September 2019


11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10: 11-14

The work of human priests was never done. They needed to be continually making sacrifices so that God would forgive the sins of the people and of the nation. Before Jesus, there was no other choice, and without Jesus there is still none to be found. We may attempt to accomplish His work on our own, but that will always be futile. There is simply nothing that we can do and no effort that we can exert that will accomplish forgiveness in the eyes of God. People may seek to follow a righteous and a holy path through life, we might even live with generosity and care for others as our mission, but Christ remains the singular and the sole way to gain access to the presence of God in this life and into eternity.

All of the work of perfecting salvation from sin and redemption from death’s hold upon all people has been completed. The cross was the point of that outworking, and Jesus was the sacrifice that stands in total sufficiency at that moment in time and for all of time to follow. Now time continues onward in its journey to its completion, for a day is coming when there will no more time. Then the ledger of life will be closed and counted and those that are found within it will stand before God in their forgiven and holy state while all others will be duly noted for their rejection of the Savior so that they will be separated from God’s presence and cast off to experience the outworking of that decision to turn away from Christ and His offer of redemption.

In Christ we can now rest from the work of achieving a position of acceptance before God, but that does not mean that the work of this life is done. For, in Christ, we are called to live out to the fullest that grace and forgiveness that we have been granted as the greatest gift that it is possible to receive. Now we are free to act in love without fear, to speak the gospel of Christ without hesitation, and to give all that we have without concern about tomorrow’s provision. The High Priest that we serve may be resting and waiting for the fullness of time in one sense, but He is also very active and involved in this world in many other ways. The Spirit is with and within us, and as we offer up ourselves without hold-back or reservation, He will lead us and implore us into taking actions that can, in God’s will, lead others into that same presence of Christ that has already saved us.

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

Ecclesiastes 9: 17

These are not my words, and they do not come from our times. Instead, Solomon is generally given credit for them; so, they come from the 10th Century BC. They do describe the reality of the human condition in that our foolishness and arrogance in it have been a part of our disfunction from the early days of humanity’s walking upon the earth. Nothing much has changed beyond the fact that today’s fools have a bigger audience for their unwise and godless banter than did those in Solomon’s day. I do wonder why it was thought that these wise words should be delivered into the quietude of a more contemplative space rather than broadcast as loudly and as far as was possible at any given time? It would seem that wisdom should seek to be heard above the din of all that foolish racket.

Yet, the godly sage sets out a different image. He presents an image of the wise teacher that when confronted with a classroom filled with unruly students begins to speak in a quiet but persistent tone until the students begin to fall silent in order to hear what the teacher is saying. Volume is a tool that is used to overcome the lack of content, and the delivery of forceful and caustic words is a tactic that is intended to diminish and discredit those who might speak in opposition to a point of view. None of this invites healthy dialogue, and nothing about these foolish tactics comes from the presence of the Spirit of Christ. 

So, if we are to believe and to follow Solomon’s guidance in these matters, followers of Christ are to be calm when the rhetorical storm is raging, we are to choose our words so that they reflect the gospel of Christ in its totality, and we must seek to bring peace where conflict arises. This does not mean that Christ would have us ignore the things that those in power are saying or doing. Rather, we are to speak up and speak out in opposition to the fools of our times when they spout forth their unloving, dangerous, and anti-Christ messages of greed, power, and oppression. The times of Solomon were not ones where remaining silent was what God called His people to do, and the 21st Century is not such an era either. We are to confront the fools in our world as they attempt to lead people into bondage to their false gods. We are to deliver Christ’s message of redemptive love, restorative grace, and peace for the soul as the singular antidote for the poisonous speech of these shouting and foolish rulers.       

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it!
33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

1 Chronicles 16: 31-34

These verses are a part of David’s great song of praise to the Lord. In it he states the many ways that God’s people are blessed by God, and he indicates a number of areas for which people should be thankful to the Lord for His love, care, and provision. In this instance, David is praising God for the great creative wonder that is the earth where we live. He is also indicating that the creation itself honors God through the expressions of worship that happen naturally in its rocks, plants, and living creatures. As formed by God’s hands, the earth is a great wonder of beauty, life-sustaining water, plants, and animals, and elements that grant shelter and other resources to all of the people that dwell here.

