worship


In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 6-8

Perhaps this passage seems particularly pertinent today as there are many issues and concerns in my path that are weighing heavily on my heart and on my mind. The weariness of my bones may exist because of an especially long and hard workweek. We all deal with the impact of living lives that are full with activity and responsibility, that are burdened with stress, and that place demands on our physical and our emotional energy. Big things, little things, trivial things; they come at us with a sort of non-stop urgency that doesn’t leave a lot of time and space for quiet contemplation and for meditation on the Lord’s will and way.

We think that our times are considerably more complex and activity filled than at any prior time in history; yet, as indicated by this ancient writing, Solomon’s times must have contained a lot of the same stresses as ours do. His words tell me that I need to recognize God’s presence in all of life; that I need to give the Lord credit for what He does for me and for how He takes care of me in all situations. This idea of seeing God’s hand in every aspect of life is interesting to me, for as I recognize Him, my eyes are turned to His way of navigating through my day; God’s enlightened pathway of truth and love opens before me. Another aspect in these events is that God’s path takes a lot less energy out of my weary body and soul; as He always gives the strength and the stamina required to go in His direction.

As I look closely at the face of God while following Him through my day, another truth starts to resonate in my heart; all of the plans and approaches that I create on my own are silly, futile, and even dangerous. The more I seek to solve life’s challenges on my own, the more difficult it becomes to keep Him in clear focus, and since it is always more difficult to navigate on my own, I end up consuming more energy to get where I think that I need to go than I would have if I had allowed God the opportunity to lead me. This is foolish and dangerous, for when I get tired and discouraged, I grant evil easier access to my thoughts; thus, I can allow a sense of negativity, uselessness, and weariness to defeat God’s purpose for me. So, the stresses of life will continue to be present in my days, but as I turn the eyes of my heart to God and His care, provision, and direction for me, I will be strengthened and encouraged. The ailments that afflict my body are healed by Christ’s loving touch, my worries and concerns are given perspective, for the Lord makes my frame to be more than strong enough to carry the weight of my life and to lift up the burdens of those who God places in my path.   

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3: 18

The language of love is a complex and a very interesting thing. Most of us go through our lives trying to learn how to speak it while also trying to learn how to understand the words that others are saying to us. It can be a bit like trying to learn two complex foreign languages at the same time, for the meaning of the words can get confused and the messages can be confusing or at least perplexing. Still, we have such a strong drive to learn how to communicate at this deep level that we are willing to put an enormous amount of work into making this strange tongue our own.

God has made the acquisition of His love language a lot simpler; however, there is a catch. That catch is the nature of the acquisition of this new vocabulary, for it is best learned and has to be applied as we go about living our lives. It seems that the Lord is true inventor of the immersion concept of learning, for He wants us to go into our world and engage with the lives of others with our goal being to bring a living picture of Christ’s love to them. God also makes it very clear that we are to show our growing mastery of His speech by demonstrating genuine love for each other within the family of God. Christ leaves us with no legitimate means to express superiority, exclusion, separating differences, and inequality. So, when we do or say anything that leads to these sorts of divisive words or actions, we are using a vocabulary that comes to us from our former, fallen flesh.

Christ calls us and He leads us to live in a higher place where His righteousness demands that we take the risks and perform the sacrifices of self that allow us to embrace all people with ready openness and with willing acceptance. However, there is one more aspect to this form of love expression, and that is truth. When we love others completely and when we are able to extend the grace of God to them, we are also required to be honest with them. Yet, as Christ demonstrated, God’s truth is a compelling part of the vocabulary of His love, and giving His love to others requires us to share His truth as well. Thus mastery of this complex language of eternal love is gained as we live life in the presence of Christ, and it is granted full expression as we love others without hesitation, reservation, or exclusion.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1: 3-5

Jesus has come into the world in order to redeem people from our natural state of spiritual death. He will come again in order to do that same work of redemption for a final time, and at that time He will complete the redemption from the corruption of sin for all of creation as well. Yet, until that final work is done, we can live as new beings in Christ, for God desires for us to exist in a close, an intimate, relationship with Him. So, He sent Christ into this world to provide each person upon it with the way and the means of departure from that certain death that was ours from birth. Thus, it is as if we were literally born anew into this world, for we are granted a new beginning and a restart for our journey through life. Although the past is not erased, we are born into a form of grace and forgiveness that provides us with a new perspective on how we are to live and what we need to do in order to repair the damage that we may have done to our relationships during the conduct of our former lives.

