Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pegs.

Isaiah 54: 2

This may be a time of serious trouble, concern, or personal crisis. There is certainly much going on in our world to cause considerable anxiety, and I know that my life is influenced mightily by the tension that is in the air all around me. So, this would seem like a good time to focus on protection, self-preservation, and on holding onto what I already have. As is often the case with my perspective and the Lord’s, He sees things differently.

God tells me to keep looking outwardly, for He sees the opportunity in the hard times. The Lord wants me to open up the curtains of my heart and let others inside so that they can get a closer look at the miracle that is found in living life in a relationship with Christ, and He tells me to keep claiming more of the territory around me for His glory. In other words, God fears no one and nothing, there are no circumstances that are greater than His will, and He will not place me in a situation that is beyond His capabilities. The only limits that exist in my life are the ones that I create.

My role today is to be a builder, a seeker, and a giver of Christ’s love. I need to look at the ways that I am closing up the curtains of my heart in an attempt to protect myself and let God’s Spirit open me to His possibilities. Thus I can step out of my established boundaries and touch others with God’s grace and mercy, and as I take these seemingly risky actions, I am granted the opportunity to continually strengthen my foundation through prayer, reading of God’s Word, and connection to my family of faith.  

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Doubt is a personal reality that I, in honesty, have to admit to possessing. My doubt is not generally of the large scale and global sort, for I don’t have times when I lack a belief in the existence of God or question whether Jesus is real, true, and fulfills the role of Savior. These are not my doubts. Mine are ordered in the class of trust and reliance. When times get hard or the road that I am facing gets to be harsh and rough, I can turn from that easy daily faith in the provision, protection, and truth of God’s Word and instead I start to listen to my own voice of desperation and fear. This voice leads straight into my personal form of doubt, and this is never a good place for me to go, for it tends to freeze me into either inaction or it brings about self-driven poor choices.

I recognize that my own journey in this area may look very similar to that of some people, and it will be completely different from that of others. Just as God made each of us to be individually gifted with the blessings of His Spirit, He also formed us to be distinct and individualistic in most others aspects of life and of living it out. Yet, I also think that most followers of Christ do have times when we enter into a form of doubt. These periods of time or episodic events are often brought about in times when there is stress, trouble, and challenge present in our lives. These are those times of trial that James is speaking about, and these are the parts of life when hanging in there with God’s truth as revealed in His Word and through the interaction of his Spirit with me leads to a deeper and a stronger faith and trust in my relationship with Christ.

God’s desire and will is that each of His people would continue to grow and to develop in our capacity to live fully in the expression of His grace, love, and redemptive purposes. This sort of living takes courage to carry out in a world that tends to be antagonistic toward God’s absolute form of righteousness. This world fights back against people who bring Godly love, acceptance, justice, and peacemaking to bear upon all of the relationships and situations that we encounter. Therefore, it takes both courage and faith in Christ to continue along a pathway that leads straight into the angry rejection of many of the people and institutions of this world. This conflict in conjunction with physical, emotional, and financial stresses and struggles make up the wide array of trials that we can encounter during our days of following Christ; yet, as we trust the Lord to sustain us and to care for us fully in these times, we grow in our faith and move ever closer to that promise of perfection that is defined and completed in us by Christ. 

I (Paul) am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

Colossians 2: 5

We have participated in a neighborhood wide garage sale in the past, and there is almost nothing else that you can do that reinforces just how unstable the value of most of our possessions is that putting them on sale in this manner. We put out for sale a few pieces of furniture that we paid some very serious prices for quite a number of years ago; yet, the concept of deflation of value was clearly driven home when no one was willing to pay even our meager ten dollar asking price for any of them. Actually, if someone had shown any interest, I would have been willing to offer them a three for ten deal, but, alas, there were no takers.

Paul is pointing toward something that made his heart glad, for he could see that the people in Colossae had grasped the idea that there were some things in this life that did hold value. They were showing the sort of discipline that it takes to invest in permanence and in eternity. They were putting their time and their energy into getting to know the Lord more deeply, and they were taking this knowledge and understanding and applying it to the way that they conducted their daily lives. The things that they were buying with their capital were the spiritual treasures that come from a relationship with Christ, and they were growing their investment by putting it to work in their community.

