Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

Advertisements

Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.

1 Timothy 6: 6

When considering the state of my personal fortune, it seems important for me to check the right ledger for my true account balances. During my life, I have put a lot of energy into growing my income, building up my worth, and caring greatly about the things that I own. Unfortunately, most of this has had little lasting positive effect, and there have been a number of negative ones. Earning a living, even earning a good living is fine in God’s eyes. After all, He designed us with a drive to do so, and He is the provider of all of the aspects of our ability to work, our drive to succeed, and the need for gainful employment. It’s my attitude toward all of this that matters.

From the Lord’s perspective, the ledgers and the accounts that matter are covered with attitudes, spiritual growth, and healing. As Christ invested totally in people and in their relationships with God, so we are called to do the same. Gain in our world is an interestingly elusive thing. One day we can be substantially ahead of where we were; then, suddenly, it can all disappear. When our investments are in people, a really similar thing can happen, for some people just stop responding or they turn to follow a different voice. So, this is why contentment is vital in this form of investment. The contentment that God wants us to enjoy doesn’t come from what we accomplish or from how good we are at the task; rather, it comes from the growth in our personal relationships with God that comes through these efforts.

There is great gain to be had from following Christ, and some of it may even be financial. However, God promises us that we will receive a form of riches and wealth that is beyond the levels of our most aggressive investment plans if we do truly follow Him. The Lord asks us to trust Him with all that we have. That is all of our time, money, assets, ego, fears and concerns, inhibitions, lack of training, fear of rejection, and anything else that stops us from investing in making Christ more real in our world. When we commit and enter in fully to God’s investment plan, the Lord of the Universe promises that He will bring us gain beyond our ability to dream, and a form of contentment for our souls that defies all human logic and reason.

Get up! Consecrate the people and say, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.””

Joshua 7: 13

 

The story has taken a very difficult turn. Defeat has come to the Israelite warriors, and this was not just a loss in battle. This was a turn and run, flee for your life after being overwhelmed sort of loss. Soldiers had been killed, and the victorious Amorites were beating their chests and taunting God’s people with all manner of derogatory words. To say the least, this was a very bad day, and there was nothing about tomorrow that looked any brighter. It seemed that maybe the long years of hard journey that had followed upon generations of hard life were just going to continue on without let up from this generation through to the future ones. Joshua was discouraged, and the people that he was leading were down hearted and defeated as well. This was that moment when God seemed far off and they felt quite alone in their struggles with life.

 

Yet, that was not true. God was more near than any of them realized. They were so caught up in the pain of defeat and in their fear for what sort of disaster was to come upon them soon that they forgot to stay worshipful and focused upon God’s faithful promise keeping history with them. The reason that God’s favor had left them was that they had turned from trusting Him. They had gone off on their own and done things as they pleased without the Lord’s guidance. They had also deviated from God’s word of truth and life so that their sinfulness had become a barrier between them and their Lord. This combination of entering into thoughts and behaviors that run contrary to God’s righteousness, this sinfulness, and turning away from a relationship in which we trust God fully is a common process in human endeavor.

 

We reject God’s truth because we would rather do things our own way. Then we take action upon our own desires and wishes so that our lives turn away from God’s path of righteous engagement with our world. Finally, we stop trusting God and placing our faith in Him as that form of closeness has become uncomfortable and our troubled hearts can’t handle that level of intimacy with God. However, God does not go far from us. He may allow the situations and the circumstances of life to become big and powerful. He may, as He did with the Israelites, allow us to experience defeat and very real loss. Yet, the Lord is there with us. He will step in to pick us up and set us back on His course through this world. God will point to our sinfulness, He will work within us to bring about repentance and restoration, and His Spirit will continue to guide us back into the joy of life that comes when we are fully devoted to the Lord and our lives are lived in close relationship with Him.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 8

 

This may not be what everyone has in mind when they consider a relationship with God. The degree of watchfulness on the Lord’s part that is indicated here is just too close and way too personal for our tastes as there are times when the idea that God sees it all is not very comfortable. In other words, we want to be invisible from time to time, and a God who has His hands on all of my life isn’t going to just ignore what I am about during those days of desired secrecy. Yet, there is a tension implied in all of this, too, for there are many situations and events when I really do want God in His power and with His strength to be watching over my life and guarding my pathway from harm.

 

In truth we cannot have it both ways. We do not get to select which aspects of life are under God’s view and within His area of involvement; rather, He is all in with our existence, and the Lord is fully engaged in the total package that forms the comings and the goings of life. There is no place where He does not go, and we cannot enter into activities or even have thoughts that He is not aware of. So, for me, I have needed to come to grips with the fact that God sees and will engage with everything that I do, say, and think. This part of my reality has caused me to consider the nature and the character of God more closely, for it brings out the question of my comfort with His proximity to my innermost self.

 

When I do carefully consider who God is and contemplate His nature deeply, the eyes of my heart are opened up to the fact that there is simply no one else who I would want to be that close to me. The Lord loves me with an unceasing depth of commitment that is not possible to match elsewhere, and He cares about the nature and the quality of my life to the degree that He has already sacrificed His all in order to redeem me from the pain of death that I so fully deserved. This God, who watches over each of my steps and who places His mighty hand of protection over my head every moment of my days, provides me with guidance and with the wisdom of eternity to use in considering the next steps that I will take. As I yield myself to His will, my Lord takes me into the glory of His will, and with God as my guardian and my counselor, my days are lived out in a form of freedom and peace that is empowering and joyous beyond all imagining.

