February 2014


Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears,

that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people!

Jeremiah 9: 1

 

The tracks of his tears stain the cheeks of the prophet as his sorrow and mourning pour out onto the dust that has gathered on his face from the miles of traveling the hard road that God has sent him along. Jeremiah feels what God experiences. Our rebellion and refusal to follow His Word are painful to God. But His pain is not the frustration of a ruler whose orders are disobeyed. Rather, God’s grief is the deeply felt response of a loving father who sees His child choosing the hard path through life. The pain is as real today as it was on the day that Jesus felt it in His flesh on the cross as He took all of our deserved separation from the Father upon His body and spirit.

 

Jeremiah would find that there is much to weep about in our world today. It would seem that we have not gained any real ground in living righteously with the passage of centuries. We murder our unborn children with ease, and our governments wage war with frightening skill and with an easy indifference to the cost that is paid in the blood of God-image bearers. Our society redefines sacred relationships and holds covenant as something quaint and archaic as we set aside the scrolls of its writing as relics that are suitable for display in a museum where their truths are dismissed as useless ideas from a darker time in history. Yet, it would appear that the clouds of darkness with its horror of death are rising around our feet.

 

Yes, I think that Jeremiah would be weeping even harder today, for I am certain that God is grieved greatly by the condition of our hearts and the separation from Him of too many souls. So, it is fitting and right for us to weep and to express the pain that our world is causing in God’s Kingdom. However, Jeremiah was a man who God called to action in the face of the condition of the world where he lived. Likewise, we can grieve, but we can not remain silent. We should pray for deliverance for our world and for direction for our steps, but we must respond as Christ calls us to action and as His Spirit leads us onward. This is a world that needs people who speak eternal truth with faces that reveal our deep sorrow and with voices that echo the love and grace of our merciful and compassionate Father.

 

 

 

Keep me as the apple of your eye,

hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 17: 8

 

There are times when my primary need is to be taken care of, and I am not talking about days when I am physically ill with colds and the flu and such. I am talking about days when my heart is heavy, my feet are made of cement, and dread is my middle name. These are the times when strength is defined by drawing breath and where courage is counted by opening the front door and maybe looking out. These are not attractive, engaging, or pleasant times. Certainly no one wants to be around me when I am like this; that is, no one except God. I think that it must have been a day like this that prompted David to cry out to the Lord with these words.

 

During days of extreme uncertainty and doubt, we need a sure thing, and the one real and true sure thing in this life is the love and the protection that God has given to me. It has never failed, and it has never diminished. God looks on every one of His children, each of us, as a total delight for His eyes. Even in our worst moments and through our deepest personal crises and times of failure, He desires to be with us. When the need is greatest, God gives the most. He always gives me more than I require.

 

During some of these hours of trouble and distress, the thing that I need most is rest. I crave a brief opportunity to stop using my energy reserves and a chance to regain my balance. God understands this, too; so, He seems to just cover me with his arms of protection and comfort. I can stop worrying, slow down, and listen to His reassuring and reaffirming words of love and compassion. As my strength begins to be restored, the Lord always starts to share words of truth and of wisdom. He gives me the insight that I need to step back out into life and to successfully engage my struggles. There will be days when asking God for shelter is the wisest thing that we can do. There are times when we need to listen while the Lord tells us about our worth and value to Him. When we are experiencing our most challenging moments, the strongest and the bravest thing that we can do is ask God to meet these needs.

 

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.”

Hebrews 3: 7, 8

 

Alright, I admit that these words concern the telling of an extreme situation. Not many people today will be sent on a forty years long circular journey to nowhere. Yet, there are times when life feels like that. We are seeking after God, and waiting to hear His will expressed to us. We say to all around us that we are waiting and praying; yet, there has been no response. However, in our heart, we know that God has spoken, but what He said was just not what we wanted to hear and would lead us to do things that we are not comfortable in doing.

