December 2015


Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29: 11

 

Too much of my life is lived at a pace that keeps my eyes focused on the road ahead and my mind churning in order to stay in front of the curves. There is a form of necessity in this approach, and it has been learned the hard way. You see, the film that is my life story has a lot of those train wreck scenes that were a part of the rather black humor that was central to the silent film era. So, in order to avoid the pain of these crash and burn moments, I carefully check my maps, consider the road, and take a firm grip on the wheel. These are really not bad things to do. However, for me, at least, the real issue isn’t safety, it is control, and I want it! Need it! Am uncomfortable without thinking that I have it!

 

The flaw in this sort of thinking and living is that I will never have true control in the sense that it will achieve my desired outcome of security. There are too many variables in this world and too much weakness in my own understanding of righteous living for me to maintain the proper course at the best speed on my own. In simple terms, God is a lot better at this sort of thing than I will ever be. The attributes of God that David expresses in this prayer in 1 Chronicles are really striking to me. God not only is characterized by greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty, but He is the source or the author of these life qualities. All of the greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty that is to be found anywhere in creation is there as a direct result of God’s presence. To repeat, all of it comes from and belongs to the Lord. None of it is of my crafting and none of it is in my control.

 

Yet, God reaches out of His majesty, and He chooses to touch my brokenness with His restorative grace and love. All of creation belongs to God, and He decided to grant me an important place in His plan for its management that is especially designed for me and that He invests in continually. When I consider who God is and how He interacts with this world of His, I begin to understand that I really don’t need to be in control of it all. I serve the King who is totally in control, and He is a very active ruler. He is also a truly engaged communicator. God speaks to His people and His word is the only reliable truth that we need in order to have the sort of true security that my heart desires.

 

Restore us, O God of hosts;

let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Psalm 80: 7

 

It seems that in our world resources rule the day. The company with the most to expend often gets the biggest profits, and the political candidate with the deepest pockets wins the vote. On a personal scale, there is wisdom in saving, for those stored up funds may carry us through the hard times that do come to most people. We study diligently and work hard to grow our skills so that we can command higher pay in order to have more. This is a cycle that has captivated humanity since our early days. Today we live in a world that is more sophisticated than ever before and is filled with the fruit of our creative labors; yet, it is still not a safe place to dwell or a righteous environment to rest confidently within.

 

None of our tangible worldly assets are sufficient. There is no army that is strong enough to provide security, no amount of money can bring about lasting peace, and all of our governments fail to promote God’s view of righteousness and justice. Yet, in and through all of this world’s chaos and grief, God stands strong and unflinching. He possesses all of the resources that any of us will need to withstand the pressures and the forces of the day. The Lord is the ruler of a vast army that has already conquered the forces of evil that are the cause and the power behind this world’s suffering, misery, and loss. This same great and mighty God is also the One who loves my soul with all of His being.

 

This conqueror God is the victor over the sin that attempts to destroy each of us at our most vital and significant level that is our souls. The Lord has set me free from slavery to this world and to its forces. His strength holds my head up, and His truth sets my feet onto the unshakable path of righteous love and deeply enjoyed peace. The light that drives out the darkness of this world’s day is the glory of God that shines with the brilliance of a thousand suns. As I seek the face of God in all that I do and every place that I journey, He fills my heart and my mind with the warmth and the radiance of His saving presence.

 

Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

James 2: 5

 

Poverty can be overwhelming. When we look at images of the people who are living in the poorest of conditions from across the world and from right next door to us, it is hard not to feel a sense of just how oppressive that condition is. Equally challenging for us are other forms of poverty beyond those that are dictated by financial condition and by social status. When the bank account that contains our savings of faith, trust, and hope has been drained by either the long term effects of constantly drawing from it without a plan for replacing what has been removed or when something happens that is so enormously costly that all of our reserves are gone in a moment, we can be knocked to the ground and left with a sense of being near to bankruptcy.

 

These are the times in life when all of the things that have held us up and that have provided the cushion of confidence that we have come to rely upon have either failed us or have suddenly become very fragile. In these days we find that youth, health, human love, education, position, and community status are all things which can be taken from us in a moment. Then, we are left to look to other sources for the underpinnings that keep us from falling into the depths of depression and under the oppression of doubt. This is the answer that Christ gives to us, for when all else and everyone else fails, He stands with us, and in these times of deepest poverty, the Spirit of Christ brings the riches of all of creation into our lives.

