May 2015


You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5: 8

 

James has just drawn a picture of patience as seen in the way that Palestinian farmers are dependant upon the cycle of the spring and fall rainy seasons for planting and for harvesting their crops. So too, God’s people are called to be patient so that we wait upon the cycles of God’s own plan. There is no easy way out of this life, and we cannot anticipate a quick and painless release from the burdens of relationship with our fellow worldly travelers. We live with absolute certainty of Christ’s return, but we have absolutely no knowledge of when that might come about.

 

Thus, we are to live as if it will happen in the next moment. This means that we are to stay continually submitted to Christ so that His love, grace, mercy, and peace are presented to everyone that we interact with throughout our days. This last hours of the final day attitude also means that we are to spare nothing in our efforts to repair damaged and broken relationships and that we can trust Christ to care for us when we make ourselves vulnerable to others. Another element of a heart that is set or established upon Christ in these days is that it breaks for the lost and is willing to sacrifice all for the sake of gaining their souls.

 

Christ wants for His followers to live in the full and complete hope of His promised return. In order to do this we are to be people who know our Lord well. We grow in this knowledge by means of on-going study of God’s word that is accompanied by meditation and contemplation upon what it is actually saying. Our relationship with God is further developed as we gather with other followers of Christ as His body and share life, worship, and prayer together in community. Additionally, we know God as we go out into our world and demonstrate to its inhabitants the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, this life of meditation on God’s word, prayer, life in Christ’s body, and acting upon the Lord’s calling for my life is the description of a heart that is established on Christ; so, this is what being patient in Him is all about.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.

1 Corinthians 6: 12

 

As we are in Christ and He dwells within us, we gain a very great deal of freedom. There is something truly liberating about the presence of God as it becomes a part of the very essence of who we are. God is present in our entire world in that His engagement, control, and concern have never departed from it. Yet, a profound change happened when God, Himself, became human and joined us in our literal walk through life for those few years. Prior to Christ’s coming, people were required to reach out to God and to seek to follow His stated rules for righteous living by applying the Law to their lives. Although personal righteousness was actually achieved only through seeking to know God well and by following His leading in every aspect of life, humanity became increasingly oriented toward the application of the written law as the way and the means for living properly. In so doing, we drifted away from knowing and following God.

 

The mystical was much harder to grasp and to understand than was the tangible that was found in the Law. Since the Law seemed harsh and most people found that it was very difficult to follow, we devised new ways of thinking and of contemplating what was, in fact, righteous. Among these new ways of thinking was one where we developed a concept that essentially separated that which was related to our physical lives from that which was a part of our spiritual existence. In this way of thinking, our bodies could do almost anything that we found pleasing as our spirits were not a part of those activities. This is a form of rationalization that is still with us. We segregate our religious or spiritual lives from our secular ones so that it is difficult for people to see Christ in our daily living. Yet, it is this dichotomy that Christ’s coming, His incarnation, works to eliminate from the lives of followers of God.

 

Although the Law and its very specific code of rules no longer bind us, we should be truly constrained by a more exacting standard. As Christ is in us, we are required to live under God’s design for an inside to out, a heart based, rule of life. In this new form of relationship with God each of us is set free from the need to gain God’s approval by our external actions, and we are granted by His grace the ability to determine what is good, beneficial, and worthwhile. Yet, this very freedom is tempered by the command that all that we think, say, and do is to be engaged in for the glory of God. In simple terms, in Christ we are redeemed from lives that were condemned to sin and death, and we are being transformed from being creatures who lived out of the imperative of our lostness into ones who are in the totality of the image of God. This is a process that is benefitted when we choose to set aside thoughts and actions that we find personally pleasing in order to engage in ones that truly bring glory and honor to Christ.

