July 2017


God settles the solitary in a home;

he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,

but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Psalm 68: 6

 

God is a fisherman, God is a shepherd, God is lion, and God is King. All of these ideas are used to attempt to convey the nature and character of God, and all are quite accurate. He does go about the business of seeking after a catch of hearts and minds of people who would rather remain hidden away in the depths of our own sea of lostness and sin. Yet our Lord casts his net to bring in all varieties of humanity into His grace, love, and life. Our Lord is also the one who provides care and nourishment for us while protecting those precious hearts, minds, and even bodies from the harm that is attached like molecules of air to the atmosphere of this world. By way of His sheep tending metaphorical being, God also seeks after and searches tirelessly for any of us who wander away from His righteousness and life-giving presence.

 

When God is described as being a lion, I think of the proud and almost defiant image of a male lion with a full flowing mane and head half turned to look my way as if to say that He is in charge and that I am not. The lion image seems appropriate in that they are powerful and swift, guardians of their territory, and nurturing and caring with their pride. You do not want to encounter one when you are outside of its good graces, but you would certainly want one to provide protection from the evil forces of the wilderness. This description of God as lion leads to the concept that He is King. Yet, this title is far too limiting, for no king in all of history has had the sort of power, the absolute sovereignty, that the Lord possesses. He did not inherit this world, and no person placed its crown upon His head. God created it all as He imagined it into being. His rule over the universe is a part of the nature of that entity. God’s authority and the grace that is attached to it are what hold this world together despite the rebellious and destructive natures of its inhabitants. All that is good, righteous, and holy in this world is poured into it by God’s regal hand.

 

The thing that is most striking to me, however, is the fact that One who holds this much power, who rules over all that exists in the broad expanse of creation, and that works tirelessly to bring souls into His presence is the same God who reached out to my lost soul and called me into His presence. Then He has continuously provided my insignificance with the dignity and the calling of a person who has prominence in His kingdom and important work to do on behalf of the King. This kingdom of God, the place where I now dwell, is supplied with all that is required for myself and for all of creation to be sustained and to thrive. It is a place that is lush with the truth and the wisdom of the Lord. His grace flows out into streams of refreshing redemption, and the Lord’s love provides a covering for my weariness at day’s end. This place is where my heart finds strength, my mind encounters knowledge and wisdom, and my soul enters into the peace and the rest that it craves. My Lord has redeemed me, and He seeks to redeem all people from the harsh world as He provides us with a home in His presence.

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Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.

Psalm 33: 1

 

The sound that comes out when I open my mouth and start to sing may not please everyone, but that shouldn’t stop me from singing. The words to the song may become confused or a bit jumbled at times, but I should continue to hum along until they become clear again. Music has a way about it that makes everything seem better, and it also tends to penetrate deep into the center of things in a way that connects and that joins people together.

 

God is pleased to hear the music that we make; yet, we don’t even need to make a sound in order for Him to appreciate it, for the Lord hears the vibrations that come from our hearts, too. He knows when we are seeking to follow the truth of the word and when we are surrendering our will and our self-determined interests to the Lord’s greater purpose. The simple footsteps of people who are following the straight path of righteousness through the day set off vibrations that resonate throughout the world with the song of salvation.

 

As each of us chooses to sing the words of life that God gives to us, we become part of a great choir of voices that will be heard above all of the noise that our world sets off to oppress people and to confuse their thinking. When we open our hearts with expressions of thanks to God for all that He is and everything that He does, the beauty of His presence radiates out from us, and our heart’s song will cause others to desire to join the chorus.

 

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever—therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Genesis 3: 22, 23

 

You would think that perfection would be reward enough. That living in an environment that did not present any forms of threat or opposition would make us content and obedient to the one simple rule that God set out, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat.”(2:17) Yet, that was not the case, for as we know all too well, our initial ancestors did, in fact, eat that forbidden fruit, and the results that issued forth from that decision are with us to this day. This planet that we dwell upon is very different from that safe and secure place where Adam and Eve were created to live. They experienced the violence and the grief that humanity brings upon our world and that nature itself also now generates. Within a mere blink of the eye in terms of human history they experienced malice, anger, and murder. After the passage of only a few generations the world was so corrupt that God was almost ready to wipe it clean and start over.

 

But God did not do that. Instead He left a remnant of His creation and recommitted Himself to the restoration of all that He had formed as His great handiwork. In the chaos that disobedience had caused, the Lord promised that He would provide a redeemer for us. The Lord committed to destroy the evil that was loose upon the earth and to bring about an eternal renewal that would recreate the state of peace and close relationship with Him that was at the center of God’s original design. Even now, after Christ has come to live with us for the first time, we continue to struggle with obedience to God. He commands us to worship Him alone, and we seek out other gods. The Lord shows us the way into His now and forever presence, and we push His Christ aside as we follow our worldly paths. Christ instructs us in the ways of peace and of caring for others, and we respond with aggression and acts that oppress those who are in need. Sadly, we humans have not yet entered into the truth of God’s position as our only sovereign Lord and eternal Father.

