September 2016

Just so, I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15: 7


Jesus was not normal. He lived in a manner and He did things that were not the sorts of things that followers of God did in His culture. He was a relational risk taker who not only interacted with the worst of sinners in His society but who actually sought them out. Jesus went where they lived, and He mixed with them in close personal contact. Now Christ certainly did preach the gospel of repentance and of restoration to relationship with God, but He did this from a platform of friendship and from a place of demonstrated loving care and interest in the way that other people thought and what they felt. Jesus was completely confident in His relationship with the Father, and because of this, He had little to no concern for what people thought about Him as it related to His following of cultural righteousness.


Instead, Jesus loved people. He cared enough to go after them in the many places where they would go to hide out from God. This was a radical departure from what was normal in His world, for people were required to clean themselves up in order to be acceptable for admittance to the place of worship and they needed to come to God in order to engage in that worship. This is very different from the way that God desires to interact with us. He started out His engagement with people by walking with us along the paths of this world. He desired to do the same in the days of Jesus and that continues today. Christ walks through life with us. He wants to show us the grace and the love that God has for all people, and He seeks to lift us up out of the lostness of our sin and into the glory of God’s kingdom come.


When Jesus was telling this story about lost sheep, He made an interesting statement, “And when he has found it (the lost sheep), he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. (Vs. 5) This is Christ’s attitude toward each of us. When we are lost, He comes after us and then picks us up and carries us home with real joy in His heart. This is true for that day of initial salvation, and it is true for each of the episodes of wandering away from God’s righteousness that happen to almost everyone in life. There is no place that we can go and nothing that we can do that will keep Christ from His mission of rescue and redemption. Jesus is the shepherd for our souls and for the lives that we live. Christ is still not normal, and His love for all people is a powerful example of the restorative love that is the center of God’s heart.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

1 Peter 1: 3


The joy and the excitement of birth into new life are very rapidly replaced by the reality of death. We live only a few short years on this earth, and those years begin to be touched very early on by sin and the struggle against God and His way of truth that sin brings about. Its as if the air that we breathe in order to start life is a part of a subtly toxic atmosphere that will, over time, cause our souls to die. God not only knew this, but He responded to it. The poison that is present in this world was not a part of the creation handiwork of God. It came into being as the first people determined to defy God and strive to live independently of His will. The forbidden fruit was life when left on its tree, but its consumption poisoned the entire world.


Soon after this unfortunate eating, God’s mercy and His grace were vividly portrayed, for God did something that was extraordinary under the circumstances. He went after the shamed and concealed couple, and He called them into His presence where the Lord confronted them with the truth of their actions and also entered into the process for their redemption. This process is one that leads to the pouring out of that same redemptive grace upon me and upon anyone who desires to know God. Eve and Adam were granted the opportunity to live and to serve God through serving His purposes on this earth. We are granted that same merciful chance through the sacrificial death and the resurrection to life of Jesus Christ. We can enter into the redemption of our lives through this unimaginably great gift from God.


So, in Christ, you and I are made alive. We leave the death spiral that the toxic air of this world has caused, and we are granted the gift of new birth into an unending relationship with God. This new birth grants to us an eternity with God, and it also gives us a life of purpose for all of our remaining days. This opportunity to travel through life with God’s will as our guide and direction is as much a gift of His mercy and grace as is the eternal life that follows our days on the earth. I join with Peter in thanking God for the life that He has granted to me. I pray to Christ to show me His will for this day, this next hour, and even for the coming minutes. Christ has redeemed from death all of the time that I have in this life, and I desire to make each minute count as a blessing to Him.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

Ephesians 3: 14, 15


Some people come from very large families. When they decide that they will gather together, the planning can take years. Moving an army across the globe can require less in the way of planning and preparation than these reunions demand. Others come from families that are small enough that it would be hard to find enough players for a game of basketball at that reunion, even if skill or physical condition were not a factor. However, in Christ, we all are adopted into a new family. Our belief in Him brings about a change in our relational status in that God adopts us back into the relationship with Him that was God’s design and intent in Creation. Everyone who knows Christ is inter-related and connected together by virtue of Christ’s blood and through the agency of God’s grace.


Unfortunately, the thing that is on my mind as I consider the way that God has worked to restore our relationship with Him and to bring people from across the world and over time together in the common bond of family is just how poorly most of us actually function in this new family. We often put out great effort in our attempts to protect and to preserve ideas and beliefs that are secondary or are minor in comparison to the great foundational truths of God. People who claim to know Christ are too ready to seek out our differences as we build protective walls around church gatherings and stand pridefully atop a watchtower that is constructed out of doctrine. Yet, throughout history, defensive walls and towers have seldom survived the assault of a determined enemy. Make no mistake about it; Christ’s enemy in this world is very determined.


