December 2011


“Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Jesus said.

Mark 3: 35

 

This is one of the most radical things that Jesus ever said, for He was redefining the primary relationship in almost everyone’s life. According to Jesus, family was no longer defined in terms of blood, ancestry, household, or any other human connection. He was including many who by any of those criteria would have been excluded from His household. Christ was opening up the possibility for all of us to be directly and permanently related to God through Him. Jesus set forth one and only one simple requirement for that form of acceptance; we need to do the will of God.

 

The primary thing that God desires from all people is that we would love Him and seek to draw near to Him as children gathering around their father. He doesn’t seek for us to engage in any specific form of religious practice, join any organizations, say specific words, or pledge our wealth; however, we may do any or all of these things. The Lord wants us to do them because of our relationship with Him rather than in order to gain that relationship. God wants us to realize that what we do is secondary to the attitudes that we form in our hearts; thus, it is our motivation that He is most interested in. I have found that when my motivation is directed toward doing God’s will rather than toward seeking to please Him, I tend act in a manner that reflects the joy, peace, and freedom that Jesus came to give to all.

 

Consider the fact that Jesus, the Savior of the world, is reaching out His hand and embracing you as a loved and cherished member of His immediate family. Through Him, we are brought into the household of God. So, we are not on the outside attempting to gain favor through our appearance of goodness and proper actions. Instead, we are free to join our Lord in extending loving arms to the hurting people of our world. We have an opportunity to reach into the vast sea of spiritual orphans that fill this world and offer them the opportunity to accept God’s always open invitation to join in eternal family. So when we reach out in this manner, we are truly acting as God’s beloved children.

 

 

Repent therefore and return that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Acts 3: 19

 

There are days and times when my ability to draw close to God seems to be impaired. These are those days where my thoughts don’t turn to Him and my heart is often heavy with the challenges of life. One of the difficult aspects of these days is that I seldom recognize what is going on with enough clarity to immediately do something about it. Life goes on and my clouded and misdirected heart leads me into acting in ways that hurt the people in my life and that distance me from the One who can turn this wayward child onto a better path.

 

This turning will not happen until I come to the conclusion that something is wrong and that this wrongness is centered in me. When I decide to move toward the will of God by recognizing my separation from the Lord, He is always quick to act in showing me a better way to think and to behave. God’s open arms welcome me back, and He provides me with strength and encouragement to start to repair the damage that my sinful ways have caused in my world.

 

Living in a relationship with Christ provides us with an ever present opportunity to hit a sort of refresh button, for grace and forgiveness are always given. We are continually accepted with joy and delight when we return to the Lord from our times of drifting away. This return is something like what happens when a ship returns from a very difficult time at sea with its hull battered and the paint peeling off, supplies run low, and critical equipment broken. God cleans up our wounds, restores our strength and replenishes our spirits, helps us repair our damaged relationships, and sends us back into life with a properly planned and well charted coarse to follow. The very real presence of Christ in my life is what keeps me from drifting into dangerous and painfully harmful waters, and He guides me forward into the refreshing presence of God’s grace and will.

 

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.

Romans 15: 5

 

When I consider things which are nearly impossible for us humans and situations that are almost never going to happen; thinking like others, you know, having a synchronized view of the world and acting in consistent harmony of heart and mind with other people, gets a spot near the top of the list of the improbable, unlikely, and impossible. Just try driving in moderately heavy traffic for a while and see how hard it is for the drivers of all of those cars to stay in harmonious agreement about where they are going and the rules of the road that they need to follow. People just don’t want to be conformed, and we certainly don’t want to yield our own perspective to another person’s.

