March 2015

Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”

John 15: 16


Contained in these words is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. Although everyone is given the opportunity to accept God’s invitation, He picked you and me. He chose us, His people, and He says with all of His heart that He wants us to be with Him in every way possible. Also, for some strange reason that only God knows, He wants this to be for a period of time that starts at this moment and continues beyond the counting of days. There is something uncomfortably comforting in this thought, for I truly delight in the idea that the Creator of all is this aware of my existence; yet, this awareness requires me to respond to Him.


This understanding that God possesses of us is not just some sort of surface knowledge, either, like counting the items in an inventory. Christ truly gets me. He knows the thoughts that are beneath the ones that I am starting to form. He knows my most hidden secrets, and He is fully aware of the totality of my potential strength. God views my life as one that is defined by infinite and unstoppable potential, and He views your life in the same manner. God reveals His perspective to us; so, as a result of His revelation, He wants us to look on other people and see what He sees.


Jesus picked each of us to be the objects of His love so that we can start to live in a manner that brings all of the wondrous and magnificent gifts, talents, and skills that God designed into us out into the open. Then we can have a life changing, world renewing influence on others also. As we embrace Christ’s calling and believe His words of truth about ourselves, we are granted the grace and the freedom to seek to love others and to serve Him out of that love. We are led by Christ to love others and to pray continually for their salvation and restoration. When we do this, Christ promises to us that the sweet fruit of our belief will carry on forever.


For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Romans 6: 5


Christ changes many things about life. Perhaps the greatest of these changes relates to how we view death. For most people and throughout our history death has been considered to be one of life’s most troubling and even frightening events. It is also its second most certain after the beginning of life. Yet Paul is talking about something even more important and of greater impact on us than the end of our earthly days. He is entering into the idea that in Christ we each die a very real death before we come to that hour of final earthly existence.


Although Paul is not talking about us literally following in Christ’s path of death by murderous torture, perhaps he is suggesting something about the harsh reality and the difficulty that most people encounter as we do follow our Lord into His calling for our life after we accept Him. There is much about the old person that we have been that needs to die as we become Christ’s disciples. Our character, beliefs, and primary way of acting were born into our flesh and have subsequently been practiced through all of the days of our lives. Changing all of this is not something that most people can accomplish on our own. It requires wisdom and power beyond the realm of human capacity.


Thus Christ invites us into the deep intimacy and profoundly comprehensive experience of His death. As Jesus was nailed onto that life ending cross and overcame death in His resurrection, He seized Satan’s temporary power and control over this earth so that God’s legitimate authority over all of Creation was reclaimed from that false ruler. That same victory over sin and its sentence of death is ours. There is often agony in the process of turning the sinful aspects of ourselves over to Christ and considerable time may pass while the Spirit does His transformative work in us; yet, as the Lord’s perfect will is completed in us, we will enter into the glory of Christ victorious resurrection morning.

Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.

Psalm 118: 15


As we are in Christ, we should be a noisy bunch of people. For the sounds of our joyous faith can fill the air of our neighborhoods with the sensations of a sweet celebration of life party. So, let’s all fill our tents with the raucous celebratory shouts, songs, and dancing of those who have been released from the bondage of sin and death. We are people whose hearts have been set free and whose lives are filled with the real meaning of living in close friendship and in true relationship with God.


In Christ we can and we should be lifting our voices to heaven and telling the whole world about His eternal love. We can shout out choruses that speak about the amazing ways that God takes our worthlessness and our shame and turns it into something that is priceless beyond all comparison. This is the God who leads us to the best life possible, and this is the God who brings healing and wholeness to our broken bodies and our shattered souls.


Every day can be lived as a song of praise. The world that we touch should walk away from an encounter with us with the feeling that it has just attended a concert of the angels as the Lord’s song cries out from every pore of each redeemed being. Like the sweetest of incense it fills the room with the perfume of salvation. As we make expressions of thanksgiving and praise the lyric of this day, we can fill the canyons and the mountain tops of our world with Christ’s joyous salvation poem.


The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8: 26


Admittedly, there are times when prayer can become a shallow recitation of wishes, wants, and desires. It also can turn into an exercise in empty yet eloquent speech, for we have all heard prayer that was well crafted and written with carefully chosen words that have the just right ring of a public speaking contest. Most of us have prayed to God out of some sense of duty or requirement and spoken relatively meaningless phrases that were structured in a manner that covered all of the bases such as address, praise, request, and closing.


I have certainly had times when I really didn’t know what to say to God, or how to begin to express what was going on in my heart. These are times when my head was a swirling and confused place filled with pain, anger, or desperation. There are times when my situation just seems trivial, and thee are others when the issues that are on my mind and heart are so big that I can’t find any words to start to express the needs. Life is like that. It is big, complex, diverse, and beyond my ability to manage it all.


