Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in you.

Psalm 16: 1

 

I really don’t know anyone who I would view as being reasonably sane and lucid who hasn’t encountered hard, disturbing, and frightening situations during the regular and routine process of living. This world is full of monsters and the violence of sin. It is an inhospitable place that is foreign to the redeemed natures that Christ creates in us. So, here is a cry for help, protection, and safety that should come from each of us; for, there is no other sure and secure place to go in this world than to God. He is the only One in this entire universe who can actually accomplish the task of providing the sort of protection that we need.

 

This is a cry for something much greater than just a mighty hand that will come and pluck us out of trouble. It is not even a plea for a Super Ninja warrior who will fight the fight for us. Rather, this is a call to God to come and build a thick, high, and thorny hedge around us. When I utter this call, I am making a plea to God, the Preserver of life, to place an impenetrable fortress around my body, heart, mind, and soul. Like a field of precious grapes, I need to be able to live in peace and soak in the nutrients of the soil that the master of the vineyard has placed me in. Thus, I am seeking an opportunity to grow and to flourish in an environment where the Lord’s righteousness surrounds me and His Word feeds me continually.

 

The thing that is so wonderful about all of this is that God actually wants to do this for me. This is a mission that He embraces with all of His mighty being. Protecting and caring for His own people is something that God holds as an eternal promise. Additionally, when we place ourselves under the care and the protection of the Lord, we do not become weaker or less capable of dealing with life; rather, we gain strength and courage, and we are fed with the wisdom that we need to use them to fight our daily battles with a renewed sense of purpose and with His grace as our shield.

 

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Psalm 133: 1, 3

 

If you have lived in a very dry climate, as I did during my growing up years, you can appreciate David’s simile in this Psalm. In the early morning hours a form of cool moisture that is far less than rain in its volume but is still quite real often soothes the parching dryness of the previous day. It seems to settle on things in general, but plants and small animals, in particular, just drink it in. If you are out in the morning just before dawn starts to break, this dew can feel like the breath of God is being sent to cool off your overheated skin. It is refreshing at a very deep level. It is encouraging and creates a sense of optimism for the day to come that is like those perfect words that a good friend knows how to say at exactly the right moment.

 

As the morning dew that comes off of the snowcap on Mount Hermon settles equally on all of the land around it, so a desire to live in unity brings hope and opportunity to an entire community. Unfortunately, most people do not make unity a very high priority. We would rather protect and defend all that we hold as important, and we fear that which is different. So, we marginalize, label, and mindlessly chant our personal patriotic hymns with the intent being to demonstrate just how wrong these human differences are and how dangerous these others can be. We set up ourselves and those who are indistinguishable from us as the models of all that is worthy of God’s grace and blessing. Thus, we cast all others into the category of unworthy in the eyes of God.

 

This is not the Lord’s view of how life is to be lived and of how God’s people are to conduct ourselves as we dwell in the land that God has granted to us as His stewards. The people of Israel were commanded by God to love and to care for their neighbors. Their mission was to be living examples of the difference that knowing God makes in the way that life is conducted. This principle of extending love applies even in the face of hostility and rejection. The cross of Christ is the great and singular unifier of all people. None of us are righteous without it, and all of us can be unified at its foot. It is our desire and commitment to pursue spiritual unity that provides the promise of true peace. This peace is not found through treaty or by diplomacy; rather, it comes about as people gather into communities that are bound together by the gospel of Christ. Then as those communities reach out to love all the others that they encounter, they can help to spread God’s soothing dew of the morning with its hope of unity and peace.

 

 

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1: 12

 

Let’s start off with a little dictionary work. Now steadfast is not a word that I use very often; so, I want to know what it actually means. The definition of this word is “Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” When reading James I get the impression that he had encountered a lot of trials, troubles, struggles, and pain during his years. He expends many words in discussing why it is not easy to follow Christ; yet, he also explains quite graphically why it is all worth the cost. He saw his mother, Mary, go through the agony of the death of her firstborn son, Jesus. Then James witnessed the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, and sometime after that he surrendered his life entirely to following Christ. Now he was putting his life on the line regularly for the sake of Christ’s gospel.

 

So, for James being steadfast was never easy, but it was also the only thing that he could see himself doing. For even when James was among the most outspoken of opponents, Jesus loved him and sacrificed all for the sake of His brother’s salvation from a sin-filled life and an eternity of condemnation. To James facing into the angry venom of people who would not accept the truth of God’s grace and redemptive love was just a part of his journey of faith. Hearing the threats of violence against him and those he loved and even feeling the blows of injustice landing on his body were a price that he was willing to pay. It was all worth it for there was life to be shared in the journey, and there was glory to enter at its end.

 

If James were standing here today, he would tell us that some of these days will seem very long indeed. There will be times when loss is far greater than our perception of gain. The body of a follower of Christ will need to endure the emotional and physical abuse that our world will delight in giving to it, and our hearts will be broken as people we love and care about refuse to turn to Christ. Yet, he would also say that every laborious step and each tortured hour is more than worth it. For Christ is with us through and in it all. He never leaves our side, and His word of truth always prevails over the world. I know that the crown of life is a reference to the restoration that comes in eternity, but I also believe that Christ grants to all who follow Him the blessing that is a life today that is fully alive. This is the crown of glory that God grants to His people.

 

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

 

There is something very special about reconciliation. The word tells a story about a relationship that was lost, broken, or abandoned and its restoration. It has that sort of patina on it that an old house demonstrates with all of its patched cracks, layers of paint, and the marks on its walls and floors that were caused by people who have lived there. Reconciliation brings with it history, and these stories are often ones that are filled with pain and suffering such that the participants may have generations of reasons for remaining estranged. When it comes to God’s side of the story of relationship with humanity, we have done as much as it is possible to do to shatter and to destroy the bond of friendship between us.

