January 2018


For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 20

 

For most of us, the idea of being beaten for our faith is rather abstract. We have heard of people who have received this sort of treatment and worse, but we have never come close to anything more severe than hearing some harsh words or being dismissed as irrational or foolish by people who do not agree with us. I am not ignoring the possibility that physical harm or danger can and might come the way of followers of Christ in our world today, but I do believe that this sort of thing, in its literal sense, was more directly a part of Peter’s first century environment than it is a part of our twenty-first century one. Yet, the idea that he is expressing here still applies to us, and I think that it is valid in some important ways when it comes to our witness for Christ in our world.

 

In truth, there is much to be endured for us today. We even are exposed to beatings; however, the pummeling is just of an emotional, spiritual, and mental nature rather than being applied to our flesh. Some of this abuse is directed at our faith and comes our way as a direct result of the conflict that exists between God and His adversary, and much of it is more generally caused by the work of that same adversary in the cultural flow of life around us. The challenge for each of us who follow Christ and for His church is to remain fully and truthfully engaged in the discourse and the dialogue of our culture while not falling prey to its methodology and its hopeless self-reliance. This is a hard balance to maintain when the blows of unjust, unloving, and self-focused society are reigning down upon the lives of those who are least able to defend themselves and upon any of us who would seek to speak and to live out righteousness in the face of these various forms of rejection of Christ’s Gospel of love.

 

Thus, when we walk in righteousness, we also must be prepared to enter fully into Christ’s grace, for it is this grace that holds us up when others reject our point of view, and it is during these hard times of opposition to what is occurring around us that we also need to be prepared to enter into the conflict with grace as the foremost quality that we demonstrate. This is the point of contact where endurance is tested most severely, for this is where a very personal and rightfully heartfelt passion for what is just and holy is placed in direct conflict with ideas and values that others hold as necessary, appropriate, and even as God-honoring. Winning these discussions is really not the point, but speaking and demonstrating truth while pouring out Christ’s redemptive grace onto those who oppose our view is what the dialogue is actually about. This process often feels worse than a physical beating would, and it lasts much longer, too. Yet, Christ provides the strength to endure it all while not surrendering God’s values and our drive to see that His justice prevails in our world. In this process, Christ also pours out His grace upon us so that we can, in turn, bring His peace-making love into the center of the conflict.

Advertisements

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Psalm 47: 1

 

Unfortunately, there is plenty of shouting going on in our world today. We can all attest to being exposed to hearing people literally yelling at each other when quiet discourse would be far more effective in accomplishing what needs to be done. Even when the volume of the voices is held in check, the nature of the words and the intensity of their delivery can still equate to a shouting match. We do it in print, and we do it by using our electronic communication devices. There are days when it seems as if our whole planet has decided to join in a dysfunctional and discordant chorus of worldly hymns in celebration of disagreement and entrenched position holding. Unfortunately, at least for me, none of this is very pleasant, and it does not get much that is good and worthwhile accomplished either.

 

God did not design His creation to be dysfunctional, and He does not desire for us to be contentious with each other. This fact leads me to consider if there might be a better way to engage with each other in the process of operating this planet. Perhaps if we stopped focusing so intently upon what it is that we want and desire and started to turn our eyes toward the Lord with the same concentrated gaze, we would see the world and each other differently. It might just be worth it for people to stop working so hard to establish their own points of view and start to meditate upon what it is that God would have us think, say, and do. In this process, we could relieve the silence and celebrate God’s revealed truth by joining together with others in singing songs of praise to God and by joyously clapping our hands and dancing.

 

My point is that worshiping the One who has answers and focusing upon His truth is far more likely to solve the issues that we are facing than is any of the loud and self-serving discourse that is so common these days. May I be so bold as to suggest that we could enter into a period of fasting, as it were, from all public position stating expressions, from calling out the failings of those who hold opposing views about issues, and even from the processes of gathering in the halls of governance to debate and to contest laws and such so that we can turn all of our attention toward the Lord and listen together for His will to be expressed in all matters. Then, as God, who is King and Sovereign Lord over all of Creation, speaks and provides us with His perfect will, we can break out in songs of praise and join hands in a celebratory dance as an expression of delight at the harmony and peace that our God brings to all people.

For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1: 17

 

Faith does not exclusively belong to religious minded people, for everyone exercises faith all of the time and during each day of our lives. For example, it takes a form of faith to trust that the air outside is safe to breathe, faith is required by people to cross a bridge or to enter a large building, and faith in the basic civility of others is certainly needed when we venture forth into public and believe that we will not be harmed in the process. We live in an environment that operates out of faith in its fundamental design and construction, and in so doing, we actually enter into one of the most basic forms of faith in God, Himself. Now, in order to recognize this specific aspect of faith, it is necessary to accept that God, in some form, is the one who made, devised, or created the physical universe and all of its components. Still, this is something that most people do in fact embrace to some degree; so, they enter into faith in God as they accept His creator role.

