July 2015


There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3: 28

 

This is an extraordinary thought. In the days of Paul these three sets of contrastive people groups were culturally and societally about as far removed from each other as any sets of people could have been. These were descriptors that framed people into the boxes that separated them and that helped keep the strong in their positions of superiority and left those with less power in their subservient places. God has a different view of the pinnacle of His creation. He didn’t design things to be this way. People forced divisiveness into our differences, and we have worked hard ever since to fortify and to defend these false ideas.

 

Christ changes it all. He brings those of us who were far removed from each other into a state of occupying the same space. Christ swings the mighty hammer of grace and reconciliation so that these stout walls of separation that we have spent generations of time in constructing are not just knocked down but they can actually cease to exist. As we embrace God’s love as granted to us by and through Jesus, His Spirit works on our understanding of who people truly are. God sees people, all of us, as equally made in His image. The Lord also desires to draw us into close and intimate relationships with each other. These are relationships that are founded and based upon our commonality in Christ.

 

It seems to me that there is something very special about all of this. The familial bonds that come about as a result of Christ have the potential to be even deeper and stronger than those of traditional family. These new relationships can be most closely recognized as like the connection between brothers and sisters, but they are even more profoundly deep. Christ desires to see us embrace Him with a totality of being that forces us to set aside all of our personal difference so that we would sacrifice all for the sake of another. In the community of Christ we can live as brothers and sisters who are also the closest of friends. In this community our differences are beautiful and our loving care for each other brings glory to our Lord.

 

Thanks to Wesley Hill and his book, Spiritual Friendship

Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

John 6: 32

 

A parable for living in our world might go something like this, “Work hard, take care of business, and plan well; then, everything that you wish, want, or desire will be yours for the taking”. This is a description of a world that revolves around self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and those who are strong and confident are held up as examples of how everyone should be. This was true for the wandering Israelites, too, for they looked to Moses to be the leader who knew all of the answers and provided them with whatever they thought that they required.

 

This was a false notion for them, and it is a silly way for us to view life. When they were fed, it wasn’t Moses who provided the food. When they traveled, it wasn’t Moses who set the course; and when they were secure, it certainly wasn’t Moses whose strength and great love brought about that state of being. Even when we use our skills, training, and talent to accomplish the things that we do in this life, these are all gifts from our Creator, for every good and useful aspect of who and what I am has come from God and is empowered by His Spirit. Although God may not provide me with mysterious miracle food in the way that He did for the Israelites, He does fill my life with miracles of provision that are constantly with me.

 

Christ is calling on us to make seeking after God’s will and growing in our trust and reliance on Him our primary daily mission in life. Doing this often involves nothing more than simply opening our eyes and accepting what is right in front of us. God is actively reaching into our world with His care, concern, compassion, and grace. He seeks to bless the days of His people with the deep and unshakable peace and joy that comes only from living in the presence of His righteousness and truth. Then, as we sit at God’s table of blessing and eat from His exquisite feast of life giving bread, we are truly prepared to use all of the gifts and the talents that we possess for God’s glory.

 

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4: 2

 

Although prayer is something that Christians do at regular or set times in certain settings, it is much more than that. During many of our worship services we have established times for prayer. People determine to take planned parts of their days and devote that time to prayer. We set aside days of the year and hours of some of our days for prayer. All of these prayer practices are good things and honor God’s desire for us to be people who engage with Him with prayer. Yet, these practices are only part of God’s intent for us to be people of prayer.

 

God listens with great interest to the words that we speak to Him. The Lord enters into these times of deep personal expression with the fullness of His presence. The Holy Spirit is with us fully and totally, and He works within us to show us the words that we need to pray. The Spirit also assists us in hearing and in understanding what it is that the Father is saying to us. Christ goes before us to proclaim His people worthy to speak our petitions and to lay the words of our hearts before the Holy One, righteous God Almighty. The Father hears us, engages with our lives, and grants His grace, mercy, and blessing to us. As we pray, we are in deep and intimate communion with our God, and He is involved in like manner with us.

