January 2016


Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

 

The prophet Habakkuk is engaged in a dialogue with God in which Habakkuk is complaining bitterly to the Lord and wondering about how long he must wait until justice and fairness will become visible in God’s dealing with people and with nations. These words are those of God in response to the prophet’s lament, and the actor in line one is probably either Babylon or its king. So, there is a contrast established between the way that people who were not following God, the Babylonians, rely upon their own wisdom and strength to navigate their way through life and the way that a follower of God gains the same direction and fortitude by virtue of faith in God.

 

This theme of faith in God as foundational to living life well is as old as is the existence of humanity. Its lack is a fundamental problem behind the rebellion of the first people in the garden, and it is my problem today. In simple words, God has the capability and the capacity to accomplish anything that fits within His will and desire, and I have none of this capability and even less capacity. God possesses all wisdom and knowledge, and I am severely limited in both. The Lord cares about my outcome and calls me into the most meaningful service possible in order to bring glory to Him while granting to me a life of eternal worth.

 

Faith in God is the difference maker in my life and in the lives of all people. As we seek to know our Lord and let Him into the deepest recesses of our soul, He enlightens our heart with His love, mercy, grace, and wisdom. This is the truth that truly frees us from the oppression that our soul was held under by sin’s grasp upon our lives. As my faith grows and infuses more and more of my being, I have an ever decreasing need to hold onto my own prideful competency and skill. I am also able to come out from under the heavy shadow of doubt and fear. Faith in God clears away the mountain that blocks my view of His glory and that cuts off my path into service to my Lord.

 

 

This God — his way is perfect;

the word of the LORD proves true;

he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

2 Samuel 22: 31

 

David knew troubled and turbulent times. He fought and contended with enemies from outside of Israel and from within his own family until he was too old to stand on the field of battle himself. Then, his followers took up the cause of leading the defense of the nation. Yet, despite their great successes in battle, David knew that the Lord had always won the real victory. In fact, on many occasions David had prevailed despite himself because God remained true to His calling of David to be King over the nation.

 

So, the aged King reflects upon his life and his relationship with God in this song of thanksgiving and praise. This God, the Lord God of the Universe, is the singular example and model of perfect righteousness. His voice is the one that leads people along a path that takes us to a life that is lived out in close proximity to the center of God’s will. As we consider our own lives and the times in which we live, I think that this is still an absolutely true statement. The Lord is calling us to follow Him in waging war against the deceptive evil of an enemy that is violently bent on the destruction of souls. Yet, I think that this war is to be fought with a different form of weapon than the ones that David used.

 

For us, Christ stands as the example of a warrior for the cause of redemption. God’s Word provides us with knowledge and understanding of the nature and the character of God and leads us into His will for us. The Spirit of Christ grants understanding and wisdom to our hearts and our minds so that Christ’s love for all people and God’s desire for redemption for all souls can guide our prayers, thoughts, and efforts. In today’s worldwide battle against evil, I think that followers of Christ are called upon by God to be the ones who are trusting in our Lord to protect and to care for us, and we are to be the ones who are holding God’s shield of refuge up for others so that they can come into that same saving relationship with Christ.

Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.

Deuteronomy 11: 16

 

It seems that there are many things in which we need to trust in living our lives. We trust in the rising of the sun every day, and we rest in the certainty of the fact that gravity will hold us onto the earth’s surface. When we get into a car we start it and proceed believing that it will go where we direct it. Of greater importance is the fact that I have no question at all that I can trust God to be who He has always been and to do what He promises to do. However, I know that I need to be very careful about trusting my own heart to remain true to Christ’s calling and to always follow the righteous path that God has set out for me.

