February 2019


Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for people.

Colossians 3: 23

Performance standards are a big deal in the work world. If proof of this fact is needed, just ask any employee about the stress that is usually associated with the time of year that is known as Annual Performance Review Time. It is important from God’s perspective to strive to meet and to even exceed the standards that our employers set out for us, too. Yet, I think that the Lord wants for us to get more out of our work than just a sort of grit your teeth and do it well for the sake of the Kingdom of God type of satisfaction. God wants us to find joy and peace in all aspects of our lives.

Perhaps the key to doing this is found in the sorts of standards that we are setting for ourselves. The standards that people set for themselves and in the workplace tend to revolve around the tangible results that will come from the effort. So, profit tends to rise to the top when success is measured, and frequently, there is only limited regard for developing deep relationships in the process of seeking it. Whereas, God’s highest measure of success is defined by relationships. The Lord has committed all of Himself to bringing people into intimate connection with Himself. The human realm usually considers gain, power, and control as primary objectives; whereas, the Lord wants us to make compassion, understating, mercy, spiritual growth, and the pursuit of righteousness our primary goals.

The difference between these two view points in our workinglives is actually rather subtle, and God doesn’t want us to stop seeking to meet the tangible goals and objectives that our employers are seeking. However, it seems that a key to achieving satisfaction in work while achievingsuccess in the marketplace is found in adopting the Lord’s standards as our primary ones. When we place our human relationships above everything else, continually seek God’s wisdom for our interactions and our decisions, strive to be the face of Christ in our world, and perform with God’s righteousness as the focal point for our actions, we will better know the peace and the joy of the Lord during the work day. Also, our employers will benefit from the full presence of the most completely equipped worker possible.

In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

Ephesians 1: 7

So, here is an admission, and it involves an amazing fact of life that I find personally too true as it is way too frequently my current state of affairs. That is, even after many years of living in a relationship with God through Jesus, I am still in need of redeeming. I seem to find myself stuck up to the axles in mud holes that I should have and certainly could have avoided. Among these slick and slimy places are the situations when I am disagreeable and cause other people pain; and then there is the way that I waste the talents, gifts, and resources that God has blessed me with. What I find even more disturbing is that this list barely scratches the surface of the ways that I continually test the Lord’s redemptive grace.

Yet, He never stops coming to my side with His sleeves rolled up ready to do the heavy work of getting me out of the deep mud of sin. The Lord brings the cleansing of His truth into my life, and He shows me how to move forward with the ability to avoid the old errors. Christ does much more than this, too; for, He doesn’t just take me back to where I was before; instead, the Lord’s view of restoration moves me ever closer to Him and makes me continually more like the God-image bearer that I was created to be.

It is important to remember that the grace of Christ is greater, deeper, and more prevalent than any bad actions or misdeeds that we can ever engage in; also, we need to focus on the fact that God wants to walk with us through this life and that He seeks to bring the sin-healing properties of redemption into each of our lives. Whatever the current state of affairs in your or in my world, Christ’s blood has already paid the price for our admission into the continual presence of God and for our complete acceptance there. We can embrace that fact as our personal reality; then, we are able to start seeking the redemptive changes that will continue to fill our days fully with the sweet aroma of Christ’s righteousness.  

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6: 9-11

There are many ways in which people can offend God, and even Paul’s lengthy list above does not come close to including all of them. In fact, we humans are so creative and devious that we are still inventing new ways to turn our hearts, minds, and our actions against God and violate what it means to be righteous and holy. I have lived long enough to be confident when I state that we are all participants in this rebellion against God, and everyone who draws breath is guilty of various crimes against the moral and ethical code that is the foundation of God’s kingdom on earth and in heaven. Yet, just as we all deserve to be punished for our sins against God; thus, each of us deserves to be subjected to a sentence of death, we are all provided with the opportunity to obtain full and absolute pardon because Jesus has taken that penalty upon Himself for me and for you.

