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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dedication

“I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.”
John 17:19 (Common English Bible)

            This one prayer by Jesus may be the most sacred passage in all four of the Gospels. As the shadow of the cross grew larger upon our Lord, he gives himself to God, and he gives himself fully, without reservations. The depth and richness of the prayer is missed if the reader fails to grasp the deep meaning of the word, “holy.” Throughout the New Testament, as it is used here by Jesus, the word means, “Set apart.” What Jesus does by this prayer is to fully dedicate his life to God’s purposes; Jesus has “set apart” his life for God’s desires thereby surrendering any other pursuit he might have had in life. Before anyone choses to dedicate their life to God, it is wise to ponder deeply this example of our Lord.

            First, Jesus begins his prayer, “I made myself holy.” What is at once both unmistakable and essential for any authentic commitment to God is that it must be personal. No one is truly dedicated if the dedication is made on their behalf. Dedication to God is a personal decision of any individual. Additionally, though participation in a corporate service of dedication with others similarly making a commitment may be quite meaningful, such participation does not necessarily mean that an individual has been dedicated. The act of dedication, an extremely personal decision, is hidden in the heart of the individual. Only the individual and God know if an authentic dedication has occurred.

            Second, Jesus’ prayer continued, “…on their behalf.” Here, Jesus demonstrates that any dedication is always made for some specific task, for positively impacting a people or a movement. For Jesus, his dedication is to share in God’s burden for the world, to seek out those who have lost their way and bring them back to God. His dedication is undertaken for a particular people, for a particular purpose, and so must our own dedication. A dedication that does not result in some urge to do something definite, to make some difference for God in the local community or the world is empty and a waste of time. “…on their behalf,” Jesus makes his dedication.

            Finally, Jesus’ brief prayer concludes, “…that they also would be made holy in the truth.”  The certain indication here is that any motive for doing something positive is for the purpose of changing lives. Jesus sought to change the lives of others, to bless them that their lives may, in turn, bless others. Absent in his dedication is any hint that Jesus sought to win favor or acclaim. That would be unworthy of a dedication. Jesus’ dedication was to influence others to similarly dedicate their lives to the purposes of God. The result would be that God’s kingdom would experience an exponential expansion throughout the world. Whenever men and women gather to dedicate themselves to God, it is good to understand, with considerable clarity, what Jesus has taught such a dedication entails.


Joy,

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Doubt and Faith (a revision of a previous posting)

“Will my Lord reject me forever? Will he never be pleased again? Has his faithful love come to a complete end? Is his promise over for future generations? You are the God who works wonders; you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.”
Psalm 77:7, 8, 14 (Common English Bible)

            British singer, Adele, has struck a deep place in the hearts of millions with her single, “Hello”, a piano ballad. The lyrics discuss themes of nostalgia and regret and it is the first song in history to sell over a million digital copies in a week. Lyrically, the song plays out like a phone conversation, “Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet, to go over everything.” The difficulty is, the person to whom she places the call never answers, “I must have called a thousand times. But when I call, you seem never to be home.” Certainly, these words resonate with different listeners in different ways. For me, they express my prayer life some days. I place a call to God but God never answers. “Will my Lord reject me forever?”

            People of faith occasionally experience conflict in their relationship with God. There are moments when it seems easy to affirm God, to believe in a larger purpose than our own small lives, and that, in Christ, we are called to participate in a high and holy purpose. Other moments, faith is questioned. These few verses from Psalm 77 speak of both, of faith and doubt. It is a conflict that is familiar to many.

            What are we to do? Herbert H. Farmer proposes an extremely important question, “To which of these two voices in the soul concerning God are we going to make up our minds deliberately and consciously always to give the greater weight?”[i] Will we place faith on trial, demanding evidence before trusting in God? Or, will we place doubt on trial, demanding that it answer the evidence of God’s work in our lives? Unless we are deliberate with our answer, we will continually oscillate between the two, between faith and doubt, with the circumstances of life driving the condition of the heart.

            It seems reasonable to me that the better choice is not to leave such an important matter to the uncertainties of life. I have experienced moments of doubt and I am certain I will again experience doubt in the future. Yet, I have made the deliberate decision to place my doubt on trial in every instance. Like the author of these words from Psalm 77, I have chosen to answer every moment of doubt with the evidence of God’s marvelous work of wonders, with every demonstration of God’s strength among those who know and love him.

