Since therefor, Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

1 Peter 4: 1, 2

 

Let’s face it, most of us do not like pain. We will do almost anything to avoid it and to get rid of it as quickly as is possible when we encounter its presence. We have developed methods for avoiding the sorts of situations that bring it upon us, and our science has created numerous compounds and devices that grant us relief from it. So, to suggest that this sort of discomfort or worse is something to consider as worthy of acceptance is just a bit off center to the way that most people process life. Yet, God deliberately brought extraordinary and overwhelming pain upon Himself in order to bring each of us back into His full and eternal presence. Jesus, the one person in all of history who did not deserve to suffer as He was in all ways without sin, took on our states of lostness so that this restoration could be truly accomplished.

 

Now, we are invited to join with Christ in suffering a small portion of the agony of His cross so that we can put to death the lingering effects of our sinful state of deviation from God’s will and enter more fully into His path of righteousness in our lives. It does seem to be necessary to willingly take on a form of pain in order for some of the aspects of our former lives to be removed from us. There are ways of thinking and forms of action that are deeply ingrained within us so that they have become a too comfortable part of our sense of being. When these vestiges of our former, pre-redemption, selves cling to us, they often do so with a fierce sort of tenacity that makes their removal somewhat like what undergoing dental work must have been like in ancient times. Yet, there is one very real and absolutely significant difference between our human experiences of painful events and this one of entering into Christ’s call to holiness.

 

Christ has gone there before us, and now He travels these hard paths of transformative life with us. When we turn these various aspects and areas of life over to Christ by placing them on His cross of sacrificial pain and death, we are giving up control over a part of ourselves and allowing the Lord to take over this same internal territory. In doing this there can be an excruciating tearing of our spiritual and emotional flesh; yet, God is faithful to provide the sort of healing that brings about a greater form of strength as He moves us closer to His calling for our lives. This way of Christ’s cross is seldom an easy road to travel, but it is the direction through the remaining days of our lives wherein we leave behind ever more of the sinful passions and rebellious disobedience to God that is behind them in order to live in the fuller experience and expression of Christ’s glorious will for our lives.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 7: 24, 25

 

Paul is agonizing over one of the greatest challenges that all followers of Christ face. This is something that impacts each of us in a deeply personal way in that we engage with this struggle of our old flesh verses the new person that we are in Christ internally and we are confronted with it in other people that we encounter. No one that I know has escaped from the challenge of this conflict. Although we are newly born into righteousness through relationship with Christ, our bodies still carry around with us the brokenness of sin, and its impact upon us does not fully cease in this life.

 

Although many things that we can do will help to minimize and to control the urges, drives, and desires of this old self, nothing that we do will fully prevail against them. Even the Law that God gave to Moses was weak and insufficient for this purpose. In fact, God knew that this would be the case; so, that law truly served as a form of beacon that led people to more fully understand our need for something more, for something that was beyond our own strength and that was out of our control. Paul had personally encountered the enormity of his own need, and God had stepped into the void of Paul’s false perfection with the filling of His Spirit.

 

This transition from service to sin and control by the flesh was gained through Christ and was made effectual by His sacrifice. Paul had encountered the miracle of redemption in a moment, but then he lived in the moment-by-moment reality of surrender to His Lord. We each personally go through a similar process and so do the other followers of Christ who we meet along the way of life. In these times of collision with our own un-Christlike thoughts and actions and with those of others in His body, we are granted the opportunity to engage in this process of change and growth. For these are times when love, grace, mercy, and a desire to be a peacemaker need to prevail. These are times when Christ alone is the answer to my own need as His Spirit pours truth and grace into my thirsty flesh.

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

 

The prophet Habakkuk is engaged in a dialogue with God in which Habakkuk is complaining bitterly to the Lord and wondering about how long he must wait until justice and fairness will become visible in God’s dealing with people and with nations. These words are those of God in response to the prophet’s lament, and the actor in line one is probably either Babylon or its king. So, there is a contrast established between the way that people who were not following God, the Babylonians, rely upon their own wisdom and strength to navigate their way through life and the way that a follower of God gains the same direction and fortitude by virtue of faith in God.

