May 2014


The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

Psalm 9: 9

 

This life is a battle, and its energy draining and wound inflicting combat is continuous. There is seldom a real respite. There are only brief pauses in the fight. When you need to catch your breath, or to bind up your battle wounds; if all of your energy is depleted, and you can no longer defend yourself; and in the moment when the answers to the life or death questions simply aren’t to be found, you probably feel like you just need a break from it all, a moment to catch your breath without being struck from behind.

 

This is what God is promising; this is what He brings to His people. The Lord does shelter and protect us for the time that it takes to regain strength and focus. He is the perfect getaway place, the high and secluded cliff where an enemy cannot reach us, the mighty fortress with walls so tall and strong that they cannot be breached. His place of refuge is fully stocked with all of the food, water, and medicine that we need to regain our strength and to repair our battle injuries. His words demonstrate His unending love, and His embrace brings comfort to aching hearts. Then the Lord, God Almighty, will work through the strategies that we need to enter the struggle again.

 

When we are ready to go out and reengage life, God provides us with all that we need. In Christ we already have a true victory, and through Him we know the outcome of the conflict. The battle will be costly, and the hardship and pain are too real to ignore; yet, the blood that we shed and the tears that we cry are merely reflections of those that our Lord endured in order to grant us our eternal place in the Kingdom of God. When we know Christ, we are never alone and never unprotected. When we call upon the Lord, He will always respond.

 

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

2 Thessalonians 2: 16, 17

 

There are times when the most productive thing that I can do seems to be nothing. These are moments when my busy, racing mind needs to stop its churning and when my straining heart requires a little down time, too. This is a bit like that point in a home improvement project when the battery on my cordless drill runs out of electrical charge, and I need to go put it into the charger for a while before I can continue to use it. The loss of this essential tool forces me to stop, look at what I am doing, and consider what my next steps should be. The down time from the activity also seems to open my thinking to what will be the best approach to the rest of the project.

 

Of far greater importance is the time that I take to reflect on God and on what He has done and will do in me and through my life. Some of these stop and reflect times need to be long periods of prayer and meditation; yet, sometimes they are just a pause to speak to Him about the immediate need and to listening to God’s response in the middle of it all. The Lord delights in the time that we take to engage Him in conversation, He is always available, and there is nothing that the Spirit of Christ does not want to be involved in, either.

 

God brings us the encouragement of His love, He assures us of our place in His heart and in His house, and the Lord also comforts our fears and our concerns about the direction that we are to go in this life. He brings clarity and focus to our minds, and He provides the solid basis that we need to live courageously. As we look on the face of God, as we consider His love for us, and as our hearts are encouraged by Him; we should also begin to see the new being that we have become through Jesus. It is as this new person, in Christ, that our heart is made strong and our purpose made clear.

 

Be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish and at peace.

2 Peter 3: 14b

 

Face creams, medicated cleansing wipes, and spa treatments are great in the short term. Those nasty skin eruptions and the annoying wrinkles can be removed and softened so that a youthful glow is restored—for a moment. Then, the reminders of age and late nights and worry return. We spend money and time on a remedy that doesn’t ever really work. Eventually, we tend to just surrender to the processes of life and blame all of the ill effects on a thinning ozone layer or on too much time in the sun and the wind.

 

When the source of the unsightly condition of our outer selves is found in our hearts, the fix gets even more problematic and can seem to be totally elusive. You think that the anger is under control; then, you turn a loved one into over-done toast in a moment; or you have your thoughts under control; then, the fantasy overcomes all reason. Each of us can write our own stories about the ways that the peace of our lives is disrupted by issues that we hoped were behind us. When these events happen in my life, I feel no peace within. It is as if there is an ugly lump on my nose that the entire world is looking at.

 

Christ wants us to live in peace. He knows us, and I am fully aware of the fact that He knows all about my numerous spots and blemishes. I am also completely aware of the fact that God forgives me for all of them and that He wants to take me deeper into my relationship with Him in order to permanently eliminate them. This may seem rather contradictory to logic and reason, but Christ wants me to take each and every one of my ugly thoughts and actions to Him. His desire is that I tell Him about them and recognize the pain that they cause to others, to myself, and to God. This is the heart of the action that is called confession. Then as I allow the Spirit of Christ to guide me into healthier ways of thinking and acting, the magic of God’s grace truly removes the blemishes and smoothes the wrinkles of sin.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

Job 19:25

 

When I wake up in the morning, when I go to sleep at night, every step of my day; there is little that is certain except Job’s simple statement. Yet contained in it are many deep and remarkable thoughts. I have a Redeemer; One who has purchased me out of sin’s slavery, One who has provided me with a refuge from the attacks that are inevitable for God’s family, One who has moved me out of the shack that I lived in and into his mansion. I am no longer lost, wandering in the desert of hopelessness with an eternal guarantee of more of the same. I am redeemed!

