February 2013


Rather, speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.

Ephesians 4: 15

 

From conception until twenty of so years later, people grow. Some of that growth is remarkably rapid, and some of it is subtle. There are other ways beyond the physical that we also grow, for we are said to grow in our jobs, in a relationship, or in stature in our community. Peaks and plateaus are found in all of our journeys, and some people work hard at continuing to move forward throughout life and others seem to settle at a point and don’t move much from that place of comfort. However, in the area of our spiritual lives, complacency and settling in are never good as Christ sets out an expectation of growth for His followers and for His body.

 

We all come to know Christ as spiritual infants. There is simply no possibility of growth without the vital nourishment that God provides through the mystery of the relationship that we can only have with Him by and in Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us and in our lives is a gift that Christ grants to people who enter into that relationship with Him. The Spirit provides us with understanding of God through revelation of the deep meaning of His Word and by speaking eternal truth into our hearts and minds. As we know God and His righteousness iHbetter, we are made more and more mature in our thinking and in our actions. The only barrier that exists to our growth is found in ourselves. As we are willing to yield our lives to Christ and to surrender our human comfort to His will, Christ will transform our fallen flesh into the new creature that His love and grace promise.

 

This act of yielding is both passive and active in its nature. Christ asks us to stop striving after the things and the outcomes that we think that we want so that He can reveal God’s true path to us. The Lord wants us to wait calmly and with peaceful hearts as we contemplate and meditate on His Word, and God promises that He will speak to us and provide that purpose and direction that we desire. Yet, Christ also calls upon us to be active in our pursuit of spiritual growth. When we are told to “speak truth in love” we are being instructed to do far more than just talking. Although verbal expression of God’s truth is a very important part of this idea, the real life imperative here is about the totality of the way that we live. Christ desires for us to live in a manner that starts deep within our hearts and that finds expression in every thought and action of our lives. Our Lord calls upon us to live in way that demonstrates and proclaims His truth and His love for the entire world each and every moment that we draw breath. This is the exercise that brings about growth in us and unity in Christ’s body.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

1 Timothy 6: 17

 

This verse seems to be rather straight forward at first. If you are someone who is blessed by an abundance of money and other financial resources, don’t become arrogant or proud because of them. For, from God’s perspective, they are not the things which will mark a life well lived. Easy and done; there is nothing else to say. Yet, my appreciation of Paul and the way that he thought and his expression of those thoughts all suggest that there has to be more for me to grasp from his statement. The word that Paul uses that is translated as rich, plousios, means exactly that; “abounding in material things”. However, it also means; “abundantly supplied as in virtues and eternal possessions”. I think that Paul is after the combination of these meanings and that he wants us to understand the tension that can exist between them.

 

He is clearly recognizing the fact that in almost every gathering of Christ’s body there are differences in the material wealth of the individuals, and these are often very great. Yet that wealth should not become the cause for any sense of superiority on the part of people, nor should it be something that those who have less should envy. It is a gift from God, and it is something that people can use as God directs their hearts. In fact, it would seem that the diversity of wealth in and among the body of Christ is one of the ways that God intends for His distribution of gifts and talents to be expressed. God provides each of us with tangible gifts that are intended to be used and expressed in and through His body for the glory of His name. Financial wealth, though not a spiritual gift, is still something that is a blessing from God as is the ability to hold that wealth with open hands and a giving heart.

 

This last idea applies to all of us. The ability to recognize the source of the provision of all of the things that we need to sustain and to enjoy life is a gift from God. He is the One who provides for us. There is nothing that we require that does not come from God and out of His design and plan. Each of us needs to realize that all of the wealth that we have belongs to the Lord and that we can trust God with the use of every penny and pound of it. God does not give to us in order to see us troubled or burdened. He is a Father who delights in our enjoyment of the gift. God wants us to live in the comfort of His abundance, and He is pleased when we are so comfortable in our trust of His provision that we readily give what we have to serve His will and desire.

Praise Him with tambourine and dance;

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150: 4a, 6

There are times when sitting still is just not possible. As children we all experience those times when we were expected to be quiet, calm, and attentive while every cell in our body wanted to get up and run about as we shouted and shrieked out of the simple need to be expressive. In our more advanced years, the need for activity and expression is frequently caused by the stresses and the concerns that weigh heavily upon us. Life has a way of loading us up with burdens so that it feels like we are walking about wearing iron shoes while walking on the surface of a powerful magnet. No amount of energy that we expend seems to gain us any traction or move us one inch forward.