For despite the fact that God has set a very high standard for righteous living, He also does not desire to see any of us fail to live up to that mark. The reality that so many do not get there is something that makes God sad to the degree that it causes Him severe pain and enduring grief. People are provided with a readily obtainable opportunity to enter into a relationship with God through the acceptance of Christ as who and what He claimed to be, for He is the Son of God and the Savior who was promised from the beginning of humanity’s wandering days. Jesus took upon Himself our debt of sin, and He will stand before the holy and righteous Father, God and proclaim anyone who professes His name to be pure and justified and thus worthy to be in the everlasting presence of that same perfect Holiness.

The gift of salvation is there for the taking. Its enormous price has already been paid by Jesus; so, there is nothing left for any of us to do but to accept what is given to us. This open-handed offer of redemptive cleansing is also continuously held out to each of us who has accepted Christ and entered into His transformative work in our hearts and minds. As we allow the Spirit access to the deep places within our hearts, He works within us to change those remaining elements of sinfulness and rebellion into holy and righteous thoughts and actions that serve God’s purposes on earth and that bring glory to His name among the people who we encounter in life. In Christ we have been made worthy of the name children of God, and through the on-going work of His Spirit, we will continue to grow and mature in our capacity and our capability to live out God’s calling to serve Him and to proclaim His name in the world.   

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10: 28

Not all fears are irrational, for there is much to fear out and about in our world. We regularly encounter diseases that were unheard of in our grandparent’s day, and the environment seems to be going in a dangerous direction, too. The earth itself is clearly suffering from some of the turmoil and trauma that God’s Word predicts will come about during the later stages of the pre-return era that we are living within. Additionally, many people roam the streets of the planet with ill intent in their hearts and destructive schemes on their minds. So, there is much to fear here and many people to be concerned about. Thus, many people are engaged in the processes of providing protection, and most of us take the responsibility for doing what is prudent and safe as a necessity of living in our world.

Yet, there is a point when fear can overcome faith and whereby that same sort of concern can overtake and defeat the trust that can only be placed in the Lord. Regardless of our efforts, planning, or skill, people will never defeat evil and will simply not succeed in devising plans to fully protect ourselves from its reach and touch. Our only sure and certain protection in this world is found in and through Christ. No one else has defeated the power that Satan has over this world, and no wisdom or form of truth beyond that which is God’s own Word prevails against the deceptive logic of that evil genius. In truth, our bodies will not survive this life. We all will die, and many of us will do so in fewer years than we might desire or in a manner that we would not wish to experience. This is the reality of the broken state of the creation that we were born into, but it is also the state of being from which Christ redeems us.

So, fear does have a place in our days, and that place is primarily as a force that drives us to seek out truth, wisdom, guidance, and counsel from God’s Word and that causes us to turn over control of our lives to Christ and to yield our need for security to the protective grace of His Spirit. Christ calls upon us to be engaged in the work of redemption in our world, and Satan does use fear as a tool to disrupt and to divert that calling. We become afraid of categories of people because some of them do evil things. We are concerned for our safety or our well-being when there are people of certain races, nationalities, or societal status in our midst; yet, Christ desires for us to love and to care for these same people in a manner that is like the one that He would exhibit. We can put out great effort into constructing barriers of a physical, emotional, or spiritual nature with the intent of protecting ourselves from those who we fear, or we can put that same energy into seeking the Lord’s will and reaching out to those who make us uncomfortable with the love of Christ. One approach ensures nothing beyond a moment of false security, but the other leads to the blessing of eternity.    

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of his purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Mark 15: 20

At the end of His short and blameless life on earth Jesus was granted no respect. The treatment that He received from the Roman soldiers and officials was harsh but was not all that surprising under the circumstances. For now, Jesus was a convicted and condemned criminal in their eyes. He no longer owned any rights, and in their sense of things, He was no longer even due the dignity that might be granted to a fellow person. After all, Jesus was already dead in their way of seeing things. What was much more troubling was the fact that the Jewish crowd outside of the governor’s palace was also caught up in this same sort of loud, mocking, and utterly dehumanizing destructive frenzy. The crowd wanted to see this man destroyed, and they didn’t really care what the truth might be or whether they were doing what was right. 

