Which Jesus? Release Jesus Barabbas or Jesus the Messiah

People are searching for Jesus. Most don’t know it. Other’s are asking, “Which Jesus should I choose?” Many haven’t come to realize there is a choice.

Only Matthew addresses it like this, but his words sent me to prayer and thinking about the implications,

“So when the crowd had gathered,
Pilate asked them,
Which one do you want me to release to you:
Jesus Barabbas, or
Jesus who is called the Messiah?'”
Matthew 27:17

The first alternative presented was Jesus Barabbas, a murderer charged with insurrection, revolt, rebellion and mutiny. The second, more logical choice, was Jesus the Messiah: the Anointed One, The Savior and prophesied Deliverer of Israel. The wise and obvious choice stood before Pilate and the crowd.

Such choice might seem wise and obvious to some but not to all.

Which Jesus

Which Jesus to choose became polluted by a self-interest vocal minority — the chief priests and elders!

“But the chief priests and the elders
persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas
and to have Jesus executed.”
Matthew 27:20

How can a few zealous power-hungry voices create such influence? Their twisted motivations, not-so-hidden agendas, and power-swaggering movements failed to blind Pilate of their true nature. Yet even he was rendered powerless to stop their influence or curb their plot.

Strong Together

Pilate knew which Jesus to choose. Although convinced of Jesus’ innocence, he compromised his personal beliefs to sway with the populace.

“But the whole crowd shouted,
“Away with this man!
Release Barabbas to us!”
Luke 23:18

Release Jesus Barabbas?

As shocking as it was then, similar voices echo throughout our nation and many others. Though Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world stands before us with arms outstretched, the masses shout, “No! We don’t want the Jesus of truth and righteousness. We don’t want the Jesus that brings life. Give us another Jesus!”

When we ask for another Jesus, another Jesus we get. If we refuse the One and Only God, another god we will find.

I know for a fact that “the whole crowd” wasn’t shouting for His crucifixion.

“From then on,
Pilate tried to set Jesus free . . .”
John 19:12

Mary, the mother of Jesus, and several other women silently witnessed the events of that day. I assure you that they, along with Jesus disciples, were silenced by the masses — their voices muted by the powerful.

Believe in Jesus

When a murdered was released, murder ensued. With the release of the rebellious, rebellion increased. The impact of that day’s decision sifted down through multiple generations.

“All the people answered,
‘His blood is on us and on our children!'”
Matthew 27:25

In the heat of that critical moment, they unwittingly cursed themselves and their offspring.

Which One?

This simple little passage sent me to my knees, because the ground-shaking implications continue with destructive force over the nations.

“‘. . . Which one do you want me to release to you:
Jesus Barabbas, or
Jesus who is called the Messiah?'”
Matthew 27:17

There is only One Jesus who delivers all He promises, providing the way out of darkest crisis, the truth in face of the strongest delusion, and life when the clouds of death hang ominous.

Which Jesus we choose impacts us and the generations to follow. Which Jesus we release among us today predicates future outcomes.

Prayer and Faith in Jesus

Many have lowered Jesus to a prophet, a good teacher, or a little “g” god to which we can all somehow attain. They have attempted to strip Him of His deity, power and authority. Yes, their voices form the minority. Yet, at times again the few mute the truth and deny the fullness of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer of all mankind.

Release Jesus

God challenges me today, “Release Jesus! Release Jesus the Messiah around you! Don’t be silent or still!”

His challenge isn’t exclusive to me, however. He urges us all, young and old, male and female, known and unknown, to let others see, the real Jesus among us. In our words, in our conduct, in our attitudes, and in our prayers, release Jesus the Messiah.

Conduct yourselves in a manner
worthy of the Gospel of Christ,
so that whether I come and
see you or remain absent,
I will hear of you that you are
standing firm in one spirit,
and with one mind striving together
for the faith of the Gospel.”
Philippians 1:27

Team Prayer

Standing firm in these days creates an obvious separation from the majority. Many public forums pressed the mute button on the Christian voice decades ago. Yet, our voices can not only be heard, but resonate clearly among the crowds of confusion with eternal impact.

But how? With so many people staggering in uncertainty, how can we release Jesus today, setting free in our culture all He represents.

Strategies

God’s eternal strategies remain relevant for all generations at all times.

The first, and foremost, is to personally choose Jesus as your Messiah, Savior and Redeemer. Welcome Him to come into your life, surrendering yourself completely to Him. We can only give to the world what we have already received. The only way to offer Jesus, and the hope only He brings, to others is to experience Him personally.

Then by consistently taking time in the Bible, we discover more about who He is and the awesome plan God has for each one of us. The Bible offers more than concrete wisdom for daily living, God’s Word is powerful, effective and life giving.

Prayer, the third strategy, remains the chief work of every Christian. It prepares the ground for faith to increase, opens previously locked doors, and releases opportunity for voice and impact. Prayer influences heaven and impacts earth. Never underestimate the power and authority we hold on our knees in prayer.

“The effective prayer of a righteous man
can accomplish much.”
James 5:16

With these steps activated, audacious faith permeates our words, actions and conduct refusing to accept any other Jesus presented to us.

A Turning Tide

Even though we have heard the same chant from groups and influencers throughout the ages, the tide is turning. The once silent voice of Christians rises again, calling wrong wrong and right right.

“From the days of John the Baptist until the present,
the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing,
and violent people have been attacking it.”
Matthew 11:12

Team Battle

As Christ followers, we belong to a mighty army taking back territory once surrendered by the release of the “Barabbas”es — the counterfeits. “No more!” the faith-filled shout. “Just give me Jesus — the true Jesus!”

Joshua, whose name can also accurately be translated Jesus, said,

“. . . choose for yourselves this day
whom you will serve . . .
but as for me and my household,
we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15

How many times has this not-so-subtle question been asked, “Which Jesus do you want released to you?”

In this hour, the pendulum shifts. Boldness fills God’s people again as many raise their voices. “Give us Jesus, the Messiah! Give us Jesus, the One in Whom is life and hope. We will have no other!”

From nations long closed to the Gospel to those cold from revivals all-but-forgotten, the sound rises like a thunderous wave, “Give us Jesus, the Messiah!”

Don’t Settle! Keep Going! Resist Doing Things Halfway and Missing Out

We can all be tempted to quit before reaching an intended goal. Today, I encourage you “Don’t settle for where you’re at! Keep on going until you reach the end.”  (Whatever the end may be!)

How many unfinished projects await completion in your home or life—visions, goals or desires that lay dust-covered or moth-eaten in the back corner of the garage or closet? I have my own lingering projects and faded intentions. Initial excitement rose high but time, money or energy waned.

