March 2016


Listen to advice and accept instruction,

that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Proverbs 19: 20

 

There is plenty of both advice and instruction available to people in our world. So, hearing them is not a problem. What becomes challenging can be selecting what to actually listen to, and our culture provides little to guide that process. The packaging that advice and instruction comes in is often well designed and attractive, and the people who create the content usually have powerful and compelling resumes. We can’t even be certain that a claim to being a follower of Christ or an impressive education in Christian institutions is sufficient in terms of the validity of a person’s ideas and direction.

 

In fact, the more complex our world becomes, the more important it is for us to check everything against the foundational advice and instruction of our faith. So, the Bible and prayerful contemplation of its content need to be the primary source for us to use in validating the words and ideas of others. As followers of Christ enter into reading and meditating on God’s Word we are not alone in this activity. The Holy Spirit joins us in the journey of discovery and enlightenment; however, the Spirit is not just traveling along with us, He is actively engaged in providing insight and clarity to the words that God has set before us. It is this process of God’s engagement with His people that makes the Word of God the living document that it is.

 

Thus, we can read the words and listen to the ideas of other people. In fact there is much wisdom and insight to be gained by doing this. God designed His earthly kingdom in a manner that makes involvement and engagement with the people of His body a vital part of the way that we gain Godly insight and stand in the strength of Christ as we travel through life. Still, regardless of whether the source of our advice and instruction is books, people’s spoken words, film, or music; the true author of the wisdom that is imparted must be the Lord if we are to truly gain in maturity and in grace as followers of Jesus Christ.

Before they call I will answer;

while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Isaiah 65: 24

 

God is speaking of redemption here. This passage is descriptive of the way things will be as a result of His restorative work. I think that as we look at these ideas we can take great personal comfort in them. Although much of what is being discussed in this part of Isaiah is about a world that is yet to come on a global scale, Christ’s redemptive and therefore restorative work in the lives of people is accomplished. In Christ we know the new life that is God’s promise. Through Christ we are known fully by the Father and are recognized as beloved children of the Most High Lord.

 

In this relationship with God we are granted the blessing of the presence of the Spirit who speaks to our minds and our hearts and who provides us with a form of knowledge and wisdom that exceeds all other. This is why we can take confidence in silence; that is, in our own silence. We are in a relationship with God in which He listens to the words of our hearts and hears them before we have begun to form their sounds and sentences. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t speak out to God, for this expression is a part of the way in which our trust in Him is formed and developed. However, we can also sit in the silence of our wordlessness and have faith that we are still being heard.

 

It is this manner of connected communication that sets God apart from other gods that people follow. These other gods demand the attention of people and speak out in utterances of edict and command. The God that I know listens to my heart and hears the expressions of my soul. He enters into the issues and the concerns that I hold and responds out of His deep love for me. He still commands and pronounces truth and righteousness as His absolute way of living. However, the Lord does these things from the perspective of a loving father who is growing me up into the grace and the peace of maturity and the functionality of wholeness in mind, body, and spirit.

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;

sing to His name, for it is pleasant.

Psalm 135: 3

 

This idea of God’s worthiness to be praised and His pleasing nature probably comes as no great surprise to most of you, but this statement is not true for many people. They do not find the name of God to be pleasant, or even that it is mildly agreeable. The problem for them, in the totality of life, is that the same God that they find to be so unattractive is the one, the only and the final judge of their eternal souls. He is also greatly saddened by their rejection. God is not trying to win a popularity contest. Rather, He is seeking to restore all people to relationship with Him, and in so doing, the Lord brings about healing and peace in our world.

 

Thus, God desires for those of us who do know Him to express the truth about our own relationships with God in terms that are clear, in the open, and heard by the multitudes. For me to do this I need to start close to home. My heart and mind require that I stop just going about life and that I take time to look closely at the life that God has gifted to me. Then the Lord leads me to see my family, my friends, His presence throughout the days of my life, and Christ’s relentless and sacrificial love for me. As I meditate on God and His Word, the Spirit also brings to view God’s plan and purpose for the life that He has given to me. In this entire story of God’s engagement with my life there are more than enough words to form the lyrics of my heart’s songs.

