December 2018


For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

   and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

   it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55: 10, 11

This is a science lesson, and in it, God is sharing one of the basic aspects of the nature of the world that He created. The water that comes out of the sky has a purpose, and God was intentional when He set up the system whereby it develops in the sky and then falls to earth. In other words, this moisture has a purpose that is designed for it to fulfill when it drops out of the clouds and is pulled by gravity to earth’s surface. The moisture that was generated far above comes to settle in the ground and is used by various seeds to cause them to sprout, develop, and grow into plants that are useful in numerous ways. It also gives life sustaining fluid to all of the wide array of animals that reside on and in the earth. Water in its various forms is useful, valuable, and even vital to all life that exists in the world. It helps to feed and to sustain us in many ways, and no life exists without its presence, and none of us thrive if we do not take it in regularly and deeply.

But God’s science lesson is not really about the natural world so much as it is a discussion of the nature of the world. Yes, we are fed and sustained by the water, plants, and animals that God has given to us to use as food, but even more importantly than that, our deeper natures, our souls, are nourished by God’s Word. He has provided His word of life to give us the foundational understanding that we need to live as righteous and just people. The Lord also feeds us a regular diet of the wisdom that we require to digest this understanding so that it is useful in making the decisions that we need to make every day. God’s Word in all of its forms and expressions contains the nutrients that our hearts, minds, and spirits require in order to do more than just exist. Through His word of life, the Lord gives us strength, encouragement, and vision to utilize as we navigate our way through the days ahead. This same word shows us the long history of God’s faithful presence with His people throughout all of time so that we can both gain confidence to follow His path and also learn from the successes and the failings of our predecessors. 

God provides us with water, and we can choose to drink it in or not, but the result of refusing it is that we will shrivel up and ultimately die. God also pours out His Word for us to consume; although, our bodies will not perish if we do not drink it in, we will not thrive in that condition of self-imposed spiritual drought. Frankly, it is foolish to fail to consume at least a basic portion of what the Lord is providing for us to drink in. He makes it very easy to access and He continually refreshes the supply. God’s Word, whether written, spoken, or revealed to us through the work of the Spirit, surrounds us as if it were the air we breathe. God instructs and trains us through it, and He increases our depth of understanding of it as we discuss it with each other and with Him; so, prayer is also a form of study and contemplation of God’s Word. God gives us His Word so that we can grow closer to Him and in order for us to know His will and follow His righteous way. Consuming it brings us into the presence of the Lord in ways that make us strong in spirit and wise in the ways of the Lord.   

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For who is God, but the LORD?

   And ho is a rock, except our God—

the God who equipped me with strength

   and made my way blameless.

Psalm 18: 31, 32

David may have been able to claim to be blameless, but I certainly can not. There are so many misdeeds and mis adventures woven into the tapestry of my life that the story it tells is ragged and rough to the point of near ruin. From what I know about David’s life, he was by no means saintly in his conduct of life, either. The point is that we humans are a troubled and a troublesome bunch of creatures. We give God fits by the ways that we ignore His will, set aside His way of conducting life, and act in direct opposition to His Word. Still, the Lord is engaged with us, and He is involved in our lives, even in the broken and chaotic aspects of them. Even David, living so many years before Jesus, was aware of God’s desire to save us from the totality of death that separation from God brings about, for none of the claims that King David makes here are true if not for the work of the Lord in his life and upon the nature of his journey through it.

For us, Christ has continued this divine work of eternity, and He has taken it to the place where God’s plan of redemption and restoration is completely developed and is set fully into motion. We are blameless before the Father when we are in Christ, for it is His blood that was shed as the requisite sacrifice for the forgiveness of all of our sinfulness. Jesus gave all that was required by God in order to set people free from the penalty of death that we so fully deserve, and all that He gave is more than sufficient to set us in right and holy standing before God. This is how our ways have been made blameless. In knowing Christ, we are known by God to be His people, and His people are granted the gift of life now and throughout all of time to come. The reality of this gift should be life changing for us as we are removed from the rule and the authority of this world and its death-bound culture of deception, lies, and the destruction of all that is good, pure, and just.

