November 2015

So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10: 17


I have faith in a number of things, and foremost among these is faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus is God, one of the three persons of what we call the Trinity. He descended from heaven to live as a man on this earth, and Jesus was crucified and died as the only satisfactory sacrifice for the sins of all of humanity. He was buried and rose on the third day, and Christ dwells with the Father in Heaven. Today the Holy Spirit resides with and in people on earth and provides us with God’s counsel and purpose. Then at the end of this age, Christ will return and utterly destroy all that is evil in Creation, and He will bring about the complete recreation of this world into the sin-free form that God originally crafted. All of this, I believe; yet, my hearing of its implications for my life is often very poor.


My mind and my heart have been exposed to God’s Word for almost all of my life. Pastors and others have taught it to me, and I have read scripture and discussions about it for as long as I have been able to read. My heart and my mind accepted and surrendered to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ a very long time ago. Still, there are too many occasions when these ears just don’t let these life-long truths into the parts of me that control my thoughts and actions. It does seem that true hearing is something that goes far beyond the function of auditory receptivity and processing. It is a function of the heart and it connects to my being at the point where my will and personal desire yield fully to God’s will and desire for me.


So, how does this change? What sort of auditory training do I require to become a better listener when it matters the most? It seems that Paul is a good resource for solving this challenge. My guess is that he knew my problem well, and his point of contact with the truth that leads to deep and unyielding faith is the word of Christ. That is, the complete expression of God’s righteous love and grace that is found in the full text of the Bible, is made real as life is lived in the fellowship of people of faith that is the church, and is revealed more completely by the Spirit of Christ. Hearing at the soul-deep level that Paul is discussing comes through surrender to Christ, and faith in Him grows as His word of truth fills every moment of my life.

Reposted from 2012

Where does thankfulness come from? What is it that I am truly thankful for? Why does it matter at all in a world where take is stronger than give and have is far more desirable than relinquish? The questions seem to outstrip the traditions, and the day of gathering and celebration in America has become, for many, just the starting point for the consumer rush of the Holiday Season. Yet, I want to throw out that there is, indeed, much to be thankful for and there is truly a reason to celebrate.


This point on the calendar in late November can and should be the start of a very special season. The celebration and the remembrance, the gathering together and the festivities that mark the Christmas Season are good things. In fact, I think that they are more than just good things; I believe that this coming season of Advent is an important part of the cycle of our faith lives. This is a time when we reflect upon the characteristics of God that were given to humanity by and through Christ. During these weeks our hearts can be turned away from our self-imposed necessities and toward our calling in Christ to serve His Kingdom and to glorify His name. This is a time of the year when giving the gifts of kindness, compassion, and care can mean more to a tired soul than any object or fragile token of affection.


It seems to me that our greatest cause for thankfulness is to be found in the Advent, which is Christ come. This is God with us and God within us. The Spirit of Christ has been given to us to speak truth, love, peace, mercy, and forgiveness into our broken and bitter souls. In Christ we are granted restoration and our lives are transformed from the inside to the out in a manner that grants each of us who know Jesus as our Lord and Savior into persons of real, eternal significance in our world. In all of this resides the cause for thankfulness. It is through Christ and by the results of His coming that we are made alive, and because of His grace and merciful forgiveness, we are granted a life that matters. So, as our thankfulness is focused upon God and reflects on His great gift to all of Creation, we are motivated to extend the love of God to the world around us and to rest in the certainty of His for us. This is more than enough cause to be deeply and eternally thankful.


For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3: 16


Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Colossians 2: 6, 7


There is this rather crazy idea that followers of Christ should be continually living in a state of blessedness that leads us to be thankful for it all and to express that thanksgiving to God and to the world around us in the midst of and despite of our circumstances. Although this is not easy to do, the idea of dwelling in a state of thanksgiving is something that God does make possible for His people. Through Christ and His indwelling Spirit, the perspective that we view our world with is changed from its foundations upward.