Yet, there is something false about that earth-bound reality. It is the product of a world that is filled with the pain of brokenness. It is a state of heart and of mind that evil desires for each of us to surrender to. We do live in a harsh and a hard environment, and God is more than fully aware of this fact. God knew from the start that our own rebellion would cause this state of existence to become our unrelenting state of being. In response to this God entered into living in it with us. Christ brings about a freedom that infuses the center of our being with the presence of God. He sets us free from the need to be bound down by powerful forces that are outside of our control. In Christ we can count all of life as victory, and we can know that we are living every moment of life in the presence of the Most High King.

Turning a dark hour into a time of worship and praise is not easy. Yet, Christ will lift even the most heavily burdened of spirits. He desires to hold our head up and to fill our hearts with the hope of His love, grace, and mercy. He doesn’t ask us to do the work; for, Christ knows and accepts our weakness, our shame, and our lack of capacity. He asks only that we trust Him enough to allow His Spirit access to our hearts. The Lord will lift us up and remove the weight of life’s burdens from us. As we rest in the presence of the Lord, He will provide clarity of thought and the wisdom of eternity for us to use in response to our concerns. Christ does provide the strength that we need to face life with confident peace. He releases us from all that ties us down, and He sets us free so that our whole being wants to shout and to dance in order to express the joy that is found only in knowing Christ.

The Lord bless you from Zion!

May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!

Psalm 128: 5

 

It seems that I have a To Do list problem. There are a lot of days when thoughts about all that needs to get done and everything that is still outstanding on my list of important activities gets in the way of actually getting to where I need to be by the end of that day. Additionally, I struggle with keeping that target in view. Maybe I have a problem with identifying the true target. Either way, I can expend a lot of energy and still not be able to lay my head on the pillow that night with a sense of satisfied accomplishment.

 

Yet there exists a perspective on my life that is clear and that will lead me to expend my energy and to focus the passions of my heart in the right direction. The Lord views me, my life, and the details of it from His vantage point and with His clarity of vision. Additionally, God is neither distant nor uninvolved. He wants to share His vision for my life with me, and He desires for me to experience the joyous blessings that living each day in the center of His will brings. For God has a mission, a purpose, and a plan for each of the days of my life, and these have very little to do with the lists of important activities that I typically create.

 

Therefore, I need to set aside my calendar and put down the post-it note pad that I use to write out my lists of important things to accomplish. Then, I need to seek God’s face by reading His word and through conversation with Him. As I listen to God speak to me, His clear vision for what matters and for how to get it all done becomes apparent. Also, the Lord opens my eyes so that I can see the beauty, the riches, and the glory that He has already filled my life with. When God creates the to do list, the burden of accomplishing it is truly light, and the day ends with joyous anticipation of tomorrow.

 

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And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them?

Luke 18: 7

 

Delay has become the normal state of things is our overscheduled and underserved world. We can almost plan on our doctor being behind schedule, on traffic delays, that the check will still be in the mail on the date that it is due to us, and on the dreaded “Flight Delayed” message beside our connection. The streets are full, many people are sick, and airlines are cutting flights in order to become profitable. Some of these things make sense and others really don’t. When it comes to time and timing, the application of reason is more often frustrating than it is informative. Although all of these regular life events can be frustrating, existence becomes truly hard when it is justice that is delayed. Then days can become interminably long and oppression hangs over life like a dark curtain.

 

The justice that we seek may be for ourselves, for people who we know and love, or for people in our world. Whatever the situation and whoever is the object of our concern and focus, waiting for resolution is never easy. The harm that injustice has caused seems to continue to increase. Pain and suffering remain on their destructive course so that it is easy to lose faith and to enter into despair. In Luke’s account, Jesus has just told the story of an unrighteous judge who eventually relented and granted due justice to a relentless widow. The contrast that Christ set out for us is that if even a judge who “neither feared God nor respected man” would be moved to bring about justice, then we can certainly have faith that God, who loves us totally and who is concerned for our well being will provide it to us.

 

Christ is telling us that we need to remain faithful and that we also need to trust the outcome and its timing to God. Like the widow in the story, we should never stop in our appeals to God. For it is in our sincere prayer and our willingness to remain vulnerable and yielded to the timing and the nature of God’s response that we grow in our understanding of God’s view of our world. God works in our hearts during these times of waiting and trusting. His Spirit speaks to or impatient souls, and He leads us into the peaceful rest that is found only in abiding continually in Christ. God has promised that His justice will prevail in the world of His creation. He has given us Christ as the only true and effective means to that justice. Now our Lord desires for us to remain committed to Him. Christ calls upon us to speak out confidently our desire to see His truth prevail over evil in our day and to act on behalf of the weak and the oppressed with the assurance of God’s promised victory.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged

till He has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for His law.

