By God’s doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1: 30, 31 

There has always been a plan. God was never confused, caught short, or had his balance disturbed by the thoughts, decisions, or actions of angels or of people. He created us in a way that we could and would reach our own conclusions about what was best for us, and He allows us the freedom to follow our own course through life. Everyone starts out with the potential to live in a close, intimate relationship with God, but we all also need to decide that this is what we truly want to do. Thus, we were given Jesus to serve as the point of connection and the focus of the eternal decision that we all get to make. 

When we accept that Jesus is God, our Lord and Savior from the evil that controlled our hearts and minds from birth until that moment of yielding to Him, we start a journey that is based on the sort of deep truths, wisdom, and understanding that can only come from God, Himself. Our nature is changed into one that is attuned to the character of perfect good that only exists in God and in those who, as His redeemed, are filled with the Spirit of Christ. The key for many of us is to recognize our need to actually let this new character and identity become the dominate one. So often we continue to seek to live just as we always have, and we find that our sense of worth and our concepts of success are defined by what we do and what we have rather than in who we serve. 

We can learn to accept God’s wisdom and let His Spirit point us toward Jesus and His wise truth about the important things in life. These are the things that have true, lasting, and eternal importance. These are the qualities and characteristics that bring love, grace, compassion, and integrity to the top of our daily priority list. When we define our achievement in life in terms of how well we have served Christ, and we understand that serving Christ means that we need to love the people of this world and sacrifice our selves to that service; then, heaven is given back another piece of this world. Then we are truly standing on God’s holy ground.

From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11: 36

There are many things that come to mind as the day begins. Some things may be urgent today, or there are issues and concerns that are weighty and complex that demand attention. Some of this even involves the work of the Lord; yet, above all of the rest there seems to be one thing that stands out as most important for me to focus my attention upon. So, here is a truly worthy calling for the day. I should look to God, and listen to His voice in every situation and in all circumstances. Thus, the strength of His truth will overcome all of the wisdom of the world and will redirect my own self-generated logic.

In all of the noise and the clutter of the world around me, Christ is the source that is worth seeking out, and His Spirit is the filter for what I need to know. The Spirit leads me to the truth that is found by listening well to God’s voice as He speaks to my mind and into my heart. He guides me into the center of the Word of Life so that what is true and holy and righteous overwhelms all the other voices that attempt to distract me from God’s purpose. Even the smallest of my activities and the simplest of interaction with others can be carried out in the wisdom of the Lord and for Him. All that I think, say, and do constitutes an act of worship that is consecrated to the Lord.

My prayer is that this day will be lived in a manner that demonstrates my relationship to Christ. Each person that I encounter is precious to Him, and every interaction that I have is one whereby that love, care, and understanding can become central if I subordinate my will to His as I engage with others. During this day I desire to touch the world and in a manner that leaves the fragrance of Christ behind and that leads people to seek out the source of that heady perfume for themselves. I widh to know nothing that He has not given to me; yet, I also know and recognize that the Lord has already given me everything that I will need to take me through this day. O Lord, let this day be one where my thoughts and what I do and say are pleasing to You. So, Lord, I surrender my all to You in the desire that who I am will bring glory to Your name. Amen. 

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8: 13

 

The law and life, life and the law, they circle each other like two old boxers who are looking for an opening or an opportunity to get that final, winning blow in around the other’s guard. We live in the tension that exists between attempting to live up to God’s standard of righteousness and being completely inadequate to that task. Most people never fully resolve those issues during the term of life that we are given, and even if we were allowed more years, we would still not get there. We do not have what it takes to make it so, for we are not capable of saving ourselves from the state of lostness that we are born into. We all require something more, better, and greater than the sum total of all that we possess or that we can possibly acquire on our own.

 

Everyone who draws breath on this earth needs Christ. There is no other person, system, process or procedure that has the capacity or the capability to save us other than God’s own chosen Son, Jesus Christ. We can live as well as any human has ever lived, and it will still fall short of God’s standard for such excellence. We might give great gifts and sums of money away to support thousands of this world’s disadvantaged or to foster world-wide humanitarian efforts, and none of that philanthropy would grant us a second’s reprieve from facing judgement’s sentence of death at the end of our days. There is simply no human thought or action that brings about salvation; so, why do we continue to strive so hard to accomplish these things?

