May 2016


And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different options? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

1 Kings 18: 21

 

Is this a problem for another time and place? The tension that resonated in a culture that is totally foreign to the one that we know today? Hardly! We may not refer to our alternative god as Baal, and we might not bring sacrifices to his alter, but there is no question in my mind that there is a conflict afoot in our times and within our cultures wherein the God of Creation is being replaced by the various gods of people’s choosing. It is easier and more comfortable to follow a god who I designed and whose requirements of me fit with what I wish to give. It is harder to yield myself to the God who asks me to surrender my heart and my mind to His will and to follow Him along a path of righteousness and holiness.

 

Essentially, this is the tension that exists in this verbal interchange between Elijah and Ahab, and it is the struggle that exists in our world today. The Israelites were attempting to pick and choose the allegiances that they offered up to the gods of man and to Yahweh, God Himself, and the path of man was winning out. Their social order and process of life were moving rapidly away from those that God had set out. So, the culture was becoming ever more secular and increasingly removed from the rules and the values that God desired for people to follow in order to walk closely with Him and, by so doing, to bring His love and peace into the world.

 

The Lord is jealous of our affections and of our attention. He wants all of us, for there is no part of our lives that does not fall under the heading of sacred; so, if we follow Christ, we do not have a secular portion in our lives. Everything that we do, and all of the words that we speak are acts of worship in some form. The Lord desires to inform and guide us through the totality of life. The Lord does not permit us to turn to sources of guidance beyond God’s Word and His Spirit; thus, when we wish to depart from His will in order to do as we wish, we are on our own. Following Christ is a full on, all of the time commitment that informs every aspect of life with the eternal wisdom and with unceasing love and grace.

 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1: 17

 

Advertising materials would certainly suggest to us that there are perfect gifts, or at least that there is one perfect gift which simply requires us to select well in order to give it. In this sort of context, gifts are usually associated with what the giver hopes to get in return. In fact, this concept of being compensated for the gift that has been given seems to indicate that what is being given is not so much a gift as it is a part of bargain and sell arrangement. This how we people tend to engage in relationships, but it is not how God relates to us.

 

God is a giver. He grants life to us, and He has given us the way and the means to enter into the fullness of being alive in relationship with Him through Christ. God has also granted the gift of His presence to us so that we would have counsel, comfort, and strength that are unceasing and reliable as we travel through this journey of life. The Lord cares about and for us in the most important of ways, for He is the caretaker of our souls. As Satan engages in a continual battle for the hearts and minds of people so that he can hope to own our souls, God responds by demonstrating true love, grace, and mercy to us and by providing foundational truth for people to stand upon.

 

In the entire world there is only one source of goodness, and that is God. Throughout the journey of life, perfection is known only in Christ. He brings the gift of salvation to us, and He freely gives that gift to all who will receive it. This is God’s promise to all of humanity, and I trust Him for the integrity of His word. My part in all of this is to be a willing recipient of the grace that Christ pours out upon me and to confidently enter into a life that is filled with that same grace so that others might see a glimmer of that same loving and merciful gift of life.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5: 24

 

God is speaking through the prophet Amos to His people, and the Lord is not pleased. In fact, He follows this thought with the foretelling of a period of captivity far away from their homelands. Yet, it does not seem that God is speaking to the people of Israel alone. His desire to see justice granted to all people is a part of the Lord’s nature of love and reconciliation, and His direction to His people to be committed to justice for all comes directly out of God’s character that He imparts into us through Christ. I believe that possessing a heart for justice is not natural to fallen humans, but it is something that grows and develops out of submission to Christ and is a reflection of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

 

With that in mind, it is not necessarily reasonable to expect that our governmental institutions will be focused on the concept of justice or on providing it in its truest forms. Although God ordains governments, they do not know Him. The people who govern can be followers of Christ, and as such should provide voices that speak out for the sakes of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the victimized people of our world. Also, people who know God need to speak out with clarity and with the stridency of the Lord for just treatment and for the provision of a place of welcome and sanctuary for those who the evil in our world has violated. Even when it seems that no one is listening or when we are fearful and reluctant to embrace people whose language, customs, and beliefs are quite foreign to us, God says that they are all our neighbors who are made in His image and that we are to love them.

