If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

 

There are elements of my being that are very hard to change. They just continue to come to the surface whenever the situation or the circumstances are right, and I am not talking about good things like courage or resolve, either. These are the parts of me that cause me to seek to go it on my own, to hurt others rather than take the pain myself, or to operate out of fear and doubt rather than from complete trust in God. Fortunately, the Spirit of Christ continues to point out all of this to me, and He faithfully takes on the fight that is needed to effect the changes in me that will get me beyond my weakness.

 

Jesus died a very public death so that everyone who desires to become completely alive would have the opportunity to do so. He gave His blood to free us from a state of eternal servitude to sin. That eternity of oppressive bondage begins at birth and never ends unless we accept the gracious gift of salvation that comes through Christ. Even after we have accepted this transformative gift, the change process is not close to completion; for, there are elements of our temperament and personality that have been infected with sin’s unhealthy way of thinking and acting, and the process of cleansing, healing, and retraining takes wisdom, recognition, understanding, and time.

 

It is important for me to continually seek the wisdom that the Holy Spirit brings so that I can recognize these undesirable traits in myself. Sometimes He speaks to me through God’s written word, at other times He uses the voices and the heartfelt concerns of people, and there are situations where the voice of understanding that leads to my desire for change comes from inside me. God wants me to take these ways of thinking and the behaviors that result from them and surrender control over them to Him. He wants me to publicly put them to death by talking with Him about what I am seeking to change in my life and by sharing this area of needed transformation with someone who will walk with me through the process. Finally, I need to realize and to accept the fact that as I surrender control and seek Christ’s work in me, then I am truly alive.

 

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In God, whose word I praise,

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56: 4

 

Last night was a busy one in our neighborhood. As the month of October came to an end, the streets and our front door were filled with laughter, running feet, and mostly very young voices calling out, “Trick or Treat!” It is a night that we enjoy and look forward to with more positive anticipation than apprehension. The costumes that are worn by our youngest neighbors vary greatly in theme and in complexity. They range from happy themes such as princesses and cowboys to scary ones along the lines of zombies and vampires. Yet, even the most terrifying of costume themes do not bring about any real fear, for we all know that behind it all are the hearts of a small children. So, we look at what under other circumstances would be frightening and fear inducing and we laugh and smile at the joy that surrounds the night’s activity. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther confronted a different form of fear and did something truly decisive about its control over people.

 

Although we commemorate Luther’s powerful moment of open defiance when on October 31, 1517 he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, this was just a public demonstration of his bigger battle against power and control of people by others. It was a very large step into the freedom of the truth that is at the center of God’s Word, and it was a bold act of fearless obedience to the leading of the Lord. Luther found that David’s expression of faith and trust in the Lord as stated in the 56th Psalm spoke to him in a personal way. His thoughts and the actions that he was led to take took him out of safety and into direct confrontation with people and with systems in his world that were mighty and that were capable of doing him great harm. No doubt, there were people who counseled him to remain quiet, to submit to authority, and to stay safe. Yet, that was not what he did.

 

Instead, Luther followed the one voice that he knew he could trust with all and beyond all others, for he listened to the words of truth that flowed out of God’s Word and that were reinforced to him by the Spirit of Christ within. Like David before him, when there were enemies to be found all around him and there were no safe places to go, he trusted in the powerful protection, comfort, and strengthening that Christ grants to His people. From this place of security, Luther stepped out in faith and led the way for us all to step into the light of God’s truth that flows out of His word and that defeats all of this world’s attempts to dominate and to control the lives of people. If we follow Christ, we will each face the opposition of this world and there will be enemies to encounter and to engage with. We are called by the Lord to be active and to be bold in our proclamation of His Gospel of truth, love, and redemption. I pray that I have the courage and the faith to follow along the path of my kinsmen David and Luther by lifting that hammer and placing my trust in Christ openly before the entire world to see.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4: 13

 

This is an extraordinary claim to make. It is not for the faint of heart or the weak minded. It says that I am ready to take on this world and all that it might send my way and that nothing that I encounter can stop me. Actually, Paul is saying that this world and all of its powers and forces are, indeed, impotent when confronted by Christ. For as I serve Him, I too enter into this remarkable capability, capacity, and power that my Lord brings to bear on all that confront Him. As I surrender my will and subordinate my desires to Christ’s, I am granted the sort of vision that sees beyond the walls that my limited understandings place around me and that loves the lost of the world with a form of soul-deep affection that comes only from the heart of the Creator.

