April 2018


The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1: 7

 

This verse is an outlier; it jumps up as an interruption in a series of verses that consider various forms of angry rebuke and acts of cleansing furry that will be carried out by the same God that is called good here. Nahum’s God is not divided or a bit imbalanced in His responses to the world; instead, the Lord is reacting to what He sees going on in the world. Where He encounters sin and its manifestations in violence, oppression, greed, and denial of His authority and the rule of God’s Law, the Lord takes action to cleanse away the evil, to purify the land and its inhabitant, and to draw those people back to their true God, Creator and Savior. That is what Nahum is speaking about when he wrote out this prophetic letter. His world in Judah and elsewhere has turned away from God on a large scale, and he believes that it is time for the Lord to set things right. God has confirmed this to Nahum in the form of prophetic vision and with inspired words with which to speak it forth into a broken world.

 

The world where Nahum lived is very far removed from the place that we inhabit, but the nature of people and our capacity for turning away from God and from His Word of Truth has not diminished at all. In fact, it seems that we may have been using the intervening centuries as a form of training ground and developmental laboratory for our capacity and skill at living in an ill-conceived form of independence from God. Humanity today is proficient at godless living, and it seems to revel in doing exactly the sorts of things that the Lord has expressed His distaste for and displeasure in. These might be the times that the prophet was discussing. So, these just could be the days wherein everyone should carefully consider the motivations of their hearts and the actions that proceed out of them, and also, we might be well-served to contemplate the eternal validity of the sources of wisdom that inform these thoughts and actions.

 

History confirms what the prophet said. When people turn away from God, there will be trouble. It has always been so. Much of it comes about because of the way that we treat each other, for God provides us with the ethical, moral, and philosophical basis for loving others, for viewing ourselves with full appreciation of who and what we are intended to be, and for living righteously and justly in the face of pressure to do otherwise. The Lord provides His people with a safe place to find shelter in those times of trouble. He covers us with His Word of Truth and Life, and He breathes that life into our lungs through the presence of His Spirit in and with us. Christ stands with us when we encounter the inevitable opposition that is present in our days, and His courage grants us the peace and the grace that we will require to continue to love others even when they express that opposition to our faith and thus to us. In Christ we find that shelter, and in response to His will, we are led to invite others into this eternal stronghold.

We urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.

1 Thessalonians 5: 14

 

This is something that I don’t really want to admit. Yet, I have been all of the people that are described in the first half of this verse, and my way of behaving has certainly required God and the people around me to need to exercise patience. There may not have been any instances when I picked up the furniture and threw it around the room, but I have been angry and frustrated to the point of acting very badly in the presence of others. My personal failure to trust God and to proceed through life with the courage that is fueled by this trust has happened far too many times. The utter exhaustion that comes from living in this hostile world has taken all of the energy and the will to keep going out of my legs on several occasions.

 

These are all times when God’s direct and personal involvement in my life has been incredibly meaningful. The Lord never leaves me in a weakened condition for any longer than I require to understand my responsibility for my situation and to trust in God’s answer for it. Frequently, the truth that brings me out of the troubled state is provided by people who seek and understand the Lord’s wisdom, and who are willing to follow Christ’s model of engaging honestly in people’s lives. It seems that frequently Christ’s voice is heard coming from the mouths of people in my community of faith.

 

The hardest aspect of this process of engagement is probably God’s requirement that we do it with patience. When I have taken the personal risk that is required to enter into a hard conversation with someone, I am ready for that person to embrace my insight and wisdom and just get on with it. However, this is not the way that most of us function. Real change of the sort that beings about Christ’s transformative living takes time. Truly walking through life with others demands that we set aside personal agendas and timelines and embrace God’s view of people’s needs. In the end, God wants us to do what is of primary importance to Him; that is, He wants us to enter into true relationship with others.

 

The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.

Psalm 93: 1-3

 

Life gets crazy; there is too much to get done and no time; too many obligations and no resources. The things that we think that we need the most at any given moment break or hide themselves from us. The frustrations of daily living can often be more than we can bear. So, we ask ourselves these questions, “Why can’t things just work like they are supposed to; why can’t people simply be reliable?” “Where is God in all of this chaos and brokenness?”

 

I think that perhaps God’s answer to these questions, His response to these frustrations is that we are not looking high enough; that we need to lift our eyes from the floor and look out at His creation. This world is flawed, these things that I have surrounded myself with are fallible, and we people are unreliable at best. So, perhaps the answer to these daily frustrations is found in the orientation of the eyes of my heart; for, instead of focusing on what is broken and flawed, I can be looking at the face of God. Rather than whining and complaining about how hard life is, my voice can be lifted up to express praise to my Creator. For the Lord is the same, has never changed, and will never fail me. He is King over all of his Creation, and He is the mighty King.