In that original creation, God also gave this world to our ancestors as a place to be cared for, nurtured, and tended. We benefit from its bounty, and we are, in turn, the earth’s benefactors. At least, that was God’s plan for the way that the world was to operate from generation to generation of care takers that also were sustained and nourished by the land, water, and air that we managed with loving care and thoughtful concern. That was God’s design and plan, but we have not chosen to see it so, and we have failed to live up to the commission that was given to us by our Lord. People have viewed the world as a disposable commodity that will, by some mysterious means, continue to replenish and recharge itself regardless of what we may do with it or to it. We consume and pollute at will, and we waste far more than we put to work for useful purposes. I truly fear that if the Lord were to come and judge our performance as stewards and caretakers of His creation that He would need to be harsh with His rebuke and greatly disappointed in our response to caring for His gift to us.

As David indicates, the earth is to be praised, not for its beauty or wonder, but for the way that it reflects the handicraft and the workmanship of the One that created it. Caring for the world where we dwell is an act of deep and powerful worship expressed to the Lord. In contrast, the way that we generally live in our land is an affront to that same Lord and God of Creation. We can choose to turn toward God and to start caring about the big and the little aspects of preserving what remains of our earth. Today there are things that each of us can do that will diminish the waste and the destruction that has been humanity’s mark upon earth since our early days. This is a day for true worship to become my heart’s expression, and now is the time for all of God’s people to join together in bowing down before our Lord with repentance on our hearts and restoration of what has been damaged as the labor of our hands. God is pleased when we worship Him, and caring for this earth where He placed us is one of the most profound forms of worship that we can entertain.  

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7: 21

Jesus must have been in quite a mood on this day, for before He was finished, the Lord had laid out challenging words for everyone in the audience, and He left each of us today with similar hard sayings to contemplate. No one escaped this call to live as righteous people, and no one was left out in these broad and sweeping challenges to the ways that we think, speak, and act. A relationship with God should make a difference in the conduct of our days. So, if we claim Jesus as Lord, then people should hear and see Jesus when we speak and act. In fact, it is the way that we live that is the most telling indicator of that relationship, and this is the reason for this particular point of indictment against those that make false claims of faith.

There were people in Jesus’ time that talked a good talk when it came to saying that what they taught and the way that they lived was grounded in and directed by God. Today, the same thing is still true, for people make claims to following Christ; yet, the things that they say and the way that they live are significantly disconnected from the truth of the gospel of Christ. This is often manifest in the manner in which people selectively engage in loving others, caring for the needy, and in the areas of power, greed, and nationalism. Too many people that claim to be followers of Jesus are also people who would promote the cause of violence in our world or that rally to the cry of corporate or national protectionism when those causes, as expressed and executed, bring about suffering and death for thousands upon thousands of our world’s most defenseless people. Additionally, the church and its people have frequently lost sight of what it means to care about and for life as God devises and views it.

All people, from conception through the last natural breath that is drawn on this earth are important and priceless in the eyes of God. So, they should be viewed in the same manner by anyone that claims Christ as Lord. We are to be protectors of those souls, people that use our wealth and positions of power to provide opportunities for life, food and shelter when it is absent, protection from violence, and the grace and mercy of acceptance and understanding. This is a part of what it means to be someone that can call out “Lord, you are my Lord,” to Jesus and have Him respond back that He knows your name. This degree of commitment to living out the challenges of the gospel is what was lacking in many of the so-called religious people that Jesus was confronting, and the situation is the same now. Thus, the challenge for each of us who seek to name Christ as our Lord is the one of living out this radical love, risky engagement with our world, and relentless drive to bring the reality of the kingdom of God into the place where we dwell each and every day.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10: 17

Some days seem really noisy; for they are completely filled with surround sound quality words and images. Some of this is of my own choosing; as, I turn on the TV, turn up the car sound system, and read the signs along the road. Some of this is the new version of the natural harmonics of the earth; it is an always with us, fill up our auditory processes level of background noise that can saturate our minds with its persistence.