 

However, God doesn’t want me to stop with the words in my head. He tells me to let them out, to sing them along the roads of my day, and to make them the chorus that creates a cadence to keep my feet marching as I travel through life. Although God tells us that He is blessed by our words of love and praise for Him, this is not the primary reason that He wants us to do all of this in the open singing. It seems that the more I am honestly transparent about who God is to me, the more of myself I surrender to His will and yield to His righteousness. Then, as my life is changed by God’s hand to reflect more of Christ’s love, grace, and true peace; the words of this song, as reflection of the way that Christ is demonstrated by my life, expose this pleasant image of God to a world that needs His goodness, peace, and redemption.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”

Matthew 28: 5

 

It is the dawn of a new day, and life has become even more uncertain than it had been before. For the people who came to the tomb where Jesus had been placed, it is doubtful that they really knew what they would be doing or how it was all going to go from that moment forward. Life had been turned upside down and inside out. Yet, the answer to their concerns had already been set into motion by God. In fact, they had been living in the proceeding of that answer for some time before the great and disturbing events of the prior week. They had walked with Jesus and now they were witnesses to and participants in the next chapter in this story of redemption for all of creation.

 

On that morning, the first words that the angel says to the women are, “Do not be afraid.” This messenger that God had sent knew what was going on in the hearts of the people that he encountered. He was aware of the fear and the concern that filled them, and he knew of the courage that coming to that place at that time required. The situation that these women found themselves in was not all that different from where most of us find ourselves at various times in our lives. We are facing uncertainty, there is risk to be found in the actions that we are faced with taking, and yet we stand on the edge of great and wonderful things.

 

Jesus was the answer on that long ago morning, and He still is now. That tomb, that place of death and symbol of loss, was empty then and it still is just as empty now. Jesus is alive, and the life that He knows is the same life that God grants to every one of us who accepts it as the ultimate gift from heaven that it is. We may approach that place of decision with fear and uncertainty in our hearts and on our minds; yet, Christ answers those concerns with an overwhelming love and grace that can come only from God who is their singular source in the universe. All people are granted their mornings before the empty tomb of Christ; it is up to each of us to respond. After that hour of acceptance, it is still our decision to engage with this life that we have with the fearlessness that is Christ’s on-going gift of love to His people.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

Exodus 33: 18

 

This is the moment when it all turns. The wandering is over as God and Moses dialogue in the wilderness of the Sinai. This time of seemingly endless drifting and seeking was not caused by God but came about because the people were not ready to trust in the Lord fully. They thought that they needed more when, in fact, they already had everything that would be required for survival and to thrive in the land of their deliverance from slavery. Finally, Moses is ready to stop bargaining with God and opened up himself to be fully in the presence of the Lord.

 

This holding back and holding onto control is too human a characteristic. We can even know in our minds that God is real, we can accept the fact of salvation as coming through Christ, and we are able to claim the heritage of Christian faith as our own; yet, we are still not ready to let these facts become the identity of our passions. So, we love the Lord, our God with most of our mind and with a faltering heart and with a dispassionate soul. This all continues so long as the strength of our grip on the things of this world that we treasure can hold out. It is this approach to faith that often keeps us from entering into life as people who are truly and strangely different from our world. On the one hand, we may belong to the social order known as Christian, but on the other one, we are embedded in the flow of our culture in a manner that makes little to no difference in the world.

 

Yet, when Moses was ready to leave the worldly journey behind and was prepared to pay the price of being distinctive in a hostile land, he turned to the Lord and asked God to reveal Himself fully to His servant. God’s glory is powerful and brilliant beyond the words of our languages. God in His glory demands that we do fully surrender to Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength so that we can be the lovers of others that He is. The glory that Moses was seeking is present in our world. It was fully revealed in the person of the risen Christ, and He is with us to this day. Just as the Lord did with Moses so does Christ with us, He demands that the totality of our passions be turned toward Him. Seeking the glory of Christ means that we worship Him and do this by following His great commandment to love others as the natural outworking of our absolute and total love of our Lord.

