February 2017


Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35: 1

 

In the Christian church and throughout its traditions we have generally looked at Psalm 35 as a statement of faith and trust in the way that God would defeat our enemies through the use of might, force, and even by empowering our own military skill and campaigns. However, as I reconsider these words that David gave us, I am wondering if there isn’t something else, something much greater on view here. Although David seems to have had a prophet’s view into a future when the Messiah would come, he did not possess the post-cross perspective that we do. His words dealt with the reality of his life, and they shared a glimpse into a potential future, but they could not interpret our world in light of Christ.

 

In Jesus we see a man of peace and of service. We are told to control our responses to personal attacks and to seek out our enemies in love. We are, in fact, told to lift them up to God in prayer with a sincere desire to see them come to know Christ and thus to be joined with us in community. This is not just a directive to be fulfilled in a grudging, grit our teeth and get on with it manner. Instead, Christ tells us that we should be praying in earnest for those who are trying to destroy us so that they can join us at the banquet table of God’s holy Eucharist. We are granted Christ’s direction to love all people with fully and to seek for all of them to come and dwell with us as equally adopted in children of God’s own choosing.

 

None of this suggests that we are seeking their destruction. I am wondering if the Psalmist’s words about shame, dishonor, entrapment and defeat are not to be interpreted with Christ on the cross in view so that we are seeing a picture of the way that God works in the hearts of all of us to show us the futility and the lostness of our natural way. In that case, death for our enemies is not the desired outcome. Neither is defeat unto subjugation; for, Christ calls upon His people to have no fear of the forces of this world. Rather, we are to pursue the hearts and the minds of our enemies as the shepherd does the lost sheep. This requires us to have faith in Christ and in His protection for us. It also demands that we set aside anger and hurt so that we can love others with the passion and the sincerity of one who desires to greet them with the holy kiss of fellowship.

 

My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,

in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.

Isaiah 32: 18

 

It seems that one modern trend in writing commentary and reviews is the need to warn the reader that something that is about to be said will reveal an important aspect of the story; so, the author uses the statement “Spoiler alert” as a means of suggesting that the concerned reader should stop right there. Well, I am calling it out to you, spoiler alert, I am about to tell you something startling yet true about existing inside of the story that is life in our world today. So, here goes, this world is not a very restful place, and peace is even harder to find that is quiet rest; thus, security is completely out of the question for most of us. This world does not provide the environment where these desirable qualities can develop, grow, and even thrive. In fact, there are many people around us who seek to promote this sort of edginess and disquiet in order to gain power and to promote distrust in the orderly systems that God has allowed to provide structure to our otherwise chaotic planet.

 

Throughout history God has used these same troubling forces and situations to demonstrate the simple fact that rest, peace, and true security are possible to find in this life and that He is the source for all of these desirable conditions in our hearts and minds. When finances are strained or relationships are troubled, God provides the wisdom and the strength to enter into taking the actions that are required to start down the path of resolution for these deeply troubled days. When health is compromised or failing, the Lord provides the hope of eternity to us, and He also touches people with the grace of healing for our broken bodies and our troubled spirits. In addition to the personal challenges that we all face, the nature of the world around us is one that is filled with distrust, anger, and violence to a such a degree as to touch, cover, and often saturate each of us with its edgy insecurity and discordant hymn of despair. Yet, in all of these troubling minutes and hours, I know that the Lord is present with me.

 

This presence is made even more real as I turn the concerns of this life and the worries of my days away from myself and look intently upon Christ. He provides the foundation for my sense of well being, for the security that settles into my heart and that defies the world’s reasoning in these troubled times. As I focus upon Christ with His lived out message of hope, peace, and sacrifice, the situation around me and the circumstances of my life are placed into the perspective of the eternal. God’s Word demonstrates both His will and desire for people to live in a loving and caring form of peace with each other, and it also guides the processes of so living. The Spirit speaks encouragement and the wisdom and truth of all ages to my mind and my heart as He grants to me insights and attitudes that transcend those of the culture where I live. Christ, with His cross of supreme sacrifice and His victory over death that was claimed for my benefit and for yours, grants to each of us who surrender our human striving to His infinite love His perfect peace, enduring security, and the restorative rest that our hearts desire and need.

