October 2012


When one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

1 Corinthians 3: 4

 

Leaders are supposed to be people who we follow. This is a reality that most of us accept. In fact, it is something that individuals, organizations, and whole societies study and attempt to improve upon. As most of us regularly find ourselves in positions of leadership of one sort or another, there are books on the subject of leadership being published every minute of the day. Teaching us how to lead, and how to follow, for that matter, is a lucrative business. In light of this reality, why is Paul having a problem with these folks in Corinth and their desire to follow a leader of their choosing? Also, while I am at this process of questioning the Apostle, what gives with his concern over us being “merely human?” After all, that is what we are.

 

The problem that the men and women of Corinth had is much the same as the one that most of us also encounter. We lose sight of the true nature of the job that our leaders are called to perform, and we fail to look beyond that individual in order to examine the source of the authority that has placed her in this position of leading. Yet, I think that this human tendency toward short-sightedness is the source of a great deal of the tension and the difficulty that we encounter in working together in our various organizations and cultural structures. We expect that our leaders will be perfectly motivated and absolutely well-equipped to handle the task at hand. Yet, we fail to grant them the respect that should be theirs based upon the true authority that has placed them in that position. In other words, we have lofty desires for them to make our lives easier, more profitable, and better in all ways while we continually complain about their lack of clear vision and ability to get the job done.

 

Although we do follow human leaders who function at all levels of our society and the positions that they occupy have been created by various rules and regulations, God makes it very clear that He is the author and the real power behind all rulers and forms of governance. The structures that we use to create order in our cultures have been granted to us by God so that we can maintain a peaceful and a cooperative existence on the earth. If we believe that this is true, we need to look beyond the person and above the office in order to accurately assess the standards of ethical and moral behavior that should be expected out of our leaders. God grants the office to them, and He sets the standards for them to follow. The Lord also demands that we respect His appointments while clearly expressing our desires for them to rule righteously. In Christ we are called to be something much greater than merely human. For as we are in Christ, we also have His mind, we can know His ways and comprehend His vision. We are followers of the one true and absolute ruler of all, Jesus the Risen King.

 

 

Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51: 6

 

God is like most loving fathers in that He delights in the characteristics of His children. This is especially true for those times in our lives when we most closely resemble our Father. Thus, when we allow truth to prevail in our lives regardless of the personal outcome, God’s smile is as broad as is the entire universe. The Lord implanted truth into the hearts of all people when He created us, for this is an essential part of being made in God’s image. So, it is up to us to respond to this basic component of our beings by allowing it to influence our lives.

 

As we open our hearts to God’s Spirit and seek to develop a relationship with Him, the Lord’s truth starts to have an ever greater influence on the decisions that we make and on the manner that we approach our interactions with others. It is in this process of growing closer to God that the innate, implanted truth of God is worked and processed into the operative component of decision making that is known as wisdom. Then wisdom guides us away from the natural realm of self centered actions into the Lord’s desired one of self sacrifice.

 

This process of growing closer to God by allowing His Spirit the opportunity to reveal more and more of the person that He designed us to be never ceases in this life. Whether we are deeply committed to living in the center of God’s eternal truth or if we are still rejecting most of it, we have only begun to probe the actual depths of understanding. The person who makes silly and harmful life choices on a daily basis needs to get to know the author of wisdom, and so does the person who lives most of life in the center of the Lord’s will. The fact that I still have miles and miles to travel in gaining in understanding of God’s truth and in learning to apply His wisdom is strangely comforting, for God makes this life a great adventure of discovery and growth, and He is continually delighted with each of us when we choose to travel through the day with Him.

 

Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.

Proverbs 29: 26

 

The modern philosopher John Rawls said, “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” I think that Rawls means that justice is fundamental. It is foundational to the formation of our society, and it is an essential platform upon which our society and its systems of governance are formed. Yet it is something that is sadly lacking in our world. Far too often it is held as a tool of power and as a device of oppression. Rulers, governmental and religious leaders, and others in positions of authority and might impose their own concepts of what is right and just upon others in order to bring about conformity and subservient behavior. As a result of this our world is filled with people who live in fear and who, in turn, become fearsome.

