May 2016


And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ, He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5: 20

 

As we know Christ, we know truth; so, as we live in the fullness of that relationship with Christ, we are exercising that eternal truth for the sake of our own growth and for the glory of God in the world. Both aspects of being followers of Christ are important. God desires for His people to abide in His word. This expression of God’s nature, character, and will is central to our lives and to our journeys of faith. As Jesus promised, this written word and the life that He calls His followers to live are illuminated and guided by the present voice of the Holy Spirit. So, in Christ, we are fully informed regarding God’s will and His purpose for our lives.

 

However, this information is only a partial image of the truth that is imparted from God, for the understanding that John speaks about is much deeper than truth itself. Understanding suggests that Christ has granted to His followers something that goes beyond that which our minds grasp. He has given to us the gift of seeing God so that we can know God in a way that very few people have from after our ancestral rebellion in the garden until the time that Jesus was with us in the flesh on earth. This close intimacy with God was thrown away in order to consume some perishable fruit, but God would not allow the distance between us to remain.

 

In Christ, God has reached out to people and granted us the way of return to intimate relationship with Him. So, in Christ we are brought into direct contact with the one true expression of God in our world so that we can also understand Him in order to live out God’s calling for our lives. As we engage with our world in the name of Christ, our faith is tested and strengthened by that testing; also, God’s purpose for us is revealed to us and developed. The truth that Christ reveals to us is grown into understanding of God as we dwell in His Word, listen to God’s voice, and lay down our lives in order to follow Christ into this world of need.

Exalt the LORD our God,

and worship at his holy mountain,

for the LORD our God is holy!

Psalm 99: 9

 

As a follower of Christ, I can honestly and sincerely do something that most other people would struggle to engage in with the same zeal, for I can truly sing out in praise of my King. The Lord rules the world with mercy and with justice in perfect balance. That is not so easy to do in these days of rampant violence and selfish greed; yet, I can praise God on a daily basis for the love and the grace that He pours out into the portion of the world that I can see myself. I thank the Lord for the love that fills my heart and mind with the presence of Christ, and that thankfulness is overwhelmed by the reality that the most holy God has gifted this poor sinner with the wealth of His salvation and life.

 

In a very real way God’s holiness is what draws me to Him. The Lord is different from the world in every way, and although He stands apart and separate, He is close by and fully accessible at the same time. God’s values and character are above and beyond the changeable nature of those of this world. People turn our hearts toward the enticing call of contemporary culture. We trade away the wealth of eternity for the momentary pleasure of those current practices and ideas. Thus, we restate ancient truth so that it fits within the confines of our desired behaviors. However, the Lord is not influenced or moved by all of this. He remains above it all, and He continuously speaks His word of truth for all who will hear to follow.

 

So, out of His holiness God calls to people. He gives us a path to follow through the days of our lives that leads us out of the world’s ever-shifting morality and values and takes us to His holy place of righteousness. Christ takes anyone who will follow Him out of a life that is ruled by the forces of this world, and He brings us onto God’s holy mountain where righteousness and love reign so that joy and peace can become the state of our hearts and minds. Thus, in Christ, we are lifted up to that holy mountain of the Lord so that the ground that we cover in our days is territory that we can fill with the presence of Christ. It is here and now that our words of praise to the Lord can be used by Christ to bring His salvation to the portion of the world that we touch.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Titus 3: 1, 2

 

Paul is giving instruction to his younger disciple Titus in how to lead a fellowship of followers of Christ. Central to Paul’s teaching is the fact that Christians should be actively different than others in their culture so that Christ in them shows clearly to the world by their words and their deeds. Nothing has changed since those days for those of us who know Christ. The wise words that Paul laid out for Titus should resonate with us, and we should live in a manner that causes Christ to be heard clearly through the conduct of our days. This way of life is unceasing and unrelenting, and God doesn’t really grant to us any situational exceptions.

 

So, when it comes to a Christian’s conduct in the arena of government and politics, we are tasked by God with a responsibility for the words that we speak and for the tone with which we deliver them. This is true for those who hold office, desire to do so, and for those who are governed by them. Unfortunately, the description of what a follower of Christ looks like that Paul gives to us here is very different from much of what is seen in our world. People who hold office and who are aspiring to be elected are held to this standard of respectful engagement in so far as they know Christ, and the ability to engage in the battle for office while living out this sort of Christ-like behavior should be an indicator of a person’s spiritual state of being.

 

For the majority of us who are not office holders or seekers, the standard of behavior that Paul sets forth needs to be our guide. When we speak about those who govern us, we are tasked by Christ to be courteous, respectful, and gentle. This does not mean that we are to avoid speaking out against that which is wrong, unjust, or contrary to God’s Word. We are to stand for God’s truth, and He is instructing us to do so in the counter-cultural manner described here so that Christ’s love and peace can stand out as light against the darkness of our world’s political environment. In this setting, the good work that we are to prepare for is to be engaged citizens while doing so with Christ’s truth, grace, and love as the visible signs of our allegiance to the one true King.

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.

 

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