 

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1: 4-8

 

The journey through this life is not easy. This is a fact regardless of spiritual orientation, faith in any form of god, or status and wealth. The earth is a beautiful but deadly place to reside, and it is not getting any better despite all of our best efforts to clean it up or to straighten it out. There is danger lurking in the water and in the air, and there is treachery and deceit to be found in the hearts of people across its surface. Essentially, every activity that we enter into and each of the relationships that we engage has the real possibility of doing us harm. It seems that life should come with a very large and boldly stated warning label: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 

Yet, it is also true that we people brought all of this upon ourselves. We took the gift of perfect peace and returned it to its giver with a form of arrogant disdain that told Him that we would prefer something a bit bolder, a little more exciting and a lot more within our control. So, God gave us what we asked for, but the Lord did not leave us alone to suffer the consequences of our demands on our own. Now there is a beast in our forest, a demon in our closet, and God is present in our lives if we choose to allow Him to enter in. That choice is the critical one. It makes all of the difference between life and death.

 

In Christ we are alive. In Christ our lives have meaning and direction. In Christ we still suffer and the brokenness of this world impacts us with all of its fury and senseless brutality. Yet, in Christ, we are never alone, and the painful hours and the grief that our hearts endure work to bring us closer to the only One who both understands it all intimately but also responds to bring us comfort and peace. The harsh air of this world forces Christ’s people to enter into the holy sanctuary of His presence in order to breathe in the pure grace of His love and mercy. Christ’s Spirit gives each of us the gifts that we need to take our personal loss and turn it into gain for God’s Kingdom, and He also provides us with the strength to carry on in that service until our days here are complete.

The Lord is righteous; He has cut the cords of the wicked.

Psalm 129: 4

 

Have you ever felt as if you were bound by forces and by people whose desire and intent was purely evil? Has your life been held in bondage with your heart, mind, and soul feeling like they are locked away in a dark, escape proof dungeon? Times like these are often accompanied by a sensation of being tied up, constrained, unduly restrained, and overwhelmed. These feelings are real, and, at the same time, they falsely control us.

 

God has already won the real, final and complete victory over all that is evil, everything that is unjust, and unrighteousness. Still, there is a tangible and a very active presence of mean spirited, hurtful, and oppressive behaviors that operate upon this world through the actions of people. Through the victory of Christ, these people can do nothing that will truly harm any of God’s own. We own the absolutely unshakable position of permanent strength and spirit-deep safety that Jesus claimed for each and every one of us.

 

The Lord has permanently cut the cords that would be used to tie us up, to hold us down, and to restrain our right to know and to worship Him. Christ has removed the boundary ropes that try to hold us back and keep us from bringing the truth of freedom that is found in the Gospel into the lives of people. Jesus severed the cord of life that fed evil’s control over this world and over its inhabitants. This is the time to reclaim every aspect of our lives from the slavery that evil tries to impose on us. For, in Christ, there is total, complete and absolute freedom.

 

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God.

James 4: 6, 7a

 

James is calling for some very serious and real self-examination on the parts of all of us. For there are times when most followers of Christ can say that it seems as if God is not responding to me or even that with the way that things are going it feels as if God is actually against me. I can say with certainty that God does not work in opposition to His people. However, that does not mean that He agrees with everything that we might want or wish in this life. God’s desires for us are well defined, and He works with us when our aspirations follow those desires.

 

In Christ we are granted the most Godly of qualities by way of His righteousness that is poured out upon us. This righteousness that is from Christ is the characteristic that God looks at when He engages in relationship with each of us. So, it is the righteousness of our desires that brings God’s blessing to them and that gains His help in achieving them. Godly righteousness is not a hard-edged, stubborn adherence to rules and laws. Rather, the righteousness that Christ grants to His followers is infused with grace, and it is acted out in love. It continually seeks to reconcile people to God.

 

Living a life that is continually defined by righteousness is not easy. This path through life is that proverbial narrow way. There will be numerous times when we will stumble and even fall off of it during our journey. From my own experience, it seems that most of those painful descents along the rocky sides of the path are caused by my own prideful departure from submission to Christ. These are those times when I proclaim that I’ve got this one on my own, or the tumble is precipitated by the false step that comes about as I stop trusting Christ to guide me safely through and take over the navigation despite the fact that I can’t see the road. Invariably, when the disorientation from the fall comes over me and I start to seek my bearings, Christ is there to lift me up and to set me on His path again. This is love and grace demonstrated in the middle of absolute righteousness.

