April 2013


Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness

will find life, righteousness, and honor.

Proverbs 21: 21

 

There is an old idea in the world of sports. What you focus your eyes on is what you will hit. So, if you are shooting a basketball, be sure to look intently at the basket. Likewise, a pitcher in baseball sets his eyes on the catcher’s glove. The same sort of concept is true in most other areas of endeavor as well. In a real sense this is what setting goals is about in business, families, and other organizations. We determine what we desire, and we state that as a goal in order to remain true to our intended course of action and to achieving the stated end without getting distracted and drifting off of that path.

 

The same sort of thinking is valid in our spiritual lives as well. In fact, I think that setting the right goals in this area is even more important than it is in these others. However, we often struggle with understanding and establishing the sorts of goals that God wants for us. God is more concerned with where our eyes are focused than He is in the number of times that we do something or than the frequency of an action or activity. The Lord wants to be the One who we set our eyes upon as we go through our days. His nature and character provide us with that perfect image of the person that we should be. In Jesus we see the living embodiment of all that makes us truly human and that sets us apart from all of the rest of Creation. So, Christ leads us into living as people who are truly made in God’s image.

 

Going before us we see a man who lived as God intended us all to live. Although Christ’s perfection and sinlessness is beyond our capacity and capability to achieve, we can desire and seek to live in a manner that continually sets aside more and more of our old selves and that is filled by Christ’s Spirit with His nature. We are called to live righteously. Thus we need to know God’s truth and seek after it in all areas of our lives, and we must be committed to its highest calling without regard to personal cost and without compromise. At the same time, Christ wants us to be as focused and committed to living as kind, gracious, and understanding people. We need to be people who have strong characters and soft, warm hands to embrace and to sooth people who are in pain as a result of sin’s relentless terror campaign. So, as we set our eyes on Christ, we will hit the target that is His perfect will.

 

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.

Deuteronomy 30: 19, 20a

 

God made an agreement, a covenant, with people. He promised that there was a way to enter into a relationship with Him in this life and that this same course would lead to an eternal existence in the presence of God. In this passage Moses is reminding us of God’s side of that agreement, and he does this by indicating that all of Creation stands as witness to it. In other words, Moses is saying that we can try to escape the reality and the truth of where and of how life is gained, but we will be going against the testimony of God’s mighty and universal great cloud of witnesses. Like all contracts, God’s covenant of life is not unilateral. The Lord gives to us; yet, His granting of this gift is in answer to our response to Him. God gives us all, and He desires that we would surrender all to Him.

 

Still, this surrender and acceptance is ours to choose. God lays before all people the opportunity to select life. He makes the knowledge of Him and of His righteous way known to us all. Then the Lord allows people to make the decision to follow Him or to reject Him. There is no middle ground; no alternate path that leads to real life in this world and to that thing that we call eternal life. That is, an existence that has no end which is carried forth in the presence of all that is life, God Himself. I do believe that once we have made the decision to surrender to God by accepting all that He is, which means accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord, that there is no possibility of living and of thinking our way out of this relationship with God. It is also true that only God is the judge of our lives and of the status of that eternal relationship.

 

The other part of this contract that God has entered into with us, in reality it is functionally the first part of it, involves the way that we live every day of our earthly lives. True life is found in and by our journey through our days with Christ. He makes love, peace, understanding, wisdom, and mercy real to us. These are qualities and characteristics that are intrinsically part of who God is, and they are among the most important aspects of life that we all desire. Love does not mean that we are surrounded by the adoration of people; it is a deep-seated feeling and belief that we are valued and cared about by God. The absence of conflict is not peace; rather, it settles inside of our hearts and minds and allows us to be whole, calm, and rational in the face of the most intense times of struggle and strife. Understanding and wisdom go together, and these are conditions of our minds and of our spirits that come directly from God through His Word, the fellowship of His Body, and by the revelation of Christ’s Spirit. Finally, mercy is that other-focused quality that takes us out of our natural, human bent to self protection and grants to us the blessing of touching people who have been injured and damaged by life on this harsh, alien planet with same love and grace of Christ that we have received. This is life!