There is no place that we can travel where the Lord is not with us. Although we may turn onto the darkest of streets, the presence of the light of truth and the protection of the Lord are there to guide and to guard our steps. This world and its culture can be harsh and dangerous, but regardless of appearances, Christ rules over it all. So, if He is Lord of my life, then He takes precedence and holds authority over the powers and the influences that would attempt to distract, discourage, and defeat my intent and desire to enter fully into Christ’s calling for my life.


Therefore, thanksgiving is a fully worthy expression of worship for this and for every day. This is entered into in words of praise and recognition of God’s great love and perfect truth. Yet, even more so, it is poured out upon the altar of life as a fragrant and worthy sacrifice of praise by virtue of the way that we engage with others and with our world in a manner that brings the truth and the peace of Christ to all that we do and to every encounter along the way. Jesus walked with His feet firmly rooted in the will of the Father. So too, we who are in Christ Jesus our Lord can follow Him in this journey in which all is committed to bringing about reconciliation to God through relationship with Christ. As this is so in my life, I am thankfully dwelling in Christ’s land of blessing.


And Pilate said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.”

Luke 23: 14, 15


We all know how this story goes from this point. If anyone in history was not guilty of a crime, that person was Jesus. Everything that He had done and said was directed toward the well being of all of humanity. This was true for the Roman governor Pilot, the false Jewish King Herod, and the crowd that demanded His life. Yet, justice, the one thing that seemed to be Jesus’ due, was denied Him. He went through the torture that was to follow these mock trials and the brutal death that ensued with grace and the love of God on His lips.


So, the one person who has walked this earth who deserved justice becomes history’s greatest example of injustice tendered. In so doing, however, Christ takes upon Himself the righteous judgment and the resultant justice that we all truly deserve. The reward for righteousness that Christ deserved is gifted to all people who follow Him. There is more to this courtroom drama. For, as Jesus was being denied what was due Him, Christ granted that which He had been denied to others around Him. His words from the cross still echo across our world, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

(Luke 23: 34)


We may think that we live in a world that does not treat us justly. The need to cry out against the rulers and the rules of our times is often strong within us, and our reasons for this drive to speak out are real and come from the Word of God. However, we do not truly deserve justice. In fact, we should not want to receive the just sentence that we have earned, and, as Christ has freed us from that punishment, we will not. Yet, in setting us free, Christ does call us to follow Him in all of life. His disciples are to be people who bring justice and peace to our world. We are to grant the grace of God to others so that we will be known to our neighbors as people who speak and live in the center of Christ’s cross-bound proclamation of forgiveness and grace.

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2: 13


No one other than Jesus who has walked upon this earth is beyond the need for mercy. We all face a time in our existence when we will stand before a just and a righteous God with the sum total of our life upon this globe under His examination. None of us will pass through that moment without the need for God’s mercy. We all live in sinful disobedience to God, and each of us falls terribly short of His standard for acting as the God shaped image-bearers of His character that we were created to be. Unfortunately, God’s nature with its love, grace, compassion, and mercy often seems very far from the way that His people actually live.


Despite God’s merciful nature, we followers of Christ are often known for our readiness to judge rather than for our outpouring of mercy. Perhaps we forget that we, too, are counted among the lost without the grace and the mercy of Christ. Throughout history there have been far too many conflicts waged in the name of righteousness and not enough attempts made to enter into the sacrificial act of peacemaking. However, Christ has called upon His people to be peacemakers, and the Father has reserved the right to judge for Christ. This thought is not based upon a moment of pointing my finger at others and calling out their sin; rather, it is formed by looking in the mirror and seeing my own sinfulness.


In order to become truly merciful, I need to leave behind my fears, prejudices, doubts, and self-importance. These aspects of my self are planted deeply within my heart and my mind. They don’t just disappear if I wish it so. However, Christ does change us. His presence in our lives transforms the old into the new that is of substance and in like kind the nature of the Living God. The holy robe of mercy is put on through repentance and prayer, and it grows as we seek after it. Mercy is perfected through practice as Christ replaces our judgmental spirits with one that extends the love of God through the granting of mercy and peace to others.