My grand-daughter shared her experiences on a high diving board. At the lowest level, she fearlessly jumped into the water just a few feet below. Bounding back out, she set her sights on the next highest level. With only a slight bit of trepidation, she ran, lept and plunged into the cool pool. Looking up she assessed the risks of the second-highest diving platform. Determinedly, she ascended the steps, building courage as she went. Upon reaching the platform, fear’s grip froze her. She came this far to jump, but couldn’t. Unwilling to back down, she stood for a long time before cautiously approaching the edge peering at the ripples of blue far below. Pushing herself past fear, she stepped off, plummeting into the deep. She did it! She overcame.

Don’t Settle

Have you been there? The scenarios differ but the feelings remain consistent. Did you keep going, or pull back?

I read,

“Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot . . .
his daughter-in-law Sarai . . .
and together they set out from Ur
of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.
But when they came to Harran,
they settled there.”
Genesis 11:31

Terah gathered his family and left the prosperous Ur of Chaldeans, leaving advanced culture, fertile land with lush gardens and idol worship. Was God directing His steps? Had God given him a vision of Canaan or a word of promise?

Just as we aren’t told the reason for Terah beginning his journey, we aren’t told his reason for stopping. “But,” (that sticky little word) he did. He already passed the halfway point to his intended destination. He already overcame numerable obstacles to reach this point. Why stop here, or now?

We read something even more devastating,

“Terah lived 205 years,
and he died in Harran.”
Genesis 11:32

Where he settled, he died!

Keep Going

Immediately after Terah’s death, God spurs Abram to finish what his father began.

“The LORD had said to Abram,
Go from your country, your people
and your father’s household
to the land I will show you.”
Genesis 12:1

“The LORD had said. . .” Interesting! The LORD doesn’t give some new directive. Yet, after the death of his father, Abram is reminded of something “the LORD had said.” Something about a promise, a great nation and blessing for him and “all peoples of the earth.”

Was the promise originally given to Terah, but he settled too soon? Did Terah settle for halfway obedience or halfhearted effort? Would Terah have been the one to receive the promise if he would have continued?

No one knows.

Obviously, God reminds Abraham these years later of something previously spoken. A promise only fulfilled through total obedience and all-out energy. “Leave it all!” God said, “Finish the journey!”

Faith or Fear

Both Terah and his son Abram said, “Yes,” to God. Both had faith to start the journey. One settled halfway; one finished.

What stops us halfway? What is our “but?”

My granddaughter almost stopped short with tangible, even palpable,fear. My fears hide more subtly in the shadows of denial.

I have learned, however, that whenever there is a hesitation to move into God’s destiny for me, even containing a promise written long ago, fear birthed my pause. The pit of hesitation bears many names: doubt, indecision, procrastination, reluctance, vacillation, or just plain unwillingness to take one more step. “But . . . “

Jesus reached out His hand to a sinking Peter,

“You of little faith,” he said,
“why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14:31

Faith and fear never co-exist. Hope sinks in the weight of doubt. Perhaps like Peter, Terah started in faith, but halfway to the promise doubt crept in and he settled into death’s hold.

Fear overtook Elijah after the great victory on Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18-19). As a result, his ministry died and his mantle was passed to another.

Halfway

Paul refused to take Mark along,

“Barnabas wanted to take John,
also called Mark, with them,
but Paul did not think it wise to take him,
because he had deserted them in Pamphylia
and had not continued with them in the work.”
Acts 15:37-38

A powerful man, co-laboring with Paul for the work of the kingdom, quit. He “deserted them.” Ouch! That stings. At times, I’ve deserted halfway; other times, I’ve quit too soon.

Fortunately, years later another opportunity came for Mark to join Paul. Often where we quit, like Terah, we die. Vision dies; purpose dies; hope dies; promise dies; faith dies. We may live, but inside something is missing and lost forever.

Keep going! Don’t quit yet!

Love is the Answer

After Jesus’ death, he faced Peter in a soul-searching confrontation.

“Simon son of John, do you love
me more than these?”
John 21:15

“Do you love Me enough to leave your father, your family, your friends, your business, and your inheritance?”

“Simon son of John,
do you love me?”
John 21:16

“Peter, there will be no settling or going back to where you came from. Do you love me enough for that?”

Simon son of John,
do you love me?”
John 21:17

When we stand at the crossroads between settling halfway or reaching the finish, that is the question that matters. Where is love focused? Do we, do I, love Jesus enough to keep going, to not quit or settle. Love remains the critical ingredient necessary for faith to sustain and persevere.

“There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

To the Finish

We all face walls of doubt and fear. When there seems no way through, around or over, we settle. A graveyard of “What ifs?” spreads out in front of the barrier.

Like Abram, we need to remember again what “the LORD had said,” stirring faith to move again, to restart the journey, and un-pause our vision. Abram went miles beyond his father, seeing what his father failed to see.

“There he built an altar to the LORD
and called on the name of the LORD.”
Genesis 12:8

‘Called’ doesn’t refer to private prayer. Rather, when Abram ‘called on the name of the LORD,’ he was making a public declaration, preaching and proclaiming the faithfulness and greatness of Yahweh, the LORD God.

Abram kept going—unstoppable until God said stop. He lived to see the land that his ancestors would one day possess. He created a platform of declaration to others of the power of God to see us through to the end.

May I encourage us both, “Don’t settle! Keep going!” Let’s resist doing things halfway and missing out on what God has promised.

Benevolence – Serving The Least of These with Compassion

Jesus invites us into action, serving “the least of these.” Ask anyone today about their employment and you’re apt to hear high profile name dropping or executive jargon that will leave your head spinning and your self-worth plummeting. Such chest-puffing exercises dominate human impulses throughout history.

Several years ago at my son’s graduation, a group of a few dozen students proved the benefits of serving the least of these. This class lived out the principle throughout their public education from kindergarten to grade 12. A young boy with terminal illness co-existed with them — always facing limitations, often hospitalized for extended periods. The disease stole his life before he was able to graduate. The impact he had on his classmates and their families continues to be felt.

Unlike other graduation exercises I attended, a golden thread of their prevailing culture firmly translated into serving the least. They loved, cared for, assisted, supported and valued this young man holding him in high esteem.

“. . . ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least of
these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.'”
Matthew 25:40

Benevolence

The expectation of Jesus goes far beyond the normal standards and expectations of benevolence. In North America those seeking public assistance supply perks to propel the “haves” of society to share with the “have-nots” — tickets, gift baskets, banquets and more.

