Renewal


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.  

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But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6: 1

The thoughts contained here are very broad on the one hand, and they are rather exclusive or limited on the other. When he says, “If anyone” and “any transgression,” Paul is aiming at a wide spread and highly diverse target. Within the family of faith, many people will get caught up in transgressions at some time or other. We all sin and do truly fall short of the glory of our calling in Christ. Much of the time we catch ourselves, or perhaps stated more accurately, the Holy Spirit within prompts us to recognize the wrong that we are perpetrating against Christ and His holy church through our thoughts, words, and actions. Then repentance, often self-confession, and working on restoration of relationships that have been harmed or damaged is the course of action that we follow. Some of the time, this is a big process, but most of the time, it is something that just happens in the general living out of our days.

However, there are other times when the sin in our lives can be either too great or too subtle to be handled on our own. These situations can be very challenging for others in the body of Christ as we are left with a difficult task that involves discernment and that can lead to confrontation, which is almost never something that we enjoy doing. Yet, God does call upon us to be honest and direct with each other, and we are to engage with people in the area of the sin that we observe in their lives. Any and all of this sort of action requires that we be prayerful in discerning the truth of the situation and also in our approach to a brother or a sister who we believe to be engaging in such sinful living. This is all to be done in a spirit of restoration and with Christ’s grace setting the tone and the nature of our approach to the person with whom we are engaging. The message that we deliver should be one of love, care, and concern for the person and for their relationship with Christ and with His body.

All of this is to be done with a spirit of gentleness. This means that we are careful to remain non-judgmental in the process of calling out that which the Spirit has revealed and that God’s Word has described as sin in the person’s conduct of life. We need to be careful in all of this to keep our own egos under control and to eliminate the contemplation of owning the outcome of these conversations. Christ is the one who is acting in these situations, and we are doing what we are called to do by Him as brought forth by the Spirit and in His Word. This is where Paul warns us to be careful, for it is easy to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental during the process of engaging with someone regarding sin in their life. Thus, there is the restrictive concept expressed in the text whereby Paul instructs us to do any of this sort of thing with the guidance of the Spirit. So, when we are told that “those who are spiritual” should be the ones who confront sin in the body, I think that Paul is saying that any of us in Christ can do this, but that each and every instance of such engagement needs to be done with prayer and with the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. 

A voice cries,

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Isaiah 40: 3

Wilderness is a strong word. It brings to mind vivid images, and it does this in most people’s imaginations, too. When we hear of wilderness, we may think about a barren desert place or the picture that comes to mind may be of rugged mountains with no one nearby. The wilderness that the prophet was referencing was physically near for the people of Israel, and their national story of years spent in a circular journey in it were also well known to them all. Yet, Isaiah was speaking in terms of the conditions of their hearts and their souls. The people and their nation were traveling through life in the barren dryness of a wilderness of faith. They had turned away from the sweet water of the Spirit of God, and their table was now set with the bitterness of prideful separation from their Lord. Although they may have been sleeping in comfortable houses, their hearts were residing far from the presence of God. 

Most of us can identify with aspects of this situation. It seems to be true that almost everyone goes through some of these hard and lonely times during the course of our days. As it was in Israel, these days spent in isolation and seeming separation from God can become the reality for our churches, our cities, and the nations that we call home. Individuals lose touch with God’s truth, will, and righteousness so that they may, in turn, lead these larger groups and organizations along the desert path. Sometimes we just touch upon the edges of the barren places and find that its harsh heat or emptiness are overwhelming. Then, we turn back to the sure nurture of God’s presence and the security of His Word of grace and truth. In many instances, we relocate to those rugged environs over a long period of time wherein a short day trip becomes an overnight camping experience that is followed by ever increasing days, months, and finally years spent in turning away from the Lord’s way of thinking and of living.

However deep we may have gone into these deserts of the soul, there is a way out. Even when we have traversed so far into the barren lands of rejection of God and the deep valleys of separation from the Lord’s gospel of love and grace, He is still seeking after each of us with the singularly redemptive intent of the shepherd who has nurtured and cared for His flock since the beginning of time. Life may seem like it is being lived out in an unrecoverable and lost place, but Christ is a singularly qualified and skillful builder of roads. He desires to lead each of us out of the living purgatory that we have exiled ourselves into, and when we open up our hearts to Him and surrender our lives to His loving authority and sovereign rule, the Lord comes to us where we are located, and He guides and supports us for each and every step of the journey back into the bountiful land that is found in the center of God’s will.     