 

This is true in all areas of life. Christ gives us the strength to engage with the trials that come our way. He allows us to face into the darkness of our world and to see beyond its shadow to the glory of God that is ours in and through Christ’s presence in us. The Lord points us toward the eternal truth of His victory over this world as He guides our thoughts into dwelling on the love, grace, and mercy that He pours out on His people. Life will still bring its challenges and even its almost unendurable trials; yet, Christ provides the resources that we need to go forward through those days. He also grants His perspective on it all to us so that we can see beyond the pain, grief, and fear that come about naturally in the moment and we can look hopefully into the future wherein all is made whole and where peace and joy prevail.

 

Christ also empowers us to engage with this fallen and troubled world in ways that are both confrontational and gracious. We are given the Lord’s wisdom and discernment to apply to all that comes our way. This doesn’t mean that each of us will get it right all of the time or that my understanding will be perfect, but it does mean that as I seek out Christ and the truth of God’s Word, He will reveal righteousness and right thinking engagement to me. In this process of revelation and involvement in my world, Christ also calls upon us to enter into deepening relationship with His body of faith both in our close to home or local setting and on a larger scale. The Lord grants strength to each of His people, and He leads us to stand stronger still as His body in the face of all that is broken and fallen in the culture that surrounds us. In Christ, we can truly take on anything with the assurance of our faith to provide us with confidence and with the knowledge of our Lord’s victory to cover all situations and circumstance with eternal hope.

 

Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2: 7

 

By this point in his time of service to God, Paul had every right to expect that people would listen to what he had to say. He knew that he had been called and commissioned by God to speak and to write about the relationship that the Lord wanted to have with all people. Also, Paul was aware of the special training and the extraordinary knowledge that Christ had entrusted in him, and he had committed his life to bringing that knowledge to others. Still, Paul knew that his words were never going to be enough, and he was fully aware that the deepest thinking, the clearest writing, and the most persuasive speaking were not going to work on their own or even together to win souls out of darkness.

 

The totality of what people do is nothing more than futility if God is not behind it. In fact, when people use their minds and seek to develop a new truth about God that is not founded in complete, humble submission to the Lord’s will and surrounded by worship of Him, they tend to start deviating from the truth. They create false religions that only serve the purposes of evil. However, the thoughts and the words of people who are seeking after God’s truth are good and worthy. Even then, they gain their deepest meaning and their true application through the special revelation that the Spirit of Christ gives to His people. The Lord validates and He vitalizes the words that He has inspired in others.

 

So, Paul calls upon us to consider the words that he wrote. I think that he wanted us to do more than just read them. Paul knew that on their own even his most profound thoughts were nothing more than shadows of the truths that God wants us to enjoy. The Lord wants us to take His word into our minds through our eyes and our ears; then, He wants us to grant His Word the opportunity to stay there, for most of us need to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to give the Spirit time to make the deep truths a part of our essential being. We also need to take the Word with us into the day so that it can shape the way that we respond to everything that comes our way. Then, we will have a greater ability to see others as Christ sees them, and they will be granted the blessing of the living presence of the author of that Word in their day.

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

Joshua 8: 36

 

This event might not look the same in our times as there is little probability that any large gathering of people, much less that any nation of people would gather together in this manner. Here the sum total of the people of Israel had come together across one great valley and its adjoining mountain sides in order to worship God in celebration of the Lord’s redemptive work in their military victory over the city of Ai. The centerpiece of this celebration was the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, and the priests were the ones who were leading the nation in both substance and in the form of this great victory party. Yet, as they transition from focusing on the tactics and the methods of war and return to the task at hand of settling the land, the people are reminded of the true power that was behind their success and of the basis for all that defines their national and individual character.

