November 2013


Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

 

Jesus is recognizing the fact that people work hard. The labor of working and of relating and of just living can be exhausting. God understands that this world can be a very harsh place, for stress, strain, fear, loneliness, and grief are too frequently singing the song that accompanies our days. He wants us to learn to turn away from those voices and to open our hearts to His.

 

The Lord owns all of the resources that we will ever require to make it through the day, and He shares them with the sort of open hands that we will not find anyplace else. There is nothing that we can need that is beyond His capability, outside of His grasp, or uninteresting to God. Stated very simply, He wants to take on the heavy, hard, and disabling aspects of living so that we are free to live joyously in His presence.

 

The one thing that God asks of us here is that we come to Him. The Lord wants us to realize that we would be so much better off if we would turn toward Him, give up our own weary efforts to handle it all, and let His mighty hands lift the weight off of our backs. Jesus promises that we will receive much more than just respite from the tiredness. For Christ gives to us the clarity of thought, the restoration of strength, and the vitalization of purpose that come from our intimate engagement with the spirit of God. In turning to Him, we move deeper into the life changing relationship with God that is the center of being joyously alive through and despite of whatever comes our way in this life.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

Jude’s short letter is all about the fact that salvation has always been the work of Jesus. That is true for all of history, not just the period of time that we might call the age of the New Testament. So, if we desire to be saved, we need to remain singularly focused on the One who saves, that is Jesus, the Christ. He calls upon us to follow Him in all things and with a totality of commitment that literally drives all else out of us and replaces those former, worldly elements with Christ-imbued righteous truth. There is much in our world that wars with this transformation. Many people and the institutions that they promote are antagonistic to God and to His people. This is the struggle that Jude warns about.

 

Yet, I think that this little benediction speaks loudly about why people who know Christ can be thankful in the midst of the many struggles and uncertainties of life. Christ does not leave us out here all alone. He provides each and every one of His followers with absolute truth that we can anchor to in order to withstand the storms that come our way. His grace is more than all that we need to be brought into the presence of the most holy God and declared worthy, pure, blameless, and innocent. Christ stands as our defense against the attacks that evil launches against us and provides the touch of healing that we require in order to recover from the inevitable bruises that we receive as we contend for our faith.

 

In all of this there is great cause for thanksgiving. God is in this world. He has never been absent. Christ has been working for the redemption of people since the first of us defied God and became needy of grace and salvation. He has not and will not stop doing the same for all of humanity until the day of His final return. It is ours to choose to accept God’s mercy and follow Christ. So, as we have done that, we can know God and understand His greatness and live in the security of His rule of authority over this world. In Christ, we are the beloved subjects of the one and only true King. We are the recipients of the royal blessing of life, and there is no greater reason than this to cause us to lift up our voices in choruses of thanksgiving and praise.

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Luke 17: 6

 

The basic laws of nature are at work all around us every day and all of the time. They hold our world together and keep things in their reliably assigned places. They also become rogue agents and tear our lives apart and disrupt the best developed of our plans. When our world is on its good behavior it is miraculously enjoyable, and when it is in its manic, out of control phases it is terrifying and impossibly hard to understand.

 

Unfortunately, Jesus is not giving us a way to take control over all of this chaos of nature. He is not telling us that our faith, if sufficiently constant and well placed in Him, will grant us the ability to hold God-like sway over these natural laws. The Kingdom of God is not a place where we can redecorate the landscape by planting trees in the lagoon, and we can’t stop the hurricane or the typhoon from its destructive path. This is not the sort of manifestation of faith that has any real value to God as it is not the sort of service to Him that He desires from us.

 

Christ wants His people to serve Him out of a simple, very direct faith. Christ is real in this world. He takes us out of a life in which we are the victims of the evil that seems to rule the day here, and He places us into a spiritual relationship that our faith-infused imaginations now grasp as our reality. It is from the perspective of this relationship that all that happens around and to us in this world begins to gain a sense of order and that we can comprehend God’s will and plan for redemption in the middle of the storm. Even the smallest grain of faith leads to hope, and hope leads to understanding. Then, as a result of God’s true law of nature, understanding brings us to service to our Lord.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip?”

