December 2015


Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Philippians 3: 1

 

Here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. This is a time that often triggers reflection and goal setting in light of what is learned through that reflective thinking. This past year has been hard in many respects. There has been warfare taking place all over the globe to such an extent that, regardless of where we live, it is hard to feel safe from its violence. People are engaged in struggles to simply survive while many of us are feeling threatened by their desire to move away from oppression and death and into our neighborhoods. True justice has become very hard to define, dangerous to defend, and seems to be a futile dream in our world.

 

This is the sort of time that Paul’s “finally” is all about. He is not so much drawing a series of thoughts to a close as he is reaching the place of summation. He is stating a final argument for the manner in which followers of Christ are distinctly set apart from the rest of our world and from our cultures. We know something that does not require us to escape from reality to achieve and that does hold up regardless of what is happening in our world or in our own life. In and through all that comes our way we can trust in the presence of Christ with us. This presence of the one who is the unshakable lover of my soul and the caretaker of my life brings about a form of deep-seated joy that fills all of the dark caverns that doubt and fear attempt to create within my heart and mind.

 

This fullness of joy that Christ causes is my companion through all of life. It walks with me in bold defiance of the reticence to love and to care for others that society preaches. It supports and comforts my wounded heart when I am overtaken by grief and loss, and it empowers me to express the depth and the nature of my relationship with Christ to everyone that I encounter in any and all context within the scope of my day’s journey. In fact, this joy that Christ brings about in me demands expression, and this expression is the rejoicing that Paul describes. It is the natural result of living a life that has been surrendered to Christ, and its reality in me is one of the ways that my Lord speaks to others about their need for the Savior. So, let’s ring in this new year with thoughts, words, and actions of joyous praise to our Lord!

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of peace is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3: 17, 18

 

Peace is hard to find. This is not a profound thought. No one should be reading this statement and gasping in amazement at the new truth revealed by it. The heavy air of tension saturates our world. It suffocates us, and it forces most people into various forms of self-protective isolation, disengagement, and separation. The descriptive adjectives of our day are strife, discord, disagreement, and violence. Our society is simply not very sociable or peaceable. The way that we are going about seeking solution and resolution is very challenging, too. It seems that most of the conversation these days involves either placing a large amount of hope in our political, economic, and military systems, or it concludes in utter cynicism and with resignation to a form of cultural hopelessness.

 

Frankly, it seems to me that both placing trust in our human devised systems and cynical hopelessness are missing the point of living in a world that is ruled by the great King. As His subjects, we can live in the center of a form of peace that is not dependant upon outcomes of elections, employment rates, global trade deficits, and legislative actions. According to James, peace starts with wisdom. This is the wisdom that comes from God, for that is the only form of wisdom that will withstand the refining test of the fiery trial that is life in our world. God’s Word is the only source of wisdom that can actually inform our minds and orient our hearts toward living in a manner that brings about peace. This is not a soft, compromised form of peace. God’s peace is defined by its relentless and unyielding nature. It seeks to bring healing to the hearts of people as it draws us together in a community of faith.

 

The truth of God’s will as it is revealed in His Word, by Christ’s Spirit, and within the Body should lead us to exude a form of gentleness, reasonableness, and mercy that is super natural. This is seen in the way that we engage in the discourse of life. It is expressed in an easy comfort with living out justice, grace, and understanding in a manner that points directly to Christ. It is made known in our world by our ability to engage truthfully in the hard conversations of our society without destroying our relationships with people who we disagree with. Peace is a crop that requires constant attention and care. Its fruit is not always rapidly realized. It often grows deep under ground in the silence and the cold of a harsh winter; yet, the bounty of summer is close at hand. Peacemakers meditate upon wisdom and act out of Christ’s love.

 

Why do you send your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55: 2

 

It is really easy to become focused on the things that we have done and on the successes that life has allowed us to achieve. This can be among the most natural of all things that we can do when we look back on the journey that has been traveled. There is not a thing wrong with this sort of reminiscence, either. It can lead to some interesting mental and emotional travels through time. Yet, it also leads me to realize two truths about living. The first one is that some of the things that I have done have been very selfish and have not seemingly done much of anything to advance God’s cause in this world. The other is that the Lord’s hand has never been off of my life.

 

These two revelations that are seemingly at odds with each other are worthy of a moment’s consideration. I have been blessed by the presence of God in my life from its beginning. My world was touched by people who knew Christ and who regularly and routinely lived out their best understandings of His will. Perhaps God understood just how independent and stubborn I can be; so, He kept Himself very near to my heart in order to protect it from me? Whatever the case may be, I have taken some really self-directed and worldly turns as I have navigated through it all. There have been years and years in which I invested heavily in the glittery and self-satisfying things that always break, fail, and rust and that are guaranteed to be burned away as stubble as Christ purifies His creation.

 

Still, despite my stubborn disregard for God’s will and failure to follow His way through life, Christ’s grace has prevailed. As I said, He has never taken His hands off of me, and my Lord is ever ready to welcome me to join with Him in a meal that fills me with truth and with love so that I can join with Christ in doing the work that He created me for. The Lord has set out a banquet table loaded with the rich food of His Word. He asks nothing of us except that we are willing to join with Him at that table. He wants to fill us with Himself so that we can leave that place with courageous hearts and focused minds. Christ strengthens us so that we can use the amazing gifts and skills that He has granted to each of us in the sort of work that is eternally satisfying.

 

I am writing you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.

1 John 2: 12

 

This statement reflects one of the most basic and foundational truths of the Christian life. So, it should seem so very simple for someone like me to accept it totally and not have any times of wavering from this simple expression of fact. Yet, my attitudes and actions can suggest something else. For, in fact, there are times when I start to think about what I need to do or what it is that I am not doing in order to be fully engaged in my walk with Christ. This list too often leads to thoughts about tasks and accomplishments instead of focusing me back onto the reality of my unchangeable position in the eyes of God and onto my Savior.

