December 2018


Commit your way to the LORD;

   trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

   and your justice as the noonday.

Psalm 37: 5, 6

Commitment is not an easy thing to have or to receive from others. We may say that we are committed to something, to a cause or a relationship, but actual follow through on those words is something very different from the profession of that intent. Commitment means that there is nothing that will deflect or deter a person from living out the promise given. Commitment is all-consuming as it is related to the subject of that promise. God is committed to His Creation in a way that resembles how a parent is usually fully focused upon its children. Unfortunately, people tend to make promises to God and then break or redirect them rather readily and with little regard for the impact that this turning away from God’s truth and His way of living may have on ourselves, upon others, or the grief and pain that it brings to God.

Even when we are less than fully on-board with God’s standard for how people should think, speak, and act, the Lord stays committed to us. We might wander far from His righteousness and even enter into a life that is deliberately lived outside of the camp of the holy; still, Christ will continue to pursue us and call us back into living inside of God’s way of truth. Christ’s presence with us in this journey through life is a blessing, and His righteousness equates to strength for those travels. The Lord gives us the gift of clarity and understanding so that the complex issues and situations that we do encounter will be illuminated by His Word with its unceasing supply of wisdom, counsel, and truth. The qualities of Godly wisdom are too often lacking in our world’s public and private discourse; yet, their presence does bring justice and peacemaking into the conversation.

God has not designed His relationship with people to be a one-sided affair, and He does not desire to force involvement or engagement in the nature and the course of that relationship upon anyone, either. Thus, it becomes important for us to also commit ourselves and our lives to living in close and intimate relationship with Christ. Such a commitment means that I have determined that there is no one and nothing else that is more important to me than is Christ. This places the truth of God’s Word above all other forms of guidance, direction, or counsel that I may encounter or receive. This way of living constitutes a promise of myself to service to Christ and to His kingdom purposes as my primary calling in life. Committing my way to Christ establishes His way of interacting with people as my way, and it eliminates all other views and approaches to engaging with people as invalid. Christ loves all, seeks justice for all others, and desires to enter into a relationship with everyone, and as a committed follower of Christ, so should I do likewise.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalm 90: 17

When a child has completed a craft project or done a job around the house that required some special effort, she will often come to a parent with that special, expectant look on her face and an uneasy sort of anticipatory tension in her body language. The child is waiting for the look of acknowledgement and words of acceptance of the efforts that she has put out. This need to have the work that we have done approved by one who loves us and who we respect never goes away. We all still want to hear and understand that what we have done is good and worthy.

Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to give praise or to even make mention of the efforts of others. There seems to be an unwritten rule among people that says that everyone should just know when they are doing things well and that too much praise causes others to develop inflated egos or to become lazy. However, the Lord doesn’t seem to function that way. He never stops bringing words of encouragement to His children. Sometimes they are expressed in the form of a quiet voice that seems to just exist somewhere inside of me. He also speaks from the pages of His Word straight into my heart. In addition, God uses the expressions of other people as His way of telling me of His praise and approval. Regardless of the method, God is never silent.

During those times when I am questioning my direction, when I am wondering about the validity of my efforts, or when I am hearing disapproving voices, I can just suspend the busy activity of my mind and open my heart to listen to the Father’s voice. These are times when I need to stop and talk with Him, slow down and allow the deeper meaning of His Word a chance to be revealed to me by the Holy Spirit, and quiet my voice so that I can hear the Lord’s words to me. For, as a reminder to myself, God is never absolutely silent and He is always the One who brings praise and encouragement to my soul. 

Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech.

Genesis 20: 17

This is a story of fear and failure to trust, a tale of how the very human man, Abraham, couldn’t find it in his heart to remain strong, or better, to live in the center of the strength that God grants to His children. Thus, Abraham deceived Abimelech and came very close to putting him directly into the path of God’s righteous anger and all of its consequences. Although he was not one of God’s chosen, God came directly to Abimelech and warned him in clear and honestly direct terms about the dangerous course that he had entered upon because of Abraham’s deception.

There was a spiritual disaster in the making in these events, for here was a man who God, Himself, had visited and had eaten a meal with. Abraham was a man who was to become known as a “friend of God”; still, he was allowing fear, uncertainty, and his inability to trust God above his own understanding to cause him to fail miserably in his mandate to bring the Lord’s truth and His loving grace into the lives of the seeking souls around him. Still, the Lord’s plans and His will are greater than anything that we people are capable of doing to thwart them. Also, through His grace, God permits us to repent and turn to trust in him in order to redeem the catastrophic situations that we create.

So God called upon Abraham to enter into a time of focused and concentrated prayer on behalf of Abimelech in order to seek healing for him. Whatever may have been hurting or diseased with Abimelech’s body, it was his soul that needed healing. He would never be whole until he had surrendered his own life to the God of all Creation. Thus, this is what Abraham sought for his new friend. This is what God asks all of us to do as well. We are all to seek God’s gracious and saving intervention in the lives of people without regard for what our past experiences with them might have been like. We are also to set aside our fears and apprehensions that are based on a person’s race, religion, and affiliations. Then we need to watch in amazement and joy as the Lord works to bring these people into common familial relationship with us as we become one in Christ.  

