October 2016


You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2: 9

 

Taking pride in the nation of our origin or in the one where we live is something that most people are taught from an early age. We become citizens, and that single word conveys a very wide range of benefits, responsibilities, and affiliations. Sometimes this idea of nation takes on the sort of zeal and boosterism that would normally be reserved for sports teams. We cheer it on, its faults and shortcomings are impossible to see, we support it regardless of its actions, and we are ready to sacrifice all for its causes. Yet, when the nation is being described as holy, it seems that Peter cannot be describing anything that is even remotely similar to the sorts of geopolitical entities that we call nation in our world today.

 

There are no holy nations; not one. Each and every one of them exists to serve its own purposes and to promote its own causes. All of the nations, countries, and states that exist on earth owe and pay their highest allegiance to their foundational documents and to the ruling officials that those documents set over their governance. In no case are God and His Word placed in that position of true primary and ultimate authority. So, Peter must have something in mind other than the nations of his time or the ones that have followed in history when he refers to the men and women who follow Christ as a great nation. I believe that he is saying that God has called all people who know Him to a form of allegiance that is higher and greater than our earthly citizenship or physical residency. In fact, God has called us to live in the light of His truth, love, and mercy so that the light of God’s glory will illuminate the lands where we reside.

 

Our primary loyalty must be to God and to His Christ. The document that frames our rule of life needs to be God’s Word. When that holy document sets out a course of travel through life and the Holy Spirit directs us to follow, we have no righteous choice but to do so. When that course is contrary to the dictates and the mandates of the rulers of our land or to the laws that they enact; we are compelled to speak out, to stand up and be known, and to work to change the unrighteous path that our nation has elected to follow. If change does not follow, we must seek to change the people who are in power and we must work diligently to remove or to modify the unrighteous laws. There is great strength to be found in the multitude of those who God knows as His chosen people. However, we need to recognize our common bond that is found in our blood of Christ kinship. As we stop defending national borders and stand firm in our true nationhood under God, the light of His righteousness will illuminate darkened corners of our world.

And say to him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.

Isaiah 7: 4

 

This message is the one that the Lord instructed the prophet Isaiah to deliver to King Ahaz of Judah. Now, from my way of seeing things this was truly a strange thing to say to a king, even if it is said at the direct instruction of God. Kings don’t stay in power if they are rash, jittery, fearful, and have weak spirits; yet, those are the issues that this king was to be confronted with. This makes me wonder about our world today and the message that God might send to its leaders. Would He commend them for their clear vision and righteous decisions, or would His words be ones of correction, redirection, and even rebuke?

 

So, in light of this subject, it seems worthwhile to consider our leaders today in contrast with those that we see portrayed in the Bible. God’s Word tells us that leaders of nations and I would submit, in other important areas of life are put there in conformity with God’s will. Throughout history people have been granted leaders who seem to match the nature and the character that the various constituencies desired. We get what we ask for. And throughout this long history, there have been very few, if any, leaders who measured up to the standard of righteousness, justice, and peacemaking that is God’s clearly expressed desire for the conduct of life in this world.

 

So, if I were Isaiah and God were to tell me to go and deliver His word of instruction to a significant leader, what words would the Lord give to me to say? Somehow, I don’t think that they would have changed much over the course of these 2,700 plus years since Isaiah’s conversation with Ahaz. In our world it takes careful consideration, clear vision, courage, and strength of character to set aside reliance upon the means and the methods that human tradition and practice set out as the tools of power, control, and pride. Yet, this is what God tells all of His people to do. We are to stop relying upon ourselves and upon these tools of conquest and of oppression in order to enter into the true peace of God’s Kingdom. Thus, I think that God is saying that I and all of His people need to speak up and tell out leaders to enter into the courageous process of following God and seeking to know His will as they walk in His ways.

 

 

What shall we say then? “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”

Romans 9: 14

 

It seems easy to cast blame onto God, for there is much that is wrong in our world. A God who is truly sovereign over it all and who has the power to do something about it certainly would not let the evil of our days continue, would He? These are the sorts of thoughts that go through the minds of most people at some time, for it seems to me that it is much easier to blame God for what is wrong than it is to accept my own participatory ownership in it all. However, my personal experience with that same God and observation of what His character is truly like tell me that blaming God points the accusatory finger in exactly the wrong direction.

