July 2017


The Lord has heard my plea, the Lord receives my prayer.

Psalm 6: 9

 

The surest defense from all of the attacks, stresses, difficult situations, and impossible requirements that life throws our way is found in a place where I too often look as more of a last resort than as my starting point for holding my ground. For I am afraid that I need to admit that I am incredibly inclined to go after my own solutions, and this seems to be especially true when the situation is the most personal and brings the highest levels of anxiety. I am not certain whether I actually think that I have the needed answers or whether I am just concerned about appearing to not have them; yet, either idea is filled with delusion and consistently fails.

 

The Lord who created the universe and who knows me and all of my needs better than anyone else could ever know them, wants to hear the concerns and the challenges that I am facing. He is continually waiting for me and for everyone to turn away from our stubborn reliance on our own understanding and to seek the loving embrace of God’s wise counsel. The Lord doesn’t require me to come to Him with eloquent words or even with words that actually make sense; rather, He can and will sort out even the most unintelligible expressions of my stressed out heart and mind, and the Lord will return clarity, wisdom, and confidence to me.

 

The process of turning toward God as my first resort for all of my life is something that requires deliberate practice, and I need to make the conversation with God that is prayer a moment by moment aspect of each of my days. Whatever it takes, whether that is notes on the refrigerator, writing it on my hand, or prompts in my phone, I can make talking over every part of my life with the Lord more than a priority; I can decide to make it the foundational way that I live. The Spirit is with me always, and I will be blessed beyond my comprehension by talking with Him continually.

 

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4: 6

 

Shout it out! This is what our world seems to do with great vigor and zeal. People make their message known in ways that are clear and that do not lack for an aura of dominance. That is the point, I believe. In a loud and graceless world, the intensity of the volume in combination with the shock value of the language is being used more and more of the time as the starting point for a form of discourse that seems intended to shut off dialogue and overwhelm real listening. God inspired the writers of Scripture to mention our speech or the nature of our words so many times for a reason. That is because it does matter.

 

The way that we address others is a marker of the attitudes that we hold in the heart and of the way that our mind has been trained to think of people and situations. When we use derogatory terms, foul language, and negative stereotypes in describing anyone, we are operating on the exact opposite side of human nature from the way that God describes as righteous. The words that we select to use can be tools for constructive interchange or they can be intended to build oneself up while diminishing the other. One of these approaches can lead to peacemaking, relationship building, and demonstrates the Godly qualities that He places within people. The other devalues relationship while pouring fuel upon the fire of disagreement and difference, and it denies the existence of the God-image in others and in the speaker.

 

There is another way to conduct the business of this world. We have seen it portrayed by Christ and by Godly people throughout the narrative of the Bible. Although they felt passionate about causes and were driven to frustration, fear, and anger in the course of doing God’s will, they mostly remained gracious in the words that they used and made bringing others, even adversaries, closer rather than driving them away. The sort of calm and peace at the heart level that leads to measured and edifying speech in the most intense of situations is a marker of a person’s relationship with God. The devolution of the language that is used in our public and private interchanges needs to stop. Each of us needs to search our own hearts and seek God’s reckoning with the way that we think and then express ourselves. We also need to stop accepting mean-spirited, course, and derogatory expressions n others. Language is a gift from God; let’s use it to bring the flavor of Him into our world.

 

 

And he was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21: 5

 

It can be hard to be optimistic these days. There is so much wrong in our world, and the pain that all of this brokenness is causing is hard to handle. It doesn’t even need to be personal hurt, loss, and suffering for it to have a strong impact upon us. Then, when the sting of life’s sorrows does come to us in a personal manner, our already tender and raw hearts can be overwhelmed by it all. This is a challenging time in a tough place to live; yet, we are not even close to being alone in this place or in our journey through it. From that moment when it all went sideways, God has been involved in this world and with us as He seeks out all that are lost and has set His plan for full redemption into motion.

