February 2016


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!

And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” And the wind ceased and there was great calm.

Mark 4: 39

 

On some days it feels as if God is truly asleep. The waves of outrageous misbehavior are crashing onto the deck of your life and drowning is the surest thing on the horizon. Angry words and malicious thoughts are being hurled your way with the force of a hurricane. At the same time someone has set you out to sea in a very inadequate boat that was provided with a crew that is amateur at best. This is a very bad day, and it promises to get worse as it goes along. Yet, the journey that you are on does, in fact, have purpose. You know that God has set you on this particular course, for His hand has been visible in so much of what has transpired in your life to put you in this place at this time.

 

The experience of living has demonstrated in your own life what has also been depicted with great clarity in the lives of generations of people in God’s Word. God is faithful, and He goes with us through everything that comes our way in life. He has answers for all of it. There is no force of nature or certainly any force of man that is beyond God’s control or outside of His capability. However, we must realize that we are traveling in a danger zone. There are constant storm warnings posted for this life, and God does not attempt to stop all of the turmoil that evil stirs up from impacting this world or our lives. What He does say to us is, “Trust me. Rest in me. Know that I am here, and you are secure in and through it all.”

 

In that storm tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus wasn’t asleep because He was indifferent to their situation. He was able to rest fully in His trust of the Father under all circumstances and in each moment of life. Christ asks us to do the same. Trusting in God doesn’t mean that I become complacent or fatalistic about what is happening in my world. I still keep handy that bucket for bailing out the water, and I make sure that the pumps are working before I set out to sea. Still, I can be certain that the storm will come, and the tortured waves will try to overwhelm me. Despite all of the chaos that is surrounding me in this time, I can hear the voice of my Lord, and He is speaking to my soul, “Peace, my beloved child. Be still and know that I am God.”

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Let’s start with the premise that no one and no situation is beyond redemption. Most Christians would say that this is true. Yet, based upon our words and actions, we don’t seem to really believe it. Jonah’s situation was based upon a sort of double portion of doubt and desperation. He doubted that God’s sending of him to Nineveh was going to serve any good purpose. In fact, he thought that going there would result in nothing more than his own injury and death. Now, as Jonah cries out to the Lord from inside of the big fish’s belly, he was certain that death was the best outcome that he could anticipate. Still, if we examine this story well, isn’t the fish actually an agent of literal salvation? Without God’s appointed fish Jonah would have been drowned. Now, inside of that same fish, he had been alive for three days longer than he deserved.

 

As an aside, there is absolutely nothing normal about the story of Jonah. This entire book is strange, unbelievable, and even otherworldly; and that might be the main point. God’s view of this world is quite different from ours. His approach to things can take us along paths that we would never have selected for ourselves. The Lord is rather singular in His purposes, and I admit that my view of things tends to become divergent from His. This is especially true when the Lord’s desire is for me to say or do something, or go somewhere that I believe to be threatening or that makes me feel uncomfortable. This was Jonah’s problem. God desires that all people would come to know Him in the deepest way possible and that He, in the person of Christ, would rule all of Creation. As we people were given temporary control and management of this world by God, if Christ is to rule it in these in between times, we need to allow Him to rule in our lives.

 

Essentially this is what Jonah was sent to proclaim to the people of Nineveh. He was sent to the most unrepentantly sinful place on earth to speak the truth of God’s righteousness to them in order to grant them the opportunity to surrender to the Lord of their salvation. Jonah was sent to speak the painful truths that could, if accepted and followed, set these people free from the death grip of sin. God knew what Jonah feared. God sent him to care for and to love those people who Jonah despised in order to bring those Ninevites into the presence of the Holy King and to bring Jonah to his knees in humble submission to and total trust of His King. All of us who live in this world can identify Nineveh in our midst. It seems to me that God might be doing with us exactly what He did with Jonah. Christ is sending His people into those fearful places in order that His love, grace, mercy, and truth would be proclaimed. The Lord wants us to set aside our concerns and reluctance and allow His heart of salvation and redemption to speak of His glory through our mouths into the lostness of our world. As I said at the beginning, in Christ’s view there is no one and no situation that is beyond His redemption.

Teach me to do your will,

for you are my God!

Let your good Spirit lead me

on level ground!

Psalm 143: 10

 

David gives us a prayer that all followers of Christ can speak on a regular basis. It is full of aspiration, and it is covered in faith in God. There is nothing more that we can ask for than to know God’s will and to do it. This idea embraces a very wide range of what it means to live a righteous and a holy life. The attitude expressed about that life is one of humility and submission to God. It says that I do not know it all and that I do not possess a clear view of what is best or most important. However I know that God does, and He will take me where it is best for me to go.

 

There is also expressed a true understanding of the reality of living as a follower of Christ, for that involves a daily process of yielding myself to the guidance and the direction of the Spirit. It is a life of adventure and of purpose. God is not arbitrary, and He does not operate on whims or flights of fancy. Yet, He does ask us to trust His intent and purpose so that we can respond to where He desires for us to go and what He directs us to do. His Spirit also guides us into the truth of God’s Word and keeps our hearts and our minds grounded in that source of knowledge and wisdom.

 

All of this takes us onto God’s concept of level ground. This is the place where our feet are secure and our vision is clear. This is the path through life that is most secure, for it is a way that God has cleared for us. It is not true that this way of following Christ will be easy or without struggles, we all know that there will be hardship and opposition in this life. Rather, it is a road that God walks with us, and He keeps us upright and holds our feet on the trail despite the ruggedness of the terrain. God’s level ground is found by knowing Him and seeking His will, and His Spirit is our guide and companion on the journey.

