Pay to all what is owed to them; taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13: 7

 

Paying bills is a regular ritual of life. Every month I go through the same cycle of making arrangements for the proper amounts of funds to go to various people and places in order to satisfy the obligations that I have entered into. Admittedly this process has changed significantly in recent years as almost all of these payments are made by means of some form of electronic processing. I never send cash to someone and almost never write out those paper documents that are known as checks. The means and the methods used to make the payments doesn’t alter at all the fact that these are my obligations to be satisfied in the manner that I agreed upon. Paying our debts is a part of the orderly universe that God desires for His people to help create.

 

Yet financial obligations are not the most important ones in the orderly world that God calls us to participate within. Even more important is our response to people and to the institutions of this world. As followers of Christ we are taught by God’s Word to recognize the Lord’s hand in the creation, design, and implementation of civil and governmental structures and offices. These are positions that are filled by people, and we owe these people the same sort of respect that God grants to each of us. In that light, granting respect to people is something unique in the nature of God, for He knows every one of us at an intimate level that sees beyond the outward expression of our lives to the potential for redemption that comes through knowing Christ.

 

Christ calls upon His people to see others in the same manner. We will not like all of them, we certainly won’t agree with them all of the time, and we may need to stand in opposition to the ungodly things that they propose and set in motion; however, we still owe them a debt of obligation that is given to us by God. We are to speak out in opposition to what is wrong in their practices and policies without attacking the person. When people in positions of authority and power are particularly troubling to us, we must pray for them with a diligence and a vigor that demonstrates an unceasing desire to see that person come to know and to follow Christ. Christ desires for us to do something that is even harder than praying for them, for He instructs us to actually love them as He does. That is truly hard to do; yet, that is exactly what Paul tells us to do in the next live in his letter to Christ’s people in Rome. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13: 8

When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.

Deuteronomy 23: 9

 

The battleground is a dangerous place. Not only is there the very real presence of an armed opponent who is seeking your harm, but there are also many situations that can arise to bring temptation and to cause people to turn away from righteous living. It is very easy to become caught up in the fight to the point that anger and self-righteous thinking begin to dominate the heart of the warrior. When this happens, God’s true purpose and mission are too often forgotten. These are times when we tend to head off on our own campaigns in which we attempt to purify the world by cleansing it of the people and the things that we find uncomfortable or threatening.

 

When the struggle has reached the point where it is very intense, we also can stop being concerned about the practice of fundamental spiritual discipline. Things like regular reading of God’s Word, prayer, and worship in the company of Christian community are set aside in order to stay focused on the fight. Unfortunately, it is these essential disciplines that help to keep us so focused. These are the practices that God has designed and intends for us to engage in so that our hearts and minds remain aligned with His. When these are set aside, it is far too easy to start to listen to our own voices and to take direction from unholy sources.

 

God’s Word makes very clear the fact that His people live in a world that is hostile to us. He also calls upon us to engage in an on-going fight with evil for the territory that surrounds us. Anyone who takes God seriously and decides to seek out and act upon His will is call by God to become a warrior. Still, even in the harsh circumstances of the battlefield, God wants us to bring glory to Him by conducting our campaigns righteously. The Lord has committed Himself to providing us with the resources that we need to grow stronger in Christ as we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the struggle. At the same time our opponent is trying with all of his might to trip us up and to cause us to lose sight of the Lord’s true character and methods of engagement. We can claim Christ’s victory in these times of conflict and struggle by staying committed to prayer, to the study of God’s Word, and to the fellowship of Christ’s body.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51: 10

 

Creativity is a wonderful thing. Its presence within us changes the way that we see our world. It makes colors brighter and sounds more vibrant, and it allows us to more fully see the wonderful depth and glorious variety that is present in the people that we meet. We enter into the realm of creator when we paint pictures, transform words into stories, mold ingredients into a meal, and see the beauty behind the woundedness of people’s lives. I think that this quality that we call creativity is something that God, Himself, put into us as His hand shaped each of us. It is a part of who God is, and so it comes into people by virtue of the fact that God makes us in His own image.