 

In part, we do it because we want to be the ones who are in control of all that makes up this life and of any sort of destiny that we might enter into in eternity. This sort of endeavor is foolishness played out in the face of a sovereign and almighty God. On the other hand, when we engage in caring for others and in giving gifts of mercy, comfort, and restoration to people and to places where there is poverty, oppression, and destruction, we can be entering into doing the will of the Lord. The difference in the state of these efforts is found in the master who is being served as we go about the work, and so, it is also determined by the motivation behind those efforts. In serving Christ, we are engaging in practicing His new and living law of grace as we enter into the redeemed life of freedom that it grants to us. In so doing, we transition from being a follower of an old and perishable way of existing that operates until death ends it all, and we begin an unceasing, eternal journey of faith with Christ, who grants His unquenchable life to us.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1: 26, 27

 

Of the many things that come our way as a result of having a relationship with God in and through Christ, calling is one of the most difficult to grasp and to understand. It often seems to defy the usual processes of analysis and definition. Calling can be very certain for some, but it is most frequently something that floats in the realm of the mystical. Yet, it also serves to define us in many ways, and it also forms the shape of how much of the world views our place in life, especially in life’s economy. I believe that God does call each of His people into service to Him and for the sake of His kingdom. Our calling is specifically related to the gift or the gifts that we are given by Him as a part of the transformative work that the Spirit does in and upon all who come to Christ. So, in part, we are given spiritual gifts in order to enter into our calling.

 

In fact, I would propose that calling is one of the ways that God enters into the life of each individual follower of Christ. Every one of us is unique, different from every other person, and given certain qualities and characteristics that mark out our individuality and that also form and define our role and place within the body of Christ. When it comes to actually entering into the work that we do, there may be many possible courses that we could take that will still follow God’s will and engage in His calling of us. The Lord equips us and then wants us to trust Him and to follow our dreams and our passions into the way that we use His giftedness and the skills that we develop along the way in service to Him and for the glory of His name. This rather vague and general sense of what we are to do in life can be frustrating or troubling, but God wants us to engage with life in a manner that sees it all as a journey of faith so that we continually step out in trust of His provision and guidance.

 

The real calling for each of us who follow Christ is to do exactly that. We are firstly children of the Living God and followers of the one true King. This fact helps to frame in the structure of life so that many of our world’s possibilities are eliminated from our consideration; however, that same framework opens a wide array of other choices for us to make. As we look at, pray over, and seek the wisdom of other people of faith regarding the direction that we might go in life at this time, we can hold one thing before us as certain fact that should help to define our reality, and that is that we are each a unique expression of what God sees in us as possible. We can enter into these possibilities at any point in life’s journey and we can do so with confidence in the will of the Lord to walk with us and to empower the processes of doing the work of this endeavor. These choices and decisions will not always make sense in the world’s view of what should be done with a life, but God’s concept of worth and true value do often seem foolish in that economy of self. Rather, in Christ, we can follow our dreams, engage our passions, and walk through our days with the joy and the satisfaction of serving Christ as our greatest reward.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2: 4, 5

 

These are complex words, I readily admit that; yet, the thought here is fairly straight-forward and direct. Christ is the foundation and the basis for everything that is holy, righteous, and true in our world, and He has been established in this manner by God for our benefit. As we enter into this idea and embrace it as the basis for all that we think, say, and do, Christ works in and upon us to reshape and to form us into people who are ever more fully conformed to the character and the nature of God. We do not become gods as some would believe, but we do live out our days in a manner that brings the presence of Christ into the lives of others.

 

The primary sacrifice that we bring is ourselves. In following Christ, we are called upon by Him to set aside the rest of our lives with the thoughts and deeds that we hold as dearly important, and we are led into a life of service to God as we respond to the needs of all of His creation. It is in service to God’s kingdom on earth that we are shaped and polished by the Spirit so that the selfish and self-directed form of our previous natures is reshaped and redirected in a manner that is along the lines of the God ordained and righteous beings that each of us has the capability to become. This is how our lives leave the realm of the worldly and earth-bound and begin to dwell as holy priests at the altar of our Lord and King.

 

As we serve Christ and engage in this new way of living that is for Him and that follows His lead in all matters, we need to keep in mind the fact that this world rejected Jesus and that it did so to the point of brutally murdering Him. Little has changed since then when it comes to the responses of the world to the love, grace, and truth that Christ seeks to apply to life here. Thus, we should also expect to encounter various forms of rejection as we throw ourselves into living out our days in service to Christ. However, in the weakness that comes through being rejected by the world we are entering into the center of Christ’s strength, and so, He becomes ever more our capacity as He leads us into living out His calling for us. The lives that we then live are blessed by God, and we, in turn, bring the blessing of the eternal into direct contact with the brokenness and the lostness of this world.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,

and forsake not your mother’s teaching,

for they are a graceful garland for your head,

and pendants for your neck.

