July 2018


He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3: 24

 

God is the one who actually created the status of nomadic traveler, of sojourner, of refugee. He sent Eve and Adam out of the place that He had designed, fabricated, and established for them to dwell in peace and in close communion with Him, and the Lord then expelled them in a moment of frustration and of anger. Or was that really how it went down? God was certainly hurt and frustrated by the way that these people who were so close to Him had rapidly gone off on their own and rebelled against His rather simple and very clear instructions. But, if God knows all, did He not already understand that this was to happen? God’s anger is terrible as has been depicted and demonstrated on many occasions in history, and this scene in Eden does not look anything like that sort of anger being poured out onto these people. Rather, what God does here looks more like love and care than does it appear to be motivated by some darker emotion.

 

God’s real intent and desire in sending them out of the garden and into the harsh environment of the world was redemptive in intent and in nature. Inside of Eden they were living and operating in an environment that was guarded, safe in all ways, and that contained the means for achieving eternity by direct personal action. That is, by eating the fruit of the tree of life. To the east of the garden, the part of the world where they were sent, everything was different. Inside of the garden they were required to work, and this effort was promised to bring forth bounty and to always be rewarding as everything there was done for the sake of God’s kingdom on earth. On the east side, they would also need to work, but the results were far less certain. The sweat of their brows would provide for what they needed to survive most of the time, but their efforts would also see failure, and their spirits would know frustration and pain.

 

The hardships and the challenges that came to Eve and Adam and to all of their descendants was not a form of punishment that God placed upon them. Instead, it was the direct result of their desire to be the ones who were calling all of the shots, to be in control, and to determine the direction that they would go and the means of getting there. They wanted to be like God. What they didn’t realize was that this authority and power carried with it great and terrible responsibility. So, they were sent by God out into the world to experience the weight of that responsibility on their own, and we, as their descendants, also experience what it means to make our way in the eastern regions without God. However, the Lord doesn’t leave us on our own without the ability to come back to Him and into the love, care, and protection of His presence in our lives. Christ runs after our refugee hearts, and He gives Himself in exchange for our souls. As we repent and return to the God of our creation, Christ brings us back into God’s Kingdom and grants us the heart-deep peace of that eternal garden as our new and lasting home.

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The essay that follows is a deviation from the usual form of these devotional works. It represents an attempt on my part to set out some of the thoughts that I have been having about the nature of humanity as God sees us. Although I do intend to continue to explore the topic of refugees for a few more days, I also plan to return to the usual form and structure for those works.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Hebrews 11: 16

 

Definition of refugee

one that flees; especiallya person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution (Meriam-webster.com)

 

We are all refugees at one time or other and in some fashion or manner. No one seems to get through life without needing to flee from something, or at least, without the sense or feeling that this is necessary. Refuge is what we desire, and it is sometimes found. Most of the time, we keep on traveling, drifting, and shifting until our days are done. There are the exceptions to this, those who find a settled form of peace and contentment where they are, but for most of us, the road just continues on ahead without terminus or even a glimpse of that destination’s distant glow. Humanity began all of this tortured travel with the first people as they were sent out from the comfort of their intended home into the troubled landscape to the east.  We have not fully settled in since, and I am not so sure that there is really any place that can be permanently settled in this life until the world is reformed and reclaimed by Christ.

 

So, we are all off on the journey. Some of us are in situations that are far more desperate than are others; yet, sojourners and travelers are we all. The Syrian that has been driven out of a home that was theirs for uncountable generations and the Rohingyas whose national heritage is disputed by everyone in power in their corner of the world are trekking along a path that is closely related to the one that those of us who know nothing but comfort and plenty are also stepping along. I do not wish to make light of the dire and despicable situations that oppressive and evil people and forces have subjected the first of these groups of people to, but I do deliberately want to reflect on the fact that virtually all of us are involved in something of the same odyssey of fear, pain, discovery, and in the end, either hope or defeat.

 

The premise is simple. There is only one place of refuge, just a singular sanctuary city, that can be found by any who will enter into its walls. This is located in a spiritual realm and it operates with an economy that is founded upon faith rather than gold, silver, or precious jewels. We might delude ourselves into thinking that we have found that safe place or that secure fortress within the boundaries that are set out by nation, or leader, or wealth, or even by religion; but, all of these defenses will be breeched by the relentlessly destructive bent of the adversary, and every one of our human and earthly forms of sanctuary will be thrown aside by forces that come straight out of the darkened heart that breathes death and destruction on all who turn toward its mouth of doom.

