May 2014


Hear, and I will speak;

I will question you, and you make it known to me.

Job 42: 4

 

Do you ever feel as if no one is listening? Sometimes it seems like all of the words that are coming out of your mouth are just so much noise, and their heart-felt content is meaningless to the people that you are addressing. I fear that at times most of us reduce the expression of other people’s ideas, wishes, and concerns to the value of background noise, and too often we answer by telling our own story as if our experience is all that matters. In this section of Job he has been engaged in an encounter with friends who are responding to Job’s great life tragedies with this sort of self-centered hearing. So, Job has turned elsewhere to seek understanding and wisdom.

 

Despite all that has happened to him and in his life, Job knows that God has not abandoned him. Even in the most terrible of circumstances the Lord is present, and His presence is filled with concern, care and love. As Job turns his face to God and pours out his heart with its agony and grief in full view, he knows to the depth of his being that he is being heard. Job possesses a form of confidence in God that is founded upon knowing Him well. Although evil has descended upon Job and done catastrophic damage to his life, Job knows in his heart and in his mind that God is sovereign over this earth and that the Lord does care for him and protects him.

 

This is the sort of relational trust that allows Job to cry out to God and to express his deepest feelings. As Job seems to command God to hear he is actually stating something that he already knows to be true. God listens always, and His hearing is perfect. In fact, God hears the heart in a way that seems to translate the poorly crafted and too often inaccurate words that I speak into true and honest expression of my condition and actual need. Although God does know all He still wants to hear from me. This dialogue is a part of the way that He relates to each of us. There is nothing that I need to withhold from Him, and God cares about everything. In all of life I am blessed by the presence of my Lord who listens to my every word.

 

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.

1 Thessalonians 3: 12

 

It is probable that most of us have something invested somewhere. When we put that money aside for this purpose we have goals and objectives in mind. A good investment advisor will usually counsel us to diversify our portfolio. That means that some of our capital is placed into the sorts of entities that promise growth but may be a bit more risky, and some of it is set aside in savings that don’t really grow much but are very safe. Out of this balanced approach we achieve a combination of increase and security.

 

If this approach to managing something as ordinary as God’s gift of income and financial security is valuable and worthwhile, how much more significant is making as careful and thorough a plan for investing in the Kingdom of God? When we engage in that process, the primary capital that we have to invest is love. This is the abundant riches and wealth that God pours out upon us. Love is the paycheck that grace writes for us despite the fact that we haven’t earned a cent of it. The inexhaustible sum that is displayed on the amount line is written in the blood of Christ for the world to see.

 

Yet, we can choose to keep the state of our investment account secret. We can go through life acting as if our relationship with Christ is a private matter and like love is a rare and easily depleted asset. However this seems to be the opposite of the advice that Paul is giving us. Paul is saying that we don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love other than freely receive that which God does lavish upon us, and in turn, we can open our hearts and lovingly embrace others without reservation or restriction. We can choose to openly display the love that Christ has poured out on us and share it freely with the world, and as we give away Christ’s love, we are investing wisely in things that matter for eternity.

 

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Isaiah 40: 12

 

Perspective can be frustratingly hard to find. Scale, especially when it comes to what is important, is often obscured by flawed reason and bias. We hold up our measuring tool to the dawn in order to grasp the potential that the day holds, and we are defeated before we start to journey through it. As the clock moves along we lay out the template of our past as a map to follow down the road known as today; yet, many of the turns that we take end up in wrong places.

 

At this point it becomes natural and easy to blame the journey itself for the struggle. We think that whatever failures and hardships we have endured and are encountering are the result of bad choices, poor decisions, or misdirection. This is the point where people often want to blame others for the poor input that we were given or for the evil intent that caused them to send us along this path. Yet, ultimately, we need to own our part in it all. Also, it helps to consider God’s role in the life that we are living.

 

The Lord probably didn’t choose the difficult place that we find ourselves for us, but He is in it with us. So, God can provide us with accurate tools for assessment, and His word lays out a plan for navigating through everything that is before us. The obstacle that stands as an unclimbable mountain before us is like a grain of sand from God’s vantage point. The flood of fear and doubt that is threatening to drown us is swallowed up by the Lord’s reason and peace. All of life can be brought into perspective when we turn our day over to God in humble submission to His will and in prayerful contemplation of His word.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3: 18

 

Expressing how we feel about people is often much easier done through our words than through our actions. The words can be totally sincere and come from deep within us, but if they are not followed by tangible demonstration, they are empty and sometimes actually hurtful. We have all known people who speak about great intentions and express wonderful thoughts regarding commitment; yet, they continually fail to deliver on those words. Many of us can also recall times when we have been the unreliable party.

 

In my experience with God, He has never failed to follow through. When the Lord makes a promise and tells me that He will do something, He delivers. This is especially true when He tells me that His love for me is without bounds and is unlimited, for He demonstrates His love continually. I am cared about and cared for; I am made whole and made holy; and the Spirit of Christ stays with me through every moment of every day. God is totally true to His word.

