For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.

Ephesians 3: 14-16

 

Families take on many forms; what is the norm or traditional in one society is odd in another, and those normative conventions change over time, too. Some of us have very strong connections to large extended families, some have very small immediate ones that we are close to, and others don’t have a need to exchange Christmas cards with even one blood relative. Each person has a story that involves how we got to where we are, and that story always involves a long chain of people that we can identify as family.

 

God’s view of this aspect of existence seems to be just a bit different. His definition of family is a lot less changeable and much more consistent than ours. The Lord considers all people to be His family, and He doesn’t ever categorize any of us as people that He doesn’t want to be close to, either. He goes looking for us when we are distant, and He travels to the farthest reaches of the planet to find us. God willingly searches the very depths of our souls to find us when we are hiding in the darkness of fear, denial, and separation. God has given us His Spirit to be with and in everyone who enters into relationship with Him so that we won’t ever be alone and so that we will never be on our own, either. He leaves the greatest of celebrations to travel to the most miserable places on the earth in order to comfort, strengthen, and restore any one of us who is lost.

 

The Creator’s design for family is much bigger and far greater than what we can imagine from our earth bound viewpoint. It is in and through His family that He wants us to find the strength, encouragement, and love that we need in order to thrive in this life. We are connected to people through the Spirit of Christ. He brings everyone who opens his heart to Him into a family that has an eternal focus and an enormous family tree that runs from Adam and Eve all the way to the last person that will be born. I want to give thanks to God for this family and for each and every person who is a part of it, and I praise God for giving me the strength and the encouragement that comes from being surrounded by such a great array of people who are my own true relatives.

 

Jesus said,

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work.”

John 9: 4

 

If you have ever experienced one of those days when the weather changes very rapidly so that a bright, sunny sky changes into something that is the color of mud and motor oil that is poorly mixed, deep browns swirling in a sea of thicker than cement black, then you know how incredibly quickly brightness can become disorienting darkness. At that time, you better know where you are and have a good idea of where you want to go, for there aren’t many visual clues left to navigate by.

 

Our world has been heading down this path toward darkness for a long time; evil has been working continually and with great diligence to remove the channel markers from our journey so that we can’t find our way home. Although God has promised us that His light will remain in the world in total for a time, He has only promised its permanence to people who choose to know Him personally by claiming Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Still, people resist and they postpone entering into this relationship. They don’t want to make the sacrifices, life is still too new and they are exploring its possibilities, they have done too much that is wrong and God couldn’t want them, or the darkness is just a much more comfortable place to be for the way that they want to live at this time. There are as many reasons for rejecting the love offering of Jesus as there are people in this world; still, permanent darkness is coming for them all.

 

That is why God mandates that we do what Jesus is talking about. Right now, during the dimming light of this day, before the storm’s oily blackness enshrouds this world, there is a lost soul in my life who needs to be loved and shown that the never failing light of God’s glory is Christ’s gift for that person. Sharing God, the Father’s, loving truth with our world is a primary thing that Jesus was sent to do, and this is what He is sending us to do, also. We can bring to light the path to eternity through the lives that we live, the love that we give to others and by the words of truth that we share. Jesus knew that permanent darkness can come in an instant. An individual’s sunny sky can change into the blackness of Hell in a heartbeat. So, now is the time for those who know unending light to do the work that Christ sends us to do.

 

You crown the year with your bounty; your paths overflow with abundance.

The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,

The meadows cloth themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Psalm 65: 11-13

 

For me the most vivid and remember able moment from the film The Sound of Music is the one where Julie Andrews is on the mountain top singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” As she dances alone with the Alps in the background and the lush green of her world underfoot, she is carried away into a deep part of God’s creation, and her next words, “With songs they have sung for a thousand years”, speak of her real understanding of God’s long term design and plan.

 

We, too, can stand in the middle of a green mountain pasture, a sand dune in the desert, a field of grain, or a pocket park in the center of a city and see and feel the creative energy and the Divine imagination that is behind it all. Everything that is on the earth, every plant, insect, animal, and each geological feature was designed and placed by the Creator, and it was all done for our benefit. God wants to relate to people, to all of us, and His greatest delight is found in the times when we come to Him and share our lives with Him. God’s art gallery is filled with the portraits of His children, and even when He looks at natural beauty, His pleasure is greatest when we are enjoying and being blessed by it. The Father gave us a world that is filled with the resources that we would require to meet our physical needs, and He granted us the responsibility to care for it and to cultivate it. From this we were given the dignity to live purposeful lives, and God also promises to stay close to us through it all so that we can find comfort, direction, and satisfaction from our labor despite the unending struggle that is a part of living in a fallen and corrupted world.

 

The Lord wants us to take some time today to look around and see His finger prints on the world; slow down the pace of getting from here to there for the moment that is required to smell the fragrance of a flower and to hear the beating of a bird’s wing. Let the cooling breeze touch your cheek and know that this is a part of the love song that God wrote just for you. This world was designed and created by God for our benefit and pleasure, and He is delighted when we are joyfully joined in songs of praise to His glory.

 

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16: 20

 

Justice is something that most of us cry out for. When things don’t go our way, whether in the smaller issues of fair play in a crowded parking lot or in the bigger concerns about treatment by an employer or in a court of law, we ask God to bring about a fair and a just answer for us. I am not all that convinced, however, that justice is actually what I want to receive on most of these occasions. Justice means that I will get exactly what I deserve. When it is God’s justice that I am seeking, what I deserve is not something that I would probably find to be very pleasant. You see, this is a characteristic that derives from the very core of who God is, and it helps to define the active and operative qualities of righteousness. On a day in and day out basis Godly righteousness is a very high standard for me to meet.

