January 2015


Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4: 13

 

There was something that was much bigger than the words or than the actions that Peter and John had demonstrated. They had a form of confidence that comes from a place deep within. They also exhibited a depth of compassion that exceeded all that the world around them would have considered to be reasonable or even rational. These rather rustic men who would have been much more comfortable in a discussion about handling commercial fishing gear and about the winds on the lake than they were in conversing about theological matters were carrying on a powerful dialogue about God with the primary keepers of all national religious practice. What was truly striking in this situation was that they were winning the audience.

 

Peter and John were remarkable for their ordinariness. There was nothing except perhaps the still faint aroma of the fish that would have distinguished them from other less educated working-class people of their world. Yet, they were having a miraculous effect on people. They were healing people. Certainly there were instances where the physical ailments that had disabled lives were cured, and this was a powerful work that Peter and John attributed to Christ. However, there were far more people who witnessed the profound truth that came from their mouths and the absolute love that they poured out on all, and these audiences were drawn to the inescapable fact that they were encountering God. These simple men had the confidence of their faith and the boldness that was required to take the truth of the Christ into the presence of His most strident adversaries. Still, when facing the animosity of Hell they spoke with the love of the Father.

 

These fishermen could have been farmers or store workers. They could have been engineers, secretaries, writers, or lawyers. The knowledge and the understanding of God that they possessed on their own were minimal and incomplete. Yet, the words that they needed for the debate were always there. The ideas that the situation required were granted to them. In Christ, they never failed to have the wisdom to engage the need that was before them. When all that was logical in their minds tried to tell them that they were not good enough or knowledgeable enough to enter into the conversation, Christ provided them with the courage and the strength to do it regardless. As we follow the model of these fishermen and humble ourselves before Christ, boldness becomes simple obedience and people will see Jesus alive and engaged in our world.

It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2: 13

 

When I was a youth, there was a summer where growth and change took over my body; I grew three inches taller and actually lost a considerable amount of weight in just a few weeks. From my viewpoint, I knew that things were changing, but my sense of the change was less than that of people who saw me after it had happened. I did experience pain, for my joints ached; and I had some really awkward moments; since, my hands and my feet did not know where they were in relation to the rest of the world. God does some remarkably similar things in us. I doubt that He will make you much taller, but He will give you the confidence to hold your head a lot higher. He won’t necessarily cause you to lose weight, but He will carry the load of life for you. Just like in my growth spurt, you may not notice the dramatic ways that you are changing, but others will see a new person emerging.

 

In Christ, we are new persons; people who now have our identity in Christ. We have been made right and righteous, and our relationship to God has been restored. Whether we are four, forty, or at any other age, and throughout all of life, we grow and mature as the Spirit of Christ does the amazing and loving transformational work that He has planned for each of us. You see, every personal trainer, mentor, guru, yogi, pastor, and coach who has ever worked with people possesses nothing more than a mere shadow of life=changing ability of God. He knows us from the heart out, and He plans for our greatest good in ways that are beyond the capability of any human.

 

The growth pains and awkward moments that do come as we are on this life-long path of transformation are simply minor bumps in the road. They are reminders of how far we had to go and of how very far we have come in the journey of being transformed into the living image of Christ. This change that is afoot in our bodies, minds, and spirits is there because God loved each of us totally and willed that it would be possible. The change occurs and continues as we accept this love and yield ourselves in order to allow Christ the opportunity to bring about further transformative change.

 

For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4: 18

 

 

My eyes spend a lot of their day looking at things that only frustrate and confuse me. My mind sees the images of decay and death that fill this world and it cries out for relief. My heart is crushed by the suffering that surrounds me in its daily travels and almost wants to stop beating in order to find relief. In the end, my greatest hope is that some form of justice and humanity would come between what I am experiencing and the forces that are causing all of this brokenness. My heart cries out for humanity to reign. However, it is exactly that, humanity, which is the cause agent of all that is so hurtful in this world.

 

What I am missing as I focus on what is occurring in my world is that there is another dimension to it all. It is too easy to seek out the ready target of external appearances so that the experiential aspects of my life are framed by these temporary hardships and pains that are the product of the sin-induced brokenness of this world. What I am missing due to this short-sighted focus is the great, majestic, and wonderful presence of Christ in this world today. Christ did enter into it, and His Spirit is with us now. It is the desire of God that we would live in the continual experience of His reality. God wants us to see the world around us as His beautiful creation and to take on the responsibility, through Christ, of restoring it to His intended glory.

 

The hope and the beauty of this world are not found in and through humanity as it is in its sin-fractured and earth-bound state; rather, they are found in the promise of renewal and transformation that is made real in Christ. In order to hear God’s voice and to see with His eyes, my heart needs to be still and my eyes must be turned from the images of destruction that envelop me. God’s Word speaks to my mind and my heart. His Spirit opens my eyes to see His hands of healing and strength as they bind up and cure the wounds that sin has inflicted. Christ performs His restorative work in my spirit, and He provides me with a clear image of how my life can be used to bring Him glory and to join Him in the work of making visible that which is eternal.

