Renewal


I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to God!

The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just;

A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.

Deuteronomy 32: 3, 4

 

It strikes me that Moses had a far better than average understanding of the way that God works in the lives of His beloved children. He had seen more ups and downs and a lot more transition and change than most people could encounter in several lifetimes. Yet, through it all, in fact, at the center of much of it was the Lord, and God’s will and desire for establishing a legacy of righteousness among His people were the primary driving forces behind much of what Moses had done and where he had gone.

 

Moses had developed a keen awareness of just how important the quality of his footing was in order to make real progress through the desert. He also understood the need to get through all of the sand that sifted into his own life and that made it seem like he was making progress along God’s path when he was actually just expending all of his energy pushing against his own mental, emotional, and spiritual debris. Yet, when Moses turned to the Lord and sought after His direction, God went before him as a brilliant light that continually and consistently revealed the true rock solid path of His will.

 

Like Moses, my life has its days where the footing is firm and the direction is clear, and there are other times when I feel as if my feet and legs are sinking deeper and deeper into the sand. These are times where every step requires a degree of effort that is heart-bursting. In order to get out of the deep sand and back onto the solid path and to stay on that path more of the time, the same things are required of me that Moses needed to do. He actively recognized who God is and made the Lord the center of his life and the object of his focus. He accepted and acted on the fact that God’s ways are always right, just, and should not be questioned. Additionally, Moses was willing to allow God to show him where he was wrong and then took action in order to remove the sand of his wandering times from his feet and to continually seek God’s rock-solid path of righteousness.

 

Advertisements

The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1: 7

 

Motives are not always easy to understand. We think that we know someone and get the way that they think or what drives their actions and then they say or do something that completely disorients us and that turns our world upside down. So, we pick ourselves up, set our spinning eyes on a fixed spot on the horizon, and chalk up the chaos to human nature. There is some real truth to the idea that the inconsistencies and the disruptive actions that pervade our world are a part of the fabric of our human tapestry of life. Now I do believe that they are formed up and compelled onward by forces from beyond the realm of people’s experience, for deception, lies, confusion, violence, and other such destructive actions are devised and empowered by the fallen, anti-God operatives whose allegiance is to Satan. This war between God and the dark angel has been going on continually throughout earth’s history, and it will continue to impact our lives and influence our world until Christ permanently ends it all.

 

Until then, we live in the ongoing drama of this tension, and we do need to understand God’s motives for what He does as they are different from those of His adversary. Everything that God does and all of His interaction with His Creation, especially with the people of this world, is formed up and compelled by His goodness. This is in direct and absolute contrast to the dark evil of Satan and to the deep deception that he attempts to fill our world with. God’s goodness is also what He desires to pour out into our lives. This is primarily done as His Word and its truth become our guidance for thinking and for acting in all aspects of our days. God’s Word is made real and alive in relationship with Him, and relationship with God is entered into through being known by Christ and so by knowing Him. This is something that we choose to do. God does not compel us to accept relationship with Him, but there is truly no other way to enter into the peace and the security of wisdom and truth in our troubled world than through that intimate connection to their author and source.

 

In Christ, we find that safe harbor, that sheltering cave that are the literary images for a secure place to go when there are powerful forces of nature or of human derivation that are ready to overtake and to destroy us. Yet, Christ is far more than just an image. He is the most real and solidly tangible form of shelter that exists in all of this world and beyond. That word of truth, the presence of His Spirit, and the support of Christ’s body of faith are all parts of one great whole that forms a tangible sanctuary for our minds, bodies, and souls. When we enter into this place we are often battered and weary from the journey and because of the fight that we have been engaged in; so, Christ takes us in and He grants us rest and time for recovery. Since He knows us to a degree that is beyond the grasp of human reason, the Lord enters into meeting our real needs and starts working on our restoration. Christ grants to us a place to lie down and sleep in safety, to be fed upon His bread of life, and to fill our thirsty souls with His restorative waters of redemption.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1: 3

 

During this season of Advent we tend to picture Jesus as a soft and cuddly baby, for that is how He came into this world in human form. There is something that is both comforting and is also quite extraordinarily powerful in that image. It conveys, among other things, the fact that God, Himself, was willing to enter into the same life that each of us lives in order to become the perfect and singularly acceptable sacrifice for all of the sins of humanity. It also portrays the reality that Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father so that each of us who follow Christ are shown that we are to do likewise and seek out the will of God in all matters. But these humble and submissive images are not the totality of the ways that God is present in our world. This aspect of the account of God’s interaction with this world is not even close to the complete description of what advent involves.

