December 2017


For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

Psalm 92: 4

 

God was working out His will in the ancient world of the psalmists, and He is still doing the same to this day. From the dawn of time the Lord has been engaged with His creation on all levels; so, it is not surprising to me to see His hand at work in the affairs of the world where I live. God cares about each of us, and He is very concerned about the way that we live out our lives. This concern and engagement were so great that God, Himself, lived among us to provide everyone with the way and the means to enter into on-going and eternal peace with Him. That baby, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate was the singular greatest work that God’s hand of mercy and grace has accomplished; yet, that work was intended to bring joy to the hearts of people such as myself.

 

My greatest joy is known through the presence of Christ in the world where I dwell, and it is made very real by His Spirit as He dwells within me. For God’s redemptive work is carried out on a grand, universal scale in our world, and it is also rendered on an intimately personal scale within the lives of individuals as we enter into relationship with Christ. It is in and through this relationship that gladness is brought to life, and it is in the companionship of the Spirit that life with its ups and downs, its trials and challenges, is perceived as a joyous event. God works in us to change our perspective on the events and the circumstances of life so that all of it can be understood as valuable and useful in our journey of faith. I know that without Christ in me, I would view my days very differently than I do in light of God’s wisdom, truth, and love.

 

When I consider God’s gift of Jesus, I am not taken immediately into a seasonal story and the festive activities that tend to surround its telling. Instead, I am made humble and also filled with peace and the joy that the writer of this psalm is expressing. In Christ, I have come to know that joy is internally generated by Christ’s Spirit, and so the true and lasting source of my joy is Christ in me. He works to transform my perspective on life to one that seeks to bring His love into all that I think and do. Although my efforts along these lines are weak and highly flawed, I know that Christ is at work to redeem even my poor attempts at spreading His joy in the world.

 

 

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10: 24, 25

 

It is easy to get distracted away from the things that really matter. These are busy days, and the times that we live in present a wide array of challenging and difficult decisions that demand attention throughout the day. No wonder that things of importance get pushed aside and are not granted the sort of contemplation and consideration that they should receive. This is particularly true when it comes to the way that we relate to one another in and around our family of faith, the church. This is a holy organism, a gathering of flesh and spirit that is formed up by Christ and that is bound together by His Spirit in ways that are timeless, mysterious, and that come straight out of the heart of God. So, giving real thought and attention to the way that we relate and interact in this environment and caring deeply about growing the relationships that we find here should be important to each of us who follow Christ.

 

The object of this prayerful thought, according to the author of Hebrews, is significant as well. We are told to be engaged in the process of encouragement and of support for others with a specific outcome in mind. The body of Christ is to be a gathering of people who stand apart from our world by virtue of the love that we share with each other and the love that we pour out into the world around us. It is also to be remarkable because of its seemingly relentless drive to do good in an environment where goodness is too often viewed as weakness. These redemptive attitudes of sacrifice and love do not happen on their own. They require us to surrender to Christ and to allow His Spirit full control over our hearts and minds and the decisions that we make about the conduct of life. This loving approach to the world is best engaged in within the context of other people who are likewise motivated and who will support this attitude and the actions that come out of it.

 

We need each other, and we thrive best when we are rooted and grounded in the company of other people who know Christ and who are willing to seek out His will and follow His lead in taking on the daily challenges that come to us because we live in a world that is rapidly traveling along a path toward its day of final judgement as Christ returns to reclaim all that seems lost and to renew Creation to its intended righteousness and glory. These are the times that we live in, and the body of Christ is the true family that can provide the support, encouragement, and guidance for each of us to live out Christ’s calling to love others, to do what is right and good in our world, and to bring the message of hope and salvation that is the great good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into regular and routine contact with those around us.

Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42: 1

Here the prophet Isaiah is giving us a forward-looking picture of Jesus which states God’s perspective on the Savior. This is the Messiah that God was going to send into our defeated world. Yet, I think that Isaiah was also telling us considerably more than just how the Father would view the Son, Jesus the Christ, for I think that we can see some really great things about how our Lord views us, as well.

Jesus came into this world as a man in order to make God tangible and to connect us totally with our Creator. So, when we enter into a relationship with Christ, we gain much of these same blessings that God granted to Jesus. With Christ in us, we are viewed by God as His chosen ones, and the Lord will literally move heaven and earth in order to hold us up in and through everything that life brings our way. We become the delight of God’s eye. We also become workers in the Lord’s field and keepers of His kingdom come to earth.

