Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2: 15

Almost everyone uses tools as a part of the what we do during the course of a day. For some, there is a specialized set that are designed to equip their operator with what is required by the task at hand. These implements may be a mechanic’s wrenches and gauges or they might be the scalpels, forceps, and suture needles of a surgeon. Most of us also use words and the language that is formed up out of them in various ways as we go about doing the tasks that we have been called upon to perform by God and by society. This is the area of concern that Paul is discussing with Timothy and with us. The Apostle cares about the way that we express and describe our faith in Christ, and as we go about the ever-present task of speaking about Christ, Paul makes it clear that God’s Word is something that is to be taken seriously and that it is to be handled with care and with respect.

God did many remarkable things in the process of inspiring and empowering the creation of His Word. It is a unique document in all of the history of this world, for it spans an enormous range of time, has multitudes of authors, was written in several languages, and represents a full range of humanity’s experience of living on earth as people that are called upon by God to dwell here as His chosen care takers and workers in the various and variable fields that have been provided to us to cultivate over the course of those centuries of history. Truth is contained in those pages, and the truth that is present there is one that leads people out of death and into life. This real and ever-applicable divine truth speaks to all occasions and to all situations that have ever presented themselves to people and to our societies. God’s truth informs us of His love, justice, grace, mercy, and holiness in a manner that we can seek to live out these holy characteristics in our lives.

So, do not be mistaken in this, if a person is a follower of Christ, then that person is also called by God to be a worker for the sake of the glory of Christ’s name and in the various fields of God’s kingdom here and now on earth. In order to do this work most effectively, we need to be equipped with the tools of our trade in Christ, and these are the spoken words of the gospel of Christ and the lived out language of love, service, and care for others that is Christ’s model. Paul is charging us with the responsibility to be careful and wise workers, ones that stay true to God’s Word and that follow the leading of the Spirit rather than the new revelations that people are continually attempting to set forth as revised and better understanding of God’s will. God’s Word is not fragile, it will not be broken by even the roughest of workers, and it will endure until the end of days when Christ, Himself, is again upon this earth in the flesh. So, we who are called to labor for the gospel in the name of Christ, can be confident in taking up that word of truth and in allowing it to guide all that we think, do, and say.        

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12: 2 

We live on the inside of a large, ever present mold, and there are pressures being exerted upon everyone to manipulate and to form us into a replica of that shaping form. Some of its contours are easy to accept and others are hard and sharp-edged. The pressure that is placed upon us that is intended to cause us to fit into the configuration that the owner of the mold desires can be mild but it does get ramped up to the point of being extreme at times. The presence of these shaping forces is something that never leaves us in this life; however, we do get to make some choices in these matters. We can accept certain influences as we can also reject others. So, we can seek out the master of the mold that we would like to have influencing the life that we will live, and we can choose to submit to the type of master that we believe will take us in the right and true direction.

This choice of masters is something that God has given to us. He desires for us to choose Him and to seek after His influence and instruction in all matters, but God wants for each of us to do these things freely and without compulsion. He risks granting us the freedom to make these decisions on our own, but He does not leave us without advice or counsel to assist us in determining what is right, just, good, and holy in our world. The Lord does allow us to decide for ourselves to select or to reject those Godly influences. This is a type of consideration that we are faced with at a high level as we consider whether to accept Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives, and we continue to encounter these decision points throughout every day that we are alive when we need to choose to live in a manner that is fully submitted to Christ and to God’s Word or to travel along a different path in some aspects of life. Every one of these decisions has an influence upon the form, the substance, and the shape of the life that I will live from this day forward.

