March 2015


O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?

Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.

Psalm 15: 1, 2

 

It may not always seem so apparent, but we all get to make daily choices about where we go, how we get there, and the way that we act while we are on this journey. Although we may need to head out of our homes and go to the same workplace, same school, and the routine stops that populate our lives, it is our own, individual choices that truly define the quality and the nature of the living that we transact during the day. We not only are allowed to make these choices, but we need to make them. It is these choices that create the environment that will direct the way that our mind handles everything that we encounter.

 

The Lord makes His word and its infinite truth available to us. He even speaks it directly to our hearts by His Spirit; yet, we are the ones who can decide to listen, and we determine the ways of our actions. Now, I’ll admit that there are days when I really don’t want to make the choice that includes seeking God’s perspective and wrapping myself in a warm and protective blanket of truth and love. There are days when I find some sort of perverse pleasure in being sad, lonely, and distant. These are days when I want the false freedom of being able to act badly toward others or to hold onto a diminished concept of my own value and worth. Yet, these moments and days are ones where I am choosing to operate in a reality that is created out of the deception that Satan continually attempts to use in order to distract me from God’s will and to disable me from my calling as Christ’s living witness. These are times of choosing to live in a cardboard hut made of lies and wrapped in failure that sits at the side of evil’s garbage dump. These are days when I could be living in the splendor of Christ’s richly furnished and palatial tent that is anchored at the top of His holy mountain.

 

This is my daily choice, and it is yours, as well. In making this decision to put on God’s truth, we are establishing the way that we want to travel through the day. This decision creates the attitudes that our mind will use to frame our responses to everything that transpires. Now is the moment to seek God’s righteousness and His truth so that the rest of this day can be viewed from the perspective of the same window that God uses to view His world.

 

You shall eat your offerings before the Lord your God in the place that the Lord your God shall choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that you undertake.

Deuteronomy 12: 18

 

God did not want His people to perform their acts of sacrifice in isolation. He desired that the times of giving these gifts to Him would be times when the community of His people would gather together. These would be festive days of rejoicing together, and they would be times when people would confess, weep, and repent together. There was openness in God’s plan for sacrifice that would bring people closer together. It was important that the central reason for the gathering was to worship the Lord. Unity and commonality are found in God and through His presence.

 

There is also a striking note of inclusion here. Moses did not write a casual or a careless list of people to be included in these gatherings. In direct defiance of the culture of his times, Moses calls together both men and women, young and old, free and slave, the powerful and the underprivileged, and those who were independent and the ones who were cared for. The listing is intended to cover all of the possible individuals and classes of people who were present in the community. It was God’s desire that all people would find their common equality through His all-encompassing love and grace and that these characteristics of God would be made real by the Lord’s presence.

 

We live in a very different world. Our culture bears little resemblance to the one that Moses lived in. Yet, this need to gather in community is still with us. In fact, I think that we need this sort of total and equal gathering even more than these ancient people did. Christ desires for His people to gather together in His chosen place of presence. He wants us to celebrate life in all of its components from birth to death with Him. Where Christ is present there is cause for celebration. Any time that His people are together there is an opportunity to give thanks and to praise the Lord. There is no righteous endeavor that we may engage that should not be done in celebration, for Christ loves a party. As we join in together in experiencing life we can embrace with knowing hugs, laugh with delight, and wipe away the tears that sorrow brings. When we look on each other’s faces, we see a little more of the great beauty that is the Lord our God.

 

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12: 11

 

Everyone experiences a hard day when what we are attempting, either by our own wish or under compulsion, defeats our ability and will. This sort of thing happens in gym classes, when learning a musical instrument, or while attempting to follow complex directions. These situations are stressful and often embarrassing. However, it is much worse when the issues that we are dealing with involve a collision between the way that we have always thought and acted and the life that God is calling us to live. The impact that occurs at these times can jar the teeth from our heads and fill our world with wreckage.

 

Yet it is in order to avoid these disastrous situations that we endure the sore muscles and the tired minds that result from the hard work of training. Additionally, the discipline of the training that Christ leads His people into is the hardest of all. For it requires that we turn away from ideas and habits that have formed our identities from the earliest days of our lives. Then we are asked to retrain ourselves to act out of the righteousness and the love that God provides while leaving behind the false strength of our former competencies.

 

However, at the end of the day, when I look back at what Christ has done in my life, I can relax and be at peace with where my heart and my mind have come in my journey of growing in the grace of the Lord. My life is very far short of perfection. In fact, it seems to have just started its travels along this road called glory. Yet, as I put my weary feet up and lay my head down for rest, most of the time I can thank God and praise Him for the way that He has successfully guided me through all that has come my way so that I have caused little damage and often have accomplished some good in Christ’s name. So, here is the reward for sticking with Christ’s hard driving program, a good night’s rest in the peaceful certainty that I have done my best to know God, to hear His voice, and to follow His will.

How blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord.