C

Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,

Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2: 1, 2

These wise men were known as such because of their knowledge and skill. They were probably Persians, men who were from Babylon or near by to there. Today they would most likely be Iranian. This was a group of unknown number who were scientists in that rather broader sense of that term in those times. They used pragmatic understanding of this world and of the universe mixed with mystical revelation and even divination in order to both understand what was in our world and to predict what was to come about in the future. They were important people in a time when information was hard to come by and in which prediction might equate to survival. These spiritually oriented scientists were almost certainly polytheistic in their understanding of god; yet, it was quite likely that they were acutely aware of the God of the Jews from the years when devout Hebrew men such as Daniel had lived among their ancestors.

Now, at this point in time they have seen a sign that tells them that one of history’s greatest moments has come, and they respond by traveling a great distance in order to worship this new born king, Jesus. They join in with Jewish shepherds and with angels who have become visible and audible in our environment. It is likely that there were others who came to the side of Mary, joseph, and their little one as well, for God’s call to people to come and worship His Son, the One who was foretold and who was to bring salvation to all of the world, presented to many as a strong desire or even as a need to be at the side of the Messiah. These were imperfect people. Some knew God and others did not. All were living out their lives to the best of their abilities to do so, but all had, in fact, fallen short of the righteousness that God demands of us. These wise men from the east, the shepherds who left their flocks to come to Bethlehem, and all of the other people who sought to see this miracle from Heaven in the shape and form of a human baby were just like each of us and everyone in the world. They and we are sinners who are lost and separated from God without this Savior who was born to Mary on that day so long ago.

God calls to us just as He did to those wise men. He says that our past is of little to no importance now, for now there is born unto us a Savior, a Redeemer, a Lord who loves our hearts, minds, and our souls in a manner that knows no bounds and recognizes no obstacles to pouring out His grace and love onto each and every one of us. Our beliefs and their practice, our faith or lack of it, and our personal histories do not matter when it comes to drawing near to Christ. These wise Persians and those grimy shepherds were called to come. I believe that even Herod, with all of his evil and troubling deeds and thoughts, was granted the opportunity to come and worship when the travelers from the east visited him in his palace. God is calling to each of us now; we are to come and worship the King, the Lord of Creation, the Savior of our souls and the Redeemer of our days. If we know Christ, we are to come and know Him more fully, yield more completely to His will, follow His righteous way with greater focus and intensity, and as we come to Him, we can bring a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger with us to see first-hand the presence of the One who saves. The call that went out to the wise men is still ringing out. It is carried on the bells of Christmas Day, and they sing forth God’s appeal to all people everywhere, “Come and worship, Christ the King!”  

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

Luke 1: 45

Mary believed what the angel told her. It might seem natural to say something along the lines of, “Certainly, of course. Why wouldn’t she accept and embrace this great thing that she was singularly selected to do?” Yet, think about this for a moment. How might any of us respond to being told that our world was about to be completely interrupted and turned upside down by an event of this magnitude? This might not be the sort of thing that would even seem plausible or possible to comprehend. Still, Mary’s acceptance and belief are portrayed as complete, absolute, and without hesitation or doubt. In looking at her story, it strikes me that this little line of scripture that is buried in the flow of the narrative is very significant to others of us, as well. Her faith in God’s goodness and love is so complete that she is ready in body, heart, and mind to follow the Lord’s leading and to serve His will with all of her being and in every aspect of her life.

The Lord makes promises to all people. He did not start or stop in this sort of engagement with us with Mary, with the Apostles, or at any other point in history. From the beginning of time until the very end of it, God is a covenant making and keeping being. His word is given with great care and consideration of the purpose behind the promise that is made, and He does not waiver of recant on follow through and completion of His word. Creation was promised that God would provide a Savior for us when we rebelled and grabbed ahold of death as our new destiny. Then, in due time, Mary gave birth to the One who is the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus the Christ was miraculously born to this young woman, and our lives are redeemed from the state of separation from God and the living and eternal death that was the natural result of that estrangement. This is the greatest of all of God’s promises, and He has made it available to everyone who will respond to Christ’s appeal, “Come to me!”

There are many other ways that God has made promises to me and to others who follow Him. The Lord is generous beyond my ability to count or to measure; yet, I do not fully appreciate the breadth, depth, and scope of God’s commitment to me and to His kingdom on earth. Although I do not doubt God’s presence or the reality of what Christ means to and in my life, I admit that I do not think and act in a manner that fully and continually reflects a state of existence that is absolutely infused by the love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that is the outworking of Christ’s presence in my life. I do not operate out of the simple, direct, and unwavering faith that are so apparent in this description of Mary’s response to the Lord. This lack of such a faith is something that demands repentance on my part and submission to Christ in any and all areas of my life where I continue to hold onto my flawed and much weaker form of control. So, I pray, “Lord, my faith is incomplete. I hold onto parts of my life when You have asked that I give it all to You. I repent of my sin, and seek to follow Your will and way in all that I think, say, and do. Lord, please grant to me the full and absolute faith that Mary knew. This is my prayer and my plea. Amen.”  

