And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

1 Thessalonians 2: 13

All of us are subject to various types of authority. It comes in the form of people who have power over our livelihoods or at least our success and advancement within a chosen occupation. Most of us live in communities within countries where there are laws of the land that rule over us and that direct and define what actions are acceptable and what ones will result in censure or worse. Sometimes we accept the rule of authority and at other times we struggle with it or even fight against its presence in the course of our days. Paul is immensely thankful that these people to whom he had communicated God’s Word had accepted it and its author’s authority so readily. They had not only accepted it, but they also knew and acknowledged the fact that there was a supernatural aspect to what they had received from Paul as this word from God.

Thus, the Gospel of Christ and the rest of the divine truth that was given to them has a sort of power that is far superior to any other form of wisdom, logic, or law that they may have heard or have access to. This word of truth and life comes out of eternity and into our world bringing with it the lasting wisdom of the Lord and providing guidance for all aspects of life. Now God has called people into service to Him by means of gifting them with deep comprehension of His Word and by granting to them the ability to explain both its meaning and its application to the various situations and circumstances that are encountered in living out our days. Yet, unlike any other form of instruction that we may receive, when we are taught from God’s Word we hear words that are spoken by humans, but we are listening to and assimilating concepts, ideas, and precepts that come from the mouth of God.

The source of these utterances is what matters when God’s Word is opened and taught. It is essential for people who teach from God’s Word to be humbly submitted to the Lord’s will as they are led by His Spirit into understanding its deeper meanings and its application in the lives of the specific audience at hand. As hearers of the Word of God we need to bear in mind the fact that it is something much greater than any literature that has come to us through human hands as these words are the utterances of God, Himself, that have been given to us through the hands of divinely inspired writers. Even that inspiration would have left us with nothing more than an exceptional work of history and philosophical wisdom if it were not for the connection that God makes with His people through the presence of the Spirit of Christ with and within us. The Spirit brings the written and the spoken Word of God to life, and He guides our minds and our hearts into forms of understanding that would not be otherwise possible. Thus, through the work of the Spirit within and upon us, we are continually transformed by God’s Word into people who more and more fully reflect the glory of the Lord.   

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

2 Timothy 2: 7

We live in a complex world. The issues that are out there for us to deal with are complicated, and they are frequently confusing to sort out, too. Reaching good, sound, and even Godly decisions about many of the things that we encounter can be hard to accomplish. We gather information, and we process it. We seek out opinions from experts and from friends, and still clarity can elude us. In many instances, right and wrong are just not all that clearly defined or differentiated. As followers of Christ, we can seek out God’s Word and people who teach from it in order to gain truth and clear direction. Yet, even that process can leave issues unresolved or even more confused, for interpretation of Scripture and ideas about God’s will or direction can vary rather significantly from person to person.

God knew that this would be a challenge for His people, and He did something about resolving the tension that results from these differences in the way that people tend to see the same material or view a situation. At the end of His post-resurrection time on earth, Jesus left His followers and returned to dwell fully in that aspect of the universe that we know as Heaven. At this time, Christ deliberately left the Spirit with us, and as we come into relationship with Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell within each of us, too. Thus, as we seek to understand how we are to live in our world today, we have access to God’s Word of truth and life, the inspired teaching of people that God has gifted in understanding and interpretation of that Word, and the Holy Spirit. All of these are useful and important as we seek to live out our days as righteous people, as God’s people.

Even a great and Godly teacher such as was Paul knew that he was not the final authority when it came to matters of spiritual discernment and understanding of God’s will and direction for life. He relied upon the counsel and the guidance of the Spirit, and he advised others to do the same. When we seek out God’s perspective on these various situations and issues that we face, we are using the full array of tools that the Lord has provided for us in order that we might live well throughout our journey through life. Although Paul’s statement about thinking over what he has said may sound simple and direct, there is much more contained in doing that than just a few casual thoughts. The Lord is leading us into regular reading of His Word, and prayer that is derived out of it and about its content. He calls upon us to listen to and consider teaching that is founded on that same Word; then, we are to pray about understanding and applying what we have heard. Additionally, Christ desires for each of us to live in the companionship and the support of the fellowship of faith that is found in His body while continuing to pray individually and as a gathered group in search of the Spirit’s guidance, direction, and understanding of God’s will.      

