April 2015


All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5: 18, 19

 

There is something very special about reconciliation. The word tells a story about a relationship that was lost, broken, or abandoned and its restoration. It has that sort of patina on it that an old house demonstrates with all of its patched cracks, layers of paint, and the marks on its walls and floors that were caused by people who have lived there. Reconciliation brings with it history, and these stories are often ones that are filled with pain and suffering such that the participants may have generations of reasons for remaining estranged. When it comes to God’s side of the story of relationship with humanity, we have done as much as it is possible to do to shatter and to destroy the bond of friendship between us.

 

However, God is very different from us. He doesn’t seek to repay hurt with hurt, and He doesn’t hold onto our generations of injury and unjust behaviors. Instead He gave Himself totally so that we can choose to return to His loving embrace as sons and daughters. Being reconciled to God is still a choice that everyone gets to make. Far too many do not decide to return to their true Father, and they will face the judgment of a righteous and a just God. They also live apart from His council and protection for their hearts and minds in this life. God counts all of this separation as loss, and He is made sad by people’s rejection of Him.

 

So, God commissions each of us who have entered into the new life that comes to us through Christ to be people who follow His lead and carry reconciliation to others. This is something that comes about when we lay down our imperative of right and privilege so that we can enter into the lives of people who are estranged and distanced. God desires that His people would learn to care about the lost people of our world in the same way that He does so that their separation from the Father would make our hearts ache and desire to do anything that is needed to bring the truth of Christ to them. In order to do this followers of Christ need to repent of our fear and distrust and surrender our hearts to God’s love for all people so that we can offer others the hope of real and lasting peace that is found only in Christ.

 

 

This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.

Hebrews 10: 16

 

It is an absolutely true fact that Christ has put an end to the very idea of a formal system of sacrifices that work to bridge sin’s divide between humanity and God. This old way of seeking the framework for righteous living has ended. The many layered code book of laws and rules that people devised and which assured our inability to ever comply has been burned upon the alter of Christ’s final sacrifice. However, despite what some people may say, Christianity is not a hollow set of beliefs that leaves its adherents on our own to figure out how to live righteously and to know what it is that is pleasing to God.

 

God has granted to His people a great gift. He has given us His Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives with us and lives in us. This is the person of God Who brings His Word to life and Who informs our hearts and minds about God’s essential foundational truths. It is this knowledge that directs our lives out of the wilderness of sin and into the great promise of Christ. In Christ and through God’s promise of His Spirit we are granted a form and a depth of guidance for life that far exceeds any codebook or even the most extensive judicial system. The author of the concept of rule and order now informs us. Our hearts are embraced and guided by the righteous designer of truth and justice.

 

Christianity is not a formless and rule less way to believe that allows its followers the freedom to think and to do as we please without regard for anything other than the assurance of forgiveness. God implants His people with His truth, and He holds us accountable for living up to it. If we truly know Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we have no choice in this matter. The Holy Spirit is with us and He does speak to our hearts and our minds. In fact, it is in yielding to God’s desires for the way that we think and live that we come into a full expression of Christ’s peace in our being. God, Himself, is made known to us in the true natural order that comes out of His law written on our hearts.

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12: 50

 

Do you come from a small family like mine, or do you have more close and extended relatives than you could possibly remember? It doesn’t matter, for, in Christ, we are connected in ways that are far deeper than blood and family history; God binds people to other people through the DNA of our souls. He gives us a place of being that isn’t defined by location on a map, addresses in a city, or even by status or stature in that community. In Christ, people of all races, backgrounds, wealth, poverty, language, and culture are bound together in a manner that should cause all of these divisive distinctions to become utterly insignificant.

 

True blood kinship is defined not by the micro components of the hemoglobin; instead, it is determined by being infused with the blood of Christ’s sacrifice. Our kinship is made apparent by the way that we follow our Savior along the path of sacrificial love. As I choose to live in a manner that knows no human distinction and that cares for the well being of all others without regard for how they might treat me; then, I am beginning to function like a person who truly belongs in God’s household.