 

 

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3: 16

 

It didn’t need to be this way. We did not need to require saving, for God made this world with perfection as a major thread in its fabric. That perfect creation did not know disobedience and the decaying corruption that sin brings about. The peace of eternity was something to enjoy during every moment of the day; so, people did not need to hope for it as a future event. We had God’s presence as our regular and our routine companion, and communication with Him was unstrained and without restraint. Yet evil and its disobedience did exist in the universe, and Satan appeared before our ancestors with his crafty ways and his shiny eyes of deceit, and they listened too long and responded without careful consideration of what was true and what was not quite so. The result of all of this was disastrous for all of creation from that moment onward until today.

 

In the situation at hand, God had to make a choice. He could have destroyed what His hands had fashioned and start over. This was completely within His power and this entire world was then, as it is now, under His authority. God would have been within His rights to have acted like a sculptor who is dissatisfied with the result of His work and so rolled the clay back into an unformed lump to rework its consistency and start anew with shaping it into the great creation that He had envisioned and desired to form. Yet, this was not how God responded. He was already invested in the relationship with Adam and Eve, and even with the knowledge that He possessed of just how hard it all was going to be, the Lord was not going to give up on the relationship. God came to the people and approached them with His stern hand of love so that the process of restoration of relationship could begin. The Lord brought redemption and granted purpose to Adam and Eve that continues forward to today.

 

We are the recipients of this same mercy and grace that was granted to the first people. God still comes after us in our sinful wandering, and He comes to us wherever we have gone. His desire to see our relationship with Him returned to the intimate and everlasting nature of His original design is relentless. In fact, in order to perfect this restorative process, God gave the world Jesus as the ultimate and complete payment for all of our sinfulness. In Christ we are all set free from the penalty of death that belongs to each of us from birth. With Christ we enter into a life that transcends this world and that takes us into the eternal presence of God and into a new life that is lived out as a citizen of the Lord’s kingdom come to earth. All of this is done out of love. God loves each and every person and all of His creation with a passion that is all consuming and with a form of commitment that is beyond human reasoning. Christ is God’s expression of total love to me and to you. When we come to Christ and surrender our striving to His gracious will, the Lord writes His eternal love note on our hearts.

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.

Ezra 7: 10

 

Ezra was a priest and a prophet who was called by God to serve Him among a people who were living in confused and trying times. Their identity as God’s people had been seriously diluted during the seventy or so years when many of them had been held captive in Babylon. Government had become a worldly process in which God’s Law was given little to no prominence. People were living as they thought best. They were adrift in the moral and the ethical sea of human wisdom and the false convenience of adopting a survival modality of thinking. This was an age that clearly fit the description of the times in the middle, which are these days between humanity’s rebellion against God and God’s final restoration of His Creation to its sinless state of being.

 

The first thing that Ezra set his mind on doing in response to the lack of righteousness that he encountered in his world was very personal. He determined that if he was to respond to God’s calling upon him to speak and to teach the truth about God and His Law then Ezra must truly know the Lord. In order to do this Ezra set out to give his undivided attention to God’s Law, that is, to His Word. He became a dedicated student of its every detail and nuance. He also spent time in listening to God’s voice as He revealed His character and nature and His heart’s intent to Ezra’s open and yielded heart and mind. It was only after he had thoroughly read God’s Word, meditated on it, and contemplated the truths that were revealed by God in this process of study that he set out to teach these truths to the people.

