Courage


Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

 

Soufflés are interesting baked items. When they are perfectly done, they stand tall and have a delicious lightness in the experience of their taste. However, they seldom stay tall for long, and there is really not all that much substance present when you cut into them, for they are mostly filled with hot air that rapidly dissipates when its inner soul is exposed. Now, a well prepared soufflé is still tasty and worth eating even after it falls, but a puffed up person is another matter entirely. In this passage, Habakkuk is discussing the king of Babylon in contrast to people who follow God. Yet, the reality of what he says is still with us today. I would guess that almost all of us have known people whose greatest promoters are themselves and who are continually working to let others know how great their ideas are and how important they are when it comes to things that matter.

 

The soul, our internal spiritual self, requires care and nurture. It does not grow strong and wise out of the resources that we can give to it alone. We all need the input and the influence of God in order for our souls to become substantial and be filled with a knowledge of the Lord that leads us into living a life that is oriented toward eternity. This sort of depth cannot be founded on ourselves and is not formed up out of the content of our hearts and minds alone. God takes what we have been given as our birthright and He works within us to shape and to mold it so that we begin to function in a manner that more closely resembles Christ. The Spirit reveals deep truths to us as we seek after them, and this revelation provides the substance of Godly truth to our souls that we can rely upon in making decisions and in setting the course for our days.

 

It is in this seeking after the Lord and His wisdom that people who truly live out of their faith in God differ from others. This is what made that difference between Babylon’s king and God’s people in Habakkuk’s times. The substance of a soul that is founded upon God’s truth and that conducts the affairs of life based upon the guidance of God’s Word stands tall but never proud in our world.   In stark contrast, the arrogance of people who are standing proudly before the world as they declare themselves to be great and whose glory is based upon the shallow accomplishments of human endeavor does not contain the sort of eternal basis and strength of character to withstand the test of righteous application in our world. These people do not meet God’s standards for love, care, justice, and living out His truth, and their glory will last for only a moment and then it will follow after the king of Babylon as it is blown away into oblivion as the dust that is its true identity and worth.

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Wondrously show your steadfast love,

O Savior of those who seek refuge

from their adversaries at your right hand.

Psalm 17: 7

 

There are enemies at the gate, and enemies at the door to our houses. There are enemies all around us in this world and even beyond its bounds. This is one of those hard aspects of real life, and it is the sort of thing that we do not always fully appreciate, either. Although there may be a number of these life foes that we can see and who concern us in tangible and even obvious ways, there are myriads more of them that are outside of the visible and beyond the readily tangible. Yet, even with their existence being in the realm of spirit and much of their negative work being accomplished in the area of spiritual life, they are real, and their impact upon people is powerful and significant. The impact that they have on God’s people may be far greater than we realize; yet, their true power is minimized by the presence of Christ, and because of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, they have no lasting authority over this world or the one beyond.

 

When these foes turn their angry attention to us, we can look to our Lord for protection, for guidance, and for healing from the wounds that they inflict upon us. Christ goes with us into life, and He provides us with His protection and guidance as we journey forth. There is no better preparation for the adventure that is life than prayer and meditation upon God’s Word, and we have no greater source of strength and encouragement for the tasks that we face than that which comes from Christ and through His Spirit. This world is a hard place to dwell, and it is even a harder one in which to reside as a true and faithful follower of Christ. So, seeking after the Lord’s will and wisdom in all that we think, do, and say is of vital importance. When we enter into all of life with Christ as our guide and as our protector, we have gained an unbeatable advantage over these spiritual enemies and over the human ones that operate under their influence.

 

The way that Christ cares for His people is truly wonderous, and it is miraculous as well. There is nothing else in our experience that compares to the love that is poured out upon people by God. There is also no power in our world that is beyond or above that which is used by Christ to save us from Satan and from his vast array of spiritual forces. In Christ we find salvation for our souls, and through His presence in us and with us throughout the balance of our days, we know protection and saving grace and mercy for all that will attack us along the way. Lord, let us turn to You for wisdom and for guidance as we chart our course today. Also, grant us grace for our missteps, mercy for our times of distress, humility of spirit in order to give all glory to You, and cover us in the protection of Your blood, Christ, as we cling to the wonderous and eternal salvation of Your cross.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27: 1

 

There are some things that we should not forget. People should always carry identification and some means of paying for the things that they might require along the way during the day. It is good to remember where you parked the car, if driving one, and it is even more important to know where you live. Recognizing and celebrating the birthdays of people who are important to us is a very good thing to do, and being on time for appointments is proper, polite, and saves us from paying the doctor even when we didn’t benefit from that person’s knowledge and wisdom. Yet, above all of these worthwhile remembrances, there stands one that is both crucial and essential for successful living, and that is remembering the Lord in all things and in every way for all of the remaining days of my life.

