September 2011


Do not quench the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5: 19

Have you ever known someone who was always giving gifts? This is that person who never
forgets to bring something to the hostess at a party, who keeps track of
birthdays, and who just hands you a simple but heart-warming package on that
day when you are feeling down and unappreciated. That person is modeling one of
the least thought about attributes of God, for Christ is the perpetual,
everlasting, and unstoppable giver of gifts.

He has given me the life that I live, the very breath in my lungs is a gift from God. The
fact that my soul is alive and that it has permanence is Christ’s immeasurable
gift to me. In His Spirit, the Lord has taken up residence in me, and He
provides all of the wisdom, counsel, and encouragement that I need in
order to live out His victorious life plan each day. Yet, when it
comes to this last aspect of my relationship with God, I am often the one
who acts as if I am ungrateful. I set the glorious gift on a shelf in order to
deal with something that has attracted my attention; thus, I function like an
overzealous fireman by pouring chilling water on the invigorating fire that God
is building in my heart.

The Spirit of Christ is the constant reminder of God’s love for us and for all people. The
Spirit removes the portions of our hearts that have been damaged by sin, and He
fills the voids that are left behind with newly formed living tissue. Our lives
are given focus, direction, meaning, and empowerment through the interaction of
the Spirit. Heart fire is cooled by doubt, fear, self-centeredness, personal
control, and lack of trust. The Spirit’s fire is stoked by prayer, God’s Word,
acting in faith, loving as Christ does, sharing God’s truth with others, and by
seeking His will in all aspects of life. What do you do that cools the flame of
the Spirit in your heart? Turn this over to God and start to live in the
invigorating heat of a Spirit impassioned heart.

 

I am poor and needy, hasten to me, O God!

You are my help and my deliverer, O Lord, do not delay!

Psalm 70: 5

 

If truth were to be known, Oliver Twist got life right, for
when he said, “Please, sir, I want some more.” he was stating the truth
about every one’s relationship to God. As humans living in our broken and dying
world, we truly never have enough of God’s grace, love, righteousness, and
justice. There is not a day that comes my way where I can honestly say that I
have it all handled and that my own resources are more than sufficient to get
me through it all. Every moment of each day I can stand before my Lord and
repeat Oliver’s famous words. The challenge for me is found in realizing and in
admitting my level of need.

 

It is trained in and societally and culturally ingrained in
us to be independent and strong as we face life. As Oliver’s act was radically
defiant of the system that he lived in, so is admitting personal need and
weakness in ours. Yet, God is known at His fullest when we realize just how
much we do need Him. Christ becomes most evident in us when we set aside
ourselves and allow His Spirit of Truth to permeate our beings. As I recognize
my neediness, Christ responds with His total sufficiency.

 

As the new day dawns it is sobering to realize just how
little I have in the way of resources to utilize in handling what will come my
way; however, it is very encouraging to know that there is nothing that I will
encounter that is not completely within the strength and the understanding of
Christ. Also, He wants me to turn to Him, and He desires to enter into my life.
As I cry out, “Lord, hurry, do not delay!” He is already with me.
Christ already has answers to my pleas before they are formative thoughts, and
His wealth and resources are eternally mine.

 

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out
the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and
spirit to those who walk in it.

Isaiah 42: 5

The question of authorship is sometimes an interesting and a troubling one, for the
creator usually leaves his mark on the creation. A book will carry in its words
the ideas of the author, the colors on the canvas of a painting find their
vitality in the soul of the painter, and a building becomes more than just
shelter due to the creative spark of the architect and the builder. Our lives
are made richer by the personalities that infuse the tangible objects in our
world.

This is even truer when we look at the background fabric of existence.
The creative force behind the earth, the heavens, and all that
populates them is the source for all other creative activity as well.
God’s hand made all that we experience in our universe, and He designed us
with the ability to enjoy and to appreciate the beauty of that creation. The
Lord gave us a creative spark of our own, for this is a part of being made
in the image of the Creator.

