November 2013


Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3: 17

 

Freedom is one of humanity’s greatest quests. We all seek to be free from something, and most people continue to seek various forms of freedom throughout our lives. For some, there is never enough of it; yet, for others, almost any of it is too much to handle. Freedom is slippery for it may just slide right out of our hands. It is also elusive in that it can hide behind the smallest of obstacles just as it seemed to be within reach. One of the hardest realities to face is the fact that much of our imprisonment is caused by our own actions. We are too often the jailer who locks himself in the cell and then tosses the keys out of the window.

 

In our striving there is only one freedom that matters above all else. It is the one form of freedom that impacts every other aspect of life. For once our souls are free; we can not be locked away again. After our hearts are delivered from their naturally born states of enslavement to sin, our minds are turned loose to consider blue sky dreams and days of endless possibility. Christ comes to dwell with and in each of us when we surrender to His call and accept Him as Lord of our lives. His Spirit will not accept and can not be bound up and held down by the chains of sin that constrain people who do not know Him. With the Spirit present in us, any hours and days of confinement that we experience are the result of the tenacious nature of our old selves and its refusal to die easily and are impacted by Satan’s continued attempts to pull those that he has lost back into his dungeon of control.

 

Unfortunately, this struggle is something that almost all of us will be engaged in for the rest of our lives. Life in Christ involves a continual process of confession of our sin,   accepting God’s grace and forgiveness, repentance and turning away from our old selves. Yet, in this process, Christ’s Spirit is working in us and against the evil that is attempting to ensnare our hearts and minds. Once we are His, Christ will not let go. The Spirit dwelling within all who know Christ does grant each of us freedom. He brings to us the freedom that we truly need; the freedom of our souls, and this sets our hearts and our minds free to breathe the pure air of victory over sin.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by.

Psalm 57: 1

 

There are some days when the air is just filled with a sense that something is going to go very wrong or be incredibly hard to handle. In some of these instances I have a very good idea about the causes of my concern; since, I was likely responsible for causing the situation that is threatening me. At other times, I have absolutely no idea why I am experiencing this sensation of having the hair on the back of my neck standing up and my stomach churning with anticipation of what might come next. This world is certainly filled with enough evil to make anticipatory concern a very rational state of being, and I must admit that I have an exceptional capacity for providing my own input to the chaos of this world.

 

That is probably why David’s words strike me with such intensity and with a heart felt realization that he is speaking for me. So, I can readily claim his words as mine and sing along with him this prayer of request for God’s grace to be generously poured out onto me. From experience, my Lord is very quick to provide the sort of gracious mercy, compassion, and protection that I need in these personally challenging times. He protects me from the assault of evil, and He sooths any wounds that I might have incurred in the fight. God’s Spirit hovers over my heart and my soul like a protective mother eagle who will sacrifice everything in order to guard her nest. He provides me with a safe place to be until I have regained the strength and the resources that I need to face the world again.

 

God’s protective and restorative drive is fundamental to who He is, and He readily gives the gift of His active presence to people. The Lord wants us to turn to Him as our source of encouragement as we prepare to face into each day of our lives. God wants us to remember that through Christ the war with evil has already been won. Now, we are dealing with the guerrilla warfare style skirmishes that a defeated enemy uses to cause us to suffer pain and to distract us from bringing the message of Christ’s victory to more of the world. Instead, let’s join David in singing praise to God, the only true source of comfort, strength, and salvation.

For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

2 Corinthians 3: 11, 12

 

Why is it hat we humans have a tendency to grasp hold of the temporary and to hold on as if our lives depended upon it? Here Paul is talking about a rule and works oriented view of how we gain favor with God. He is making reference to what we call the Old Covenant in which our righteousness was dependant upon our efforts. In people’s view of this, what we did was even more important that what we believed in our hearts and our minds. For as long as we acted with concern, care, and compassion toward others; it was alright to despise them and to consider them as inferior. Justice became a rule and an ordinance rather than being the outworking of God within us.