Jesus observed similar practices in His day — elegant celebrations given exclusively for friends, brothers and sisters, relatives and rich neighbors. All those invited could return the favor, perhaps with a bonus. He calls His followers further,

“When you give a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled,
the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed . . .”
Luke 14:13,14

Caring for the Poor

Perhaps the repayment would not be returned in kind but rather the status of association or public approval as part of the in-crowd. Who am I anxious to serve? Am I serving those who somehow benefit me or am I serving the least?

I’m asking myself these searching questions. Have I learned these lessons after many decades of living that my son effectively learned through his shared years in a classroom with someone who could never possibly repay or return the favor?

It Was Me!

Jesus makes a profound statement,

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
. . . thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
. . . a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
. . . was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

The confused crowd asked, “How? When? What!” Such thinking so contravened their entrenched mindset that they were unable to connect the dots between their actions to others and their relationship with Christ. Jesus wasn’t talking to hooligans and renegades; He spoke such clarity to the righteous!” (vs 37)

Soldier Giving

The parable represented people like me, writing this blog, and you, reading it. Normal, good people living their lives in the best way they knew how. Yet, in their living, they were somehow unable to see Jesus among the throngs of people.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me.'”
Matthew 25:45

The Least of These

I don’t know about you, but I need a constant reminder to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person I encounter, knowing they belong to God and are made in His image.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.”
Psalm 24:1

Hospital Burundi

Do I see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the oppressed? Or am I looking for hands that will hold me up, voices that increase my value, or credentials that puff my reputation? The subtleties hidden from my own heart lay vibrantly clear and exposed to Christ.

One of the toughest places I choose to work is in the justice system, caring for people at crisis moments, arrested for crimes they’ve committed. Among them are thieves, abusers, addicts. Why? Because I’m especially gracious or caring? Not at all!!! Serving the least continuously stretches me beyond any personal capacity. It’s what Jesus asks of me.

As I write, I weep. Images of humanity, broken and disconnected, flash through my memory; disconnected from God and love. Each person teaches me something about myself that I would rather not see or be reminded of. Serving the least must become so ingrained in me that it flows naturally out of my love for Jesus. I’m not there yet. Honestly, I may never get there.

Sometimes seeing the reflection of Christ in those I would far rather hate, comes with an emotional price tag. I’m constantly reminded that Christ poured Himself out and died for this one — this lost and broken one in front of me. Just as the blood of Jesus covered over all my sins, it covers theirs too. They just don’t know Him yet.

Prison Fence

Serious Business

Jesus ends the parable by speaking to those who refuse to see Him in the face of the needy,

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:46

He recognizes those who are His by how they treat the least among them. The righteous cast an eternal focus. Temporary elevations of status from the who’s-who-crowd pale. “What’s in it for me?” never enters their mind.

Like my son’s classmates, loving the least became a daily overflow of living life together. They never viewed it as sacrifice to push a wheelchair through the mud instead of playing on the soccer field. They refused self-centered agendas and self-promoting values. Not one of them measured their actions in eternal rewards. They joyously spent their time serving the one among them.

The Challenge

May I challenge you today as God challenges me? Who is the one? Who is the least of these God desires you to feed, give a glass of water to, invite into your home, clothe, visit or care for?

“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink
because of your name as followers of Christ,
truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
Mark 9:41

 

Brothers serving each other

Many will scamper to provide for a person of high profile; the one who holds power and authority. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the way they publicized similar actions.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness
in front of others to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have no reward
from your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1

Few people consistently care for the least of these. Be assured, if you do, no one will notice — no one should. No one will commend you for the unseen grace and mercy you offer.

In thirteen years together, I wonder how many unpublicized acts of kindness were demonstrated within my son’s classroom. Countless, I’m sure! They learned well the lessons that I struggle to master, touching the life of the one among them.

“Bravo!” Jesus declares to each of you, now grown and many grey-haired, “Well done! May you always remember the joy of serving the least.”

Transparent Love – Love Must be Honest

Only through transparent love does it grow and mature. To love fully and freely, love must be honest. Most of us struggle to overcome our tendency to hide.  We hide our thoughts, our emotions, our failures, our differences, our unacceptable-ness. In hiding we deceive ourselves, robbing us from the blessings love offers.

Paul said,

“What a wretched man I am!
Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
Romans 7:24

That’s honesty! Who among us is so bold as to announce to the world for infinity the poverty of our minds and souls? Few. Very few possess such transparent love.

Love is Blind

An old adage says, “Love is blind.” Saul on his way to Damascus to murder and imprison Christians perhaps literally experienced this quote. As he neared Damascus, “a light from heaven flashed around him.” The light was immediately followed by God’s voice questioning his objectives.

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.”
Acts 9:5

In asking the question, he declared the answer. The Lord he thought he knew was not this Lord. Here was love, he had never experienced before. When he picked himself off the ground and “opened his eyes he could see nothing.” Saul once driven by religious passion became blinded by love — unconditional, indisputable, undefinable love. Love so pure that darkness had no place.

For three days Saul fasted and prayed. Everything in his life changed from that moment of encounter forward. Everything except one thing.

Honest Love

By the time that we meet Paul in the Book of Romans, he has undergone a name change, a vision change, a mission change, a radical life change. Years have passed and the implications within Paul’s life since encountering Jesus Christ on the Damascus road stretched broad and wide. His conversion undeniable. His transformation unquestionable. Yet, he testifies to the Roman church, not in self-abasement, but in raw honesty.

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
but I see another law at work in me,
waging war against the law of my mind
and making me a prisoner of the law
of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am!”
Romans 7:21-24

What freed Paul to be so honest? What released him to such transparent love?

Most of us are confronted with our misdemeanors before such confession — our breaches of conduct exposed, our sin and failure made public. Not this man! Paul was different.

Perfect Love

John, the disciple Jesus loved, penned these words,

“There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 5:18

Here lies the heart of our issue, our stumbling block to transparent love. We’ve learned early that honesty brings punishment, reprimand, perhaps rejection and shunning, often unforgiveness and broken relationships. So we live among those we are supposed to love, and who are called to love us, with fear. Fear denies love the freedom to thrive and grow.

Yet, Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ, his relationship with the God who by His very nature is love, so grounded him to boldly and honestly acknowledge his greatest weaknesses even among His enemies.

He laid out his true condition before those who could do him the most harm, the church. Yikes! If ever there is a critical bunch, they can be found sitting in the pews, praying in the prayer rooms, and sharing communion at the altar. Unfortunate, but sadly true. The places where love should most abound at times is lacking. Lacking in me most of all!

Yet, here more than any other place authentic, transparent honesty finds hope, help and healthy relationship.

No Pedestal

Though some would like to climb on the pedestal marked human perfection, there was only One who could hold that rightful place. His sinless life was enough to redeem us all.

