February 2016


As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2: 4, 5

 

If you think that the age of making sacrifices is done and is put away in a distant and dusty history, think again. Although Jesus did perform the final sacrifice for sin, and His work makes all other such efforts unnecessary, the essential act of worship that is found in sacrifice is still valid and important for those of us who follow Christ. We follow a Lord and Master whose ministry on earth was characterized by what we might think of as sacrifice. During it He engaged in actions and in teaching that ran in stark contrast to the tone and the practice of the religious community. So doing will inevitably lead to conflict and to confrontation, and engaging with powerful people and institutions on these grounds is a risky act that leads straight to personal sacrifice.

 

So, as we follow Christ, we are faced with the choice of engaging with our world as He did with His and as I believe Christ is calling His church to engage with ours, or we can attempt to walk a safer path of quiet compromise and safe assimilation with our culture. Jesus did not embrace a middle ground approach to this issue during His time on earth, and we do not have a middle ground path that we can take while living in the integrity of our faith in Christ. The world rejected Jesus and in so doing it also cast off God’s chosen one. Following the Lord’s path of righteousness may lead to our rejection by the world where we live.

 

However, as we follow that set apart and holy path with the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus as our priestly robes, we may also bring people out of the darkness of deception and separation from God and into the salvation and the restoration that comes through relationship with Christ. Thus, the sacrifices that we make are not primarily directed toward defending the truth; rather, their sweet aroma entices others to enter into the deep and enduring joy and peace that are found only through knowing God. This sacrifice of self for the sake of the eternal lives of others is truly pleasing to God.

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

 

Although the author of Hebrews is discussing the food that we eat, this is not the sort of thing that could become an episode of one of the television cooking programs that are very popular today. The food that is literally under examination is related to religious sacrifices and to rules about the consumption of items that were so designated. This concept in itself has little connection to our world today. Yet, I think that the idea behind the early church related cultural thoughts is very relevant to our times and our lives, for there are many diverse and strange teachings available to us today, and they do feed us a highly unsatisfactory diet of deception and untruth.

 

Some of those false diets include ideas like ones that say that God’s love is expressed by the provision of comfort and wealth in this world or that all of our sickness and failure are caused by personal sin. Other diets can be deadly to the soul in that they redefine and manipulate the person and so the character of God in ways that deny His nature, role in creation, and the salvation through Jesus Christ alone that are depicted in God’s Word. There are many ways and sources of distraction, diversion, and delusion available for us to feast upon in our culture; yet, at the same time God provides for us a solid and sustaining diet for our continual consumption.

 

God’s Word of Truth is an unending banquet of the delights that are found on the tables in the hall of the High King. He has set it out before all people in ways that are enticing to the senses and fulfilling to the palate. Within its pages are found the great story of God’s relationship with people throughout all of time, and running through the entirety of that narrative is the telling of God’s redemptive love and grace that is poured out as sweet wine for all of us to drink fully. So, I seek to be fed on the rich food of God’s Word that is best enjoyed in the fellowship of His church gathered in worship of our Lord.

Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood came, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.

Luke 6: 47, 48

 

In the construction business it is highly desirable to start a building by setting a well-designed and solidly built foundation for it. It is much harder to come back later and correct any design errors or construction flaws. Repairing the damage that is done over time when a building settles or sags onto a failing foundation is even more challenging. In addition, as Jesus mentions, a building that is established on poor footing is likely to suffer catastrophic failure when the forces of nature come against it. Of course, Jesus was not teaching a class in civil or structural engineering or in the building trades.

 

Jesus was talking about the vital tradecraft of living in this world. He was stating a truth that eludes most of us to some degree, that is grasped by some over time and often after there is already structural damage, and that some never engage with. Christ is saying that there is only one way to construct a life so that it can hold up when the weather of life turns nasty and violent. This frail structure that is my body with its mind, heart, and soul will be battered about by various forces in the journey of my days, and the only way that I will end all of them with some of the structure still upright is to seek out that solid, weather proof rock that is Christ.

 

Like in the construction of a building, it is far better to start out with the foundation set upon the truth of God’s Word as it is made real and living by the Holy Spirit. Yet, unlike structures, it is never too late to establish that connection with the deep rock of faith. Regardless of what damage has been done by rain, wind, and neglect, Christ can shore up the fractured timbers of the heart and straighten the warped beams of the mind. His word of truth brings new life to our weathered and torn lives, and He establishes Himself within us so that we can stand up to what is to come. So, today is the day to dig down into the rock of life that is Christ and that is set in His Word and to live out its revelation of life as a follower of the Lord.

Praise Him with tambourine and dance;

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150: 4a, 6

 

There are times when sitting still is just not possible. As children we all experience those times when we were expected to be quiet, calm, and attentive while every cell in our body wanted to get up and run about as we shouted and shrieked out of the simple need to be expressive. In our more advanced years, the need for activity and expression is frequently caused by the stresses and the concerns that weigh heavily upon us. Life has a way of loading us up with burdens so that it feels like we are walking about wearing iron shoes while walking on the surface of a powerful magnet. No amount of energy that we expend seems to gain us any traction or move us one inch forward.

 

Yet, there is something false about that earth-bound reality. It is the product of a world that is filled with the pain of brokenness. It is a state of heart and of mind that evil desires for each of us to surrender to. We do live in a harsh and a hard environment, and God is more than fully aware of this fact. God knew from the start that our own rebellion would cause this state of existence to become our unrelenting state of being. In response to this God entered into living in it with us. Christ brings about a freedom that infuses the center of our being with the presence of God. He sets us free from the need to be bound down by powerful forces that are outside of our control. In Christ we can count all of life as victory, and we can know that we are living every moment of life in the presence of the Most High King.

