, and the one real and true sure thing in this life is the love and the protection that God has given to me. It has never failed, and it has never diminished. God looks on every one of His children, each of us, as a total delight for His eyes. Even in our worst moments and even through our deepest personal crises and times of failure, He desires to be with us. When the need is greatest, God gives the most. He always gives me more than I require.

During some of these troubled times, the thing that I need most is rest, a brief opportunity to stop using my energy reserves and a chance to regain my balance. God understands this, too; so, He seems to just cover me with his arms of protection and comfort. I can stop worrying, slow down, and listen to His reassuring and reaffirming words of love and compassion. As my strength begins to be restored, the Lord always starts to share words of truth and of wisdom; He gives me the insight that I need to step back out into life and to successfully engage my struggles. There will be times when asking God for shelter is the wisest thing that we can do; there are times when we need to listen while the Lord tells us about our worth and value to Him. There are times when the strongest and the bravest thing that we can do is ask God to meet these needs.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1, 2

Have you ever noticed how children mimic the actions and the words of the adults that they are around? Watch a child as he or she does a task like washing dishes or throwing stones or even walking along a sidewalk; you will see small, imitative versions of the adults in that are in the young person’s life. Of course, these influences also include many things which are far more important that the way that they walk; they include the attitudes that they hold toward others, the language that they choose, and even the God that they worship.

However, among the most beautiful aspects of the way that God designed and created people is the way that He gave us the ability to make choices for ourselves and set in us a desire to have a relationship with Him. No matter how we have been trained and regardless of the nature of our upbringing, we have been given hearts that desire God’s presence. We are allowed to select a new Father to imitate. Not only are we allowed to do this, but our body chemistry and our internal wiring yearn for this connection. Absent God in our lives, there is an empty void that demands filling. With Christ in us, the holes begin to be filled, and the damage that sin has done to us is repaired over time. 

Each of us has learned, imitated, and developed various bad approaches to life; these are the result of the impact of sin on our minds and our hearts; in many, this impact of sin harms the body chemistry and wiring. Yet, we have choices to make; we can move from beneath the shadow of sin’s imprint into the light of God’s love. We can choose to focus on God, to look at His face and to seek His truth about living life. We can allow Christ to take our hand as we walk through today. Then, the love of God can surround us, his compassion can heal the ravages of sin in our lives, and the sweet and oh so luxuriant aroma of salvation will envelop us. As we stay very close to God’s side, focusing our eyes on Him, Christ’s healing touch reaches farther into the depths of our brokenness, and we become agents for the healing in others.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12: 24

Life tends to have a hardening effect on people; we are born with a soft exterior that is open and receptive, but that same exterior is absolutely defenseless against all of the hurtful things that can come our way. In order to survive we rapidly begin to harden, to grow tougher and we develop a thicker exterior shell. Over time and through experience various parts of that shell become even harder, and it covers more than our exteriors, for we also learn to shield our hearts and our minds from situations and from people that might hurt or harmed us.

This is a very natural and truly rational process; no one likes to be hurt, and no one likes to be on the receiving end of repeated loss, rejection, and humiliation. Evil uses all of this negativity as a tool to drive people deeper into themselves and to keep us fearful and separate from truly open and loving relationships. Satan wants us to try to stand on our own, separate and isolated, and he encourages us to continue to harden our protective shells; he’ll even fill the bathtub with brine for us to soak in and bring the sandpaper towels to remove the remaining soft surfaces of our hearts. 

Jesus is saying that there is an alternative to increasing the toughness of our protective covering; He is saying that we do need to take a small step of trust but that the reward for that step is enormous. As we recognize the ways that we shield ourselves from developing and from growing in healthy relationships and as we seek to move closer to other people, Christ will begin to change us. He will provide the nurturing environment and the growth producing understanding and wisdom that we need to allow us to remove these walls of apparent security. The Spirit of Christ will protect our hearts and our minds while we are growing stronger.

There is beauty and there is abundance of productive life inside of everyone, and we all have shells that we have developed that are holding the fullest expression of these qualities captive. God is always delighted when we allow Him the opportunity to surround us in the richest soil and to feed us with the never ending water of His love. Then we can experience the joy of fearlessly living a life that is open, receptive, and connected through Christ to the opportunities and to the people that we encounter.

