March 2014


Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert place.

Acts 8: 26

 

This is a dramatic moment in a very powerful and strange scene as Philip is specifically directed by an angel. Now there were many dramatic, powerful, and strange scenes that are recorded as a part of the lives of the apostles and other followers of Jesus in these early days after His resurrection. Yet this one does seem beyond many of the rest. God seems to want Philip to travel away from the usual places and out of the comfort and protection of his friends and fellow followers of Christ. He is sent toward a desert place; that is, literally, along a road that had almost no water available, was hot, and where there were few people and no shelter.

 

The rest of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is wonderful and full of God’s appointed events. However, the thing that catches my eye here is this moment of calling and instruction that Philip receives from God. Philip is sent on a journey that takes him out of easy security and into the prospect of hardship or even peril. But greater than this is the way that Philip sees the reason for the journey in the presence of a foreigner, a traveler and a seeker. It is at this point that Philip truly steps out of himself and enters into his calling from Christ. He seems to be open to and listening for the prompting of the Holy Spirit; so, when that comes, he readily responds by running to the Ethiopian man’s chariot. The two men then engage in a dialogue during which Philip shares the truth of Christ and the Ethiopian accepts life and is baptized.

 

In one sense, the way that all of this happens is quite unique and is very unlikely to occur in any of our lives. I have experienced no appearances of an angel and have not heard the voice of one, at least as far as I am aware. Yet, the Holy Spirit is with me and with all of Christ’s followers every moment of our days. He does speak, and He does guide, direct, and counsel us along the path that we follow. To me, it is not so amazing that God spoke to Philip, what is special is the way that Philip listened and responded. Every one of us lives in or near a desert place. All of us encounter Ethiopians along the road. My question, directed at myself, is am I listening, and how will I respond?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2: 4-6

 

Eternity is not just some far off time and place where we hope and plan to go after this period of earthly living is done. It is much more immediate and far more tangible than that. I believe that God wants us to realize that when we accept the saving relationship with Jesus we are also entering into a this-life changing one with Him. Since we were created, God has desired to be in daily contact with people. He wants to talk with us, He seeks to guide us, and He provides for our needs.

 

My orientation has been changed by this relationship. Also; Christ is a part of me now; thus, my viewpoint has been altered to one that is more like God’s. One of the great challenges in this is to maintain an attitude that is truly righteous; for God does see things differently than I do without Him. However, instead of being more ridged, demanding, and condemning; God is understanding, accepting, and all-loving. It is vital for me to stay reminded of the fact that God chased after me when I was a walking spiritual corpse and that He continues to love me and to pursue me no matter what I do. Christ directs me to do nothing less with others.

 

For me the idea that I have a chair, a place of honor, to sit by God’s side is amazing, and it is humbling. There is something extraordinary about sitting with God. It means that He wants me to stay for a while and talk, it means that He wants me to feel safe and that He is accessible, and it means that I have been invited to dwell with Christ and to live in the splendor of the Lord’s house. My life has been absolutely altered by this new vantage point on life and on living, for my soul and my mind can now see with something close to the clarity of God, and my purpose should become God’s, too.  Each day we can look around at our environment and truly open the eyes of our hearts to see Christ’s presence. We can talk with Him closely, intimately, and directly so that His view of the day can become ours, and we can choose to focus on how Christ is in us and on what it means to be truly alive in Him.

 

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150: 6

 

With a body that is overcome by pain, praise the Lord. With cheeks stained by tears, praise the Lord. In the middle of loss and soul searing grief, praise the Lord. Every phase and each aspect of life shows me the praise worthy nature of God. There is nothing that comes along that does not point to His love, grace, compassion, might, and glory. In fact, as I gain in my knowledge of Christ through the way that He engages in life with me and with people that I know during these challenging times, I more fully understand the many ways that the Lord’s hands are involved with shaping my life for my benefit.

