Rejoicing


It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.

Philippians 1:20

Today, we have some questions to consider. Does every fiber of your being shout about its freedom in Christ? If not, why not? When you think, do the thoughts that are generated by the Spirit of Christ dominate, or how about the way that you act, do people see Jesus in His full expression when it is your hands that are touching them? When I answer honestly, my sad response is, “No, not so often, not as much as I might, or not even on the same continent as my potential.”

Yet, Christ’s Spirit of transformation and change reaches into the very deepest and to the smallest bits of our beings; He brings about a state of being that is completely redefined and whose orientation is brought into alignment with God’s. When I don’t face my day with this sense of anticipation of living in the center of the glory of Christ and when I enter into contact with people with a aura of fear and dread surrounding my heart and mind, I can seek the wisdom, truth, and discernment of Christ, and I can also seek to set aside the old-life concerns and my now, through Christ, outdated perspective on interacting with others, too.

When I accept the change, recognize the transformation, and trust the Spirit to direct me, I can and should live in a manner that shows the confident love of God to my world. This life perspective is grown on the inside, in my heart and mind, and as it takes over each and every cell of my body. As I stop holding onto the old and embrace this change, I am filled with a reasoned courage that compels me to engage life in a fresh and a vigorous way. Then every molecule of my being can truly shout with joy at the presence of the Lord.

And it came about that when Christ had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

Luke 24: 30, 31

This is an amazing scene where Jesus has joined with His followers after they saw Him crucifiedand buried, and He has walked with a couple of them while teaching them. Now, Christ has joined them for an eveningmeal. Still they don’t realize who they are with. Although I don’t believe that anything actually happens to the bread or the wine that we use in our memorial celebrations of Jesus’ sacrificial offering of Himself, there should be something rather mystical about it. Whenever we participate in this event that many in the church call Communion, the Holy Spirit is present with and among us, and we should be taking the time and opening our hearts to reflect on who Christ is and on what He means to me at this time.

Like the bread and the wine, Christ sustains my body and He satisfies my thirst. He does this by providing the most basic of things that I need and by inviting me to join Him in the daily banquet feast of His Spirit. His Word shows me who He is and how that has been true from the beginning of time, and Christ shows me who I truly am and what that reality means. He opens my heart to the love that He has for me, and Christ breaks down my defenses and takes away my fears so that I can open my arms in love to embrace the people that are in my world. The Lord continually reminds me of the person that I have become due to the redemptive work of His grace and the transformativework of His Spirit. This new person is free to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin with all who would join in and worship the God who saves.

As I taste this simple bread and pour the contents of the cup into my mouth, there is truly something wonderful happening, for this is a time when Christ’s presence is profound. He is at the center of the room and in the depths of my heart. So, the Lord speaks the healing breath of His peace, joy, and understanding into me. Christ tells me to open my eyes and see, and He says to open my ears and hear; for, He is always with me to fill me with everything that I need and to sustain my soul throughout the day. Thus, with eyes open and Christ fully present with me, He leads forth into the day ahead, and I am strengthened and encouraged to seek out the Lord’s will and to confidently live it out. 

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son.

1 John 5: 11

Testimony is serious business. When a person is called upon to provide it, the words that come out, either in written form or as an oral statement, need to be carefully considered and be as accurate as the witness is able to recall. The words solemn and formal are found in the definitions of testimony. According to John, God’s own testimony is found in this simple expression about life. God gives life to us, and it comes by and through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the solemn truth that God would have all people know, grasp, and follow. This is the simple summary of all that is contained in God’s Word regarding relationship with Him. Life, in its fullest expression and to its ultimate extent, is a gift that comes to people in Christ, and it is found nowhere else in all of the universe.

This spark, this mysterious yet tangible difference, is often visible in the way that Christ’s followers think, act, and speak. It is even more apparent in the attitude that they carry forth into life wherein the things of this world do not hold them down or burden them to the point of breaking. For the truth is found in the fact that this place has its harsh qualities and its burdensome aspects, and no one escapes their grasp. We encounter these trials, struggles, and times of suffering as a part of the normal course of living. Yet, Christ within us changes things in ways that are real and tangible. Christ provides the perspective of eternity for us to use as the lens through which these earthly struggles can be viewed. Christ grants us a form of strength that is only slightly associated with the capacity to do physical work and that is absolutely related to our capacity to continue on with living with peace in our hearts and with the gospel of love on our lips.

