It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.

Philippians 1:20

Today, we have some questions to consider. Does every fiber of your being shout about its freedom in Christ? If not, why not? When you think, do the thoughts that are generated by the Spirit of Christ dominate, or how about the way that you act, do people see Jesus in His full expression when it is your hands that are touching them? When I answer honestly, my sad response is, “No, not so often, not as much as I might, or not even on the same continent as my potential.”

Yet, Christ’s Spirit of transformation and change reaches into the very deepest and to the smallest bits of our beings; He brings about a state of being that is completely redefined and whose orientation is brought into alignment with God’s. When I don’t face my day with this sense of anticipation of living in the center of the glory of Christ and when I enter into contact with people with a aura of fear and dread surrounding my heart and mind, I can seek the wisdom, truth, and discernment of Christ, and I can also seek to set aside the old-life concerns and my now, through Christ, outdated perspective on interacting with others, too.

When I accept the change, recognize the transformation, and trust the Spirit to direct me, I can and should live in a manner that shows the confident love of God to my world. This life perspective is grown on the inside, in my heart and mind, and as it takes over each and every cell of my body. As I stop holding onto the old and embrace this change, I am filled with a reasoned courage that compels me to engage life in a fresh and a vigorous way. Then every molecule of my being can truly shout with joy at the presence of the Lord.

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And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3: 15 

There is an interesting proposition made by Peter here; for, as we embrace Christ’s holiness at this deep and personal level, we are doing the same for ourselves; since, if Christ is in me, then His holiness is mine. That is why it becomes so very important to focus on the Lord’s attributes as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of our own new nature as a transformed person. The same holds true for focusing more clearly on our own anticipation and objectives for personal spiritual growth. 

As I consider the ways that I still don’t function as I should, based upon what God has established as the model for living in His holiness, the steps that I need to take and the personal sacrifices that I need to make in order to move in that direction become more clearly defined. There is always an element of surrender, a yielding of my will to the Lord, that is involved in this growth process, for this is a something that is begun by continually allowing Christ to be the center and the focus of my heart. 

Then, as the presence of His holiness takes over more of my being, my own ability to live in a manner that is reflective of Christ’s love increases, and I gain an ever greater understanding of the marvelous hopefulness that He brings into my life. This is a hope that is too large and much too important to keep buried inside. It needs to be expressed, and it will gain expression through the way that I live as well as through the words that I speak. The final element that Peter speaks to here is one that I suspect was a serious challenge for him; he again tells us to consider how Jesus went about connecting and communicating with people, for true holiness is also gentle, respectful, and always loving.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?

   And who shall stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

  who does not lift up his soul to what is false

   and does not swear deceitfully.

Psalm 24: 3, 4

David was referring to the temple in Jerusalem and to true and worthy worship there when he speaks about ascending the hill of the Lord. Although the physical climb required of a worshiper was not all that challenging, the spiritual and moral one was quite steep. God is holy in every sense. There is no compromise or area of lapse in the Lord’s perfect existence, and we are not so perfect in ours. It is people’s disobedience and misbehavior that erodes away and diminishes the righteousness that God originally intended for each of us to center our lives around. We are each born into life with this process of decay and the distance from our Lord that it causes already well established within us. As we draw our first breath in this world, we are already struggling to find the spiritually pure air that the climb to that sacred place requires.

David knew more than he would wish to know about the challenge that keeping his hands clean and his heart pure would bring about. He had done neither of these things in his life; yet, he still desired to be in the presence of the Holy One, the Lord God Almighty. The Lord granted David the grace and the forgiveness that he required in order to enter into that holy presence, and David recognized his own sinfulness and engaged in the true repentance of a person who desires to change and who seeks to live out his remaining days as a person who demonstrates the result of God’s redemptive work in him. David was a lot like most of us in that he was a flawed and a sinful person that had been made holy and acceptable to be in the presence of the Lord by virtue of God’s grace and love.

We are each faced with a hill to climb every day. That ascent takes us toward the place of holiness wherein God dwells in His fullest expression. The work of climbing can seem to be overwhelming at times, but we are not left alone in that endeavor. Christ goes with us, and He participates in every step of the journey. Although He is there, we are allowed to choose to let him guide our steps and support our climb. Frankly, there are days when it seems better to go another way or it feels right to take those steps as a solo climber. There are also other guides that we will encounter along the way, and their route sounds good and pleasing when it is placed before us. Still, there is only one way to that holy objective, and there is one true and trustworthy guide for us to listen to and to follow along His singular path. Christ goes before us and He travels with us as He provides the possibility of possessing the clean hands and the pure heart that are required of those who enter in the Lord’s holy presence. 

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

The first thing that comes to mind with Peter’s words here is, “Holy? Who me, holy?” I know my mind, and its contents are nothing even remotely close to that standard. I also have an idea of how I live my life, and that is certainly not something that I would describe as holy. Yet, Christ seems to think that even I can be the sort of person that could be called into holiness as my way of going through life and as the description of who I have become because of Christ’s presence in me. Peter understood this dilemma, for he had lived in the center of it for many years. He was a passionate man, and he tended to speak and to act out of his emotions far before he considered the impact or the effect of what he was about to say or do. 

