March 2012


It (God’s Law) shall be with your king, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.

Deuteronomy 17: 19

 

In Americawe are in the midst of the political campaign season. In reality, when are we not in that season? Yet, this is a big one, for this is the year that we elect our President, our king if you will. God makes it very clear that He cares about the sort of people who govern our nations. He desires for them to be men and women who seek after His way and who live righteously. The Lord also lets us know with certainty that He is sovereign over and above all of these human rulers. There is only one true and all sufficient king, president, chancellor, or emperor and He is named Yahweh, the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.

 

Yet, His name will not appear on the ballot that we get to cast, and He doesn’t want us to write Him in either. Choosing to elect God is not, in fact, an option that we have. He is Lord! God wants us to surrender control, yield power, and submit to His will in the way that we engage in our political systems. He wants us to trust in Him and not in any person who might be elected to office. The person who is elected as President will fail us. He will let us down. He will seek after selfish and foolish things. He will be human, indeed. I think that God wants us to make our selection based upon the person who comes the closest to living as one who knows the true King and who keeps His commandments before him all of the time.

 

The primary thing that I desire in my elected officials is someone who not only desires to hold onto the land that we have been given by God, but I seek a person who has a heart for continuing the conquest. Unfortunately, we seem to be electing too many leaders who are eager to enter into the sorts of treaties with Satan that are warned against in this passage from Moses. It doesn’t matter what party affiliation they hold or what label may be affixed to their political philosophy. The key to selection of them to lead should be their commitment to studying and to following God’s righteous law. No matter who is elected and regardless of what they may say and do, the primary responsibility for the direction that our nation goes rests solely on our shoulders. Each of us must do as God has commanded our kings to do. We must live with our hearts firmly planted in God’s will and focused on living in the center of His righteousness. We have a mandate from God to make known our understanding of His will. Then we must trust in the eternal truth that Yahweh is Lord, and His reign is supreme!

Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.

Hebrews 13: 15

 

The first thing that comes to my mind as I consider these words and what a sacrifice of praise might look like is singing songs and reciting poetic prayers. These are words that describe the attributes and the qualities of God and that thank Him for how He takes care of me and the people that I care about. Expressing my praise to God verbally is a valid way to worship Him, and it is necessary for me to do this in order to stay focused on Christ and off of myself. Still, I think that the author of Hebrews had something else in mind here. It strikes me that the sacrifice involved in the forms of worship that I am considering is not really all that great. These cost me some time, a little effort, and, depending on the location and who is around me, some personal comfort.

 

The thing that God is asking me to give to Him in a sacrificial way is my total being. That is my heart, my soul, and my way of living life. God wants it all, and He desires it always. This is a big deal. This is not so simple as opening my mouth and uttering a few words, heartfelt as they may be. God wants the heart that conceives those words, and He asks me for the actions that come out of that heart as well. It is through Christ that this way of living becomes possible, for He is the author and the model of being this way. Jesus is the key to understanding what a life of self-sacrifice is like.

 

A life that is surrendered to Christ, dedicated to His love, and committed to living in the totality of grace is what God seeks from us. The praise that God desires most comes out of the relationship with Him that is formed through our relationship with Christ. It is expressed most profoundly by the very way that we live. Although Jesus spoke words that were powerful and had great impact on the ways that people live and on our understanding of God, it was His actions that spoke most clearly. Jesus filled His days with acts of love, compassion, care, concern, honesty, and grace that give us a living portrait of our God. He related to His world and to its inhabitants without regard to their status, lifestyle, or personal history. He was utterly without concern for His own welfare, image, or personal gain.

 

Although the sacrifice that God seeks is costly, for He desires for us to give ourselves totally, the promised reward is much greater. Christ does fill us with His Spirit, and He fills our lives with the fact of His view of our worth, strength, and purpose. As we acknowledge Christ through our lives, God blesses us in ways that are too great to even imagine in my simple mind.

 

For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

John 6: 33

 

We all become hungry, and everyone needs to find food. For some people this search is what consumes a major portion of the day. For others the only searching that happens is that evening shuffle through all of the boxes, bags, and jars in the pantry and refrigerator that becomes a regular ritual as we seek a satisfying snack. We eat something, and we are satisfied for the moment. Yet, there is another form of hunger that is absolutely universal and that never gets completely satisfied.

