November 2016


You leave the commandment of God and hold to the traditions of men.

Mark 7: 8

 

Jesus was addressing a crowd of people that included a cross section of the culture and the community of His times. Although His words here are aimed primarily at the religious leaders in that crowd, they were the ones challenging Him on minor points of practice; He was speaking to everyone within hearing. Christ is also stating these same truths for us to consider. The issue at hand is ancient and on-going as we can see from the words that Jesus took from Isaiah as He said,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the teachings of men.”

(Mk.7: 6,7 from Is.29: 13)

 

It would seem that we like convenient and easily managed rules for life. They need to fit into our personal objectives and not interfere with the way that we have planned for our days to go. Even when we read God’s Word and pray to Him for guidance, we too frequently fit what we hear into a pre-established template of truth that we and our culture have formed. Thus, the way that we live is developed out of our own desired outcome which is shaped by beliefs and by thinking that find their source in human wisdom. Although most people that I know are not as extreme and as committed to this practice as were the religious leaders that Jesus was confronting, almost everyone relies to some degree upon our human traditions and understanding when we are engaging our world.

 

Instead, Jesus would have us go to the source of all truth and wisdom. God has left nothing that is truly useful and valuable for life out of His Word. When that text is combined with the revelation that Christ’s Spirit grants to us, we have the only valid source for these rules of life. This frees us from being judgmental; yet, it allows us to stand on truth and to demand righteousness of ourselves and in our society. This is not an easy world to live in. There are powerful voices calling to each of us, and we are influenced by long histories of belief and practice. However, there is a much older and considerably better-established foundation that we can stand upon. God has revealed His way of life to all who would seek Him, and Christ is the only way to that life. God’s Word; read studiously, meditated upon continuously, and illuminated by the Spirit must be the place where we go for guidance and direction in all matters of living and relating in our world.

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God raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2: 6, 7

 

The idea of kindness brings out certain images in my mind. One of them is that classic picture of the young person (Well, the classic version says “Boy Scout,” but these are modern times where such specifics are generalized for the sake of inclusion. This is actually and usually a good thing, too,) Back to my story; this young person is helping the elderly person across a busy street. Another of these kindness events happens when we let the person with one item or with the baby in her arms who is behind us in line at a store go ahead of us. Kindness is picking up your neighbors tipped over trashcan and putting the former contents back into it. Kindness is too rare in our hurried and individualistic world. Yet, these ideas of what kindness is are shallow and weak in comparison to what Paul is describing.

 

Let’s face it; people are generally not very pleasant to be around. We deserved nothing but disappointment, anger, and condemnation from God. We come into this world dead in spirit, lost to eternity, and separated by a humanly impenetrable division from all that is loving, holy, and righteous. With full knowledge of all of this and with a heart that breaks with the experiencing of our rebellion, God chose to pursue us. He has the power and the ability to wipe us all out and to start over with a new model, but God decided to stay with His original creation. So, He provided us with the way and the means to make a decision ourselves. We can accept God’s loving gift of life that is granted to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; or we can stay as we are and continue to live in the futility of our lost humanity.

 

When we accept Christ, we are changed. The dwelling place of our hearts, minds, and spirits is relocated from this world and its darkness into the realm of God Most High with its unceasing glory. God gave all for us, and He grants all that is worth having to us as His gracious gift. This is true kindness. Christ’s singular act of obedience to the Father is the pinnacle of self-sacrificial love, and all of that love is lavished upon us in the form of acceptance into ever present and eternal relationship with God. God’s acceptance of a dead-spirited, dark-hearted and rebellious soul like me stands as a testimony through time to His desire to heal the brokenness of each person in this world. Our lives also speak of the possibility for each of us to experience Christ’s deep healing and transformative change. This testimony is spoken most clearly when we choose to live with Christ openly and boldly on our lips and with His love as our foremost expression of His presence in us. As we treat other people and our world in this manner, we touch it with the immeasurable kindness of heaven.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.

John 15: 16

 

There is more than one way to view the total meaning and implication of this verse. However, regardless of your theology, I believe that there is an overarching truth to it that is common to all. It seems clear that God chooses us; we do not get to choose our God. There is one and only one God, and He is sovereign over every aspect of the universe. Out of that sovereignty and because of His desire to be engaged with people in a form of relationship that is voluntary and that we desire to be in, He does grant us humans the ability to accept or to reject Him. Still, God calls to us, and He has designed for each of us a purpose and a plan for living in a manner that is productive for the sake of His Kingdom.