Peter said, “If God therefore gave them the same gift (the Holy Spirit) as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Acts 11: 17

 

Peter had just experienced one of those great moments of eye opening, blast of ice-cold water in the face truth revealed to him by God. He had been thinking that he had a responsibility to perform as a sort of filter on what would be acceptable to God and on how people could be made worthy of entering into the fellowship of people who believe in Jesus. Peter was wrong. He was absolutely and totally off track in his thinking, and his actions followed along after his thoughts. In this same light, it is interesting how much Peter was like me and so many other people that I know and have heard about.

 

It seems that we humans are very slow learners. Thus, it is a really good thing that the Lord is a very patient teacher. There is one and only one authorized and final judge who has authority over the affairs of people, and that judge is the resurrected One, Jesus the Christ. We are called upon by God to function as a continuation of Christ’s interaction with people here on this earth; for, people who know Jesus are the living Body of Christ in our world. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can possess the heart, mind, and the power of Christ in order to fulfill our mission of bringing God’s loving grace, restorative peace, and eternal perspective to this sin ravaged world.

 

There is no person who is too depraved for God’s grace to save. There is no place that the Lord does not want us to go to tell His truth, and nothing should stop us from seeking to follow in Jesus’ footsteps on a daily basis. When I start to apply standards to others that will get in the way of my ability to speak truth to them with the love of Christ on my lips, I need to stop and consider how my Lord would have approached the same person. Then, I need to seek the Spirit’s leading and ask that Christ open my heart and fill my mind with His loving attitude and gracious words of eternal hope and salvation’s message.

He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.

1 Thessalonians 5: 24

 

When God calls to us, and, by the way, He always does, the Lord doesn’t just leave us alone to figure it all out. He always has a plan for how we can respond to Him and for what sort of support we will need in order to accomplish His mission in our life. Yet, I have discovered an interesting thing about the way that God works in my life in that His plan is not ridged. Therefore, He allows me to make choices and to reach decisions that are my own, and He still supports me in making them happen.

 

Taking action is more important than getting every detail perfectly right. Yet, moving forward is also much harder for me than planning and analysis. The Lord wants me to trust Him with taking care of the details as we go out into the great adventure of living for Him. God continually speaks to me; sometimes He whispers into the quiet of the night, at other times He shouts like the winds of a storm, and in some instances He speaks through other people. Still, His voice is a constant presence.

 

Christ’s call is not so much expressed in terms of “go there” or as “do that”; rather, He calls on me to seek righteousness, to draw near to Him, to love absolutely, and to serve the gospel of Jesus with all of my heart. Christ also tells me to let go of my hard but faltering grip on control of life. He reassures me that He is the actual doer of all that He calls upon me to accomplish. So, as I do these things, God promises that He will make His will my reality.

And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

            “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals,

               for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God

               from every tribe and language and nation,

               and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

               and they shall reign on the earth.”

   Revelation 5: 8-10

 

Contained within these few words and short song that is tucked into the early chapters of John’s prophetic vision about what is to come are words of real encouragement and also valuable direction for the way that we should be thinking and acting today. I admit that most of what is stated in The Revelation of Jesus Christ is mysterious. In fact, I believe that God made it that way deliberately so that we would stay living in the here and now and not just decide that we would focus our attention on the promise of the Lord’s return and the end of all that is miserable and lost in our world. Additionally, we are called by Christ to respond to Him and to His supreme sacrifice on our account by following Him and going into all of the world and by seeking to make disciples of everyone that we encounter there.

 

This idea can be very difficult in our times and in our current world condition. There are too many enemies out there. There is so very much anger and hatred and pain to confront. No one is insulated from it, and all of us are impacted by the multitude of ways that people can find to maim, marginalize, and oppress others. Angry ideologies and theologies are common-place in our discourse. It is hard to encounter much in the way of genuine compassion, care, mercy, and love that is lived out in our communities. Unfortunately, the loveless communities of our world include far too many of our faith-based gatherings as well. Still, Christ tells us that His blood was spilled in order to purchase the freedom of people from “Every tribe and language and nation.” That is language of inclusion. It speaks of a totality that eliminates the differences that have come as a result of sin.