 

The plan is present as God articulated it in those first dark hours of creation’s rebellion, and its resolution is a promise that God has made to that same creation and that He specifically gave to the people of this world. We were to be saved out of our sin-devised death by Christ, and He has come and He does save us through faith and by His unfathomable grace. Although I and others who live today may not see that day of final renewal during our current lives on earth, we can be certain of God’s promise that this day of restoration for creation will come. For me there is a hopefulness to be found in this knowledge, for my own efforts on behalf of God’s kingdom are neither wasted nor are they of minor importance to my Lord. He calls me to do what it is that I engage in, and He empowers that effort as He directs it.

 

This reality provides me with true freedom. It expresses the hope that underlies life in this world. For as there is pain, loss, and suffering afoot everywhere today, the presence of God is also here with me, and that presence pours out the glory of my Creator and Lord onto all that I encounter. In moments of loss, He is there to comfort and to fill up with His infinite love. During the hours of pain, Christ shares in it and provides a form of grace that soothes the sting of my raw and tortured nerves. It does seem to me that even over the harsh and raucous noise of our world today that the voices of the angelic choir that surrounds the throne of God can be heard singing out their unceasing praises to the Lord. They speak of God’s promise of total renewal, and they lead me to join in with them in singing praises to Christ who has redeemed me and is working every day to perfect His renewal in me and in all who follow Him.

On God rest my salvation and my glory;

my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalm 62: 7

 

Life in this world requires people to work hard. It’s a promise that rapidly becomes a fact of life. Effort, sweat and tears, and stress and strain are in the offing for each of our days. So, it is no wonder at all that people would hold fast to the idea that something really big like salvation needs to come our way through the most significant and intense of all of our labor. How else could it be when everything that we obtain of value or real worth is acquired and achieved by God’s promised “sweat of our face?”1

 

Yet, that is not the way that the Lord intends for it to be. He has taken on the burden of saving us from our state of being lost. Jesus put out the immeasurable effort for the sakes of each of us so that we could return to the full presence of God by the profound yet simple act of faith and obedience that is found in believing in Christ. Redemption from the death that sin cast upon everyone of us is ours because God desires to be intimately close to each of us, and so He took the burden and the pain of eternal sacrifice upon His own flesh for us. Now, as redeemed beings, our labor has a new meaning and purpose.

 

In this life we still need to work, for we are required to be active agents for the care and the utilization of the resources that God has provided to us on earth. The Lord also sends us out into our world to do work for the sake and the glory of His kingdom. Yet, the effort that we put forth in this manner has nothing to do with our salvation or even with our status in God’s eyes. All that we do as followers of Christ is to be done out of the security and the confidence that we have as Christ’s redeemed people and God’s beloved children. Thus, the effort that we put out is not fueled and powered by personal capability or capacity, but rather, it is accomplished because Christ is in us and His strength, wisdom, love, and grace are supplied to us in unending abundance. In Christ we can truly and fully rest.

 

  1. Genesis 3: 19

Thus says the Lord, God, “As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for my sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.”

Ezekiel 34: 12

 

God knows all about the storms that rage in this world. He is aware of the many ways that the perfect climate of His creation has been made unstable by the fracture of sin. This damage and brokenness brings about storms that are often sudden in their coming and violent in their impact. Sheep, being a rather skittish and fearful lot, can tend to run and to scatter when the wind, rain, and lightning strike. Even sheep that are very well cared for and tended can be driven off from the safety of the shepherd’s chosen path and pasture. It is the response of the shepherd in these times that matters.

 

Christ is a shepherd who never losses heart. He goes wherever He is required to go, and He looks in every possible craggy nook and each deep valley until He finds all of His sheep. We may take short trips away from His presence; sometimes, we sheep run far away and seek out the darkest caves that we can find in order to become separate from the Lord’s sight. It doesn’t matter to Him. Christ has already stepped into the depths of human bondage. He has already charted out all of the paths to separation and isolation that we humans might discover. Even when we have run until there is no breath left in our lungs, the leather is worn off of the bottoms of our shoes, and we have no idea of how far we have come or of where we are, He still sees us and He never stops loving and caring for us. This is the shepherd that we have in Christ.

