June 2019


And he said:

“The LORD roars from Zion

   and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds mourn,

   and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1: 2

Amos, the humble shepherd, speaks, and the world listens to his words, for he is speaking into history the heart and the desire of the Lord, God Almighty. For God does speak His truth to us. This was true in the days of Amos some 2,900 or so years ago just as it is still so today. For a time or even for a season it may seem that the Lord’s voice is silent, but that never remains the case indefinitely. God cares greatly for us, and He also is truly concerned about the way that we go about living. There is no aspect of the manner in which people exist and in the form that our conduct of life is framed that escapes the Lord’s view. So, we can count upon the fact that He will hold us accountable for all of it. The Lord will respond to the good that we do and to the despicably evil that we carry out or that we allow to exist through inaction and failure to hold ourselves and others accountable for following the mandates that God sets out in His Word.

Like the citizens of Israel and even of Judah we may think that we are experiencing God’s blessing because we are comfortable, wealthy, and powerful. Yet, this is all a false form of security, for its basis is not God’s will or the Lord’s expressed desire. Instead, we, like they, are smugly self-satisfied in the accomplishments of our hands and with the power and the control that we think that we exert upon the world around us. Although Amos has commenced his series of comments about the wickedness of the world and of its nations with pointed expressions regarding the various peoples and counties that surrounded Israel and Judah, the prophet will, in turn, spin about and point the Lord’s figure of judgement inwardly toward God’s own nation and its inhabitants. They were to be held to an even higher standard of righteousness and compliance with God’s stated will than were their neighbors. This is not just a historic comment; rather, it is a basic reality of God’s character. He does hold His people accountable for living out the love, grace, mercy, and justice that the Lord has poured over us.

We may desire for the Day of the Lord to come when He will speak forth truth and justice into the world so that all that is evil will be destroyed and everything that is out of conformity to His Word will be set right again. Yes, we might desire for that great day to come, but we must also realize that the Lord’s judgement falls upon all people equally. So, as the Lord roars from Zion with His voice of righteousness sounding forth the end of all that stands in opposition to His will in the world, its reverberations are felt most powerfully by those who are closest to the source. Israel and Judah would not escape from the earth-cleansing work that the Lord would accomplish over the next periods of time, and we will not be granted immunity from His judgement, either. So, today is a good one for each of us who seek to follow Christ to examine the depths of our hearts and to turn to the Lord with a sincere desire upon our lips to know Him well so that we can live out the Lord’s will and the desires of His heart. This is a time for repentance and for the restoration of our faith. Christ is calling to His people to turn from our arrogance, our willfulness, and to renounce the ways of the world so that we can truly follow him and bring the light of justice and righteousness into the dark corners of that same earthly expanse.    

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5: 5

Magic truly exists in a child’s waiting. The anticipation of a birthday or of the coming of Christmas has an energy and a charm to it that is unlike almost anything else that we experience in life. Yet, Christ grants to us another form of anticipatory hope that is even greater than these special moments. We live in a world where there seems to be more things that divide people than there are those that bring us together. This trajectory of divisive thoughts and deeds has been one that has occupied the existence of humanity since early on in our journey across the face of the earth. In fact, we seem to be on a sort of quest to find as many ways to disassociate from each other as we possible can devise or develop. The winner of this game gets to be king of the world and have it all to themselves without need for rubbing elbows with those other disagreeable people out there.

God does not want His children to live like this. He created this world to be a place where we all could live in a form of committed relationship with Him and with each other. Our diversity and differences are supposed to bring about strength through reliance upon others and unity by means of listening to each other’s stories and by means of entering into understanding the other person’s viewpoint and perspective. Yet, these simple acts of conciliation and agreement seem to be among the most difficult things that we can ask of each other, for we often do everything that we can think of to accomplish the opposite effect. We search for our points of disagreement and make those our emphasis in dealing with each other. We form our opinions of the desires and wishes that groups of people hold without even giving them the opportunity to sit down and share those hopes and dreams with us. We separate and set up barriers to contact and communication before we can even see the other person’s eyes.

These are days when we, humanity, need to become young again with the hope of anticipation replacing the fears of generations as our expectation for contact with people from other countries, with different languages, and of religious beliefs that are not our own. When we choose to listen to someone’s story, we are engaging in an act of love. As we seek to hold out the hand of peace to a person that makes us uncomfortable, we are engaging in an act of worship to God, and when we embrace the foreigner with hospitality and provide a welcoming meal in place of the usual protective barriers, we are living out the faith that leads to righteousness. There is no true peace in our world without trust, and there is little trust to be found outside of the healing presence of Christ. Yet, in Him and though the work of His Spirit, we can reengage that child-like hope as we anticipate the blessing that comes through extending the hand of fellowship to people that will grace us with the rich tapestry of their stories as we are faithful to Christ’s call to unity for all of humanity.  

