To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust;

let me not be put to shame;

let not my enemies exalt over me.

Psalm 25: 1, 2

 

Trust is a part of our everyday lives. We place a form of trust in many things that we encounter along the way. This all starts when we climb out of bed in the morning and trust that the floor beneath our feet will hold our weight today, and it continues in like manner throughout the day. We also trust in institutions such as banks and governments, and for most of us, people form the most significant of categories of recipients of our trust. Yet, the trust that David describes here is even greater than all of that above. He trusts God with the care, the protection, and the nurture of his most precious of possessions, his soul.

 

Like David, I have no doubt that God cares about and for me totally. His presence is real in ways that go beyond and that are more deeply seated than any other reality that I experience. Yet, life has a way of throwing curves my way. Not everything makes sense, and many events and situations arise that bring about a form of disorientation and that cause me to momentarily lose sight of God’s presence and His purpose for my life. I think that these are the sorts of times that David is concerned about when he speaks about God providing protection from shame and the triumphal dance of his enemies. Although I, too, share his plea for God’s mercy and protection, I am fully aware of the fact that Christ has fully secured those things for me. I am saved, and I am free!

 

My soul is secure in the care of Christ who stands before the Father and proclaims the innocence that He gained for me on the cross. In light of my Lord’s great gift to me and His immense sacrifice for me, how can I not trust Him absolutely? Yet, in the moment and under the duress of life’s struggles, I do doubt, and I do allow shame and guilt to hold me captive. However, even in these times of my wandering away from God’s peace and joy, Christ is close at hand. In fact, it is in these darkest of days that the glory of my Lord provides those first glimmers of the light that leads me back into that soul-deep peace that comes from trusting God, and His presence warms the chill out of my heart. Like David, Lord I do trust you with my soul.

 

We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

 

Everyone experiences death. It is that great inevitable that hovers above each of our lives. We encounter its reminders on an almost daily basis, too. There is no escaping the influence that death with its loss and with its finality has on us and on our world. Yet, for those who truly know God by way of living in a relationship with Christ, death has gained a fuller and a very different emphasis and meaning. In Christ, the finality of the grave is a radically redefined sort of terminus, for Christ brings us together with Him into the presence of God, the Father, in a glorious celebration of our setting aside of the pain and the trials of living in this foreign and hostile land of our temporary wandering. Through Christ we come to our permanent home in the splendid perfection of heaven.

 

But the death that Paul is speaking of here is of a different sort. It is different; yet, it should still lead to just as profound a change and a transition in our lives as does the one that comes at the end of earthly life. This is a death that God calls upon all people to accept. It is also one that only some will dare to believe in and to trust Christ enough in order to surrender into its finality. Christ tells us to deliberately leave our well-established and familiar lives behind as we purposefully climb into the grave of submission to God’s will. As we join Christ in His death, it is His blood that cleanses us from all of the sin that has separated us from God, and it is His intervention before the Father that gains us a verdict of innocent from the only high court that matters.

 

Yet it is the next step that is most significant. Just as the Father pronounced His final victory over sin and over death as He raised Christ out of His tomb, so too we join in that victory. Christ leads us into a new life. This is not just a different lifestyle; rather, it is a life that is lived from a completely redefined perspective. We are made new by and through our relationship with Christ. Although this fact does not diminish the intensity of the struggle that we will encounter during the process of leaving our old, deeply ingrained ways of thinking and of acting behind, now there is hope and a promise of victory. Now Christ enfolds us into His resurrection. In this new life we should expect to walk daily in the company of God’s loving community. As we walk in our newness Christ goes with us into this day, and He uses us to claim His victory over the death that sin tries to bring into our world

Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 13

 

Faith, hope, and love existed on this earth through all of the years that came and went between creation and the birth of Jesus. People had faith in many things and in many gods; they also had faith in the one true God, Yahweh. They also hoped for much, and the followers of that one true God carried an enduring hope of His return and the freedom that it would bring. They loved much and expressed it passionately. They created great art to demonstrate those passions and they sang of love’s virtues and challenges much as we do today. Yet, that love was without its fullest expression and its greatest rendition. It, like faith and hope, was incomplete.

 

 

God did not intend to leave His creation in this incomplete state of being. He had finished the work once and He would move it along the path to finality through an act of total loving sacrifice. The God who carried absolute and total authority over the entire universe chose to enter into this world as the humble and powerless baby that was born into the oppressed Jewish culture of those days. Jesus left eternity and entered into our humanity. He joined with us and walked along our roads, and Christ knew our pain and shared in our struggles; then, He allowed us to torture and to crucify Him in order to complete God’s plan for our salvation.

 

This is a love beyond any other. The love that Jesus lived out is the human demonstration of the infinite love that the Father has for each and every one of the people on this earth. We all are His beloved children, and Christ came to save every one of us from the sin that separates us from God’s eternal presence. Because of God’s love, as carried to completed expression by Christ, we can have true and lasting faith in that one God, and we have hope for today that is based upon the real and tangible presence of Christ in our lives and in our world. Love is the gift of Christmas and faith and hope are its lasting legacy.

Merry Christmas!

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22: 44

 

Our world is overrunning with fearful things and people. There is terror in the most tame of our streets, and sudden agony and grief fills our innocent halls of pleasure. These are terrible times with evil running loose and wild in our midst. As I was thinking about fear and what it means to be afraid, my thoughts went to that night in the early part of the first century when Jesus was at the place of awaiting the terror that would come down His street. Now, Judas, the Romans, and the rest of the angry crowd were no surprise to Him, but the events of that day were still terrible to contemplate.

