Only take care, and keep your soul diligently lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest you depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.

Deuteronomy 4: 9

Does it seem as if everyone is in a giant hurry to get somewhere, but it is really hard to see what that destination might actually be? Thus, this world feels like a place that is filled with careless people who are continually crashing into each other without even realizing that there might be injury or damage left in the wake of their travels. Perhaps it is our accelerated pace of life that is the cause of the way that people interact so poorly with each other, or the harshness of our days just may be the result of a form of universal self-centeredness. Regardless of the source or the cause, the reality of life is that there are far too many of these collisions of the heart, mind, and body happening to people all around us. They may be people that we barely know or they might be the ones that we are closest to and most intimately involved with, but in the end, the pain is real and the harm can be catastrophic for relationships.

The same sort of thing is true when it comes to our relationship with God. We rush about and seldom, if ever, give a moment’s pause to consider the presence of God in our lives. He is there for that special hour on the prescribed day of gathering for attendance at a place we call church or some such name, and He is called upon when disaster or significant injury and illness strike. Yet, our careless hearts have generally pushed the Lord out of the schedule that we have so meticulously crafted for our days so that our time will be highly productive. So, I am led to wonder about that productivity and to look at the carelessness of my days in light of the way that God desires to be the One who sets the direction and establishes the tone for each and every hour of all of our days. If I do not have time to see the needs of others and to hear the pain in their hearts, am I really listening to Moses’ words of wisdom and keeping my soul diligently focused upon my Lord?

Moses make a point of reminding himself and the people that he was leading of the consistently powerful way that God had been with them and had provided for them in all situations, circumstances, and places. This same testimony is true in my life, for God has been present and active in it from its earliest days, and one of the most important aspects of the Lord’s involvement with me has been the way that He has opened my eyes to the hurt and the pain in the lives of others. I am not particularly good at responding to those promptings, but God does not allow me to ignore them for very long without bringing me back into His reality. I am reminded to take care of my relationship with Christ and to look intently upon His face as He leads me into meditation upon His Word. Christ’s Spirit takes care of my soul, and He calls me into regular, purposeful, and committed times of prayer and listening to His voice. It is during these times that the Lord reveals His heart of compassion and concern for others to me as He speaks healing and strength into my soul. 

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

   bring an offering and come before him!

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

1 Chronicles 16: 29

If I want to be honest, holiness is often viewed as inconvenient or as uncomfortable. People are turned off by others who seem to be superior in their devotion to living Godly lives and in remaining relatively free from the influences of the world’s ways of thinking and acting. We don’t really want the people who are around us to be too holy, and there is a limit to the amount of holiness that we are able to handle at any one time. As a follower of Christ, this is a sad state, and my participation in its existence is something that I need to look upon with open eyes, take to the Lord in prayer, and enter into repentance for all that He reveals to me within my attitudes, thoughts, and actions that is contrary to His will. 

This process of reflection might begin with gaining a better understanding of what holiness means. Meriam-Webster defines holiness as “being holy”, and it says then states that holy means, “Exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” When I look at these definitions, there is little wonder left as to why we are so troubled by the concept of holiness in our world and why seeking after holiness in our own lives leads us straight into conflict with other people and with institutions, organizations, and sometimes even with the church. We struggle with the idea that there exists such a thing as perfection in goodness and righteousness, for perfection suggests that everything else is somehow less than perfected, and recognition of imperfection requires us to engage with people in a manner that can be confrontational or challenging. Our world looks down upon this sort of thing when it comes to issues of ethical thought, morality, and righteousness. When we enter into these arenas of discussion, stop signs are raised, caution flags are unfurled, and hard conversations are waiting for us at every turn in the road.

Yet, God seems to attach a very different vision to what holiness means in our world. According to David’s words in this song of praise and thanksgiving, holiness is related to God’s glory being revealed on earth and in the heavens, and it is something to be celebrated with offerings of praise and worship of God’s character and nature, which have produced the holiness that is being celebrated. In fact, the atmosphere that surrounds God’s holiness is described as being enveloped in splendor. As God, Himself, is the only source of this sort of perfection, we need to turn to Him alone in order to see and to understand what thinking and living in a holy manner means for us. I know that there are many aspects of my life that do not conform to God’s definition of holy, for there are too many situations, interactions, and decisions that I engage in during each day that are not influenced and directed by God’s standard of what is loving, gracious, just, and redemptive. So, as I enter into this day, I turn to the Lord in repentance for these times of departure from His will. I seek out the Spirit’s guidance in all that comes my way today, and I purpose to bring encounters with the glory of the Lord and the splendor of His Kingdom come into each moment of my day.   

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.

Romans 14: 22

 

Although through history God has spoken directly to nations and a number of countries have considered themselves to be Christian, God has always been primarily concerned with developing individual and personal relationships. Christ calls to every person on earth to come and accept His gift of saving grace. His heart is heavily burdened for each of us; since, God wants to be in relationship with all of us. Even after we have accepted the gift of salvation and entered into that relationship with Him, God continues to care greatly about the way that we choose to function. The nature of our thoughts and of our actions directly impacts the intimacy of our time with Him, and it also greatly influences our ability to fulfill Christ’s calling to us to spread the truth of His loving grace throughout our world.

