Renewal


At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

Ephesians 5: 8

Light and dark, images that describe the two ends of the day and that also depict the beginning and the end of our earthly days as we are born out of the darkness into the light of the world outside of the womb and then we end our days by returning to the darkness of the grave. These same light verses dark concept reflects the conduct of life during the hours in the middle of our days and in the days of our earthly journey. Although people are faced with many decisions that seem to be shaded in gradations of grey, in fact, all of a person’s personal morality and its ethical underpinning is founded upon beliefs that are either darkened or enlightened.

The source of all light in this world can be traced to God. He is the author of all that is just, right, loving, and merciful on earth. In the Lord’s design for this world and in its original creation, these characteristics of God were universally present. Even the darkness that was the result of the way that the earth travels in its orbit about the sun was infused with the same holiness as was the day. Yet, rebellion and sinfulness shattered that perfection and brought a counter-God force into being in all of creation. Now, as people are born into that light of the sun, we are all still darkness dwellers in our hearts and to the depths of our souls. Thus, each person starts life in conflict with the light of righteousness that is the nature of Christ.

However, that same Christ from whom we flee is actively and aggressively seeking after us and pursuing relationship with each person on this earth. The light of the Lord seeks to replace the darkness of sin and death in the hearts and the minds of all people, and as we accept Christ, His light becomes who and what we are. Although we are now true children of the light that is the character and the nature of God, the darkness that was ours from birth still attempts to assert itself into our daily journey. So, Christ implores His followers to reject the darkness that attempts to enfold us, to confess the times when it shows up in our thoughts and actions, and to turn away from its hollow allure as we claim the victory over sin that is found in the glory of Christ in us.

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Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

            ‘You shall worship the Lord your God

              And Him only shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4: 10

This is not a thought that I can claim as great and unique revelation from God. In fact, it is almost laughable to even state this idea. But here it is, Jesus got life right all of the time. That is, when He said or did something that was in response to the sorts of issues and struggles that all people face while living out our days on earth, His responses are the model for the rest of us to follow. This scene involving direct, face-to-face temptation by Satan is not one that I have experienced, thankfully! Yet, this is what is occurring to all of God’s people every day of our lives. Satan is active and seeks to entrap and devour people. Often the methods and the means that he uses involve people and situations that on the surface seem safe, attractive, and benign. However, evil surrounds us; it has infiltrated the very structure of our world, and it always leads people away from God and His righteousness.

What does it mean to live righteously? That is a complex question that warrants examination and that each of us should explore prayerfully with God. However, in simple terms it means living in a manner that is fully consistent with God’s Word, that brings glory to His name in our world, and that declares Christ through the sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and truth that we live out regardless of life circumstance or situation. This is not exactly an easy path to follow or one that will guarantee popularity and success in human terms. Yet, anything and everything else is functionally and factually idolatry. It is setting before us a standard for living that comes from a source other than God, Himself. It usually places us as the arbiters of what is right and just so that our personal desires, lusts, and comfort are served while the sacrificial love of Christ is hidden and locked away.

So, on view here we have Jesus’ most direct response to the sort of pressure and temptation that we face. Satan has asked Jesus to bow down to him and offered the world as the reward. When we turn away from thinking, saying, and doing what is loving, gracious, merciful, understanding, just, and truthful; we are agreeing with Satan’s request. For us humans the tension that exists between evil’s continual appeal and God’s will is going to continue throughout our earthly lives. The situations and the power of the temptation will at times be subtle and deceptive and at others it will carry the force of a great waterfall. That is why Jesus’ modeled response matters so much. We certainly can and should invoke Christ and His Spirit’s power in order to resist evil in all of its forms. Yet, there is much more here. The real answer to temptation is found in worship. Righteousness is made real and is understood more fully as we bow down before God. Temptation is defeated as we remain with our hearts and minds focused on Christ and away from ourselves.  

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.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6: 18 

The drive to achieve freedom is an ancient one in both the history of people and in our individual stories. It is an essential urge that runs deeply in our hearts and that helps to define the boundaries of our existence. From Icarus to modern astronauts we have been compelled by this urge to rethink and to expand the horizons that create a physical perimeter around our worlds. People will risk all in order to gain even a momentary taste of the air on the outside of a prison cell; while, oppressive governments grind away the spirits of their subjects to the point where we can be fundamentally changed when living under their rule. 