God’s desire for all people is that we would recognize Him as Lord and follow Him as our sovereign King. In so doing, we become a part of a great family of faith that spans the globe and that recognizes no differences and allows no room for superiority over other people. Our strength for the battle that is life in this world comes from our unity. We gain in our knowledge and our understanding of God as we share perspective and experience together. No human fully comprehends who God is and has a total grasp on His will. When we approach each other with hearts and minds that are open and yielded to the Spirit’s leading, we are likely to learn more of His will and to see a much bigger picture of God’s redemptive working in the lives of people. Like all gatherings of people who have not seen each other for long periods of time, there will be wariness and awkward moments at first. However, as Christ is our common bond, His Spirit will bring us together with understanding and acceptance. In Christ we are members of a great family whose name is God’s Children.


And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

2 John 6


Why is it that commanding someone to love seems so unloving? Yet that is what God is saying through the words of the Apostle John, and this is by no means the first time that the Lord has directed His people to love. In Deuteronomy we are so commanded, and Jesus restates that direction for us as He says, “The most important (commandment) is, ’Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12: 29, 30) Although God has been very clear on this point, most people have a really hard time following it. In fact, I know from my own life that there can be a certain perverse drive in us to do just about the opposite of what God and His Word direct us to do.


So, when it comes to following God’s commandments, many of us struggle and strain against the boundaries. We test the limits of God’s patience, and look to see just how far we can wander away from the center of our Lord’s stated will. In essence we are acting like a puppy on a leash by trying to determine just how far we can wander away from the path before our master brings us back into line with a sharp tug on the tether that is attached to us. Although God does provide limits and boundaries for us, and He is engaged in protecting us in this world, His desire is for the relationship between us to be different than a power, control and dominance model. Christ is engaging in life with us out of His love for us. He desires that we would follow God’s commandments because of the same motivation.


God loves us. He loves all people and all of His creation with a depth and a passion that sets the definition of the concept that is love. When He instructs us to think, to act, and to behave in a certain manner, His motivation is to bring all people into relationship with each other and with Him. Likewise, when the Lord tells us to care for the natural world where we live, He does so in order for us to provide for the needs of people regardless of their natural relationship to us. This care and nurture is a form of expression of love for the Creator of it all just as the presence of such a great wealth of resources is a way that God has demonstrated His loving care and provision for us. So, as God does love us, He desires that we would love Him and engage in that love by following His will in all aspects of life.



The circumference of the city shall be 18,000 cubits. And the name of the city from that time on shall be, “The LORD is There.”

Ezekiel 48: 35


Ezekiel makes this statement at the end of eight chapters of description of the new temple in Jerusalem and of the way that temple life is to be conducted in that center of a redeemed kingdom. Somehow, I think that God was not nearly as concerned about the five miles plus of the circumference as He was about the second half of this final prophetic utterance. This is what most Christians say that we desire today. We desire to live in a redeemed city, which is within a reformed nation, which is situated in a world turned toward God. The general climate around us makes it clear that these ideas and wishes are more fantasy than reality, and this seems to be true regardless of where on earth we live. Our world has abandoned God as its center, and it seems to have lost its way back to Him in this process of deeming the Lord to be irrelevant and unnecessary.


So, if dwelling in a place where this visionary dream is true is my own desire, what does that mean for me? It would seem that it requires me to stop living as I have always done it. By that I mean in the center of comfort and personal safety. There is little about the work of redemption that is easy or that brings about comfort, for it is the work of Christ in our world. Engaging in this process with its seemingly endless struggles and on-going animosities is not for the faint of heart. It requires courage, wisdom, and commitment at levels that I do not possess myself. The strength of character and the resources that I need to follow the Lord’s redemptive path into the world are found only through my submission to Christ and in the relationship with Him that results from that surrender to Him.


If my daily travels are to be along paths that are named in honor of Christ, then I need to recognize the fact that all of the terrain and territory of this earth are, in fact, His already. Every step that I take during each hour of my life falls upon the Lord’s holy ground. That attitude of reverence brings about a realization that all that I do is a part of being a follower of Christ, and every interaction that I engage is a moment when Christ is there. Thus, I do have opportunity upon opportunity to join my Lord in His work of redemption in this world where He has placed me. The Lord is truly there in this place, and my journey here is a small part of His grand and glorious plan for redemption of this world.


Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to Him through God the Father.

Colossians 3: 17


This very thought can change the way that we live our lives. For me, I know that it can be a true game changer; for, I have to admit that there are a lot of things that I do and many of the thoughts that I have that are done in the name of getting it done or for the sake of getting what I want. In fact, when I consider my day-to-day life, there is relatively little that actually looks like it is done for the glory of God, and there is a lot that is just done.


The change that adopting this attitude requires is simple yet profound. It is simple in that as children of the living God we have the Spirit of Christ living within us; so, we already have Christ’s understanding and guidance to rely upon, and we have the Spirit to reveal God’s will and His heart and mind to us. Thus, God’s way of viewing our day is something that we can access directly, personally, and continually. There is literally nothing that we will be required to think about or to do that the Lord is not a party to and a part of. However, the rub in making this a personal reality is found in my own will, for I still need to seek God’s heart and mind and be willing to make it my priority in everything. Frankly, I am not there yet.


The good news is that God knows exactly where I am. He continues to demonstrate loving patience, grace, and a commitment to working in and with me in order to bring about the change that is required for me to grow to this desired outcome of functioning fully as a child of God. In the meantime, I can recognize my desire to turn over more of my own heart and mind to the Lord, I can identify and specifically surrender relationships and situations to Christ, and I can plan to seek out His will and attitude in every potentially difficult moment of my day. This desire to make Christ the center of my day, which then places me in the background, is fulfilled through prayer and in expressions of thanks to the Lord wherein I recognize the presence and the importance of Christ in every detail of my life.


He will not grow faint or be discouraged

till He has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for His law.

Isaiah 42: 4


There is no way around the fact that justice is hard work. If you were to talk with anyone who sits in the seat of a judge in a court anywhere in the world, that judge would tell you that they earn their pay every day that they work. Remaining true to the law; assessing the guilt or innocence of people who are usually to some degree both; establishing responsibility and culpability; and rendering judgments that are fair and equitable are daunting and often contradictory tasks. In our world, establishing justice not only requires all of this effort but it also is done in the war zone of conflict and active opposition from Satan. Satan hates justice just as he hates God. So, he opposes justice; for, the establishment of justice solidifies our perception of God’s position of authority in our world.


The idea of justice that is on view here in Isaiah and elsewhere in the bible is a complex and a multi-faceted one. It involves the idea of the courtroom type of setting that Isaiah has just described in which the reality of the fact that there is one and only one true God has been irrefutably determined. It then conveys the fact that God’s truth is the foundation upon which all of His Creation stands. It is His revealed truth that forms the only valid basis for the law that is our framework for living righteously, and this revelation is completed and fully empowered in Christ. Finally and only through the agency of Christ and through the work of His Spirit as present in our world and resident in the hearts of His followers, the injustice and the wrongful harm that sin has caused in the people of this world and in the rest of God’s perfect creation can be repaired.


This is the work of bringing justice into our world. It is the natural consequence of bringing Christ into those places of darkness and loss where evil dwells. Justice becomes apparent as we bring His grace, mercy, and love to bear on situations where intolerance, oppression, and fear rule the day. Like Christ, Himself, we will face strong opposition when we seek to do this. Satan does not give back territory willingly. Yet, if we believe the Prophet’s words and accept the fact that God sent His Christ to establish justice in this world, then we also must recognize our role and responsibility in continuing to do as our Lord has done. Christ calls all of His followers to continue in the mission of making His presence, truth, and righteousness known in the entire world. Christ will provide each of us with all of the wisdom, strength, and encouragement that we will need to follow the hard road of establishing justice.



All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5: 18, 19


It is hard to not become engaged with stories of reconciliation. We hear about an incredible journey that a lost cat or dog has taken to find its way home, and we are filled with emotion. Accounts of children given for adoption and finding their birth mother as adults are powerful, and the times when estranged or even divorced married couples are brought back together carry a very special touch of God’s grace within their narratives. Perhaps the most striking tale of reconciliation comes about in Luke’s telling of the restoration of the relationship between son and father in what we know as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, the Bible contains an even greater and more powerful story of separation, loss, and God’s work of reconciliation. Its entire narrative from beginning to the very end is one long accounting of God’s unending and successful pursuit of people.