Although this extreme a form of opposition is not necessarily the normal reaction, Jesus still causes similar types of anger to come to the surface in our world. His gospel message is one of love and of reconciliation, but it is also one in which truth, justice, and righteousness are called out to all as the only way to live that is acceptable to God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls upon people to repent of our sinfulness and to surrender ourselves fully to the work of the Spirit within our hearts and minds. This call to holiness in the totality of how we conduct our lives is not an easy thing to follow; yet, Jesus does truly demand it of everyone who follows Him. In this manner, it is not easy to follow Christ, but He has an answer for that difficulty in the fact that the Spirit is with each and every person who does so commit to Christ.

In those terrible hours of trial and persecution, Jesus found strength and even a form of comfort in the presence of the Father with Him. In our own experience of the angry rejection that this world can pour out upon followers of Christ, He gives us His Spirit to journey through it all with us. Most people do not encounter the form and the degree of attack that Jesus did on that final day, but we can take it upon the authority of Scripture that antagonism and harshly unfair responses are likely to come our way as we engage with our world for the sake of the Gospel. Regardless of the way that we are treated, we should not ever be deterred from speaking out in truth and from doing so with the redemptive love of Christ as the platform for our words. Jesus went humbly yet bravely into His crucifixion, death, and resurrection so that His blood would set us free from sin and His return to life would empower us to live for the sake of the Gospel in all situations and under every circumstance that we might encounter. In Christ we know His victory over all that is angry and opposed to Him in our world, and through Christ we can live out each day in bold humility for the glory of the Lord.    

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees?

Colossians 2: 20

Here lies a question that all of us should ask ourselves on a regular basis. This is a challenge that seems universal in the community of people who serve Christ; for, we have been infused with the idea of following the rules of this world from the earliest days of our lives. Paul is not advocating civil disobedience, and he is certainly not suggesting anarchy, but he is saying that our perspective on how we view what is important and on the way that we establish our rules for righteous living need to be profoundly changed by the infusion of Christ’s view of these things into our beings.

Most of the rules that are created by people are focused on external, temporary, and human-controlled issues, and they tend to establish situations where people can be viewed as superior or as failures based upon strict adherence to them. Also they often grant power to individuals who become the judges of the degree of compliance that others achieve. They allow people to obtain a false sense of godliness that comes from their own tough minded ability to follow the letter of a rule rather than one that flows naturally out of a deep relationship with God, Himself.

As we are committed to Christ, we are also committed to His death and to the new life that follows. The shallow, divisive, and self-focused aspects of worldly living are among the things which Christ put to death on the cross. When we choose to follow Him, we are transformed and transitioned into a new view of our world that no longer needs to be subject to these old ways of thinking and acting. The rules, the decrees and pronouncements of the world’s system of thinking do not die easily. They continue to invade the minds of people, and they will attempt to regain control of our hearts. That is why it is vitally important to continually examine and to test the things that we hold as marks of righteous living against the Spirit filled Word of God.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51: 7

David knew something about sin, and he was acutely aware of the harm that his wandering heart caused to his relationship with God and to his ability to remain close to people, too. So, I think that these words are both a lament and a strong request. David is sorrowful for the sin in his life, and he desires to have the Lord perform His cleansing work upon his body and in his heart. The rough surfaced leaves of the hyssop plant were used to ceremonially cleanse people who had become defiled by dead bodies and by contact with lepers. A bird was sacrificed and the hyssop branch was dipped in its blood so that the blood could be sprinkled on the person who was unclean but repentant for the totality of his sin. The priest would then pronounce the penitent clean, and thus, it was acceptable for him to participate in temple worship or in other forms of sacred rights and ritual. In other words, the person who had repented of his sin and undergone the cleansing ritual was then acceptable to be in the presence of God.

