August 2013


The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished,

He will keep you in exile no longer,

but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, He will punish,

He will uncover your sins.

Lamentations 4: 22

 

Let me risk the obvious. The world is a mess. Maybe it is a product of age or is caused by experiencing an especially paranoid patch of life, but things seem worse today than at any time in my memory. The way that people engage with each other and the manner in which they dialogue about their differences is harsh, angry, and lacking in the heart of understanding. There is a hopelessness in the air that is frightening in that it doesn’t anticipate a better tomorrow. In light of all of this, I think that the author of Lamentations helps us understand our world and our participation in it with the sort of clarity that comes from God.

 

We are not innocent bystanders to all of the chaos that fills our world. We, and I speak of all people who name Christ as Lord today and throughout history, have played and do play a role in creating and shaping this mess that is the relational and physical architecture of our world. We have not been diligent students of our God, and we are not devoted followers of our Lord. We tend to do these things as they fit our desires, wishes, and preferred outcomes. We are proficient at shaping our god to fit with our self-determined comfortabilities, and this is sinful idolatry in God’s eyes and it is fatally destructive to the world we live in. Yet, in the midst of our wandering away from Christ, there is hope beyond imagining.

 

God’s love and grace as depicted and perfected by Christ overcome all that we think and do. Jesus saves us, and He redeems us; then, He restores our lives to God’s intent and desired usefulness in our world. I believe that this intended purpose is directed toward Christ’s work of redemption. So, we are intended to be peacemakers, sacrificial lovers of people, and bearers of the light of the gospel. God clearly says that He will deal with His adversaries. So, we are not called upon to be crusaders seeking to purify our world by wielding a self-determined righteous sword. Christ calls upon His people to live as shepherds who will not rest until all of the lost are found and redeemed. This calling demands that we seek God’s grace and healing in our lives and in those of others and that we submit our anger and fear to Christ’s unfailing protection and love.

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and the honor of Israel.

Isaiah 4: 2

 

Isaiah is talking about some very bad times. Destruction has come to rest over the nation, and it has brought about loss and despair for most of the people of the land. Many of the people have been taken away into slavery or killed in battle or by war’s close cousins of disease and famine. Although we don’t need to deal with a situation that is exactly like this one, and I don’t believe that we are the nation of Israel as depicted here; I do believe that we face some very striking parallels to these times in our world today.

 

People who live in faith, who attempt to follow Christ in all aspects of life, are becoming more and more challenged by our culture and even by our governments. There is an ever growing open antagonism to our Lord in our world. Its legitimacy, power, and persuasion seem to grow on an almost daily basis. There are times and places where the chatter of our world sounds like an anti-God liturgy being spoken with great fervor by a hoard of zealous devotees. It would seem that this planet of ours has become a hostile environment for followers of Christ. But we shouldn’t give in to despair or stop living openly in praise and worship of our true King.

 

If Isaiah’s words carry with them truth for our times, then we should take great encouragement from them. The promise here is that it is in the very darkest of times that the glory of the Lord shines the brightest. Christ’s presence stands in stark contrast to the human pride and angry shouting of our world. Our Lord brings grace, mercy, understanding, healing, and peace where our culture grants none of these to its followers. Christ also grants purpose and mission to His followers. When we are faced with godlessness, we can rely on Christ to show us His righteousness. As we face the oppression that is rampant in our world, we can follow our Lord in our reliance on God’s Word with its eternal perspective as our foundation of truth to use in response. Christ calls upon His own people to trust in Him absolutely and to bring the sweet fruit of the message of salvation to our spiritually starved land.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me

and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34: 4

 

Seeking is something that most people do frequently. Seeking is an act of engaged pursuit. It involves a goal, an objective, and a plan for making it happen. When we go shopping, that is a form of seeking. The more costly the objective of that hunt, the greater our investment in the process of seeking usually becomes. As an example, when we are seeking a carton of milk, the process is simple and direct; yet, when the goal is a new house to live in, planning and a careful and thorough search process become vital to success.