 

God is truly with us. He has always been so, for this is true from a point in time that precedes all of the processes of creation that brought the heavens and this world into existence. God, as described by the prophet here, is mighty, patient, gracious, and righteous. He is not quick to judge as He desires for people to turn away from wrong-doing as they embrace His truth and His way of living; yet, He is also willing and able to enter into a judgement that is both swift and terrible for those who reject Him and His way of thinking and living. It is not easy for us to connect the reality of judgement with the image of the baby Jesus, but that is something that we must do. Jesus the Christ is the Savior of all of humanity, and He is also our judge. His justice is the foundational truth that underpins all of Creation. His righteousness is perfect and as such is beyond any of our ability or capacity to grasp except by and through the redemptive grace that Christ pours over and into all who submit to Him as Savior and Lord.

 

So, as we celebrate the joyousness of this season, we should also be entering into a time of reflection, confession, repentance, and acceptance of that grace. Christ came to us, and He did so in the most vulnerable of all possible manners, but that was done so that God could fully demonstrate His sovereignty, might, and unrelenting heart for justice in our world. God took that infant and raised Him up to be the only absolutely significant person to ever walk upon this earth, the Father accepted the grief of brutal loss so that sin could be extinguished, and He poured out His infinite power and might in the resurrection so that we would all see the Lord’s mastery over the elemental forces of this world. Advent can mean renewal, a form of revival for followers of Christ when we turn away from all that holds us back from fully participating in Christ and in His righteousness during our days. We know that Christ will judge the wickedness of this world; so, we are called upon by Him to live righteously, to proclaim God’s justice and peace, and to love all people and each aspect of creation with the same unceasing passion that the Father has lavished upon us.

There are many who sat, “Who will show us some good?

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

Psalm 4: 6

 

This is the plea or the cry that should be going out today from every corner of the world, for they are all darkened and each of us is in need of light to show the way home to God’s peace and secure rest. Like sailors caught in an unexpected storm or airplane pilots when weather closes in, the world around us is swirling with fierce clouds of doubt, despair, and danger. They are driven by the unrighteous anger that has become the rallying cry of our day, and this hazardous environment is stirred up by our desires to control all of life in a manner that we see as advantageous to ourselves rather than in one that is responsive to God’s Word and will. It is no wonder that this sort of world is a harsh and a hard place to dwell. This is a landscape that even its own Creator must find hard to recognize.

 

Yet, the beauty that was molded by that same creative hand is present, and the glory of the Creator is not lost or driven away by our godless thoughts and actions. Those exquisite shapes, subtle shadings, and awe-inspiring radiance are simply obscured beneath this world’s false substitutes for their righteousness and truth. When these same substitutes fail to provide what our hearts, minds, and souls actually need for nourishment and for growth, people begin to search for new answers to their needs and desires. Sometimes this searching leads in the direction of God and His Word. At the same time, the Lord is continually reaching out to all of this world and to each of its inhabitants with His unfailing love, grace, and redemptive offering of Himself as the answer to all longing and need.

 

In Christ, we have the light of the Lord to guide our steps into that safe harbor that we all desire. Through Christ alone we can come into the presence of God and shelter in His all-encompassing wisdom and truth. Turning away from this world and from its loud but shallow enticements, we will encounter opposition, troubling relational differences, and hardships and trials of various kinds. However, in so doing, we will also be stepping into the unending light of the glory of God, and it will illuminate a new path for us to follow and an infinitely better direction for our hearts and our minds to turn in our needful search for that safe place to shelter when the storm becomes too strong for us to withstand. Christ brings us into the center of good in all of its forms and expressions. Christ directs our steps along a way where He transforms the darkest of hours into the radiance of new dawn as the truth of His Word grants the Lord’s confident peace to our souls so that we are empowered to live fully and openly for Christ without fear of the stormy and troubled landscape that surrounds us.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Colossians 3: 15

 

We might like to think that we are in charge of our lives, but whether we realize it or not, there are always ideas, concepts, and emotions that do rule over us. Even the most controlled of people and the most mature of personalities get to that managed place by virtue of what rules their hearts and minds. There are things which stir us up and things which bring us down, there are ideas that cause us to act in confidence and others that spread doubt, and at times conflict can grab hold of us while at others we are filled with a peace that defies reason. The amazing thing about being a person that God created is that I have the ability to choose the way that I will respond to life, for the Lord designed me that way.

 

When I think about the kind of peace that Christ exhibited, I find it remarkable in that His peace was not simply some sort of blissed out, everything is fine, nothing will ever bother me, Zen existence; rather, Jesus found His peace in and through knowing that He was sent by God, empowered by Him, and that eternal truth was His to call upon for wisdom and understanding in all circumstances and situations. This form of peace not only allowed Him to speak and act openly and honestly, but it required Him to live like that. God’s peace never stops loving others, and it always seeks to bring people together as it causes us to engage deeply, as Jesus did, in the lives of others.

