October 2018


How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 52: 7

 

Does it ever seem as if the Lord is far away or like His day may have come and gone leaving us all behind? These are tough times to navigate, and there is trouble to be found around the bends of its roadways. Yet, there is also joy, peace, and salvation to enjoy scattered along the steps of the journey. Their presence has much to do with what we are looking for, where our eyes are looking, and how sharply we are tuning in our hearing. Our God is not silent as to His message of hope and the redemption from death that He offers. The Lord’s messengers are out and about in our world, and the truth of our Lord’s Word is never held down for long. They are heard as they climb the heights, descend into the valley floors, and run toward the battle that is life. These messengers of the Gospel of Christ are speaking out with a form of clarity that cuts through all of the clutter of our cultural verbal exchanges and thus it points straight to salvation by and in Christ.

 

As we follow that same risen Lord, we are called upon by God to join in as heralds of this revival of faith. We are to join in with being those messengers of the good news as we set out the truth regarding what it means to be at peace with God, to dwell in a form of happiness that comes from a soul that is at rest, and that knows the deep meaning of salvation. The worldly smoke screen of fear, doubt, and distrust is cut through by the words of life that are contained within God’s Word, and that word is carried forth into the corners of our world by people who know Christ. That is, the word is lived out, spoken clearly, given away freely, and confidently proclaimed by people who are much like you and I. This appointment to the position of messenger for the King is not something that is granted to a select few; rather, it is the calling and the duty of everyone who knows Christ as Savior, Lord, and Ruler of our souls.

 

Our God reigns! This is the primary message that we are to proclaim. There is no other word that carries with it the same force and effect. This is the truth that changes lives, for it places all that happens upon the face of this earth and in the air of the heavens into clear perspective. It is all a part of a much bigger picture wherein God is working to bring all of humanity into relationship with Him as we head along a relentless path toward that final day of reckoning when Christ will have returned and all that is broken in the universe will be made right and whole again. This good news of God’s position of sovereignty means that people have the opportunity to enter into dwelling within that redeemed kingdom during the days of our earthly lives. Christ brings us into His royal presence and He fills us with the hope of His Spirit. We take on a newly published story that is one wherein redemption overtakes death and freedom replaces bondage to sin. In this new life, without regard for age, physical condition, or other human limitations, we can run along those mountain peaks and shout out to the world, “Our God reigns!”

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 29: 2

 

According to Merriam-Webster the verb ascribe has a simple definition; “to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author: to say or think that (something) is caused by, comes from, or is associated with a particular person or thing.”

Ascription indicates the source or the cause; so, when David tells us to ascribe glory to the Lord, he is saying that the Lord, Himself, is the one who wrote the book on glory. This form of brilliance is both greater than all light, including the illumination that comes from the sun, and also gives off a form of illumination that penetrates to the depths of the heart and the soul to reveal all that is to be found there. This is the glory that is of the Lord and that also emanates from Him. We cannot draw near to God and not be caught up in the power and the beauty of His light of glory.

 

So, if we seek to be close to God, we will encounter glory. As we seek to know Him, we experience this same great light, and the glow that comes from God’s presence is one that is infused with His holiness and that also pours out that same great cleansing truth over and into all who will accept God as our Lord. This is a wonderful gift and a marvelous reward for turning away from the influences of this world and surrendering to the love, grace, and mercy of the Father as expressed by and through Jesus Christ, the Son. In simple fact, we do not actually cause glory to be associated with God, for God is self-referential in this matter. We acknowledge what is there as we speak out our comprehension of the character and nature of our Lord and Creator. His glory is something that predates all of Creation. It is a part of the fabric of the universe as God imparted His great light of truth into all that His hands formed and granted life to. God’s glory is present in Heaven and in all that exists outside of it.

 

Although we encounter this glory in and around us in many places and as a part of much of our world, there is still only one source for it. In addition, all that is truly glorious in our world and in life comes from that same source. Now God is not stingy with giving out His glory to us; instead, He distributes it freely and widely. However, if we desire to know the source of this life-giving light, we must seek after and draw near to the Lord. As we call out God’s name and associate it with words of adoration, praise, and petition, we are engaging in worship. We also do this when we bring the pain and the struggles of our days to our Lord with trust in His goodness and mercy and expectant hope for His comfort and provision. The Lord is honored by the way that we live out our lives when we do so in response to Christ’s great sacrificial love for us, and He counts it as worship when we pour out justice, mercy, comfort, and protection upon people who are broken and downtrodden. Each and every aspect of worship comes about in response to who God is and as a reflection of the glory that radiates from His presence. As we worship we speak back to God the truth of His great love, and we open our hearts and our minds to encountering ever more of God’s awesome presence.