 

As we set out on out along the personal refugee road that we have chosen or that has selected us, some of the boats that we choose to trust for escape are trustworthy, but others are headed to the bottom of the sea and only a brief period of time forestalls that disaster. On certain journeys, the food and water that were promised to be provided along the way are never there, and starvation and thirst win out over the continuation of life. So, on those days, the ocean or the desert win as they gain new permanent resident souls, and on others, personal strength overcomes and fortune shines upon the travelers. God tells us that there are other ways to be fed in the wilderness, and there are alternative routes that we can take in order to get to a place where the soul can dwell in the hope of eternity. This other course was set in place by way of promise even before those ancestors of ours were sent by God into the harsh terrain of their own design and choosing. When Eve and Adam passed the portal where the flaming sword demonstrated God’s no return policy, they set out along the perilous trail that all seekers of refuge are on.

 

We too live in times wherein we need to keep our bags packed and our loved ones close by. There is tension in the air and impermanence is the nature and the character of our world. Nations are fragile, government is untrustworthy as its leaders are too often liars and deceivers, economic might can collapse in a moment, and strength or power end upon a single misguided step. The Lord tells us to hold the things of this world lightly, to cherish what is eternal and to care about and for the things that He cares about. As Jesus depicted with great clarity, none of the things that God cares about come into being because of earthly power, station, or out of the exercise of might. They are all the sorts of things that can be carried in a light travel bag, and everything that we are to be concerned about was acquired and paid for by Jesus’ blood.

 

So, when we look upon those foreign faces that we reference as refugees, we are simply looking into a form of mirror that allows us to gaze into the unsettled state of our own souls. The language may sound strange and the customs are unfamiliar to our experience, but the heart, the desire for peace and for a place to dwell in security, and all of the rest of the person that is the living image of God, Himself, is present before our eyes. These are people who are to be embraced and cared for. These are lives that are precious to God and who should be held in the highest of regard by everyone. They are in the midst of their own part of the same great migration that I am on and that each of us travels. We are in this sojourn together in that we are all taking steps along a road that starts at birth and that seems to terminate at death but that actually continues into an eternity that exists beyond this world. So, as we encounter people from other places in our world we truly and actually are seeing another form of ourselves.

 

We can choose to embrace them and to share the burden of their journey or we can stand apart, untouched by their tears and the sweat of their trials, unmoved by the violence and the oppression that our world throws at them and that has shattered the sense of well-being that should be a basic right of all people. We can attempt to hold all others at a seemingly safe distance and even attempt to build walls of all sorts around our borders in order to safeguard our world, but this sort of self-guided protection will not be effective and there is nothing in it that is honoring to God and to His creation. God cares about people, and He sees each of us individually and loves every one of us equally. We are called upon by Him to do the same. There are no foreigners, no others, no strangers, and no refugees as separate categories or groups of people in our world. We are all refugees together as we travel from a place of unsettled life and unquiet spirit toward the promise and the hope of God’s redemption and its peace. In Christ we know its source and in God’s Kingdom we experience its dwelling place; so, let’s embrace all others as God’s own beloved co-travelers and invite them in to share the fellowship of our common heritage as God’s beloved children.

Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26: 41

 

Whether you think that this is a good thing or is troubling, God knows everyone of us in ways that no one else will ever grasp. He is aware of the half-hearted commitments that we can make so readily, and He is also completely tuned into the passionate yearnings for righteousness that fuel our best acts of loving service and times of deepest interaction with the Lord. For most of us, we live a life that is filled with times of contradiction as we may desire to always respond to others in a manner that speaks Jesus’ love; yet, we actually deliver a message that is a potent brew of frustration, anger, and self-defensive criticism. Jesus responds to me in these times by saying, “Keep watching and praying.”

 

So what does Jesus want me to keep watching for and what is the subject of all that prayer? It seems that the Lord is mostly interested in the fact that we are pulled to Him by this process; for, as we take up our vigil and allow our hearts this calming time of prayer, amazing visions and powerful words of truth and enlightenment will be spoken by God and into our hearts and minds. The visions may be as grand and as powerful as an epic film, or they may be seen as a spirit-lifting impression that is planted deep in the heart. At times we will hear and see words that clearly state God’s will and desire for us, and at other times, we will be left with the reassurance and the understanding that all is well with our life’s direction. At other times, the Lord leaves us with unresolved tension and in need of further contemplation and prayer.