In Christ, we are granted strength with purpose as our feet are given a place to stand upon the solid rock of God’s Word with truth as its main component and love as the glue that holds all of life together. This strength that the God grants to His people is intended to be used in service to the Lord as we seek to care for the world that He has placed us within and the people that He has put us in contact with. As we do these things, we will misstep and even think and act in ways that are unworthy of our calling as God’s people. However, we are now blameless in God’s eyes in Christ; so, we are set free from the need to remain guilty and to be defeated by these times of wandering away from God’s path. Christ accepts our repentance for what we have thought, said, and done that is contrary to His will, and He provides correction and guidance for us to continue on in the journey that He has set out for us. This is where we are called upon by Christ to put to use the various forms of strength that He has given to us. Here, in the conduct of life, we can stand unafraid and confident upon the rock that is God’s Word as Christ’s gift of strength is poured out into the world in the form of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking.   

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9: 22, 23

Most of us work hard for the status and the position that we enjoy in this life. The world does not tend to give out its honors easily or bestow rank and its privilege on people with some form of wildly uninhibited generosity; instead, we have to strive diligently and put out the effort and sacrifice much in order to achieve a higher place, and then the work continues in order to maintain it. Yet, Paul seems to be telling us that things are different in God’s kingdom. He is not suggesting that there is not hard work to be done or that people should not study, learn, develop skills, or even seek after advancement in our careers. Instead, Paul is saying that all of those earthly accomplishments and the position or status that may attach to them are of lesser importance when it comes to serving out God’s calling for us and when we are so brought into contact with people who need to know Christ. 

Paul was well educated and he held a position of rather great authority in the Jewish world where he lived. He also had an extraordinary story to tell when it came to his relationship with Jesus, for he had been selected by the Lord to encounter Him personally and in a highly intimate manner, and Paul had then received his theological retraining in a direct manner at the hands of Christ, Himself. Yet, Paul was able and willing to set all of that aside and to get down into the harsh chaos of this world with people if it meant that he could be in a place and a position where they would be able to hear the truth of the gospel of Christ. Paul did use his authority and training when those things granted him an audience and its attention, but he also engaged with people as nothing more than a sinful, fellow traveler in life’s journey who had been saved from that sin’s penalty by the grace of God and the blood of Christ.

When I consider what this means to me, I begin to think in terms of barriers and of the separation from people that rank, privilege, language, religious training, and bias bring about. The only status that matters when it comes to sharing the truth of Christ with others is that of being an unworthy sinner who has been granted an abundant life by Christ and through His efforts alone. Christ’s calling and commission for my life is simply that I would love others as much like He does as it is possible for me to do so. Then, He goes on to ask that I submit to Him even more fully by surrendering all of the barriers to that love that still exist in my heart and my mind. As Paul suggests to us, not all people will respond to the gospel by accepting Christ, but the response of others is not my concern. My Lord tells me that I am still to love all people regardless of whether they accept the gift of that love or not. My part in this process is to continue to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how to reach out to and engage with the people that life places in my path. I am to repent of any hardness of heart or fear that may be present within me so that Christ’s love is not inhibited from flowing out of me, and as a result of the Spirit’s work within me, I am to pour out Christ’s blessings upon all that I encounter.   

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6: 34

Sheep are remarkable animals. They can be very productive as they grow that woolen coat that can be made into clothing and many other useful items. They are also used for food, and their skins make great cold weather clothing. Sheep are smaller and so eat less than cattle and more can be kept on a parcel of land. Yet, they do need care and management. Sheep will not take care of themselves and thrive. One of the most impressive sights that can be seen in my part of the world is that twice a year migration when sheep are moved from winter pasture to higher elevation summer ones and its reversal in the fall. Then, large flocks of sheep are moved by a team of shepherds and sheep dogs, and these flocks are so large that their entire group cannot be seen at one time. Still, even in large numbers, they are not safe or secure without that human and working dog care, management, and direction.

