July 2017


Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

Psalm 139: 16

 

There is a perfect balance and symmetry to the number of days that each person is granted in this life. Admittedly, that idea seems to be absurd to people who are faced with the end of those days, but it is a fact that has remained unchanged throughout human history. It is something that we can do nothing to change; yet, we are granted the opportunity every day to determine the effect that those days will have on our world. God, the Father, has granted to each and every person certain aspects of Himself; these are the qualities, characteristics, and talents that define our God-image bearing selves.

 

We get to put those gifts of the Lord to work. We are granted the freedom to choose to enter into relationships with others and to love them. The impact that our days will have on our world is something that God trusts us with. He provides the basic material for us to use in seeking after His way, and He grants to each person the opportunity to be a world changer. How we go about this is up to us. The most powerful thing that anyone can seek to do is to live in a manner that reflects the most basic and foundational of God’s character qualities. We can enter into life with an uncompromising passion and a commitment to care about and for others, to protect the weak, to support righteousness, and to love everyone regardless of what they return to us.

 

God entered into my life; for, He came to experience all of the joy and all of the pain that life affords, and Christ took Himself to the end of those days with purpose and with the intent clearly defined that His death would bring about my life. Christ engages with me during every moment of each of my days, and He grants me the ability to follow His lead by entering into the lives of others in a way that brings them into contact with life, itself. This is the nature of those days that God has ordained for me and for everyone. We can choose to follow Christ and make the moments impactful. God has given us the gift of Himself invested totally into each of us, and He has granted us exactly the right number of days in which to use that gift.

 

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And Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1: 38

 

Here she is; the young woman, really a girl still, who has encountered a form of being that has been nothing more than a fantastical image that exists only in the stories that her grandmothers tell. Now an angelic figure has told her that her life will never be the same; for, she will become a central figure in the singular world-changing event of all time. Whatever dreams, hopes, and plans she had formed would need to be set aside, and events that she could not begin to comprehend were to become her reality. This is the definition of a life turned upside down.

 

Mary’s response is what is so amazing. She hears the sort of news that would send most of us running for cover or at least to the safety of family or friends, and she opens her heart and her mind to the will of the Lord. This is faith, and this faith requires that Mary trust God to a degree that cannot be solely taught. Mary has heard the voice of the Lord speaking to her heart, and she has surrendered her life to His loving will; so, she says, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord.” She is ready and willing to lay it all on the line for her God. Mary enters into a journey without a known destination, and she does this with peace and with joyous anticipation settled well upon her heart.

 

How is it that this young, teen-aged woman who is the product of such a humble, small town upbringing would be so well prepared to surrender herself in the most absolute way possible to do what God was calling her to do? That same question rings loudly in my ears as I think about Mary and consider the fact that her faith stands as a crucial aspect in establishing the way for me to exist in intimate relationship with Christ. Mary did what she did because she trusted God and had an unshakable faith in Him. Christ speaks to me, and He asks me to respond to His much simpler request to love others, to share Him, and to live righteously with the same total surrender and joy that Mary had. O, Lord let me answer, “Be it done to me according to your word.”

 

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

2 Peter 1: 16

 

This was a literal fact for Peter; as, he had been there, and he had walked with Jesus on a daily basis for several years.  Additionally, Peter was there when Christ overcame the ultimate end of human life by defeating death, itself; then, Peter experienced Christ in a form that transcended this world and that clearly demonstrated the presence of heaven in the midst of his earthly life. However, I wasn’t there, and you weren’t there, either; in fact, almost all of the people who have read Peter’s words did not have the opportunity to meet Jesus while He was living on this earth as a human. Yet, it seems that I can claim what Peter is saying as my own truth.

 

This is a part of the great mystery that is God come to dwell among His people as one of us. Although, this was an event that took place in history, and by all of the rules of nature, it is something that should bound by time and by place; that is not the reality of our relationship with Christ. He is every bit as real and as tangibly so for me as He was for Peter. Christ walks with me through my day; for, He is both in me and in my world. In fact, it seems that I have become integrated with Him. Once in Christ, He defines who we are, and Christ invites us to live each day with Him in the majesty of heaven.

 

There is no cleverness required, and the story of Christ in this world does not need to be written by people using well crafted phrases and creative story telling; for, the story of Christ is told in and through the lives of the multitudes of people who know Him, and who He has claimed as His own. My Lord, Jesus Christ, is clearly present to me in my entire world. He speaks to my heart, and He informs my mind. Christ lifts me from the depths of the darkness that continually swirls about in this world, and He fills my soul with His glorious warming light. Christ is as alive and present in my world as He was in Peter’s, and His majesty fills my days with abundant hope, joy, and peace.