Now Christ reminds him that the redemptive work that was done on the cross has removed all of Peter’s obligation to his former life and has removed him from the need to obey the rule of this world. When he was called to Christ, he was also set free from the oppression of his former life, and the barriers that his disobedience had erected between himself and God were broken down and removed in their entirety. Now he could think, speak, and act in a manner that was contradictory to the methods and the manners of the world around him, and he was empowered to cast off the way of living that was grounded in fear, fueled by anger, and designed to gain control that had been what he was taught and encouraged in during the days before Christ. Christ brought Peter into the center of a new gospel of love, peacemaking, and restoration. In Christ he was now seen as holy by God, and he was to be known as holy by the world as well.

So too, are we to be known in our world, for, in Christ, we are all redeemed from that same form of captivity to the world’s approach to relating to others and to God. As it was with Peter, this is a work in progress at this time; although, Christ’s work is completed and perfect, the transformative work that the Spirit is doing within me is perfect but it will be complete beyond this life. Until then, I, like all followers of Christ, live in the tension of our calling to be holy that stands in contrast to the daily reality of the many ways that the heart and the mind prove to be something less than that. This is the place where grace stands as God’s healing potion. This gift of loving understanding and permission to continue on despite my failings and weakness is a part of God’s unending encouragement to each of His people to continue on in this journey of hopeful obedience. So, when Christ tells us to live as holy people, He is not calling us into failure or defeat, but rather, the Lord is leading us into His assured possibility of living in the world as His redeemed and transformed people.  

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

            “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

                who was and is and is to come!”

                Revelation 4: 8

These words are at the center of the vision of God’s throne room that was given to John by Christ. John was allowed to see a part of the universe that most of us can only speculate about. He was taken, in this visionary state, into a reality that followers of Christ often dream about and desire to enter at the soonest possible moment. This is the place where death is no more, and the pain that accompanies life as does Noon follow dawn is far off in the past. In this longest part of existence, perfection and peace reign as strife and striving are left to wrestle in the dusty and temporary atmosphere of earth. We can dream of a time when we, too, will join these incredible creatures as we spend our hours, days, and eternity expressing worshipful praise to God.

This idea is a wonderful one. And the hope that its promise provides is useful for us as we face into the challenges of living in this world. However, it seems to me that looking ahead to the day when this heavenly escape will be my own is not what God wants me to focus my sight upon today. Instead of looking ahead to a time when I will be transported into an existence where praising the Lord is the singular focus and work of my days, Christ’s purpose in doing all that He did was to set me free from all that inhibits me from engaging in this same form of worship on an on-going basis during my time of living in this world. Although I do not have six wings, or any wings for that matter, am not all that gifted in sight, and my endurance tends to fail me, I can still spend my hours, days, and years in active and persistent praiseful worship of the Lord. 

As one who has been redeemed from sin and its death by Christ, I am called by my Lord into service to His kingdom come upon this earth. My life is no longer my own. I am given the singular task of worship to pursue for the rest of my life, and I am granted the gift of the capacity and the capability to do that very thing. Every thought that comes to my mind is to be formed out of the truth and the wisdom of God’s Word. Each word that I speak is to be formed out of a vocabulary of love, grace, and understanding, and all of the actions that I take are to be carried out with God’s holy and righteous purposes as their object and objective. This is the central point and purpose of being a follower of Christ. We are to make worship of the Lord the center of our being, and as we do this, God’s presence is made tangible and real to others as His redemption is poured out into a troubled and broken world. 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.

Ephesians 1: 7

God never wanted people to be held in captivity to sin; yet, He knew that we would place ourselves into that state of bondage. So, the Father planned the way and the means of our escape from the self-devised prison that we were to be held in, and He also made it possible for us to be set free on a permanent basis. Jesus is the Father’s response to both of these needs. He is our source of redemption as He is the means by which we are redeemed. In other words, Jesus paid the price for our release from captivity to sin. This was accomplished in His act of sacrifice upon the cross, and it was sealed by the blood that flowed out of Christ’s pierced body. There is nothing left to be paid in order for our soul’s jailer to release any of us. If we choose to follow Christ, we are granted a full pardon and our parole is effected.

The hard part for most of us comes in the choosing to follow Christ. Why should I do this? What do I gain in so choosing? Is this Jesus even real? These are questions that multitudes of people have asked over the long history of the world. From my point of view, it is all very simple. I know, through faith and by virtue of experiencing life that Jesus is real. The narrative that is written in the Bible is the real and the accurate recitation of God’s engagement with His creation with a particular emphasis upon the Lord’s involvement with humanity. I hold this to be true, not because I have absolute tangible proofs or due to some form of exhaustive research, for I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and I know that the best of the person that I have been and that I am to be is found and made known in the commitment of my heart, mind, and spirit to living in a righteous manner after the modeling and the leading of Christ, Himself.

In the conduct of my life I have certainly placed great demands upon the love and the grace that Christ has poured out upon me. Sadly, I continue to do this to this day; yet, the journey has gotten easier as the Spirit has continued to work within my heart and my mind to bring about an ever-increasing level of understanding of what it means to live as a person that loves others, seeks after justice, and desires to share God’s redemptive love with others. Choosing to follow Christ places each of us on that same journey as the Apostle Paul traveled upon. In so doing we enter into God’s will for us, and we find peace with our Creator in the process. This adventure that Christ takes us on will not be easy as there will be temptations to overcome, an adversarial world to confront, and doubts that grab hold of us and attempt to wrestle our hearts and minds into submission. In all of this I have found that Christ is with me. That riches of grace that Paul mentions and the Lord’s abundant love and mercy are truly poured out upon me in a supply that can be described in no other word but lavish.