 

Jesus set a very high standard of treatment for others. He established a seemingly impossible level for my heart attitude regarding all people. Yet, God only holds us accountable for things that are achievable, and this extraordinary sort of love, concern, compassion, and involvement with the people of our world is at the center of how Christ desires for each of us to live. Giving when we have no prospect of getting in return; surrendering our own desires to follow God’s will, and embracing all others regardless of our comfort is what Christ tells us leads to the discovery of true family.

 

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain gladness and joy,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35: 10

 

There are a few essential questions that need to be answered in order to attempt to understand what Isaiah is saying. First of these to me is who are these people who have been ransomed by the Lord? Then what were they saved from, and what price was required to set them free? The obvious and immediate answer to who is that this is the nation of Israel, and that concept works in a purely historical sense. However, I don’t generally take God’s word as being solely about the history portrayed. So, who else could be on view here?

 

It seems that the Prophet is also looking ahead to the even greater ransom that was paid by Jesus. In that case, Christ did suffer and die for everyone who would live throughout history until the end of time. As God grants to all people the freedom to choose to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, His ransom is available for all people, and it is effective for any of us who make that decision to follow Christ. Thus, in Christ we are saved from the slavery of sin and its penalty of death. Without Christ this enslavement to sin controls us now, and the death that it brings permeates our daily lives and separates us from God for all of the eternity that follows after our earthly existence ends.

 

Yet, in Christ our lives are profoundly changed. This is a change that takes place at the deepest levels of our being. It is brought about as the Holy Spirit works the miracle of rebirth in us. This happens at the time of our acceptance of Christ, and it continues throughout the rest of our lives. God gives us no promise that life in this world will get to be easier or that we will not suffer or endure pain and grief. These are a part of the nature of this world where we dwell. However, the freedom that comes to us through knowing Christ and by way of the Spirit’s guidance of our hearts and minds into His truth and love does bring a song to our lips and the joy of deep peace to us. In Christ we walk daily on the holy ground of Zion, and the presence of the Lord comforts us and drives away our sorrow and distress.

 

 

Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through his power.

1 Corinthians 6: 14

 

Life means much more than just breath in and out. Being alive involves thoughts and actions that are above, beyond and outside of the understanding of this world’s haze of defeat and death. Life is what God gives to us through Christ. The life that comes through Christ is not just entered into in a future eternity that follows this mortal existence. Rather, God intends for it to be our reality in the here and now. Life in Christ and living through Christ becomes the sustaining breath of people who follow Him. We are totally new at the core of our being, and we can be almost completely transformed into Christ-image bearers by surrendering ourselves fully to Him.

 

So, in this fact lies one of the great conflicts of life for Christians. We follow Christ because we are drawn to the righteousness of God in contrast to our lost state without Him. There is a very apparent contrast between the way that we would like to approach our days and our mode of living. Yet, after the joy and the elation of new relationship with Jesus are past, we see little in the way of difference. Life goes on. I am still as I was with my fears, angers, conflicts, and pain. I have an eternity secured but today’s life is still firmly grounded in this hell-on-earth residence.

 

This struggle is not the result of God’s indifference or lack of engagement with me or with this world. It exists in me primarily because I have not surrendered myself to Christ. I continue to seek after my sense of who I am and my concept of value or worth in the same places that I frequented before I knew Christ. As I go to the world’s sources of truth, I can only hope to grow in my worldliness, and when I indulge my weakness and sin, the outcome will always be defeat and shame. However, Christ provides a better way to live. He calls me to His embrace with grace and into the influence of the truth that is found in God’s Word and in fellowship with Christ’s body. This is where my true self lies, for here, in the presence of the Risen Lord, I can live today as an image bearer of Christ.