 

The Lord shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21: 4

 

As I have known several dear people who, in recent days, have died after battles with painful illness and I do know several more who are living under the oppressive pain and suffering of harsh illnesses or injuries, the thoughts that Christ gave to John in this vision seem truly pertinent for today. Almost everyone knows people who are in these challenging times of life or we have been there ourselves or we are working hard at living through it all today. In this broken and sin plagued world our own bodies will become victims of the universal decay and collapse of a creation that God intended to be perfect and eternal. There is simply no escaping the reality of human frailty and mortality.

 

The pain that people experience during these times is very real, and it is often devastatingly hard to endure both for the sufferer and for those who love and care about that person. Yet, that period of endurance is a mere moment when you contemplate the Lord’s eternity. It is a short journey down a long and brutal road that is very similar to the one that Christ walked on His way to Golgotha and beyond as He secured and sealed our right to freely and totally enter into the presence of God. We are granted a glimpse into those eternal hours when God’s plan for the redemption of humanity and for the restoration of Creation was made complete and was consecrated by Jesus’ blood.

 

It is my belief that in this verse Christ was giving John a picture of the way that this world will be restored when He returns, and I also believe that Christ was providing us with a very hopeful and encouraging look into the new reality that His children experience when they leave this life and enter into their eternal one. Much of the way that we people process and understand life is based upon experience. The things that we have thought and experienced become the overlay and the filter for evaluation and for comprehension of virtually everything we encounter. Christ is telling us that when we enter into His presence we will no longer have the pain and the tears of our human lives as our basis for understanding; thus, there will be no need for mourning. Death no longer holds us in its grasp and it no longer has any control over our existence. In that moment when we leave this life and enter into eternity, we are taken into the presence of Christ who is the author of all joy, peace, and comfort. Then we are dwelling in a home where there is no more sorrow or suffering. Yet, even here and now with life as it is, that future hope is also our reality in Christ as we are dwelling in the presence of our Lord and Savior and within the comfort of His grace and mercy.

Cast your burdens on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 55: 22

 

There are days when the air, itself, seems heavy. It may be the weather, but it might also be all that is happening in life at that moment. Personal concerns, family matters, and strife and struggles in our world can all add to the density of the atmosphere. It might be so thick that the morning doesn’t bring refreshment and new energy; instead, it portends of another oppressive day of hard working steps and hope deferred. This is a tough place to be. Most of us have been there to some degree before we get too far through our allotted days. I believe that Jesus, Himself, must have experienced times like this, for He lived out His earthly life at the center of the tempest that is caused by the sinfulness of our world.

 

For Jesus there was no turning back and no vacation days, either. He was in this world for the duration as He traveled the road of redemption for Creation. In so doing, Christ demonstrated the understanding, empathy, and mercy that God holds for all of us. Jesus lived out and experienced that which God already knew, and the pain that He and that we go through and feel is something that causes God to grieve. Yet, it also serves a real and a valuable purpose for us as we navigate our way through life, for these days of heavy air, the times when the ability to draw the next breath is debatable, are times when turning to the Lord seems to be the only thing that brings real relief. When faced with the greatest of pressures and turmoil, Jesus turned to the Father in prayer with a heart and a mind that trusted in God’s presence and in His response.

 

Turning to the Lord in these times is not always an easy ting to do. People are made to be capable and to take on the challenges of life by using the resources that we possess. Yet, that may be a part of what facing into challenging days is all about, for these aspects of living are ones that do take us outside of our knowledge, skill, and strength and give us no other place to go for the capacity to enter into today than that which comes from the Lord. In this entire universe there is only one source for hope when there are no answers, there is only one trustworthy provider of wisdom that outlasts all of our worldly thinking, and there is only one place where we can go to find salvation for our remaining days and into eternity; and this is Christ. We can go to Christ with whatever breath we have at the moment, and He will hold us up and embrace our weary hearts in the loving arms of God’s boundless love and care.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 20, 21

 

On this date, July 4th, the United States of America, the country where I live and the one that birthed and raised me, celebrates freedom. This day is the singular great holiday on the nation’s calendar, and it is generally the occasion for a massive and hopefully unifying party. I do think that freedom is worth celebrating and also that the freedoms that are considered to be fundamental to the national character of the United States are truly worthy of a vast and universal party. We should gather at the hearts of our communities, play festive music, remember those who have sacrificed in order to secure our world and this nation, and light up the sky with fireworks. Freedom is more than a worthy reason for all of this. Still, I think that there is a freedom that is greater than all that we are celebrating today, and it is something that we certainly should consider as we put on our party clothes and sing out our national hymns.