 

We are born with hungry souls. They are malnourished, and even the most loving of mothers can’t do more than point us toward the source of that food. We are the ones who decide to accept the giver and thus receive eternal nourishment. Jesus is the imperishable manna that God promised from the very beginning of Creation. Yet, He brings much more than a snack to our hearts, for He fills us with the total banquet feast of God. Christ invites us to join Him at the sacred Eucharist table, and He grants His people the right to dwell in community there.

 

Even after we have accepted Christ and entered into that relationship, our hearts and minds still need to be fed. Without the ongoing and continuous transformational filling of God’s Spirit we won’t grow and develop as rapidly and as completely as we could. Christ not only gives us a soul with an unending existence, He also gives us a present life with no end of strength, encouragement, and purpose. The Lord provides the feast, it is up to each of us to come and eat. Let us be filled on the Spirit of God throughout this day.

 

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.

1 Timothy 2: 1

 

Paul sets forth an interesting thought here, for he tells us that we should be engaging in prayerful worship with God that involves a very broad list of people, for “all” is about as inclusive as that group could get. When I am considering a time of prayer, my tendency is to talk with God about my family members, my friends, the people that I might be aware of in other settings that are usually related to these same people, and sometimes national and international leaders. This is a fairly large yet manageable list. Yet, this is only the start of what Paul is saying that we should be doing.

 

This list of prayer forms is also really comprehensive. It is a lot bigger than just the simple, “Thank you for my family” or “Please heal my cousin’s dermatitis”. These are both fine, for they are included in the list; however, take a close look at what is being said. We are being told to engage prayer in a total and comprehensive manner. It is to be done on our knees and standing and shouting praises, framed in humility, seeking God’s intervention and involvement in other people’s lives, grateful and remindful of all that God does for us and for all people. Prayer is passionate, constant, a special event, and an every moment necessity. It is to be engaged in the morning, in the middle of the day, at night, and at every time between, and we are to pray about and for everyone.

 

This last thought is perhaps the most amazing and profound thought to me. I think that the point here is that if I embrace this idea and make it my practice, God will begin to cause a very powerful change in my attitudes toward others. He will redirect my thinking and the attitude of my heart toward many others so that I will begin to see them more like He does. The group that I am instructed to pray for includes people that I don’t like, those that don’t seem to like me, leaders of government, especially leaders who I believe are wrong or who are wrongly motivated, the person at work whose habits infuriate me, the neighbor whose dog is noisy, the person who has profoundly wronged or hurt me, and everyone who I struggle to understand or to relate to.

 

Christ sees the world and the people in it quite differently from the way that I do. He sees the beautiful potential, the perfect child that He created, and the deep sadness and the chaos that is the result of people’s separation from Him. Our Lord sees all people with eyes of love and compassion, and He seeks to be granted the opportunity to graciously redeem everyone from their lost state. Thus, He directs us to put on His attitude, to see the people of this world as He does, and to become active agents for redemption. Christ directs His people to engage and to energize His calling to us in constant and comprehensive prayer.

 

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8: 26

Admittedly, there are times when prayer can become a shallow recitation of wishes, wants, and desires. It also can turn into an exercise in empty yet eloquent speech. We have all heard prayer that was well crafted, written with carefully chosen words that have the just right ring of public speaking. Most of us have prayed to God out of some sense of duty or requirement and spoken relatively meaningless phrases that were structured in a manner that covered all of the bases such as address, praise, request, and closing.

I have certainly had times when I really didn’t know what to say to God, or how to begin to express what was going on in my heart. These are times when my head was a swirling and confused place filled with pain, anger, or desperation. There are times when my situation just seems trivial, and thee are others when the issues that are on my mind and heart are so big that I can’t find any words to start to express the needs. Life is like that. It is big, complex, diverse, and beyond my ability to manage it all.

Yet, prayer is very simple, for God wants us to talk to Him. He desires to hear our voices even when our throats are choked off and we can’t get a word out. The Lord listens to the uttering of our hearts, and He understands the intention of our minds even when we can’t make sense out of any of it. As God’s Spirit has come to live within us, so has His understanding of our lives. The Spirit communicates with us in ways that are beyond our limited understanding. As we travel through life with God, every moment of the day can be a time of prayer. We can talk through each situation with our Lord, and the strength and the encouragement of Christ can empower us to live courageously at all times. There are no formal words required, there are not even any audible ones needed, and we don’t have to know what to say. God understands completely, and He absolutely responds.