 

 

 

 

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.

1 Corinthians 4: 12

 

We might dream or wish to live in a civil world where people respect others without regard for what we believe, who we are, or how we view governance or other like issues. Yet, we know that this is not true. The hyper-aware nature of our times makes it hard to ignore issues; so, it also makes sorting out the people that we meet from the positions that they hold a lot more challenging. The world where we live is one wherein people are frequently defined and catalogued by our political, religious, and cultural point of view. We use broad brush strokes such as liberal or conservative, believer or non-believer, nationalist, evangelical, Muslim, socialist, and many others as if those terms fully fleshed out the definition of who a person is and of what worth they might be. Nothing of this sort is truly valid when it comes to the way that we view others or when we determine how we should respond to the world where we dwell.

 

We might think that these issues and concerns are the result of the way that our world has evolved for our fast paced, electronic communication oriented environment is one in which it is hard to ignore what is happening around the world and who is involved in making these things occur. Yet, Paul is talking about some of the same sorts of things as they were current events in his times, too. The nature of people as we live out our brokenness and our sinfulness has not changed much over time. We are hurtful, arrogant, and prideful now just as we were long ago. We seek to make little of others in order to contrast our personal greatness to them, and we don’t much care how much damage we might do to others while engaging in these acts. Far too often labels are used as a replacement for engaging in relationship building, for these wide-reaching descriptors make it far easier for us to sift out and sort people into those that we consider to be acceptable and worthy of knowing and those that we do not value enough to associate with. All of these thoughts, actions, and attitudes cause harm and deny the reconciling work of Christ through us and in the lives of others.

Christ’s reconciling

In fact, we will encounter people with whom we differ on many topics and in many other ways. This is the beautiful reality of the great diversity that God has designed into humanity. We are intended to live in a manner that values these differences and that allows for the expression of our various points of view and perspectives so that, in the end, a fully-formed and balanced perspective is brought to bear upon the concept of living in a loving and considerate manner as we travel through life. This brings me to the partial verse above. I think that Paul is granting us some wise instruction for how we can live in this world as true disciples of Christ. As in all things, our Lord is the example for us to look to and to model ourselves after in our responses to the world. It is inevitable that we will be spoken negatively about and treated unfairly or unjustly by others because of our beliefs and due to the way that those beliefs demand that we think, speak, and act. We may even encounter violence or other severe forms of persecution as a result of standing firmly for what is right in God’s eyes. However, even in these extreme situations, we are still to return loving blessings in exchange for angry and hurtful words, we are to hold onto Christ in all situations by and through His strength and power, and we are to respond to all forms of attack with the truth of the Gospel as we hold Jesus Christ up as our rock, shield, and fortress while praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are seeking to do harm to us.

 

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13: 13, 14

 

There is a popular hymn that in all probability dates from the early years of the twentieth century that starts out with these words,

 

“This world in not my home, I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

 

This says what the author of Hebrews was saying, at least in part. In Christ we gain much, but we also loss much, or perhaps more accurately, we leave behind much. Christ is our model and our leading example in all of this. He left the glory of Heaven and His position as Lord over all of Creation in order to live with and among us on this earth. He submitted to all that He was required to endure in life here, and then He allowed us to treat His royal being with cruelty and put Him to death as if the sinless one were indeed the criminal that all of us are in fact. Now, Christ calls upon all of us who submit to Him as His followers to leave the place of our births behind and to join Him in dwelling beyond the walls of worldly comfort and protection.

 

Jesus demands our primary loyalty; so, if we are in Christ, we can not be so aligned with any nation, people, religion, or earthly system of order or governance. None of these things will last beyond their few allotted years. All of this world’s entities, constructs, and rule of law will pass away, and each of them is already subordinate to God’s Word of truth. We should not give our hearts and our souls to any of these earthly orders or pledge our loyalty to any of their rulers, for none of these are worthy of such honor. Not one of them is righteous, holy, and without self-serving purpose and intent. We owe all honor, allegiance, and worship to God, the Father, to Christ the Son and our Savior, and to the Spirit that dwells with and in us. All other adoration and praise are poured out on unworthy recipients and is thus wasted effort and misguided loyalty. Christ alone is to be Lord over all aspects of our lives.