And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22: 44


Our world is overrunning with fearful things and people. There is terror in the most tame of our streets, and sudden agony and grief fills our innocent halls of pleasure. These are terrible times with evil running loose and wild in our midst. As I was thinking about fear and what it means to be afraid, my thoughts went to that night in the early part of the first century when Jesus was at the place of awaiting the terror that would come down His street. Now, Judas, the Romans, and the rest of the angry crowd were no surprise to Him, but the events of that day were still terrible to contemplate.


The Roman army was one of the most powerful that our world has known, and they used fear and dominance as tools to gain and to hold control over the people who were unwillingly under their governance. Their ultimate punishment for crimes against their law was the cross with its torturous death-bringing process. Certainly Jesus was facing this. Yet, His anguish during this time of prayer was not caused by fear of facing His torture and death. Rather, it was caused by the impending reality of what it would mean to take on the sins of all of humanity. His agony was seated deep in His heart and was centered on the coming time of separation from the Father as the Christ fulfilled the purpose of His human life.


This is where the experience of our world and Jesus’ of His often diverge. I am not saying that fear isn’t real or that evil is not terrible, but that was also true for Christ. In the face of it all, He turned to the Father for comfort, strength, and guidance. Jesus moved away from the noise of the street and into the quiet of His garden of prayer. Christ faced into the most trying of situations with the grace of God on His lips and the confidence of a person who knows who He serves and why He is doing it. That terrible cross of Christ is the place where we can, too, hang our fears and our reactionary words. The sacrifice of Christ is the source of our courage and the reason for peace in our hearts and in our actions.



Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.

Philippians 3: 12


It seems that Paul is saying that his best efforts and most sincere intentions are not enough. No matter how much he desires to put to death his old self and to join Christ in His resurrection from death, the odor of decomposition continues to cling to him. This is troubling for the Apostle, and he knows just how hard this fact can be for other Christians. After all, Paul had a lot more going for him than most of us do. He was brought up and trained to be the nearly perfect man of God. At least that was the way that people would have viewed him. By comparison, most of us were raised into purely pagan practices by a God-denying world.


Yet Paul’s position in society and his training were of little value when it came to knowing and to serving Christ. In fact, they were a hindrance to him, for Paul fought against Christ and His followers with the stridency of a zealot until Jesus grabbed hold of him and refused to let go. Jesus truly claimed Paul. The Lord took him out of this world and into His in order to teach the powerful rabbi the truth about God. Then the newly formed Paul was sent back into the world in order to bring the message of life to us all. Still, Paul realized that even with the direct teaching of Christ he was not perfect, for Christ was not yet finished with him. The miracle in this is the fact that living in an imperfect reality was not discouraging to this masterful keeper of the Law. Instead, he found encouragement in the fact that Christ claimed him as His own.


As I look at my own life, I find myself in a position that is similar to Paul’s. Not that I can even begin to utter the word perfect when I consider my life; yet, like Paul, the perfection of Christ does dwell in me. Also, Christ has claimed me out of this world and made me His own. This is a truth that all Christians can recognize and reflect upon as we stumble and blunder our way through life. Although our steps may falter and we will head down wrong paths, this does not need to be the way that we continue to live. Additionally, we should actually find encouragement in these times of wandering, for Christ wants to take us from these darkest of days and bring us ever closer to His glorious perfection. Just like Paul did in his recognition of the need to be committed to seeking to live as Christ called him to despite his failings, we are called by the One who has claimed us out of this world to press on and to trust Christ as we are blessed by the miracle of transformation.




Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

Zechariah 7: 9, 10


God stated a number of characteristics that were to be what would set the historic nation of Israel and its people apart from the rest of the world. These characterists came directly from the nature of God, Himself. One of the most important of these was the spirit of openness and acceptance for people who were from other lands, cultures, and beliefs. This ready acceptance of the foreigner into their land was derived from God’s primary desire to bring all who were lost and separated from Him into a transformative relationship with God.


This evangelistic purpose continues from the Old Testament narrative into the New with even greater emphasis on its centrality to the calling that is placed upon followers of Christ. We are to overcome our fears and discomfort with people who do not think, live, and believe as we do in order to allow Christ to work on their hearts through the connection that comes because of our relationship with them. In addition to Christ’s call to enter relationship with the foreigner, there is also this ancient mandate of God to care for the disadvantaged and the oppressed of the world. God’s people are to be the ones who bring mercy and comfort where the world has rained down oppression and pain.


