Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1: 14

 

Here is a sample of the instruction that this ancient voice of God’s will had for the people of the nation of Judah. There was a good deal more of the same, but these words do express plenty of what God had in mind. This was a time when God’s people had headed off on their own path. They were living out their personal visions for what was right and how justice should be served. There wasn’t much in any of this that could be traced back to God’s law or to His time-proven truths. Now there was truly the Devil to pay. The Lord had removed His protective hand from Judah, and locust have consumed their fields, war has bled their nations youth dry, and now drought is withering away what is left. These are hard times for everyone; so, God sends Joel to cry out to the people to return to their one and only true first love.

 

There is no question that something needs to be done. Navigating those difficult times clearly required strong leadership, and the people who are stepping forward were not taking the nation in a righteous direction. They probably had plans for insect control. There were big ideas about where to go to seek water and grand schemes for raising the funds that these ideas required. They certainly shouted out the need for a larger army with better weapons. There would have been chest thumping and negative comments about the other people who were attempting to gain power and control. In Joel’s days the clothing was different and the means of spreading the word was slower and more face-to-face, but the national atmosphere was not all that different than the ones that we encounter in our world today.

 

It seems that God is telling us to approach our challenges from a different perspective. He wants us to place our trust in the same solutions that were provided for the people of Judah. If they had been paying attention they would have realized that they had never successfully driven off a plague of locust, defended their borders from their strong enemies, or summoned the rain. These were things that God had always done for them. From the beginning of time God has gifted humanity with a national identity, a place to dwell and to plant roots, and the provision of the things that we need to grow and to thrive. God blesses people in these ways as we trust in Him, seek out His will, and choose to live in a just and righteous manner. Joel’s voice seems to cry out across the ages to our times, and he is saying that God is not pleased with our wanton and sinful approach to life. The Lord, God Almighty, is calling to each of us and to our nations with a voice of warning and a promise of salvation. The choice is yours and it is mine. Will we repent and return to the Lord, our rock and our defender?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

all those who practice it have a good understanding.

His praise endures forever!

Psalm 111: 10

 

It is an interesting mixture of elements that the writer of this psalm has blended together here. Fear, wisdom, and understanding are swirled around together, and the resultant drink is an enduring chorus of praise to the Lord. Life is often not conducted with fear of the Lord as its guidance and mindset. This concept of fear goes deep into God’s Word as Moses originally expresses it in his writings, and it is a theme that runs onward through the story of God’s relationship with us. This deep, foundational respect and reverence for God is, it seems, a rare quality today. This world is populated with people who respect little that does not come from within their own understanding; so, in their perspective, God has become irrelevant and is often placed on a shelf in a mental and moral museum of curious artifacts.

 

Yet, this way of thinking and of conducting life is in itself unwise to the point of being foolish. Wisdom is not something to be taken so lightly. It is the anchor for the sort of decision-making that keeps us out of dangerous and destructive situations and that helps us to remain engaged in close and lasting relationships with others. Wisdom overcomes desire and puts the brakes on impulsive thought so that restraint can gain control over our actions. The wisdom that God imparts to us in not just an inert idea or set of laws and rules to follow; rather, it is dynamic and alive. So it is something that we are required to engage with and in. As it is not natural or innate in us, we must turn to God for it and exercise discipline in growing it within us.

 

As we seek the Lord and know His heart and dwell in His will, we are granted ever-increasing understanding. It is this ability to respond to life in ways that reflect the nature and the character of God that becomes our platform from which day-to-day and moment-by-moment decisions are made. So, in a very real way, the Lord’s heart and mind become the direct and the ever-present originator of most of our thought and actions. A life that is lived in this manner is loving, concerned for others, respectful, and righteous, and it stands out in our world as a hymn of praise to the Lord.

 

 

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offers himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 9: 14

 

In this part of Hebrews the author is entering into a discussion of the way that the old system of sacrifices has been overtaken by the singular and ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made in His own body for us all. So, when we accept Christ we enter into the work that His body and blood did so long ago, and we also become heirs of the future glory that this same sacrifice promised. All that Christ did was carried out in fulfillment of God’s covenant with humanity. Every aspect of His sacrifice was given as an offering for the sake of the souls of all people from that day until the end of time.

