Confession


No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3: 6

John sets a very hard standard here. For there is no question in my mind that even as a follower of Christ sin is not absent from my life, and the same hard reality is attested to by others that I know and by the witness of many as set out in God’s Word. Accepting Christ is not some form of magic wand that immediately changes this aspect of who we have been for the prior duration of our lives. In addition, He does not take control over our hearts and minds in a manner that overrides all of the impulses, desires, and conditioned responses that we have to life. Through the work of His Spirit on and within us, Christ does change His people in ways that are both subtle and profound. Yet, He does this through a process that takes place over time, and this process involves us in on-going acts of submission to His will and of surrender to God’s holy and righteous way of engaging with life.

 This would seem to put most people at odds with God, or at least with John’s view of the way that God works in the lives of His people. There were very few people who knew Jesus better than did John. He was closer than almost anyone else to Jesus while He was living on earth as a man, and John’s continued service and leadership in the fellowship of faith became legendary due to its singular length and his intense devotion to the gospel of love as known only by and through a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, when John speaks, it is wise to listen, and when he says something this powerful about the fundamental nature of what it means to be in relationship with Christ, we should take his statement seriously. John was not a person who said things for their shock value alone; rather, he was a disciple of Christ who was charged with guiding many into an ever deeper form of living out their calling to service to God.

John is not saying that true followers of Christ will live sinless lives. Instead, he is indicating that people who have in fact given themselves to Christ and entered into a relationship with Him will never be comfortable with the sin that is remaining in us as we engage with and conduct life. In Christ, sin loses its hold on us and its rule over us is ended. (John 8:31 cf.) So, as we remain close to our Lord, as we abide in Him, the contrast between living as Christ’s true follower with its characteristics of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking and the way of the world with its characteristics of a drive toward power, control, personal gain, and self-determination of right and wrong, becomes ever starker and more uncomfortable to us. John is providing us with a strong warning and a clear reminder that we are to seek out the Lord and His righteousness as the primary focus of our days. We dwell in the presence of Christ when we turn to Him through consumption of God’s Word, in meditation and prayer, and by holding God’s view of what constitutes holiness and righteousness as superior to personal comfort, our long-established habits, or to life, itself. Thus, as we remain attached to the source of wisdom, truth, and gracious love, as we abide in the vine that is Christ (John 15), the sin that seeks to control our lives is driven off, and our souls are set free to live out the Lord’s calling and purpose for us.    

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Lord, you have been our dwelling place

   in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, 

   or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

   from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90: 1, 2

Something great or at least very significant has happened. The writer of this psalm, it is credited to Moses, has witnessed God’s hand in action in a mighty way; so, perhaps the setting for these observations is the wilderness after the rebellious generation has died off, the Israelites are in sight of Canaan again, and Moses is at the end of his life’s journey. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, most lives are touched by times when hard things come our way and situations where we feel overwhelmed and insecure. All of that is a part of life in this place, and all lives are lived out with uncertainty and an element of fear or distress as the backdrop for the journey. Yet, Moses reminds us that there is always something bigger than our story going on in our lives and that our place in history is important to God but it is still just a moment in time from the Lord’s perspective.

All people throughout the entire scope of time have been given the gift of the presence of the Lord. This was true for Eve and Adam, He was there with Moses through the entire course of his life, and God is right here in this world with us today and until the end of time. The Lord has given us a safe place to dwell in the midst of the storms that swirl about us in life. His presence is real and His loving grace and mercy are poured out upon us even when we think and act in ways that are undeserving of that sort of care. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Moses and the Israelites that he led, and He never departed from leading them into the fulfillment of their place in that great and eternal story. The same thing is true for each of us now. God sees and knows each of us in ways that are deep and intimate, and He desires for us to trust Him so that we will follow His will into the outworking of that great adventure of life that He has established for us.

Even our days of turmoil and trouble have a purpose in the much bigger perspective that God holds over all of the world. Everything that we lose is this life and each of the setbacks that we encounter is an opportunity for us to turn in faith toward the Lord and to trust Him to carry us through these moments and into the rest and the hope of His care and provision. Every step that we take can be one that is set out for us by God as He surrounds us with His love, grace, wisdom, and hope. To put things into perspective, the God who formed the universe and who contemplated the entire scope of its history before any of it was hung in the sky is the same loving Father, Savior, and Lord who sheds tears over the pain and the trials that each person endures. The Lord of that universe and the King of Glory is also my comforter, the Savior of my soul, and the One who guides my steps along His paths of righteousness, and this is true for each of us as we trust in Him and seek out His presence with us for the journey.     

To you, O God of my fathers,

    I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and power.

Daniel 2: 23

Everyone has a family history of faith, and it doesn’t matter if your parents and your grandparents knew God in a deep and an intimate way or not. For each of us who does know the Lord in this personally redemptive way is a direct descendant and a personal participant in a long line of people who have likewise been close to God. Their stories and my story are entwined by Christ’s redemptive love. I am truly thankful to God for the way that He has always been the active seeker of the hearts of people, and I am very blessed by the way that He has worked trough these people to make Himself more accessible and better known to me. God has caused others to write down the story of how they came to know Him, of what the Lord has done in their lives, and of the transformation that His love brought about in them. Then, as I read His Word, God continually speaks to my mind to provide me with an understanding of these stories that makes them applicable to my life.