 

God does not call us into His holiness and grant us His righteousness in order for us to be superior and segregated from our world. Rather, Christ performs His transformative work in us so that we would gain His ability to see sin as it is and to fearlessly engage it head on. He also grants us His wisdom and understanding to use in speaking God’s truth into the hearts and the minds of a desperately lost world. It is God’s truth, when delivered in a package of His grace and mercy, which brings justice, righteousness, and peace into the world. This is the fruit that Christ desires to see. He wants to view a great harvest of lives that are eternally changed and to smell the sweet aroma of an unending bounty of love, peace, and reconciliation.

 

This is a fruit that lasts. As it is deeply rooted and attached to its true source of life in Christ, it draws sustaining nourishment and growth producing understanding from the Spirit. This should lead us into living a life that is centered on the Father and on desiring to know and to follow His will. As God makes Himself known to us, we are called to serve Him in ways that He deliberately and uniquely gifts and equips us for. It is out of this profoundly intimate relationship with God through Christ that we are provided with the sort of wisdom and understanding which leads us to seek out the Father’s calling for our lives. From this place of absolute trust we can fearlessly ask God to grant us His blessing upon the ways that we are seeking to join Christ in the unending work of tending His vineyard.

And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them?

Luke 18: 7

 

Delay has become the normal state of things is our over scheduled and underserved world. We can almost plan on our doctor being behind schedule, on traffic delays, that the check will still be in the mail on the date that it is due to us, and on the dreaded “Flight Delayed” message beside our connection. The streets are full, many people are sick, and airlines are cutting flights in order to become profitable. Some of these things make sense and others really don’t. When it comes to time and timing, the application of reason is more often frustrating than it is informative. Although all of these regular life events can be frustrating, existence becomes truly hard when it is justice that is delayed. Then days can become interminably long and oppression hangs over life like a dark curtain.

 

The justice that we seek may be for ourselves, for people who we know and love, or for people in our world. Whatever the situation and whoever is the object of our concern and focus, waiting for resolution is never easy. The harm that injustice has caused seems to continue to increase. Pain and suffering remain on their destructive course so that it is easy to lose faith and to enter into despair. In Luke’s account, Jesus has just told the story of an unrighteous judge who eventually relented and granted due justice to a relentless widow. The contrast that Christ set out for us is that if even a judge who “neither feared God nor respected man” would be moved to bring about justice, then we can certainly have faith that God, who loves us totally and who is concerned for our well being will provide it to us.

 

Christ is telling us that we need to remain faithful and that we also need to trust the outcome and its timing to God. Like the widow in the story, we should never stop in our appeals to God. For it is in our sincere prayer and our willingness to remain vulnerable and yielded to the timing and the nature of God’s response that we grow in our understanding of God’s view of our world. God works in our hearts during these times of waiting and trusting. His Spirit speaks to or impatient souls, and He leads us into the peaceful rest that is found only in abiding continually in Christ. God has promised that His justice will prevail in the world of His creation. He has given us Christ as the only true and effective means to that justice. Now our Lord desires for us to remain committed to Him. Christ calls upon us to speak out confidently about our desire to see His truth prevail over evil in our day and to act on behalf of the weak and the oppressed with the assurance of God’s promised victory.

For to set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8: 6

 

God made a choice; He wants to be with us. He desires our companionship and our worship. He could leave us in our lost states, and He could walk away when we start to live like the lost again; but then He wouldn’t be the one true God. For the Lord has made promises to us, and through His Word and by His Spirit He shows us a clear picture of who He is and of how He behaves. God has been demonstrating His faithful love and His unending involvement with people through all of history, and as a personal example of this, He has been holding onto me for as long as I can remember.

 

Yet, I have made a lot of choices in my life that were not so good. I continue to make choices that are clearly not in God’s plan for me, and in these sorts of thoughts and actions I have a lot of company. Everyone faces struggles like this; for, we all make the decision to sin, and it is easy to rationalize and to say that I was just caught off-guard or that it was the bad behavior of someone else that sent me over the edge. But, speaking truth, the sinful things that we do are the result of personal choice. And that choice leads to a form of death, for it separates us from God’s will and from the intimate, close relationship that we can have with Him. Isaiah said it this way,

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isaiah 59: 2)

 

Thus, when we choose to think, to act, and to live like someone who does not know Christ, we are making a decision to live in a state like that of death; yet, climbing into the coffin and pulling the lid shut simply makes no sense. God tells us that there are alternatives, and He provides us with a better way to approach life. We are instructed to set our minds so that we are steering a course that has the purpose and the precision of piloting a ship or a plane. Thus, we need to go through life focused very clearly and specifically on the presence of the Spirit of Christ and on listening to His voice. It is important to actively and purposefully do this, for it won’t just happen all of the time.

