February 2014


Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6: 12

 

Every day numerous battles that we can choose to engage come our way; still, others envelop us without our permission. Sometimes the conflict is truly spiritual, it is a fight against evil and its attempts to destroy what is good in this world. Other conflicts are in the category of battles of the spirit; these are times when we are not getting what we want in life and we attempt to use the force of our own wills to accomplish the outcome. In the abstract dimension of the written word, there is an obvious distinction between a righteous fight and a self-serving one, but when we look at these distinctions from inside of our daily lives, these differences are a lot harder to discern.

 

The Lord is a truly wise and experienced commander of combat troops. He asks that we give every ounce of ourselves to fight against the darkness of sin that desires to hold all people captive. He sends us into conflict after conflict; some are small and rather easily resolved, while others are fights to the death. Yet, the Lord never wastes his resources, and He never sacrifices His soldiers needlessly. His perspective on the field of battle is established from the highest view possible so His eye is always clear, and He knows all of the moves in the game before the first blows are struck.

 

Our role in these events is to be faithful and humble followers. We are called upon to be willing to allow Christ to direct our actions and to give us discernment regarding what is truly His fight. The Lord wants us to look at our lives, especially at the spiritual struggles of our lives, with a view toward His eternal game plan. He wants us to ask Him if what we are about to do or what we are already in the middle of fits into God’s desired outcome of restoration of the souls of all people to Him. If what we are doing, how we are doing it, and our motives for doing it do not work toward this end result, then are they truly actions that are motivated by service to Christ? God will send us into the fight, He will train us for it, and He will provide the support that we need. However, Christ also wants us to trust Him to send us into the right battles. He wants us to rely on His Spirit to guide and His love to motivate us. The Lord will send us into the good fight, and He does lead us in the holy and righteous fight that is waged every day for eternity’s sake.

 

Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.

Psalm 126: 2, 3

 

 

Living a righteous life in full view of a world that is at best apathetic and is more likely antagonistic is serious business. This can become stern, grit your teeth and put your shoulder to it work. Yet, my mental images of Jesus are not all that serious. I imagine Him with a look of love and compassion, I see Him with his arms open wide in a gesture of welcome that prepares for an embrace, and I contemplate Christ smiling and laughing with those around Him. I think that Jesus probably greeted a skeptical world with a smile as his first words; then, perhaps, He let out a disarming laugh at a moment of natural humor.

 

We are beings that were made with the capacity for humor and with a need to laugh and to smile. God created us that way. I think that He enjoyed the smiles and the laughter of Adam and Eve in those pre sin days in the garden. I think that God loves to hear us laughing with the fearless joy of living the life that He has called us to live. The contagious sound of laughter as it ripples like a stream through the hurried noise of life has a soothing and a restorative effect upon this stressful world.

 

Our faces are the most visible indicators of our heart’s condition, and our voices are its expression. Just as God is saddened by our sin, He is delighted by our joy. Sometimes it requires planning and purpose to smile. Some days are not so naturally filled with laughter; however, expressions of heart-deep joy can be present on our faces if we seek God’s peace and plan to show it to the world. When smiles and laughter come from the center of your being, when Christ is their source, the Lord will shine out from your face. His truth can speak more clearly through joyous laughter than through the most insightful use of words. This is a world full of people who are longing for laughter and seeking after a smiling face; so, we can make it so that the face that they see is Christ’s image shining through His own people.

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?

Who shall dwell in your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

And speaks truth in his heart.

Psalm 15: 1, 2

 

What does the voice of a heart sound like? If you are listening through a stethoscope, you will hear the lub dub rhythmic sound of the muscle as in contracts and relaxes. From the world of film and television we have all seen the electronic track and heard the beeping sound of a heart monitor. Somehow, I don’t think that David was thinking in terms of this type of voice. The heart that he was considering speaks with considerably more eloquence, with greater variety, and expresses a wide range of emotion. As it is the essential core of who we truly are, the heart that God is interested in beats at the very center of our being; The heart that God desires is the organ that pumps the life blood of our spirits through our bodies and governs how we view and deal with the world. This is especially true in regards to the way we deal with people. The Lord surrounds Himself with people whose hearts are pure, blameless and truthful.

 

Unfortunately, those requirements for entry into God’s tent exclude me and everyone else that I know. But, there is a clause, an exemption, a way in. There has been only one man who ever lived on earth who met the entrance requirements, He is Jesus. The Lord says that when we have accepted Jesus into our hearts, God, the Father, immediately starts to view us exactly as he views His Son, as blameless and true. Our diseased and sin damaged hearts are started down a road of recovery and of restoration. We are welcome to dwell with God, to stay in his presence and to put our feet on His holy ground.