 

In response to Christ’s great love for me, I desire to make even the most basic elements of my day into festivals of praise for my Lord. I can use my words, and I can choose to express my thanksgivings in the sorts of songs that have filled the hearts of God’s children throughout the ages. However, it is even more striking to others and more pleasing to God when I think of all people with kindness, acceptance, and concern. Also, the Lord is delighted when I turn these thoughts into acts of humble submission to His will and to His purpose by tangibly loving others.

 

In times of triumph and joy, I can praise the Lord, and in times of defeat and bitterness, I can continue to praise the Lord. His gifts are beyond counting, and His love is complete and never ceasing. Praise is a life that is lived in honest expression of grief and of glee, for Christ goes with us in and through all that we experience and feel. Praise is expressed in trusting my Lord to take me through every experience in life with His loving arms holding me up and giving my soul security. Praise is the love song that my heart sings in response to the eternal love that Christ has pledged to me.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18

 

Where does fear hide?

Often it is behind a veil of angry words.

What does fear do?

It disables our best capabilities.

When does fear strike?

Frequently it strikes when we are getting too close to disrupting Satan’s game plan.

Why does fear grip us?

It seems to hold on tightest in order to make us forget that we are totally loved by the author of love.

What can we do about fear?

We can recognize its symptoms and turn to Christ for the cure.

 

We can see that unhealthy anger, inability to function, separation from friends and loved ones, perfectionism, rigidity, arrogance, paranoia, and blame shifting for what they often are; for, we can see that many of these personally disabling and relationally damaging actions can be the direct result of fear. At these times we need to let the Lord into the fearful places, and let Christ’s community in there, too. Remember, none of us lives perfectly in this life. We all fear, and at various times, we all fail to deal with life in the healthiest way possible. However, we all have the promise of God that His unwavering and perfect love will show us truth. Then this truth will bring us to resolution; so that, resolution can bring us peace.

 

As John goes on to say in 1 John 4: 19, “We love because He first loved us.” There is no reason to continue to be fearful and to allow that fear to cause separation and distance in our relationships. Christ’s love is an honest and a resilient love that can handle truth and that deals with the uneven and rough surfaces that we all possess. Christ calls upon His people to set aside fear and to accept the role of ones who bring the love that fills the halls of His kingdom into every corner of this world.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Romans 12: 9

 

 

God looks at the way that we deal with the personal integrity issue of truth telling, and He tells us to do it like He does. I know from experience, experiences that are especially true during times when I have been trying to delude myself, that the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart and to my mind in ways that are honest and accurate and in ways that can knock me to my knees when needed. He also speaks the most uplifting words of praise, recognition, and encouragement. God is the creator of the concept of truth, He is the source of all that is true, and He always tells the truth.

 

As we are called to live in the righteousness of Christ, we are directed to treat truth in the same manner. Yet, notice that there is a striking balance in this verse. Godly genuineness is found in that balance. The human tendency can be to define “telling the truth” as always pointing out the sin, the error, or the failing in the lives of others, and that is partially true. The challenge that most of us face in the actual practice of this sort of truth telling comes in loving the recipient of this truth with the absolute and tangible love of Christ during the process. As I have experienced as both a giver and a recipient of such truth, we are less likely to define truth telling as always seeking to see the good, which is the Godlikeness, in those around us.

 

Therefore, God tells us to love others by telling them the truth. This is the truth as the Spirit of Christ shows it to us and as His word reveals it to us. Truth is also expressed by seeing, encouraging, and embracing the beauty of Christ’s love that we see alive in others. In order to live with the type of personal integrity that comes from the Creator of Truth, we need to do all of these things equally, with balanced perspective. In order to love in the total and genuine manner that God does we need to imitate Jesus and detest the sin that crushes the life out of people while never hating the person. Christ calls us to hold on tightly to all of the good that we can find in others and encourage its growth, just like He does.

O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.

O God, hear my prayer, give ear to the words of my mouth.