 

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2: 22

 

We are under construction. The yellow safety tape is out, and the warning signs are up. The public needs to be aware that hard hats might be required in our vicinity and that some dust and debris are likely to issue forth from our lives. Although it is seldom quite this dramatic, living as a follower of Christ does have its chaotic and disturbing moments. This happens as Christ works in us and on us to reshape and to transform the sinful and self-directed people that we were born to be into the true disciples of the Living God that He desires as His followers. Then, as we gather into the collection of people who are undergoing this same process that we know as the church, the level of noise and the quantity of dust increases greatly.

 

Yet, this is who we are. We are messy and difficult. We don’t follow directions very well. The way that we navigate through life can be random and full of detours that don’t make sense. What makes even less sense is the fact that God seems to have actually designed it all to be like this. He granted us the ability to choose and to decide. We can surrender to Christ or choose not to do this. Our lives are filled with opportunities to select one course of action or another; still, God is with us. For those who reject Him, Christ continues to pursue; for each of our damaging and destruction thoughts and actions, God has given us His word, Christ’s Spirit, and the body of believers to inform, to redirect, and to transform us.

 

All of these transformative agents are vital for each follower of Christ. However, it is the last one, at times the most challenging and the messiest of them, that is essential for each of us to live in the full understanding and experience of God’s grace, mercy, and love. God designed people to be relational beings. We are meant to gather as a family, and in Christ, our true family is the fellowship of believers that is called the body of Christ. His church is made up of a gathering of people who are each undergoing reconstruction projects. The church, itself, is a living organism on which Christ is at work to shape and to mold it into that place on earth from which God’s righteousness; His truth, light, and love; can be poured out into the world. It is in this fellowship, the body of Christ, the church, that we are made strong and guided into service to our Lord.

Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5: 5

 

Most things in this world will, in fact, disappoint us. All the bright and shiny toys either become dull or break if they are actually used, a new house always will need repairs and repainting, the new car smell quickly becomes the one that is like burned wiring, and all of our relationships develop tension and disagreement. This is the way that this world is, and we can hope for it to be better with all of our heart; yet, that won’t change this fundamental reality.

 

Still, hope, itself, is a very useful and good characteristic to seek, anticipate, and develop. The ability to experience hope points us toward God, for He is the author of true and genuine hope. Christ gives us the hope of eternity in His company. He presents us with a striking picture of His plan for returning this world to His intended glory. Also, Christ’s Spirit has come to reside within each of His children in order to live in and through every moment of our lives with us. Thus, the Spirit is involved with my life, personally and directly, through every twist and turn that my daily path takes. The Lord infuses each situation that I engage in with the hope of His loving, specific, and absolute protection, care, and direction.

 

God asks me to trust Him, to have faith in the truth of His word, and to focus on my relationship with His Spirit rather than looking so intently to my own wisdom and toward the external aspects of my life for my direction and sense of worth. My Lord, I pray that I will continually turn to your Spirit to guide me ever more deeply into my relationship with You, that I will learn to look continually to You for the hope that I need to function fully throughout this day, and that my heart and mind will stay focused on the fact that every moment of my life is defined by hope because of your presence in it.

 

Yet even now, declares the Lord,

return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and rend your hearts and not your garments.

Joel 2: 12

 

God is not very demanding in what He asks from His people. The Lord simply wants all of us. He wants the portion of our lives that is dedicated to serving Him to be counted as every hour that we draw breath. God desires that this absolute commitment would be driven by the complete surrender of our hearts to His loving grace. The Lord asks His followers to be all-in all of the time with nothing held back and no reserve.

 

Jesus became God’s perfect demonstration of this when He lived among us as one of us. Christ held nothing back as He followed the Father’s will in everything. His heart was surrendered to God’s will, and God’s love, mercy, and grace poured out of Christ onto the people that He touched. Then He commanded those of us who know Him to go out into our world and to do the same and to do it out of the same motivation. We are to give our lives to Christ as that living sacrifice that Jesus fully embodied.

