February 2017


For the word of the LORD is upright,

and all his work is done in faithfulness.

Psalm 33: 4

 

There are times when I want to get out of the place where my mind is dwelling and move to a region where it is being influenced by a better quality of input and stimulus. In other words, I would like for my thoughts to be in a higher place; yet, wishing to do so does not always accomplish the wished and even the hoped for outcome. Sometimes my head seems to get stuck where it has gone and no amount of effort can pull it free from the troubled, doubting, or fearful images that fill it and that inevitably take my heart down too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to open the door to this darker place, and the steps leading down into its cellar of distress are easier to follow in than they are to ascend out of it.

 

It seems that God is more than a little aware of this reality in people. He makes the means of escape readily available to us, and He marks the route out with the bright light of His presence. The Lord has surrounded us with tangible indications of who He is and of how He acts. This is true in the beauty of nature and in the warmth of human embrace. The Lord is visible in the love that we give and in the nurture of its receipt. Through Christ we are granted a grace that overcomes all of our crimes against God, and by His unfailing word we receive a mercy that we never can earn and that remains effective for all of eternity. There is no boundary and no end to the ways that Christ works in our lives to bring each of us into the fullest aspects of God’s grace, love, and peace.

 

The steps to the ladder that leads out of the dark places of discouragement and even the deeper gloom of despair are found in God’s Word. Even when I might have only the strength to look upon a few of its words, the mighty presence of the Lord seems to pour out of the page and into my spirit. The simple and eternal truth that flows from God’s heart of deep love touches the painful places in my heart and His soothing and healing hands bring the reality of forgiveness and my new life in Christ to the front of my awareness. It is not always easy to accept the truth of God’s Word as my own, but His faithfulness to me and the testimony of the thousands who have traveled these same steps before me compel me forward into the upwardly leading light of God’s will and way for this day in my life.

 

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Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!

Praise befits the upright.

Psalm 33: 1

 

There is a lot of shouting going on these days, and very little of it is spoken in praise of God. In fact, when God is evoked, it is often in some form of negative manner in which either His wrath or His irrelevance is the subject of the ideas put forth. Make no mistake about it, I believe that words are powerful tools; they are the wrenches and rulers, the drivers and the mallets that fill my writer’s war chest. Words lift up and at other times they scrape the soil from under the feet. There is power in them. People are moved to take certain actions by the careful application of language. Mothers console with expressions of love and comfort, and the Father counsels us with His powerful words of truth and righteousness. The volume and the emphasis that we put behind the delivery of our language add the element of emotion and serve to personalize the lexical statements that we utter.

 

So, when it comes to making a sincerely loud noise in our world with our words, it seems to me that the ones that should come out first and with the greatest clarity are the ones that sing forth God’s nature, character, and engagement with our lives. In my experience, the Lord is the source of true joy in my days, strength for the journey, and peace in the course of its progress. God brings forth life where nothing more than a dry expanse of wasteland existed before His presence. Through Christ we are redeemed from a life of servitude to the oppressive forces of this world and to their false promises of safety and security, and in Christ we can live in the valid security of our souls and the safety for our hearts that comes only by and through His loving grace and mercy.

 

This does not mean that I think that followers of Christ should not be speaking out in favor of justice, peacemaking, and the extension of grace and mercy to people in our world, for I hold that doing these things is a God-mandated aspect of living as citizens of His kingdom come on earth. What I am saying is that the nature and the tone of our expressions should reflect the character and the person of our Lord. In Christ, all that we do and everything that we say is directly connected to Him, and all that we set forth in our days needs to be sourced from that relationship. If it is true for me and for you that Christ is the source of the joy in our lives, then everything that we place before the eyes of our world can be prefaced and framed in the context of that joy and related to its source. Thus, each statement that we make can be an expression of the Gospel of Christ and so a message of hope that can cut through the noise of this troubled world.

 

 

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

2 Timothy 1: 3

 

There is something beautifully simple present here in Paul’s words that I think often gets lost in the fog and the haze of daily life. This is an attitude of thankfulness. The Apostle seems to be holding out his thanksgiving as a very broad idea and a remarkably open one too. Now Paul was not dwelling in comfort or safety when he set out these ideas. He was a prisoner in Rome in the brutally oppressive times when Nero was the Emperor. Paul was certainly going to die in the near future, and he was fully aware of this fact. He was separated from his dear friends and traveling companions, and his valuable work of sharing the Gospel of Christ throughout the gentile world had come to a halt. From a natural and a human perspective these were hard times.

 

Yet, Paul sees the good in it all, for he sees Christ in his days. This is not some mystical vision or self-deluded refusal to face into reality. Rather, Paul seems to have a vision of the greater reality of life in this world as a follower of the Lord of Creation. Rather than viewing his situation and circumstances as desperate or hopeless, he comprehends the opportunities to serve Christ that are there before him. Instead of focusing on how hard his days are or upon the grim prospects for his life’s future, Paul is reflecting upon the many ways that people have entered into his days and given special care and consideration to him. All of this brings him to a place where his spirit is lifted and his mind seems to be clear as he expresses praise and thanksgiving to God and for all that has been granted to him in this life.