For the rest of us, we are in process like Paul — trying our best, longing with all our heart not to sin and let others down, and repenting often.

If there is one verse I take great comfort in, it is this one,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

I haven’t reached the fullness of God’s intention for my life and fall far short of it most days, but I’m not the person I used to be — the broken one, the despised and rejected one, the unloved one. By God’s grace alone, He has called me by name and chosen me as His daughter. He loves me even though I’m undeserving.

As a matter of fact,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

Paul wrote both of these passages. He called himself the least of the apostles, unworthy of that designation. In another place, he identifies himself as the worst of sinners. This is the regenerated Paul — the cleaned up, polished-off apostle who is effectively planting churches everywhere he goes.

Yet, he claimed nothing for himself. He desired no pedestal or promotion. In transparent love, he clearly identified with sinners, redeemed only by the pure love of God.

Love Redeeming Hope

So where is our hope and help in the midst of the internal battle we all wage. Paul sums it up in a single sentence.

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

“Who delivers me” is a continuous action! Jesus, our Beloved, continuously draws us into the intimate love and fellowship of the Father, freeing us from the claws of fear, releasing us to transparent love. Risky? Yes. Vulnerable? Beyond question. Worth it? Absolutely.

This morning I awoke weeping and singing, “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son, to make (this) wretch his treasure.” I’ve spent the morning resting in that love. In His perfect love, repentance flows freely. Not just remorse or guilt, but a repentance that sets the captive free.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance
that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,
but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10

Transparent love honestly draws us into repentance of anything that marks, distorts or hinders love’s fullness. Repentance starts at the cross and flows to everyone around us. The world’s vain replica brings destruction. But the honesty of Christ’s love in us leads to the sorrow of repentance that embraces even the wretchedness of our present struggle.

Transparent love redeems pulling us up to a higher standard, a wider reach, a deeper flow of loves pure intent. So herein is God’s challenge to each of us — to love with transparency and honesty, to refuse to play it safe hiding in fear, to risk vulnerability before God and others. The pursuit of such love lasts a lifetime, but such is redeeming love.

*****

Another Read:

Adonai Jehovah – The Giver – The One Who Pours Out

The Golden Rule: Treat Others the Way You Want to be Treated

The golden rule, although existing in many cultures globally, is a biblical principle that has been passed down through generations. Certainly, my parents faithfully attempted to instill this foundational way of thinking and behaving into my conduct.

The golden rule points us to see others with value. Speaking the golden rule is easy; remembering it during critical moments, a little more difficult; harder still is consistently living by it.

Self Assessment

Matthew, the former tax collector, writes of the need for such a principle. Few people, now or then, admire those who work for the tax department, enforcing governmental laws of personal and corporate taxation. In Matthew’s day, tax collectors were considered traitors and thieves — mostly for good reason. Before Matthew was introduced to Jesus, his barometer scale of compassion probably ranked quite low. Filling his own coffers was one of his highest priorities, and he didn’t care who he stepped on to do it.

“So in everything, do to others
what you would have them do to you,
for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12

When he met Jesus, however, his former mindset did an about-turn. He began to view those around him not for temporary benefit but from an eternal perspective. He also knew such a change of thinking came only through divine intervention. 

In the preceding verses, Matthew addressed the need for taking the plank out of my own eyes (vs 5). It amazes me how blatantly obvious the smallest failures of others appear while living ignorant of my own overbearing and incredibly dysfunctional behavioral patterns.

God forbid that we ignore the pain we see others suffering through. Before jumping into action, he challenges us to assume the responsibility of seriously assessing ourselves. Then Matthew calls us to do whatever is necessary to effectively help others. 

“. . . first take the plank out of your own eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove
the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Matthew 7:5

Planks hurt! Specks hurt too! Oh how we need each other to help us see clearly.

God First

What wisdom Matthew has acquired in his short time with the Master! 

He points our attention to the loving Father. I know this is a long passage, but every word is worthy of our attention. 

Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Matthew 7:7-11

If we stop reading here, we easily assume that it is a one-way channel of blessing upon blessing coming toward us. We could stand at the door of prayer asking, seeking and knocking for more in our give-me-bags to satisfy our selfish desires and satiate our lustful appetites for the good things God offers. 

This, however, is the preamble for the real intent, as an appetizer to the full meal, of Matthew’s message. In short, he says, “Look, everyone! Look how loving and gracious our Father is! Does His mercy ever end? Will He ever shortchange you? Does He treat you carelessly?”

Golden Rule

If there are three words that I continually stumble upon as I’m reading the Bible, it is those little words “how much more.” No matter how generous, loving, good and gracious we believe God to be, He is so much more. Matthew says, “God is our pattern. The way He treats us has become the standard by which we treat all others.” 

“So in everything, do to others
what you would have them do to you,
for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12

That’s it! The golden rule capsulizes everything God has written. This one principle satisfies everything else completely. “In everything,” in every way, to all people, treat them as God treats us.

Let’s get real! When I look at the level of this standard, I feel like I’m standing under a bar hanging 50 feet above my head with no means of reaching it. My failed attempts, through 67 years, only proves my powerlessness to achieve such a high mark. 

Who will help? How will I ever attain it? Through the grace of God alone — day by day asking Him to intervene in my life, moment by moment trusting Him, time and time again seeking forgiveness for my failure.

“As You Have Done”

Matthew knows full well the intervention of God that must occur for us to hold such high conduct. He isn’t presenting something new. Hundred’s of years prior, Obadiah gave a warning to Israel’s enemies, 

“. . . As you have done, it will be done to you;
your deeds will return upon your own head.”
Obadiah 1:15

Israel’s enemies were guilty of “gloating” over them in their “misfortune,” “rejoicing” when “destruction” hit, and “boasting” when they were in trouble. Doing the wrong thing comes easy; doing the right thing takes practice and effort.

Sometimes, we do pretty good at following the golden rule principle with our friends. The real litmus test is how we respond to our enemies. Do we nurse a twisted gratification when they stumble and fall or when they are down and out?

My parents would often add, “Don’t kick someone when they’re down!” In other words, the golden rule includes lending a helping hand to those we least want to help, being kind to those who have treated us harshly, and refusing to judge those who have cast the broad net of judgment our way. 

God reminds us through Obadiah that the same portion we so generously give to others, either good or evil, will return to us. 

Sowing and Reaping

What a marvelous God we serve. God  refuses to lower the bar to meet our inadequacies. He sets the bar high, then lifts us over it. He presents the standard, then gives us everything we need to accomplish it.