Psalm 2: 12b

 

There are many places that we can go when this world starts treating us in a rough manner. Many of them will provide relief from the stress and pressure while others promise to help us find a new path to success. However, there are other escapes that do inevitably lead us deeper into the darkness of this world’s chaos and cause us to lose even more of our God-likeness. Some of the ways of escape are packaged in soothing words, others with attractive covers, and some come with exotic looking labels and advertising that suggests the new identity that can be found inside. However, if the Lord is not at the center of the place of refuge, then, there will be no real and lasting escape found there.

 

The forces of this world will always find their way back into our lives, and the only one who can absolutely stand up to them is God, Himself. So, why do I stubbornly continue to go to others and try other means of escape when my life heads in a hard direction? I think that there is an element of self-centered desire to stay in control; yet, that sort of control is false. The Lord alone is actually in control of the universe. There is also an element of fear or concern that God will behave like people have, and He will either reject me or think less of me because I can’t handle my little issues on my own. Yet, rational thought leads me to the fact that God has always proven to me and to all people who choose to let Him that He is the perfect, loving, and gracious Father.

 

When I turn to God and trust my life to Him, He opens up His treasure chest of wisdom, courage, and strength to me. I am allowed full access to everything that the Creator of all has to offer. While I am searching for the answers that I need and trying to find my path through the day, my heart, mind, and body are being sheltered under the protection of God’s warm embrace, and while I am resting in my Lord’s presence, my heart is filled with His blessings.

 

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53: 11

 

God gave Isaiah a very strange gift. He provided him with a view of events that would not happen for almost 800 years. Additionally, this ancient prophet seems to have an understanding of the fact that the effects from those events would still be playing out today. Isaiah expresses one of the most important realities that we can understand and accept. Christ suffered great pain and distress as He lived and died on this earth. I do believe that this suffering was a very accurate reflection of the same agony that God, the Father, endures as a result of our rebellion against and rejection of Him. So, Christ experienced pain in His body that was, itself, a weak image of what He was feeling in His soul.

 

Christ was not just experiencing the pain that sin brings upon this earth, but He was taking on the punishment that each of us deserves personally. Yet Christ’s acceptance of our guilt and the necessary payment for our crimes against God and His Creation was a singular act that continues in its impact and effect throughout the remainder of days. The sacrifice that Jesus made upon that cross and the resurrection work that God did next are a completed operation that covers the sin and bridges the gap of separation from God for everyone who accepts Christ. This is true for all of the generations of humanity to follow.

 

So, this is the reality of life as we live it today. In Christ we are listed in God’s ledger book of those who are righteous. As we accept the Son as our Lord and Savior the sinfulness of our lives is transferred to His account and God views us as blameless. Thus, Christ calls to us to live out our lives as a true expression of this reality. We are holy ones of God. Our lives and the way that we conduct them are important to our Lord, and the words and the actions of our days matter to His Kingdom here on earth. Christ’s anguish has gifted us with the peace and the freedom to live fully in His presence and to let our lives be bright beacons of truth and love in our world.

 

 

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14: 27

 

Jesus was speaking peace to His followers in the face of the greatest upheaval and turmoil that they would ever face. Yet, just as He was preparing them for the events of the next days with arrest on the doorstep and death in the wings, Jesus explains what it means to be at peace and to be peace-givers. First off, Jesus grants to them something that He already possesses and understands fully; that is, He blesses them with the deep calm and surety that comes from knowing full-well that God, the Father, is the one who is leading in all things. Jesus knows the Father and follows His will. So, Jesus is at peace.

 

This peace that Jesus granted to His followers is the same one that He brings to our hearts. This is a vital characteristic of God for followers of Christ to understand and accept as our own. Peace is gained in the same way as Jesus gained it and that He gave to His immediate followers. Peace comes through knowing God well, and it is entered into as we seek God’s will, follow His lead, and surrender ourselves to Him. Peace of mind, heart, and spirit comes to us as we recognize God’s loving sovereignty over our lives and accept that any outcome that the Father ordains is a good one for me.

 

This peace that Jesus grants to us and calls us to enter into is a good starting place, but Christ does not bless us so that we can live quiet, solitary lives. Christ calls His people into engagement with our world. He desires for us to be the ones who bring peace as our gift when we attend the crazy party that is daily life. As people who know God’s grace and live with its result in our hearts and minds, we can enter into the hard and troubling issues of our world with love extended to the angry and the distrustful, and we can bring the reality of Christ’s reconciliation and restoration to those we meet while never compromising on the truth of God’s righteousness.

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 26: 24-26

 

These are words that God instructed Moses to convey to his brother Aaron so that the priests of Israel could repeat them in the form of a regular blessing pronounced upon the people. The thoughts contained here are an expression of God’s enduring desire to bless His people with a quality of life that is deeply and profoundly good. This is a short statement about the result that we will enjoy when we live lives that are committed to Christ and that are focused upon following His will.

 

That is not to say that these words contain a magic formula or an incantation that will bring about a perfect life. In fact, the problem with the absence of perfection in this life is found in our own lack of understanding of what God views as such. If that optimal state is to be achieved through health, finances, family, status, or other external and temporary means, then these are not specifically included in God’s definition of a life well lived. Although God may grant any or all of these things to us out of His love and grace, none of them are essential to His blessing of our lives. The Lord simply sees things differently than we generally do.

