Surrender


No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3: 6

John sets a very hard standard here. For there is no question in my mind that even as a follower of Christ sin is not absent from my life, and the same hard reality is attested to by others that I know and by the witness of many as set out in God’s Word. Accepting Christ is not some form of magic wand that immediately changes this aspect of who we have been for the prior duration of our lives. In addition, He does not take control over our hearts and minds in a manner that overrides all of the impulses, desires, and conditioned responses that we have to life. Through the work of His Spirit on and within us, Christ does change His people in ways that are both subtle and profound. Yet, He does this through a process that takes place over time, and this process involves us in on-going acts of submission to His will and of surrender to God’s holy and righteous way of engaging with life.

 This would seem to put most people at odds with God, or at least with John’s view of the way that God works in the lives of His people. There were very few people who knew Jesus better than did John. He was closer than almost anyone else to Jesus while He was living on earth as a man, and John’s continued service and leadership in the fellowship of faith became legendary due to its singular length and his intense devotion to the gospel of love as known only by and through a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, when John speaks, it is wise to listen, and when he says something this powerful about the fundamental nature of what it means to be in relationship with Christ, we should take his statement seriously. John was not a person who said things for their shock value alone; rather, he was a disciple of Christ who was charged with guiding many into an ever deeper form of living out their calling to service to God.

John is not saying that true followers of Christ will live sinless lives. Instead, he is indicating that people who have in fact given themselves to Christ and entered into a relationship with Him will never be comfortable with the sin that is remaining in us as we engage with and conduct life. In Christ, sin loses its hold on us and its rule over us is ended. (John 8:31 cf.) So, as we remain close to our Lord, as we abide in Him, the contrast between living as Christ’s true follower with its characteristics of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking and the way of the world with its characteristics of a drive toward power, control, personal gain, and self-determination of right and wrong, becomes ever starker and more uncomfortable to us. John is providing us with a strong warning and a clear reminder that we are to seek out the Lord and His righteousness as the primary focus of our days. We dwell in the presence of Christ when we turn to Him through consumption of God’s Word, in meditation and prayer, and by holding God’s view of what constitutes holiness and righteousness as superior to personal comfort, our long-established habits, or to life, itself. Thus, as we remain attached to the source of wisdom, truth, and gracious love, as we abide in the vine that is Christ (John 15), the sin that seeks to control our lives is driven off, and our souls are set free to live out the Lord’s calling and purpose for us.    

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And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people.

Matthew 2: 6

These wise men from the east spoke true wisdom when they were interrogated by Herod. He would have done well to have listened and responded to what they had to say in a manner that embraced both the content of their statement and also the One who would give the world its ultimate expression. David was the shepherd king, and he was a gift that God had given to Israel and to the world many years prior. Samuel describes David and his shepherding of the people and of the nation. But David was far from perfect in this role of care taker and care giver, and his time was in the dim past. Herod was a king who was about as far from the concept of shepherd in his actions as there could possibly have been. Sadly, there have been very few rulers in our world, whether they are called king, prince, emperor, or president, who have done much better. 

Jesus set a very high standard for others who would rule over nations or lead people. His primary objective was not power or control. Instead, He sought to heal the brokenness that disabled people as He cut through the external manifestations of what we perceive as strength or weakness and probed deeply into the hearts of people so that our separation from God became the true focus of His restorative work. Jesus cared for the physical needs of His people as He entered into the eternal needs of their souls. The loyalty that Christ demands is not to an earthly cause; rather, it is formed out of submission to God’s call to live righteously and the sort of loving and just life that springs up out of that well of living water. This is the sort of submission to a higher purpose and to the one true King of the Universe that can make a profound difference in the nature of a leader’s tenure in office and would define those who honestly and sincerely desire to shepherd the people that are within their arena of responsibility.

As we know, shepherds tend to their flocks. They nurture and protect them as they attend to the need for food, water, shelter, and comfort that is all a part of the ongoing life stories of the sheep that have been given to them to watch over. The Lord does all of these things for us as well; yet, He also gives over that responsibility and role to human agents. God appoints people to positions of authority of various types and at differing levels of responsibility, and the Lord then sends His appointees out to rule justly, to care for the flock with real concern for the well-being of all of them, and to do this work in a manner that points people toward God as their true and ultimate shepherd. Sadly, only a few leaders do these things very well. Yet, this should not stop you and I from seeking to be different. As we lead others, we can model Jesus and engage in shepherding those people well. We can know them deeply, pray for them faithfully, and seek to be loving and just in all that we do. We can also set the Lord’s standard and model for leadership as the one that we hold up and demand from the people that we select to rule over us. Jesus is the King who kneels down in the mud with His sheep in order to hold them close and care for their minds, hearts, and souls; we can seek to do the same for the people that we are given to lead, and we can select our leaders based upon this same desired model of leaders who are shepherds.       