“…I will not leave you helpless
nor forsake nor let you down,
nor relax my hold on you.
Assuredly not!”
Hebrews 13:5 AMP

We don’t struggle alone to fulfill God’s mandate. The beauty and simplicity of the golden rule unfolds like a delicate flower, as we rest and trust in God to guide and help us. What we sow we will reap.

Paul writes to the Galatians, 

“Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked.
A man reaps what he sows. . .
Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up.”
Galatians 6:7-9

So friends, let’s keep going. Keep reaching. Keep aiming. We will attain the reward of living for and giving to others according to the golden rule. Let’s not give up! Reward may seem a long way off, but it might be sooner than we think.

Do Clothes Make a Man or Woman? Are You Ready?

How important are the clothes we wear? Do clothes really make a man or woman? Is our dress that closely associated with the success of an individual?

My mother always dressed beautifully. She knew exactly what accessories to put with whatever top to go with whichever shoes. Me, on the other hand, missed the gorgeous-garment-gene completely. There was nothing glamorous about most of my life doing farm work. Carhartts and steel-toed boots hardly qualify as a fashion statement. Jewelry? Any deer, rabbit or coyote I encountered would have been non-appreciative of such accessories.

Not that I haven’t tried on rare occasions to “doll myself up.” One failed attempt at dressing-for-success ended up with arriving at church only to realize I had completely forgotten to wear shoes. Horrified I discovered I had left home with incredibly comfortable, fuzzy, blue slippers! An illustration perhaps of God humiliating the proud.

Seriously though, God has a lot to say about the clothes we wear that have little to do with appealing to the human eye, but rather the heart.

So before I worry about dress codes and fashion statements, the latest trends and hot new looks, let’s check out what is far more critical. God points to quite a different wardrobe for clothes appropriate for any man or woman.

The Old for the New

When we moved off the farm, I happily traded in those muddy boots and work clothes for casual office attire. The transition was easy and inexpensive thanks to second-hand stores and bargain hunting.

Paul compared the new life of a Christian as being similar to a wardrobe change, taking off the old and putting on the new.

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;
to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ephesians 4:22-24

Sounds easy, right? Maybe for some, but it certainly hasn’t been for me! I may not even own those old clothes any more, but I still smell the stench of them from time-to-time. Deceitful desires are deceitful because I’m the last the recognize how deceived I am in them. My attitudes can become downright foul before I catch a whiff of my own disdainful aroma.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone.

“We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our unrighteous deeds are like polluted garments.”
Isaiah 64:6

Humility

If you think I might be exaggerating, I’ll be specific. I’ll begin with the truly gritty and tough.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people,
holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3:12

Taking off the old man, or garments, may appear like an instantaneous magic act for some, but for me, it has been more like peeling layer by layer slowly and painstakingly off my entire being. Oh don’t get me wrong, I would love to be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. These are the real attributes making any woman or man great.

The selfishness, inconsideration, pride, harshness and impatience of my old man sticks like crazy-glue, showing itself in the most unexpected ways. I fear I grieve the Holy Spirit far too often, in my failure to rid myself of these old offensive garments. As a matter of fact, the more I try to rid myself of them, the more hopeless the process appears to become. If these godly qualities make the man or woman, without divine help, I’m in big trouble!

I, like everyone else who acknowledges the Name of the Lord Jesus, have been robed in His righteousness. But the message has taken longer than I hoped to seep into the essence of my whole being.

Salvation

I love Isaiah’s declaration:

“I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah 61:10

“He has clothed me with garments of salvation!” Don’t you love it? Do you hear the past tense? It’s a done deal, an irreversible act, an undeniable fact. These garments truly make us women and men of God.

Unlike my personal wardrobe transition, this garment change cost the highest price, the life of Jesus Christ. But God looked at each of us and said, “That one is worth it! Look at her. See how valuable she is. Look at him all you heavenly host, watch how I clean him up and transform him into someone that turns heads, capturing attention. Everyone will know it is My doing when they see these children of mine in their new clothes.”

Garments of salvation . . . robes of righteousness . . . fit only for the bride of Christ. Yes, Lord, bring it on!

My meager wardrobe change is nothing in comparison with the magnificent exchange that God has orchestrated. God’s clothes do make the man or woman.

Magnificent Exchange

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out invitations far and wide to the elite and the chosen — the list was long and impressive. Few responded; most vainly excused themselves. Quickly the invitation list was changed.

“Go into the street corners and invite . . . anyone you find.”
Matthew 22:9

The anyones and the everyones gladly came.

“But when the king came in to see the guests,
he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
He asked, ‘How did you get in here
without wedding clothes, friend?’
The man was speechless.
Matthew 22:11

Don’t miss the compassion and intimacy with which the king called him “friend.” The king knew him and loved him. The king had both extended the invitation and provided the necessary apparel for the occasion. The man was without excuse.

Obviously, when our Heavenly Father throws a wedding for His Son, He fully expects us to come dressed in the righteousness that He has already provided.

Fit for a King

Jesus spoke in parables while John witnessed the grand occasion through a vision.

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder shouting:
Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)”
Revelation 19: 6-8

God has given us everything we need, but it is up to each of us as the bride of Christ to make ourselves ready. I, for one, don’t want to have the King ask how I got into the wedding, still wearing the old garments of my past.

So, here I am kneeling in prayer, peeling away the old, receiving the new, and doing whatever it takes to be ready. Won’t you join me? If you are an anyone, the invitation still stands.

Don’t Worry; Be Happy! The Battle for Peace of Mind!

If you’re like me a “Don’t worry; be happy!” admonition isn’t exactly effective. The battle for peace of mind can’t be minimized. The struggle many people at times face is significant and life altering, causing emotions to sway like a skyscraper during an earthquake.

Sometimes even temporary issues can send one into extreme frustration or anxiety, whether the pivot point is a serious health problem, financial crisis, relational issues, or any number of other life events large and small. Paul challenged the Corinthians to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor:10:5)

That sounds like attempting to have a dozen toddlers sit still for a photo. Toddlers don’t stay still and neither do my thoughts or over-active imagination.

Nonetheless, God places on us the full responsibility for the thoughts we choose to dwell on. So how can we and do we win this battle for a mind at peace? Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us groping for our own solutions to this immense problem.

Rejoice

When hope seems lost and expectation for improvements buried and gone, the command to rejoice sounds cruel at best. Unless of course, the one giving the instruction was himself familiar with facing life and death situations.

“I am in chains for Christ . . .
and will continue to rejoice . . .
I eagerly expect and hope that
I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage
so that now as always Christ
will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:13,18-21

Maybe that is sufficient evidence to heed the advice of Paul whose struggle, pain and loss far exceed our own. When the chips are down and all natural support is stripped away, he concludes that everything apart from Christ is “garbage.” (3:8) In essence, he reminds us all that life is short and eternity is long.

