January 2017


Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.

Daniel 9: 3

 

We humans are a strong-willed and a stubborn lot. We truly put feet to the old expression that goes like this, “When all else fails, pray!” Personally, I do spend far too much of my time and energy in trying to figure out situations and in attempting to come up with solutions to challenges. I search my mind’s storage space for tried and true answers out of the past, and I look at endless scenarios in order to predict the probable outcomes that will result from various possible actions that I could take. This is all far more complicated than it needs to be.

 

The simple, unmistakable historical fact that I tend to forget in this entire problem solving frenzy of mine is that God has a very good track record of bringing about solutions to life’s real challenges and issues. He has stayed with His people through our most faithless times of wandering off, and the Lord has not abandoned us or ignored our cries for salvation and for mercy when we found ourselves caught in evil’s traps. Now, in the deep intimacy of Christ’s presence in my life, He seeks to walk through all of life with me. Christ is totally with His people. He speaks truth and righteousness into the chaos that is our world. God has invested Himself into us, and He seeks for us to invest our hearts, minds, and being into serving His will.

 

True solution is found in seeking God’s will. His will is made known by His voice as the Lord speaks to us through His Word and by His Spirit. This revealing is accomplished in large measure through the close and personal conversation that we call prayer. God wants to hear our urgency, our need, and our concerns. He also desires for our hearts to be humbled before Him so that they are open and yielded to His leading. The most honest and sincere times of our lives should be these times of prayerfully opening the deepest recesses of our beings to God. The place, the time, and the company do not matter. All prayer can and should be deeply intimate and personal. There is no one who knows each of us like God does, and there is no one else who will respond to us with the authority and the love that flow out of the heart of God.

The LORD of Hosts has sworn:

“As I have planned

so shall it be,

and as I have purposed,

so shall it stand.”

Isaiah 14: 24

 

The thought in this passage goes on to discuss what will happen to Assyria as a result of its godlessness. So, I could start to speculate about who are the Assyrians in our world today and look at what godless things they are doing. However, that is not what strikes me here as being important. Our world has always had its Assyrians, and it will until Christ puts an end to all that is evil in creation. What I am led to focus on are the facts that the Lord plans and He purposes, and so, those plans serve to develop God’s purposes in a way that is reality from the moment of its inception.

 

God doesn’t engage in speculative planning. There are no trial balloons in His processes. When He desires an outcome or sees a need to be met, those outcomes will be achieved. His timing and those process steps along the way to that achievement may require only moments to reach completion or they might take centuries to get there. Yet, God’s plans are never thwarted and are not debatable. It seems that some of these timing issues are mostly related to the Lord’s desire to bring people closer to Him by and through this working out of His will. God wants us to join Him with our passion for the justice and the righteousness that are always a part of the central goal of His planning.

 

So, as the Lord plans, He also sets His purpose to implement those plans. When God purposes to see something done, He applies all of His resources to that endeavor. As I have observed, the Lord’s storehouse of resources is impressive! Yet, He frequently pours them out into people, and allows us to join Him in effecting the outcome of His plans by joining Him in faith in working out the often miraculous work of His will. It seems to me that as a follower of Christ one of the most important things that I can do is to realize the unrelenting and universal truth of God’s oath above, and then to earnestly and continually seek out my Lord’s will for my life. Also, this life truth should lead me to a place where I can rest peacefully in confident assurance of Christ’s victory over all and in God’s plan and purpose for me and my life as it relates to all that exists in the world.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of the calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1: 11, 12

 

Our worth and worthiness are not things that we create on our own. In fact, true worthiness, as Paul knows it and as God sees it, is impossible for any of us to gain by our efforts or out of our personal resources. Of course, Paul knew this reality of living from his own experience. He was a diligent and committed worker for what he perceived as being his own place of prominence and value in God’s earthly kingdom. Yet, in fact, he was pouring out his sweat and the blood of others in doing work that was stridently in opposition to God’s purposes. The Risen Christ confronted him, spoke truth into his mind and transformed his heart. It was Christ who changed Paul, and it was this same Christ who continued to grow and mature him in his knowledge and understanding of God and in his efforts to serve Him.

 

It was this transformed Paul that was worthy of being known as a true follower of God. The Lord mightily used the Paul who realized that even his most diligent efforts were meaningless at best and were often destructive to spread His Gospel of love, grace, and reconciliation. Paul surrendered his own powerful drive to the greater love of Christ, and His Lord led him into the realized glory of living, working, and giving all for the Kingdom of God. Thus Paul prays for others who he knows and loves desiring that each of them would come to that same place of surrender of self and full commitment to serving Christ. In this way, anything that God desires to see done is possible and everything that they might do would serve to bring glory to God’s name in the world.