 

This world surrounds us with a very active campaign of deception and lies that Satan is fully committed to waging. I might say that I am clear about who I am and regarding the way that I will choose to travel through life. Of course, I wouldn’t deviate from the direction that is spelled out in God’s Word. After all, I am a new being, a redeemed soul, and Christ is lord of my life! All true statements, but also, they can be dangerous if they are claimed with the sort of arrogance and pride that convinces me that I have it all together. There is enough of the old, sin-influenced self left in me to provide evil with a place to start turning my mind a little left or a little right of God’s singular way. Unfortunately, small deviations from the righteous path can have disastrous consequences.

 

That is why Moses warned his people with such stern language. That is why God’s Word continues to warn us today in the same manner. The gods that I can turn to may not be stone carvings, but they demand my loyalty and my worship in ways that are just as compelling as those ancient false deities with their promises of health, power, contentment, and success. Anything that turns me away from humble dependence on God and submission to His will can become my personal idol. Thoughts and actions that seem to meet my needs and desires at the expense of trust and commitment are dangerous deviations from God’s direction for living. God demands and requires that I turn over all of my life to Him in sacrifice and worship. When I hold any of it back, I am dedicating that part of me to idolatry, and God is a jealous god who desires all of me. He is also a loving God who has given all of Himself to me.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14: 27

 

The peace that Jesus is talking about here is the great peace of Shalom. It is something that goes far beyond a quiet night or a day without the news about war and death filling our ears. In fact, under the circumstance at hand when Jesus was talking, peace would seem to be about as far away as anything could have been. Christ knew that in only a very short amount of time He would be arrested, tried, and crucified. The people who were close to Him would not experience earthly peace in their hearts and minds for a long time to come. Yet, Jesus stood there and promised it to them.

 

Jesus knew and was sharing with us the fact that the peace of Shalom is not an easy thing. The sort of peace that brings a deep blessing of the soul from God is surrounded with struggle, sacrifice, acceptance, and hard work and commitment. In order for us to experience the peace that Christ grants to His people we must yield our wills and surrender to His. Christ desires for us to be emissaries for His peace talks in our troubled world. Yet, we can not hope to be effective in that role if we have not settled into the state of calm and understanding that is God’s hope and intent for His people. Christ’s peace-givers have settled totally into their trust in God’s plan and have complete faith in Christ’s victory over all that is evil in this world and in the heavens.

 

Still, the peace that Christ grants to us is not a call to be passive or disengaged in the face of all that is wrong and destructive in our world. Instead we are to openly live in our calling from God. Christians who live in the reality of Christ’s Shalom are made strong rather than weak. We are compelled to speak truth in the face of the lies and the deceptive rhetoric that is thrown at us daily. Christ’s peace-givers are aware that wars and strife are not solved by bigger weapons and by causing a greater degree of havoc to fall upon an enemy. We also fully accept the fact that the differences that we see between races, nations, and tribes of people are there in order to demonstrate the expanse of God’s creative beauty. At the same time we need to recognize that the divisions that exist and that separate peoples from each other are the result of our sinful disobedience and stubborn refusal to follow God. Christ’s peace resides in our hearts; yet, it is made evident in our world through our loving and bold expression of truth, mercy, and grace in the name of Christ.

In everything the prudent acts with knowledge,

but a fool flaunts his folly.

Proverbs 13: 16

 

God’s conception of knowledge is much broader than mine. For me, knowledge can involve possession of a few facts and some analysis of them that leads to a conclusion on actions to take. My sense of knowledge does not engage relationally, and it frequently doesn’t involve the sort of prayerful contemplation that leads to a deeper understanding of God and of His will. So, when God’s Word tells me to act with knowledge if I desire to be prudent, then I need to enter into the pursuit of that knowledge in a manner and with the conviction of a person who is setting out on a holy pilgrimage.

 

The sort of knowledge that God has in mind can be life altering. It is established upon knowing God and upon knowing other people. Gaining this knowledge involves openness to other people’s stories about life that can be very uncomfortable to hear. It also requires me to be transparent and vulnerable in sharing both my reaction to what I am hearing and my personal struggles. This journey into knowledge requires me to be open and honest with God, too. This can be the most uncomfortable of all of the aspects of seeking after knowledge.