 

The idea that people can share a common understanding and think in a unified and harmonious manner seems to be important to God. Yet, He made us with this strong, independent and continually inquisitive nature; therefore, He must have a plan for accomplishing the desired unity of thinking without crushing the strength of our individuality out of us. This is a part of why God gave us His Spirit to live with and in us in an active and intimately interactive relationship. He also granted us His revealed truth and a clear picture of who He is through His Word

 

It is through the Spirit and the Word that we gain an understanding of God’s true desires. It is through the acceptance of this total knowledge of God that we are given the strength of character that is required to truly understanding another person’s perspective and the courage to yield our own viewpoint to that person’s. Engaging in relationships to the depth and with the commitment that is required to make them strong and to continue them over time requires the ability to stick with the other person regardless of the way things are going from moment to moment. This is perseverance, and it comes from God. Generally, we also need to be encouraged to stick with other people when there doesn’t appear to be anything to gain from doing that. It is the Spirit of Christ that brings that sort of encouragement into my heart continually. In Christ we do have the ability to believe, think, and live together in unity. We can possess the peace and the joy of honest yet harmonious relationships, and when this happens, Christ’s body is unified for His purposes.

 

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

 

Ancient words from God that were delivered by the prophet Isaiah to ears that refused to truly hear; then, lifted from the shelf, unrolled and spoken by the only person who not only understood them in their totality but who was, indeed, their original author. Jesus spoke to audiences in His homeland that were stunned by the living truth of ideas and thoughts that had seemed to be more distant hope than present reality.

 

Jesus comes to our world and brings the same refreshing perspective to these texts that God spoke through people who are long dead to us in our present reality. Just as there were multitudes of poor, needy, and desperate people in the times of Isaiah and those of Jesus, our modern and progressive world has gained nothing in its riches and empowerment of the individual. Regardless of where, how or to whom we are born, we all come into this life with nothing. We are all enslaved and blinded. Everyone exists under the oppressive authority of evil that leads to nothing other than death.

 

God intended for everyone to live, to see, and to have absolute freedom. He mourns for what has become of the beautiful children that He created, and He was determined from the very start of it all to do something about the pervasive sadness of sin that holds people in bondage. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior brings to vitality the truth of God’s desires for each of us He provides the answer to all that is broken and diseased in our lives. For in and through Christ we are set free, given the ability to see the deep truths of God, and we are healed from the debilitating ravages of sin that hold us down and defeat our hearts.

 

And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.

Deuteronomy 6: 25

 

It would seem that God views all of life as being important. He doesn’t do what we people are so quick to do. That is, the Lord doesn’t separate out some attitudes, behaviors, and actions and deem them to be important and place others onto a list of that which matters far less. God contemplates the smallest and the least powerful of His creation with the same loving interest and involvement as He does the grandest of it all. He also looks at the simplest of actions and the most private of thoughts with the deep understanding of their eternal impact. The universe that God created was designed and crafted with an intricate order and perfect balance throughout. Nothing was out of place.

 

By way of contrast, my world can be very disorderly. Important things get misplaced, stepped on and broken. Important people are mistreated, used and damaged. We have all experienced the effects of this sort of chaos. We have all been involved in its creation. God says, “Enough!” We need to stop perpetuating the brokenness and the decay in our world as if it were an inevitability of life. Until God’s timing is right and Christ permanently ends Satan’s ability to touch our world, the perfection of God’s created order will be disrupted. However, each of us has the ability to do something about the intrusion of sin into the parts of this world that we touch. We can do something else with our lives, for God calls us to love Him in totality.

 

If this is true, if we are actually sold out in every way to loving God as He commands us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt 6:5), and we take Jesus’ teaching on this as a personal imperative when He quoted Deuteronomy and added, “And a second is like it: You shall love neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22: 39), we must view life differently. These fundamental commandments of God are intended to bring calm to the trouble waters of life and to sooth the angry hearts that seethe within our chests. As we love God with the totality of our beings, there is nothing left except to love others with the self-sacrificial humility of Christ. This is obedience to God, and this is living in His righteousness.

I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 11: 19

 

Hard-hearted, cold-hearted, and heart of stone are all descriptive phrases that are used to indicate a person who is capable of separating feelings from actions. These are people who can set aside empathy, sympathy, and compassion so that their seeking after a goal is not impaired by consideration of the others that might get in the way of achieving it. This ability is often considered to be an attribute in our world; yet, its absence is one of the most important distinctions between Jesus and the image of Messiah that His countrymen thought that they desired.

