January 2019

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 11, 12

A great trial is underway in our world. Evidence is offered up and presented on a regular basis, and the jury is soaking it in as it is set forth. Perhaps the greatest difference from this trial and those that we are most familiar with is the fact that this jury is not comprised of a set number of people who hear all of the testimony before rendering a singular verdict. This jury is populated with an ever changing group of people and their number is enormous. Although the stated object of the trial might be faith in Jesus; so, Jesus is on trial, the lives that are really on the line as they will be subject to the life or death outcome of the adjudication that is on view are all of the participants in the jury itself. They see the evidence, and each of them is placed in the position of making a decision, of rendering a verdict, that either accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior or that rejects Him.

 Those of us who know Christ are placed in the position of being living witnesses to the life that we have been granted in Christ. Our testimony is fleshed out and placed on view for the jury to consider in the form of the lives that we live as a result of the presence of Christ in us. The transformative work that Christ does in our hearts and minds presents a powerful expression of the grace, mercy, and love that God pours out upon His Creation and that Christ grants to each of us in His Spirit. All that we speak and do is seen by the world around us, and it is evaluated as either legitimate evidence of the effectiveness and the truth of the claim that Christ is the singular answer to the question of life or death, or it is rejected as fabrication or self-deception. The credibility of us as witnesses is primarily determined by the sincerity of our faith in Christ.

We can do nothing about the receptivity of others. These witnesses will evaluate and think about what they see with various forms of personal filters in place. Some will remain skeptical and unbelieving for the full term of their lives, others will turn away from unbelief and enter into a relationship with Christ in a moment, while still others will contemplate and consider what they have seen for a long while before rendering their final verdict. The only aspect of this courtroom drama that we do get to control is found in the way that we live and the consistency of the testimony that we give to the unfailing love that Christ provides to us. As followers of Christ, our lives are on view by this large array of jurors, and our testimony is heard over and over again throughout the course of our days. During each of those days there will be members of that jury who will render a verdict for themselves by choosing life in Christ or death without Him.   

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

Psalm 64: 1

There are times when silence is a very good thing; yet, there are other times when the most productive thing that I can do is speak up and speak out. God wants to participate fully in the things that are going on in my life, and He wants to help me with the process of thinking about and through them, too. Although I am convinced that the Lord knows exactly what I am thinking and the complete details of my state of being, He still wants me to state them so that I can more clearly and accurately identify real concerns and sort out the smoke screens of deception that Satan throws my way.

So, even at the risk of sounding like I am complaining, whining, or self-centered, I should express the concerns and the feelings that are filling my heart and my mind. The Lord does not fail to respond to my expressions of truly felt emotion, and He always brings a reassuring sense of calm to my world. In fact, He seems to speak out in His most powerful voice when I am being overwhelmed by the swirling winds of an out of control day. It seems that God specializes in chaos. It is not that He causes it; rather, the Lord brings the calm and the clear thinking that clear the air so I can breath easily again

The Lord does not promise to remove all of the challenges and concerns from my life, and He certainly does not eliminate the aggressive opposition that His people will face from the forces of evil in this world. Instead, God takes away the doubts, fears, and dread that can work in my heart to disable me. The Lord provides me with the assurance of His protection, wisdom, and insight, and He surrounds me with His loving care. Thus, I can face the challenges of my day with the certainty of Christ’s victory as a solid foundation for my feet.

Therefor whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Luke 12: 3

Keeping something secret requires a lot of effort, but people are willing to put forth that amount of work when the stakes are high enough. This is the way that we are wired, and it is the manner in which we often engage in the business of life. There are aspects of our days that we just do not want people or God to know about. We all operate like this, for there are things that go on in each and every one of our minds that we would not want our mothers or our Lord to be aware of. Yet, when we look at the ways of our world with objective clarity, those moms do know most of what we are trying to keep obscured, and God is fully in the know about every thought that passes through our brains. There is no hiding the darkness of our souls or the meanness in our hearts from the One who made us and who loves each of us to the point of death and beyond.

Christ does not bring the hidden aspects of our hearts and minds into view in order to shame, humiliate, or defeat us. His desire is to have each person on earth come into a realization of our need for Him as our Savior and our Lord. Christ wants us to live in an open and a truth-filled manner so that the light of God’s wisdom, grace, justice, and peace are poured out into the darkness of the world by us as we live out our days in service to our Lord. So, the revealing that Christ does is restorative and healing in its nature. He never exposes our sin and shame in order to stand over us as superior or to bury us in the impossibility of our transgressions against His holiness. Instead, Christ brings our dark aspects into the light of His righteousness in order to touch the wounded places that are beneath them with His balm of redemption and His healing salve of grace and mercy.