 

Life itself involves seeking. Early on we seek after food, nurture, love, and comfort. As people grow and develop, our needs become more complex, and our seeking gains in diversity. Along this way through life various voices begin to speak to us and to call to us to follow their lead and a wide array of forces attempt to exert their pull on our hearts and our minds. God has taken the risk of granting people the right and the ability to make choices in all areas of how we live; yet, He also stays fully engaged with our world and in our lives regardless of those decisions. It seems to me that God wants us to come to Him and to seek to know Him because we desire to be in a relationship with Him.

 

This world can be a frightening and a troubling place. Horror stories fill our ears and our eyes daily. Personal tragedy touches each and every one of us. Tough decisions are ours to make, and worry and concern are a part of the environment where we live. There is a brokenness to the fabric of our world that can consume and overwhelm our hearts, minds, and spirits. Yet, despite all of this; God is sovereign, loving, involved, engaged, and very present. He brings comfort to our pain and strength when we are depleted. The Lord grants us wisdom for all situations, and He provides us with perspective that takes us out of the momentary and grants us a view of the eternal. All that God asks of us is that we would trust Him enough to make Him the object of our seeking. In response He answers our quest and He removes all cause for fear.

Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

Isaiah 65: 17

 

Have you ever caught yourself looking at the new items that are pictured in a magazine, catalogue, or on the sales floor of a store with the sort of longing gaze that suggests considerably more than just casual interest? There are times when this interest gets to the point where it actually starts to be a form of lustful desire, as biblical writers might have said it. I think that we have a very strong, inward desire for newness that is, in part, born out of the amount of brokenness and decay that surrounds us in almost every aspect of daily life. Things that we need, others that we find useful, and those that are simply fun or convenient all have the same characteristic; that is, they all wear out and stop working properly. Unfortunately, people and the relationships that we desire to have with them can seem to take this same course; for, they are hard, they become messy, and we are bombarded by stories of the pain and the suffering that we humans cause each other.

 

Isaiah is sharing with us promises of hope that were given to him by the Lord. It seems that God is telling us a couple of things. First, He says that He knows that this world is dying. As the cancer that is sin invades more of the cells that make up the underlying fabric of our earthly existence, our environment will become a continually less desirable place to live, and more and more of the things that we tend to rely upon will start to break down and fail. Then, God shares His response to all of this with us, for He has promised to make things right again. Christ’s ultimate mission is to bring restoration to all of Creation, and I believe that I can take it to the bank that He will do just that.

 

Additionally, God promises us that we won’t need to carry around with us the hard, sad, and painful memories of what happened in our old lives. Since I have a strong drive to avoid pain, especially the sort of pain that is inflicted on my heart by feelings of rejection, disagreement, and conflict that come about in my interactions with others, this idea that my memories will also be renewed is very hopeful. I know that I can handle a little of the sort of emotional suffering that is the inevitable result when I take the risk to be engaged and involved in the lives of others and when I seek to follow the Spirit’s call to action. I can be fine with handling a little heart ache for the glory of God and for the sake of others coming to know Him, too. For in the end, the Lord will wipe all of the hurt and all of the pain away, and it will be replaced by the joy of standing fully in the glory of His presence forever.

 

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

2 Peter 3: 14

 

We live in a time that might be called The Day of the World or perhaps The Day of Man. You see, the conditions that exist for us today are ones that we have made for ourselves. They are a reflection of the world that we humans have desired for ourselves since the first people defied God and moved themselves and everyone since out of dwelling in God’s perfect shalom and into the violent brokenness that is our home. We need to own what our hands have created, and we must accept the fact of the chaos that is the product of our industry. Yet, in stark contrast to all of this stands God.

 

The Lord is not distant or disinterested in our world. He is very engaged in it and with us. Even with those first people and their almost unimaginable rejection of God’s truth in favor of the temporary image of being like God, the Lord poured out grace and mercy on them. So He continues to do this for all people to this day. God had promised to bring about the purification and the restoration of His Creation. In Christ He provided the means for each and every person on the earth to be a participant in this restorative work. This is what Christ does in and for everyone who sets aside our inherited and false god-likeness and yields our self to the one true and eternal Savior and Lord, that is, Christ.

