September 2014


Do not quench the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5: 19

 

Have you ever known someone who was always giving gifts? This is that person who never forgets to bring something to the hostess at a party, who keeps track of birthdays, and who just hands you a simple but heart-warming package on that day when you are feeling down and unappreciated. That person is modeling one of the least thought about attributes of God, for Christ is the perpetual, everlasting, and unstoppable giver of gifts.

 

He has given me the life that I live, the very breath in my lungs is a gift from God. The fact that my soul is alive and that it has permanence is Christ’s immeasurable gift to me. In His Spirit, the Lord has taken up residence in me, and He provides all of the wisdom, counsel, and encouragement that I need in order to live out His victorious life plan each day. Yet, when it comes to this last aspect of my relationship with God, I am often the one who acts as if I am ungrateful. I set the glorious gift on a shelf in order to deal with something that has attracted my attention. Thus, I function like an overzealous fireman by pouring chilling water on the invigorating fire that God is building in my heart.

 

The Spirit of Christ is the constant reminder of God’s love for us and for all people. The Spirit removes the portions of our hearts that have been damaged by sin, and He fills the voids that are left behind with newly formed living tissue. Our lives are given focus, direction, meaning, and empowerment through the interaction of the Spirit. Heart fire is cooled by doubt, fear, self-centeredness, personal control, and lack of trust. The Spirit’s fire is stoked by prayer, God’s Word, acting in faith, loving as Christ does, sharing God’s truth with others, and by seeking His will in all aspects of life. What do you do that cools the flame of the Spirit in your heart? Turn this over to God and start to live in the invigorating heat of a Spirit impassioned heart.

 

I am poor and needy, hasten to me, O God!

You are my help and my deliverer, O Lord, do not delay!

Psalm 70: 5

 

If truth were to be known, Oliver Twist got life right, for when he said, “Please, sir, I want some more.” he was stating the truth about every one’s relationship to God. As humans living in our broken and dying world, we truly never have enough of God’s grace, love, righteousness, and justice. There is not a day that comes my way where I can honestly say that I have it all handled and that my own resources are more than sufficient to get me through it all. Every moment of each day I can stand before my Lord and repeat Oliver’s famous words. The challenge for me is found in realizing and in admitting my level of need.

 

It is trained in and societally and culturally ingrained in us to be independent and strong as we face life. As Oliver’s act was radically defiant of the system that he lived in, so is admitting personal need and weakness in ours. Yet, God is known at His fullest when we realize just how much we do need Him. Christ becomes most evident in us when we set aside ourselves and allow His Spirit of Truth to permeate our beings. As I recognize my neediness, Christ responds with His total sufficiency.

 

As the new day dawns it is sobering to realize just how little I have in the way of resources to utilize in handling what will come my way; however, it is very encouraging to know that there is nothing that I will encounter that is not completely within the strength and the understanding of Christ. Also, He wants me to turn to Him, and He desires to enter into my life. As I cry out, “Lord, hurry, do not delay!” He is already with me. Christ already has answers to my pleas before they are formative thoughts, and His wealth and resources are eternally mine.

 

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3: 17

 

A few days ago I was considering what it means to pray in the name of Jesus. In this verse Paul talks about the related idea of living in the same manner. In doing this Paul seems to roll a lot of life up into one package. He says that we should take on all aspects of life, both our words and our bigger actions, as things which are done out of a Christ-centered motivation and inspiration. That is a lot to ask. It places such things as the way that we handle the unwanted phone call and place a food order in the same arena as the manner in which we speak to our closest friends and family.

 

As I consider this, the word “whatever” becomes very big. There is a lot of ground covered by it. In fact, no aspect of living escapes that inclusion. It seems that Paul is telling me that when I entered into relationship with God through Christ that I signed on for a whole lot more than just merely knowing God. I accepted the fact that this new relationship means change in my essential self and that a part of this change involves the ways that I view and respond to the world and its inhabitants. This is not so easy to do, but it is very rational.

 

You see, God cares deeply about everyone. There are no exceptions. He desires that each of the people in this world would know Him and be in relationship with Him. One of the primary ways that this message of hope and restoration is conveyed to people in our world is through the lives that followers of Christ live. As we speak and act through our days, so Christ is portrayed in our world. Thus, allowing Christ’s love, grace, mercy, peace, and righteousness, His name, to show in all that we say and do speaks the gospel of Christ more clearly than any other form of evangelistic proclamation.

Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55: 2

 

We live in a diet conscious time. There is an almost endless quantity of advice about how and what to eat for us to access. Many of us live in places where the choices of where to go to find food, what we can choose from, and the seasons when certain things are available are endless. Yet, we make foolish choices, eat unhealthy diets, and as a result, we are never satisfied. Our hunger goes on and on. The image that our mirror shows to us is ever troubling, and our wallets are empty from paying for it all.