 

It seems that thanksgiving is something that has become a part of the rhythm of Paul’s days. So, by looking at his example, I am challenged to follow his lead in this matter. When life is viewed from the perspective of Christ’s engagement with me and with His loving sacrifice as the filter for everything, all that takes place in my days and to me can be cause for thanksgiving and praise to God. From the breath that I breathe in and expel from my lungs to the purpose that my existence enjoys, all of my life and everything that influences its course is a gift from God. Even sickness, pain, loss, grief, disappointment and failure serve to guide my steps along a path that belongs to Christ. As I hold the image of my Lord before my heart in an on-going prayer of devotion, He speaks to me a truth that is deeply embedded in the foundations of Creation and that truth is the basis for hope eternal and the reason for expressing thankfulness in and to all.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:11. 12

 

Unless you travel is some very rarified company, transcendence is not a word that most of us use with any frequency at all. Yet the idea of living a transcendent life is appealing to people. In fact, we use a closely related term in a careless and indiscriminate manner when we speak of seeking after excellence. This is obvious when a business asks for us to evaluate the service that it has provided, for the ask is generally tendered by the employee who performed the service, and it is always accompanied by instructions about the necessity that the score be nothing other than the highest one possible. This sort of false and worldly excellence pervades our culture, and it has changed the way that we consider what we hold up as above the ordinary so that which is truly transcendent.

 

Transcendence is a quality that has existed since the very beginnings of creation. God has defined it in His nature and has expressed it through His character. God is beyond and outside of all that He devised and all that He made; so, God transcends everything else, for God, Himself, created all that is beyond Him. Now this idea raises some complex and challenging questions about the presence of evil in our world, and I am going to simplistically say that God’s creation, the people of this world, have turned on our Creator and formed the rebellion of sin and its accompanying evil with our own hands. This is what happens when the creation determines that it is now the supreme one, the creator. The existence of evil is why we long for the transcendent. With all of our hearts we want to get away from the strife and the struggle of this world. We seek to dwell in a place of refuge from the violence, disease, and the loss that fills our days with their grim funeral dirges. God is aware of our desires, and He is also aware of our true need. He has never been silent or absent from us in His seeking to save people from our world and to grant us His presence; yet, we are often not very receptive to our Lord and to His advances toward us.

 

However, the Lord did not stop with being above the chaos of this fallen creation or with engaging with us from the vantage point of the spiritual realms. God left His place in the uncorrupted and entered into dwelling among humanity in our dangerously broken environment. He entered as newborn baby, grew into manhood, and demonstrated what it is to be a human who lives out God’s righteousness and love on this earth. Then, He yielded all that was His life here to the will of the Father so that we would have a new and a perfect means of entrance into the eternal. Christ came and gave to each of us the way to leave behind our earth-bound orientation. This new and transformed view of what it means to be alive on this earth in these days is granted to anyone who accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, and in so agreeing with God, we are permanently purified in God’s eyes and His Spirit begins to work within us to reform the very nature of our beings into one that views our world and that encounters God from the perspective of the eternal. The circumstances and events that make up living in this world do not change, but as we live out our days in the presence of Christ, our ability to understand and to experience peace while engaging with all of it is radically altered as with Christ we too can transcend the sin and death of this world and plant our feet on the firm ground of God’s eternal Word of Truth.

 

 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5: 18, 19

 

It seems that everyone has had the experience of being in an awkward place with another person. I know that I have been there, and this is not a pleasant place to be. You are concerned about running into the other person and often do things to avoid those encounters. Some of these difficult relationships are never resolved. They stay strained and broken for the rest of time. This is where humanity is at as it relates to God. We exist with a relationship that is strained beyond breaking, and this is the nature of that interaction that we each receive as our birthright. The single greatest tension that every newly born person encounters is this one in which we engage in an internal battle between our separation and independence from God and our need for relationship with our Creator. This struggle finds its resolution in and through the presence of Christ in our lives. There is no other way or means for each of us to enjoy reconciliation with our God.

 

Now most of us, when we are distanced from another person, go to almost any length to avoid our antagonist, or at least we do this until the situation is right for us to engage with that other person. This is not the way that God operates. He boldly approaches each of us, and He lays out His desire for restoration and for deep and intimate engagement for us to plainly see. The Lord is unceasing in this pursuit of us, and He does not stop with it until we relent and turn to Him through Christ or our days on earth come to their end. There is absolutely no escaping or avoiding an encounter with God. We can accept the love and the grace that He desires to pour out upon us during this life, or we will face judgment for our rejection of it in the life to come. For those of us who have put aside our avoidance and surrendered ourselves to Christ, there comes a new freedom in this life and with that freedom there also arise new responsibilities.