 

My Redeemer is a living one; for, He is as powerful and His presence is as vital today as it was at the beginning of time. He never changes, He never diminishes, and He is never distant. The Lord is totally involved with my life. Christ does not ever look upon His work in me as finished, He holds out hope when all seems beyond redemption and repair, and He continually guides me through life. Jesus, my Redeemer, provides the force of life to my soul.

 

Finally, God gives us a promise; there is a glorious future as well. In the end, the Lord will return to earth and Creation’s perfect order will be restored. I will be living in the sinless world that God intended, and I will do this with a body and a mind that have not been damaged by sin. I will be in God’s presence and all of Creation will be singing songs of joy. Until then, however, my life is filled with worship and praise for the One who brought me into a life that can be lived today in that future reality. My Redeemer lives and he lives in me!

 

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seven times seventy.”

Matthew 18: 22

 

Peter is engaging Jesus in a discussion about forgiveness. Peter is expressing what he thinks will be viewed as totally over the top in terms of what might be expected. However, Jesus tells him and us how God views the same subject. The Lord says that forgiveness is not something that we can place limits on. It is a commodity that comes out of the dept of God’s love, grace, and mercy. The ability to forgive is a part of what sets God’s people apart from the rest of our world.

 

We have been forgiven, we are being forgiven, and we will be forgiven, too. Christ did it all; so, there is nothing else that we need to do in order to enter into the sort of relationship with God that is not impacted and impaired by the hard-edged friction of unresolved hurt and pain. If this great reconciliation is possible with God who is holy and righteous, it certainly should be possible with our fellow sin infected earthly travelers. Yet we do let wrongs, slights, and hurts of all sorts separate us and even drive us into isolation.

 

Forgiving others is not easy; yet, it is possible. Entering into forgiveness can bring us into the sort of rest and peace that is found only in Christ. When we hold onto the wrongs and the hurt that others have inflicted on us we are allowing that past event the opportunity to continue to wound us again and again. As we turn to Christ and turn our pain over to Him, we are entering into the realm of the supernatural. True forgiveness is not a characteristic of this world. It is irrational in the world’s view of the way that people should live. But Christ tells us that we should live irrationally. We should desire to be people who change our world by bringing Christ into it. Radically forgiving without limits is a very powerful way to do this.

 

And He is before all things, and in Him all things are held together.

Colossians 1: 17

 

Christians often take a great deal of comfort out of this verse. In it we see the fact that God, the Creator, designed our world in a manner that allows it to work, and Christ is still working to this moment in holding the whole thing together. Without His continual engagement our world would collapse and spin out of control in a riot of chaos and calamity. I think that this is a true and accurate reading of the meaning here.

 

Yet, I also think that there is more. This entire section of Colossians is about Christ. In it Paul discusses the fact that Jesus is involved totally with all aspects of creation and that all of creation was made for Jesus. That all includes us in both ways, for Christ made us, and we have been made to glorify Him. We can take comfort and place absolute trust in the fact that our Lord is loving and just with His creation and with His creatures. When we consider the way that Christ holds it all together, that is the world that is under our feet and the heavens above us; it seems that we have to include ourselves and the lives that we live in that thought.

 

As people we tend to believe that we have to work hard to keep everything going. So, we believe that if we take our hands off of the steering wheel of life for even a moment the results will be disastrous. This is simply not true. In fact, we are far more likely to be the ones who drive off of the cliff or into the wall than Christ is going to do. I think that Paul is telling us that we can trust the Creator to do what is best for and with us. We are freed from that burden of control, and we are set free to serve Christ out of grace of our redeemed state and status. The Lord is holding my life and yours together, and there is no better care possible.

 

And He, Jesus, began to say to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4: 21

 

My hearing may be adequate, but I don’t always hear well. The mind that I have can usually figure things out; however, it seems to filter out some of the concepts that are most important. In this situation, my unwillingness to adequately hear, my inability to grasp what is truly said, and my need to live in the center of the truth that is being expressed collide with life-challenging results.

 

Jesus, although He is still a youth, is speaking simple, yet profound truth. The deepest struggle that humanity has been enveloped in from its early days has been granted reprieve. The Christ is come, and He brings God’s promise of restoration to all people who will hear and respond. There, in that place and time, Christ has come and life will never be the same. God has descended from Heaven to live among us, and He brings the promise of salvation from our sin and relationship with the Lord in this world and for eternity to completion.

 

Yet I often live as if there is more to be done. My soul does not rest in the full revelation of what Jesus did. Instead I struggle and hold on tight to my list of things that need to be done. I act as if the Kingdom of God were in a precarious position and it somehow needs me to set it all right. My mind contends with the issues of the day, and it kicks up a giant dust cloud of effort that is blown away on the next breeze revealing that nothing has changed. Yes the Lord does call and send me to serve His will. He does want me to speak His name and proclaim His salvation. However, He is saying that I can do all of this from the peace, the calm, and the weightlessness of His grace that are found in accepting the fact Jesus spoke absolute truth when He said that fulfillment was here and His final words from the cross, “It is finished!”