 

Since it is impossible to maintain this sort of effort on our own, human strength has very narrow limits, people are always worn down and worn out by working in this manner. We will never accomplish justice, peace, fairness, and love if they are based upon our capacity for generating and for carrying them out. These are all good things that do come from God, but they fade away when they are enacted out of our perishable and impermanent wills. We also pay a terrible price in the process of trying, for the effort will fail and we will be consumed in the attempt to live inside of the lines of righteousness that we have laid down for ourselves. This generally leads to the despair of failure and to resignation to unfulfilled dreams, and at worst, it leads to compromise of God’s truth for the sake of self protection.

 

Yet, there is another way. The Father has given us Christ’s Spirit to live in and with us. We are not on our own. There is risk involved, however. We are asked to surrender our striving for perfection and our desire to always be right. Christ is very direct in showing us our weakness and our sinful hearts. Yet, He also invites us into His sacrifice for our sakes and brings us into the presence of God, the Father, as fully acceptable and totally forgiven members of that eternal gathering. With Christ as the strength behind our actions we will not grow weary. As we seek God’s will through prayer and contemplation on His Word the Spirit will show the way. In this life of surrender and humble submission to Christ there is peace and strength. Living in this manner grants us the sort of confident boldness that is required to take the glory of God into the darkness of our world.

 

 

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.

John 15: 26

 

These are the words of Jesus, and He is describing basic and essential truth about God. He will never leave us alone or on our own; for, if we know the Father through our relationship with Jesus; then, we will have the Holy Spirit with us. God’s desire is to never be separated from His children again, and His promise is to always be with us.

 

There is nothing that we can encounter that the Lord does not have an answer for, and there is nowhere that we can go where He doesn’t know the terrain. We have been provided with God’s word to read and to consider as we seek to understand His will and His way in our lives, and the Lord has given us His Spirit as the only authorized interpreter for when its words seem too mysterious for us to grasp.

 

The Spirit of Christ is in this life with us without day off and without reservation or hesitation. Whether I am in the middle of a major challenge or a huge decision, the Lord will speak to me and He will direct me to proceed in a way that will bring honor and glory to Him. I have a life resource that is unique to God’s children, the Spirit of Christ, who gives me the kind of constant feed back and guidance that I need to navigate my way through this complex world. I need to do three things in order to allow this relationship to flourish: I need to recognize that the Holy Spirit  is real in my life; I need to allow His voice access to my heart on a consistent basis; and I need to let go of my willful desire to be in control. So, as I surrender control in my life, I allow Christ to take me to places that are wonderful and are filled with God’s glory that are beyond my ability to imagine.

 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.

Hebrews 13: 8

 

In an uncertain time in the ever swirling history of the world, what is there that is absolutely, undeniably, and permanently unchanged and unchanging? Leaders of nations are in power for only a moment, and their thoughts, ideas, and actions tend to change over time as they are influenced by events and by people. No nation has continued throughout all of time, and every one of them that has long-standing changed greatly during its days. Today’s wondrous building is tomorrow’s tourist curiosity. There is nothing that people create that does not eventually crumble.

 

Still, the hearts of people are made to seek out and to desire someplace to anchor, some solid platform to stand on; one real and tangible place to put our feet that will not shift and tumble during the storm. Unfortunately, so many of the promises of security that we grab hold of are nothing more than illusions. They are momentary and terribly disappointing when they fail, and they can lead us away from the truth and the stability that are found in Christ.

 

God’s promise to all people is straight forward and clear. He tells us to accept the safe harbor that is found in Jesus, hold onto Him, let Christ’s Spirit lead the way through life, and you will have the kind of certainty that your soul craves. As we stay connected to Jesus, the swirling chaos that is so much a part of the world around us becomes less disorienting, for we are standing on a platform that has not moved through all of history. Christ is the one that will not be shaken and will never change or disappoint us.

 

I am in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

John 17: 23

On some days I feel generally out of sorts and disconnected. Simple things become irritating, and innocent words or actions of others become sinister or at least filled with hurtful intent. Now most of the time I can quickly sift the truth and the reality out from the self-based emotional responses. However, some of the time the cloud of ill-functioning feeling and thinking just sticks with me and is very hard to escape. These days are hard to get through. The act of moving ahead and of acting normal consumes a very great amount of energy. On these days hurts become magnified, and my tendency is to turn inward and to become self- absorbed; thus, the negativity feeds itself.