 

Surrender that is this profound and that empties us of all that we have been requires determination, focus, and an attitude of humility on our parts. It generally occurs at a time when our spirits are broken of our drive to control and to manage our lives. Deep surrender is always an act of worship, and God accepts it and responds to it in that same reverential manner. Our Lord cares for us with all of His great and mighty being. God enters into all aspects of our lives with this same totality of engagement. As we respond to Him with open hands, humble hearts, and confession on our lips; Christ pours Himself into us and His Spirit provides all of the love and the strength that we will need to live today as a person whose heart is fully committed to serving the Lord.

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you a covenant for the people; a light for the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Isaiah 42: 6, 7

 

There are so many times when the thing that we need can be one of the most fundamental and basic components of our universe; yet, despite its seeming abundance, true light can be awfully elusive. I know that I can be standing out in the open on the clearest day of the year with the rays of the sun beating down on me and still have a heart that is shaking from the effects of the bitter cold of helplessness and hopelessness that life has poured on it. This condition is real; yet, it is not necessary. God will bring the light of His truth and love into the center of my being, and His light is of such a great intensity that it will melt away even the hardest frost of these times of living in the winter of despair.

 

The Lord’s light comes into my life in many ways, too. He has given it to me through my acceptance of Christ and the resulting infusion of the Spirit of God into me. He has given me the ability to understand the deep truths of His Word, for God literally speaks to His own through the Spirit’s illumination of the printed text. The Lord also brings people into my life that care about and for my needs and who are confident and honest enough to do what ever is required to bring me back to the center of God’s will. God wants all of us to be the recipients of His light so that we can live in the freedom of His grace. Also He wants us to be light bearers so that we can bring the truth of His love to anyone who is bound in the chains of captivity that evil tries to keep locked around all people’s hearts and minds.

 

As we live in the freeing warmth of God’s light, we are called by Him to seek those who have been made ill by living in the cold. Then we are directed and empowered to administer the healing medicine of Christ’s loving touch to them. We are also called to seek out the people and the places where oppression rules and bring the lock smashing blows of God’s hammer of truth to bear against that bondage. In order to fulfill the mission to which God has called us, we need to keep seeking the light of Christ’s truth, stay close to others who are doing the same, and allow God’s Word the center place in our own reality. Satan brings on the coldness of despair; the warmth of God’s light sets us free.

 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

James 3: 17

 

There are many sources of wisdom for people to access in making decisions. We can get direction and be influenced by all sorts of thought and by many types of thinkers. Some of it is very good, some is not harmful, and there are other ideas that are labeled as wisdom but that are truly destructive. However, on earth there is only one source for a wisdom that is not tainted by the various impurities and contaminants that our worldly atmosphere provides. This is the wisdom that comes from God and that is spoken into His word and by His Spirit.

 

This wisdom from the heavens has certain characteristics and qualities. The first of these is its absolute purity. There is nothing added and no contaminant has infiltrated its substance. It is the clear and perfect will of God as given to people by a loving and involved Father. Admittedly, grasping its pure essence is not always easy, for the minds of people have worked hard over a very long period of time to interpret God’s word and to state our understanding of it in terms that we can more readily grasp than those found in the text. Yet, that text, when carefully considered, prayerfully approached, and meditatively pondered in the anticipation of the revelation that the Holy Spirit brings will reveal its truth and provide wisdom. God is not silent. He is present in our lives.

 

God’s pure word of truth leads His followers into lives that are marked by a form of peace that presents itself in all situations that we encounter in life. This is a peace that overcomes our human frailty and that brings us closer to others. It is the device that breaks down the divisions that we have created between the various people that we view as different or even as dangerous and ourselves. Out of this peaceable heart flow the other characteristics that James lists. This Christ-like way of viewing life and of interacting with people is the foundation upon which understanding, reconciliation, and true relationship are founded. Then, just as Jesus did, we can share the source of our peace that is the wisdom of God with people who need to embrace this singular source of life.

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