In this rebirth comes a great hope for the future. This is certainly an eternal future that, in Christ, we are promised by God to spend in Heaven. It is also a hope that spreads across the remaining days of our lives here on earth. We will live out our days here in the presence of the Spirit, and we are granted God’s grace, love, and mercy as underpinning for the way that we think, speak, and act during those remaining days. This is a journey of faith, for it is not something that is fully fleshed out and completed in that instance of acceptance of Christ. Rather, it is a work that is carried out within each of us by the Spirit, and it grows and develops as we yield up our lives to Christ and surrender our wills to His far greater purposes for us. In a real sense, we are called upon by God to seek after Heaven during our lives on earth, but that seeking is not oriented toward an escape from this world so much as it is intended to have us work toward bringing the righteousness and the justice of Heaven into the place where we dwell.

This does not mean that life here will be easy or that all of our days of troubles, trials, and pain will be behind us after we turn to Christ. What it does mean is that we will go through these times with Christ in us and with the companionship of His Spirit to provide us with the wisdom and strength that we require to stay true to our faith regardless of what we encounter. Thus, God’s mercy is granted to us. It comes in a form that does not remove us from the reality of life, but, instead, it grants to us a perspective on living that comes from beyond this world and that demonstrates to us the great hope that is ours in Jesus Christ, for in Christ we can see and understand the value of pain in this world as a common reality that is endured through Christ’s strength and that directs us into the presence of God as our source of comfort and of peace in the midst of the trial. So, God the Father sent Jesus Christ to redeem us from the certainty of death, and Christ now takes us out of our former lives, and through a new birth into a life that extends beyond the grave into eternity, He works through us to redeem the balance of creation.  

The saying is trustworthy, for if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

There are things that are really hard to give up. Some fall under that heading that we call “guilty pleasures”. These include such things as certain television programs, candy and ice cream, and buttered pop corn. Actions like smoking and driving too fast can actually cause harm. Other tenacious aspects of who we seem to be are more sinister. These might involve an addiction to pornography, habitual lying, out of control anger, and other forms of attitude and behavior that are rooted in sinful reliance on our selves as opposed to engaging in radical trust in and dependence upon Christ. All people are born into this world separated from God and His truth and darkened in our understanding of actual righteous living. These sinful aspects of our lives that continue on after we come to know Christ are the remnants of our birthright.

An even more challenging sort of change involves the attitudes that we hold toward our world and the people in it. Christ came into this world to bring an alienated humanity back into intimate relationship with our Creator, God. This salvation and reconciliation are for everyone. There are no exclusions, no exceptions, and there is absolutely no greater and lesser order to this acceptance of people by God. Most of us struggle with this idea. Even if we can readily say that we think that Christ came, suffered, died, and was raised for all, we simply don’t actually believe that this is true. There are always some people, either individuals or groups, who we do not like or trust. It is human nature to consider those who are different and who believe differently as being suspect. We tend to find that it is much easier to extend grace and reach out in loving embrace to people who we do not fear and who look, speak, and think essentially like us. Yet, Christ did all of these things for all of the people He encountered. God’s love, mercy, grace, and redemption are offered to each and every person on this earth.

Whatever it is that each of us is dealing with by way of unrighteous thought and action, big things and small, the foundation for change is ours to pursue. First off, we need to desire that change. Truth is God’s catalyst for change. His Word contains the narrative account of the way that our Lord desires for us to think and to live. Emersion in it is the starting place and the ongoing road to discovery of who God is and who He calls us to be. Time in God’s Word is best accompanied with prayer and meditation. These are times of speaking our hearts to God and of listening to His voice. Study of the word and prayer are inseparable, and these are times when the Holy Spirit speaks God’s deep truths into our hearts and minds. Additionally, God desires for us to live in community. Although real transformative work in us is done by God through His Spirit, He often uses the agency of His body, the church and its people, to support, counsel, and bring accountability to that journey. God has called us to join Christ in death, that is, the death of our birth-life of wastefulness and sin, and then the Lord takes us into the new life of freedom that comes in following our Savior through every step of the day.   

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5: 18 

There is an order to the way that the entire world functions. The rules and the controlling principles were embedded into its genetic coding by God in order to prevent chaos from ruling. What matters most for people is where we align our hearts and our minds in order to receive the direction and guidance that we all need to successfully make it through this complex life that we live. Although we are all born with hearts that are broken and controlled by sin, God grants us the gift of a choice that will completely change all of that. Christ brings all who choose Him into restoration and into righteousness. 

Once we have decided to leave behind the controlling influence of evil and turn our hearts toward God, we still need to take one more very important step. God designed a rule of law into Creation, and it will get us through the day with minimal missteps and wrong turns; however, the law demands perfection from us, and we are very imperfect beings. Errors, mistakes, and wrong choices are inevitable when we choose to orient our moral compass toward the law. Under the rule of the law, we will spend our days trying unsuccessfully to pay off the constantly growing fines that we receive for our various sins. Unfortunately, we will never possess enough emotional or spiritual currency to pay these debts.  