 

The nature of the God that I have come to know is righteous. This means that He is wholly separate from the sinfulness, the brokenness, of our world. All of this anger, violence, and self-serving action that characterize the daily struggle to exist here are generated by people in thoughts and actions that are created in our own hearts in opposition to God’s will, His Word, and His original creative design intent. We are the ones whose lives are framed in by an injustice that is the embodiment of unrighteousness. We humans seem to work hard at separating ourselves from God and thus from all that is good, just, and loving; we move away from all that is righteous.

 

This is not how we must continue to live. Christ is here with us in order to change all of that. He brings the righteousness of God into the reach of each of us. He bridges the enormous gulf that exists between the Lord and our sinful hearts so that anyone who desires to exist in the presence of the holy can, in fact, do so here and now. In this way God’s justice is, in fact, redemptive. The just God invites each of us to depart from our unrighteous existences through acceptance of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us so that we are then transformed into beings that are known to God as His beloved children. This is the nature of the truly just God that I have come to know. He has taken my sinful and broken life and, in Christ, continually works to transform me into a person who lives out the justice, the righteousness, that is the Lord’s desire, will, and nature.

Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed.

1 Chronicles 22: 13

 

If you become a perfect follower of all of the rules that exist for living rightly in God’s eyes, you will be blessed with all of the riches and the wealth that your mind can imagine. That is a very interesting idea. It is also both a total myth and a very dangerous trap. Some people try to tell us that God promises a wealth of possessions, money, and even fame to people who trust Him enough and who do not deviate from His will. But I simply don’t see those ideas on display anywhere in God’s Word. That is certainly not what David was sharing with his son Solomon in this passage. David was leaving a legacy of money, power, and immediate international fame; so, Solomon didn’t need to gain those through any form of Godly blessing.

 

Instead, David was concerned about passing along the hard lessons that he had learned through a life that had been lived in and out of God’s will. These were lessons about life that had caused David great pain and sorrow and that also found him dwelling in the presence of the Lord as David’s every real need was met by his Savior. David knew that strength and courage were not things that he could generate on his own. Even as a physically powerful youth he had gained much by yielding all of his control to the God who loved him and who was sovereign over everything and everyone on the earth. In order to follow God by living out the Lord’s directive to Moses, to Joshua, and to all of His people David and each of us need to surrender our fears and our apprehensions to God’s truth as found in His Word and as illuminated by His Spirit.

 

God is our only source of real strength, and Jesus is the example of what that strength looks like as applied to life in this world. He knew pain and sorrow, but Jesus was comforted by the Father. He became weary and the burdens of life were heavy; yet, Christ was granted strength in His spirit and out to His limbs as He surrendered the cares and the exhaustion to God’s gracious mercy and peace. As we follow Christ we probably will not know great earthly wealth or enjoy prominence among people; however, we can be prosperous beyond imagining. True abundance is found in the lives of others who are brought into Christ’s presence through the kindness, consideration, loving care, and healing touch of individuals and of communities who set aside rational fear and normal discouragement in order to love their enemies and care for the needs of the oppressed. This is living in prosperity. This is how Christ wants us to display strength and courage.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

The possession of strength is a popular idea. Most of us want it. Very few people actually seek to avoid it for themselves. Nations spend fortunes on the tools of war in order to achieve a form of strength that gives them superiority over their neighbors. Advertising and image building are generally designed so that companies and their products can gain an upper hand on the competition. It seems that this world even enters into a form of real worship around the altar of strength, power, domination, and control. Those bulging muscles and that powerful grip, whether seen on people or figuratively in other places, are the ideal that people aspire toward having. Strength, in the sense of control and might, is frequently the true goal for our lives.

 

Yet Christ did things differently during those years with us, and His Spirit speaks about a different sort of strength when He inspires people such as Paul to write down His words of life. This is a form of power that runs deep into the core of the person. It doesn’t need to be physically or visually demonstrated in order to exist. Instead, this Godly strength operates behind the manner and the way that people conduct themselves and engage in life. This is the way that Jesus lived. He was certainly strong and mighty; yet, His approach to most people was humble and open to hearing their stories and to engaging with their needs on both the practical, physical level and on the spiritual one. His strength came from that place deep within where the Spirit of God resided in Him and where He resides in His followers.