All people are born into a similar condition and many of us find ourselves in a like place in life as did David. We are sinners from birth. We do not get to choose whether we will be perfectly obedient to God or whether we will rebel against His love, righteousness, and call to holiness. People follow the path of our parents just as they adhered to the one that had been established by the many generations that came before them. When the Apostle Paul declared that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” he truly meant to be all-inclusive. None of us get to escape this reality, and no one has an answer to our separation from God other than God’s own answer, which is found in Jesus Christ alone and that is made available to all of us by and through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and God’s resurrection of Him from among the dead. That is it! There is nothing else and no other way to be made righteous and holy in God’s eyes. So, there is no alternative to Jesus if we wish to dwell in the presence of God.

Jesus, through His cross, has eliminated the need for dead birds and rough branches. He has also taken over the position and the authority that had previously been granted to human priests, for Christ alone has God’s endorsement to pronounce people cleansed of sin and so, rightly fit to be in God’s perfect and holy presence. The work that those priests did was temporary at best, but the work that Christ does lasts for all of eternity. The blood that was shed in sacrifice upon Christ’s cross penetrates much deeper than the surface so that the soul of anyone who turns to Christ is not just touched by a few of its purifying drops but it is washed clean and made pure and acceptable to a Holy God. The bright snow of a winter’s day covers over and obscures the dirt and the decay that is a part of life in our world. So too does Christ cover our brokenness and sin with His cleansing blood; however, the snow melts and its effect dissipates with time, but Christ’s pure whiteness lasts for all of eternity. 

And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luke 2: 47

Jesus was mature for His age. He was in the temple talking with the teachers, asking questions, and entering into the ongoing discussion of God’s Word and the Law with the wise men of Israel. Yet, He was only twelve. His knowledge and understanding came from a place far beyond the usual teaching that a boy in those days received from the rabbi who served the local community. Deep within Jesus held the wisdom of all time, and He also heard God speaking to Him with guidance and with counsel that was pertinent to all matters and situations that the young Jesus encountered. It is admittedly hard to grasp what it must have been like to live with Jesus as He was growing up, but this glimpse into His early adolescence suggests just how special He must have been. 

This extraordinary understanding of things that were pertaining to God and to the application of His Word in life is something that people do not always seem to appreciate. In this we are not all that different from Jesus’ parents. If I think about this scene, I am taken aback at the surprise that Mary and Joseph exhibit here, for they were there from the beginning of the story when the angel came to each of them to explain how a young virgin woman would conceive a child and the role that her fiancé was to play in this grand miracle that God was starting to carry out in the history of creation. Now, all of that seems to have become a dim and a distant memory, and the realities of raising a boy into manhood had taken over their thinking. Whatever the thoughts and the feelings that Mary and Joseph may have had, they were as equally amazed at Jesus’ capacity to think and to discuss matters related to God as they were also worried about the safety of their son. They did not seem to fully appreciate who and what Jesus was about in this world.

Most of us have heard the story of Jesus’ miraculous beginning on earth, and we have been exposed to the way that He conducted Himself during those thirty plus years of life that God allotted to Jesus as He lived among us. Yet, we too often fail to grasp how significant His wisdom and understanding truly are to us. The twelve year old who was leaving the wise men of His day in a state of awe and wonder did mature into the man whose life gave us the perfect picture of righteous and just living, whose death brought about the possibility of acceptance for each of us in the presence of a holy God, and whose resurrection overcame the oppression of sin in this world. We too can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear the same sort of counsel that is wise in all matters and that is more than sufficient for any situation or circumstance that we might be encountering. Jesus speaks to us out of God’s Word, He counsels us and leads us into the deep places of understanding as the Spirit speaks to our hearts and minds, and Jesus is also present in the conversation and the prayer of His body, the fellowship of believers. So, let us cease to be amazed at the understanding that comes from the mouth of Jesus, and instead, draw near to Him and seek out that same wisdom as it applies to all that we think, say, and do in life.  

And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the roster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Mark 14: 30, 31

This is a very familiar story, and most of us are probably aware of this time when Peter spoke out of his impulsiveness and in his passion. Of course, he was not able to follow through and stick with Jesus through the Lord’s arrest and trials. Just as certainly, Jesus was exactly right in foretelling how it would all take place. Peter made promises that he could not keep, and he entered into commitments that he would not fulfill. So do I, and in all probability, so do most of you, too. This is our nature as humans. We say things that are not well thought through, and we fail to stick to the course when that path becomes too hard for us to handle. Like Peter, we attempt to go through life operating out of our passions with promises too easily given and without the resources to do what we swear that we will do.