John 14: 9a

 

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, especially someone that you are close to and realized that you don’t actually know what they are saying? The words are clear, the discussion doesn’t revolve around obscure concepts or, for me, principles of physics, but the meaning of it all is just not getting through. In the passage that surrounds the verse above, Jesus is trying to explain the basic facts of the events that are about to happen; He has been both clear and repetitive in these explanations; yet, his close friends just don’t understand. They have a very real problem with listening. They hear the words with their ears but not with their hearts; and they allow their minds to interpret what Jesus says in the manner that they desire to understand it.

 

I have much the same problem. I hear what the Lord has to say to me, and He speaks in many ways every day. I read the bible and He talks to me. I pray and He grants me knowledge and insight, and I talk to other Christians and get sound feedback. Still, Christ’s actual will can be vague and obscure to me. I think that, like Phillip, I have a problem with my listening skills. I work really hard at seeking the Lord’s voice; yet, I also work very hard at keeping the filters of my own understanding and my own desired outcomes in place.

 

Jesus tells us to listen to His words and to stay open in our hearts and in our minds to what He is actually saying. This is much more an act of faith than it is of will; for, we need to trust Jesus enough to let Him speak to us in a very deep way.  The key to this sort of deep listening seems to be in found in faith. It is necessary to truly believe that Christ has all of the answers that we will need for every situation that we will encounter so that we can set aside the well developed, human reason based filters and responses that a life time of living has built up in us. Then as we have opened the ears of our hearts and minds to truly hear Christ’s will, faith in Christ will lead us to act on what He tells us.

 

 

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.

Psalm 33: 1

 

The sound that comes out when I open my mouth and start to sing may not please everyone, but that shouldn’t stop me from singing. The words to the song may become confused or a bit jumbled at times, but I should continue to hum along until they become clear again. Music has a way about it that makes everything seem better, and it also tends to penetrate deep into the center of things in a way that connects and that joins people together.

 

God is pleased to hear the music that we make; yet, we don’t even need to make a sound in order for Him to appreciate it, for the Lord hears the vibrations that come from our hearts, too. He knows when we are seeking to follow the truth of the word and when we are surrendering our will and our self-determined interests to the Lord’s greater purpose. The simple footsteps of people who are following the straight path of righteousness through the day set off vibrations that resonate throughout the world with the song of salvation.

 

As each of us chooses to sing the words of life that God gives to us, we become part of a great choir of voices that will be heard above all of the noise that our world sets off to oppress people and to confuse their thinking. When we open our hearts with expressions of thanks to God for all that He is and everything that He does, the beauty of His presence radiates out from us, and our heart’s song can cause others to desire to join the chorus.

 

Encourage the exhausted, strengthen the feeble.

Isaiah 35: 3

 

The water is rough and the shore is far away; the darkness is oppressive, and coldness has soaked the soul. This is a picture of exhaustion. In these times life is relentless and nothing provides relief; everything is hard to accomplish, even the most familiar task is too intricate to understand. This is a picture of people who were once strong, now weak; once mighty and confident, now feeble. Time and process and frustration and defeat come to influence us all; for, no one is spared from their inevitability. None of us remain strong forever or in all ways.

 

The Lord has promised to stay with us through everything that comes. As the breath seems to be leaving us, He breathes in new life. As the muscles tie into useless knots, He takes us on his back and swims us to shore. So, as Christ does, he calls upon His people to do. Christ was quick and ready to step into the lives of people, and He was willing to go to the least desirable in society, and He would reach out to touch the most unclean. How can we who know Him and who have been saved by His blood do less?