 

When the darkness that surrounds our heart seems to be too heavy for anything to penetrate it and we are at the bottom of that well known as despair, there is a source of light and there is a way out. As we pour out our pain to God and look into the truth of His Word, He starts to bring hope into focus. The Lord has a track record of taking people who are in desperate situations and providing them with His presence, and He brings hope, comfort, encouragement, strength, and practical solutions. In our days of deepest poverty, Christ actively seeks to honor our love for Him by filling us to overflowing with the riches of His kingdom.

 

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

Acts 17: 29

 

Paul has been speaking to the Greek philosophers gathered in the Areopagus in Athens; so, his reference here is to the idols that were all around him and that these Greeks worshiped as gods. But it strikes me that there is a word of instruction to me and to others in our times in what Paul had to say. You see, there have been times, and I fear that there will be similar ones to come, where I have treated the God who I do know in a fashion not so far removed from the way that those people in Greece did so long ago.

 

It can be very convenient to take God and to fashion a beautiful package to contain Him. I am not talking about icons and images that we might place in our homes or churches, for I see no problem in them. What I am thinking of is the way that people have of fashioning simple and comfortable descriptions of the nature and the character of God that, in fact, limit that very nature to one that is easy for us to embrace without personal challenge. This process recreates God into a form and substance that matches the life that my flesh desires to live. This is not the true nature of God.

 

Instead of God being shaped by my hands, God desires to recreate me into His already perfect image. God is and operates out of all that I might find appealing and personally desirable at this moment, but He is also much more. He is love, grace, mercy, comfort, righteousness, holiness, and Lord of All. God is the Great Shepherd who seeks out all without sparing any cost in order to bring each and every person on this earth into His Kingdom. God is the One who sees us as we are in all of our darkness and sin and still loves us beyond all measure. He is the righteous judge of our souls, and He spares no one from that judgment; yet, He saves anyone who turns to Him. This is an idea of the full image of God that I need to hold continually before my eyes, for this is the nature and the character of the person that He is working to shape me and each one of His people into being.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10: 4

 

We like the law. It is simple and direct. It gives us rules to follow and sets hard boundaries that hold our behaviors in check. However, no one succeeds in living according to the dictates of God’s Law. This last statement is true for me and for you. It is the reality for the most committed holy person that anyone can think of, too. The only person to ever walk upon this earth who did fully adhere to the righteous standard that God sets out as His benchmark for holiness was Jesus. So, that takes us to this revelation of truth that God granted to Paul.

 

If we desire to live as God would have us live, then we have one and only one path to follow. Following Christ is the singular option that God has provided for people to know Him and to function fully in the realization of that knowing. What makes this so hard to do, I think, is that Christ is not a clearly marked trail to follow, and He is not a template for holiness to fit into. Christ comes to us as Lord and Savior and this requires that we surrender to His lordship and accept His saving sacrifice without reservation or holdback of any portion of ourselves. Jesus gave all for us, and He requires all from us in return.

 

So, why do we struggle with following Christ while desiring the seeming simplicity of the Law? From my perspective and looking inward at myself, this is true because I am deluded and unwilling to fully surrender myself to the relational nature of God that is made known in Christ. I am deluded into believing that rules and works are the best way to enter into God’s favor and the favor of my fellow humans. Instead, Christ is the only way to enter into the Kingdom of God, and He works in me to transform my heart and my mind so that I act according to His will. Christ makes the true tenants of God’s law organic in my flesh as I yield my desire for rules to relationship with Him.

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

 

There is an almost strange dissonance to this verse. Paul has been urging the followers of Christ in Philippi to stand firm in unity and in righteous adherence to the true faith of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now he makes this final statement that is nowhere near to the end of the letter, itself. I think that the finality that was on Paul’s mind was enfolded into the idea that all of a life of being a disciple of the Lord is summed up in the joy that Christ grants to us. This is a joy that has absolutely nothing to do with what is happening in our lives or with what is happening to us. It comes from the depths of Christ’s love for each of us, and it is infinite and unstoppable.