God’s testimony is found in Jesus, and our testimony is the lives that we live in His name and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This fact makes each of us, in Christ, into daily witnesses to His grace, love, and mercy as it also places us on view as examples or exhibits in the great and grand trial that is life. For we are being looked over and examined so that the lives that we live and the way that Christ influences the conduct of those lives is under the scrutiny of the people of the world around us. The peace, joy, and love that we exude is being observed, and the way that we carry on with life regardless of circumstances and situations is also seen by others. I am not saying that followers of Christ should put up false fronts and pretend to the world that everything is perfect and that there are no challenges and struggles in our lives. Quite the opposite is true, for we can and should be free to be open, transparent, and honest in sharing our lives with others and in seeking the Lord’s engagement with our needs. Yet, in Christ, the lives that we live with their faith, hope, peace, and joy are even more so a testimony to our Lord in the hard days and the challenging times.  

Trust in the Lord forever, 

For the LORD GOD is an everlasting Rock.

Isaiah 26: 4 

There is so much in life that can rock our worlds, and I don’t mean in a good way, either. Just go to your favorite news source and read the top ten leading stories and see how much pain and suffering is afoot in our world on a regular basis. Escape isn’t found in the Sports or Entertainment pages either. Scandal, death, and wasted lives are commonplace themes in those “soft news” venues, too. What is even harder is the fact that so much of the sort of distress that is facing people across the globe is also staring each of us in the face at home. 

While the stories about lives turned upside down and shaken from their foundations by acts of nature and actions of man swirl around us in a seemingly never ending river of chaos that leads to fear and discouragement, there is another news story that needs to be read. It needs to receive continual, constant, and even total focus. God has written His story of relationship, love, and redemption across the history of the world. He sets it before our eyes and He scribes it onto our hearts if we are willing to simply open ourselves to receive and to hear His voice. 

As we shift our thought from the evil and the darkness around us and onto the light of Christ’s grace, the Spirit replaces confusion with clarity. He provides us with a sense of security that is based upon the actual fact of its existence. The Lord takes our swirling thoughts and emotions and calms the storm so that we can make reasoned and rational decisions while standing in the middle of the downpour. As we trust in God as the only valid source of truth and as the one who shows us the way to live with integrity, peace, joy, and love, in the midst of the world’s chaos, we are standing on the unshakable foundation of all of Creation.    

You have multiplied, O LORD my God,

   your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

   none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

   yet they are more than can be told.

Psalm 40: 5

Silenced! Dumbstruck! Overwhelmed! These expressions of the way that David was impacted by the Lord’s engagement with his life are simple and weak in comparison to the actual feelings that must have formed up inside of his heart and mind. God’s grace, mercy, favor, and salvation had been granted to the author on too many occasions for him to not be amazed by it all. Now it seems to have happened again, and David can barely get the words out of his mouth to describe God’s gracious favor; yet, at the same time, he cannot hold his words in, either. He needs to tell the world all about the Lord and give us the details of when, how, and what God has accomplished for the sake of His servant.

So, David speaks out to tell everyone who might listen about the wonders of the Lord. He wants us to understand that God does everything because of His love, and He operates freely in our world because of His sovereignty over all of creation. There is nothing that David or that any of us are involved in that the Lord does not know about, and there is nowhere that we might go where He cannot operate with full knowledge and strength. Additionally, in every instance and upon each occasion that comes about in my journey through life, the Lord has both my best interests and the furtherance of His kingdom in mind and set as objectives. This was true for David, and it has remained so for all of the years that have passed by since. Care, engagement, and participation in the lives of His people have continued to be God’s desire and operating modality, and they are the Lord’s promise to us for all of time to come.

We too can join with David is shouting out praise to God for the way that He loves and cares for us. These shouts are expressions of worship and thanksgiving, and they are also uttered as a means of letting others know that they, too, can be the recipients of this form of eternal grace that does overcome all of the evil in this world. By God’s love, we are forgiven all of our sins, in Christ’s blood we are made eternally clean and proclaimed righteous before God, and through the Spirit’s leading we are granted opportunities to live out the fullest possible expression of our skills, talents, and gifts during the hours that we are granted to dwell upon this earth. As my identity is now found in Christ, so too are my feeble words of praise to God replaced by following the Spirit’s direction as I enter into loving others and caring for and about their needs in ways that would not exist without the Lord’s transformative work upon me. The Lord multiplies His wondrous works and expresses His loving thoughts toward the world through His people; so, let me be a follower that lives for Christ today and through all of those hours of life that God’s grace has granted to me.          

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.   

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.

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