However, there are responsibilities that come with our position as God’s chosen ones. We are called upon by the Lord to bring His grace, love, mercy, and justice into the world. Thus, most of us will be required to live differently than we have in the past in that we are being asked by God to care little for ourselves and to be totally involved in demonstrating His redemptive love by and in all of our lives. Standing up for justice, for peace, and for redemptive love in a world that values oppressive power and restrictive rules can be a very lonely and even a dangerous thing to do, but when we do that, we are accomplishing exactly what God wants us to do, and we are standing squarely in the center of His delight.

 

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, “Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood.

Joshua 20: 1-3

 

The cities of refuge that are discussed here in Joshua have a very slight connection to the politically motivated and dedicated ones of our times. In admittedly simplistic terms, the cities of refuge of today’s world are a protest statement against laws and governmental attitudes that the leadership of these cities stand in disagreement with. The places that God through Moses instructed Joshua to dedicate were primarily about redemption and forgiveness. They created an opportunity for people who stood under penalty of a sentence of death in certain circumstances to gain an opportunity to be pardoned and set free to live within the society again. They also cut short the potential for a cycle of violence that revolved around revenge and retribution. These ancient cities of refuge are closely related to the way that God has worked with people and in our world since our first days upon the earth.

 

When Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3: 23, 24), he is making a very inclusive statement. The “all” there is a group that enfolds you and me and every other person who has ever drawn breath in this world. We are born with a sentence of death already proclaimed for us, and we will live out our days awaiting its execution upon us if we do not encounter and respond to God’s offer of refuge that comes to us in and through Christ. In God’s great and marvelous graciousness, He took His desire to offer redemption to us to another level of accessibility. In Jesus, God made it so that the cities of refuge in our world are as close as the air that surrounds us. He eliminated the need for us to travel to His designated place, and instead, God came into our world in a manner that makes His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness real and tangibly present with everyone. We dwell inside of the walls of our city of refuge if we will simply open our eyes to grasp its reality.

 

Christ opens the door to salvation, and He invites us in. This invitation is ours to accept or to reject, but even that offer is an on-going thing. The Lord continues to seek after people as He goes to every end of the earth in His pursuit of us. Unlike these cities in Joshua’s day, Christ’s offer of grace covers all of the sinfulness that we may engage in, for there is nothing that we can do that is greater than the life-saving sacrifice that Jesus offered up on our behalf. God’s heart and His intent is to be known by all people; so, He offers His redemption to all of us. This is the same inclusive “all” that defines our lost state in Romans. When we accept Christ’s offer of refuge, we are set free from the death of sin that covered us previously. Thus, in this new life that we have been granted we are sent out to live fully in the presence of God and to bring the reality of that life that we now enjoy into contact with a world that is still in need of that safe and secure place of refuge.

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5: 15

 

This idea might seem quaint, old-fashioned, or even foolish today. For the world where we live takes great delight in the way that we put down others and looks to gain power and dominance by means of the words that we use to describe people who differ from us. This is something that is going on across political, social, and economic lines, and it is, sadly, also far too much a part of the nature of the dialogue within the holy realm of Christ’s own church. Thus, what Jesus shed His most precious blood to consecrate is often being reduced to something that would shame a back-alley shout-down. This is true even when the civility of lowered voices and the decorum of the setting are maintained as a façade, for when the heart is enraged, its murderous intent still stings, wounds, and commits acts of murder upon the spirit

 

In Christ, we are called to something better than this. We are also led by the Spirit into a manner of engagement that should not utilize verbal and emotional assault as a weapon and that should not accept it in people who we follow and whose direction we take for the conduct of the business of our days. This is the sort of thing that diminished the God-image based humanity of all who enter into such exchanges, and I fear that this is the intent, either overt or underlying, of people who resort to verbal character assassination, graphically negative description of others, and rapid fire, long distance put-downs as a valid method of dialogue or debate. Yet, this is what we are doing. This is the way that we have become accustomed to hearing the views of those who rule this world expressed, and far too many of us in the church are applauding these utterly worldly words and giving credence to their cleverness, force, and truth-saying when they deserve nothing more than rejection and rebuke for the this-world centered nature and character of their content and the hurtful desire of their delivery.

