November 2018


If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 4: 23

Although Jesus speaks about a physical feature that almost all people possess, He is not talking about our physical bodies. The Lord is restating a comment that occurs several times in the words of the prophet Isaiah and that also run deep in a Jewish understanding of the way that God desires for His people to respond to Him. I think that a key element in what Jesus says two times in this section of Mark’s gospel is found in the all but universal presence of hearing in people. We were meant to hear. This is the way that God designed people, and that hearing is an important part of the manner in which we are intended by our Creator to navigate our way through this world. People can operate successfully with diminished or even absent hearing, but this takes extra effort, training, and on-going practice to do well. When it comes to hearing, Jesus is saying that God gives us all the equipment with which to hear, the ability to decipher this auditory input, and the capacity to use what we take in in order to live righteously in the manner that God desires for us to do.

The fact that we all fall short of this last aspect of what God intends for us is the result of our own rebellion against God, of our selfishness, and of our unrelenting need to go through life making our own decisions and following after our personally desired and fabricated gods. We don’t hear God’s word of truth and life because we refuse to listen to His voice. We fail to live as redeemed people in this fallen world because we shut off the receptivity that God designed into our hearts and our minds. In too many instances we become the fool, the person who should know better but who still acts as one who does not know Christ at all. This can be true in big things and it can also be the case in the small elements of life. Jesus is saying to those of us who know Him that we need to engage the full concept of the hearing that we have been given as a gift from God. That is, we need to let God’s word in, and we also need to surrender ourselves to obedience to the call to love others, seek justice, grant mercy, and hold righteousness as more precious than breath itself. In addition, people who do not know Christ are provided with an opportunity to hear Him in the expression of our lives when we follow Christ as He would have us do this.

For people who struggle with hearing, and I would guess that this includes most of us, there is hope. Jesus would not have made such a point of this if He were not also providing a way to redemption from the manner in which we have deviated from God’s will. In Christ, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who grants understanding to us and who counsels us in all aspects of following God. We are also provided with God’s Word and the wealth of truth, wisdom, and descriptions of righteous living that are contained within it. Then, the body of faith invites us into its presence and provides followers of Christ with a place to dwell where support, accountability, instruction, and opportunity to use the gifts that God has given to us are formed together into common worship of our Lord. Thus, Jesus points to the obvious presence of ears on our heads, and He instructs us to truly hear, which means that we are to seek out the face of God, to meditate deeply upon His Word, to pray regularly and routinely, to listen even more intently that we speak, and to engage in the fellowship of the body of Christ even when those associations may seem hard or troubling. As Jesus said to us, “Hear and obey and commit your life to following what it is that God is continually saying to you through the ears of your heart.” At least that is how I heard His words in my heart.     

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If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?

Acts 11: 17

Peter had just experienced one of those great moments of eye opening, blast of ice-cold water in the face truth revealed to him by God. He had been thinking that he had a responsibility to perform as a sort of filter on what would be acceptable to God and on how people could be made worthy of entering into the fellowship of people who believe in Jesus. Peter was wrong. He was absolutely and totally off track in his thinking, and his actions followed along after his thoughts. In this same light, it is interesting how much Peter was like me and so many other people that I know and have heard about.

It seems that we humans are very slow learners. Thus, it is a really good thing that the Lord is a very patient teacher. There is one and only one authorized and final judge who has authority over the affairs of people, and that judge is the resurrected One, Jesus the Christ. We are called upon by God to function as a continuation of Christ’s interaction with people here on this earth; for, people who know Jesus are the living Body of Christ in our world. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can possess the heart, mind, and the power of Christ in order to fulfill His mission for us of bringing God’s loving grace, restorative peace, and eternal perspective to this sin ravaged world.

There is no person who is so far removed from God that His grace cannot save them. There is no place that the Lord does not want us to go to tell His truth, and nothing should stop us from seeking to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in all aspects of living on a daily basis. When I start to apply standards to others that will get in the way of my ability to speak truth to them with the love of Christ on my lips, I need to stop and consider how my Lord would have approached the same person. These are often situations where my actions are more important than any words that I can speak. In these situations and circumstances service, sacrifice, and simple love are frequently the vocabulary that Christ provides for me to use. At these times of engagement with people, as in all aspects of living as a follower of Christ, I need to seek the Spirit’s leading and ask that Christ open my heart and fill my mind with His loving attitude and gracious words of eternal hope and salvation’s message of redemptive grace.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2: 5, 6

Paul has just made the statement that God wants all people to be saved; so, he states the reason and the way that this is to come about. Now the subject of salvation is one that should be of interest to virtually everyone, for we all find ourselves in situations and circumstances that bring forms of peril into our paths. Life in this world is not easy, and the journey that we are on through it is one on which things are guaranteed to get rough. This is just the way that it is in our neighborhood, and all people dwell in a place that has its issues and its challenges. Wealth, social status, nationality, and religion make no difference, for evil is everywhere and all of us are born into a life of opposition to God’s will and one wherein we will encounter strife that is poured out upon us and that is also caused by our own thoughts and actions.