Isaiah 42: 4

 

There is no way around the fact that justice is hard work. If you were to talk with anyone who sits in the seat of a judge in a court anywhere in the world, that judge would tell you that they earn their pay every day that they work. Remaining true to the law; assessing the guilt or innocence of people who are usually to some degree both; establishing responsibility and culpability; and rendering judgments that are fair and equitable are daunting and often contradictory tasks. In our world, establishing justice not only requires all of this effort but it also is done in the war zone of conflict and active opposition from Satan. Satan hates justice just as he hates God. So, he opposes justice; for, the establishment of justice solidifies our perception of God’s position of authority in our world.

 

The idea of justice that is on view here in Isaiah and elsewhere in the bible is a complex and a multi-faceted one. It involves the idea of the court room type of setting that Isaiah has just described in which the reality of the fact that there is one and only one true God has been irrefutably determined. It then conveys the fact that God’s truth is the foundation upon which all of His Creation stands. It is His revealed truth that forms the only valid basis for the law that is our framework for living righteously, and this revelation is completed and fully empowered in Christ. Finally and only through the agency of Christ and through the work of His Spirit as present in our world and resident in the hearts of His followers, the injustice and the wrongful harm that sin has caused in the people of this world and in the rest of God’s perfect creation can be repaired.

 

This is the work of bringing justice into our world. It is the natural consequence of bringing Christ into those places of darkness and loss where evil dwells. Justice becomes apparent as we bring His grace, mercy, and love to bear on situations where intolerance, oppression, and fear rule the day. Like Christ, Himself, we will face strong opposition when we seek to do this. Satan does not give back territory willingly. Yet, if we believe the Prophet’s words and accept the fact that God sent His Christ to establish justice in this world, then we also must recognize our role and responsibility in continuing to do as our Lord has done. Christ calls all of His followers to continue in the mission of making His presence, truth, and righteousness known in the entire world. Christ will provide each of us with all of the wisdom, strength, and encouragement that we will need to follow the hard road of establishing justice.

 

 

Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen in whom My soul delights;

I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42: 1

 

God is not just a distant observer. He sees and He feels. He hears our pleas for mercy, and His heart is broken by the cruel and calculating way that we deny that desired mercy to our world’s oppressed and disadvantaged people. Our planet sees very little grace and even less love, and we are all diminished because of our self-centered and God-denying ways of thinking about others and of acting toward them. People live their lives in active pursuit of isolation and with hearts set on protection from pain and loss. Throughout history individuals have listened to God’s call to see people differently and to attempt to lead us into peace and understanding. Yet, our world is probably worse off today than it ever has been.

 

Listening to God and allowing Him to move us to action is not only a good thing; it is the right thing to do. When we feed the starving, protect the weak, provide shelter to the homeless, and champion justice for those who are voiceless; we are responding to the expressed desire of God’s heart. Still, very little changes in our world. The pain and the suffering do not end. Hope eludes our grasp, and it is easy to give up on efforts at bringing relief to the victims of strife and commerce. In the face of it all, God says, “Behold My servant.”

 

There is only one answer to all of the sadness and the pain of life in our world. This is different from the way that we usually see things. For our human tendency is to make the cause the focus. We devise programs for feeding and for housing. We cry out for justice, and we speak stridently in favor of laws that would protect the right of the unborn to draw breath. Again, these are not bad things to become engaged in. However, they are not the cause, and the best of results in each and every one of these areas of concern is not what God desires to see. Every noble cause that people can devise needs to be subordinate to Christ. The desired outcome of all of these efforts should be His proclamation in our world. The only hope for justice is found in Christ. Regardless of the nobility of the cause, Christ must be the focus and He must reign over it. When Christ’s name is the banner that we follow, His justice will be known in our world.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

Philippians 4: 8

 

Paul sets forth one very important word for me in this verse, and it isn’t one of the more obvious ones, either. It’s that little word, let. For God has given us all the ability to determine where our minds will become focused and on what sorts of thinking they will dwell. In fact, this is the choice that can make the greatest difference in how well I function through my day.

 

My underlying emotions are not always in my control, and my circumstances certainly can be dictated by others. There is also little that I can do about the way that other people are feeling and behaving; still, my reaction to it all is something that God says that I can profoundly influence. As I make the decision to fill my mind with God’s truth and allow His character to influence my thinking, I take control of the way that I function in my life.

