Nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.

Mark 4: 22

 

This is Jesus speaking, and the idea that He shares is one that changes everything in our world. The exposure that the presence of God in the flesh in our world brings about starts at the deep place of the spiritual, but it moves outward to illuminate every aspect of earthly existence. Christ came to set people free from the death grip that sin held on our souls and on our lives as well. He does this by bringing the truth of God’s holy and righteous word to the world and by making it fully accessible to anyone who desires to know God. Essentially, this is the light that Jesus had spoken of just before the statement above. This light of heaven makes everything visible, and it also opens the eyes of people who know its author to our own sin darkened natures.

 

Christ’s work of revelation is what changes our world. He engages with each of us who surrender our lives to Him, and His Spirit works within us to transform us from dark to light, from death to life. As our eyes are opened and our hearts are enlightened, the life that we conduct should begin to express more and more of the nature and the character of God as revealed through Jesus. This is the method that God is using in these days to change this world. His transformative work in individuals is gathered into His body, the church where that spiritual and corporeal growth continues in a fellowship of worship. Engagement with the world is a powerful and a visible expression of that worship.

 

Fully embracing the light of Christ is not an easy thing to do. It reveals everything. That means that all of our dark places and well-protected secrecies are on view to God and their danger and darkness are made known to us as well. Yet, in surrender to Christ, these sin-controlled aspects of our lives are transformed into righteous thoughts and actions. When our eyes are opened to the deep spiritual and physical needs of our broken world, Christ leads and directs us into engagement with the people around us so that the light of Christ that is within our spirits can shine onto their personal darkness. In so doing, Christ works through each of His people and through His church to change the world.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show to you.

Genesis 12: 1

 

When Abram obeyed God in this matter, he became a pilgrim and a traveler, an immigrant. He left behind everything that gave him earthly identity, comfort, and safety; plus, he effectively walked away from his heritage as a man of some rank and privilege. But he was responding to God’s calling for him and upon his life. There was a very powerful promise of greatness through descendents that God gave to Abram, but that was certainly vague and intangible. What this man of rather ordinary faith knew was that he needed to pack up his household, his wife and the people who served them, his nephew Lot and his family and servants and leave home for foreign soil that was far away and probably dangerous for them.

 

He did all of this because God told him to. He entered into a life-changing journey of faith in response to a calling of the Lord that was too powerful and compelling to ignore or to set aside. The journey was a true adventure, and its narrative gives us many of the great accounts of God’s faithfulness, protection, and grace in the Bible. Yet, it all started with one person who knew God and responded to the Lord’s voice. Frankly, I have never been in Abram’s shoes. God has not given me directions that involved such bold and blind faith. My journey with Him has been shaped and formed in close connection with other people who have listened and responded to the Lord’s calling upon them. My steps through life have landed on soil that is close to the place of my birth. My morning sky is filled with the light of a very familiar sun.

 

However, there are aspects of my story that are very similar to Abram’s. The life journeys that all followers of Christ experience are also like Abram’s in certain ways. Christ calls us out of the false security of our birth identity, the comfort of family, and the familiar rules of culture, and He leads us into the foreign soil of the kingdom of God. If we take Christ’s demand upon our hearts and minds seriously, we become true immigrants in our world. We enter into a life of living outside of the secure connections that our earthly homes provide as we embrace the adventure and the restorative love that is at the center of Christ’s will for each of His people. Followers of Christ today are separated from Abram by thousands of years and live in a radically different world; yet, we are truly like him in many ways. God speaks to us. He gives us His will, the promise of His faithfulness to us, and He grants us the ability and the authority to bring life into the foreign lands where we now reside. Our part in it all is like Abram’s in that we need to pack up and go.

Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Genesis 3: 23

 

There is an old expression, “There is trouble in the garden.” which refers to the fact that there is struggle and strife in whatever form of human relationship is undergoing scrutiny. This expression and the idea behind it come directly from the third chapter of Genesis. This is the point in the narrative of human history where people turned away from God and began to believe that they were more capable of determining their own course and proceeding through life. This is the moment when the perfection of creation was fractured and the absolute intimacy between people and God was almost fatally broken. All of humanity became estranged from God, and God required these newly defined strangers to disperse out of the eternity of His absolute presence.