 

God looks upon the way that we live and upon the attitudes that fill our hearts. He hears the thoughts that our minds form, and He knows the intent behind our actions. He also counts to our favor the times that we thought angry or fearful thoughts, held them close inside as we listened to His Spirit’s counsel, and spoke words of love and understanding instead. God does seek to bless the moments of our days with the peace and the joy of His unceasing presence. Our part in making His presence real and tangible comes by way of continually surrendering our wills to Him, meditating upon His word, prayerfully seeking the Lord’s wisdom and understanding, and responding to Christ’s call to love all as He does.

In your great compassion you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Nehemiah 9: 31

 

The one characteristic of God’s that I rely upon far too much is His mercy. I tend to push my selfish will to the limit and then, far too readily accept the fact that the divine axe did not fall. Yet, this is who God truly is. He simply is not the angry, vengeful, and destructive god that so many people believe in and teach others to follow. The Lord, my God and my Redeemer, is loving, understanding, compassionate, and extends gracious mercy to me and to everyone else as well.

 

There will be a final accounting for the lives that we each have lived, and there will come a time when the evil that is loose in this world will come face to face with God’s victorious might, but the Lord is never angry to the point of destruction with people. Rather, He detests the destruction that evil causes in the hearts and minds of His children. He is deeply saddened by the lives that are ruined by Satan’s lies and deception, and the Lord will allow us to choose to follow the deceiver to our own self-determined destruction.

 

Still, God’s desire is for every person, each and all of us, to know Him in the truth of who He is. The Lord wants all to come close to Him so that we can know the warmth of His embrace and stand tall in Christ’s victory over sin in our lives. For me, God’s grace and mercy are more than enough reason to seek Him and to set aside my self centered attitudes about how to live. The way to know God’s compassion, grace, and mercy best is to give the same to the people that I encounter during this day; so, my prayer for today is that I would be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and lovingly truthful with the people who are in my world.

 

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

2 Corinthians 3: 16

 

I have never worn a veil. So, anything that I say about the experience of doing this comes out of my imagination. Yet, it is not all that hard to picture what looking out at the world through a layer of cloth might be like. Depending on the thickness and makeup of the fabric, objects, colors, and activity would be visible and it would be possible to navigate through life without major collisions, but nothing would be sharply defined or clearly understood. Also, people are not given the opportunity to truly know the wearer of a veil, for the face is obscured.

 

All of this describes a part of what it is like to live without Christ. God is the origin and the author of truth, understanding, discernment, and their product: wisdom. Christ is the ultimate way that all of these characteristics of God have been brought into this current epoch of the human experience of a sin-ravaged world. Also He brings God into our presence and, more importantly, us into the presence of a holy God. The Holy Spirit takes it from there, for in the great wonder of how God works with each of us, His Spirit comes to indwell every person who believes in Christ. Thus, God grants to us the gift of His clarity of vision and depth of understanding.

 

Although there will be days when it might seem better to continue to view it all through the gauze of distorted and partially obscured sight, this is never actually the case. God’s clarity and bright light of truth help to give His people the sort of eyes that see others with a heart that is filled with love, compassion and mercy. Clear sight also highlights the traps and obstacles that abundantly litter the pathways of this world. Christ walks with us through it all. God’s word and the Holy Spirit are our guides, and the light of Christ’s glory illuminates the way.

 

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2: 7

 

Wow! Understand, this is something that I would really like to possess. In saying this I do mean understanding in sum total much more than the commonplace sorts of things that many of us find obscure or difficult to grasp. Paul is discussing something that is far beyond the assembly of toys on Christmas Eve, my children’s math homework, or people who are a generation younger or older than myself. The Apostle is telling us that we can hope to truly understand life and that followers of Christ have the ability and the capacity to dwell in this land of understanding that applies to everything.

 

It is my impression that when Paul invites us to think over what he says that he is actually inviting us into a regular practice of deeply considering God’s word and the revealing truth that it contains. This practice of discipline does involve the regular reading of scripture, but it goes beyond this. God wants me to think about the words and to let my mind give careful consideration to what the Lord is saying to me through them. He asks me to be still and to listen to what His Spirit is speaking to my heart and to my mind. God also promises to respond as I turn to Him prayerfully seeking His wisdom, truth, and guidance.

 

It is in all of this that we find the sort of understanding that fills the voids in our ability to live courageously and peacefully in our world. In this place of meditation and prayer Christ guides my heart out of my self-centeredness and into His love and concern for my neighbors. He brings me to a place where I can fully trust in God’s absolute authority and power while living in the insane storm of violence and pain that is swirling like a tornado all over the globe. As I think over God’s word it seems as if His hand is writing a message to me that is personal and directed toward the issues, concerns, and situations that I am facing today. God’s words of truth bring me closer to Him, and this is where all understanding dwells.

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