 

For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1: 17

 

There is only one standard that carries real weight. This fact applies to every aspect of life whether small and relatively trivial or great and having significant impact. Right is right and everything else falls short of God’s requirements. There is only one way for humans to know God’s standard for righteousness and that is by knowing God in that deep and relational way that only people who are committed to Him can obtain to. According to God’s word and its message of hope, grace, and redemption, the gospel, the singular means for any person to come into such a relationship with the holy God is through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

 

For most people this is the ultimate step of faith. It requires us to surrender our lives in full to an unseen being and to allow this same spiritual presence access to our deepest and most personal places so that the Holy Spirit of Christ can perform a transformative work that will reshape our thoughts and actions into ones that conform in an ever increasing manner to the righteousness that is God. This can be truly frightening and disturbing. The process of transformation is a life-long journey during which many of the steps are positive and rewarding and wherein others are regressive and frustrating. This is where faith becomes essential as it is this trust and reliance on Christ that keeps us living as God has called us to live when reason might cause us to walk away from that course.

 

Yet, living by faith is the reality of dwelling in this world, for this is a place where compromise and self interest reign as the sovereign truth of the age. There will always be pressure applied from our culture to set a different standard than God’s absolutely righteous one. Followers of Christ will be surrounded by a confusing array of voices that speak of love and understanding as the true measure of God’s grace, and in true sincerity they will seek to convince or to shame us into devising that new, human standard of right and into promoting it as God’s true desire. On these days faith is essential. In this age we must trust absolutely in the revelation of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us out of the Word of God. This truth is the giver of the life that overcomes the sinfulness of this world.

Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10: 32, 33

 

The world that Paul traveled and lived in was multi-cultural. There were people from many nationalities present, and he crossed paths with various practices of religion along the way. Paul was raised as a righteous, practicing Jew, and his training as a rabbi just reinforced his caution and concerns about the risk of being contaminated by the sinful ways and practices of everyone who was outside of his religion. So, his thinking about how followers of God are called by Christ to live in close contact and interaction with people without regard to what they believe represented radical transformation at the very core of who Paul was.

 

Paul is not telling us that we need to agree with everything that others may believe, and he is not suggesting that we should engage in all of the practices of their religion. What he is saying is that God had revealed to him that rigid separation was wrong. God wants His people to Know and to understand our neighbors, and He desires for us to have faith in Him to the degree that we can embrace strangers without fear. These are the things that God desires for His children to accept as normal in our daily lives. This is the way that Jesus lived, and loving others is what His Spirit calls upon our hearts to pursue.

 

We cannot know someone who we have not met. We are not able to understand the life story of a person who we hold at arm’s length, and they will never hear our recitation of how Christ has transformed us. Yes, there is evil in this world, but it is almost never present in our neighbors or even in the newcomer to our town. When we make broad and sweeping statements about others and about who they are or the intent of their religions, we are placing barriers between ourselves that inhibit relationship. Christ wants us to enter into those relationships, to hear the hearts of people, and to allow Him the opportunity to speak salvation through our love.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

 

This is an interesting choice of words on the part of Rabbi Paul. First off he submits for our consideration that we have been set free. The question would be, “Free from what?” Most people who know Christ can answer that one. We have been set free from the oppression of sin that owned us before we knew Jesus. The chains that tied our hearts and minds to the walls of a prison cell that was defined in terms like anger, lust, hatred, envy, fear and self-gain have been removed. There is a newly found lightness of step and of heart that makes the weight of this world bearable. Christ brings us out of the darkness that we have been hiding in and into the light of His truth. This is quite a lot to consider, but Paul is saying much more about this new life that we have been given.

 

It would seem that God’s purpose in setting us free is so that we would, in fact, live in freedom. Well, so? This is often the real rub when it comes to experiencing the changed life that Christ promises. Frequently people are frustrated and held down by figuratively continuing to reside in their old prison cells. It is familiar territory, feels safe, and the risk of new relationships and expectations is avoided in there. However, that room is dark, dank and oppressive. The spirit can not soar to the heights that God has promised when it is held down by a concrete ceiling. Christ wants to lead His people into the adventure of engagement with and in our world. He brings us out of an old life, and He takes us into a new one where our potential is almost unlimited. There is peace, joy, and unbelievably great blessing to be found in the new life that Christ has in mind for us.

