May 2016


But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Romans 6: 22

 

Of course, Paul is talking about our relationship with Christ and the way that entering into Christ’s death and resurrection works in us to create profound change. The nature and the identity of people who know Christ is changed and we are set free from unending slavery to the sinfulness of our birth nature. In Christ we are made free to live in the love, truth, and righteousness of that new identity that is formed by God and made real in us by Christ’s presence within us. In Christ there is far more freedom than there is in our old lives; yet, we are still governed and mastered by God.

 

Perhaps the most significant difference for us in being subjects of Christ as opposed to being subjects to our old natures is found in the results that we enjoy as we follow each of these masters. The first path leads to self-centered and protective thinking and actions. It uses relationships to achieve gain; so, it also tends to devalue and to discard them when they seem used up. In contrast, God values relationships to the point of giving all in order to enter into them with people. In Christ, we can be transformed into people who willingly do the same. There is much more about us that is changed in our relationship with Christ from the life that we lived before we knew Him.

 

Yet all of this change leads in one direction. We are taken out of a life that leads to death both in the conduct and the outcomes of this life and a death that continues throughout eternity. In Christ we are placed into the fullness of life that is experienced in these mortal days and then fully known in the unending realm of eternity. This life in Christ provides us with the reward of the sweet fruit of God’s Spirit that includes peace, hope, and love. The experience and enjoyment of these gifts is something that grows and increases as we continue to submit ourselves to Christ so that He continues to work within us to bring about the transformation from our old selves into people who live more fully in the expression of our new persons in Christ.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Matthew 24: 35

 

In the midst of teaching on a number of issues and delivering forward-looking statements about the future of Israel, Jesus makes this statement. He is providing what might be considered as investment advice; for, He tells His audience that day and us to consider the future value of the things to which we attach our allegiances. There are things that we can hold onto that are weighty and brilliant and that are even very costly, but they do not last. Their value diminishes with time and is influenced by the forces of human commerce. Most of us do place great importance on possessions and on learning that is also perishable. Neither the possessions nor the learning is necessarily bad, but we need to recognize the temporary and the temporal nature of them.

 

Christ brings us something that comes from beyond our earth-bound existence. He speaks to us with the words of eternity. The truths that come from His mouth are formed beyond time and outside of the constraints of purely human understanding. Although Jesus was the perfect and the final sacrifice that accomplished the Father’s plan for reconciliation of humanity with God, He was much more. Jesus brought the literal presence of God into our world. He demonstrated and taught holiness and righteousness in the setting of the daily life that we all experience. He made real and perfected our understanding of what being formed in God’s image is about. Jesus delivered God’s message of true concern for who we are and how we behave that speaks to our inner selves as being of far greater importance than our outward appearance.

 

However, the real importance and the impact of Christ’s words are not in what He said alone. It is found in the way that they influence us to seek God and to desire to know Him and His will more fully. As the Holy Spirit breathes life into the page-bound utterances, they do actually come to life. Words that were spoken and recorded two thousand years ago are fresh and vibrant in this moment. Jesus’ pronouncements about living in a Greek and Roman influenced Jewish culture during a time when a horse was the fastest form of transportation are accurate and pertinent for our world today. Jesus, as God incarnate, was not bound by the limitations of human understanding. His words endure as the standard and guide for living in the center of God’s will. Investing in them is guaranteed to bring a return that is perfect and eternal.

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10: 5

 

Our minds are amazing things, for they are capable of solving complex problems, of grasping difficult concepts, and of creating great beauty. Yet, they are also very easily led down destructive and harmful paths. This is often the way that Satan goes after us. For he slips a bit of slightly wrong thinking into the rational patterns of our minds, and he works his way into the smallest point of weakness that we allow to form in our spiritual lives. Then, those toe holds of deception start to grow and to develop into serious areas in our lives where God’s truth and His gracious love are overshadowed by deception.

 

Yet, there is real hope in all of this; since, Christ wants to join us in the fight against this very sort of wrong thinking, and He has already provided the answers that we need and the source for finding all of the wisdom that we will require to face life’s challenges. God wants us to take everything that we are thinking about, all actions that we are considering, and each aspect of our days and check our reason and logic against His Word. That means that we need to stay consistently engaged with the Lord through prayer, reading of His Word, and by listening to His responses to us.

 

There is nothing that is too small or insignificant, there is nothing that is too large or complex, and there is no issue that is too contemporary for the Lord to be interested in and capable of responding to. All that we do and every thought that we have fit into God’s design for righteous living. However, we do need to plan and to purpose to surrender our will and to seek God’s wisdom regularly, continually, and in all circumstances. Every thought that crosses my mind needs to be surrounded by the perfect circle of truth and love that is the protective boundary of Christ’s relationship with me.

 

Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 14: 15

 

Here is the setting for this story. Shortly after Paul and Barnabas entered the town of Iconium in the province of Galatia, an inland area on the eastern side of what is today Turkey, they encountered a man who had never been able to walk. Paul healed him in the name of Christ, and the people who witnessed this event were rather naturally amazed by what they had seen. They began to proclaim that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus, respectively. When the priest of Zeus started ordering the people to prepare sacrifices to the newly arrived gods, these followers of Christ had seen and heard enough. They tear their clothes as a sign of grief, repentance, and humility; then, they make the statement above to the crowd.

 

It is easy to look at this story and nod our heads and even grin at the simple-minded way that those backwoods villagers behaved. They lived in simple times, and they were probably starved for any real entertainment, too. So, declaring that this pair of powerful and well-spoken foreign men were gods doesn’t seem so odd. Yet, I propose that even in our advanced culture with our sophisticated understanding and access to information we do not behave all that much differently than did these first century inhabitants of Iconium. We encounter people who have power, and we follow them without question. A person offers us answers to the things that trouble us, and we readily accept all that they propose to do. Much of the time, we grant our allegiance to people who claim affiliation with one political party over another without true regard for the character of that person. We are about as equally willing to declare them to be Zeus and Hermes and make the appropriate sacrifices as were the people in our story.

