August 2016


The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished,

He will keep you in exile no longer,

but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, He will punish,

He will uncover your sins.

Lamentations 4: 22

 

Let me risk the obvious. The world is a mess. Maybe it is a product of age or is caused by experiencing an especially paranoid patch of life, but things seem worse today than at any time in my memory. The way that people engage with each other and the manner in which they dialogue about their differences is harsh, angry, and lacking in the heart of understanding. There is a hopelessness in the air that is frightening in that it doesn’t anticipate a better tomorrow. In light of all of this, I think that the author of Lamentations helps us understand our world and our participation in it with the sort of clarity that comes from God.

 

We are not innocent bystanders to all of the chaos that fills our world. We, and I speak of all people who name Christ as Lord today and throughout history, have played and do play a role in creating and shaping this mess that is the relational and physical architecture of our world. We have not been diligent students of our God, and we are not devoted followers of our Lord. We tend to do these things as they fit our desires, wishes, and preferred outcomes. We are proficient at shaping our god to fit with our self-determined comfortabilities, and this is sinful idolatry in God’s eyes and it is fatally destructive to the world we live in. Yet, in the midst of our wandering away from Christ, there is hope beyond imagining.

 

God’s love and grace as depicted and perfected by Christ overcome all that we think and do. Jesus saves us, and He redeems us; then, He restores our lives to God’s intent and desired usefulness in our world. I believe that this intended purpose is directed toward Christ’s work of redemption. So, we are intended to be peacemakers, sacrificial lovers of people, and bearers of the light of the gospel. God clearly says that He will deal with His adversaries. So, we are not called upon to be crusaders seeking to purify our world by wielding a self-determined righteous sword. Christ calls upon His people to live as shepherds who will not rest until all of the lost are found and redeemed. This calling demands that we seek God’s grace and healing in our lives and in those of others and that we submit our anger and fear to Christ’s unfailing protection and love.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.

1 Corinthians 9: 19

 

I fear that these words are foreign to the practice of life in our days. Service is not a primary concern for many people, and serving is rarely set out as a primary goal for our leaders. Even in the church, true servants can be hard to find. No doubt the church sets out to change the world for the better, but it seems that we react to what we see when we get close to it and then we either determine to force or to coerce that change or we surrender to culture’s false sense of a higher understanding of truth. In the end, even the church has often become little more than a weak mirror image of the world that it should set out to change for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.

 

This is not how it needs to be. This is not how it should be. God determined to rule this world and to transform its inhabitants through the life and the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no other way, method, or truth that can have an effectively transformative and life saving impact on our world. Christ is the answer, and His life of service and sacrifice is the only viable model that followers of Christ should adopt and imitate. Evil and death are not overcome by the use of power, force, anger, fear, defensiveness, or by any other of the numerous human-devised tactics that we seem committed to deploying. In addition, we cannot separate our calling in Christ from the conduct of our public and civil lives. For followers of Christ, there is no separation of church from state.

 

Also, for followers of Christ, there is no safety or security in this world. Our Lord did not seek after either of those in the conduct of His life, and His command to follow is absolute and total. We are to join with Christ on a road that leads to suffering and to death for the sake of serving His will. If our freedom impairs another’s view of the Savior, then we ate to give it up. We can be certain that Christ will prevail in this world. However, if our lives are to matter for things that are eternal, we need to speak and act in a manner that is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the process of giving all for the sake of winning eternity, we may need to sacrifice much if not all of what we have previously held as valuable, but if one life comes to Christ as a result, any sacrifice was more than worth the cost.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.

Deuteronomy 30: 19, 20a

 

God made an agreement, a covenant, with people. He promised that there was a way to enter into a relationship with Him in this life and that this same course would lead to an eternal existence in the presence of God. In this passage Moses is reminding us of God’s side of that agreement, and he does this by indicating that all of Creation stands as witness to it. In other words, Moses is saying that we can try to escape the reality and the truth of where and of how life is gained, but we will be going against the testimony of God’s mighty and universal great cloud of witnesses. Like all contracts, God’s covenant of life is not unilateral. The Lord gives to us; yet, His granting of this gift is in answer to our response to Him. God gives us all, and He desires that we would surrender all to Him.