Yet, even wrong turns and surrender to the pressures that the world places upon a person is not without its value and its worth in the process of living a life that is Godly, righteous, and valuable within God’s kingdom on earth. The Lord is redemptive in His character and nature. He seeks to retrieve our lost moments, hours, days, and years by granting to each of us a grace that is infinite in its mercy and unceasing in its capacity to love us. God follows us wherever we may go, He calls us into the presence of His word of life, and He speaks renewal and new life into any and all of our dark and hurting places. As we submit to Christ and seek out His will, He applies the sort of pressure that we require to remake each of us into people who take on a shape and a form that is beautiful in God’s eyes and that lives in a manner that brings the grace, hope, and love of Christ into the lives of others. With or without Christ we are being formed and shaped every day, but in Christ, the form that we acquire is one that is radiant with His glory and that is made beautiful by the love that He pours into us and that we can then grant to the world where we live.   

I appeal to you therefor, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12: 1

When I consider the ideas of worship and sacrifice, the first thoughts that come to mind tend to be about various forms of Old Testament practices and are generally framed in the context of the temple in Jerusalem. So, they are a part of the rich history of faith that God has laid out for us in His word, but they are significantly disconnected from my world and from this day, and are generally outside of the realm of the experience of the church that I know. So, it is with a sort of eye-opening jolt, like cold-water thrown into my face, that I realize how wrong I am about the contemporary reality of what God actually desires from me and for His church.

In that ancient temple setting, there were no live sacrifices, unless you think in terms of the grain as still being alive before it was burned; yet, even it had been severed from its roots. In fact, the manner and the procedure by which the animals were put to death was an important aspect of the sacrificial system. Yet today, God wants the sacrifices to be alive; in fact, He wants them to be living so that the process of life is on-going and onward developing in light of the act of sacrifice, itself. This is an act of mercy and of grace on the part of the Lord. For He finds that His people, in Christ, are wholly and fully clean, pure and thus acceptable in His sight. If this were not so, then we would not be sacrifices that are suitable to be offered up to God. However, Christ makes us such people, and His declaration of our worthiness allows for us to go directly and personally before God as we offer up the service of our lives to Him.

This is the true heart of worship as we can know it today. Although the expression of our gathered worship can be beautiful and powerful in its sweet lyric and compelling exhortation of the word, any of these practices and all of this ceremony are secondary to the central point and purpose of that worship. God desires for us to each give up our lives in full to Him. He also wants His church as a corporate or a gathered entity to do the same thing. The Lord does not delight in ritual or in inwardly focused experiences; rather, His heart is set on seeing His people and His church drink deeply from the Word of Life and take the vitality that flows out of that source with us into the world where we live so that the truth of the Gospel of Christ would be proclaimed in words and in lived out faith in every corner of the universe. In Christ, there is no price that is too great to pay for the sake of the souls of others, and with Christ, each and every sacrifice that we make is an act of profoundly sweet worship given to God. 

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8: 10

At certain times it is natural to feel contradictory emotions. This is one of those times for the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests were going among them and reading God’s Word of the Law to them, they were struggling greatly. They had much to be thankful for in that the wall that surrounded Jerusalem had been rebuilt and their city was being restored to its former greatness. They had returned to their homeland from exile, and the throngs were gathered in order to celebrate all that God had done for them and to give thanks to the Lord. As God’s Word was read, they heard the story of how God had been faithful to His people throughout all of history. They were given the details of the Lord’s call to holiness and to righteous living, and they were also struck by the stark contrast between God’s faithfulness to them and their sinful departure from His way of truth and life.

It was surely painful for them to face into the reality of how they had acted in response to all that God had done for them. The very ground that they were standing upon was something that God had provided for them. The great work of rebuilding that had just been finished was necessary because they had not remained true to God’s way of living and had allowed the ruin of rebellion against God to overtake their world. The Word of Truth must have been convicting to them, and their hearts were overcome with the need for repentance. Yet, they were being called out into a joyous celebration, for this was a time for a festival of thanksgiving and singing of songs of praise to the Lord. So, Nehemiah calls upon the people to enter into the party. They were to do things that indicated that their hearts were at peace and that their minds were filled with expressions of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done and hope for where they were headed as a nation and in each of their lives. They felt sorrow, regret, and a need for repentance, and the Lord accepted all of that and called them into a heart-deep attitude of resting upon His grace and understanding that the Lord finds great joy in the return of His people to Him.