We can strive to gain freedom throughout life. Yet, there is always an illusive quality to it, for regardless of how much freedom we have, it is never satisfying. There will always be something that ties us down and that inhibits us. We will never have enough resources to acquire all of the land that our hearts desire to roam. We can jump on the largest motorcycle made, ride as fast as we can to catch the sun, and there will always be an ocean in our way. If we rely upon this world’s devices and methods, true and lasting freedom will always elude our grasp. 

Yet, beyond all of the other boundaries and stronger than any ropes that might tie us down, there is one aspect to life that is supremely constraining. There is one law of nature that is stronger than gravity. This is the law of sin and death. We are all born into bondage to sin, and we will all live out our lives in a constant struggle for freedom from it. However, Christ gives us the only freedom that actually matters, for His freedom has no boundaries, no horizon, and it is not defined by time, by space, or even by death, itself. In and through Jesus we all gain a freedom that cannot be purchased with anything that we could ever earn, and as we surrender more fully to being slaves of Christ, our hearts and our minds gain an ever-increasing degree of this unimaginable freedom. We can turn to the Lord in prayer continually for understanding of the things that are enslaving us; then, surrender the control of them to Christ, and live in His total freedom. 

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,

   when the plowman shall overtake the reaper

   and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

   and all the hills shall flow with it.

Amos 9: 13

There were hard days coming. This had been the message that the Lord had given to Amos to proclaim to both Israel and Judah. The prosperity that they were enjoying was to be momentary, and the wealth, power, and riches of the lands would become waste, destruction, and death. Then all that remained by way of the people that inhabited these nations would be carried away to live as exiles, captives, and slaves to a pagan nation. This was not a pleasant prospect for the future, and its coming reality was attributed to the fact that the people of these God-ordained nations were living in the full expression of their own wills with little to no concern for God’s Holy Word or with almost no engagement in the Lord’s commission to live as righteous people in the middle of a spiritual desert.

Despite the Lord’s anger at His people and His sense of futility in trying to get them to turn back to worshiping Him with all of their being, God promises that there will be a day of restoration, rebuilding, and renewed abundance in the land. This rebirth of life for the descendants of those who will face the terror of those days of awful cleansing will be accomplished by the hand of God alone. He will set people to work on doing various needful tasks, but their actual freedom to do these things and the capacity to accomplish them will be the Lord’s gifts to those people. Their opportunity to have an impact on all that is to come rests in the hands of those who are hearing Amos’ plea. They are the people who have the opportunity to change the course of the future for themselves and for their children by turning away from the current path of self-worship and by returning to fully committed worship of the one true God.

It seems to me that we, too, may have this same sort of choice making to consider. The world where we dwell is one wherein worship of the Lord, in its true and fully engaged sense, is rare. We live in many prosperous nations that do little to care for or to engage in meaningful concern for those around us who are oppressed, starving, and rendered homeless because of the unchecked violence of our times. The Israelites were called upon by God to be His hands and to do His work in the world. The abundance of their fields was intended to help feed the hungry, and the wealth of their spiritual legacy was designed to overflow through their proclamation into the spiritually dead peoples that surrounded them. If we too are followers of Christ, then we hold the same calling from the Lord to proclaim His name and to bring the presence of His glory to all of the world by virtue of the way that we live our lives. We are to seek to make the bounty of the Lord’s visionary proclamation a spiritual and a literal reality in our world by caring for others, by loving the unlovely, and by sharing our great wealth, both physical and spiritual, with the numerous people that its provider holds as dear and precious in His sight. 

But I am the LORD your God

   from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

   and besides me there is no savior.

