August 2017


The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10: 10

 

There might have been another way for the Creator to become reconciled with the creation. Yet, God chose to do it in the way that He did by descending out of the eternal and engaging personally and directly with our lives here on earth. In so doing, Jesus brought a renewed definition of what it means to be alive into humanity’s vocabulary. In Christ, we are alive in the fullest sense of that concept, and with all of the implications that being vital, functional, and valuable carry along with them. The blood coursing through our veins has a revived force and power within it that has nothing to do with a literal cardio strength or conditioning and is compelled by the state of our souls and the renewal of our minds by Christ. In this new life, we travel through our days in the power of the Holy Spirit and by the guidance of God’s eternal wisdom.

 

This places God’s people in direct opposition to the rest of this world, which is owned by those forces that are committed fully to the forces of evil that bring about the theft of life, the death of spirit and of body, and the destruction of all that is holy, good, and loving in our world. That idea of ownership by evil may sound harsh and too absolute, but according to Jesus, that is the way that it is here in creation. There are certainly a wide range of degrees of involvement in living out and promotion of the destructiveness that Satan, himself, is determined to bring about. Many people do good things and live kindly, caring lives. However, all people are faced with a choice of only two ultimate masters who will rule over our lives and who will determine the eternal outcome of our time beyond this world. We either choose to follow Christ into relationship with God, or we determine to exist now and forevermore apart from Him.

 

It is in this decision point for us that God’s determination to bring about reconciliation to Himself by the blood of Jesus and through the process of dwelling intimately and personally with His people in life on this earth holds its greatest impact upon that new existence in Christ. For Jesus demonstrated for us what it means to belong to the renewed kingdom of God come out of heaven in order to reclaim creation from the works of destruction that have enveloped it. In this new life, we join with Christ in loving others and in pouring out His redemptive grace into the profound chaos that has been created by the work of that great thief that Jesus is describing. Christ restores His people to the abundance of God’s intent for our lives. He gives us back the peace, the deep joy, and the confidence that have been robbed out of our souls, and our Lord sends us into this world to live out this renewal of heart and of mind in a manner that brings the abundance of Christ into direct contact with a world that is oppressed under the destitution that has been caused by Satan’s rule.

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God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 2: 24

 

We are intrigued by stories of miraculous escapes. These are times and events when a person seems certain to perish due to the great danger that is being faced; when, at that crucial final moment before the peril has its way, someone or something comes to the rescue. This sort of thing populates fiction, and it does actually happen in the real world as well. Drama is not so much an invention of the imagination as it is a creative reflection of the world as it is. When this sort of thing happens, we gain a feeling of exaltation and joy that comes about because of the victory that has been achieved, and we also gain some confidence in going forward in life as we can hope that a similar victory could be ours if we were to need it.

 

So why did God choose to work in such a strangely different manner when it came to His plan for victory over the forces of evil that prowl about in creation? There was no last minute reprieve or daring rescue. There wasn’t even a ram miraculously present with its horns tangled in the brambles as the Lord had provided for Abraham. In Jesus’ scene of torture, trial, and the resultant death sentence God allowed everything to play out as the people who were determined to humiliate and to destroy determined that it should. Jesus, God’s own Son, was forcibly taken from His place in this world and carried away to the halls of human injustice and evil’s triumphant pinnacle of response to God’s authority and sovereignty over all of creation.

 

However, regardless of how things may have looked on the outside or the failure to follow the course that we seek to see happen in survival and redemption stories, this trial and execution of the death sentence were an important part of the narrative of victory that God was writing on that day. The Father was, in fact, turning the world upside down and inside out as He defied the form of nature that had come to be normal in the aftermath of humanity’s rebellious sin. In these momentous hours, Christ would pass through death and into life, and so the seeming finality of death was defeated fully. The victory that Christ brought about now flows forth for everyone who enters into it through faith in Him, and when we enter into this most strange of all victories we too are raised up with Christ into the glorious presence of our Savior and King. Thus, in His presence and by His care and guidance, we too are victors in this life and beyond it.

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3: 21

 

Black and white form a stark contrast when they are placed next to each other, for they are strikingly different and obviously so. Patterns painted in these two colors are easy to identify and relatively easy to paint as the black will always cover over the white. Yet, outside of paint schemes and Harlequin makeup, most of the world where we live is not so easily discerned. Black bleeds into white and grey is formed, and some greys are light and wispy like soft clouds, and some are dark and ominous like a rain storm that is ready to let loose.

