September 2017


Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10: 43-45

 

Many people spend a great amount of time and considerable effort in developing themselves. I know that I have and continue to do this very thing. It actually is good to have knowledge and skills. These are useful. Even the positions of leadership and influence that these acquired abilities support are valuable and worthwhile in both human and in Kingdom of God terms. So, I don’t think that Jesus was speaking against His people becoming leaders in our world, community, or other areas of life. It seems that His point is focused on how we conduct ourselves in life and on the way that we view our responsibility to all of the others that we meet as we travel through our days.

 

In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that we should seek to occupy only the lowliest of positions in our culture because positions of greater authority and responsibility will always corrupt the holder of the office. He is saying that the attitude that we need to have as we go about living life is one that we can see from His approach to His life among us. Jesus is God. He is the rightful and appointed King over this entire world. Yet, He agreed to set aside all of His position and apparent authority in order to live with and among us, to teach and demonstrate righteous living to us, and to sacrifice Himself for us. Christ was willing to serve all of humanity in a manner that was unknown before His life with us and that remains elusive to this day. His sacrificial service knew no limits or limitations. He cared for those who were close to Him and for those who despised Him and brought Him harm. Christ did this without regard for any of the distinctives, points of reference, or divisions that we routinely consult in placing value on others.

 

Jesus calls upon His people to follow Him. He meant that in absolute terms. There is nothing that He would have us hold back, and there are no people that He grants us permission to treat differently than He would. This is one of those areas where life as a follower of Christ gets hard, for I think that Jesus is telling me to repent for my attitudes of superiority and self-righteous pride. He says that I must stop viewing any others as lesser beings. So, I must submit myself to serving the needs of all others, and in Christ’s view, the greatest of those needs is for relationship with God. Jesus is calling upon us to love others without concern over their acceptance of our love, to bind up the physical and the emotional wounds that we see around us, and to give all that we have in order to bring the presence of Christ into the darkness of our world. Jesus is telling me that the best place for me to view the Kingdom of Heaven is while on my knees in humble submission to His will as I wash the feet of the stranger, the foreigner, the sick and the weak, and those who might angrily reject me.

 

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And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.”

Joshua 6: 2

 

Whether the walls are made of stone, or they are formed out of the harsh and craggy barriers of anger and distrust, we all encounter barriers in our journey of following Christ in the world. The obstacles will be there, and that is something that God has actually informed us about in advance. The simple truth is that much of this world stands firmly in the way of God’s redemptive desire and His related calling to His people to be servants of the Gospel of Christ. After we have engaged in a few encounters with the forces of this world and probably gained some bruises and perhaps even come away with some blood dripping from our wounds, it is easy to be apprehensive about the next encounter and to have our confidence shaken. There is nothing quite like a sharp rebuke or the loss of a relationship to bring about the need for caution, and there is truly nothing to compare with real physical peril in the process of dampening zeal.

 

If we seek to do the Lord’s bidding in our lives and attempt to do it on a regular basis, we will crash into the walls of disbelief that are surrounding many of the hearts and the minds of people that we will encounter. There is no way to avoid this aspect of serving Christ. Although the Lord comes with love as His message and an offering of grace and salvation as His gift, He also demands that we face into the truth of our sinfulness and repent from the direction that it has taken our lives. This is challenging and very hard for many people to do. Humanity has created elaborate systems, institutions, and arguments that are all formed with protection and defense from Christ’s Gospel as their ultimate objective. So, when we go into our world with that same message of redemption through relationship with Christ, we are going up against well-developed and powerfully constructed defensive fortifications.

 

There is only one reasonable way for us to approach all of this, and that is in prayerful submission to Christ and in the power of His Spirit. That is the place that Joshua found himself. His walls were made of stone, and the opposition was armed with spears and swords. Ours may be constructed in these ways, but they will probably be fashioned in some other manner. Yet, the opposition that we face in our day is as real and as potentially terrifying as was Joshua’s, and like it was for him, the Lord is with us and does go before us into each and every one of the contests that we will be facing. For Joshua, the walls were still standing, the angry shouts of the Canaanites could be heard clearly from within those walls, and the glint of the sun off of the swords was flashing in his eyes; yet, he knew that the Lord had already defeated the opposition. Satan is now fighting a futile and final campaign, and Christ’s ultimate victory is coming very soon. Today we can look up at the wall of doubt and disbelief that stands before us and enter into a contest for the souls of the people that we meet in our journey with the full knowledge and confident faith that Christ is fighting the battle and that He will topple over the walls that stand before us.

By awesome deeds you answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation,

you who are the trust of all ends of the earth and of the farthest sea.