Now, the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Genesis 12: 1

This verse tells the beginning of a great story; the starting point of the nation of Israel, and it is the initiation of the extraordinary adventure that would be Abraham’s life. But why is this relevant to me? Think about how comfortable you are in your home, with your job or your line of work, in the company of your family, even in this country; then, consider what God told Abram to do. That’s right; God told Abram to leave all of that behind and instructed him to go to places unnamed, to interact with peoples undisclosed, for an unspecified period of time. Stated simply, God told Abram to trust him completely. The Lord spoke to Abram and said to him that he should surrender the control of all of the aspects of his life, especially those where he found his sense of identity and security, to the Lord’s direction. In so doing, Abram would discover that the only real and tangible source for security in life was to be found in the person behind the directing voice; he would learn to rely on his Creator for everything, and Abram would be blessed beyond the limits of his imagination.

What is God’s voice saying to you and to me today? Is he saying to pack up everything, load the van, and head out to a place as yet undisclosed? This could happen, but it is unlikely, too chaotic for society and there are way too many unfilled God-type needs closer to home. Is the Lord telling you to leave the comfort of your familiar surroundings and routines and reach out to people that make you uncomfortable and in ways that are challenging, very likely this is true. Is God saying that he wants you to be an agent for change in your workplace, in your gym, in your neighborhood, even in your church; this is absolutely true.

God says, “Trust me, open your heart to the people of this world, tell them that they are loved by their Creator, love them enough to tell them that there is a Hell, care about them enough to tell them about Heaven”. God wants us to leave the comfortable places of our lives and go into the wilderness of the lost; He promises to show us the way if we are willing to follow. This is a journey on which Christ will lead each of us to our true home and into deep relationship with our true family.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.

Colossians 1: 21, 22

Anger, frustration, and distance; these are among the cold, hard realities of living in this world; also, these are the attitudes, even more so, these are the mind and the heart sets of many of the people in our lives. Life becomes so dark and so painful. The walls of isolation are built very high, and we construct them mightily thick because there is so much about life that can hurt us. I admit that there are days when the simplest and perhaps the sanest answer to dealing with all of this relational pain and the struggles of living with so many hurt and hurting people seems to be to just lock the door, pull down the blinds, and go back to bed. God tells us a different answer; he sees things from a much higher view than I do. He says that the root issue is the one of allegiance; that is, who are we serving, and who is our master. Once we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we are changed. The open anger and hostility that was our default mind set before is transformed into the one that God intended for us to have from Creation.

Jesus died for us; He paid a price so that we can look God squarely in the face and have no fear of how He will respond to us. Now we can get out of bed and face a new day knowing that our Creator sees us as His beautiful children; now we can confidently know that we can safely walk out from behind the walls that we have constructed. We have the ability to expose our true faces to God and to those around us. Now we can act boldly and live freely in the center of this world that is filled with decay and fear, and we can be assured that Christ is with us in every moment and for every step of this journey.

Although it is very important for us to understand and to accept the truth of our blamelessness before God, it is more important for us to go out into a world that is still hostile and still separated from the true love that is found only through Jesus so that the face of Christ is what people will see when we enter into their lives. Knowing that we can look God squarely in the face and that he will look back at us with a loving smile should make us strong, and this knowledge will make us desire to show our confident, well loved heart to the people that we meet. Christ will provide the opportunities to live openly as His beloved child. We need to listen to His voice and walk joyously into the lives that He brings our way.

My soul, wait in silence for God only,

for my hope is from Him.

Psalm 62:5

The human mind has an incredible ability to overwork a problem. This can take the form of talking while someone else is offering an opinion or even a solution; this extra effort can be shaped in the form of analysis; then, there is that special challenge of incessant worry. There can be many expressions of self-directed problem solving. I have and do use all of them; sometimes I use several at the same time. However, the last time that I checked in on how well this approach has worked in resolving hard situations, my own efforts had accomplished getting me a lot more grey hair than great answers.

I think that the noise and the self generated clutter simply get in the way of real solution. God says to listen, be calm, and be silent; I will speak. The Lord knows us and our world far better than we ever will, and He wants for us to live in a form of peace that comes from deep within and that opens up our hearts and our minds to receive the wisdom of His eternal word. When we have the faith that is necessary to remain silent, we can be assured that God will speak. For me, the real test comes in waiting and in listening long enough, for I tend to want the voice that provides the solution to utter those profound truths that I think that I need in a very quick and decisive manner.