These two biblical concepts still work together in our world today. Christ is our shield and protector. With Him there is nothing to truly fear except for refusing to follow His will. Wherever God’s people dwell there should be a place of rest and healing and a table of welcome set for the foreigner and for the disadvantaged people of our world. In a world where violence is a tool that evil uses to bring about a fear that separates people, Christ is the one true bridge into the peace that calms hearts and minds and that bonds souls together in love. As we welcome these sojourners into our lives, we are welcoming Christ to our table.


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Matthew 5: 7

They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all of the meeting places of God in the land.

Psalm 74: 8


God’s word is amazing in its comprehensive discussion of the issues and the concerns that plague life in this world. Words that were set to paper long before anything that is our culture was contemplated by the human mind are still true. In fact, God seems to cry out from these words with a voice that pierces through our facades of confident modernity to reach to the heart of our sinful pride and stubborn disobedience. These words of poetry strike me as speaking very clearly about a great danger that is faced by the body of Christ today. We face the danger of being subdued. Satan desires for us to grow ineffectual and silent.


Although there are some instances in which the meeting places of God’s people are set on fire, bombed, or ransacked by people who oppose Him; these situations are rather rare. There is a much greater danger that we face. The physical damage that is caused by the flames can be repaired. Even when the building is burned to the ground, after some cleanup, it can be rebuilt. It is far more damaging to have the structure standing whole and proud if the people stop gathering there with hearts that are attuned to worship of their Lord. When our primary reason for the assembly is social rather than spiritual community in nature, the interaction that results becomes shallow, on the surface, and safe. Christ calls us to come together in a manner that is vulnerable, broken, and where grace is necessary. Christ is not the Lord of safety, but He is the God who brings us to sanctuary.


Our meeting places and our gatherings need to be bathed in worship and praise. These gatherings should be times when we embrace the beauty and the enormous variety of our fellow family members in the body of Christ. They should also be times when we anticipate and wait upon the Spirit of Christ as He speaks truth and righteousness into our hearts and minds. Satan wants God’s children to become indifferent and to become passive about gathering together. The enemy is ready and very willing to reclaim this part of our lives. Apathy, safety, and selfishness are the matches that ignite the sorts of destructive fires that truly destroy our meeting places. On the other hand, the passionate love of Christ for each of His people reaches out to us, and it is this love that binds us together in the sort of humble submission to God that builds a fire-proof community of faithful followers of Christ.

It is good for me that I was afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes.

Psalm 119: 71


There seems to be a rather specific form that the affliction in this verse has taken. This word is not one that would normally be used for the way that disease or even that natural disaster affects us. This is a word that is used for the impact that personal attacks, humiliating losses, and self-inflicted folly brings upon a person. The affliction here has come upon the writer because of his own actions, good ones or negative ones, or as a result of what others have done to him. The writer has engaged in the struggle and conflict of life and come away from that engagement with his pride and dignity damaged.


Yet, that humiliating experience is proclaimed to be good. Now, for me, I can’t think of a lot of situations or times when I declared that my badly rumpled dignity was actually a good thing, and my dignity has been severely tossed about before. Here we see a person who realizes that the more we face tests and trials with honest engagement, the more likely we are to wind up in this position of facing opposition. So, as we face opposition in this world and attempt to stand firm for what we believe to be God’s truth in its face, we will be taken along a path that leads to the end of our own capacity and strength.


This is the place where the whole process goes from being frustrating, embarrassing, and disturbing to being fully and wholly good. Where I end is where Christ begins to rule over my life. Thus, this place of affliction becomes the holy ground of the Lord’s presence. As God’s perspective becomes mine, I can be beaten and even broken by the world’s opposition and see that the fight is not against me but it is, in fact, a spiritual battle for the hearts and the souls of people. This is a fight that is worth engaging in daily; yet, it is also one that is completely outside of my skill, courage, strength, or capacity. Christ uses my willingness to go and to stay true to His Word, but He is the warrior and the victor in all that comes my way.

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