 

Jesus is telling us that it isn’t so much the color that we are painted that matters; rather, it is the way that we choose to go that counts. There is true light and dark in our world, but this can be challenging since we people, by nature, are big on defining and determining right and wrong based upon our own needs, wants, and desires; thus, we often start to try to paint over our world with our cans of black and white paint. We spray the things that we want to be good and acceptable with our can of white, and we coat the things that we view as bad, wrong, or inconvenient with the black. Unfortunately, we often cover people with our spayed on values. When we are in the midst of tagging our world, we aren’t following Christ’s way of grace that creates movement toward reconciliation.

 

God gives us the true light in a darkened world. He provided us with its perfect living source in Jesus, and He continues to bring light to us through the presence of His Spirit. When we hear the safety briefing on an airplane, we are always told about the string of lights that are set into the center aisle to lead us to safety if something really bad happens. I can tell you with all sincerity that I have no desire to ever use those lights. In a world that is suffocating in confusion and deception, Christ provides an illuminated pathway to safety that is much clearer and more certain than the plane’s ribbon of lights. He gives us the eternally bright truth of His Word, the brilliance of His people, and the leading of His Spirit to direct our steps to safety and to strength. Move toward and into the light and the glory of God will surround you; live in truth and the brilliance of the Lord will radiate from you.

 

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

1 Corinthians 10: 16, 17

 

Regardless of how you might view the actual elements of the sacrament that is often known as communion, there is one singular truth about this aspect of the Christian life. Sharing in this activity should be a point of deep connection with Christ, and it should also be a time when His body is brought closer together across the totality of its spectrum of existence and expression. When we drink from the cup and eat the bread, we are doing something that is far greater than just consuming a bit of food. In fact, the food that we do consume at these times has absolutely nothing to do with feeding the body, for it is fully focused upon feeding the soul.

 

This moment in the flow of the liturgy of our worship can be the most unifying one in all that we do, for this is the singular time when all of the people gathered together focus upon one aspect of our faith together. When we eat the bread that is presented to us, we are called into the fullness of the new spiritually-bound body of faith that is formed around the presence of Christ in us and within our assemblies. As we take in the contents of the cup we are taken back into God’s promise of redemption and then into the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus. In sharing the blessings of the harvest together we are reminded of the unceasing provision that God has granted to us. As we do this we are also taken back into the ancient tradition of thanksgiving to God that was practiced by our Jewish forebears, for in Christ, we find our commonality with all of God’s people over the entirety of history.

 

The communion table, in its many forms and modalities of practice, is a place where people who know Christ can come together. It should never be a place of division or create a sort of litmus test of true faith or orthodoxy. If a person knows Christ, that person is an equal and a coheir in the eyes of God; so, nothing that is devised by human thought or rule should work to separate us from each other around this table of blessing. Christ came into this world to bring the many who were far apart from God into His presence in this life and into eternity. In so doing, He also destroyed all of the barriers that people had constructed that keep us apart from each other. Let us enter in together into the sacred act of remembrance that is found in taking in these simple foods so that our souls will be well fed on the beautiful diversity of Christ’s body and our minds will be strengthened in the unity of His Spirit.

 

 

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Joshua 3: 5

 

In his great song “Elijah” Rich Mullins speaks about the fact that “The Jordan is waiting.” Mullins used the river that faced Joshua and the people of Israel as a symbol of the enormity of what lies ahead for himself and for each of us as we seek to follow Christ in our world. The raging waters of that river were really only the smallest of the concerns that were there, and that is not different from what lies outside of our front doors every day. I know, for most of us there are no rushing torrents of bolder roiled water, not even one hungry lion, and very few actual spears and arrows pointed at us. However, there are opponents and they will mount opposition in many different forms. Some of them are giants indeed, who bring great force and power to bear against us as we confront their sacred places with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Like Joshua and the people that he led, we have a sacred duty to perform. Their task was considerably more important than just acquiring a place to settle down and conduct life. God gave them the responsibility to take back a portion of creation from the hands of evil. So, their mission was much greater than just settling the country, building homes, and raising families; it was even more important than entering into regular worship of the Lord. These followers of God were to dwell in this place in a manner that would bring the presence of the Living God into the midst of the other people of the earth. Their lives and the conduct of them was intended to draw people who were lost, wandering, and separated from God into His love, grace, and salvation. That is why the task before them was truly holy in its nature so that it required them to be prepared in body and in spirit to undertake it.