 

Paul’s instruction for us reflects the realities of life. As our days develop and too often spin away from our desired course, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that prayer is a vital part of our foundation of faith. There are many situations in life that are best handled in and through prayer; yet, our natural tendency is to solve the problem and pray in thanksgiving after all is well again. God desires for us to see it the other way around. He wants for us to turn toward His will and to fully operate out of His truth in all matters, from routine to momentous. This orientation of our hearts and minds toward God is best accomplished through an on-going, all-encompassing practice of prayerful communication with God.

Saviors will go up to Mount Zion

to rule Mount Esau,

and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

Obadiah 21

 

This is the culminating verse from a short visionary book in the Old Testament. It tells of a future time when the world will be totally set free from the death grip of sin. The prophet speaks of the reign of Christ over God’s New Creation. In all of this there is a hopeful promise that people who are following Christ in this world during these times can hold up as a form of beacon that leads us forward. In a way we are like the Israelite children of the exodus. We don’t know the details of today, and we are traveling into the darkness of an uncertain tomorrow. Yet, we have the glory of God going before us, and we can place all of our trust in Christ and in following His calling.

 

In this sense we also enter into Obadiah’s vision. He sees the people of God turning fully to their Lord. He also envisions a time in which God’s people would reject all forms of worldliness and would purposefully set their feet firmly upon the holy ground of God’s true witness, the Lord’s Zion. It is from this basis of righteousness that God’s word of redemption is then spoken clearly and effectively throughout the entire world. In Christ the world finds salvation, and His followers provide the voices that proclaim His gospel of grace, love, and redemption.

 

Although Obadiah was speaking of a time that is still ahead of us in a future chapter in God’s on-going story of restorative relationship with the world, we can enter into an important part of His narrative today. Christ desires for His people to be the saviors who turn to Zion as our true home. This is not the literal hill in Israel; rather, our Zion is found in the place where we are as we renounce the world’s hold upon our hearts and our minds and accept God’s righteous truth and love as our identity. Christ’s Zion is not a place of refuge and escape. Instead, He leads us from there and into the midst of our society and its culture. We are here to bring God’s peace and mercy to souls who are lost. We do this by offering a cup of cool water, by walking the harsh miles with people who are in pain, and by sharing with them the source of the peace that fills our souls with God’s grace.

 

 

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.

Hebrews 6: 7

 

It is the goal of the horticulturist who is working in the controlled environment of a hot house to provide the artificial equivalent of rain in just the right amount and sun that is sufficient to balance the moisture and to bring the soil up to the perfect temperature for growth. This is done through careful planning, consideration of the needs of the specific plant species that are being cultivated, and continual attention to the way that the crops are responding. When all goes well, the result is a great abundance of healthy and productive plants and a room that is filled with the bright colors and sweet fragrance of their flowers and an abundance of the fruit and vegetables that are a joy to look at and a pleasure to eat.

 

We are like the soil that was placed into the pots in that hot house, for God created each of us with the perfect blend of everything that we will need to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Then, we are set into an environment where that purpose can be fulfilled. There is no error in our composition or in our location; since, who we are and where we are living are perfect for today’s growth processes. Our part in all of this is marked by receptivity. We need to allow the rain that is provided by God the opportunity to soak into us, and we must allow His radiance the opportunity to shine on us so that we are warmed and purified. While we are in these seasons of growing, there will be times when the Lord will pull the weeds that have grown up in our environment, and He will also prune away the parts of us that are not productive or that are diseased.

 

The difference that exists between the grower’s plants and us is that we can choose how we respond to what the gardener seeks to do with and for us. We can harden ourselves and cause the rain to run off, we can shut out the sun and remain chilled in our souls, and we are able to even attempt to change which gardener works in our lives. However, there is still only one way for us to live that will produce an abundance of fruit. For this to happen we need to embrace the gifts that God gives to us every day, delight in the person that He has designed each of us to be, and surrender our wills to His greater wisdom. Then, as God’s supreme creation, He will grow us into maturity, and we will fill our world with the sweet fragrance and the rich flavor of His blessings.

