May 2012


He has told you, O man, what it is and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6: 8

 

God makes the way of living that He desires for His children very clear. We are to be people who live in a just, a righteous, manner without demanding justice for ourselves. We are to be people who show kindness, which is often called mercy, to everyone without the expectation or the prerequirement that they will be merciful to us. This is the nature of God, for He grants the total grace of His loving forgiveness to everyone who will accept it. He does this even knowing that from God’s perspective, we are all antagonistic and hostile to His will, for we are all, in our natural states, unjust and merciless.

 

God’s Spirit teaches, counsels, guides, and directs us toward decisions and responses to other’s actions that will reflect His concept of what is just and how to grant mercy. Justice and kindness are key threads in the cloth of life that God has woven and that He has wrapped around every one of His children. As we seek to live in the center of our relationship with Christ, His Spirit infuses our hearts with His essential truths and with the values and the ethics that spring forth from them. Christ calls upon us to become people who value the just treatment of everyone at a very high level; so, we need to seek to interact with others in a way that reflects the grace and the mercy that He has shown to us.

 

When we actually live in this manner it means that we are required to place ourselves and our concepts of our importance on a level that is far beneath that of God’s. Then we must become humble students of the Master, and we need to stay humbled through everything that comes our way. I will not have all of the answers, but Christ does. I won’t always respond well to what others do and say, yet God has already forgiven my failure. When I see my futility and powerlessness in the face of oppression and hatred in my world, the Lord simply says for me to walk with Him, and He will provide the insight and the wisdom that I require to meet the needs of the victimized and the battered.

 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways”, declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55: 8, 9

 

The term transcendence is used in the world of theology to try to describe the way that God is above all else. It helps our minds to grasp the fact that our God is often unknowable and that His way of viewing life does not always seem clear to us. This is the characteristic of God that Isaiah is attempting describe here. He has the voice of God call to people to leave behind that which comes so naturally to us, as the country preacher would have put it, “Leave your sinful ways and follow Jesus.” Yet, if God is so unknowable, and it seems that with the wisdom of our humanity He is absolutely unknowable, then how can we even begin to hope to leave what is our native bent and follow that which is beyond our understanding?

 

Well, let’s go back to that country preacher, for he said it all. Follow Jesus. I could just stop right there, let that thought sink in, and call it all good; but, I am writing this and I’m not finished. Jesus is the game changer in our ability to actually know this transcendent God. He traveled in the opposite direction. Christ came into our world and joined us in life in order that we could know God and experience relationship with Him. He made God truly immanent, this is, Christ brought God in total into our world and is absolutely present with us in it. For even as He was departing from this life Jesus made the promise that His Spirit would be with us in and through it all and for the rest of time.

 

Christ grants us the ability to know God. He gives the way and the means to start to grasp the otherwise impenetrable truths of the transcendent God. Christ in our world leads His followers into a new way of viewing life that places the highest priority on entering into an ever growing and deepening relationship with God. Then it is this relationship with God that should compel us to live with the same values and priorities as God holds. As Christ takes His followers into the transcendent we learn to love others and to seek their well being above our own. The transcendent God sacrificed all for us, and Christ shows us how to lay down all that we hold as dear in this life in order to bring others into the presence of that same transcendent God.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,

but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25: 2

 

Personally I haven’t encountered any kings recently; in fact, if you disallow meeting people with titles such as “King of the Winterfest”, I have never actually met a king. This is true in a literal earthly sense. Yet I think I understand what the writer of this proverb was getting at. God is not careless with His wisdom. He knows that many people will simply laugh at the way that He tells us that we should live. It doesn’t seem to gain them any advantage, and it is too hard to maintain through all of the seasons of life. God also knows that we humans have a really hard time appreciating and valuing things which come our way too easily. So, despite the fact that entering into a relationship with God through Christ is quite simple to do, until we recognize our need we usually don’t do anything about it.

 

Yet God, the one True King, finds glory in the hiddenness of His truth. When people want to know how to live in a manner that is sustainably uplifting and that brings peace into our world, we need to search into the deeply concealed places. In effect we need to go mining for gold. We must work hard and dig deep while watching closely for the signs of hidden treasure and listening to the voice of God as He leads the search. God is glorified when people listen attentively to Him and follow His way of living closely. When we choose to make God the ruler of our lives and live with praise for His loving grace on our lips, we bring knowledge of Him to our land.