 

We are free from the burden of prejudice and that of fear. We can journey through this world without the shield of protection that comes about as we set out our differences from others and hold onto human distinctives as our marks of superiority or authority. In Christ we are brought to a level of worth that is equal to all other people, and this is the highly elevated one of bearer of God’s image. As we have received mercy, grace, and the love that sets us free from sin and its death, we are also empowered and freed from the bondage of broken-world thinking that works to separate and to divide people from each other. By dwelling in Christ, our eyes should be opened to see the beauty and the God imbued value of every person on this earth. This eyes-of-Christ vision removes the worldly divisors of gender, race, societal status, and nationality from our consideration of whether we should seek out, defend and protect, or share the love of Christ with any individual or group of people. Our Lord’s directive to us is to be imitators of Christ. That means that we join with Him in holding out forgiveness and in granting grace to everyone. We are to become relentless workers for Christ who seek to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel to each person that we meet and who also promote that attitude in our homes, churches, and communities.

Return, O Lord! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

Psalm 90: 13

 

If you have lived with and around Christians for any period of time, as I certainly have, you will have heard many people express the desire to have Christ return. They want Him to come today or maybe tomorrow, at the latest. This is always stated in terms of putting an end to the sinfulness of our times, the evil that surrounds us, and the pain of suffering through life in this fallen world. Not to make too light of this very serious subject, but this wishful expression can become somewhat like spiritual aspirin. We feel pain, and we want relief from it; so, we prefer to take the miraculous fixative instead of putting in the work to seek out and repair the underlying cause of the discomfort. People have a well-developed desire for the fast and the easy, and this is often especially true when it comes to addressing the brokenness that surrounds us.

 

Yet, we do have all that is necessary to impact our world for the glory of God’s Kingdom. The challenge to actually doing this comes in the form of the reality that evil is very resistive to change and that facing it requires people of faith to take actions that seem highly risky. Some of this risk is framed in terms of loss of favor with neighbors, friends, and family members; it is very public. However, I think that the more difficult sort of risk comes from the need to deal with our own attitudes, beliefs, and well-established patterns of thought. This inward facing examination can be a source of the type of pain that we work so hard to escape. Still, the cleansing work of God’s revealing light performs the soul-healing work that is our world’s greatest need. For each of us this healing starts with ourselves, but it cannot end there.

 

Christ did not leave us to sit and to wait for His return in passive contemplation of God’s goodness and resignation to our world’s fallen state. After His resurrection, He implored His followers to tend and to care for each other, and He sent them into the world to make the good news of God’s redemptive plan for salvation from sin through Jesus Christ a living reality for each and every person on this earth to encounter. This is done by people who live out our Lord’s love, grace, mercy, and compassion in every aspect of their lives. Still, God’s love is not soft and equivocal. So His truth has remained unchanging from before Creation. We also live out God’s love by standing up clearly and unyieldingly for His righteous truth. This is truly the hard challenge of publicly proclaiming Christ in our world. For we cannot, even for a moment, cease expressing Christ’s total love for all while we must stand up for God’s truth and against the evil that opposes it. This daunting task is made possible because Christ has returned, for the tomb was empty and He has joined us in our journey through the world that rejected its Savior. Now His Spirit does dwell in each and in all of His people. It is Christ who grants to us the gift of His loving understanding and wisdom in conjunction with the strength that we require to do His will today in our world.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3: 16

 

Godly living is not easy, and it is also not for the faint of heart. Operating in a manner that reflects God in our world and that also brings people into His presence with a desire to know that Holy One requires people to do things in ways that are unnatural and that are equally outside of the norms of our experience and the practice of our culture. Simply stated, love, grace, mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness are not the general standards for successful living that we encounter on a regular basis. Yet, they are in short supply in the marketplace of our world, and they are needed and desired by most of us. These qualities are a part of the nature of God, and they were made tangible and given human form in Jesus. In Jesus, God stepped into humanity’s lostness and need, and He provided the singular answer to it all while also paying the enormous price that the redemption of Creation demanded.

 

Christ is the image of what godliness means. He provided for us the model to follow, but that is not where this all stops, for a model would be insufficient by itself. God’s Law provided a form of that, and it was never enough to bring people into the reality of living out this thing that we are calling godliness on any sort of lasting and consistent basis. Unfortunately, an image of God is still not much more than an idol if it remains on the outside of our beings and can be set aside or manipulated as we desire. Even the best of images does not penetrate the heart to the place where real relationships are formed, and God operates in our world at the deep level of relationship. This is where His truth becomes the guiding force in our lives. That is why godliness is revealed in relationships and it is explained through engagement in people’s lives.

 

God broke through the barriers that humanity had set up between our Creator and us. He did so in the person of Jesus and perfected it by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Now all of Creation is speaking out in testimony to the One Risen Lord who brings God’s salvation and redemption to all of that same Creation. In so doing, He brings this new life to each of us who believe in Him, and He enters into our lives and works to transform us into people who live in relationship with our Creator. It is in this relationship and through the work of the Spirit within us that we are changed into people who can live in this rare and highly valued manner that is described as godliness. This manner of engagement with our world requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ on a daily, hourly, and continual basis. All of life is His. There are no holdbacks or reserves to maintain as we serve the Risen Lord. It is through this submitted service that the mystery of godliness is made visible in our world so that others may be drawn to seek its source in a relationship with Christ.

 

 

 

 

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