 

Although this is a hard fact to accept, the truth is that God does not always call us to engage thoughts and actions that are easy and comfortable. He is a God of challenge and growth. Our Lord leads us to places where our fears and anxieties are met by His grace, love, and strength. As we follow Christ we will be taken to places where the only resource we have is faith, and the only viable response is trust in Him. In other words, we will be required to set aside all of ourselves and every ounce of our capacity and capability in order to be fully overtaken by Christ.

 

This degree of surrender is not easy for most people. It is frightening to consider. So, when Christ speaks the sorts of words that seem to require radical thinking and action on our part, we might rather filter out that voice while piously continuing to wait for the direction that we would prefer. However, God can be relentless, and He has patience and perseverance that can outlast even our most stubborn of times. When we seek God’s will, we need to be prepared for He will speak. When the Lord speaks, we can trust Him and follow wherever He sends us, for God’s will is perfect and His provision gives us all we will need for the journey.

My soul, wait in silence for God only,

for my hope is from Him.

Psalm 62:5

 

The human mind has an incredible ability to overwork a problem. This can take the form of talking while someone else is offering an opinion or even a solution. All of this extra effort can be shaped in the form of analysis, and it can take form as that special challenge of incessant worry. There can be many expressions of self-directed problem solving. I have and do use all of them; sometimes I use several at the same time. However, the last time that I checked in on how well this approach has worked in resolving hard situations, all that my own efforts had accomplished was getting me a lot more grey hair than great answers.

 

I think that the noise and the self generated clutter simply get in the way of real solution. God says to listen, be calm, and be silent; I will speak. The Lord knows us and our world far better than we ever will, and He wants for us to live in a form of peace that comes from deep within and that opens up our hearts and our minds to receive the wisdom of His eternal word. When we have the faith that is necessary to remain silent, we can be assured that God will speak. For me, the real test comes in waiting and in listening long enough, for I tend to want the voice that provides the solution to utter those profound truths that I think that I need in a very quick and decisive manner.

 

The real problem isn’t in the decisiveness or even in the responsiveness of God; rather, the disconnect lies in my receptivity and in my understanding of time. For people who know Him, God is never silent. He has spoken, and His voice has remained clear and unchanged from the days of our first ancestors. As I am in Christ, I am surrounded by a chorus of hope speaking voices. They sing to me from the pages of His written word, they touch my pain and my joy in the form of His community of faith, and the Spirit of Christ spreads the song of truth throughout the cells of my being.  Christ tells us that we should be confident, have faith and trust in Him; Christ will care for each of us.

 

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

Ezekiel 34: 12

 

The roads and highways of this world are a mess, and air travel seems less certain than ever. Most people end at least some of our days in places that we didn’t intend when we developed our plans for life. Yet, after encountering numerous detours, traffic jams, and washed out bridges, we become disconnected from the life that we were after. The land where we are located is foreign, and many of the people who surround us speak a language that we don’t really understand. Truly the clouds of our own decisions are obscuring the horizon, and the darkness that covers the heart is thickly oppressive.

 

Sometimes this state is naturally short lived and becomes resolved when the light of truth reaches us. At other times and for some people it persists and becomes what is normal. This foreign land to which we have traveled replaces the one that God intended for each of His people as it is then that person’s place of dwelling. This is a disturbing and unsettling place to be, for the food, language, and customs of this land are worldly and discordant with who we are as children of God. Although this pasture land is not the one that God has designated as His source of good food for His sheep, He never hesitates in going there to seek out His own. He is fearless and bold, and His love for each of His people is endless.

 

When we find ourselves tasting the strange food and drink of this place that is at the end of one of these detours from God’s path through life, we can stop in mid bite and know that Christ is there to guide us out of that dark place and into the safety of His light. There is no road too twisted for the Lord to be unable to follow, and no bridge is too broken for Him to repair. Christ has been to every desperate and deadly corner of this world, and He truly desires to leave no one behind there. When we are lost, we can always turn to God, and He will respond. His Word is everywhere, and it speaks truth to all situations. God’s people surround us, and they will come to our rescue with the boldness of Christ as their strength. As we seek the Lord, He will rescue.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.

