But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:11. 12

 

Unless you travel is some very rarified company, transcendence is not a word that most of us use with any frequency at all. Yet the idea of living a transcendent life is appealing to people. In fact, we use a closely related term in a careless and indiscriminate manner when we speak of seeking after excellence. This is obvious when a business asks for us to evaluate the service that it has provided, for the ask is generally tendered by the employee who performed the service, and it is always accompanied by instructions about the necessity that the score be nothing other than the highest one possible. This sort of false and worldly excellence pervades our culture, and it has changed the way that we consider what we hold up as above the ordinary so that which is truly transcendent.

 

Transcendence is a quality that has existed since the very beginnings of creation. God has defined it in His nature and has expressed it through His character. God is beyond and outside of all that He devised and all that He made; so, God transcends everything else, for God, Himself, created all that is beyond Him. Now this idea raises some complex and challenging questions about the presence of evil in our world, and I am going to simplistically say that God’s creation, the people of this world, have turned on our Creator and formed the rebellion of sin and its accompanying evil with our own hands. This is what happens when the creation determines that it is now the supreme one, the creator. The existence of evil is why we long for the transcendent. With all of our hearts we want to get away from the strife and the struggle of this world. We seek to dwell in a place of refuge from the violence, disease, and the loss that fills our days with their grim funeral dirges. God is aware of our desires, and He is also aware of our true need. He has never been silent or absent from us in His seeking to save people from our world and to grant us His presence; yet, we are often not very receptive to our Lord and to His advances toward us.

 

However, the Lord did not stop with being above the chaos of this fallen creation or with engaging with us from the vantage point of the spiritual realms. God left His place in the uncorrupted and entered into dwelling among humanity in our dangerously broken environment. He entered as newborn baby, grew into manhood, and demonstrated what it is to be a human who lives out God’s righteousness and love on this earth. Then, He yielded all that was His life here to the will of the Father so that we would have a new and a perfect means of entrance into the eternal. Christ came and gave to each of us the way to leave behind our earth-bound orientation. This new and transformed view of what it means to be alive on this earth in these days is granted to anyone who accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, and in so agreeing with God, we are permanently purified in God’s eyes and His Spirit begins to work within us to reform the very nature of our beings into one that views our world and that encounters God from the perspective of the eternal. The circumstances and events that make up living in this world do not change, but as we live out our days in the presence of Christ, our ability to understand and to experience peace while engaging with all of it is radically altered as with Christ we too can transcend the sin and death of this world and plant our feet on the firm ground of God’s eternal Word of Truth.

 

 

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5: 18, 19

 

It seems that everyone has had the experience of being in an awkward place with another person. I know that I have been there, and this is not a pleasant place to be. You are concerned about running into the other person and often do things to avoid those encounters. Some of these difficult relationships are never resolved. They stay strained and broken for the rest of time. This is where humanity is at as it relates to God. We exist with a relationship that is strained beyond breaking, and this is the nature of that interaction that we each receive as our birthright. The single greatest tension that every newly born person encounters is this one in which we engage in an internal battle between our separation and independence from God and our need for relationship with our Creator. This struggle finds its resolution in and through the presence of Christ in our lives. There is no other way or means for each of us to enjoy reconciliation with our God.

 

Now most of us, when we are distanced from another person, go to almost any length to avoid our antagonist, or at least we do this until the situation is right for us to engage with that other person. This is not the way that God operates. He boldly approaches each of us, and He lays out His desire for restoration and for deep and intimate engagement for us to plainly see. The Lord is unceasing in this pursuit of us, and He does not stop with it until we relent and turn to Him through Christ or our days on earth come to their end. There is absolutely no escaping or avoiding an encounter with God. We can accept the love and the grace that He desires to pour out upon us during this life, or we will face judgment for our rejection of it in the life to come. For those of us who have put aside our avoidance and surrendered ourselves to Christ, there comes a new freedom in this life and with that freedom there also arise new responsibilities.

