July 2013


You leave the commandment of God and hold to the traditions of men.

Mark 7: 8

 

Jesus was addressing a crowd of people that included a cross section of the culture and the community of His times. Although His words here are aimed primarily at the religious leaders in that crowd, they were the ones challenging Him on minor points of practice; He was speaking to everyone within hearing. Christ is also stating these same truths for us to consider. The issue at hand is ancient and on-going as we can see from the words that Jesus took from Isaiah as He said,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the teachings of men.”

 

It would seem that we like convenient and easily managed rules for life. They need to fit into our personal objectives and not interfere with the way that we have planned for our days to go. Even when we read God’s Word and pray to Him for guidance, we too frequently fit what we hear into a pre-established template of truth that we and our culture have formed. Thus, the way that we live is developed out of our own desired outcome which is shaped by beliefs and by thinking that find their source in human wisdom. Although most people that I know are not as extreme and as committed to this practice as were the religious leaders that Jesus was confronting, almost everyone relies to some degree upon our human traditions and understanding when we are engaging our world.

 

Instead, Jesus would have us go to the source of all truth and wisdom. God has left nothing that is truly useful and valuable for life out of His Word. When that text is combined with the revelation that Christ’s Spirit grants to us, we have the only valid source for these rules of life. This frees us from being judgmental; yet, it allows us to stand on truth and to demand righteousness of ourselves and in our society. This is not an easy world to live in. There are powerful voices calling to each of us, and we are influenced by long histories of belief and practice. However, there is a much older and considerably better established foundation that we can stand upon. God has revealed His way of life to all who would seek Him, and Christ is the only way to that life. God’s Word; read studiously, meditated upon continuously, and illuminated by the Spirit must be the place where we go for guidance and direction in all matters of living and relating in our world.

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To Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Timothy 1: 2

 

What a blessing, what a wonderful way to greet someone! Here is everything that a person could really need to make it through the day and to do it with something extra still left in the tank when the head hits the pillow at night. If we could only start out all of our interactions with others with this sort of mind set, this world would be a considerably better place to live. Consider the impact on others and on your interactions with them if you not only say that you wish them the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ but that you say it from the depth of your heart with a desire that it is so.

 

As Paul engages with Timothy, he gets that the most important aspect of his relationship with Timothy is their common bond in and through Christ, for Paul knows at his deepest level that the connection that is made through the blood of Jesus to the true family of God is stronger than his human family ties. This is an eternal relationship that is lived out in this life. It seems that I often forget that God wants me to be the bearer of His blessings to the people that I engage with every day. If they have a relationship with Him, they are my family for now and for ever, and if they don’t know Him, I might be the one person who shows them what they are missing.

 

It is my prayer to God this day that I would set aside my cares, concerns, and fears so that I can bear a blessing to the people that I encounter in every corner of my world. I also ask that I would value the people of my family of faith, the living body of Christ, in ways that will bring encouragement to them and glory to God. Lord, I give my heart to You; let its expression be a sweet reflection of Your love and grace.

 

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill can not be hidden,

Matthew 5: 14

 

Jesus talked about light a fair amount. It was something that He understood very well. He had participated in that point in time when it came into existence; so, it bore Christ’s creative touch. He also understood its exact opposite in darkness. It too was the handiwork of the Creator. We need to remember that both light and dark were equally the result of God’s plan and design, and they were both good. However, sin has a very corrupting influence, and the darkness with its ability to conceal had become the realm of much evil. So Jesus used these real elements of our physical world as metaphors for the way that we live in it.

 

It seems that Jesus is telling us about the way that He impacts our world through us. People who know Christ and who follow Him as Savior and Lord are tasked with bringing the light of truth which is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ into every corner of our world at all times. This is our full time occupation. It provides for no vacation time, zero days of sick leave, and there is no retirement to look forward to. When Christ calls us to follow Him He means that we follow completely. This journey is one that continues all the way to the end of our days, and it takes us to the point of complete personal sacrifice; that is, it takes us to the cross of Christ. It is in full submission to the Lord that we shine the brightest, for the light that we give off is Him. It is the radiance of God that comes out of and is apparent in every word and action of our lives. Its source is the Spirit of Christ within us.

 

When Jesus spoke about the light that came from a city on a hill I think that He might have been envisioning a traveler who was nearing the end of a long day on the road. Night with its dangers and concerns had fallen. As the traveler navigates the dark trail through a valley he sees the lights of a city that greet him from the high ground ahead. Safety, comfort, companionship, and rest are spoken to his heart by those lights on the hill. That is what Christ wants His people to be in our world. We are to be the place where weary travelers can go to find the truth of Christ that brings about freedom, healing, and true community. Christ wants us to recognize our calling to be light. He also tells us to trust Him in all things, for there is truly nothing for His people to fear. Jesus also wants us to join together in a community of faith that is His body so that the impact of His light is made all the greater as we stand on God’s high ground.

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 5: 1

 

Here’s a proposal for you, stop worrying about your house. Don’t fix that dripping faucet, let the door squeak, let that tax notice go unheeded, and don’t even begin to fret over your lack of ability to pay the mortgage. For you see, God has a completely comprehensive plan that covers every possible housing need or concern that you might have. However, this sort of low stress approach to life is not close to what Paul was trying to communicate to us. He also was not trying to say that we shouldn’t care about what is happening in the here and the now of life; he is not pointing solely toward a future and eternal time of dwelling in the presence of the Lord.

 

We do need to realize that we spend a lot of our time and focus a considerable amount of our energy on what we do, the things that we have, and our efforts to sustain them. God does call on us to care for our families and to take care of our responsibilities; in short, He wants us to be good citizens in the world where we live. Yet, it is our motives and our resultant primary focus that He challenges. The physical things that we have are gifts from the Lord as are the lives that we live, and His gifts come with a life-time care plan that the Lord continually maintains. Christ wants us to focus our primary energy on caring for the souls of the people of this world.