 

Yet, the direction that Paul has given to the church, both in writing and in personal teaching, is hard, direct, and confrontational in the world. He has laid out God’s very narrow path of righteous living for them, and God has left little room for compromise or for conformity to the morality of the culture. The people in the church at Philippi and all of us in the church today are tasked with staying unified around these fundamental tenants of faith as we proclaim the one true God and the only path to salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. This is not an easy calling to faithfully answer.

 

This path of unity within the body of Christ has not been easy to follow at any time in the history of the church, and it is probably even more precarious today. Our world and its culture are a challenging place to dwell. What it means to follow Christ is being regularly and continually redefined. Even more troubling is the reality that the church of Jesus Christ is often viewed by others as utterly irrelevant and as a useless impediment to progress. This is the environment in which we encounter God’s calling to rejoice in Him. However, it is, in fact, our joy in our relationship with Christ that allows us to live in the safety of our present and eternal hope while engaging with a fallen and needy culture, and it is our common joy in Christ that can unify His church.

Your hands have made and fashioned me;

give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.

Psalm 119: 73

 

I have heard it said that the Bible is God’s guidebook to life. I have said that, too. Well, that just isn’t true. I wish that it were that simple, but there is no singular source to access to gain clarity and direction for all that comes our way in this world; at least there is none that is found outside of the more challenging realm of relationship. We need to know the One who made us in order to gain that sort of life-giving wisdom. Every person who has ever lived or who is to come in the future is different. We are the unique and wondrous handwork of the Creator God; so, no singular set of directions is perfectly matched to each of us.

 

God intentionally designed it to be this way. He does not want us to be able to go to a source that is outside of Himself in order to live in a righteous and a loving manner. God did not design life this way in order to control or to dominate us. It is my belief that the Lord established the nature and the order of this world in this manner because He desires to be in close and intimate relationships with each and every person on the earth. He already knows us to a degree and at a level that is beyond what we could ever apprehend about ourselves. Yet, God does not rest easily with just knowledge, for He delights in interaction and engagement with us.

 

So, where does this understanding that the Psalmist desires come from? Psalm 119 is written in celebration of the gift of God’s written word; so, in fact, the Bible is an important source of this understanding. Yet, it is not the singular one. If it provided all of the answers for life on its own, it would be too easy to just become a scholar of the text and not be a disciple of the author of that text. We know God through Jesus Christ as we accept His sacrifice and yield ourselves to His Lordship over our lives. Then the Holy Spirit enters us and speaks love and truth to our hearts and minds in the framework of intimate relationship. This same Spirit of Christ takes those written words of the Bible and transforms them into the living text that takes us deeply into a life-giving relationship with our Creator. So, in relationship with the three persons of God, we do gain this desired eternal understanding.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

Acts 4: 32

 

We live in a world and in cultures that hold independence as a very lofty and idealistic goal. Children are taught to make independent decisions and parents gain a sense of success when they are able to live and to function fully on their own. Parents praise the independence and fear the times of need; so, in many situations, children don’t learn that seeking help and support is a mark of emotional and spiritual strength. Additionally, one of the hardest things that most of us can ever do is ask for help. The nature of the help doesn’t always matter, either. We can be carrying a heavy load up stairs and through an awkward passageway and the last thing we would ever consider is setting it down and finding someone to lift the other side. The situation that we are in can be crushing and the prospect of disaster can be waiting outside our door and we will go about the day with a false smile on our face and “I’m fine’ on our tongues.

 

Belief in Christ should be a game changer in this aspect of life. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus we are joined with His Spirit. We are new beings. We have a redefined family that consists of people who are not connected by the blood of our human relations but that is joined together by a mystical, spiritual relationship in and through Christ’s Spirit. This family holds in common a new value system, an ethical foundation, which is actually the one that God devised for humanity at the moment of creation. Although we speak in terms of new family, we are really referring to our ancient ancestral roots. When we enter into Christ we gain back the true community that sin robbed from us. One of the marks of maturity that is seen among God’s people is the desire to join into this community. I think that God, the Father’s, heart is warmed when He sees us living honestly and lovingly together.