In knowing Christ, people are brought back into a relationship with God that is our true natural state of existence. Living in intimacy with God is the way that humanity was designed and created to be. However, much like that impulsive puppy who runs off from the care and the safety of its owner while chasing a squirrel we have broken away from God through rebellion, and we have taken ourselves out of the peace and provision that in this world come only from the heart of God. Yet, Christ does not leave us there in the lost state of spiritual and physical separation from God. He reaches into our orphaned hearts and gives us the gift of a place within the eternal family of God’s children. Just as these stories about the reconciliation of human relationships come from every aspect of humanity. So too does Christ’s work of reconciliation apply to any and to all people in the world.


This story of reconciliation doesn’t stop with Christ’s bringing of people back into relationship with God. It continues on from there in a manner that is intended by God to be the true never-ending story of our age. Christ desires for each of us who know Him to go out into our world and think, speak, and live in a manner that continues this narrative of reconciliation. In Christ our lives are to be dedicated to the same purpose that God has set forth for Himself from that time long ago in distant history. We are to be people who bring the grace of heaven into a harsh and a violent world. Christ takes us along a path that leads out of comfort and personal safety and into the wilderness places where lost souls go to escape God’s view. Yet, this journey of faith with its discomforts and dangers is one that leads all who take it ever deeper into the heart of God.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12: 51


I must admit that I don’t frequently think of Jesus in this manner. Now, I am long past those Sunday school images of the kind faced, soft bearded young European man who was carrying a lamb on His shoulders. The Jesus that I have encountered in God’s Word and in life is strong, wise, all knowing, merciful, and has a nature that is subtle and nuanced and ranges from the darkness of wrath to the light of glory. So, encountering the divisive Christ should not surprise or even startle me. Yet it does. The Christ of my usual thoughts is the reconciler of humanity to God and of people to each other. However, in this instance, I think that Jesus is actually talking about that very thing with these words of stern warning.


God demands certain things from us. We are to live in a manner that reflects Him in this world, and we are to do this because we know and respect Him. In order to gain these relational characteristics of knowledge and respect we are required to submit ourselves in total to God through Jesus Christ. This is a point of division among people. We have never been good at submission. Almost no one wants to give up our sense of complete freedom of choice in order to follow the will of another, and this remains true even when that other is God, Himself. But God does require this. In Christ, He was also willing to suffer and to take the pain of the penalty for sin upon Himself in complete obedience to the Father’s will, and in this suffering, death, and resurrection we also find a point of division in our world.


We want a King who sits in regal splendor in our world and who grants us a place of power, authority, and ease at His side. We dream of a time and a place where the royal command of our world’s ruler will remove all of our discomfort and loss. Yet, that is not the world where we live, and this is not the way that God has ordered things in His Creation. As we follow Christ we enter into the division that He causes. By virtue of allegiance to Christ we are separated from other people, and the only way for this division to be resolved is by and through a common bond with Christ. For followers of Christ, this tension and the rejection of others is something that we need to understand and accept as an on-going aspect of life. Yet, we, like Christ, do not need to settle into acceptance of separation, for we can join Him in seeking to know and to love the very people with whom our relationship with Christ has caused division.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14


Just to be clear, Paul is talking about Christ as the one who causes and is peace for us, and those who were divided are Jews and gentiles. Although Paul was looking at his Greek and Roman region when he speaks about gentiles, I believe that he knew that Christ’s work of reconciliation was effective among peoples from all across the world. In Christ we are all either a part of the family of God’s chosen people or we are not; so, in the sense that is being discussed, we are all either Jews or gentiles. Nothing in our earthly make-up can change that. Our DNA, nationality, language, and history are of no significance in determining our relationship to God and so, in light of knowing Christ, to one another.


Still, peace is a really big thing to consider. To be at peace means that I am settled, not engaged in conflict, resolved and actively in relationship with others. All of this applies to God and me and our relationship, and it speaks to how I view the world around me and myself, too. This sort of deep, internal peace in people is the way that God designed our world to be. We lived day-by-day in harmonious and close interaction with our Creator and with each other. All of the strife, anger, and hostility that exist in our world are the result of the brokenness, the separation, that sin has caused to exist between people and God and between us. When we rebelled against God, we began to construct walls of division, and that massive building project continues unchecked to this day.


Christ is the only answer that exists to this human drive toward conflict and its attendant pain. In Christ and through the work of His Spirit in us we are restored toward God’s original design of hearts and souls that are truly at peace. It is the peace of Christ that opens us up to understanding people who are different from us and to entering into the risky environment of relationship with them. This same peace permits us to live in an unsettled world, for it takes us deeply into trusting the Lord for the care, provision, and security that we require in order to walk confidently through each of our days. The peace that Christ brings to my heart leads me to see others as He does, and that same peace leads me toward others with the desire to share its blessing with each of them.

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