Peter had available to him everything that he would have needed to remain strong, faithful, and true to his word, but he didn’t yet realize that it was so. Peter was standing in the presence of God in human form. He was serving Jesus, and Jesus was generous with gifts of courage and strength that exceeded anything that people could summon up from within their own resources. Still, Peter decided to do it all in his own power and out of his considerably more limited capability and capacity. When I look at Peter, I see myself. I see a stubborn unwillingness to admit when I am frightened by the situation at hand. Peter provides me with a look into a heart that is like mine in that it is uncertain and not willing to admit those areas of doubt in public for fear of looking less than competent and capable. In Peter’s story of gross failure, I see an example of the sort of thing that I have experienced in many settings over most of the years of my life.

So, in this same story, I also see something that gives me great hope, for Peter is not left to suffer in his failure and to live out his days in the misery that he was feeling in these hours right after Jesus was arrested and he refused to acknowledge that he even knew the Lord much less that he traveled with Him and served Him. Jesus sought out Peter, and He brought grace and redemption to the fallen disciple. Christ granted forgiveness to Peter, and then the Lord commissioned Peter into service to Him and in the newly formed Kingdom of God now established on earth in the form of Christ’s church. The setting is not as dramatic as was the one by the seashore when Jesus interacted with Peter, but the result has been the same for me, and this story of redemption and purpose are repeated continually in the lives of other people too. Jesus grants infinite grace to His stubborn, overpromising, and fallen sheep. His love and mercy are unceasing despite all that we might do or fail to follow through with. So, it is important to remember that when I fail, and I know that I will again and again, Jesus is ready to pour out forgiveness on my spirit as He is also there to send me out again into service to His Kingdom.  

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

John 4: 25, 26

It is very likely that you have known someone who acted as if they did truly know it all. This is the sort of claim that is very hard to sustain. Most people who act as if this were true for themselves are portraying a form of arrogance that is often mixed with some strong internal doubts. I would guess that this Samaritan woman had encountered a few people during her life-time who had acted in this manner, but this encounter with the Jewish stranger was different. He knew things about her that were not His to know, and He spoke with a form of authority that pierced through her protective outer shields in a way that allowed His words to penetrate to the center of her heart. This man knew her in a way that was both terrifying and exhilarating. A simple and routine action of going out to the community well to draw water had become the point at which her entire life was being transformed.

This woman had encountered a very practical and direct form of knowledge that Jesus had regarding her, for He knew all about the rather sordid and difficult life that she had lived up until this time. He both knew and understood why she was out at that well when no one else from her community was there. Jesus understood the hurt and the pain that filled her days as He also recognized her heart’s yearning for salvation from the burden that she carried with her every moment of her life. Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s story without her needing to say anything, and He had answers for the real questions that her heart was asking. This Jesus who just happened to be waiting at a particular well at a time of day when most people would have been indoors was seeking after this individual because He was attuned to the deep longing of her spirit. The Christ came to her just as He is continually seeking after all people.

Jesus does know all. He, as God, sees everything that we think, say, and do, and in an even more powerful demonstration of His complete knowledge and understanding, Christ is aware of the condition and the intentions of our hearts. He comprehends the pain and the hurt that we experience deep inside of our being, and He has the answers for us that will bring about true and lasting healing for those wounds and for the struggles that come about in life because of them. Most importantly, Jesus is the answer to the greatest questions that exists in all people’s lives, which are those of my own identity, my value and worth, and my purpose in being here. Jesus takes everyone who responds to His offer of answers into the presence of our Creator, God Himself, and Christ then opens our minds and our hearts to hearing the truth about all of these vital questions. Jesus comes seeking after everyone on earth, He waits for us at our own well of questioning, and He answers all of the doubts and fears that we may possess with His unfailing comprehension, grace, and love.     

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