Yet, prayer is very simple, for God wants us to talk to Him. He desires to hear our voices even when our throats are choked off and we can’t get a word out. The Lord listens to the uttering of our hearts, and He understands the intention of our minds even when we can’t make sense out of any of it. As Christ’s Spirit has come to live within us, so has His understanding of our lives. The Spirit communicates with us in ways that are beyond our limited understanding. As we travel through life with God, every moment of the day can be a time of prayer. We can talk through each situation with our Lord, and the strength and the encouragement of Christ can empower us to live courageously at all times. There are no formal words required, there are not even any audible ones needed, and we don’t have to know what to say. God understands completely, and He absolutely responds.


Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

James 2: 1


Everyone likes to be the favorite, the favored child, the one that the teacher calls on, the person with the best seat, or the first one picked. It feels good and it gives us a sense of importance in a world where there is so much that diminishes our understanding of value and significance. All people have a place in God’s heart that is unique and special. Yet, He is that last one to tell us that this remarkable place of favor with the Lord gives any of us a place of superiority in our world.


It seems that God seeks to elevate all people to His place of glory. He promises us that when we enter into a relationship with Him that the transformation that He works in us includes our relocation from the dark cellar of the lost to a seat of honor in His throne room. So, if we attempt to claim superiority over others, or we start placing people on a plane that is superior to others for any reason, even for ones that might seem spiritually oriented, we are acting contrary to God’s will and are defying His plan of equal grace and absolute mercy.


When we place our humanly defined limits on God we usually go far astray from the understanding that He wants us to have of Him. This can lead us to take actions that we claim are done for God’s glory; when, in fact, they are done solely for our own. We need to listen to the voice of God as He tells us about the beauty, value, and special giftedness that He has given to every person. No one is greater than another and none hold lesser status, either. We honor God when we seek to elevate and honor everyone, and when we see them through the eyes of the loving Father who views every person as a blessing to Himself and to our world.


In hope against hope he (Abraham) believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”

Romans 4: 18


If Abraham had lived a perfect life of quiet submission and acceptance of the promises that God had made to him, I would have a very hard time identifying with him. But he was hardly the faith in action poster child for his or for any generation. Still Paul and the author of Hebrews both hold him up as exactly that. Why? What is there that I can learn from Abraham’s story of inaction followed by impulsivity and taking matters into his own hands?


There seem to be two main components to the way that the events of his life play out. First, God never waivers in his commitment to Abraham; the promises that God made to him were absolute and they were permanent. Also, they required nothing out of Abraham in order for God to honor them. The Lord stuck with Abraham through all of his wandering and every moment of doubt and sinfully self determined action. Thus, God was continually restoring Abraham’s faith, for the Lord was Abraham’s only reliable and unchanging source of hope just as He is ours. Secondly, Abraham accepted the truth of God’s grace and His commitment. He kept coming back to God and seeking out His voice of truth and purpose for life.


My life has had far too many episodes and even periods of time where I took off on my own and decided that my way was the right way to go. Although, I have always been wrong when I have done this, God has consistently stayed with me to redirect my thinking and to pick me up when I have fallen down. Abraham was not really a special case and his situation was not all that different from those that we all encounter. Yet, as He did with Abraham, so God will always fulfill His promises to us.

For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

John 6: 33


We all become hungry, and everyone needs to find food. For some people this search is what consumes a major portion of the day. For others the only searching that happens is that evening shuffle through all of the boxes, bags, and jars in the pantry and refrigerator that becomes a regular ritual as we seek a satisfying snack. We eat something, and we are satisfied for the moment. Yet, there is another form of hunger that is absolutely universal and that never gets completely satisfied.


We are born with hungry souls. They are malnourished, and even the most loving of mothers can’t do more than point us toward the source of the necessary food. We are the ones who decide to accept the giver and thus receive eternal nourishment. Jesus is the imperishable manna that God promised from the very beginning of Creation. Yet, He brings much more than a snack to our hearts, for He fills us with the total banquet feast from God’s table of love, grace, and righteousness. Christ invites us to join Him at the sacred Eucharistic gathering, and He grants His people the right to dwell in community there.


Even after we have accepted Christ and entered into that relationship, our hearts and minds still need to be fed. Without the ongoing and continuous transformational filling of God’s Spirit we won’t grow and develop as rapidly and as completely as we could. Christ not only gives us a soul with an unending existence, He also gives us a present life with no end of strength, encouragement, and purpose. The Lord provides the feast, it is up to each of us to come and eat. Let us be filled on the Spirit of God throughout this day.


So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8: 31, 32


Where we live does matter. But the address where we receive our mail is not nearly as important as are other aspects of our dwelling place. Let me explain what I am getting at here. Most of us aspire to certain things when it comes to our homes. There are preferred neighborhoods, size of house, styles of design, and numerous other similar factors that we take into consideration when we seek that place where we will sleep at night. Our budget is certainly one of the big influences on all of this.