 

Even before Ezra uttered one word of instruction he knew that his credibility as God’s prophet depended upon his own lived out righteousness. For a person who is all lofty words and pronouncements of moral necessity but whose own conduct of life is self-determined and contrary to God’s expressed will lacks credibility and is, in fact, a tool of Satan. Then, with his own life carefully examined and his sinfulness exposed and yielded to the Lord, Ezra was prepared to proclaim God’s Law to others. It is my suspicion that this process of study, contemplation, confession, repentance, and taking action upon God’s revealed will was an on-going, probably daily, component of Ezra’s life. He sets out a very sound approach for each of us to take in responding to Christ’s calling. A regular discipline of study, prayer, meditation, confession, and response to God’s calling is transformative in the life of Christ’s followers, and it provides a sound basis for us in living and speaking God’s truth into these middle times where we live.

I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Everyone experiences difficult times and bad days, but no one that I know has ever had one quite like Jonah’s. He had been literally voted off of the boat and tossed into the ocean. Then what might have seemed like a relatively quick end to his misery by way of drowning had turned into a prolonged time of suffering while a giant fish digested him. The depths of Jonah’s despair had a strangely factual element to it, and there were certainly no people around who were going to hear him or who could possibly come to his help. Not only was he at the end of his proverbial rope, but also that tool would have been useless even if he had one with him. This left him with one place to go for resolution and relief or even for the certitude of an end to his misery. He turned to God with a plea for either a merciful end to it all or for the miracle of being saved out of the situation that was surrounding him.

 

Now for Jonah to call out to God took more than a little humility and some real turn about in his heart and mind. The boat trip that Jonah was taking was a journey away from God and from the path that the Lord had clearly determined for him to take. Our lost mariner was fearful and concerned about doing what God had set out for him as his calling and mission; so, it must have seemed to him that there was no way that God would come to his aid. Jonah was the rebellious one, the disobedient child, and the lost soul who had turned away from God in the course of losing his way. Yet, where was he to turn if not to the only ears that could possibly hear him at that moment? Jonah’s faith had been insufficient to trust God enough to take him through the task at hand to conclusion, and he just really didn’t want to do what the Lord told him to do; however, God was faithful to His mission of saving this difficult man and of using him to bring saving knowledge of God’s loving truth to others.

 

The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Jonah. He has the same for everyone on this earth. Almost no one is sent across an ocean to bring the message of the Gospel of Christ to a far off nation; yet, we are all given the opportunity to share our faith with someone who we encounter in our journey through the day. Most of us do not turn away from God in the dramatic manner that Jonah did, but everyone has been rebellious and almost all of us continue to struggle with God and with engaging in His will for us after we come to know Christ. Still, the Lord stays committed to us and to saving us from the deep and the dark places where we have gone. Whether this place of seeming burial that we are experiencing is caused by our own actions or is the result of the way that evil attacks our bodies, minds, and spirits, it is a real and an oppressive place to dwell. Christ desires to save each of us from these times and these places. He will bring relief and restoration to us. He asks us to do as Jonah did by recognizing the need that we have for our Savior. Generally, this recognition of need and of the absence of internal resources to meet it leads to speaking up and sharing the pain that is present with God and with someone else. This leads to vulnerability that is answered in trust of God and of His working through His body, and it may place us on a journey that will be hard and taxing. However, on that journey Christ joins us, and we are taken in faith into the peace that only His presence can provide in this life.

Know that the LORD, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100: 3

 

Most people do not like the idea of being owned. I know that this is true for me; I may speak about submission and granting my allegiance to positions and to people with authority, but actually doing this is another matter. Yet, God’s position is far higher and His rights are much greater than any of these human and earthly leaders and institutions that seek and that even attempt to place demands upon my life. All power, authority, and mandates for loyalty that exist on earth are derived out of God’s willful establishment of them. Now people do corrupt the positions that they hold and governments are also known to exceed God’s mandate and to abuse their right to rule over us, and when this corruption turns the corner into the outworking of evil in our world, we have a responsibility to work against those evil purposes and to strive to see righteous thinking and actions implemented in place of that which defies God’s will.