 

However, God is very different from us. He doesn’t seek to repay hurt with hurt, and He doesn’t hold onto our generations of injury and unjust behaviors. Instead He gave Himself totally so that we can choose to return to His loving embrace as sons and daughters. Being reconciled to God is still a choice that everyone gets to make. Far too many do not decide to return to their true Father, and they will face the judgment of a righteous and a just God. They also live apart from His council and protection for their hearts and minds in this life. God counts all of this separation as loss, and He is made sad by people’s rejection of Him.

 

So, God commissions each of us who have entered into the new life that comes to us through Christ to be people who follow His lead and carry reconciliation to others. This is something that comes about when we lay down our imperative of right and privilege so that we can enter into the lives of people who are estranged and distanced. God desires that His people would learn to care about the lost people of our world in the same way that He does so that their separation from the Father would make our hearts ache and desire to do anything that is needed to bring the truth of Christ to them. In order to do this followers of Christ need to repent of our fear and distrust and surrender our hearts to God’s love for all people so that we can offer others the hope of real and lasting peace that is found only in Christ.

 

 

This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.

Hebrews 10: 16

 

It is an absolutely true fact that Christ has put an end to the very idea of a formal system of sacrifices that work to bridge sin’s divide between humanity and God. This old way of seeking the framework for righteous living has ended. The many layered code book of laws and rules that people devised and which assured our inability to ever comply has been burned upon the alter of Christ’s final sacrifice. However, despite what some people may say, Christianity is not a hollow set of beliefs that leaves its adherents on our own to figure out how to live righteously and to know what it is that is pleasing to God.

 

God has granted to His people a great gift. He has given us His Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives with us and lives in us. This is the person of God Who brings His Word to life and Who informs our hearts and minds about God’s essential foundational truths. It is this knowledge that directs our lives out of the wilderness of sin and into the great promise of Christ. In Christ and through God’s promise of His Spirit we are granted a form and a depth of guidance for life that far exceeds any codebook or even the most extensive judicial system. The author of the concept of rule and order now informs us. Our hearts are embraced and guided by the righteous designer of truth and justice.

 

Christianity is not a formless and rule less way to believe that allows its followers the freedom to think and to do as we please without regard for anything other than the assurance of forgiveness. God implants His people with His truth, and He holds us accountable for living up to it. If we truly know Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we have no choice in this matter. The Holy Spirit is with us and He does speak to our hearts and our minds. In fact, it is in yielding to God’s desires for the way that we think and live that we come into a full expression of Christ’s peace in our being. God, Himself, is made known to us in the true natural order that comes out of His law written on our hearts.

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12: 50

 

Do you come from a small family like mine, or do you have more close and extended relatives than you could possibly remember? It doesn’t matter, for, in Christ, we are connected in ways that are far deeper than blood and family history; God binds people to other people through the DNA of our souls. He gives us a place of being that isn’t defined by location on a map, addresses in a city, or even by status or stature in that community. In Christ, people of all races, backgrounds, wealth, poverty, language, and culture are bound together in a manner that should cause all of these divisive distinctions to become utterly insignificant.

 

True blood kinship is defined not by the micro components of the hemoglobin; instead, it is determined by being infused with the blood of Christ’s sacrifice. Our kinship is made apparent by the way that we follow our Savior along the path of sacrificial love. As I choose to live in a manner that knows no human distinction and that cares for the well being of all others without regard for how they might treat me; then, I am beginning to function like a person who truly belongs in God’s household.

 

Jesus set a very high standard of treatment for others. He established a seemingly impossible level for my heart attitude regarding all people. Yet, God only holds us accountable for things that are achievable, and this extraordinary sort of love, concern, compassion, and involvement with the people of our world is at the center of how Christ desires for each of us to live. Giving when we have no prospect of getting in return; surrendering our own desires to follow God’s will, and embracing all others regardless of our comfort is what Christ tells us leads to the discovery of true family.

 

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain gladness and joy,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35: 10

 

There are a few essential questions that need to be answered in order to attempt to understand what Isaiah is saying. First of these to me is who are these people who have been ransomed by the Lord? Then what were they saved from, and what price was required to set them free? The obvious and immediate answer to who is that this is the nation of Israel, and that concept works in a purely historical sense. However, I don’t generally take God’s word as being solely about the history portrayed. So, who else could be on view here?

 

It seems that the Prophet is also looking ahead to the even greater ransom that was paid by Jesus. In that case, Christ did suffer and die for everyone who would live throughout history until the end of time. As God grants to all people the freedom to choose to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, His ransom is available for all people, and it is effective for any of us who make that decision to follow Christ. Thus, in Christ we are saved from the slavery of sin and its penalty of death. Without Christ this enslavement to sin controls us now, and the death that it brings permeates our daily lives and separates us from God for all of the eternity that follows after our earthly existence ends.

 

Yet, in Christ our lives are profoundly changed. This is a change that takes place at the deepest levels of our being. It is brought about as the Holy Spirit works the miracle of rebirth in us. This happens at the time of our acceptance of Christ, and it continues throughout the rest of our lives. God gives us no promise that life in this world will get to be easier or that we will not suffer or endure pain and grief. These are a part of the nature of this world where we dwell. However, the freedom that comes to us through knowing Christ and by way of the Spirit’s guidance of our hearts and minds into His truth and love does bring a song to our lips and the joy of deep peace to us. In Christ we walk daily on the holy ground of Zion, and the presence of the Lord comforts us and drives away our sorrow and distress.

 

 

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