 

The need for freedom comes about because of its absence, its loss. When God made this world He made it and us free. We had an almost unfettered ability to make choices and to enter into our roles as the rulers of our daily life on earth. God did provide guidance and law, He was directly involved with us on an ongoing basis, and people were granted responsibility and were given freedom that was in balance with it. We know the story. This freedom was taken to extremes and the responsibility to follow God’s will and to reverence Him above all else was set aside with catastrophic results. So, we live in a world where everything is distorted and corrupted and wherein it is hard to find the sort of true freedom that God designed and intended from the beginning of our world’s history.

 

This country does set out concepts and ideas that move in the direction of the form of freedom that God desires for people and for His creation to enjoy. Yet, I do wonder if we don’t get some of it wrong or at least in the wrong order. The greatness in this nation is found in its world-embracing diversity and by virtue of the gift of resources that allow for this soil to enfold people who come with nothing and grant them the opportunity to develop and to become contributors to the well being of others. This is a nation where humanity’s great conversations can take place in an open and protected environment in which understanding is the objective. We can meet and share our faith, our understanding of the nature and the person of God, our views on the makeup and function of family, how we care for this planet, and the best way to establish peace upon its surface and among its people. The ability to enter into these and many other discussions, both large and small, is a part of the freedom that God has granted to us here.

 

The glory of God is seen in our love for others and in our openness to hearing their stories and to caring for them. There is no greater freedom than what is found in the ability to set aside fears and to embrace God’s desire for reconciliation among peoples who have become separated by the human-derived barriers of this broken world. This sort of thing is the foundational greatness that can set the United States apart in our world. This nation has great resources, and I would pray that we would learn to use them to care for people who are in need. This nation grants many freedoms, and I desire to see us tender them to multitudes in order to narrow the gaps of understanding and mistrust that are prevalent in our world today. There is much to celebrate here today, and as we do this, I do sincerely pray that the glory that fills our sky will be that of the Lord as His desire and will for people to enjoy true and eternal freedom becomes the hymn of our nation.

I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.

John 14: 18

 

Isolation, separation, and being alone are states that cause most of us concern. We don’t like to go it on our own even if we put up a front that says to the world, “I am fine, and I have it all handled.” This just isn’t really true, and its lack of sincerity comes about because God didn’t make us to travel through life as individual actors who have everything we need to live well. We were made for relationships with other people, with the rest of creation, and especially for direct engagement with God. This is how the first humans lived as they went about their days in the near perfection of the garden, and God’s desire to be in continual relationship with us is one of the great and miraculous aspects of that account of our beginnings in that He set into motion a fully fleshed out plan for both ongoing engagement with us but also for permanent restoration of the original form of relationship with all of Creation.

 

Yet, life does get in the way. Our own capacity to think, process, and analyze disrupt our peace and calm. We act badly toward others, and they act likewise toward us; so, the bonds of care and affection that once held us together are severed. There may even be a divide and conquer sort of ethos at work in the world at large that seeks to cause people to accentuate our relational pain so that we move away from others when things get challenging and we too easily abandon the person rather than entering into the hard work of processing through the hurts and seeking restoration of the relationship through honest confession and forgiveness. To add to the difficulty that many people have in coming together and staying together with others, most of us have aspects of our personalities that are simply hard for others to handle. So, we move away from those who we have been close to, and this allows room in our hearts and in our minds for this world’s ideas and concepts of love and relating to enter in and to take hold of our thinking. This is also a state of mind and of heart where we often move away from God and out of the counsel of His word of truth.

 

This is where that great and miraculous promise that God made in the garden becomes even more powerful and important. God gave us Himself in the person of Jesus, the Christ, as the final and complete means by which all people could be returned to full and undiminished relationship with God. The powers of this world attempted to disrupt and this restorative work and to destroy the means for its continuation, but they were utterly defeated in this attempt. In Jesus’ statement above we have His reiteration of God’s unending commitment to continue in close engagement with us through all of time and in all circumstances and situations. Jesus may have left this world in the flesh, but He is present in the most real sense possible in the all-knowing, all-seeing, and fully engaged manner that the Spirit dwells with and in us. As we are in Christ, we are never alone in this world. We are fed by His truth, counseled by eternal wisdom, and provided with the companionship of the Great Shepherd. Additionally, we are provided with a family of faith to join in with as we journey through life, and Christ in Spirit and in God’s Word gives to us the tools and perspective to use in working through the conflicts and the challenges of living with other people. None of us are alone in this life when we know Christ. He is with us always and in everything, and Christ desires for us to know His presence, to express its joy, and to remain in the center of His peace throughout our days.

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