 

Still, this surrender and acceptance is ours to choose. God lays before all people the opportunity to select life. He makes the knowledge of Him and of His righteous way known to us all. Then the Lord allows people to make the decision to follow Him or to reject Him. There is no middle ground; no alternate path that leads to real life in this world and to that thing that we call eternal life. That is, an existence that has no end which is carried forth in the presence of all that is life, God Himself. I do believe that once we have made the decision to surrender to God by accepting all that He is, which means accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord, that there is no possibility of living and of thinking our way out of this relationship with God. It is also true that only God is the judge of our lives and of the status of that eternal relationship.

 

The other part of this contract that God has entered into with us, in reality it is functionally the first part of it, involves the way that we live every day of our earthly lives. True life is found in and by our journey through our days with Christ. He makes love, peace, understanding, wisdom, and mercy real to us. These are qualities and characteristics that are intrinsically part of who God is, and they are among the most important aspects of life that we all desire. Love does not mean that we are surrounded by the adoration of people; it is a deep-seated feeling and belief that we are valued and cared about by God. The absence of conflict is not peace; rather, it settles inside of our hearts and minds and allows us to be whole, calm, and rational in the face of the most intense times of struggle and strife. Understanding and wisdom go together, and these are conditions of our minds and of our spirits that come directly from God through His Word, the fellowship of His Body, and by the revelation of Christ’s Spirit. Finally, mercy is that other-focused quality that takes us out of our natural, human bent to self protection and grants to us the blessing of touching people who have been injured and damaged by life on this harsh, alien planet with the same love and grace of Christ that we have received. This is life!

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he has already seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8: 24, 25

 

This may seem ridiculous or even crazy in our world, but there is a lot to hope for today. Now, think about that for a moment. If Paul is right in his perspective on God’s view of what hope is all about, then the more challenging or troubling the situation or circumstance, the more we have to hope for in the midst of it. Hope is based upon trust and faith. That is, it is founded upon our trust in God and anticipated through our faith in His character and commitment to creation and to His people. God has promised to set all of creation right at the end of days, and Christ came to set each of us right with God in these days of our earthly lives. In addition, God grants each of His people, those who know Christ, the authority and the capacity to do restorative work in our world during this life.

 

There is much to hope for in all of that. The hope that arises out of knowing Christ is sufficient to make each new dawn a bright and glorious one in anticipation of that day’s journey and of the events that will come along the way. The hope that Christ provides to the heart is of a nature that it transcends all that is known about the hours to come. It can overtake and subdue any fears and troubles that lie out there in the near or in the distant future. This hope that comes from Christ is made fresh each day in us by engaging with Him in God’s Word and in prayer and by the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us. Hope is a tangible outworking of the new person that Christ has created out of the one that we were from birth.

 

Now, in Christ, we can travel the road that life has given to us with renewed vision and invigorated steps. We can leave behind the old songs of slavery and the thinking of the lost and stride out with a hymn of salvation on our lips and a mind that is filled with love, grace, and the righteous truth of the Gospel of Christ. Christ has given to each of us the hours of this day. We can fill them with His presence regardless of what they may hold. The hope that followers of Christ can bring to the world that we encounter is a testimony to our Lord, and it can be the strength that we require to walk the steps that Christ has given to us for this day.

If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 1: 19, 20

 

Life is filled with choices. Many of them have minimal impact on our lives and on those of others. Some can alter everything. We may not always think about this, but we do, in fact, choose the voices that we listen to when it comes to our foundational and fundamental moral and ethical basis for life. Each of us is shaped by the ideas that we allow into our minds. We are formed by the ways of thinking and processing information that we embrace. The basic allegiance of our hearts and the way that people view us is shaped by who and what we grant access to those hearts, and this is the most vital of all of our choices.