 

It is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7: 8

 

When I think about the Hebrew people during their time of captivity in Egypt, my mind brings out images that are straight out of film or that are the drawings in an old pictorial guide to the times of the Bible. What these images have in common is that they are totally disconnected from my reality. Frankly, I can’t remember a time when my friends or I pretended to be either Egyptians or Hebrews during neighborhood play. We did enact epic battles between cowboys and Indians and ones that involved knights or Robin Hood’s band, but we never set our games in ancient Egypt. Still, Moses’ words strike me as being spoken about my life and this world.

 

Slavery is too common. Everyone is faced with it and with dealing with its oppression. Unfortunately what I have found out personally is that a very large portion of the time that is spent under the harmful control of something or someone is the direct result of my own decisions. Things have not changed all that much in all of these thousands of years, or so it would seem. The Hebrews allowed themselves to be subjected to Pharaoh’s rule. They went to Egypt to gain security and comfort. They placed themselves under the authority of a person and trusted in his goodness and mercy. In the end Pharaoh proved to be exactly what they should have been able to anticipate, for he followed the leading of the god that he worshiped and distrusted these people who worshiped the true God.

 

There is one place that all people can go to be assured of security and mercy. There is one source for safety and for salvation from the slavery that oppresses our souls. God promised all of us that He would save us. He has fulfilled that promise completely. Christ answers all of our needs. He strikes the blow that shatters the chains that hold our hearts in bondage. His word is clear and His Spirit is present. Christ leads each of His people out of the darkness that we have allowed to surround our minds. His glory will penetrate the blindness that fear, despair, and confusion create. The journey into freedom is not usually easy. It requires trust and courage to leave the false comfort of captivity, but Christ does keep His promise, and He joins us in the journey. In the end, it is glorious to breathe the fresh air of freedom in the presence of God.

Repent therefore and return that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Acts 3: 19

 

There are days and times when my ability to draw close to God seems to be impaired. These are those days where my thoughts don’t turn to Him and my heart is often heavy with the challenges of life. One of the difficult aspects of these days is that I seldom recognize what is going on with enough clarity to immediately do something about it. Life goes on and my clouded and misdirected heart leads me into acting in ways that hurt the people in my life and that distance me from the One who can turn this wayward child onto a better path.

 

This turning will not happen until I come to the conclusion that something is wrong and that this wrongness is centered in me. When I decide to move toward the will of God by recognizing my separation from the Lord, He is always quick to act in showing me a better way to think and to behave. God’s open arms welcome me back, and He provides me with strength and encouragement to start to repair the damage that my sinful ways have caused in my world.

 

Living in a relationship with Christ provides us with an ever present opportunity to hit a sort of refresh button, for grace and forgiveness are always given. We are continually accepted with joy and delight when we return to the Lord from our times of drifting away. This return is something like what happens when a ship returns from a very difficult time at sea with its hull battered and the paint peeling off, supplies run low, and critical equipment broken. God cleans up our wounds, restores our strength and replenishes our spirits, helps us repair our damaged relationships, and sends us back into life with a properly planned and well charted course to follow. The very real presence of Christ in my life is what keeps me from drifting into dangerous and painfully harmful waters, and He guides me forward into the refreshing presence of God’s grace and will.

 

Have I not commanded you? “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1: 9

 

And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”

Matthew 17: 7

 

What is there to fear? Why has the subject of fearlessness been on the lips of God throughout history? God knows that we humans are not so very strong and courageous on our own. He has watched us shrink away from the brave act and the bold statement far too many times to count.

I am painfully aware that my own experience of boldly going where the Lord calls me to go is not very different from Joshua’s; and from Peter, James, and John’s. The Lord felt the need to tell all of us that we did not need to be afraid when we are in His presence, and we do not have any reason to be afraid when He is present with us, either.

Through God’s gracious love we can stand tall in this life. This is not because of prideful arrogance, but it is due to Christ’s transformational work in our hearts. As we have been dressed in the purity of Christ and given a place in the throne room of God, our life in the here and now has been elevated to one that is to be lived in the glory and the honor that is God’s. We simply need to recognize our new reality, and we need to decide to surrender to Christ’s work in us so that we can live in it.

 

Jesus tells us to, “Arise”. He wants us to get up out of our self-imposed misery of fear and doubt, and He will take us into the adventure and the glory of His purpose. Even when there are fearsome giants or powerful Pharisees waiting to attack us, we can face the day with the boldness of Christ. and we can claim the victory over evil that He has already won. Christ will take us forward into the promised land of a life in which every minute is lived in God’s purpose, with His blessing, and surrounded by His glory.

 

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46: 10, 11

 

There are times when the best thing that I can do is to just stop. Stop moving, talking, planning, considering, contemplating, worrying, debating, deciding, and solving. Just be … just be truly … just be absolutely … still. I need to allow myself to go to the level of calm where all I can hear is my own heart beating, and then allow it to slow and embrace the stillness.