 

This sort of fearless and committed love comes about as we surrender ourselves to Christ. He imparts it to us as His Spirit works within our hearts and minds. If it is not present, it is something to seek from the Lord, and as this love for others is on the heart, we can seek after God’s leading for living it out in terms of engagement and relationship with people whose greatest need is to know Christ. Justice that rolls down from the heavens like a mighty stream courses down a mountainside is more than the poetic language of the prophet, it is a possibility when people who know God follow him into loving and caring for those who are in greatest need. It comes about as we set aside comfort and self-defined security to follow Christ into touching lives that He cares about deeply.

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest.”

Psalm 55: 6

 

David’s wishful desire to escape, to fly far away, is a common one. When life is piling on and the situation at hand is sucking all of the energy out of body and soul, almost everyone wants to get away from it all. Unfortunately, reality is relentless and achieving escape would seem to require something like a pair of supernatural wings to accomplish. So, David is a great source for advice on what it means to continue on with productive life in the grim hostility of this world, for he was faced with it on many occasions and he understood the futility of doing so from within his own skill, strength, and intellect.

 

He also knew that escape was not the answer. Certainly a few minutes of quiet and calm are helpful, and rest is restorative for body and mind, but leaving the issues unresolved is seldom more than a brief vacation from those issues that face us. Instead of spinning his wheels in efforts to devise a plan for that escape, David turns to the Lord and pours out his fears, concerns, and desire for God’s response to it all. Then he calms his own voice and listens to what God says to his heart. The Lord does the same things for us that he did for David. God wants to hear the words that we have to say about our condition and regarding our worries and fears. Although He knows all of this before we speak, it is valuable for our hearts and minds to express it all to Him.

 

What follows is the hard part, for as we wait on God for His response, we need to be quiet and still even as the issues of life are swirling and raging around us. At that moment we are entering into deep trust that God will answer, and we are walking in faith that His response is the best one for us. This is the point in it all when it is natural to take back control and attempt to respond to life on our own. Yet, God says that we should wait on Him and trust in His response. The Lord will bring us through each and every situation and circumstance that we encounter. He does speak and take action for the sake His purposes and to accomplish His plans, and we can find true rest as we settle into the center of God’s will.

 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 2: 42

 

This is a very brief picture of life among the men and women who made up the early church. In this statement we get a picture of the impact that the presence of the Holy Spirit had on them. They were brought out of their separate and different lives. Now they had a common bond and singular purpose. As I would understand it, they came from almost all walks of life and levels of status within the culture; yet, here, in the church of Christ, those differences disappeared and were replaced by the common bond of family. They were joined together in their devotion to things that brought them together, to their newly formed commonality. This devotion became a very powerful agent in the process of binding together such a widely divergent group of people.

 

It makes me wonder about my own devotion and about the things that our church today is devoted to. Devotion, prokartereo, means “a steadfast and single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action.” It seems to me that people today are not very good at being single-minded and steadfast. Most of us tend to be fragmented and to follow after whatever catches our eye at any given moment. We also get caught up in our passions and allow those interests, even when they are worthy ones, to take us over so that we are drawn away from the center of fellowship and out of this sort of common devotion. Now I realize that Luke is painting a picture of life in a very singular time during the history of the church. However, I don’t think that he meant for this to be nothing more than a tale of times long ago and far away.