 

Jesus is not calling us to a specific time of watching and praying. This is not an hour on a daily calendar or a week out of a month; for, the Lord doesn’t see time as we do, and He doesn’t plan His involvement with each of us around that sort of human concept of relationship. Jesus wants to watch and to pray with us through every beat of our hearts for the balance of our lives. Christ is aware of the challenges that we each face as we journey forth in this world. He is also attuned to the cares, concerns, and passions of our hearts; so, He desires to guide us into serving Him with all that we have. He knows me and you too well, and He is fully aware that for us to resist temptation and to continually seek to live righteously, our weak flesh needs His strength to hold us upright and strong in order to fulfill Christ’s calling for the life that He has given to us.

 

 

Every word of God proves true,

he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Proverbs 30: 5

 

Here is the deal, God lets us choose the manner and the way that we take to get through our days. He gives a lot of instruction, and He also provides a significant amount of high quality advice on this subject, but in the end, He still lets each of us take that council or leave it as we choose to do. Our seeming freedom and independence can get us into a lot of trouble. It also creates a maturing understanding and appreciation for just how much we do need the Lord and His ethical and moral guidance in order to get through the day in one piece and with our integrity intact. So, choice is a gift that God grants to us, but that gift can rapidly become a curse if we don’t realize that the only rational choice to make is the one in which we yield all of life and its decisions to God and follow His Word and will in everything that we think, say, and do.

 

Almost no one actually does this all of the time. Even the best of intentions will go off in another direction as people are easily deceived or distracted away from what is true, loving, and of the Lord. We are also stubborn and willfully focused on our own sense of what is good, enjoyable, and safe so that we doggedly determine the way that we will go without much regard for the course that God would choose for us. Yet, these times and situations wherein we travel a path that is outside of God’s desire and will can be very valuable to us, for these are opportunities for God to literally prove the value of His counsel and the life-giving worth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this manner, all of life is something like a science lab and our attempts to get through the experiment of life on our own are the failed trials that lead the wise operator to the discovery of the ancient, tried and true way of the Lord.

 

Then we can take the refuge from the power of sin in our world that God promises to provide for us. We can enter into the fortress that is His word of life and shelter within the circle of His mighty shepherd’s arms. Yet, there is more to the form of security that God grants to His people, for the Lord is not a passive protector. He doesn’t just put up a force field around the place where we have settled in. Instead, the Lord is a warrior for the sake of the redemption of each person on this earth and for the restoration of all of His Creation. Although His shield is a stout and reliable defensive tool, it is also a weapon for use in the attack upon evil and on its fortresses of pain, suffering, and shame. So, as the Lord goes on the offensive in our world, He calls upon His people, that is each of us, to follow, to stay true to His Word, to make redemption our intent and Christ our battle cry.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

 

The mirror is a cruel companion. So is this body that carries me around on its good days and that I seem to haul about on the others. That’s why the convergence of the two of them, body and mirror, can be so terribly jarring to mind and discouraging to my ego. This reality of aging and of the frail natures of our human shells is a part of what Paul is discussing here. None of us live forever in this world and with these bodies. Life on this earth will end, and that is, in fact, a part of God’s mercy, for He knows full well the darkness that resides in our hearts and the lost nature of the world wherein we dwell. This is not the place and we are not by nature the beings that should live forever and beyond. We enter into God’s mercy and grace at its fullest expression when we leave this life and commence an eternity of experiencing the redemption of Christ.

 

This struggle or tension between a life that we cherish but that is degrading every day and the promise of eternity is one that every follower of Christ needs to encounter. We should not wish to retain all of the vestiges of ourselves as we have been, for there is never enough of Christ present within us, and there is always far too much of the flesh on display. In some very tangible ways, the loss of ability and even of capability that happens with time and with wear and tear on our bodies and minds is good, valuable, and to be embraced. For, as our human strength is depleted, our reliance upon Christ’s strength is granted an opportunity to flourish. When this body falters and this mind starts to slow down like an unwound grandfather clock, the truth and the wisdom that God imparts to His people should be the fuel that empowers us into vitality for the day ahead.