 

Thus, God wants us to develop our own understanding of His personal and specific direction for our lives, and He wants us to continually seek to know Him better and to know His Word more fully. So, the Lord wants us to listen to other people, to consider their understanding of His word, and to carefully contemplate the perspective that they bring to the complexities of living righteously. However, God also tells us to personally test everything that others tell us and the thoughts that we devise against what we see written in His Word. Additionally, we need to open up our minds and our hearts to the input and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is through this process of listening, reading, and learning combined with seeking the Spirit’s guidance that we develop our own understanding of who God is and of how He wants us to live.

 

A mature relationship with God is forged, developed, and strengthened through personal study, prayer, and meditation. These practices are brought to life as we follow them by seeking to live in the manner and to take the actions that God is revealing to each of us. When this is our manner of living, true and deep conviction is the result. This is exactly what God wants. His desire is that everyone would seek to know Him as deeply as He already knows us and that we would develop a passion for living in the center of His truth that will impact our world for the glory of the Lord’s kingdom. This form of righteous conviction leads us to live in faithful adherence to God’s expressed will, but it can also make us very uncomfortable for others who do not understand God as we do to be in close proximity with. In these situations, we continue to speak and to live out truth while also bringing Christ’s grace and love to the interactions that we have. Conviction is mighty, and conviction that is wrapped in loving grace wins souls for Christ.

 

Trust in the Lord forever, for in God, the Lord, we have an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26: 4

 

There are things that I trust almost every day. I drive my car at seventy five miles per hour while trusting that wheels will stay on, and I turn on electrical appliances believing that the protective system that has been designed into the wiring will keep the electricity in the machine and not let it run through me. I get out of bed in the morning and trust that my legs will hold me up when I stand; also, I trust that my doctor has knowledge and skill to take good care of my body. The concept of trust is laced through everything that happens in our lives; yet, most of the things and all of the people that we trust will, at least at times, fail to hold up their ends of the bargain, for that is the way things go in this world.

 

In order to find a trust that will not fail and to get to the level where trust becomes the foundation of calm and peaceful living, we need to dig down deep into the center of creation; since, that is where we reach the foundational bed rock that is the nature, character, and heart of God. Underlying all that is true and everything that is trustworthy is the Creator, and He seeks to give us the sort of confidence and the type of courage that makes the challenges and the concerns of daily living manageable.

 

It is good to gain knowledge and it is worthy to develop our skills, but it is essential to put our primary energy into getting to know God. None of us know God fully, and no one that I have ever encountered has come to the place in life where they are immune to situations, events, and circumstances that will upset the order of our days. Still, even when the footing that we have been relying upon has turned to quicksand and our most trusted friends have turned against us, the Lord is there to stop the descent into oblivion and to place His loving arms around us. The God of Creation will place your feet on the solid footing of His Word, will warm your chilled soul with His love, and will show you the way into the light of His glory.

 

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1: 13, 14

 

Secret codes, signs, sayings, and even handshakes are fairly common in our world. Clubs, organizations, fraternal orders, and the military use them as a means of determining who has the right or the authorization to do certain things or to be in a specified place. People who know the code are granted admittance, and those who don’t are excluded, or in the case of soldiers in times of war, they might be shot on sight. In Christ and in our journey through life as His followers, we too have a form of secret code or identifier that indicates the fact that we are claimed and inhabited by God, Himself. This is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. This third yet equal person of God was given to His followers by Jesus the Christ as the close by and intimately indwelling presence of God who travels through life with us and who provides direct connection to the totality of God’s nature and character for each of us who know Christ.

 

We might think that the Spirit is an invisible expression of God and an unseen indicator of Christ’s presence within His people, and this is, in part, true. However, there is a form of visibility that goes far beyond what the eyes perceive as tangible flesh, and this is the realm wherein the Spirit dwells and by which He can be known and perceived by the entire world. The Spirit guides and directs us into knowing God by means of opening up the deep mysteries of His Word to us. This revealing comes about as we seek out God’s way in all matters of life and in each of the choices that we need to make throughout our days. The Lord’s ethical and moral guidance applies to each thought we have, every word that we speak, and to even the simplest of actions that we take in the course of those days. As we are in Christ, we are new beings, different in every way that matters from who we were before we surrendered our lives to His sovereign rule and entered into the loving grace that frees us from sin’s stranglehold on our hearts and minds.