 

It would appear that since John wrote this to my spiritual forefathers about two thousand years ago, I am a part of a very long line of people who have struggled with the fact that there is absolutely nothing that I need to continue to do in order to have my sins forgiven. In accepting the grace, love, and sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ, and allowing Him into my life, that forgiveness before God is finished. Therefore, everything that I do by way of serving God is done in thanks to Him and in order to bring glory, praise, and honor to Him.

 

In this idea, I find freedom, and through this thought, I find power. There is no need to be concerned over failure, no reason to be held down by doubt, and never a reason to believe that my efforts and actions are insufficient. As Christ paid the full price for my sinful nature, He has also freed me to engage loving Him by giving myself fully to serving the people that He loves so dearly. My sins are forgiven, what a wondrous joy! Now I am free of compulsion and set free to share the possibility of that same freedom with anyone who will listen.

 

Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 13

 

Faith, hope, and love existed on this earth through all of the years that came and went between creation and the birth of Jesus. People had faith in many things and in many gods; they also had faith in the one true God, Yahweh. They also hoped for much, and the followers of that one true God carried an enduring hope of His return and the freedom that it would bring. They loved much and expressed it passionately. They created great art to demonstrate those passions and they sang of love’s virtues and challenges much as we do today. Yet, that love was without its fullest expression and its greatest rendition. It, like faith and hope, was incomplete.

 

 

God did not intend to leave His creation in this incomplete state of being. He had finished the work once and He would move it along the path to finality through an act of total loving sacrifice. The God who carried absolute and total authority over the entire universe chose to enter into this world as the humble and powerless baby that was born into the oppressed Jewish culture of those days. Jesus left eternity and entered into our humanity. He joined with us and walked along our roads, and Christ knew our pain and shared in our struggles; then, He allowed us to torture and to crucify Him in order to complete God’s plan for our salvation.

 

This is a love beyond any other. The love that Jesus lived out is the human demonstration of the infinite love that the Father has for each and every one of the people on this earth. We all are His beloved children, and Christ came to save every one of us from the sin that separates us from God’s eternal presence. Because of God’s love, as carried to completed expression by Christ, we can have true and lasting faith in that one God, and we have hope for today that is based upon the real and tangible presence of Christ in our lives and in our world. Love is the gift of Christmas and faith and hope are its lasting legacy.

Merry Christmas!

And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3: 18

 

When W. Chatterton Dix wrote his classic Christmas hymn he asked this question, “What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” Then, in the chorus he answers his own question, “This, this is Christ the King!” This baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is the Christ, the one who God sent to end the separation from Him that sinful rebellion had created in a movement of the creature away from its Creator. Now, in the advent of God in the flesh on the earth, we have complete access and acceptance before the great and perfectly holy glory of God.

 

God established a system of acts and sacrifices that were intended to demonstrate the desire and the willingness of people to come into His presence and that worked to continually remind us of our loyalty to our Lord. Yet, that loyalty was frail and often failed to last. We are sinful beings, this is our natural state of being, and it is impossible for us to escape sin’s imprisonment without God’s intervention. This point of intervention is where our lives and the child on Mary’s lap intersect. For this humble baby and the Great King that He is do have the power and the authority to overcome any and all conditions of the body, mind, and heart that enslave people.

 

As we turn to Christ, He removes all that separates us from standing before God in the full revelation of our humanity and the complete appreciation of His glory. Then God works in and on us to transform what was previously lost and dead into people who are living human bearers of that same glory of heaven, which brings the light of salvation and the soothing oil of peace into the world. In Christ we are made new and by the work of Christ’s Spirit we are transformed. So, followers of Christ are called upon to, “Haste, haste to bring Him praise” and the way that we do this is by living boldly in our world as people who bring this revealed glory of God into the darkness of sin’s night of death.

 

 

The horse is made ready for the day of battle,

But the victory belongs to the Lord.

Proverbs 21: 31

 

People were designed and created by God to be interested and engaged in the process of governing our world. The Lord granted us this as a right and as a responsibility. This aspect of humanity’s calling has very deep roots as it goes back to our time in the garden, existed before our exile, and was also a part of God’s commentary on our new life on the outside. Then, as it continues to be now, it is our sin that turns this process of governance into a battle. Evil in all of its manifestations desires to be in control. It will do anything and promise everything in order to win. So, people who know God are required to be vigilant and to remain prepared for the fight.

 

This preparation is founded in our knowledge of God. Our minds are made ready through the study and contemplation of His Word, and our hearts are strengthened by the presence of Christ’s Spirit. This state of preparedness is constant and unrelenting. There are no times of vacation, for Satan does not take a leave of absence from his war on righteousness. So, Christ warns His people to remain ever vigilant and to continually maintain our spiritual weapons. Yet, our hard work and all of our efforts are doomed to failure if they are done for us. They are futile if Christ is not leading our way. We do not possess the wisdom or have the understanding of God’s true purpose and plan that would be required to devise a holy and just battle plan. Our role is to be well-prepared rank and file soldiers in service to our King.

 

As we do not know God’s strategy or have a clear picture of His tactics, we are called upon by Him to follow. We are to stay true to the Word in our thoughts, actions, and expression. This means that we are to stay engaged in the processes of governance even when God’s objectives are unclear and when it seems that our voice is not being heard. God continues to implore His people to be the ones who bring respect to the discourse and love to the debate. Although we do know the outcome of it all in that Christ does reign supreme over all of Creation, God will not give us total understanding of His daily plans. We are to remain loyal and committed to serving the gospel of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, and we are to trust our Lord and have unyielding faith in the fact that the victory is His.

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