Rejoicing


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: – a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 7

In God’s view of life, there is a perfect balance in and to all. The Lord sees the cause and the effect of each of our thoughts and actions, and He has complete understanding regarding all that we need to think, say, and do. This knowledge of our lives is given direct personal application throughthe way that the Spiritof Christ is continually engaged with me. Thus, there are times when I need to still my racing mind and hold my too quick tongue in order to allow God’s words and their wise counsel an opportunity to be heard. There are other times when I need to speak up and to give human expression to the love, grace, truth and understanding that the Lord has revealed.

In those times of silence, God wants me to wait on Him. The Spirit will speak to and regarding everything, and He always does give me the truth that I need at this time in order to act as He wants me to act in each situation that I encounter. Yet, I am an impatient soul who doesn’t always want to listen for that long a time or to pay that sort of deep attention. Still, the Lord has infinite patience, and He will wait for me to reach a point where I am still enough so that I am able to actually hear and comprehend His voice. In fact, the stillness can be the fullest and the richest time of all, for in that immense quiet, God’s greatness speaks and my heart is filled with the glory of His presence.

With my heart filled and my mind sharpened and focused on the Lord’s will, the Spirit implores me to go into my world and to speak about Christ’s desire to know everyone and regarding the path to salvation that comes only through Him. Sometimes those are very direct words that speak specifically about belief in Jesus, and sometimes the language that is called for is expressed in thoughts and acts of love, humility, and service. Christ is in me, and Christ in me is such a compelling story that it demands expression. So, He gives each of us a continual string of seasons of the Lord. Each of them represents a different but a still compellingly perfect time for giving voice in worship and praise of the Lord for our own salvation song.   

Advertisements

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5: 12

There exists a sort of mindless philosophy of life that says that people should ignore everything that is going on in their lives and in the world around them and so, “Just be happy.” This is not at all what Jesus had in mind here. He has just delivered the sobering thought that people who serve God by living out His righteousness to its fullest extent will be spoken of in harshly derogatory ways and will, in fact, be persecuted for their active faith. If this is the result of what comes our way because we choose to follow Christ and live out His direction for how we are to love others, care for them, and enter into redemptive peacemaking in our world, then it seems to be something very different from a state of being that could be viewed as mindless happiness. In fact, the pain that Jesus promises will be ours if we do seek after His path through life in this world is great as we might actually be choosing to walk in Christ’s footsteps all the way to the excruciating agony of the cross.

Yet, there is more to that prospect, for the Lord also gives us a a brief view of what comes beyond the sacrifices that He is leading us into in this life. Christ tells us that there is a reward to follow. The idea that we are to endure all that life throws at us in anticipation of some form of benefit in an afterlife may be hard to grasp during those hours of tears, fear induced sweat, and grief that we may be experiencing today. Still, the place that we occupy in this world is temporary and the days that we have to dwell here are short, and the other end of existence is infinite in its duration and in its wealth of blessing. However, there is more to what Jesus sets out as the promised heavenly response to our faithfulness to God’s holy will and righteous way of living it out. For the reward that we receive during the course of dwelling in the center of God’s will is also real and tangible. There is perhaps no experience in this world that is greater and more fulfilling than that of the sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit with you as you think, do, and say what is right in God’s eyes, even when this is done in the face of strong and persistent opposition from those around you.

This is the sort of thing that those prophets of old experienced. They spoke out and their words were frequently rejected by the world around them. They were also subjected to physical threats and harm and they often had to watch as the dire things that they foretold became reality. Still, the Lord walked through it all with them, and His Spirit was their companion and their guide for every step of that arduous journey. We may not be called upon by God to deliver words of prophecy to our world in the same manner as those people were, but each of us who knows Christ is called into unceasing service to our Lord and into a life dedicated to living out Christ’s grace, love, mercy, and truth in every aspect of life. Doing this to the best of our ability is cause for rejoicing, and the Spirit of Christ is present during these long hours of service to carry the weight of the burden and to encourage our failing hearts and confounded minds to continue the journey. Jesus knew that we were frail beings and that we would likely falter under the pressure and the strain of following Him; so, He also gave us His Spirit to travel this path with us, and He grants to us a form of joy that flows directly from the throne of heaven to wash our weary hearts in the knowledge of Christ’s delight in our faithful service.      

I know that everything God does endures forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 3: 14 

There is something strangely comforting in the thought that my life has an element of Divine reason and management in it; although, I might enjoy the notion that I am the one who determines my own direction, values, and outcomes, I also know my own lack of true skill and strength when it comes to handling the really challenging aspects of life. My vision is rather limited, too, for I tend to be looking out and devising my strategies from the vantage point of the hole that I continually dig for myself; whereas, I need to be positioned on a hill or in a tall tower in order to see clearly and far enough to make proper decisions. 