Very similar things are true for us today as well. We neglect our walls of truth and holiness. We leave God’s righteous way in order to seek out our own path through life, and the results of all of this can be just as troubling and even similarly disastrous as departing from the Lord’s will and way was for the Israelites. Christ calls upon us to return to Him, and He leads us into doing His work of restoration and rebuilding in our own lives. With grace and mercy He takes us back into the center of God’s will for the life that He has gifted to each of us. And just as it did for the people gathered in Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra, God’s Word presents us with the full scope of His unceasing faithfulness to His promises to us and depicts our need for repentance for each of us in such a stark and powerful manner that it is hard to be anything other than sorrowful in the light of this revealed truth. Yet, Christ tells us to enter into the celebration and to be joyful in the presence of the Lord. These times of returning and of rebuilding bring joy to God’s heart, and His joy is cause for us to join with the Lord and to accept His gift of redemption that comes complete with His provision of the strength that we will need to move forward with the work to which Christ is calling us to engage.      

O God, from my youth you have taught me,

   and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

Psalm 71: 17

Unfortunately, it is often true that after many years of sitting under the teaching of someone, the student loses respect for that teacher. This change in perspective is usually the result of our own human weakness. No matter how faithful to a cause, true to a philosophy, or committed to the pursuit of truth and reason, we all tend to drift away from dead center and each of us can find ourselves weakening into compromise or self-protective lies and deceptions. This is the way of the world, and all of us, teachers and mentors included, live in this same tragically broken environment. So, the longer we know someone and the more time spent in following that person’s guidance and instruction, the more likely it is that we will become acutely aware of their flaws, failings, and faults.

This was not a true condition for the writer of this Psalm. This person had a life-long relationship with God in which the author had taken instruction from the Lord, and even after decades of following that teaching, God was still amazing His audience and was continuing to provide the sort of guidance and wisdom that was life-giving and transformative in its content and its nature. This same observation is one that I can make, and it is also one that many others have set forth. There is no other teaching available to us in this world that compares to that which is provided by the Lord. His wisdom and truth come to us from God’s Word and it is provided to us in the form of spoken and written words that come out of the hearts and minds of people who have been gifted and guided by the Holy Spirit to provide the world with illumination and explanation of God’s Word. The Lord also speaks through direct communication with us and in the wise words that come from people within the body of faith.

There is no end or limit to the wisdom and truth that the Lord has available to us as we seek to navigate through life. He provides wide reaching and broadly applicable ethical and moral guidance for use in virtually every situation that we might encounter. The Lord also enters into the issues and concerns that come along with a remarkable capacity for understanding the intricacies of each of our lives. As we journey through life, we can look to many sources of knowledge, seek to sit under the teaching and instruction of numerous wise and gifted teachers, and engage with various other sources of insight and understanding, but in and through it all, there will be one final, true, and enduring teacher; that is, the Lord, God Himself, provides all wisdom, truth, and enduring council. We will sit under the teaching of people, but even then, we should check the ideas, direction, and guidance that they provide against the eternal truth that is contained in God’s Word and that is explained to each of Christ’s followers by the ever-present Spirit.   

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10: 31

This is one of the most inclusive statements in all of Scripture. Yet, it has a very narrow focus at its conclusion. Paul had lived out of a very ridged and fully articulated form of rules and regulations regarding what he could eat, how it was to be handled and prepared, and who he could take meals with. Now, in Christ, he had a form of freedom that he would have never experienced before. Still, he was a man who understood the importance of self-control, and he also understood that this self-discipline was a product of Paul’s submission to Christ and to following God’s will in everything. Thus, he comes to the broad and highly inclusive aspect of the statement in his letter to the church in Corinth when he tells them to “do all” to the glory of God.