 

They are a people who have been given their identity by God, and they have gained their understanding of morality and of justice through God’s Law, His Holy Word. There is nothing that stands before this recitation of God’s will in the law of the land or in the ordering of their society. This was a special time and place in the history of the world, and it has really never been duplicated since. Even under Joshua’s strong and Godly leadership, the people were very quick to depart from the Lord’s way and to set out upon their own course of thought and action. Today the best that we can hope for is an off-handed reference to God or a quote from His Word, but our nations seldom express any real interest in following the Lord or in even hearing and utilizing His truth as counsel or as direction to be followed. It is as if God were now an irrelevant part of ancient history and His Word is granted the status of troublesome and obscure literary fiction.

 

None of these modern attitudes can possibly be pleasing to God. He is not amused by our self-reliance and negation of His wisdom and direction. Although a modern day turning to God on the parts of people, our leaders, and nations might not look exactly like that assembly in a natural amphitheater at Shechem. Yet, the location is not really the point. The idea is that the entire collection of people were giving praise and honor to God as their one true King, and as they did this they engaged in group recitation of God’s Word in its entirety. They left out nothing; so, they made no editorial or cultural changes to the message of that word. In sharing it in this highly public manner, they were also affirming its priority as their singular point of guidance for their moral, cultural, and spiritual lives. Thus, they were affirming that the Lord was the singular and final authority over all aspects of life and over its conduct into the future.

It seems to me that this might not be such a bad idea in our world. There is an aimlessness to the way that our nations and our leaders are going that might find focus and valid purpose in God’s Word. The degree to which the people of this earth have become self-reliant and absorbed in actions and enterprises that we think will benefit ourselves primarily and that often work against the well-being of others must be troubling to the God of justice and peace. God’s design for this world works, and our redirection of it has not. Although I am not so naïve as to think that the leaders of nations or the people of those countries would actually do what the people of Israel did on that day, I do wonder what effect such a turning to God would have on us all. So, how might our world be different if each of us began to do the sort of things that Joshua led them into as they centered their day upon worship of God, devoted themselves to reading and to sharing His Word, and gathered openly in a universal fellowship of faith? What might that world look like?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9: 36

 

Jesus knew the people; He was very aware of what they were like and how they were living. This was true because He spent significant amounts of time in their company. He didn’t stand back or remain aloof and separate from the crowds. Jesus wanted to get up close to the full spectrum of humanity, and He was willing, even desirous, to connect personally with the dirty and unwashed, the angry or demented, the poor and oppressed, and the well off and powerful. They were all to be counted among the lost and wandering sheep of this earth when it came to these encounters with the Savior. Each and every one of them was in need of the truth of the Gospel and the love of God.

 

So, Jesus traveled along their paths of wandering as He went where people in need were located. Christ did what God had done from the beginning of His relationship with us in that He came after us. Jesus did not sit back, station Himself in a suitable place to conduct His business, and wait for the people to come to Him. He went out into the world, took the risks that this act involves, and He reached out His hand of mercy, love, and truth to everyone that He encountered along the way. Jesus knew that He held the answer to the challenges that all people face in this life. He was fully aware that direction and purpose and the empowerment to enter into them are all provided to us by God and through His Word. He brought that Word of Life to the doorsteps of the world in His flesh. He carried God’s salvation to the paths of destruction that people had taken in our shepherd less states of being.

 

Jesus conducted Himself in this compassionate manner, and He desires or us to do the same sort of thing. Christ has left each of His followers with His Word of truth to cherish and to utilize in understanding and engaging with life. However, that same word is a living and a dynamic document as well as a Spirit-engaged testimonial to God’s grace, mercy, love, and redemption. We are, in fact, to be the workers in the fields of harvest that the Lord speaks about. Christ sends us out from our homes, our churches, and our comfort into a world where directionless existence is the normal state of affairs. He guides us and counsels us in this journey of faith, and Christ, Himself, does the actual work of convincing and convicting people of their need for Him. We are to be people who act in faith as we are yielded to Christ’s compassion for others. As we journey into our world, we will encounter these lost sheep to love and to share the truth of life with, and the compassion that we show to them will reflect that of our Lord onto the landscape around us.