Let’s visit this idea of fearing God for just a moment; the real idea here is that we would respect Him, not that we would cower in the corner in terror. The fear that Solomon was speaking about is characterized by the knowledge that God already knows the outcome of our decisions, knows our hearts far better than we do, and will still stick with us through everything. This sort of respect involves trust, a willingness to yield my will to God, the acceptance of His direction for my life, and the understanding of how great God’s grace and forgiveness truly are. The Lord has it all under control; there will still be times of sadness, sorrow, and loss, but the result of following Him is a life that impacts my world with God’s love and grace.  

The Lord wants me to stay close to Him, and He promises that He will always be near to me. God wants me to find delight, joy, and comfort in living through each day; since, each day is one that He has designed as one step along the path of dwelling inside of the perfect life story that was laid out for me from the very beginning of Creation. Admittedly, there are times when evil steps in and momentarily subverts God’s purpose and plan; yet, even then, this is but a momentary time of misdirection, for God always takes back control. Like certain fantasy tales that I have read and seen in film, my choices and decisions have an influence on the day to day direction of the story, but God has promised His blessing on all of the outcomes so long as I continue to listen to His voice and seek His will. The Lord’s call to me is, “Listen, trust, and be joyous throughout the day that I have given to you”. My only reasonable response is to yield control to my Lord and to take delight in His outcome.  

Therefor do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1: 8-10

In Christ, shame is gone. That is a very big idea, and it is one that, in general, is hard for most people to fully grasp onto. Yet, as people who know Christ and who are also held onto by Him, we have nothing in life or beyond it to be ashamed of. We may have lived a life wherein we did and said things that were highly worthy of rebuke and shame, and we do get to own the damage that we may have done along the way. Yet, the grace that Jesus pours over His people is such that we can be set free from the fear and the doubt that accompanies realization of the sinfulness and the harmful nature of the way we have lived. Christ grants to us a newly formed and discovered strength of will, character, and person that enables us to make radical course changes in life and to also do the hard work of repairing damage done in the past.

It is this dramatic and transformative change that can establish the reason for proclaiming the work of Christ as the cause and motivation for what others are seeing as a new person. In addition to the difference in approach to life that Christ makes in His followers, He also gives each of us a gift or gifts of His Spirit that are to be used in the support and the promotion of the outworking of God’s kingdom upon the earth. The presence of Christ within us should make us bold in our use and application of these gifts. We can go through life with the confidence of Christ in both putting what He has given to us to practical use and also in speaking out about the source of this newly found capability and capacity for doing God’s work in our world. In Christ, we are fully alive, and the way that we live out our days can reflect that reality to others.

Death itself is the result of sinful disobedience to God. Each of us is born into a life that is overshadowed by the prospect of our own mortality, and the weight of that knowledge can work to constrain and to curtail our joy and our freedom in living in the fullest expression of what it means to love and to care about the world around us. Jesus overcame the hold that death has upon humanity, and He put human mortality into its rightful perspective. We all will still die, but in Christ, that is just a momentary change in the location of our residency. For Christ transforms our living spirits into ones that dwell in this life in the presence of the divine as the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us; then, when this life ceases, Christ takes us into the next aspect of our existence with Him as we continue on with a life that is carried out in the presence of God in the spiritual realm of heaven. This certainty of our eternal destiny is also something that we can proclaim to our world in the shamelessly bold manner of one who now lives in the center of the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

I have said these things to you, that in Me you would have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16: 33

These were hard times and painful hours for Jesus and for His followers. After the great shouts of greeting from the crowds in the streets that had been ringing out just a few short days before, the let down of these dark hours of the night of Passover must have seemed even more starkly sobering. Jesus had clearly stated for his people to hear that He was going to join the Father. They would be on their own. They didn’t understand. Like these first followers of Christ, we, too, can often feel alone. Life seems to be making demands upon us that are too big and hard for us to handle. Yet, the truth that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples on that night in Jerusalem is every bit as valid and real for us today as it was then.

One of God’s great strengths is His truthfulness. He lets us know what is on His mind, and He never holds back on the truth even when it might seem painful or hard. Also, He doesn’t try to make us think that life will be perfectly calm and safe after we commit to following Him. We live in a world that has been antagonistic to God for a very long time, and our modern environment has done nothing to change that hard reality. I know that when I honestly search my own heart and view the way that I think and act in the light of God’s righteousness that there can be a very large disconnect. The perfect obedience of Christ is what I desire to see reflected in my mirror, but it is the faithlessness and disobedience of Adam that I too often encounter there. The world with its pressures to conform and to join in has a great pull upon our hearts and minds; yet, Christ exerts an even greater attraction.

