August 2016


For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he has already seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8: 24, 25

 

This may seem ridiculous or even crazy in our world, but there is a lot to hope for today. Now, think about that for a moment. If Paul is right in his perspective on God’s view of what hope is all about, then the more challenging or troubling the situation or circumstance, the more we have to hope for in the midst of it. Hope is based upon trust and faith. That is, it is founded upon our trust in God and anticipated through our faith in His character and commitment to creation and to His people. God has promised to set all of creation right at the end of days, and Christ came to set each of us right with God in these days of our earthly lives. In addition, God grants each of His people, those who know Christ, the authority and the capacity to do restorative work in our world during this life.

 

There is much to hope for in all of that. The hope that arises out of knowing Christ is sufficient to make each new dawn a bright and glorious one in anticipation of that day’s journey and of the events that will come along the way. The hope that Christ provides to the heart is of a nature that it transcends all that is known about the hours to come. It can overtake and subdue any fears and troubles that lie out there in the near or in the distant future. This hope that comes from Christ is made fresh each day in us by engaging with Him in God’s Word and in prayer and by the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us. Hope is a tangible outworking of the new person that Christ has created out of the one that we were from birth.

 

Now, in Christ, we can travel the road that life has given to us with renewed vision and invigorated steps. We can leave behind the old songs of slavery and the thinking of the lost and stride out with a hymn of salvation on our lips and a mind that is filled with love, grace, and the righteous truth of the Gospel of Christ. Christ has given to each of us the hours of this day. We can fill them with His presence regardless of what they may hold. The hope that followers of Christ can bring to the world that we encounter is a testimony to our Lord, and it can be the strength that we require to walk the steps that Christ has given to us for this day.

If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 1: 19, 20

 

Life is filled with choices. Many of them have minimal impact on our lives and on those of others. Some can alter everything. We may not always think about this, but we do, in fact, choose the voices that we listen to when it comes to our foundational and fundamental moral and ethical basis for life. Each of us is shaped by the ideas that we allow into our minds. We are formed by the ways of thinking and processing information that we embrace. The basic allegiance of our hearts and the way that people view us is shaped by who and what we grant access to those hearts, and this is the most vital of all of our choices.

 

God wants us to take in His Word and to hear His voice above all else. There is nothing else; no other written source, no other speaker, and no interpretation of those truths; that can lead us to thinking and to acting as God calls His people to do. Everything else needs to be subordinated to God’s Word, and all that we do needs to be engaged with total commitment to obedience and submission to God’s will. Otherwise there are terrible consequences to be endured. God is gracious, forgiving, and patient, but He does call a stop to our deliberate and willful wandering. He will not allow us to live as a sinful and disobedient people in an unchecked manner. The Lord promises that there will be a day of judgment. He also tells us quite clearly that His justice and judgment will be poured out on this world before that day.

 

We get to make the choice. We can listen to God, obey His Word, and follow Christ. We can also turn up the volume on the voices of this world, plug in our headphones to conceal the noise that the sounds of oppression and death fill our air with, and we can allow our hearts to be infused with self-glorifying images and ideas. However, this later course is that of death. In it our souls are made lifeless, and our world losses the love, mercy, and righteous voice of one more of God’s people. Alternatively, we can choose to make our next breath one that is filled with the holy presence of the Lord, and we can take our next step in willing obedience to His perfect will. Christ is present, we must choose.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

2 Peter 3: 14

 

We live in a time that might be called The Day of the World or perhaps The Day of Man. You see, the conditions that exist for us today are ones that we have made for ourselves. They are a reflection of the world that we humans have desired for ourselves since the first people defied God and moved themselves and everyone since out of dwelling in God’s perfect shalom and into the violent brokenness that is our home. We need to own what our hands have created, and we must accept the fact of the chaos that is the product of our industry. Yet, in stark contrast to all of this stands God.

 

The Lord is not distant or disinterested in our world. He is very engaged in it and with us. Even with those first people and their almost unimaginable rejection of God’s truth in favor of the temporary image of being like God, the Lord poured out grace and mercy on them. So He continues to do this for all people to this day. God had promised to bring about the purification and the restoration of His Creation. In Christ He provided the means for each and every person on the earth to be a participant in this restorative work. This is what Christ does in and for everyone who sets aside our inherited and false god-likeness and yields our self to the one true and eternal Savior and Lord, that is, Christ.

