March 2013


Jesus said, “I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17: 26

 

Here in a few words is God’s purpose and plan expressed. This is why Jesus became human and lived the life of a person, and this is exactly why He was preparing to allow Himself to be taken prisoner, tried in a series of unjust proceedings, and brutally executed at the hands of people. These were people who were doing the direct bidding of Satan; yet, they were actually functioning as accomplices in God’s plan for Satan’s own destruction. Thus, as Jesus pours out His heart to the Father, He clearly tells me how much I mean to God and presents me with my primary purpose as His follower, too.

 

Jesus, the Christ, is the complete and total picture of God; for, He brings clarity and puts a human face on God’s qualities of justice, righteousness, faithfulness, honor, truth, mercy, humility, joy, peace, contentment, and so much more. The list is something that each of us can create from our own experiences. Primarily, Jesus makes tangible the often abstract and too frequently misunderstood concept of love. Love is why God does everything that He does when it relates to His Creation. When I look at the way that Jesus lived and at the things that He did, I can begin to understand the sort of love that God has for me. Additionally, Jesus demonstrates the way that God wants me to love others.

 

As Jesus was preparing to face the greatest trial of His life, He was mostly concerned with fulfilling this aspect of His mission. He wanted each of us to understand that the greatest gift that He was giving to us was God’s love. It is our responsibility to decide to do something with that gift. We can choose to accept the fact that we are loved by our Father in ways that overcome all of our personal weakness and failure, that defeat the hurt and the pain that we have received throughout our lives, and that empowers us to live from this moment forward in a manner that brings the perfect love of God into the lives of others. Jesus gives us the example to follow. His Spirit goes with us to speak truth to our hearts, and we are given the opportunity to write today’s chapter in the story of God’s love in action in the world.

 

Return, O Lord! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

Psalm 90: 13

 

If you have lived with and around Christians for any period of time, as I certainly have, you will have heard many people express the desire to have Christ return. They want Him to come today or tomorrow, at the latest. This is always stated in terms of putting an end to the sinfulness of our times, the evil that surrounds us, and the pain of suffering through life in this fallen world. Not to make too light of this very serious subject, but this wishful expression can become somewhat like spiritual aspirin. We feel pain, and we want relief from it; so, we prefer to take the miraculous fixative instead of putting in the work to seek out and repair the underlying cause of the discomfort. People have a well-developed desire for the fast and the easy, and this is often especially true when it comes to addressing the human brokenness that surrounds us.

 

Yet, we do have all that is necessary to impact our world for the glory of God’s Kingdom. The challenge to actually doing this comes in the form of the reality that evil is very resistive to change and that facing it requires people of faith to take actions that seem highly risky. Some of this risk is framed in terms of loss of favor with neighbors, friends, and family members; it is very public. However, I think that the more difficult sort of risk comes from the need to deal with our own attitudes, beliefs, and well-established patterns of thought. This inward facing examination can be a source of the type of pain that we work so hard to escape. Still, the cleansing work of God’s revealing light performs the soul-healing work that is our world’s greatest need. For each of us this healing starts with ourselves, but it can not end there.

 

Christ did not leave us to sit and to wait for His return in passive contemplation of God’s goodness and resignation to our world’s fallen state. After His resurrection, He implored His followers to tend and to care for each other, and He sent them into the world to make the good news of God’s redemptive plan for salvation from sin through Jesus Christ a living reality for each and every person on this earth to encounter. This is done by people who live out our Lord’s love, grace, mercy, and compassion in every aspect of their lives. Still, God’s love is not soft and equivocal. So His truth has remained unchanging from before Creation. We also live out God’s love by standing up clearly and unyieldingly for His righteous truth. This is truly the hard challenge of publically proclaiming Christ in our world. For we can not, even for a moment, cease expressing Christ’s total love for all while we must stand up for God’s truth and against the evil that opposes it. This daunting task is made possible because Christ has returned, and His Spirit does dwell in each and in all of His people. It is Christ who grants us the loving understanding and wisdom with the strength to do His will.

Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live.

John 14: 19

 

We enter a room that comprises the upper floor of a house in Jerusalem. The light is dim but not dark. By modern standards the room is sparsely furnished and minimally decorated. Yet, in its center all attention is focused on the Master, on Jesus, as He is speaking in a way that no one has heard before. He is sharing a strange account of the way that things will soon be for His followers. This will be a time of great upheaval and trial. A period of testing for their faith as they continue on in a world where power and position will seem to matter far more than a person’s desire to serve God and to follow His commandments. In a short while, Jesus dies a brutal death; evil appears to win; and hope is placed into a stone tomb.

