February 2017


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.

Pay to all what is owed to them; taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13: 7

 

Taxes are taxes, and we owe the amounts that our governments dictate that we need to pay. When Paul speaks of revenue he is referencing the sums of money that we all pay to purchase goods and services and to pay for other aspects of living in our society. Although these topics are more complex than this and we do attach a significant amount of importance to our money, these are still relatively straightforward ideas. When the Apostle starts to discuss respect and honor, he has entered into territory that is much less well defined. It seems that our world today struggles greatly with being respectful and that it seldom honors anyone or anything for more than the few moments of life that a social media post enjoys. I wonder if this lack of showing respect and of granting honor isn’t at least in part the outcome that we get for being so stridently independent and self determined in the setting of our values and our world’s ethical constraints.

 

In this passage Paul is telling us about God’s view of what it means to live as a follower of Christ in the cultural setting of the day. His day looked very different than does ours on its surface, but underneath it all, not that much has actually changed over the course of two thousand plus years. We live in a world that, as Scripture tells us, is operating much like a tornado in that it is spinning wildly and without any apparent guidance along a random path in which destruction and death are too frequently the outcome so that confusion and chaos are the tangible result and fear and anger are the emotions that rule the days to follow. God seeks to bring order and reason to bear in the minds and the hearts of people. He desires for us to know Him as the calm that stills the raging winds even before they have actually subsided. God’s immense heart loves both the people who bring on the storm and those who are its victims, and He seeks to use its turmoil as a means for reaching each of them with the saving grace that is Christ.

 

As people who know Christ, it is our responsibility before God to live out the reality of His loving peace and prevailing calm. When it comes to these two final debts that people are required to discharge in the process of living in our world, experience has taught me that I need Christ and His strength in order to remain appropriately respectful and to give due honor to people and to institutions that I do not like or agree with. Let me say that respect and agreement are not the same thing, and granting the honor that is due in our world to someone or to something does not remove our responsibility to seek change and to demand that our societal institutions and governors operate in a manner that conforms to God’s Word of Truth. Yet, our manner in doing these things is important. In Christ, we have His heart and His mind within us, and His Spirit guides us into the deep meaning of His Word. Thus, we should be people who prayerfully consider what we say and the actions that we take. We can also be confident in knowing what is righteous and what is truly God’s will as we conduct ourselves during each day of our lives. We can and we should speak God’s truth at all times, and we must demand it from our leaders and from our governments. Yet, as we set forth our understanding of God’s righteous path in our world, we do need to honor the Lord by using language that is nuanced with love, grace, and peacemaking. Being respectful enhances the speaking of truth and standing for its cause. Living out the principles of righteousness and justice while granting honor to those who have the power to make them real in our world demonstrates to our rulers the fact that they also operate under the authority of the one true King.

 

 

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Genesis 3: 21

 

When I look at the two verses in this passage of Scripture that discuss the wearing of clothing, I usually look at the shamefulness of sin and its impact on these first people and on all of us going forward from them. This is truly the point of the first incidence in the story when Adam and Eve cover themselves with sewn together leaves, but as I look at this second discussion of clothing I think that there is something else going on here. This time the Lord does the work of creating the clothing. He takes the skins from animals and fashions clothing for these people who He has just confronted with their rebellion and with the resultant changes that will take place in their daily lives and on into the unforeseeable future. God has been very direct with them regarding the damage that their disobedience to Him has caused, but He has also shown them grace and mercy and provided them with His mission to carry our over the balance of their lives.

 

Now, the Father grants to Adam and to Eve the gift of dignity and respect. In their newly found awareness, they realize that they are naked, and they are now uncomfortable in this physical state. They are also vulnerable in the new world where they will be living. The impacts of their rebellion are causing changes in their environment that will turn it into a place where dangers are real and present. As they live outside of the perfection of God’s original creation they will encounter the harsh aspects of life that come with God’s curse upon the ground which are discovered as they engage in the Lord’s blessing of commission to care for the land that He has given to them. This new world where they are to live is a complicated and troubling place, and the Lord demonstrates the fact that He will continue to travel through this journey with them in this simple act of provision. God was caring for Adam and Eve in very personal and direct manner, and this care was a demonstration of the intimate and loving way that He goes through life with all of His people.

 

We are all rebellious and engage in thoughts and actions that are defiant of God’s expressed will and the direction that His Word provides to us. We also live in a world that can be dangerous and hostile to its inhabitants. So, we need protection, mercy, and grace in order to live well and to be at peace with our God and with ourselves as we do this. So, today just as it was with Adam and Eve, God comes after us in our times of wandering away from His righteous path. He confronts us with the truth of our sinfulness and even allows the consequences of it to impact our lives; yet, He also reaches out to us with His hands of mercy and cares for our brokenness. Christ reminds our troubled hearts of the fact that He has already paid the penalty for our sins and that in Him we are free to live out God’s calling for our lives. The Lord does for each of us the same thing that He did for our first ancestors in that He reaches out to us and provides us with His perfectly crafted garment that is made of love and grace, and He sends us out from where we are clothed in His dignity and respect to live out the purpose that He has devised for each of our lives.

Since all of things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?

2 Peter 3: 11

 

Peter is speaking of a time to come when the Lord is ready to fulfill His commitment to end the existence of all that has become broken by the presence of sin and then bring about the installation of the new creation in its sinless perfection. This event will be preceded by times of great upheaval and chaotic days when truth is hard to discern and where the usual points of reference will be lost so that up will seem as down and apparent friend may actually be fiercest of enemy. We are not at this place in history yet, but God does not promise to inform us of the coming of these harshest of final days. So, we cannot live in any certainty regarding the date and the hour that the Lord will set out as the moment to speak forth these days. This is the reality that leads Peter to set out this question for himself and for all other followers of Christ.