 

We are free from the burden of prejudice and that of fear. We can journey through this world without the shield of protection that comes about as we set out our differences from others and hold onto human distinctives as our marks of superiority or authority. In Christ we are brought to a level of worth that is equal to all other people, and this is the highly elevated one of bearer of God’s image. As we have received mercy, grace, and the love that sets us free from sin and its death, we are also empowered and freed from the bondage of broken-world thinking that works to separate and to divide people from each other. By dwelling in Christ, our eyes should be opened to see the beauty and the God imbued value of every person on this earth. This eyes-of-Christ vision removes the worldly divisors of gender, race, societal status, and nationality from our consideration of whether we should seek out, defend and protect, or share the love of Christ with any individual or group of people. Our Lord’s directive to us is to be imitators of Christ. That means that we join with Him in holding out forgiveness and in granting grace to everyone. We are to become relentless workers for Christ who seek to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel to each person that we meet and who also promote that attitude in our homes, churches, and communities.

Return, O Lord! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

Psalm 90: 13

 

If you have lived with and around Christians for any period of time, as I certainly have, you will have heard many people express the desire to have Christ return. They want Him to come today or maybe tomorrow, at the latest. This is always stated in terms of putting an end to the sinfulness of our times, the evil that surrounds us, and the pain of suffering through life in this fallen world. Not to make too light of this very serious subject, but this wishful expression can become somewhat like spiritual aspirin. We feel pain, and we want relief from it; so, we prefer to take the miraculous fixative instead of putting in the work to seek out and repair the underlying cause of the discomfort. People have a well-developed desire for the fast and the easy, and this is often especially true when it comes to addressing the brokenness that surrounds us.

 

Yet, we do have all that is necessary to impact our world for the glory of God’s Kingdom. The challenge to actually doing this comes in the form of the reality that evil is very resistive to change and that facing it requires people of faith to take actions that seem highly risky. Some of this risk is framed in terms of loss of favor with neighbors, friends, and family members; it is very public. However, I think that the more difficult sort of risk comes from the need to deal with our own attitudes, beliefs, and well-established patterns of thought. This inward facing examination can be a source of the type of pain that we work so hard to escape. Still, the cleansing work of God’s revealing light performs the soul-healing work that is our world’s greatest need. For each of us this healing starts with ourselves, but it cannot end there.

 

Christ did not leave us to sit and to wait for His return in passive contemplation of God’s goodness and resignation to our world’s fallen state. After His resurrection, He implored His followers to tend and to care for each other, and He sent them into the world to make the good news of God’s redemptive plan for salvation from sin through Jesus Christ a living reality for each and every person on this earth to encounter. This is done by people who live out our Lord’s love, grace, mercy, and compassion in every aspect of their lives. Still, God’s love is not soft and equivocal. So His truth has remained unchanging from before Creation. We also live out God’s love by standing up clearly and unyieldingly for His righteous truth. This is truly the hard challenge of publicly proclaiming Christ in our world. For we cannot, even for a moment, cease expressing Christ’s total love for all while we must stand up for God’s truth and against the evil that opposes it. This daunting task is made possible because Christ has returned, for the tomb was empty and He has joined us in our journey through the world that rejected its Savior. Now His Spirit does dwell in each and in all of His people. It is Christ who grants to us the gift of His loving understanding and wisdom in conjunction with the strength that we require to do His will today in our world.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3: 16

 

Godly living is not easy, and it is also not for the faint of heart. Operating in a manner that reflects God in our world and that also brings people into His presence with a desire to know that Holy One requires people to do things in ways that are unnatural and that are equally outside of the norms of our experience and the practice of our culture. Simply stated, love, grace, mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness are not the general standards for successful living that we encounter on a regular basis. Yet, they are in short supply in the marketplace of our world, and they are needed and desired by most of us. These qualities are a part of the nature of God, and they were made tangible and given human form in Jesus. In Jesus, God stepped into humanity’s lostness and need, and He provided the singular answer to it all while also paying the enormous price that the redemption of Creation demanded.

