June 2015


For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30: 15

 

If only they had listened. In the days of Isaiah, God tells it like it really is, and His people still go off on their own and try to do it all in their own strength and based upon their human wisdom. The result is nothing but disaster. They are taken captive and their land is decimated and then occupied by foreign invaders. The simple take-away from all of this is that when God speaks, we should listen and respond. Yet, this is not often the way that people engage with God. We are truly a stubborn and a proud bunch that are filled with a sense of our own importance. We might like to have God around for comfort and for a sense of ritual order, but we aren’t all that willing to live as He directs.

 

So what was it that God wanted of His people in the days of the prophet? The Lord asks for something that we all struggle with giving as He asks them to return. This means that God wants their repentance, a turning away from the sinful path that the people have found to be so enticing. Like He did then, today God wants us to stop following the ways of culture and the seemingly easy course of our world. Then we can enter into a time of confession and prayer wherein we recognize the painful reality of our ownership of the harm that we have caused to ourselves and to creation and the grief that our separation from God has caused for Him. God calls the people of this world to confession and prayer that is followed by listening and responding to His voice by living out the truth of His holy word.

 

As we return to God we can truly rest in His presence. Over the long term of history the Lord has demonstrated His faithful love and His unchanging righteousness. His character and His word form the foundation for all that is trustworthy in our world. We can rely upon that word and follow the teaching of the people who were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit to set out its instruction and direction for us. There is freedom to be found in doing this. Our worried minds can find rest and our troubled souls will be soothed by the quietness that comes from the presence of the Lord, and from this position of quiet rest, the Lord will grant to us the strength that is required to live today in the truth of His unchanging will.

 

 

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Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given us.

Romans 5: 5

 

People need hope. It is the objective or the anticipated results that can start our day and keep our feet moving forward through out it. Our hearts hope for love, peace, and contentment; then, our minds draw a picture of what that might look like. Life’s harder times are redeemed by the hope that there is better to come. Yet, hope in the tangible world and in its system of rewards and the treasure that it promises can be brutally deceptive. The rules of this world’s game are written in sand, and its payoff is tendered in decaying currency. So, where is my hope to come from?

 

When I hope in Christ there is permanence to the desire. This does not come about due to any strength of will or character that I possess. Instead, it is the direct result of God’s total faithfulness and absolute loving care. In the earliest days of humanity’s history God granted his creation the hope of salvation and of restoration through the promise of the coming of Christ. Not only did God follow through with that promise, but He continues to seek after all of humanity with His gift of grace and its outworking in restoration of relationship with our Creator.

 

Thus, hoping in Christ will never cause us to experience true shame. This world may attempt to cast that faith as futile, weak, or to ridicule it and us in other ways, but these words are the mutterings of the deceived. Our culture may cast followers of Christ off as unnecessary or as antagonistic to community peace and harmony; however, it is Christ who brings about the only true and lasting peace and reconciliation in our world. As followers of Christ we do have hope. We live in the certainty of tomorrow, a certainty that has little to do with circumstances or with earthly outcomes. As Christ through His Spirit brings this imperishable hope to our hearts, so we can bring it to those of our neighbors. So, where does my hope come from? It comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

1 Peter 4: 7

 

Given that Peter lived a couple thousand years ago, he may have gotten things wrong. You see, we are still here, and the world continues to be a chaotic mess. Another possibility is that Peter spoke all of this with complete accuracy and an excellent understanding of the way that God works. In Peter’s day the end of the things that were necessary in order for God’s plan for redemption of people and of His creation had come about. Jesus had come, been sacrificed, and was risen. The Holy Spirit was resident in our world and dwelling in the hearts of people of faith. The only thing that was and is left in order for God to complete His work of final restoration rests solely in the Lord’s hands. That is the fullness of time.

 

It seems that Peter is calling followers of Christ to something quite different from an escape plan that has us sitting in meditative readiness for all of the insanity of life to end in Christ’s return. That could happen, but that is not the hope that we are to focus our minds and our hearts upon. Instead, Christ-followers are to be people who look to Him continually and who surrender our desires and our wants to Christ’s cleansing truth. We are to live in a state of readiness for that day when we will be face to face with Christ. It will come for everyone, but people who know Christ are prepared for that moment of glorious reckoning.

