January 2017


And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11: 6

 

This past weekend we worked on taking down the last of our Christmas decorations. I know, it is already a month after Christmas and Saint Valentine’s Day is the theme around most of our neighborhood; in truth, winter and its snowy vistas are the real theme in my world this year. One of the last décor items to go back into storage for next year is a little wooden sign that has been hanging on the outside of our house near the front door. It reads, “Wise men still seek Him.” We know that it is a reference to the coming of those eastern mystics and astronomers that God specifically called to come to meet their newborn king and the savior of their souls. These were learned men. They studied the heavens for its signs and they searched their world in order to gain its wisdom and to understand the truths that God had implanted in it from the dawn of creation. Now they traveled a great distance on nothing more than faith in order to meet the person who was the greatest advent in all of history.

 

God sought them out, and He presented to them a message that required the utilization of all of their wisdom to comprehend and to interpret. Yet, acting upon that knowledge was not an act of intellect alone, for critical thinking would tend to lead to the rejection of this strange and wondrous idea of God come to dwell with people as one of us in order to bring all who would believe into a restored relationship with our Creator. This idea is too wild and impossible to act upon, and these societally well-placed and highly regarded Iranian or Iraqi scholars would be risking much to follow the prompts in the heavens in pursuit of Daniel’s prophesy about Messiah. Yet God called to them, and their faith in the reality of His existence and in the relationship that He desires to have with each person on this earth led them to pack up and set out along the hard road of discovery that took them to the deep humility of submission to the singular Great King of the Universe.

 

God called these men from a foreign land with their strange language and different customs out of their ancient religious practices, beliefs, and understanding into the presence of Christ. They were truly wise in that they did not allow any of those strong traditions and long-held beliefs to keep them from coming to that place and time for their encounter with God, Himself. This same sort of wisdom when combined with faith is what leads each of us to turn from the life that we have been leading and the culture that is supporting it and to come to Christ. For some people this is a new journey, and it leads them away from the comfort of old practices and associations and into the new dawn of life that reflects eternity. For everyone who does know Christ, regardless of whether that relationship is newly formed or life-long in duration, we are still called to seek out Christ as we surrender more and more of ourselves and our old ways of thinking and acting to God’s ancient will and desire for peace on this earth and for reconciliation with all of its inhabitants.

The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Isaiah 32: 17

 

It seems to me that there is a very wide spread misunderstanding of righteousness in our world. When righteousness is mentioned many people quickly envision a scene where there are individuals who are red-faced with anger shouting and waving signs of condemnation. Even if they have never actually encountered such a scene, the images of them have been portrayed so extensively for our viewing that they have created a lasting impression. It is, at least in part, this sort of misguided sense of righteousness that has caused division and hurt in many churches throughout history, and this same failure to understand God’s view of righteousness has fueled the energy behind far too many damaging attacks on people and their beliefs that are carried out in the name of God.

 

I would submit that God does not actually hold a view of righteousness. It is not something that is external. There is no force of nature or other influence that can bend, turn, or reshape righteousness. Rather, God is righteousness, for He is its author and its only true source. It is who He is. If we think that this foundational concept of living in a manner that is right with God and that is in total conformity with His will is worthwhile and desirous, then we must look to the author, Himself, for the knowledge and the understanding that makes the necessary personal transformation possible. God’s Word is filled with descriptions of the complex blend of characteristics that make up righteous living. In His dealings with humanity God has employed love, grace, mercy, justice, holiness, and wisdom in order to interact with us in a righteous manner. He leads us into doing the same in every aspect of life.

 

If we truly desire peace, especially the sort of peace that is deeply rooted in our souls and that is not easily shaken by the events of life; we need to dwell near its source, which is righteousness. So, it is essential that we claim property, build our homes, and establish our communities at God’s feet and fully in His presence. This is both a literal and spiritual location. It is spiritual in the sense that righteous living begins with a relationship with Christ, that wisdom and guidance are continually provided by the Holy Spirit, and that, in Christ, we are now citizens of the unseen but very real Kingdom of God. This location is literal by virtue of the community of faith that God desires for us to actively engage with. It is also made tangible by the way that we interact with and respond to our culture, for Christ calls us to function as living and breathing, image of God revealing citizens of our world. When we trust God enough to allow righteousness to reign in our hearts and minds, we will know the sort of peace that establishes a confident quietness in our souls.

 

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!

Jonah 2: 9

 

This is the final statement from Jonah’s fish-bound cry to the Lord for mercy and for saving. These are the words of his foxhole prayer or his deathbed confession of faith as the rhythmic beating of the grim angel’s wings is filling his ears with the reality of eternity. We also know that Jonah did not really do very well in following through with the commitment that he is expressing at this moment. Yet, even with his weaknesses, his conditional performance of God’s will, and the fact that God already knew who Jonah was and how he would respond to God’s calling for his life, the Lord was faithful to save our fishy friend and to continue to send him out to do God’s work in their world. Jonah has always been a very personal biblical character to me, and his words of repentance and commitment ring as true in ways that speak to my heart.