Proverbs 1: 7-9

 

Many of the people that I know lament about the condition of our world, and I admit, that I have joined them in these words of complaint and concern. There is a lot of unwise and ungodly thinking and behavior afoot around us. This lack of God’s wisdom in our world starts from the top, from our leaders, and flows down to the rest of us; however, it also starts with each of us and spreads outward to the rest of our culture. I do not think that God intends for us to be helpless in the face of sin and of sinful thinking as it is found around us. He has never been silent on these issues of righteousness or about the need for His people to be holy, that is set apart from the world and from its ways of thinking and acting. The Lord calls upon us to be curative salt and the penetrating light of truth and love in every place where our feet take us.

 

As followers of Christ, I believe that we have a multi-directional responsibility to fulfill to our Lord. We are to live in a transformed and a reformed personal reality that is framed by the first two lines of the passage above. The concept of fear of the Lord contains within it the idea of respect, honor, obedience, following after, and passionate love. When lived out it leads to a life of commitment to God wherein we trust Him to the degree that we are able to confess our sinfulness, repent of it, and enter fully into the grace that Christ grants to us in return. All of this leads to the outworking of transformative change in us, and this brings about the desire to serve Christ in ways that bring that same truth and love into contact with the world that has gone so badly astray from God’s righteous path. Also, as we live in a close and an intimate relationship with Christ, it is much easier to see and to respond to the foolishness of people we encounter who are living outside of the influence of God’s wise counsel.

 

So, we are also called by God to enter into all aspects of the world around us in order to participate in bringing the wisdom of the Lord into its decision-making discourse. Jesus entered into all areas of life without reservation or hesitation, and He poured out God’s righteous truth, unending love, and the hope of redemption onto the tired and ravaged landscape of this world. As His followers, we are to do the same thing. We are to take action where it is needed, and we are to speak up when truth is lacking. Additionally, God places a mandate upon us to teach this same righteousness to others. Although the writer of this proverb speaks about children, we can safely interpret that to include literal children and grand-children as well as other people that we come into contact with. As we know Christ, we are to share that knowledge. As He works in us to shape and to mold us into His glorious image, we must take this new life that we have been granted and do as our Lord did by pouring its truth, love, grace, and redemption out into our world as an offering of worship to God.

 

But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.

Joshua 13: 33

 

People are often very acutely focused on ownership. We want to have and to possess things and places. It makes us feel good, and this ownership helps us to be secure in our world. The ledger sheet or inventory of our stuff gives us a form of status among peers and sets us onto a level of perceived accomplishment in our society. It was also so for the Israelites as they settled into Canaan. Yet, for them the matter of possession of land was also a necessity, as they would be raising their food, constructing shelter, and developing their culture from the base of that land. So, for a significant portion of them to have nothing of their own meant that the rest of the people would need to produce enough excess to care for their needs and would be required to set aside some of their space for the Levites to live. In other words, supporting the priests and their families would require a real and tangible form of sacrifice on the parts of everyone else.

 

In addition to what was going to be demanded from the people in the other tribes, the people of the tribe of Levi were also being asked by God to make sacrifices. They would own nothing. They were being required to trust their neighbors for their survival and for their well being. The nature of their work made its value hard to measure in tangible terms; so, it was difficult to validate the worth of giving to their care and maintenance; this was especially true in lean years when everyone was struggling to have enough. Still, God’s plan placed the spiritual life and practice of the people at the center of all that they were about. The Lord had instructed them to keep Him as the singular central focus of their lives and to make worship of the Lord the distinctive element of who they were as people and as a nation. These Levites were given the responsibility for leading the people, their families, and the nation in this direction.

 

This entire concept seems relatively foreign to us in our cultures and during these times. There are some people in our world who have set themselves apart from the traditional forms of independence and self-sufficiency that are our general standard today. But they are few in number and most of them are, in fact, supported by large institutional church or other religious organizations. Perhaps for our times, this Levitical form of being set apart from the pressures and the necessity of self support and possession looks more like an internal perspective than it does like the external situation that these faith leaders were called to experience. The real point was one of faith and of trust. The Levites were to trust in God for everything and to have faith that He would provide all that they required for life. We too can hold all that we have and everything that we do as loosely as they were asked to do. We can set aside our striving after wealth, position, and power in order to pour our love, devotion, and energy into serving Christ. In this way, the Lord our God will be truly our inheritance too.