 

However, it is in our stubbornness and disobedience that God’s remarkable character is most on display. He seems to possess a form of patience that defies all understanding, and He also demonstrates the depth of His love for each and every one of us in the fact that He continues to pursue us without regard for what we have done or how badly we may have treated and spoken of Him. Christ gave all so that we all could be redeemed from the living death and the eternal separation that our own actions have deemed our just reward. In Christ we are granted the capacity to understand the deep peace of the soul that only comes when we are dwelling in the presence of our Creator. With Christ we are brought back to an earthly shadow of that great garden of community that God devised to be our home on earth. Now, with Christ residing within, we eat from that tree that brings life, not with our mouths but from the depths of our souls, and the life that God grants to us is one where obedience to God’s will provides peace, joy, and contentment that lasts forever.

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Psalm 103: 1

 

This is a prayer; and it is a wish, a hopeful desire of the heart. It is also a focus statement that could be set forth every day. Consider the possibilities that open up if you set your heart and your mind on blessing the Lord through everything that you do during the day. Also, think of what your own life could be like if you truly sought out the Lord’s view of the people that you will encounter so that you could respond to them with Christ’s love and grace.

 

From the vantage point of a blesser, old annoyances and long-standing problem people can seem different. The creaking floorboard is still there, the difficult coworker is just the same, and the hard to live with habits of your loved one haven’t gone away overnight. However, it can become possible to look beyond these issues and to see the gift that God has provided for you. That gift might be in the form of something that He has provided for you, or it might be a person to care about and to demonstrate His concern for. Seeking to be the one who brings a blessing to God through the way that I live also fills my heart with an understanding of the presence of His Spirit.

 

The Lord wants all of me. He asks me to give every aspect of my being and to use all that I have in serving Him. Yet, this all-in approach to living inside of the will of God is actually the easiest way to go, for, in fact, it takes less energy to love than it does to fight, is simpler to listen than to argue, and blessing fills me up while cursing drains me dry. Let this hopeful prayer of blessing guide the thoughts and the actions of your day; then, you can judge whether you end it with a greater sense of peace than on a day where this is not the goal.

 

Arise sleeper, awake from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5: 14

 

When Christ comes into our lives He changes the status of our souls from ones that are dead and already in the process of decaying into ones that are fully alive and that are then in the process of being transformed into souls that shine with the glory of Christ. Turning my life over to Christ and following His path of righteousness in my life has the effect of quite literally awaking me from the deep and dark sleep of that spiritually dead state into the light of awareness. As Christ shows me truth and His Spirit makes acting upon that truth an imperative, my now wide-open eyes begin to see that the world has a profound level of need for a savior.

 

This awareness is not a part of the thinking of a person who is still asleep, and, I fear, that there are times when those of us who do know Christ are also caught napping. We tune out the voice of our Savior as He points us toward the hurt, the broken, and the spiritually needy people around us, and we excuse our untimely slumber by pointing to how much energy we are using in order to survive the day or to all of the really good things that we are already doing for the sake of our religious practices. To Christ, these statements are simply excuses, and He asks, “Am I not enough, am I not all that you need?”

 

The honest, true, and real answer is, “Yes, You are more than all that I ever need.” So Christ calls to us to awaken and arise! If your heart and mind have slipped into a drowsy state, it is time to pull back the curtains and let the glory of Christ in. Then, it is also time to become like a rooster in the world crying out in celebration of the new dawn of life that is to be found in and through Christ. This day is the Lord’s, and He is ready to pour out His glory into each and every life that turns to Him. So, those of us who are already awake can demonstrate and speak about the life that we have received from our Lord, and by living in this manner, we bring the hope of true life to the world that we touch.

 

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16: 20

 

Certainly we all want and seek after justice. Why would it be any other way? Justice is what makes this world seem fair, and it is what allows us to trust in our social systems. Yet, what passes for justice in our culture is often perverted, held back, or completely absent from the scene. Considering that Moses is warning the nation of Israel about God’s concerns regarding their application of justice, it would seem that the problem of actually living as a just society is not such a modern issue. The desire to receive just treatment is fundamental to human endeavor. Likewise, our reluctance to grant it to others runs deeply in our fallen hearts.

 

Justice is the last thing that Satan wants for us to honestly embrace. He is served by people who hold a distorted and a perverted view of what it means to live justly. God’s view of justice involves a system where our treatment of others can not be bought or sold. There should be no price that can be paid in order to receive proper treatment from people that have position, power, and authority. Also, there are no people who are so empowered and authorized who will change their ruling or alter their perspective based upon another’s ability or willingness to pay. Justice, as God views it, requires us to be willing to do all that is in our power to see to it that everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and in a manner that seeks to build up both the individual and the society.

 

The application of justice involves sacrifice. We need to give away opportunities to gain status and power in order to treat others in this manner. Living in a just land is often a dirty and a messy business. The people that we need to engage with in order to bring it about are quite often the poor, the disadvantaged, and the lost. They can be people who are easy to pass by, and frequently they are the ones that we desire with all of our hearts to ignore in the hopes that they won’t speak to us. These people are the ones that the brokenness of sin has marked as easy targets. These are the members of society that Jesus walked up to and embraced with the warmth and the compassion of the Father. These people are you and I in any number of possible circumstances. These disadvantaged and damaged souls are equally made in God’s image. They are our neighbors, and they are our brothers and sisters.

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