December 2015


“For the mountains may depart

and the hills be removed,

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”

says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54: 10

 

The language of Isaiah 54 has an emotional and a highly figurative quality to it. Yet, the nature of what is described is quite real. Mountains are a point of reference for us. If you live within sight on them, they create a frame in which the home environment is set as in a statement like, “The mountains are to the north, “ or, My city is surrounded by mountains.” So, the idea that the mountains and their foothills would be destroyed by an act of God’s hand or by the destructive forces that seem to operate at will in this broken world is powerful. This is the sort of societal upheaval that is on display here. This is a description of a world where the sorts of things that we use to set our frame of reference and to get our bearings are torn apart and turned over.

 

So, this statement from about 2,700 years ago seems to be accurately directed at our times and this world today; thus, the point that the prophet was making is also for us in our culture. He is saying that regardless of the upheaval and the chaos of the world where we live, God’s love remains constant and is poured out onto His people. The Lord has called upon us to trust Him and to trust in Him because God’s trustworthiness never falters or fails. The Lord is with us in and through the tumult and trials of living in this land where evil conceal itself in order to pounce upon the unwary and the innocent, and He protects our souls and brings peace to our hearts in all circumstances.

 

In simple terms, God cares deeply about people. He desires to be in relationship with all of us. There are no limits or limitations on God’s willingness to pursue people in order to save our souls from destruction and to bring our lives into the peace of His presence. He will even allow evil to operate with little restraint at times and in places in our world if that will bring some of us into that place of realization that we need Christ in order to truly live. There is nothing that anyone can do; there is no act of violence, anger, or oppression that can defeat the unceasing love that Christ has for us. Thus, we can walk with confidence in our world, and we can love others without reservation by pouring out this same love that Christ is constantly giving to us.

 

 

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10: 14

 

For those of us who know Christ, the work of salvation is completed. Christ, Himself, has done that, and as the author of Hebrews has just indicated, Jesus has taken His rightful seat at the right hand of the Father while Hw awaits that time when the grand drama of the earthly and spiritual conflict between Satan and God will come to its foreordained conclusion. Meanwhile, we can rest in the certainty of our relationship with God and engage in the calling to discipleship that Christ has given to each of His people.

 

Although Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to gain our acceptance into the eternal presence of the Father, that does not mean that we are completely removed from participation in the new life that we have been granted by that sacrifice. Sanctification is not something that just happens regardless of our willingness and participation. In one sense the work of sanctification rests squarely upon the Holy Spirit in that it is He who produces these wonderful and transformative changes within Christ’s followers. Yet, we do not just sit back and anticipate the work of the Spirit within us and within others in the body of Christ.

 

As disciples of Jesus we are tasked with making our sacrificial offerings. These honorific gifts to God are not like the ones of old in that they do not court favor with and from God; instead, they are sacrifices of self that bring us ever closer to our Lord and that function to empty us of our old, dying self so that Christ can fill us up to overflowing with the new being that we are in Him. As I lay my greed, anger, lust, and pride at the foot of Christ’s cross of salvation, the Spirit takes these now empty places and pours into me the grace of God and His character of truth and righteousness to fill me with this new nature that is that of Christ.

 

Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2: 4

 

Repentance is a word that most people would prefer to leave out of our functional vocabulary. We can readily embrace the idea of God’s kindness and of His loving grace. We rely upon the fact that God is patient with us as we test the waters of sinful thought and behavior, but it is harder to connect His call to repentance to it all. Yet it is exactly what God does call upon people to do. Repentance was the cry that John the Baptist uttered as he announced the coming of the Christ, and God continues to call to all people to turn away from the sin that entraps and destroys and to embrace the purification and restoration that Christ grants to us.

 

Repentance requires for us to accept the fact that we are sinful beings. It is based upon the realization that there is a dramatic and total divide between the ways of this world and those of God’s kingdom. Thus repentance demands that we change direction, turn around, and surrender ourselves totally to God’s way of being. Until we accept the necessity of such radical submission to Christ, we will continue to struggle through a life in which we seem to gain ground for a while and then give it all back in times of weakness, discouragement, or doubt. These periods of return to old ways of functioning are discouraging, and they are not the way that God wants to see His people living. He gets no pleasure from our suffering and our struggles.

 

It is a simple fact that God is very slow to judge. Without question He holds all of the evidence that He would need to convict every one of us of our capital crimes. Still God is the kindly and loving Father who waits with great patience for His children to embrace His truth. He withholds the judgment that we all deserve in anticipation of our turning to Him. God wants for each of us to make the decision to seek Him out. He grants us that ability, and He allows us opportunities to continually seek Him and His righteous way. God’s grace and His kindness are offered to us in order to call to us out of a life of self-determined worldly truth and into an unending, moment by moment state of yielded submission and total surrender to Christ and to His transformative truth. True repentance is not always easy to engage, but it is more than worth the pain that is involved for it leads us into the will of God

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29: 11

 

Too much of my life is lived at a pace that keeps my eyes focused on the road ahead and my mind churning in order to stay in front of the curves. There is a form of necessity in this approach, and it has been learned the hard way. You see, the film that is my life story has a lot of those train wreck scenes that were a part of the rather black humor that was central to the silent film era. So, in order to avoid the pain of these crash and burn moments, I carefully check my maps, consider the road, and take a firm grip on the wheel. These are really not bad things to do. However, for me, at least, the real issue isn’t safety, it is control, and I want it! Need it! Am uncomfortable without thinking that I have it!

