For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

Ephesians 3: 14, 15

Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, is amazing, and people have become utterly fascinated by the information that is gained by studying it. Every person on earth today and throughout all of history possesses DNA that is uniquely our own; yet, at the same time, that DNA reveals our relationship to people living and dead who come from places around the world. Our DNA presents a picture of each of us that helps to establish a form of identity for us, but this identity, individually unique as it may be, is nothing more than a partial picture of who we actually are. People are complex, and the components that make up our nature, character, and personality are formed out of many ingredients that are brought together through the agency of numerous forces and factors over the course of a lifetime. Still, beyond all of these earthly and human influences upon our formation, there is a greater and a more fundamental actor involved in granting us our deepest identity.

In the Bible, especially in Hebrew literature, the act of naming a person is important. The name conveys both desired outcome and a reflection upon the observed character of the person. Sometimes these aspects of life are at odds with each other; so, when God is the one who is doing the naming, He is frequently seeing something that is to come in the future and through the work of His hand in and upon that person. God is our Creator. That individual strand of DNA is something that His hand designed and fabricated. Yet, even that complex and definitive structure does not fully set out who we are or what we might become. God’s work in people is extraordinary in its capacity for causing change, growth, and transformation. We may be known for one sort of behavior today, but through the work of the Spirit in our lives, we might go in a completely different direction tomorrow. This is the wonder and this is the hope of God’s grace as He pours it out onto people like you and me.

Paul is pointing us toward what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of entering into this work of transformation and that is submission to God and surrender to Christ. As Paul speaks of bowing his knees before the Father, this is exactly what he is doing. He is saying that he is surrendering control over his life and over this day, and he is giving that control over to the Lord to take him wherever He wants and to do with him whatever Christ desires to do. This is total surrender to God, and this sort of thing is generally very uncomfortable or even terrifying for most of us to consider doing. Yet, God is faithful and true to His word to lead us along paths of righteousness and to protect our souls from harm throughout that journey of faith. As we submit to Christ’s will, we are given the name Faithful Servant. When we set aside all of our wishes, wants, and desires for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are proclaimed by the Lord to be Beloved in His Eyes. The name that we carry throughout our days is important, and the family that we come from is interesting to study, but the name that God gives to each of us is what signifies our true identity in Christ.    

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Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.

John 17: 17

 

Jesus is praying to the Father. These are those last moments before the great drama that would include Judas pointing Him out, the arrest and trials, and then Christ’s seeming humiliation and crucifixion. In this time of prayer, Jesus pours out His heart and lays bare His deep desires before God, the Father. So, the Lord asks the Father to make His people clean from their sinfulness and so make them worthy to be in the presence of God. This requested outcome is not just one that is for the moment, to be redone over and over again, rather, it is a form of cleansing that is to last for all time. It includes their days of life on earth to come and the entire expanse of time in which their souls will continue to exist beyond this life. Sanctify them, make them holy, set them apart for service at God’s altar of life; this is the plea and the request that Jesus sends upward to His God.

 

This is something that does just happen. This cleansing is effective upon our acceptance of Christ as our Savior and Lord; yet, it is something that is never completed in this life. This is also the point that Jesus is making in this prayer. This truth that Jesus references is something deep, profound, and fundamental to all that exists in the universe. For truth as it is related to God is not a mere descriptor of something else, it is a part of the foundation upon which everything is constructed. Truth is an essential aspect of the nature and the character of God. So, it is solid, concrete, and without distortion or deviation over time. This truth that Jesus asks the Father to pour out into His followers responds to all of life, to everything that might come our way, in a manner that puts its adherents into a position to live out our days in conformity to God’s will and as righteous inhabitants of the Lord’s kingdom on earth.

 

The word that Jesus speaks about here is also something more basic than even the written Word of God that we view under the title Holy Bible. It is God’s expressed nature, His perfect character, and the will that defines all of His actions and that frames in all human endeavor on earth and in Heaven. Jesus was very familiar with a part of the written form of this word as it existed in His earthly days, but He was even more intimately involved with the totality of God’s expression of Himself by virtue of His engagement in the statement of this eternal truth. Jesus, in conjunction with the Father and the Spirit, spoke all of creation into existence, and He also gave us all that is loving, just, right, and holy by way of thoughts and actions to follow as a model for living within that creation. When we surrender ourselves to Christ, we are made pure, clean, and holy before God, and as we live out our remaining days in yielded surrender to Christ’s will, under the instruction of His Word, and in the counsel of His Spirit, we continue along the Lord’s sanctification road that takes us to the perfection of eternity.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8: 31

 

The idea that God is with or for particular people, groups, nations, or causes is one that forms the foundation of hopes, wishes, and motivates actions. It has been a battle cry and a rationale that is set out in defense of human endeavors that range from the noble to the outrageous. So, what does it mean for God to be for people, and who are those people?

 

First off, it seems to me that God has always been for us. All people are a part of His creation, and we are that specially crafted portion of creation that was made in the image of our Creator. He breathed His life, our souls, into us and entered into a form of relationship with us that is utterly unique. Even in our rebellious and willful rejection of God’s rightful authority and rule, God set out a perfect and complete plan for salvation and for restoration. The Lord has never waivered from this plan, and He has never stopped pursuing each and every one of us. Still we humans are not easy to love and to nurture. We allow fear to motivate our thoughts and actions, and we treat people who are different from us as inferiors or as enemies.

