March 2018


And light will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22: 5

 

Darkness is a theme that hovers over this day in our Christian calendar, for Good Friday is the heaviest day of the year in emotional content and with its blanket of harsh reality. This day is loaded with the most significant darkness before the dawn content of any day in earth’s history. This is that point when all of our rebellion against God’s reign and struggle to find our own way in a world that was created to fully support our journey but was not quite sufficient for us in our own appraisal of things came to a singular point of focus. Anger, violence, and death had their pinnacle moment, and their intense gathering in was aimed with laser point intensity on all that is love and was set to attempt to destroy the one who promised life where death had conspired to appropriate control.

 

As we know the next aspects of this story, we recognize that the darkness was temporary. Sight was returned to our darkened eyes in the dawn of resurrection, and that brought with it the absolute overthrow of death’s power over life. But death and its darkness are still with us. We are subject to the pain that comes with loss of loved ones, and we all enter into the process whereby our bodies and our minds move away from full vitality and head in various degrees and at an individual pace into decline and decay. In this world we do not know immortality, but through Christ, we can go into the darkness of death in this life and then follow Him and join with Christ in the glorious light of the dawn of our own eternity. Christ endured the deepest darkness possible so that we would not be required to know that sort of painful separation from God.

 

Now, in Christ, we can dwell today in the radiant light of salvation while we also look forward in the certain hope of eternity with God. We will see that day that is promised by Christ in the Revelation account. We will know the pure joy when all sin ceases to be as Creation is made anew into the form, shape, and function that was God’s intent at the inception of it all. Christ has claimed our eternity for each of us who turn to Him. In Him and by His Spirit we walk today in the presence of this great and unceasing light. Although the physical properties of our world still require various forms and sources of light to grant to us the sight that we need to navigate our way, Christ gives us a form of the same light that will eliminate the need for any other in that final restoration, and He fills our hearts, minds, and souls with it today. Even on this darkest of days in our calendar, the glory of Christ’s redemption fills the world and illuminates the path that we are to follow.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53: 11

 

Isaiah wrote these words about 700 years before Jesus was born; yet, He describes exactly what Jesus would accomplish in His short time with us on earth. He truly suffered in many ways. Jesus felt what the Father also feels, for the weight of people’s sin was heavy upon Christ throughout the days of His life. He walked in the paths of our pain, and He responded to the needs of our souls for reconciliation with God and for the deep healing that would bring about a return to dwelling in the presence of our Lord. Then, after living among us and entering into our lives for a period of time, Jesus took all that we had done to separate ourselves from holiness and He also grasped to Himself every aspect of sin that would come in the future so that anyone who would choose to be reconciled to God could be so saved. This great sacrificial act was needed so that you and I could know the fullness of life and enter into the reality of being alive for eternity.

 

So, Jesus brought many people out of death and into life. His offer of grace and peace with our Creator is extended to everyone; yet, some say yes to it and others continue to reject this free gift that Christ holds out to us. Because of the fact that many do not choose to hear and to accept the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God calls all of us who do know Him to speak out about this faith that has saved us and to live openly in the freedom that Christ has given to us in order for the world to see how and why submission to Christ brings about the sort of joy and peace that it does. Christ desires that each of His people would live so that our lives would be an on-going testimony to His great love and to the way that we have been released from captivity to sin. In Christ, we have a purpose in life that is noble and that conforms to God’s desire to redeem the world and that joins in His plan to accomplish this goal.