 

Now, that freedom is the expression of the redemption from sin that Christ purchased for us with His blood and through the cross. We are granted the absolute right to live boldly and confidently in the secure knowledge that Christ will never abandon or disinherit us from that hope of eternity that is God’s promise to all who believe in Christ. The Spirit guards our hearts and protects our souls for that day of reunion with our Savior in heaven, and the Spirit also dwells within us so that we are living, breathing, flesh and blood examples of this great promised victory over death that Christ has won for us. As we live out the fullness of our promised hope in Christ, we bring the touch of God’s desired redemptive grace and love into the world around us. We can also demonstrate this eternal love by the way that we live out God’s mercy, justice, and peace in each and every interaction and aspect of our lives. For the way that we treat others and the selfless manner in which we conduct our own lives is one of the most tangible signs of that mysterious relationship with God that exists within us in Christ and through His Spirit’s presence.

 

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2: 25

 

Most people don’t like to admit that this is our own description, but it is. Every single one of us, all of the people who exist on this earth, wander away from God and so from His righteousness. In fact it often looks as if there is some form of opposite polarity at work in our worlds so that the direction that people go is clearly and stridently away from that of God. The old expression that says that someone “seems to be working at” doing whatever it is that is negative or destructive applies to times in almost everyone’s life in response to Godly living. We wander off by ourselves, and we find ample company for traveling the dark path of sin. Some of these journeys involve epic proportions of waste and loss, while others are short duration afternoon strolls through a place that just seemed to be appealing on that day.

 

Jesus secured the means for our return to the place where life is found on His cross of sacrifice. Christ set out the path that we would need to follow in order to return from any and from all of our wanderings, and He also provides the door to dwelling inside of the Kingdom of the Lord that opens to everyone who will submit and turn to Christ. This journey of return to the place of security and prosperity for our souls that was the dwelling place that God designed for people to reside within in His Creation work is exclusive and it is restrictive, but it is also the only place on earth where true freedom is known. The exclusivity exists because many if not most people will not accept Christ’s gift of grace and offer of salvation, and God desires for people to surrender ourselves and the direction of our lives fully to Him in His fullness of existence. God’s Kingdom on earth and in eternity is restrictive because God limits admittance to people who desire to dwell in relationship with Him. We must want to be there and to enter into the active process of knowing God and of being known by Him.

 

Yet, God works aggressively to overcome our objections to that surrender, and He has done so from the beginning of time. It is a part of the amazing, miraculous, and mystical nature of God that He seeks after and pursues everyone on this earth with some form of His Gospel message of love, redemption, and restoration of relationship with our Creator. Left to our own purposes and devices, everyone does wander away from God. Many of us do it to varying degrees on a daily basis. Still, Christ calls us back to Him, and He takes us in despite the messiness of our appearance or the harshness of the rebuke that we may have thrown at His truth. Christ’s grace is abundant and overcomes all of our attempts at unrighteous thought and action. He accepts our repentance from our wandering ways with ready forgiveness and with full engagement in the transformation of our hearts and minds into people who more fully reflect and indicate the righteous nature that is Christ’s character. As sheep we all do wander, and as our Shepherd and Caretaker of our souls, Christ works continually to bring us home again.

 

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!

Jonah 2: 9

 

This is the final statement from Jonah’s fish-bound cry to the Lord for mercy and for saving. These are the words of his foxhole prayer or his deathbed confession of faith as the rhythmic beating of the grim angel’s wings is filling his ears with the reality of eternity. We also know that Jonah did not really do very well in following through with the commitment that he is expressing at this moment. Yet, even with his weaknesses, his conditional performance of God’s will, and the fact that God already knew who Jonah was and how he would respond to God’s calling for his life, the Lord was faithful to save our fishy friend and to continue to send him out to do God’s work in their world. Jonah has always been a very personal biblical character to me, and his words of repentance and commitment ring as true in ways that speak to my heart.

 

When I look at the life that I have and consider the many steps of that journey, I can readily see God’s hand at work in so many of them. In days of blessing and in those where trials were the theme He has been present. I have not always been willing to listen to His voice, and my heart has certainly not been consistently true. Yet, from the perspective of this place in my life, the most consistent and tangible influence, guiding force, and protective covering that I observe is what the Lord has provided. So, God does ask for me to sacrifice to Him. He continues to make these demands upon me to this day. The Lord wants me to give all that I have and all that I am to Him without reservation, holdback, or conditions. Christ gave beyond the measure of human comprehension to save me, and He desires for me to trust Him with control over the rest of my days.

 

This life of surrender and submission to Christ is the one that stays true to the calling of His cross upon me. There is pain in this journey, and there will be losses to accept that will be hard to endure, However, there is also peace to be found in the process of traveling in close proximity to Christ’s will, and real joy is encountered when my Lord works through my hands to bring others into the knowledge of His saving grace. For Jonah the Lord’s salvation was tangible and real, but the important work of saving was still to come by virtue of what Jonah did with his knowledge and experience of God’s grace, mercy, and love. I can look back over my life and appreciate the Lord’s presence and gracious work with words of thanksgiving, but my Lord desires for me to express myself by my actions and in my open declaration of His love, grace, mercy, and peace. Christ has saved me and set me free to serve Him, and my life belongs to the Lord!