Renewal


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

James 1: 5

There is almost a note of challenge in this “if” expression, for should I answer that I have it all, in other words that my wisdom vial is all filled up, thank you anyway, then I am probably labeling myself as a fool. For most people realize that absolute and total wisdom belongs to God alone. This thought also causes me to consider if I have all the wisdom that I need for what I am doing and have going on in my life at this moment. Again, the Lord is quick to show me how little of life I truly get and how much of a difference His grasp on matters can make in my success and in the real quality of my life.

The way that God hands out His wisdom and leads me to the understanding of life that comes out of it is one of the most highly valued and special aspects of knowing Him. The Lord isn’t like most people and He certainly isn’t like me, for we tend to make a big deal out of sharing our special insights and leading others to the profound truths of the universe that are stored away in our brains. People become overbearing, condescending, and seek to gain an advantage over others through the use and the manipulation of knowledge. Yet, all of these anti relational ways of interacting with others are unwise from God’s perspective. In contrast, God holds out His hand and says that here is a gift. Let me bless your day with all that you need to serve Me well and to bring My presence into the lives of others.

As for myself, and I speculate that this is true for all of us, I can change the conditional “if” of this verse into an absolute “when”, and I need to add that the time for my need for God’s wisdom is always. The Lord grants to me total access to His understanding of every situation, circumstance, and condition that I encounter in my day. Also, God uses this learning process as a way of showing me what righteousness looks like; thus, He brings me closer to Him through it all. Now I do realize that absolute and complete understanding of all that goes on in life and beyond will escape my limited and finite grasp, but I still trust the Lord to reveal to me all that I do need to travel through life as His child in this world. When I seek God’s wisdom, I am opening up myself to the wondrous, transformational, and restorative work that He desires to do in my heart and in my mind.

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For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, but without sin.

Hebrews 4: 15

Let’s face it, there are days when I am not very strong. I don’t mean sore muscles or being weary from the drain of life’s activities, and I am not referring to emotional tiredness, either. There are just times in life when temptations of various kinds are more real than is the will to turn away from them. This is a challenging aspect of living in the skin that God has provided to me as a dwelling place for my heart, mind, and soul, and these are not times that make me feel especially good about myself when I look at what I am thinking and doing from the perspective of the cross that Christ allowed Himself to occupy for my sake. This contrast between my depravity and Christ’s holy yet bloodied presence makes me want to go away and hide in a dark corner with my shame and guilt covering me.

However I may feel about these things and in these dark hours of my soul, Christ calls to me to come out and to engage with Him in the truth of His gospel of love, grace, and redemption. My self-imposed cave of regrets is not the place where my redeemed soul is supposed to reside. My sinfulness does have consequences, and there is always human fallout to deal with, but isolation and separation are not the answers that Christ provides to me. Christ knows the intensity of the challenge that life in this world of brokenness and temptation provides as He experienced life in this place to its fullest without succumbing to those same temptations. Additionally, there is nothing that we can do or any place that we can journey that will take us beyond the grace and the forgiveness of the cross of Christ. Our Lord’s blood is more than adequate to cover any sin that we can commit.

Jesus wants each of us to live fully in His presence. He also desires for us to live out His calling to be people that proclaim the eternal glory of God in every aspect of our lives. We cannot do this if we allow our times of weakness to overcome Christ’s mission for our lives. However, we are directed by God to be people that recognize the destructive nature of sin and who, therefor, turn to God in repentance and with a desire to open up our areas of weakness to the restorative work of the Spirit. Sin does not need to win in this contest for our loyalty, for, in Christ, it has already lost the battle for the soul. Thus, our sins have been forgiven on His cross, we are granted mercy and grace by Christ, and His Spirit works within us to strengthen our resolve to live as holy and righteous people. As the writer of Hebrews went on to say,

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4: 16 

When Jesus saw the man lying there (by the healing pool) and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

John 5: 6 

This is the question that God asks people every day. These words are the opening of a dialogue that has been going on between the Lord and us since the beginning of time. We often respond by telling Him that we are completely healthy and that there is nothing that we could possibly need that we don’t already possess in ourselves. Sometimes we say that we are too far gone to be worthy of the effort to heal us. Then others say that we’ll check back later, you know, go to the doctor if we decide that the need is great enough or the symptoms linger for too long. 

These can be adequate responses when we are dealing with something like the flu; yet, even then, waiting to allow the physician access to our illness can be catastrophic or even fatal. How much more do we need treatment when the illness carries an absolutely fatal prognosis? 

The man that Jesus came upon waiting by the spring was just like everyone else in this world. He was ill, crippled by the effects of disease, injury, and neglect. He knew that he desired to be made whole, and he had no idea about how that was truly possible. Hopeless, helpless, and beyond desperation, he waited for the miracle but didn’t trust that there would ever be one. He dreamed of walking upright while knowing that this would never be his waking reality. 