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2: 17

Durability is something that matters to most people. We consider it when we are looking to purchase items that we might want to have with us and use for a long time. We also think about it when we consider things like career choices, long-term housing selection, and relationships. We not only want each of these things to last for an extended period of time, but we also desire for that tenure to be one that is filled with enjoyment, satisfaction, and even appreciation in value and worth. Yet, the place where all of this takes place and on which it is constructed is, itself, failing and crumbling as it traverses its final epoch od existence in its current configuration. God has promised that this world will come to a terrible and even catastrophic end at a date that is certain to Him but that is left undisclosed to us. This will take place so that its great, glorious, and redeemed replacement can be launched forth by God; thus, all that is here now needs to be removed.

God has included us in His plan for what comes next. We are not necessarily included with the physical world in the need for removal and destruction. Jesus has given each person the opportunity to gain a place in an eternity that is formed out of God’s love, grace, and desire for an unending relationship with us. Eternity for us is found in and through Christ, and all that surrounds us in this world will find its own form of that same redemption by the word and the work of Christ upon His return to dwell upon it. All of this is a part of that great and rather mysterious thing that we can call God’s will. It does seem to me that God’s will is defined by certain big picture concepts. These include redemption, restoration, peacemaking, grace, and a form of love that is enduring and self-sacrificing. We engage with God’s will when we live in a manner that reflects these qualities and that is modeled after the life that Christ lived and the words of truth that God inspired to be provided to us in His Word. 

So, it does seem that this will that leads to eternity is firstly determined by the presence of Christ within an individual, and thus, it is made real and active as we submit our lives including all of our thoughts, words, and actions to Christ. I think that God intends for eternity to touch this world today primarily through the way that followers of Christ interact with all aspects of this fallen and failing world; so, it is vitally important for us to be aligned with God’s will as we go about each and every day of our lives. Thus, God’s will is a very large and dynamic thing. It is not confined to specific areas of life or to certain relationships. It applies to everything that we might imagine, touch, or speak about. Christ’s hand of redemption is applied as we seek to abide in the presence of His Spirit and set aside our personal concerns and inhibitions in order to engage more fully with entering into Christ’s loving care of and for all that is broken and dying in our world. God’s will is played out in the salvation that each of His people enjoy, and it is carried out as we bring the fullness of Christ’s redemptive gospel message into the world where we live today.   

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

   let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

   that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 5: 11

There is something really strange going on here. It is the sort of thing that I cannot remember ever having seen in film or encountered in a book, either. The. Author is facing some sort of dangerous adversary, and it would seem that the opponent is gaining the upper hand in the moment; yet, this same imperiled person starts singing. The song that is sung is not one of those nervous and tenuous sorts of tunes that are intended to demonstrate courage and a calm heart but actually show the exact opposite, either. This is a song of joy, peace, contentment, and even one that speaks out about victory in the current situation long before any rational person would have seen that victory was possible. This is the type of song that may not be expressed in audible fashion, for it is a song that starts and that resides deep within the singer’s heart.

A song like this is something that is formed out of the words that God implants within His people. These lyrics are the hope, joy, peace, and confidence that are shaped up out of the eternal certainty that comes from knowing God through and by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, this sort of knowledge of God is useful and helpful not only as assurance of life beyond this world but it is also something that can be relied upon to provide strength, wisdom, and courage to face into all of the challenges, fears, and risks that come our way during the process of living out our daily lives. The song on view here is individual and personal for each of us as we engage in walking through our days with the Lord, but it is also something that we can join together with other followers of Christ in singing. Christ invites us to join in His choir of faith that is continuously formed up by all people who know Him. The words to the songs that it sings are supplied through God’s Word and are made accessible to the chorus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. God is the author of these lyrics of joyous praise, the Spirit trains and coaches the singers in their deep meaning, and Christ is the director of this heaven-focused band.