 

The place where Joshua and the Israelites were on that day is not all that different from the one where each of us who follows Christ is today. When we head out of the door at the start of a new day, we are not just going to a workplace, to school, out to meet a friend for coffee, or even just for a simple walk around our neighborhood. The land out there is not all that different from Canaan with its raging river and fortified walls, its armed opposition and seductive enticements. In Christ, we are all called upon to consecrate our days and ourselves to serving our Lord. For me this means that I seek out His will for this day, enter into prayer as the primary means of preparation for the journey, and set out with my heart and my mind intent upon listening to the Spirit and heeding His voice’s prompting every step along the way. This form of total commitment is never easy to hold onto, for the sound of the water is pounding in my ears as I open my doors. Yet, Christ speaks to me from deep inside where His Spirit dwells, and He calls me back into the surety of His loving will and the confidence that comes out of a heart that is consecrated to my Lord.

For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 25: 16

 

This verse comes at the end of a long string of recitations of a code for living in a civil and a just society. Although it is connected directly to an ordinance about using fair and proper weights and measures in the acts of buying and of selling goods, it is really a comment about the way that God views all forms of social interaction. The Lord wants to make it very clear that He pays close attention to the way that we interact with each other. God desires that people would all live in a form of harmony and with a sense of justice that is universal. When we cheat each other and steal from others it is an affront to God’s character. He is justice, and He is truth and honesty. These qualities are formed and defined in and by the Father.

 

I believe that we no longer live in countries that are under the same sort of national moral mandate as did the Israelites in these early times. Then the nation, itself, was charged with living in a relationship with God that then flowed out to the people through leaders such as Moses and through the priests and prophets as God’s ordained servants and spokespersons. Our world is different in many ways. Most profoundly, we live in a time when we enter into a relationship with God individually and personally though Christ. Each person is charged with understanding God’s truth and with applying it to our lives. Although we are still under a mandate to grant due respect to our governmental leaders and to honor our country, each of us is directed by God to understand His righteousness and to apply it to the way that we conduct our lives whether private, personal, or public. Christ also requires His people to seek justice and to show mercy to those who are not in positions of power and easy acceptance, and this mandate exists even when those leaders and governments disagree with God’s concept of justice and peacemaking.

 

This is why God’s code of social conduct matters so much to Him and why it should be highly significant to each of us in Christ. The way that we transact life with others speaks loudly about the relationship that we have with God. When we set aside gain for the good of others, we are living as Christ demonstrated to us. When we speak up for the disadvantaged and the voiceless, we are doing as God desires for us to do. As children of the Living God we are not granted any margin of comfort or of safety in this area. Christ calls upon us to live on that ragged edge of our culture where there is no net of security to catch us and no path of easy acquiescence to the direction that those in power may have taken when that path runs in opposition to God’s ways. However, this counter cultural path is the place from which the view that our eyes will see is of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the image that we demonstrate to our world is the face of Christ.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul had goals. He knew the desires of his heart, too. He wanted to bring people into knowledge of Christ and to see them grow into a relationship with the Lord that was founded on solid truth and understanding. He also knew that these new believers would need to be taught, counseled, and developed in their faith if they were to be sustained in their journeys with Christ. All of this required that Paul spend time and expend energy in the pursuit of this labor of love. Being a shepherd for any flock is not easy, and doing this with people can be all consuming. Yet, shepherding is what Christ had called Paul to do, and this was what Paul was intent on seeking to do.

 

It doesn’t seem as if caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of others was truly Paul’s gifting either. He was an intellectual with a great passion for knowing God’s word and for seeing that it was adhered to by all. However, in Christ, all of this was changed, for Christ calls upon His servants to care for the people who come into His flock. This is a very mixed group with many gifts, strengths, and skills to offer, and also with many challenges, personality quirks, and sinful issues to work on and through. The process of entering into the lives of others is not easy, and it is made even more taxing by the fact that God calls upon His people to engage with others for the long haul of life in a manner that is like the one that He employs with each of us. That is, we are to stay in relationships that do not always go well, and we are to go after people who wander away from God’s path of life. All of this can be tiring unto exhaustion and frustrating to all who seek to serve Christ.

 

So, we do not need to enter into this work of shepherding by using our own strength and consuming our internal resources. They will never be sufficient for all that lies ahead in service to Christ. Instead, we are granted Christ’s unending and bottomless resources as our source of supply for His calling to enter into the lives of others. The presence of Christ within does not change the reality of the challenges that come with the calling, and those challenges will bring about hours and days when we are beaten down and exhausted from the effort that we are required to expend and by the harsh rejection and personal assaults that we are forced to endure. Yet, even the worst of these times are ones in which Christ is present, and it is in these dark times that the Lord often becomes His most real and tangible to us. Loving others will lead to struggles and to opposition, but loving others and shepherding Christ’s sheep is His calling for His people, and Christ is faithful to give His shepherds the energy that is required by this calling and the strength to endure all that comes as a result of serving His will.

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