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1: 10 

Who you seek to please sets a tone and a course for what you do and for where you go. As life plays out we all will serve many masters in multiple ways. It is a simple truth about the way that most of us are wired, but we are people who are motivated, in part, by the feedback that we get from others in our lives, and we will modify the way that we decide to act based upon the audience for those acts. We also bring our own pre set values and anticipation of outcome into the relationships in which we engage.   

If the people that we look to for our primary sense of understanding, acceptance, and confirmation are basing their concepts of what is good, proper, and loving upon purely human values and understanding, then the direct feedback that we receive will be oriented toward the self-centered and self-pleasing perspective of the earth-bound mind. This is a perspective that tends to operate from a position of power and of strength. There is even an arrogance in this point of view that doesn’t usually understand the essential value that God has crafted into every person on earth. 

However, when we look to God as the One who tells us about our value, worth, and worthiness, the essential orientation of our lives is changed. Christ focuses His love on us in a manner that serves our needs and that directs us toward serving others, and He guides us toward elevating our thinking from that earthy perspective to one that sees the heavenly. By serving Christ, we seek to do as He does; thus, we are directed to look outside of ourselves toward meeting the needs of others; then an amazing thing happens, for in Christ we start to understand more fully the true value that God sees in us. In seeking to please God, we serve people. In serving people, we, in turn, are also greatly blessed by those same people.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.

2 Chronicles 16: 9 

There are many people who claim that God is either passive or non-existent, that He has no relevance in this world, and even that He is unnecessary. Others believe that the only god that anyone needs is to be found inside of themselves; thus, each individual is the master of his own universe and is totally equipped to do and to handle everything alone. I find all of these perspectives to be frightening, incredibly lonely, and disastrously wrong. I have learned that my strongest and most capable times are ones when I am yielding my will to God’s and when I allow Him to work with and through me. It is also true that God doesn’t just passively wait for things to happen; He is with me, He goes before me, and He protects my back. The Lord is a very real presence throughout my world for every hour of each day.  

Now, consider what it means to be blameless. I am not close to perfect, and my heart is certainly not always aligned with God’s will. I fear that for too much of the time my thoughts and actions are no where near to righteous; yet, I know that God sees me as blameless, as forgiven of everything wrong and hurtful that might come from within my heart and mind. Jesus has paid for all of my evil and sinful ways, and because Christ lives in me, God sees Christ’s perfection when He looks at my weakness. The Spirit of Christ goes with me through everything and guides me toward His will as He speaks truth, love, and life into my being. Thus, it is His perfect will that is seen by God and by the world as I live out the calling of Christ with my life. 

Perhaps, the most important word in this ancient verse is “strong,” for that is what God brings to me. He gives me strength, He makes my frail and easily discouraged will into one that is truly mighty, and He gives my cloudy thinking a form of clarity that comes from out of eternity and that runs straight and true until the end of time. There is no partial or conditional involvement from the Lord. He is fully invested in the lives of His people, and He is totally committed to us forever. If you are willing to yield to Christ and to grant God access to your heart, to your concerns, and to your plans; He will continually fill you with His wisdom as He encourages and strengthens your heart. 

Trust in the Lord forever, 

For the LORD GOD is an everlasting Rock.

Isaiah 26: 4 

There is so much in life that can rock our worlds, and I don’t mean in a good way, either. Just go to your favorite news source and read the top ten leading stories and see how much pain and suffering is afoot in our world on a regular basis. Escape isn’t found in the Sports or Entertainment pages either. Scandal, death, and wasted lives are commonplace themes in those “soft news” venues, too. What is even harder is the fact that so much of the sort of distress that is facing people across the globe is also staring each of us in the face at home. 

While the stories about lives turned upside down and shaken from their foundations by acts of nature and actions of man swirl around us in a seemingly never ending river of chaos that leads to fear and discouragement, there is another news story that needs to be read. It needs to receive continual, constant, and even total focus. God has written His story of relationship, love, and redemption across the history of the world. He sets it before our eyes and He scribes it onto our hearts if we are willing to simply open ourselves to receive and to hear His voice. 

As we shift our thought from the evil and the darkness around us and onto the light of Christ’s grace, the Spirit replaces confusion with clarity. He provides us with a sense of security that is based upon the actual fact of its existence. The Lord takes our swirling thoughts and emotions and calms the storm so that we can make reasoned and rational decisions while standing in the middle of the downpour. As we trust in God as the only valid source of truth and as the one who shows us the way to live with integrity, peace, joy, and love, in the midst of the world’s chaos, we are standing on the unshakable foundation of all of Creation.    

