October 2012


But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5: 24

 

When I think about a flowing stream, my mind gives me a picture of a peaceful, mountain setting with the water rushing past and the air filled with the happy sounds of splashing and crashing currents. This is a peaceful and pleasant scene; it is one that brings on a set of thoughts that are visual, auditory, and whole-body enveloping in nature. There is life in this place. The promise of refreshment and nurture fills the moment. Also, power is present. That water is relentless in its forward motion, and it will sweep along all that gets into its way. It cleanses and it purifies as it helps to shape the contours of the world that it touches. The stream that Amos calls upon us to envision is eternal, and it can never be dammed up or even slowed down. It flows from the very presence of God.

 

Although justice and righteousness come from God, He desires for us to be their champions. It would seem that living justly starts in our hearts. It is something that does not come all that naturally to people. Instead, we tend to take care of our own wishes, needs, and desires preferentially to seeing and to engaging with those of others. We may say that we desire to live in a just world, but our definition of what is just tends to be much narrower and personally safer than Christ’s. Whereas He holds that all people deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and love; we tend to make significant exceptions to our list of qualified recipients. Christ grants grace, mercy, compassion, and healing to all. We condemn and judge far too many. According to Christ, there are none who do not deserve the chance to know His love and to accept His healing, and no one other than Christ is empowered or authorized to pass judgment on people.

 

If we are to answer the Lord’s call to bathe our world in His justice and to cleanse it with the eternal stream of righteousness, we must start with our own lives. Possessing a heart for justice is a work that Christ does in us. It is something to seek after. It is a subject for deep contemplation and prayerful submission to Christ so that His Spirit can begin to make us aware of the attitudes that we do hold and work in us to transform them into ones that express His will. This is an immediate need in our world. Evil and its oppression work relentlessly to crush the spirit and the life out of people in every corner of this community and in every other one. Living justly and delivering justice is a very powerful way to bring Christ into the lives of many. Justice breathes life into our souls, and righteousness sustains us for all time.

 

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For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Luke 19: 10

 

God is always seeking. He never stops pressing on to reach into the darkened depths of the souls of people, for He claims everyone on this earth as His own. The Lord will not rest from the quest after relationship with us until we have totally closed and locked away any possible access to our hearts. Since God sees nothing but the potential that He designed into us, He continues to view us with that Father’s eye for the potential beauty within until the moment that we draw our last earthly breath.

 

Christ wants me to view others in this same way. He tells me to love my neighbor, to forgive wrong doing, to offer up my un-injured cheek to the person who just hit me, and to care about the eternity of others more than I care about my own security or comfort. Jesus seemed to actually enjoy the company of such flawed and coarse people as we are. He gathered the imperfect and the self-focused to His side; and He continues to delight in being in the close and intimate company of these people. People such as me and you.

 

Jesus came after me. He has come after you, and He wants us to join Him in the relentless pursuit of others. This world is filled with lostness and the pain that it causes. Christ provides the answers to the void that sin has carved out. People who know Him are the means that God uses to connect that empty need with His healing love. Jesus desires to walk with each of us through this day of seeking that which is lost. Christ will do the work as He gifts to us the right words and deeds for us to use for this purpose and to His glory.

Bring my soul out of prison, so that I may give thanks to Your name;

The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me.

Psalm 142: 7

 

All people are born with souls that are locked away in the dark, cold, and lonely isolation of a cell that is called separation. We all are removed and apart from the presence of God, and everyone has already received an eternal death sentence that was handed down by the highest judge of all. Yet, the undeniable appeal of that sentence was perfected by Jesus, has been sealed and attested to as authentic and irrevocable by God, and is waiting for each of our acceptance. All God requires from us is to reach out our hand, humble our heart, and accept His truth of salvation through Jesus, the Christ. Then, the key enters the lock, and we are freer than imagination could ever contemplate.

 

Still, there are too many times when I find myself looking out from what seems to be the inside of that prison cell. I feel the oppression and the isolation of being apart from my Lord. These are times when dark thoughts and troubling motives swirl around in my heart and obscure the clear thinking that God’s righteous light brings to my mind. It is for times like these that God designed us to live in the company of others. He promises us that He will bring into our lives other people who know Him and who seek after His way of living, for friends are one of the greatest aspects of the bounty that God provides to His children.

 

At times when the walls of the prison seem to be closing in on your heart, and the coldness of isolation is seeping into your bones, it is time to look toward those friends that Christ has placed into your life. Although the human tendency may be to protect your wounded spirit by withdrawing into the solitude of separation or external happy facade, that is exactly what should not be done. In these times, we all need to claim the reality of the freedom that has been granted to us by Christ, open our hearts to the Lord who already knows the answer for our pain, and allow our faith community the opportunity to bless us by helping us carry the burden of the moment.

 

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14: 27

 

The peace that Jesus is talking about here is the great peace of Shalom. It is something that goes far beyond a quiet night or a day without the news about war and death filling our ears. In fact, under the circumstance at hand when Jesus was talking, peace would seem to be about as far away as anything could have been. Christ knew that in only a very short amount of time He would be arrested, tried, and crucified. The people who were close to Him would not experience earthly peace in their hearts and minds for a long time to come. Yet, Jesus stood there and promised it to them.