I will incline my ear to a proverb;

I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

Psalm 49: 4

 

These are words of worship. This psalm is about times when worship is what we all need to do, for in the days of my life, worship is often the thing that brings God’s answers to mind. It would seem that there is one constant in living in this world and that is the reality that there we are shrouded in a foggy haze of information and ideas about what it takes to live well and regarding how we should think. Some of the ideas are good, some are neutral, and others are inherently evil. Yet, even the evil ones can sound good and may, in fact, strike chords of understanding and comfort within our hearts. This is where worship comes into play.

 

It is in times of worship that we turn away from the world and set the entirety of our being to focus on God. When scripture is read and sung and prayed through something very special occurs. God’s Spirit seems to enter into the substance of the air in the room. The most ordinary of places is transformed into the holy ground of the Lord’s presence. This is an experience of God that all of those in that place can enter together, and this process of so entering into holiness is transformative for both the individuals and for the gathered body. During worship the Lord speaks His words of truth and guidance to His people so that common understanding and response are often the result.

 

Perhaps the singular common thread in worship should be its stark honesty. Whether it is entered into alone or in a gathering of the body, each and every one of God’s people can open up and be real before and with God. He knows the striving and the confusion of our hearts, and He will speak truth to our need. Every one of us can lift the voice that we possess to the Lord. We can raise our hands to whatever degree of mobility we are able in expression of praise to the King. Worship is a time when our limitations and even our fears are laid before the strength and the glory of the Lord so that He can fill up those places of doubt with His presence. In worship the complexity of life is met by the simple answers of the proverb as song imbeds God’s word of life deep within the soul.

 

 

Many seek the face of a ruler,

but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice.

Proverbs 29: 26

 

It may seem like this is the season of seeking. We gather in rallies to show support and to shout out our opposition to political parties and to candidates for office. We cast votes that are intended to inform the process of selection, or we gather as communities to seek our corporate mind. Yet, the rulers that we choose will all fall short of our expectations and even fail to bring about most of what they promise. This is the nature of human governance as it seeks to wield power and to gain popularity instead of seeking after the mind and the heart of God as its approach to that process of governance.

 

So, if it is justice that you desire, it is best to look elsewhere. If you want truth and fair play to set the tone for your national leaders, you are likely to be disappointed, for we don’t tend to elect honest people to office. In our world today there is little reverence or even respect in our public discourse, and I am afraid that our leaders are doing nothing more than following the lead of their constituencies in the manner of their speech. We get what we truly want as we set the tone for those who lead us. We also establish our own priorities as we turn to the people who we have elected as our source for what constitutes our highest values and our moral tone.

 

All of this is completely backwards. God has given to us a different view of this world and of its governance. He is the only source for what is right, just, and worthy. The Lord is the one true and authorized ruler of this world. There are only two camps to align with in this process of setting out the direction for a nation, one is submitted to God and the other is ruled by the world itself. So, if the attitude and the action of a government are not in conformity with those of God, that government and the people who are setting out its approach to ruling are committed to and submitted to the powers of this world. Thus, we should not expect to find justice in that government’s halls, and we would be foolish to expect to encounter peace as the product of its rule.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1: 13, 14

 

The Easter season is a time when many things come to mind. Regardless of the exact date for Easter Sunday, this time of year marks the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere and the start of Autumn in the southern one. For me this seasonal change is always welcome as it brings about newness by way of different colors and aromas in nature and the promise of different activities to come. Of course, Easter is a time of special remembrance and celebration in the world of the Christian church. Something very important happened in our history, and that event is perhaps the most worthy of any for us to focus our attention upon and our worship around.

 

This is the point in history when God’s plan for redemption and restoration came into full view. Until that first Easter, the Father had promised a way for people to come into an unbreakable relationship with Him, and He had provided His Son, Jesus, as the prophetically proclaimed Messiah who would bring about that permanent reconciliation. Now in a flurry of human anger and violence, the sinless Lamb of God was taken to that fulfillment on the cross, and God’s victory over the shroud of death that had covered all of creation was made full as it was torn away. As we surrender ourselves to Christ, we enter into that same escape from the eternal covering that buries us alive in the darkness of the grave. Christ cuts the shroud away from our souls and sets us free.