We can live out our days in fear of Christ’s promise of revelation. This approach to life requires constant effort and extraordinary vigilance to maintain the concealment, and a remarkable amount of energy is consumed in just attempting to hold in place the façade of wholeness and the appearance of holiness that we have fabricated for the world to see. The alternative to continuing to live with all of our deep selves hidden from sight but impacting what we think, say, and do is to yield it all to Christ. In doing this we are called upon by our Lord to repent of all that we have been holding onto, for this process of grasping tightly to the darkest aspects of our beings reflects the ways that we have not entered fully into trusting Christ. As we repent of that which we have been attempting to conceal, God asks us to grant the Spirit access to the recesses of our inner being so that His grace can enter into those caverns of pain and begin to transform their hard edges into the polished marble that forms the chambers of a redeemed heart. So, Christ’s revelation may be painful and even fearful for us to consider, but stepping out in faith into its light brings relief from pain and peace to the heart. 

Open to me the gates of righteousness,

   that I may enter through them

   and give thanks to the LORD.

Psalm 118: 19

When this psalm was written, this was a real place, and it was the portal through which people could go into the temple in Jerusalem as they came together to worship God. The righteous were people who God had selected and designated as His own; so, these were primarily those who were born Jewish. The fact that there are people who God sees as righteous and as thus having a special right to stand before Him in worship is still true today, but the place where they are to gather for this purpose and the fundamental nature of who they are and of how they obtained this right has been altered significantly by God. Now there is no specified building to come to, no human constructed portal to pass through, and access to God is granted to people of every nationality, race, gender, family origin, religious background, and societal position. Today there is truly no Jew or gentile in the fullest sense of what that expression means.

Each of us decides to accept what is offered by to us by God. That is, Christ seeks after people without regard to any of the distinguishing or separating factors that humans hold as barriers to engaging in relationships; then, it is up to each of us to accept the gift of salvation and relationship with God that the Lord is placing before us. In Christ, we have the Spirit in and with us. He is our entry into the contemporary version of those historic gates of righteousness. The presence of Christ also seems to bring about a desire to go thorough those gates on a very regular basis, for my heart wants to express the strong feelings that I have about and for the Lord. Yet, there is something challenging and even, at times, troubling about going to this place of worship with its call to be open, honest, and sincere about all that is taking place inside of my mind, in the deep places of my heart, and by the actions of my hands. 

These same gates of worship that are a portal for entering into personal and corporate expressions of joy and thanksgiving are also an opening to a safe place where each of us can enter into repentance and grieve over all of the harm that we have caused to others and the sorrow that our sinfulness has brought to the Lord. Repentance and joy, grief and salvation; these are all of equal importance and are each granted the time and the space needed for their full expression when we pass through those holy gates. Christ is our true High Priest, and He ministers to each of our needs in a way that leads us deeper into healing for all that is damaged or lost within our hearts and minds. The Lord calls us into His presence as individuals and as His gathered body. He provides us with the freedom that we need to express our thoughts and emotions in a manner that fits with how He has designed and constructed us as He leads us through those gates and into the courts of His temple of praise where joyous thanksgiving choruses are sung throughout every hour of each day.     

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 

Mark 11: 15

This passage is not about the bake sale in the lobby of a church that helps to fund a missional trip to Mexico, Africa, or to other foreign lands such as coastal cities in California or Oregon. Yet, perhaps it does apply to those modern-day events that take place in many churches, too. The temple was to be a place where people who believed in God could come together to worship and to grow closer to the Lord. It was also to be a gathering place for seekers to draw nearer to God and to be influenced by and taught out of God’s Word. With the temple’s rigid class separations this last purpose was being severely hindered by these acts of commerce, for the Court of the Gentiles was both the place where the buyers and sellers congregated but it was also the only part of the temple where seekers and even where converted gentiles were allowed to join in worship of God.