 

All that we do and everything that we stand for in this life should be focused upon Christ. He is the source of all wisdom and guidance for our days, and our Lord is the singular source for all of the strength, encouragement, grace, and love that will be required of us if we choose to live in this God-honoring manner. As otherworldly followers of Christ, we are people who seek out the broken and the oppressed in our world in order to grant them protection, healing, and dignity in the name of Christ. When we choose to dwell outside of the walls of earthly institution, we are setting aside the hard rules of those entities in order to see others as human beings, and so viewing them frees us to enter into their stories as people who can not only be empathetic, but also we can thus travel through hard days and along challenging miles of their journeys with them. As we move out of the city of this worldly life, we do leave behind much, but we also draw near to our Savior and Lord, for He dwells in these hard and rocky places that are beyond the borders of earthly cities. So, let’s gather together and worship our Lord in His true tabernacle of blessing where Christ’s Spirit is mighty and we boldly invite the stranger and the foreigner to come in and join in the feast.

 

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.

Romans 14: 22

 

Although through history God has spoken directly to nations and a number of countries have considered themselves to be Christian, God has always been primarily concerned with developing individual and personal relationships. Christ calls to every person on earth to come and accept His gift of saving grace. His heart is heavily burdened for each of us; since, God wants to be in relationship with all of us. Even after we have accepted the gift of salvation and entered into that relationship with Him, God continues to care greatly about the way that we choose to function. The nature of our thoughts and of our actions directly impacts the intimacy of our time with Him, and it also greatly influences our ability to fulfill Christ’s calling to us to spread the truth of His loving grace throughout our world.

 

Thus, God wants us to develop our own understanding of His personal and specific direction for our lives, and He wants us to continually seek to know Him better and to know His Word more fully. So, the Lord wants us to listen to other people, to consider their understanding of His word, and to carefully contemplate the perspective that they bring to the complexities of living righteously. However, God also tells us to personally test everything that others tell us and the thoughts that we devise against what we see written in His Word. Additionally, we need to open up our minds and our hearts to the input and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is through this process of listening, reading, and learning combined with seeking the Spirit’s guidance that we develop our own understanding of who God is and of how He wants us to live.

 

A mature relationship with God is forged, developed, and strengthened through personal study, prayer, and meditation. These practices are brought to life as we follow them by seeking to live in the manner and to take the actions that God is revealing to each of us. When this is our manner of living, true and deep conviction is the result. This is exactly what God wants. His desire is that everyone would seek to know Him as deeply as He already knows us and that we would develop a passion for living in the center of His truth that will impact our world for the glory of the Lord’s kingdom. This form of righteous conviction leads us to live in faithful adherence to God’s expressed will, but it can also make us very uncomfortable for others who do not understand God as we do to be in close proximity with. In these situations, we continue to speak and to live out truth while also bringing Christ’s grace and love to the interactions that we have. Conviction is mighty, and conviction that is wrapped in loving grace wins souls for Christ.

 

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Matthew 26: 38

 

There is pain, and there is anguish. Sometimes they collide with each other in a way that can completely overwhelm even the strongest person’s ability to hang in there and to keep going. This is where Jesus was on that night in a garden of prayerful anticipation of all that He was going to endure for my soul’s sake. For He was fully aware of how much the sacrifice that He was about to make would cost Him, and in preparation for that time of exquisite torture, Christ sought to connect with His closest friends. He asked them to join with Him in a time of prayerfully seeking the comfort and the encouragement of the Father.

 

Jesus continues to ask us to do this same thing. He wants us to gather near to Him, to take a seat on a humble rock, and to commit all of our attention and the focus of our hearts to speaking with the Father and to listening to His response. This seems like such a simple request; yet, it can become one of the hardest things that we will ever attempt to do. For myself, I am not very good at quiet reflection, and I am really poor at the sort of humility that Jesus asks of me. Christ ask me to take on a form of attitude that considers the hard stone seat of His designated rock as if it were a leather recliner. That attitude requires me to take delight in the simple fact that Christ wants to include me in this most intimate of times.

 

There is no question in my mind that this life is saturated with the tears of hard times. We all experience physical hardships, emotional turmoil, and spiritual struggles, and they often seem to conspire together to come at us from all sides at once. Jesus experienced all of this Himself, and He knows and goes through every harsh and painful moment of our lives with us. Still, He speaks to us with the same request on His lips as He uttered on that singular night so long ago. Jesus asks us to come and to join Him in keeping a watchful eye and a listening heart focused on the comfort and on the answers that the Father will give to us. My Lord, Jesus, is with me for every moment and in every situation that will come to me in this life, and in this reality my soul finds its rest.