 

In case you are beginning to look toward singular people and say that this is about one person or a specific point of reference in the on-going discourse of our world, please reconsider, think again. For my heart is troubled by much more than what a person or even a political party might be saying. I am joining with Paul in my concern over what is happening inside of Christ’s church. We can and perhaps even should disagree on the issues of our day. Yet, we should never look toward another follower of Christ in a manner that is dismissive or unloving and that does anything to sever the bonds of fellowship that Christ gave His all to construct among us. I will say this again, we can disagree. We even must disagree, for the dialogue around the way and the manner that God’s Word informs and speaks into the issues of our times is an important aspect of the way that the Spirit works out His will and intent in and among us. We should also hold our public figures accountable for speaking truth, for the direction that they lead us, and for the manner in which they engage in the discourse. However, we must never resort to the ways of this world in doing these things, for that path is one that does nothing other than bring division and destruction into Christ’s most precious body of faith.

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will.

Ephesians 1: 8, 9

 

Most of us love a well crafted mystery with all of its plot turns and complex characters. This is the sort of story that keeps us guessing; in fact, the writers of these tales frequently work extra hard at making the real facts obscure and even at deliberately leading us to false conclusions. God’s mysteries are written with a different approach, for they are created with a very different intent, by an utterly unique writer, and with the desire that everyone will get the singular clue to its unraveling.

 

God has been laying the story out before us forever, and He has never been silent or tried to hide the clues to solving the mystery from us. In fact, the Lord is an author who actually goes after His audience, and He desires more than anything else to enter into a close relationship with us. Yet, the great mystery of eternity remains unsolved by vast numbers of people, and every day many see, hear, and are touched by the clues to its resolution; still, they reject the clues as false, they say that they are too busy dealing with life to take the time to think through the puzzle, or they believe that they already possess the true key to open the door of eternity.

 

In the end, the solution to God’s mystery is found in Christ, and there is no other way to gain access to the sort of wisdom that brings the deep secrets of the universe into a form that is comprehensible to our simple human minds. Because God knows all and understands us completely, in and through Christ He gave us the gift of His Spirit to guide us into His word and to clear away the darkness that sin placed around our hearts and minds. Then the Spirit walks with us through life to continually guide us further along the path of God’s will. However, unlike mysteries that are crafted by human writers, God wants us to spoil the ending by revealing the secret to the rest of the audience; thus, the greatest gift that we can give to others who are participating in this grand life play is not the typical respectful silence, but rather we can proclaim Jesus, the only answer that everyone needs, with every aspect of our lives.

 

 

My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Have you ever experienced uncertainty or become so weary from trying to live righteously in this troubled world that it felt like you were going to be swept over the edge of a towering cliff at any moment? Right, I didn’t think that I was totally alone in these responses to life. This world is a big time highly stressful place to exist. Also, Paul is generally a fairly practical guy; for, he lived his life in the center of the storm that happens whenever people who desire and seek to serve the Lord venture out into their communities and engage in bringing the truth of Christ to others. So, my conclusion is that realistic Paul wouldn’t tell us to do or to be something that couldn’t be done.

 

In order to avoid the inevitable sense of futility that comes when my desire to serve Christ intersects with all of the road blocks that spring up in front of my path, I am required to find my direction and the strength to carry on from a very special source. Christ calls me to follow Him and to do His work in my world. If this work is to reach the sort of potential that He knows exists, I must allow someone else to make decisions with me. Finally, if I am to stay the path of that calling through times of personal failure, disappointment with others, and the distractions that life brings my way; my feet need to be firmly set on a foundation that is stronger and that runs deeper than anything that I can fabricate on my own.

 

This all seems so complex to my mind; yet, it all has one relatively simple answer. Jesus, the Christ, is God’s response to every concern that I can contemplate. Jesus, who gave all so that I can live in the complete fullness of God’s riches is all that I need. Jesus, whose Spirit goes through everything in this life with me is my guide and counselor. Jesus, the One who took all of my sin and the shame that it brought to me onto His back is my strength. Jesus, the One who loves me despite all of my hurtful acts and deceitful thoughts holds me steady through all of the trials and the storms that attempt to drive me away from the Lord’s way. Jesus, there is nothing more; so, how can I accept anything less?

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