 

So, as we await that day when Christ will come, and God’s plan for the cleansing away of the evil that is sin in our world, we have choices to make. We can determine to live our lives in a manner that honors God and that follows Christ. We can do this absolutely or we can set out conditions and circumstances for our commitment to God. Most of us land somewhere in the camp of people who do hold back some things and parts of ourselves. Yet, God wants all of us, and He wants us to seek Him always. The standard that Peter sets for us in being found by Christ to be “without spot or blemish” is impossible to achieve. We all sin, and we all fall short of that righteous glory that is Christ. Yet, the One whose blood cleanses us absolutely is also the One who pronounces us holy and fit for God’s presence. Thus we can live in our imperfection yet diligently seek Christ and His will while resting in that perfect peace, the eternal shalom, that is found only in the presence of God.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91: 1

 

Where do you choose to live? What is the neighborhood like, and how do its inhabitants hold their relationships with God? We don’t always get to select exactly where our home is located or what kind of neighbors we will have, but that doesn’t mean that we have to conform to all of the lifestyle choices that they make. Still, we do get to determine the sorts of input, advice, and direction that we follow, and we can become an influence on the world around us through those decisions.

 

The residence that matters most is the one where we place our hearts and minds. God wants to take us into His place of comfort, protection, and nourishment. He has prepared a warm and satisfying spot at His side for us to stay throughout our life’s journey, and the Lord works continually to fill each of His children with all of the truth, wisdom, and knowledge that we will need to travel through the day. In this place there are found peace for the spirit, strength for the journey, and direction for our daily mission. It is here that we get to know our God deeply and to know our true selves well.

 

All of the instruction that we will need to take up residence with the Lord is found in His Word. He also provides all of the help and support that we require to do the heavy lifting to get settled in there. God asks us to make an on-going, daily decision that we will stay close to Him and that we will seek to bring others into the shelter of His love. As we choose to live in this close relationship with our Lord, we will spread the shadow of His loving provision over our physical neighborhoods. Thus, Christ works to change the world around us.

 

Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

for you I wait all the day long.

Psalm 25: 5

 

When we surrender ourselves to Christ, we receive a rather remarkable package of blessings. Yet, some of them don’t always seem so pleasant or joyous to the recipient; at least not in the moment. The teaching that God does in us can be disturbing and unsettling. He opens our eyes to His truth, and that usually challenges some of the things that we have thought previously. It also collides with the way that most of us have conducted our lives; so, this newly revealed truth tends to force us into new disciplines and practices with the result that we are stretched and forced to allow Christ to reshape the basic rhythms of our days.

 

Yet, as David had discovered, our salvation is found in the Lord. Although eternity might seem like a very significant subject, this salvation is much bigger than even that. This is about Christ removing us from under the tyranny of living as slaves to the sin of our births and freeing us to dwell in His kingdom of grace, love, and mercy every day that remains in our earthly lives. In Christ, we are granted the blessing of the presence of the Holy Spirit as our unceasing companion and guide. He speaks the truth of God into the core of our beings, and provides wisdom and counsel to direct our steps along this day’s path. This is that new way of thinking and of living that is often so hard for us to settle into. These are the new disciplines and practices that will, over time, reshape our lives.

 

This process of acceptance and change is seldom easy. Our old nature with its settled ways of thinking and practiced routines does not quickly accept the new. In addition, we live in a world that possesses a powerful spiritual realm, and there are forces at work in our world that fight against the transformation of even one life. Although these voices of doubt and regret have no real or eternal power, they still speak confusion and fear into our ears, and they can and do cause very real anguish in our hearts. This sort of internal struggle may have been a part of what motivated David to cry out to the Lord with these words that seek out His leading and instruction. Like David, when this world speaks confusion into our hearts, we can turn to Christ with God’s words of truth and seek His guidance in traveling along the path of salvation.

I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;

before the gods I sing praise.