 

We are to be the ones who cheer on our worry worn brothers and sisters. We are to be the ones who lift up the load of life when its weight becomes too much to handle. None of us can make it through this life alone; all of us need help and assistance; and everyone needs to be a helper. The Lord tells us that we are to accept support when we need it, and we are to be strong when others are weak. Christ wants each of us to open our hearts to the weariness of others. He wants each of us to be receptive to the life struggles around us. A warm smile, an encouraging word, an ear that hears, a genuine offer of help; these are among the ways that we become the face of Jesus that brings light out of darkness to the people around us.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12: 4, 5

 

Unity, togetherness, and oneness are all qualities desired by humans. Yet, these are qualities of life that are hard to find. Perhaps this elusiveness is the result of the super human nature of the source of these qualities. In Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, anyone can be brought into one family. Through knowing Jesus, everyone has the right to join together as one in spirit. This is a form of unity that embraces our individuality, for uniqueness is considered to be an important aspect of the way that God, Himself, created each of us. In God’s view of our humanity, all of the gifts, talents, and skills that we possess are useful and vital. It doesn’t matter how we came to have them. They can be the result of long, hard work and study or they can be the most natural thing that we do in life. Regardless, the Lord will use the total package that we bring to life for His work and for His glory in this world.

 

The biggest obstacle that gets in the way of recognizing this truth is our own stubborn blindness to it. We tend to be too hard on others, and we are usually too hard on ourselves. Christ always sees the potential, and He always embraces the person and takes what each of us has at this time. Then, He uses whatever it is that we bring to the table and grows us into greater maturity in Him. As we mature in Christ we are better able to understand the gifts that God is giving to us. However, this understanding does not lead to the glorification of ourselves; rather, it points us to its source in Christ and to serving His kingdom.

 

Christ calls upon us to take what we have and stop spending so much time and energy on trying to sort it out or to find its perfect point of application. Then, we need to join in with others and put our skills, talents, and gifts to work. This is something that every one of us can engage; for, almost everyone is under utilizing the gifts that Christ has given to us. We also need to become less defensive and more open in the way that we view the abilities of others. In doing this we can embrace God’s viewpoint, which sees the potential, and not the obstacle. Unity, togetherness, and oneness are found through openness. Strength, protection, and accomplishment are found together in the body of Christ.

 

They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,

for He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

Isaiah 49: 10

 

This is hard to admit, but I have an issue with food. I eat far too many things that are neither good for my health nor are they eaten for good and worthwhile reasons. If the truth be told, I love to eat foods that contain serious amounts of sugar, and I adore baked goods like pies, cakes, pastry, and bread. Provide me with some ice cream to top it off, and that is a personal view of heaven. Unfortunately, this all gets down to issues of discipline and matters of will for me. Although I can eat all of this for I am not under doctor’s orders to stop, they are the sorts of things that add weight around the middle and that do other negative things to my body’s chemistry.

 

So, after another day of craving the sweet stuff and of searching for it on several occasions, then giving in to that large slice of pie with the ice cream topper; in frustration I asked God to talk with me about all of this. His response to me was to ask me to share with Him my reasons and motivations. The Lord knows that my mind traverses an analytical path. The results of that process led me to see that my greatest times of weakness, the moments when my resolve is likely to fail, are those when I am physically tires and emotionally drained, when my spirit is weary and my heart is heavy, and when my personal resources are at their low point. In other words, to borrow from Paul, I eat the things that I do not want to eat, I can’t honestly say that I hate them, but the point is similar. For me, this thought changes a great deal of how to approach this issue and others that are like it in nature.

 

God is saying to me that I am looking in the wrong pantry to find a filling for my body, mind, and spirit. He reminds me of the eternal truth of His Word wherein all that sustains me is to be found. Christ says to my troubled mind that He will give me all of the strength that I could ever need and that He desires to lead me along the way of using it for the sake of His righteousness. At times of craving for the sweet treats of this world, Christ calls me to join Him in Eucharistic feast, to kneel down in His presence and allow the ministry of His Spirit to bring peace and contentment to my day. Christ tells me the honest truth when He says to me that I can come to Him when I am worn out and beaten down, that I have Him to turn to for wise counsel when life has drained my heart of endurance, and to empty myself of my own strength and dwell in His. Christ is my good shepherd who never fails to feed me what I actually need.