 

God’s kingdom has nothing to do with cars or houses or with our wealth. His kingdom is built in our hearts; we share in His majesty and we live continually in the presence of the King of Glory. As we open our eyes to see Him and allow His Spirit to orient our hearts to the Lord’s perspective, the great wealth that surrounds us becomes real and tangible, and everything else in life becomes functional. In God’s economy, living with peace and joy becomes possible, and the way we enter into relationship with everyone becomes important. Its all a matter of where the eyes are focused.

 

 

I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud.

1 Corinthians 10: 1a

 

Here are few short thoughts on this idea of our entire existence being played out “under the cloud”. Paul is discussing the well known story of how, as the Israelites were led by Moses through the desert after their escape from Egypt, they were actually led by the tangible presence of God. The Lord was made visible to them all by a cloud that went before them as they traveled and that hovered over them when they camped. It was the cloud that dictated their movement; thus, God was visibly the leader of the movement of His people.

 

In my life I often fail to recognize the cloud that is hovering over me. It is not usually as physically apparent as was the one that lead the Israelites. Additionally, I can be really bad at responding to the movement that God’s presence is guiding for me, for there are times when I am left standing and wondering what I should be doing and where I need to be going while the Lord has been trying to get my attention and has already laid out a very clear direction for me. It would seem that, unfortunately, I am following more in the stubborn and unresponsive footsteps of my ancestors than I am yielding to God’s will for my life.

 

However, God remains faithful and is unrelenting in His desire to see His people living in the center of His will. Thus, the cloud that hovers over all of God’s children is the glory of His Spirit. This is the same Spirit that also lives within our hearts; so, the only thing that gets in the way of our ability to live in the center of that same glory is our lack of comprehension of the Lord’s presence, which is like that of the Israelites in that it stems from our failure to trust in God completely. If I am willing to look with open eyes and a yielded heart and am responsive to the infinite potential that God has given to my life; then, I am ready to follow my Lord into a life filled with His miracles as His presence leads and directs my steps to Christ’s destinations for my days.

 

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,

but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Proverbs 13: 20

 

We do not always get to select the people who travel through life with us; yet, we do get to make decisions about most of the ones who we listen to with an interest in acting upon what they say. We also can select to follow the example of people based upon the manner in which they live out their words. Unfortunately, there is very little real wisdom out and about in our world; so, there are relatively few people among us who we should follow. The scarcity of wise counsel makes the time that we spend in the company of others matter much more, for that time is irreplaceable and its expenditure can influence the rest of life in ways that are significant beyond measuring. Thus, an hour spent in engagement with a wise person may offset many days lived out in the presence of those who are unwise.

 

In Solomon’s ancient economy of wisdom, the wise person was one who knew God, loved Him, and sought after the wisdom that God gives to us in His Word and through the presence of the counsel of His Spirit. So, the wise person was also a godly person, and people who were close to God tended to be wise people. There is no disconnect between the forms of wisdom that were real and true. There is also no gradient or degree of what can be seen as truth. Things are either true or they are not; so, they are lies. Along the same lines, people cannot walk through life as wise people while surrounding themselves with fools; so, people cannot be righteous, as God views it, and still engage with this world’s false understanding of truth even when it feels good to do so. The end result of all such exploration of truth and wisdom that is outside of God’s depiction of them is damage and harm to self and to others, and these sojourns are doomed to end badly.

 

We avoid most of the negative outcomes by staying close to God in His Word and through our relationships. It is impossible to avoid all interaction with ungodly people. In fact, attempting to do so would be something that God does not direct us to do. He sends His people into the presence of the ungodly so that we can demonstrate to them and to our world the love and the wisdom that are found only in the presence of Christ. Still, we are to surround ourselves with people who also know Christ and who seek to follow His righteous way through their days. This is the deep and intimate fellowship of faith that is found in Christ’s body, and the wise walking partners that are described here are our fellow travelers who dwell in the presence of the Lord and engage with life with His counsel as their source of guidance. This is a harsh planet and hard times and challenges will come to all of us, but God’s wisdom is always supreme, and His counsel will protect us and save us from the sort of harm that penetrates to the core of our souls.

 

 

Now, I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all

His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.

Daniel 4: 37

 

Here are the words of one of the most accomplished men to ever walk on the face of the earth. He had empire, position, and wealth. Anything that Nebuchadnezzar commanded was done without question; also, he had been able to surround himself with splendid buildings that were monuments to his leadership and power. Still, God wanted something else from him, and the Lord continued to pursue him with a relentlessness that was even greater than King Nebuchadnezzar’s desire to build monuments. God spoke to him, He provided human testimony, and compelling examples of His might and sovereignty. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was strong, and he continued to know who God was, but he didn’t actually know the Lord.