 

When Luke was describing life in the context of the newly formed church in the times after Jesus had been with them, he granted us a picture of the way that God wants His people to function through all time. The people who lived in those days were not really different from the rest of us. In other words, they were not super saintly folks who never disagreed and who always spoke in kind and supportive terms of each other. We know from the accounts in the Bible that they were weak, mean spirited, and sinful just like us. The point that God wanted us to understand here is that when we choose to live in Christ’s community, we can and should hold higher anticipations and expectations. In this context we are under a mandate from God to love and to respect each other. Christ grants us the grace and the resources to hold all that we have whether tangible, emotional, or spiritual in open hands that seek to meet needs and to provide support. This ability to trust in Christ to give each of us all that we may need, to openly and honestly share our trials and needs with our faith family, and to reach out to others with Christ’s love is the mark and the sign of being of one mind and one soul in Christ.

 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29: 11

 

God has plans for me. That can be a very troubling thought, or it can be a truly comforting one. My response to this idea is primarily based upon my view of God and upon how well developed my own plans are at this time. If I know with absolute certainty where my life is headed and I am working hard to assure that future, it can be very difficult to set all of that effort and my thoroughly designed game plan aside for a time in order to do what is necessary for me to truly hear the will of God expressed. It is hard for me to enter into this period of prayer and meditation, this cessation of my own efforts toward my goals, in order for my voice to recede into the background.

 

In order to do this I need to trust God more than I trust myself. This depth of trust comes from knowing God well. As I look upon Him in His Word and in the world, the nature and the character of the Lord are fully on display. Often it is God’s people who present the most telling demonstration of His unceasing trustworthiness as they tell the stories of their lives and the ways that God has been with them and taken them through all that they have encountered during the journey. This undeniable and continual presence of God is a very clear indicator of His faithfulness to myself and to all of His people.

 

So, when God tells me that He has plans for me, I can trust that, in fact, those plans are the ones that I should seek out and follow. However, seeking and following doesn’t necessarily mean that I stop all that I am doing and wait until the message from God is clear to me. The Lord often works through our efforts as we yield them to His will. He illuminates certain paths and darkens others. His will is frequently expressed through the prayerful advice of Godly people. Some of His ways are hard and the environment there can be harsh and unfriendly, but He goes with us to those places and shows us His strength when ours fails. The one thing that I can count on is that God knows where He wants me to go, and He is the sovereign Lord of that place.

So we do not lose heart. Though the outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

 

The erosion and the deterioration of the body is one of the realities that all people face. The longer we live, the more it is apparent. We can do things to either slow or to accelerate the advance of time in our bodies, but in the end, time wins. This is true for followers of Christ just as much as it is true for people who follow other gods or no god at all. We can despair over this loss of youth and its strength and beauty, but despair gains us nothing. We can fight against it, too, but, likewise, the battle with Father Time is not going to be eternally productive. Now there is a third alternative to surrender or to full-on war fare, that option is the one in which we accept the physical aspects of aging and embrace the way that Christ works in us as we travel through life with our hearts and minds yielded to Him.

 

This sort of surrender is not particularly easy for most people. We are wired to be fighters and to be independent workers in those encounters with our world and with life. Yet God says that He wants us to surrender to Him and to yield our control over everything to His will. There are to be no holdouts and no exceptions to this total surrender to the Lord. So, when we actually enter into acceptance of the supremacy of God and give our lives over to Him in full, Christ’s transformative work in our hearts, minds, and spirits is accelerated. He takes over and renews all of the internal real estate that we deed over to His hand of grace, mercy, and love.

 

Although some people get this idea at an early age, most of us do not. There seems to be something significant in the way that as our bodies age and start to break down that our hearts become more open to what Christ desires to do within them. It is as if the strength and capacity of youth function as a hindrance to acceptance of the absolute lordship of Christ over all of life. So, age and infirmity with their ever-growing list of broken body parts is not at all a bad thing so long as we keep turning to Christ for our strength, wisdom, and encouragement. As our hands grow weary, His reach out more boldly from us. As our eyes continue to fail, Christ’s vision becomes ever clearer to His people; for, in the quiet of diminished hearing, God’s Word of life can be heard with ever-greater clarity.

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