 

None of this is pleasing to God, for nothing in these thoughts and actions is based in His will or upon His Word. So, I think that God is for all people in the sense that He desires for all to know Him by entering into a relationship with Christ. He is also for those who know Christ in that our motives, confidence in life, and capacity to love others are reflections of His character and are founded in our engagement with His Spirit. So, it would seem that God is truly for us as we set aside our personal aspirations and desires and yield our lives fully to Christ’s will. God desires for His people to be reconcilers, to be peacemakers, and to engage with our whole beings in His redemptive work in our world.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12: 3

 

Water is something very basic; it is truly not very magical. Its appearance doesn’t suggest that all that much is there. It is relatively clear. It has minimal flavor. Water is found almost everywhere on the earth, and it goes largely unappreciated in the way that most of us live our lives. Yet, it is absolutely essential for that life to continue. It is one of the great difference makers in the way that God created our planet, and not by accident I believe, it provides a great metaphor for the way that God interacts with and relates to people.

 

God has made His salvation very simple to understand. It is available to everyone. It is often taken for granted by people who have accepted it, and others very frequently ignore it. The salvation that Jesus Christ brings to us flows like water over the earth. At times it seems to gush out and explode like a mighty river, and at other times it trickles as subtle rivulet along the side of solid rock. Christ comes to save our souls from an eternity apart from God. He also stays with us through all of the days of our lives and continues to save us from the traps and snares, the defeat and destruction that Satan attempts to throw into our paths. Salvation is at the center of God’s design for relationship with people. The Lord asks us to accept it, and He continues to lead us further and deeper into its reality throughout our days.

 

As Isaiah says, salvation is joyous. That doesn’t mean that the salvation life is easy or that seeking it is always pleasant or comfortable. As we draw the water of Christ’s will from God’s well, we are asked to abandon the false pleasure of sin and to replace it with the deep sustenance of truth. Much of the time these salvation wells will be located in hostile lands, and God’s enemies guard them with violent words and actions. Yet, Christ is there, and He stands guard over our hearts and our minds as we lift that bucket of righteousness from the dark recess where evil would have it remain. Yes, it would seem that water is not very magical until it becomes a metaphor for the life that is found in and through Christ. Then it speaks of the greatest magic in all of creation as it represents the transformation and the restoration that knowing Christ brings about in the lives of all who are thirsty and who drink.

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16: 20

 

Justice is something that most of us cry out for. When things don’t go our way, whether in the smaller issues of fair play in a crowded parking lot or in the bigger concerns about treatment by an employer or in a court of law, we ask God to bring about a fair and a just answer for us. I am not all that convinced, however, that justice is actually what I want to receive on most of these occasions. Justice means that I will get exactly what I deserve. When it is God’s justice that I am seeking, what I deserve is not something that I would probably find to be very pleasant. You see, this is a characteristic that derives from the very core of who God is, and it helps to define the active and operative qualities of righteousness. On a day in and day out basis Godly righteousness is a very high standard for me to meet.

 

Yet, Christ calls to me and to everyone to follow Him. He wants us to walk in the same steps that He takes and to react to our world in the same way that He has reacted to it from its creation. He also assures me that there is nothing that He will ask of me or anyplace that He will take me that He does not equip me to handle and where He will not walk with me. As I seek to know Christ deeply, His character becomes more fully my own. When I choose to follow where He is leading, I walk along an adventurous path of discovery that takes me continually further into freedom from the oppression of sin in my life, and this path is also one along which Christ reveals the need for justice in the lives of others in this world.

 

If I am to follow justice alone, that means that I am committing to focus all of my attention on Christ. It means that I am willing to actively work to see to it that righteousness and fairness are applied to all people and to each situation that I encounter. I must desire to live in a manner that demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice my own comfort, gain, and security for the sake of the just treatment of others. It also means that I need to be open and vulnerable before Christ and His community so that my naturally self-centered sinfulness will not pervert my own interpretation of justice. Following justice is a life-long pursuit. However, the pursuit of justice is an essential part of walking through this life in the center of Christ’s will.

 

 

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip?”

John 14: 9a

 

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, especially someone that you are close to and realized that you don’t actually know what they are saying? The words are clear, the discussion doesn’t revolve around obscure concepts or, for me, principles of physics, but the meaning of it all is just not getting through. In the passage that surrounds the verse above, Jesus is trying to explain the basic facts of the events that are about to happen; He has been both clear and repetitive in these explanations; yet, his close friends just don’t understand. They have a very real problem with listening. They hear the words with their ears but not with their hearts; and they allow their minds to interpret what Jesus says in the manner that they desire to understand it.

 

I have much the same problem. I hear what the Lord has to say to me, and He speaks in many ways every day. I read the bible and He talks to me. I pray and He grants me knowledge and insight, and I talk to other Christians and get sound feedback. Still, Christ’s actual will can be vague and obscure to me. I think that, like Phillip, I have a problem with my listening skills. I work really hard at seeking the Lord’s voice; yet, I also work very hard at keeping the filters of my own understanding and my own desired outcomes in place.

 

Jesus tells us to listen to His words and to stay open in our hearts and in our minds to what He is actually saying. This is much more an act of faith than it is of will; for, we need to trust Jesus enough to let Him speak to us in a very deep way.  The key to this sort of deep listening seems to be in found in faith. It is necessary to truly believe that Christ has all of the answers that we will need for every situation that we will encounter so that we can set aside the well developed, human reason based filters and responses that a life time of living has built up in us. Then as we have opened the ears of our hearts and minds to truly hear Christ’s will, faith in Christ will lead us to act on what He tells us.