 

 

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1: 4

 

Let me make a bold statement that is produced from my understanding of life. There is one place in this world where joy resides. This is in the presence of God that comes through and from a relationship with Jesus Christ. It almost seems as if I should just stop right here. That is the beginning, the content, and the conclusion of the story of a life that is truly lived. Let me go on to say that this joy that John is discussing is something quite special itself. It is much grater and more comprehensive than happiness or laughter or other forms and expressions of emotion.

 

Joy is resident deep in the heart, and it also speaks to the mind with words that bring peace and comfort. Joy is the result of knowing that this life and the world where it is carried out have true meaning and purpose. It is a gift that God gives to His people that is granted to us ass a result of Christ’s willing sacrifice of Himself for our eternal sakes. Joy is made real as we grow in our relationships with Christ. We gain depth and breadth of understanding of joy through God’s word of life as we study its text, pray through it and meditate upon it, and live out its truths in the community of faith that is Christ’s body.

 

This joy that Christ gives to His people is more in the nature of a characteristic than it is an emotion. It is present on the happiest of days, and it is with us during our darkest moments. Joy comes from the deeply planted knowledge that we are never alone in this life. It is an expression of the unending presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and it comes from the certainty that Christ is the answer to every situation, circumstance, and condition in this life. Joy is complex, and it is very simple. It is the summation of the experience of Christ, and it is the faith caused acceptance of the absolute truth of the Living Word. This joy is very personal; yet, it is understood most fully when its full range of expression is shared in Christ’s community of faith.

 

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and he loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 10: 17, 18

 

It does seem interesting to me that as God was restating His essential desires for the way that His people would live that the Lord would include this specific instruction about the way that the weak and the disadvantaged among them would be treated and that He also enfolds foreign visitors and travelers into this call to justice. Although it is not especially noble to care for those who are at your mercy, it is very Godlike to do so. This is what He has been doing from the earliest of days in our history. When our first ancestors were caught in the shame and the weakness of sin, God granted them grace, mercy, and comfort. He hasn’t stopped doing this since.

 

At this point in the journey that Moses was leading the nation of Israel on God was providing clear instruction about the form and the character that He wanted His people to adopt as their own. This national character would set them apart in the world. It would make them examples of the way that the one true God wanted people to be treated. In doing these things and holding these attitudes, God ‘s people would reveal Him to others and they would open doors of understanding and create opportunity for others to enter into the grace and the salvation of a relationship with God. At the same time, the people who were extending this mercy and hospitality would be changed. They would become more like their God.

 

It is my belief that this part of God’s ancient code is just as applicable today as it was in the days of Moses. Whereas it was applied directly to a nation then and to the individual people by process of living in that nation, now it applies directly to each of us who follows Christ. Now we are to be the ones who influence our communities and nations to become places where institutional justice prevails. God calls upon His people to be just. He wants us to care about those who cannot take care of themselves. His mercy is to flow through us to people who are often seen as burdens on our society. The Lord wants us to embrace the foreigner so that His love, grace and mercy are made apparent in our actions. Specifically in our world followers of Christ are called by Him to care for widows, orphans, refugees, and other disadvantaged people; for this is one very powerful way that Christ is made known to our world.

Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3: 20

 

 

I live here, in this house, in this town, and on the earth. This is where all of the visible and tangible things that I do are carried out, and this world’s physical boundaries are what tend to define my home. Yet, Paul saw his world quite differently from just being framed by the people, places, and laws of man that existed where he lived. It seems that Paul was acutely aware of the change in the real, from the heart, allegiance that he had sworn when Christ became his Lord and Savior. At that time Paul and everyone else who has entered into the same transforming relationship with God through Christ were changed from being citizens of this world into holding citizenship in heaven.

 

Citizenship, as used here, is a reference to much more than just the nation that would issue us a passport or a statement of allegiance to a particular governmental entity. The word used refers to the concept of living in community, and it implies the existence of a conversation, a dialogue, with that community. In Christ, this is what we all gain. We become a participant, not just an observer, in the ancient dialogue between God and people; thus, our worldview can become elevated from our earth-bound one to God’s heavenly vista.