 

It seems appropriate to me to look back at the words of Paul and Barnabas and prepare to follow them in all of these things. There is one and only one God. He is the source of all wisdom and truth. His righteousness is also the standard by which we need to judge everything that is said and done by people. This is a very tall standard, indeed! In fact, no one measures up to it. However, we can look at the person in light of the way that God calls upon all of His followers to live. God looks to the heart; so, He always points to the way that people treat the weakest and the most disadvantaged among us. Christ tells us to listen to people who are humble, who are pained by the suffering of others, who are gentle, who seek after righteousness with an unsatisfiable hunger, who show mercy instead of might, whose intentions are Godly, who bring peace, and who are willing to suffer in order to stand for what is right and just. These people are not gods, but they do bring the presence of the Almighty God into the halls of government and the places of commerce.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3: 19

 

Habakkuk is frustrated with the world where he lives. He is also impatient with God for allowing things to continue as they are. Justice is rare, mercy scarce, and peace is nonexistent. It seems as if godlessness is ruling the day, and Habakkuk is angry with God because He is allowing the world to go in this direction. So, the prophet engages in a dialogue with God. He pours out his frustrations and concerns before the Lord, and he listens to what God has to say in return. As the issues are great and it takes Habakkuk time to grasp it all, this process continues for some time. This interchange with God involves cycles of pouring out the heart and listening for a response; then doing it all again until God’s view of the world and His calling for His people becomes clear.

 

There is something for us to learn in all of this. This world is just as troubled and concerning as the one in which the prophet lived. Human wisdom seems to rule the day, and its selfish intentions are prevalent in our culture. Even the presence of pagan powers that bring fear of conquest to our gates is a part of the daily discourse of our world. God’s desire to engage with His people in honest dialogue is not any different today than it was in these ancient times. We can pour out our frustrations and concerns before God, and He will listen and respond. Difficult times are not ones in which we should remain silent, but the first place that followers of Christ need to go with our issues and concerns is to the Lord in prayer and with listening to His response as our intended outcome.

 

The reality and the reliability of God’s responses to His people have been proven throughout the long history of this world. The Lord does listen, and in His own time, He speaks wisdom and truth to us. He also provides us with the courage and strength that we need to continue along the journey of faith that He has called us to embark upon. Although the Lord does not promise that there will be some form of miraculous improvement in our world before Christ returns, He does grant His people the gift of His presence as we navigate the troubled waters of this world. The Lord lifts our spirits out of the dark shadows of life’s deep valleys, and He gives us the truth of His Word and the guidance of His Spirit so that we can confidently travel a path that is made bright by the glory of Christ.

You are members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

 

In a world where people seem to be moving farther apart every day, where separation and isolation become ideals, everyone who knows God is also a member of His household. We each have a specially designed purpose to fill in that family, and we are each designed, shaped and placed in a manner that makes it possible to fulfill that purpose. This is true because God has given to each of us everything that we need to serve those around us right now.

 

However, He also does much more than that. He also continues to grow us, to build us into so much more than we were yesterday and than we are today. We continue to gain wisdom and knowledge of our Lord, and we are made stronger in our ability to use what we know. The person that we are, in Christ, is the dwelling place of God. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us, and His Spirit actively works in our lives. It is as if the hands of God are continually on us, and with great sensitivity they are working on our form so that over the course of a lifetime of living as followers of Christ, we are reformed into persons who by virtue of our love, connection, and interaction with others looks much more like our Creator.

 

The true expression of our new selves is found in the way that we interact with others. When we choose to defend the weak, support those who are injured, and bring love into the angry chaos that evil creates, we are bringing the face of Christ into those places, and we are providing the people that we meet with a look into eternity. The Lord calls to His children to bring His Spirit into the darkness around us, and He promises to use us to reclaim these places and the lives that inhabit them for His kingdom.

 

Jesus said, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them as you loved me.”

John 17: 23

 

During these final moments before He was arrested, Jesus was praying to the Father; yet, as He prayed in this very intensely emotional and extraordinarily personal time, He talked to God about His followers. Jesus was highly focused on talking through the details of the continuing relationships that His faith family would have with the Father and with Himself. Jesus wanted it to be completely clear to us that He would never leave us. For those present then, the form of the holy presence would change as He would come in the form of Holy Spirit to be our continual companion. Christ was also making it very clear that just as the Father is in Him that He is in us. Therefore, we are united with God, and all of the people of the world who know Christ are of one family, united in faith and in spirit.

 

The world should be able to look at Christians everywhere and see God. The world should be able to listen to our speech and hear God’s voice. We won’t speak the same languages, we don’t say things in the same manner, and there will be differing viewpoints on many issues. However, when it comes to the desire to live so that everyone who comes into contact with us comes into contact with the love and the truth of Christ; then, we should look like the largest group of identical siblings in history. Christ desires that everyone who calls Him Lord and Savior would be living as an expression of the love that has saved us from an eternity of separation from God.

 

Jesus is very clear in His desire regarding how He wants us to live, for He wants all of us to walk in the unity of His love and to experience the strength that comes from being united together through the Holy Spirit with Christ and with the Father. Jesus wants his entire faith family to stand unified in God’s love for us. He also desires for us to move out of our comfortable walls of sacred expression so that we can take our super natural unity into the world to demonstrate that Christ is the answer to all of the barriers that people establish between themselves and with God. When this happens, we glorify Christ and demonstrate His saving love to the world.

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