 

When David wrote the words of this psalm, he was desperate and deeply troubled by the ways that he had turned away from God. He realized the depths of his sinfulness, and he also knew that he wanted to return to God’s righteous way of living life. David needed a Creator to see beyond the depravity and the broken nature of his thoughts and actions so that this lost son could return to the presence of his Lord. David had turned to the right place, for God does look beyond the surface of our lives so that he views all that is within us. However, He views what is there with an eye attuned to the possibilities, the potential, and God’s view of us isn’t impeded by what is present now. In fact, God desires to take the misshapen lives that we are living and reform them into ones that bring His glory into our world.

 

When the weight of his sin was too great to handle, David turned to God seeking forgiveness and restoration. We can do the same thing. We can trust God to listen, to hear us well, and to see the tarnished beauty that is the redeemed nature of His beloved child. In the great act of re-creation, Jesus took all of our sinfulness upon Himself. As we accept Christ as our Lord and submit to His grace and to His will, we enter into that creative rebirth, and His Spirit begins to work within us to reshape and reform our hearts and our minds into ones that portray the character and the nature of our Creator. God’s creative nature provides great hope to me, for it speaks to the fact that He sees the potential for living out His will in my life that lies beneath the damage that I have caused. For Christ takes the broken stones and shattered windows that I have caused and transforms them into His marvelous dwelling place.

 

 

 

 

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the traditions of men.

Mark 7: 8

 

Jesus was addressing a crowd of people that included a cross section of the culture and the community of His times. Although His words here are aimed primarily at the religious leaders in that crowd, they were the ones challenging Him on minor points of practice; He was speaking to everyone within hearing. Christ is also stating these same truths for us to consider. The issue at hand is ancient and on-going as we can see from the words that Jesus took from Isaiah as He said,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the teachings of men.”

(Mk.7: 6,7 from Is.29: 13)

 

It would seem that we like convenient and easily managed rules for life. They need to fit into our personal objectives and not interfere with the way that we have planned for our days to go. Even when we read God’s Word and pray to Him for guidance, we too frequently fit what we hear into a pre-established template of truth that we and our culture have formed. Thus, the way that we live is developed out of our own desired outcome which is shaped by beliefs and by thinking that find their source in human wisdom. Although most people that I know are not as extreme and as committed to this practice as were the religious leaders that Jesus was confronting, almost everyone relies to some degree upon our human traditions and understanding when we are engaging our world.

 

Instead, Jesus would have us go to the source of all truth and wisdom. God has left nothing that is truly useful and valuable for life out of His Word. When that text is combined with the revelation that Christ’s Spirit grants to us, we have the only valid source for these rules of life. This frees us from being judgmental; yet, it allows us to stand on truth and to demand righteousness of ourselves and in our society. This is not an easy world to live in. There are powerful voices calling to each of us, and we are influenced by long histories of belief and practice. However, there is a much older and considerably better-established foundation that we can stand upon. God has revealed His way of life to all who would seek Him, and Christ is the only way to that life. God’s Word; read studiously, meditated upon continuously, and illuminated by the Spirit must be the place where we go for guidance and direction in all matters of living and relating in our world.

God raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2: 6, 7

 

The idea of kindness brings out certain images in my mind. One of them is that classic picture of the young person (Well, the classic version says “Boy Scout,” but these are modern times where such specifics are generalized for the sake of inclusion. This is actually and usually a good thing, too,) Back to my story; this young person is helping the elderly person across a busy street. Another of these kindness events happens when we let the person with one item or with the baby in her arms who is behind us in line at a store go ahead of us. Kindness is picking up your neighbors tipped over trashcan and putting the former contents back into it. Kindness is too rare in our hurried and individualistic world. Yet, these ideas of what kindness is are shallow and weak in comparison to what Paul is describing.

 

Let’s face it; people are generally not very pleasant to be around. We deserved nothing but disappointment, anger, and condemnation from God. We come into this world dead in spirit, lost to eternity, and separated by a humanly impenetrable division from all that is loving, holy, and righteous. With full knowledge of all of this and with a heart that breaks with the experiencing of our rebellion, God chose to pursue us. He has the power and the ability to wipe us all out and to start over with a new model, but God decided to stay with His original creation. So, He provided us with the way and the means to make a decision ourselves. We can accept God’s loving gift of life that is granted to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; or we can stay as we are and continue to live in the futility of our lost humanity.