 

So, God humbled the great man. The Lord took him quite literally to his knees, and then the Lord forced him to depend totally on the protection of others and on the grace of God. Thus, these are the words of a man who has plummeted from the peak of his own success to the depths of living in a pasture, and who has been restored totally by God’s unending love and stunning grace. This is the story of an ancient king that applies to our world as much as it did then, and it is a story of how God continues to work in the lives of everyone regardless of station, status, or rank.

 

Throughout Nebuchadnezzar’s life, God’s people continued to serve the Lord by remaining honest, faithful, and true to their calling to serve God by serving the king. We are all called to adopt the way of the Lord here by never assuming that anyone is beyond, above, or outside of the Lord’s desire to reach them with saving truth. So, we can prepare ourselves for this type of faithful service by looking at our own issues of pride, holding them out with open hands to the Lord, and trusting His truth and justice to take them from us. As we surrender our pride, God’s grace fills us with a clearer sense of His purpose for our lives, and He leads us to people who need to be served in His name. These people may be kings or they might be the objects of that king’s wrath and derision. Still, it is our service to the Lord that presents the message of the Gospel of Christ in our world and that just might bring the arrogantly lost to the knees of grace and salvation.

 

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

1 Corinthians 10: 24

 

My world may be just fine. I have everything well-ordered, as the rules that govern my way of living are set and they grant me a sense of security and a barrier against much of the chaos that is out there beyond them. This might sound a bit harsh at first hearing, but I think that there are far more of us than otherwise who, when confronted with the truth of our way of handling our engagement with the people outside of our own homes, can say that we don’t sort, sift, differentiate, and hold at arms-length some of them based upon our set of criteria for who is worthy or safe and who is not so acceptable. This type of segregation is a natural result of the broken nature of our world, for there are real dangers and perils running about in this place. It is also caused by our own sinful lack of trust in God and by our false concepts of superiority and human worth, which are also the result of our sinful rejection of God’s righteousness, justice, and truth.

 

Regardless of what I might try to tell myself about the conduct of my life and regarding the order that I have created in it, my house is not so clean and my outlook on the world is not the same as God’s. He sees people with the eye of the loving Father who desires to be close to all of us. Christ came, lived righteously, suffered, sacrificed, and rose for everyone. There were no limitations placed upon the groups of people who were included in Paul and Silas’ simple statement to their jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Christ calls to everyone, and we are not given the authority, the wisdom, or the capacity to sift them out or to choose the ones that we are comfortable in caring about or engaging with. As we are in Christ, so we are to view others as He does, and Christ does not see skin color, differentiate based upon wealth or gender, consider the sound of a person’s speech, or pull away from the way that people live or even the intensity of their rejection of Him. Chris came to save, and He calls us to follow Him into all of this world with the same intent in our hearts.

 

The good that Paul is describing here is a form of heart’s desire that reflects the love of Christ, that particularly passionate love that has saved us from the living death that we deserve and from an eternity apart from all that is loving and good that we were destined to know. This is the goodness that is made complete in the presence of Christ and that is made visible and tangible in our world by the way that we choose to love each and every one of the people who we encounter in life. I also think that Christ wants us to go beyond encounter in our approach to loving these others. He went out into the places where they lived, He entered their homes and engaged with their stories of life, and the Savior brought His healing touch and poured out the water of life in these hard and desperate places of the soul. We, too, can go there, across the fences and beyond the racial, economic, cultural, and religious barriers and into the lives of our neighbors. We can bring the goodness that is freedom in Christ that we are learning to enjoy into the lives of the others in our world, and by so doing, we are made richer and they have the opportunity to say yes to the Savior and share in the riches of eternity.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19: 18

 

Neighbors can be wonderful. They can also be challenging or even terrible to be around. They can also be people who we barely know at all. Like other people who we come into some form of close contact with during our days, we enter into the lives of neighbors with a wide range of levels of involvement and relationship. The individualistic and self-contained nature of our world has pushed us farther into our own space and away from those around us, too. We don’t need to form the sorts of alliances and mutual care arrangements that people in the days of Moses found necessary for protection, supply, and basic care. Now, we can just go on-line to find what we need, and we hire someone when we want protection from a marauding wild beast. So, following God’s directive regarding neighbors could be life altering for us today.

 

God sees the role of neighbor as something far more elevated and important than just convenience or than a practical necessity. The Lord seems to view neighbors as people who are owed special attention, care, and concern. They are people who we are to reach out to and to embrace with a form of deep love that is gracious and long-lasting. The only way for most of us to do this is to actually get to know our neighbors. This requires us to leave our houses, knock on doors, and share life with others. Getting to know our neighbors makes us leave the safety of our own world and the people who we have developed long-standing relationships with and enter into the uncertainty of less well-known ground and uncertain relationships. This is the sort of thing that Christ did continually, and it is the sort of thing that takes us into places where our relationship with Christ can be demonstrated and shared in a natural, life-on-life manner.