 

Of course, Isaiah is not talking about the state of our stomachs, but that is something that we can all relate to easily. It is also something that most people pay serious attention to. People care deeply about being fed, and that is exactly the prophet’s point. You see, God desires to care for His people in all ways. He wants to feed us with food that satisfies and that nourishes our souls. So, the Lord showers us with a soothing rain of His mercy, grace, and salvation. He grows up unending crops of peace and justice, and He calls upon His people to eat from them and to sow their seeds in our fields.

 

The Lord speaks and His words are the true advice that we need to prosper and to flourish. His Word is the guide and the living narrative source of wisdom for our travels. God desires for us to make His words the first and foremost ones that we listen and respond to. As we consume them, we are being fed a meal that is beyond all others in its quality and quantity. The lord of the Harvest continually spreads His banquet feast out for us and invites all to come and be filled.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.

John 16: 23

 

What is so special about a name? Many of us parents have spent a lot of time and put out considerable effort in choosing names for our children. We want the names to mean something special and to convey the unique wonder of this specific person. The name that we were given or that we choose to go by is the primary way that our family, friends, and our society identify and distinguish each of us. Names matter. Yet, there is no magic in a name. I could select someone else’s name and start to identify myself by that name, but I would not be that person. My character and true nature would still be the one that I had established and possessed.

 

So, it was with Jesus, too. I do not believe that He was telling His followers that there was anything magical or extraordinary about His name in itself. Christ was saying something far more profound and important than laying out a formula for effective prayer. Rather, it seems to me that He was setting out a pattern for living fully and well in the Kingdom of God throughout the days of our lives. Although Jesus was often rather mystical in what He said, He was never impractical or unrealistic. He told His followers then and now the truth about this new life that we can lead as followers of God.

 

Thus there is no magical incantation or formula that will grant us anything that our human hearts might desire simply by invoking the name of Jesus. Yet, the fulfillment of all that we might desire in this life is wrapped up the mysterious and mystical chords of faith. It is faith that leads us into a relationship with Christ, and it is faith that causes people to set aside everything that we have been in order to allow Christ to transform us into the new beings that we become in and through Him. So, Jesus is instructing us to live in His name. When we do this we are choosing to identify with Him at our deepest and most personal of levels. As our hearts and our minds become more and more like Christ’s the desires that we possess and the outcomes that we seek will also be His.

“Behold I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;

Your walls are continually before Me.” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 49: 16

 

We all know people who write the things that they really need to remember on their hands. This may include phone numbers, names, or prompts to “get milk.” whatever the important, immediate data or fact, the hand is a very good notepad on which to record it. This works because our hands are always with us and are continually visible. Unlike scraps of paper or even notebooks, it doesn’t require any extra effort to remember where we put them. They can’t even hide behind the back for long or get buried deep inside of a purse or a briefcase.

 

So consider Isaiah’s statement that God, Himself, holds each of us as so important that he writes our existence onto His hands. It seems that there must be a lot of ink on those hands! Yet, there are times when it seems like God must surely have forgotten me. Life feels like there is no hand of God in control or like His attention must certainly be focused somewhere else. Still, He comforts me with the fact that He has me continually before His eyes. There are times and seasons in this life, and God is fully aware of them. He fully feels the pain and experiences the sadness and loss; yet, He also stays true to His promise to restore everyone who loves Him to the fullness of His intended place as beloved children of God. The Lord asks us to trust Him with this and to keep our eyes open to see His presence in even the darkest of times.

 

Christ knows where the attacks upon each of us will come from. He has fully experienced the cunning, the relentlessness, and the furry that Satan brings to bear upon those who love God. He knows what we need in order to remain safe from these assaults, and He knows what defenses we will require in order to survive their most intense moments. We can trust that Christ is on the alert and that He does not sleep or even glance away for an instant. As we trust Him with every detail and each hour of the day, Christ reveals Himself and His responses to our situation. I can have absolute faith in the fact that God has me before Him and that I am completely safe in the palm of His mighty hand.

For I will proclaim the name of the Lord,

ascribe greatness to our God!

Deuteronomy 32: 3

 

To me this seems like a great place to be at the very end of life. There is no note of bitterness in these words. No remorse or regret over failure, and not a hint of anger and frustration at the way that others have let the author down. Finally and most significantly, Moses expresses only his worshipful praise of God and speaks out to bring glory to the name of the Lord. As we know Moses did not lead a perfect life, and his way was not easy; yet, God was there for him through all of it.

 

By this point in his story the all that was Moses’ life was considerable in quantity and in length. He had traveled far and wide, and he had been at the very top of society and he had lived in utter obscurity. He is 120 years old and the greatest goal of his life’s work is right in front of him. Yet, God made it more than clear that Moses would never taste the sweet fruit of success in the form of achieving that which he had spent the last 40 plus years seeking. Still, he sings the praises of his God, his Lord and King!