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God, stand firm in it.

1 Peter 5: 12

 

Peter knows what it means to live outside of the stream of culture. He also understands from first hand experience what it is like to stand against the wishes and the desires of those in power, both governmental and religious. He is sharing this hard earned knowledge and Godly wisdom with others in his circle of contact. Now, as God’s Word continues to be just as valid in our world as it was in Peter’s, he is sharing these same life-giving truths with us. In short form, this is a hard world to live in as a committed follower of Christ. We will encounter opposition and we will be out of step with our culture if we are in agreement with Christ’s will. So, how are we to live?

 

The fact that Peter says to stand firm is not surprising, for fear, doubt, wavering, and compromise are the outcome that Satan intends to accomplish in his assault upon followers of Christ. What is interesting here is that Peter directs us to stand firm in grace rather than truth, the word, wisdom, or courage. Yet, as I do reflect on what grace means to me, this does make a great deal of sense. Grace is God’s acting out of His love. It was love that sent Christ to Calvary, and it was grace that brought my soul into eternity with Christ. Now, that same grace is poured out to cover me with Christ’s robe of righteousness, and it is poured into me to fill me with His love, truth, and peace.

 

This process of standing firm in grace demands humility of me, for the very idea of grace reminds me that there is nothing that I have done to deserve God’s loving care for me and that there is nothing that I will ever do to earn His continued favor. Strangely enough, standing submitted under the grace that has set me free is the singular position of enduring strength that I can adopt in order to hold up under the pressures and the assaults of this world. In Christ I live in a state of freedom that is far greater than any that can be conferred upon me by human institution, and by grace that freedom provides the strength and the courage to stand for what is righteous at any cost.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12: 3

 

Water is something very basic; it is truly not very magical. Its appearance doesn’t suggest that all that much is there. It is relatively clear. It has minimal flavor. Water is found almost everywhere on the earth, and it goes largely unappreciated in the way that most of us live our lives. Yet, it is absolutely essential for that life to continue. It is one of the great difference makers in the way that God created our planet, and not by accident I believe, it provides a great metaphor for the way that God interacts with and relates to people.

 

God has made His salvation very simple to understand. It is available to everyone. It is often taken for granted by people who have accepted it, and others very frequently ignore it. The salvation that Jesus Christ brings to us flows like water over the earth. At times it seems to gush out and explode like a mighty river, and at other times it trickles as subtle rivulet along the side of solid rock. Christ comes to save our souls from an eternity apart from God. He also stays with us through all of the days of our lives and continues to save us from the traps and snares, the defeat and destruction that Satan attempts to throw into our paths. Salvation is at the center of God’s design for relationship with people. The Lord asks us to accept it, and He continues to lead us further and deeper into its reality throughout our days.

 

As Isaiah says, salvation is joyous. That doesn’t mean that the salvation life is easy or that seeking it is always pleasant or comfortable. As we draw the water of Christ’s will from God’s well, we are asked to abandon the false pleasure of sin and to replace it with the deep sustenance of truth. Much of the time these salvation wells will be located in hostile lands, and God’s enemies guard them with violent words and actions. Yet, Christ is there, and He stands guard over our hearts and our minds as we lift that bucket of righteousness from the dark recess where evil would have it remain. Yes, it would seem that water is not very magical until it becomes a metaphor for the life that is found in and through Christ. Then it speaks of the greatest magic in all of creation as it represents the transformation and the restoration that knowing Christ brings about in the lives of all who are thirsty and who drink.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16: 13, 14

 

Although it is really easy to get caught up in the contemplative aspects of connecting with God through prayer and meditation, it is important to take what we learn in this manner and to put feet onto it throughout our day. These words are filled with the action of a life lived in a close relationship with Christ. Faith is not something that we hold quietly inside. It is not a passive quality of our lives as Christians. It is the fuel of the words and the actions that are the substance of what we do and of how we are perceived each day. Faith in the God that we have come to know and who knows us deeply, who made us to fulfill the life purpose that we are faced with each day, this is the faith that provides the strength and that opens our hearts and our minds to the ways that the Lord will use us this day.

 

We are to continually look for and to be attuned to the needs of others, and we should seek out opportunities to speak and to act in the name of Christ. We are also to be alert for the satanic attacks that will go with a life lived for Him. It is important to prepare to stand up for what we believe. Sometimes this is in words; more often it is in the actions that we take and in the way that we treat others. This takes courage and strength. We may be required to do and to say things that the world around us will look at as irrational or just plain dumb. We still need to be ready to do it; for, we need to be ready to set aside the rational processes of considering our personal risk and be willing to let the Holy Spirit take charge of the moment. As the famous add campaign says, “Just Do It!”.

 

One final thing to consider, action can be very powerful and a bit addicting. We can get caught up in the adrenalin rush that comes from our desire to live fully for Christ; therefore, the final instruction here is that we should do everything with one, singular and overarching motive. Faith tells us that we can trust God’s love for us as his primary motive in relating to us. Perhaps the most courageous quality that we are called upon by God to employ in our daily living for Him is that of love. Faith gives us the strength that is needed to drop the sword that we naturally want to let lead our way through life and to open our hands and our arms in order to embrace the lost and the hurting people that Christ will place into our paths.

 

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