All of this trade related activity had effectively subverted the purpose of the temple and the mission of the priests. A place, an in-gathering of people, and service to the Lord were all redirected into serving the desires of people over God’s wishes and desires. So, Jesus was troubles in His heart and saddened over how far from the Father’s wishes and intent that His people had strayed. In His sadness, frustration, and anger Jesus took action that was intended to change the situation and to dramatically demonstrate the seriousness of the offense against God that had been committed. The things that Jesus did were not small in their impact or in their scope. He was disrupting a very lucrative commercial system, and He was also calling upon both the operators of these businesses and the officials of the temple to change these firmly entrenched ways of conducting the operations of the temple. All of this would involve big changes in their plans and in their practices, and we all know that change, especially big change in institutions like the church, is never easy to implement or to accomplish.

For most of us, when we read or hear this account of what Jesus did that day in the temple in Jerusalem, we form a Sunday school image of a scene from the distant past; so, this event is set far back in time and far away in place. Yet, the point of this story is not the first century temple or even the nature and the character of the Jewish temple officials then; rather, it is all about the way that people in all times and dwelling everywhere engage in our gathered in worship of God. Jesus cares about our focus and our intent, and He is saddened when God gets lost in the business of doing church so that prayer is made subordinate, singing praises becomes an obligatory time filler, and engaging with the Spirit led study of God’s Word is set aside for the sake of appeasing the clock. Additionally, Jesus is truly angered when what we do and the attitudes that we portray hinder people who are seeking to find God and desiring to get to know Him in the context of the love and care of His body are hindered from that quest in much the same manner as were the Gentiles in Jesus’ day. No, the bake sale is not the same as the example of the pigeon sales that so infuriated Jesus; unless, its purpose and intent are something other than worship and praise for the Lord who provides all, loves, everyone, and sustains all hope.      

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2: 17

Durability is something that matters to most people. We consider it when we are looking to purchase items that we might want to have with us and use for a long time. We also think about it when we consider things like career choices, long-term housing selection, and relationships. We not only want each of these things to last for an extended period of time, but we also desire for that tenure to be one that is filled with enjoyment, satisfaction, and even appreciation in value and worth. Yet, the place where all of this takes place and on which it is constructed is, itself, failing and crumbling as it traverses its final epoch od existence in its current configuration. God has promised that this world will come to a terrible and even catastrophic end at a date that is certain to Him but that is left undisclosed to us. This will take place so that its great, glorious, and redeemed replacement can be launched forth by God; thus, all that is here now needs to be removed.

God has included us in His plan for what comes next. We are not necessarily included with the physical world in the need for removal and destruction. Jesus has given each person the opportunity to gain a place in an eternity that is formed out of God’s love, grace, and desire for an unending relationship with us. Eternity for us is found in and through Christ, and all that surrounds us in this world will find its own form of that same redemption by the word and the work of Christ upon His return to dwell upon it. All of this is a part of that great and rather mysterious thing that we can call God’s will. It does seem to me that God’s will is defined by certain big picture concepts. These include redemption, restoration, peacemaking, grace, and a form of love that is enduring and self-sacrificing. We engage with God’s will when we live in a manner that reflects these qualities and that is modeled after the life that Christ lived and the words of truth that God inspired to be provided to us in His Word. 

So, it does seem that this will that leads to eternity is firstly determined by the presence of Christ within an individual, and thus, it is made real and active as we submit our lives including all of our thoughts, words, and actions to Christ. I think that God intends for eternity to touch this world today primarily through the way that followers of Christ interact with all aspects of this fallen and failing world; so, it is vitally important for us to be aligned with God’s will as we go about each and every day of our lives. Thus, God’s will is a very large and dynamic thing. It is not confined to specific areas of life or to certain relationships. It applies to everything that we might imagine, touch, or speak about. Christ’s hand of redemption is applied as we seek to abide in the presence of His Spirit and set aside our personal concerns and inhibitions in order to engage more fully with entering into Christ’s loving care of and for all that is broken and dying in our world. God’s will is played out in the salvation that each of His people enjoy, and it is carried out as we bring the fullness of Christ’s redemptive gospel message into the world where we live today.   

He also told them a parable, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

Luke 6: 39

Although Jesus is talking about the very common human problem of judging others while remaining oblivious to one’s own sinful thoughts and actions, He is also speaking about a part of the way that God would have us change that way of life. You see, even Jesus needed to be under the influence and the guidance of a teacher. In His case, when He was living as a human on earth, He turned to the Father on many occasions for wisdom, guidance, strength, and encouragement. Jesus was Himself a man of prayer, and the numerous prayers that Scripture records are certainly nothing more than examples of the many others that were spoken or thought during the course of everyday life. In turn, Jesus taught His followers on any and all topics that related to living and to conducting those lives in a manner that was righteous, just, and that brought glory to God. In so teaching His followers, Jesus, in turn, instructed them by example and in words in how to teach others along the same lines as He did.