 

Recognizing this reality and choosing to live in its marvelous possibilities can profoundly alter the way that you and I view our lives. When we seek to open our hearts and minds to the ongoing conversation that the Lord wants to have with us, and we seek to live each minute of every day with that dialogue guiding our thinking; our understanding of our physical world will be altered. Then we can see the sort of potential that God sees in the people and in the situations that we will encounter, and our hearts will be guided through those encounters by the ever present words of wisdom, grace, peace, and love that come directly into our hearts from the Spirit of Christ. As we choose to truly dwell in the righteous and just land that is the Kingdom of God, we expose the parallel world that is this earth to the hope of salvation that comes only in Christ.

 

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11: 36

 

All is a really big word. Those three letters carry with them a wide range of inclusion. Although we often say “all” when indicating that something is exceptionally expansive, we seldom actually mean it. For example, “All you can eat” rarely means exactly that, for there are limits that the restaurant has established in order to survive. Yet when God inspired Paul to say “all”, I believe that He absolutely meant it. He is saying that there is nothing that we can touch, see, hear, or experience that does not have its origin and its terminus in God. Our world is populated and furnished by the hand and by the word of God. Also, all of God’s workmanship is intended to be dedicated and committed to Him. It is all, this includes people too, here to bring glory to the name of the Lord.

 

This idea is troubled by all of the sadness, loss, oppression, disease, death, and hatred that we run smack into as we live in our world. No one can escape the pain, hurt, and frustration that life will without exception provide. So, how does all of this come from a God who is loving and caring, the perfect Father? Where does brokenness fit into the handiwork of the Great Creator? How does suffering allow us to have the ability to sing songs of praise to the glory of God? These are among the questions that trouble the hearts and the minds of all people. The way that life goes is hard to understand, and God can seem to be far away and uninvolved when evil rules those days. Yet, Paul says, “All”, and he ascribes to God the glory for it all.

 

In order to make sense of it, we need to do some spiritual time traveling. We need to look at the two ends of the great story of Creation that God has given to us in His Word. There was a point when God brought our world into existence in which He proclaimed that it was good. Everything that He made was perfect and without the damage that sin causes. There is also a promised and foretold time to come when Christ will reclaim all of Creation from Satan’s destructive influence and presence; so, that original perfection will be restored to all. We live in the time that is between these two great epochs. Living in these days requires people to have faith in God. We also need to allow that faith to bring us to a place where we trust Him completely and with all things. Faith and trust lead us to hope and to obedience. These qualities then lead God’s people to a place in life where we desire to bring glory to His name by living in a manner that is righteously and graciously redemptive in all aspects of our daily lives.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth through Jesus Christ.

John 1: 17

 

God has always provided guidance to His people. He provided us with His moral code of conduct, His Law, at a very early stage of humanity’s existence. Even before the giving of its formal version to Moses, God set out His desires for our behavior and thought for people to follow. The Lord did not want us to lack for understanding of who He was and of how He desired that we would live. When it comes to things that matter, God is not ambiguous. He speaks with authority and out of His love for His creation.

 

However, the law was not the answer. We are not good at following rules, and people have always been prone to questioning and to challenging their intent and their content. Something far greater than the law was needed. As humanity had frequently tried seeking our guidance and giving our allegiance to other forms of god without achieving true mastery over living well, this new thing had to come directly from God, A moral code had also proven to be futile; so, something much greater was required in order for people to be able to overcome the spiritual and moral death that we were condemned to experience from birth.

 

In order to fully and truly reestablish relationship with people, God had promised Himself as the answer to our sinful state of separation. God gave to us His Son, Jesus, as this final response and solution to our need for the both moral and ethical direction and for the grace to overcome our state of rebellion. Christ pours out God’s grace upon us. He also leads us into living in the center of the eternal truth that is God’s character. In and through Christ we know God. We are immersed in His love, mercy, peace, and truth in a way that is impossible to gain without the presence of Christ in our lives. The law was true but was incomplete. Christ brings the grace of God to us so that God’s love is totally mixed with His truth in a manner that brings God’s people into an unceasingly redemptive relationship with our Creator.

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