 

On that day over two thousand years ago Jesus carried away my sin, and He did the same for everyone else, too. Now we each are granted that opportunity to embrace God’s gift of redemption. If we have already done so and entered into the new life that Christ’s presence grants to us, then we are traveling along a road that leads ever farther into God’s will. This is a journey of faith that asks us to continually submit to the Lord and to yield ourselves to His transformative work within us. It is also a life of entering into the deep joy that comes from dwelling in Christ’s presence. For people who have not accepted the gift that Christ’s death and resurrection provide, this day grants to them an ideal time to turn life around by surrendering to the only one who can save the soul and to the singular source of that new life, Jesus Christ.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2: 13, 14

 

Christ is all about the resolution of conflict. His presence brings into existence the reconciliation of people who have developed long-standing and very deep differences that have often grown into animosity. Although Paul is discussing the division of humanity into two groups, Jews and Gentiles, that was at the center of his world, I think that we can apply the same fundamental principles to other forms of human separation and categorical stress. The reasons for these differences are real, and they have often been developed over long periods of time. They are not easy to resolve, and they may seem to be completely beyond any possibility of finding commonality or of entering into true peace. Yet, Christ is the worker of these sorts of impossibilities.

 

What is perhaps even more remarkable is the way that the Lord does so much of this reconciliatory work. As Jesus went to His death on that highly divisive implement of torture and execution, the cross, He was effectuating the destruction of all that is divisive in our world. That might seem to be highly debatable in that followers of Christ and people who hold other religious beliefs or lack of them have been in conflict since those early days of the Christian church. Yet, Christ, through His death and resurrection, has given all people the means by which we can come into a common relationship with God, our Creator and the Sovereign King of the Universe. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for sin that all people deserve, and He also cast aside all of the rules and systems of belief that create dividing walls to segregate off small portions of our world, one from another.

 

We may not speak the same language, and we certainly do not all look the same or practice life in the same style and manner. But all people can know the same God, and we can recognize His creative hand in and on each of us. Humanity, in the aggregate of all that we are, is the full and the nearly total picture of that image of God in which we were formed and shaped. So too, in Christ, all that forces us into separation and division is taken to the cross of sacrifice, and resolution of these differences is to be found in our own willingness to follow Christ into the new life of eternal hope and peace for our souls that He grants to all who enter into relationship with Him. We are no longer identified as Jew and Gentile, Asian, African, or Caucasian, female or male, native born or foreigner, or by any other of our myriad divisions and differences. In Christ, we have been brought near to God; so, we have also been brought by Christ to share a common table of grace and to speak the same language of peace.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

1 Peter 3: 18

 

One, and only one, was born without sin, was surrounded by all of the temptations that each of us faces, lived without giving in to any of Satan’s enticements, and died an undeserved death so that people like me could live. This is the great universal irony of faith in God, for everyone who has lived except for Jesus has earned a death sentence of separation from the only true and unwavering source of love in the universe. That is, we all act in ways that are unrighteous, unloving, and hurtful to God, the Father; so, we are not worthy of being in His presence. Thus, the Father sent Jesus!

 

You see, God was never willing to settle for the simple answer of just getting rid of the people that He had created, and He certainly wasn’t going to allow sin to continue to rule this world. There was always a redemptive plan, and God continually works toward restoration. Jesus is the answer to the plan of redemption, accepting Him as Lord of one’s life changes our status from object of that plan to participant in it, and living in the close and intimate relationship with God that can follow after acceptance of Christ leads us into the process of personal restoration to the glory that the Father intended for each of us. Additionally, Jesus is the only answer to God’s desire for the ultimate restoration of this world to its created glory.

 

Jesus, who was always alive in spirit, became a man as a gift from the Father to all of us so that we could know that same spiritual life; then, the Father allowed people to put the Christ to death so that He could claim God’s victory over the decay and the destruction with which sin had filled us. Thus, in Jesus, we too have God’s gift of a spirit that is eternally alive. This life is a splendid present that is given to everyone, everywhere. For those who have never accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, it needs to be opened and the victory inside claimed. For those of us who have accepted the gift, we can explore the contents more fully, seek to truly know Christ, and lay all of the sinful thinking and actions that are still clinging to our flesh before God so that He can put them to death. Christ is the path to victory over death, and He is the One who restores us to the fullness of life.

 

Who is the King of glory?

The LORD, strong and mighty,

the LORD, mighty in battle!