 

For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12: 13

 

We live in a very diverse world. The mobility that people enjoy has also caused us to rub shoulders with those who come from different ethnic, social, religious, and cultural groups in ways that have never really existed on this scale before. Yet, we are often still uncomfortable with people who differ from us in any significant way. It seems to me that this is at least partly true because many of us also hold onto our perspective on issues and positions on things that matter to us with a certain tenacity that also causes us to be very narrow in our construct regarding who and what is acceptably different or diverse from our point of view. In other words, we are too often closed off to even trying to understand how another person might understand a situation or to entering into the way that they evaluate the world and form their own set of values and priorities. We want everything to be engaged with and lived out as if it were being beheld with our eyes alone.

 

This is not the way that God has intended for us to gain our view of the world. Once we became a diverse collection of people, it became essential for us to find ways to communicate with each other. Language certainly does divide us, but so does culture, race, social status, wealth, power and position, religion, sex, and many other differences. As an observation, it seems that people work especially hard at finding ways to separate ourselves from others rather than seeking out our commonality. We desire to find those points of distinction that we can use to hold us apart from others in a manner that gives us some form of sense of superiority or exclusivity. None of this is an example of human functioning in the way that God intends for us to live. God’s creation design did not have separation along any of these lines except that He made us to exist in two sexes, and even then, there was a beautiful harmony and communication between the man and the woman. So, our differences must also have a purpose in God’s design and plan for the on-going reconciliation of Creation to Creator.

 

Thus, I hold that God wants people to resolve differences and to seek out understanding of others so that we can live peacefully together on the earth. The most powerful and effective way for this to come about is through the commonality of the Spirit of Christ’s presence within everyone who knows Christ. There is a mystical form of union that exists within Christ’s body of faith that should transcend any other differences that exist between us and that can bridge any and all gaps of understanding, perspective, and values that we may hold. Yet, unity within the body of Christ is not the end of what the Lord does for us along these lines, for He also opens up our hearts and our minds to seeking out ways to understand and even to love those who are different from us in that most significant of areas, that of faith in Christ. The Spirit demonstrates to us a form of supernatural love that can lead us to enter into dialogue and even to deep friendship with people who are different from us in every way conceivable. The Spirit within helps us to overcome fear and prejudice, to seek out commonality, and to embrace people from all circumstances and situations as exactly what they essentially are, that is, we are all brothers and sisters in the fact that we are all created in God’s perfect image.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12: 12 (NASB)

 

This is a comment about faith. That wonderful, sometimes completely inscrutable quality of life that takes us out of the tangible and the temporal and translates people into the realm of the mystical, that of spirit and of eternity made real. There is recognition of the fact that none of us will go through life in a manner wherein we are always walking on strong legs and making decisions that are formed out of clear reason and sound logic. Life throws curves and dips and bends our way, and it does all of this in a manner that often seems to be determined for maximum disorienting effect. Our world can be cruel with people in it whose pain or hunger drives them to behave in ways that are deadly and despicable for the pain and destruction that they create. We also do harm to ourselves through our actions and our thoughts. The imperfection, the brokenness of this world is infectious as it eats away at our minds, hearts, and spirits.

 

Still, God tells us that faith is the answer to it all. Faith leads us deep into the story of God’s involvement with people from the start of time, and it also sets before us the testimony of multitudes that have experienced the Lord’s loving intervention in their own damaged and tortured days. It would be great if it were that simple, just recall how God has been faithful and hold on tight to the stories of how an unshakeable faith has overcome all that is hard, terrifying, and oppressive in this world and in our own lives. It is not that easy, and most of us have lived through those terrible hours, days, and years of being held captive by forces that are beyond our control, or so they may seem. The writer of Hebrews suggests that we need to take control of where we go, how we step and by inference, what we think. This is all true, to a point. We do get to make choices and decisions regarding what we let into our minds and our hearts. We can focus on God’s truth and listen to His voice of wisdom. Still, this world is loud, and its voices are strident in their attempts to gain our attention and to speak devious and deceptive ideas into our hearts.

 

Personal righteousness and our own walk with God are important, but we do not make it through this life by ourselves. This journey is meant to be joined in with others. Those witnesses of faith that Hebrews speaks about are historic figures and they are also ones who dwell with us today. The people from the past are examples to follow, but those examples are given flesh by people today and tomorrow, by you and I, as we all live out our faith in God while undergoing the stresses and the challenges of life. Most of us want to appear strong and capable. We are uncomfortable with having our doubts, concerns, and fears known by others; yet, this is what God asks of us. He wants us to express to Him all that is in our minds and on our hearts. He promises to grant us strength and wisdom when we are wrung-out and frazzled. This support and encouragement will come from the Lord, but He often uses people just like us to deliver the word of truth that we need and to provide the hands that hold up our weary arms and wipe the tear stains from our faces. Straight paths are best found when we seek them in the company of friends, and our broken limbs gain strength and healing as they are supported by Christ’s body of faith.

