Rejoicing


Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.

Psalm 33: 1

 

The sound that comes out when I open my mouth and start to sing may not please everyone, but that shouldn’t stop me from singing. The words to the song may become confused or a bit jumbled at times, but I should continue to hum along until they become clear again. Music has a way about it that makes everything seem better, and it also tends to penetrate deep into the center of things in a way that connects and that joins people together.

 

God is pleased to hear the music that we make; yet, we don’t even need to make a sound in order for Him to appreciate it, for the Lord hears the vibrations that come from our hearts, too. He knows when we are seeking to follow the truth of the word and when we are surrendering our will and our self-determined interests to the Lord’s greater purpose. The simple footsteps of people who are following the straight path of righteousness through the day set off vibrations that resonate throughout the world with the song of salvation.

 

As each of us chooses to sing the words of life that God gives to us, we become part of a great choir of voices that will be heard above all of the noise that our world sets off to oppress people and to confuse their thinking. When we open our hearts with expressions of thanks to God for all that He is and everything that He does, the beauty of His presence radiates out from us, and our heart’s song will cause others to desire to join the chorus.

 

Declare his (the LORD’s) glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among the peoples!

Psalm 96: 3

 

The writer of this psalm has stated that God’s people will declare their relationship with God by singing; in fact, they are commanded to do that. I understand that song is powerful and that singing touches us in ways that simply saying words does not. Singing reaches into our emotions and sets our hearts into motion, and it seems to reach deep inside both the singer and the hearer of the song to engage places and to bring about responses that are unique and profound. Yet, I doubt that the actual intent in these words was to turn life into a musical play style of existence where messages, at least the important ones, are delivered by choruses made up of ordinary people going about their daily lives. This sort of thing makes sense on the stage or in film, but causes genuine confusion and even chaos when it happens on city streets.

 

Yet, the ideas here are important ones, and they are the sorts of things that matter to God. He wants for us to be people who desire to sing out about our relationship with Him. He engages with us and with all the rest of creation in a manner that is more than worthy of the highest praise possible. The presence of Christ in me and His involvement with my life is such that He is the source of all joy, peace, and goodness; thus, my Lord is the reason that there are songs for me to sing. Still, I think that the songs here have a different form so that their nature is made up of an alternative type of melody and lyric to those of traditional music. The writer is telling us that our lives are songs and that the content of those lives, when lived in service to God’s will, is itself a poem that has been set to the eternal music of heaven.

 

When Christ brings about this sort of expression in us, we move beyond the boundaries of place, culture, and language and into humanity’s common ground of love, care, and relationship. The Lord is calling to His people to specifically and deliberately take the expression of our joy that comes out of our relationship with Him out into the world around us so that the hymn of praise that naturally comes forth from us will be on view for all around us to see and to hear. This should lead to questions about this unnatural response to a life that does not always go as we would desire or plan, and these questions provide the opportunity for us to tell about the love of Christ, the redemption that comes through knowing Him, and to invite others to join us in the chorus of praise that we have been declaring openly as we travel through the day.

 

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Corinthians 13: 11

 

Here is a statement about family. The idea that life is something to rejoice in and over is closely related to what it means to dwell in the presence of Christ while living among other people. In a gathering of followers of Christ, we will find all sorts of personalities and perspectives on what it means to live properly and well. It is made even more challenging by the fact that we will all be in various states of change, too, for Christ continually works in His people to transform us into people who are more and more like the person that He desires for us to be. This creates a need on each of our parts to continue to work at knowing others well while we also remain open and seek out others in order to reveal the work that the Lord is about in us.

 

When you think about it, the church is truly a busy family. It is comprised of flawed and broken people who are following Christ into engagement with the world while they are also seeking to know God in a deeper and more intimate manner so that His Spirit can continue to reform and remold us into individuals who are more and more righteous while preparing and equipping us to perform the work that is needful for God’s kingdom. This rush of words requires a deep breath to speak out, and that is something like the breathless pace of life that can seem to overtake the body of Christ. It is for this reason and because of the relentless demands that our world places upon us that we need the support and the comfort of this same body. Herein we can find rest, refreshment, and the sort of fellowship that leads to restoration and revitalization.