 

The flaw in this sort of thinking and living is that I will never have true control in the sense that it will achieve my desired outcome of security. There are too many variables in this world and too much weakness in my own understanding of righteous living for me to maintain the proper course at the best speed on my own. In simple terms, God is a lot better at this sort of thing than I will ever be. The attributes of God that David expresses in this prayer in 1 Chronicles are really striking to me. God not only is characterized by greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty, but He is the source or the author of these life qualities. All of the greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty that is to be found anywhere in creation is there as a direct result of God’s presence. To repeat, all of it comes from and belongs to the Lord. None of it is of my crafting and none of it is in my control.

 

Yet, God reaches out of His majesty, and He chooses to touch my brokenness with His restorative grace and love. All of creation belongs to God, and He decided to grant me an important place in His plan for its management that is especially designed for me and that He invests in continually. When I consider who God is and how He interacts with this world of His, I begin to understand that I really don’t need to be in control of it all. I serve the King who is totally in control, and He is a very active ruler. He is also a truly engaged communicator. God speaks to His people and His word is the only reliable truth that we need in order to have the sort of true security that my heart desires.

 

Restore us, O God of hosts;

let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Psalm 80: 7

 

It seems that in our world resources rule the day. The company with the most to expend often gets the biggest profits, and the political candidate with the deepest pockets wins the vote. On a personal scale, there is wisdom in saving, for those stored up funds may carry us through the hard times that do come to most people. We study diligently and work hard to grow our skills so that we can command higher pay in order to have more. This is a cycle that has captivated humanity since our early days. Today we live in a world that is more sophisticated than ever before and is filled with the fruit of our creative labors; yet, it is still not a safe place to dwell or a righteous environment to rest confidently within.

 

None of our tangible worldly assets are sufficient. There is no army that is strong enough to provide security, no amount of money can bring about lasting peace, and all of our governments fail to promote God’s view of righteousness and justice. Yet, in and through all of this world’s chaos and grief, God stands strong and unflinching. He possesses all of the resources that any of us will need to withstand the pressures and the forces of the day. The Lord is the ruler of a vast army that has already conquered the forces of evil that are the cause and the power behind this world’s suffering, misery, and loss. This same great and mighty God is also the One who loves my soul with all of His being.

 

This conqueror God is the victor over the sin that attempts to destroy each of us at our most vital and significant level that is our souls. The Lord has set me free from slavery to this world and to its forces. His strength holds my head up, and His truth sets my feet onto the unshakable path of righteous love and deeply enjoyed peace. The light that drives out the darkness of this world’s day is the glory of God that shines with the brilliance of a thousand suns. As I seek the face of God in all that I do and every place that I journey, He fills my heart and my mind with the warmth and the radiance of His saving presence.

 

Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

James 2: 5

 

Poverty can be overwhelming. When we look at images of the people who are living in the poorest of conditions from across the world and from right next door to us, it is hard not to feel a sense of just how oppressive that condition is. Equally challenging for us are other forms of poverty beyond those that are dictated by financial condition and by social status. When the bank account that contains our savings of faith, trust, and hope has been drained by either the long term effects of constantly drawing from it without a plan for replacing what has been removed or when something happens that is so enormously costly that all of our reserves are gone in a moment, we can be knocked to the ground and left with a sense of being near to bankruptcy.

 

These are the times in life when all of the things that have held us up and that have provided the cushion of confidence that we have come to rely upon have either failed us or have suddenly become very fragile. In these days we find that youth, health, human love, education, position, and community status are all things which can be taken from us in a moment. Then, we are left to look to other sources for the underpinnings that keep us from falling into the depths of depression and under the oppression of doubt. This is the answer that Christ gives to us, for when all else and everyone else fails, He stands with us, and in these times of deepest poverty, the Spirit of Christ brings the riches of all of creation into our lives.

 

When the darkness that surrounds our heart seems to be too heavy for anything to penetrate it and we are at the bottom of that well known as despair, there is a source of light and there is a way out. As we pour out our pain to God and look into the truth of His Word, He starts to bring hope into focus. The Lord has a track record of taking people who are in desperate situations and providing them with His presence, and He brings hope, comfort, encouragement, strength, and practical solutions. In our days of deepest poverty, Christ actively seeks to honor our love for Him by filling us to overflowing with the riches of His kingdom.

 

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

Acts 17: 29

 

Paul has been speaking to the Greek philosophers gathered in the Areopagus in Athens; so, his reference here is to the idols that were all around him and that these Greeks worshiped as gods. But it strikes me that there is a word of instruction to me and to others in our times in what Paul had to say. You see, there have been times, and I fear that there will be similar ones to come, where I have treated the God who I do know in a fashion not so far removed from the way that those people in Greece did so long ago.

 

It can be very convenient to take God and to fashion a beautiful package to contain Him. I am not talking about icons and images that we might place in our homes or churches, for I see no problem in them. What I am thinking of is the way that people have of fashioning simple and comfortable descriptions of the nature and the character of God that, in fact, limit that very nature to one that is easy for us to embrace without personal challenge. This process recreates God into a form and substance that matches the life that my flesh desires to live. This is not the true nature of God.

 

Instead of God being shaped by my hands, God desires to recreate me into His already perfect image. God is and operates out of all that I might find appealing and personally desirable at this moment, but He is also much more. He is love, grace, mercy, comfort, righteousness, holiness, and Lord of All. God is the Great Shepherd who seeks out all without sparing any cost in order to bring each and every person on this earth into His Kingdom. God is the One who sees us as we are in all of our darkness and sin and still loves us beyond all measure. He is the righteous judge of our souls, and He spares no one from that judgment; yet, He saves anyone who turns to Him. This is an idea of the full image of God that I need to hold continually before my eyes, for this is the nature and the character of the person that He is working to shape me and each one of His people into being.

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