 

Yet, faith in God has a considerably more important place in this listing of aspects of existence that are built upon some form of faith. For, faith in God does, in fact, lead to a reshaping of life, itself. It helps to define what it does mean to truly be alive. People were designed, devised, and made to live rightly in relationship to each other and to our world. This righteousness is the state of being that brings us into the most balanced and healthy of relationships with other people, and it allows us to engage in living in a manner that brings out all of the gifts, talents, and skills that we possess intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Righteousness requires us to look outside of our own wishes and wants and toward the needs and desires of others as we set our personal goals and objectives for life. It is righteousness that leads people into engagement with the world around us in order to understand points of view beyond our own and so that we can enter into bringing about healing for those aspects of creation that we have caused to become broken.

 

Acceptance the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an act of faith, for in so doing we enter into a relationship with God that is based upon agreement with Him and submission to Him in all matters concerning what it means to be a person and to live out that reality as a follower of Christ. The terms of this agreement are written in a book that was completed thousands of years ago by people who were far removed from our world today, and its content was given to those authors by the Spirit of God in a manner that always contains some form of the mystical in its description. Today we still submit to and engage with the Spirit as God reveals Himself and speaks truth, counsel, and encouragement to our hearts and our minds; so, in this process of engagement with God in all three of His persons, we are living squarely in the center of the arena that is defined as faith. This is the place where we are made alive by Christ in the ways that God designed us to be truly and fully alive, and this place called faith is where we are led by Christ into living out the calling that He has for us so that the days that we possess are full of His life-giving presence.

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

Joshua 24: 14

 

History matters. There is something to be gained by taking a good look at it from time to time, and that is exactly what Joshua has just been doing at this point in his narrative. He has gone over the highlights of all that God has done for himself and for the Israelite people. This is a long and complex tale of the Lord’s faithfulness to them that has remained true despite the fact that the people have frequently wandered away from His path and have far too often needed to be rescued from the consequences of those side trips and sinful excursions. So, Joshua is summing up the Lord’s engagement with the Israelites by directing them to respond to the Lord’s commitment to them by being singularly faithful to God and by following His will in all things. The Lord was to be the sole and total object of their worship and the recipient of their love and devotion.

 

Each of us has a history that is different from the one that shaped the lives of Joshua and the people of Israel. Yet, each of us does possess a story that tells of where we have been, the influences that have shaped us, and that also contains an element of God’s involvement with us and in shaping the way that life has gone. As I see it, God does actively seek out everyone, and He pursues each of us in order to demonstrate His unfailing love for us and to grant to us the opportunity to enter into the gift of His redemptive grace and perfect will for our lives. This is not all that different from what the Lord had done for the Israelites. In our stories the locations have different names, our Egypt of captivity might have another shape or form, and the gods that we have served will probably require other forms of sacrifice and worship than did those of the Amorites or that were found in other lands of the Middle East. Yet, almost everyone has gone through the stresses and the struggles of a journey through life with its times in the desert and its challenges of faith and loyalty to God.

 

Thus, the call to give our total respect, love, and devoted worship to the Lord is not very far off track for anyone today. This is something that we purpose to do, but it is also something that God provides the way and the means to accomplish. We have been granted an advantage over what the Israelites had received in that Christ has come and become the final sacrifice in payment for our sinfulness, our wandering. As we seek to enter into Joshua’s command to fear the Lord and to serve Him with our whole beings, in Christ we have the presence of the Spirit to empower and to guide the process of that commitment. We also possess God’s Word in its entirety to inform our thinking and to influence our actions. So, we are granted the gift of the presence of the Lord in our lives and with us in its journey in ways that are even greater and more powerful than the miraculous and wonderful ways that the Lord was with and among the Israelites during their travels. However, just as it was for them, it is also up to us to decide that we will listen to the voice of the Lord and commit all that we are and every aspect of our lives to Him and to serving His will for us.

Thus says the LORD:

Cursed is the man who trusts in man

and makes flesh his strength,

whose heart turns away from the LORD.

 

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

Jeremiah 17: 5, 7

 

The prophet says it all with a few very direct words. Where we place our trust directly relates to the results that will come our way. The trust that is under consideration is, in itself, a big issue. It is foundational to the conduct of the day, for the way that we handle almost everything in the course of life is impacted and effected by the nature of the foundation that we stand upon when making decisions, both small and great. When we trust in ourselves and in the wisdom of other people as our primary means of discerning what is right, wise, and just, we will be disappointed and even abandoned at some point in the process. People are fickle and self-interested and are almost always guaranteed to fail to live up to the highest of expectations when we stand on our own without the guidance and the strengthening that God provides to us.