Paul sets the context for his encouragement just before reminding us all that the “Lord is near!” When we sense that deliverance is close at hand, we have the capacity to endure much more than we previously thought possible.

Rejoice in the Lord always
[delight, gladden yourselves in Him];
again I say, Rejoice!”
Philippians 4:4

Don’t Worry; Be Happy

Paul, through personal example, demonstrates the possibility of maintaining joy in difficult situations. Then he adds to his clear command to rejoice, another, “Don’t worry!” During less intense problems it’s perhaps easier to find something to be grateful for and happy about, but when you’re facing foreclosure, your marriage is heading to divorce court, or the illness is diagnosed as terminal, “Don’t worry; be happy” sounds empty and unrealistic.

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything,
but in every circumstance and in everything,
by prayer and petition (definite requests),
with thanksgiving,
continue to make your wants known to God.”
Philippians 4:6

Gradually, I’m beginning to understand Paul’s admonition. Prayer changes everything, starting with me and my perspective. Thankfulness perhaps improves the nature of our thoughts and emotions more than any other quality. Jesus encouraged his listeners that God knows and loves each of us so much that He even knows how many hairs we have on our heads. (Luke 7) Apparently, that’s about 150,000 hairs per person. Then He says,

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more. . .”

When you consider there are about 1 billion trillion stars in the known universe and God has each one not just numbered but named, we understand how great God is and how much He really does care. (Ps 147:4) Suddenly, I view God and my life from a new context.

It is only as I fully know my need, that I come to know the goodness and greatness of my God. Maybe, “Don’t worry; be happy” isn’t such a far stretch after all.

Peace in the Storm

As I take those things that rob me of joy and shadow me with fear, placing them in prayer before God, peace becomes possible.

“And God’s peace [shall be yours,
that tranquil state of a soul assured
of the salvation through Christ,
and so fearing nothing from God
and being content with its earthly lot
of whatever sort that is, that peace]
which transcends all understanding shall garrison
and mount guard over your
hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

I’m beginning to see the strategy for winning this battle over depression and anxiety. I’m not sure about anyone else, but for me, the decades long struggle with mental illness proved to be largely a spiritual issue. I can say, at least in part, that I’ve been transformed by the renewing of my mind, aligning it to who God is and what He declares. (Rom 12:2)

Though once impossible, now “Don’t worry; be happy!” is completely attainable.

Thinking

For a  brain like mine that was once deeply rutted with “stinking-thinking,” rerouting thought patterns has taken persistence and time. That’s why Paul continues his exhortation,

“. . . whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence
and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable,
whatever is kind and winsome and gracious,
if there is any virtue and excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think on and weigh and take account of
these things [fix your minds on them].”
Philippians 4:8

My thoughts are becoming increasingly a more accurate reflection of this description. At times, however, it is downright scary how ragged, selfish, and putrid any random thought rolling through my head might be. But just imagine! Imagine how different life would be if every thought was taken captive and aligned with Christ through this short, albeit challenging, list.

Practice

If I stop reading here, however, I will miss the mark. “Don’t worry; be happy!” will remain an elusive impossibility. To embed these truths deeply in my life, they must be practiced.

Practice what you have learned
and received and heard and seen in me,
model your way of living on it,
and the God of peace
(of untroubled, undisturbed well-being)
will be yours.”
Philippians 4:9

Reading our Bibles and knowing the truth begins the process but will leave us lacking if we settle for knowledge alone. Winning the battle for the mind takes effort — a praying and petitioning God kind of effort, plus diligently censoring our thought life kind of effort. When we willingly practice and model what we have learned, that process continues until radical mind-renewing, mind-healing transformation occurs.

Jehovah Shalom, the God of Peace, remains untroubled and undisturbed. He grants us His perfect peace that supernaturally garrisons and guards our hearts and minds. Then, through Christ, “Don’t worry; be happy!” becomes a daily reality and peace truly does win.

David, A Man of Wholehearted Devotion to God

Only a few biblical personalities are said to possess wholehearted devotion to God.  What qualifies such a description? How can one develop this attribute? Who were these individuals?

All were exceptional yet ordinary people. They are people God continues to look for and calls us to emulate.

“For the eyes of the LORD move
to and fro throughout the earth
that He may strongly support
those whose heart is completely His.”
2 Chronicles 16:9

The list of those who possessed wholeheartedly committed to God reads like a who’s who in the spiritual hall of fame:

  • Noah was called “righteous and perfect in his generations” and built a means of salvation for all who would listen. (Gen 6:9)
  • Mary Magdalene followed Christ with wholehearted devotion in her worship, attentiveness to his teaching, faithfulness at His crucifixion and stalwart declaration of His resurrection to His unbelieving followers.
  • Job was declared to be a “perfect and upright man, one that fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8)
  • Because of Hannah’s unwavering commitment and sacrificial devotion her nation was turned to God in a single generation (1 Sam 1 & 2)
  • Hezekiah’s self assessment reads, “I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion” (Is 38:3)

What about Abram and his wife Sara, Esther and Mordecai, or many New Testament forerunners, world changers, fearless defenders and promoters of the faith? The Bible says of Jehoshaphat,

“His heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD…”
2 Chronicles 17:6

Above All Others

The Hebrew words often translated as “devotion” have the sense of “being complete or full, whole and wholesome, innocent, and having integrity.” It also stands for “truth, virtue and uprightness.”

The person the Bible describes as having wholehearted devotion above all others is, beyond a doubt, King David. Every succeeding king and ruler would be measured by the devotion found in this godly man.

David was a young shepherd tending “a few sheep” — out of sight, unnoticed, and insignificant by all earthly perspective. In obscurity, however, David’s heart became a God-shaped container of radical devotion to the one and only true God!

Even David’s son Solomon, the wisest of all men, was unable to emulate his father’s example,

“…his heart was not
fully devoted to the LORD his God,
as the heart of David his father had been.” 
1 Kings 11:4

I appreciate the honesty with which David judges his own heart, however. He, as much as any other man, knew the pitfalls of walking wholly committed to God while living with human passions, desires and weaknesses. 

I’m trying my best to walk in the way of integrity,
especially in my own home.
But I need your help!
I’m wondering, Lord, when will you appear?
I despise what is evil
and anything that moves my heart away from you.
I will not let evil hold me in its grip.
Every perverse and crooked way I have put away from my heart,
for I will have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.”
Psalm 101:2-4 TPT

A Committed Path

Do you ever feel like David? “I’m trying, Lord, but I could use some help!” I sure do!