 

The other key word in Paul’s statement is dwell. I need to select the house of the Lord as the residence for my mind. I am easily distracted, too readily knocked off course, and continually wandering into the bad part of town. However, God has established a safe and a completely equipped permanent home for me in His word. He also surrounds me with living examples of His grace and love in the people of my spiritual family. This is where I need to turn my attention, and this is where my heart and my mind will be filled with all that is useful and joyous. It is here in Christ’s presence that my mind can rest in His righteousness.

 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Matthew 24: 35

 

In the midst of teaching on a number of issues and delivering forward looking statements about the future of Israel, Jesus makes this statement. He is providing what might be considered as investment advice; for, He tells His audience that day and us to consider the future value of the things to which we attach our allegiances. There are things that we can hold onto that are weighty and brilliant and that are even very costly, but they do not last. Their value diminishes with time and is influenced by the forces of human commerce. Most of us do place great importance on possessions and on learning that is also perishable. Neither the possessions nor the learning is necessarily bad, but we need to recognize the temporary and the temporal nature of them.

 

Christ brings us something that comes from beyond our earth-bound existence. He speaks to us with the words of eternity. The truths that come from His mouth are formed beyond time and outside of the constraints of purely human understanding. Although Jesus was the perfect and the final sacrifice who accomplished the Father’s plan for reconciliation of humanity with God, He was much more. Jesus brought the literal presence of God into our world. He demonstrated and taught holiness and righteousness in the setting of the daily life that we all experience. He made real and perfected our understanding of what being formed in God’s image is about. Jesus delivered God’s message of true concern for who we are and how we behave that speaks to our inner selves as being of far greater importance than our outward appearance.

 

However, the real importance and the impact of Christ’s words are not in what He said alone. It is found in the way that they influence us to seek God and to desire to know Him and His will more fully. As the Holy Spirit breathes life into the page-bound utterances, they do actually come to life. Words that were spoken and recorded two thousand years ago are fresh and vibrant in this moment. Jesus’ pronouncements about living in a Greek and Roman influenced Jewish culture during a time when a horse was the fastest form of transportation are accurate and pertinent for our world today. Jesus, as God incarnate, was not bound by the limitations of human understanding. His words endure as the standard and guide for living in the center of God’s will. Investing in them is guaranteed to bring a return that is perfect and eternal.

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

‘You shall worship the Lord your God

And Him only shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4: 10

 

This is not a thought that I can claim as great and unique revelation from God. In fact, it is almost laughable to even state this idea. But here it is, Jesus got life right all of the time. That is, when He said or did something that was in response to the sorts of issues and struggles that all people face while living out our days on earth, His responses are the model for the rest of us to follow. This scene involving direct, face-to-face temptation by Satan is not one that I have experienced, thankfully! Yet, this is what is occurring to all of God’s people every day of our lives. Satan is active and seeks to entrap and devour people. Often the methods and the means that he uses involve people and situations that on the surface seem safe, attractive, and benign. However, evil surrounds us; it has infiltrated the very structure of our world, and it always leads people away from God and His righteousness.

 

What does it mean to live righteously? That is a complex question that warrants examination and that each of us should explore prayerfully with God. However in simple terms it means living in a manner that is fully consistent with God’s Word, that brings glory to His name in our world, and that declares Christ through the sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and truth that we live out regardless of life circumstance or situation. This is not exactly an easy path to follow or one that will guarantee popularity and success in human terms. Yet, anything and everything else is functionally and factually idolatry. It is setting before us a standard for living that comes from a source other than God, Himself. It usually places us as the arbiters of what is right and just so that our personal desires, lusts, and comfort are served while the sacrificial love of Christ is hidden and locked away.

 

So, on view here we have Jesus’ most direct response to the sort of pressure and temptation that we face. Satan has asked Jesus to bow down to him and offered the world as the reward. When we turn away from thinking, saying, and doing what is loving, gracious, merciful, understanding, and truthful; we are agreeing with Satan’s request. For us humans the tension that exists between evil’s continual appeal and God’s will is going to continue throughout our earthly lives. The situations and the power of the temptation will at times be subtle and deceptive and at others it will carry the power of a great waterfall. That is why Jesus’ modeled response matters so much. We certainly can and should invoke Christ and His Spirit’s power in order to resist evil in all of its forms. Yet, there is much more here. The real answer to temptation is found in worship. Righteousness is made real and is understood more fully as we bow down before God. Temptation is defeated as we remain with our hearts and minds focused on Christ and away from ourselves.

 

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