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Joshua 3: 5

 

In his great song “Elijah” Rich Mullins speaks about the fact that “The Jordan is waiting.” Mullins used the river that faced Joshua and the people of Israel as a symbol of the enormity of what lies ahead for himself and for each of us as we seek to follow Christ in our world. The raging waters of that river were really only the smallest of the concerns that were there, and that is not different from what lies outside of our front doors every day. I know, for most of us there are no rushing torrents of bolder roiled water, not even one hungry lion, and very few actual spears and arrows pointed at us. However, there are opponents and they will mount opposition in many different forms. Some of them are giants indeed, who bring great force and power to bear against us as we confront their sacred places with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Like Joshua and the people that he led, we have a sacred duty to perform. Their task was considerably more important than just acquiring a place to settle down and conduct life. God gave them the responsibility to take back a portion of creation from the hands of evil. So, their mission was much greater than just settling the country, building homes, and raising families; it was even more important than entering into regular worship of the Lord. These followers of God were to dwell in this place in a manner that would bring the presence of the Living God into the midst of the other people of the earth. Their lives and the conduct of them was intended to draw people who were lost, wandering, and separated from God into His love, grace, and salvation. That is why the task before them was truly holy in its nature so that it required them to be prepared in body and in spirit to undertake it.

 

The place where Joshua and the Israelites were on that day is not all that different from the one where each of us who follows Christ is today. When we head out of the door at the start of a new day, we are not just going to a workplace, to school, out to meet a friend for coffee, or even just for a simple walk around our neighborhood. The land out there is not all that different from Canaan with its raging river and fortified walls, its armed opposition and seductive enticements. In Christ, we are all called upon to consecrate our days and ourselves to serving our Lord. For me this means that I seek out His will for this day, enter into prayer as the primary means of preparation for the journey, and set out with my heart and my mind intent upon listening to the Spirit and heeding His voice’s prompting every step along the way. This form of total commitment is never easy to hold onto, for the sound of the water is pounding in my ears as I open my doors. Yet, Christ speaks to me from deep inside where His Spirit dwells, and He calls me back into the surety of His loving will and the confidence that comes out of a heart that is consecrated to my Lord.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul had goals. He knew the desires of his heart, too. He wanted to bring people into knowledge of Christ and to see them grow into a relationship with the Lord that was founded on solid truth and understanding. He also knew that these new believers would need to be taught, counseled, and developed in their faith if they were to be sustained in their journeys with Christ. All of this required that Paul spend time and expend energy in the pursuit of this labor of love. Being a shepherd for any flock is not easy, and doing this with people can be all consuming. Yet, shepherding is what Christ had called Paul to do, and this was what Paul was intent on seeking to do.

 

It doesn’t seem as if caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of others was truly Paul’s gifting either. He was an intellectual with a great passion for knowing God’s word and for seeing that it was adhered to by all. However, in Christ, all of this was changed, for Christ calls upon His servants to care for the people who come into His flock. This is a very mixed group with many gifts, strengths, and skills to offer, and also with many challenges, personality quirks, and sinful issues to work on and through. The process of entering into the lives of others is not easy, and it is made even more taxing by the fact that God calls upon His people to engage with others for the long haul of life in a manner that is like the one that He employs with each of us. That is, we are to stay in relationships that do not always go well, and we are to go after people who wander away from God’s path of life. All of this can be tiring unto exhaustion and frustrating to all who seek to serve Christ.

 

So, we do not need to enter into this work of shepherding by using our own strength and consuming our internal resources. They will never be sufficient for all that lies ahead in service to Christ. Instead, we are granted Christ’s unending and bottomless resources as our source of supply for His calling to enter into the lives of others. The presence of Christ within does not change the reality of the challenges that come with the calling, and those challenges will bring about hours and days when we are beaten down and exhausted from the effort that we are required to expend and by the harsh rejection and personal assaults that we are forced to endure. Yet, even the worst of these times are ones in which Christ is present, and it is in these dark times that the Lord often becomes His most real and tangible to us. Loving others will lead to struggles and to opposition, but loving others and shepherding Christ’s sheep is His calling for His people, and Christ is faithful to give His shepherds the energy that is required by this calling and the strength to endure all that comes as a result of serving His will.

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!