 

It seems to me that as we seek to follow Christ we need to stop speaking in a nationalistic and racially or even a religiously prejudiced voice. The events that are occurring in our world should not change this. In fact, when evil strikes, people who know Christ need to respond with fearless love that seeks out the lost and the marginalized in our society and that at least presents the truth of God’s unending love for all people to them. This means that we should seek to walk through life with people who make us uncomfortable. Christ calls us to enter into life with people who are truly “the others”. These are people who think differently than us, who believe in a god that is not the same as ours, who dress and speak in ways that are strange to us, and who often are fearful of us and of our intent. Our journey through life should follow the same sort of path that Jesus walked. This starts with our prayers. I think that these are the same ones that are being poured out in this psalm of healing and reconciliation. We should seek to fill those golden bowls with prayers for all of the people in our world who make us angry, fearful, and uncomfortable. Then we need to reach out the hand of loving fellowship and peace to everyone we meet. In doing this we join with Christ in bringing true love to a lost world. 

 

 

 

 

It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

Matthew 18: 14

 

If Jesus meant this with His usual sincerity, then what does He intend for us to do about making it so? Maybe we should provide financial support for the work of our local church and to missionary efforts around the world, perhaps we need to continually seek the Lord’s intervention in the lives of the people that we know who don’t truly know Him, and it may be that we should live in a manner that looks more like God’s descriptions of righteousness. I think that all of these are true statements, and I also think that all of them are more the result of what Jesus is instructing us to do than they are the actual direction that He is telling us to go.

 

By His own example, Jesus was a goer and a doer. He went to the place where people lived, and He entered into the real aspects of their lives. It didn’t matter whether it was at a party, on a hot and dusty road, by a sick bed or a grave, in a crowd, or in isolation; Jesus went to the place of need to meet the life needs of everyone who would listen to and trust Him. While doing that, He also fulfilled their most basic of longings by providing the means for their souls to be brought into relationship with God. Jesus prayed to the Father for guidance and direction; then, He acted upon God’s expressed will.

 

It seems that the primary thing that Jesus is telling me is to go and to do. Christ wants me to enter into the lives of people, and this includes all types, sorts, and descriptions of people. He wants me to get out of the safety and the security of my church, my family, the rules of proper social behavior, concern over the possible reaction of another, and everything that stops me from acting as a flesh-bearing, life-living, Christ’s love filled bearer of the good news of the Lord’s saving grace. “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” (Matthew 18: 11) As the Spirit of Christ fills us, so we are called to live our whole lives with this truth on our lips and with sharing and demonstrating its reality in our lives as our continual focus.

 

 

Lead me, O Lord, in Your truth and teach me,

For You are the God of my salvation;

For You I wait all the day.

Psalm 24: 5

 

Every thing that we do, and all that we encounter is a part of the process of following and of learning from God. There are no situations that we will ever encounter that He can not and will not use for these purposes. Even the fears and the concerns that are a natural part of how we people are wired have a role to play in the classroom of life that we occupy. The Lord uses them to lead my trembling hands and faltering heart away from the lies that they so quickly embrace into the truth of His eternal love and care.

 

There are real things to be concerned about, and it is within God’s expectations for us that we will have issues to deal with that raise serious anxieties and that are too big to face alone. There will be times of pain and loss that are too great to understand or to handle on our own. Yet, that is the point; for, our Lord wants to join us in all of these times. He does have a response for everything that we encounter. God wants us to turn to Him, to focus on His face of love, to listen to His voice of truth, and to open our hearts to His instruction. God’s will for His beloved children is for us to enter into His love and peace during each and every aspect of life.

 

Sometimes the Lord’s response comes in an instant, and sometimes the lesson is learned through a time of waiting. In some situations the Lord doesn’t provide understanding; He simply asks me to trust in who He is and rest in His eternal goodness. Yet, in and through it all, He is continually with me, and He always answers. In fact, the most important thing that I often get out of these situations is a greater understanding of the reality of God’s presence in my life. My faith waivers; still, He is consistent. My grip grows weary; yet, God is in control. Through all of life, the Lord is patient with my weakness; so, who else should I trust?

 

 

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