 

Christ is the image of what godliness means. He provided for us the model to follow, but that is not where this all stops, for a model would be insufficient by itself. God’s Law provided a form of that, and it was never enough to bring people into the reality of living out this thing that we are calling godliness on any sort of lasting and consistent basis. Unfortunately, an image of God is still not much more than an idol if it remains on the outside of our beings and can be set aside or manipulated as we desire. Even the best of images does not penetrate the heart to the place where real relationships are formed, and God operates in our world at the deep level of relationship. This is where His truth becomes the guiding force in our lives. That is why godliness is revealed in relationships and it is explained through engagement in people’s lives.

 

God broke through the barriers that humanity had set up between our Creator and us. He did so in the person of Jesus and perfected it by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Now all of Creation is speaking out in testimony to the One Risen Lord who brings God’s salvation and redemption to all of that same Creation. In so doing, He brings this new life to each of us who believe in Him, and He enters into our lives and works to transform us into people who live in relationship with our Creator. It is in this relationship and through the work of the Spirit within us that we are changed into people who can live in this rare and highly valued manner that is described as godliness. This manner of engagement with our world requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ on a daily, hourly, and continual basis. All of life is His. There are no holdbacks or reserves to maintain as we serve the Risen Lord. It is through this submitted service that the mystery of godliness is made visible in our world so that others may be drawn to seek its source in a relationship with Christ.

 

 

 

 

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35: 1

 

In the Christian church and throughout its traditions we have generally looked at Psalm 35 as a statement of faith and trust in the way that God would defeat our enemies through the use of might, force, and even by empowering our own military skill and campaigns. However, as I reconsider these words that David gave us, I am wondering if there isn’t something else, something much greater on view here. Although David seems to have had a prophet’s view into a future when the Messiah would come, he did not possess the post-cross perspective that we do. His words dealt with the reality of his life, and they shared a glimpse into a potential future, but they could not interpret our world in light of Christ.

 

In Jesus we see a man of peace and of service. We are told to control our responses to personal attacks and to seek out our enemies in love. We are, in fact, told to lift them up to God in prayer with a sincere desire to see them come to know Christ and thus to be joined with us in community. This is not just a directive to be fulfilled in a grudging, grit our teeth and get on with it manner. Instead, Christ tells us that we should be praying in earnest for those who are trying to destroy us so that they can join us at the banquet table of God’s holy Eucharist. We are granted Christ’s direction to love all people with fully and to seek for all of them to come and dwell with us as equally adopted in children of God’s own choosing.

 

None of this suggests that we are seeking their destruction. I am wondering if the Psalmist’s words about shame, dishonor, entrapment and defeat are not to be interpreted with Christ on the cross in view so that we are seeing a picture of the way that God works in the hearts of all of us to show us the futility and the lostness of our natural way. In that case, death for our enemies is not the desired outcome. Neither is defeat unto subjugation; for, Christ calls upon His people to have no fear of the forces of this world. Rather, we are to pursue the hearts and the minds of our enemies as the shepherd does the lost sheep. This requires us to have faith in Christ and in His protection for us. It also demands that we set aside anger and hurt so that we can love others with the passion and the sincerity of one who desires to greet them with the holy kiss of fellowship.

 

My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,

in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.

Isaiah 32: 18

 

It seems that one modern trend in writing commentary and reviews is the need to warn the reader that something that is about to be said will reveal an important aspect of the story; so, the author uses the statement “Spoiler alert” as a means of suggesting that the concerned reader should stop right there. Well, I am calling it out to you, spoiler alert, I am about to tell you something startling yet true about existing inside of the story that is life in our world today. So, here goes, this world is not a very restful place, and peace is even harder to find that is quiet rest; thus, security is completely out of the question for most of us. This world does not provide the environment where these desirable qualities can develop, grow, and even thrive. In fact, there are many people around us who seek to promote this sort of edginess and disquiet in order to gain power and to promote distrust in the orderly systems that God has allowed to provide structure to our otherwise chaotic planet.

