February 2015

Princes persecute me without cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your words.

Psalm 119: 161


The part about being persecuted by princes may or may not be literally true for me or for you. However, in a way, it is a fact of life for everyone. We live in a world where government, rule of law, and the princes of our modern society are acting in a manner and making decrees that are clearly in violation of God’s stated will. As people who believe in Christ and who seek to follow Him fully, we will run head-long into conflict with those who are in authority. There seems to be little prospect of staying true to God’s call to righteousness and to justice and not disagree with some of the regulations and laws of our times.


It is as if the air that we breathe has been saturated with an attitude of dismissal and doubt when it comes to respect for God. Both princes and people on the street are dismissing God and His word as irrelevant or proclaiming His truth to be misunderstood and in need of reinterpretation to fit the needs of the modern culture. So, this brings me to consideration of the point behind persecution. For the most part it is intended to diminish and to defeat people. Persecution in many forms is used to gain a position of superior strength over others. Its intent is to crush the spirit and to defeat heart, mind and soul of its victim. Satan is the author of this prevalent evil in our world.


Yet, according to God’s word and the testimony of generations of followers of Christ, persecution brings us closer to our God. Christ was persecuted to the fullest extent possible for the sake of our salvation. He endured a singularly causeless form of persecution and the resultant pain and anguish so that we would not be required to dwell in this life and in all of eternity in the deepest form of pain possible. That is, separated from God. Now, my heart can receive any direct or indirect forms of the persecution that society may impose, and I can stand strong in the strength of Christ, for He has claimed me out of the oppressive bondage of this world and the Holy Spirit continually speaks truth, love, justice, and righteousness to my heart.

And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

Matthew 22: 33


At this time Jesus was teaching in the temple, and He had been engaging in a series of discussions with various groups of religious leaders about their basic understanding of God and of His kingdom, both in heaven and on earth. These were the sorts of things that these leaders in the religious life of the people should have been teaching to their followers with accuracy, understanding, and passion. However, this was not true. They had strayed far from truly knowing God, and what they said about Him was not based in revelation but was formed in their own minds and out of the desires of their self-serving hearts.


So, when people heard Jesus speak, they heard something fresh, revelatory, and alive. Their hearts were convicted of their own sinfulness, and their minds were opened up to the greatness and the grace of God. This is what happens when we listen to Jesus. This is the sort of ear and eye opening experience that comes to people as they stop speaking the chant of their own understandings and remain still long enough for Christ’s words of gospel truth to penetrate into the depths of their beings. For pursuit of the lost is what Jesus is a bout, and bringing all of us into the now and forever presence of God Almighty is His objective.


The jaw dropping, stop-in-your-tracks astonishment that the crowds experienced is ours to know as well. Truly hearing Christ speak from the pages of His word, with the voice of the Holy Spirit, and in the counsel and comfort of His people is both life altering and life giving. The presence of Christ in my life is astonishing, and it is so every moment of each day. As I cling to my Savior and continually yield to Him as my Lord, Christ brings me into the holy halls of eternity so that this life is lived in the hope and peace of God’s unending love.

They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Mark 7: 37


Jesus is astonishing! He goes after our hearts, minds and souls in a way that is above and beyond all that is done by people, agencies, governments, or even an angry debt collector. He enters into our lives at the place where we are without regard to its comfort or desperation, and Christ accepts everyone who will turn to Him. The Lord does not distinguish between faith and unbelief or by race, gender or nationality. Christ does not need the rule of law to bring about equality, for equal and just treatment is a part of His essential nature.


At this point in Mark’s narrative Jesus has traveled to an area known as Decapolis, which is east of the borders of Israel, mostly in today’s Jordan. The people and the culture here were mainly Greek with Roman influences. These were not the traditional people of God. They were different in most of the ways that we use to distinguish cultures and groups of people. Christ is expressing His desire to seek all of the lost regardless of situation, circumstances or location. Jesus speaks the truth of the gospel and people are healed. He touches their brokenness and they are made whole. He brings hearing to the deaf and provides a voice to those who have none.


This is what Christ is still doing today. He sees no distinction between the people of this world. We are all equally lost and desperate in our sinfulness with out God; so, Jesus brings God to us, and as we accept Him, He comes into our flesh. Thus, as the Spirit of Christ enters into us we are transformed into new beings who can hear God’s word and who have the voice of righteousness, truth, justice, and love. Christ also makes us into people whose hearts are opened to the pained cries of others who are in need, emotional, physical and spiritual. Christ calls us out of ourselves and into His love and care for the world around us, and this care for and understanding of others is truly astonishing.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12: 28, 29


God does want us to express our gratitude to Him. Yet, He is very different from most of the people that we have known in the way that He would like for us to do this. A nice, hand-written note or even expensive and carefully arranged flowers are meaningless to God. Words of thanksgiving and even those of praise fall far short of bringing joy to God’s heart if they are all we have to offer. Throughout history God has wanted and sought after much more from His people. God seeks our actions before our words, and He desires our hearts before our minds.


On view in the verses around these in Hebrews is God’s engagement with Moses and the Israelites during the period of the exodus and also a picture of God’s restorative promise for the time of Christ’s return. The author’s point is that God is unchanging in His engagement with humanity and unyielding in what He desires from us. God desires for people to be committed, surrendered, and submitted totally to Him. We are to bow down our prideful hearts before our Lord in absolute awe at His majesty and grace. Yet, we are also to stand boldly before the world as we proclaim the risen Christ as King and Lord over all.