Colossians 1: 21, 22

 

Anger, frustration, and distance; these are among the cold, hard realities of living in this world; also, these are the attitudes, even more so, these are the mind and the heart sets of many of the people in our lives. Life becomes so dark and so painful. The walls of isolation are built very high, and we construct them mightily thick because there is so much about life that can hurt us. I admit that there are days when the simplest and perhaps the sanest answer to dealing with all of this relational pain and the struggles of living with so many hurt and hurting people seems to be to just lock the door, pull down the blinds, and go back to bed. God tells us a different answer. He sees things from a much higher view than I do. He says that the root issue is the one of allegiance; that is, who are we serving, and who our master is. Once we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we are changed. The open anger and hostility that was our default mind set before is transformed into the one that God intended for us to have from Creation.

 

Jesus died for us. He paid a price so that we can look God squarely in the face and have no fear of how He will respond to us. Now we can get out of bed and face a new day knowing that our Creator sees us as His beautiful children; now we can confidently know that we can safely walk out from behind the walls that we have constructed. We have the ability to expose our true faces to God and to those around us. Now we can act boldly and live freely in the center of this world that is filled with decay and fear, and we can be assured that Christ is with us in every moment and for every step of this journey.

 

Although it is very important for us to understand and to accept the truth of our blamelessness before God, it is more important for us to go out into a world that is still hostile and still separated from the true love that is found only through Jesus so that the face of Christ is what people will see when we enter into their lives. Knowing that we can look God squarely in the face and that he will look back at us with a loving smile should make us strong, and this knowledge will make us desire to show our confident, well loved heart to the people that we meet. Christ will provide the opportunities to live openly as His beloved child. We need to listen to His voice and walk joyously into the lives that He brings our way.

 

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

Romans 1: 8

 

The proud parent speaks. Paul was a very real father to the newly born followers of Christ in Rome and in other parts of his world. So, when these people had become known for their faithful adherence to Christ’s calling upon them to live righteous and loving lives, Paul felt a personal sense of pride in it all. For me this fact sets out a combination of permission, mandate, and challenge.

 

First, there is the permission. It is good to have a feeling of pride in the way that we have had an influence for Christ on the people in our world. I think that God wants us to follow Him in coaching and mentoring others in their faith and in expressing the sort of satisfied delight that a parent holds for a child’s accomplishments. Turning away from the powerful pull of the world to follow Christ is not easy for most of us, and doing this is worthy of recognition and praise. The fact that God desires for His followers to enter into and to invest in the lives of others also establishes the mandate from our Lord that we do this. Christ absolutely cares for the souls of everyone, and He wants us to follow His lead in this with total commitment.

 

So, this leads to the challenge. It is two-fold, and they are inter-related. Living openly, overtly even, as a follower of Christ in our world is not easy, convenient, or well accepted. The idea that our faith; yours, mine, and that of our church; would be the subject of any sort of public commentary, much less that it would be the cause for world-wide proclamation, is overwhelming to consider. Yet, that is what happened with these early Christians who were living in a culture that was far more antagonistic to their faith than ours is on its worst day. Thus, living boldly for Christ all of the time and in every situation is the first half of the challenge. However, Christ wants us to do more than live righteously; for, He calls upon us to lead others into the sort of relationship with God that will cause them to lay down their lives in service to the King of Glory.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

Psalm 19: 1, 2

 

On some days dawn comes as a golden glow, others as a misty shroud, some with pelting rain, and some with the promise of scorching heat; yet, each is a reflection of the infinite glory that is God’s. No matter what the day is like, regardless of whether my personal dawn comes as the sun is still obscured by the earth’s eastern curve or it comes when the sun is high overhead, looking at the sky, really looking at it and taking it in, contemplating it, always gives me a powerful sense of the splendor, the scope, and the majesty that is God. Everything that I can see is the personal craftsmanship of the Creator; everything that I can imagine beyond what my eyes take in is the same. God has made it all, and He continues to work on his painting every moment of every day. There is no detail that is not important to Him.