 

Jesus has demonstrated for us what relationships should look like; because, He is the model for words of love that are turned into life expression of it. God’s consistent follow through on His promises to me in conjunction with His loving honesty are the demonstration of His absolute love for me. Christ wants something really simple from me in return. He wants me to extend the same type of expression of love to others. He wants me to show to people the difference that my relationship with Christ has made in me by the way that I actually engage them with honest and loving connection to their lives.

 

There is no better day than this one to show someone the love of Christ by the way that you treat them. This is the time to honestly care for others in the same manner as Christ honestly cares for you. God’s loving presence in your life will bring light and joy into the lives of others when you love them with caring words of encouragement and with honest and real actions.

 

The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10: 8, 9

 

God’s word is His essential truth, essence, and being. It is the simple and direct reality of who and what He is, and the complete statement of how He interacts with and relates to me, surrounds me and infuses my heart. God has made Himself totally accessible, and He has no off hours, holidays, or situations that are not covered. When I consider nearness as it relates to the Lord, He is as close as the molecules that make up my blood. Yet, when the nurse draws a blood sample, it looks like any other, there is no strange glow to it; and when the lab results return, there are no foreign bodies present, no mysterious structures or organisms. You see, God’s presence in me is not foreign. This is how I was created to be. This intimate and close relationship with God is what was lost when our original ancestors decided to defy God and went off on their own without Him. The influence of evil is what contributes the soul-sickening foreign bodies to us.

 

The process of becoming healthy is relatively simple. It requires us to accept the fact that we need a healing relationship with Christ. That relationship is achieved through accepting the fact that Jesus has the right, authority, and the loving desire to direct our lives; and it is made real through believing in the totality of His sacrifice for everyone. Then the process of healing begins. Christ starts to filter out the hurtful urges, the selfish desires, and the other contaminants that have poisoned our hearts.

 

Being saved from separation from God happens in a moment but being restored from the damage that was done when we were separated continues for the balance of our earthly life. As we grow closer to God and as we get to know Him better, we are made stronger and the health of our spirits is continually improved. When I use the faith that is needed to openly and continually express to others the wonder, joy, and absolute love that is the essence of my relationship with Christ, I grow continually closer to Him, and the good effects of the healing that He is doing in my heart grow ever greater.

 

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,

And trust in the Lord.

Psalm 4: 5

 

So, God wants me to give Him something in the form of a sacrifice; that seems a bit strange in that He is the Creator of everything, and He ended the Old Testament practice of sacrifice with Jesus’ final one. Still, God does want us to willfully give Him certain aspects of our lives, and those gifts can be true sacrifice for us. The Lord asks for things that are often the things that we hold onto the tightest. They are frequently our long-standing touchstones of personal security.

 

God wants people to give themselves to Him; not just in an external expression of involvement, but He wants our hearts and our minds. He wants our essential beings. For the Lord really doesn’t care whether we have perfect church attendance or what committees we may serve on; He isn’t interested in the stickers that we place on our cars, or in the books that we line our shelves with. He does care greatly about the way that we love our families and how we reflect His love in our community, about the nature of our conduct, and about what we learn and apply to life from those books.

 

A sacrifice of righteousness is one that we give to God out of a desire to serve Him; for, He wants us to leave our places of comfort and to take the risk that fully trusting Him entails. Many of us segment and separate our spiritual lives from our other ones to some degree. We talk about some topics with one set of contacts but not with others; we engage in some behaviors in one locale but not in another; and we allow Christ to take absolute lead in some situations, but we hold onto control in others. Sometimes these distinctions between spiritual life and the rest of it are drawn between our personal or private life and our public one, and some of us establish these lines based upon our sense of comfort, thus, our sense of safety with individuals or within groups. Still some of us are more open about our relationship with Christ in the public setting than we are with those who we are closest to. Whatever the circumstances and the situation, if all of my thoughts, actions, and life direction are not driven by my relationship with Christ, I do not trust Him fully. Therefore, He desires for me to give Him the portions of my heart that I am still clinging onto, and these are today’s righteous sacrifices to my Lord.

 

 

 

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

John 17: 14,15

 

Jesus was in deep prayer to the Father when he said this. When we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, we change sides in the eternal conflict; we toss aside the uniform and the colors of Satan’s army, and we are re-clothed in the exquisite robes of God’s own warriors. The Word of God becomes the pledge of allegiance of our hearts. All of this places us into a position of conflict with the forces of evil that are truly alive and continually active on the earth.

 

Although, God may hate war in the form of the angry, greedy, and self-empowering human-to-human conflicts that we engage in, he sets up a state of constant warfare between his people and Satan. This is the type of war that Jesus is praying about. In fact, God is delighted when the world hates us. If there is never any conflict, are we really engaged in the battle that confronts sin with God’s truth? I think that a lot of Satan’s anger with us is triggered when we seek to use one of God’s greatest distinctives in our interaction with life. That is, when we choose to love, to care about and to care for others. Satan doesn’t serve people; rather, he demands service to himself. In Christ, we serve a Lord who humbled himself in service to all who allow Him to do so.