It is my suspicion that I am not alone or singular in my experience of this sort of emotional reality. My own reactions to situations and to people, when viewed from the perspective of the calm after the storm, explain the ways that others respond to various situations from time to time. Although Jesus is not speaking specifically to this sort of thing in His words here, the ideas that He gives to us do seem to apply to these difficult times in life. In this prayerful portion of the Upper Room Discourse Jesus is addressing God, the Father. Christ says that the Father is in Him and that He, Christ, is in His followers, us. This is basic, fundamental Christian thinking. His next words are powerful. Christ says that a goal or an intent of His dwelling in us is that we would become perfect which in this setting does not mean morally or ethically correct but does mean that we would become fully formed, grown up, into people who act and think like Christ.

This is helpful to me in dealing with my responses to life. Jesus grants to me a perspective that can change this dysfunctional aspect of my existence into something that actually brings me closer to Him and deeper into the relationships that I encounter on a daily basis. I believe that Christ would have me set aside the negativity and the doubt that mark these hard days with the realization that they are the product of my old self. Christ’s love, which is the same love as that which God gives, is poured out on and into me. It is a love that He would have me apply to all of the interactions that I enter into. It is the love that Christ has granted to me as the foundation upon which I should view all people. This love is what brings me into that state of perfect maturity in Christ, and it is that state of maturity that makes logical sense of life’s emotionally and challenging moments.

Love is as strong as death.

Song of Solomon 8: 6b

 

In the contemplation of death lies some of the greatest fears and concerns that people encounter. This is so as death brings us to the boundary of all that we understand and causes us to look intently into a beyond that is the frontier of faith. There is no other aspect of this life that takes us quite so far out of the realm of experience as does death. It also forces us to consider all that we would have desired to accomplish and who we want to be in the light of what we have actually done and how we are living. Also, God has woven into us a great desire to live that is the spark behind much of the will to fight that propels us forward through the conflicts and the trials that come our way.

 

Yet, it is Christ who brings understanding to this great mystery. It is God’s love that brought Jesus into this world so that the Father’s demand for absolute holiness would be answered and so that the death that sin requires would be absolved. With Christ in me the trepidation of this look forward is resolved into a contemplation of moving from one aspect of the continual presence of absolute love to an infinitely greater one. In this world the glory of Christ is present, but in the next, the glory of God is the expression of everything!

 

Still, in this world, the grim reaper wields his scythe daily and death remains a constantly unyielding companion; so, it is normal to consider our own mortality and that of those that we care about. It is here in this contemplation that love seems to speak most loudly and with a voice that is clear above and beyond the noise of doubt, fear, and pain. It is love that broke through the seemingly impenetrable darkness of evil, and it is the pure love of Christ that has defeated Satan’s illusion of control over life. Love holds us close when the grief of loss fills our hearts, and love illuminates the journey and eases our need to hold onto this world when the death in question is our own.

 

Does not wisdom call?

Does not understanding raise her voice?

Proverbs 8: 1

 

Here are two really good questions to be asking these days. For there are so many days where it is hard to find a single utterance of a wise voice or to hear ideas expressed that come close to resembling ones that understand God’s righteous truth. Politicians and business leaders and even some of the people who advise us on matters of faith are speaking in angry terms, are compromising integrity for gain, and are deceiving us with false promises that they have neither the intention nor the ability to fulfill. It is easy to become discouraged. Many do give up on the idea that they can and should continue to try to make a difference in our world. Yet, Christ called us to Him for that very purpose.

 

I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,

and I find knowledge and discretion.

The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Proverbs 8: 12, 13

 

Perhaps the real issue is the voices that we are tuning in? Instead of reading and focusing on the words of public figures and on those of their detractors, we might better study God’s Word. It may be that we will find a better and a more informative dialogue on these important matters of our day among others in our community of faith than we do in the public forum and the news. God grants wisdom to His people. He gives us the ability to sift through the debris field of data and information that litters our daily path so that we can walk in the light of righteousness. The Holy Spirit walks with us to guide our steps along the often perilous trail of life with Godly knowledge of truth and with the capacity to make wise decisions and the courage to act in a manner that is worthy of Christ and that brings glory to His name.