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

   in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, 

   or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

   from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90: 1, 2

Something great or at least very significant has happened. The writer of this psalm, it is credited to Moses, has witnessed God’s hand in action in a mighty way; so, perhaps the setting for these observations is the wilderness after the rebellious generation has died off, the Israelites are in sight of Canaan again, and Moses is at the end of his life’s journey. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, most lives are touched by times when hard things come our way and situations where we feel overwhelmed and insecure. All of that is a part of life in this place, and all lives are lived out with uncertainty and an element of fear or distress as the backdrop for the journey. Yet, Moses reminds us that there is always something bigger than our story going on in our lives and that our place in history is important to God but it is still just a moment in time from the Lord’s perspective.

All people throughout the entire scope of time have been given the gift of the presence of the Lord. This was true for Eve and Adam, He was there with Moses through the entire course of his life, and God is right here in this world with us today and until the end of time. The Lord has given us a safe place to dwell in the midst of the storms that swirl about us in life. His presence is real and His loving grace and mercy are poured out upon us even when we think and act in ways that are undeserving of that sort of care. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Moses and the Israelites that he led, and He never departed from leading them into the fulfillment of their place in that great and eternal story. The same thing is true for each of us now. God sees and knows each of us in ways that are deep and intimate, and He desires for us to trust Him so that we will follow His will into the outworking of that great adventure of life that He has established for us.

Even our days of turmoil and trouble have a purpose in the much bigger perspective that God holds over all of the world. Everything that we lose is this life and each of the setbacks that we encounter is an opportunity for us to turn in faith toward the Lord and to trust Him to carry us through these moments and into the rest and the hope of His care and provision. Every step that we take can be one that is set out for us by God as He surrounds us with His love, grace, wisdom, and hope. To put things into perspective, the God who formed the universe and who contemplated the entire scope of its history before any of it was hung in the sky is the same loving Father, Savior, and Lord who sheds tears over the pain and the trials that each person endures. The Lord of that universe and the King of Glory is also my comforter, the Savior of my soul, and the One who guides my steps along His paths of righteousness, and this is true for each of us as we trust in Him and seek out His presence with us for the journey.     

We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2: 10

Some days I just feel worked over, wrung out, and soundly punished by whatever it is that has grabbed onto my shoulders and refused to let go. These are hands that do not stop working me over until I had been all but turned inside out. Unfortunately, when I attempt to come to grips with the causes for these bad days, the trail of evidence frequently leads right back to my own actions, attitudes, and to the state of my heart and mind. Then I am inevitably brought to my knees in thanks for the grace of God that keeps working on my heart despite these times of errant wandering away from His will.

The hand of God reached out and embraced me in His loving arms, and He immediately started to work on my heart in a way that brings about deep, lasting, and real change; however, the Lord’s work in my life and in the lives of all of His children is never finished. God’s purpose and His plan are much bigger than we have the capacity to understand, and His desire for us is that we would trust Him totally so that we can enter into each day and embrace every relationship that comes our way with anticipation of the great things that He will do in and through us.

As each of us prepares to engage whatever may be on our calendar for today and looks ahead at who we will need to deal with, we should consider this thought; you are the handiwork of God, the Creator; you were designed and crafted by Him individually; and you were formed perfectly to execute His plan for your life this day. The Spirit of Christ is alive and active in you, and He will continue to shape and to mold you into the person that He knows will be prepared and equipped to walk through all of the days of your life in righteous service to God. The Lord asks only that we be willing to listen, follow, and surrender to His loving ourselves to His will and follow His direction.    

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Mark 5: 36

When it comes to matters of faith, we hear a lot of chatter in our world. People and organizations readily share what they think is right, and they often seek to impose their views on these matters on others. They ask that we have faith in them and in their mission. It would seem that faith in something is very important. For many it is also important to be right about these things. After all, we are talking about the sorts of beliefs that hold our world together and that frame the way that we view it and engage with it.

What we have faith in and how that belief is lived out can get to be very complicated. It often involves rituals and sacred practices. There is special knowledge to be obtained that comes only from wizened masters and long-term practitioners of the faith. For many there is the very powerful faith in the non-existence of any form of god or creator. This is faith in self and belief in systems and structures that we can observe fully in all of their brokenness and failure. Yet, Jesus says that faith is actually very simple. No secret handshakes or elaborate rituals are needed.

He tells the grieving parent, “Do not fear, only believe.” This is a story about the way that faith heals, but it is not about the restoration of our bodies. Jesus does restore life to this twelve-year old girl, but that fact is not the most important thing. The faith that heals is the one in which we are able to surrender ourselves to Christ totally and fully. It is a simple and unadorned belief in Jesus as God, Savior, Lord of my life, and King of all Creation. Belief in Jesus is what heals us of all that is diseased and dying in our souls. This faith tosses off the fears that disable us, and it provides us with the strength and the vitality that we need to live out God’s calling for our lives.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

   bring an offering and come before him!