 

Jeremiah goes on in this passage to describe the person who places his trust in the ways of people as being isolated and even as being starved for the things that sustain life and bring about flourishing during it. This person is like a plant that is standing alone in the desolation and bareness of the desert. There is little for his soul to feed upon, and there is no sustaining support and encouragement to be found in these places. In contrast, the person whose “trust is the LORD” is compared with a tree that has been planted by water. In other words, one that is close to, focused upon, and remains connected with this unceasing and completely trustworthy source of nourishment, strength, and guidance in the ways of truth and righteousness. Although a tree does not make the choice to be planted close to the stream, we are different from these analogous plants in the text. We do have the option and the opportunity to make these choices for ourselves.

 

We can turn toward the ways and the thinking of this world for our guidance in various matters. We can even think that it works for us to seek out God’s Word and His path for some things, those that we deem to be religious in nature, and at the same time turn to the more comfortable understandings of this world for the rest. Yet, according to the thoughts of the Prophet, which experience has demonstrated to me to be correct, neither of these approaches to life will work for very long. We will always end up thirsty for truth, starved of wisdom’s nutrients, and isolated from the fellowship of faith where we can find real and lasting encouragement and strength. So, we can also choose the path wherein we place our trust in the Lord alone and turn toward Him absolutely and totally. In so doing, we turn to God’s Word as our primary and final authority for everything, all other ideas and thinking is tested against Scripture, we pray and listen to the Lord’s responses to our prayer as a regular aspect of each day, we engage in the fellowship of other followers of Christ and we seek out the counsel of these like-spirited people, and we recognize the fact that we are living as imperfect beings under the gracious and loving care of the Lord. When we choose this last approach to life, the roots of our hearts, minds, and spirits are planted in the singular source of nurture that will never fail to provide what is necessary for the day at hand.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

Proverbs 4: 23

 

When James Weldon Johnson wrote the well known children’s and Sunday school song Dem Dry Bones, he was basing his words on that very strange and marvelous passage in Ezekiel 37 that discusses the Lord’s commitment to restoration for His people. In the song Weldon describes the connection between the skeletal parts of our bodies and how God is in total command over all the aspects of our physical life. In this Proverb, Solomon is describing another form of close connection that exists in our bodies; however, this is one where we are charged with the decision to control the input that we allow into these closely related and directly connected aspects of ourselves.

 

The heart is the center of the way that we view ourselves, other people, and our world in general, and it is directly influenced by everything that we allow into it through our mind. The material that we read, the pictures that we view, and the thoughts that we contemplate are all processed into our hearts through our minds. There really is no such thing as an innocent look or a throw away comment. Everything that we let into our minds and each thought that we form does have an influence on the way that our heart responds to God and on the way that we interact with the world around us. This is why there are so many statements in God’s Word about guarding ourselves from the input of the worldly information and images that surround us and that are so readily available to us in our daily lives.

 

When we choose to fill our minds with the living truth of God’s Word and we seek after the Holy Spirit’s guidance in how we should respond to the world around us, we are providing our hearts with the sort of sound and lasting input that creates an environment where we can function in our world as bearers of God’s image. Then, we become the hands and the feet of Christ in our communities. As our hearts are fed with Christ’s love, grace, and wisdom; we will become voices of loving truth who lead others to Christ, who is the continual source of the sort of sweet water that is the answer to the deepest thirsts in the souls of all people.

 

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24: 27

 

Jesus has been crucified. He was then placed into the sealed tomb but is no longer there. These two disciples are heading off toward the town of Emmaus when they encounter a stranger who joins them on the road and starts to talk with them. They explain their sadness and grief to him, and he begins to talk about Jesus with them. He possesses a depth of knowledge and a fullness of understanding that is amazing to the disciples. Even with all of this, they did not grasp who was with them until later that night when they sat down to a meal together and Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it as He had while celebrating the Passover with them a few days earlier.

 

We look at this story and wonder how these disciples could have been so oblivious to who was with them. Perhaps we conclude that Jesus must have looked and even sounded very different than He did before. Yet, even when He explained the totality of Scripture to them in ways that made the presence of the Christ in it all fully apparent, they did not connect their companion with their teacher and close friend. How much like these disciples do we tend to be? If we have accepted Christ, He is present with us and dwelling within us; still, we are often oblivious to His truth and unresponsive to His direction for our lives. Like those men, we hear the words, but we do not grasp the real and tangible presence of their author or respond to His voice and to the Lord’s expressed will for us.

 

It seems to me that those disciples were so focused upon their own situation and the concerns that it caused them that they could not see beyond it to attend to the way that everything that was occurring in their lives was a part of God’s plan. Jesus spoke the truth of all eternity to them so that they could begin to understand that every word of the Scriptures was pointing to Christ and that all of life is to be dedicated to carrying out Christ’s calling for His disciples. If we open our ears to Him and yield our wills to His, we can enter into the same sort of peace that eventually came to the disciples as they realized who it was that they were engaged with in conversation and in travel through life. Christ reveals His truth and His will to us as we journey along our own roads with Him. He is present all of the time and in every situation or circumstance, for like those disciples, Christ is our companion and guide for the road that we will travel today.

Next Page »