When I consider the wonderful way that God designed me and the marvelous people
that He has placed into my world, I am awestruck. When I look at the vast
history of people and the accomplishments that they have achieved, I see the
grand design of God. Our lungs are filled with the breath of our Father,
and the rhythm of our hearts comes from God; thus, the Lord desires
for us to live life with an all consuming vitality that is a true reflection of
Him.

 

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we
know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He
is.

1 John 3: 2

John makes a couple of truly amazing statements here. He says that regardless of the
mess that we make of living and the bad decisions that we make, despite our
tendency to wander far away from the life that God has called us to, and
regardless of how stubbornly we ignore the Lord’s counsel and direction; God
still calls us “My child”. The Lord cares for us, provides for our
needs, and provides us with comfort and with correction. He continually works
in us to give us an understanding of the totality of who He is.

There is also a great and wonderful hope provided to us in our relationship with God,
for His Spirit is not just resident in us, He is also very active in our
hearts. God brings a desire for change to us, and He performs a miraculous and
transformational work in us, too. The nurture and the instruction of God lead
us to a change that is effected at the deepest and most fundamental of levels
in our beings. In life we often seek to change from the outside; we work out to
tone our muscles, we buy new clothes, we gain education, and we move to a
better neighborhood; yet, none of these things changes the way that we relate
to others, and nothing that we do teaches us how to truly love.

Christ accepts us as we are; then, He starts to remake us into people who are ever
more like Himself. I think that the slowness of my responses to His work must
surely try God’s patience, but He never stops loving me, caring for me, and
working in my heart. The more of me that I open to Him and the more that I am
honestly seeking His will for the way that I live, the more rapidly the
transformation seems to happen. There is only one thing that limits my
progression in growing as God’s child, and that is my openness to the change.
Each day I need to keep my mind and my heart focused on Jesus and take delight
in the new person that He is revealing in me.

 

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my
whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Psalm 111: 1

 

Sometimes it seems that life just goes along its way. The
days come and they go with little regard for just how they turned out as well
as they did. Breath is drawn, food and drink are consumed, and joy is found in
many places; yet, there is little recognition of who designed it all to be so.
As I reflect on this it becomes clear that more of life falls into the category
that could be called blessed than that which lands in some other place. There
is much that is good and worthwhile in my days. There is much that blesses my
day that I know comes directly from the love and grace of God.

 

When I take the time to stop and to speak out my praise for
all that the Lord does for me, it is actually helpful to me. There is something
very comforting and truly encouraging about taking note of the fact that there
is a Creator who has His hand firmly on my life. From the breath that we
breathe to the miracle of birth the Lord designed it all. From the covering
over our heads to the universe that surrounds us God set it all in place. Even
the hard situations, pain, and loss serve to bring glory to His name. There is
no relationship or human struggle that God does not want to see healed, and His
wisdom, compassion, and love are sufficient to bring about the restoration and
healing that is needed.

 

So, I need to open my mouth and reveal my heart to my Lord
and to those who surround me. When I speak out praises for who God is and for
what He does in my world, I am opening my own eyes to His glorious presence. As
I speak of His works with the community of faith I see those same works
multiplied in all of their lives. Christ has redeemed me from a life where the
pain and the futility of death were the best that I could have anticipated. Now
I am surrounded by life. Through Christ my eyes are opened to the hand of God
at work in every corner of my world. Praise God! Let His praises sing out with
every beat of my heart today!

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any
two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and
of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4: 12

 

This is where the relationship that a Christian has with God
gets very hard. It is also where it gets to be incredibly easy. The fact and
the reality of this relationship being one that exists on a mystical level; a
deep, spirit and soul plane of our existence; makes it unique in the area of
life direction and advice. We can look to many sources for input on both the
big-picture aspects of living and for the situations that we encounter along
the way. There is great, alright, and completely wrong guidance available for
almost anything. Yet, only God and His Word reach deeply into our hearts and
minds with penetrating and totally reliable insight and wisdom.

