March 2011

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

There is a great victory to be won today. It has nothing to do with far away conflicts, or a devastating disease, or the passage of important laws; yet, this victory is related to all of these. Since, in Christ, the battle with immortality, the war with death has been won, we need to live as the victors. Our victory celebration is the dance of life that we are called by Christ to live out to His glory and in praise of His conquest. Knowledge of our personal freedom from the law that penetrates deep into the heart and recognition of our ability to trust God’s purpose for our lives will set us free to proclaim His love and grace in and through everything we do and to everyone we meet. 

Consider what it means, for yourself, to allow the work of the Lord the right and the access to the center of your will so that it would truly abound; the glory of Christ would be leaping up, roaring out, and impossible for anyone to not notice. Imagine the impact for Christ’s kingdom; visualize the joy that this sort of freedom brings. Know that this is your calling. In Christ the life described is yours; so, everything in it has value and worth.

Because of the gift that the Father gave us and the work of Jesus, we are now the living rocks on which God is building His church. We are the workers in the fields of life saving, world changing harvest that God has planted. We can know with total confidence and absolute conviction that the Lord is with us, that he will energize and guide us, and that working for God will never be burdened with the futility that marks most work. The Lord will bless all that is done for Him, and Christ’s will for your life is perfect and complete.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 2

I see this expression, “preach the word” and I think of standing before crowds. I remember the strong language and the well-crafted phrases of some preachers from some of the sermons that I have heard. Some of us have done this type of communicating, most of us have not. Although Paul was writing to Timothy, who would lead a church and who certainly would do large group teaching, that form of teaching would not be the majority of what he would engage in. The activity that we think of as traditional preaching is important in the gathering of the church, but it is not God’s primary focus for any of us. God sends every one of His people into daily life with the mission, the purpose, to share His Truth; I think that this is what Paul actually meant. As we are close to Christ, we are better able to let Him speak through our lives. Sometimes we are given the chance to talk about the truths of the bible; sometimes we are in a place where doing something for someone shows God’s face to that person; and at other times, an understanding hug or a compassionate touch meets the need of the moment. These are the seasons of life; some of them are determined by our mental or emotional state and some are defined by the circumstances and situations that others are encountering.

As we open our lives and our hearts to God and as we allow the Lord to work in us and through us, this is a process where our openness or our lack of it makes all of the difference, we will be ready, prepared and intuitively understanding of what is needed by the people in our lives. Christ will provide the words and the actions that will communicate the truth that is needed at the moment. Paul’s final comment is often the hardest for me to grasp, for he speaks about patience, he actually says, “complete patience”. I think that he is telling me that I don’t have to control the outcome; in fact, I don’t get to control it. That is another arena where the Lord is in charge. We need to keep loving people, caring for their needs, and telling them the truth as God reveals it regardless of the immediate outcome.

The response of others to God’s love as we attempt to express it should not determine our desire to continue preaching it. If people reject what we have to say, push us away, or say yes but live no; regardless, God wants us to continue to see that person through His eyes; He wants us to show them His face, His love, and His way to salvation. As people see God, they learn; as people learn, they grow in understanding of Him; and as they grow in understanding, their eyes are opened to Christ’s love for them. Our calling, that is our mission, is to be ready, be available, and be confident in sharing Christ through word and through actions this day.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior

Titus 3: 4-6

Nothing that we can do will change anything. Nothing that we have done will be counted to our favor. Nothing that we are doing now is of any eternal value. For nothing that we will ever do will result in one fraction of an inch of movement of our souls from the dead and ever more dying state of eternal lostness that we were born into. There is no good deed or thought; nor does the aggregated mass of our very best selves accomplish this end.

Instead, we need to do something that is among the very hardest things for us humans to even consider; for, we need to yield, surrender, let go of our control, and fall to our knees before God. For it is only after the yielding, after we let Christ in, that our actions and thoughts can be righteous; then, the only source of righteousness in the universe, God, Himself, is in us, and this makes all of the difference.

Then, after we have come to know God, He asks us to do something that is just as challenging for us as was giving up our self-willed efforts to find salvation had been. The Lord asks us to continue to yield to Him. God, through our relationship with Jesus and by the actions of the Holy Spirit will continue to grow and to change us, day by day and hour by hour. As we allow Him into our hearts, as we seek Christ’s will, and as we do what He says regardless of what that seems to require of us, we will be further changed and transformed into people who look, act, and sound ever more like Jesus. This is a process that continues throughout our Christian lives. It is God’s primary action in us. Transformation and restoration to the righteous state that God intended in Creation are the gifts that He gives to each of us in response to our giving our lives to Him. It is a delight beyond understanding to go through life while continually unwrapping this Father’s gift.