 

Regardless of age or life experience the relationship with God that Moses expresses is a very good one to hold, and his thoughts and expression of it are worth following, too. In my own experience of life, which is much shorter than Moses’ and is far less spectacular than his, God has been there with and for me at every step of the journey. I have not always been so graciously welcoming of His presence, but at each turn, God’s involvement has been in my best interest. This foundational reality of life is something that I don’t take enough time to appreciate. So, I desire to follow Moses and proclaim the name of my Lord and sing the song of His greatness with the voice of my life song this day.

 

 

It is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1: 16

 

This statement, a directive from God to His people, is quite ancient. Peter takes it out of Leviticus where it becomes something of an on-going theme. Foe people the desire to live holy lives, that is lives that are set apart from the world and from its sinful thoughts and deeds, can be motivated by self determination, by fear, or by imitation. God wants us to imitate Him. Doing this requires us to set aside self and to overcome fear. Imitation demands that we become open and yielded to another in whom we place an ever-deepening trust.

 

The primary characteristic of God that draws most people to Him is love. God loves us with a form and a depth of love that is beyond any that humans can employ. God’s love is accessible and it is universal. God comes after us with a relentless desire to be lovingly close to all people in all circumstances. He brings love to bear when we deserve rebuke and punishment. God brought His bottomless grace into our world in order to save us out of the death that we had self-imposed, and His grace is what enables us to actually seek to live as God has directed from the beginning of creation.

 

No one, not a single person ever in history or today, can live a life that is holy according to God’s standards. Even as we know Christ and seek to live under Hid lordship of our lives, we are still sinners. So, we all fall short of the mark that is holiness. Yet grace, which in and through Christ is unlimited and unending, proclaims that we are clean and guiltless under God’s perfect law. This grace frees us to set aside the burden of yesterday’s anger and today’s doubt, it frees us from the need to work for our right standing before God, and it is grace that tells me to seek to think, act and live a life that is holy and that is fully committed to the love that God pours out on me.

 

I cry to you, O Lord, I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalm 142: 5

 

This might sound, at first, like a cry of desperation and anguish; the sort of plea for help that we say when things are going really badly and in those moments when the answers are overwhelmed by our needs. This was certainly the situation that David found himself in when he wrote these words. He was hiding in a dark, cold cave with few friends left to count on and with no home to go to. God was completely with him during these dark and dangerous times just as He is always with me and with you during our harshest confrontations with a cruel reality.

 

Yet, I think that there is much more to this expression. There is application for my underlying attitude, for during each day regardless of that day’s danger or seeming lack of it, the Lord is still my refuge. In fact, the more consistently I am able to grasp this truth, the less I need to flee to the cave. There seems to be a direct correlation between embracing God’s protection, provision, and entitlement as His beloved child and the clarity and wisdom that I bring to my daily situations. When I am focused on my own human strength and understanding, I tend to get into the kind of trouble that necessitates cave dwelling. These are the times when I am doing it, as Sinatra said, “my way”.

 

Christ has claimed us out of the desolate wasteland of sin and death which is our natural home. He provides us with a continual covering of His grace, love, truth, and righteousness, and the Lord’s provision contemplates all of our needs and sustains us through all of life. The cry that we utter may be soft, or it may be ear splittingly loud. It may be the constant rhythm of the heart beating, but the cry of recognition of the Lord’s place as the only true source of successful, fearless living is the victory cry of God’s people.

 

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.

Isaiah 54: 2

 

At the end of many days the thing that I want most is to just get home, close the door, turn off the phone, and settle in with my immediate family. Note these key words here: close, turn off, and immediate. There is little room here for any one or anything from the outside of my home, and there is little interest in expanding that environment either. Now Isaiah 54 is about the nation of Israel and it is not written to give me personal instruction; so, I don’t really need to listen to it beyond enjoying the poetry. Well, I think that last idea is wrong.

 

Yes this is about the nation of Israel who are God’s people, and in Christ, we are God’s people. Also, national character influences the actions of its citizens, and the actions of each of us build our character, which has a tangible influence on our nation’s character. So, what is Isaiah talking about when he tells Israel to expand the perimeter of its tents? He is saying to be hopeful and to be open to take in each and everyone who comes your way. God is telling His children to open our hearts and our homes to the prospect of an increase in our numbers that will come from God’s blessing us with natural children and with the spiritual family made up of those who come to us from the outside.

 

God wants me to set aside my weary self-protection and open my doors to my neighbor. He tells me to tie back the flaps to my tent as a sign of hospitality so that the outsider will know that it is safe to come to my house for comfort and rest. The means and the methods of doing this vary greatly depending on our differing situations and various local cultures. Yet, even with these differences, God’s commitment to us remains the same. He promises an increase in our families that is based upon His provision of peace and reconciliation God asks us to open our hearts and our minds to His understanding of neighbor and of family, and the Lord wants us to approach our world with open arms that are ready to greet the foreigner with a welcoming embrace.

 

 

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