So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

 

The mirror is a cruel companion. So is this body that carries me around on its good days and that I seem to haul about on the others. That’s why the convergence of the two of them, body and mirror, can be so terribly jarring to mind and discouraging to my ego. This reality of aging and of the frail natures of our human shells is a part of what Paul is discussing here. None of us live forever in this world and with these bodies. Life on this earth will end, and that is, in fact, a part of God’s mercy, for He knows full well the darkness that resides in our hearts and the lost nature of the world wherein we dwell. This is not the place and we are not by nature the beings that should live forever and beyond. We enter into God’s mercy and grace at its fullest expression when we leave this life and commence an eternity of experiencing the redemption of Christ.

 

This struggle or tension between a life that we cherish but that is degrading every day and the promise of eternity is one that every follower of Christ needs to encounter. We should not wish to retain all of the vestiges of ourselves as we have been, for there is never enough of Christ present within us, and there is always far too much of the flesh on display. In some very tangible ways, the loss of ability and even of capability that happens with time and with wear and tear on our bodies and minds is good, valuable, and to be embraced. For, as our human strength is depleted, our reliance upon Christ’s strength is granted an opportunity to flourish. When this body falters and this mind starts to slow down like an unwound grandfather clock, the truth and the wisdom that God imparts to His people should be the fuel that empowers us into vitality for the day ahead.

 

Yet, this acceptance of the gift of wisdom that Christ offers to us is something that we engage or deny. There are no guarantees of being wise that come along in conjunction with age and by virtue of the passing of time. We have all known and been frustrated by people that land in the category of “old fool”, and I know that, for myself, I do not desire to be known as such by others and certainly not judged in this manner by Christ in my day of final reckoning. The process of aging that begins with our first breath of life on this earth is one that we can embrace and even welcome if it is accompanied by the presence of God’s Word, Christ’s Spirit, and the encouragement and accountability of His body of faith. Through the presence of Christ in our lives, we are truly renewed and vitalized into people who can demonstrate the grace, love, and mercy of our Savior and Lord in the world and to its people in ways that breathe life and hope to others who are challenged by the futility of aging without Christ on the other side of this life.

 

 

 

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But God has so composed the body giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12: 24, 25

 

People tend to grant respect and honor to others who have certain skills or who hold positions within our society that we look up to. This is a normal aspect of structure and of order in our world. Granting this sort of deferential view to those who take on responsibility for the well-being of the whole is even a part of God’s plan and design for the way that our cultures can operate smoothly and peacefully. Yet, like so many of the things that we do in our humanity, this holding up of some people for special honor can get our of balance and become troublesome and even divisive.

 

When individuals within the church are held up as superior to others by virtue of their position of authority or due to the role that they fill, damage can be done to the entire organization. Now, I am not saying that we should not respect the authority of leaders that God has called and established in those essential roles. However, I am saying that even these pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and bishops are not to be held in greater esteem or granted greater respect than are others who may serve the body in less obvious and widely visible ways. In the body of Christ, His church globally and locally, all of us are given gifts by God and each of us is called upon by God to use those gifts for the sake of the functionality and effectiveness of that church and to demonstrate these gifts for Christ’s glory in our world.

 

If you are granted a simple or a humble gift, then use it with confidence and with joy as an offering of yourself to God. If you have been given one of those more public and outwardly noticeable gifts, then hold it as the precious outpouring of Christ’s love upon His body that it actually is, and use this gift in order to focus all praise and honor upon the One who gave this great blessing to you. Each and every one of our spiritual gifts and all of our capacity, skill, and talent is something that God has poured into each person as a part of His careful and purposefully creative crafting of us. We are made to bring the Gospel of Christ into our world in ways that are accessible and real, every person is made in God’s own version of His image for this purpose, and we can each live out our lives at peace with who we are and in the confident expression of our giftedness while we also value and honor the same in all others.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4: 13

 

This is an extraordinary claim to make. It is not for the faint of heart or the weak minded. It says that I am ready to take on this world and all that it might send my way and that nothing that I encounter can stop me. Actually, Paul is saying that this world and all of its powers and forces are, indeed, impotent when confronted by Christ. For as I serve Him, I too enter into this remarkable capability, capacity, and power that my Lord brings to bear on all that confront Him. As I surrender my will and subordinate my desires to Christ’s, I am granted the sort of vision that sees beyond the walls that my limited understandings place around me and that loves the lost of the world with a form of soul-deep affection that comes only from the heart of the Creator.