 

The Lord is the one who puts perspective on all of the rest of these places, actions, and people. He brings wisdom to bear on the way that I evaluate what is important and sift through what is needful today. It might seem trivial to consider that every element of my day is something that involves my relationship with God, but He sees it all quite differently. For God actually wants to be a part of the way that I process data and make decisions. His presence in my life should reshape my thought processes and the decisions that I make as well; while His love and attitude of righteous care and concern influence and even reshape the manner in which I think about others and form the thoughts behind my words and actions.

 

This sort of deep, personal, and total relationship with God is the foundation for confident forward movement into life that also holds other people as valuable and precious. The Lord’s prompting and guidance bring the sort of wisdom and understanding into all of the interactions that we have during the day so that even the most difficult of people might be understood and even valued and appreciated as God views them. The fearlessness that the Lord grants to His people is not so much one that comes out of conquest or that is based upon His promise of victory over the world, for it is founded upon Christ’s complete conquest over the forces of this world with their legacy of sin and death. In Christ we are granted the boldness that we need to face adversaries with love as our primary weapon and with understanding as our relational guidance. Through Christ we can face the day with confidence in His desire to guide us safely through it all as we seek to care about and for everyone that we meet along the way. So, remembering who my Lord is and what His heart desires matters far more than anything else that I might hold foremost in my mind today.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5: 21

 

God is different from the world and from us in our natural state of being. That can be a problem for people in that we really don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Most of us, myself included, would rather go with the flow of the culture that surrounds us. We want to be normal and even unexceptional when it comes to the basic beliefs and ways of acting in which our friends, neighbors, and communities engage. Yet, God doesn’t desire for us to conform to the world around us, for He didn’t create us to be that way. The Lord’s creation design for people was fabricated with us reflecting into our world His nature, character, and way of acting. We were to be the ones who brought wisdom, grace, mercy, and most of all love to bear on the oversight and the governance of the rest of creation, this world where we dwell. Sadly, that is not how things have gone.

 

We rule over this world in a weak handed and a careless manner. We have taken our desire for conformity to a place where it often overcomes God’s call to bring justice and peacemaking to all of our interactions. It takes us to a place where we are willing to sacrifice the futures of our children for the sake of wealth and power today. We have tortured and trouble God’s perfection in ways that are remarkably harsh and harmful to ourselves and that promise a bleak and an even more troubling existence for future generations. If Christ makes an absolute and a total difference in the nature and the character of the people who accept Him as our Savior and Lord, then why aren’t we, His proclaimed followers, all that different from the general population of this world?

 

If Paul’s statement is correct, then in Christ we do not just gain a form of righteousness or an appearance of it; rather, we are transformed into righteousness, itself. This thing that is being called righteousness is the sum total of all that is God and every aspect of being that is Godly. Righteousness is different in almost every way from the natural state of the world around us. It sets followers of Christ apart from all of it, and it should be what speaks out loudly from each and from all of our mouths when we open them for any and all purposes. Righteousness opposes violence as it promotes peace; it seeks justice for all but especially for the weak and the disadvantaged in our world; it denounces and works against tyranny while supporting freedom; and it lives out and speaks forth the Gospel of Christ as the answer to all forms of slavery that exist in our world. Righteousness is different from our world, and the righteous stand out as different. Do we desire to truly follow Christ and so be counted as a difference maker?

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

God’s original creation must have been an amazing place to live, for all was perfect there. Our relationship with God was close and very real, and our relationships with each other were open, honest, and intimate in every sense of that word. It seems that people did have work to do, but that work was fulfilling, and it was not continually being interrupted and pushed off track by disagreements and challenges in direction or of philosophy. The goal of that work appears to have been found in doing everything in a manner that was pleasing to the Lord and that made the world a better place in which to dwell. Profit and gain were not needed there because everything worked together to produce a bounty that was natural and organic in its source. But we know the story, and this did not last for very long before sin became the corrupting element in all of creation, and thorns and thistles entered into all of our work as that labor became very hard to accomplish.

 

Now in this passage, Paul is focusing on work that we do for the sake of the gospel and in the name of Christ, but the same concept regarding the effect of sin upon our efforts still applies. Even the things that we seek to do as a follower of Christ and in His name are impacted by the concept of the development of thorns and thistles in the midst of the work. These might be known as pride, jealousy, power, or by other names; however, regardless of what we call it, they are destructive and limit the effectiveness of our witness for Christ. Yet, in Christ we are changed, we are transformed by the work of His Spirit within us, and we do not need to be held captive by the laws and the rules of the old world and its culture of death. In Christ, all of the work that we do has a new and a redeemed purpose. For now, it is all done for the glory of the Lord and each aspect of it is also accomplished by and in His power.