Hosea 13: 4

Egypt was an extraordinary place for Israel. It was also a very special time in the history of God’s relationship with His people. The long years in Egypt were a true low point, a time of striking the rocky soil at the bottom of that pit of life where the skin on the national jaw is abraded away as a result of the face-plant that they have suffered. Yet, even this harsh and demoralizing life could seem to be better than the prospect of starvation, dehydration, and death at the hands of hostile forces that potentially loomed out there to the east in the desert terrain of the wilderness. Moses may have been forceful and Aaron might have been persuasive, but reason, logic, and fear also presented strong arguments against the journey. But Moses and Aaron were not alone in this venture. They were implored to act and led in the actions by the Lord, and the entire great adventure was directed by the ever-present Spirit, who went before them, provided food and water for all of them and protected them from harm by day and by night.

Like the Israelites, we face our times in Egypt. For some people that time of captivity is short and does not carry over into the rest of life. However, for most people, the oppression of that kingdom of evil has a more lasting effect, and its influence remains even after the individual has departed from Egypt’s borders. The Israelites had episodes and periods of time when they desired to go back; so, they acted as if they were still dwelling in that land to the west. Their thoughts and their actions were taken captive by the false gods and the anti-God practices of that former place and of those other people. We, too, may find ourselves thinking and acting in a manner that is reflective of life outside of Christ’s call to holiness. We all sin, we all fall short of the perfection of Christ, and despite the fact that we are redeemed and saved from the eternal consequences of that sin, we each require the on-going presence of the Spirit with and in us to continue the redemptive work of the cross on a day by day basis.

In Christ we each have our Savior. He leads us out of captivity to the rule of evil that is represented by Egypt in Hosea’s account. However, unlike Moses, Christ has already accomplished everything that is necessary for us to be granted a full pardon from all of the sin and resultant separation from God that can ever come over us. Moses was an imperfect and flawed human redeemer, but Christ is the perfect and unapparelled Savior of our souls and of our lives. We can turn to Him in our hours of doubt, and He will be present to assure our hearts of our new calling. Even when we turn away from God’s call to righteous living, the redemption of the cross is not diminished or withheld, for Christ holds on tightly to those who have turned to Him in faith. By and through Christ, each of us has been offered the opportunity to flee out of the bondage to sin and death that is known here as Egypt, as we accept that offer of redemption, we begin a journey of faith that will not end until we are beyond this life. This is a time of traveling in the company of the Spirit, it is a life in which we are required to continually submit to Christ’s transformative work within us, and it is a journey wherein faith and trust in Christ are the elements that continually point our hearts and minds toward our one and only Savior.

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3: 17

Peter was aware of two realities that had faced him as he followed Christ, and he was also certain that they would face every other person who traveled that same path through life. Firstly, suffering and pain would come to each of us in the wake of our encounter with Christ, and secondly, all of our thoughts, words, and actions would order under one of two headings as they would be either good or evil. Although these categories or divisions of the content of life may seem extreme or even as overly simplistic and harsh, they represent the reality of how the content of all people’s lives are ordered when it comes to their most basic of descriptors. We effect good, or we bring about evil. Neutrality is not a part of what it means to serve a master in this world, and all of us are ordered under someone to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Christ leads us into that good side of the equation of life, and His Spirit works within us to bring about change that permeates the deepest aspects of our beings so that these changes have a positive impact upon the way that we think, and so, they also transform the words that we speak and the things that we do. In this process of change our will can come to our aid or it can work to hinder the progress that we will make in assimilating Christ as our identity and image. For as we yield to Christ and surrender control of the deepest aspects of our selves to the work of the Spirit, then we are most profoundly impacted by the presence of the Lord in our lives. When we hold on to areas of our beings that we find comfortable and deem as important to us, we tend to retard that same growth into Godliness.

I am not suggesting that this form of deep and highly personal surrender is easy, for it tends to involve aspects of our identity and being that have been developed over the entire course of life to date, and it also impacts us in places where we find some of our greatest sense of security and self-determined peace. Yet, even these aspects of life are ones in which Christ is asking us to enter into a form of the suffering that the righteous journey requires of all travelers along the holiness road. When we place the prized possessions of our egos and our escapist thoughts and actions upon the altar of Christ’s cross, we begin a journey of faith that will take us upon an often painful journey into transformative healing for those places within our souls that have been rubbed raw by our days of living in this harsh and broken world. The decision to accept whatever pain may come in the process, whether it is ours internally or derives from external sources, is a first step into pursuing good and rejecting evil. 

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