 

When I look at the life that I have and consider the many steps of that journey, I can readily see God’s hand at work in so many of them. In days of blessing and in those where trials were the theme He has been present. I have not always been willing to listen to His voice, and my heart has certainly not been consistently true. Yet, from the perspective of this place in my life, the most consistent and tangible influence, guiding force, and protective covering that I observe is what the Lord has provided. So, God does ask for me to sacrifice to Him. He continues to make these demands upon me to this day. The Lord wants me to give all that I have and all that I am to Him without reservation, holdback, or conditions. Christ gave beyond the measure of human comprehension to save me, and He desires for me to trust Him with control over the rest of my days.

 

This life of surrender and submission to Christ is the one that stays true to the calling of His cross upon me. There is pain in this journey, and there will be losses to accept that will be hard to endure, However, there is also peace to be found in the process of traveling in close proximity to Christ’s will, and real joy is encountered when my Lord works through my hands to bring others into the knowledge of His saving grace. For Jonah the Lord’s salvation was tangible and real, but the important work of saving was still to come by virtue of what Jonah did with his knowledge and experience of God’s grace, mercy, and love. I can look back over my life and appreciate the Lord’s presence and gracious work with words of thanksgiving, but my Lord desires for me to express myself by my actions and in my open declaration of His love, grace, mercy, and peace. Christ has saved me and set me free to serve Him, and my life belongs to the Lord!

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!

Romans 11: 33

 

We humans like to engage in the debate, to reason things out, and to consider and reconsider our fundamental truths. God made our minds to be facile and flexible, and he granted us the right and the capacity to make decisions about almost everything that we might encounter in this world. This was true from the first breath of the first human, and it continues to be the case after thousands of years of our species’ walk upon this earth. Yet, there are limits to our ability to shape and define the truths that govern our days. God did not grant us the right to redefine Him, and He also set out His nature and will in terms that have long-standing definition in His Word. There are ways that people can choose to live and things that we can do that are inside of God’s will, and we call this way of life righteousness. There are other responses to our journeys through life that divert from God’s way and that follow a path of our own design and selection and God sees these as rebellious and sinful.

 

Everyone faces the conjunction of these two paths on numerous occasions during our days. Many of the decisions that we make are very small, but some of them are truly monumental. The greatest one that all people face is the one wherein we choose to follow Christ or to reject Him. All else, in fact, follows along after that point of decision. Yet, once we elect to submit ourselves to Christ and so to enter into a relationship with God, we have merely begun the process of making decisions regarding our will and continued submission to Christ’s way of living. There comes a point in that ongoing process of choosing to follow God’s Word that each of us needs to decide to simply accept the fact that there are truths contained within it that make us uncomfortable, that challenge our person desires, and that may alienate us from others in our world. Still, God’s truth is foundational to true life, and our acceptance of all of it will require each follower of Christ to submit ourselves to Christ and to accept His will and way on the basis of faith alone.

 

However, it is faith that brings us to this place of engagement with the deep mysteries of creation. Acceptance and belief in God the Father who created all that is, His Son Jesus the Christ who grants us our true life, and the third person of our mystically triune God, the Holy Spirit who speaks to our minds and our hearts on a continual basis is the greatest act of faith that any person can enter into. So, as we proceed along with our own journeys of faith, we walk in the light of God’s truth and within the pleasure of His will so long as we continue to submit ourselves to His Word and the leading of His Spirit. In doing this there is ample room for curiosity, questioning, and exploration; however, each of these God given human qualities reaches a point of termination when moving forward with our own thinking requires us to change the meaning and the intent of God’s Word of truth. In this there are certain basic terms and qualities that must define and describe the way that we conduct ourselves in our world. We are to be loving above all else, to be willing to sacrifice all for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, to seek justice for all, to embrace those who appear to be our enemies with the love of Christ, and we are to be strong enough in our Lord to rise above all of the noise and the debate of our world so that the one valid answer to all that is wrong is seen and heard in us. Thus we bring the unsearchable and the inscrutable nature and character of God into the view of a world that needs His healing grace above all else.

And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

1 Kings 19: 12

 

Sometimes I expect one thing when another comes along. This is often the case when I come to the way that God shows up in my life, and it certainly applies to the manner and even the method with which He speaks forth His truth and wisdom. Elijah was having a series of extremely bad days. He had taken a forceful stand for the Lord and for His righteousness, and that had caused the powerful people in the land to come after him with all of their might and with the fury of Hell behind the effort. Now Elijah was worn down and weary to the center of his soul. He was out in the desert with no one for companionship or support, and he had no resources to call upon and it seems as if there was no place to go that would be either safe or sympathetic to his need.

 

Yet, he was fed, and he had water to drink. He could find places to take shelter, and that was what he was doing on this fateful day. He had holed up in a cave, but the voice of the Lord came to him and told him to go out of his place of shelter and onto the mountain where he would be very exposed and vulnerable. I think that Elijah was reminded of all that the Lord had done in his presence and for him in the past, for he goes out into the open on that mountain. While he is up on that high place amazing things happen. First a strong wind comes up and tears at the rocks, then an earthquake shakes and shatters the ground, and a fire with its searing devastation follows this. Yet, the Lord was not found in any of these mighty signs. Elijah must have been truly puzzled and left wondering about the method of delivery and the timing of God’s message for him, as God was known to show Himself in all of these naturally occurring phenomena.