 

Upon consideration of the idea, I think that Rawls is right. Justice is something that should underlie all of the institutions that people use to organize ourselves. It is something that God placed into our world as a part of its creation design. The desire for justice and the capability to grant it are inherent in God’s creating humanity in His own image. Justice is a characteristic and a quality of God. I believe that if there were no God, there would be no justice. It is like the other higher qualities of love, peace, mercy, grace, and righteousness. These are qualities that people desire and that benefit us; yet, all of them exist solely because they come from God, Himself. Humanity on its own has a very bad track record in regards to the way that we live together. It is solely through the grace of God that we do find peace, engage in loving others, and seek to govern in a righteous manner. It is that same grace that leads us to justice for ourselves and for others.

 

If we seek to live in a just world, we must submit ourselves to the King of the Universe. It is essential for us to recognize that we are subjects of an authority that is higher than all other and that is also foundational for all earthly rule and rulers. This reordering of our allegiances is essential for us to become people who treat others justly. Additionally, living in this manner is not learned in government classes or through participation in our processes of governance, it is learned at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Justice is understood as we follow in the steps of Christ while He walked among us and responded to the people and the situations of His world in a manner that brought a living example of God’s created desire and intent for just, relational engagement among all people face to face with the real world where we live. In order to know justice, we need to avoid the halls of government until we know the path of Christ. Yet, once we are walking in the steps of the Savior, we should boldly bring Him and His glory into those same halls.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Romans 4: 5

Some days are just hard working ones. These are the times when life demands so much effort that the soul often feels exhausted from it all. On days like this every ounce of creativity and even the longing to achieve personal goals are wrung out so completely that collapse into a stupor is the highest point of the day. When this is a description of our work life, it is a difficult reality to live in. However, it is a tragedy when this is the best that we can say about our spiritual life.

Paul knew from first hand experience that hard work and diligence weren’t enough when it comes to honoring God and to living a life that is itself an expression of worship. The Lord wants us to stop sweating and straining in our efforts to please Him. God tells us that we are never going to earn His favor by the intensity of our efforts. Also, work in itself is not a satisfactory way to attempt to win the world for Christ. Instead of our efforts, God wants us to trust Him and to allow His hands the opportunity to work in our lives. Then, He will perform the same work in others by using us as willing operatives.

There is an interestingly unworldly nature to all of this, for when I stop putting out all of the effort, my strength is increased. When I stop owning the outcome, my joy is multiplied. Christ wants us to be willing vessels that will carry living water to a dry and needy world. He provides us with the oil of salvation to spread lovingly on the wounds of sin so that healing can begin. So as we allow Christ to work through us, we too will enjoy the deep rest that only the righteous can achieve.

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James 1: 25

 

Just in case you haven’t taken a moment recently to look around at the world that surrounds you or, for that matter, looked in the mirror, this is flawed and imperfect place. So, when someone claims to have their eyes fixed upon perfection, the claim and the claimant are highly suspect. Still James is saying that there is something perfect that not only exists but it is accessible to anyone who looks into it.  It is a bit like Dorian Grey’s mirror except that rather than deceiving us, it shows us the complete and total truth. Christ’s mirror is wonderfully and graciously honest.

 

When we look into the image that appears there, we see ourselves as set free beings. This perfect law that James is discussing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It takes the totality of God’s moral and ethical code that sets out the framework for righteous living and it makes it possible for us. It is by grace that we find acceptance from God, and it is through Christ that we are changed from the condemned sinners that we have been since birth into the beloved co-heirs of God’s Kingdom that is our eternal status. The freedom that we now enjoy does eliminate the need to do any form of work or to put out any type of effort that is done in order to gain God’s acceptance, to achieve status in His eyes, or to secure a place in eternity. However, this newly minted freedom is not passive and it does call upon us to act.

