Renewal


Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2: 7

 

By this point in his time of service to God, Paul had every right to expect that people would listen to what he had to say. He knew that he had been called and commissioned by God to speak and to write about the relationship that the Lord wanted to have with all people. Also, Paul was aware of the special training and the extraordinary knowledge that Christ had entrusted in him, and he had committed his life to bringing that knowledge to others. Still, Paul knew that his words were never going to be enough, and he was fully aware that the deepest thinking, the clearest writing, and the most persuasive speaking were not going to work on their own or even together to win souls out of darkness.

 

The totality of what people do is nothing more than futility if God is not behind it. In fact, when people use their minds and seek to develop a new truth about God that is not founded in complete, humble submission to the Lord’s will and surrounded by worship of Him, they tend to start deviating from the truth. They create false religions that only serve the purposes of evil. However, the thoughts and the words of people who are seeking after God’s truth are good and worthy. Even then, they gain their deepest meaning and their true application through the special revelation that the Spirit of Christ gives to His people. The Lord validates and He vitalizes the words that He has inspired in others.

 

So, Paul calls upon us to consider the words that he wrote. I think that he wanted us to do more than just read them. Paul knew that on their own even his most profound thoughts were nothing more than shadows of the truths that God wants us to enjoy. The Lord wants us to take His word into our minds through our eyes and our ears; then, He wants us to grant His Word the opportunity to stay there, for most of us need to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to give the Spirit time to make the deep truths a part of our essential being. We also need to take the Word with us into the day so that it can shape the way that we respond to everything that comes our way. Then, we will have a greater ability to see others as Christ sees them, and they will be granted the blessing of the living presence of the author of that Word in their day.

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No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10: 10

 

There might have been another way for the Creator to become reconciled with the creation. Yet, God chose to do it in the way that He did by descending out of the eternal and engaging personally and directly with our lives here on earth. In so doing, Jesus brought a renewed definition of what it means to be alive into humanity’s vocabulary. In Christ, we are alive in the fullest sense of that concept, and with all of the implications that being vital, functional, and valuable carry along with them. The blood coursing through our veins has a revived force and power within it that has nothing to do with a literal cardio strength or conditioning and is compelled by the state of our souls and the renewal of our minds by Christ. In this new life, we travel through our days in the power of the Holy Spirit and by the guidance of God’s eternal wisdom.

 

This places God’s people in direct opposition to the rest of this world, which is owned by those forces that are committed fully to the forces of evil that bring about the theft of life, the death of spirit and of body, and the destruction of all that is holy, good, and loving in our world. That idea of ownership by evil may sound harsh and too absolute, but according to Jesus, that is the way that it is here in creation. There are certainly a wide range of degrees of involvement in living out and promotion of the destructiveness that Satan, himself, is determined to bring about. Many people do good things and live kindly, caring lives. However, all people are faced with a choice of only two ultimate masters who will rule over our lives and who will determine the eternal outcome of our time beyond this world. We either choose to follow Christ into relationship with God, or we determine to exist now and forevermore apart from Him.

 

It is in this decision point for us that God’s determination to bring about reconciliation to Himself by the blood of Jesus and through the process of dwelling intimately and personally with His people in life on this earth holds its greatest impact upon that new existence in Christ. For Jesus demonstrated for us what it means to belong to the renewed kingdom of God come out of heaven in order to reclaim creation from the works of destruction that have enveloped it. In this new life, we join with Christ in loving others and in pouring out His redemptive grace into the profound chaos that has been created by the work of that great thief that Jesus is describing. Christ restores His people to the abundance of God’s intent for our lives. He gives us back the peace, the deep joy, and the confidence that have been robbed out of our souls, and our Lord sends us into this world to live out this renewal of heart and of mind in a manner that brings the abundance of Christ into direct contact with a world that is oppressed under the destitution that has been caused by Satan’s rule.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 2: 24

 

We are intrigued by stories of miraculous escapes. These are times and events when a person seems certain to perish due to the great danger that is being faced; when, at that crucial final moment before the peril has its way, someone or something comes to the rescue. This sort of thing populates fiction, and it does actually happen in the real world as well. Drama is not so much an invention of the imagination as it is a creative reflection of the world as it is. When this sort of thing happens, we gain a feeling of exaltation and joy that comes about because of the victory that has been achieved, and we also gain some confidence in going forward in life as we can hope that a similar victory could be ours if we were to need it.

 

So why did God choose to work in such a strangely different manner when it came to His plan for victory over the forces of evil that prowl about in creation? There was no last minute reprieve or daring rescue. There wasn’t even a ram miraculously present with its horns tangled in the brambles as the Lord had provided for Abraham. In Jesus’ scene of torture, trial, and the resultant death sentence God allowed everything to play out as the people who were determined to humiliate and to destroy determined that it should. Jesus, God’s own Son, was forcibly taken from His place in this world and carried away to the halls of human injustice and evil’s triumphant pinnacle of response to God’s authority and sovereignty over all of creation.