 

Jesus already knows the pain that His followers will feel. He is all too aware of the sorts of agony that He will be asked to endure. The Christ also knows fully the victory that God is about to claim over all that is evil, against every rebellious thought and deed, and as an act of restoration and eternal hope in the hearts of people in every corner of the world. This is the strange and yet wonderful tension that is in the air on this Passover night. They celebrate God’s faithful rescue of His people from Egyptian slavery while awaiting the Lord’s return to rule over His creation, and they do this in the presence of the One who will make that long anticipated dream a living reality. God has come, Emmanuel is present. Life is to be claimed out of the death that rebellion proclaimed.

 

This is the truth that Jesus was sharing. There would be a moment in history when oppression, violence, and the evil that brings them would seem to achieve their end. But that moment would soon pass and the glory of God would be revealed to the world in the risen Christ. So, life would replace death, and each person who is willing to surrender all that she is for the sake of gaining all that God has to offer in Christ is made truly and fully alive. Jesus was put to death and then came alive again so that all others could put our dead selves behind us and join Him in a life that knows no boundaries and that has no end. Jesus knew that it would take a form of life that was supernatural and that can only come from God for His followers to make it through the times of trial to come. In the same way we can prevail over the antagonistic forces of evil that surround us in our world because of the life that Christ in us abundantly grants to His beloved people.

 

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5: 7, 8

 

Passover began last night. Although most Christian traditions do not celebrate it, this most sacred of Jewish festivals is important to us. It is the setting for the events that took place in Jerusalem during the last week before Jesus was tried and crucified. The symbolism of God’s deliverance of His people from captivity is powerfully present in Passover, and the broken bread and the cup of wine that Jesus gave to us as a means for remembering His own act of permanent deliverance from the death of sin come out of this celebration. Our season of Easter should be a time of joy and of delight. However, it should also cause us to reflect on Christ and on our own lives in relationship to His love for us. These days of Holy Week, as we look forward to the Friday of the cross, are a good time to do the sort of cleansing that the preparation for Passover requires.

 

We can thoroughly clean our house and search for the leaven that is contaminating our hearts. The Holy Spirit will show us where it is hiding. As we open ourselves to His revealing light, those small grains of legalism, anger, fear, doubt, and control will be shown as if they were the size of giant boulders. These are the seeds that are planted deep inside of our hearts and our minds that, if left in place, will grow and swell until they break us apart and fracture our relationships. This leaven is the fertile ground where distrust and division are nurtured. It is activated by the warm water of human pride, arrogance, and stubborn reliance on our own understanding. It can also be elusive.

 

However, Christ has granted us freedom and release from its bondage. We do not need to be held captive by things out of our past. The thorough broom of God’s Word as empowered by Christ’s Spirit will help us do the cleansing. This time of preparation for Easter is an excellent time to lighten our load and to clear away the relational debris that has accumulated during our imperfect journey through life. Christ’s blood has truly cleansed His people of all of our sin. That does not mean that we are perfect, but it does certify us as holy. We should be living as the ones who are set free so that we can demonstrate Christ to our world and lead others into His righteousness. Let us prepare our hearts for the celebration!

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

Philippians 3: 8, 9

 

Most people are hoarders. We usually call it something else. We are collectors, frugal, prepared for any situation, stocking up, blessed by possessions, or fearful for where the next meal might come from. Storing up and holding on tightly to what we have seems to be ingrained deeply into our make-up. That is why the act of moving, of needing to pack it all and physically pick it up and put it some place else is often so healthy. This act usually causes us to consider carefully each thing that we have and consider why an item that hasn’t seen the light of day in over ten years is still essential. In a way, this is the challenge that Paul is throwing down for us here.

 

It is not my intention to be frivolous about the profound and the extraordinary change that takes place in people as we accept God’s invitation to enter into a relationship with Him by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. However, this is a bit like the idea of packing up and moving. Our lives are filled with all that we have collected throughout our years on earth. We also bring with us a large assortment of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and responses to life that came from our parents and from others who have influenced our development. Regardless of our age, the dwelling place of our soul contains a lot of stuff. Some of it is very useful for living a full life in response to God’s calling for us. Yet, other aspects of who we are will continue to weight us down and to inhibit our ability to respond to Christ fully and absolutely. Paul shows us a truly ruthless attitude toward it all. He says that we should consider all of the self-satisfying and God-denying aspects of our former lives as noting better than the trash.