 

We become like the kings that God wants to ordain to rule when we search out His wisdom and choose to follow it. That doesn’t mean that we have the power to tell others what to do and how to live. We gain no control or status over others by following God. In fact, like Christ, we need to give away our positions of safety and might and accept humble submission to God as our new normal. Yet this is exactly what God seeks in an earthly king. He wants to bring us into His glory by showing us His truth and by equipping and empowering us to do His will. There is no greater mark of God’s ordination on an earthly ruler than to have that person bring justice and righteousness to others. God commissioned humanity to take dominion, to rule, over a broken world. He sends each of us into that world to bring the glory of His image to all of it that we touch.

 

 

Now Moses and the elders ofIsraelcommanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today.”

Deuteronomy 27: 1

 

The commandment that Moses was giving to the people that he was leading was comprised of the rules and the essential structure for living as a community that belonged to the one true God. Although it certainly did make up the foundation for a civil law code, it was much more than that. There were other law codes in existence in their part of the world. However, none of them had as its center the expression of the singular starting point for all human interaction and transaction that was in God’s law, “Hear, O Israel; “The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” “(Dt. 6: 4, 5).

 

If this total and uncompromising love for God was not their reality, then they were not living in accordance with God’s ways. When that happened, there were always consequences to be paid. Living righteously did not mean an easy life, but it did mean that they were going to be continually blessed by God. These blessing from the Lord were great, wonderful, and profound for the followers of Moses. They are amazing and beyond everything else that can be experienced in life during our times as well. The act and the practice of remaining true to God and to following His will at all times and in all ways is a decision that each of us needs to make. As it was singularly important for Moses and the Israelites to make this decision, so making it is a life changing one for people today.

 

We hear many voices that try to tell us what it means to live well. There is an overwhelming amount of information available to us to use in processing almost every decision that we need to make. Yet, all of life, even in our over-informed, complex world, can be well managed and each of our decisions needs to be informed by this one, singular ancient expression of truth. If we love God as described, with the totality of our being; and we determine to keep His truth, love, justice, and righteousness before us in all that we think and do; we will truly dwell in the land that God has given to us for His purposes and there will be an eternal peace in our souls. Thus our doxology can be, “Hear, O people of the Lord, there is but one God; Father, Son and Spirit, three in one. Although it is a weak shadow of Your love poured out upon me, I do love You, Lord, with all of my heart, soul and might. Amen.”

 

 

We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

 

Everyone experiences death. It is that great inevitable that hovers above each of our lives. We encounter its reminders on an almost daily basis, too. There is no escaping the influence that death with its loss and with its finality has on us and on our world. Yet, for those who truly know God by way of living in a relationship with Christ, death has gained a fuller and a very different emphasis and meaning. In Christ, the finality of the grave is a radically redefined sort of terminus, for Christ brings us together with Him into the presence of God, the Father, in a glorious celebration of our setting aside of the pain and the trials of living in this foreign and hostile land of our temporary wandering. Through Christ we come to our permanent home in the splendid perfection of heaven.

 

But the death that Paul is speaking of here is of a different sort. It is different; yet, it should still lead to just as profound a change and a transition in our lives as does the one that comes at the end of earthly life. This is a death that God calls upon all people to accept. It is also one that only some will dare to believe in and to trust Christ enough in order to surrender into its finality. Christ tells us to deliberately leave our well-established and familiar lives behind as we purposefully climb into the grave of submission to God’s will. As we join Christ in His death, it is His blood that cleanses us from all of the sin that has separated us from God, and it is His intervention before the Father that gains us a verdict of innocent from the only high court that matters.

 

Yet it is the next step that is most significant. Just as the Father pronounced His final victory over sin and over death as He raised Christ out of His tomb, so too we join in that victory. Christ leads us into a new life. This is not just a different lifestyle; rather, it is a life that is lived from a completely redefined perspective. We are made new by and through our relationship with Christ. Although this fact does not diminish the intensity of the struggle that we will encounter during the process of leaving our old, deeply ingrained ways of thinking and of acting behind, now there is hope and a promise of victory. Now we are enfolded by Christ into His resurrection. In this new life we should expect to walk daily in the company of God’s loving community. As we walk in our newness Christ goes with us into this day, and He uses us to claim His victory over the death that sin tries to bring into our world.