Psalm 65: 5

 

Everything about God is extraordinary and beyond the scope of my imagination; yet, everything that I need is completely and readily within the Lord’s command and grasp. The things that I view as impossible are routine for Him, and the issues that cause me worry, concern, and fear are things that He can handle in an instant. Additionally, the Lord knows when I actually need what sort of response from Him. He gives to us in the way that the best possible parents desire to give to their children; for, the Lord provides the sort of response that makes us stronger in our faith, that brings us closer to Him, and that shows His gracious love to the world.

 

The issue that gets in the way of my ability to fully appreciate and to enjoy the peace and live with the faith and courage that comes from this intimate trust relationship is my own combination of doubt and desire for self-control. I have this tendency to believe that my issues and concerns are really big deals, for they are from my perspective. Then I try to hold onto them and to solve them with my personal skills and wisdom. Unfortunately, when I do this, I am ignoring the source of all true wisdom and understanding in the universe, and I am operating my life at a self-determined distance from the most powerful resource for solving problems that will ever be available.

 

The same God that created this world and that holds it together is the Lord over all of my life. He simply wants me to trust Him with that role. He blesses my days with a continual stream of caring and responsive actions, and the Lord provides me with answers to challenges that I have not even identified. Living with this sort of total trust is simple to say but often much harder to do. Yet, all that God wants is for me to trust Him to the level that before I expend one ounce of energy on worry or take even an instant to work on solving my problems that I would turn to Him in prayer and humble submission to His will.

 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9: 36

 

Jesus knew the people; He was very aware of what they were like and how they were living. This was true because He spent significant amounts of time in their company. He didn’t stand back or remain aloof and separate from the crowds. Jesus wanted to get up close to the full spectrum of humanity, and He was willing, even desirous, to connect personally with the dirty and unwashed, the angry or demented, the poor and oppressed, and the well off and powerful. They were all to be counted among the lost and wandering sheep of this earth when it came to these encounters with the Savior. Each and every one of them was in need of the truth of the Gospel and the love of God.

 

So, Jesus traveled along their paths of wandering as He went where people in need were located. Christ did what God had done from the beginning of His relationship with us in that He came after us. Jesus did not sit back, station Himself in a suitable place to conduct His business, and wait for the people to come to Him. He went out into the world, took the risks that this act involves, and He reached out His hand of mercy, love, and truth to everyone that He encountered along the way. Jesus knew that He held the answer to the challenges that all people face in this life. He was fully aware that direction and purpose and the empowerment to enter into them are all provided to us by God and through His Word. He brought that Word of Life to the doorsteps of the world in His flesh. He carried God’s salvation to the paths of destruction that people had taken in our shepherd less states of being.

 

Jesus conducted Himself in this compassionate manner, and He desires or us to do the same sort of thing. Christ has left each of His followers with His Word of truth to cherish and to utilize in understanding and engaging with life. However, that same word is a living and a dynamic document as well as a Spirit-engaged testimonial to God’s grace, mercy, love, and redemption. We are, in fact, to be the workers in the fields of harvest that the Lord speaks about. Christ sends us out from our homes, our churches, and our comfort into a world where directionless existence is the normal state of affairs. He guides us and counsels us in this journey of faith, and Christ, Himself, does the actual work of convincing and convicting people of their need for Him. We are to be people who act in faith as we are yielded to Christ’s compassion for others. As we journey into our world, we will encounter these lost sheep to love and to share the truth of life with, and the compassion that we show to them will reflect that of our Lord onto the landscape around us.

O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8: 1

 

Almost everyone has read poetry. Most of us have written some of it, too. You may read or write it because you were required to do this by a teacher or a parent, or you may do it out of interest and even with great enjoyment and pleasure. Regardless of the personal reason for the contact with poetry, its highly stylized and emotion-charged words can be very impactful. These words are often fanciful and chosen for the way that they sound over what they actually say, or, at least, so it seems. In the two simple lines above we are granted the opportunity to look into the mind and the heart of one of history’s great poets, who also happens to be a passionate follower of God and a keen observer of His hand at work in our world.

 

From his early days as the young son that was left out to care for the family’s sheep on through his years of serving God and Israel as king, David was very much aware of the presence of the Lord. He experienced God’s creative hand in the land where he walked each day, in the animals that he cared for and that he encountered, and in the manner by which his needs were met, whether that was accomplished in the mundane course of the day’s occupation or through means that were nothing if not miraculous. The eyes of David’s heart were open and attuned to the touch of the Creator in everything in his world. The sun and the moon, the sky and the earth, the mountains and the valleys were all formed and placed by David’s God. The animals that fed his family and the ones that sought to kill and devour them and him were also a part of that Divine tableau. Even the flea that would bite and suck blood and the Swallowtail butterfly with its tuxedo-like appearance told the story of a God who was intimately involved in the details.

