Grace


Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, “Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood.

Joshua 20: 1-3

 

The cities of refuge that are discussed here in Joshua have a very slight connection to the politically motivated and dedicated ones of our times. In admittedly simplistic terms, the cities of refuge of today’s world are a protest statement against laws and governmental attitudes that the leadership of these cities stand in disagreement with. The places that God through Moses instructed Joshua to dedicate were primarily about redemption and forgiveness. They created an opportunity for people who stood under penalty of a sentence of death in certain circumstances to gain an opportunity to be pardoned and set free to live within the society again. They also cut short the potential for a cycle of violence that revolved around revenge and retribution. These ancient cities of refuge are closely related to the way that God has worked with people and in our world since our first days upon the earth.

 

When Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3: 23, 24), he is making a very inclusive statement. The “all” there is a group that enfolds you and me and every other person who has ever drawn breath in this world. We are born with a sentence of death already proclaimed for us, and we will live out our days awaiting its execution upon us if we do not encounter and respond to God’s offer of refuge that comes to us in and through Christ. In God’s great and marvelous graciousness, He took His desire to offer redemption to us to another level of accessibility. In Jesus, God made it so that the cities of refuge in our world are as close as the air that surrounds us. He eliminated the need for us to travel to His designated place, and instead, God came into our world in a manner that makes His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness real and tangibly present with everyone. We dwell inside of the walls of our city of refuge if we will simply open our eyes to grasp its reality.

 

Christ opens the door to salvation, and He invites us in. This invitation is ours to accept or to reject, but even that offer is an on-going thing. The Lord continues to seek after people as He goes to every end of the earth in His pursuit of us. Unlike these cities in Joshua’s day, Christ’s offer of grace covers all of the sinfulness that we may engage in, for there is nothing that we can do that is greater than the life-saving sacrifice that Jesus offered up on our behalf. God’s heart and His intent is to be known by all people; so, He offers His redemption to all of us. This is the same inclusive “all” that defines our lost state in Romans. When we accept Christ’s offer of refuge, we are set free from the death of sin that covered us previously. Thus, in this new life that we have been granted we are sent out to live fully in the presence of God and to bring the reality of that life that we now enjoy into contact with a world that is still in need of that safe and secure place of refuge.

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But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5: 15

 

This idea might seem quaint, old-fashioned, or even foolish today. For the world where we live takes great delight in the way that we put down others and looks to gain power and dominance by means of the words that we use to describe people who differ from us. This is something that is going on across political, social, and economic lines, and it is, sadly, also far too much a part of the nature of the dialogue within the holy realm of Christ’s own church. Thus, what Jesus shed His most precious blood to consecrate is often being reduced to something that would shame a back-alley shout-down. This is true even when the civility of lowered voices and the decorum of the setting are maintained as a façade, for when the heart is enraged, its murderous intent still stings, wounds, and commits acts of murder upon the spirit

 

In Christ, we are called to something better than this. We are also led by the Spirit into a manner of engagement that should not utilize verbal and emotional assault as a weapon and that should not accept it in people who we follow and whose direction we take for the conduct of the business of our days. This is the sort of thing that diminished the God-image based humanity of all who enter into such exchanges, and I fear that this is the intent, either overt or underlying, of people who resort to verbal character assassination, graphically negative description of others, and rapid fire, long distance put-downs as a valid method of dialogue or debate. Yet, this is what we are doing. This is the way that we have become accustomed to hearing the views of those who rule this world expressed, and far too many of us in the church are applauding these utterly worldly words and giving credence to their cleverness, force, and truth-saying when they deserve nothing more than rejection and rebuke for the this-world centered nature and character of their content and the hurtful desire of their delivery.

 

In case you are beginning to look toward singular people and say that this is about one person or a specific point of reference in the on-going discourse of our world, please reconsider, think again. For my heart is troubled by much more than what a person or even a political party might be saying. I am joining with Paul in my concern over what is happening inside of Christ’s church. We can and perhaps even should disagree on the issues of our day. Yet, we should never look toward another follower of Christ in a manner that is dismissive or unloving and that does anything to sever the bonds of fellowship that Christ gave His all to construct among us. I will say this again, we can disagree. We even must disagree, for the dialogue around the way and the manner that God’s Word informs and speaks into the issues of our times is an important aspect of the way that the Spirit works out His will and intent in and among us. We should also hold our public figures accountable for speaking truth, for the direction that they lead us, and for the manner in which they engage in the discourse. However, we must never resort to the ways of this world in doing these things, for that path is one that does nothing other than bring division and destruction into Christ’s most precious body of faith.

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will.

Ephesians 1: 8, 9

 

Most of us love a well crafted mystery with all of its plot turns and complex characters. This is the sort of story that keeps us guessing; in fact, the writers of these tales frequently work extra hard at making the real facts obscure and even at deliberately leading us to false conclusions. God’s mysteries are written with a different approach, for they are created with a very different intent, by an utterly unique writer, and with the desire that everyone will get the singular clue to its unraveling.

 

God has been laying the story out before us forever, and He has never been silent or tried to hide the clues to solving the mystery from us. In fact, the Lord is an author who actually goes after His audience, and He desires more than anything else to enter into a close relationship with us. Yet, the great mystery of eternity remains unsolved by vast numbers of people, and every day many see, hear, and are touched by the clues to its resolution; still, they reject the clues as false, they say that they are too busy dealing with life to take the time to think through the puzzle, or they believe that they already possess the true key to open the door of eternity.