Jesus said to the apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

Mark 6: 31

 

Jesus and His small band of close followers, the apostles, were living very hectic lives. There was much to do, and they were continually in motion. The demands of life were such that it seems that they weren’t finding the time for such basic activities as eating. This bone-wearying pace was theirs, and the world that they lived in didn’t even have instant news. In our times Jesus and His followers would have had an even harder time in finding some peace and quiet away from the demands of the crowds. All of this is a rather long way around to the thought that it seems clear to me that God truly understands our real need for times of escape and for the inner calm that comes in times of God-seeking isolation.

 

The same words that Jesus spoke to the apostles are ones that I hear Him speaking into my over-extended life. Christ wants me to leave all of the commitments and the responsibilities behind. In jealousy He desires my full attention, for Christ knows that a divided heart and mind, as we often are in our modern multi-tasking approach to living, will not be very attentive to His voice. My Lord wants me to allow Him to be exactly that, the Lord of my entire being. He calls upon me to go out to a place where there are no distractions and where there is no possibility that life’s urgencies will be able to grab me. Even if it is only for a short time, Christ wants me to be able to openly and honestly speak the deepest desires and needs of my heart. He leads me to find a place where silence permits my ears an opportunity to truly hear His voice.

 

We are not usually called by God to leave this world permanently or even for extended periods of time; rather, He typically asks that we take regular, short breaks away from the noise, the clutter, and the commitments of life in order to focus our complete attention on Him. In the story as told in Mark, the apostles had only a short amount of time as they traveled across the lake in a boat. The crowds rapidly found them again on the other side. It seems to be a universal truth that life and its urgency has a way of always finding the people who God has chosen and equipped to bring His answers to its situations. In fact, this is the reason why we need to purpose and to plan to take these breaks from life, to go alone to a desolate place where Christ’s voice is all that we can hear. For in these times and in this place, Christ brings His will into clearer focus and He grants the weary spirit rest.

 

 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2: 4

 

The little phrase “but God” hovers over God’s Word and provides a tension to numerous scenes throughout it. It is a simple linguistic construction, in Greek the but is called a conjunction of antithesis, which sits at the balance point for the eternal destiny of many souls. Contemplate for a moment a god who did not operate in the manner as the “But God’ one does. This would be a god who is not rich in mercy, who does not love people in a manner that is beyond our contemplation, and who did not sacrifice himself for the sake of our souls. This is a god much like the ones that humanity has tried to create for itself throughout our troubled history. This is a god who is completely foreign to my experience of the true and living God, the great I Am, Father, Savior, and Spirit of light, life, and truth.

 

The “But God” enters into the lives of people who are broken and shattered by the corrosive and destructive forces of sin. We are all born into this world as hearers of Satan’s great lies. Each person’s story is different, but this one fact is our common reality, each of us needs to be saved from the certainty of a life that is lived in the present and in the eternal in a state of separateness from God. Christ performed the great intervention. He came out of the perfection of Heaven to join with us in our world of chaos and pain. He brings to our hearts the promise of a love that is great beyond measure and that doesn’t contemplate our worthiness before He embraces us. Christ enters the tomb of our souls and He breathes the breath of life into our lungs. Then, like Lazarus, Christ calls to us to come out of the dwelling place of the dead and to enter into the land of the truly alive.

 

It is in this new land of our inhabitation where we live with Christ. For people who know Him, this is our new home. We may be aliens and foreigners in this world where we journey, but we should not be confused by this, for we are now residing in the presence of God, Almighty. Therefore, our new address is theKingdomofGod, and we are called upon by Him to be active players in bringing the truth of the “But God” to the world that we touch with our lives. We are not called by God to be judges, and we are not called to be agents of condemnation. We are to be lovers of people and to be careful gardeners who work diligently to restore order and to bring peace into our world. When the world encounters us it should be able to readily see the effects of the transformative work that the “But God” has performed upon us, and it should know that it is being touched by His mercy, grace and love.

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