And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Doubt is a personal reality that I, in honesty, have to admit to possessing. My doubt is not generally of the large scale and global sort, for I don’t have times when I lack a belief in the existence of God or question whether Jesus is real, true, and fulfills the role of Savior. These are not my doubts. Mine are ordered in the class of trust and reliance. When times get hard or the road that I am facing gets to be harsh and rough, I can turn from that easy daily faith in the provision, protection, and truth of God’s Word and instead I start to listen to my own voice of desperation and fear. This voice leads straight into my personal form of doubt, and this is never a good place for me to go, for it tends to freeze me into either inaction or it brings about self-driven poor choices.

I recognize that my own journey in this area may look very similar to that of some people, and it will be completely different from that of others. Just as God made each of us to be individually gifted with the blessings of His Spirit, He also formed us to be distinct and individualistic in most others aspects of life and of living it out. Yet, I also think that most followers of Christ do have times when we enter into a form of doubt. These periods of time or episodic events are often brought about in times when there is stress, trouble, and challenge present in our lives. These are those times of trial that James is speaking about, and these are the parts of life when hanging in there with God’s truth as revealed in His Word and through the interaction of his Spirit with me leads to a deeper and a stronger faith and trust in my relationship with Christ.

God’s desire and will is that each of His people would continue to grow and to develop in our capacity to live fully in the expression of His grace, love, and redemptive purposes. This sort of living takes courage to carry out in a world that tends to be antagonistic toward God’s absolute form of righteousness. This world fights back against people who bring Godly love, acceptance, justice, and peacemaking to bear upon all of the relationships and situations that we encounter. Therefore, it takes both courage and faith in Christ to continue along a pathway that leads straight into the angry rejection of many of the people and institutions of this world. This conflict in conjunction with physical, emotional, and financial stresses and struggles make up the wide array of trials that we can encounter during our days of following Christ; yet, as we trust the Lord to sustain us and to care for us fully in these times, we grow in our faith and move ever closer to that promise of perfection that is defined and completed in us by Christ. 

What is man, that he should be pure, or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

Job 15: 14

 

The answer to this ancient question is that we humans are neither pure nor righteous. These are not the characteristics and the qualities of the creature that we are. This state of affairs is not the product of upbringing and it is not the result of the conditions that we live in. It is who we are, and we are defined by a very stridently self-absorbed and God denying existence. The human animal made a determination to leave the orderly place that God had designed for our safety, nurture, and pleasure; then, we stepped defiantly out into that broken land of our own choosing where danger, starvation, and pain are the community’s welcoming greeting.

 

Despite our efforts to distance ourselves from the righteous rule of God, we just can’t seem to shake His presence. When all appeared to be desperately lost; when humanity had reached the point of collapsing under the weight of its own depravity, God sent Himself into this world. He came not as an avenger of His rule of law, but rather, He came as the lamb of love that brings life to all. Christ the perfect and the pure came to live as a member of this human race, and we will never be the same. People can now relate directly to God, our Creator and Lord. We can now live in the possibility of pure love and grace.

 

In our old humanity, Job’s question has nothing except negative answers. In the state of our births, we can never be pure and righteous; so, we can never draw near to the glory of the all-righteous and holy God. However, through Christ and in His grace, we are brought out of the old and transformed into a new form of humanity. This is one that enters into the possibility of who and what we are and that recognizes that God crafts it in His perfect image. Purity and righteousness can now be our normal state. Selfless love and fearless grace can be the characteristics that mark and measure our days. In Christ, the answers to those questions shout out, “Yes, I am pure, for my Savior has made me righteous!”

And I said, “Woe is me! For I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seem the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6: 5-7

 

It is not hard for Christians to find sin in our world. It is all around us. Unrighteous thoughts and actions fill out news and impact our lives on a continual basis. Inside of our halls of faith gathering we talk with our friends and acquaintances about the sad and disturbing direction that our world, our government, and our culture are headed. The trajectory of society seems to be pointed straight toward hell, or so we would say. This is exactly what Isaiah encountered as well. Perhaps we should listen to what he tells us God said and did to him.

 

As the prophet became increasingly aware of the evil that was filling his world, God turned his focus inward. There Isaiah saw something that was even more disturbing than what was going on in his land. For inside his own heart Isaiah encountered anger, lust, greed, stubborn pride, and all of the rest of creation’s fallen condition. These were the very things that were bringing him to tears for his nation and were raising up his anger at the injustice in his world. Yet, now he was seeing it all dwelling in himself, and now, in his Spirit led introspection, Isaiah saw just how far removed he was from the holiness and the righteousness of God. This was a sobering and a humbling truth to face for him, and it should be the same for us.