Joy,
          



[i] Herbert H. Farmer, “Doubt and Faith,” Best Sermons: 1947 Edition, edited by G. Paul Butler (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1947), 146.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Power of Purpose

“I’m doing important work, so I can’t come down.”
Nehemiah 6:3 (Common English Bible)

            The absence of success isn’t the great malady of our time; it is the absence of purpose. Millions of men and women push through each day eking out a living with no large meaning or compelling purpose in life to inspire them. Each day they are going and going but are not moving toward anything. Without direction or motivation these people find their lives flattened, living lives that are meaningless and without a center that strengthens both physically and emotionally. Life is little more than some sort of dreary treadmill; the result being that powers are depleted and personal existence seemingly pointless. These are people who will say that, more than comfort or security, what they crave most of all is meaning in their lives.

            Nehemiah found the answer to aimlessness, “I’m doing important work, so I can’t come down.” Nehemiah put his hand out to a task that God wanted done and no distraction or discouragement would pull him away from that work. Naturally, Nehemiah’s first task was to properly discern what it was that God wanted from him. The exercise of discovering God’s purpose for us is commonly called, spiritual formation. It need not be a complicated process, but it does require a determination of the heart and a regular time commitment. At the minimum, what is necessary is the regular reading of the Bible and the prayer, “What would you have me hear from these words and what would you have me to do?”

            This is a large message of the New Testament; that salvation is, in part, being delivered from aimlessness and finding our lives organized around the creative purposes of God. Attention to God’s voice in the Bible gathers the scattered forces of our being and links them to the one divine force at work in the world. Anyone who has spent considerable time with God in this manner discovers that their loyalties are shaped and a grand purpose in life emerges. Day then follows day with a deep sense of meaning running through each of them because these people finally discover that they are moving steadily toward something worth getting to.

            When people say that they are going to pieces, often they are speaking the literal truth. Life has a tendency to crumble into pieces when a centering purpose is absent. What is deeply needed is some master passion, some supreme devotion that will hold our scattered selves together. That is the enormous contribution that Christ makes in the world. Christ puts divine meaning into our daily human tasks and saves us from scattered, aimless living. Called to a great cause, a great enterprise worthy of our complete devotion, fractured lives are once again pulled together, physical energies restored, and we discover that we are caught-up in an important work. It is a work that recovers purpose and makes us whole.


Joy,

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Overwhelmed?

“God’s word continued to grow and increase.”
Acts 12:24 (Common English Bible)

            On the street, in our neighborhoods and our places of work the prevailing mood of the day is, “overwhelmed”. The world today seems to be more complex, more massive, and more unmanageable than our individual and corporate memory can recall. The magnitude of the problems we face as a nation – particularly threats to our national security – leave us bewildered and frightened. It seems that we are up against a new level of massiveness and everything now appears to be beyond the power of ordinary people and governments to solve or control. Confronted with the overwhelming complexities of life today, the question presses against our hearts and spirit, is there hope?

            This one sentence from the Book of Acts does not suggest a solution to the enormity of the difficulties we face. It does suggest the mood created by them. As the church, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility to our families, our colleagues and the communities in which we live to shift the focus from the staggering weight of our nation’s ills to a mood of optimism. It is not “wishful thinking” that is suggested by this one verse in Acts. Rather, it is the evidence that, in a world of mounting difficulties, God remains active and in control. What is most urgently needed today is for the church to be the church, to change the present mood of being overwhelmed to one of conviction that God has come into the world and that God’s word continues to grow and increase.

            The world in which these words were written was not unlike our own. The church of Jesus Christ was under a most severe persecution and its continued existence seemed doubtful. King Herod is on a rampage to stamp-out the church by destroying its leaders. Peter and John are placed in prison. James, the brother of John, is killed, and the church is under constant attack and is being scattered everywhere. But, God’s word continued to grow and increase. This truth, the unfaltering movement of God’s word, is a tonic for the timid and an encouragement for each one of us who feel overwhelmed.

            As the church, as members of the body of Christ, we have a moral and faithful obligation to reevaluate our mood. Since the world tends to magnify the negative, a Christian mood of hope is vital. When some ask, “What is this world coming to?” the church must answer, “Christ has come into the world.” It is that response that changes the prevailing mood. It may not be within our power to control the conditions of life, but we do have a choice for our attitude toward them. What is now needed is a new approach. The church’s high calling is to strengthen people by our unwavering confidence that, in the midst of unsettling news, God is not absent.

Joy,