 

If Paul were here now, he would be doing the same thing regarding each of us who follow Christ, and this should be our prayer for ourselves and for others as well. As we place our efforts onto Christ’s cross of obedience and recognize that we have nothing of real value to offer to God beyond our own willingness to follow and to serve, Christ’s grace and redeeming love do work in our own hearts to bring about the eternal worthiness in which God sees us as His beloved children. It is from this place that Christ leads us and empowers us to serve the Kingdom of God in ways that demonstrate the great love that God has for all of creation and for all of its people. As people who labor in the power of Christ, we bring the light of His glory into our world and we are made worthy of that calling by Christ’s unending grace.

 

 

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;

righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Psalm 85: 10

 

This is a love story. Boy meets girl and the sparks fly as they begin that process of getting to know each other. Here, people encounter God and His nature and character draw us toward Him in ways that, like lovers, often defy pure reason or logical processing. God’s presence in creation and in each of our personal spaces operates in ways that are practical and tangible and that are, at the same time, highly creative and mystical. This is all a part of the eternal dance of love that God joins in with people. He brings unfailing love with a depth to it that can pierce the hardness of any heart. The Lord also remains true to His promise to bring reconciliation and restoration, and this is true even when we are wandering and faithless.

 

God’s offer of His love was made fully tangible and present in Jesus. He provides that final way to join in God’s dance of love, and Christ grants to us the means to escape the tyranny of sin that holds all people captive so that we can yield our lives to the righteous leading of God’s word of truth. Christ calls us to His side, and He leads us into engagement with the heavenly songs that have been sung throughout the ages by those around the throne of God. As I join in the flow of Christ’s rhythm of life, my heart and my mind are caught up in the pure joy of being in the presence of all that is love, grace, and mercy as I am drawn into harmony with His holiness.

 

As I continue to journey across this dance floor that is my life played out in relationship with Christ, His holiness directs me into righteous living, which is the course of travel that God desires for each of my steps. My Lord does not leave me alone as I take these often uncomfortable and sometimes hazardous steps, He leads the way with strength and assurance as His powerful arms hold me up whenever my weakness leads me to stumble or to waiver away from God’s true dance of life. Christ’s call to righteousness brings me into the center of God’s will where peace is found. Here His lover’s kiss reassures my heart and draws me into the embrace of God’s eternal love and faithfulness.

 

For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;

the LORD is our king; he will save us.

Isaiah 33: 22

 

There is a warning attached to these thoughts this morning; they are overtly political in nature and in content. Now, I am as tired of that sort of thing as are most of the people that I know, but I simply can’t resist saying a few things along these lines. If I were Flip Wilson I might say, “The Devil made me do it,” but in fact, I do believe that it is Christ who is driving these thoughts. There is no place within our human realm where we can turn for true and completely reliable leadership. None of our governmental leaders or rulers will satisfactorily perform in this role. There is also no system of government that is fully and wholly God’s design and desire. They all have flaws, and every one of them will fail in the end, and that is the penultimate point of the Scriptures.

 

In the end of this age when prophesy tells us that chaos will reign as Christ returns and confronts all of the evil in our world, certain human governments will rise to extremes of prominence only to be overthrown and destroyed. None of them will survive the purifying and cleansing fire of God’s wrath as it is poured out upon a creation that has turned away from its Creator. Although we may look toward an individual leader as the one who will bring about revival or restore the former glory of our nation, that will not happen. We may look toward political promises of laws to be passed or others to be repealed as the desired outcome and the fulfillment of our wants and aspirations, but those pledges will be broken and even when sustained, they will leave God unsatisfied. We humans have muddled through for thousands of years during which we have ruled ourselves, but we have never gotten it right.

 

Isaiah said it all in these few direct and simple words. The Lord is the only ruler who merits our complete, total, and absolute loyalty. Although we do have a responsibility to God to honor the human authority and to respect the government that He has ordained to rule over us, this responsibility and honor do have limits. They are defined and constrained by what God in His Word declares as loving, just, merciful, and peaceable; thus, God calls us to live righteously as our first priority. Every word that we speak or write and even the thoughts that we form should reflect Christ into our world. When our leaders and our governments act in manners and speak ideas that honor God’s will, we need to support them and praise those efforts. Yet, when this is not true, especially when they move away from Godly values and character, we must oppose them. In the end, Christ is our judge, His law is our final authority, and He is the only King that we should bow down to.

For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob.

Isaiah 14: 1

 

What makes a nation and its people great? We usually think in terms of wealth, military power, prominence in the world, and domination of other people and countries. We take pride in our own country because of many of these qualities and abilities. We may even express a certain arrogance about being from a place on the globe. Being proud of the country that we call home, even that deep expression of this that we call patriotism, is not bad and it is not necessarily wrong in God’s view of things. The key to God’s view of the status of this sort of national pride may very well rest in the reasons for it. If wealth, power, world strength, and the ability to control the destinies of others are those points of pride in themselves; then, I fear that God would not be pleased. However, if the way that all of these qualities and abilities are used for the sake of justice, peace, and the spread of the Gospel are what makes us so readily identify with a national home; then, God’s purposes are being served.