Wholehearted devotion requires a commitment, a predetermined resolve to allow nothing and no one to separate us from our allegiance to God. But how exactly did David foster and protect such an attitude?

David makes no excuses for himself. A quick glance at Psalm 51 reveals his all-to-real struggle with human weakness.

“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me…”
Psalm 51:3

Four key elements are evident in David’s life: a soft heart, value for God’s Word, persistence in prayer, and unrestrained worship. All are essential to obtaining wholehearted devotion.

Soft Heart

David’s hope and anchor rested in his personal relationship with his Heavenly Father. A soft heart, quick to repent, always leads to wholeness and restoration.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Psalm 51:10-11 

Humility, a quickness to forgive, concern for the oppressed, and genuine love stood as witness to the softness of David’s heart. 

Value God’s Word

David wisely established godly disciplines to live above reproach. The Hebrew word for “fully devoted” also  means “truth, virtue, uprightness and righteousness.” It is impossible to possess these attributes without saturating ourselves in the oil of divine truth, the Word of God.

David attributed many defining benefits to God’s Word.

“… perfect, refreshing the soul…
trustworthy, making wise the simple…
giving joy to the heart…
radiant, giving light to the eyes…
pure, enduring forever…
 firm, and all of them are righteous… 
more precious than gold…
 sweeter than … honey from the honeycomb.”
Psalm 19: 7-10

Persistence in Prayer

Maintaining an undivided heart toward God also requires transparency and vulnerability. David recognized God’s law as a perfect light shining upon his heart, revealing what would otherwise remain hidden even from Himself. He prayed,

“But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgressions.”
Psalm 19:12,13

Because hidden faults and willful sins are common to us all, Jesus told us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God lovingly reveals our hidden faults when we ask — either speaking through the Holy Spirit or mentors and trusted supporters He has positioned in our lives. 

Unrestrained Worship

The Hebrew word for “steadfast” also means “get ready or be prepared.” The attitude of prayer turns the key to wholehearted devotion, while the practice of worship opens the door, preparing us for godliness.

The psalms ring with David’s anthems of adoration and worship. Communion with God in prayer, combined with worship, prepares the hard ground of our hearts, tenderizing and mellowing it into fallow soil, yielded to God.

“You, God, are my God, 
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1-3

Wholehearted devotion recognizes God as the sufficient Source of all we need.

God’s Promise

Let’s finish where we began,

“For the eyes of the LORD move
to and fro throughout the earth
that He may strongly support
those whose heart is completely His.”
2 Chronicles 16:9

God is looking, scanning the nations, browsing the streets of our cities, searching through our homes, peering into pulpits and pews, desiring to find someone, anyone, he can “strongly support”! His eyes are watching for those He can strengthen, fill with unwavering courage, and give power to overcome all opposition, because that is what strongly support truly means.

Oddly enough, this same word for “strongly support” defines David’s “triumph, prevail, and defeat” over Goliath (1 Sam 17:50). When God found a boy whose heart was fully devoted to Him, He moved with strong support to help the lad. The shepherd’s stone hit the mark with supernatural accuracy and force.  The giant fell never to rise again!

As God gazes upon our generation, may He find many, young and old, men and women, with wholehearted devotion to Him above all else.

**********

 

The Kingdom of God – Righteousness, Peace and Joy

Why would Paul include righteousness, peace and joy as the key ingredients in the kingdom of God? What sets these three qualities above all others? Why are these components indispensable?

“For the kingdom of God
is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
because anyone who serves Christ in this way
is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”
Romans 14:17,18

I confess to having more questions than answers. However, one thing appears certain, righteousness, peace and joy create the fertile soil from which they each thrive, co-existing for their mutual benefit.

Righteousness

Recently, I’ve had more than one conversation surrounding the frustration we can feel regarding righteousness. (Or perhaps the lack of it.) Why does it seem to be too easy to do the things we would or should not do, while at the same time difficult to do the things we truly want to do? Oops! That’s another question!

Before the initial sin, humanity could freely choose to obey God and maintain close relationship with Him without feeling pulled and tugged in other directions. Since that time however, our propensity bends continually toward disobedience and rebellion. For every son and daughter since Adam and Eve, we now need to make a deliberate choice for righteousness — to walk in innocence and freedom. Without this focused attention, we automatically default to sin and error.

Just a few verses earlier Paul despaired of the same frustration I experience, “Who can possible help us?” he asks. Then immediately he gives the answer,

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

There’s hope! Righteousness means to be faultless, innocent, and guiltless or observing divine laws. Only God fits this description. In light of His holiness, we all end up far short.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

God solved the problem in Jesus. Through covenant relationship with Him, God counts us as righteous. Because of Jesus, righteousness now becomes the hallmark of all other relationships as well.

Peace

Through the liberty of Jesus Christ, we are no longer forced to continue in negative patterns. He came to deliver us from the stronghold of sin. With righteousness in place, we can start growing upward and onward. Maturity and development in any area isn’t always easy, but possible through Christ.

“The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”
Isaiah 32:17

The apple tree in my yard doesn’t have to work at producing apples; it simply bears what it is genetically designed to produce. The fruit of righteousness however does take work, or at least active involvement. “Fruit” here is an activity or byproduct of action taken.

Isaiah says with certainty, the byproduct of righteousness “will be” peace. Peace effects us inside and out, giving us a sense of undisturbed quietness, complete safety and absolute security.

When I’ve violated God’s standards, I’m immediately robbed of peace and void of internal quietness and confidence. In Christ, however, I am able to be restored again to right relationship with God, producing “fruit” naturally.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18

Peace works its way outward spreading to others with enough fruit to share!

Joy

It’s hard to believe that someone like me, whose life was marked by depression and anxiety for decades, could experience such complete joy. But it’s true! Perhaps more than any other quality, joy marks my life . Because of what Jesus Christ has done in me, I easily share the overflow of joy with others.

“Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul,
produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ
in the word and in the world.”
– John Piper

When we begin to walk in right relationship with God, living at peace with ourselves and others, we possess an ability to see the world in a new light. God enables us to view His Word and the world around us from kingdom perspective.

In a sense, God gives us spiritual contact lens, that allow us to see those we encounter here on earth from His viewpoint. At the same time, we are able to maintain clear focus on Him. Righteousness, peace and joy retrains our minds to see with His vision.

Paul prayed,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

Righteousness produces more and more. This time in the form of overflowing, bubbling over and abounding hope.

Kingdom of God

Listen to how the Message Bible phrases our original verses:

“God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone; pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.”
Romans 14:17-18

The kingdom of God isn’t so much about what we do, but what God does in us. He “sets it right, puts it together and completes it with joy.” He does it all!  What we need to do is rest in the process, co-operating with the Holy Spirit, while He does the heavy lifting.