 

Neither is God a counselor who you have to plan ahead in
order to get the benefit of His wisdom, for He is truly involved in the very
minute details of our existence. God is fully aware of the things that we do,
the struggles that we encounter, and He understands the thoughts that we have
before they are even formed in our minds. I do not know myself as well as my
Lord does. Christ is fully alive in my world as well. He is the center of all
that is vital, and His Spirit is continually present with me. I find great
comfort in this fact, for Christ has taken control of this world away from
Satan. Evil does have an effect and it does influence people and events that
reach out to harm people and our world. However, Christ has turned all of this
evil activity and influence for His glory, God’s purposes, and for our greatest
good.

 

Just as God knows my thoughts and my intentions, so does His
Word speak to them. In the Word are found insights into the ways that every
person we will ever encounter will think and act. Even more powerful to me is
the fact that my entire life story is written there. Each and every aspect of
living in a manner that is concerned, loving, empathetic, understanding,
thoughtful, and righteous is contained in these pages. Although the story that
I am reading may be set thousands of years ago, I am led by the Spirit to see
myself and my world described in clear detail on the pages. The Word of God is
every bit as alive as He is in this day and in the place where I dwell. All
that I need to do to find the advice that is required to live well today is to
dwell on the pages of His Word, in the presence of His Spirit, and in the
company of His community of faith.

 

 

 

I cry to you, O Lord, I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalm 142: 5

 

This might sound, at first, like a cry of desperation and anguish; the sort of plea for help that we say when things are going really badly and in those moments when the answers are overwhelmed by our needs. This was certainly the situation that David found himself in when he wrote these words; he was hiding in a dark, cold cave with few friends left to count on and with no home to go to. God was completely with him during these dark and dangerous times just as he is always with me and with you during our harshest confrontations with a cruel reality.

 

Yet, I think that there is much more to this expression. There is application for my underlying attitude, for during each day regardless of that day’s danger or seeming lack of it, the Lord is still my refuge. In fact, the more consistently I am able to grasp this truth, the less I need to flee to the cave. There seems to be a direct correlation between embracing God’s protection, provision, and entitlement as His beloved child and the clarity and wisdom that I bring to my daily situations. When I am focused on my own human strength and understanding, I tend to get into the kind of trouble that necessitates cave dwelling. These are the times when I am doing it, as Sinatra said, “my way”.

 

Christ has claimed us out of the desolate wasteland of sin and death which is our natural home. He provides us with a continual covering of His grace, love, truth, and righteousness, and the Lord’s provision contemplates all of our needs and sustains us through all of life. The cry that we utter may be soft, or it may be ear splittingly loud. It may be the constant rhythm of the heart beating, but the cry of recognition of the Lord’s place as the only true source of successful, fearless living is the victory cry of God’s people.

 

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be
known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary
principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

Galatians 4: 9

 

You know, those heavy chains with thick ankle and wrist
cuffs that make up the bonds of slavery were never really comfortable or even
fashionable. They were a part of my daily wearing apparel for a long time. When
I allowed Christ to set me free from the life of servitude to sin that had been
my calling from birth, I gave up my need to wear them. He brought me out a
perpetual state of weighty oppression and into an eternal one of freedom. Yet
there are times when I seem to want to go back. I take on the countenance and
the manner of thinking of a slave. These are truly frustrating and even
debilitating times.

 

Paul wants me to clearly understand that something profound
happened when Christ entered into my life. In that moment I came to know God on
a deeply intimate and very real level. Additionally, God took me into His
family as a fully known child and a completely vested heir to all of the love,
truth, and glory of His kingdom. There is nothing that I do not possess that is
needful in this life. There is no reason for me to want to go back to living in
my old life. All of what is right and righteous has become mine, and all knowledge
and wisdom that is useful for living well is knowable by me.