All of this would sound great, but it would be practically useless if it were not for the reality of God’s involvement in the lives of people. We may not even realize the extent or the nature of His involvement in our days, but the Lord is with each of us in the various situations and circumstances that form up the substance and the structure of each of our days. This protection and care are usually not highly apparent, for God’s hand is operating all of the time in the background of our world as He holds together the fabric of this chaos-bound environment. Still, there are times when God and His ministering angels are the only truly rational answer to what has transpired in a moment or during the process of the day. Still, hard, harsh, and painful things happen in our world. There are instances when the hand of God seems to reach out and stop the dangerous or the harmful event in its course. There are other situations wherein God’s presence brings comfort in the wake of the injury or the illness. In it all, we are always granted the hope of our assurance in Christ that there is nothing that can come our way in this world that can truly and eternally harm our souls. In all situations and through each circumstance that life tosses at us, we can join the choir of faith in singing out in exultant praise the name of the Lord who protects and whose love has saved us from all harm.   

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3: 6

John sets a very hard standard here. For there is no question in my mind that even as a follower of Christ sin is not absent from my life, and the same hard reality is attested to by others that I know and by the witness of many as set out in God’s Word. Accepting Christ is not some form of magic wand that immediately changes this aspect of who we have been for the prior duration of our lives. In addition, He does not take control over our hearts and minds in a manner that overrides all of the impulses, desires, and conditioned responses that we have to life. Through the work of His Spirit on and within us, Christ does change His people in ways that are both subtle and profound. Yet, He does this through a process that takes place over time, and this process involves us in on-going acts of submission to His will and of surrender to God’s holy and righteous way of engaging with life.

 This would seem to put most people at odds with God, or at least with John’s view of the way that God works in the lives of His people. There were very few people who knew Jesus better than did John. He was closer than almost anyone else to Jesus while He was living on earth as a man, and John’s continued service and leadership in the fellowship of faith became legendary due to its singular length and his intense devotion to the gospel of love as known only by and through a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, when John speaks, it is wise to listen, and when he says something this powerful about the fundamental nature of what it means to be in relationship with Christ, we should take his statement seriously. John was not a person who said things for their shock value alone; rather, he was a disciple of Christ who was charged with guiding many into an ever deeper form of living out their calling to service to God.

John is not saying that true followers of Christ will live sinless lives. Instead, he is indicating that people who have in fact given themselves to Christ and entered into a relationship with Him will never be comfortable with the sin that is remaining in us as we engage with and conduct life. In Christ, sin loses its hold on us and its rule over us is ended. (John 8:31 cf.) So, as we remain close to our Lord, as we abide in Him, the contrast between living as Christ’s true follower with its characteristics of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking and the way of the world with its characteristics of a drive toward power, control, personal gain, and self-determination of right and wrong, becomes ever starker and more uncomfortable to us. John is providing us with a strong warning and a clear reminder that we are to seek out the Lord and His righteousness as the primary focus of our days. We dwell in the presence of Christ when we turn to Him through consumption of God’s Word, in meditation and prayer, and by holding God’s view of what constitutes holiness and righteousness as superior to personal comfort, our long-established habits, or to life, itself. Thus, as we remain attached to the source of wisdom, truth, and gracious love, as we abide in the vine that is Christ (John 15), the sin that seeks to control our lives is driven off, and our souls are set free to live out the Lord’s calling and purpose for us.    

Seek the LORD and his strength;

   seek his presence continually!

1 Chronicles 16: 11

There are many kinds of strength that can be viewed and experienced in our world. Some of them produce outcomes that are great and wonderful and others leave a path of brokenness and destruction in their wakes. The difference in the outcome that is derived by the use of strength can be determined by very slight changes in the method of application of that strength; yet, the effect of the utilization of strength upon people can last for generations. In general, people desire to be strong or, at least, to be viewed as such. We want to hold a position that is no less than equal to those around us so that we can be in control as much of the time as it is possible. We want to be the one who call out the cadence for the on-going dance of life. This is true for us individually, and it seems to be magnified when the concepts of strength, power, and dominion are applied to nations.