 

Then, as Elijah was looking out on the devastation that the wind, earthquake, and fire had surrounded him with and with the acrid smell of the smoke still filling his nose, there comes the voice of the Lord in the form of a quiet and calm whisper. Elijah and I are often taken off guard by the manner and the timing of God’s responses to our needs and wants. He is not predictable and I do not control the outcome of God’s engagement in my life, and I think that this is the point. The Lord is absolutely trustworthy, and He wants me to know this in my mind and live it out from my heart. God is with me in all of the aspects of my journey through this life, and He demonstrates His love, care, wisdom, and provision continually throughout my days. However, He also wants me to understand His presence and use that understanding as a means of growing in my relationship with Him. God is here with me at every moment of this day; so, my question remains, “Am I open to Him, willing to do as He asks, and listening for His voice?”

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the LORD surrounds his people,

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 125: 2

 

Mountains are impressive. When viewed from below their height can be magnificent on the one hand and rather frightening on the other. They provide welcome relief from the flatness that occupies large expanses of the earth’s surface, but for a traveler who is encountering it, a mountain range presents a sort of fearful obstacle to be overcome. They bring shelter from storms in some seasons and in others the fury of that weather seems to roll down their sides with the ferocity of a hungry wild beast. People have settled in mountain valleys for thousands of years because of the resources that are often available in the valley floor and on the slopes of the hills. Their slopes, whether steep sided or soft and rounded, provide us with a vista onto our world that feels like it is close to the one that God posses; yet, when we are standing there, our feet are still planted firmly on His creation.

 

God’s presence in our world can seem like all of these impressions of mountains. He is wondrous and also fearful. He grants to us the joy and the delight of living in this world, and He also challenges people with the lofty stature of His righteousness. The Lord protects us from the evil that rages in our world, but He also leads us into its dangerous places as we submit to Christ’s will and travel the roads that He takes us along. There are times in our lives when our Lord removes the hand of protection from us and from the world where we live so that we will turn from reliance upon its enchantments and return to a loving and fully committed relationship with Him. As we enter into an existence of worship with prayer, contemplation, and God’s Word forming the lyrics of our own life-hymns, we are transported by His Spirit out of the shadows of fear and doubt that attempt to engulf our hearts and minds and we are lifted up into a fuller appreciation of God’s eternal being.

 

The magnificent presence of the Lord is also warm and accessible. He enfolds His people in an embrace that stays engaged until the need is soothed and the heart is comforted. God is both mighty and intimate at the same time. He is the creator of all that exists, and He is the one who knows the smallest details of each of our lives. In Christ, He rejoined our journey along the roads of this world, and through Christ we are taken out of sin’s death and placed into the eternity of God’s Kingdom of love, grace, mercy, and peace. People go through life searching for a place to call home where their needs can be met; yet, Christ provides the answer to that desire. He brings us to a new dwelling place in the now and forevermore Kingdom of God where each of His people have purpose within Christ’s plan and enjoy the unending love that He pours out on us.

For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10: 3,4

 

There are numerous forms of ignorance. For example, I know very little about the mathematical calculations involved in space flight, and my mind is probably not wired to either seek out that knowledge or to retain it if I were exposed to it. I am ignorant of most of the languages that are spoken in our world; yet, could acquire the basic understanding needed to communicate to some degree in most of them if I chose to do so. My mind has the capability and the capacity to grasp the sounds and their meanings if I would open myself up to the process of learning them. The most basic and essential forms of knowledge are made known to us through the process of living in this world. I learned how to breathe, eat, and engage in living without any formal instruction; these complex activities and the relationships that go along with them came to me naturally.

 

I believe that knowledge of God and of the righteousness that is His character and nature is also something that is present in this world so that all people are exposed to it. The desire to know God is present in people from birth as is the capacity to learn to know Him more fully and is the capability to enter into intimate relationship with our Creator. Yet, God’s righteousness can seem like a very high standard for some of us, and relationship with Him comes with certain requirements that we often find hard to accept. We humans are proud, self-reliant, and determined to do everything in a manner that we get to choose and select to engage with. However, God will not accept a secondary position in our loyalties, and He has established the singular truth that everyone needs to accept in order to leave behind the relational separation and its eternal condemnation that have come about as a result of our own sinfulness.

 

Thus, to know God we must set aside our selves and accept Christ as our Savior and Lord while recognizing and entering into the knowledge of Him as true King, the one who leads us in all matters, and as fully God, the Creator and the ultimate judge of all that is earthly and eternal. In Christ all of our humanly devised knowledge and wisdom is superseded and is completed. As we accept Christ and them enter into following Him in all aspects of life, we move from ignorance into revelation of the truth that has existed from before time began. This is the truth that our souls have longed to know from our day of birth, and the knowledge of God’s righteousness that Christ gives to His people is the solid foundation for living that grants to us the deep peace that is found only in living as fully submitted followers of our Lord.

 

 

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