This process of sharing the truths contained in God’s Word with others has continued throughout time and is still present today. Additionally, Jesus’ pattern of going to God in prayer as a part of being instructed and informed about God’s will and the intricacies of His way of living remains critically important still. On our own, all of us are blind, and we also tend to function like the beggars in Jesus’ day did in that we are dependent upon others for all that we need to survive the day, and we are unable to access the bounty of wisdom and truth that God provides to us to feast upon during our journey through this world. Without instruction and guidance, we are left standing on a street corner crying out for bread when God’s grace has placed a banquet’s worth of provision a short distance from where we are standing in helpless distress. Additionally, if we are not trusting Christ to provide the proper words of instruction and guidance for us to share with others, we are not entering into the fullest aspects of growing more mature in our faith by reaching out to engage in the lives of others.

In order to stop living in the darkness of being blind, we need to be aware of our foolishness, lack of wisdom, and need for guidance and then repent of the sinful attitudes and self-oriented ideas that have caused this condition to continue. Christ will grant us grace and mercy for all that we have done that is contrary to God’s will, and His Spirit will work in our heart and minds to reshape and transform each of us into a person who can see clearly and who is also equipped to guide others into the light of the Lord’s truth. Sadly, the world where we live has more dark corners than it does places where the light of God’s glory prevails; yet, it does not need to remain like this. When people who know Christ choose to actively seek His wisdom as guidance for all that we think, say, and do, we bring God’s clarity into those obscured places, and as we turn toward others and offer them Christ’s grace and love while also leading them to the eternal wisdom of God’s Word, we help to amplify the brightness of that heavenly radiance in our corner of the world.   

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like aa deer,

   and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

   and streams in the desert.

Isaiah 35: 5, 6

This is a description of some of the healing that Christ’s presence in our world brings about. Although Jesus did demonstrate physical healing of the sorts described here, He did much more than that while He lived as a man with us. In addition to all of this, He promises a form of healing in the future when He returns again that will include all of this plus something far greater. Yet, even now, when the restoration of creation exists in an incomplete form, we do enjoy the restorative and strengthening touch of the Lord in our souls, upon our hearts, and in our bodies. Isaiah was speaking about captive people who were going to be set free from the oppression of their enemies, and he was also describing aspects of God’s even greater plan that would be set in motion in Jesus so that all people could know freedom from our universal captivity to sin and be launched forth into the fullness of life that comes to us only by and through God’s approval and acceptance.

In reality all of us are blind, deaf, lame, and unable to speak. We may or we may not be experiencing some aspects of any combination of these conditions in our bodies, but every single person who is born upon this earth is afflicted with the limitations and the restrictions upon our mobility, in our ability to communicate, and in the understanding that our minds and our hearts allow us, and these conditions are so profound and pervasive that humanity, itself, is severely handicapped in its ability to live in peace, with grace for others, and in a state wherein the marvelous resources that God has granted to us on earth are being used to provide flourishing for all of the globe’s inhabitants. These ideas are not just fanciful dreams or concepts that have no place in a world where people hold that there are supposed to be some who have great wealth and power and others who are not ordained to be in possession of the basic commodities of life. They have traction and resonance in the halls and streets of God’s Kingdom come, and they should have the same presence in our hearts and minds, too.

The vision that Isaiah sets forth will not be fully realized until Christ returns again to overthrow all of the evil in this world and return everything to its original state of perfection. Yet, Christ has come, and He has already set His people free from all that binds our hands and hearts so that we are capable of engaging in doing the work of restoration and care that is so badly needed in our world today. We may not be able to make water flow freely and naturally in the desert places of our world, but we can bring the skill to drill fresh water wells in fever plagued places. Our hands might not hold the power to restore mobility to those who have lost it, but we can share our knowledge and training in setting broken bones and fixing shattered bodies with people who do not know hope or have the ability to dream about a life that is better than mere daily survival. So, until that day when Christ does come to us again in the flesh, those of us who do know Him are called upon by our Lord to be the ones who seek out the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the voiceless so that we can enter into their pain and suffering with them in the name of Christ. We are to be their protectors, their encouragers, and people who love them all with grace, mercy, and respectful acceptance as the language that Christ grants to us to use in leading others into the freedom of the soul that comes as the greatest gift from God through Christ. 