Christ looks at each of us with the same sort of loving pride that Paul expressed when we seek to own the only things that will never be devalued by time, become obsolete or out of style, and that are guaranteed by the highest authority possible to do nothing but appreciate in value. When we seek to know God well and to follow His will fully, we bring the sort of stability into our lives that we will never find anywhere else, and we also touch the world around us with Christ’s promise of redemption. The process of growth in this area does bring to mind one aspect that is similar to that of the garage sale, that is, it is good and worthwhile to get rid of those old aspects of life that no longer are useful or valuable so that the priceless treasures of Christ can replace them and furnish our spiritual homes for the days to come.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

Titus 2: 11 

There was this rather simple thought that seemed to be just stuck in my mind when I got up this morning; It is one of those ideas that comes out of the fog of sleep and that begins to take on shape as the brain cells slowly start to warm up to their tasks. It is this, I try too hard to make what is designed to be simple and easily understood really complicated and obscure, and I am not even slightly alone in doing this. Now, I admit that this is something that I do in a lot of areas of my life; I do have an analytical personality, you know; thus, thinking through, over, and all around something is normal. This is different; this gets in the way of something much more important. 

My waking thought for today was this; God makes relationship with Him very simple, I tend to make it truly difficult. The Lord gives me an easily understood message to share with others; I turn it into a graduate-level seminary coarse. God opens His arms to everyone without reservation or hesitation; I create a list of qualifications and set up a screening system for access to Him. God loves all with the absolute love of that elusively perfect Father; I don’t even love myself all that well; even more so, I struggle with loving others. 

Thus, what is it that God has saved me from? He has saved me from the isolation that I would naturally create as my world; He has given me Himself as a gift beyond imagining, and He continually shows me how to live in the completeness of His overwhelming love. All of the thought and the consideration about who God is and of how He works and relates is fine; He created and empowers my mind; yet, the Lord still wants me to stay focused on the simplicity of His truth and on the accessibility of His saving grace. 

There is nothing that I can speak or write; no ritual, rite, or sacrament that I can perform; and none of my actions or works of my hands do anything to bring me or anyone else closer to God if they are not done out of love for Him and if they are not filled with His love for people. The singular thought on my mind this morning is that God graciously loves me, and He wants me to share that love with others without reservation, condition, or hesitation. Christ is much more interested in the relationship, and we can let Him worry about the details later.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

The thing that I needed more than all else was God’s grace, for here I was, interested, even fascinated with God, listening to His word, and hanging out with His people; yet, until I was ready and willing to open my heart to Him and surrender control to His Spirit, I was as lost and as dead as any person who had never come near to His presence. In fact, I was more so; since, if I had continued to ignore His call, my intellectual knowledge could have become a very large barrier to entering into a true relationship with Christ. However, God’s grace continued to pursue me until I stopped running away and accepted Him.

This need for grace continues throughout my life; in fact, it seems that there are many times when the need has become even greater than before I had entered into that relationship with Christ, for now, evil tries to speak to me with a voice that tells me in detail about every way that I fail to follow God’s will, and it keeps reminding me of each instance of moral, ethical, relational, and spiritual deviation from the direction that God tells me to travel. It is the truth of the Lord that brings me back to my senses, and it is the truth about my Lord’s grace that overcomes the lies that Satan keeps speaking to my mind.

I know, based upon my life experience, that there will be times today when I will need to focus on the truth of the totality of Jesus’ saving work and on what that means for me right now. The glorious aspect of this fact is that when I do closely consider  God’s love for me and then get on with living as someone who knows from the heart that this love and acceptance is total and absolute, my spirit is lifted out of the depths of worry and concern that fear tries to push it into, and I am set free to live as God intends for me to live. It is the grace of Christ that carries the weight of life that this world and I keep attempting to hang around my spirit. So, this same grace is where I find freedom and living in that freedom is how I experience peace in my soul. 