 

Christ gives us a reason to get up in the morning and head off to work with a light step and joy in our hearts. He leads us into doing what we do with renewed purpose and with a vigor that comes from His presence with us in all of it. It doesn’t matter what we are skilled at, trained in, or called to do, we can dedicate all of our efforts to the Lord and do it as a part of His true calling of us to service in His kingdom. This is the sort of work that defeats the growth of the weeds that otherwise attempt to choke out productive effort and that cause us to lose focus on God’s desire for us to demonstrate eternity in all that we do. It is not so much the type or the nature of the labor that is important here; rather, it is the heart that is put into it and the dedication to Christ that fuels the effort that makes the difference. Christ desires that each of us would use our new lives in Him to work diligently for the redemption of our world, and this is accomplished by demonstrating and speaking Christ in all that we do.

 

 

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5: 14

 

This world is a solid food sort of place. The challenges that come our way place demands on the endurance of our bodies and our spirits in such harsh and taxing ways that it is hard to keep going on anything less nourishing. Yet, many people of faith in Christ, and at various times, almost all of us regress into a form of spiritual infancy in which we seek after easy truth and conveniently distorted understanding of scripture’s principles. These are times when the dense logic of God’s wisdom is deemed to be too hard to grapple with, and the reality of what is righteous and just is found to be nonconforming to the way that we want things to be in our universe. During these periods in the lives of followers of Christ, the Spirit’s role in our lives is redefined as one of being a bringer of warm feelings and peaceful images instead of being the one who guides us into discerning truth and the deep wisdom of eternity.

 

Consuming this solid food of faith is hard work. We need to practice at it on a regular basis. The rigor that it demands doesn’t leave much room for just coasting along or for times of vacation from spiritual disciplines. The ability to appreciate and to enjoy this sort of nourishment is formed through reading God’s Word on a regular and even on a continual basis. It is sharpened through discussion of the Word’s content with other followers of Christ, and all of this is brought into deep understanding and sharper focus in prayer and meditation and by the revealing work of the Holy Spirit. A life lived in the strength of a solid food diet is a life lived out in the discipline of a practiced spiritual existence. It is life in which practice is on-going and wherein the exercise of faith is unceasing.

 

All of this discipline and the effort that is attached to it does have its rewards. There is a richly satisfying quality to the Lord’s solid food that is not found in anything else. This diet gives to us the gift of understanding of God’s truth, and its adherents are led into the joy of following God’s will in their lives. Additionally, the ability to discern good from evil is a gift that is beyond value. There are many hard choices to be made in the process of living from day to day in our world, and God’s truth is the only source of real and lasting wisdom to use in making the sorts of choices that all of us are required to make. The Lord also grants us a form of confidence in the way that we choose to live our lives that can come only from the source of all truth. Seeking after the solid food of faith is not an easy thing to do, but its consumption brings with it rewards that are valuable beyond all else. Additionally, this solid food leads us ever deeper into a relationship with Christ and into the glory of His presence in our lives.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

1 Corinthians 5: 7

 

There is a real sense of urgency in these words. The sacrifice of the lamb has already taken place, and the blood of atonement is poured out. Yet, there is still an element, a trace, of the old sinful self present in the lives of the faithful followers of Christ. This is generally a situation that we all face at times and from time to time as well. We know Christ; yet, there is still sin present in us. We have given our lives to Him, but we are holding onto some aspects of our old self with a tenacity that almost seems to defy God’s ability to pour out grace upon us. As it was in Corinth, these elements of sinfulness in us and so in the fellowship of faith cause trouble and bring about dissention as they shatter our unity.

 

In Christ, we have the way and the means to clean out all that is corrupt, unloving, and broken in our lives. The cleansing property of His blood is far greater than any of the sins or sinfulness that we may be clinging onto, and Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection have also permanently defeated the hold that death had upon us. Christ has granted to us the final assurance that death’s terrible angel will pass us by, for although we all die in the body, in Christ all are eternally alive in the spirit. So, as we have come to know Christ as Savior and Lord, we are made new, and the old self with all of its weakness and unrighteousness is done away with in the eyes of God. It is not any lack of interest or capacity on the part of God that causes us to continue living in various states of rebellion from God, it is our own stubborn and fearful hearts and minds that grasp onto this leavening in our lives.

 

The journey into Christ’s righteousness is not a simple one. It takes commitment, happens over time, and is impossible to accomplish in our own strength and power. Additionally, it is not a solo adventure, for like all aspects of the Christian life, seeking after righteousness is something that is best done in the company of like-minded travelers. Yes, removing the leaven, the sinfulness, from our own lives and out of the body of faith is an urgent need, and we all are caught up in this important endeavor. Yet, Christ has gone before us, and His sacrifice on the cross gives us the power and the capacity to be victorious over all of the aspects of our old selves that are attempting to hold us down in our witness and to defeat our ability to live in the full expression of freedom that is ours as citizens of God’s Kingdom come to earth. Again, living righteously is not simple to do and it is not easy to accomplish, but the Spirit will guide us into knowing our sinfulness, surrender to Christ is effective in gaining His power and resources for change, prayer and meditation will lead us deeper into the Lord’s will, and the fellowship of other believers can be the support that we need to stay the course to its glorious end.

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