 

Yet, this acceptance of the gift of wisdom that Christ offers to us is something that we engage or deny. There are no guarantees of being wise that come along in conjunction with age and by virtue of the passing of time. We have all known and been frustrated by people that land in the category of “old fool”, and I know that, for myself, I do not desire to be known as such by others and certainly not judged in this manner by Christ in my day of final reckoning. The process of aging that begins with our first breath of life on this earth is one that we can embrace and even welcome if it is accompanied by the presence of God’s Word, Christ’s Spirit, and the encouragement and accountability of His body of faith. Through the presence of Christ in our lives, we are truly renewed and vitalized into people who can demonstrate the grace, love, and mercy of our Savior and Lord in the world and to its people in ways that breathe life and hope to others who are challenged by the futility of aging without Christ on the other side of this life.

 

 

 

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1: 13, 14

 

Secret codes, signs, sayings, and even handshakes are fairly common in our world. Clubs, organizations, fraternal orders, and the military use them as a means of determining who has the right or the authorization to do certain things or to be in a specified place. People who know the code are granted admittance, and those who don’t are excluded, or in the case of soldiers in times of war, they might be shot on sight. In Christ and in our journey through life as His followers, we too have a form of secret code or identifier that indicates the fact that we are claimed and inhabited by God, Himself. This is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. This third yet equal person of God was given to His followers by Jesus the Christ as the close by and intimately indwelling presence of God who travels through life with us and who provides direct connection to the totality of God’s nature and character for each of us who know Christ.

 

We might think that the Spirit is an invisible expression of God and an unseen indicator of Christ’s presence within His people, and this is, in part, true. However, there is a form of visibility that goes far beyond what the eyes perceive as tangible flesh, and this is the realm wherein the Spirit dwells and by which He can be known and perceived by the entire world. The Spirit guides and directs us into knowing God by means of opening up the deep mysteries of His Word to us. This revealing comes about as we seek out God’s way in all matters of life and in each of the choices that we need to make throughout our days. The Lord’s ethical and moral guidance applies to each thought we have, every word that we speak, and to even the simplest of actions that we take in the course of those days. As we are in Christ, we are new beings, different in every way that matters from who we were before we surrendered our lives to His sovereign rule and entered into the loving grace that frees us from sin’s stranglehold on our hearts and minds.

 

Now, that freedom is the expression of the redemption from sin that Christ purchased for us with His blood and through the cross. We are granted the absolute right to live boldly and confidently in the secure knowledge that Christ will never abandon or disinherit us from that hope of eternity that is God’s promise to all who believe in Christ. The Spirit guards our hearts and protects our souls for that day of reunion with our Savior in heaven, and the Spirit also dwells within us so that we are living, breathing, flesh and blood examples of this great promised victory over death that Christ has won for us. As we live out the fullness of our promised hope in Christ, we bring the touch of God’s desired redemptive grace and love into the world around us. We can also demonstrate this eternal love by the way that we live out God’s mercy, justice, and peace in each and every interaction and aspect of our lives. For the way that we treat others and the selfless manner in which we conduct our own lives is one of the most tangible signs of that mysterious relationship with God that exists within us in Christ and through His Spirit’s presence.

 

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

Philippians 4: 8

 

Paul sets forth one very important word for me in this verse, and it isn’t one of the more obvious ones, either. It’s that little word, let. For God has given us all the ability to determine where our minds will become focused and on what sorts of thinking they will dwell. In fact, this is the choice that can make the greatest difference in how well I function through my day.

 

My underlying emotions are not always in my control, and my circumstances certainly can be dictated by others. There is also little that I can do about the way that other people are feeling and behaving; still, my reaction to it all is something that God says that I can profoundly influence. As I make the decision to fill my mind with God’s truth and allow His character to influence my thinking, I take control of the way that I function in my life.

 

The other key word in Paul’s statement is dwell. I can select the house of the Lord as the residence for my mind. I am easily distracted, too readily knocked off course, and continually wandering into the bad part of town. However, God has established a safe and a completely equipped permanent home for me in His Word. He also surrounds me with living examples of His grace and love in the people of my spiritual family. This is where I need to turn my attention, and this is where my heart and my mind will be filled with all that is useful and joyous. It is here in Christ’s presence that my mind can rest in His righteousness and be filled with His knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

 

 

 

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