 

There seems to be proven validity to the idea that the things that we hear are not made real until we do something with them. We can fill our minds with ideas and with facts that have no lasting effect; yet, when we convert this knowledge into action, the ideas seem to become incorporated into our very being. As God’s truth becomes more and more of the person that interacts with the world, we encounter the transformative process that Christ promises to His people. The Spirit of Christ informs our hearts and instructs our minds so that we have a sound basis for living in a manner that brings honor and glory to Christ. Then, as we actually enter into every aspect of this living with a sincere desire to engage our world with peace, justice, righteousness, and reconciliation as our intended outcome, we will be blessed by living in the complete liberty that only Christ can grant to us.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4: 7

 

We have been told that “what the world needs is love” and “love is what makes the world go around.” We can whistle, hum, and sing these words all day long, but do we believe them? The real challenge comes into play when we need to demonstrate that we actually believe that we are loved greatly; truly accept the love that others have for us; or give it unconditionally to anyone else. It is when we are faced with fully living out lives of love that most of us fall short.

 

Loving others and accepting love makes us vulnerable and we feel exposed. So we spend too much time hiding out in the bushes in fear of what God and others may see when he comes upon our exposed nakedness. Of course, God has already seen everything, and He has already committed to love us totally. Still, when we see someone who is in pain, tears welling in the eyes, we turn away as we pretend to hear our named being called from across the room. There is the co-worker whose life is falling apart, and we nod and give an empty reassurance that “it will all work out”; then, we try to be certain that we are not alone with that person again.

 

Yes, it is true that the world needs love. That has always been true; yet, it is a basic truth of nature that God has always met every real need that exists. We were created with loving care, and our Creator has loved us absolutely ever since. We need to accept that fact and to accept our responsibility to open our hearts to others. The willingness to care for those around us in this risky, very vulnerable manner is one of those attributes that should distinguish those who know Christ from others. Consider who you will seek out today to care about, to listen to, to get to know better. Pray for the courage to step into the pain that is in another’s heart. In Christ, we are called upon to live so that others can truly “know we are Christians because of our love”.

 

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

Galatians 6: 7

 

So much of what we take as important in our culture is little more than a popularity contest. Our minds are very easy to convince that this or that product or person has all of the answers for us. We humans are easily lured into believing and supporting almost anything if it has the right wrapper on it. We like the shiny new toy, the clever words, and the leader-like stance and bravado. Substance has little value in making these decisions, and standing solidly on a foundation of righteousness is off the table when we determine who we will vote for.

 

All of this is truly a sad commentary when you consider that we were created by God to be thinking beings that have the wisdom of our Creator available to us. In general, humanity is the great underachieving child of the universe. Most of us seemingly choose to exist in this developmentally challenged classroom of life where we are easily manipulated and never achieve the success of graduation. It is almost as if we enjoy the easy ride through our days that is provided by allowing others to do the thinking for us so that we don’t need to be prepared to explain in real, substantive terms why and how we have reached the decisions that we have made. This is true when it comes to relatively frivolous things like toothpaste and clothing, and it is disturbingly true when it comes to choices that have long-term impacts such as national leaders.

 

However, try as we might to leave God out of our thinking and decision making, He is still involved in all that happens in this world. God is jealous of where our hearts are aligned, and He will not allow us to live in a manner that effectively makes light of Him and that discounts His position as Lord and King. There will be consequences for the decisions that we make and the loyalty that we grant. It is not that God cares about the brand of products that we use or the style of clothes that we wear, but He does want us to consider our consumption of goods and services wisely and with a view to the needs of others in our world. Additionally, God will not be surprised and His Kingdom will not suffer loss as a result of the political choices that we make; however, He does desire for us to make those choices based upon criteria that are founded in righteousness and upon His view of kingdom living. I think that God values justice, life, and the pursuit of His articulated way above economics, power, and convenience. God grants His people the ability to make decisions that are based upon His eternal economy of life, and our Lord desires for us to use the reasoning and thinking abilities that He has given to us in order to reach these conclusions in a manner that glorifies rather than mocks Him.

 

 

The Lord established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever.

Psalm 104: 5

 

Am I alone in wondering about the accuracy of this comment? The world that I live in seems to be spinning far off of its axis. It seems to be so wobbly that I am amazed when there is a day where I don’t hear about some sort of major natural disaster. Our news is filled with unending accounts of lives turned upside down and whole countries thrust into chaos by what seems to be the whims of climate and instability of the earth. Additionally, these natural events aren’t even the most terrifying and disturbing of happenings, for the cruelty, anger, and hatred that people act out against each other leaves the destructive forces of nature in their wake.