 

Although we started this long history of life outside of the garden of God’s total presence in a place to the east from the home of our creation, over time and as our numbers increased we migrated to every corner of the world. Yet, each of these new lands and all of the territory that we occupied remained a foreign land in regards to restoration of our place in intimate relationship with God. So, throughout the history of humanity, God has retained the role of pursuing shepherd. He has continually come out in search of the lost, the Lord has provided comfort and protection for us in this harsh land of our own choosing, and the Father provided the Son to be a final and absolute answer to this separation.

 

So, all people are strangers to the land of God’s dwelling. We spend our lives in transit from the sin-ravaged and desolate landscapes of our birth toward a land where we can dwell in the presence of our Creator. Some people arrive in this place, and others never find its rest. The difference in those journeys is Christ. Knowing Him transforms our personal dwelling, that is our bodies, into God’s promised land of grace, love, and peace for the soul. Until we know Christ, we remain strangers and migrants on a road through life that leads only to death. God purposefully takes us in as immigrants to His kingdom of life, and through Christ all people without regard to race, religion, or place of birth become full citizens of God’s renewed spiritual kingdom.

The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished,

He will keep you in exile no longer,

but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, He will punish,

He will uncover your sins.

Lamentations 4: 22

 

Let me risk the obvious. The world is a mess. Maybe it is a product of age or is caused by experiencing an especially paranoid patch of life, but things seem worse today than at any time in my memory. The way that people engage with each other and the manner in which they dialogue about their differences is harsh, angry, and lacking in the heart of understanding. There is a hopelessness in the air that is frightening in that it doesn’t anticipate a better tomorrow. In light of all of this, I think that the author of Lamentations helps us understand our world and our participation in it with the sort of clarity that comes from God.

 

We are not innocent bystanders to all of the chaos that fills our world. We, and I speak of all people who name Christ as Lord today and throughout history, have played and do play a role in creating and shaping this mess that is the relational and physical architecture of our world. We have not been diligent students of our God, and we are not devoted followers of our Lord. We tend to do these things as they fit our desires, wishes, and preferred outcomes. We are proficient at shaping our god to fit with our self-determined comfortabilities, and this is sinful idolatry in God’s eyes and it is fatally destructive to the world we live in. Yet, in the midst of our wandering away from Christ, there is hope beyond imagining.

 

God’s love and grace as depicted and perfected by Christ overcome all that we think and do. Jesus saves us, and He redeems us; then, He restores our lives to God’s intent and desired usefulness in our world. I believe that this intended purpose is directed toward Christ’s work of redemption. So, we are intended to be peacemakers, sacrificial lovers of people, and bearers of the light of the gospel. God clearly says that He will deal with His adversaries. So, we are not called upon to be crusaders seeking to purify our world by wielding a self-determined righteous sword. Christ calls upon His people to live as shepherds who will not rest until all of the lost are found and redeemed. This calling demands that we seek God’s grace and healing in our lives and in those of others and that we submit our anger and fear to Christ’s unfailing protection and love.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

1 Corinthians 9: 19

 

I fear that these words are foreign to the practice of life in our days. Service is not a primary concern for many people, and serving is rarely set out as a primary goal for our leaders. Even in the church, true servants can be hard to find. No doubt the church sets out to change the world for the better, but it seems that we react to what we see when we get close to it and then we either determine to force or to coerce that change or we surrender to culture’s false sense of a higher understanding of truth. In the end, even the church has often become little more than a weak mirror image of the world that it should set out to change for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.

 

This is not how it needs to be. This is not how it should be. God determined to rule this world and to transform its inhabitants through the life and the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no other way, method, or truth that can have an effectively transformative and life saving impact on our world. Christ is the answer, and His life of service and sacrifice is the only viable model that followers of Christ should adopt and imitate. Evil and death are not overcome by the use of power, force, anger, fear, defensiveness, or by any other of the numerous human-devised tactics that we seem committed to deploying. In addition, we cannot separate our calling in Christ from the conduct of our public and civil lives. For followers of Christ, there is no separation of church from state.