 

The existence of nations and of their various forms of governance is something that God has granted to humanity so that we would have an orderly system for maintaining a functioning society in a fallen world. If people were not self-centered and focused primarily on gaining the greatest possible advantage for ourselves, we would not require rules and the human authorities that create them, and we would not need the power structures that enforce those rules on our unruly hearts and minds. God’s design for this world was simple, it had only one rule, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gn. 2: 16, 17) Obey the Lord in the simplest of things and all would go well, but do otherwise and the consequences are real and troubling. We have not done well in this matter of following God.

 

Even the nations that God established were placed under the mandate to follow certain rules regarding their purposes and roles in the world. Now I am taking the model and the example of Israel as that for how a Godly nation and its people should operate; then, I m applying that concept to any nation that truly desires to be great in God’s view of greatness. Frankly, I don’t see any examples of nations that succeed in this endeavor. In fact, I don’t see any that even aspire to do so. Yet, this bleak history should not leave us hopeless. Each of us who follow Christ has the ability to express the hopes, desires, and aspirations that our Lord has granted to us. We can and should express our understanding of Christ’s vision for our own nation to our leaders and with others so that a voice that seeks out God’s love, justice, peace, and care for those who have less capacity to care for and to protect themselves is heard clearly in the national dialogue. Our nations can be places where people from other lands will be drawn because of the character that we exhibit, and as we dwell in the center of God’s will, our land should be a place where the Gospel of Christ is the reigning rule of law.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5: 8

 

In our natural world day and night stand in stark contrast to each other. That is why people have used images of light and dark as descriptors of the sorts of differences in thought, feeling, action, and behavior that frequently can be associated with living out in the openness of light or under the concealment of darkness. There are things that most of us would be fine with having our mothers see and other things that we want to do in obscurity. We all entertain thoughts that help to define our best selves and others that are not ones that we would share with the public. This is how people operate in our sinful humanity. So, this is also a part of what the presence of Christ within the body, mind, and soul of people who believe in Him works to transform.

 

Christ changes us. He takes us from the world into which we were born and places us into His renewed perspective on that same environment. We may still seek out those dark places of seeming pleasure and self-worth, but the Spirit does speak a different, a transformed, reality and truth to us. Although we are not forced by Christ to change or to conform to this new understanding of what it means to live as a redeemed person in Christ, the presence of His Spirit within sets up a constant tension and a form of discomfort that, when we surrender to God’s Word of truth, should drive us toward living in the light of righteousness. This is the life-long tension that most followers of Christ experience. Paul is appealing to us to seek out living in the reality of our enlightened souls. He wants each of us to make that choice each and every time we are confronted with it.

 

So, the Apostle speaks about some basic aspects of deciding to live as Christ in our world. The first thing here may seem obvious, but it is a challenge at times for almost everyone; thus, we are to orient ourselves to our new position in life as people who reside in the light of the Gospel. We no longer have a home in the darkness of sin, and there will be activities, thoughts, places, and people that we need to leave behind if we desire to truly follow Christ. This process of relocating from the dark into the light of truth requires that we be clear headed, which requires us to leave behind the habits and the addictions of various types that have clouded our thinking in the past. Finally, Christ gives us tools to live well in this new orientation to the light with its revealing brightness. Christ grants to us faith in all that is eternal and a love that gave all so that we could know it and that is abundant so that we can pour it out onto our world. He also fills us with the hope of His victory over the sin that has darkened our days. In Christ we do truly belong to the light of God’s unceasing glory. .

Do not get drunk on wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.

Ephesians 5: 18, 19

 

A few years ago there was a popular film titled 500 Days of Summer in which the lead character, Tom, is walking down the street at a time when he is in a very up mood. Suddenly, as the song “You Make My Dreams” crescendos to full volume, everyone around him starts to dance and the whole world seems to be participating in a choreographed parade of joy that proclaims Tom’s own state of being to the world. This is a memorable big moment in the narrative of the film, and it is, fortunately, not the way that real life is experienced. It is hard for me to imagine Paul dropping everything in the middle of some city market place or square and launching into an elaborate song and dance routine. He might have enjoyed the spectacle, but I don’t think that is what he had in mind here.

 

What Paul does seem to be saying is that in Christ we have something that is lasting, unchanging, and unstoppable that does fill us with a sort of joy and peace that goes beyond any that we might experience or know from all other sources. Christ’s Spirit takes us beyond the temporary and out of the perishable nature of this world. He fills us with love in an enduring way that no human relationship can ever achieve. Yet, the love that God gives to us and the wisdom that He brings to our understanding of what it means to truly love others are the most important ingredients that people require in order to live successfully in our earthly relationships. For God does not want us to focus solely on Him and forego or ignore engaging with people in our world; rather, He wants us to take the changed hearts that His presence in us creates and carry Christ’s love into all of our interaction with others.