 

So the Lord calls us to bring our hearts to Him for healing, for Christ wants our company in His home. Then, Christ’s Spirit wants to walk with us through life so that we can live well in front of Him and other people; so then, our hearts can shout truth. I think that David’s point is that our actions speak volumes about the condition of our hearts, and the condition of the heart is governed by how close we are to Christ. The key to a healthy heart is to stay close to God so that the rhythm of our hearts will become aligned to the beat of His heart.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

 

Jesus is speaking specifically about deep feelings of mourning; that is, knowing profound sadness and regret at the losses that are experienced in life. These are powerful feelings, and the sin that devastates the lives of everyone in this world is one of the things that brings them to God’s heart, and He says that we should feel them, too. Jesus is talking about our own personal sin, forgiven through Him; also, this is a comment on the sin of others that we meet, and about the sin that exists universally in the world.

 

The destructiveness and the pain that sin brings into our lives and into the lives of others is something that Christ knows well. It is an affront to Him and to His purpose for surrendering His place in heaven in order to live with us in the same form of being that we humans know. Still, it was this same sin that caused the Father to give us His Son so that it could be defeated, and we could be restored to the full relationship with God that was His desire and intention from Creation. The sin that is in ourselves, in others, and in this world is something that should cause a deep sadness and a great anger to rise up in each of us. We should not be comfortable with its existence or with its continued presence.

 

Christ tells us to face into the sin. First He wants us to look closely and critically at our own lives and allow His Spirit to direct us in turning the damaged and the broken places that we find there over to Him. The Lord also wants us to keep the eyes of our hearts open to the sin that is infecting our community, and He wants us to enter into the lives of those who are sinning. As we engage in relationship with others, Christ wants to lead us into loving them so deeply that we must take on the hard task of speaking righteousness and truth to them. As we do this, there is a promise that comes from God, Himself; for, like crocus that emerge from the winter snow, Christ brings restorative peace out of the sadness and the mourning.

We have a strong city. He sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks.

Open the gates that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.

Isaiah 26: 1, 2

 

The first thing that comes to my mind is that this must be a comment that is rooted in history and is about a time long in the past. For in my world, there is no such place and none of the nations that I can identify could be described as righteous. This is a world that is filled with the exact opposite. The cities and their nations are places where strong-willed individualism reigns. They are environments in which greed, oppression, lust, and murder are lifted up as exemplars of virtue, and Godliness is mocked as foolishness or as superstition and weakness.

 

Yet, despite the fact that Isaiah was describing events in the history of Judah, I think that God was speaking to us about our world through the prophet. So, even in our sinful and defiant world, there must be a strong city and a righteous nation. God sees the place where His faithful can dwell in the peace and the protection of His walls of strength. Not only does He see it, but the Lord wants to lead us through its gates and into its joyous bounty.

 

In Christ we have eternal protection and current provision. Through the Holy Spirit we possess truth, its wisdom, and the grace of God. These are the essential components of citizenship in God’s temporal and heavenly kingdom, the everlasting dwelling place of God’s own people. Still, as individuals we do not stand as a city and gather into a nation. I believe that our Lord desires for those of us who know Him to commit to one another in a covenant of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to gather into a fellowship that is grounded and centered upon Christ, Himself alone. In order to do this we would need to subordinate all other allegiances and loyalties to faith in the one, true King. Yet, gathering as Christ’s body, we enter into His strength, and our feet are standing on the Lord’s holy mountain.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.

Psalm 139: 23, 24

 

In academic and professional circles peer review can be highly nerve wracking. For we all know that handing your work over to someone else for critique is hard. Opening up the heart to someone in an accountability partnership is also frightening. Yet, if we were to accept these verses personally, we would be asking God to look closely at our hearts and to give us honest feedback about our condition. Now, that can be more than scary! Yet, this is the type of deep intimacy that God desires with all people. Think about this; who else can you trust to know you at this level, who else will use nothing learned for personal advantage, and who else will provide absolutely honest, totally accurate and actionable information?

 

We are created in a manner that gives us the opportunity to seek life advice and direction from multiple sources. We are also made in a way that gives us the ability and the right to choose the voices that we listen to. God took the risk of creating people with this ability; yet, He wants us to desire to turn to Him, and God wants us to be truly ready to listen and to act upon what He says. Thus, when we say words like the ones that David wrote in this Psalm, God is both delighted, and He is ready to speak to us.

 

It is important to let Him in at this deep level. I also think that it is important to be rather open about the request. I know that I do not always, maybe almost never, see clearly into my own heart and the actions that I take as a result of its condition. Asking God to search out my deeper motives can be very challenging and truly painful, but the results will be rewarding. The Lord always provides me with the sort of insight that I can do something about. He always shows me how the change is possible, and He makes clear the steps that I need to take to cause it to happen. The changes that God asks me to make may not be easy, but they are achievable, and they always take me along a pathway that leads deeper into the Lord’s righteousness.