This all is very big word, for it does not leave much out of its boundaries. There is no space for personal beliefs or for secret passions. This idea of living out each and every moment of life for the glory of God is not one that Paul invented, either. It is as old as is the existence of humanity, for fully engaged, all-in worship of the Lord a part of the way that we were created to exist. Thus, when we hold back parts of our lives or determine to live out aspects of it outside of God’s will and righteousness, we are actually setting a course for ourselves that is at odds with our deepest nature. People are most at peace in our souls when we are living in obedience to God’s Word and in harmony with His will. So, in order to do this with the totality of our beings, there is no area of life that we do not surrender to Christ and live out in the full instruction of the Word and the on-going council of the Spirit.

At the end of his thoughts, Paul takes us to the truly narrow and singular focus of what it means to “do all” in this context. God’s glory is made visible by the manner that His people live out our lives. When we pour out the presence of Christ into the world around us, we are reflecting that glory. This is seen in the form of sacrificial love that reaches out to others and seeks to uplift and care for them even when that means giving up something of importance to ourselves. It is also demonstrated when we are more concerned with justice and with mercy than we are with safety or gain. Christ’s presence is brought into the public square when we hold up righteousness as the standard for behavior and as the foundation for all forms of policy and practice in our society. There are many other situations and instances wherein we can choose to bring glory to God or to deny Him through our thoughts, words, and actions. Paul tells us to choose to do it all for God’s glory.     

He also told them a parable, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

Luke 6: 39

Although Jesus is talking about the very common human problem of judging others while remaining oblivious to one’s own sinful thoughts and actions, He is also speaking about a part of the way that God would have us change that way of life. You see, even Jesus needed to be under the influence and the guidance of a teacher. In His case, when He was living as a human on earth, He turned to the Father on many occasions for wisdom, guidance, strength, and encouragement. Jesus was Himself a man of prayer, and the numerous prayers that Scripture records are certainly nothing more than examples of the many others that were spoken or thought during the course of everyday life. In turn, Jesus taught His followers on any and all topics that related to living and to conducting those lives in a manner that was righteous, just, and that brought glory to God. In so teaching His followers, Jesus, in turn, instructed them by example and in words in how to teach others along the same lines as He did.

This process of sharing the truths contained in God’s Word with others has continued throughout time and is still present today. Additionally, Jesus’ pattern of going to God in prayer as a part of being instructed and informed about God’s will and the intricacies of His way of living remains critically important still. On our own, all of us are blind, and we also tend to function like the beggars in Jesus’ day did in that we are dependent upon others for all that we need to survive the day, and we are unable to access the bounty of wisdom and truth that God provides to us to feast upon during our journey through this world. Without instruction and guidance, we are left standing on a street corner crying out for bread when God’s grace has placed a banquet’s worth of provision a short distance from where we are standing in helpless distress. Additionally, if we are not trusting Christ to provide the proper words of instruction and guidance for us to share with others, we are not entering into the fullest aspects of growing more mature in our faith by reaching out to engage in the lives of others.

In order to stop living in the darkness of being blind, we need to be aware of our foolishness, lack of wisdom, and need for guidance and then repent of the sinful attitudes and self-oriented ideas that have caused this condition to continue. Christ will grant us grace and mercy for all that we have done that is contrary to God’s will, and His Spirit will work in our heart and minds to reshape and transform each of us into a person who can see clearly and who is also equipped to guide others into the light of the Lord’s truth. Sadly, the world where we live has more dark corners than it does places where the light of God’s glory prevails; yet, it does not need to remain like this. When people who know Christ choose to actively seek His wisdom as guidance for all that we think, say, and do, we bring God’s clarity into those obscured places, and as we turn toward others and offer them Christ’s grace and love while also leading them to the eternal wisdom of God’s Word, we help to amplify the brightness of that heavenly radiance in our corner of the world.