You are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 14: 2

 

When we are younger most of us encountered times when sides or teams were being chosen. We always want to be taken early, and we fear being left until the end as that suggests rejection of us or at least of the skills that we bring to the game at hand. Life is filled with situations like this. They tend to create either anxiety or apathy. We get stressed out or we hide out, or we do both. Yet, the game that is most important and that is the only one with lasting value is the singular situation where we don’t need to be concerned.

 

When it comes to being selected to be in a relationship with God, He has already picked His team. This was done before everything else was formed in the Creator’s hands. God selected a very small group of people who were the direct descendants of the ones that He had formed in those hands to be His image-bearers. The Lord committed to never leave the relationship that He had promised. His marriage vows to humanity cannot be severed. There is no irreconcilable difference in His court of righteousness. Jesus is the direct descendant of this chosen and elect group of people. Every one of us who knows Jesus and surrenders our life to Him is adopted into God’s family.

 

We are God’s beautiful and treasured ones. He has reached out of eternity to bring us there so that we can be His companions in this world and in the next. Christ speaks clearly, and He speaks our names. He says that every person who draws breath is the one that He wants to be at His side. He does not reject anyone, and there is no place where His voice of invitation is not heard. Christ’s calling comes with responsibilities attached. We are not to be passive spectators of the game. God’s people are active worshipers of our Lord. We are taken out of a life of death and transformed into a life of service where every thought and action should bring praise and glory to God. In Christ, we are no longer left on the sidelines but instead we are God’s beautiful and carefully chosen treasure.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3: 16

 

Godly living is not easy, and it is also not for the faint of heart. Operating in a manner that reflects God in our world and that also brings people into His presence with a desire to know that Holy One requires people to do things in ways that are unnatural and that are equally outside of the norms of our experience and the practice of our culture. Simply stated, love, grace, mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness are not the general standards for successful living that we encounter on a regular basis. Yet, they are in short supply in the marketplace of our world, and they are needed and desired by most of us. These qualities are a part of the nature of God, and they were made tangible and given human form in Jesus. In Jesus, God stepped into humanity’s lostness and need, and He provided the singular answer to it all while also paying the enormous price that the redemption of Creation demanded.

 

Christ is the image of what godliness means. He provided for us the model to follow, but that is not where this all stops, for a model would be insufficient by itself. God’s Law provided a form of that, and it was never enough to bring people into the reality of living out this thing that we are calling godliness on any sort of lasting and consistent basis. Unfortunately, an image of God is still not much more than an idol if it remains on the outside of our beings and can be set aside or manipulated as we desire. Even the best of images does not penetrate the heart to the place where real relationships are formed, and God operates in our world at the deep level of relationship. This is where His truth becomes the guiding force in our lives. That is why godliness is revealed in relationships and it is explained through engagement in people’s lives.

 

God broke through the barriers that humanity had set up between our Creator and us. He did so in the person of Jesus and perfected it by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Now all of Creation is speaking out in testimony to the One Risen Lord who brings God’s salvation and redemption to all of that same Creation. In so doing, He brings this new life to each of us who believe in Him, and He enters into our lives and works to transform us into people who live in relationship with our Creator. It is in this relationship and through the work of the Spirit within us that we are changed into people who can live in this rare and highly valued manner that is described as godliness. This manner of engagement with our world requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ on a daily, hourly, and continual basis. All of life is His. There are no holdbacks or reserves to maintain as we serve the Risen Lord. It is through this submitted service that the mystery of godliness is made visible in our world so that others may be drawn to seek its source in a relationship with Christ.

 

 

 

 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6: 19, 20

 

Why is there any distance between God and people? Did one of us get tired or bored with the relationship and decide to leave, or was there some sort of mutual blame for the breaking up of the relationship? If we choose to believe what the Bible says on this subject, it is clear that all of the blame for what is amiss in humanity’s connection to Creator comes about as a result of people’s willful desire to hold the upper hand and to plot our path through life exactly as we want to go and with our own sense of pleasure and security as our primary guide. We walked away and sought out the divorce, but God answered our foolish desire for absolute independence with His promise of unending love, total grace, and willingness to pay any price to grant us a way back into the relationship.

 

For a time God provided for the order in our world through the granting of His law and vested the maintenance of it with a chosen group of people who were to both follow that law and teach its principles to the rest of the world. God knew that this approach was nothing more than temporary and also that it was invested with the futility of human endeavor. We would not be able to resist the urge to take control of the law, and the chosen servants of the Lord could not restrain themselves from seeking after personal gain and power. So, from the beginning, God had a better way for the relationship between Himself and humanity to be restored.

 

Jesus is that answer, and His sacrifice is the way that the brokenness of this world is made whole and that we can enter into the holy presence of God without fear or regret. That veil of separation that was literally present in the temple in Jerusalem and that existed in the reality of all people’s lives was permanently torn and rendered useless by the sacrifice of self that Jesus entered into on the cross. We no longer require that people go before us to prepare the way to God’s presence. Christ has done that and now He serves as the only priest that is necessary for anyone to stand before God and to enter into the fullness of relationship with our Creator.