 

When we accept Christ, we are changed. The dwelling place of our hearts, minds, and spirits is relocated from this world and its darkness into the realm of God Most High with its unceasing glory. God gave all for us, and He grants all that is worth having to us as His gracious gift. This is true kindness. Christ’s singular act of obedience to the Father is the pinnacle of self-sacrificial love, and all of that love is lavished upon us in the form of acceptance into ever present and eternal relationship with God. God’s acceptance of a dead-spirited, dark-hearted and rebellious soul like me stands as a testimony through time to His desire to heal the brokenness of each person in this world. Our lives also speak of the possibility for each of us to experience Christ’s deep healing and transformative change. This testimony is spoken most clearly when we choose to live with Christ openly and boldly on our lips and with His love as our foremost expression of His presence in us. As we treat other people and our world in this manner, we touch it with the immeasurable kindness of heaven.

 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.

John 15: 16

 

There is more than one way to view the total meaning and implication of this verse. However, regardless of your theology, I believe that there is an overarching truth to it that is common to all. It seems clear that God chooses us; we do not get to choose our God. There is one and only one God, and He is sovereign over every aspect of the universe. Out of that sovereignty and because of His desire to be engaged with people in a form of relationship that is voluntary and that we desire to be in, He does grant us humans the ability to accept or to reject Him. Still, God calls to us, and He has designed for each of us a purpose and a plan for living in a manner that is productive for the sake of His Kingdom.

 

God does not call us into His holiness and grant us His righteousness in order for us to be superior and segregated from our world. Rather, Christ performs His transformative work in us so that we would gain His ability to see sin as it is and to fearlessly engage it head on. He also grants us His wisdom and understanding to use in speaking God’s truth into the hearts and the minds of a desperately lost world. It is God’s truth, when delivered in a package of His grace and mercy, which brings justice, righteousness, and peace into the world. This is the fruit that Christ desires to see. He wants to view a great harvest of lives that are eternally changed and to smell the sweet aroma of an unending bounty of love, peace, and reconciliation.

 

This is a fruit that lasts. As it is deeply rooted and attached to its true source of life in Christ, it draws sustaining nourishment and growth producing understanding from the Spirit. This should lead us into living a life that is centered on the Father and on desiring to know and to follow His will. As God makes Himself known to us, we are called to serve Him in ways that He deliberately and uniquely gifts and equips us for. It is out of this profoundly intimate relationship with God through Christ that we are provided with the sort of wisdom and understanding which leads us to seek out the Father’s calling for our lives. From this place of absolute trust we can fearlessly ask God to grant us His blessing upon the ways that we are seeking to join Christ in the unending work of tending His vineyard.

And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them?

Luke 18: 7

 

Delay has become the normal state of things is our over scheduled and underserved world. We can almost plan on our doctor being behind schedule, on traffic delays, that the check will still be in the mail on the date that it is due to us, and on the dreaded “Flight Delayed” message beside our connection. The streets are full, many people are sick, and airlines are cutting flights in order to become profitable. Some of these things make sense and others really don’t. When it comes to time and timing, the application of reason is more often frustrating than it is informative. Although all of these regular life events can be frustrating, existence becomes truly hard when it is justice that is delayed. Then days can become interminably long and oppression hangs over life like a dark curtain.

 

The justice that we seek may be for ourselves, for people who we know and love, or for people in our world. Whatever the situation and whoever is the object of our concern and focus, waiting for resolution is never easy. The harm that injustice has caused seems to continue to increase. Pain and suffering remain on their destructive course so that it is easy to lose faith and to enter into despair. In Luke’s account, Jesus has just told the story of an unrighteous judge who eventually relented and granted due justice to a relentless widow. The contrast that Christ set out for us is that if even a judge who “neither feared God nor respected man” would be moved to bring about justice, then we can certainly have faith that God, who loves us totally and who is concerned for our well being will provide it to us.

 

Christ is telling us that we need to remain faithful and that we also need to trust the outcome and its timing to God. Like the widow in the story, we should never stop in our appeals to God. For it is in our sincere prayer and our willingness to remain vulnerable and yielded to the timing and the nature of God’s response that we grow in our understanding of God’s view of our world. God works in our hearts during these times of waiting and trusting. His Spirit speaks to or impatient souls, and He leads us into the peaceful rest that is found only in abiding continually in Christ. God has promised that His justice will prevail in the world of His creation. He has given us Christ as the only true and effective means to that justice. Now our Lord desires for us to remain committed to Him. Christ calls upon us to speak out confidently about our desire to see His truth prevail over evil in our day and to act on behalf of the weak and the oppressed with the assurance of God’s promised victory.