 

We have only one part to play — “single-minded” service. By keeping our eyes on God, all the pressure falls off of us. No matter how old we become, how mature in the faith, or how seasoned in the Scriptures, we constantly depend on Him to lead, equip and enable me.

Though we try our best to please God in every way, our own efforts matter little. Through righteousness, peace and joy we automatically become pleasing to God and valuable to others.

Righteousness, Peace and Joy

Righteousness, peace and joy are byproducts of living wholly for Christ. Through my vain efforts to try to do and be, I actually hinder the natural flow of God’s design.

God has planted us firmly. The Holy Spirit washes us continually with the Word, watering us deep to the roots. We rest in His finished work producing the fruit of the heavenly kingdom to which we belong.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Don’t ignore the last sentence. “Against such there is no law.” We no longer have to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or the law pointing out right and wrong, like our first ancestors did. Because of God’s grace, we eat freely and fully from the tree of life where righteousness, peace and joy thrive.

No wonder Paul declared these three ingredients as essential in the kingdom of God. This is how God sets our lives right, puts them together, and completes them with joy.

 

A Time to Dance – Lavish, Unrestrained Worship, Warfare and Praise

It’s time to dance!  The bible affirms dance, both individually and corporately, as a significant and powerful expression of worship, celebrating God’s presence. Many Christians around the world freely worship God through dance. North America perhaps lags a little behind, however.

Clinical studies have shown the positive effects of dance for both physical and mental health. One study using MRI scans showed that even people watching dance “activated the same neurons that would fire if they themselves were dancing.” Is that why dance mobilizes the Body of Christ to deeper levels of worship?

Even today, worship leaders echo Solomon’s words, “Everyone should dance!”

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
…a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

Over twenty five years ago, I stood awestruck as I watched worship dance for the first time. I had danced before God in the privacy of my own basement many times, but to see it as a public form of worship stirred something deep within me to pursue worship in every dimension.

It’s Time

The first bible reference to corporate dance in worship involved over a million people. It was led by a woman over 85 years old!

“Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister,
took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her,
with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
‘Sing to the LORD; for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.’ ”
Exodus 15:20,21

This brother-sister dual of Moses and Miriam led the greatest worship service ever conducted. On the banks of the Red Sea, they watched their mortal enemy floating dead on the waves. Four hundred and thirty years of oppression broken! (Ex 12:40)

From slavery to freedom,
oppression to deliverance,
poverty to abundance,
captives no more!

When I remember what God has done in my life, separating my past from my present, I can’t help but break into worship. He released me from a inescapable pit, shattering the chains of addictions too strong for me to break. He softened my hardened heart. This mind clouded with depression, He renewed. He filled me with a passion to live sold-out for Him.

For me, it is time to dance!

Everyone Together

David was also lifted “out of the depths.”

“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and
clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises
and not be silent.
LORD my God, I will praise you forever.”
Psalm 30:11-12

Israel knew how to dance through oppression. Dancing as joyous praise weaves throughout the psalms.

“Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
Jeremiah 31:13

Sometimes dance expresses joyous gratitude toward God. At other times, God himself inspires and motivates believers to dance. Either way, it is time to dance!

God of Movement

The very first verse in the bible describes the Holy Spirit actively moving over the void establishing rhythm.

“In the beginning God created
the heavens and the earth.
Now 
the earth was formless and empty,
darkness was over the surface of the deep
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Genesis 1:1-2

Hovering describes an eagle fluttering over her young, shaking and trembling, vibrating and moving. By divine strategy and in preparation for creation, Holy Spirit actively moved, fluttered and shook. Then God spoke the elements into existence.

In preparation to creative release, Holy Spirit knew it was time to dance!

Bringing in the Presence

Perhaps, David best illustrates another purpose for dance. He longed for the Ark of God’s Presence to return to Jerusalem. His first attempt failed with Uzzah losing his life, but David didn’t give up.

“Wearing a linen ephod,
David was dancing before the LORD
with all his might,
while he and all Israel
were bringing up the ark of the LORD
with shouts and the sound of trumpets.”
2 Samuel 6:14-15

David danced “before the LORD with all his might.” He poured himself out in lavish praise with dance as an offering unto God. Dressed as a priest, the king led. All Israel followed.

Extravagant, vulnerable worship is risky. Some, like David’s wife, will misunderstand such devotion, rejecting what God calls pure and beautiful.

David remained unwavering,

“…I will celebrate before the LORD.
I will become even more undignified than this,
and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”
2 Samuel 6:21-22

For those desiring to usher in the Presence of God, the time to dance can be costly.

Collaborative Dance

Zephaniah reveals God in collaborative dance with His Bride, Israel. First, “Daughter Zion” celebrates in her God.

Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!”
Zephaniah 3:14

Shouting aloud and other whole-hearted expressions of adoration and worship becomes contagious.  Expressions of utter joy radiate from faces turned God-ward. The word “rejoice” means jumping for joy, triumphant leaping forth.”

Worship includes quiet, solitary encounters with God. Instrumental, vocal and dance movement also create beautiful expressions of adoration to the Lord as a demonstrating of worship.

How does God respond to such extravagant worship?

“The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

God, the Mighty Warrior, rises with great delight and absolute joy. He breaks into twirling and spinning “over you with singing.” Am I exaggerating? Not at all! “Rejoice” here means to be “bright, cheerful, having great joy, twirling and spinning.”

When God rises in collaboration to our frail but expressive worship, dancing breaks forth on earth and in heaven!

Warfare Dance

Dance also fights spiritual battles.

“Praise and worship is the highest form of warfare
that is possible against the enemy of our soul.
Worshiping God…is the best form of warfare —
refusing to give the enemy our time or attention!”
Called to Flag

The united activation of people in extravagant praise and adoration to God, ushers in God’s presence in powerful ways. Although biblical flags and banners were not used in the same context that dancers use them today, dancers often symbolically use flags and banners as instruments of worship movement.

When dancing and flagging is used as an expression of worship to God, it is a powerful, non-verbal declaration of love and adoration to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

David’s wife Michal misunderstood David’s worship and criticized him. As a result she remained barren all her life. (2 Sam. 6:23) God takes worship seriously. He honors and protects those who without reservation give Him all their worship.

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength
and with all your mind.”
Luke 10:27

The dance of worship truly includes all these aspects. Perhaps for all of us, it is time to dance.

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(Special thanks to RAC Worship Dance Team for their inspiring movements through dance and breathing life into my worship. Photo credits Amanda Chernesky)