 

Now we are called by this same Christ to enter into the fruits of His agony and death by fully embracing the victory of His resurrection. God did not send Jesus to the cross for the sole purpose of securing the eternal dwelling place of certain people. It is true that God, Himself, suffered and bled so that we would be able to enter into relationship with Him and that this relationship extends beyond life on this earth into all of time. However, that eternal relationship was not God’s primary purpose in becoming the final lamb of sacrifice.

 

In Christ, we are called out of a life that is dedicated and ruled over by death and by that which is lost and broken, and we are called into commitment to engaging with life for the glory of God. Thus, we are to be people who serve the will and honor the name of Christ with every breath that we breathe. Christ is alive, and in Him we also are granted the life that does not perish under the weight of sin. So, people who know the Living God are to be workers within His kingdom come to earth. We are to love others and to pursue justice; we are to set aside anger and violence and give all for the sake of peace; and in all we are to seek after knowledge and understanding of Christ’s will and make the proclamation of His gospel our primary aim in life.

If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office on those days.

Deuteronomy 19: 16, 17

 

If we expect that justice will prevail in our land, we need to be willing to yield its interpretation to those who know its source. God’s Law as expressed by Moses was intended to create a framework for humans to access the mind and the heart of God in the ways that we dealt with each other. The Israelites were required to transact life along in Accordance with the way that God intended for them to do it. They were to be respecters of property rights, to care about the long-term impact of their actions, and to hold life as a sacred gift to be protected and nourished. They were to be a people who occupied the land on behalf of its righteous and just King.

 

The details of the judicial code have changed. The way that our societies are organized is very different. Our property rights and human rights are managed by a different system than was in place in those ancient communities. Yet, the underlying truth has been altered very little by the passage of time and through our cultural development. God still holds humanity to a standard of behavior that is above any that our legal codes consider. He continues to speak a truth to our hearts and our minds that exceeds that which our governments have created. Thus the Lord calls upon people to be bound to a commitment to justice that comes from deep within our beings. We are to be lovers of humanity who are determined to live in the center of Christ’s righteous grace.

 

Unfortunately, there is much that is broken in our world. We live in the middle of moral decay and of ethical emptiness. I think that God wants us to do something that these ancient people of Moses’ time would have done. When things were going against God’s clear will, they frequently went before God and confessed their own participation in the sin. They turned first to God and sought out His voice so that they would know what He was calling them to do to bring about the restoration of righteousness in their land. No one is without guilt. None of us are sinless in this time of worldwide sin and godlessness. It seems that God wants us on our faces in humble submission to Him. He wants us to repent and to listen for His voice. Then He desires for us to take the actions that He calls us to without regard for ourselves. We are to pray unceasingly, to love boldly, to sacrifice all of ourselves, and to seek justice for everyone. The only justice that we can anticipate and count upon starts within our hearts and culminates in Christ.

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Acts 18: 10, 11

 

Paul had experience with opposition. He had faced angry mobs that were out to get his blood, and he had listened to the harsh words of rejection and ridicule. Yet, he was a stubborn and determined sort of person who was not easily driven away from his mission. But it took more than a strong will to stick it out in the major Greek city of Corinth. It took the will and the presence of the Lord, and that is exactly what Paul was promised in the vision that he saw. The truth and the reality of Christ’s promise to be with His people at all times and in all places or circumstances was Paul’s assurance, and it is also ours today.

 

Fear is a great disabler. I know this too well personally, for fears of many types have stopped me from doing and from saying things that would have been right, worthy, and beneficial. Fear can be one of the tools that Satan uses to silence the proclamation of the gospel and to hold back followers of Christ when He calls us into action for the kingdom. Now Paul’s guarantee that no harm would come to him was literal and specific to that place and time. Yet, there is something more to it than just the promise of physical protection as it seems that the Lord was also saying that what mattered most was safe and secure. Paul’s heart and his soul were to be surrounded and secured by God, and no forces of evil could prevail against him.