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; 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. If there is one thing that time and experience have taught me it is 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 of his life due to King Saul’s anger, and he had been hiding out among a group of people, the Ziphites, who were known to be not trustworthy, but they were the best choice that he could find at that moment. Then they sold him out to Saul. David’s plan was in ruins around him, and he was feeling very exposed and totally vulnerable; so, his fear had no limits and his resources for controlling it and for bringing reason to bear were gone.

The issues that we are facing may not be this big, there may not be a spear pointed at our hearts, but they still often feel like that is true. Yet, 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. It is through the might of God that we can make it through this world; and it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we are saved from evil. Like David, we need to turn our hearts to God, and speak our fears, concerns, and needs to him. Hear the voice of the Lord as He leads us to safety and to strength.

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

Mark 3: 35

Jesus is saying something that is very simple on its surface; yet, it is a powerful thought to contemplate. This idea changes the nature of most of our relationships, for it radically alters the idea of family. The usual way of defining family connections is replaced by a greatly expanded one, and this new definition greatly extends the circle of people to whom we each have a responsibility for loving care, concern, and involvement. However, it also brings each of us into intimate relationship with this same circle of support.

When we look into the eyes of others who know Christ, we are looking into the eyes of our closest relatives. The heart of faith that is supplied by the blood of the Spirit of Christ circulates life through the bodies and pushes eternity through the spirits of everyone who follows Christ. We are connected in ways that no natural, blood relative can be without Christ. We should know each other in a manner that is profoundly deep and that makes living in peaceful communion with them a real possibility. Although there will be differences in point of view, and we do need to be very open in discussing the ways that we see the Lord’s will applied to life, we must be able to resolve these differences with love, respect, and humble submission to Christ and to each other.

The distinctive qualities and the differences in perspective that are found in such a diverse group of people as this newly defined family brings together cause the group to be stronger. God’s design for creation intended that all people would stand together in ruling this world, for we would each utilize the gifts that He gives to us to their fullest and freest extent, and we would share them completely with each other so that the sum of us would be much greater than any one alone could ever be. In Christ, we are inside of the new creation that God has ordained to bring restoration to this world. We are called to resolve our differences, to value our distinctive natures, to rejoice in the various gifts that others possess, and to stand as one family of faith that serves Christ with arms locked in familial embrace.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.

Psalm 103: 10, 11

Most people want to do what is right and behave in a considerate and a caring manner toward others, and so do I. However, I have days when I am not such a good person; times when I am angry and mean and self-centered. There are events and actions and periods of time in my life’s journey that I am not at all proud of. Expressed in simple terms, I am a sinner; for, I don’t do and think what I know to be right all of the time. I can rest assured that if I am aware of this sorry state in me that God is even more aware of it. It is a proven fact that He knows everything about everyone, and He knows it all of the time. Under those circumstances, if I were the one making the decision, I would want to know how God could still love me.

God relates to me from a very different perspective than the one that I function in; He looks at my heart and at the depths of my being. The Father sees the relationship that I have with Him because of the one that I have with Jesus. When the writer talks about those who fear God, he is talking about a relationship of respect and trust which exists because God is the singular definition of unending love and of total grace. This is the God who reaches out to people and who gave all of Himself as a sacrifice to save each of us from ourselves. The Father enters into a relationship with us so that all of who He is becomes an integral part of who we are, and we become inseparable from God.

The love that God has for me and for all of his children is so great that there is no way to measure it; there is also no way that I can drive Him away from me by my behaviors. I can turn to him for compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and redirection at all times and under all circumstances. He does love me, and I can be very certain of this truth.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,

Colossians 3: 15, 16a

Whose voice do you listen to; what sources do you go to for direction? There are more places and thus, more voices seeking to gain our attention than ever before in history. We have sources for advice on everything from the most basic to the profound. However, when we start to think about our lives; when we start to consider the big questions of who we are, what we are here for, our worth and value, then we need to be very careful about who we listen to. There are very active voices speaking to us with persistent messages that tend to cause doubt and fear and anger; voices that try to shout over the love, peace, and joy that are at the center of knowing God. They frequently remind us of the past; they speak of our failures and inadequacies; so, they feed our insecurities. The most frightening thing about these voices is that their source can often be from within.

In these times we need to have a filter like a set of headphones that selectively let us hear true messages. There is a filter in place for those who know Christ, for the Holy Spirit is even more active than all of these other voices, and He is always present in our lives. When apprehension and doubt and other forms of unrest are running rampant in the mind, we need to open up to the truth of God’s word and let his peace take charge; literally, the peace of Christ will officiate in our hearts and restore the order, the calm and the clarity that are at the center of our relationship with Christ.