 

This theme of faith in God as foundational to living life well is as old as is the existence of humanity. Its lack is a fundamental problem behind the rebellion of the first people in the garden, and it is my problem today. In simple words, God has the capability and the capacity to accomplish anything that fits within His will and desire, and I have none of this capability and even less capacity. God possesses all wisdom and knowledge, and I am severely limited in both. The Lord cares about my outcome and calls me into the most meaningful service possible in order to bring glory to Him while granting to me a life of eternal worth.

 

Faith in God is the difference maker in my life and in the lives of all people. As we seek to know our Lord and let Him into the deepest recesses of our soul, He enlightens our heart with His love, mercy, grace, and wisdom. This is the truth that truly frees us from the oppression that our soul was held under by sin’s grasp upon our lives. As my faith grows and infuses more and more of my being, I have an ever decreasing need to hold onto my own prideful competency and skill. I am also able to come out from under the heavy shadow of doubt and fear. Faith in God clears away the mountain that blocks my view of His glory and that cuts off my path into service to my Lord.

 

 

How lovely are Thy dwelling places, O Lord of hosts!

Psalm 84: 1

 

There are many magazines that are published with pictures and stories about amazing and wonderful homes. We can watch hours upon hours of television where homes are made nearly perfect. Yet, when I consider the beauty, the glory, and the splendor of God’s house, images that far exceed any of these come to mind. God’s house must be a place where the most extraordinary of all possible colors and textures are ordinary. As I think about living in this place, my heart is lifted and a smile just comes to my face. This is the place of my dreams, and these are the surroundings that my heart yearns for. It is here that all my needs will be met, and it is in these surroundings that I will be in the loving presence of my Lord, God the Father, throughout all of the moments of my existence.

 

However, as I consider the location of God’s house, His word leads me to the fact that when I granted the Spirit of Christ entree into me by accepting Him as my Lord and recognizing at the level of my heart the truth of Jesus’ sacrificial death and triumphal resurrection, God’s house came to me. Everyone who knows Jesus has become the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. So, we are not just decorated in the splendid outer wrappings of God’s house, but our hearts, minds, and souls have been changed to be in the image of the grace, righteousness, peace, and love of God, and those are the most splendid furnishings that I can imagine.

 

Additionally, all of this redecorating has already taken place. In Christ, I was made new, and the loveliness of God does already reside in and on me. There are still corners of my life where the old, life worn and futile aspects of my former self are hidden away as I try to hang onto them and their false comfort. But God keeps working on His renovation project, and every day, as I grant Him permission to work in these corridors of my heart, the Lord reveals more of Himself in me, and as the writer of this Psalm said,

“How blessed is the man who trusts in Thee!” Psalm 84: 12b

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.

Hebrews 6: 7

 

It is the goal of the horticulturist who is working in the controlled environment of a hot house to provide the artificial equivalent of rain in just the right amount and sun that is sufficient to balance the moisture and to bring the soil up to the perfect temperature for growth. This is done through careful planning, consideration of the needs of the specific plant species that are being cultivated, and continual attention to the way that the crops are responding. When all goes well, the result is a great abundance of healthy and productive plants and a room that is filled with the bright colors and sweet fragrance of their flowers and an abundance of the fruit and vegetables that are a joy to look at and a pleasure to eat.

 

We are like the soil that was placed into the pots in that hot house, for God created each of us with the perfect blend of everything that we will need to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Then, we are set into an environment where that purpose can be fulfilled. There is no error in our composition or in our location; since, who we are and where we are living are perfect for today’s growth processes. Our part in all of this is marked by receptivity. We need to allow the rain that is provided by God the opportunity to soak into us, and we must allow His radiance the opportunity to shine on us so that we are warmed and purified. While we are in these seasons of growing, there will be times when the Lord will pull the weeds that have grown up in our environment, and He will also prune away the parts of us that are not productive or that are diseased.