Psalm 138: 1

 

There are gods all around us. Just listen to the words that many people say. Hear the power and the self-appointed authority that propels their speech, and it is easy to appreciate the sense of deity that these people possess. In addition to public figures, we are asked to bow down to, to worship, many institutions, ideas, and pursuits. When Paul walked into the Areopagus on Mars Hill in Athens he did not encounter as many gods as we find in our modern world. We may not set up religious shrines and erect statues to depict their images, but we do seek favor from them, give our hearts and minds to their causes, and surrender our true wealth to their purposes. The rhythm of our days is often formed out of these worship practices.

 

God desires that we would live differently. He is jealous of our worship and wants it all for Himself. This is a valid form of jealousy, for the Lord will provide His people with everything that we need and does care for us completely and absolutely. More significantly, the Lord knows that this all too human drive to serve other gods distracts and diverts people away from service to the life-giving Gospel of Christ. As we enter into the lyrics of this world’s hymns we start to sound and to act just like people who do not know God. Our words become angry and bitter, and the love of Christ is pushed aside as we enter into the ebb and flow of an attack and defend mentality. None of this brings people closer to knowing Christ; so, all of this actually works against Christ’s purpose for His people in this world.

 

God holds a different perspective on the ways that people who know Him should practice our faith. Instead of holding our worship of the Lord as personal and private and our adoration of this world’s gods as public, God desires that we would live out our days as a continual song of praise to Him. The verses of this song of life can be filled with actions that are defined by grace, love, truth, and mercy. The chorus that we repeat would contain recognition and praise for all that the Lord is and does for us. This form of life-song is the most effective way to speak Christ into our world, and it is the sure way to defeat the call to worship of the false gods that surround us.

I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.

John 16: 1

 

This world does not provide a very friendly or secure place for people to live. This is a reality that almost everyone faces. There is no protective shield or magic potion that covers us up and that keeps the evil that runs throughout the atmosphere from touching us in places that matter. Yet, in direct opposition to the forces of this world that are intent on causing hurt and harm stands Christ. He came into this world to provide the certainty and the soul-deep security that people need and desire. He, alone, stands between all that is evil and our lives. The presence of Christ in this world brings about the singular opportunity that people have to enter into a relationship with God that is permanent and absolute.

 

Yet, even for those of us who do know Christ, the forces of this world work diligently to bring about confusion and doubt. Admittedly, it is not easy to understand everything that goes on in our world or in our lives. Loss and pain are difficult to comprehend, and moral absolutes can feel very harsh or unloving. Yet, life is fond in God’s Word, and peace is enjoyed by trusting in Christ and through resting in those moral absolutes. Life is sacred, all lives are significant to God, and there are no circumstances that override these facts. People matter more than institutions, and lovingly caring for the needs of others is an important aspect of living out the Gospel of Christ. In the end, what we do and why we do it is what is important. Christ enables people to set aside fear and self-protection and enter into loving others and our world for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

 

These thoughts may seem rather disconnected, but they are a part of the way that Christ seems to be saying that He is leading me deeper into Himself. So, in that light, He is also protecting my heart and my mind from falling into the traps that this world tries to set for Christ’s followers. If I care about life, I must care for the living. If I am invested in people, I must love them regardless of where they are from, what god they worship, or differences in their language and customs. Christ holds His people close to Him. He embraces us with a holy and righteous love that leads people into service to His will. As we follow the will of Christ, we are strengthened in our capacity to resist the evil that surrounds us, and as we so resist, we grow closer to our Lord.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5: 6

 

Hunger and thirst are strong motivators for all living things. Both plants and animals are designed to respond to these needs. People are especially well equipped by our Creator to do something about the situation when we lack either water or food. There is nothing accidental or evolutionary about this aspect of how we function. It is built into both the design of our bodies and the mandate that God gave to humans in those early days in the garden. We possess the capability and the authority to meet our needs and to care about and for those of others as we take care of the rest of God’s earthly creation.

 

Jesus was fully aware of these fundamental drives in people. So, when He used hunger and thirst as a descriptive device in this time of teaching about dwelling in God’s kingdom come upon the earth, He was discussing a fundamental reality of how people are designed and about the way that we function. We all experience hunger and thirst, and everyone has desires for certain things. The need to be fed and to obtain water is one of those desires that operates at our core. It does not go away with age, over time, or through developing new habits. However, it can be directed and controlled. We do learn to eat better foods, and we develop the skill to select healthy forms of fluid consumption.

