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As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

Psalm 42: 1 

 

A cool drink of water on a hot day; especially, on a dry day spent in a dusty place while doing physical labor, can be the most luxurious and the richest fluid that I have ever consumed. The choking dust is rinsed away, and that raspy, burning sensation that irritates the throat is eased. Then it seems as if the cells of your body actually soak in the water and become whole again. It’s truly amazing how desirable something that is so ordinary can become. 

 

The image here is even more striking, for I picture a deer that has been running hard for a long time, over a great distance, and as fast as it can move in order to escape a predator. The deer has had to use all of its skill and energy to sprint away from the hungry jaws that are trying to destroy it; thus, the deer is exhausted and its skin is torn from diving through brambles and bushes in its desperate flight. Now, after the chase has ended, wary of the potential for another attack, the deer needs to find water in order to be refreshed and to regain strength for the next struggle.

 

There are predators waiting along the paths of our lives, too. They are aggressive and they are cunning, and they come at us from the most unexpected of places and they strike at the worst possible moments. They seem to understand those times when my resources are at their lowest, and they hide out in friendly and safe locations in order to catch me with my defensive shields turned off. In many ways I think that the writers of the Star Trek series got evil right in their creation of the arch foe for the crew of the Enterprise, the Klingons, for they are cunning, deceptive, intuitive of weakness, relentless, and totally focused on their mission of destruction. These characters of fiction look a great deal like the real world where we live.

 

Yet, God grants us much more than just a momentary rest and simple refreshment. He gives us the healing water of His loving grace and forgiveness. Christ removes the angry toxins of sin that build up in our souls as we fight to survive in life, and He restores our bodies to the strength of spirit that Christ intends for us to possess. In order to be ready for the inevitable attacks that will come, for the intent of evil to assault people is inevitable, we need to drink deeply from the water of strength and truth that is God’s word. As we do this, we should wash our hearts in the cleansing streams of prayer and allow the Spirit of God to lead us away from danger and to God’s purpose.  

 

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

James 3: 13

 

Too often wisdom is presented with an assertiveness and an air of superiority that does very little to encourage those who are on its receiving end. People who are wise in this manner often seem to have a greater interest in how good they look rather than a desire to build up and to strengthen the understanding of those around them. There is simply too much self in this worldly form of wisdom, too much emphasis on personal gain and on winning a contest of achieved superiority. The way that a person would answer the question above, that is if a person who is self-important can also be self-aware, is very telling concerning the type and source of that person’s wisdom.

 

God’s wisdom is strong but never overbearing; it is all encompassing but not smothering; it is absolute but not authoritarian. As God demonstrates to us through his interaction with people and as Jesus has shown us through his life among us, wisdom and understanding are connected attributes. They exist in a form of natural balance that only God and His perfected creation can achieve completely.

 

However, the Lord does wish for us to live wisely and to apply wisdom with the type of understanding that marks his children as Godly. Christ calls upon us to be wise lovers of people; showing Him to others through our gentle and understanding handling of them. This is what behaving well in the fullness of the Lord’s wisdom looks like. This is a practical life demonstration of living in the center of the will of God.

 

Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Colossians 3: 5

Here is a really tough personal challenge for most of us. At first glance, we might say that I don’t struggle with those things; they were part of the person that I was before Christ, that was what I did before I grew up and realized that there was a better way, or they are just a casual and a controlled aspect of my much greater new self. The problem with all of that is the standard that Paul sets out in the verse, for he says that we should consider ourselves as dead to them. Dead is a rather absolute statement, and it doesn’t leave much room for occasional involvement or for limited activity. Dead equates to none, to finished, and to buried and put away forever.

We are given an important clue to how all of this is to come about in the idea that, as stated previously in Colossians, Christ’s death and resurrection are what make this sort of fundamental change possible for us. Then, it is our own decision to fully accept the gift of grace and the transformation of our essential selves that are its result that takes these destructive elements that tended to control our lives and to set the tone for our relationships and place them into the permanently sealed coffin that is supplied by redemption.

So, as I look honestly at my life and view the actual way that I think and act, I am forced to note the still active and influential idols of my old self sitting in plain view on their shelf. I am forced to recognize that I still turn to them and allow them to take control of moments and of situations in my days; yet, I also know that Christ has eliminated my need for them, and He has replaced it with His far greater loving capacity to deal with life. The Lord tells me that when the voices of lust, anger, fear, self importance, and greed call to me that I need to be prepared to tell them to leave me for they are nothing but the whispers of the ghosts of my dead and buried past.

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism (self-serving humility) and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.

Colossians 2: 18

We people are an interesting group, for we are frequently drawn to the showy, the spectacular, the impressive personality, and individuals who seem to just have it all together and who appear to possess some form of special knowledge and connection to the divine. Being around them can make us feel as if we have drawn closer to God, and at the same time, they tend to make us believe that our basic and fundamental faith is a lesser form of worship. This sort of star worship is dangerous and it distracts us from our genuine position in our relationship with God.