 

Jesus asked the Father to leave us here to continue to tell and to show the world that there is an answer to the life crushing demands of Satan; however, he also asked God to protect us as we live here on this life or death battlefield of the soul. We can go through every day being proud to serve, confident in our direction, and secure in our safety, for Christ, Himself, is watching out for us, and the power of God Almighty is in, with, and surrounding us.

 

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1: 10

 

It is totally fine to feel good about what we do during the day; in fact, attempting to do everything in the best manner possible is a concept that comes from God. When we are engaged in following the direction that the Lord has set for us, we should have a sense of accomplishment and of achievement in what we are doing. However, there is an important caution that I need to stay aware of while going through my day. So the question is, “Who am I truly serving; thus, whose approval do I seek?”

 

Paul’s words pose a very interesting and an important question; since, where we look for approval and for validation is where our hearts tend to be oriented. Unfortunately, I do find that it can be awfully easy to lose clarity and to shift my focus when it comes to knowing that what I am doing is effective. My desire is to live for Christ, to share the love that He gives to me with others, and to communicate God’s truth to the people around me; yet, I admit that having people tell me that something was helpful is very satisfying and that receiving a negative response can be troubling. That is all fine, and it is a part of being open and public in my faith. However, when I start to change what I think that I should say or do and when I consider the potential for controversy or disagreement before I act on what seems Godly and righteous, then I am seeking the approval of people. When that is true, Paul is very direct; he says that in those times I am not serving Christ.

 

Since this sort of thing does happen, I am truly thankful for God’s gracious attitude and for His unending willingness to redirect me. There is amazing freedom in following Paul’s example, for people are difficult to please and the things that gain our approval are very hard to define. They change continually. On the other hand, God is consistent and unchanging, and He communicates His wishes and desires in ways that are understandable. Christ wants me to speak His truth, He wants me to love fearlessly, and He tells me to share the source of my strength with others. If I keep looking to God for my approval and talking with Him about my challenges and successes, serving Christ with every moment of my day can be my reality.

 

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Romans 8: 22

 

There are aches and pains that almost everyone experiences. Some of our parts hurt, and on certain days and under specific circumstances some of them do it with great vigor. In this verse Paul is attempting to describe a very great level of pain and suffering, as a man he has the same disadvantage in this task that I possess, disadvantage meaning essentially thank God I didn’t have to experience that. He is saying that in the aftermath of sin this world is in the grips of a form of pain that is unrelenting in its intensity and unyielding in its depth. Every joint, muscle, and tissue of its being is inflamed and disrupted from the peace that it desires to experience.

 

This is the place where we live. Its surface can be as alien and inhospitable as is that of Mars or Jupiter. There is no escape from this harsh reality during earthly life. Yet, God is merciful. You see, we deserve what we have. Our ancestors chose to make it this way, and every one of us participates in the ruination of sin. Still, God is gracious. He doesn’t leave us here alone. Christ knows the ruts in the roads, and He has personally endured the agony of human tragedy. Now, He walks those same paths with us and enters into our ordeal as one who brings wisdom, understanding, empathy, and comfort to our need.

 

In Christ we still reside in this alien landscape, and we will be battered, bruised, and tortured along the path of our journey through life. However, in it all there is purpose. Like the woman in her time of labor, there is hope; for, she anticipates the immeasurable joy of birth and new life. Christ gives all of creation this hope of rebirth and new life in a time of restoration to come. Yet for people He does even more. Christ graces us with a form of strength and a purposeful perspective that makes the struggles and the grief of this life endurable. As we follow Christ along this cross-shadowed road that is our life, He leads us through the depths and into the glory of His Kingdom come today.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26: 3, 4

 

How many aspects of your life can you describe as perfect? Tough question, isn’t it? Most of us, when honestly considering something like this, won’t come up with much that doesn’t have some flaws, an aspect that falls short, or some way that we throw the balance and the symmetry off. I guess that, in fact, this lack of true perfection is one of the ways that God reminds us of how much we need Him and of what a mess that people have made of what started out as perfect.

 

Solid, unchanging, imperishable, and trustworthy, these describe the Lord. Concerned, caring, involved, and loving, these also describe Him. God’s viewpoint is the only one that is not obscured by the smoke and the dust and the clutter of living in this world. God’s perspective is the only one that is totally without a self-serving aspect. Jesus proved His total trustworthiness continually while He lived with us, and since then the Spirit of Christ has never failed to do the same.

 

Peace, perfect peace, is a wonderful state to desire. It is a quality of the heart and of the mind where there is a wonderful balance. It is not a blissed out state where all of the issues and challenges of life are ignored, and it is certainly not an approach in which I take total control and use my own strength to drive my way through everything. It is achieved through staying focused on God’s will and seeking His perspective. God’s peace is found in the heart and it radiates through the mind to the rest of the body. It calms the racing heart and it stills the anxious moment. Perfect peace is founded upon trusting that the Lord has all of the answers for me, that His love for me is absolute, and that He will not let me truly fall.

 

Before things start to get out of control with stress and anxiety increasing, I need to spend time focusing on Christ, talking with my Lord and seeking His will and His orientation for my mind and my heart. Then when the events of the day start to get worrisome, I can stop the troubled thoughts and take the time that I need to let the Lord’s peace return.

 

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