The real problem isn’t in the decisiveness or even in the responsiveness of God; rather, the disconnect lies in my receptivity and in my understanding of time. For people who know Him, God is never silent. He has spoken, and His voice has remained clear and unchanged from the days of our first ancestors. As I am in Christ, I am surrounded by a chorus of hope speaking voices. They sing to me from the pages of His written word, they touch my pain and my joy in the form of His community of faith, and the Spirit of Christ spreads the song of truth throughout the cells of my being.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

Psalm 19: 1, 2

On some days dawn comes as a golden glow, others as a misty shroud, some with pelting rain, and some with the promise of scorching heat; yet, each is a reflection of the infinite glory that is God’s. No matter what the day is like, no matter whether my personal dawn comes as the sun is still obscured by the earth’s eastern curve or whether it comes when the sun is high overhead, looking at the sky, really looking at it and taking it in, contemplating it, always gives a me a powerful sense of the splendor, the scope, and the majesty that is God. Everything that I can see is the personal craftsmanship of the Creator; everything that I can imagine beyond what my eyes take in is the same. God has made it all, and He continues to work on his painting every moment of every day. There is no detail that is not important to Him.

It is also very comforting to realize that among all of the details that He is attending to, the one that He cares about the most is me. He speaks to me in ways that are constant, consistent, and clear. It is as if nature itself resonates with God’s voice, not so much as the booming outcry of an earthquake but more as a constant hum that comes from deep inside. The Lord says, “Listen, hear, understand”. If we will open our hearts, see from the depths of our souls, quiet our overactive minds and soak in the wisdom and the knowledge that God has surrounded us with, His presence and the knowledge and wisdom that we need for the day will envelope us.

The entire created universe was designed to benefit God’s ultimate creation; all was given to us as a love gift from the bridegroom to us, His bride. He wants us to look closely at the gift, to enjoy its beauty; to live well in it’s midst. God speaks in and through all of it. The heart of the giver shows His love to our hearts, and all that is required from us is to open the eyes of our hearts and let God’s loving gift feed our souls.

You are the salt of the earth…

You are the light of the world.

A city on a hill can not be hidden.

Matthew 5:13a, 14

Here it is in simple, everyday terms. Christians are to be the people who make the critical difference in our world. We bring preservation into it by living as Christ in the here and now. We provide the flavor to this life by demonstrating that Christ is the only way to sure and lasting peace and joy. Jesus is telling us that we are to be active doers of the will of God in every corner of our world. Christ wants Christians to bring His special combination of preservation and flavor enhancement into the world around us; and He sends us out to share the truth about the restoration of the soul, mind, and body that comes only through knowing Jesus.

We are also told to be willing to let the light that comes from the Lord shine in our world, for He does not want us to be quiet about who we are and why we are that way. Share the ways that Christ takes us to that higher place where we are in the presence of God in this life; He wants us to tell about how we are now living in a heavenly palace of God’s grace, mercy, and love even as we are in the middle of the destruction and the decay that fill this world. The Lord wants us to shout out with an unrestrained voice about the life sustaining reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Jesus wants us to be beacons of light that call people out of the cold, the darkness, and the death of a life lived without Christ. We are told to let His brightness shine out from us like that city on the hill; then, the light will lead people to the presence of Christ and His Spirit will provide those whose hearts are open and willing with the truth of salvation. Then we are to continue to live as Christ in this world in the community of faith that is His body so that our personal grain of flavor and our intense but singular point of light will be supported by the multitude of others. Together we create a beacon of light that is so intense and so welcoming that no one can avoid noticing it.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

Jesus is speaking specifically about deep feelings of mourning; that is, knowing profound sadness and regret at the losses that are experienced in life. These are powerful feelings, and the sin that devastates the lives of everyone in this world brings them to God’s heart, and He says that we should feel them, too. Jesus is talking about our own personal sin, forgiven through Him; also, this is a comment on the sin of others that we meet, and about the sin that exists universally in the world.

The destructiveness and the pain that sin brings into our lives and into the lives of others is something that Christ knows well. It is an affront to Him and to His purpose for surrendering His place in heaven in order to live with us in the same form of being that we humans know. Still, it was this same sin that caused the Father to give us His Son so that it could be defeated, and we could be restored to the full relationship with God that was His desire and intention from Creation. The sin that is in ourselves, in others, and in this world is something that should cause a deep sadness and a great anger to rise up in each of us. We should not be comfortable with its existence or with its continued presence.

Christ tells us to face into the sin. First He wants us to look closely and critically at our own lives and allow His Spirit to direct us in turning the damaged and the broken places that we find there over to Him. The Lord also wants us to keep the eyes of our hearts open to the sin that is infecting our community, and He wants us to enter into the lives of those who are sinning. As we engage in relationship with others, Christ wants to lead us into loving them so deeply that we must take on the hard task of speaking righteousness and truth to them. As we do this, there is a promise that comes from God, Himself; for, like crocus that emerge from the winter snow, Christ brings restorative peace out of the sadness and the mourning.

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