 

The Lord has entrusted us with this vital task, and He wants us to understand that our true homes are found in His presence and in the company of others who know Christ. So, there is no reason to make worrying over our houses as much of a concern as most of us do. We have a home in this world that is framed in our Father’s love, closed in by His grace, and warmed by His Spirit. The eternal dwelling place of God and His people that is this world does need our continual attention, and it cries out for us to love it and to nurture it with all of our strength, passion, and care. This is made feasible because all that we need to do it is provided by God, and when this day is done, we have a home that God has prepared for us in His everlasting presence. 

 

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, and who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Isaiah 52: 7

 

As I sit here with my bare early morning feet before me, I don’t see anything that is particularly lovely. So, it is hard to envision the feet of the messenger in this verse as lovely, for they would be covered in the dust and the mud of a long journey, and their owner certainly would have had no opportunity or time to stop and clean up along the way. His imperative was to get to his people and to end the long suspense by informing them of the great victory that had been won over the enemy. Also, these would be the feet of a warrior fresh from a long campaign who had been living in the field with little or no creature comforts. Yet, these feet are lovely as they bring the news that the people of God have been waiting to hear throughout time.

 

In our times, these might be the feet of someone who has followed Christ’s calling into a far away country, they might be the feet of a pastor who stands before a crowd and speaks about the life-giving truth that the Spirit has revealed to him in God’s Word, or they could belong to any of us who takes the time to reach out with compassion, love, and grace to another person who is struggling to make it through the day. You see, the appearance of the feet is of no importance, and God doesn’t require any sort of skill, training, or experience to be the messenger, either. All that the Lord asks is that we be willing to go the distance.

 

Just as the messenger who was returning from this ancient field of battle knew the outcome, we also know the identity of the victor in this world’s struggles. We need to set out every day with the understanding that we are carrying that message of peace, joy, and salvation that is the good news of our relationship with Jesus Christ to the world that we will encounter. We can stand on the mountain tops that the Lord leads us to and shout out with enthusiasm and total conviction, “My God reigns!”

 

As the earth brings forth its sprouts,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61: 11

 

Many people enjoy doing some form of gardening, and I think that all of us enjoy the produce of those gardens. Vegetables, fruit, and herbs that have been harvested only minutes before they are eaten seem to have richer, bigger flavor. There is also something very satisfying in consuming something that you have caused to grow. Yet, in truth, the gardener has not really caused anything to grow. The plants produce their fruit because of how they were designed, and they sprout, grow, and flourish in an environment that was made for that purpose by God in His creative processes. Some people do exhibit greater levels of knowledge and skill and are more diligent than others at managing the gardening process, but none of us are its creator.

 

On a grander scale this entire earth is a garden, and all that happens on earth is the produce of that garden. Just as it is with our personal efforts at growing plants, so it is with this world-wide process. Much of what grows is good, useful, and delightful. Yet, there are weeds and non-productive plants in the mix, too. Gardens do not just take care of themselves, and neither does the world. Both suffer as a result of the same sinful disobedience that caused God to curse the daily existence that all of Creation experiences. The weeds and the thorns that plague our plots at home manifest in our world in ways that bring about oppression, destruction, and death on individual and on massive scales. Flooding and drought need to be managed at home, and they strike our earth both literally and metaphorically.

 

In both the personal and the world-wide instances, the good that comes out of the garden is the direct handiwork of the Creator. It is a gift that He has provided for His people. We are called by God to manage this world that He has given to us. This is the work that God designated for us, and God intends for us to gain pleasure, satisfaction, and soul-deep peace from the endeavor of working in His garden. In order to fully enjoy the fruits of our calling, we need to know the Creator and His will deeply and intimately. For when we are not spending our time and focusing our attention on God by studying His Word and with substantial amounts of our day dedicated to prayer and to meditation on Him, it is easy, natural, and all too human to become dangerously distracted by the weeds that are vigorously growing around us. Instead, God wants us to nurture the righteousness that He causes to grow and to openly worship the Creator by accompanying our labors with songs of praise to His name.

 

 

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Colossians 3: 14

 

God knew that this was the only real, true, and final answer to what ails this world. Thus, He set in motion His plan for the granting of perfect love to all of us, and He did this from the very beginning of Creation. God’s love bridges the gap that people have worked so hard to excavate between ourselves and Him; for, we sin and He forgives, we wander and He pursues, and we worship gods of our own making and He makes His presence real to us. The Lord never stops caring more for us than we can ever imagine or hope to imitate.

 

So, this is His instruction for us as well. Above all else in this life, we need to view all of our relationships and all of our interaction with others as love relationships. That is a really big thing to ask of us frail beings. We don’t typically do love so well. It isn’t the thing that we gravitate toward as our first response to the people who cross our paths in this life. Yet, this is the one response that moves us closest to the way that God views people, and it is also more honest and real than any other way that we can respond to them. Love sees the beauty in the flaws and failings of people, and it seeks to understand the fears and the weaknesses of the beautiful.

 

When we seek to truly love others, we are forced to draw nearer to God, Himself; for, in order to express love, we need the perspective and the wisdom that the Spirit of Christ gives to us. Also, we need to humbly submit to the Lord’s view of relationship in order to set aside our personal biases and fear of engagement with people that appear in circumstances that we find difficult or uncomfortable. God wants to see the people of this world connected in love as a family that is focused and centered on a relationship with Him. When we make love the foundation for all of our interactions with others, we are choosing to behave in the manner that the Lord designed as His primary point of connection to us; thus, we are taking the path that God desires for us to follow in order to enter into relationship with others.

 

 

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