Renewal


Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “You know everything; You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

John 21: 17

 

There is a quality to this scene on the beach that would be perfect for a film script. The setting is striking with the growing light of the early morning on the shore of the Sea. The fire would provide a dramatic glow to show the faces of Jesus and Peter as they dialogue. The emotion on Peter’s face could be emphasized by the way that the camera focused on his pain and confusion and their resolution in the loving words and actions of Christ. For here He is, the Lord of the Universe, the One who created it all, the King of Kings, and He is cooking fish to feed His wandering followers. Christ has come to bring the life of His grace to Peter’s broken spirit. Christ is reaching out to allow His truth to heal that brokenness and to set His people on the path that will take them into God’s plan and purpose for the rest of their lives.

 

Although Peter is one of the great figures in the history of the Christian faith, he seems to have been a great deal like most of us. He was not very consistent in his courage or in his application of God’s truth to the actual living of life. In simple terms, Peter fell down and acted the fool on far too many occasions. Yet, God had a plan for him and for his life, and God’s desire for Peter’s life would not be defeated by Peter’s own humanity. Instead, the Lord came after Peter with relentlessness and with understanding. As Jesus is talking with Peter, He probes some very sore wounds, and the pain that results is hard to endure. But Peter does come through the procedure. He is healed of the sin that has driven him away from God’s calling. Christ makes Himself evident and present for Peter and for the rest of us, too.

 

Most of us have Peter like stories to tell. We have failure and weakness in our lives and in our personalities that seems to dog us and to bring defeat to our journey. We carry with us the harsh reality of our sinful selves as it continually rises up and knocks us off of our feet. Still, after these dark nights of hopeless wandering, there is Christ. He is waiting for us to come to the warmth of the fire. There we will find the comfort of His presence and the strength that His Word brings to our starving spirits. God has come. He is with us. He asks that we turn away from our fears, get out of our self-focused thinking, and join Him in the light of His truth and loving grace. Christ is here to send each of us out into His pasture to, “Feed My sheep.”

 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1: 5

 

This thought makes me wonder about the times in which James lived. Was there more wisdom afoot then than there is now? You see, to me there just isn’t much of that great and Godly commodity visible in our world today. I don’t think that this is the result of my just hanging out in the wrong company or on the bad streets of my town, either. This unwise nature and function of people in general today is the product of deliberate choices that we have made. Unfortunately, lack of wisdom tends to inform the unwise, and the unwise frequently become the information experts for people who lack Godly wisdom themselves. This process of the clueless being counseled by the unwise isn’t just circular in nature, either; rather, it established a path of declension that heads ever further away from the truth.

 

The good news in all of this is that this downward path is changeable. Like a pilot is trained to take corrective actions when the plane is heading dangerously toward the ground, there are things that each of us can do to change the way that we are processing and responding to our world. Getting back to James and his statement, I think that he was posing a rhetorical question here in that I sincerely doubt that he was seeing all that much wisdom or that many wise people in his neighborhood either. The “if” refers to everyone in his day, and it calls me out and everyone else around me today. This is our problem as fallen people who live in a broken world. We lack God’s wisdom, and we don’t always realize just how much we are missing because of this state of being.

 

Yet, like that well trained pilot, we don’t need to crash and burn. We can do what our old friend James suggests here and seek out God and His wisdom of life. The Lord has placed it right before our eyes, and He has granted His presence in us and in our world to illuminate, illustrate, and explain His truths to us. We can read God’s Word on a very regular basis, and we can meditate and contemplate on what He is saying to each of us as we do this reading. The Spirit does speak and He will bring the eternal word of life into meaningful context for all that we are facing in the days to come in our world. As the old expression goes, in our relationships with God, “There are no dumb questions.” The Lord hears our doubts, concerns, and pleas, and He does answer them with the sort of wise truth that transforms our approach to life and that brings the order of Christ into our days so that we can give a touch of reason to the unwise environment around our doors.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1: 13

 

Regardless of whether we are prepared or not, action will come our way. It might be physical in its nature or it could just engage the mind; yet, it will be there. This world is like that. There are forces at work in it that cannot be stopped and that will not be silenced. Some of them are determined to upset us and to send our journeys off track. They are subversive when it comes to following God’s will and desire for the lives of His people. Other action causing agents are more benign in their intent, but they are still disruptive when we are ill prepared for their presence.

 

The best that we can do to handle it all is to enter into God’s wise counsel and set the focus of our hearts and minds on Him. This sort of preparation doesn’t just happen; rather, it comes about because we have purposed and planned to be made ready for whatever comes our way. The Holy Spirit within us does the real work of this preparedness as we yield ourselves to His will and meditate upon God’s Word. Through this process of purposeful surrender our minds and our hearts enter into the sort of peace and calm that allows for them to function with the clarity and the confidence that Christ desires to grant to us. This is how we gain the foundation that is needed to walk through this world upright and balanced.

 

This equilibrium that was established by preparation for the day is maintained by keeping the focus of the eyes of our heart on Christ, Himself, as we go out into the storm. Every day in Christ is one in which we travel forward with the hope of eternity in our hearts and with the grace that we know with certainty will restore all that is broken and lost in this world to its creation glory upon our minds. Thus, the forces that bring about today’s action are tamed and brought under the control of the Spirit. It is in this manner that we become people who engage with it all for the sake of God’s kingdom and who provide the support and the peace of the Savior to others in their times of turmoil and trial.