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 12

This is a simple and direct statement. There are two states of being, and one of those is fully and eternally alive, and the other is not. It is up to each of us to decide on which side of this equation we land when our days on this earth end. Essentially, this all revolves around who and what we believe to be true, and the outcome hinges upon willingness to take a singular action that is based upon that belief. God presents the evidence for His perspective in many ways. It comes to us in the form of the testimony of people who have believed in God and who have accepted Christ as the Son of God and as our own Savior and Lord of our lives. God also speaks to us through His word, the Bible, and He reaches out to all of the world through the wordless witness of creation. God is not silent about His presence, and He is never reticent to bring forth His presentation of Jesus the Christ as His Son and the path to redemption for all people.

Yet, God still allows us the right to choose. He does not want to compel us into a relationship with Him, for any relationship that is founded and formed up out of compulsion is not truly a relationship. God desires for each of us to willingly submit ourselves to His will so that we can live out our lives in committed service to His gospel of love. This is a form of service that provides the servant with meaning and with purpose in life that is far greater and more significant that anything else that we may have considered before we knew Christ. By submitting our lives to Christ, we are entering into dwelling outside of the temporary and futile nature of this world as we then begin to live in the fullest sense of what the bigger than life construct of eternal life describes. Living as a follower of Christ means that all aspects of life are framed in and formed up out of material that can be drawn from beyond that which is found in this world.

These resources are infinite in their abundance, and they are readily available to God’s people. Although we do not leave this world, we can operate in a manner that is supported and empowered by Christ so that His great love for all people can overcome our fears and our reluctance to engage with some people. In fact, Christ compels us to become ever more involved with our world as we grow closer to Him. The more we know of our Lord and the better that we understand Him, the more His heart of love, care, and compassion for the people of this world will shape our own hearts to be like His. This is one of the most significant ways that followers of Christ should be distinct from the rest of the world, for we should demonstrate God’s heart of redemptive care and relentless pursuit of the lost in all of our words and actions. So, this is what being alive in Christ truly means. The life that Christ grants to us is one in which we love others in the faith without reservation, and we love all people with a zeal for the Gospel of Christ that is fueled by the desire to see all people from every corner of our world given the opportunity to choose this same form of life for themselves. 

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5: 14

 

This world is a solid food sort of place. The challenges that come our way place demands on the endurance of our bodies and our spirits in such harsh and taxing ways that it is hard to keep going on anything less nourishing. Yet, many people of faith in Christ, and at various times, almost all of us regress into a form of spiritual infancy in which we seek after easy truth and conveniently distorted understanding of scripture’s principles. These are times when the dense logic of God’s wisdom is deemed to be too hard to grapple with, and the reality of what is righteous and just is found to be nonconforming to the way that we want things to be in our universe. During these periods in the lives of followers of Christ, the Spirit’s role in our lives is redefined as one of being a bringer of warm feelings and peaceful images instead of being the one who guides us into discerning truth and the deep wisdom of eternity.

 

Consuming this solid food of faith is hard work. We need to practice at it on a regular basis. The rigor that it demands doesn’t leave much room for just coasting along or for times of vacation from spiritual disciplines. The ability to appreciate and to enjoy this sort of nourishment is formed through reading God’s Word on a regular and even on a continual basis. It is sharpened through discussion of the Word’s content with other followers of Christ, and all of this is brought into deep understanding and sharper focus in prayer and meditation and by the revealing work of the Holy Spirit. A life lived in the strength of a solid food diet is a life lived out in the discipline of a practiced spiritual existence. It is life in which practice is on-going and wherein the exercise of faith is unceasing.

 

All of this discipline and the effort that is attached to it does have its rewards. There is a richly satisfying quality to the Lord’s solid food that is not found in anything else. This diet gives to us the gift of understanding of God’s truth, and its adherents are led into the joy of following God’s will in their lives. Additionally, the ability to discern good from evil is a gift that is beyond value. There are many hard choices to be made in the process of living from day to day in our world, and God’s truth is the only source of real and lasting wisdom to use in making the sorts of choices that all of us are required to make. The Lord also grants us a form of confidence in the way that we choose to live our lives that can come only from the source of all truth. Seeking after the solid food of faith is not an easy thing to do, but its consumption brings with it rewards that are valuable beyond all else. Additionally, this solid food leads us ever deeper into a relationship with Christ and into the glory of His presence in our lives.