There is little that we can do about much of this. Sure we can turn off or turn down our own electronics and we can focus on the road ahead rather than the signs along the side, but there will still be all of the rest of it. What we can do is choose which voices and whose words we allow to have access to our minds and to our hearts. God talks to us during as much of the day as we will let Him. He answers questions and He speaks words that are encouraging, words that remind us of His eternal love for us. The challenge for me comes in my selection of input to tune in to and in my willingness to listen. 

God tells us to hear Him, for He does speak. God tells us to listen, for He has words of truth for us. This is where personal choice comes in; for me, this involves reading the bible, to take in truth from an unchanging source; it involves prayer, to engage in conversation with God; and it involves opening up my mind and my heart to let truth sink into the center of my being. Then, it involves the continual process of life-prayer; talking with God and listening to him speak through out the day. The Holy Spirit walks in my skin with me, and Christ speaks continually to me with words of truth, wisdom, and love that are His alone. My part comes in focusing my hearing on God’s voice. My reminder for the day is to listen.

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be exalted in my body.

Philippians 1:20

Today, we have some questions to consider. Does every fiber of your being shout about its freedom in Christ? If not, why not? When you think, do the thoughts that are generated by the Spirit of Christ dominate, or how about the way that you act, do people see Jesus in His full expression when it is your hands that are touching them? When I answer honestly, my sad response is, “No, not so often, not as much as I might, or not even on the same continent as my potential.”

Yet, Christ’s Spirit of transformation and change reaches into the very deepest and to the smallest bits of our beings; He brings about a state of being that is completely redefined and whose orientation is brought into alignment with God’s. When I don’t face my day with this sense of anticipation of living in the center of the glory of Christ and when I enter into contact with people with a aura of fear and dread surrounding my heart and mind, I can seek the wisdom, truth, and discernment of Christ, and I can also seek to set aside the old-life concerns and my now, through Christ, outdated perspective on interacting with others, too.

When I accept the change, recognize the transformation, and trust the Spirit to direct me, I can and should live in a manner that shows the confident love of God to my world. This life perspective is grown on the inside, in my heart and mind, and as it takes over each and every cell of my body. As I stop holding onto the old and embrace this change, I am filled with a reasoned courage that compels me to engage life in a fresh and a vigorous way. Then every molecule of my being can truly shout with joy at the presence of the Lord.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3: 15 

There is an interesting proposition made by Peter here; for, as we embrace Christ’s holiness at this deep and personal level, we are doing the same for ourselves; since, if Christ is in me, then His holiness is mine. That is why it becomes so very important to focus on the Lord’s attributes as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of our own new nature as a transformed person. The same holds true for focusing more clearly on our own anticipation and objectives for personal spiritual growth. 

As I consider the ways that I still don’t function as I should, based upon what God has established as the model for living in His holiness, the steps that I need to take and the personal sacrifices that I need to make in order to move in that direction become more clearly defined. There is always an element of surrender, a yielding of my will to the Lord, that is involved in this growth process, for this is a something that is begun by continually allowing Christ to be the center and the focus of my heart. 

Then, as the presence of His holiness takes over more of my being, my own ability to live in a manner that is reflective of Christ’s love increases, and I gain an ever greater understanding of the marvelous hopefulness that He brings into my life. This is a hope that is too large and much too important to keep buried inside. It needs to be expressed, and it will gain expression through the way that I live as well as through the words that I speak. The final element that Peter speaks to here is one that I suspect was a serious challenge for him; he again tells us to consider how Jesus went about connecting and communicating with people, for true holiness is also gentle, respectful, and always loving.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?

   And who shall stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

  who does not lift up his soul to what is false

   and does not swear deceitfully.