 

So, as we await that day when Christ will come, and God’s plan for the cleansing away of the evil that is sin in our world, we have choices to make. We can determine to live our lives in a manner that honors God and that follows Christ. We can do this absolutely or we can set out conditions and circumstances for our commitment to God. Most of us land somewhere in the camp of people who do hold back some things and parts of ourselves. Yet, God wants all of us, and He wants us to seek Him always. The standard that Peter sets for us in being found by Christ to be “without spot or blemish” is impossible to achieve. We all sin, and we all fall short of that righteous glory that is Christ. Yet, the One whose blood cleanses us absolutely is also the One who pronounces us holy and fit for God’s presence. Thus we can live in our imperfection yet diligently seek Christ and His will while resting in that perfect peace, the eternal shalom, that is found only in the presence of God.

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;

sing to His name, for it is pleasant.

Psalm 135: 3

 

This probably comes as no great shock to most of you, but this statement is not true for many people. They do not find the name of God to be pleasant, or even that it is mildly agreeable. The problem for them, in the totality of life, is that the same God that they find to be so unattractive is the one, the only and the final judge of their eternities. He is also greatly saddened by their rejection. God is not trying to win a popularity contest. Rather, He is seeking to restore all people to relationship with Him, and in so doing, the Lord brings about healing and peace in our world.

 

Thus, God desires that those of us who do recognize Him for who He truly is to express the truth about our own relationships with God in terms that are clear, in the open, and heard by the multitudes. For me to do this I need to start close to home. My heart and mind require that I stop just going about life and that I take time to look closely at the life that God has gifted to me. Then the Lord leads me to see my family, my friends, His presence throughout the days of my life, and Christ’s relentless and sacrificial love for me. As I meditate on God and His Word, the Spirit also brings to view God’s plan and purpose for the life that He has given to me. In all of this there are more than enough words to form the lyrics of my heart’s songs.

 

However, God doesn’t want me to stop with the words in my head. He tells me to let them out, to sing them along the roads of my day, and to make them the chorus that creates a cadence to keep my feet marching as I travel through life. Although God tells us that He is blessed by our words of love and praise for Him, this is not the primary reason that He wants us to do this in the open singing. It seems that the more I am honestly open about who God is to me, the more of myself I surrender to His will and yield to His righteousness. Then, as my life is changed by God’s hand to reflect more of Christ’s love, grace, and true peace; the words of this song, as reflection of the way that Christ is demonstrated by my life, expose this pleasant image of God to a world that needs His goodness and peace.

Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them,

for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.

Isaiah 3: 10

 

This statement stands in the midst of a very sad and truly depressing commentary. God has shared through the Prophet just how much He is displeased with the way that the people of the nation are living. They have cast aside almost all practice of righteous living. Their leaders are ill-equipped for office, and their hearts are filled with evil intent. Yet the people do nothing to change the state of affairs. In fact, they continue to affirm the positions of leadership, and they seem to delight in the direction that they are being taken. It seems that God has been taken out of His place as their true ruler as if the nation has elected Him out of office.

 

But there is a problem with this sort of thinking and living. God is not powerless. He does not depend upon your vote or mine. He will not sell out truth, justice, and righteousness in the interest of securing the agreement of people. Instead, the Lord remains true, just, and pure. He is unchanging in His principles, for He is the bed-rock foundation upon which all that is good and holy in the universe stands. So, God presents each of us a choice. We can follow the easier path of our culture, or we can travel along the eternal way of our Lord. They were not the same in Isaiah’s day and they are not the same now.

 

God also provides assurances to His people. When He says that it shall be well with us, that is a very big statement. I think that the Lord means that regardless of what may befall us as a result of refusing to compromise God’s Word for the sake of embracing the cultural and national standards of thinking, acting, and rhetoric, we will be cared for. God will provide for His people through all times and in every situation. We may not have governmentally sanctioned bread, but we will have the bread of life that is found in the Eucharist. Our bank accounts may be more than empty; yet, in Christ, our resources are without end. Our tables may not be filled by the empty promises of human security; however, our souls will be filled with the sweet fruit of the Spirit of Christ.

 

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

Ephesians 2: 4, 5

 

This is an important thing to remember; God didn’t wait for me to go out and figure out life before He would come into my world. Also, He didn’t require me to get up out of my living tomb, convince someone to perform CPR on my lifeless form, and start my own heart beating with eternal blood before He would embrace me. Jesus came into my world which had all of the appearance and the odor of an open graveyard, and my Lord reached out to me and put His arms around my broken form. Then, Christ accepted me as I was. He took me into His glorious home even though I was still dressed in my grave clothes and covered with the filth of my sin with His righteousness.