 

Turning a dark hour into a time of worship and praise is not easy. Yet, Christ will lift even the most heavily burdened of spirits. He desires to hold our head up and to fill our hearts with the hope of His love, grace, and mercy. He doesn’t ask us to do the work; for, Christ knows and accepts our weakness, our shame, and our lack of capacity. He asks only that we trust Him enough to allow His Spirit access to our hearts. The Lord will lift us up and remove the weight of life’s burdens from us. As we rest in the presence of the Lord, He will provide clarity of thought and the wisdom of eternity for us to use in response to our concerns. Christ does provide the strength that we need to face life with confident peace. He releases us from all that ties us down, and He sets us free so that our whole being wants to shout and to dance in order to express the joy that is found only in knowing Christ.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Romans 11: 33

 

My mind is wired so that I like to figure things out. I want to have the hows and the whys of life firmly in my grasp so that I can explain it all to myself and to others. There is comfort in this in that it brings the mysteries and the challenges of life into the realm of my own control. Full understanding gives me a sense of power, and in all honesty, it makes me feel superior to all of the others who don’t comprehend the process and the flow of life as well as I think that I do.

 

The problem with all of this is that it brings about a false sense of power, strength, and competency. In reality, I don’t know or understand any more than does everyone else, and due to the self-delusion of it all, I probably grasp less than many others do. When I honestly look at the mysteries of life and of living, all of the wisdom that I possess comes to me as a gift from God. Any truth that I speak is made up of ideas and words that have been imparted to me by the Lord. So, Christ is the author and the worker of any love, mercy, justice, and care that I give to others. Yet, this form of reality check leads me into a form of power, strength, and competency that far exceeds any that I might create for myself.

 

All of these highly desired qualities in life are gifts that the Lord grants to me through my submission and dependence upon Him. The Lord provides me with all that I truly need to live well and to flourish along the path of my journey with Him. So, there are times when I need to stop striving and cease my relentless drive to know and to understand so that I can just kneel in worshipful wonder before my Lord and Savior. From this position I can begin to truly appreciate His greatness, and I can open up my heart and my mind to take in the great gift of His presence.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

 

The character quality that James is discussing, steadfastness, is often one that is used to describe God. In those instances it refers to the way that God does not waiver and is unfailingly consistent in His love, truth, justice, and grace. Situations and circumstances do not change His desire for relationship with all people. Even our negative responses to Him do not deter God from loving us. This deeply rooted love is an essential part of God’s nature. It is also something that He seeks to impart to us so that we can, in turn, be people who are lovers of God and of others and so that this love comes from deep within our character.

 

Living with our feet firmly planted on the character of God is not something that comes naturally for people. We may adopt various aspects of God’s nature as our own, but most of us are still prone to being influenced by what is happening in our lives. We are subject to forces that are outside of ourselves and that seem to be beyond our control. We engage with God and with others based upon what we believe to be best for ourselves or with personal safety and power as our primary objectives. Changing this core aspect of who we are is something that Christ does within us. This change is often worked out through the hard times and trials that come naturally in this world.

 

This is the process that James is discussing. The fact that anyone who lives more than a short time on this earth will encounter difficulties and trials of various kinds is a given. Although this world is a wonder of God’s creative hand, it is also seriously and fatally broken by sin. Each of us with our own brokenness will collide full on with that of this world. Yet, in those points of collision, Christ is with us, and He works to redeem the pain and the loss by taking us deeper into the center of God’s love, grace, and mercy. As we surrender our grief and pain to Christ’s healing embrace, we are made more complete in Him. The Spirit works in our hearts to bring about a new found capacity to live through the hardest of times with our feet firmly planted on that platform of God’s character and with praises of our Lord on our lips.

 

 

Praise the LORD, all nations!

Extol him, all peoples!

For great is his steadfast love toward us,

and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

Praise the LORD!

Psalm 117

 

This short hymn expresses God’s intent and the reality of what will be when His plan is fulfilled. There will be a time when all nations and all peoples will be completely and totally committed to God and when all will sing choruses of praise to the Lord on a continual basis. This is not where we are today. God’s plan for redemption is in motion, and all of us who know Christ are a part of that movement toward this future time. Each of us has a place in the outworking of God’s desire and will in our world now.

 

It seems overwhelming to think in terms of any nation on earth in these days as being one that praises the Lord through its fundamental character and the actions that come out of that character. Nations are self-interested, shortsighted, and generally work to protect and to defend those interests at the expense of peace and justice. Our nations are a hard sell when it comes to righteousness and true love; yet, it is worth our time and effort to promote Godly thinking and Christ-like actions from those who govern our land. Active engagement with the people and the processes of rule in all components of the government are a part of what God calls His people to do.

 

However, I believe that Christ calls upon His followers to be and to do something even more fundamental and foundational than that. The Lord desires for us to be people who think, speak, and act out of our understanding of His unfailing and redemptive love for all people everywhere. We are to live lives that are themselves hymns of praise to the Lord. The words to that song are expressions of love, justice, and peace making. The chorus expresses loudly and clearly the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. A life of submitted service to Christ and to His kingdom come is a chorus of praise that just might awaken a sleeping world to join in its joyous refrain!

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