The saying is trustworthy, for if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

There are things that are really hard to give up. Some fall under that heading that we call “guilty pleasures”. These include such things as certain television programs, candy and ice cream, and buttered pop corn. Actions like smoking and driving too fast can actually cause harm. Other tenacious aspects of who we seem to be are more sinister. These might involve an addiction to pornography, habitual lying, out of control anger, and other forms of attitude and behavior that are rooted in sinful reliance on our selves as opposed to engaging in radical trust in and dependence upon Christ. All people are born into this world separated from God and His truth and darkened in our understanding of actual righteous living. These sinful aspects of our lives that continue on after we come to know Christ are the remnants of our birthright.

An even more challenging sort of change involves the attitudes that we hold toward our world and the people in it. Christ came into this world to bring an alienated humanity back into intimate relationship with our Creator, God. This salvation and reconciliation are for everyone. There are no exclusions, no exceptions, and there is absolutely no greater and lesser order to this acceptance of people by God. Most of us struggle with this idea. Even if we can readily say that we think that Christ came, suffered, died, and was raised for all, we simply don’t actually believe that this is true. There are always some people, either individuals or groups, who we do not like or trust. It is human nature to consider those who are different and who believe differently as being suspect. We tend to find that it is much easier to extend grace and reach out in loving embrace to people who we do not fear and who look, speak, and think essentially like us. Yet, Christ did all of these things for all of the people He encountered. God’s love, mercy, grace, and redemption are offered to each and every person on this earth.

Whatever it is that each of us is dealing with by way of unrighteous thought and action, big things and small, the foundation for change is ours to pursue. First off, we need to desire that change. Truth is God’s catalyst for change. His Word contains the narrative account of the way that our Lord desires for us to think and to live. Emersion in it is the starting place and the ongoing road to discovery of who God is and who He calls us to be. Time in God’s Word is best accompanied with prayer and meditation. These are times of speaking our hearts to God and of listening to His voice. Study of the word and prayer are inseparable, and these are times when the Holy Spirit speaks God’s deep truths into our hearts and minds. Additionally, God desires for us to live in community. Although real transformative work in us is done by God through His Spirit, He often uses the agency of His body, the church and its people, to support, counsel, and bring accountability to that journey. God has called us to join Christ in death, that is, the death of our birth-life of wastefulness and sin, and then the Lord takes us into the new life of freedom that comes in following our Savior through every step of the day.   

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5: 18 

There is an order to the way that the entire world functions. The rules and the controlling principles were embedded into its genetic coding by God in order to prevent chaos from ruling. What matters most for people is where we align our hearts and our minds in order to receive the direction and guidance that we all need to successfully make it through this complex life that we live. Although we are all born with hearts that are broken and controlled by sin, God grants us the gift of a choice that will completely change all of that. Christ brings all who choose Him into restoration and into righteousness. 

Once we have decided to leave behind the controlling influence of evil and turn our hearts toward God, we still need to take one more very important step. God designed a rule of law into Creation, and it will get us through the day with minimal missteps and wrong turns; however, the law demands perfection from us, and we are very imperfect beings. Errors, mistakes, and wrong choices are inevitable when we choose to orient our moral compass toward the law. Under the rule of the law, we will spend our days trying unsuccessfully to pay off the constantly growing fines that we receive for our various sins. Unfortunately, we will never possess enough emotional or spiritual currency to pay these debts.  

Christ offers us another choice, for He paid that debt in full for us, and He sent His Spirit to live in, among, and with us. We can choose to seek out a deep, personal, and powerful relationship with the Spirit of God that will profoundly change the way that we view life. When we seek to stay filled with the Spirit, our view of life and the vantage point from which we view it are changed. We gain a Heavenly perspective on life that allows us to live boldly, confidently, and in a form of freedom that does not exist outside of this intimate relationship with God. As I know Christ, so, I am filled with Christ’s Spirit, and there is lightness and buoyancy to my life that is without compare. 

Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us,

   and establish the work of our hands upon us,

   yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90: 17

This is a song that is credited to Moses and that seems to reflect aspects of the story of the Egyptian exodus, for its background is one of trials and hard times. Still, it is a song about hope, filled with the prospect of the Lord’s provision, and one in which God’s people look to Him as their source of wisdom and truth. When these people seek God’s favor, they are trusting that He has good things in mind for them; so, they also desire to have the Lord guide them into the types and the forms of the work that they will do in service to God. It is through this relationship with God that they are defined as a group of people and as individuals within that greater whole. Then, the work that the Lord guides them into doing and equips them to accomplish provides the means to apply their sense of self to redemptive and restorative acts in the world around them.

When they were held captive in Egypt, they did what their masters demanded, and they lived in a manner that was controlled by the oppressive force that was exerted by others. After they turned to God and were set free by His hand, the Israelites were given a form of freedom that should have granted to them the opportunity to establish a nation that worshiped the one true God openly and continuously and that was a beacon of light and a source of redemptive hope to all other people in the world. This was not to be so, for sin is tenacious, and the people would not release their past comforts and fears sufficiently to trust God fully in all matters. Yet, when they did reach the point of breaking under the burden of attempting to live with one foot set upon God’s will and the other planted in the sandy soil of self-determination, they were able to seek the Lord’s guidance and provision in all matters. So, the words of this song are sung with sincerity and in real expectation of God’s answer.

This ancient story is really not so much about Moses and the people that he led out of captivity twenty five or so centuries ago. For it does not seem to me that our world is all that different from theirs. We can be people who know God and that speak Christ and even sing songs of praise to His name on a regular basis; yet, there is something holding us back from living out the freedom that the Lord has granted to us by the cross and through the cleansing of His precious blood. It is as if we are fearful of letting go of that captive past in its entirety; thus, we cling to the prospect of returning to aspects of life as it was before we knew Christ or that are governed by the rules of life that have been developed out of worldly thinking and a self-centered form of relating to others. In these times, we can repent of our stubborn clinging to the past while singing Moses’ song as we seek that the Lord’s favor, that is, His grace, love, mercy, justice, and righteousness, would pour out over us and that His nature and character would inform and guide all that we are and do. Then the works of our hands, the thoughts of our minds, and the orientation of our hearts can be set along that same God-ordained path of bringing redemption, peace, and salvation to the troubled people and places in our world today.  

By wisdom a house is built,

and by understanding it is established;

by knowledge the rooms are filled

with all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 24: 3, 4

 

God is very orderly in the manner that He approaches almost every aspect of creation, and He desires for us to operate in a like manner, too. So, our approach to gaining the sorts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that we need to live successfully in our world is also quite orderly. There is a process to it all that comes to us straight from the mouth of the author of all that is worthwhile and valuable in the universe. All love, peace, justice, and righteousness come into existence out of the will of God, for He is the source of it all just as He is also the one who distributes it into the world that He devised. Without God’s authorship, nothing good and worthy exists, and under His authority, all that is beneficial in the character and the nature of people has been granted to us.

 

Thus, when it comes to constructing a world wherein justice and right doing are the foundation of our system of governance and management, the only true and valid source for developing a straight and true dwelling place is the Word of God. The singular authority for reading and interpreting those plans is their author, God Himself, as this task is usually undertaken by the Holy Spirit. So, as builders who desire to construct a lasting product that is beneficial to all in our world, we need to continually consult with the Lord as we also yield our own ideas about and approaches to the project at hand to His far superior direction. There are simply no short cuts to this process. Each of us is called by God to be builders who work to repair the broken and misaligned structures in our world and to build up sound and lasting ones in the place of those that are beyond redemption and repair.