Psalm 24: 8

 

There is a battle going on around us. We know that this is a literal truth in our times, for there are stories and reports of armed conflict coming out of almost every corner of our earth. We are also aware of the violent nature of our times in that terrible things are happening in places and to people who would otherwise seem to be living and carrying out life in very safe conditions. As a follower of Christ, I certainly do see that we are also engaged in a daily struggle with evil and with the forces of our world for the souls of people. The reality of the conflict that fills our air and that saturates our airwaves is too present to deny, and it does demand that we pay attention to it and that we engage in its conduct or risk falling prey to its destructive forces.

 

Yet, I think that there is a real risk here in paying the wrong sort of attention to this conflict; so, there is also a high prospect of adopting inappropriate and ineffective tactics as we seek to engage in this fight. It is human nature to either run from the sounds of battle or to run toward them. In the first situation, we are attempting to save ourselves and to protect others from harm by leading them away from danger. In that opposite response, we are seeking to gain an advantage on the adversary by striking before they have time to fully prepare to meet us. When it comes to the underlying battle of the soul and to its spiritual field of contest, both of these approaches tend to leave prayer out as they maximize our human involvement in a battle that belongs first and foremost to the Lord.

 

Even when the news of the day tells us in graphic detail about the chaos and the destruction that are all around us in the world and certainly at those times when these harsh realities have settled upon our own lives, the Lord is still King, and He remains the answer to all that we are facing. That is why reflecting upon these few simple words and recognizing their message as my own can be a very helpful thing to do on a regular basis. Who is the King of Glory? He is Jesus Christ who is strong and mighty to save and to redeem all who are lost. He is the answer to every question that we might ask, and Christ fills every need that we will have during our journey through life. So, as the battle, both far and near, fills our ears with its roar, we do have a warrior going before us and leading us into His victory over all that is evil and over the sin and the death that they bring with them. Who is this King of Glory, He is Christ, and He rules my heart and saves my soul!

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Philippians 3: 20, 21

 

Paul was onto something. He knew one of the truly great secrets of the universe; something that brings miracles into being, and its basis is described in these words. They are not some form of incantation or magic spell that needs to be recited in a certain way or at a specified time; instead, these words describe a relationship and a way of viewing life and of living it that comes forth out of that relationship. In Christ, we change homelands and gain a different set of allegiances. Through Christ, the way that we view the world around us is also reshaped along the lines of the way that God views His Creation. Because of Christ, the Spirit works within and upon us to transform our hearts and minds into ones that are no longer focused upon the darkness of this world but that are oriented toward the glory of the Lord.

 

This new way of believing, of thinking, and of viewing the world around us changes the nature of our responses to others and to the life situations that we encounter. Sin is still sin, wrong and hurt are still painful, and that which is lost remains troubling; yet, Christ brings His redemptive view of it all to exist within our otherwise earth-bound and worldly view. So, Christ opens our eyes to see forgiveness where we might see strife. He brings us to offer grace when it would seem that rebuke might feel more powerful. We come to see the Lord of the Universe bending down to touch those who were unclean and stopping to scandalously enter into talk of true love with a shameful woman. Thus, in seeing Jesus with the eyes of a heart that is awakened to His desire to call each of us into service to His Gospel, we too can stop in the midst of our seemingly important journey through life and bend down to lift up those who are beaten down and fragile and to enter into the stories of others who have been cast aside by the proper and too correct authorities of our day.

 

As He did with Paul, Christ transforms the rules for living for us, too. Our citizenship in heaven also means that we are now to live under the laws and within the economy of God’s Kingdom come upon the earth. We now dwell in a place that is framed in by the presence of the Spirit and whose boundaries are defined by all the God claims as His own. In this sort of land, all of us who know Christ are called upon by God to seek peace with everyone, to love all others with a form of love that willingly sacrifices self in order to portray Christ and His love, that grants grace and mercy to those who seem least deserving of either, and that serves the will of our only true King, Jesus Christ, in all matters. This is a place where we still stand on truth and hold God’s Word as holy, absolute, and righteous, but we also possess the freedom in Christ to deliver this eternal truth with the sort of love that God framed it in at its inception. We are here for one purpose and that is to bring the redemptive love of our Savior into direct contact with every person and place in our world that we may go during each of our days here.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 5: 1