 

For people who know Christ, His Spirit is present in us. As we surrender and submit to Jesus as our Savior and Lord we enter into relationship with God in total. This means that His Spirit enters us at this time. Yet, many Christians continue to live in reliance upon the situational and the momentary in our lives as our source of what we perceive to be joy, peace, and love. However, when we surrender to Christ and allow His Spirit to provide us with understanding of others, our perspective is changed. He takes us out of ourselves and our easily wounded, fragile egos, and Christ opens our eyes to see people in the full light of His love, mercy, and grace. As we engage with life from this perspective with the Spirit filling and guiding us, it is possible to walk through our days with a song on our lips and the world around us seeming to move in harmony with our steps.

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3: 17

 

Almost no one likes to suffer, and most of us don’t enjoy seeing others doing it either. Yet, suffering seems to come with the territory of living on this earth. There is no magic potion or divine incantation that sets us free from it. Suffering comes to all of us at some time along this journey through life, and for most of us it surrounds us with a painful sort of frequency. Perhaps you shouldn’t explain this to someone who you are sharing Christ with, but suffering comes to followers of Christ with as much or with even more regularity than it does to those who do not believe in Him. Although we are in Christ, even as those of us who are highly committed to following His will, we will experience suffering.

 

In fact, followers of Christ have drawn a target on our backs, at least that is how it seems; for, in accepting Christ we are rejecting the way of this world. Those forces are powerful and infiltrate every corner of our planet with their winsome words, crafty deceits, oppressive control, and overt violence. By truly living in a manner that demonstrates the truth and the righteousness of the Gospel of Christ we are calling out Satan, all of his forces of darkness, and a culture that accepts his worldly shadow-truth as it own rendition of the gospel. This is a form of a declaration of war on the brokenness of this world; so, in Christ, we become engaged in the minute-by-minute combat that this conflict entails.

 

Yet, Christ calls us to fight a different sort of war than the one that the opposition wages. We are given an arsenal of tools to utilize that starts with love, grace, and sacrifice. Christ modeled these for us, and He grants the strength, courage, and wisdom needed to live with them at the forefront of our engagement with the world. Faith in Christ also grants us a form of hope that is lacking in the culture around us, for it is based upon the eternal nature and character of God. This hope grants to us the certainty of an unending existence with God, and it also gives us His perspective on living today so that we can dwell in this broken place with peace in our hearts and minds. We all do suffer; yet, in Christ, that suffering has a purpose as it takes our focus off of ourselves and places it on the Lord’s loving presence, and it points others toward the One who will do the same for them.

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Matthew 26: 39

 

Jesus was feeling distress and all-encompassing emotional agony. The depth of His suffering at this time is beyond all human imagining. I think that it must have approximated the sort of grief that God, the Father, feels when we, His beloved and handcrafted creation, rebel and reject Him. Now Jesus was not just a man, for He was also God dwelling on earth in the form of a human; so, He retained an extraordinary ability to understand the Father’s ways and His will. Yet, even Jesus recognized that He was living in submission to the will of the Father. In this moment of greatest distress, Jesus can speak in an open and utterly honest manner to God without setting out even one note of opposition to the plan and the will of the Father. Jesus remained committed to doing exactly what God had set out for Him to do.

 

I do not possess understanding, strength of character, or the sort of courage that Jesus demonstrated. I certainly am not God in any sense except for one. God, in His creative outworking of my own personal and individual creation, made me in substance and in form after His own image. He imparted a soul into me as He breathed the life that infuses every cell of my body into my existence. In doing this God granted to me capability and capacity for understanding and for living out the direction and the nature of His will. Every person is granted this same God-image nature as a part of her or his own existence. The essential difference for each of us comes about in the absence of the presence of Christ within our being. Without Christ’s Spirit people live in an unfulfilled or a partial form of God’s design intent. In this state we are required to utilize our own strength, understanding, and wisdom as the outer limits of our capability and capacity.

 

However, in Christ, we are granted these same essential qualities but they come to us from the source in God, Himself. As we yield ourselves to Christ, His Spirit works to shape each of us into more of the person that God intends for us to be. We do not lose our individuality or our uniqueness in this process. Rather, we grow and develop into that specifically and specially crafted person that God’s creative intent devised for each of us from conception. This is the point and the place where God’s will becomes most clearly expressed in human lives. As we surrender ourselves and yield control of our lives to Christ, we are set free from many of the constraints that sin has placed upon us. We are free to follow God’s will for life and for living it in service to Him. In Christ, we enter into the strength and the willing capability to say with our Lord, “Father, not as I will, but as you will.”

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