 

The reason for our celebration, for our rejoicing, is Christ, and this spirit of joy is present in our fellowship because of the way that our Lord leads us to love and to care for each other. The fellowship of faith is where we can be real and honest with each other, for we are allowed to express our hearts and engage our minds together in this setting. As we come together, whether in small or in great numbers, we are able to bring our differences in all areas of thought and action together and to share them for the sake of understanding, use them in complementary manners in order to increase our strength, and yield our perspectives to those of others when that is the way to live in peace and to demonstrate Christ’s love to our world. The body of Christ should not be homogenous but it should be peaceful. This family will contain disagreements and contentions, but it can engage them and work through them to the glory of our singular Lord and Savior. As we turn our eyes toward Christ, we are drawn together in our common thread of faith and the differences that we express can become a part of our cause for rejoicing.

Holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.

Hebrews 3: 1

 

For me a picture is often much clearer and easier to understand than are words. In fact, it is usually true that when that picture is created by the actions of another person, I grasp the thing that is being demonstrated even better. So, the best way to learn a new skill, to change an old habit, or to understand a different concept is to follow along through life with a true master. Jesus is our perfect demonstration of what life should look like, and He gave us a complete picture of the way that He lived so that we can more readily grow in our understanding and application of the righteousness that God calls all of His children to follow.

 

When we need to love an unlovely person, look at Jesus. When we are faced with pain and hurt, look at Jesus. When life seems cruel and unjust, look at Jesus. He shows us how we should respond to the oppression of evil in our world and in our own lives. Christ provides us with the answers to all of our most troubling questions and concerns. Jesus experienced it all, and His Spirit caused all of His experience to be set down for us in His Word. Then, that same Spirit talks to our hearts and minds to explain how these events that took place 2,000 years ago are still as valuable and pertinent today as they were on the day that they were written.

 

If you are in Christ, you are in this life with God, and the Lord, God Almighty of the Universe, is in your life with you. He loves you totally. He will lead your steps through this day; and He counsels, corrects, praises, strengthens, and supports you in everything. We can turn to the Lord with praise and worship throughout every day, for He is the only true High Priest of our life’s journey, and His truth, which is demonstrated by real life experiences, will take us through this day with heart-deep peace and joy.

 

Pilot said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it (Jesus’ tomb) as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

Matthew 27: 65, 66

 

In some way and at various times in life, almost everyone does this same sort of thing. We set our guard, and we attempt to keep Jesus sealed up in a place where He cannot possibly gain access to us and to our hearts and minds. These actions and the thoughts that precipitate them are born out of our nature and operate as its natural defense against God’s assault upon that nature. Although we were designed to be close to our Creator, all of humanity is delivered into life with the chasm of our sinfulness separating us from God. For many different and individual reasons we work very hard at maintaining this distance so that we build defenses against God’s relentless pursuit of us. Yet, what we view as well reasoned and rational is, in fact, foolish, self destructive, and delusional.

 

Not even the best trained soldiers and the skills that they have acquired under the most trying of situations on the battle field are sufficient when it comes to restraining Christ’s drive to save us. He will not be sealed away in that tomb. His will is far too great for that. God came into our world, lived among us and walked the journey of human life, and gave up that life as the perfect sacrifice for our sinfulness in order to eliminate that barrier of distance between people and God. So, we can deploy logic and build up defensive structures with all of the skill and ingenuity that we possess, we may even think that we have been cleverly successful in sealing Christ up and away from our lives, but He will not be held down. The third day, the day of resurrection, always arrives.

 

The Lord will not be contained within the walls of separation and their tomb of defeat. Christ is risen from that place, and all of creation knows of this victory and sings out in praise of the Risen Savior and Lord! We do not all accept the evidence, and many people continue to hold forth the need for setting the guard and reworking the seal on their hearts and minds. However, these human activities do nothing to deter Christ. He continues to seek after all of us, and He does so from His place beyond the grave in Heaven where He now dwells as the reigning Lord over this world. Christ went through death and into life so that each of us could know what it is to dwell in that same life. So, in Him we are alive today in body and in spirit. The guards around the entrance to that tomb are clearly engaged in a foolish activity as Jesus is not there, and our testimony, the accounts of living witnesses to the risen Christ, can join the heavenly chorus in singing out in praise of our Savior!