 

This is true in all areas of life. Christ gives us the strength to engage with the trials that come our way. He allows us to face into the darkness of our world and to see beyond its shadow to the glory of God that is ours in and through Christ’s presence in us. The Lord points us toward the eternal truth of His victory over this world as He guides our thoughts into dwelling on the love, grace, and mercy that He pours out on His people. Life will still bring its challenges and even its almost unendurable trials; yet, Christ provides the resources that we need to go forward through those days. He also grants His perspective on it all to us so that we can see beyond the pain, grief, and fear that come about naturally in the moment and we can look hopefully into the future wherein all is made whole and where peace and joy prevail.

 

Christ also empowers us to engage with this fallen and troubled world in ways that are both confrontational and gracious. We are given the Lord’s wisdom and discernment to apply to all that comes our way. This doesn’t mean that each of us will get it right all of the time or that my understanding will be perfect, but it does mean that as I seek out Christ and the truth of God’s Word, He will reveal righteousness and right thinking engagement to me. In this process of revelation and involvement in my world, Christ also calls upon us to enter into deepening relationship with His body of faith both in our close to home or local setting and on a larger scale. The Lord grants strength to each of His people, and He leads us to stand stronger still as His body in the face of all that is broken and fallen in the culture that surrounds us. In Christ, we can truly take on anything with the assurance of our faith to provide us with confidence and with the knowledge of our Lord’s victory to cover all situations and circumstance with eternal hope.

 

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Ephesians 6: 11

 

Imagine a medieval knight as he is preparing for the joust who decides that he will leave off the cuirass, the breastplate, of his suit of armor. After all, it’s a hot and humid day, he feels especially self-confident that morning, and the field of opponents doesn’t look all that frightening. Now come ahead to today and envision a soldier preparing for a day of patrol who thinks that his wit and skill will suffice to keep him safe; so, he doesn’t bother with the helmet or the body armor that he has been provided. In both instances we would say that the person on view was being foolish and was needlessly putting himself at risk.

 

Paul was aware of the same sorts of tendencies in the people of his days that we can see in others throughout history and that we encounter in ourselves today. We think that when we reach a certain level of skill, experience, and competency that we can do life on our own. Certainly, God’s Word and His Spirit’s leading have provided us with useful instruction and are helpful in times of crisis, but as people who have traveled some real distance with Jesus, we can take on the routine of life on our own. This sort of thinking and the approach to life that follows after it can lead us into a dangerous street that is mined with Satan’s deceptive traps and dangerous compromises.

 

In light of the well-documented history of human failure, of personal experience of the bad effects of leaving God’s righteous path, and the reality of Satan’s relentless drive to attack God through His people; it seems ridiculous and foolish to do anything other than what the Apostle counsels. The Lord provides His people with a perfect protective covering for us to wear through all of our days. Yet, like most aspects of our relationships with Christ, we need to decide to use what He is providing. This armor from heaven is put on and held in place through deep and intimate prayer, by diligent study of God’s Word, and in the supportive accountability of the body of Christ. Although Christ’s armor will not protect us from all of the blows and injuries that living in this world will cause, it will protect our souls and our witness so that our lives will stand as living testimony to Christ’s redeeming victory.

 

 

And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalm 90: 17

 

The singular most favorable thing that God has ever done was to come into my world, Himself, to spend His days with people who were just like me, and then finish those days by volunteering to climb onto the altar of sacrifice in order to make real the fact of salvation. God, the Father, sovereign over all of creation, and owner of everything has granted me the favor of His presence in the world of corruption and loss where my body dwells, and He has given me the favor of a total relationship with Him. There is nothing else that I need that actually counts for much of anything; yet, Christ continues to shower me with gifts both great and small.

 

The Lord is present in the person of His Spirit throughout every moment of my life. He speaks courage to my heart and wisdom and understanding to my mind, and His word brings knowledge and grants me perspective on every situation and issue that comes my way. Christ has paced me into a family of people who also know Him, and it is through Him that the barriers that our human, sinful selves construct to keep us safe and others at a distance are removed. So, I am blessed daily by the riches of the diversity of the people that are with me in the body of Christ. Jesus, through His life example, by His blood, and in His Spirit grants to me the favor of His purpose, direction, and capacity for impacting my world with the truth of salvation.

 

In my humanity it is easy to become confused or to lose sight of the continual fact of Christ’s presence and provision; yet, all I need to do is to open my heart and calmly listen to His voice, and the truth that, in Christ, fills my world becomes evident. What I do matters far less than who I am doing it for, and the results of my efforts are insignificant in comparison to living in the center of Christ’s love and to demonstrating it while I am working. Still, my God does grant me the favor of doing His will, and He makes His delight in my humble and too often flawed obedience clear to me.