 

The centerpiece of this preparation is prayer. This is an on-going conversation with God in which we expose the deepest aspects of our being to our Lord and listen with absolute attentiveness to all that He says to us. Engaging in deep prayer requires us to be people who set aside the various devices that our world uses to distract us from attention to God’s will. The Holy Spirit will empower us to live within His control and to relinquish the escapism that our world invites us to engage with. God intends that this Christ-focused and Spirit-energized living will grant to His people the ability to live in continual engagement with His will and in response to Christ’s call to follow Him.

 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

2 Corinthians 2: 14

 

Parades are fun. They are filled with creativity and color. They are loud with their music and vibrant in their motion. Participation in a parade is exhilarating, and watching one from the side of the street can be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a gathering of community and of family. It is no wonder that Paul uses the image of a parade to frame his statement of thanksgiving to God. Yet, the parades that Paul has in mind were not quite like the ones that we experience. They were big, loud, and very showy. However, they involved a clear demonstration of power in opposition to the humiliation of the defeated. There is life and there is death present.

 

Paul’s parade is a lot like the world where we live. In Christ, we are the victors. The outcome of the war is decided, recorded for history, and Christ’s triumph is declared for the entire world to hear and see. Still, many people have not listened to the news, have failed to respond to God’s call to join His triumph, and as a result, are numbered among the defeated. I admit that it is not always so easy to appreciate Christ’s victory and to comprehend its absolute nature and permanent duration. The end of the campaign skirmishes and enemy assaults are still fierce. There will be some very intense battles fought in the days to come. Still, none of these final battles will affect the outcome.

 

However, each of us who follow Christ can influence the direction of the day for some of those people who are still in the ranks of the defeated. Christ does lead us through each of our days, and He desires for us to live them in the full experience and expression of His victory. Some of the time we are limping from our wounds, and on certain days we need to be carried by our brothers and sisters as we are not able to walk. Even on those hardest of days, Christ’s victory is complete in us. His anointing oil of love, grace, and redemption is powerfully sweet in the air around us. Unlike the conquering generals of Rome, our Lord reaches out His hand of salvation to those who have not chosen to join in His victory, and through us, Christ invites them to come and be anointed and accept life among the victors.

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, of a sure foundation;

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line.”

Isaiah 28: 16, 17a

 

If life were a film, haste might be the director’s command for our lives today. We are urgent to get where we are intending to go. Everyone wants answers that were delivered before the problem was even defined. People are quick to abandon relationships that aren’t working well enough, and we jump ideological ship when a small storm swell rocks it. It seems that loyalty is defined by self-protectiveness, and faithfulness often lasts about as long as a Mayfly lives. It is not all that shocking to me to realize that God sees things rather differently. He talks to us in terms that call out the dawn of human time, and then, as we start to develop a sense of our importance, the Lord reminds us that our existence starts at something like mid day on His clock.

 

The foundation that God built for us is firstly relational. It is, it exists, and it forms the natural undercurrent for life. This point of beginning for all interaction, whether from person to person, among humans and God, or involving us and our world, has as its basis and its underpinning the relational nature of God, Himself, with His three-in-one, fully communicative, integrated and yet separately well-defined existence. God intends for us to be in this life for the long haul. He desires for people to continually count the cost of our decisions and our actions so that we are mindful of the way that they impact and affect others in terms of whether we are treating people in a manner that is loving, just, righteous, and fair.

 

The corner stone that God has set out for us is also true, absolutely perfect in its orientation, and unshakable even in the face of the greatest forces that this world or that life can throw against it. For the sake of clarity let me say that this corner stone is Jesus Christ with His gospel, the Eternal Word. There is no other answer to the questions and the challenges that come our way. It would seem that God wants us to slow down and stop looking for new ways of thinking that will bring about miraculous solutions to all that is wrong in our world. The Lord wants people to spend time with Him and to search out His heart’s desire as it is set out in His word. When we do this we are settling into our place upon that eternal foundation that God has established for us. This is a place of complete security where grace smoothes our rough edges so that we fit perfectly into God’s building design. This is the place where our wandering hearts are aligned with God’s just and true course and where righteousness lived out builds God’s temple walls high and true.