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

Colossians 1: 21, 22

 

This entire idea should be troubling at best for most people, and for many it might even cause anger. You might protest against Paul’s blunt and harsh observation with a response that says that you have never been hostile toward God or, really, toward anyone else, either. Hostility is just not your way of dealing with life. Yet, alienation and hostility toward God is the singular birthright that all people enjoy. We are born into this world with our hearts separated from our Creator and with our minds set on a course for life that is determined by our own wills, and this course will always be one that takes us away form the Lord’s righteous and holy path. We don’t get to choose, for the direction of our journey is in the genetic code that our parents and their parents before them gave to us.

 

That is why death is so much a part of this story. Humanity’s rebellion and departure from God and from His will set us apart from God in ways that took us and all of the rest of creation away from God’s life-granting intent and desire and into a journey downward into the darkness of spiritual and bodily death. So that now we are all born into the graveyard of the soul that is our existence on this earth. However, as this condition is the common one for the entire world from the earliest of times, it is very hard for most people to recognize the state of being that they are dwelling in. This deadness seems normal, and the new life that Christ gives to those who follow Him seems strange, foreign, and even undesirable when viewed from inside the fence of natural life’s darkened and grim terrain.

 

So, there was one singular death that changes everything. As Jesus gave up His life in order to purchase it for everyone else, He broke through the barrier that separated humanity from God, and He granted to all of us the opportunity to enter into the fullness of life that comes only in the presence of our Creator. In and through Christ we are taken out of our old lives which were carried out in a state of separation from God and antagonism toward His righteousness and true love, and we are transformed into people who live within the bounteous joy, deep peace, and unending love of God’s kingdom come. Now, as we enter into Christ’s new life that necessarily followed His sacrificial death, we need to allow the Spirit to put to death our old selves and the walking death in which we were dwelling so that all that was, the decaying flesh of our birth bodies, will be replaced with the glory of Christ and the life that He alone gives to all who follow Him.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

2 Timothy 1: 3

 

There is something beautifully simple present here in Paul’s words that I think often gets lost in the fog and the haze of daily life. This is an attitude of thankfulness. The Apostle seems to be holding out his thanksgiving as a very broad idea and a remarkably open one too. Now Paul was not dwelling in comfort or safety when he set out these ideas. He was a prisoner in Rome in the brutally oppressive times when Nero was the Emperor. Paul was certainly going to die in the near future, and he was fully aware of this fact. He was separated from his dear friends and traveling companions, and his valuable work of sharing the Gospel of Christ throughout the gentile world had come to a halt. From a natural and a human perspective these were hard times.

 

Yet, Paul sees the good in it all, for he sees Christ in his days. This is not some mystical vision or self-deluded refusal to face into reality. Rather, Paul seems to have a vision of the greater reality of life in this world as a follower of the Lord of Creation. Rather than viewing his situation and circumstances as desperate or hopeless, he comprehends the opportunities to serve Christ that are there before him. Instead of focusing on how hard his days are or upon the grim prospects for his life’s future, Paul is reflecting upon the many ways that people have entered into his days and given special care and consideration to him. All of this brings him to a place where his spirit is lifted and his mind seems to be clear as he expresses praise and thanksgiving to God and for all that has been granted to him in this life.

 

It seems that thanksgiving is something that has become a part of the rhythm of Paul’s days. So, by looking at his example, I am challenged to follow his lead in this matter. When life is viewed from the perspective of Christ’s engagement with me and with His loving sacrifice as the filter for everything, all that takes place in my days and to me can be cause for thanksgiving and praise to God. From the breath that I breathe in and expel from my lungs to the purpose that my existence enjoys, all of my life and everything that influences its course is a gift from God. Even sickness, pain, loss, grief, disappointment and failure serve to guide my steps along a path that belongs to Christ. As I hold the image of my Lord before my heart in an on-going prayer of devotion, He speaks to me a truth that is deeply embedded in the foundations of Creation and that truth is the basis for hope eternal and the reason for expressing thankfulness in and to all.

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