 

Also, for followers of Christ, there is no safety or security in this world. Our Lord did not seek after either of those in the conduct of His life, and His command to follow is absolute and total. We are to join with Christ on a road that leads to suffering and to death for the sake of serving His will. If our freedom impairs another’s view of the Savior, then we ate to give it up. We can be certain that Christ will prevail in this world. However, if our lives are to matter for things that are eternal, we need to speak and act in a manner that is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the process of giving all for the sake of winning eternity, we may need to sacrifice much if not all of what we have previously held as valuable, but if one life comes to Christ as a result, any sacrifice was more than worth the cost.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.

Deuteronomy 30: 19, 20a

 

God made an agreement, a covenant, with people. He promised that there was a way to enter into a relationship with Him in this life and that this same course would lead to an eternal existence in the presence of God. In this passage Moses is reminding us of God’s side of that agreement, and he does this by indicating that all of Creation stands as witness to it. In other words, Moses is saying that we can try to escape the reality and the truth of where and of how life is gained, but we will be going against the testimony of God’s mighty and universal great cloud of witnesses. Like all contracts, God’s covenant of life is not unilateral. The Lord gives to us; yet, His granting of this gift is in answer to our response to Him. God gives us all, and He desires that we would surrender all to Him.

 

Still, this surrender and acceptance is ours to choose. God lays before all people the opportunity to select life. He makes the knowledge of Him and of His righteous way known to us all. Then the Lord allows people to make the decision to follow Him or to reject Him. There is no middle ground; no alternate path that leads to real life in this world and to that thing that we call eternal life. That is, an existence that has no end which is carried forth in the presence of all that is life, God Himself. I do believe that once we have made the decision to surrender to God by accepting all that He is, which means accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord, that there is no possibility of living and of thinking our way out of this relationship with God. It is also true that only God is the judge of our lives and of the status of that eternal relationship.

 

The other part of this contract that God has entered into with us, in reality it is functionally the first part of it, involves the way that we live every day of our earthly lives. True life is found in and by our journey through our days with Christ. He makes love, peace, understanding, wisdom, and mercy real to us. These are qualities and characteristics that are intrinsically part of who God is, and they are among the most important aspects of life that we all desire. Love does not mean that we are surrounded by the adoration of people; it is a deep-seated feeling and belief that we are valued and cared about by God. The absence of conflict is not peace; rather, it settles inside of our hearts and minds and allows us to be whole, calm, and rational in the face of the most intense times of struggle and strife. Understanding and wisdom go together, and these are conditions of our minds and of our spirits that come directly from God through His Word, the fellowship of His Body, and by the revelation of Christ’s Spirit. Finally, mercy is that other-focused quality that takes us out of our natural, human bent to self protection and grants to us the blessing of touching people who have been injured and damaged by life on this harsh, alien planet with the same love and grace of Christ that we have received. This is life!

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he has already seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8: 24, 25

 

This may seem ridiculous or even crazy in our world, but there is a lot to hope for today. Now, think about that for a moment. If Paul is right in his perspective on God’s view of what hope is all about, then the more challenging or troubling the situation or circumstance, the more we have to hope for in the midst of it. Hope is based upon trust and faith. That is, it is founded upon our trust in God and anticipated through our faith in His character and commitment to creation and to His people. God has promised to set all of creation right at the end of days, and Christ came to set each of us right with God in these days of our earthly lives. In addition, God grants each of His people, those who know Christ, the authority and the capacity to do restorative work in our world during this life.

 

There is much to hope for in all of that. The hope that arises out of knowing Christ is sufficient to make each new dawn a bright and glorious one in anticipation of that day’s journey and of the events that will come along the way. The hope that Christ provides to the heart is of a nature that it transcends all that is known about the hours to come. It can overtake and subdue any fears and troubles that lie out there in the near or in the distant future. This hope that comes from Christ is made fresh each day in us by engaging with Him in God’s Word and in prayer and by the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us. Hope is a tangible outworking of the new person that Christ has created out of the one that we were from birth.

 

Now, in Christ, we can travel the road that life has given to us with renewed vision and invigorated steps. We can leave behind the old songs of slavery and the thinking of the lost and stride out with a hymn of salvation on our lips and a mind that is filled with love, grace, and the righteous truth of the Gospel of Christ. Christ has given to each of us the hours of this day. We can fill them with His presence regardless of what they may hold. The hope that followers of Christ can bring to the world that we encounter is a testimony to our Lord, and it can be the strength that we require to walk the steps that Christ has given to us for this day.

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