 

It is in that truth that we can rest. Christ has done it all. He paid for every debt that we could ever owe, and His work has freed us from the need to earn our way to glory. Today I can accept that it is done. Now I can live in the peace of that fact, and accept rest for my weary soul.

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

2 Chronicles 26: 5

 

This is a part, perhaps the most important one, of the story of Uzziah, King of Judah. In these few words we have the entirety of the arch of his life spelled out. He is appointed king, at least co-regent with his father, at the age of sixteen. He has the Godly council of Zechariah, and Uzziah listens to his words of wisdom. The young king prospers greatly in that he reclaims the glory of Judah out of the defeated state that his father had led them into. Yet, there is this one cautionary line in the narrative, “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.”

 

If you are a reader of mystery or adventure fiction, that statement from the author has to get your curiosity racing. It tells you that this tale does not have a perfectly happy outcome. Let’s face it; we all have a little Uzziah in us. We like the sweet aroma of success, and when we get some of it in out nostrils, we want more and then some more after that. It gets too easy to take the credit for the wins and many of us rapidly start to leave God out of the game. This is Uzziah’s fatal problem. He becomes full of himself, leaves God’s rule and law out of his actions, and he suffers tremendously because of it.

 

Now the account of what happens to this king is horrible (read the story, it is worth it) and it would seem that it should suffice as a warning to us all. But, we fallen beings being what we are, it doesn’t stop much of this sort of god-less behavior. Yet, this is where the story of Uzziah and his fate differs from what we need to experience. Uzziah sinned and suffered because of it; so do we all. Uzziah’s legacy was his sin; because of Christ, ours is the glory of God. Our sinfulness has consequences and brings about pain. It is too terrible to endure. Yet, Christ’s blood wipes it all away so that, unlike Uzziah, no one can walk by our grave and name us as “unclean”. In Christ alone, there is victory over even the darkest of sin.

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2:1

 

My mind doesn’t always like to just accept things; I fight against ideas, concepts, certainly rules, and ready agreement. I can’t help it, it is just the way I am; yet, there are times when just accepting something is the best way to go. If someone opens a door for you, just go with it; if your neighbor shovels the snow off your walks, simply be thankful; and when God tells you that He is giving the gift of His unending love and total forgiveness for everything, we need to live like we believe that this is true.

 

No matter how hard we work at it and regardless of what we do, we can’t pay for the sacrifice that Jesus made on our accounts. This remains true even when what we do seems to be directly related to God’s plan and purpose for our lives. So, we shouldn’t try. Instead, God wants us to honor Him, to respect His love, and to behave in a way that when others encounter us, they see Jesus. This takes real strength, not the superficial kind of might that is represented by the hard muscles of power lifting, but rather, strength that comes from the core of your being. This strength is exercised through trust in Christ that is practiced daily and by having faith that He will provide everything that life requires each moment It is made especially strong by extending grace, compassion, and understanding, by bringing unconditional and outwardly focused love, to the people that God brings into your path.

 

So, this is a great day to extend a helping hand, a ready smile, a kind act, or an offer to share the truth of real freedom that is yours in Christ with someone who needs grace and unending strength. This is the day that Christ has given to each of us to stand firmly in the confidence of His presence and to fight back against the destructive forces that Satan brings into this world. Be strong in the knowledge that, in Christ, you are totally free and that He is absolutely mighty in you.

 

 

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Romans 15: 1

 

First of all I want to point to the fact that it is Paul who is speaking here. I do not make the claim to be with him in counting myself among the strong as if that is some sort of mark of superiority or even of greater maturity. Yet, I think that this is the point that Paul is making. We are all weak when it comes to our living in the righteousness that God calls His people to follow. However, Christ works in every one of us to transform us into the new beings that He intends for us to be. This process of change and the tension that exists between maturity in Christ and various people’s areas of weakness is an integral part of the dynamic that is life in the body of Christ.

 

God is telling us that He desires that we would learn to live together in harmony and peace regardless of where we are in this process. Paul is instructing us that one of the important aspects in doing this is to take our obligations seriously. He is saying that followers of Christ have incurred a debt to God that involves following Christ by helping to carry the heavy weight that sin imposes on our less mature fellow believers. Yet, there is a warning here. We are to be careful about engaging in the very human tendency to see ourselves as superior when we are walking with those who are in need of support. We are to remember that just yesterday we were the ones in need and that tomorrow it may be us again.

 

The constant in all of this is Christ. He brings people who are different, in divergent places in our journey through life, and who are distant, holding values and living lifestyles that are significantly in opposition to each other, into a place of singular community that is built upon common faith and that is directed into the true path of righteousness that is found in God’s word. In all of this I am reminded that Christ sacrificed all for me and that He continually picks me up when I am weak and supports me into strength. How can I fail to fulfill my debt to Him by not doing the same for another?

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