 

Yet, there is danger out there, too. Opposition comes at us from many different directions, and fear can quite suddenly drive us to seek cover and to find safety in places that we determine to be best for ourselves. Unfortunately, this can lead us back into those old, familiar ways of thinking and of acting that we have been rescued from. We stumble in life or encounter trials that seem to be too hard for us to handle and we turn back to the life patterns that had previously enslaved us. Although Paul may very well have played with a yo-yo, he did not use that expression; still, that is what this life process is like. When we are caught up in it, we move up and down and up again in a cycle of progressive and then regressive thinking and behaviors. Through His blood, Christ has granted us freedom from this uncertain and disturbing way of living. We are the ones who are doing the choosing. We can decide to embrace the freedom, or we can choose to enslave ourselves to the burden of sin. For me, Lord, take me into your freedom!

He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

1 John 5: 12

 

There is being alive. This is the state of breathing and moving about while working hard at crafting a meaningful life. Then, there is having the life. When Christ becomes real for an individual, and we surrender our selves to Him, we gain a form of life that is impossible otherwise, and we gain an existence that is both eternal and has eternity written all over it.

 

The only way to become infused with the wisdom, understanding, and love of God is to have His Spirit enter into our beings. Thus, the only way to gain access to the presence of God in our lives is through trusting Jesus enough to accept who He is. Then, by surrendering control of my life to Him, I am able to enter into a relationship with Him. The yielding was a one time decision that has been followed by a lifetime of accepting the fact that God is continually gracious toward my wandering heart; thus, He needs to keep on redirecting my heart and mind toward His loving purposes. The fact that Christ is gracious and patient with me is one of the most beautiful ideas that I have ever encountered. At the same time, however, His righteousness is unrelenting. He will not allow me to just get away with it. This patience, grace and righteousness in balance with each other is the essence of the life that we have in and through Christ.

 

In the few simple words of this verse John sets forth the fundamental truth and the basic need of all people’s lives, everyone requires the life if we desire to truly live. Each of us needs to stay in intimate touch with the giver of the life if we want to live fully, boldly and noticeably as children of God. When we live in this manner, Christ will seek to compel us to share the simple truth of the importance of this relationship with others. He commands us to boldly share the truth of the means for others to transition from simply being alive to living in the full expression of the life through Christ.

 

Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all. Stay awake.

Mark 13: 35, 36

 

This world has many ways and means of putting us to sleep. Some of the time it sings a lullaby of ease and comfort that sooths the mind and seems to satisfy the needs of the heart. On some occasions it grants us our wishes for prosperity and fame so that we will settle into a life of comfort, and on others it crushes our hearts in its grip of pain so that we are too numb to respond. The prince of this world has many tricks up his sleeve and is relentless in his drive to manage, manipulate, and control the hearts and the minds of people.

 

Our place of dwelling is simply not a safe place to take a nap. If we are followers of Christ there is not enough time left for us to go on a vacation either. We are on the alert, and our Lord has charged us with a sacred duty to perform. We are doorkeepers to eternity. Christ left us with the keys to salvation, and He instructed His people to think, live, and speak out in the power of His Spirit and with the truth of the Gospel evident in it all. Jesus takes away our need for rest periods or even for sleep for the righteous intent of our hearts. With the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us we do not need to refresh and recharge.

 

The battle for the souls of people rages around us, and its intensity is increasing daily. There will be no delay or respite from it granted to us, for Satan is continually plotting his next move. Yet Christ gifts His people with everything that we will require to enter into the contest that will be at our door today. Our Lord also grants our hearts and our minds the peace and the security of His victory over sin and the truth of the Word of God so that we can follow His command to stay alert without entering into an unhealthy hyper-vigilant state of being. We do know that there will be an end to this conflict. Christ will return, and evil will be destroyed. Until that day, God’s people are to, “Stay awake!”

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