 

This same strength is what empowered Jesus to face into the terror of the final inquisition and its cross of torture with the peace of certainty and the resolve of God’s calling for Him. This was one of the pinnacle moments of the expression of God’s strength in this world. It came after that monumental outpouring of strength that was seen as He spoke the entire world into existence, and it stands in the middle of a continuum of the Lord’s narrative of ruling within the lives of people that is our current age. Then there will be that final great high peak when Christ returns and Creation id fully redeemed. So now, as we live in that ultimate middle time, Christ gives to His people the gift of strength. It is in the same form as that which took Christ to the cross. This is a humble and yielded form of power that enables self-sacrifice and that leads to denial of personal desire in order to love others with the same all-encompassing openness that Christ possesses. The strength that we require for life resides within, and all that we need of it is provided through and by Christ.

And have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Jude 22, 23

 

It is easy to think and to act in a superior manner. We say, “I know that what I believe is right, and I reject what others do as wrong.” God has set out His truth, and His Holy Scriptures backs up my understanding of it. This is a position that is somewhat the opposite of the one that continually moves, shifts, and redefines those Godly truths in terms that are comfortable and acceptable in today’s culture. Neither that compromised understanding of God’s righteousness nor this other overly zealous separation from others with its attendant attitude of superiority is how Christ desires for His people to live.

 

Our Lord calls upon us to engage with the people who disagree with our faith in Him. Christ demonstrated in His life and instructs us to love even those who aggressively oppose our beliefs. We are to have mercy on people who do not know Christ, for they are living outside of the blessings and the hope that are gained through that relationship with the Lord. This attitude of mercy should work to slow our natural drive toward judgment; and thus, it prepares our minds and our hearts to listen well so that we can hear their stories and enter into walking through life with them in the manner that Christ does with each of us.

 

There are no promises that any of this will be easy. There will be times when we need to be honest, direct, and even confrontational in the process of living out our faith and in bringing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into this world. Even when we show great mercy, patience, and care some people will reject our faith in Christ and us. There will be people who will do so in ways that are emotionally or physically painful. Despite the hardships and the rejection that we may encounter, we are called by Christ to continue to follow Him in loving people well while speaking and living out the truth of His righteousness that leads to salvation for the body and the soul.

And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isaiah 6: 3

 

The Seraphim speaks, and from that place close to the throne of God profound truth pours forth. As Isaiah tells about what he saw in that great vision of the Lord, we are informed regarding important aspects of the fundamental reality where we dwell as followers of Christ. God truly rules this world. This is a season in the long history of Creation wherein Satan’s reign of evil has impact and retains the power that we humans unleashed into our world. But there are limits on his capacity and on his authority, and the time for him to have any influence at all is now quite short. Even at this moment, Satan’s gains are minimal in relationship to those of Christ.

 

Christ works in this world to bring people into the light of God’s saving truth and then into living the righteous life that comes out of that truth. He elevates us out of our natural and worldly habitat so that we now dwell in spirit in God’s holy place of righteousness, love, and grace. Yet, our feet are still attached to the dirt of this world, and our bodies reside within its borders. However, those borders are all encompassed by a greater boundary that is God’s kingdom. This is where God’s glory overcomes all that Satan’s evil attempts to bring about. In Christ, each of us is a citizen of this heavenly nation with full rights and responsibilities of that citizenship. We are free to live out the truth of God’s Word without concern for what others may think, say, or do. Yet, we are also responsible for living in the full expression of that word’s redemptive purpose.

 

This brings me to the point of Isaiah’s words for me today. The Lord was calling Isaiah out of living as a follower of the ways of his world and into that extraordinary realm of separateness that is God’s holiness, His purity and truth, while also sending Isaiah into that same world as a person who would live out that righteousness and speak the hope of redemption and restoration into a dying land. I think that Christ is calling upon me to do the same things. Christ’s purity and love bring my sinfulness into the bright light of exposure that leads to repentance while His grace forgives all of it. Then He, as He did with Isaiah, sends me into my world to live in a manner that brings the presence of God’s glory into the lives of others.

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