People are similar. We may not seem to need the presence of that highly instinctual and well-trained herding dog nipping at our heels to keep us moving in the proper direction, or the skill and knowledge of the shepherd who leads us to places where good water and abundant forage are available. But, when I look at the sorts of challenges, trials, and struggles that people generate for themselves, I am not so convinced that we don’t need a little herding along the course of life. We might fight against the idea of management or control, for we are thinking and perceiving creatures and can sort out the best ways to handle whatever it is that life sends our way. However, it is my observation that people simply don’t always pick the best path, make the righteous decision, or seek to think, speak, and act in a manner that brings honor and glory to God. We need to be taught, we require correction, and we thrive when we are receiving nurture and encouragement along the way.

Christ provides all of this to His people. His Spirit takes us into the deep truths that are contained in the text of God’s Word, and He opens up our minds and our hearts to understanding the application of those words of life to the situations that we are encountering today. When we look at Mark’s account of the events that were happening in those days when Jesus was actively teaching and healing on earth, we see the Lord directly engaged with people in meeting their needs and providing care and comfort to them. This same real and tangible presence of our Lord is with us now, too. Christ gave us His Spirit, and He is at work in and with us on a continual basis. Our Great Shepherd walks through life with us, and He never fails to safeguard our souls or to feed our spirits. The Lord’s truth guides our steps and protects us from the deceptive traps that Satan attempts to set for us. As we navigate life’s journey with Jesus, we are no longer those lost sheep who are without a shepherd, for we are continually cared about and cared for by the one true and eternal shepherd, Jesus Christ, God With Us.    

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3: 6

John sets a very hard standard here. For there is no question in my mind that even as a follower of Christ sin is not absent from my life, and the same hard reality is attested to by others that I know and by the witness of many as set out in God’s Word. Accepting Christ is not some form of magic wand that immediately changes this aspect of who we have been for the prior duration of our lives. In addition, He does not take control over our hearts and minds in a manner that overrides all of the impulses, desires, and conditioned responses that we have to life. Through the work of His Spirit on and within us, Christ does change His people in ways that are both subtle and profound. Yet, He does this through a process that takes place over time, and this process involves us in on-going acts of submission to His will and of surrender to God’s holy and righteous way of engaging with life.

 This would seem to put most people at odds with God, or at least with John’s view of the way that God works in the lives of His people. There were very few people who knew Jesus better than did John. He was closer than almost anyone else to Jesus while He was living on earth as a man, and John’s continued service and leadership in the fellowship of faith became legendary due to its singular length and his intense devotion to the gospel of love as known only by and through a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, when John speaks, it is wise to listen, and when he says something this powerful about the fundamental nature of what it means to be in relationship with Christ, we should take his statement seriously. John was not a person who said things for their shock value alone; rather, he was a disciple of Christ who was charged with guiding many into an ever deeper form of living out their calling to service to God.

John is not saying that true followers of Christ will live sinless lives. Instead, he is indicating that people who have in fact given themselves to Christ and entered into a relationship with Him will never be comfortable with the sin that is remaining in us as we engage with and conduct life. In Christ, sin loses its hold on us and its rule over us is ended. (John 8:31 cf.) So, as we remain close to our Lord, as we abide in Him, the contrast between living as Christ’s true follower with its characteristics of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking and the way of the world with its characteristics of a drive toward power, control, personal gain, and self-determination of right and wrong, becomes ever starker and more uncomfortable to us. John is providing us with a strong warning and a clear reminder that we are to seek out the Lord and His righteousness as the primary focus of our days. We dwell in the presence of Christ when we turn to Him through consumption of God’s Word, in meditation and prayer, and by holding God’s view of what constitutes holiness and righteousness as superior to personal comfort, our long-established habits, or to life, itself. Thus, as we remain attached to the source of wisdom, truth, and gracious love, as we abide in the vine that is Christ (John 15), the sin that seeks to control our lives is driven off, and our souls are set free to live out the Lord’s calling and purpose for us.    

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people.

Matthew 2: 6

These wise men from the east spoke true wisdom when they were interrogated by Herod. He would have done well to have listened and responded to what they had to say in a manner that embraced both the content of their statement and also the One who would give the world its ultimate expression. David was the shepherd king, and he was a gift that God had given to Israel and to the world many years prior. Samuel describes David and his shepherding of the people and of the nation. But David was far from perfect in this role of care taker and care giver, and his time was in the dim past. Herod was a king who was about as far from the concept of shepherd in his actions as there could possibly have been. Sadly, there have been very few rulers in our world, whether they are called king, prince, emperor, or president, who have done much better. 