 

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His work,

the first of His acts of old. Proverbs 8: 22

 

God created us to live in relationship with Him, and He has provided wise council and guidance for people since those earliest days. The Lord has never failed to lay down His path of wisdom for us to follow. That is why it is foolish to seek the answers that we need from any other source. Christ is leading us to be engaged with our world and to be sources of truthful and reasonable discourse in the midst of the anger, chaos, and deception that seem to rule the day. Christ wants His people to be the light that leads the lost to His salvation, and it is Godly wisdom that grants us the perspective that is needed to bring Christ to center of all that we say and do.

 

And now, O sons, listen to me:

blessed are those who keep my ways. Proverbs 8: 32

 

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10: 43-45

 

Many people spend a great amount of time and considerable effort in developing themselves. I know that I have and continue to do this very thing. It actually is good to have knowledge and skills. These are useful. Even the positions of leadership and influence that these acquired abilities support are valuable and worthwhile in both human and in Kingdom of God terms. So, I don’t think that Jesus was speaking against His people becoming leaders in our world, community, or other areas of life. It seems that His point is focused on how we conduct ourselves in life and on the way that we view our responsibility to all of the others that we meet as we travel through our days.

 

In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that we should seek to occupy only the lowliest of positions in our culture because positions of greater authority and responsibility will always corrupt the holder of the office. He is saying that the attitude that we need to have as we go about living life is one that we can see from His approach to His life among us. Jesus is God. He is the rightful and appointed King over this entire world. Yet, He agreed to set aside all of His position and apparent authority in order to live with and among us, to teach and demonstrate righteous living to us, and to sacrifice Himself for us. Christ was willing to serve all of humanity in a manner that was unknown before His life with us and that remains elusive to this day. His sacrificial service knew no limits or limitations. He cared for those who were close to Him and for those who despised Him and brought Him harm. Christ did this without regard for any of the distinctives, points of reference, or divisions that we routinely consult in placing value on others.

 

Jesus calls upon His people to follow Him. He meant that in absolute terms. There is nothing that He would have us hold back, and there are no people that He grants us permission to treat differently than He would. This is one of those areas where life as a follower of Christ gets hard, for I think that Jesus is telling me to repent for my attitudes of superiority and self-righteous pride. He says that I must stop viewing any others as lesser beings. So, I must submit myself to serving the needs of all others, and in Christ’s view, the greatest of those needs is for relationship with God. Jesus is calling upon us to love others without concern over their acceptance of our love, to bind up the physical and the emotional wounds that we see around us, and to give all that we have in order to bring the presence of Christ into the darkness of our world. Jesus is telling me that the best place for me to view the Kingdom of Heaven is while on my knees in humble submission to His will as I wash the feet of the stranger and the foreigner.

 

 

You made known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16: 11

 

There is a deep and unquenchable thirst, a longing, an empty or a blank space in life that defies human filling. Almost everyone has a sense of need that is rooted deep inside the heart; a need that can take on a life of its own, that can demand immediate attention. Sometimes it hangs out in the background and nags at us; at other times it is ravenous like a pack of teenage boys. It is almost as if something vital to healthy function is missing from us. The need and the drive to satisfy it are so great that most people seek after its resolution on a continual basis. We try out things that enthrall, exhilarate, motivate, and captivate us. We pour work, hobbies, avocation, and passion down our throats in gag inducing quantities. Powerful emotions and drives are given control of our hearts; yet, the void remains. Nothing satisfies; nothing meets the need.

 

That is, nothing meets this fundamental need other than Christ. The empty place is the void created when people rejected the relationship with the divine that God designed into them. Conversely, satisfaction is found only in becoming filled with the Spirit of God, and that is done through Jesus. But there is more; for, the craving doesn’t go away completely. In a way it is like a desire to eat sweet foods; we may have an ample supply of good basic food to eat, but we still eat the candy and continue to fill a big bowl with ice cream.

 

God knows us; therefore, He keeps reminding us to seek satisfaction in the place where it is certain. Thus, the Lord continually calls us to His side. By staying focused on the Lord, life’s emptiness will be filled to overflowing with joy, and every need will be met with unfailing delight. When those age-old cravings that we have learned to fill with the emptiness of sin’s confections call to us, God says that we need to turn instead to Him. Then Christ will provide us with a feast, with His banquet table loaded to overflowing with soul satisfying nourishment.

 

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