 

 

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

Mark 3: 35

 

Jesus is saying something that is very simple on its surface; yet, it is a powerful thought to contemplate. This idea changes the nature of most of our relationships, for it radically alters the idea of family. The usual way of defining family connections is replaced by a greatly expanded one, and this new definition greatly extends the circle of people to whom we each have a responsibility for loving care, concern, and involvement. However, it also brings each of us into intimate relationship with this same circle of support. The nature of life is such that we will all have needs that others can join us in meeting, and we are assured that we will, in turn, be the ones who enter into the lives of others when they are weak, broken, and hurting.

 

When we look into the eyes of others who know Christ, we are looking into the eyes of our closest relatives. The heart of faith that is supplied by the blood of the Spirit of Christ circulates life through the bodies and pushes eternity through the spirits of everyone who follows Christ. We are connected in ways that no natural, blood relative can be without Christ. We should know each other in a manner that is profoundly deep and that makes living in peaceful communion with them a real possibility. Although there will be differences in point of view, and we do need to be very open in discussing the ways that we see the Lord’s will applied to life, in Christ we possess the resources that we need to be able to resolve these differences with love, respect, and humble submission to Christ and to each other.

 

The distinctive qualities and the differences in perspective that are found in such a diverse group of people as this newly defined family brings together will cause the group to be stronger. God’s design for creation intended that all people would stand together in ruling this world, for we would each utilize the gifts that He gives to us to their fullest and freest extent, and we would share them completely with each other so that the sum of us would be much greater than any one alone could ever be. In Christ, we are inside of the new creation that God has ordained to bring restoration to this world. We are called to resolve our differences, to value our distinctive natures, to rejoice in the various gifts that others possess, and to stand as one family of faith that serves Christ with arms locked in the embrace of love that is true family.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

John 15: 13 (NASB)

 

Jesus said this, and we know what He meant by this statement. He would be going to His untimely death in order to provide the sacrifice that sin demanded for the sakes of each and every one of His followers and for all of us throughout the balance of history, too. God holds this strange view of humanity, despite our antagonism toward Him or even our overt rejection of His love, truth, justice, and call to engage in righteous living, God, the Lord of Creation and Ruler of the Universe, is our friend. This is a hard concept to embrace for most of us. When we say the word friend we each probably call to mind certain images and thoughts. Friend is very important to some, and it is vague and unformed for others. God’s idea of what it means to be a friend is very deep and powerful. He literally means that He did give up life in order to bring about the salvation of millions of people that He views as His friends.

 

This idea of salvation carries with it some important aspects as well, for we are saved from spiritual death for sure, but we are also saved into a relationship with God that begins at the moment of acceptance of this gift that we know as Christ, and it cotinues onward for all of the unending duration of the eternal existence of our souls. Here is where I make a bit of a left turn when it comes to considering what Jesus said. This is that strange moment when my GPS tells me to make that unexplained and frankly impossible change in direction as it says, “Turn right (or left)” when there is nothing but air and precipitous drop-off in that direction. Well, I think that my thoughts are sounder than that electronic lunacy. It seems to me that Jesus is also speaking to each and every one of us regarding the way that we care about and for others. Christ would have us adopt the wildly radical concept that our worlds are populated by people that we need to consider to be friends.

 

He also would have us enter into those relationships, whether deep and long-established or of shorter duration and shallower, with the sort of commitment and even passionate desire to serve the needs of these others that He demonstrated in His willingness to give His life for each of us. We encounter friends with every turn of the road throughout all of our days. We also pass by and bounce off of people with needs and hurts and brokenness that need love and care. Jesus wants for us to open our eyes, be available to hear stories, give of our hearts and our resources to meet those needs. In Christ, we have more than we will ever need in this life, and we certainly possess more than will be required to engage with people’s lives and help them with what they need to get through the day. For the most part people do not need our wealth or our possessions, they are dying for a listening ear, suffering alone when a companion for the journey would ease the burden greatly. People need friends who will set aside the urgency of their lives in order to walk a mile with them. We join Christ in laying down life in order to save when we see the people that we encounter as He does; that is, as friends.

For Pete, Hollie, Barry and Tracie you know what I mean.

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