Jesus speaks to my troubled soul and He says that I can be at peace. In Him I do find the reassurance that even the very hardest of things that I will encounter in this world are things that He has experienced and has defeated. Christ takes my weakness and the brokenness of my life into His loving hands. He doesn’t just apply a dressing to my wounds or a splint to my broken bones; rather, He breaths healing and restoration into the core of my being. Even when the turmoil is swirling about me, Christ reassures me that He is here and thus, I can be dwelling in the center of His peace. There is no place and no event that is beyond His reach. Everything in this world is subject to His rule. So, in Christ we too can face the world with absolute confidence knowing that we too are victorious.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 7, 8

So, it could be true that these verses are actually taken from a children’s fairy tale. Along this line of reason, they were written by someone who wanted to provide a rosy-tinted and false sense of security to some young people so that they would go to sleep and stop bothering their adult care givers. Well, no; that simply isn’t true. These lines are taken from one entry in that wonderful body of writing that is known as the Psalms of Ascents. These are traveler’s tales. The sorts of reminders that whole Jewish families would recite and sing together as they took the often dangerous and arduous journey from their homes to Jerusalem so that they could worship God together with their entire nation. Although they were intended to ease the journey and to make the miles go by faster, they had a much greater purpose than that.

These songs are intended to remind the singers of God. As the travelers recited the lines from them their hearts were being prepared to enter into deep and transformative worship. The author of these lines was not attempting to gloss over the hardships of life. Instead, he deals with them from the perspective of an extreme realist. In these verses we see the great challenge that confronts all of us as we go about our own travels. Evil is out there; it is everywhere. It crouches and lurks among the shadows of the street where we live. It comes at us from far away, and it even attempts to set its traps in our own homes. Evil tries to worm its way into our minds and whisper the lies of Satan to our hearts. Although it has been defeated by Christ, evil just hasn’t gotten that message; so, it is relentless in its attempts to disrupt the lives of people who do know God.

Since this was the nature of the world that these ancient travelers knew, they sang about the truth of God’s protection, preservation, and salvation. As this same often harsh reality is ours, we can do the same thing. There is an old popular image of a person who is walking along a dark and frightening lane; so, in order to get his courage up, he starts to whistle. This idea was expressed in The King and I as Anna sings, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” There is one very big difference between the experiences of these fictional characters and those of God’s people. Their courage was a façade; it didn’t penetrate to their hearts. However, we can trust that God is truly protecting us. He will take us along the road that we are traveling, and our souls will be safe. There is danger in the journey, but the outcome of it all is never in question. During every minute of each day, Christ holds us close and keeps us secure, and this is true for each of us today and forevermore.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8: 10

At certain times it is natural to feel contradictory emotions. This is one of those times for the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests were going among them and reading God’s Word of the Law to them, they were struggling greatly. They had much to be thankful for in that the wall that surrounded Jerusalem had been rebuilt and their city was being restored to its former greatness. They had returned to their homeland from exile, and the throngs were gathered in order to celebrate all that God had done for them and to give thanks to the Lord. As God’s Word was read, they heard the story of how God had been faithful to His people throughout all of history. They were given the details of the Lord’s call to holiness and to righteous living, and they were also struck by the stark contrast between God’s faithfulness to them and their sinful departure from His way of truth and life.

It was surely painful for them to face into the reality of how they had acted in response to all that God had done for them. The very ground that they were standing upon was something that God had provided for them. The great work of rebuilding that had just been finished was necessary because they had not remained true to God’s way of living and had allowed the ruin of rebellion against God to overtake their world. The Word of Truth must have been convicting to them, and their hearts were overcome with the need for repentance. Yet, they were being called out into a joyous celebration, for this was a time for a festival of thanksgiving and singing of songs of praise to the Lord. So, Nehemiah calls upon the people to enter into the party. They were to do things that indicated that their hearts were at peace and that their minds were filled with expressions of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done and hope for where they were headed as a nation and in each of their lives. They felt sorrow, regret, and a need for repentance, and the Lord accepted all of that and called them into a heart-deep attitude of resting upon His grace and understanding that the Lord finds great joy in the return of His people to Him.

Very similar things are true for us today as well. We neglect our walls of truth and holiness. We leave God’s righteous way in order to seek out our own path through life, and the results of all of this can be just as troubling and even similarly disastrous as departing from the Lord’s will and way was for the Israelites. Christ calls upon us to return to Him, and He leads us into doing His work of restoration and rebuilding in our own lives. With grace and mercy He takes us back into the center of God’s will for the life that He has gifted to each of us. And just as it did for the people gathered in Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra, God’s Word presents us with the full scope of His unceasing faithfulness to His promises to us and depicts our need for repentance for each of us in such a stark and powerful manner that it is hard to be anything other than sorrowful in the light of this revealed truth. Yet, Christ tells us to enter into the celebration and to be joyful in the presence of the Lord. These times of returning and of rebuilding bring joy to God’s heart, and His joy is cause for us to join with the Lord and to accept His gift of redemption that comes complete with His provision of the strength that we will need to move forward with the work to which Christ is calling us to engage.      

Next Page »