 

So too is the way of our relationship with God. All people have a desire to know and to be known by the entity that made them, a god, if you will, Even people who claim to deny the existence of any form of god are seeking after something that explains their place in the universe. We develop and train our desires by the way that we live, and we form them by the exercise of our faith in life. In desiring to be a follower of Christ, I seek after those things which are His nature and surrender my will to be shaped by His Spirit into a person who functions out of Christ’s character within me. Righteousness is a part of the foundational platform that defines God and that distinguishes His people from the rest of the world. As I grow and mature in my faith in Christ, these basic drives of hungering and thirsting become more and more directed toward thinking and living in response to Christ’s call to discipleship, and He never fails to fill me beyond my need to the point of true satisfaction.

 

Thanks to James K A Smith for helping to shape these thoughts.

Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.

Psalm 26: 2

 

David must have a been a bit off when he penned these words; since, my sense of David is that he was a very real man with flaws, weakness, and the sort of sinful heart that I possess. So, to ask God to look this closely at his mind and his heart was to ask the Lord to shine His righteous light into David’s darkest and most desperately hidden places, and this focuses way too much attention on those flaws of character to be comfortable or seem safe. Yet, that is exactly the point of doing what David did.

 

There is no time of greater need for the close scrutiny of the Lord than when I am experiencing deeply rooted pain, fear, anxiety, or than when my mind and my heart are dwelling on thoughts and images that are sinful. These are times when I don’t want anyone to know what is going on inside of me, and during these points in my life, I am certainly not operating out of a close and an open relationship with my Lord. However, this life of hiddenness is a plainly irrational way to operate, and it is highly dysfunctional, too.

 

When I invite the Spirit of Christ into my deepest recesses, I am actually just recognizing a reality that already exists, for He is a part of me, and He is fully aware of everything that goes on inside of me. The imaginings of my mind and the yearnings of my heart are tangible facts to God. Even when the contents of my inner self are at their darkest point, the Lord is never harsh and judgmental with me; rather, He does what He needs to do to redirect my thoughts onto His will and He orients my heart toward His righteous way of living. One of the best ways to stay centered and focused on the healthiest path through the day is to continually seek God’s insight and wisdom and to be transparently open to His Spirit’s examination of all of my inner self. Like David, the Lord’s examination of my heart can lead to healing as I yield to His will.

 

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill can not be hidden,

Matthew 5: 14

 

Jesus talked about light a fair amount. It was something that He understood very well. He had participated in that point in time when it came into existence; so, it bore Christ’s creative touch. He also understood its exact opposite in darkness. It too was the handiwork of the Creator. We need to remember that both light and dark were equally the result of God’s plan and design, and they were both good. However, sin has a very corrupting influence, and the darkness with its ability to conceal had become the realm of much evil. So Jesus used these real elements of our physical world as metaphors for the way that we live in it.

 

It seems that Jesus is telling us about the way that He impacts our world through us. People who know Christ and who follow Him as Savior and Lord are tasked with bringing the light of truth which is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ into every corner of our world at all times. This is our full time occupation. It provides for no vacation time, zero days of sick leave, and there is no retirement to look forward to. When Christ calls us to follow Him He means that we follow completely. This journey is one that continues all the way to the end of our days, and it takes us to the point of complete personal sacrifice; that is, it takes us to the cross of Christ. It is in full submission to the Lord that we shine the brightest, for the light that we give off is Him. It is the radiance of God that comes out of and is apparent in every word and action of our lives. Its source is the Spirit of Christ within us.

 

When Jesus spoke about the light that came from a city on a hill I think that He might have been envisioning a traveler who was nearing the end of a long day on the road. Night with its dangers and concerns had fallen. As the traveler navigates the dark trail through a valley he sees the lights of a city that greet him from the high ground ahead. Safety, comfort, companionship, and rest are spoken to his heart by those lights on the hill. That is what Christ wants His people to be in our world. We are to be the place where weary travelers can go to find the truth of Christ that brings about freedom, healing, and true community. Christ wants us to recognize our calling to be light. He also tells us to trust Him in all things, for there is truly nothing for His people to fear. Jesus wants us to be that city by joining together in a community of faith that is His body so that the impact of His light is made all the greater as we stand on God’s high ground.

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