 

God continues to operate out of the depths of this thing that we call grace, for He wants us to give Him our love and our worship. The Lord wants us to live righteously out of a desire to serve Him and not because we believe that God requires some form of effort out of us in order to draw near to Him. Just as we could not bring ourselves out of the darkness of spiritual death, we don’t have the capacity to initiate just, worthy, and righteous actions on our own. God’s Word and His Spirit interacting with us through it and within our hearts will show us what to do and how to do it. God’s grace continues to reach out to us, and it sets us free to follow Christ and to be His representatives in this world.

 

Let’s stop moving so fast and working so hard. Rather, let’s take time to reflect on God’s Word and listen well in order to allow His voice to speak from within the pages. Then we can take the Lord’s words of direction and encouragement with us into our day where His Spirit will continue to speak to our hearts and minds, and His gracious love will continue to surround us with the sweet embrace of Christ’s mercy.

 

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

God must be kidding, right? How could He possibly mean it when He tells me to stay this positive through every thing and in every situation? He can’t mean that this should be true when my car won’t start; how about when I spill something on my shirt right before an important meeting? Surely this is not true when I lose my job, when illness strikes, when someone dies. Oh, Lord, you can’t really mean that I should rejoice and be thankful in any of those times?

 

Yet, God tells us that we can, in fact, that we should be dealing with all of life with these attitudes. The key to it all is found in the middle of the three instructions that Paul wrote out for us. First, he said to “rejoice”, to express confident joy and to do it all of the time. This involves having an attitude that looks at every day, even each moment of life, as a gift from God.

 

Third in his list, Paul says that we can and should be thankful in every situation. In fact, he seems to have very carefully selected his words; for, he tells us to be giving thanks to God while we are still in the middle of whatever is going on. In other words, we are to thank God before we have seen the resolution of the hard situation. Doing this requires us to trust God, and that trust has the effect of clearing the mind and freeing the heart to better handle the current life stresses.

 

Sandwiched between these two instructions; however, was what I think is the key to being able to do either of them. We are told to “pray without ceasing”. We should walk through life as if we were on our knees before God in ongoing conversation. When stay close to God, His love becomes too evident to ignore. Share your heart, your fears and your agony with God, and you will be bathed in His comfort. Listen to His voice, and the Lord will guide you through each and every situation in life.

 

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 7, 8

 

I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of days when my bones could use a little refreshing. This is especially true on those cold and rainy days when the aches and pains and the stiff joints that plague me too much of the time are extraordinarily noticeable. There is at least relief from this pain in the form of a few anti inflammatory pills, a little exercise, and getting on with the day. But when my bones are weary from carrying around the weight of life; that’s another matter. I can go to my personal medicine cabinet of life tricks and search through every corner, look at the labels on every bottle in there, and still not find an effective answer. The meds in that cabinet are of many different types. Some of them are labeled Job Success, Wealth, Activities, Fame and Notoriety, Power, Achievements, Relationships, Possessions, and Mind Numbing Agents. The pretty colors of the print and the minimal warnings on their labels don’t give any indication of just how far away from truth they can lead me and of just how addicting that they can become.

 

This is the point where God says that we need to consult elsewhere, get on-line and look up our symptoms; and seek some timeless advice from the Counselor. In plain words, the Lord says, “Why do you keep thinking that you know everything.” for it is in times of pain and weariness that Satan waits for us. He watches for these moments in our days when we are most vulnerable to listening to his whispers about how to solve our problems, and he always says something to the effect of, “You know the answer; go ahead, it will be alright; one time won’t hurt.” Evil is active in our world, it waits for us to provide it with the opportunity to divert us from God’s truth and away from our intimate relationship with the Lord.

 

God says that the answer to this risk is to hold Him in a place of reverence and focus our attention on Him. Fear doesn’t mean to be afraid of. Instead, it means to respect, to place first in our thinking. When we do this with God and His Word, evil is defeated. When we keep our eyes and our hearts focused on Christ, we can ingest deeply the healing medication that our souls require. The Lord heals our wounds and our pains, and He restores the spring to our steps. He strengthens us for this day’s challenges and He brings the refreshing sleep that we need to be restored for tomorrow.

 

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