No one escapes the need for being saved, and none of us are capable of doing that saving on our own. If being saved were as simple as it is sometimes depicted in adventure stories, then some of us might have a chance at effecting our escape from some of the perils that assail us in this world. But those stories are fantasy, and the conquering heroes that are depicted in them are seldom much like us. Real people have far too little strength, capability, and skill to successfully go up against evil giants and prevail without the intervention of something from beyond ourselves. All of this is even more so the reality of life when it comes to entering into the very real and ever-present struggle with spiritual forces and with the soul-deep need for rescue that we are each born into. Our birthright of separation from God demands resolution, and God has given us the gift of redemption, the One who paid the price of ransom that was required to set us free, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Although this concept is very simple in so many ways, acceptance of God’s offer is often quite hard for people to enter into. For many of us doing this requires us to step out of logic and reason and enter into the most profoundly deep and life-altering relationship that we will ever encounter on the basis of that fragile and mystical thing called faith. This is admittedly hard to do, but God makes promises to us. He is committed to be with us and to take us through life with all that it throws our way. He shows us the greater reality of life whereby the lives that we are living here and now are nothing more than a dim shadow of the ones that we will know if we choose to enter into that relationship with Christ. God desires to be with each and every one of us in an eternal home that is our dwelling place after these days are accomplished, but He also wants for us to join with Him willingly and out of our own desire to be with Him. So, we can choose Jesus Christ and be saved in this life and into all of eternity, or we can reject Christ and be separated from God’s presence for all time. God’s heart and desire is focused on the first of those outcomes.   

As for man, his days are like grass;

   he flourishes like a flower of the field,

for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

   and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on

               those who fear him,

   and his righteousness to children’s children,

to those who keep his covenant

   and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103: 15-18

Everyone wants to leave a legacy. We desire that there would be something left behind when we leave this life that people will look upon and see a reflection of our importance in the world. These life-defining accomplishments may be grand or powerful, and they might also be rather miniscule when viewed from the extremely high vantage point that God possesses. Regardless of what it is that we provide to our heirs or to our world by way of inheritance, they all have one thing in common, and this is the same commonality that all people are granted in the course of working out our lives. Our time here is temporary, for each of our lives will cease at the end of our allotted days, and the work of our hands will pass into history and gather its rightful dust as the produce of our hands becomes obsolete, is replaced by something more functional or useful, and as even the financial wealth that we accumulated and bequeathed is used up or its source is no longer known personally by its beneficiaries.

An enduring place in this world is something that only God actually possesses. He is the creator of it all, and it is by His hand alone that everything functional on earth and in heaven is set into motion and sustained in its trajectory. We may live lives that are glorious and provide various forms of beauty just as do the flowers of our fields and gardens. Yet, all that we bring to this world will end and our beautiful place will be nothing more than a fast fading memory. The Lord’s place in the world is an eternal one in which He provides the concept of what is beautiful to the canvas that is His masterwork. While the flower was a temporary resident in the soil of its planting, the Lord’s love, grace, truth, and life are an unceasing component of that same soil. All that is vibrant, everything that provides value and gives nourishment to our bodies, minds, and spirits is derived from God’s outpouring of Himself into the environment around us and into us as we feed upon His word of truth and life.

For you see, God actually wants each of us to leave behind a true and an enduring legacy. He grants us His infinite grace and unending mercy so that we have the opportunity to overcome our failures and our losses while claiming a place of honor and respect in this life and into the days to come after our bodies have left the earth. This real and enduring heritage is formed out of love given, grace extended to others, mercy granted, and righteousness lived out to the best of our ability to do so. The best way for each of us to be remembered is through the lives of others that have been touched by the presence of Christ because we cared for them and entered into traveling through a portion of life with them. In the end of these days, a desirable eulogy would not mention wealth gained and passed on, power obtained and brokered, or monuments of stone and steel constructed; rather, those final words become lasting ones when they describe a life that has been committed to serving God, wherein its memorial stone is carved in lives brought into relationship with Christ, and by which the desire to seek after righteousness and holiness are passed on to future generations.  

You were running well, who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Galatians 5: 7

The strides are coming in a smooth and easy rhythm, ground is flying past with little effort, and the race is going just as you had planned for it to go. Then, there is that sudden sense of a foot being nailed to the track or you experience that disorienting feeling that comes when one foot is knocked off line by an outside force. In a moment order and progress have become chaos and pain, victory tasted has become defeat experienced. This is the nature of life when we dare to venture into the world of entering into the contest against the forces of evil; for they don’t compete in a fair and above board manner. They want to win, and will do and say anything to achieve that end. So, we need to be willing to fight even harder to stay true to the calling that Christ has set before us.