 

Still, for a follower of Christ, all of life is to be conducted from the perspective of being a person who is the beloved possession of God As hard as it is for me to admit, I am not free, for God is my creator, and He has not relinquished the title to my body, mind, heart, and soul. This right of ownership and the authority that comes with it are complex things. God has chosen to design His relationships with people in this manner. He could have determined that we would follow His will out of compulsion and without the capability to make our own choices regarding entering into it, but the Lord granted us the ability and the capacity to make decisions about almost everything in our lives. God does desire for each of us to determine that we want to enter into a relationship with Him, and the Lord’s will is for us to order all of our lives under His Word of Truth and within the counsel of His Spirit.

 

When we choose to follow God by coming to Christ, we are giving away the right to go our own way in life whenever and however we might decide is best for us. We are accepting the fact that God has the best plan for all people’s lives and that He may set a course for me that is radically different that the one that I would pick on my own. However, God has promised that His way is the one that leads to peace in my heart, to satisfaction for my spirit, and to meaningful engagement for my mind. Sometimes these things are highly apparent to us and at other times they are obscure. In and through it all, we can count on the fact that we are loved fully by God and that His will for our lives is perfect and complete. We can dwell in the Lord’s pasture of blessing and graze on His bounty of truth, grace, and mercy. Christ is the gentle and loving master who guides me into the joy and the peace of service to His kingdom. So, I desire to be owned by Him.

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3: 28

 

Even for those of us who have always lived in places where equality was the publicly stated intent of the community, it was not truly present in the practices and the underlying beliefs of our culture. This is so because equality is not something that our world recognizes as desirable. So, it is one of the greatest causes of disagreement and of strife that exists in our world to this day. The moment that one person has power over another, there is inequality, and where power of any sort exists, those who have it will develop a drive to increase and to perfect it, and those who do not have it will strive to overthrow their superiors and to claim power for themselves. This conflict has been tormenting our world since very early in our tortured history. Now I recognize that God has created and ordained various structures and systems of authority in our world so that there would be order and peaceful engagement among people. Yet, He also desires for those systems of governance to be ones that seek to serve the needs of those governed and to strive for justice and peace in this world.

 

Unfortunately, people are almost never committed to these higher purposes when it comes to actually living out our days. We desire to have more than we do now, we are fearful of people who come from other places or who look and act differently than us, we believe that some people are inherently inferior, and we hold up affiliations such as race, nationality, and gender as the highest determinate of value and worth. All of this thinking is the result of the brokenness of our world; so, all of it falls outside of God’s desired approach to accurately and righteously viewing other people. The simple fact is that all of humanity was created in God’s image. Thus, every deviation, difference, and distinctive that exists among us is a part of the greater whole that is a reflection of the greatness and the expansiveness that is God. Even out gender is a reflection of this Godness in us, and in its totality is an important part of the way that God has imparted His creative nature to His greatest creation, people.

 

Paul’s letter to the people of Galatia was very practical; he was addressing real life in the world where they were living then. This is still the nature of his words of Godly wisdom today. The specific issues of being Jewish or Greek and of being a slave or a free person may not be as significant today, but the nature of these human relationships and the conflicts that arise from them is very present among us, and his third broad category of gender has never stopped causing tension and disagreement. In God’s eyes these issues of race, nationality, societal status, wealth, and gender do not separate people and determine our worth or our right to be treated with dignity and respect. These differences should lead us to be more open and to enter into dialogues that can result in understanding and deeper relationships. The sort of openness that leads to stepping outside of our comfortable circles of acquaintances and to engage fully and honestly with others is risky and for most of us it is hard to initiate. Yet, this is where Christ’s presence in and with us comes into clear focus and is of supreme importance. It is in Christ and through Him that we are led into an understanding of the equality of God’s kingdom on earth. The only power that matters in this process of entering into relationships with people is Christ’s as He provides us with the strength of character and the desire to love all others that are at the center of His nature. As we submit our wills to the Lord’s and grow in Christ, we will see Him and His face when we look upon and engage with all other people in our world.

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