 

When peace rules the heart, there is no longer the same compelling need to fight for our own rights. We don’t need to spend so much of our energy in looking out for ourselves; so, we can become open to hearing and to responding to other people’s stories. A heart that is at peace can handle the tensions of this world without needing to add to them. The peace of Christ is one of the greatest gifts that God has given to us, for we would never find this sort of inner calm and sound footing for life anywhere else. Still, it is my choice and it is your decision to let peace rule. It takes time and it requires practice in order to make a peaceful heart a personal reality; still, the realization of that reality is worth every painful step of the journey.

 

 

 

 

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Acts 13: 2

 

Although it is by no means a practice that is mentioned frequently in the Bible, fasting is clearly connected to prayer on a number of occasions. It was something that God’s people had done from very early times, and it appears to have been something that was engaged in as a normal part of seeking the Lord’s wisdom and leading by the participants in the newly formed Christian church of the first century. Fasting, as discussed here, involved a commitment to stop eating and probably to also stop consuming fluids for a period of time while engaging in focused and intensive prayer. These were times when the people needed the Lord to speak and to provide them with His wise direction or when they desired for God to take action that was beyond their doing. Despite the fact that there is not much recorded about the nature of the practice in the early church, it seems clear that they took fasting very seriously.

 

It does aappear to me that the idea of fasting goes far beyond being hungry. Yet it is totally about hunger, and that idea encompasses fasting from food and all other forms of abstinence or refrain that are dedicated to the Lord as a form of fast. Fasting is a commitment of our bodies to a time of concentrated communication with God. It is a practice in which we purposefully empty ourselves, yield control, and lay our comfort on the altar of grace. In my understanding, it should not be an ecstatic practice in which hunger and thirst are used as a physical means to enter into an altered state of being or consciousness. If true hunger and especially thirst have reached that point, the practice is potentially dangerous to one’s health and the focus has shifted away from God’s voice and onto self. Fasting is best when carried out privately and personally or with a small group of like-committed followers of Christ. The point of this is to resist the temptation to make it an act that makes a public statement as this inevitably points toward the person and distracts everyone away from waiting on the Lord.

 

As we can see from the example of the early church, fasting is not a somber event. They were engaged in worship while they fasted. The strength that they needed to engage in the singing of songs, praying, sharing God’s Word, perhaps doing a little holy dancing, and all of the rest of the activity that was worship came from God and was provided by and through Christ’s Spirit. When we enter into a time of fasting, the point is, in fact, to become increasingly hungry. Yet, the hunger that should be desired is that of the person who “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” as this is a state of being that God reaches into and fills with His holiness. Here, in the midst of the fast, we will be fed as our souls are seated at the banquet table of Christ’s love, truth, and grace.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,

and forsake not your mother’s teaching,

for they are a graceful garland for your head,

and pendants for your neck.

Proverbs 1: 7-9

 

Many of the people that I know lament about the condition of our world, and I admit, that I have joined them in these words of complaint and concern. There is a lot of unwise and ungodly thinking and behavior afoot around us. This lack of God’s wisdom in our world starts from the top, from our leaders, and flows down to the rest of us; however, it also starts with each of us and spreads outward to the rest of our culture. I do not think that God intends for us to be helpless in the face of sin and of sinful thinking as it is found around us. He has never been silent on these issues of righteousness or about the need for His people to be holy, that is set apart from the world and from its ways of thinking and acting. The Lord calls upon us to be curative salt and the penetrating light of truth and love in every place where our feet take us.

 

As followers of Christ, I believe that we have a multi-directional responsibility to fulfill to our Lord. We are to live in a transformed and a reformed personal reality that is framed by the first two lines of the passage above. The concept of fear of the Lord contains within it the idea of respect, honor, obedience, following after, and passionate love. When lived out it leads to a life of commitment to God wherein we trust Him to the degree that we are able to confess our sinfulness, repent of it, and enter fully into the grace that Christ grants to us in return. All of this leads to the outworking of transformative change in us, and this brings about the desire to serve Christ in ways that bring that same truth and love into contact with the world that has gone so badly astray from God’s righteous path. Also, as we live in a close and an intimate relationship with Christ, it is much easier to see and to respond to the foolishness of people we encounter who are living outside of the influence of God’s wise counsel.

 

So, we are also called by God to enter into all aspects of the world around us in order to participate in bringing the wisdom of the Lord into its decision-making discourse. Jesus entered into all areas of life without reservation or hesitation, and He poured out God’s righteous truth, unending love, and the hope of redemption onto the tired and ravaged landscape of this world. As His followers, we are to do the same thing. We are to take action where it is needed, and we are to speak up when truth is lacking. Additionally, God places a mandate upon us to teach this same righteousness to others. Although the writer of this proverb speaks about children, we can safely interpret that to include literal children and grand-children as well as other people that we come into contact with. As we know Christ, we are to share that knowledge. As He works in us to shape and to mold us into His glorious image, we must take this new life that we have been granted and do as our Lord did by pouring its truth, love, grace, and redemption out into our world as an offering of worship to God.

 

Next Page »