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16: 20

 

Certainly we all want and seek after justice. Why would it be any other way? Justice is what makes this world seem fair, and it is what allows us to trust in our social systems. Yet, what passes for justice in our culture is often perverted, held back, or completely absent from the scene. Considering that Moses is warning the nation ofIsraelabout God’s concerns regarding their application of justice, it would seem that the problem of actually living as a just society is not such a modern issue. The desire to receive just treatment is fundamental to human endeavor. Likewise, our reluctance to grant it to others runs deeply in our fallen hearts.

 

Justice is the last thing that Satan wants for us to honestly embrace. He is served by people who hold a distorted and a perverted view of what it means to live justly. God’s view of justice involves a system where our treatment of others can not be bought or sold. There should be no price that can be paid in order to receive proper treatment from people that have position, power, and authority. Also, there are no people who are so empowered and authorized who will change their ruling or alter their perspective based upon another’s ability or willingness to pay. Justice, as God views it, requires us to be willing to do all that is in our power to see to it that everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and in a manner that seeks to build up both the individual and the society.

 

The application of justice involves sacrifice. We need to be willing to give away opportunities to gain status and power in order to treat others in this manner. Living in a just land is often a dirty and a messy business. The people that we need to engage with in order to bring it about are quite often the poor, the disadvantaged, and the lost. They can be people who are easy to pass by, and frequently they are the ones that we desire with all of our hearts to ignore in the hopes that they won’t speak to us. These people are the ones that the brokenness of sin has marked as easy targets. These are the members of society that Jesus walked up to and embraced with the warmth and the compassion of the Father. These people are you and I in any number of possible circumstances. These disadvantaged and damaged souls are equally made in God’s image. They are our neighbors and our brothers and sisters.

Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

James 2: 1

 

Everyone likes to be the favorite, the favored child, the one that the teacher calls on, the person with the best seat, or the first one picked. It feels good and it gives us a sense of importance in a world where there is so much that diminishes our understanding of value and significance. All people have a place in God’s heart that is unique and special. Yet, He is that last one to tell us that this remarkable place of favor with the Lord gives any of us a place of superiority in our world.

 

It seems that God seeks to elevate all people to His place of glory. He promises us that when we enter into a relationship with Him that the transformation that He works in us includes our relocation from the dark cellar of the lost to a seat of honor in His throne room. So, if we attempt to claim superiority over others, or we start placing people on a plane that is superior to others for any reason, even for ones that might seem spiritually oriented, we are acting contrary to God’s will and are defying His plan of equal grace and absolute mercy.

 

When we place our humanly defined limits on God we usually go far astray from the understanding that He wants us to have of Him. This can lead us to take actions that we claim are done for God’s glory; when, in fact, they are done solely for our own. We need to listen to the voice of God as He tells us about the beauty, value, and special giftedness that He has given to every person. No one is greater than another and none hold lesser status, either. We honor God when we seek to elevate and honor everyone, and when we see them through the eyes of the loving Father who views every person as a blessing to Himself and to our world.

 

In Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and merciful God.

Nehemiah 9: 31

 

The one characteristic of God’s that I rely upon far too much is His mercy. I tend to push my selfish will to the limit and then, far too readily accept the fact that the divine axe did not fall. Yet, this is who God truly is. He simply is not the angry, vengeful, and destructive god that so many people believe in and teach others to follow. The Lord, my God and my Redeemer, is loving, understanding, compassionate, and extends gracious mercy to me and to everyone else as well.

 

There will be a final accounting for the lives that we each have lived, and there will come a time when the evil that is loose in this world will come face to face with God’s victorious might, but the Lord is never angry to the point of destruction with people. Rather, He detests the destruction that evil causes in the hearts and minds of His children. He is deeply saddened by the lives that are ruined by Satan’s lies and deception, and the Lord will allow us to choose to follow the deceiver to our own self-determined destruction.