Christ offers us another choice, for He paid that debt in full for us, and He sent His Spirit to live in, among, and with us. We can choose to seek out a deep, personal, and powerful relationship with the Spirit of God that will profoundly change the way that we view life. When we seek to stay filled with the Spirit, our view of life and the vantage point from which we view it are changed. We gain a Heavenly perspective on life that allows us to live boldly, confidently, and in a form of freedom that does not exist outside of this intimate relationship with God. As I know Christ, so, I am filled with Christ’s Spirit, and there is lightness and buoyancy to my life that is without compare. 

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Philippians 1: 27

This is a description of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the modern world. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the current date is in the first century of the Christian Era or in its twenty-first century. The day, month, and year in which Christians find themselves living is a time when there will be pressures applied upon that person’s faith in Christ and adherence to the gospel so that the ability to stand up in the face of those forces will be in question. This world can be a harsh and a challenging place to live. There are real and highly active forces in it that are seeking to overthrow the gospel of Christ at every turn, and their target for this attempted coup against the King of the Universe is each and every person that gives their life to Christ as Lord and Savior.

In his process of waging war against Christ, Satan attacks both individual followers and the church. So, we must be prepared to stand up to these assaults by virtue of our deep commitment to Christ and submission to His will and by seeking to be of one mind with other followers of Christ as we gather as His church. Now there is no doubt in my mind that any gathered body of people will see many things differently, one from others. Yet, we can know the same Christ, be led by one Spirit, and submit to the singular Word of God. Then our strength comes through the unity that is hard won and thoroughly worked out by the process of living out together the challenges of life. Christ is fully committed to His church, and we are asked by Him to respond by being fully committed to seeking unity by and in His Spirit.

Paul’s joy and pleasure at hearing about the way that people in Philippi and in other places where he has shared the gospel of Christ are living as upright followers of that message of righteousness, love, and enduring faith reflects Christ’s feelings upon the same response in all of His people. Christ, Himself, is delighted when we lean into Him for strength, encouragement, and wisdom as we engage with the powers and forces in our world that are attempting to overthrow our faith and shatter the fellowship of belief that Christ has formed. In Christ we can find the singularity of purpose that overcomes all forms of difference. The Spirit works among us to focus our hearts and minds in on the redemptive message of that gospel and to make our points of disagreement into issues and concerns that can be set aside for the sake of standing together as we live out our faith in the world and before its eyes as a testimony to Christ.   

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5: 3

John is talking about a relationship that is built upon love. God loves each of us, and He does so in a total, absolute, and infinite manner that is beyond my restricted, conditional, and limited understanding. When God tells us to obey, to keep His commandments, He is not being authoritarian. Rather, the Lord does this out of love, for God’s direction for our lives takes us along a path through our days that is healthy, joyous, and filled with grace and mercy. In a manner that is both hard to grasp on the surface yet becomes very clear as it is engaged in, doing God’s will always leads to freedom and to true empowerment for our souls. Following the Lord’s will releases us from a real and a tangible form of imprisonment that our natural course through life has constructed about our hearts and minds.

God’s commandments bring us closer to Him. They are founded upon His love, and they are grounded in engaging with the world out of that same love. The Lord intends for us to seek Him out in all aspects of life, and He also sends us into the world around us to live out the nature and character of God in the midst of the places where we dwell. Living out our faith can be a challenging thing to do. It is guaranteed to bring contention our way and to cause there to be challenges and trials in our days. In simple terms, there are strong forces in our world that fight hard against this same love, grace, and mercy that God pours out into us and that He desires to see us tender to those around us. Love and control are opposed to each other, and the evil of the world exists to control people.

Therein lies an essential difference in following God verses granting allegiance to the world. God sets us free to accept others without restraint or restriction. He grants us permission to enter into relationships that are based upon grace and to seek to truly know others without needing to judge them. In Christ, we have experienced this same form of unfettered acceptance, and through Christ, we can grant the same openness and fearless engagement to people that are different from us and that have not conformed to this world’s standards for what people should do, say, and believe. The burden of judgement belongs to Christ, and we are no longer required to hold others accountable to a certain standard of performance before we can allow them into our lives. Although we are to live out God’s standards for belief and behavior, we apply them to others with a different intent. For, through Christ, we seek to guide others into acceptance of a way of life that will grant to them this same freedom and joy that we experience through our relationship with the Lord.    

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