 

As we live in this world today, Paul’s first statement above about the destruction of our earthly tents seems quite real and totally personal. Everyday and all around us we hear about and even experience events that take take hold of our lives with the iron grip of chaos, destruction, and loss. People’s lives are turned upside down, and we are thrown about by forces that we don’t control and by circumstances that slip up on us with the stealth of absolute darkness and the swiftness of demonic zeal. These events can take our homes, destroy our churches, and even shake our faith to the point of serious questioning of our relationship with God.

 

The Lord knows our world just as He knew the very similar one that Paul lived in; for, you see, the forces of evil have been loose on earth since the early days of our human history, and Satan wants to take our weak spirits into his hands and give us the sort of trials that strike us in our areas of greatest vulnerability. The Lord protects us, and He strengthens us so that we can handle these attacks. He also promises us with a certainty that is unshakable that this life and this world are not all that we have. In fact, the most magnificent structures and the greatest thoughts that we can enjoy in this life are nothing more than dim shadows of what we will experience in our next lives with God in Heaven.

 

Therefore, we need to remain hopeful despite everything that is happening in our world, and we need to continue to seek the face of God while in the center of our circumstances. It is this solid, tangible hopefulness that sets God’s people apart from the rest of humanity, and it is this ability to see beyond the moment to an eternal perspective that keeps us going on during times when our immediate world has been turned on its side. Our families, friends, neighbors, and communities are desperately looking for hopeful signs in these troubled times; so, people of faith who stay focused on the Lord’s promises can bring the light of salvation into their lives and the hope of eternity to their souls.

 

O LORD, make me know my end

and what is the measure of my days;

let me know how fleeting I am!

Psalm 39: 4

 

Let me say that David must have been in a very odd mood on the day that he set out these words. This is just not the sort of thing that I would want God to reveal for me, and David doesn’t strike me as a person who was more morbid than I am or than most others are either. Yet, he asks for an image, a picture, of where this life comes to its end as if that would appear on his calendar as one of those automatic prompts that self-populate mine. That would be strange and troubling; it might look somewhat like this, “Last Hour of Final Day of Life, Start: 4:00 P.M. End: 5:00 P.M.” In fact, I think that David is actually doing something very different than reflecting on the end of his days here; rather, he is actually entering into living his life more righteously and with clearer God-directed purpose.

 

This Psalm is a lament. The author is distressed and troubled by the way that his life is going, and he is also taking responsibility for the ways that it has gone off track. God has a plan for David’s life just as He has one for each of us. David admits to his own sinfulness and owns his frustrations with the outcome of those departures from righteous thought and action. As we read his thoughts, we are invited to join David in reflecting upon our own lives, and we are guided into owning the ways that we are turning away from God as we conduct life in a manner that we have determined and that we attempt to control outside of submission to God’s Word, His will, and the Spirit’s direction. So, considering the end of it all is of very real importance.

 

This is that point that we all will face where we no longer can change any of the course of our life. What we have done is completed, and the way that we will be remembered is established by those expressed thoughts and emotions, the deeds completed, and the others that were left undone. This is not stated as a form of defeatist resignation, but, instead, I see this sort of process as one in which we look at the place where we are in life, own the sin that is there, and submit it and the other aspects of our existence to following Christ in service to His Gospel. The place where we are on that track through our days doesn’t matter. If this is the last of those allotted hours, let them be lived in praise to God and for His glory. If there are thousands of days to go until that end, let them all be ones that are committed to Christ and to proclaiming Him in thought, word, and action. The specific moment of that final breath does not matter, what does count is the way that each of our breaths sing out praise and glory to the Lord!