 

As we continue to labor under the direction of God, He leads us into the process of finishing the work that He has called us to engage in. Constructing the foundation, walls, roof, and even the beautiful finishes is a great labor of love and worship to our Lord, but filling it all with the presence of His Spirit and with an outpouring of His nature and character is what finishes it all with the touch of the true Master Craftsman. This is accomplished as we take time to enter into a relationship with the Lord by engaging with His Word, in regular and routine prayer and meditation, by sharing the meaning of relationship with God with others, and in the fellowship of faith with others. The dwelling place of the Lord is adorned with the beautiful lives of people who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ from the death to sin that was the destiny of our birth, and each of us who know Christ are tasked by Him with inviting others to come into the hospitality of God’s house and with sharing the truth of our salvation with all of our guests.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

Proverbs 14: 29

 

Anger is often a fast twitch sort of response. Everything can be calm one moment and then with the suddenness and the force of a storm that is driven by a micro burst of wind, all is fury and hot-blooded response or reaction that is poured out upon whoever is close at hand. Sometimes these outbursts are over in a few minutes and some last for hours and days. It is there suddenness, unpredictability, and nearly violent nature that make them so hard on both the recipient and the perpetrator. Anger of this sort is never good, useful, or beneficial. It is always destructive as it does leave damaged relationships and broken trust behind in its wake. Even when the people involved state that all is good between them, there is a cost to be paid for these encounters.

 

When Solomon preserved this particular proverb, I would guess that he was recording something that he had experienced in his own life. He also knew that the second line was especially true, for the most profound result of an outburst of anger such as this is that in these situations the ungodly human attribute of folly or foolishness is placed on a form of pedestal as if it were worthy of praise and adoration. For some people this sort of explosive anger becomes a form of expression that is used as a tool to gain power over others and so to dominate them. This is almost as far away from a Christ-like approach to engagement in relationships as people can go; so, this form of expressed anger takes people deeply into that part of our world where evil lurks and godless rebellion rules. This is dangerous territory to visit, and frequent travel there can lead to relational and even to literal death.

 

That is why understanding is so important in the process of overcoming explosive anger. It is important to know the impact of this sort of behavior, and acknowledging this reality also matters greatly. To borrow another proverbial expression, people are not rudderless ships. We do not need to respond to every impulse or emotional force that hits us or that comes upon us. We can make choices in this area of life so that we learn to control the feelings that fill us and that allow us to take charge of their expression. In general, this sort of control is achieved by slowing down the thoughts that start to race through the mind when we are involved in discussions with people who may hold a different point of view or perspective from ours. We need to listen and not react. We also gain control through caring about other people in a manner that reflects the way that Christ sees them. Thus, the understanding that helps to suppress and to manage anger is understanding of God and of His will and way. This is not always easy to achieve and this sort of control usually requires us to enter into repentance, a determined desire to change, and the accountability of others. It is a challenging road to take, but it leads us closer to the promise of glory that is ours in Christ.

 

 

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

1 Peter 3: 18

 

One, and only one, was born without sin, was surrounded by all of the temptations that each of us faces, lived without giving in to any of Satan’s enticements, and died an undeserved death so that people like me could live. This is the great universal irony of faith in God, for everyone who has lived except for Jesus has earned a death sentence of separation from the only true and unwavering source of love in the universe. That is, we all act in ways that are unrighteous, unloving, and hurtful to God, the Father; so, we are not worthy of being in His presence. Thus, the Father sent Jesus!

 

You see, God was never willing to settle for the simple answer of just getting rid of the people that He had created, and He certainly wasn’t going to allow sin to continue to rule this world. There was always a redemptive plan, and God continually works toward restoration. Jesus is the answer to the plan of redemption, accepting Him as Lord of one’s life changes our status from object of that plan to participant in it, and living in the close and intimate relationship with God that can follow after acceptance of Christ leads us into the process of personal restoration to the glory that the Father intended for each of us. Additionally, Jesus is the only answer to God’s desire for the ultimate restoration of this world to its created glory.