 

Rather than wrapping them carefully to protect them, we should toss them out. This sort of spring cleaning isn’t so easy to do. Yet, it is vitally important for us. If we wish to leave behind the old life of living under the authority of the law with its rigid demands and its utter futility, then we need to trust Christ fully so that His Spirit can guide us into and through the necessary process of purging our hearts and minds of old ways of thinking about who we are, how we see others, and the way that God wants us to respond to His calling for us. This sort of deep and personal house cleaning can be painful and it is often rather frustrating as the items that we toss out today seem to find their way back in tomorrow. So, we need to do it all over again. Still, God is faithful, and He will remove the old, death-bringing aspects of ourselves from us. As we trust Christ and have faith in His great purpose for our lives, He will move us in and settle us into dwelling in the kingdom of His righteousness.

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Thy wonders.

I will be glad and exult in Thy name; I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.

Psalm 9: 1, 2

 

When David wrote these words, I don’t think that he was setting out any conditions to their application other than the fact that they were the truth about the way that God interacted with all of his life. There is no note of saying that I am thankful now that I am not a poor youngest son of a shepherd, or that he is appreciative for the current state of peace in his kingdom, or even that David can express his joy in the current depth of his spiritual life. David is saying that he is thankful for it all, for the good, the bad, the joyous and the sorrowful, the times of wealth and the depths of poverty, for dwelling in a palace and for the damp ground of a cave’s floor. Jesus knew them all; for He experienced all of the highs and the lows of living, and He goes with each of us through all of it. Even before this had become literally true, David seems to have understood the reality of a God who walks with us and who takes us through every step of life.

 

The close and intimate nature of this relationship gives purpose to living, and it provides a focus for my day that takes me outside of my problems, challenges, and concerns. The Lord also brings a powerful sense of hope into my heart. The presence of His Spirit in me continually encourages and motivates me to see the potential in every situation and for each day of my life. As I look at God and focus deeply on who He is and on how He is involved with me, I experience a sense of peace that is centered deep in my heart, and this peace brings freedom to every aspect of my being.

 

As I lift my voice in praise to God, nothing else matters. As I look at His wondrous love and grace, all of my failings and inadequacies are removed; and as my heart sings with the sounds of worship for my Savior, the freedom that He has purchased for me resonates through every fiber of my body. When I turn my mind and my heart away from the things that I am facing in my day and focus on the glorious gift that God has given to me through His love for me and by walking every step of my life with me, my spirits are lifted, my load becomes lighter, and the future becomes framed in the limitlessness of eternity.

 

I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to God!

The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just;

A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.

Deuteronomy 32: 3, 4

 

It strikes me that Moses had a far better than average understanding of the way that God works in the lives of His beloved children. He had seen more ups and downs and a lot more transition and change than most people could encounter in several lifetimes. Yet, through it all, in fact, at the center of much of it was the Lord, and God’s will and desire for establishing a legacy of righteousness among His people were the primary driving forces behind much of what Moses had done and where he had gone.

 

Moses had developed a keen awareness of just how important the quality of his footing was in order to make real progress through the desert. He also understood the need to get through all of the sand that sifted into his own life and that made it seem like he was making progress along God’s path when he was actually just expending all of his energy pushing against his own mental, emotional, and spiritual debris. Yet, when Moses turned to the Lord and sought after His direction, God went before him as a brilliant light that continually and consistently revealed the true rock solid path of His will.

 

Like Moses, my life has its days where the footing is firm and the direction is clear, and there are other times when I feel as if my feet and legs are sinking deeper and deeper into the sand. These are times where every step requires a degree of effort that is heart-bursting. In order to get out of the deep sand and back onto the solid path and to stay on that path more of the time, the same things are required of me that Moses needed to do. He actively recognized who God is and made the Lord the center of his life and the object of his focus. He accepted and acted on the fact that God’s ways are always right, just, and should not be questioned. Additionally, Moses was willing to allow God to show him where he was wrong and was willing to take action in order to remove the sand of his wandering times from his feet and to continually seek God’s rock-solid path of righteousness.

 

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