Jesus walks into the lives of everyone, everywhere. Christ’s Spirit is resident in the souls of each person who has allowed Him to heal us; thus, Jesus goes with us through every day that we live. Sure, there are still symptoms of the illness, and there are days when these relatively minor ailments get us down, but the fatal disease, the heart infection of sin has been permanently conquered. Each of us who knows Jesus as the healer of our souls needs to share with the fatally ill who surround us daily the joy of getting up off of the sick bed to which evil tried to tie us 

Jesus allows us the privilege of walking into the lives of others and of inviting them to do as He said to the sick man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (John 5: 8) In fact, Christ commissions His people to do this. He commands us to go into the world and to live in a manner that brings His glorious presence and His loving grace into its darkness. We are to take the message of healing to the fatally ill in our lives. We should carry the simple yet profound truth of God’s perfect love to each and every person that we find waiting for the miracle by the side of the pool, for Jesus wants us to bring His message of faith, trust, and hope to all of His beloved lost sheep. He wants us to do as He continually did and walk into people’s lives with the question whose answer brings eternal life. “Do you want to be healed?”

We were buried therefor with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

The idea of baptism, as it has been practiced as a right and a sacrament by the church since days before Paul, is certainly being discussed here. Yet, it is not this act that brings about the important result that is mentioned. Without contemplation of means or of method, that is absent discussion of immersion verses sprinkling and babies and/or adults, the act of wetting down a person does nothing beyond announcing and proclaiming the reality of a relationship that is formed in the heart and is made real by virtue of the work of the Spirit of Christ within a person. Thus, the real baptism into Christ’s death takes place in the realm of the mystical and carried out by the Spirit. This is a work that is done as a part of that wonderous event that we often call conversion or new birth in Christ. In fact, this death of the old self is an essential part of the life-long journey of faith that is commenced when each of us surrenders our life to Christ.

We are allowed to experience the shame of the criminal’s death on the cross through Jesus’ literal pain, agony, and death there. He was innocent and undeserving of that fate, and we are each guilty and have more than earned the punishment that Christ endured. More so, the shame of this torturous implement is also ours as our sinfulness is viewed in contrast to God’s standard of holiness and righteous living. So, God requires that we surrender ourselves in full and total submission to Him; thus, we do place the comforts, the selfish pleasures, and the defining compulsions of our prior lives upon that altar of redemption. We undergo the process of dying to self with its literal, if spiritual, burial of who and what we were in a grave that also leads to our spiritual union with Christ. From this earthy and darkened place, we are raised up into the light of new life, and this is also something that is accomplished by the work of the Spirit alone.

From this point forward, we are called upon by Christ to seek to live out our days as followers of God’s way and doers of His will. Although this is something that we participate fully in as we are asked to set our eyes on Christ and ground our minds in God’s Word while surrendering our hearts to the leading of the Spirit, the strength needed and the power that living out this transformed life requires is provided by Christ through the presence of His Spirit. So, this is how we walk in the newness of life, and this is what it means to live in the fullness of the kingdom of God as it has come to be our own reality. In Christ we are made new, and through Christ’s work, as it is carried out in our bodies, the world that we touch is also transformed into a place where the Godly characteristics of love, justice, mercy, and peacemaking are tangibly present. Although this walk in the newness of life in Christ will never be easy as it operates in direct opposition to the ways of this world, it does place us in the center of the redemption that Christ has caused to exist here as a result of His resurrection in which we have now been joined.           

And he said:

“The LORD roars from Zion

   and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds mourn,

   and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1: 2

Amos, the humble shepherd, speaks, and the world listens to his words, for he is speaking into history the heart and the desire of the Lord, God Almighty. For God does speak His truth to us. This was true in the days of Amos some 2,900 or so years ago just as it is still so today. For a time or even for a season it may seem that the Lord’s voice is silent, but that never remains the case indefinitely. God cares greatly for us, and He also is truly concerned about the way that we go about living. There is no aspect of the manner in which people exist and in the form that our conduct of life is framed that escapes the Lord’s view. So, we can count upon the fact that He will hold us accountable for all of it. The Lord will respond to the good that we do and to the despicably evil that we carry out or that we allow to exist through inaction and failure to hold ourselves and others accountable for following the mandates that God sets out in His Word.

Like the citizens of Israel and even of Judah we may think that we are experiencing God’s blessing because we are comfortable, wealthy, and powerful. Yet, this is all a false form of security, for its basis is not God’s will or the Lord’s expressed desire. Instead, we, like they, are smugly self-satisfied in the accomplishments of our hands and with the power and the control that we think that we exert upon the world around us. Although Amos has commenced his series of comments about the wickedness of the world and of its nations with pointed expressions regarding the various peoples and counties that surrounded Israel and Judah, the prophet will, in turn, spin about and point the Lord’s figure of judgement inwardly toward God’s own nation and its inhabitants. They were to be held to an even higher standard of righteousness and compliance with God’s stated will than were their neighbors. This is not just a historic comment; rather, it is a basic reality of God’s character. He does hold His people accountable for living out the love, grace, mercy, and justice that the Lord has poured over us.

