November 2013


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.

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.

 

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