 

As we look at our world and seek to enter into its chaotic lostness for the sake of Christ and His gospel, we need to start our quest on our knees in repentance for our own sinful thoughts and deeds. I am not pure, and no one else is, either. We are sinners who rely on the same grace that granted acceptance to Isaiah. Like him we need the atonement for those sins that comes from God through Jesus Christ. Yet this is God’s gift to all who will turn to Him. We are cleansed, our lips and our hearts are seared clean by the work of Christ on the cross and we are called to draw near to that altar of grace so that the holy fragrance of God will surround us as we follow Christ into serving Him in our world.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.

Matthew 27: 48

 

Noon to three in the afternoon. These are the peak hours of the day, especially in the courts of the temple in Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover Sabbath when the sacrificial sheep were slaughtered. Now something profound was happening. Here was the final lamb, the ultimate sacrifice that would end the need for there to be any more, and He was hanging in the agony of crucifixion on a Roman cross. God’s desire for reconciliation with His creation was gaining its full expression in the pain that the human form of Jesus was enduring in His flesh and in the agony that His spirit attained as the separation from the Father was fully realized in those moments when the penalty for the sinful rebelliousness of humanity were placed onto the innocent back of the Messiah. Nothing that we can endure in our most desperate experience of life comes close to the sorrowful anguish that must have filled Jesus or the deep grief that overtook the Father in this hour.

 

The sky became supernaturally darkened as the shroud of loss obscured the source of all light, and then everything turned in a new direction. The deathbed vigil ends as Jesus surrenders the life-fight of man and enters into the rest of the fallen. Yet, this death is victory, and this loss is humanity’s gain. The fatal divide between God and people is no longer present, and even the classes and categories of people that our sinful desires had produced were abolished and dissolved in a moment. Here on this hill in an insignificant land at the far end of the earth’s greatest empire occurred the holy reconciliation that no human could have produced and that nothing else in history has come close to matching in its significance or impact upon what life in this world means. The people of this earth are granted the gift of grace that opens the door to forgiveness for all that we have thought and done in opposition to God and to His righteousness. In this crucified Jesus, this risen Christ, we are all taken out of the living death of our births and placed by Christ into life in the total and full expression of its loving embrace.

 

For it is true that the human tools that broke the body of Jesus did nothing more than free creation from the slavery that had encased it in its icy grip of death. The body that surrendered to that sacrificial death was soon raised by God into life, and the life that Christ enjoys has become the same life that fills the souls of all who turn to Him in repentance and in submission to our Lord. In so doing we enter through the cross of Christ into the tomb of surrender and submission of our selves to God’s righteousness, and in our own experience of His resurrection we are given a new and transformed form of existence that now begins to accurately reflect the God-image design of God’s original intent for humanity. In Christ we are taken out of the darkness of the fallen world so that our hearts, minds, and spirits no longer dwell in that fearful shadow land. Now we join with our risen Lord in His victory over all that oppresses and destroys in this world, and our lives can sing out the praises of our God who saves all who come to Him.

 

 

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the LORD surrounds his people,

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 125: 2

 

Mountains are impressive. When viewed from below their height can be magnificent on the one hand and rather frightening on the other. They provide welcome relief from the flatness that occupies large expanses of the earth’s surface, but for a traveler who is encountering it, a mountain range presents a sort of fearful obstacle to be overcome. They bring shelter from storms in some seasons and in others the fury of that weather seems to roll down their sides with the ferocity of a hungry wild beast. People have settled in mountain valleys for thousands of years because of the resources that are often available in the valley floor and on the slopes of the hills. Their slopes, whether steep sided or soft and rounded, provide us with a vista onto our world that feels like it is close to the one that God posses; yet, when we are standing there, our feet are still planted firmly on His creation.

 

God’s presence in our world can seem like all of these impressions of mountains. He is wondrous and also fearful. He grants to us the joy and the delight of living in this world, and He also challenges people with the lofty stature of His righteousness. The Lord protects us from the evil that rages in our world, but He also leads us into its dangerous places as we submit to Christ’s will and travel the roads that He takes us along. There are times in our lives when our Lord removes the hand of protection from us and from the world where we live so that we will turn from reliance upon its enchantments and return to a loving and fully committed relationship with Him. As we enter into an existence of worship with prayer, contemplation, and God’s Word forming the lyrics of our own life-hymns, we are transported by His Spirit out of the shadows of fear and doubt that attempt to engulf our hearts and minds and we are lifted up into a fuller appreciation of God’s eternal being.