 

Thus, David could shout and sing out about the nature and the character of the God who it seemed had fabricated and maintained the world for the sake of His beloved child. Every experience of life was one more episode in the story of dwelling in the glorious presence of the Lord. For David and for us, the exquisite and splendid beauty of this world speaks of the One who formed it and of the remarkable way that His creation is designed so that my ancestors, my descendants, and myself would be fed and cared for in both body and in spirit. David’s poetry may be fanciful, beautiful, and highly creative and mine is not, but that doesn’t really matter. We both travel the roads that God sets out for us, and I can do exactly what David did in his days. I can go about everything that I do with my eyes open and my heart surrendered to the presence of my Lord. Then, His name will be on my tongue as the song of my heart, and every step of the journey can be taken in worshipful response to His name.

And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.

Deuteronomy 6: 25

 

It would seem that God views all of life as being important. He doesn’t do what we people are so quick to do. That is, the Lord doesn’t separate out some attitudes, behaviors, and actions and deem them to be important and place others onto a list of that which matters far less. God contemplates the smallest and the least powerful of His creation with the same loving interest and involvement as He does the grandest of it all. He also looks at the simplest of actions and the most private of thoughts with the deep understanding of their eternal impact. The universe that God created was designed and crafted with an intricate order and perfect balance throughout. Nothing was out of place.

 

By way of contrast, my world can be very disorderly. Important things get misplaced, stepped on and broken. Important people are mistreated, used and damaged. We have all experienced the effects of this sort of chaos. We have all been involved in its creation. God says, “Enough!” We need to stop perpetuating the brokenness and the decay in our world as if it were an inevitability of life. Until God’s timing is right and Christ permanently ends Satan’s ability to touch our world, the perfection of God’s created order will be disrupted. However, each of us has the ability to do something about the intrusion of sin into the parts of this world that we touch. We can do something else with our lives, for God calls us to love Him in totality.

 

If this is true, if we are actually sold out in every way to loving God as He commands us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt. 6:5), and we take Jesus’ teaching on this as a personal imperative when He quoted Deuteronomy and added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22: 39), we must view life differently. These fundamental commandments of God are intended to bring calm to the troubled waters of life and to sooth the angry hearts that seethe within our chests. As we love God with the totality of our beings, there is nothing left except to love others with the self-sacrificial humility of Christ. This is obedience to God, and this is living in His righteousness.

And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua 5: 15

 

This is a great moment; an amazing moment that is much like the time that Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai. Here Joshua stands before a great and fortified city that is filled with people who stand in opposition to him and to the mission that God is sending him out upon. This would be a time when anxiety and nerves were running high and where the excitement of entering into the coming contest would also be peaked. So, as Joshua seeks to get his emotions in check, his plans fully developed, and the army that he was leading set to engage in siege and conquest, he runs into a mysterious figure, who seems to just appear before him. Yet, the appearance from nowhere is not the strangest aspect of this encounter, for the response of this stranger is even more off-putting for Joshua. It is then that Joshua realizes that he is standing in the presence of the Lord of Hosts, and the presence of God on this soon to be plain of battle makes all of the difference.

 

Joshua’s experience of Christ in the conduct of the affairs of his calling to serve God, in the course of living out life on this earth, seems extraordinary and unusual. This is a very special moment in the narrative of the establishment of God’s people on the earth and in the world. Yet, I question why this is so? Why do we, in this day and place in the history of God’s relationship with people, find it amazing and even miraculous that the Lord would appear and speak to one of us? For Joshua, in his times, this was a different situation than it is for us in ours. Christ has come and dwelt among us on the earth, and when He departed from that in-the-flesh aspect of dwelling here, Christ sent His Spirit to continue to reside in our midst and within people of faith. As we travel through life, we are always in the presence of the Lord, and as we do so in the community of the church, we are going about the Lord’s business in the company of the Lord of Hosts.

 

My challenge in this is that I just don’t fully appreciate that presence. I don’t recognize the Lord when He is with me in all that I do and within all of the interactions that I have in this life. For a follower of Christ there is no aspect of living in this world that does not contain His presence. We may not always see this, and we may not always actually think that we desire it, but the Spirit is here for every step of the journey. We are traveling through life in the company and under the direction of the Lord, and this reality should make a true and a profound difference in the way that our lives are lived out. In Christ, we dwell at the foot of the great walls of this world’s Jerichoes. We are entering into new lands to conquer for our Lord with almost every step that we take. He wants to show us the path to follow so that we can be victorious over the forces that oppose Christ in our world. The Spirit will direct our steps so that we do not stumble or fall as we transit the rough ground before us. So, here we are, ready for a new day, and the place where each of us is standing is truly Christ’s holy ground.

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