However, the strength that we tend to seek after or generate for ourselves is too often derived from the wrong sorts of sources and for reasons that do not match God’s way of righteous living. We are far more likely to go for bulging muscles or for extreme horsepower than we are prone to pursuit of the strength that is formed out of compassion, mercy, and care for others. In human or worldly terms, strength is something that can be put on and worn as a form of armor that is used to protect us from too close or intimate a level of contact with all that is messy, hard, and wounded around us. This sort of strength is often expressed in angry or hurtful words as it is filled with bluster, bravado, and speaks in a manner that casts others as unworthy opponents to be discounted and denied any form of dignity. This sort of expression of strength is the weakest possible form of it, and is far removed from the type of strength that David was calling upon God’s people to adopt.

The Lord’s strength is found in His presence. It is grown up within people as we turn away from the natural way of seeking after self-determined forms of power and submit to God’s will in all matters. The more that we place ourselves under the Lord’s authority and seek out His heart, mind, and desire as the factors that determine our course through life and our methods for getting there, the stronger we will become in the truest sense of what constitutes that quality. Godly strength is measured in dignity granted to others, resources that are shared with those in need, the will to seek peace rather than victory, and a deeply held desire to serve before exerting a demand for service. The sort of strength that makes a positive difference in our world is learned from God and is found in His Word and by the leading of His Spirit. This type of strength is best cultivated through regular prayer as it is nurtured by times of listening to God and reflection upon what He is saying. This world needs strong people to care for its needs and to guide it toward righteousness and into God’s will, and we can be the Lord’s strong ones by focusing all of our being on knowing Him and in dwelling in His presence continually.     

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 4: 23

Although Jesus speaks about a physical feature that almost all people possess, He is not talking about our physical bodies. The Lord is restating a comment that occurs several times in the words of the prophet Isaiah and that also run deep in a Jewish understanding of the way that God desires for His people to respond to Him. I think that a key element in what Jesus says two times in this section of Mark’s gospel is found in the all but universal presence of hearing in people. We were meant to hear. This is the way that God designed people, and that hearing is an important part of the manner in which we are intended by our Creator to navigate our way through this world. People can operate successfully with diminished or even absent hearing, but this takes extra effort, training, and on-going practice to do well. When it comes to hearing, Jesus is saying that God gives us all the equipment with which to hear, the ability to decipher this auditory input, and the capacity to use what we take in in order to live righteously in the manner that God desires for us to do.

The fact that we all fall short of this last aspect of what God intends for us is the result of our own rebellion against God, of our selfishness, and of our unrelenting need to go through life making our own decisions and following after our personally desired and fabricated gods. We don’t hear God’s word of truth and life because we refuse to listen to His voice. We fail to live as redeemed people in this fallen world because we shut off the receptivity that God designed into our hearts and our minds. In too many instances we become the fool, the person who should know better but who still acts as one who does not know Christ at all. This can be true in big things and it can also be the case in the small elements of life. Jesus is saying to those of us who know Him that we need to engage the full concept of the hearing that we have been given as a gift from God. That is, we need to let God’s word in, and we also need to surrender ourselves to obedience to the call to love others, seek justice, grant mercy, and hold righteousness as more precious than breath itself. In addition, people who do not know Christ are provided with an opportunity to hear Him in the expression of our lives when we follow Christ as He would have us do this.

For people who struggle with hearing, and I would guess that this includes most of us, there is hope. Jesus would not have made such a point of this if He were not also providing a way to redemption from the manner in which we have deviated from God’s will. In Christ, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who grants understanding to us and who counsels us in all aspects of following God. We are also provided with God’s Word and the wealth of truth, wisdom, and descriptions of righteous living that are contained within it. Then, the body of faith invites us into its presence and provides followers of Christ with a place to dwell where support, accountability, instruction, and opportunity to use the gifts that God has given to us are formed together into common worship of our Lord. Thus, Jesus points to the obvious presence of ears on our heads, and He instructs us to truly hear, which means that we are to seek out the face of God, to meditate deeply upon His Word, to pray regularly and routinely, to listen even more intently that we speak, and to engage in the fellowship of the body of Christ even when those associations may seem hard or troubling. As Jesus said to us, “Hear and obey and commit your life to following what it is that God is continually saying to you through the ears of your heart.” At least that is how I heard His words in my heart.