 

The Roman army was one of the most powerful that our world has known, and they used fear and dominance as tools to gain and to hold control over the people who were unwillingly under their governance. Their ultimate punishment for crimes against their law was the cross with its torturous death-bringing process. Certainly Jesus was facing this. Yet, His anguish during this time of prayer was not caused by fear of facing His torture and death. Rather, it was caused by the impending reality of what it would mean to take on the sins of all of humanity. His agony was seated deep in His heart and was centered on the coming time of separation from the Father as the Christ fulfilled the purpose of His human life.

 

This is where the experience of our world and Jesus’ of His often diverge. I am not saying that fear isn’t real or that evil is not terrible, but that was also true for Christ. In the face of it all, He turned to the Father for comfort, strength, and guidance. Jesus moved away from the noise of the street and into the quiet of His garden of prayer. Christ faced into the most trying of situations with the grace of God on His lips and the confidence of a person who knows who He serves and why He is doing it. That terrible cross of Christ is the place where we can, too, hang our fears and our reactionary words. The sacrifice of Christ is the source of our courage and the reason for peace in our hearts and in our actions.

 

 

In every way you were enriched in God in all speech and all knowledge.

1 Corinthians 1: 5

 

We live in a world where many things are enriched. Enriched bread and vitamin fortified milk and juice are common. Enrichment courses are taught in schools and in other settings. When you enrich uranium, the release of an extraordinary amount of energy is just around the corner. The idea of being made better, stronger, greater, and more complete through some form of externally applied addition is one that we can easily accept. Sometimes this enrichment leads to a beneficial outcome and sometimes it has been proven to be useless. Much that we gain in this manner is worthy and good, but people are capable of turning that good science into terrible evil. In the end, what matters the most is who we turn to as the source for the sort of enrichment that establishes an eternal basis for all of the rest of it.

 

God’s Word makes His intent and desire very clear, and His actions over all of time have demonstrated His sincerity. The Lord wants all people to know Him at a level and with a depth of understanding that is deep and intimate. When He speaks of enrichment, God means that we will be changed, transformed, in a manner that involves the essence and the nature of our being. The sort of addition that God desires to impart to people is not so much an increase to what was there from birth as it is an enlivening of what God created in us from the beginning of humanity’s existence. We were designed to be beings that related with and to God at the level of our souls. It is fundamental and intentional in God’s design that everything that we know and all of the expression of that knowledge was to find its foundation in God’s truth, justice, and righteousness, that is, in His character.

 

However, God is something of a relational risk taker. He has never forced His will on people. The Lord grants us the option and the opportunity to enter into and to engage in a relationship with Him. Yet, the consequences for turning away from God are severe. The loss that results from rejecting Him is total in both earthly and eternal terms. On the other hand, the gain that we are granted by electing to follow Christ is too great to be measurable. It is in this relationship with God that our hearts and our minds are opened to understanding the truths that actually enrich us. Humbly and openly seeking God with a spirit that is surrendered and yielded to listening and to following His will brings each of us into the grace and the peace that come only from God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8: 38, 39

 

Benjamin Franklin is said to have stated, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” It would seem foolish to argue with such a great mind as Franklin’s, but I think that Paul is presenting us with a different reality to consider. The Apostle certainly places both death and taxes, in the sense that they are the crafting of rulers, among the items in his list of things that control and determine the nature and the quality of our lives. Yet, he also says that these great forces of nature and of humanity are like wisps of wind in comparison to the great love that God has poured out upon us in Christ.

 

Christ gives people something that cannot be gained from anyone else or from any other source. He takes us out from under the final authority of this world, and He places us into deep and intimate relationship with God, the Father. This doesn’t mean that we will escape or avoid the struggles, pain, and loss that can come our way in this broken world. What it does mean is that we are accompanied and comforted in and through it all by the presence of God, and we are granted a certain hope for an eternal future that is absent from all earthly belief.

 

In Christ I know the love that sacrifices all for me. My rebellion and sin are removed by Christ and forever forgotten by God. There is nothing that I have done or any thoughts or actions that I can engage in that will cause God to reject me. As I am in Christ, so I am enfolded into God’s love and grace. With this truth in mind, I can turn with total confidence to Christ for comfort when pain, loss, and grief are present in my life. During times of great trial, even with the end of my life before me, I can rely upon the presence of Christ and the true embrace of His love to strengthen and encourage my faith all the way to that very final moment of life in this world.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5: 16

 

Jesus is talking about a couple of important things here. Firstly, He is discussing the fact that God’s people are the enlightened members of humanity. People who have come to Christ have, in fact, come to the Father. It is this light of heaven that God gives to each of His people that provides the love, wisdom, grace, mercy, and holiness that is the essence of God’s true enlightenment. This is the light that Christ pours out through His followers in order to bring the illumination of loving truth to a world that is shrouded and infused with the darkness of sin and its death.

 

Then Jesus proceeds to embellish upon what He has said just before the verse above. The enlightenment that comes from God through Christ is not something that we hold onto and use for our own sakes. God intends for His people to be active and engaged sources of illumination as we go through our days. We are to openly and continually love others and to love God’s creation in a manner that speaks truth, grace, mercy, and comfort to all that we can reach. God does not grant us vacations from this calling, and He continually reminds us that all that He has given to us is to be used for the sake of others.

 

So, the work that we do has absolutely nothing to do with our acceptance, status, or position in God’s eyes or in the world where we live. When we respond to Christ and accept His Lordship over our lives, each of us enters into God’s calling for our life. Within that calling is this mandate to be workers whose labor is directed, empowered, and enriched by Christ so that all that we do and every aspect of who we are shines the light of glory onto God, the Father. Nothing that we do or say is for our ourselves, everything that we are is to be for the sake of others in order that they would come to know Christ and enter into the eternal light of His salvation.