So what is acceptable worship? It is something that is expressed as a liturgy of life. By this I mean that the sort of worship that delights God is spoken by the actions of our days. It is defined in justice granted to all and by grace extended to the least deserving. Worship happens when we grant kindness to our world and as we humbly accept it. God is delighted when we confess our wrongs to Him and to those we have harmed, and He is joyous as we turn from our sinfulness and grant His Spirit access to our darkest recesses so that God’s righteous fire of truth can purify and restore our hearts. Worship is a life lived in active submission to God’s will, and this is a life that is highly acceptable to God.

Let all the earth fear the Lord;

Let all of the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33: 8


If I were to state the singular answer to all that is wrong in our world today, this verse might be it. Yet, desiring that all of the people of our world would know, reverence and follow Christ seems like far too much to hope and to dream for. As I consider this highly unlikely possibility I feel something like what Don Quixote must have felt as he sang The Impossible Dream (The Quest) in the play Man of La Mancha. You see if I choose to take up the Lord’s challenge and enter into the journey that perusing this dream requires, then this wreck of a life that is mine and this pile of rusty armor lying in a jumble at my feet seems wholly inadequate to the task.


Yet, in some ways that is the point. My gifts, skills, and ability are not what will bring this sort of response to our Lord from the hearts of others. Christ does this. What He does want from us is that we would pick up the tools that He has granted to us and remove the rust, smooth out the dents, and put it to use for the glory of the Kingdom of God. As I prepare for my journey it is important for me to realize that the greatest among all of the things that God has granted to me is love. This is the primary weapon that the Lord would have me use in this quest. When love fuels my passion, it is Christ who speaks. His love seeks to embrace and not destroy.


As we journey forth in love, the heart of Christ surrounds us, and it is out of that context that we can speak God’s truth clearly and without compromise. When we embrace Christ and turn to Him for all of our strength, capacity, and direction, the sort of love that drives the relentless shepherd in His search for the lost one can become our source of energy and focus. This is the nature of the crusade that Christ would have His people join. He calls us to be uncompromisingly true to His word and unrelentingly loving as we proclaim it. So, this is how the world can come to this place of reverence, respect and sheer awe, for as they know Christ, they can choose to accept Him and enter into the peace of His loving grace.


Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!

Romans 11:33


God’s ways are truly mysterious, and His understanding of things has a depth to it that defies my capacity to grasp. Yet, He isn’t slippery like a wet puppy that you are trying to keep from getting all of the furniture wet, and He doesn’t change shape in the way that a water filled balloon does. The Lord is consistent, solid, and tangible to the degree that He defines these concepts. Maybe that is a part of the reason that His ways do seem so far outside of my own understanding. This depth and consistency are foreign to the human mind and experience.


My God is the foundation upon which I set my feet. His love is the defining element for my soul. Still, He amazes me with His knowledge of my heart, with His capacity to grasp my needs and His willingness to continually meet them. God’s complexity and expansive nature compel me to seek out knowledge of Him. Every time that I begin to think that I know Him well, the Lord reveals more of Himself to me, and in each situation where I believe that I have reached the limit of His provision or His involvement in my life, God goes further and does more with and for me. There is no limit to the Lord!


God knows us well. He is fully aware that human nature is such that if we already knew everything about Him and if we had the full picture of God’s involvement in our lives laid out before us, we would become too casual about our relationship with Him. We would tend to take Him for granted and stop seeking His wisdom and grace as the essential activity of each of our days. So, God retains His mysteries. He reveals Himself to each of us as we trust Him and seek to know Him better. In this revealing, God blesses us daily with the gift of an ever deeper relationship with Him.


Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.

1 Timothy 6: 1


Who do you know who is not required to submit to the authority of someone else? Almost everyone on this earth is in a position where there are others who have the ability and even the responsibility to give us direction and orders, and whose position places us within the influence of their power. Their skill and approach to exercising that power is important to us in how well the relationship works, but the skill set and personality of our master is not the critical issue in God’s view of how these interactions should go.


Christ calls upon His followers to trust Him. There is no conditional nature to this call to trust. It also encompasses everything that we are about in life. No area of endeavor or arena of involvement is left out; for Christ is lord over all and He grants favor to us as fits His will and plan. When we are committed from the heart to trusting God absolutely, there is no longer any room for us to take personal offense or to fear for the outcome of situations. Yet in our relentless humanity there will always be times when others will treat us badly, and we will turn around and hurt or harm people in the course of living as well. This reality doesn’t change anything about trusting Christ in these situations. In fact, it is this sort of totally yielded spirit that is needed when things are not going well.


When we can set aside the hurts, betrayals, and loss that we have encountered in our past experiences, we are ready to engage in honest and vulnerable dialogue with others. It seems that many of the challenged and stressed relationships that we encounter involve situations where we are operating under someone else’s authority or leadership. When someone has either official or perceived power over us it can be difficult to be real and honest while remaining respectfully submitted to that leadership. Fears and concerns weight us down with their heavy protective covering. Anger and frustration bind our hearts and suppress Christ’s loving truth from gaining control of our emotions. So, our Lord says that we are to trust Him. We are to set aside all of the negative concerns and humbly engage the relationship. In these hardest of all situations, our attitudes and responses can become the pole upon which Christ is lifted up and His glory prevails.

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