 

Then the Lord does anything and everything that He needs to do to bring us back into the safety and the provision of His flock. With God this is not an issue of control, for He gave that away when He created us with the ability to make choices. With Him it is not a matter of power or might, for Christ chose to go the way of the humble lamb of sacrifice in order to save all of us from the death of sin. This shepherd comes to us with what all good tenders of sheep bring; that is, He comes to us out of a love that is greater than all of our fear, a desire to provide for us that outweighs our self-centered independence, and a capacity to provide protection that overcomes this world’s crumbling structures. Even in the dark nights and deep valleys there will always be the voice of the true shepherd as He calls to all who are lost and alone, “Come home.”

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go in search of the one that went astray?

Matthew 18: 12

 

As He tells this story, Jesus is sharing the Father’s heart and His own. For in the greater sense of things Jesus was doing this very thing. He was on a dangerous journey that was going to bring back many of the lost among God’s sheep. His days upon earth were focused on sharing in actions and by His words of truth God’s redemptive desire and plan for creation. Then, that plan was fully launched as Jesus gave Himself as the sacrifice that would pay all of our sin-debt, and this was followed by the glorious victory over death by which God demonstrated His sovereignty over every force and power that was present in this world and beyond it.

 

In all of this, Christ has demonstrated His authority and power to accomplish what God desires by way of rescue of the lost and restoration of these wandering sheep to the eternal fold of His kingdom. So, the answer to all of the needs that my soul has is Jesus, and the same is true for every other person on the earth. Each of us is born with a heart that is lost in its wandering and is in need of finding its way home. All people have a desire to know God; yet, most of us have no real idea about who that god is or where to find him. Thus, we travel the treacherous paths of this world until we recognize our Savior in the presence of the great soul-seeker, Christ.

 

We may be one short step away from the precipice or our minds might be shrouded in the shadows of a deep valley when the voice of redemption penetrates our hearing. That day may seem to be bright and full of promise; yet, the heart is needy and starved for love as we encounter the One whose love gives all to enter into relationship with us. There is no place that is too remote for Christ to discover His people, and there are no circumstances too desperate or despicable for Christ to enter in and to provide forgiveness and restoration. He brings home everyone who accepts Him, and He does this over and over again throughout all the hours of each day. In the entire universe Christ is the singular relentless seeker after the lost, as I have answered His call to me, I pray that my life would reflect this same unceasing desire to bring others home to God’s redemptive kingdom.

For what will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Matthew 16: 26

 

Herein lies what may be the essential question of living out our days in the true economy of this world. We might think that everything here is based upon the income that we receive or the liquid assets that we hold, but that truth provides a relentless set of reminders that this is not actually the case. People everywhere work hard and seek to gain what they need to support themselves and those who depend upon them. This is the reality in wealthy modern countries, and it is still the case among people whose lives have never touched the edges of even the nineteenth century. We all live within the troubled reality of sin’s challenge to the goodness of creation in that our labor will always encounter frustration and be insufficient to fill us up with what we actually require to live fully.

 

People need more than any amount of wealth that we might hold. Even millions of dollars in the bank, an impressive stock portfolio, an extra pig in the pen, or a reliable place to sleep each night will never be enough to satisfy the soul. We are made to be fed from the inside by the presence of God, and no other source of sustenance fills us up and leaves our hearts and minds well fed. Yet, many people travel all the way through life without actually experiencing a satisfying soul-meal. We think that we are getting all that we need while we are actually slowly wasting away from the inside as our hearts are led into the false security of personal success and human accomplishment. This eternal starvation takes place while a banquet feast of overwhelming abundance is set before us to take part in every hour of each day.

 

Christ desires to enter into our lives, and He is prepared to provide the form of sustaining nourishment that every person needs to be fully alive. He has given all in order to be in this place of complete and undeniable availability to us. He is the answer to God’s promise of reconciliation for our rebellious hearts, and Christ is now standing ready with open arms to embrace the lost and starving wanderer as He leads us into God’s special place at the table of blessing. Here, in the presence of the Spirit, we are provided with all that our souls require. We are fed on the inner peace that comes from knowing that our days on earth are meaningful for our Creator’s purposes and that our eternity is securely set in the presence of our loving Father God. We are also strengthened by the truth of God’s Word as He reveals its wisdom to our minds and leads our lives into living out its grace and love. So, there is an answer to the great question of living well in that true economy, and that answer is Christ in whom we gain all that we need in this world and also receive redemption for our souls.

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