Psalm 24: 3, 4

David was referring to the temple in Jerusalem and to true and worthy worship there when he speaks about ascending the hill of the Lord. Although the physical climb required of a worshiper was not all that challenging, the spiritual and moral one was quite steep. God is holy in every sense. There is no compromise or area of lapse in the Lord’s perfect existence, and we are not so perfect in ours. It is people’s disobedience and misbehavior that erodes away and diminishes the righteousness that God originally intended for each of us to center our lives around. We are each born into life with this process of decay and the distance from our Lord that it causes already well established within us. As we draw our first breath in this world, we are already struggling to find the spiritually pure air that the climb to that sacred place requires.

David knew more than he would wish to know about the challenge that keeping his hands clean and his heart pure would bring about. He had done neither of these things in his life; yet, he still desired to be in the presence of the Holy One, the Lord God Almighty. The Lord granted David the grace and the forgiveness that he required in order to enter into that holy presence, and David recognized his own sinfulness and engaged in the true repentance of a person who desires to change and who seeks to live out his remaining days as a person who demonstrates the result of God’s redemptive work in him. David was a lot like most of us in that he was a flawed and a sinful person that had been made holy and acceptable to be in the presence of the Lord by virtue of God’s grace and love.

We are each faced with a hill to climb every day. That ascent takes us toward the place of holiness wherein God dwells in His fullest expression. The work of climbing can seem to be overwhelming at times, but we are not left alone in that endeavor. Christ goes with us, and He participates in every step of the journey. Although He is there, we are allowed to choose to let him guide our steps and support our climb. Frankly, there are days when it seems better to go another way or it feels right to take those steps as a solo climber. There are also other guides that we will encounter along the way, and their route sounds good and pleasing when it is placed before us. Still, there is only one way to that holy objective, and there is one true and trustworthy guide for us to listen to and to follow along His singular path. Christ goes before us and He travels with us as He provides the possibility of possessing the clean hands and the pure heart that are required of those who enter in the Lord’s holy presence. 

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

The first thing that comes to mind with Peter’s words here is, “Holy? Who me, holy?” I know my mind, and its contents are nothing even remotely close to that standard. I also have an idea of how I live my life, and that is certainly not something that I would describe as holy. Yet, Christ seems to think that even I can be the sort of person that could be called into holiness as my way of going through life and as the description of who I have become because of Christ’s presence in me. Peter understood this dilemma, for he had lived in the center of it for many years. He was a passionate man, and he tended to speak and to act out of his emotions far before he considered the impact or the effect of what he was about to say or do. 

Now Christ reminds him that the redemptive work that was done on the cross has removed all of Peter’s obligation to his former life and has removed him from the need to obey the rule of this world. When he was called to Christ, he was also set free from the oppression of his former life, and the barriers that his disobedience had erected between himself and God were broken down and removed in their entirety. Now he could think, speak, and act in a manner that was contradictory to the methods and the manners of the world around him, and he was empowered to cast off the way of living that was grounded in fear, fueled by anger, and designed to gain control that had been what he was taught and encouraged in during the days before Christ. Christ brought Peter into the center of a new gospel of love, peacemaking, and restoration. In Christ he was now seen as holy by God, and he was to be known as holy by the world as well.

So too, are we to be known in our world, for, in Christ, we are all redeemed from that same form of captivity to the world’s approach to relating to others and to God. As it was with Peter, this is a work in progress at this time; although, Christ’s work is completed and perfect, the transformative work that the Spirit is doing within me is perfect but it will be complete beyond this life. Until then, I, like all followers of Christ, live in the tension of our calling to be holy that stands in contrast to the daily reality of the many ways that the heart and the mind prove to be something less than that. This is the place where grace stands as God’s healing potion. This gift of loving understanding and permission to continue on despite my failings and weakness is a part of God’s unending encouragement to each of His people to continue on in this journey of hopeful obedience. So, when Christ tells us to live as holy people, He is not calling us into failure or defeat, but rather, the Lord is leading us into His assured possibility of living in the world as His redeemed and transformed people.  

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