 

However, regardless of how things may have looked on the outside or the failure to follow the course that we seek to see happen in survival and redemption stories, this trial and execution of the death sentence were an important part of the narrative of victory that God was writing on that day. The Father was, in fact, turning the world upside down and inside out as He defied the form of nature that had come to be normal in the aftermath of humanity’s rebellious sin. In these momentous hours, Christ would pass through death and into life, and so the seeming finality of death was defeated fully. The victory that Christ brought about now flows forth for everyone who enters into it through faith in Him, and when we enter into this most strange of all victories we too are raised up with Christ into the glorious presence of our Savior and King. Thus, in His presence and by His care and guidance, we too are victors in this life and beyond it.

For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 25: 16

 

This verse comes at the end of a long string of recitations of a code for living in a civil and a just society. Although it is connected directly to an ordinance about using fair and proper weights and measures in the acts of buying and of selling goods, it is really a comment about the way that God views all forms of social interaction. The Lord wants to make it very clear that He pays close attention to the way that we interact with each other. God desires that people would all live in a form of harmony and with a sense of justice that is universal. When we cheat each other and steal from others it is an affront to God’s character. He is justice, and He is truth and honesty. These qualities are formed and defined in and by the Father.

 

I believe that we no longer live in countries that are under the same sort of national moral mandate as did the Israelites in these early times. Then the nation, itself, was charged with living in a relationship with God that then flowed out to the people through leaders such as Moses and through the priests and prophets as God’s ordained servants and spokespersons. Our world is different in many ways. Most profoundly, we live in a time when we enter into a relationship with God individually and personally though Christ. Each person is charged with understanding God’s truth and with applying it to our lives. Although we are still under a mandate to grant due respect to our governmental leaders and to honor our country, each of us is directed by God to understand His righteousness and to apply it to the way that we conduct our lives whether private, personal, or public. Christ also requires His people to seek justice and to show mercy to those who are not in positions of power and easy acceptance, and this mandate exists even when those leaders and governments disagree with God’s concept of justice and peacemaking.

 

This is why God’s code of social conduct matters so much to Him and why it should be highly significant to each of us in Christ. The way that we transact life with others speaks loudly about the relationship that we have with God. When we set aside gain for the good of others, we are living as Christ demonstrated to us. When we speak up for the disadvantaged and the voiceless, we are doing as God desires for us to do. As children of the Living God we are not granted any margin of comfort or of safety in this area. Christ calls upon us to live on that ragged edge of our culture where there is no net of security to catch us and no path of easy acquiescence to the direction that those in power may have taken when that path runs in opposition to God’s ways. However, this counter cultural path is the place from which the view that our eyes will see is of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the image that we demonstrate to our world is the face of Christ.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul had goals. He knew the desires of his heart, too. He wanted to bring people into knowledge of Christ and to see them grow into a relationship with the Lord that was founded on solid truth and understanding. He also knew that these new believers would need to be taught, counseled, and developed in their faith if they were to be sustained in their journeys with Christ. All of this required that Paul spend time and expend energy in the pursuit of this labor of love. Being a shepherd for any flock is not easy, and doing this with people can be all consuming. Yet, shepherding is what Christ had called Paul to do, and this was what Paul was intent on seeking to do.

 

It doesn’t seem as if caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of others was truly Paul’s gifting either. He was an intellectual with a great passion for knowing God’s word and for seeing that it was adhered to by all. However, in Christ, all of this was changed, for Christ calls upon His servants to care for the people who come into His flock. This is a very mixed group with many gifts, strengths, and skills to offer, and also with many challenges, personality quirks, and sinful issues to work on and through. The process of entering into the lives of others is not easy, and it is made even more taxing by the fact that God calls upon His people to engage with others for the long haul of life in a manner that is like the one that He employs with each of us. That is, we are to stay in relationships that do not always go well, and we are to go after people who wander away from God’s path of life. All of this can be tiring unto exhaustion and frustrating to all who seek to serve Christ.

 

So, we do not need to enter into this work of shepherding by using our own strength and consuming our internal resources. They will never be sufficient for all that lies ahead in service to Christ. Instead, we are granted Christ’s unending and bottomless resources as our source of supply for His calling to enter into the lives of others. The presence of Christ within does not change the reality of the challenges that come with the calling, and those challenges will bring about hours and days when we are beaten down and exhausted from the effort that we are required to expend and by the harsh rejection and personal assaults that we are forced to endure. Yet, even the worst of these times are ones in which Christ is present, and it is in these dark times that the Lord often becomes His most real and tangible to us. Loving others will lead to struggles and to opposition, but loving others and shepherding Christ’s sheep is His calling for His people, and Christ is faithful to give His shepherds the energy that is required by this calling and the strength to endure all that comes as a result of serving His will.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

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