 

 

Through him (our Lord Jesus Christ) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5: 2

 

It seems to me that if there is one thing that would make aa difference in the way that our world operates, that one thing might be the presence of more grace in our interactions and in our relationships. Now grace is an interesting concept, and it is a risky thing to engage in giving or receiving. Grace defies some of the rules of life that we all have learned, for it operates outside of the usual idea that all human interaction carries with it an inherent requirement that there be reciprocity. If I give something to you, then you are indebted to me until something of relatively equal worth is returned to me. This is the sort of platform upon which most of what we do and how we engage with each other is constructed. This give and take economy is where our world stands.

 

However, this is not where God is coming from in the way that He engages with His creation, in general, and with people, specifically.  In the beginning, He breathed life into us, and after we defied Him and went our own way into a universal journey of sin and its death, God came to us and provided Himself as our means of reentering the fullness of life. God asked for nothing in return as He poured out His grace upon our unworthy souls, and the only thing that Christ asked was that we be forgiven. Because of Christ and through God’s grace, anyone who turns to Him in repentance and submission is granted a new home in God’s Kingdom and a renewed purpose for this life in service to its King. Thus, in so living, we enter into our own hope of eternity wherein we will be covered in the glory of the Lord, but grace is still really for this life and it is about how we approach living today.

 

In Christ, we have received grace beyond our capacity or capability to measure it. There is no way to quantify or to compare this gift from God to anything else that we can perceive in this world. Yet, this grace that God has granted to us is intended to serve the purpose of setting us free from the bonds and the constraints that sin has imposed upon us. This is especially true when it comes to the way that we react to and interact with others. It seems to me that if we prepared out hearts to pour out grace upon people in all situations and under the wide range of circumstance in which we react to them in life, then this world would have a different tone and flavor to it. We might see others in a way that is more like Christ’s, and we just might find that other people start to understand some more of God’s gracious desire to redeem them. So, Lord, help me to stand today as a grace-soaked follower of Jesus and guide me to pour out that same infinite love upon others as an offering of grace given in worship to my King.

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6: 6

 

The way that we approach prayer can be a very interesting and highly variable subject. There are a great many ways to engage in prayer. Most people pray in ways that cover a wide range of styles and intensity. Some people express themselves in very formal and proper ways and some are highly emotive or truly casual in their attitudes and words. This is how it should be, for God made each of us as an individual and He relates to each of us individually. However, there is one thing that I believe is universal. That is the simple fact that God is neither impressed nor is His attention gained by the cleverness or by the form of our words. The point of engaging in prayer is not so that God would be aware of us. We are instructed by God to engage in prayer in order for us to become more deeply attentive to God.

 

In this verse from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not teaching against public or group prayer, for there are other instances when He engages in very public prayer. He is teaching us to approach prayer in a manner that runs against our culture. Christ wants us to understand that God is infinitely more interested in the relationship with us than He is in the form of our engagement in that relationship. The Father is fully aware of who we are, of what is happening in our lives, and of what it is that we truly need. He is also completely secure in who He is; thus, God does not need for us to express words of praise and adoration to Him. It is us who do need to recognize the character of God and to acknowledge His nature so that we can enter more fully into a life that reflects the love and righteousness that the Lord is pouring out upon us.

 

So, why does Jesus tell us to go into a private place and pray words that only we might be aware of? This is an issue of intimacy and of trust. The Father desires for us to drop our guards and to become utterly vulnerable before Him. He wants us to stop being wise, all-knowing and competent in the ways that our world teaches us to be in order for us to be able to recognize the sort of absolute dependence upon God that leads us to the surrender of our hearts and our minds completely to His will. When we pray to God in our own words with no other audience in mind than the Father, what we say may come out in unstoppable torrents or it might be uttered in only the sounds of the silence of inexpressible emotion. Form carries no weight with the God who already knows everything that is on our minds and whose intent is to bless us with the abundance of His grace, love and provision. Jesus is sharing with us what He already knows to be true. Prayer is an unending and unrelenting dialogue with God the Father, and it is a fundamental aspect of living in a very real state of present-time, deeply intimate relationship with our Lord and King.

 

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