 

People have focused the energy of untold generations and large amounts of our own lives in the pursuit of personal and corporate strength and in seeking after an ability to move relentlessly toward our goals. When this effort results in sacrificing the hearts and the souls of people who get in our way, we have often lost sight of God’s true intent and desire for our lives. The Lord does not call us to be strong in the sense that a well built wall is imposing; rather, He calls us to be strong in our willingness and ability to yield to His greater purposes and to take His love to anyone that we encounter who is in need of it. In God’s view of this world and of our lives in it, His Spirit is our strength. Therefore, we can be open, compassionate, and available to bring Christ’s healing to the hurting souls in our day.

 

Christ has come into my life. His Spirit is that new one that was promised by God. He calls to me to respond to the transformative work of Christ’s Spirit. So, my prayer for today is that I would be less strong, more open, and that my own concept of what it means to serve God will become yielded to and changed by His true and accurate image of what that means. May the Spirit of Christ be my strength and His love be my calling card so that others will be drawn toward the God who restores the hearts of people.

 

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.

Luke 22: 31

 

So, why did Jesus tell Peter that he was going to be “sifted” like a cook would a cup of flour? To try to understand this odd statement it helps to know why recipes instruct us to sift the flour that we are using to bake a cake or to make bread. Historically sifting has been used to remove the impurities that got into the flour during milling. These might be bits of the mill stone, foreign objects, and pieces of the outer shell of the wheat. Sifting also breaks up the lumps of flour that happen as it is stored and compacts or hardens in an unequal manner. Finally, sifting allows for the even and equal addition of other ingredients that make the recipe work.

 

Have you ever been at the place in life where the impurities get in the way of enjoying the day? All of us have bits of the process of growing and developing in our faith walks that have fallen into the new flour that God has carefully crafted out of the raw ingredients that we were without Christ. Also, the fine flour that we God intends for us to be often has some of the foreign objects that sin dropped into it present. I have found that my heart and my mind also develop areas of hardness, and I become resistant to allowing God’s truth full access to those areas of my life. So, there are times and situations where my actions and responses to others wind up looking very little like my Lord and very much like my old selfish and sinful self.

 

Just as it was true for Peter and for all of Jesus’ disciples, it will be true for all of us, there will be times when life puts us through the test of trials. There will be parts of our lives and moments in almost every day when our faith, endurance, and trust will be placed under the stressful forces of life in this world. What matters is where we go for the wisdom to handle these situations, who we trust to provide the strength and the endurance to get through them, and what we learn while going through it all. These times of sifting will come for everyone who loves the Lord, for He desires that each of us would be prepared and ready to fulfill our calling in Christ.

 

 

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

Psalm 42: 11

 

We all experience times of expectation and waiting. There are answers that are needed and relief that is urgent; yet, our hands are empty. We live in an environment that suggests that these times of anticipation are not worthy or valuable. We are counseled by our culture to go out and to make our own outcomes. It is stated frequently that we need to envision the result that we desire and then take whatever action is necessary to make it so. Sadly, there is a deep-seated sense of futility that results from this approach to much of what really matters in life. There are times when the only thing that we can do is wait, and pray, and anticipate the coming response.

 

God has promised us His presence and His involvement, and He is always good on His word. We people are the ones who chose to distrust that word and to move away from His truth into the frail comfort of our own understanding and wisdom. We are the ones who said to the Lord that we don’t need Your way at this time. It is by choice that we have gone outside of the covenant protection and provision that God granted to us as our inheritance. God’s response to our stubborn and sinful disobedience was to grant us a form of grace, mercy, and reconciliation that has no limit and that is greater than any other force on earth or in the heavens. Make no mistake about it, this world is a difficult place, and it presents us with a sin-ravaged landscape to navigate through. Despite the difficulty of the journey, our souls can take comfort and find peace in the reality of God’s faithfulness.