 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14: 17

 

Rules are a good thing. They bring order to our world. In the early days of time God devised a very complex code of behavior when He was preparing His chosen people to enter into a period of dwelling in the land that He was giving to them. Then, over the course of history, God has continued to inspire people to structure our societies into units of governance that are intended to bring order to our lives and that generally promote peace and justice. Yet, in all of this cultural structure there is one essential thing missing, and no human government ever contains this aspect. No words in a charter, constitutional provision, or legislative mandate can accomplish it either.

 

For it is a fact that when we humans are left to our own devices, and God does grant us that sort of freedom; we will always opt for a human king as our ruler. We seem to desire that we can touch and hear the voice of our leader. We want to experience their reign in earthly terms. Unfortunately, that means that we are setting aside the heavenly for the worldly. It causes us to establish rules of law to order our days rather than ordering our hearts and our minds along the lines of God’s path of righteousness. In all of this we are ready and willing to engage in the debate about all manner of external issues; yet, we are reluctant, at best, to speak out for justice for the weak, life for the unborn, and righteousness as our rule of law.

 

In Christ, we are citizens of a greater kingdom than any of the ones that we have created on this earth, for we are adopted into the Kingdom of God. In this kingdom there is only one supreme ruler, and He provides the structure and the order for entering into life in its fullest sense. We do owe allegiance and we have responsibilities to human governments; however, all of this respect for government and its laws is founded upon the principle of following God and His Law. Our true King is very real, and His voice is clear and decisive to people who desire to hear. As the Spirit of Christ dwells in His people, He guides us into living in obedience to the rules of God’s Kingdom. These are the rules of love, peace, joy, and righteousness. It is in them that we find life.

Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own initiative, as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.”

John 5: 30

 

Here is one of my real personal challenges; I believe that God has equipped me to make decisions and to handle issues in life; so, I can so very easily get into an action oriented, just get it done mind set that moves to conclusion regarding what needs to take place without taking the time to consider what God would desire me to do. Also, the actions that I take are not usually the biggest issue; rather, the way that I deal with people is what makes the difference in the way that I either do glorify Christ or not.

 

If Jesus needed to obtain the Father’s will when He was considering how to handle people, why should I think that I don’t need to do the same? If I care enough about someone, care enough to want to interact with that person in a loving, concerned, and relationship building manner, why wouldn’t I also want to allow God’s wisdom to guide me?

 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the resourcefulness and the decision-making ability that God has designed into people is our capacity to access Him. We are given the gift of our ability to seek out His way of responding to life; so, we can lay the issues and the challenges that we are facing before God and let Him talk to us about them. We can choose to follow Jesus and let God be the initiator of our actions, allow His judgment to prevail in our actions, and set aside our own desired outcomes in order to achieve a truly righteous one.

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the nations also walk, in the vanity of their mind.

Ephesians 4: 17

 

When we look around us at the world where we live, there is much beauty, grace, and love. Yet, the images that frequently catch my eye are ones of angry twisted faces, oppression, and hatred. The power of fear and the need to strike back are running rampant through people all over this planet, and there seems to be no end to the ways and the places where this evil force is working to turn our society upside down and to cut away the threads of our social structure. We live in hard times where suffering and loss provide fuel to an angry fire that pretends to seek justice but that gains destruction instead.

 

Christ calls us to live differently, for there is a self-centered futility at the center of all of this oppression, anger, fear, and destruction. Children of the Living God have been shown a different and a better way to engage the world where we live, for we are living in the continual presence of the King of Justice. Because of this, who and what should we fear? Rather than join in the destructive and angry words of people who have no other outlet for expression, we need to speak out with the love of all that is the voice of Christ. Rather than focus on what is wrong with our culture, we can bring the new humanity of Christ into the lives of others through the way that we interact and relate to them. This is not a solo effort either; as, we are in this with Christ leading us, the Holy Spirit counseling us, the Word of God informing us, and the entire community of believers standing with us every moment of the journey.

 

In Christ, we are no longer influenced by the vain, self-serving, and futile thinking of this world. In Christ, we are elevated to a perspective on this life that is eternal in its viewpoint and that is restorative in its desire. As followers of Christ we should reach into the culture of sin and death that surrounds us with hands that bring acceptance and that provide a healing touch. Our Lord calls us to live in a manner that is sincere, honest, and self sacrificing, a manner that is Christ-truth in the flesh. Thus, the people of the nations of this world will see and some will understand that their true humanity and the only eternal citizenship is found in Christ.

 

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