Psalm 54: 1, 2

 

One of the first things that we are taught in life is self reliance. We learn to take care of ourselves and to solve our own problems. An attitude of “I got it, no problem, no help needed” is praised and encouraged by parents, teachers, mentors, and by our culture. This isn’t all bad; there is a lot of a best life practice quality to these skills and the attitudes that produce them. But there are times and there are situations when we need help and partnership. In my own experience there have been far too many times when I really needed help and didn’t seek it. If there is one thing that time and experience have taught me it is that, in fact, we all need help and guidance and counsel every day.

 

These verses were written by David at a time when he was trying to solve his own problems and when he had run out of resources. He was in fear of his life due to King Saul’s anger, and he had been hiding out among a group of people, the Ziphites, who were known to not be trustworthy, but they were the best choice that he could find at that moment. Then they sold him out to Saul. David’s plan was in ruins around him, and he was feeling very exposed and totally vulnerable; so, his fear had no limits and his resources for controlling it and for bringing reason to bear were gone.

 

The issues that we are facing may not be this big, there may not be a spear pointed at our hearts, but often they still feel like that is true. Yet, some of our issues are every bit as urgent and dangerous as David’s. When he came to his senses, when he went deep inside his heart and focused on the truth that life experience had taught him to rely upon, he started to focus on his real source of protection and on the only absolutely reliable place to go for direction. It is through the might of God that we can make it through this world; and it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we are saved from evil. Like David, we can turn our hearts to God, and speak our fears, concerns, and needs to him. We can hear the voice of the Lord and follow Him as He leads us to safety and provides us with strength.

 

As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

Psalm 42: 1 

 

A cool drink of water on a hot day; especially, on a dry day spent in a dusty place while doing physical labor, can be the most luxurious and the richest fluid that I have ever consumed. The choking dust is rinsed away, and that raspy, burning sensation that irritates the throat is eased. Then it seems as if the cells of your body actually soak in the water and become whole again. It’s truly amazing how desirable something that is so ordinary can become. 

 

The image here is even more striking, for I picture a deer that has been running hard for a long time, over a great distance, and as fast as it can move in order to escape a predator. The deer has had to use all of its skill and energy to sprint away from the hungry jaws that are trying to destroy it; thus, the deer is exhausted and its skin is torn from diving through brambles and bushes in its desperate flight. Now, after the chase has ended, wary of the potential for another attack, the deer needs to find water in order to be refreshed and to regain strength for the next struggle.

 

There are predators waiting along the paths of our lives, too. They are aggressive and they are cunning, and they come at us from the most unexpected of places and they strike at the worst possible moments. They seem to understand those times when my resources are at their lowest, and they hide out in friendly and safe locations in order to catch me with my defensive shields turned off. In many ways I think that the writers of the Star Trek series got evil right in their creation of the arch foe for the crew of the Enterprise, the Klingons, for they are cunning, deceptive, intuitive of weakness, relentless, and totally focused on their mission of destruction. These characters of fiction look a great deal like the real world where we live.

 

Yet, God grants us much more than just a momentary rest and simple refreshment. He gives us the healing water of His loving grace and forgiveness. Christ removes the angry toxins of sin that build up in our souls as we fight to survive in life, and He restores our bodies to the strength of spirit that Christ intends for us to possess. In order to be ready for the inevitable attacks that will come, for the intent of evil to assault people is inevitable, we need to drink deeply from the water of strength and truth that is God’s word. As we do this, we should wash our hearts in the cleansing streams of prayer and allow the Spirit of God to lead us away from danger and to God’s purpose.  

 

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Peter 5: 10

 

The very word “suffer” is unpleasant. No one likes to do it, and none of us seek it out. Yet, suffering is a part of every life. It comes as if it were an element of the air that we breathe and with a certainty that suggests that it is embedded in the chemicals of our DNA. The components of our suffering can be complex and as diverse as people are distinctive, for it takes on many forms and can come at any season of our lives. Yet, suffering is really quite simple; it hurts with a pain that sears deeply into our hearts.