 

This image of what it was like to live in the community of faith that was the early church gives us an aspirational view of possibility. There is no reason why we should not live in a manner where we are as singular in our focus and completely committed to the common bonds of life in Christ that we would not make those same elemental aspects of that life our common experience. If we were to become truly committed to engaging life from a point of view in which our relationship with Christ was the center of our lives and fellowship as the body of Christ was the expression of that relationship, our view of the world would be different. What if we could not only say but actually live so that teaching of the Word of God and soul-deep fellowship that celebrates our commonality in Christ was what defined Christians? This is more than just a dream, for it is the possibility that devotion to Christ can make real.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.

John 6: 51

 

Jesus’ mostly Jewish audience would have understood the reference that He makes to the manna that God had provided to their ancestors during the forty years of wandering in the desert. That bread provided food for their bodies, but it also decayed and spoiled after each day. Although it was a gift that came out of the eternal, it was short-lived itself. Now God has given us Jesus as the gift of God’s grace and redemption. He provides food for our souls that does not perish. This gift of life is provided even more freely than was the manna, for the manna was given to a specific group of people, and Christ is given to all who believe.

 

During these days on earth Jesus was engaged in teaching the truths of the Father to the small segment of humanity that He was in contact with. Although the numbers of people who He met and engaged with were small, the impact of it all was universal. Jesus was preparing His immediate followers for God’s calling for the rest of their lives during which they would proclaim the truth of the gift of salvation that has come in and through Jesus. In all of this Jesus was living out His own direction from the Father by serving the redemptive intent of God as the essential sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus was serving the Father by bringing the message of life to people and by being the bread that we consume in order to live.

 

So, we consume Christ, not by mouth and stomach but rather by surrendering our hearts and minds to God in acceptance of Christ as our Lord and Savior. After we do this we are fully fed by the eternal food of God’s Word and the unceasing presence of His Spirit. This heavenly nourishment grants to us a vitality that feeds our journey through our days with God’s purpose and will. Although our relationship with Christ does secure an eternal place in the presence of God, that is merely the culminating point in this banquet feast that Christ provides to His people. During every hour of each day of our lives we are invited by Christ to eat the bread of life that is His body and to drink the cup of salvation that is His blood so that we are filled up with the life that He gives freely to all who believe. Then we can join in the long line of people who follow Christ by going into our world to bring the message of salvation through Christ to others.

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 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 encounter 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 follow Him with unwavering commitment so that we bring the sweet fruit of Christ’s message of salvation to our spiritually starved land.

Though an army encamp against me,

my heart shall not fear;

though war arise against me,

yet I will be confident.

Psalm 27: 3

 

David knew what war looked like. He knew it in every sense that it could be experienced in his days, for he had engaged in the battle against nations that desired to overthrow Israel and he had encountered individuals who sought to destroy him personally. David also understood the deep, soul-wrenching fight that can come about inside of a person’s own mind and spirit. Some of the armies that set up camp opposite him were great in number with their array of swords, arrows, and battle horses; and sometimes the opposing army was a single person with a spear that is hurled in a rage. At other times the conflict is waged on that rough field of the mind. Yet, in all of these situations, the war and its terrors are real.

 

We live in a world where conflict and war are a part of the narrative of our days. There is a frightening uncertainty to life today that is all but impossible to avoid; however, God still says that we are to seek His face and not fear. The assailants that most of us encounter are carrying a different sort of weapon than those who confronted David. They are often armed with words that describe us in negative terms, with laws that restrict or redefine our actions, and with threats of loss in the workplace and in relationships. Although the engagements that result in this conflict don’t draw literal blood, they do shed the blood of our spirits and wound our hearts and minds.

 

Fear of physical harm from violence of all types is real and is best engaged with by turning to the Lord and in trust of His care and protection for all that actually matters. These other sources of fear are far more prevalent for most of us, and they are frequently the sort of thing that Satan uses in an attempt to disable and defeat followers of Christ. So it seems that David’s thoughts about engaging the battles of life with confident fearlessness still apply to our days and to the landscape of our cultural battlefields. David’s response to his enemies was to turn to the Lord, to cry out to God and surrender his cares, fears, and concerns to Him; then, he listened to God’s words of wise counsel, comfort, and encouragement; finally, David recognized that he was just a servant to the Great King. So, the victory was certain and the victor in each and every conflict will be the Lord.

