September 2017


For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

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Blessed be … the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4

 

Discomfort is a term that people in the medical field often use to describe sensations that can range from the mildly annoying all the way to knock you to your knees disabling pain, and this same concept seems to apply to the things that produce what we call discomfort in the rest of life, too. The things that cause us to become uncomfortable can be as minor as a paper cut or a serious as a terminal illness, and they will be simple to fix like a lost button, and totally challenging like a lost relationship. In any and in all of these situations there is only one place to turn in order to gain real perspective and to gain the sort of healing calm that comes from a heart that is at peace and has confidence regardless of what is happening. This is when we need to look to the source of all comfort, God.

 

The Lord wants to place His loving hands on our shoulders and help us gain the sort of perspective that comes from the truth of His Word and through the interaction of His Spirit. Additionally, He wants to engage with us in all of the situations in our lives where we find ourselves stressed out, frazzled, fearful, angry, or dealing with any of the other emotional states that tend to get us off track and make us less functional as people whose primary calling in this world is to bring glory to God. Since most people don’t like to admit that we don’t have a satisfactory plan for handling all that comes our way and that we don’t possess the resources that we need in ourselves, it requires real strength and courage to take all of our concerns and challenges and turn them over to Christ; yet, He does have and will provide everything that we do need.

 

Like the rest of God’s relationship with us, He wants to give comfort to us. However, it doesn’t stop there; for, the Lord wants us to get our feet under us and to understand and trust Him so that we can, in turn, become people who help others understand where and how to find this same sort of life-changing perspective and the deep peace that comes out of it. We need to allow God to open our minds and our hearts to the pain and to the hurting people around us; for, when we comfort others, we bring God’s presence into their lives, and we express our blessing to the Lord.

 

Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4: 4, 5

 

There is much in this world that I take for granted. It is with us. It is a part of the background of life. These may be things that are relatively necessary such as food and water, and there may be the background of existence such as trees, earth, and sky. The point is that I don’t think much about them, for they just are. It comes as no surprise that God might want for me to hold all of this differently as interacting with and viewing these things is a rather frequent occurrence. God has an annoying way of showing me that my perspective is distorted and how His passion meets my indifference. I guess that this is another in the long list of reasons why He is God and I am blessed to serve Him as my King.

 

In this passage Paul is reminding us that God expressed a benedictory blessing upon all of His creation. In the creation account of Genesis we hear that God proclaimed that it was all good. I believe that He meant what He said. All of creation was good, and it was all intended to be of benefit to the people that God had fashioned in His image to dwell in the land and to hold dominion over it on behalf of and in honor to our Lord. That is how God intended for it to be. However, sin entered in, and all of it became broken and God’s perfect plan was distorted by Satan’s deception and by our acceptance of those half-truths and lies. We have created false rules to live by. We have turned away from God and to the worship of various aspects of creation. Humanity has become diminished from our God-ordained position of authority and responsibility by our fears and our arrogant and self-centered need to gain power and control.

 

God wants us to view our entire world with a thankful heart. Everything that we see, touch, and experience is here for a purpose. Even the smallest of organisms was crafted by the hand of the master craftsman. Whether we view this world through the lens of a microscope or we look out into the universe with a telescope what we see is the handiwork of the King. Yet, none of it, not even the most amazing and magnificent of the things that we see, is worthy of praise or worship. All of creation points to the loving and orderly heart of the Creator, God Almighty. Perspective on it all is gained as we express our thanks to Him for this incredible gift that He made for our benefit. The Lord provides understanding of our role and responsibility in its management and care as we search His heart and will in His Word and through prayer. In this way God reveals the magnificence of His generosity, and He directs His people to live in a manner that points others toward the Creator.

Get up! Consecrate the people and say, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.””

Joshua 7: 13

 

The story has taken a very difficult turn. Defeat has come to the Israelite warriors, and this was not just a loss in battle. This was a turn and run, flee for your life after being overwhelmed sort of loss. Soldiers had been killed, and the victorious Amorites were beating their chests and taunting God’s people with all manner of derogatory words. To say the least, this was a very bad day, and there was nothing about tomorrow that looked any brighter. It seemed that maybe the long years of hard journey that had followed upon generations of hard life were just going to continue on without let up from this generation through to the future ones. Joshua was discouraged, and the people that he was leading were down hearted and defeated as well. This was that moment when God seemed far off and they felt quite alone in their struggles with life.

 

Yet, that was not true. God was more near than any of them realized. They were so caught up in the pain of defeat and in their fear for what sort of disaster was to come upon them soon that they forgot to stay worshipful and focused upon God’s faithful promise keeping history with them. The reason that God’s favor had left them was that they had turned from trusting Him. They had gone off on their own and done things as they pleased without the Lord’s guidance. They had also deviated from God’s word of truth and life so that their sinfulness had become a barrier between them and their Lord. This combination of entering into thoughts and behaviors that run contrary to God’s righteousness, this sinfulness, and turning away from a relationship in which we trust God fully is a common process in human endeavor.

 

We reject God’s truth because we would rather do things our own way. Then we take action upon our own desires and wishes so that our lives turn away from God’s path of righteous engagement with our world. Finally, we stop trusting God and placing our faith in Him as that form of closeness has become uncomfortable and our troubled hearts can’t handle that level of intimacy with God. However, God does not go far from us. He may allow the situations and the circumstances of life to become big and powerful. He may, as He did with the Israelites, allow us to experience defeat and very real loss. Yet, the Lord is there with us. He will step in to pick us up and set us back on His course through this world. God will point to our sinfulness, He will work within us to bring about repentance and restoration, and His Spirit will continue to guide us back into the joy of life that comes when we are fully devoted to the Lord and our lives are lived in close relationship with Him.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5: 24

 

When does life begin? This is a question that has been debated for a very long time, and it continues to be a point a real contention to this day. Some people argue that life commences at conception, others say that it is at birth, and still others hold that it doesn’t begin until an individual draws independent breath. I am proposing a fourth alternative. This is that life truly begins for each of us when we accept God’s offer of His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. The rest of what we might consider to be life is a weak shadow in comparison to being fully alive in Christ, and this new state of being alive is ours from the moment that we surrender ourselves to Christ as this is when His Spirit comes to dwell within us and God’s sentence of judgment upon us as sinners is placed upon Jesus as our personal redeemer.

