October 2012


Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Romans 10: 17

 

Christ speaks out in a great voice. His voice tells the truth. He speaks of God’s desire for all people, for He seeks after all of us with the relentless zeal of a loving father who has been separated from His child. The word of God was set down for me and for you over a period of time that is remarkable in its length. Still, despite the fact that it was written over such a long period of time and by a multitude of writers who lived in such different cultures, it remains consistent in the story that it tells. God’s Word is an unending narrative of God’s faithful love and unrelenting desire to be in a relationship with each of us.

 

As I listen to what God has to say, my heart hears the story of how He loves me, cares about my life, and seeks to provide it with meaning. From the very first words on the pages to the last expression of the Lord’s revealed truth, God is telling me everything that I need to know about living through this day in the peace and joy of His will and in the safety of His righteousness. In addition to the written word, the Spirit of Christ leads me to the depth of understanding that brings the heart and the mind of Christ alive in me as I read, pray, and meditate on these truths.

 

Through hearing the voice of God, I get to know Him intimately, for the Lord reveals Himself in and through His Word. In this process of gaining knowledge and understanding of God, I am led by His Spirit to understand myself more honestly, too. The necessary conclusion to be reached from hearing God’s Word is that faith in Christ is essential for life and that growing in this faith leads to true living. This is a day by day and moment by moment process of growing in my relationship with Christ. Thus, I can face every day with the certain knowledge that my Lord will take me through it and that I can trust Him totally with all that is on my heart.

 

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13: 35

 

Love in the manner that Jesus is describing it here is not a warm and soft emotion. It is quite distant from the sort of thing that most greeting cards depict, and this form of love is certainly not the easy ideal that people compose romantic phrases about in poems and songs. Jesus’ love is determined, suffering, and bold. It does very little to embrace culture; yet, it does everything to bridge the great cultural divides that separate people from each other. As Jesus was with us in the flesh, He loved in ways that were lasting for the rest of time. All of us can know and experience this same love that was before all of creation and that continues on throughout the rest of time. God so loves each and every one of us to the degree that He gave His own blood for our salvation from the death of separation that sin condemned all people to otherwise endure.

 

Jesus is saying that He and His loving grace have brought all who believe back home into a restored relationship with God. He wants us to understand that an important aspect of this state of healing and restoration is found in our own transformed hearts. In Christ we have a heart that can love as He does. We have the ability to step out of our self protective and defensive neediness and into His openness and acceptance. When we choose to love others, we are agreeing to walk with Christ. Love requires us to risk all of ourselves in order to achieve unity and to bring our world closer to the glory of God. Love is the primary thing that frames in and defines the living reality that is the Kingdom of God.

 

This love that Christ demonstrated for us and that He commanded us to embrace is not easy and it is uncompromising. It speaks out in truth, and it has no place in it for hatred, oppression, and rage. It implores people to embrace the sick, weak, defenseless, the unlovely, and the lost. It also refuses to assume that the oppressors, murderers, and thieves of our world are without hope of redemption. Christ has never stopped loving all people, even those who express opposition and hatred toward Him, and He doesn’t grant us the right or the ability to make determinations of eternal worth that exceed His own. When Christians determine to live as Jesus commands us here, the result is even more compelling in our world. As we set aside difference and focus on the essential commonality of our faith in the risen Christ, the love of person to person that must ensue is compellingly counter to our culture. This love is also strikingly desirable, and it points straight to its source in Jesus Christ.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36: 26

 

Hopelessness can be an easy place to get to. Yet, it is a very hard place to be. It is a condition of the heart and the mind that can also become our total state of being. Even when it is connected to some specific area or aspect of life, this loss of faith in the possibility of healing and personal surrender to the inevitable failure of restoration tends to dominate our perception of life. However, even in these most difficult of times in our lives, God is present, and He is totally aware of our condition and desires to provide answers. When God seems so distant and His voice is silent, this is usually the result of our unreadiness or unwillingness to turn fully to Him and to listen carefully to His voice and to accept what He says.

 

God’s promise to restore and to heal is not dependant upon our state of mind or our actions. He is faithful to His word, and God desires to walk through each and every aspect of our lives in intimate relationship with us. The Lord will never depart from us, but He will not force us to turn to Him until we are ready to allow Him to work within our hearts. This is the point in our day where we have a decision to make. Do we want to continue to go through life carrying around the weight of a heart that is hardened into stone or are we willing to face the pain and the hard work of allowing God to transplant His new heart of living flesh into us? It seems to me that the only rational answer is to admit that we are so worn out by going through the things that we are dealing with without the wisdom, strength, and encouragement of the Spirit of Christ that we are willing to endure any momentary pain that is needed in order to gain His promised change.

 

Although it may seem frightening at first, one of the ways that we can begin this transplant process involves opening up of our inner selves to God’s searching and revealing. As you enter into a time of meditation and prayer, ask God to reveal Himself and His presence to you. Ask that He would show you how and where He is truly engaged in your daily life. Allow the Spirit to show you the ways that you are closing yourself off from God’s desired transformative work in your attitudes, thinking, and actions. As you do this, consider how that, despite God’s total presence, your life is not one in which Christ is evident and the fruit of His Spirit is not flowing from you. These areas of hardness of heart, of sin, are aspects of yourself that should be laid upon the altar of Christ and confessed to Him. Now you need to fully accept Christ’s grace and forgiveness and set out on the new course that God has revealed to you. In the light of Christ’s mercy and grace hope is restored and true living is found.

 

 

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.

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