 

Jesus, who was always alive in spirit, became a man as a gift from the Father to all of us so that we could know that same spiritual life; then, the Father allowed people to put the Christ to death so that He could claim God’s victory over the decay and the destruction with which sin had filled us. Thus, in Jesus, we too have God’s gift of a spirit that is eternally alive. This life is a splendid present that is given to everyone, everywhere. For those who have never accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, it needs to be opened and the victory inside claimed. For those of us who have accepted the gift, we can explore the contents more fully, seek to truly know Christ, and lay all of the sinful thinking and actions that are still clinging to our flesh before God so that He can put them to death. Christ is the path to victory over death, and He is the One who restores us to the fullness of life.

 

Do not get drunk on wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.

Ephesians 5: 18, 19

 

A few years ago there was a popular film titled 500 Days of Summer in which the lead character, Tom, is walking down the street at a time when he is in a very up mood. Suddenly, as the song “You Make My Dreams” crescendos to full volume, everyone around him starts to dance and the whole world seems to be participating in a choreographed parade of joy that proclaims Tom’s own state of being to the world. This is a memorable big moment in the narrative of the film, and it is, fortunately, not the way that real life is experienced. It is hard for me to imagine Paul dropping everything in the middle of some city market place or square and launching into an elaborate song and dance routine. He might have enjoyed the spectacle, but I don’t think that is what he had in mind here.

 

What Paul does seem to be saying is that in Christ we have something that is lasting, unchanging, and unstoppable that does fill us with a sort of joy and peace that goes beyond any that we might experience or know from all other sources. Christ’s Spirit takes us beyond the temporary and out of the perishable nature of this world. He fills us with love in an enduring way that no human relationship can ever achieve. Yet, the love that God gives to us and the wisdom that He brings to our understanding of what it means to truly love others are the most important ingredients that people require in order to live successfully in our earthly relationships. For God does not want us to focus solely on Him and forego or ignore engaging with people in our world; rather, He wants us to take the changed hearts that His presence in us creates and carry Christ’s love into all of our interaction with others.

 

For people who know Christ, His Spirit is present in us. As we surrender and submit to Jesus as our Savior and Lord we enter into relationship with God in total. This means that His Spirit enters us at this time. Yet, many Christians continue to live in reliance upon the situational and the momentary in our lives as our source of what we perceive to be joy, peace, and love. However, when we surrender to Christ and allow His Spirit to provide us with understanding of others, our perspective is changed. He takes us out of ourselves and our easily wounded, fragile egos, and Christ opens our eyes to see people in the full light of His love, mercy, and grace. As we engage with life from this perspective with the Spirit filling and guiding us, it is possible to walk through our days with a song on our lips and the world around us seeming to move in harmony with our steps.

Forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6: 12

 

Forgiveness in its totality, its width, breadth and scope, is not a very comfortable subject. Most of us don’t really want to admit that we have been wrong, and when we do know that about ourselves, we still pull back from actually seeking to admit the wrong-doing and attempting to do something positive about the harm that we have caused. If I look at my life with any sort of clarity and honesty, there are many things that I say, do, and don’t say or do that are cause for hurt or pain for others. Yet, there is not all that much that I recognize as harmful and then enter into the process of restoration with that person. This also works in reverse, for seeking out a person who has wronged me and with gentle and loving concern attempting to work through the hurt is risky and uncomfortable.

 

In our discomfort and relational fearfulness we leave behind us a debris field of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and relationships that are tarnished and scarred as if they have been assaulted by a sandblasting machine. Jesus is speaking to this sort of interpersonal damage when He leads us into praying about forgiveness. At this point we also encounter the underlying basis for all of the tension and the strife that we create in our lives. We have done the same things to God. We are rebellious and defiant, we seek after our own way without regard for what is right, and we manipulate and control others for advantage; and we attempt to do all of this with and to God as well as to other people. We humans are just not all that pleasant to be near at times.