 

 

What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will no sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?

Luke 14: 31

 

Almost all of life comes with a price tag attached. There is a bar code printed on it that needs to be scanned before we can move on. The question that we must face regards how much currency we have available to us to pay the charge. Life doesn’t take Visa or MasterCard, except maybe in the debit mode, and it doesn’t extend easy payment terms either. Living and breathing and engaging with our world takes what we have and often returns very little change. This is particularly true about following Christ.

 

Christ wants us to be all in when we commit to Him. In essence, He asks of us what He has already given for us. This is not just an ego-centric or a power driven quality that influences the way that God enters into relationship with people; rather, it is something that is essential for our own well being and peace. You see, we will be going out to battle in which the odds are much like those that the king in Jesus’ story was facing. The warfare that is life in this broken wasteland of a world where we live will not grant to us equal odds or an opponent who follows rules of fair play and just treatment. Satan fights dirty. Life cheats. We will be bloodied and battered; our hearts will be broken and our minds will be tortured. Every ounce of cunning, skill, and strength that we possess will be depleted, and our spirits will be drained to the edge of breaking. This is why Christ tells us to be careful and to check our physical, emotional, and spiritual bank balances before we sign on with Him.

 

This all sounds bleak. Why would any rational person agree to all of this? This does not sound like the all loving Jesus who holds little children on His lap and who heals every manner of illness and suffering. Or does it? As He was engaged in these acts of mercy, compassion, and care Jesus was fully aware of where He was going. He knew that the road that He was on would lead to the brutality of rejection and death. He also understood that He was doing all of this in direct response to the Father’s will and that God would be His strength and encouragement in the journey. He knew what the cost would be, and Christ knew that He had to set aside all in order to give all. Now Christ asks us to follow Him. He knows that we must set aside all that we have in every sense of having. For as we do this, He fills us with Himself. The cost that we are required to pay, regardless of how high, is trivial in comparison to what we gain. For, as we surrender ourselves to Christ, He fills us with His wisdom, truth, love, strength, courage, and peace. The very real presence of Christ in our lives transforms our dwelling place into the Kingdom of God.

Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4: 16

 

In this thought lies one of the greatest aspects of the transformed reality that is ours in Christ Jesus. There is a human tendency to fear authority, and this is especially true when the sort of authority that we are facing has power over and control of our comfort, freedom, and feeling of well being. Most of us have experienced the dread that comes with the prospect of going to see the school principle, of having a parent discover our misdeeds, or being summoned to the boss’s office. The heart rate elevates and palms become sweaty, and the mind starts to build images of the worst of all possible outcomes into something that is like absolute fact; so, we don’t want to go and face the music.

 

However, Christ calls, He summons us, and the Lord seeks after us to come before Him. The words that He needs to say may very well be words of correction, for we might need more than anything else to have the way that we are thinking and living straightened out and changed. Still, Christ calls us to receive mercy and to be blessed by the kiss of grace. He hands us the receipt that has been signed and sealed by the highest court possible that tells us that the fine for all of our misdeeds, all of our sin, has been paid in full by Christ. More so, it indicates that the sum that was paid was the sacrifice of the one and only perfect and blameless lamb, Jesus.

 

Now everyone can come to God under all circumstances, at any time of the day or night, and in whatever state of being that we may find ourselves; and we can do this with total and complete confidence and with the understanding that we will be received with the open arms of love that the Father uses to greet His most beloved children. You see, because of Christ’s sacrifice, an act that He willingly performed for my sake; I am now cleansed of all of the impurity that had previously created a barrier between me and God. Also, I have Christ’s promise that He does stand before the Father to tell God that I am His own, and I know with the sort of confidence that can only come from the word of truth that is Christ, Himself, that I will be touched by God’s love, healed from my brokenness, and transformed into His glory.

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