And he (God) said to man,

“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,

and to turn away from evil is understanding.”

Job 28: 28

 

There is a theme here that runs throughout God’s Word. God is to be respected, reverenced, and viewed with absolute awe and wonder. The Lord does, in fact, know all and see all, and He is engaged in everything that takes place in heaven and on earth. There is nothing that people can do or any sum that we can pay that will secure our relationship with God. Also, none of our skill, capacity, or wealth is sufficiently great enough to bring wisdom to us. Wisdom is something that is possessed by God, and He grants it as a gift to people who know Him, for the Lord is fully aware of the fact that people who do not know Him have no true desire to use wisdom for its intended purpose and also have no capacity to embrace it fully and honestly.

 

We come to know God through surrendering ourselves fully to Him and embracing Christ as the Lord of our lives and Savior of our souls. This surrender of self to Christ is the price that we must pay in order to acquire God’s wisdom. For most people, this payment is greater and harder to tender than anything else that we will ever purchase. Yet, the return on this surrender of self to Christ far exceeds all other investments that we will make in our lifetimes. Thus, as we live as followers of Christ, God becomes our greatest treasure, and He grants His wisdom as a gift to us; so, living as people who are wise from God’s perspective becomes our desire for the journey through our days.

 

As Job understood it, wisdom turns to application as we discern what is from God and what is not in our world and choose to turn toward God’s will and way through life and away from its opposite which is evil. There is a difficult simplicity in all of this, for most of us would prefer to see the moral and the ethical decisions of our days in shades of grey or as points on a continuum of good to bad. Yet, God says that there are only His way and that of the world. God’s way leads to life and the world’s points straight to the door known as death. Christ grants us the ability to discriminate between the two paths, the strength and the will to make those hard choices, and the encouragement of His Spirit to live out the choices that we make.

Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1: 14

 

Here is a sample of the instruction that this ancient voice of God’s will had for the people of the nation of Judah. There was a good deal more of the same, but these words do express plenty of what God had in mind. This was a time when God’s people had headed off on their own path. They were living out their personal visions for what was right and how justice should be served. There wasn’t much in any of this that could be traced back to God’s law or to His time-proven truths. Now there was truly the Devil to pay. The Lord had removed His protective hand from Judah, and locust have consumed their fields, war has bled their nations youth dry, and now drought is withering away what is left. These are hard times for everyone; so, God sends Joel to cry out to the people to return to their one and only true first love.

 

There is no question that something needs to be done. Navigating those difficult times clearly required strong leadership, and the people who are stepping forward were not taking the nation in a righteous direction. They probably had plans for insect control. There were big ideas about where to go to seek water and grand schemes for raising the funds that these ideas required. They certainly shouted out the need for a larger army with better weapons. There would have been chest thumping and negative comments about the other people who were attempting to gain power and control. In Joel’s days the clothing was different and the means of spreading the word was slower and more face-to-face, but the national atmosphere was not all that different than the ones that we encounter in our world today.

 

It seems that God is telling us to approach our challenges from a different perspective. He wants us to place our trust in the same solutions that were provided for the people of Judah. If they had been paying attention they would have realized that they had never successfully driven off a plague of locust, defended their borders from their strong enemies, or summoned the rain. These were things that God had always done for them. From the beginning of time God has gifted humanity with a national identity, a place to dwell and to plant roots, and the provision of the things that we need to grow and to thrive. God blesses people in these ways as we trust in Him, seek out His will, and choose to live in a just and righteous manner. Joel’s voice seems to cry out across the ages to our times, and he is saying that God is not pleased with our wanton and sinful approach to life. The Lord, God Almighty, is calling to each of us and to our nations with a voice of warning and a promise of salvation. The choice is yours and it is mine. Will we repent and return to the Lord, our rock and our defender?

« Previous PageNext Page »