We may desire for the Day of the Lord to come when He will speak forth truth and justice into the world so that all that is evil will be destroyed and everything that is out of conformity to His Word will be set right again. Yes, we might desire for that great day to come, but we must also realize that the Lord’s judgement falls upon all people equally. So, as the Lord roars from Zion with His voice of righteousness sounding forth the end of all that stands in opposition to His will in the world, its reverberations are felt most powerfully by those who are closest to the source. Israel and Judah would not escape from the earth-cleansing work that the Lord would accomplish over the next periods of time, and we will not be granted immunity from His judgement, either. So, today is a good one for each of us who seek to follow Christ to examine the depths of our hearts and to turn to the Lord with a sincere desire upon our lips to know Him well so that we can live out the Lord’s will and the desires of His heart. This is a time for repentance and for the restoration of our faith. Christ is calling to His people to turn from our arrogance, our willfulness, and to renounce the ways of the world so that we can truly follow him and bring the light of justice and righteousness into the dark corners of that same earthly expanse.    

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5: 5

Magic truly exists in a child’s waiting. The anticipation of a birthday or of the coming of Christmas has an energy and a charm to it that is unlike almost anything else that we experience in life. Yet, Christ grants to us another form of anticipatory hope that is even greater than these special moments. We live in a world where there seems to be more things that divide people than there are those that bring us together. This trajectory of divisive thoughts and deeds has been one that has occupied the existence of humanity since early on in our journey across the face of the earth. In fact, we seem to be on a sort of quest to find as many ways to disassociate from each other as we possible can devise or develop. The winner of this game gets to be king of the world and have it all to themselves without need for rubbing elbows with those other disagreeable people out there.

God does not want His children to live like this. He created this world to be a place where we all could live in a form of committed relationship with Him and with each other. Our diversity and differences are supposed to bring about strength through reliance upon others and unity by means of listening to each other’s stories and by means of entering into understanding the other person’s viewpoint and perspective. Yet, these simple acts of conciliation and agreement seem to be among the most difficult things that we can ask of each other, for we often do everything that we can think of to accomplish the opposite effect. We search for our points of disagreement and make those our emphasis in dealing with each other. We form our opinions of the desires and wishes that groups of people hold without even giving them the opportunity to sit down and share those hopes and dreams with us. We separate and set up barriers to contact and communication before we can even see the other person’s eyes.

These are days when we, humanity, need to become young again with the hope of anticipation replacing the fears of generations as our expectation for contact with people from other countries, with different languages, and of religious beliefs that are not our own. When we choose to listen to someone’s story, we are engaging in an act of love. As we seek to hold out the hand of peace to a person that makes us uncomfortable, we are engaging in an act of worship to God, and when we embrace the foreigner with hospitality and provide a welcoming meal in place of the usual protective barriers, we are living out the faith that leads to righteousness. There is no true peace in our world without trust, and there is little trust to be found outside of the healing presence of Christ. Yet, in Him and though the work of His Spirit, we can reengage that child-like hope as we anticipate the blessing that comes through extending the hand of fellowship to people that will grace us with the rich tapestry of their stories as we are faithful to Christ’s call to unity for all of humanity.  

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.

2 Chronicles 16: 9 

There are many people who claim that God is either passive or non-existent, that He has no relevance in this world, and even that He is unnecessary. Others believe that the only god that anyone needs is to be found inside of themselves; thus, each individual is the master of his own universe and is totally equipped to do and to handle everything alone. I find all of these perspectives to be frightening, incredibly lonely, and disastrously wrong. I have learned that my strongest and most capable times are ones when I am yielding my will to God’s and when I allow Him to work with and through me. It is also true that God doesn’t just passively wait for things to happen; He is with me, He goes before me, and He protects my back. The Lord is a very real presence throughout my world for every hour of each day.  

Now, consider what it means to be blameless. I am not close to perfect, and my heart is certainly not always aligned with God’s will. I fear that for too much of the time my thoughts and actions are no where near to righteous; yet, I know that God sees me as blameless, as forgiven of everything wrong and hurtful that might come from within my heart and mind. Jesus has paid for all of my evil and sinful ways, and because Christ lives in me, God sees Christ’s perfection when He looks at my weakness. The Spirit of Christ goes with me through everything and guides me toward His will as He speaks truth, love, and life into my being. Thus, it is His perfect will that is seen by God and by the world as I live out the calling of Christ with my life. 

Perhaps, the most important word in this ancient verse is “strong,” for that is what God brings to me. He gives me strength, He makes my frail and easily discouraged will into one that is truly mighty, and He gives my cloudy thinking a form of clarity that comes from out of eternity and that runs straight and true until the end of time. There is no partial or conditional involvement from the Lord. He is fully invested in the lives of His people, and He is totally committed to us forever. If you are willing to yield to Christ and to grant God access to your heart, to your concerns, and to your plans; He will continually fill you with His wisdom as He encourages and strengthens your heart. 

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