We can choose who and what we listen to, and we can choose how we respond to the input that bombards us daily. There is strength and there is comfort to be found in the company of our family of faith, and Christ wants us to join with Him in this spirit-formed human gathering. As we have need, there are others who can supply; and as we have surplus, there will always be those who are in need. At the center of all of this is Christ who brings order and who provides direction to all aspects of life. So, we can decide to let our hearts and our minds feast on the richest of desserts. We are invited to dwell at the King’s banquet that is found in God’s word, and we will be abundantly filled by the loving voice of Christ.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1: 2

There is just too much coming at me to actually understand it all; in fact, I am seeing so much pain, suffering, and brokenness on a continual basis that my heart and my mind can’t hold any more. Yet, when I consider what Jesus saw, knew, and felt, I know that there is One who truly grasps the place were I am. Christ sees the devastated lives and feels the raw edge of loss. He walks the halls of the hospital and understands the fear. Jesus comes to the place where sadness and sorrow rule, and He brings love and comfort for oppressed spirits.

God’s greatest desire is to give people a deep and a true understanding of His grace. He wants us to realize that there is nothing that we have done and nothing that we are doing now that will keep Him from loving and from accepting us totally. We are people who have chosen to separate ourselves from His presence by our own actions; yet, God continually reaches out with His hand of healing and restoration. The grace that flows from the center of eternity enfolds our wounded hearts and protects us from further harm. The grace that our Savior, Jesus, gave His life to perfect brings understanding and comfort to these days of hard reality.

As I look on the face of Jesus, I see the heart of love that is the very center of God’s nature. He wants us to accept His grace and to live in the peace that such unrestricted acceptance brings. In Christ there is calm and there is clarity of thought. He tells me to stop trying to understand all of the whys and to just trust Him with the outcome. Christ wants to hear everything that my heart feels and all that is racing through my mind, and He tells me to trust Him with it all. He takes this churning sea of troubled and confused thoughts and feelings, and His Spirit provides the sort of deep peace that makes it possible to face another day knowing that God’s grace will enfold me with His love.

Even those I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56: 7

God is making it clear that He desires to bring all people close to Him; for, there is no one who is too far removed from His heart to not receive His saving grace. So first off, I am as foreign as anyone can get; I was born far away, in a very different land. My ancestry, like every one of us, is traceable back through a long line of people who were all foreign to God. Yet, he has granted me access to his home land, and my access is not restricted or temporary, not a visitor’s visa, but I have permanent status as a fully vested child of the Lord, Most High. 

Next, God has taken me into His home, through the front door, I get to use the good China and the upstairs bathroom. The Lord asks me to sit at His side and He shares the joy of life with me. I can laugh with the Creator of the universe, and my tears are wiped away by His sleeve. Even if the only gift I can come up with to bring to my host is a re gift from the back of the closet; He accepts it with delight, for, in truth, when I asked God to take me into His family, I had given Him the only thing that He desires to receive from me.

Finally, this state of existence is mine all of the time. The house of the Lord is defined by His presence in my life; His address is the same as my heart’s. My loving God, my Savior and I can talk and weep and laugh together through every hour of every day. As I open my heart to Him and connect with Him by trusting Christ with all of my inner feelings, thoughts, and desires, I am allowing God to make His way mine in all situations. Thus I come to realize that he is transforming me into a splendid palace of prayer.

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

Philippians 2: 14, 15

I don’t want make you nervous or cause you to start constantly looking behind you, but there are eyes watching you. Everywhere you go and everything that you do; someone is considering what you are doing, with whom you are doing it, where you are going, and how you are doing it. Each day of our lives is another chapter in a story, and we get to select the direction that it goes. We don’t get to pick all of the influences or all of the twists and turns of the plot; we certainly don’t get to choose all of the other characters who will interact with us; and we aren’t given total control of the outcome of those interactions. Yet we do have control over how we deal with what comes our way.

Frankly, on some days I can look at it all as a great adventure, even as a romance in the classic literary sense, and I face these days with my mood elevated and my energy high. There are other days that I start with a feeling of pure dread or with no energy; I simply would prefer to pull the covers over my head and sleep through the whole thing. These are my days of “grumbling and questioning”. These are the times that God is warning us about. Each person has different versions of what these days are like in our own individual life stories, but each of us does have them. Also, I find that the start of the day may not be the absolute indicator of how and where it will go; my mood and spirits may be great to start, but I will allow the events of the day to cause me to change.

These attitudes influence the way that we handle situations and the way that we deal with people. Since all our responses are being observed, the way that we handle life has an influence on how willing others are going to be to trust God to make their lives better. This is a big responsibility, this showing the face and the heart of God to a lost world, but remember, we are not ever alone in the process of living life. We are never working on our own in doing this light spreading job that God says is a primary task of His children. As the Spirit of God is implanted in us, as Christ shows us the way, and as the Father directs us; this is how we need to go through each day. I get to select my role in the world today, and so do you. I can choose to care for and about others; I get to decide to be honest and direct. I can determine if today’s chapter is filled with instances of bringing light to dark places or whether I make them darker; so do you.

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