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Mark 7: 8

During the Christmas season people are often focused on Jesus’ humble start to life on earth when He was a baby. We like to contemplate the reality of a God who would join with His creation in a manner such as this, and it is comforting to know that every aspect of growing up that we went through and that we endured is something similar to what Jesus knew, as well. As much as we may enjoy this meek and mild image of Jesus, He did not always think and act in this manner. In fact, the Lord had a great capacity for telling truth in very strong and stern terms, and He also had no fear regarding who He might offend or turn against Him when He did this. In this instance, Jesus is confronting His on-going foes in the Pharisees; however, these same words might be said to many other people over all of history. Although it may not be quite as obvious in its expression today, it does seem that we continue to act in this same manner on a regular basis.

We have allowed our own ways of doing things in this world to take precedence over God’s law of love, grace, reconciliation, and peace making. This is stated as a blanket condemnation, and I mean it as such. I do not live as God has commanded me to live, and I know and observe very few others who function differently. All that is necessary in order to start to see the application of this sad fact is to turn on a television, open a computer, or walk out your front door and travel a short distance into almost any community on earth. We live in an angry and a selfish world. We care more for our own minor rights and privileges than we do for the life of another person. We are caught up in protecting our turf when we have far more of it than we can even manage while others in our world are starving, being physically and emotionally harmed, and are being denied the basic necessities of life. I fear that Jesus would see all of this much as He saw the actions of the Pharisees.

Everything that we protect and cling to with ultimate tenacity is something that God has given to us out of the abundance of His love, care, and provision. So, why is it that we hold on with a death grip to tangible and to intellectual things that God gifted to us with open hands? We need to understand that all of God’s commandments predate any of our rights of possession and that God has given everything to us so that we could be good and loyal caretakers of the rest of creation. We are not here to be full and self-satisfied; rather, Christ calls upon us to follow him by giving away what we have been given, loving others even when they are hard to understand and even more difficult to embrace, and by calming violence instead of promoting it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a statement of God’s love for people, and this is the commandment that holds precedence over any and all other laws, rules, or concepts and traditions that people might attempt to establish and follow. In Christ, we are called to bring reconciliation not division, and as we follow Christ, we will turn from everything that is contrary to God’s will and be willing to sacrifice all in order to bring the touch of our Lord’s love, grace, and mercy to our needy world.      

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

Ephesians 3: 14, 15

Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, is amazing, and people have become utterly fascinated by the information that is gained by studying it. Every person on earth today and throughout all of history possesses DNA that is uniquely our own; yet, at the same time, that DNA reveals our relationship to people living and dead who come from places around the world. Our DNA presents a picture of each of us that helps to establish a form of identity for us, but this identity, individually unique as it may be, is nothing more than a partial picture of who we actually are. People are complex, and the components that make up our nature, character, and personality are formed out of many ingredients that are brought together through the agency of numerous forces and factors over the course of a lifetime. Still, beyond all of these earthly and human influences upon our formation, there is a greater and a more fundamental actor involved in granting us our deepest identity.

In the Bible, especially in Hebrew literature, the act of naming a person is important. The name conveys both desired outcome and a reflection upon the observed character of the person. Sometimes these aspects of life are at odds with each other; so, when God is the one who is doing the naming, He is frequently seeing something that is to come in the future and through the work of His hand in and upon that person. God is our Creator. That individual strand of DNA is something that His hand designed and fabricated. Yet, even that complex and definitive structure does not fully set out who we are or what we might become. God’s work in people is extraordinary in its capacity for causing change, growth, and transformation. We may be known for one sort of behavior today, but through the work of the Spirit in our lives, we might go in a completely different direction tomorrow. This is the wonder and this is the hope of God’s grace as He pours it out onto people like you and me.

Paul is pointing us toward what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of entering into this work of transformation and that is submission to God and surrender to Christ. As Paul speaks of bowing his knees before the Father, this is exactly what he is doing. He is saying that he is surrendering control over his life and over this day, and he is giving that control over to the Lord to take him wherever He wants and to do with him whatever Christ desires to do. This is total surrender to God, and this sort of thing is generally very uncomfortable or even terrifying for most of us to consider doing. Yet, God is faithful and true to His word to lead us along paths of righteousness and to protect our souls from harm throughout that journey of faith. As we submit to Christ’s will, we are given the name Faithful Servant. When we set aside all of our wishes, wants, and desires for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are proclaimed by the Lord to be Beloved in His Eyes. The name that we carry throughout our days is important, and the family that we come from is interesting to study, but the name that God gives to each of us is what signifies our true identity in Christ.    

Next Page »