 

Christ has come into this world. He walked through the same broken environment that we do. His journey was not an easy one, either. Jesus provides the answer to the expectation. He is the hope in the waiting. It is His truth and the freedom that it brings into our lives that we need to anticipate. In Christ we can find God’s promised response to our pained prayer of desperation. As we turn our eyes away from the need that we are experiencing and allow our hearts to be lifted upward in praise to God, there is a lifting that He brings to the soul. The oppression of the weight of life’s concerns becomes lighter as we release our tight grip on the burden and allow Christ to join us in carrying the load.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

Isaiah 9: 2

Have you ever noticed how far light can penetrate through the darkness of night? The source might be miles away; yet, we can still see that spot of brightness in contrast to the blackness that is all around. God is very aware of just how much we people like to head off into our own dark corners. We try hard to turn off all of the lights in our world. We murder and oppress others. We replace the brightness of God’s glory with the false glitter of painted idols. We are fearful of the way that the truth of God’s word will impact our way of living; so, we run from its revealing illumination and we try to hide it under the covering of our own reinterpretations. Darkness continually tries to win the day. Yet, day and night alike belong to the Lord.

We can settle down, dig in, and crawl to the back of the darkest of caves. We can establish residence and we can flee to the farthest reaches of this earth in an attempt to escape the reach of Christ. It is all futile effort. There is simply no place that we can go, and there is no situation that we can enter into that will craft an impermeable barrier between ourselves and God. He made light as a part of the foundational fabric of Creation. It is inseparably woven into this world so that the light of God’s presence was already established when we humans breathed our first breaths of life. God’s light is elemental to our existence, and it can not be quenched or hidden.

Still God took things one very large step further. He came into this world in human form, and it is through this coming that God has made Himself completely accessible and absolutely tangible. Jesus brings the glory of theKingdomofGodinto this sin blackened world, and He reaches into the dark recesses of our hearts to bring love, understanding, acceptance, and reconciliation. The light of God’s grace and mercy are shinning on this world, and they are in our midst because of Christ. The light of the Lord’s righteous truth is with us also. Christ brings judgment for sin, and He provides purification for the disease of unrighteousness. God’s light is present. It does shine on each and every one of us. Still, He allows people the opportunity to respond to it and to accept the peace of His healing or to face the judgment of His truth. Christ is the source of the light that makes day out of the darkest night.

You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Deuteronomy 5: 32

There is an old popular usage expression “wandering eyes”. It almost never has anything to do with a person’s ability to direct the eyes by use of muscle control. It has everything to do with the orientation of the heart and the exercise of control over the mind. Although this expression mostly refers to men and to times when our interest in women heads off into the realm of sin, it can actually be applied to both men and women and it can relate to many situations and circumstances. Likewise, I am certain that Moses was not talking about political orientation in the text; yet, this concept applies completely to the way that we engage in our political systems and processes.

We humans are a wandering-eyed lot. We have a very hard time staying satisfied with where we are, with the path we are traveling along, and with the life that we are living. That isn’t all bad. In fact, I think that God has designed into us a certain amount of a restless spirit. It is this desire for something more that often prompts us to seek Christ. It is also a desire to bring Christ into more of our world that causes people to abandon comfort and safety in order to answer God’s call to service. So there must be righteous wandering as well as the sinful form of the same.

I think that the context of Moses’ words is helpful. He was in the midst of a great journey. He was leading people in their answer to God’s calling for them. He was living out his own righteous mission. The spiritual risk that they encountered along the way came in many forms, but, whatever that form, it always involved turning away from the face of God and His proclaimed truth in order to pursue the world’s glittering image of security or pleasure. Here are a few facts the journey that is this life. We all travel the road that lies before us. In Christ, He is the one who opens the map for our journey. God has established the truth of His holiness; so, He commands us to keep our eyes fixed upon and our hearts oriented toward Him. Christ’s glorious presence will lead His people through the land that is before us so that we can live well and prosper as we dwell in the center of God’s will.

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