 

This is a very humbling process. The sort of knowledge that God desires for me to obtain demonstrates my sinfulness and weakness while it points clearly and directly to Christ’s redemption and the grace that has set me free from all guilt and shame. God’s knowledge cuts through discomfort and fear so that I can enter into relationship with people. It leads me to set aside difference in order to truly see others more closely to the way that God sees them. God’s form of prudence is not often safe in human terms as it leads His people into the battleground of restoration, redemption, and peace.

For the earth will bring 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

 

The promise of spring is a part of the hope that makes the dark days of winter a little easier to handle. We know that it is not too long until new life will begin to sprout out of the cold, dark ground. I know that my mind can already see that day when all of the trees start to take on a greenish glow as the buds of summer’s life open for the year. God’s creative design has devised this cycle of renewal and rebirth in the order of our natural world. He has also promised this same potential to the people of His creation.

 

There will be a day when the newness of a fully redeemed creation will be the unending existence of this world. The day of Christ’s return and the unbroken state that He will restore to all of creation is near. Yet, it does not seem as if it is today. There are aspects of God’s desire and intent that are not completed. There is something to be set in place before that final cleansing and the restoration that will follow are set in motion. In that light, one of the things that God has been very clear about is that He desires that every person on the earth should have had the opportunity to hear and to respond to His Gospel of love, truth, and redemption in Jesus Christ.

 

The Lord calls each of His people to engage in the process of making this happen. He sends us out of our comfort and ease and into the world around us. Every one of us who know Christ is granted the honor and the responsibility to represent our Lord and King in all that we do and to take the story of our new life in Christ out to those corners of the world where He is not known. Some of us will travel far and live a long distance from our places of birth and some will go and talk with our next-door neighbors. We may use profound words that come from God’s word of truth while others of us will speak in acts of love, respect, and justice. Yet, in all of this, we are planting the seeds that the Lord will tend and cause to sprout into the beautiful life of His redeemed garden.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt.

Jude 20-22

 

Jude’s “But you” is referring to the warnings about the world where the readers were living that Jude had just delivered. This was to be a time and a place where people would claim to be true to Christ and to His church while they were teaching and living out clear denial of all that was sacred and holy. These would be people who made fun of fundamental truth, and who would attempt to convince others of their lack of real understanding of God and of His will. These are the people whose mouths are continually speaking the same words that the serpent used to lead Eve into rebellion against God. They whisper and they shout into our ears, “Did God actually say?”

 

So, people question the actual meaning of God’s Word. They challenge long-standing teaching about what is right and what is righteous. We become convinced that God’s desire and plan for salvation has exceptions in it that are based upon nationality, race, and belief systems. Acceptance of others is then based upon our comfort and not upon God’s view of value and worth. People begin to hold life with so little regard that we sacrifice our babies on altars that are erected on street corners for convenience, and we are willing to send our own children to be maimed and killed both physically and psychologically in the name of commerce. As doubt of God’s Word grows in our minds, it spreads into our hearts, and people start to turn away from belief in God. We become a world that is committed to serving the unholy king that is self.

 

Then we have Jude. He tells it like it is. The answer to this world where we live is found in exactly the same place that the answer to every need that has presented itself to people throughout all of history. People who know God and who trust in Christ are called upon by God to remain faithful to Him. This means that we can not get caught up in despair and be overwhelmed by what is happening in our world. In prayer and in humble devotion to Christ we are to stay immersed in His love. We are to worship the Lord of mercy whose own gracious sacrifice has obtained eternal life for us. Then, as we are filled and strengthened by Christ’s presence and led by His Spirit, we will be prepared to engage with the people who are spreading doubt in our world. Christ will lead us in this confrontation with those who are bringing death to our doorstep. He will give us hearts that remain pure, and He will provide us with His words of love, mercy, and eternal life to speak to the doubters.

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