Jesus set a very high standard for others who would rule over nations or lead people. His primary objective was not power or control. Instead, He sought to heal the brokenness that disabled people as He cut through the external manifestations of what we perceive as strength or weakness and probed deeply into the hearts of people so that our separation from God became the true focus of His restorative work. Jesus cared for the physical needs of His people as He entered into the eternal needs of their souls. The loyalty that Christ demands is not to an earthly cause; rather, it is formed out of submission to God’s call to live righteously and the sort of loving and just life that springs up out of that well of living water. This is the sort of submission to a higher purpose and to the one true King of the Universe that can make a profound difference in the nature of a leader’s tenure in office and would define those who honestly and sincerely desire to shepherd the people that are within their arena of responsibility.

As we know, shepherds tend to their flocks. They nurture and protect them as they attend to the need for food, water, shelter, and comfort that is all a part of the ongoing life stories of the sheep that have been given to them to watch over. The Lord does all of these things for us as well; yet, He also gives over that responsibility and role to human agents. God appoints people to positions of authority of various types and at differing levels of responsibility, and the Lord then sends His appointees out to rule justly, to care for the flock with real concern for the well-being of all of them, and to do this work in a manner that points people toward God as their true and ultimate shepherd. Sadly, only a few leaders do these things very well. Yet, this should not stop you and I from seeking to be different. As we lead others, we can model Jesus and engage in shepherding those people well. We can know them deeply, pray for them faithfully, and seek to be loving and just in all that we do. We can also set the Lord’s standard and model for leadership as the one that we hold up and demand from the people that we select to rule over us. Jesus is the King who kneels down in the mud with His sheep in order to hold them close and care for their minds, hearts, and souls; we can seek to do the same for the people that we are given to lead, and we can select our leaders based upon this same desired model of leaders who are shepherds.       

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

   in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, 

   or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

   from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90: 1, 2

Something great or at least very significant has happened. The writer of this psalm, it is credited to Moses, has witnessed God’s hand in action in a mighty way; so, perhaps the setting for these observations is the wilderness after the rebellious generation has died off, the Israelites are in sight of Canaan again, and Moses is at the end of his life’s journey. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, most lives are touched by times when hard things come our way and situations where we feel overwhelmed and insecure. All of that is a part of life in this place, and all lives are lived out with uncertainty and an element of fear or distress as the backdrop for the journey. Yet, Moses reminds us that there is always something bigger than our story going on in our lives and that our place in history is important to God but it is still just a moment in time from the Lord’s perspective.

All people throughout the entire scope of time have been given the gift of the presence of the Lord. This was true for Eve and Adam, He was there with Moses through the entire course of his life, and God is right here in this world with us today and until the end of time. The Lord has given us a safe place to dwell in the midst of the storms that swirl about us in life. His presence is real and His loving grace and mercy are poured out upon us even when we think and act in ways that are undeserving of that sort of care. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Moses and the Israelites that he led, and He never departed from leading them into the fulfillment of their place in that great and eternal story. The same thing is true for each of us now. God sees and knows each of us in ways that are deep and intimate, and He desires for us to trust Him so that we will follow His will into the outworking of that great adventure of life that He has established for us.

Even our days of turmoil and trouble have a purpose in the much bigger perspective that God holds over all of the world. Everything that we lose is this life and each of the setbacks that we encounter is an opportunity for us to turn in faith toward the Lord and to trust Him to carry us through these moments and into the rest and the hope of His care and provision. Every step that we take can be one that is set out for us by God as He surrounds us with His love, grace, wisdom, and hope. To put things into perspective, the God who formed the universe and who contemplated the entire scope of its history before any of it was hung in the sky is the same loving Father, Savior, and Lord who sheds tears over the pain and the trials that each person endures. The Lord of that universe and the King of Glory is also my comforter, the Savior of my soul, and the One who guides my steps along His paths of righteousness, and this is true for each of us as we trust in Him and seek out His presence with us for the journey.     

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