Yet this big decision about the physical location and structure that we call home is of minimal importance in comparison to the decisions that everyone gets to make regarding the place where our minds, hearts and our souls will reside today and for all of the days of our life. Jesus invites us into a totally different sort of dwelling place. Walls made of stone or of wood do not confine it, and it is not limited by any of the factors that define and restrain our choice of a house to rent or to buy. You see, when we enter into a relationship with Christ, God provides us with His infinite budgetary resources to use in the process of living life.


As we follow Jesus, He leads us into the all-encompassing and life-defining reality that is called God’s word. This word includes those thoughts and ideas that are written on the pages of the Bible, but it also involves much more. God’s word is relational. It is the great truth that is the center of creation, and it is the on-going personal revelation that comes to each of Christ’s followers through the Holy Spirit. This is the word that leads us into freedom. Our past no longer defines us, and we are loosed from the constraints of parentage and from all of the other factors that people use to inhibit and restrain the full expression of a righteous life. So, when it comes to my dwelling place, let me abide with Christ in the center of the Father’s will.


I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.

1 Timothy 2: 1


Paul sets forth an interesting thought here, for he tells us that we should be engaging in prayerful worship with God that involves a very broad list of people, for “all” is about as inclusive as that group could get. When I am considering a time of prayer, my tendency is to talk with God about my family members, my friends, the people that I might be aware of in other settings that are usually related to these same people, and sometimes national and international leaders. This is a fairly large yet manageable list. Yet, this is only the start of what Paul is saying about prayer and us.


This list of prayer forms is also really comprehensive. It is a lot bigger than just the simple, “Thank you for my family” or “Please heal my cousin’s dermatitis”. These are both fine, for they are included in the list; however, take a close look at what is being said. We are being told to engage prayer in a total and comprehensive manner. It is to be done on our knees and standing and shouting praises, framed in humility, seeking God’s intervention and involvement in other people’s lives, grateful and remindful of all that God does for us and for all people. Prayer is passionate, constant, a special event, and an every moment necessity. It is to be engaged in the morning, in the middle of the day, at night, and at every time between, and we are to pray about and for everyone.


This last thought is perhaps the most amazing and profound thought to me. I think that the point here is that if I embrace this idea and make it my practice, God will begin to cause a very powerful change in my attitudes toward others. He will redirect my thinking and the attitude of my heart toward many others so that I will begin to see them more like He does. The group that I am instructed to pray for includes people that I don’t like, those that don’t seem to like me, leaders of government, especially leaders who I believe are wrong or who are wrongly motivated, the person at work whose habits infuriate me, the neighbor whose dog is noisy, the person who has profoundly wronged or hurt me, and everyone who I struggle to understand or to relate to.


Christ sees the world and the people in it quite differently from the way that I do. He sees the beautiful potential, the perfect child that He created, and the deep sadness and the chaos that is the result of people’s separation from Him. Our Lord sees all people with eyes of love and compassion, and He seeks to be granted the opportunity to graciously redeem everyone from their lost state. Thus, He directs us to put on His attitude, to see the people of this world as He does, and to become active agents for His redemption. Christ directs His people to engage and to energize His calling to us in constant and comprehensive prayer.


For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5: 14


The laws of our society are an interesting aspect of the way that people bring order to our world. We create them so that there are rules to live by for ourselves and for the other people in our community. Generally we support and uphold them. Certainly there are laws that our governing bodies pass that we like far less than others, and there are laws going down today that bring about almost violent disagreement for at least some of us. Yet, at the end of the day, the law is still there, and we must follow it until it is changed or repealed.


However, there is law that predates all of the codes that humans have devised. There is an ordering of society that should establish the foundation for all other attempts at bringing civility to our conduct of life, and that is God’s law. God knew that we humans would not do a very good job of living in peace and harmony with each other. So, He gave us a basic and fundamental set of directives to follow if we desired to conduct our lives in a manner that would honor and be pleasing to Him. Then, Christ came into our world to take it all to a very different place. Christ redirected the old order of the means by which we were made right with God from one of external discipline to the more intimate and personal one of individual internal acceptance and submission.


This new order is both liberating and more challenging to follow. It frees us from a form of bondage that ridged systems of performance-oriented laws create. However, it makes each of us accountable to a standard of living that requires us to open up our hearts and minds to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Christ calls upon His people to live as if grace, peace, and love were our primary reasons for existence. He makes caring about and for our neighbors at the deepest of levels the new primary commandment to follow in ordering our communities, and Christ defines neighbors in the broadest of terms possible. So, Christ wants to make each of us into people who now see others as objects of His love and people who we can do nothing less than cherish as God’s beloved children.


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