 

Christ has truly set me free from the old, worldly way of
navigating through life. When I find myself confused, disturbed, and
disoriented, there is wisdom available to me that will guide me to clarity.
During the times when doubt enters into my spirit with its cloud of
self-defeating claims about my worth and capability, Christ speaks up to assert
His claim to my soul and to proclaim my worthiness. There is simply no rational
reason for me return to old sinful patterns of thinking. There is no longer any
need for me to seek comfort in my former methods of coping with life. The
chains of that life of slavery have been broken beyond repair by Christ. I am
free from their hold upon me, and I can claim that victory and follow God’s
wisdom as a free person through all of my days.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering
of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim
the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4: 18, 19

Jesus had come home to Nazareth,
and He brought with Him these words that spoke of the long awaited truth that
He shared with the residents who were gathered in the synagogue. As Jesus read
these forward looking words that Isaiah had written, He was pointing
specifically toward Himself. He was also purposefully looking at me and at you,
at all of us who would follow. For in Jesus, the anticipated and longed for
deliverer had come; through Jesus, The Christ, deliverance was granted to
everyone who accepts it; and each of us is then directed to spread the truth of
deliverance to all who need it.

The oppression of sin, its freedom crushing weight and its soul eroding bitterness,
create equal opportunity poverty. It is a great equalizer of people in that we
all experience it from birth, and everyone is controlled by it regardless of
status, stature, or nationality. Without God in my life, my spirit was
impoverished to the point of destitution; so, there was nothing that I could
afford to pay to God for the right of becoming His child. It wasn’t necessary
for me to come up with anything either, for Jesus has already paid the entire
price of admission in order that I and everyone else can enter into the
presence of God and can live in the bountiful riches of His kingdom.

Through God’s gracious gift, we are no longer poor, and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we
are set free. Then, with the Spirit of Christ as our guide, we are given
the ability to see living truth. The thing that matters most is what we choose
to do with these gifts, for when Jesus quoted the Prophet to the stunned
crowd in Nazareth, He was pointing to Himself, and He was looking forward to
each of us. Then, Jesus was God in human form, and He was very involved and
highly active in bringing the message of freedom to His world; now,
Jesus points to each of us and says that we are to accept this same anointing
from God. We are to use the riches, freedom, and vision that God has given
to us as a platform for sharing the truth of life changing, soul
restoring liberty with the people in our lives who are impoverished, bound in
chains, and blinded.

 

And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to
pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.

Luke 6: 12

 

Jesus was under the sort of attack and dealing with the kind
of life stress that most of us think we know well, but, in fact, we have
absolutely no idea what this time in His life was like. I am not trying to
suggest that our issues, trials, concerns, and struggles aren’t real and
important; however, Jesus was facing the opposition of Satan and of all of the
forces of evil that he could muster, and they knew that they needed to defeat
Him in order to win their fight for control of this world and for control of all
of us, too. Evil was very focused when it came to attacking and opposing
Christ.

 

The real story here is in what Jesus does when faced with this
sort of concerted assault. His first reaction is to continue going about the
business at hand; in this case that was healing a man’s withered hand. After He
takes care of the immediate, Jesus goes to a place where He can focus on a very
deep and sincere conversation with God. In this time of challenge, struggle,
and stress Jesus does the thing that I know that I don’t do so well; He
starts to talk. When I am undergoing stress and am facing uncertainty, I tend
to get very quiet; I don’t talk to my co-workers, friends, wife, or God. Instead,
I tend to just let the issues burrow in under my skin, and I allow them to
tunnel all the way to my heart where they start to impact my ability to think
and to act clearly.

 

For me this silence becomes a form of unhealthy
introversion, not of introspection, for I move away from the love and the help
that God provides and that He has placed into my life in friends, family, and
His living body, the church. On the other hand, Jesus is the model that I need
to look toward. When confronted with stresses beyond imagining,
He went to a place of quiet where He could focus on the conversation that
He needed to have with God, and then Jesus poured out His heart to the Father,
and He spent time listening to the responses. Christ then continues
to be open and to communicate. He goes to His friends, His followers, and He
brings a select group of the closest of them into an intimate discussion
of what He is seeking to do and about the opposition that He is facing.

 

God did not design us to function in this life on our own,
and He does not intend for us to go through any of it in isolation. The
Lord wants to talk with us as we face every aspect of living, and He
has placed a number of people around us to share it all with,
too. The enemy wants us to try to go it all alone and in silence, for that
moves us away from God and from the strength giving relationship that He has
with us, and it separates us from the mutual support that He provides for us through
the people of His community of faith. With Christ all things are possible, and
with His body we can be sustained through it all.

 

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