God wants to be understood and clearly available to all people. He doesn’t need the type of power that comes from being obscure; so, He makes the process of entering into a relationship with Him very simple. After we truly know Him, God stays with us through the entire journey of life, and His loving grace continues to make it possible for even a person as flawed and weak as I am to stay in close relationship with Him. Thus, I am thankful to God for His love for me, for His desire to be close to me, and for His continued interest in my life. Additionally, I praise God for the amazing ways that He works in my heart and my mind on a daily basis to bring about an on-going process of growth and of movement toward His will.

It is through this process of recognition of all that God is in our lives that we come to a place where we are made open to the interaction of His Spirit in us. As I look at the stories of my spiritual fathers that are told in God’s Word and as I reflect on the odyssey that is my own life, I am led to see the never ending and unfailing touch of the Lord’s hand at every turn of those roads. Knowing God is to know His power, mercy, grace, and love. Truly knowing God places me in a position to humbly allow Him to be my strength throughout the day. His presence encourages me when there is doubt in my mind, and His strength upholds me when the things that I am encountering are too big, loud, and ominous for me to see my way through. Finally, I also have a long history of God’s unfailing faithfulness to look upon so that I can count myself truly blessed and fully supported by my Savior, Lord, and King.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

   bring an offering and come before him!

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

1 Chronicles 16: 29

If I want to be honest, holiness is often viewed as inconvenient or as uncomfortable. People are turned off by others who seem to be superior in their devotion to living Godly lives and in remaining relatively free from the influences of the world’s ways of thinking and acting. We don’t really want the people who are around us to be too holy, and there is a limit to the amount of holiness that we are able to handle at any one time. As a follower of Christ, this is a sad state, and my participation in its existence is something that I need to look upon with open eyes, take to the Lord in prayer, and enter into repentance for all that He reveals to me within my attitudes, thoughts, and actions that is contrary to His will. 

This process of reflection might begin with gaining a better understanding of what holiness means. Meriam-Webster defines holiness as “being holy”, and it says then states that holy means, “Exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” When I look at these definitions, there is little wonder left as to why we are so troubled by the concept of holiness in our world and why seeking after holiness in our own lives leads us straight into conflict with other people and with institutions, organizations, and sometimes even with the church. We struggle with the idea that there exists such a thing as perfection in goodness and righteousness, for perfection suggests that everything else is somehow less than perfected, and recognition of imperfection requires us to engage with people in a manner that can be confrontational or challenging. Our world looks down upon this sort of thing when it comes to issues of ethical thought, morality, and righteousness. When we enter into these arenas of discussion, stop signs are raised, caution flags are unfurled, and hard conversations are waiting for us at every turn in the road.

Yet, God seems to attach a very different vision to what holiness means in our world. According to David’s words in this song of praise and thanksgiving, holiness is related to God’s glory being revealed on earth and in the heavens, and it is something to be celebrated with offerings of praise and worship of God’s character and nature, which have produced the holiness that is being celebrated. In fact, the atmosphere that surrounds God’s holiness is described as being enveloped in splendor. As God, Himself, is the only source of this sort of perfection, we need to turn to Him alone in order to see and to understand what thinking and living in a holy manner means for us. I know that there are many aspects of my life that do not conform to God’s definition of holy, for there are too many situations, interactions, and decisions that I engage in during each day that are not influenced and directed by God’s standard of what is loving, gracious, just, and redemptive. So, as I enter into this day, I turn to the Lord in repentance for these times of departure from His will. I seek out the Spirit’s guidance in all that comes my way today, and I purpose to bring encounters with the glory of the Lord and the splendor of His Kingdom come into each moment of my day.   

Sing to the LORD all the earth!

   Tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

   his marvelous works among all peoples! 

1 Chronicles 16: 23, 24

We seldom use the word marvelous to describe things in our world. Either it has passed out of fashion or there is just not much left for us to marvel at. I tend to think that the later of those reasons is at play here, for the world that we know today is filled with things, with human accomplishments, that were not even dreamed about in the most fertile of our grandparent’s imaginations. It is hard to impress us, and perhaps, we don’t really want to be taken over and knocked off of our feet by all that much, either. We desire to be in control so that we have answers for any and all questions that might be posed to us. This is how many of us today see our world, but this was not what David saw as he looked out upon the nature of his day.

He was viewing myriad reasons to sing, and the song that he composed was one that placed the Lord squarely in the center of all of the goodness that was going on in the world. Now David was not an idealist and didn’t live a protected life. His world was not a calm and peaceful place, either. He resided in times that reflected the fallen nature of this earth. The culture in those days was just as broken, violent, and godless as is ours today. So, David’s reason for singing makes just as much or as little sense today as it did then. He sees the hand of the Lord at work in the world, and that same hand has never stopped being engaged with us and in our lives. God was present then; He is present now, and He will be present for all of the time to come!

God’s presence is not a passive or uninvolved hovering over us. He brings the hope of salvation to our need for redemption. God has granted us His Son, Jesus the Christ, as the answer to our need for a Savior. But the salvation that David was singing about is much greater and extends further than the miracle of eternity, for he experienced the form of saving grace that transforms the lives that we are living today into ones that know righteousness, justice, and deep love. Christ, present with and in His people, provides the lyric to the song of life that is the great marvel of all times. The fact that we can be redeemed from the state of rebellion against God that is our natural one is a wonder, and the lives that we can live as those redeemed ones of God is the most extraordinary expression of God’s glory that it is possible to utter. God’s love, sacrifice, and the salvation that comes out of it all provides the chorus to this life-long song of praise, and its verses are expressed by the love, grace, justice, and mercy that we extend to others in the name of Christ.  

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.     

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.   

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