 

The difference that exists between the grower’s plants and us is that we can choose how we respond to what the gardener seeks to do with and for us. We can harden ourselves and cause the rain to run off, we can shut out the sun and remain chilled in our souls, and we are able to even attempt to change which gardener works in our lives. However, there is still only one way for us to live that will produce an abundance of fruit. For this to happen we need to embrace the gifts that God gives to us every day, delight in the person that He has designed each of us to be, and surrender our wills to His greater wisdom. Then, as God’s supreme creation, He will grow us into maturity, and we will fill our world with the sweet fragrance and the rich flavor of His blessings.

 

 

We do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

 

Each passing day seems to bring another sign that time is not all that kind, for the mirror will reveal another spot here or a wrinkle there, and the joints ache a little more the day after activity than they did last year. Even the mind starts to operate just a little less clearly. Maybe it’s just that I am not getting enough sleep or enough of a certain vitamin? Well, maybe it’s simply that I am a year older than I was on this date last year, too. It’s all a reminder of the fact that I will not live forever in this world and with this exact body, for the organs, bones, joints, tendons, and tissues that I was given at birth were all infected with the fatal disease of sin.

 

On the other hand, my soul has been totally cured, released from being enslaved, and freed to rise above all of the pain and loss of this world. That doesn’t separate me from the condition of others or from the inevitability of my own physical decay, but it does change my priorities so that how I deal with the issues that life brings my way becomes more important than the issue itself. God wants me to continually turn to Him and to seek out His will in everything. Then, even the most serious illness and the most disabling injury can become a step along a path of renewal when we open our hearts and minds to Christ’s perspective on those situations. There is no physical or emotional pain that He does not understand, and there is nothing that I can face in this life that my Lord will not and can not take me through.

 

God doesn’t ask me to just grit my teeth and endure my days, and He never leaves me in a state where the day to day experiences of life are empty, futile, and frustrating. Instead, the Spirit of Christ speaks to my heart to provide encouragement and brings insight and understanding to my mind. Then, the disturbing and troubling times that are an inevitable part of living in a failing body that resides in a corrupted world are brought into perspective. It is through and during this daily walk with Christ that the aspects of my being that matter are renewed. For during these times of clear focus on the Lord’s direction and provision for me I gain great insight into who He is and about how He works. My spirit is renewed, transformed, and set free by this deepening relationship with Christ.

 

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleans you.

Ezekiel 36:25

 

When we wash our cars, regardless of how deluxe the program that we select, there is one inevitability, the car will get dirty again. Even worse, this will usually happen within the first few blocks that we drive. Take that morning shower, and guess what, you’ll need another one shortly. Do the laundry, wash the kitchen floor, and run the dishwasher and the result is always the same, more opportunity to clean up the messes that are a part of simply living. Considerably more troubling is the fact that it seems that there are too many times when my internal life is like this also.

 

Although, in Christ, we have the answer to the totality of sin that separates us from God and from living in His presence, we still live inside of a body that was conceived and that grew and developed under the influence of that old sin infused nature. The more that we try to cleans ourselves and to wash away the filth and the grime that is the result of our living in this world and in a body that clings to its legacy of defiant egocentricity, the more frustrated we become. It seems that when we work so hard at self purification, we are inevitably reusing the same water. So, it is like taking a bath every day without draining the tub. We may get just as wet each time, but eventually we are simply layering old dirt on top of today’s coating of grime.

 

God brings us clean water from His spring which is the only source of truly pure goodness. He provides the sort of cleansing that gets deep into our hearts and our minds and that penetrates into the dark crevices of our greatest needs. Christ rinses away our most tightly held fears. All that the Lord asks from us is that we continually look to Him for our cleansing and that we open our hearts to the searching of His Spirit. As we allow ourselves to be showered in the blessing of His grace, Christ lifts the weight of carrying the energy draining and life depleting burden of our former lives, and He frees us to experience His love and joy to the fullest extent.