 

The magnificent presence of the Lord is also warm and accessible. He enfolds His people in an embrace that stays engaged until the need is soothed and the heart is comforted. God is both mighty and intimate at the same time. He is the creator of all that exists, and He is the one who knows the smallest details of each of our lives. In Christ, He rejoined our journey along the roads of this world, and through Christ we are taken out of sin’s death and placed into the eternity of God’s Kingdom of love, grace, mercy, and peace. People go through life searching for a place to call home where their needs can be met; yet, Christ provides the answer to that desire. He brings us to a new dwelling place in the now and forevermore Kingdom of God where each of His people have purpose within Christ’s plan and enjoy the unending love that He pours out on us.

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2: 22

 

We are under construction. The yellow safety tape is out, and the warning signs are up. The public needs to be aware that hard hats might be required in our vicinity and that some dust and debris are likely to issue forth from our lives. Although it is seldom quite this dramatic, living as a follower of Christ does have its chaotic and disturbing moments. This happens as Christ works in us and on us to reshape and to transform the sinful and self-directed people that we were born to be into the true disciples of the Living God that He desires as His followers. Then, as we gather into the collection of people who are undergoing this same process that we know as the church, the level of noise and the quantity of dust increases greatly.

 

Yet, this is who we are. We are messy and difficult. We don’t follow directions very well. The way that we navigate through life can be random and full of detours that don’t make sense. What makes even less sense is the fact that God seems to have actually designed it all to be like this. He granted us the ability to choose and to decide. We can surrender to Christ or choose not to do this. Our lives are filled with opportunities to select one course of action or another; still, God is with us. For those who reject Him, Christ continues to pursue; for each of our damaging and destruction thoughts and actions, God has given us His word, Christ’s Spirit, and the body of believers to inform, to redirect, and to transform us.

 

All of these transformative agents are vital for each follower of Christ. However, it is the last one, at times the most challenging and the messiest of them, that is essential for each of us to live in the full understanding and experience of God’s grace, mercy, and love. God designed people to be relational beings. We are meant to gather as a family, and in Christ, our true family is the fellowship of believers that is called the body of Christ. His church is made up of a gathering of people who are each undergoing reconstruction projects. The church, itself, is a living organism on which Christ is at work to shape and to mold it into that place on earth from which God’s righteousness; His truth, light, and love; can be poured out into the world. It is in this fellowship, the body of Christ, the church, that we are made strong and guided into service to our Lord.

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?

Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.

Psalm 15: 1, 2

 

It may not always seem so apparent, but we all get to make daily choices about where we go, how we get there, and the way that we act while we are on this journey. Although we may need to head out of our homes and go to the same workplace, same school, and the routine stops that populate our lives, it is our own, individual choices that truly define the quality and the nature of the living that we transact during the day. We not only are allowed to make these choices, but we need to make them. It is these choices that create the environment that will direct the way that our mind handles everything that we encounter.

 

The Lord makes His word and its infinite truth available to us. He even speaks it directly to our hearts by His Spirit; yet, we are the ones who can decide to listen, and we determine the ways of our actions. Now, I’ll admit that there are days when I really don’t want to make the choice that includes seeking God’s perspective and wrapping myself in a warm and protective blanket of truth and love. There are days when I find some sort of perverse pleasure in being sad, lonely, and distant. These are days when I want the false freedom of being able to act badly toward others or to hold onto a diminished concept of my own value and worth. Yet, these moments and days are ones where I am choosing to operate in a reality that is created out of the deception that Satan continually attempts to use in order to distract me from God’s will and to disable me from my calling as Christ’s living witness. These are times of choosing to live in a cardboard hut made of lies and wrapped in failure that sits at the side of evil’s garbage dump. These are days when I could be living in the splendor of Christ’s richly furnished and palatial tent that is anchored at the top of His holy mountain.

 

This is my daily choice, and it is yours, as well. In making this decision to put on God’s truth, we are establishing the way that we want to travel through the day. This decision creates the attitudes that our mind will use to frame our responses to everything that transpires. Now is the moment to seek God’s righteousness and His truth so that the rest of this day can be viewed from the perspective of the same window that God uses to view His world.