 

Nothing that we do can eliminate suffering from our experience. We can not buy our way out of it with wealth or intellectual currency, and even the most legitimate of pious acts and works of contrition will not protect us from its onset. Christ had access to all wealth, knowledge, and power; and He was truly righteous in every way; yet, His life was populated by suffering. Just as Christ did, anyone who lives in this world will need to collide head on with the reality of its fractured, warped, and distorted essence. This world has been turned sidewise by sin, and it is continually being shaken by Satan and by the forces that he sets loose in his war against God.

 

Yet, suffering is not all bad. In saying this I don’t mean to suggest that we should seek it out or that we should just try to tough it out or take it lightly. The pain, loss, and grief that it brings a as real as anything that we will ever experience. Yet, it is in these seasons of trial that Christ becomes most real. These are times when all of our personal resource and strength are often stripped away. Days of torment, turmoil, and loss force us to empty out and deplete all of our assets and safety-net reserves. In these hours of physical, emotional, and spiritual bankruptcy we are sustained by faith and trust in Christ. During these harsh moments of suffering, it is Christ who fulfills God’s promise of hope and restoration for all people who follow Him.

 

 

 

Even those I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56: 7

 

God is making it clear that He desires to bring all people close to Him; for, there is no one who is too far removed from His heart to not receive His saving grace. So first off, I am as foreign as anyone can get; I was born far away, in a very different land. My ancestry, like every one of us, is traceable back through a long line of people who were all foreign to God. Yet, he has granted me access to his home land, and my access is not restricted or temporary, not a visitor’s visa, but I have permanent status as a fully vested child of the Lord, Most High.

 

Next, God has taken me into His home, through the front door; I get to use the good China and the upstairs bathroom. The Lord asks me to sit at His side and He shares the joy of life with me. I can laugh with the Creator of the universe, and my tears are wiped away by His sleeve. Even if the only gift I can come up with to bring to my host is a re gift from the back of the closet; He accepts it with delight, for, in truth, when I asked God to take me into His family, I had given Him the only thing that He desires to receive from me.

 

Finally, this state of existence is mine all of the time. The house of the Lord is defined by His presence in my life. His address is the same as my heart’s home. My loving God, my Savior, and I can talk and weep and laugh together through every hour of every day. As I open my heart to Him and connect with Him by trusting Christ with all of my inner feelings, thoughts, and desires, I am allowing God to make His way mine in all situations. Thus I come to realize that he is transforming me into a splendid palace of prayer.

 

 

If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

Matthew 18: 12

 

When I think about this story and create the picture of the scene in my mind, I envision the gentle and compassionate Jesus. He is walking across a smooth meadow with a smallish, fluffy-white sheep across His strong shoulders. The sheep looks peaceful, and Jesus has a satisfied half smile on His face. This is a story about God’s unending pursuit and rescue of all of us sheep as we head off into the wilderness of sin with its separation and grave dangers. This is a wonderful picture of Christ’s saving love that is demonstrated in paintings and captured in songs; yet, I think that there is something very wrong with it.

 

We fail to give credit to Jesus for the real journey that He undertook in order to effect this rescue. When I consider the parable of the shepherd that Jesus tells, I need to think about the real conditions that would have existed. This shepherd did not head out across a smooth, grassy meadow in order to follow the lost one’s trail. He stepped away from the comfort of family and friends and the warm safety of the campfire and walked into the dangerous dark of the wilderness. He traveled over rocks and through ravines, and probably faced down predatory animals along the way. When he finds the sheep, it is a reluctant passenger for the journey home. It is also a sheep; that is, dirty and mouthy and not very cooperative with its savior.

 

As mentioned, Jesus is sharing a parable. He speaks about the life of a shepherd and tells of an event in that life that would have been well known to His audience. Yet, He was telling about His own journey as He left Heaven and entered into the Father’s creation intent of walking among His people. However, the world that Jesus joined was violently broken by our sin, and it was openly and aggressively antagonistic to Him. It is this path of opposition, peril, and pain that Jesus traveled in order to find, recover, and save all of us lost sheep who will allow it. That bleating and kicking muddy sheep is me as Christ carries my lost soul into His salvation. Thank you, Jesus!

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