It seems that one of the things that Paul is telling us here is that we need to be continually on the alert for the sorts of false information and misleading thoughts or ideas that will be set before us to try to get us off of God’s desired course. Living a life in the center of God’s will is never going to be a sit back and let it all come to me sort of existence. There will always be a need for effort and focus on our parts. We need to be students of God, studying His truth and its application in our lives through continual and thorough engagement with His Word. In addition to our study, the Spirit of Christ will provide us with the discernment and understanding that we need to test everything that we are told and taught so that we will not be tripped up by false teaching.

In my own experience, I am often my own greatest hindrance in running this spiritual race well. It seems that I fail to condition and to train consistently and adequately; then, my legs become weak, my cardio conditioning fails me, and my form is flawed so that I end up tripping and falling into an inglorious heap on the side of the track because I stepped on my own foot. What I mean is that the same exercise of study, prayer, and fellowship that is the best way to defeat each and every one of Satan’s assaults upon the practice of my faith is also the best way to stay conditioned for the rigors of living a life of righteous joy in the center of God’s will. Truth wins the race in this life, truth is defined by God, Himself, and truth becomes real and tangible as we grow in our relationship with Christ. So, truth is the heartbeat of the runner who finishes strong in this race of life. 

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.

Psalm 50: 14

No matter what we do or how much effort we put out in attempting to serve God, it is all of little importance if our hearts are not thankful. We can be continually engaged in doing good works and in churchy-type activities and still be doing it all in order to feel good or to appear righteous to other people. It is the internal attitude that matters most, and that attitude is formed out of an understanding of why we need to be thankful to God.

There is something about the act of thanking God that is beneficial. As we express our dependence and blessedness by thanking the Lord for who He is, for what He does, and for His amazing love, our hearts and minds become oriented to hearing and doing God’s will. Thanksgiving leads to freedom from my preconceived notions of what I should be engaged in and opens my mind to grasp the idea of embracing the things that will truly bring glory to God. Expressing my thanks to God places Him in the center of my focus and takes me out of that position, and that change in orientation leads to the sort of empowerment that sets true service into motion.

My prayer for this day is that my heart will stay in a continuous attitude of thankfulness to my Lord, that my mind will not drift away from that focus, and that everything that I do throughout this day will be engaged in from a desire to bring glory to God. A thankful heart is at peace in even the most turbulent of times. Expressing thankful words brings out the joy that sorrow has concealed. Thanksgiving soothes the pain of grief and loss. Thoughts of thanks and praise lead us out of the world and into the throne room of God. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my Lord and King. Thank you. 

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3: 19

This verse is a part of Zephaniah’s summation of his discussion of how God will deal justly with Israel by virtue of returning the nation and its people to their homeland and out of an oppressive captivity. Yet, I think that it also shows us a more fundamental aspect of God’s nature and the character that is His nature’s foundation. Although the Lord does care greatly about the lives of all people, He has an especially soft spot for those who are less able to take care of themselves. So, when I see the term lame, I think of people who are physically disadvantaged regardless of cause or reason for their condition, but I think that God actually has a larger group of people in His mind when He looks upon those who are lame. These are people who are easy prey or targets for oppressors. God’s view of lameness also includes emotional weakness, issues of mental capacity, and any other conditions of body, mind, or spirit that might cause a person to need extra care, provision, or understanding. Our Lord takes each and every one of these people under His wing of protection and holds them very close.

The Lord also seeks after a very wide circle of people who could be labeled as outcasts. These can be those among us who are difficult to be around, and they are often those who are simply different from whatever is normal or usual in our own cultural environment. This can include people who are from other countries, races, ethnicities, economic status, or any other conditions that might brand them as different from me and from my natural family and neighbors. God does not use the concept of outcast as a way of describing people. Rather, He sees all of us as His children, and He goes searching for those of us who are far away from Him in order to win us back to close proximity through love, grace, and understanding. The Lord would have each of us view all others in this same manner. We are to seek after those who are different from us, open up our hearts and our homes to them in a way that speaks Christ’s love through actions and by attitudes while giving praise to the One who saves with our words.

Although this verse contains a description of the way that God views people in our world, I believe that He desires for each of us who know Him to live in this same manner. He guides us into holding these same attitudes deeply and personally. Followers of Christ are to be people who seek after the outcast without regard for the cause of that condition or state of their being. In so seeking after them, we are to grant them shelter, to provide what they need to carry on with life, and we are to befriend them in a way that speaks acceptance and that remains true and faithful to those friendships into the unforeseen future. Christ leads us into loving the lame and into seeking to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that speak Christ’s redemption and restoration in a manner that words are inadequate to express. There are many people in our world who live as exiles, who are lame or outcast; so, there are multitudes of people in our daily lives who need a friend, a protector, a listening ear. We all encounter these people and they are God’s blessed gifts to us, for they allow us to draw closer to Christ by trusting Him to care for and to lead us as we enter into their lives in Christ’s name.    

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