Lead me, O Lord, in Your truth and teach me,

For You are the God of my salvation;

For You I wait all the day.

Psalm 24: 5

Every thing that we do, and all that we encounter is a part of the process of following and of learning from God. There are no situations that we will ever encounter that He can not and will not use for these purposes. Even the fears and the concerns that are a natural part of how we humans are wired have a role to play in the classroom of life that we occupy. In my experience, the Lord uses them to lead my trembling hands and faltering heart away from the lies that they so quickly embrace into the truth of His eternal love and care.

There are real things to be concerned about, and it is within God’s expectations for us that we will have issues to deal with that raise serious anxieties and that are too big to face alone. There will be times of pain and loss that are too great to understand or to handle on our own. Yet, that is the point; for, our Lord wants to join us in all of these times. He does have a response for everything that we encounter. God wants us to turn to Him, to focus on His face of love, to listen to His voice of truth, and to open our hearts to His instruction. God’s will for His beloved children is for us to enter into His love and peace during each and every aspect of life.

Sometimes the Lord’s response comes in an instant, and sometimes the lesson is learned through a time of waiting. In some situations, the Lord doesn’t provide understanding; rather, He simply asks me to trust in who He is and rest in His eternal goodness. Yet, in and through it all, I have found that He is continually with me, and He always answers. In fact, the most important thing that I often get out of these situations is a greater understanding of the reality of God’s presence in my life. My faith waivers; still, He is consistently present. My grip grows weary; yet, God is in control. Through all of life, the Lord is patient with my weakness and more than strong enough to handle all that has come my way. So, who else should I trust? 

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10: 26, 27

Jesus has just been in conversation with the young man whose wealth was a major impediment to his ability to leave a life that was ruled by law and enter into one of service to God by selling all and following Jesus. So, the topic of salvation was on everyone’s mind, and Jesus takes a moment to enter into sharing one of the most important aspects of God’s desire, design, and plan for restoring people’s relationships with Him. In the conversation with the young man an impasse was reached in which the young man felt that he could not do what was being asked of him, for his wealth was far too important to him, perhaps his identity was primarily established by what he had accomplished and the rewards of that effort, for him to give that up. Yet, I think that Jesus is saying that the possibility still existed for that person to come into a saving relationship with God. We don’t know the final outcome, but the story of the wealthy young man and Jesus may not have been finished on that day.

The bigger question here takes us into God’s heart and its desire and intent. God does not want any of us to perish. He desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of the people who exist on this earth. No one is outside of His plan for grace and redemption to prevail over the lostness of sin and the separation from God that is its result. All of us are born lost and with dead souls that conform to the declining states of our bodies. God provided us with an absolute and all-inclusive answer to that desperate state of being in the person and the blood sacrifice that Jesus grants to any and to all who will receive it and surrender control over this life to Him. It is the second of these two aspects of entering into eternity, salvation, that the young man was not willing to do. He could accept Jesus and even ask to follow Him, but the young man was not able to submit to Christ’s authority and leave his old way of life behind. So, he was unwilling to enter into the new life of redemption that God wanted to provide to him.

Thus, since the things that God requires of people in order to enter into a relationship with Him are so hard for most people to accomplish, the question regarding who can be saved seems to be important to consider. From God’s perspective there are no people who are beyond the reach of redemption. No one is so evil, so set in his ways, or so antagonistic to God that the Savior’s reach cannot extend to him. So, we should never give up on anyone either. Our words may be rejected, and we may even find ourselves in a position where that push back has become so strong that our ability to interact with an individual or with a group may be jeopardized. There are places and people in our world where it is physically dangerous to discuss Jesus, but even these places and people are not beyond Christ’s reach and outside of the arena of prayer. We may be discouraged or feel defeated by the lack of response to Christ in others, and we will encounter rejection and dismissal when we present our faith to some. These are inevitable facts that are a part of living in a word where God’s standards are exacting. However, we also follow and serve a Lord who is greater than all of this and whose love for these same people that are rejecting our appeals to them is beyond measure. With Christ all things are truly possible, and in Christ we can trust Him to never stop the pursuit of any lost soul. 

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