 

Yet, as simplistic as this might sound, I trust God to be true to His word and to follow through with what He pledges. Thus, my mind needs to reconcile the fact that the earth seems to be totally off its foundation with God’s commitment to keep it firmly rooted there. My greatest challenge in understanding all of this is my own lack of perspective and my tendency to get caught up in the wrong things. The Lord is looking at this world from a viewpoint that sees its beginning and that contemplates the glory of its restoration through Christ’s return at the end of this age. He is allowing all of this current upheaval so that we will understand the severity of the consequences of our sinful disobedience to His created plan. Additionally, the disastrous mess that we people cause when we operate outside of God’s will does tend to lead us to seek the Lord and to desire His loving involvement in our lives.

 

Although the world around me continues to be touched by earthquake and flood, by disease and famine, and by the horrors of violence and oppression, my understanding of these events is made clearer by my relationship with Christ. He grants me perspective, hope, and confidence in facing today. He also implores me to b involved in doing something about all of the related suffering. As I seek Christ’s perspective, my own world is truly set on its foundation, and nothing can knock me out of the grip of my God. In a day when many of the people around me are shaken and disoriented, the Lord wants me to have a voice that tells about the solid rock that my soul stands upon and that cares for and comforts the injured, sick, and oppressed around me in the name of their savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9: 6

 

This is a discussion about money and what we do with it. It is also a statement that applies to the things that we own, and it speaks to our attitude toward our time. Mostly, this is a comment on the way that we view other people, their needs, and our own sense of security in our relationship with Christ. He gave everything for us. Christ lived a life in which He took on our pain and suffering while demonstrating the depths of God’s loving compassion for His people. While doing this He continually looked to the Father and trusted Him to supply all wisdom, direction, and the resources that were needed.

 

Even with Christ’s example in mind, it is not always so easy to actually believe that God will supply me with everything that I need. So, holding everything that I have, including my money, prized possessions, and time, in fully open hands is not all that natural an act for me. It is even harder to risk exposing my heart to others in a manner that makes me vulnerable. Still, all of this is what God has given to me. He gives completely, absolutely, and without reservation for everything of significance that I have comes from His generosity. Most importantly, Christ gives me His heart, and in doing this, He changes mine from one that seeks to protect itself from exposure to pain and loss to a heart that can more openly share God’s love with others.

 

When we give we don’t get to control the return; yet, the more we give, the more we are acting like our Lord. The more open we are with our love, mercy, compassion, and understanding, the more we are transformed into the image of Christ. God’s direction for our lives is not easy, but it is simple. He wants us to openly and willingly reach out to all who are needy, all who are thirsty, and all who are alone. Then, He wants us to give everything that we have to meet those needs while fully trusting Him to continue to provide us with all that we will ever need.

 

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 7

 

Sometimes we just require the touch of the supernatural. In our everyday lives there are people, events, and circumstances that overcome all of our inner strength, knowledge, and capacity to endure. When these sorts of pressures are bearing down on me, I have a hard time functioning at the level that I am otherwise capable of doing. It just seems that the external stressors worm their way into my courage, confidence, and reasoning so that I become tense and tentative.

 

Still, there is an inner, deep rooted peace that comes from our relationship with Christ that can take over in these times. This peace comes from our understanding of the truth of who God is and of what knowing Him and being known by Him actually means. The Lord completely understands all of our areas of vulnerability and weakness. He also gave us our skills and talents, and He specifically and personally imparted our giftedness to us. So, He also will open up these areas of strength to us so that we can live well to the glory of Christ in all situations.

 

The main thing that gets in the way of living in the freedom of God’s peace is my own fear and the concern and worry that I allow to take control of my heart and mind. The primary thing that I need to do to change this is to focus on Christ, seek His wisdom, and also turn the troubling aspects of my day over to God. This last thought is particularly true when the point of stress or contention is centered on a person. Then, when I seek the Lord’s intervention to turn the hard relationship into one that brings glory to Him, the Spirit of Christ always does wondrous things in my heart, His grace prevails, and the peace that is found under the cross is given the opportunity to set me free.

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