 

Thus, from that moment forward our lives take on a new meaning and a redeemed purpose. In accepting Christ we have also entered into the will of the Father for relationship with Him. Jesus is the mediator who brings people into the holy presence of the Father with our sins removed and the judgment that we so rightly deserved taken on by Him on the cross. As we are right with God, we can live righteously throughout our days in this world. This is an important aspect of the calling that God has for us as His children and that Christ places before us as His redeemed. Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross has an eternal purpose and it also has one that is for this moment in time.

 

The life that w have been granted as a gift from God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus is to be used to bring the character and nature of the Father and the Son into direct contact with this world. As we who know Christ go about our lives and engage in the activities of our days, we can touch others with love, grace, mercy, and the truth that comes from God’s Word. We can have a redemptive effect upon the brokenness of this place where we live in the manner that we conduct ourselves as we follow the example of Christ and the leading of His Spirit. In Christ we are set free to live without fear of judgment, and we are also granted the freedom to proclaim the redemptive love of Christ to a world where death rules. So, this is the primary purpose of this new life that we receive in Christ. We can demonstrate and speak of life as something that we possess and offer that same life to anyone who accepts God’s offer of it through Christ.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13: 34

 

Love is in the air. Love is all around us. Love is what makes the world go around. Expressions about love have been on people’s tongues for as long as we have possessed speech. We talk about it, and we sing to its virtues and to its pain and sorrow. We attempt to explain its mysteries as we also try to secure it for all of our days. Yet, despite all of this effort and the expending of mountains of words, it seems that we seldom truly understand that thing called love. It is elusive, slippery, and fragile; so, when we think that we have it in hand, it either escapes from our grasp or we crush the life out of it. The problem just might be that we continuously look to other people as our models for what love looks like, and so we repeat our own errors and enter into forms of loving that have historically proven to be false as if they were the ultimate expression of life.

 

One of the most significant problems that most of us have with loving others is that it starts out and is founded upon our own desires, wants, and wishes. We love because it feels good and gives to us something that we believe that we lack otherwise. Even when we give to those who we love as when a mother loves and cares for her baby, this love may contain a strong component of self-gratification and attainment of identity and sense of worth that derives from the role of mother. This is simply the way that we are made and does not reflect any sort of willful deviation from doing what is good or right. Yet, human love is truly more self-centered than it is outwardly focused. Its expression and reciprocal return to us are more about what we get than they are about what we give away. This is where Christ offers us something else to consider and another form of love to view.

 

He came to us as one whose love brought about an ultimate form of giving away. Jesus entered this world and lived with us as one of us so that the love of the Father and His own love for all of creation could be fully known and entered into by people. In some very real and tangible ways, Jesus, who possessed everything of true worth, value, glory, power, and honor that exists in the universe, set it all aside in order to give Himself up to the forces of evil in that same universe so that they would be totally and finally overcome and defeated, and that as a result of this sacrificial victory, all people would have the opportunity to enter into the eternal life that we had surrendered to our own willful disobedience to God. So, just as it was our own self-absorbed decision that led to death and to the loss of our understanding of eternal love, it was Christ’s self-denying act of sacrificial loving that allows us to enter into the love that overcomes all else and that heals all of our brokenness. This is the love that brings us into relationship with God and with each other, and this is the love that binds us together in a community of faith that is formed around and founded upon Christ.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5: 8

 

What does it mean to be a sinner? Many of us have heard about and even memorized lists of sins, and the consequences that can come our way if we engage in them. These are not good things to think, say, and do; at least that is supposed to be the way that God views it all. In this view of things, sin is bad; so, not sinning is good. This approach tends to set up a form of tension between doing what we want to do and doing what we are informed that God would have us do. There is some truth to this, but this is also an ill-informed understanding of how God actually works and the design of life in His redeemed kingdom come.

 

In God’s perspective, sin is rejection. It comes about as people turn away from Him and from His righteousness in order to think and act as we want without regard for what that might do or cause to happen in the lives of others or in our world. Sin takes people away from God’s designed patterns of engagement with the rest of creation and redesigns the rules so that our own desires are met regardless of the consequences for ourselves or for others. It moves us ever farther away from the love, grace, and mercy that are inherent in God’s creation plan, and sin then builds up barriers between each person and God, and by virtue of God’s implanted image in all people, it also divides us one from another. This thing that is called sin is the singular most destructive force that exists in relationships and especially in that which can be formed between people and our Creator.

 

However, God is not willing to see this world and our lives remain in this state of separation and conflict. He did something about this state of affairs, and the Father did not wait to see how we might act or even for our responses to His approach to us. In advance of anyone’s turning toward Him, God formed a plan for the redemption of all of His creation, and that plan was focused on the restoration of deep and intimate relationship with anyone of us who would accept the opportunity and the offer of grace that was extended. Jesus, God Himself, perfect and blameless, would yield Himself to suffer all that every one of us deserved by way of penalty for our sinfulness. This was planned and executed while we were all still buried in sin and lost to eternity. Christ gave all as an advance to our accounts so that we could freely enter into the redemption of love that God tenders to us. In this new state, Christ works within us to transform our thinking and acting so that the tension of righteousness is reformed into the nature of our being.

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