 

The relational standard that is stated here and that Jesus firmly restates later is a very high one. It goes well beyond toleration or that of nodding acquaintance. God wants us to truly love our neighbors and to do so with the same intent and engagement that we do love ourselves. This requires us to be concerned and to reach out to them. It also leads us to tender grace when we might naturally think in terms of offense against us, and it demands that we seek to accept differences as a part of the other person’s God-given nature and as an essential aspect of that person’s story of life. Jesus cared for and about everyone that He encountered. In very real and tangible ways He lived as if He viewed everyone as His neighbor. I don’t think that it is too great a stretch of the concept to say that Christ desires for His followers to do the same with the people who surround us in the world where we live.

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Colossians 3: 14

 

God knew that this was the only real, true, and final answer to what ails this world. Thus, He set in motion His plan for the granting of perfect love to all of us.  This was something that God purposed to do from the very beginning of Creation. God’s love bridges the gap that people have worked so hard to excavate between ourselves and Him; for, we sin and He forgives, we wander and He pursues, and we worship gods of our own making and He makes His presence real to us. The Lord never stops caring more for us than we can ever imagine or hope to imitate.

 

So, this is His instruction for us as well. Above all else in this life, we need to view all of our relationships and all of our interaction with others as love relationships. That is a really big thing to ask of us frail beings. We don’t typically do love so well. It isn’t the thing that we gravitate toward as our first response to the people who cross our paths in this life. Yet, this is the one response that moves us closest to the way that God views people, and it is also more honest and real than any other way that we can respond to them. Love sees the beauty in the flaws and failings of people, and it seeks to understand the fears and the weaknesses of the beautiful.

 

When we seek to truly love others, we are forced to draw nearer to God, Himself; for, in order to express love, we benefit from the perspective and the wisdom that the Spirit of Christ gives to us. Also, we gain in our ability to love when we humbly submit to the Lord’s view of relationship in order to set aside our personal biases and fear of engagement with people that appear in circumstances that we find difficult or uncomfortable. God wants to see the people of this world connected in love as a family that is focused and centered on a relationship with Him. When we make love the foundation for all of our interactions with others, we are choosing to behave in the manner that the Lord designed as His primary point of connection to us; thus, we are taking the path that God desires for us to follow in order to enter into relationship with others.

 

 

Seek the LORD and his strength,

seek his presence continually.

1 Chronicles 16: 11

 

These lines are taken out of David’s great song of thanksgiving and praise to God that was to be sung before the Ark of the Covenant. These words remind me of something that is truly important to keep in mind all of the time. Although, I know that God is present continually and that He is everywhere and in everything, He can seem quite distant at times. When this is true, it is not God who has gone away or who has fallen silent; rather, I am the one who has created the distance, and I have covered my ears so that the Lord’s voice is not so near or sounding all that clear to me. As a follower of Christ, distance from God is something that I cause. The distance that translates into separation is formed by the wandering nature of my heart. It usually comes about when I want to think and to act in a manner that is of my own choosing and that runs counter to the way that Christ desires for me to live.

 

The route back into the presence of the Lord is right in front of me, if I will simply relent from my self-determined path, repent of the sinfulness of my heart, and seek out the truth of God’s Word and the guidance of His Spirit. That sounds simple enough, but the longer I am off on my own separate journey and the farther that my wandering takes me from the Lord’s light of truth, the harder it is to come back into His presence. This happens, in part, because sinful habits are oppressive and even addicting. This journey away from God also tends to leave us isolated from His body of faith, and so, we. Become separated from the people who will support, counsel, and shepherd us into faithful and righteous thought and actions. Thus, David’s counsel about the way that we approach life on a regular basis is important.

 

Almost everyone faces times of temptation, doubt, and weakness. As we know from his story, David had to respond to all of these emotional and spiritual situations in his life, and his experienced wisdom led him to remind each of us to be seekers after God and His strength so that we will stay intent on following the Lord’s words of wisdom and remaining in the center of His righteous presence. This is something that we can do on an on-going basis. As the song states, “seek his presence continually.” This focus upon Christ is a subtext that runs throughout the conduct of every aspect and within each moment of the day. There is nothing that we do or place that we might go where the Lord is not in it and with us. He desires to set the tone for our speech and to grant us His moral and ethical guidance for each decision that we make and action that we take. It is Christ’s strength that empowers a righteous life, and it is His presence that guides us into living as children of heavenly light.

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