 

Regardless of the way that we behave and the things that we do, God continually holds out a hand of mercy and has a heart filled with loving grace. He comes to us and even follows us when we wander to the far reaches of the earth. God also sees deeply into our hearts; so, He is ready and prepared to engage with us in all matters and with every issue of relational breakage that we might need to repair. The Lord wants us to take responsibility for what we think, say, and do in our relationship with Him and with other people. He is present with us and will walk into and through all of this hard journey of self-discovery, repentance, and rebuilding of trust and respect. Christ pours out God’s grace on us, and He leads us into doing the same with others. As we know Christ and follow Him, our lives are marked by forgiveness granted before it is requested, accepted in full faith and trust of its genuineness, and sought out whenever there is a hint of hurt or harm done.

I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.

John 16: 1

 

This world does not provide a very friendly or secure place for people to live. This is a reality that almost everyone faces. There is no protective shield or magic potion that covers us up and that keeps the evil that runs throughout the atmosphere from touching us in places that matter. Yet, in direct opposition to the forces of this world that are intent on causing hurt and harm stands Christ. He came into this world to provide the certainty and the soul-deep security that people need and desire. He, alone, stands between all that is evil and our lives. The presence of Christ in this world brings about the singular opportunity that people have to enter into a relationship with God that is permanent and absolute.

 

Yet, even for those of us who do know Christ, the forces of this world work diligently to bring about confusion and doubt. Admittedly, it is not easy to understand everything that goes on in our world or in our lives. Loss and pain are difficult to comprehend, and moral absolutes can feel very harsh or unloving. Yet, life is fond in God’s Word, and peace is enjoyed by trusting in Christ and through resting in those moral absolutes. Life is sacred, all lives are significant to God, and there are no circumstances that override these facts. People matter more than institutions, and lovingly caring for the needs of others is an important aspect of living out the Gospel of Christ. In the end, what we do and why we do it is what is important. Christ enables people to set aside fear and self-protection and enter into loving others and our world for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

 

These thoughts may seem rather disconnected, but they are a part of the way that Christ seems to be saying that He is leading me deeper into Himself. So, in that light, He is also protecting my heart and my mind from falling into the traps that this world tries to set for Christ’s followers. If I care about life, I must care for the living. If I am invested in people, I must love them regardless of where they are from, what god they worship, or differences in their language and customs. Christ holds His people close to Him. He embraces us with a holy and righteous love that leads people into service to His will. As we follow the will of Christ, we are strengthened in our capacity to resist the evil that surrounds us, and as we so resist, we grow closer to our Lord.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Romans 3: 21, 22

 

God’s character stands above everything else in creation. In fact, it is this character that sets the standard for what constitutes rightness and righteousness in everything. The character of God is itself an expression of His nature; so, when God, Himself, is considered, absolute righteousness is what is on view. No other standard, rule, or law that has come in any sense from the hands of humans can match that exact image of the Lord, for all others are nothing more than copies or amateurish sketches that were crafted by ill-informed and shaky hands.

 

Now God’s Word, as God’s Spirit has directed it onto the page, does give us our best written facsimile. Still, it is expressed in our imperfect human language, and it requires that people engage with it out of our relationship with the Living God in order to gain our best understand of its content and direction for our lives. Also, when it comes to viewing God’s character in earthly terms, the lives of people who have been transformed by Christ in them is the world’s living depiction of God and expression of His kingdom in its glory among us on earth. God desires that all people would know Him and be in relationship with Him; so, the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live as us and among us, and Christ sent His Spirit to continue that earthly dwelling with all of us who enter into a relationship with God.

 

In Christ all that is God, His nature and character, have been made fully known to all people. I do not pretend to know exactly how this happens or the ways in which God brings His story of redemption and salvation into the minds and the hearts of every person on earth; I just accept His word when it says that He does. What I do know is that everything that is good, righteous, and holy in my experience of life has come out of and from God, Himself. I do understand that Christ produces my own goodness as He resides within me and as I am submitted to His perfect will, and I pledge my mind and my heart to seeking to know Christ more fully and to actively responding to His calling to live righteously that this knowledge and understanding produces.