In God’s design for His involvement with people, there is no one of us who is superior to others and none of us are of a lesser status. Our value, worth, and access to God are all established by our individual and personal relationship to Christ; there is no other requirement that God will place upon us and nothing else that we can do that will increase our righteousness in the eyes of the Lord; for, Christ did it all for us. So, when someone catches our eye with their statements about a superior way to connect with God, or they present us with exciting and interesting ideas regarding the worship of anything other than the Lord, Himself; we need to question the validity of those ideas based upon the truth of God’s word, and we need to focus solely upon Christ and on how His Spirit directs us.

There is more than enough excitement, mystery, and drama for me to be found in getting to know the lord more intimately. There is no reason to spend time in worshiping angels, philosophy, or other people, for these are, like me, the craftsmanship of God’s creative hands. God is the only one who is worthy of praise and worship, and Christ will always lead us to the full and total expression of that worship.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

Here is a blessing that cuts to the very heart of our ability and our capacity to live with the peace, joy, strength, and purpose that God desires for each of His children. Although we may understand grace as that uniquely God given gift of His love and forgiveness that comes our way despite our total lack of merit, most of us don’t do such a good job of taking in that grace so that it resides deep within us and acts as a continual agent for transformative change in our hearts and minds. Yet, that is God’s real intent when He grants His grace to us.

When I realize that no matter how big a mess I make of my life, how far I wander from God’s righteousness, and how difficult I am to love that my Lord will remain faithful to His promise to never leave me, I am, at first, humbled; then, His Spirit works within me to start to change the ways that I think and act so that I am made more like the God-image bearer that I was created to be. As grace works in and on us, we should begin to see that it also cries out to be shared with the world around us. The Spirit of God filling our spirits with His love and grace should be leading us to need to pour out this same grace upon our families, friends, neighbors, and communities.

The transformation that receiving grace can accomplish in our own lives can also be the force that brings about true change in our world. Grace needs to be taken in deeply, but it should never be held onto as if it is a finite and irreplaceable commodity. Instead, we should make it the filter through which we view the rest of our world; then, grace can become the way that we connect with others in a way that brings the living Christ into their lives.

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3: 8

This is the great evangelistic teacher and writer Paul speaking, and he was very clear in his understanding of what God had given to him as a life’s work. He also understood that everything that he brought to the table so far as knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and skill was also a gift from God; for, all of the talent and the hard work that Paul had invested in preparation for life had been proven to be futile in a few moments of direct contact with the Living God; yet, the same Lord who brought him to his knees also filled him with all of the knowledge and truth that he would ever need to follow Christ and to serve Him fully.

The thing that strikes me about Paul’s statement here is that it does not apply solely to him; this should be a true statement that anyone who knows Christ can claim. We may not be gifted with the ability of Paul to teach, write, and preach, but we are all given the same sort of grace, and we are given a mission to fulfill in this world. As the Spirit fills us with the ability to understand God’s word, He also grants to everyone the ability to live it. For most of us preaching is not going to be something that we do in front of a crowd, but it is something that we can do every day. Every time that we pick up the neighbor’s wind tossed trash can, when we return kindness for indifference, as we give up advantage for compassion, and through each and every act of loving grace that we engage we are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 As we are blessed by the extraordinary riches of Christ’s love, we are called upon by God to do the same for the people of the world where we live. Consider the impact that you can have on your community and on this world by simply showing the fullness of Christ to them. For most people God is at best an abstract concept, a distant image, or something too mystical to be a part of their daily reality; however, you and I have the ability through the grace that Christ has granted to us to change all of that. We can make Christ real for anyone who has a heart to look and to see, and that is our Divine calling.

By God all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth.

Colossians 1: 16

This is a very simple statement that says a great deal; for, when you consider it, Paul is saying that God’s hand is in literally everything that has ever existed or that ever will come into being in each and every environment and dimension of existence. That is a truly sweeping and all-inclusive thought. All of it, in absolutely all corners of this world, and the entirety of the physical and the spiritual realms are the result of God’s creative touch.

What this means to me is that there is nothing that I might encounter in life that God does not want me to take an interest in and that He will not go into with me for the sake of His glory. The Lord is disturbed, saddened, and anguished at the sin-ravaged and fallen state of His creation. He set up a plan for its management and for its restoration, and we are at the center of both of those aspects of God’s plan. Christ is the focal point, the center piece, and the agent who effects the plan for restoration; so, when we come into a relationship with Jesus, we add the role of restoration agent to our previously given one of manager. Prior to the intrusion of sin into our relationship with God, He had given us the responsibility for managing all of the earth (Gen 1:26); now, through Christ, we have the ability to bring the cleansing light of God’s loving grace into every corner of the world.

God has a plan for the final restoration and for the total glorification of this world and all that is in it, and only He knows the timing and the exact details for the execution of that plan. Until then, the Lord has handed over the responsibility for seeking to bring the truth of His redemption to all of the people on this earth and into every aspect of life in it to His followers; that is, He directs each of us to live every day in a manner that seeks for opportunity to make a difference in the hearts and the minds of people. God wants us to engage with our families, communities, and our world in ways that reclaims them from the darkness of sin. Everyone and everything on this earth belongs to God, and He wants it all to know the healing touch of His love. We are His agents whose mission is to do the touching.

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