And he was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21: 5

 

It can be hard to be optimistic these days. There is so much wrong in our world, and the pain that all of this brokenness is causing is hard to handle. It doesn’t even need to be personal hurt, loss, and suffering for it to have a strong impact upon us. Then, when the sting of life’s sorrows does come to us in a personal manner, our already tender and raw hearts can be overwhelmed by it all. This is a challenging time in a tough place to live; yet, we are not even close to being alone in this place or in our journey through it. From that moment when it all went sideways, God has been involved in this world and with us as He seeks out all that are lost and has set His plan for full redemption into motion.

 

The plan is present as God articulated it in those first dark hours of creation’s rebellion, and its resolution is a promise that God has made to that same creation and that He specifically gave to the people of this world. We were to be saved out of our sin-devised death by Christ, and He has come and He does save us through faith and by His unfathomable grace. Although I and others who live today may not see that day of final renewal during our current lives on earth, we can be certain of God’s promise that this day of restoration for creation will come. For me there is a hopefulness to be found in this knowledge, for my own efforts on behalf of God’s kingdom are neither wasted nor are they of minor importance to my Lord. He calls me to do what it is that I engage in, and He empowers that effort as He directs it.

 

This reality provides me with true freedom. It expresses the hope that underlies life in this world. For as there is pain, loss, and suffering afoot everywhere today, the presence of God is also here with me, and that presence pours out the glory of my Creator and Lord onto all that I encounter. In moments of loss, He is there to comfort and to fill up with His infinite love. During the hours of pain, Christ shares in it and provides a form of grace that soothes the sting of my raw and tortured nerves. It does seem to me that even over the harsh and raucous noise of our world today that the voices of the angelic choir that surrounds the throne of God can be heard singing out their unceasing praises to the Lord. They speak of God’s promise of total renewal, and they lead me to join in with them in singing praises to Christ who has redeemed me and is working every day to perfect His renewal in me and in all who follow Him.

On God rest my salvation and my glory;

my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalm 62: 7

 

Life in this world requires people to work hard. It’s a promise that rapidly becomes a fact of life. Effort, sweat and tears, and stress and strain are in the offing for each of our days. So, it is no wonder at all that people would hold fast to the idea that something really big like salvation needs to come our way through the most significant and intense of all of our labor. How else could it be when everything that we obtain of value or real worth is acquired and achieved by God’s promised “sweat of our face?”1

 

Yet, that is not the way that the Lord intends for it to be. He has taken on the burden of saving us from our state of being lost. Jesus put out the immeasurable effort for the sakes of each of us so that we could return to the full presence of God by the profound yet simple act of faith and obedience that is found in believing in Christ. Redemption from the death that sin cast upon everyone of us is ours because God desires to be intimately close to each of us, and so He took the burden and the pain of eternal sacrifice upon His own flesh for us. Now, as redeemed beings, our labor has a new meaning and purpose.

 

In this life we still need to work, for we are required to be active agents for the care and the utilization of the resources that God has provided to us on earth. The Lord also sends us out into our world to do work for the sake and the glory of His kingdom. Yet, the effort that we put forth in this manner has nothing to do with our salvation or even with our status in God’s eyes. All that we do as followers of Christ is to be done out of the security and the confidence that we have as Christ’s redeemed people and God’s beloved children. Thus, the effort that we put out is not fueled and powered by personal capability or capacity, but rather, it is accomplished because Christ is in us and His strength, wisdom, love, and grace are supplied to us in unending abundance. In Christ we can truly and fully rest.

 

  1. Genesis 3: 19

God settles the solitary in a home;

he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,

but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Psalm 68: 6

 

God is a fisherman, God is a shepherd, God is lion, and God is King. All of these ideas are used to attempt to convey the nature and character of God, and all are quite accurate. He does go about the business of seeking after a catch of hearts and minds of people who would rather remain hidden away in the depths of our own sea of lostness and sin. Yet our Lord casts his net to bring in all varieties of humanity into His grace, love, and life. Our Lord is also the one who provides care and nourishment for us while protecting those precious hearts, minds, and even bodies from the harm that is attached like molecules of air to the atmosphere of this world. By way of His sheep tending metaphorical being, God also seeks after and searches tirelessly for any of us who wander away from His righteousness and life-giving presence.

 

When God is described as being a lion, I think of the proud and almost defiant image of a male lion with a full flowing mane and head half turned to look my way as if to say that He is in charge and that I am not. The lion image seems appropriate in that they are powerful and swift, guardians of their territory, and nurturing and caring with their pride. You do not want to encounter one when you are outside of its good graces, but you would certainly want one to provide protection from the evil forces of the wilderness. This description of God as lion leads to the concept that He is King. Yet, this title is far too limiting, for no king in all of history has had the sort of power, the absolute sovereignty, that the Lord possesses. He did not inherit this world, and no person placed its crown upon His head. God created it all as He imagined it into being. His rule over the universe is a part of the nature of that entity. God’s authority and the grace that is attached to it are what hold this world together despite the rebellious and destructive natures of its inhabitants. All that is good, righteous, and holy in this world is poured into it by God’s regal hand.

 

The thing that is most striking to me, however, is the fact that One who holds this much power, who rules over all that exists in the broad expanse of creation, and that works tirelessly to bring souls into His presence is the same God who reached out to my lost soul and called me into His presence. Then He has continuously provided my insignificance with the dignity and the calling of a person who has prominence in His kingdom and important work to do on behalf of the King. This kingdom of God, the place where I now dwell, is supplied with all that is required for myself and for all of creation to be sustained and to thrive. It is a place that is lush with the truth and the wisdom of the Lord. His grace flows out into streams of refreshing redemption, and the Lord’s love provides a covering for my weariness at day’s end. This place is where my heart finds strength, my mind encounters knowledge and wisdom, and my soul enters into the peace and the rest that it craves. My Lord has redeemed me, and He seeks to redeem all people from the harsh world as He provides us with a home in His presence.

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