 

When I get all settled in, and the world around me stops pulling at my mind, the voice of God starts to fill my heart, and His words are like a whispered promise and like the roaring of ocean waves against the rocks. They speak of His love and of His peace. The Lord reminds me that He won’t ever leave me for He meant it when He spoke His eternal vows to me. My heart hears God’s love song, and it is a song that seems to have been written especially for me. He speaks about my life, my fears and concerns, and my glorious future with Him.

 

It is in the stillness that God speaks most clearly. These are the times when my mind just gives up on trying to solve it all and when I stop feeding a tired heart the adrenalin of my attempts to run the race of life on my own and in my strength. The Lord says that I just need to listen to Him and reflect on who He is and on what He has done throughout history. Just be still, and know with all of my being, know from the depths of my soul that there is only one God, and He is my loving Father, my Lord and Savior.

 

I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 11: 19

 

Hard-hearted, cold-hearted, and heart of stone are all descriptive phrases that are used to indicate a person who is capable of separating feelings from actions. These are people who can set aside empathy, sympathy, and compassion so that their seeking after a goal is not impaired by consideration of the others that might get in the way of achieving it. This ability is often considered to be an attribute in our world; yet, its absence is one of the most important distinctions between Jesus and the image of Messiah that His countrymen thought that they desired.

 

People have focused the energy of untold generations and large amounts of our own lives in the pursuit of personal and corporate strength and in seeking after an ability to move relentlessly toward our goals. When this effort results in sacrificing the hearts and the souls of people who get in our way, we have often lost sight of God’s true intent and desire for our lives. The Lord does not call us to be strong in the sense that a well built wall is imposing; rather, He calls us to be strong in our willingness and ability to yield to His greater purposes and to take His love to anyone that we encounter who is in need of it. In God’s view of this world and of our lives in it, His Spirit is our strength. Therefore, we can be open, compassionate, and available to bring Christ’s healing to the hurting souls in our day.

 

Christ has come into my life. His Spirit is that new one that was promised by God. He calls to me to respond to the transformative work of Christ’s Spirit. So, my prayer for today is that I would be less strong, more open, and that my own concept of what it means to serve God will become yielded to and changed by His true and accurate image of what that means. May the Spirit of Christ be my strength and His love be my calling card so that others will be drawn toward the God who restores the hearts of people.

 

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6: 68, 69

 

Jesus had just asked Peter if he was with Him only for the show, for the fun of feeding crowds and hearing the praises of many, or was Peter going to stick with Jesus through the hard teaching on personal righteousness and when the crowds would first melt away and then turn hostile. Peter answers that he will stay with Jesus. If we are honestly engaging Jesus in our own lives, we are going to encounter times when what He says and the things that He tells us to do will be challenging, convicting, disturbing, and conflict with what we have been doing and thinking. Jesus challenges the normative behaviors and attitudes of this world. He does this because this world has devolved into a place where God’s way and rule are at best ignored and often are ridiculed.

 

All of us have to make choices that are very much like Peter’s. We get to make these sorts of decisions every day, for there will be situations and relationships where God’s way of living will collide with our prior practice and with the way that others expect us to behave. Each time that we are faced with this sort of situation, we have an opportunity to make a choice regarding whose voice we listen to and which approach to life we adopt. When we do this we are also telling everyone around us something about ourselves, and we are telling them something about the way that we hold our relationship with God.

 

Thus, every time we choose to follow God’s way; when we choose to set aside our rights for the good of others, decide to forgive and to seek understanding, open our hearts to the unlovely, and surrender our wills to the calling of Christ, we claim a small part of this hostile world for God’s Kingdom. We also provide a tangible picture of Jesus’ love and grace to the people that we interact with. Choosing Jesus and His righteousness is something that each of us gets to do over and over again throughout every day. Yet every time that we follow in His way regardless of how hard that may be, we grow closer to and more intimate with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.

Jeremiah 17: 14

 

Healing and salvation, salvation and healing, God provides them both. They are closely connected in the Lord’s view of our relationship with Him. Christ gives them as the centerpiece of His gracious love for people. God provides us with the way to dwell in His presence, and He heals our souls of the sin that separates us from Him and that sickens our relationships with other people.

 

God’s approach to us is somewhat like the way that medical practices connect with us. He makes the information about who He is, where to find Him, and how to contact Him readily available. The Lord seeks us out and speaks with a clear voice to everyone, but if we don’t choose to listen and to respond, He doesn’t try to force us to see Him. God’s desire to have us choose Him and to decide to follow Him and His way of living is a fundamental aspect of who He is. This has been true throughout my relationship with Him, for God never demands that I turn to His solution for my ailments; yet, His way is always the right one.

 

It is also true that when God heals, we are healed. When God saves, we are saved. His power, knowledge, and ability are total, and they are absolute. There is no malpractice, and second opinions are never needed.  As God works in us, we are not just restored; we are made better and stronger than we were before. Christ wants us to be healthy. As we choose to allow Him to heal our hearts, He becomes the source of all that is praiseworthy in and through us.

 

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