 

Yet, Christ calls to me and to everyone to follow Him. He wants us to walk in the same steps that He takes and to react to our world in the same way that He has reacted to it from its creation. He also assures me that there is nothing that He will ask of me or anyplace that He will take me that He does not equip me to handle and where He will not walk with me. As I seek to know Christ deeply, His character becomes more fully my own. When I choose to follow where He is leading, I walk along an adventurous path of discovery that takes me continually further into freedom from the oppression of sin in my life, and this path is also one along which Christ reveals the need for justice in the lives of others in this world.

 

If I am to follow justice alone, that means that I am committing to focus all of my attention on Christ. It means that I am willing to actively work to see to it that righteousness and fairness are applied to all people and to each situation that I encounter. I must desire to live in a manner that demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice my own comfort, gain, and security for the sake of the just treatment of others. It also means that I need to be open and vulnerable before Christ and His community so that my naturally self-centered sinfulness will not pervert my own interpretation of justice. Following justice is a life-long pursuit. However, the pursuit of justice is an essential part of walking through this life in the center of Christ’s will.

 

 

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.

Ezekiel 22: 30

 

God has really simple desires. He doesn’t need much, and He seldom leaves us guessing about what He wants. Still, the things that He asks us for can be the hardest things for us to give. Yet, when we do give the Lord what He seeks, the impact on our world is profound. Ezekiel presents us with a very Old Testament sounding proposition that actually is as current as today’s sunrise, for what else does God seek but people who will listen to His voice and respond to what He says. Does the Lord need anything from me? The answer to that question is a simple no. However, the Lord does desire my heart, my openness to His Word, my response to the Spirit’s leading, and my willingness to serve Him. How much more direct could He be?

 

So, let’s suppose that I accept that these words that were written about 2,700 years ago are more than a history lesson and that they have an application to my world. Now consider that my city doesn’t have a wall around it and that there are no marauding armies camped outside its perimeter. Then, I need to reach a conclusion about what it is that God wants from me.

 

Here’s what I see, God has very little concern or regard for our cities as such. He isn’t interested in preserving our culture or my way of life. The Lord has always been concerned with and has invested Himself totally in people, and there are armies of evil camped out around everyone in this world. Christ calls to us and the Spirit of Christ directs each of His children to stand between those forces and the souls of the people that He loves dearly. God created, equips, empowers, and directs each of us to fill our world with His love, compassion, grace, and truth. Christ wants us to join Him in a continual battle for the salvation of people and for the restoration of righteousness. Thus, through our willingness to serve our Lord, the only thing that truly matters, the souls of His beloved people, will be preserved.

 

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Galatians 5: 25

 

God wants His children to live. He wants us to live it up, to live life fully, and to be utterly alive. Although, God does tell us to change the way that we live from one that is controlled by self-directed and self-serving thinking and uncontrolled actions, He doesn’t mean that we are to spend all of our lives locked away in sober, solitary, and silent reflection. The Lord wants us to live in a fully engaged and totally involved manner in our world. If we consider the way that Jesus lived as an example of the way that God intends for us to live, then we have a powerful model of what it means to be alive.

 

Paul gave us two contrasting lists of life qualities that we can examine. The first includes sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies; these actions describe the way that people tend to live when they are finding their satisfaction from within themselves alone and from the natural world absent the controlling touch of the Creator of that world. The second list is a description of the fruit that comes from the Spirit of Christ, and it includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The difference maker between these lists is Christ, and the difference is made by the continual work of His Spirit in our lives.

 

We are called to live!

 

This is a powerful imperative; we are to live in the fullest and most passionate way imaginable. The direction, strength, and empowerment behind this sort of life is from the Spirit, and the key to consistency in living this way is to keep filling up on Christ’s Spirit. Turn to Him through the Word, in prayer, and in relationship with other children of God. The life that courses through our veins brings about an ever-deepening knowledge and understanding of God and leads us to engagement with our world for His glory. As we continually allow Christ the opportunity to keep us living in the center of His very full life, He takes us to a depth of relationship with God that is the place where true life dwells.

 

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2: 10

 

In the United States it seems that we do not understand the concept of being a people as well as we might. We are such a widely diverse gathering of individuals who have racial and cultural backgrounds that have become a collection of most of the stories that are told of people groups from every corner of the world. In Peter’s time the world that he knew was beginning to become a little like ours, but the idea of being a people, especially the thought of being a select and a specifically set apart people who were designated by God for this position, was still clearly understood. Yet, even then, this concept of a separate people that was based upon nationality was false.

 

God’s intent was much greater than that. His desire was and continues to be to see all of humanity brought together. This was His creation design, and He has not changed the plan in the slightest from the dawn of creation to this day. God came personally into this world in Christ; the Messiah, Savior, Reconciler, and Lord; in order to bring about the destruction of all that divides. He is also the means through which the damage, the brokenness, of sin is healed. In Christ we people can find the commonality that bridges all of the fears that cut through our humanity with a jagged knife of division. In Christ there is race, nationality, gender, and culture. However, in Christ none these need to keep us apart. In Christ these distinctives are a part of the story of who we are, and they can be a part of the conversation that we have in the process of growing together in unity.

 

In Christ we are all a people. A singular, collective gathering of souls that resides in every corner of our world and that has a history as long and as richly diverse as the story of all of humanity. In the body of Christ there is no longer any reason to fear others, to separate from them, or to isolate ourselves from those who are different. Christ has granted to each of us the mercy of His grace. He demands that we do the same for others. As God has gathered us from that far away place of isolation into which we were born and given us a dwelling place in His presence, so we should reach out to embrace the various people of our world and through our lives show them the blessed mercy of Christ’s gift of restoration.

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