 

In our freedom we are new beings. We are a people who have a dwelling place in the Kingdom of God both now on earth and in eternity. The full price for our freedom that was required by a righteous God has been paid by Christ so that we are absolutely and totally redeemed from sin’s sentence of death. Now, in Christ, we have the gift of the light of the Spirit to illuminate our understanding of God’s purposes and plans. The glory of heaven penetrates into the darkness of the world so that we can know the way of God’s will for each of us. This redeemed nature, Christ in us, demands that we live in a manner that celebrates the miracle of Easter as our normal way of conducting life. As Christ has delivered us from death into life; so, we can share the story of that redemption and its freedom with a world that cries out for salvation.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

1 John 4: 14

 

This was easy for John to say, for he was there. He knew Jesus as friend and companion. John had touched Jesus and had felt Jesus’ loving hand on his own face. Yet, it seems to me that testifying to the presence of Christ is not such a foreign idea to someone like myself. I may live over 2,000 years after Jesus was here on earth, but that doesn’t mean that He is not here with me now. The touch of Christ is truly real, and His involvement in my life is tangible and evident to me. I can say with complete sincerity that I have seen Christ, and I can testify to the salvation that He has given to me.

 

This salvation is something that is much greater than just that of my eternal existence, too. Its not that the idea of eternity in the presence of God as opposed to one that is experienced in separation from Him is a small matter, but I am living here in the present reality of my life. So, the salvation that Christ has given to my current existence is important to me. Jesus has transformed my life in ways that are both great and small. He makes the difference as regards any goodness, grace, mercy, and love that I grant to others. His Spirit provides me with understanding and perspective when there is little that is clear or understandable in my world.

 

Christ has poured out the precious oil of God’s grace upon my unworthy head, and He proclaims me to be righteous, holy, and beloved child when He stands before the Father and in the hearing of the world. There is much more that I could say about the salvation of Christ and what it means to me, but let me summarize by saying that I can in full sincerity and with all of my heart and mind testify to the presence of Christ in the world. Jesus is my Savior just as He was John’s. Christ’s touch is as tangible to me as it must have been to him, and I desire to live in a manner that makes this life a testimony to Christ and my words a bold expression of His love.

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness

will find life, righteousness, and honor.

Proverbs 21: 21

 

There is an old idea in the world of sports. What you focus your eyes on is what you will hit. So, if you are shooting a basketball, be sure to look intently at the basket. Likewise, a pitcher in baseball sets his eyes on the catcher’s glove. The same sort of concept is true in most other areas of endeavor as well. In a real sense this is what setting goals is about in business, families, and other organizations. We determine what we desire, and we state that as a goal in order to remain true to our intended course of action and to achieving the stated end without getting distracted and drifting off of that path.

 

The same sort of thinking is valid in our spiritual lives as well. In fact, I think that setting the right goals in this area is even more important than it is in these others. However, we often struggle with understanding and establishing the sorts of goals that God wants for us. God is more concerned with where our eyes are focused than He is in the number of times that we do something or than the frequency of an action or activity. The Lord wants to be the One who we set our eyes upon as we go through our days. His nature and character provide us with that perfect image of the person that we can be. In Jesus we see the living embodiment of all that makes us truly human and that sets us apart from all of the rest of Creation. So, Christ leads us into living as people who are made in God’s image.

 

Going before us we see a man who lived as God intended us all to live. Although Christ’s perfection and sinlessness is beyond our capacity and capability to achieve, we can desire and seek to live in a manner that continually sets aside more and more of our old selves and that is filled by Christ’s Spirit with His nature. We are called to live righteously. Thus we need to know God’s truth and seek after it in all areas of our lives, and we must be committed to its highest calling without regard to personal cost and without compromise. At the same time, Christ wants us to be as focused and committed to living as kind, gracious, and understanding people. He desires for us to be people who have strong characters and soft, warm hands to embrace and to sooth people who are in pain as a result of sin’s relentless terror campaign. So, as we set our eyes on Christ, we will hit the target that is His perfect will.

 

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