 

Everything that we see in this world, and even the relationships that we have worked to nurture and to build will come to an end. Nothing of this world is to remain at the end of this tumultuous period of conflict, purification, and restoration of the perfection of God’s pure creation. Although it is clear from Scripture that people who know Christ and are thus known by God do continue to exist into all of eternity, the exact form and manner of that new life is beyond human description and full comprehension. Also, there will be a very significant change in all of us in that the hard and very real presence of our sinful old natures that interrupts and disrupts our human relationships now will no longer exist. In God’s new creation we will love each other with the fullness and purity of Christ, and our love for God will know no limitations or lapses.

 

So, in light of the uncertainty of the events of the days ahead, in Christ we can enter into a very certain approach to life. We can trust God’s Word and His nature fully and can thus seek Him out for all wisdom, direction, and counsel. Christ is with us in all of the details of living as a victor over sin in this fallen world. We can enter into accepting the grace of salvation and the on-going provision of Christ’s grace for the various ways that we all do fail to achieve God’s standards of righteousness, and as we are granted grace and mercy, we must also be ever gracious and merciful with others, even with people who truly rub us the wrong way. Then, because of Christ’s love for each of us, we are enabled and empowered to love all others in a manner that is like Him. Thus, followers of Christ are to be a people who are known for our love and our mercy and grace; we must be the defenders of justice in our world and the people who work to make peace in the midst of the storm that swirls about us as the squall line of the end of days events begins to buffet our world.

Endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Romans 5: 4

 

Sometimes my mind speculates on how much better this world would be if only God would just step in and fix the things that are wrong. If only we had better leaders in government and in business then we wouldn’t be in the financial mess that we are in. If God would just end disease and illness then so many people wouldn’t be going through the torment and the suffering that they bring. If only God would —-, we can just supply the area of need and the hardship that comes due to the frailty of our humanity. Yet, if God did choose to reach into our world and in a god-like manner simply change things, consider what the real outcome would look like.

 

Would people be so impressed by the power and the control that God possesses that they would respect Him and give all of their allegiance to Him? Would our nations become lands where righteousness, justice, and true faith rule? Maybe I am too skeptical or perhaps my view of life and of this world is not open enough to appreciate the potential that resides in the human heart, but I don’t think that either of these conditions is actually true. Life experience and the recitation of God’s view upon the way that humanity has functioned throughout history tell me otherwise. The sinful self-reliance and desire for control that our ancestors selected over simple obedience, absolute trust and complete faith in the goodness of God has left us in a hopelessly broken state as people on our own, and it has caused gaping rips to appear in the fabric of His perfect creation, this world.

 

Real healing comes about when individuals decide to yield our wills to God. It is produced through surrender to the one true heart that loves us absolutely and that desires for each and for all of us humans to know and to respect Him fully. This is a form of healing that doesn’t always ease our pain; however, it will provide us with understanding of it and with purpose for it. This God gifted ability to stand tall and strong despite the hurt and the loss is character. It is what marks people as trustworthy. Character leads individuals to seek the counsel of God above all other, and it allows us to make decisions and to stand firm in them even when our culture, our community, and our friends might disagree. God also builds character in His people so that we can be bold yet know that we will not always be right. Character grants people the ability to stay confident while admitting failure. Through all of this God brings hope. Hope is not found in wealth, in government or even in people. Hope is made known as God, Himself, and His perfect purpose are revealed. It is hope that leads us as God’s people to bring Christ’s healing touch to our land.

But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity, Amen.

2 Peter 3: 18

 

We all know that plants and animals grow. They each start out as something that is a young, underdeveloped version of what they will be when full maturity is reached. The process of getting to that fullest expression of the genetic potential that was given to the organism by its Creator is something that we call development, maturation, and growth. We study plants and animals in order to discover and determine how to best care for them, feed them, and what environment suits them best so that the final result will be greater yields, more usable weight at slaughter, or a sort of perfected beauty for our eyes to enjoy. People also grow, and most parents take great and loving care of their children so that they too mature into the best and the fullest expressions of the person that God intends them to be.

 

Although there are many similarities in the growth processes for plants and other animals with those that people undergo, there are also some very important differences. People develop and grow in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual ways that far exceed even the most capable of other animals, and despite the conversations that you may be having with your favorite house plants, this same idea is even more applicable to them. Another interesting aspect of the way that God designed humans is that we never stop growing in the depth of our being until the end of most of our lives. One of the most significant differences between us and plants and the rest of the animals is found in our ability to choose to grow and in our capacity to determine the nature and the quantity of the nutrients that we take in.

 

God provides us with a rich environment in which we can engage with this growth process. He also grants to us the gift of His own presence and the availability of wisdom and understanding that come from the foundation of all that is true and real. In turn, we are invited to come to the Lord’s ongoing banquet of life and to feast on Him so that our minds, hearts, and spirits are being continually nourished by the best of all possible input. When we choose to take in knowledge and understanding of God and of His character and will through regular reading of His Word, discussion of its meaning and His intent, prayerful engagement with all aspects of life, and active involvement in His body, the church, we grow. I know that my life has been littered with missteps and with times of deliberate disobedience; yet, as I travel through these hard roads with Christ, His grace flows over me and my understanding of it and ability to apply it to others does grow so that my knowledge of the wonder, the might, and the righteous glory of God is also developed and expanded within me. I pray that this growth process will never cease until I meet Christ in Heaven.

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