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14-16

Jesus did all of this a very long time ago. Yet, we are still not living in the reality of what is described here. For there is certainly more than just a little hostility out there in the world, and I cannot see an end to it soon. We just find new reasons to dislike others, to fear them and to seek to keep ourselves separate and apart from many of the people in our world. We can even contemplate and fabricate compelling arguments for the need for these barriers and the laws or rules that are enacted in order to enforce them. In this environment, it is easy to justify the expenditure of extraordinary sums of money on this process of separation, and we name all of it as necessary, acts carried out for the sake of national pride, and in the name of religious purity.

So, you might come back at me with a statement about the fact that Paul, in this letter, was not talking about the same things that I am in the words above, and I will agree with you, to a point. However, I think that Paul’s deeper concept here is one of re-creation or of restoration of that which God designed and devised to be the state of being in our world. When humanity was formed up and established on this earth by the hand of God and with His breath breathed into our lungs, we were not intended to be separated by race, nationality, social or economic status, or by the way that we worship God. These divisions and separations have all come about in the aftermath of our sinful rebellion against our Creator. So, Paul may have been talking specifically about the very broad divisions of Jews and Gentiles, but when that discussion is extended out to its fullest reach, I contend that it is about every form of separation and division that might exist in our world.

Jesus came to break down all of those walls. He entered into His destiny in order to give us the way and the means by which God’s heart for restoration of His creation could begin to be carried out in our world. Now it is our responsibility and duty to follow Christ into that same work of restoration. Where there are divisions, we need to seek reconciliation. As there are barriers to fellowship, Christ’s people must reach out to share a table of grace, understanding, and peace. When people proclaim nationality or other forms of human-devised superiority, Christians and Christ’s church need to raise up a chorus of praise to our only true and sovereign King Jesus as we also stand up and risk defiance of power that is established in this world so that the valid power of the cross is what the world sees standing tall above our heads. There is one road that leads to peace in our world, one path to reconciliation of humanity to God, and a singular way into an eternal relationship with God, and this is the one that takes us to the cross and that leads into the arms of Jesus the Christ.    

If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12: 2 

We live on the inside of a large, ever present mold, and there are pressures being exerted upon everyone to manipulate and to form us into a replica of that shaping form. Some of its contours are easy to accept and others are hard and sharp-edged. The pressure that is placed upon us that is intended to cause us to fit into the configuration that the owner of the mold desires can be mild but it does get ramped up to the point of being extreme at times. The presence of these shaping forces is something that never leaves us in this life; however, we do get to make some choices in these matters. We can accept certain influences as we can also reject others. So, we can seek out the master of the mold that we would like to have influencing the life that we will live, and we can choose to submit to the type of master that we believe will take us in the right and true direction.

This choice of masters is something that God has given to us. He desires for us to choose Him and to seek after His influence and instruction in all matters, but God wants for each of us to do these things freely and without compulsion. He risks granting us the freedom to make these decisions on our own, but He does not leave us without advice or counsel to assist us in determining what is right, just, good, and holy in our world. The Lord does allow us to decide for ourselves to select or to reject those Godly influences. This is a type of consideration that we are faced with at a high level as we consider whether to accept Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives, and we continue to encounter these decision points throughout every day that we are alive when we need to choose to live in a manner that is fully submitted to Christ and to God’s Word or to travel along a different path in some aspects of life. Every one of these decisions has an influence upon the form, the substance, and the shape of the life that I will live from this day forward.

Yet, even wrong turns and surrender to the pressures that the world places upon a person is not without its value and its worth in the process of living a life that is Godly, righteous, and valuable within God’s kingdom on earth. The Lord is redemptive in His character and nature. He seeks to retrieve our lost moments, hours, days, and years by granting to each of us a grace that is infinite in its mercy and unceasing in its capacity to love us. God follows us wherever we may go, He calls us into the presence of His word of life, and He speaks renewal and new life into any and all of our dark and hurting places. As we submit to Christ and seek out His will, He applies the sort of pressure that we require to remake each of us into people who take on a shape and a form that is beautiful in God’s eyes and that lives in a manner that brings the grace, hope, and love of Christ into the lives of others. With or without Christ we are being formed and shaped every day, but in Christ, the form that we acquire is one that is radiant with His glory and that is made beautiful by the love that He pours into us and that we can then grant to the world where we live.   

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