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

Philemon 10, 11

This is a difficult relationship to consider, for it is clear that Onesimus was a slave. His name means either “useful” or “profitable” and was one that was commonly given to slaves. It would seem that he has run away from service to his master Philemon and has come to be among the group of people who had gathered around Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome in around 62 AD. Something has happened during this time with Paul. Elsewhere the apostle describes a hard and a painful process that is much like a woman giving birth to a child. So, too, Paul uses parent-child imagery when he describes Onesimus and their relationship. It is also clear that Paul trusts this former runaway slave with important tasks such as carrying his letters to Colossae and to Ephesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon while he is also appealing to the slave holder to see the transformation that has taken place in Onesimus through eyes and with a heart that have undergone their own transformative work.

This is a fundamental aspect of what it means to follow Christ. In so committing to that relationship, Christ also makes a commitment to each of us. We will not come out of this relationship the same as we were before. That change may not happen quickly; in fact, at times it may seem as if it is progressing at a pace that is too slow to measure. Still, it does come about, for the Spirit of Christ is present in all of us when we embrace faith in Christ, and that Spirit is relentless and powerful in His capacity to bring about the conforming of our hearts and so our minds to that of Christ. Now some people do radically change in a matter of moments, but most of us do this over the course of the remainder of our earthly lives. There will be days when Christ will be very apparent on and in us, and there will be others when the old self seems to raging forth and causing the same sorts of havoc that it did previously. This is the reality of what it means to be a new person in Christ. The work of the Spirit is continuous and on-going, and we need to remain faithful and committed to obedience to God’s Word and to His Spirit in order to fully develop as Christians.

Philemon was asked to be patient and gracious in his reception of Onesimus. Paul implores him to see the new man before he assumes that the old one is present. This is how we are to engage with people who have come to Christ in our world, too. If we believe that Christ works in people to change them, then we must also believe that people can change. So, we are called upon by God to extend grace and understanding to these people, who are new beings in Christ. In the letter to Philemon there is an unstated appeal for the slave owner to extend freedom to the slave upon his voluntary return, for in fact, Onesimus has already been set free by Christ. He is no longer a slave to the greater mastery of sin and its death; so, the freedom that Philemon can extend is relatively minor in its importance or in its impact upon Onesimus. Still, it is important for Philemon’s spiritual growth that he trust Christ enough to release his hold on another human life. We do not know how this aspect of this story concluded, but we can enter into the same form of trust as Philemon was called to do. So, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance as we encounter people who are undergoing the transformative work of the Spirit in their lives so that we, too, can extend the grace that is needful for the day at hand and truly embrace fellow new creatures in Christ with the love and the acceptance that we would desire to receive from them in return.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10: 11

Jesus’ words here seem obvious. He will do this exact thing, and although the actions that He is describing might have been mysterious to the audience on that day when He was saying this, we all know about the events that the Lord is referencing. But I wonder if that is all that there is to this? Jesus was often a little devious in what He said. He wanted the people who were hearing Him to consider and to ponder His words so that they might discover deeper meanings and broader applications within their lives for them. People in that region in those days were very aware of the role of shepherds in their society. Sheep were important for their many uses, and their need for care and guidance was also understood by all. Yet, the job of caring for sheep was not glamourous or even well thought of in society. Tending sheep required for a person to dedicate their life to that often risky endeavor and to do so in relative isolation while working for many months of the year without break or respite.

Yes, Jesus would give up His life in order to bring salvation to those that He loved, which means that He did so for the sake of all of humanity, but He also did far more than that for us. Jesus demonstrated what it means to care about others in ways that crossed over the lines that people tend to draw between the secular and the sacred. He engaged with people in the places where they were living out the routines of their lives, and He went into places that the religious of His day had deemed to be unholy and unacceptable for anyone who followed God to set foot. Yet, Jesus knew that the entirety of creation belonged to God; so, there was literally no place on this earth where He should not go. There were also no people who were not worthy of His attention, love, and care. Christ brought healing to the physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick people of His day, and He set out the model for us to do the same for those people in the world during our days. Jesus went out into the world, and He sought out the lost, the wandering, and the needy among the multitudes in His world, and He sends His followers out to do the same in ours.

So, when Jesus gave Himself up to be tortured and executed on the cross, that was really a culminating moment to a life that had already been surrendered to following the Father’s will in every aspect of what He thought and did. Jesus lived out God’s redemptive desire as He entered into the harsh realities of people’s lives, and He engaged in this with utter disregard for what others might think, how they would treat Him as a result of what He said and did, or the impact upon His social and societal standing. Jesus was the shepherd that genuinely loved sheep. So, He calls upon all of us that claim to follow Him to do the same. We are to set aside our cares and concerns about involvement with people that our world has designated as unworthy or as lacking in value. We are to take the risk of entering into the lives of those that are foreign to us or who might seem to be dangerous in order to know them and so that they might see and get to know Christ through us. When we are reluctant to enter into caring for the many needy people in our world and as we are weary and desiring a break from the task of shepherding these sheep, Jesus asks the hard questions, “Whose life is it that you are protecting?” and “Which of these sheep is the one that I would not be willing to lay down my life to save?”    

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