 

It is also very comforting to realize that among all of the details that He is attending to, the one that He cares about the most is me. He speaks to me in ways that are constant, consistent, and clear. It is as if nature itself resonates with God’s voice, not so much as the booming outcry of an earthquake but more as a constant hum that comes from deep inside. The Lord says, “Listen, hear, understand”. If we will open our hearts, see from the depths of our souls, quiet our overactive minds and soak in the wisdom and the knowledge that God has surrounded us with, His presence and the knowledge and wisdom that we need for the day will envelope us.

 

The entire created universe was designed to benefit God’s ultimate creation; for, all was given to us as a love gift from as from the bridegroom to us, His church, as Christ’s bride. He wants us to look closely at the gift, to enjoy its beauty; and to live well in it’s midst. God speaks in and through all of it. The heart of the giver shows His love to our hearts, and all that is required from us is to open the eyes of our hearts and let God’s loving gift feed our souls.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2: 9

 

Our hearts yearn for acceptance and for belonging. We want to be desired and sought after. Yet, people universally struggle with a sense of rejection and with the fear of being unwanted and unlovable. We will often do or say almost anything in order to gain the approval of others. However, one of the problems with this approach to life is that others are doing the same thing; so, no one is being true to themselves or honest with others. We build relationships that are founded on well crafted facades, and we encounter major issues when our true selves are revealed over time.

 

Christ’s way of relating to people is exactly the opposite. He shows us who He is, what He wants from us, what He plans to give to us, and how the relationship will develop. The Lord has always been up front in every aspect of His interaction with people. He also wants to be involved with each of us. God doesn’t use Facebook or any other social networking site to check us out. He doesn’t need to watch us from across a room at a party in order to decide if we are attractive to Him, and He certainly doesn’t need to Google us in order to become aware of our pasts. He is our Creator. Thus, He is responsible for the way that each of us was designed, and He delights in the work that He did.

 

Regardless of what I have done or not done, no matter what I have accomplished, and without regard for my past or my present spiritual state; God promises that He has chosen me to be the recipient of His love, blessing, joy, mercy, and grace. He wants to fill my heart with the brilliance of His redeeming light. He wants to lift me up and embrace me with the warmth of perfect love, and He does empower and equip me to share this love with a desperately lonely world.

You are the salt of the earth…

You are the light of the world.

A city on a hill can not be hidden.

Matthew 5:13a, 14

 

Here it is in simple, everyday terms. Christians are to be the people who make the critical difference in our world. We bring preservation into it by living as Christ in the here and now. We provide the flavor to this life by demonstrating that Christ is the only way to sure and lasting peace and joy. Jesus is telling us that we are to be active doers of the will of God in every corner of our world. Christ wants Christians to bring His special combination of preservation and flavor enhancement into the world around us; and He sends us out to share the truth about the restoration of the soul, mind, and body that comes only through knowing Jesus.

 

We are also told to be willing to let the light that comes from the Lord shine in our world, for He does not want us to be quiet about who we are and why we are that way. God wants His people to share the ways that Christ takes us to that higher place where we are in the presence of God in this life; He wants us to tell about how we are now living in a heavenly palace of God’s grace, mercy, and love even as we are in the middle of the destruction and the decay that fill this world. The Lord wants us to shout out with an unrestrained voice about the life sustaining reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

We are to be beacons of light that call people out of the cold, the darkness, and the death of a life lived without Christ. We are told to let His brightness shine out from us like that city on the hill; then, the light will lead people to the presence of Christ and His Spirit will provide those whose hearts are open and willing with the truth of salvation. Then we are to continue to live as Christ in this world in the community of faith that is His body so that our personal grain of flavor and our intense but singular point of light will be supported by that multitude of others. Together we can create a beacon of light that is so intense and so welcoming that no one can avoid noticing it.

 

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