 

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way.

Mark 10: 52

 

It is easy to appreciate the care, compassion, and mercy that Jesus exhibits when He stops for a moment in this final portion of His last journey to Jerusalem in order to heal Bartimaeus’ blindness. This man had obvious great need. His condition had reduced him to the status of beggar, and that meant that for the sake of survival he was required by society to leave behind his dignity and to literally risk his life in order to plead with the masses for their pocket change. He was beyond desperate. That condition had departed long ago. Now, he was alone, a castoff along the side of the road, and condemned to spend whatever remained of his life in a state of oppression under the weight of the sin that his own understanding of God said had caused his blindness.

 

This is a new thought for me, but it does seem that Bartimaeus, the man, is much too close to my world for easy comfort. I seldom encounter a blind person who is begging by the roadside, but I don’t think that that is the point of this story. Here is a person who has lost his way through life. The moment that we encounter him is the one where he comes to the end of all that had been sustaining him. Bartimaeus seems to have landed at the bottom of his resources and at the end of his pride at the very moment that he was also sitting at the feet of Jesus. This is no casual encounter. In this scene we are witnessing the presence of Christ in our world. This is the way that God brings healing and restoration to all who are lost, alone, outcast, and broken. As Jesus comes to this simple blind man, so He comes to anyone who desires to be healed and the story is much the same for us all, too.

 

Although this is an account which is about entering into a saving relationship with Christ, there is much more here. Even after we have accepted Christ, most of us continue through life with aspects of our sin-ravaged brokenness in place. For many and varied reasons we hold onto these damaged and dysfunctional ways of thinking and acting. Thus we continue to collide with walls, and we stumble and fall down as we blindly go about our day. Yet, just like that day at Jericho, Jesus is with us, and He is ready and willing to bring sight to our blindness. All that He asks of us is that we have enough faith to trust Him. There is little more that is required of us. Christ doesn’t ask us to perform any deeds, engage in acts of purification, or speak special words. All that He does ask is that we open up our wounded hearts to Him and sincerely seek His healing touch. Like Bartimaeus, sight is gained through faith as we trust Christ and ask Him to heal us, and restoration comes as we commit our lives to Him and follow where He leads.

Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51: 6

 

God is like most loving fathers in that He delights in the characteristics of His children. This is especially true for those times in our lives when we most closely resemble our Father. Thus, when we allow truth to prevail in our lives regardless of the personal outcome, God’s smile is as broad as is the entire universe. The Lord implanted truth into the hearts of all people when He created us, for this is an essential part of being made in God’s image. So, it is up to us to respond to this basic component of our beings by allowing it to influence our lives.

 

As we open our hearts to God’s Spirit and seek to develop a relationship with Him, the Lord’s truth starts to have an ever greater influence on the decisions that we make and on the manner that we approach our interactions with others. It is in this process of growing closer to God that the innate, implanted truth of God is worked and processed into the operative component of decision-making that is known as wisdom. Then wisdom guides us away from the natural realm of self centered actions into the Lord’s desired one of self sacrifice.

 

This process of growing closer to God by allowing His Spirit the opportunity to reveal more and more of the person that He designed us to be never ceases in this life. Whether we are deeply committed to living in the center of God’s eternal truth or if we are still rejecting most of it, we have only begun to probe the actual depths of understanding. The person who makes silly and harmful life choices on a daily basis needs to get to know the author of wisdom, and so does the person who lives most of life in the center of the Lord’s will. The fact that I still have miles and miles to travel in gaining in understanding of God’s truth and in learning to apply His wisdom is strangely comforting, for God makes this life a great adventure of discovery and growth, and He is continually delighted with each of us when we choose to travel through the day with Him.

 

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