 

We can enter into service to Christ with this same assurance. So, we can be as bold as was Paul in speaking the truth of the gospel into the darkened world where we all live. There is safety and security to be found even in the middle of the most difficult of conversations. We can know the peace of Christ in our souls while our hearts are racing in anticipation of a discussion of our faith with the most strident of critics of Christian belief. With the confidence that Christ granted to Paul as our strength we no longer need for our national government or its might and will to be our protector in the world. We can speak out for peace, and we can embrace people who others reject or fear as the same beloved children of God who are as in need of the Father as we once were. In Christ, each of us can stop being controlled by our fears and speak Christ throughout all of our days.

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ; may mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Jude 1, 2

 

This is a beautiful greeting. It is the sort of thing that anyone would be delighted to hear and to read. It would seem that a person would have to be in a very bad place to not want to have mercy, peace, and love granted to them in abundance; yet, this is not the beginning of a casual, calm and gentle letter. As the brother of James, the great leader of the early church, and the lesser known brother of Jesus, Himself, Jude had been around the world of people who lived in the Christian faith. After a life spent in opposition to Jesus, he had come to accept Christ as his Savior and Lord. Now he was witnessing the destructive effect of the work of leaders who had taken people away from God’s truth. These were people who brought heresies and lies into the assembly of faith. Their wisdom was that of the world, and they counseled people in a manner that lead them to engage in sinful and destructive behaviors.

 

Witnessing this made Jude’s blood boil, and he could not remain silent. So, he speaks out about what he knows to be God’s position on the situation at hand. We are to be on guard against allowing even the slightest taste of sinful compromise cross our lips. The church needs to protect itself from the erosion and the waste that ensues when we become entangled in battles over secular issues that are a part of a condemned world order. Yet, we must know God’s Word and stay true to it so that we, individually and together as the body, will not follow our culture in its headlong and willful rush to death in the Lord’s judgment. This is a hard course, and like Jude, we become angry and want to rise up against all that brings evil into our paths. Yet, it seems important to pay close attention to everything that Jude did say.

 

He certainly does warn against following people who engage in sexual immorality, are contentious with those in authority and with systems of rule, are greedy, and are out for personal gain. Jude states that these people and their behavior will destroy the beautiful unity of our worship as a body. Their presence brings about a form of destruction that is like shipwreck, and they parch the soul with the dryness of drought. Their false light leads straight to eternal darkness. However, what is remarkable to me is what Jude tells us to do about all of this. He instructs us to remain strong in our faith through Spirit led and filled prayer. We are to position ourselves in the center of the love of Jesus that saves and preserves us. We are to do these things so that we can, in turn, show mercy to those who oppose Christ, and through exhibiting His supernatural love in our world, we can bring some of them into relationship with God. This is dangerous work, for as we engage in it, we are placed in very close proximity to the deceptiveness of the sin. In this we are to remain focused on Jesus so that we can, like Him, love all people totally while hating all sin with every ounce of our being.

The LORD your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exalt over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3: 17

 

After the certainty of salvation that comes from knowing Jesus Christ, this is the most comforting thought that I can hold onto as I travel through life. Although this comment was directed to the nation of Israel, it applies equally well to Christ’s church today, and the Lord is also speaking to each of us who follow Christ. The Lord, my God, is here now and always. He has chosen to reside in the world where I live and to dwell with me, and it is Christ’s presence that changes everything. He takes a broken and dying world and makes it a place where His people can find joy and peace and be in constant relationship with our loving Father.

 

It is in and through this presence that God’s great love for people is clearly and continually expressed. He is with us, and He is engaged with our lives in all aspects and areas of them. The Lord is that loving parent who delights in even the simplest of actions that His child undertakes. So, when it comes to actions that reflect the character and the nature of Christ, God is especially delighted in us. For, although He is present in our world, that presence is expressed and magnified by the lives that we live out as we engage with Christ and follow His will, as we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God come to earth.

 

So, for me, God’s joy and celebration of the life that I live leads me to desire to worship Him; thus, the songs that my heart sings become the words that my mouth expresses. The blessings that God is pouring out on me are given to others in the world around me. I desire to live with the joy and the peace that Christ has granted me evident so that the world will see and seek after their source. As God’s great joy over souls saved and relationships established pours out of His people and into our world, we become a public testimony to the King who saves.

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