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

1 Chronicles 16: 29

If I want to be honest, holiness is often viewed as inconvenient or as uncomfortable. People are turned off by others who seem to be superior in their devotion to living Godly lives and in remaining relatively free from the influences of the world’s ways of thinking and acting. We don’t really want the people who are around us to be too holy, and there is a limit to the amount of holiness that we are able to handle at any one time. As a follower of Christ, this is a sad state, and my participation in its existence is something that I need to look upon with open eyes, take to the Lord in prayer, and enter into repentance for all that He reveals to me within my attitudes, thoughts, and actions that is contrary to His will. 

This process of reflection might begin with gaining a better understanding of what holiness means. Meriam-Webster defines holiness as “being holy”, and it says then states that holy means, “Exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” When I look at these definitions, there is little wonder left as to why we are so troubled by the concept of holiness in our world and why seeking after holiness in our own lives leads us straight into conflict with other people and with institutions, organizations, and sometimes even with the church. We struggle with the idea that there exists such a thing as perfection in goodness and righteousness, for perfection suggests that everything else is somehow less than perfected, and recognition of imperfection requires us to engage with people in a manner that can be confrontational or challenging. Our world looks down upon this sort of thing when it comes to issues of ethical thought, morality, and righteousness. When we enter into these arenas of discussion, stop signs are raised, caution flags are unfurled, and hard conversations are waiting for us at every turn in the road.

Yet, God seems to attach a very different vision to what holiness means in our world. According to David’s words in this song of praise and thanksgiving, holiness is related to God’s glory being revealed on earth and in the heavens, and it is something to be celebrated with offerings of praise and worship of God’s character and nature, which have produced the holiness that is being celebrated. In fact, the atmosphere that surrounds God’s holiness is described as being enveloped in splendor. As God, Himself, is the only source of this sort of perfection, we need to turn to Him alone in order to see and to understand what thinking and living in a holy manner means for us. I know that there are many aspects of my life that do not conform to God’s definition of holy, for there are too many situations, interactions, and decisions that I engage in during each day that are not influenced and directed by God’s standard of what is loving, gracious, just, and redemptive. So, as I enter into this day, I turn to the Lord in repentance for these times of departure from His will. I seek out the Spirit’s guidance in all that comes my way today, and I purpose to bring encounters with the glory of the Lord and the splendor of His Kingdom come into each moment of my day.   

Seek the LORD and his strength;

   seek his presence continually!

1 Chronicles 16: 11

There are many kinds of strength that can be viewed and experienced in our world. Some of them produce outcomes that are great and wonderful and others leave a path of brokenness and destruction in their wakes. The difference in the outcome that is derived by the use of strength can be determined by very slight changes in the method of application of that strength; yet, the effect of the utilization of strength upon people can last for generations. In general, people desire to be strong or, at least, to be viewed as such. We want to hold a position that is no less than equal to those around us so that we can be in control as much of the time as it is possible. We want to be the one who call out the cadence for the on-going dance of life. This is true for us individually, and it seems to be magnified when the concepts of strength, power, and dominion are applied to nations.

However, the strength that we tend to seek after or generate for ourselves is too often derived from the wrong sorts of sources and for reasons that do not match God’s way of righteous living. We are far more likely to go for bulging muscles or for extreme horsepower than we are prone to pursuit of the strength that is formed out of compassion, mercy, and care for others. In human or worldly terms, strength is something that can be put on and worn as a form of armor that is used to protect us from too close or intimate a level of contact with all that is messy, hard, and wounded around us. This sort of strength is often expressed in angry or hurtful words as it is filled with bluster, bravado, and speaks in a manner that casts others as unworthy opponents to be discounted and denied any form of dignity. This sort of expression of strength is the weakest possible form of it, and is far removed from the type of strength that David was calling upon God’s people to adopt.

The Lord’s strength is found in His presence. It is grown up within people as we turn away from the natural way of seeking after self-determined forms of power and submit to God’s will in all matters. The more that we place ourselves under the Lord’s authority and seek out His heart, mind, and desire as the factors that determine our course through life and our methods for getting there, the stronger we will become in the truest sense of what constitutes that quality. Godly strength is measured in dignity granted to others, resources that are shared with those in need, the will to seek peace rather than victory, and a deeply held desire to serve before exerting a demand for service. The sort of strength that makes a positive difference in our world is learned from God and is found in His Word and by the leading of His Spirit. This type of strength is best cultivated through regular prayer as it is nurtured by times of listening to God and reflection upon what He is saying. This world needs strong people to care for its needs and to guide it toward righteousness and into God’s will, and we can be the Lord’s strong ones by focusing all of our being on knowing Him and in dwelling in His presence continually.     

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