 

Each of us is different, and what works best for me may not do the same for you. So here are some of the methods that I use to set my mind on the Spirit. I can start every day by pointing my heart and mind into the center of God’s will through prayer and reading Scripture. Then, throughout the day, by entering into prayer and listening to God, I recheck where I am regarding the Lord’s will. Finally, I can choose to end each day by seeking God in prayer with my heart and mind listening attentively to His voice. The life that God wants to lead us to is full of adventure, and it will satisfy us totally. The life that my Lord has planned for me will give me everything that I desire and much more, and it is a life that is characterized by a heart-deep peace that is unbreakable. All of this is there for each of us if we will simply choose to follow the leading of the Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8: 26

 

Are you ever at a loss for words? Some of us can readily answer with a yes, and some people never seem to run out of words. Yet, when it comes to talking with God, the quantity of our words doesn’t matter at all, and even the nature of what we say is no longer our responsibility alone. Prayer is more personal and intimate than that. Its worth or impact cannot be measured in word counts and in its measurable reading level. Prayer is a real-time expression of the content of the heart. There is no right time of day for it or an appropriate form for it to take. Prayer is about a person’s connection to the unseen at the same time as it is about that same interaction with the entire world where we live.

 

Paul is recognizing his own weakness here. He is also talking about my weakness, for it seems that I am too often stuck in a place where I don’t really know what to pray for or about. Still, at these times, I usually feel a need to talk with God. My heart may be heavy or it may be joyous; yet, I need God’s perspective, His wisdom and truth, in order to comprehend what it is all about and to act upon that understanding in a manner that enters into God’s will for my life. Prayer is a special gift that God has given to His people, and this form of communication with Him is different from every other way in which we talk in our lives because prayer involves a conversation with a real and an engaged being that exists as spirit rather than in the flesh.

 

When we pray, we enter into the world of the mystical; so, we are required to operate out of faith. Thus, for me prayer is one of the ways in which my trust in God is both tested and increased, and it is also a practice that leads me to know my Lord in ways that are deeper and more complete than I have ever know Him before. These times of personal conversation with God can be among the most vulnerable of times in my day; yet, the Lord treats my openness and lack of understanding with great care and loving assurance. Even when I do not come away from the experience with absolute clarity about the issues at hand, I move from a time of prayer with the knowledge that I was heard and that God is engaged with me in the challenges of living life. Prayer is a time of leaning fully on God and knowing with complete confidence that He is there to hold me up.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

My mind has a hard time connecting the idea of peacemaking and the image of the cross. Sure, we wear crosses around our necks, carry them with us, and hang them on our walls, and all of these uses are comfortably harmless as they don’t come close to suggesting the pain, torture, and violence that is the nature of the real thing. In the Roman world where Jesus lived the cross was an instrument of terror. The death that ensued for its victims was drawn out and brutal, and the Romans set up these scenes of execution drama in the most public of places so that no one could miss their intended message which was one of domination and power mixed with a swift and merciless response to any opposition.

 

The violence of the Roman cross is a striking reflection of the nature of evil itself and that nature is the image of its author, Satan. This is the same evil energy that boils up in the rampages of destruction that seem to be a constant part of our world’s narrative. It is also on view in the oppression, hatred, and greed that people engage in with each other. These are some of the more overt expressions of Satan’s animosity toward God that we can observe and that have a powerful impact upon all inhabitants of the earth. There are many other such manifestations of the endless war that Satan is waging against God. Most of them are considerably more subtle that the cross, itself.

 

All of the damage, the destruction, and the pain that come about in our lives exist as a result of this elemental conflict between the righteous and the profane. However, Christ has changed both the outcome and the nature of this conflict. There never was a moment when God and His righteousness were not the victors, but Christ clearly defined God’s method for bringing about that result, and He has set into unceasing motion that final and absolute defeat of Satan. In the sacrifice of Jesus, the spotless Son, on that cross, God transformed the hour of execution and that instrument of torture and shame into the moment and the location where God’s mercy and grace were poured out in that final act of reconciliation so that all who come to Christ are enfolded into the perfect peace that is the air that we breath in God’s kingdom.

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