 

God wants us to take in His Word and to hear His voice above all else. There is nothing else; no other written source, no other speaker, and no interpretation of those truths; that can lead us to thinking and to acting as God calls His people to do. Everything else needs to be subordinated to God’s Word, and all that we do needs to be engaged with total commitment to obedience and submission to God’s will. Otherwise there are terrible consequences to be endured. God is gracious, forgiving, and patient, but He does call a stop to our deliberate and willful wandering. He will not allow us to live as a sinful and disobedient people in an unchecked manner. The Lord promises that there will be a day of judgment. He also tells us quite clearly that His justice and judgment will be poured out on this world before that day.

 

We get to make the choice. We can listen to God, obey His Word, and follow Christ. We can also turn up the volume on the voices of this world, plug in our headphones to conceal the noise that the sounds of oppression and death fill our air with, and we can allow our hearts to be infused with self-glorifying images and ideas. However, this later course is that of death. In it our souls are made lifeless, and our world losses the love, mercy, and righteous voice of one more of God’s people. Alternatively, we can choose to make our next breath one that is filled with the holy presence of the Lord, and we can take our next step in willing obedience to His perfect will. Christ is present, we must choose.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

2 Peter 3: 14

 

We live in a time that might be called The Day of the World or perhaps The Day of Man. You see, the conditions that exist for us today are ones that we have made for ourselves. They are a reflection of the world that we humans have desired for ourselves since the first people defied God and moved themselves and everyone since out of dwelling in God’s perfect shalom and into the violent brokenness that is our home. We need to own what our hands have created, and we must accept the fact of the chaos that is the product of our industry. Yet, in stark contrast to all of this stands God.

 

The Lord is not distant or disinterested in our world. He is very engaged in it and with us. Even with those first people and their almost unimaginable rejection of God’s truth in favor of the temporary image of being like God, the Lord poured out grace and mercy on them. So He continues to do this for all people to this day. God had promised to bring about the purification and the restoration of His Creation. In Christ He provided the means for each and every person on the earth to be a participant in this restorative work. This is what Christ does in and for everyone who sets aside our inherited and false god-likeness and yields our self to the one true and eternal Savior and Lord, that is, Christ.

 

So, as we await that day when Christ will come, and God’s plan for the cleansing away of the evil that is sin in our world, we have choices to make. We can determine to live our lives in a manner that honors God and that follows Christ. We can do this absolutely or we can set out conditions and circumstances for our commitment to God. Most of us land somewhere in the camp of people who do hold back some things and parts of ourselves. Yet, God wants all of us, and He wants us to seek Him always. The standard that Peter sets for us in being found by Christ to be “without spot or blemish” is impossible to achieve. We all sin, and we all fall short of that righteous glory that is Christ. Yet, the One whose blood cleanses us absolutely is also the One who pronounces us holy and fit for God’s presence. Thus we can live in our imperfection yet diligently seek Christ and His will while resting in that perfect peace, the eternal shalom, that is found only in the presence of God.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91: 1

 

Where do you choose to live? What is the neighborhood like, and how do its inhabitants hold their relationships with God? We don’t always get to select exactly where our home is located or what kind of neighbors we will have, but that doesn’t mean that we have to conform to all of the lifestyle choices that they make. Still, we do get to determine the sorts of input, advice, and direction that we follow, and we can become an influence on the world around us through those decisions.

 

The residence that matters most is the one where we place our hearts and minds. God wants to take us into His place of comfort, protection, and nourishment. He has prepared a warm and satisfying spot at His side for us to stay throughout our life’s journey, and the Lord works continually to fill each of His children with all of the truth, wisdom, and knowledge that we will need to travel through the day. In this place there are found peace for the spirit, strength for the journey, and direction for our daily mission. It is here that we get to know our God deeply and to know our true selves well.

 

All of the instruction that we will need to take up residence with the Lord is found in His Word. He also provides all of the help and support that we require to do the heavy lifting to get settled in there. God asks us to make an on-going, daily decision that we will stay close to Him and that we will seek to bring others into the shelter of His love. As we choose to live in this close relationship with our Lord, we will spread the shadow of His loving provision over our physical neighborhoods. Thus, Christ works to change the world around us.

 

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