 

Jesus knew and was sharing with us the fact that the peace of Shalom is not an easy thing. The sort of peace that brings a deep blessing of the soul from God is surrounded with struggle, sacrifice, acceptance, and hard work and commitment. In order for us to experience the peace that Christ grants to His people we must yield our wills and surrender to His. Christ desires for us to be emissaries for His peace talks in our troubled world. Yet, we can not hope to be effective in that role if we have not settled into the state of calm and understanding that is God’s hope and intent for His people. Christ’s peace-givers have settled totally into their trust in God’s plan and have complete faith in Christ’s victory over all that is evil in this world and in the heavens.

 

Still, the peace that Christ grants to us is not a call to be passive or disengaged in the face of all that is wrong and destructive in our world. Instead we are to openly live in our calling from God. Christians who live in the reality of Christ’s Shalom are made strong rather than weak. They are compelled to speak truth in the face of the lies and the deceptive rhetoric that is thrown at us daily. Christ’s peace-givers are aware that wars and strife are not solved by bigger weapons and by causing a greater degree of havoc to fall upon an enemy. They also fully accept the fact that the differences that we see between races, nations, and tribes of people are there in order to demonstrate the expanse of God’s creative beauty. At the same time we need to recognize that the divisions that exist and that separate peoples from each other are the result of our sinful disobedience and stubborn refusal to follow God. Christ’s peace resides in our hearts; yet, it is made evident in our world through our loving and bold expression of truth, mercy, and grace in the name of Christ.

If this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else, you may even be found fighting against God.

Acts 5: 38b, 39

 

Even the voice of the enemy understands the underlying, ultimate truth of Christ’s victory. Here is a situation where the rulers of the Temple in Jerusalem were attempting to crush the followers of Jesus after His death, but a chief rabbi spoke these wise thoughts, and the followers were released. In like manner, the Spirit of God is our defender in all of the confrontation, trial, and hardship that comes our way due to our faith in Christ. The words that are spoken in our defense come from the heart of God, and the courage that we need to stand bravely in the face of the accusations is provided by the faith and trust in God that we hold personally and that our spiritual family surrounds us with.

 

Still, the release of Jesus’ followers was conditioned upon their staying quiet about their beliefs, and they couldn’t do that. “And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5: 42) They were relying on the promise that God had spoken that assured them of the victory that Christ has already won over the forces of evil in this world and in the heavens. They were also following the mandate that God has given to all of His followers that we must tell the world about the way to restoration, healing, and life that is found solely through His Son, Jesus, Christ. Telling the world isn’t optional, and the part that you and I have been given by God in that telling can’t be delegated to another and shouldn’t be put off until a better day.

 

There seems to be a simple yet true connection between the degree to which we have given ourselves over to being tellers of the truth of Christ and the opportunity that we will have to encounter opposition in our lives. It is also true that the more we suffer for Christ, the closer we come to Him, for He suffered totally for each of us. I pray that my thoughts, words, and actions today would be worthy of the name Child of the Living God, and that, when the day is done, the actions of my life will still be standing tall, for the Lord has deemed them worthy of His defense.

 

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 to 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 head-long 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 which 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.

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, of a sure foundation;

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line.”

Isaiah 28: 16, 17a

 

If life were a film, haste might be the director’s command for our lives today. We are urgent to get where we are intending to go. Everyone wants answers that were delivered before the problem was even defined. People are quick to abandon relationships that aren’t working well enough, and we jump ideological ship when a small storm swell rocks it. It seems that loyalty is defined by self-protectiveness, and faithfulness often lasts about as long as a Mayfly lives. It is not all that shocking to me to realize that God sees things rather differently. He talks to us in terms that call out the dawn of human time, and then, as we start to develop a sense of our importance, the Lord reminds us that our existence starts at something like mid day on His clock.

 

The foundation that God built for us is firstly relational. It is, it exists, and it forms the natural undercurrent for life. This point of beginning for all interaction, whether from person to person, among humans and God, or involving us and our world, has as its basis and its underpinning the relational nature of God, Himself, with His three-in-one, fully communicative, integrated and yet separately well-defined existence. God intends for us to be in this life for the long haul. He desires for people to continually count the cost of our decisions and our actions so that we are mindful of the way that they impact and affect others in terms of whether we are treating people in a manner that is loving, just, righteous, and fair.

 

The corner stone that God has set out for us is also true, absolutely perfect in its orientation, and unshakable even in the face of the greatest forces that this world or that life can throw against it. For the sake of clarity let me say that this corner stone is Jesus Christ, His gospel, the Eternal Word. There is no other answer to the questions and the challenges that come our way. It would seem that God wants us to slow down and stop looking for new ways of thinking that will bring about miraculous solutions to all that is wrong in our world. The Lord wants people to spend time with Him and to search out His heart’s desire as it is set out in His Word. When we do this we are settling into our place against that eternal foundation that God has established for us. This is a place of complete security where grace smoothes our rough edges so that we fit perfectly into God’s building design. This is the place where our wandering hearts are aligned with God’s just and true course and where righteousness lived out builds God’s temple walls high and true.

 

 

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