 

Still, God’s desire is for every person, each and all of us, to know Him in the truth of who He is. The Lord wants all to come close to Him so that we can know the warmth of His embrace and stand tall in Christ’s victory over sin in our lives. For me, God’s grace and mercy are more than enough reason to seek Him and to set aside my self centered attitudes about how to live. The way to know God’s compassion, grace, and mercy best is to give the same to the people that I encounter during this day; so, my prayer for today is that I would be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and lovingly truthful with the people who are in my world.

 

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Matthew 10: 16

 

Jesus knew the true character of the world that He was living in. He was aware of the poison that was hidden behind the smiles, and He was fully aware of the ancient plot that had been launched to destroy righteousness for the sake of selfish power. Jesus was warning His disciples about the sharp teeth and the claws of pain that were going to cause them suffering and grief. We need to pay attention to Christ’s words today. Pain, suffering, grief, and evil are topics that He knows a great deal about. He wasn’t speaking solely for the benefit of the handful of followers who were there then. These words of caution are also intended by Christ to be viewed as instruction for living in the same depraved culture and fallen world that He was viewing two thousand years ago. All of our scientific and intellectual advancements have done little to change the topography of spiritual battlefields. The war is still fought hand to hand by individuals who decide to sacrifice all for the sake of everything important.

 

Frankly, the image that Jesus set out here is quite odd. No military commander would send the most poorly trained and the defenseless of his troops into battle. Likewise, no business or governmental leader would rationally task a completely untrained and unskilled employee with negotiating survive-or-fail type agreements with wily adversaries. Yet Jesus does this very thing. In fact, He seems to be suggesting that we need to empty our pockets of whatever weapons we might own, and clear our minds of the strategies that we have learned over time. Christ wants us to enter into the struggle for spiritual territory with an approach to the fight that is so radical, so utterly unconventional that it might cause the opponent to die of laughter. He wants us to go about life in the same way that He did, which, by the way, was fairly successful.

 

Jesus left all of His position, power, and glory behind to join humanity as one of us. He brought a loving sincerity and an engaging relational approach to answering the issue of our separation from God. Christ entered into the shattered lives of people and engaged with the devastation that sin has brought to the Father’s exquisitely beautiful creation landscape with righteousness and truth and with the loving grace of God. Jesus is preparing us for our days of laboring in His fields by granting us the same tools of trade. We aren’t gracious, we certainly aren’t righteous, and we don’t possess truth outside of Christ. I think that Jesus wants us to humbly submit to Him and to His will. He is telling us to become empty and powerless in our own wisdom so that we can be filled with His. We enter the contest of the day as sheep that are totally reliant upon the shepherd. Then it is that very shepherd who protects our hearts, minds, and spirits while granting us the gift of His wisdom to use as our primary tool in winning the world for Christ’s kingdom.

 

 

As sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5: 21

 

Some things are blessings and some are burdens. Other things are gifts. It is God’s gifts that stand in stark contrast to those things that are a painful legacy. All people are burdened with the living death that was placed into our make up and that became our nature when the first of our ancestors decided to go it on their own and not trust God’s direction for living in His eternity. They traded dwelling in the garden of God’s presence for a wandering existence in the desert of separation and death. The great potential that was designed into them by God was left unfulfilled, and they were forced to participate in a continual struggle against nature for their own survival.

 

None of this pleased God, in fact, it saddened Him greatly. He lost the companionship of the people that He had created primarily for that purpose. The Lord so enjoyed those close, intimate walks in the garden with His children that, when they were interrupted by our arrogant and self centered actions, He set into motion a plan that would involve the ultimate in self sacrifice in order to remedy the fatal illness of separation through sin. God’s gracious gift of life was brought into this world through the absolute expression of righteousness in the person of Jesus Christ. Everyone is given the opportunity to accept the gift that He brings and be blessed by the continual, personal presence of God.

 

All of the potential that God designed into every person is still there waiting to be realized. Each of us has the ability and the capacity to live as God intended. We can spend all of our days walking in the splendor of the garden of the Lord with His voice speaking truth to our hearts and His arm wrapped around our shoulders in the close embrace of the loving Father. Jesus is the way. Acceptance of His gift is the key, and trusting the Spirit of Christ to lead us to our potential needs to be our daily hope and prayer.

 

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