 

Throughout history God has used these same troubling forces and situations to demonstrate the simple fact that rest, peace, and true security are possible to find in this life and that He is the source for all of these desirable conditions in our hearts and minds. When finances are strained or relationships are troubled, God provides the wisdom and the strength to enter into taking the actions that are required to start down the path of resolution for these deeply troubled days. When health is compromised or failing, the Lord provides the hope of eternity to us, and He also touches people with the grace of healing for our broken bodies and our troubled spirits. In addition to the personal challenges that we all face, the nature of the world around us is one that is filled with distrust, anger, and violence to a such a degree as to touch, cover, and often saturate each of us with its edgy insecurity and discordant hymn of despair. Yet, in all of these troubling minutes and hours, I know that the Lord is present with me.

 

This presence is made even more real as I turn the concerns of this life and the worries of my days away from myself and look intently upon Christ. He provides the foundation for my sense of well being, for the security that settles into my heart and that defies the world’s reasoning in these troubled times. As I focus upon Christ with His lived out message of hope, peace, and sacrifice, the situation around me and the circumstances of my life are placed into the perspective of the eternal. God’s Word demonstrates both His will and desire for people to live in a loving and caring form of peace with each other, and it also guides the processes of so living. The Spirit speaks encouragement and the wisdom and truth of all ages to my mind and my heart as He grants to me insights and attitudes that transcend those of the culture where I live. Christ, with His cross of supreme sacrifice and His victory over death that was claimed for my benefit and for yours, grants to each of us who surrender our human striving to His infinite love His perfect peace, enduring security, and the restorative rest that our hearts desire and need.

 

 

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3: 16

 

It didn’t need to be this way. We did not need to require saving, for God made this world with perfection as a major thread in its fabric. That perfect creation did not know disobedience and the decaying corruption that sin brings about. The peace of eternity was something to enjoy during every moment of the day; so, people did not need to hope for it as a future event. We had God’s presence as our regular and our routine companion, and communication with Him was unstrained and without restraint. Yet evil and its disobedience did exist in the universe, and Satan appeared before our ancestors with his crafty ways and his shiny eyes of deceit, and they listened too long and responded without careful consideration of what was true and what was not quite so. The result of all of this was disastrous for all of creation from that moment onward until today.

 

In the situation at hand, God had to make a choice. He could have destroyed what His hands had fashioned and start over. This was completely within His power and this entire world was then, as it is now, under His authority. God would have been within His rights to have acted like a sculptor who is dissatisfied with the result of His work and so rolled the clay back into an unformed lump to rework its consistency and start anew with shaping it into the great creation that He had envisioned and desired to form. Yet, this was not how God responded. He was already invested in the relationship with Adam and Eve, and even with the knowledge that He possessed of just how hard it all was going to be, the Lord was not going to give up on the relationship. God came to the people and approached them with His stern hand of love so that the process of restoration of relationship could begin. The Lord brought redemption and granted purpose to Adam and Eve that continues forward to today.

 

We are the recipients of this same mercy and grace that was granted to the first people. God still comes after us in our sinful wandering, and He comes to us wherever we have gone. His desire to see our relationship with Him returned to the intimate and everlasting nature of His original design is relentless. In fact, in order to perfect this restorative process, God gave the world Jesus as the ultimate and complete payment for all of our sinfulness. In Christ we are all set free from the penalty of death that belongs to each of us from birth. With Christ we enter into a life that transcends this world and that takes us into the eternal presence of God and into a new life that is lived out as a citizen of the Lord’s kingdom come to earth. All of this is done out of love. God loves each and every person and all of His creation with a passion that is all consuming and with a form of commitment that is beyond human reasoning. Christ is God’s expression of total love to me and to you. When we come to Christ and surrender our striving to His gracious will, the Lord writes His eternal love note on our hearts.