 

In the end, the solution to God’s mystery is found in Christ, and there is no other way to gain access to the sort of wisdom that brings the deep secrets of the universe into a form that is comprehensible to our simple human minds. Because God knows all and understands us completely, in and through Christ He gave us the gift of His Spirit to guide us into His word and to clear away the darkness that sin placed around our hearts and minds. Then the Spirit walks with us through life to continually guide us further along the path of God’s will. However, unlike mysteries that are crafted by human writers, God wants us to spoil the ending by revealing the secret to the rest of the audience; thus, the greatest gift that we can give to others who are participating in this grand life play is not the typical respectful silence, but rather we can proclaim Jesus, the only answer that everyone needs, with every aspect of our lives.

 

 

My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Have you ever experienced uncertainty or become so weary from trying to live righteously in this troubled world that it felt like you were going to be swept over the edge of a towering cliff at any moment? Right, I didn’t think that I was totally alone in these responses to life. This world is a big time highly stressful place to exist. Also, Paul is generally a fairly practical guy; for, he lived his life in the center of the storm that happens whenever people who desire and seek to serve the Lord venture out into their communities and engage in bringing the truth of Christ to others. So, my conclusion is that realistic Paul wouldn’t tell us to do or to be something that couldn’t be done.

 

In order to avoid the inevitable sense of futility that comes when my desire to serve Christ intersects with all of the road blocks that spring up in front of my path, I am required to find my direction and the strength to carry on from a very special source. Christ calls me to follow Him and to do His work in my world. If this work is to reach the sort of potential that He knows exists, I must allow someone else to make decisions with me. Finally, if I am to stay the path of that calling through times of personal failure, disappointment with others, and the distractions that life brings my way; my feet need to be firmly set on a foundation that is stronger and that runs deeper than anything that I can fabricate on my own.

 

This all seems so complex to my mind; yet, it all has one relatively simple answer. Jesus, the Christ, is God’s response to every concern that I can contemplate. Jesus, who gave all so that I can live in the complete fullness of God’s riches is all that I need. Jesus, whose Spirit goes through everything in this life with me is my guide and counselor. Jesus, the One who took all of my sin and the shame that it brought to me onto His back is my strength. Jesus, the One who loves me despite all of my hurtful acts and deceitful thoughts holds me steady through all of the trials and the storms that attempt to drive me away from the Lord’s way. Jesus, there is nothing more; so, how can I accept anything less?

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.

1 Corinthians 7: 17

 

At first this verse might seem to be about contentment; about accepting who and what you are. Those ideas are exposed here, but there is also much more. This is about the fact that people are complicated and complex. We are diverse in ways that are both large-scale and obvious and at the same time, subtly nuanced or shaded. People are a direct reflection of the one who created us as we are so made in God’s image. None of us are the totality if that image in ourselves, but in the sum total of all of us, we begin to demonstrate a more complete expression of the Creator.

 

This does not mean that we each come into a relationship with God in a fully formed condition or that there is not growth and reforming to be done over time. God takes us where we are and as we are at that time, and He begins a life-long process of working on and in us to shape us into being a more fully developed person who brings the presence of God into the world. Yet, God’s acceptance of each of us means that His earthly family, His body, is populated by people who are different from each other in almost every way that it is possible for us to differ. This means that we are going to be in close relationship with people from other social and economic situations, with vast educational disparity, who speak various languages and do so with interestingly odd to us accents. God also brings together racial differences, cultural divides, and various political persuasions into one great gathering based upon faith in Christ and founded upon the fact that He breaks down all divisions and barriers between His people.

 

God calls upon us to live in this diverse and even troubling or uncomfortable environment. He directs us to focus upon our commonality in Christ rather than upon the differences that we perceive in our humanity. God directs His people to live out to the fullest the gifts, skills, talents, and personality that we have been given as all of this is a part of that complete image of the Creator that is formed by Christ’s body when we are gathered together. We can turn to Christ to help us gain in our ability to be accepting of who and what we are in His kingdom, and we can do the same regarding others in the body of Christ in order to come to a place of acceptance and understanding of them, for Christ’s grace, love, and wisdom are the gifts that He grants to us so that we can learn to live in the manner that He desires for us to do. In Christ and through His grace, we, His Body, are bearers of light in our world, and we bring forth the hope of peace that Christ alone sets out as the goal of life on earth and as the gateway to eternity.

 

 

But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8: 3

 

This idea is somewhat the opposite of the way that we often view our relationship with God. At least I tend to think in terms of loving God and so seeking to know Him ever more fully, deeply, and completely. Yet, if I think about it, consider what Paul is saying, and meditate upon these few simple words, it begins to make sense. Love is something that changes people. It reshapes the way that we see the world round us as it takes us into a deeper form of engagement with its object. In love, we seek out the beloved, and we desire to know that person very well, but love also opens up the lover to the other. This is true in romantic love relationships, and it is also true in other forms of deep, personal relationships.

 

In fact, there should be no place where this confident openness is more present than in our love for God. There is no one who is more trustworthy than is the Lord, and there is no other relationship that we can enter into that has the same degree of commitment inherent in the nature of the beloved than that which is present in God. God is in relationship with each of us who know Him for the duration of time, and there is nothing that can change His perspective on loving and on being present with us. The Lord is the definition of the sort of unfaltering promise of loving others that is missing in our world, for He does not hold our weakness, failure, and inconsistency as a form of ransom over us so that we think that we need to perform in order to retain that affection. Instead, God gave Himself up as a ransom of love in order to set us free for all of eternity from our own sinfulness and its shame.

 

So, my love for God leads to giving Him my heart, mind, and soul. I allow Him into my inner life in a way that is not even possible for any other to do. As Christ has given each of us who know Him His Spirit to dwell with and in us, we are inhabited by God’s love as it is poured out upon His people. There is no other experience in this life that is like this in its fullness and totality. God’s love is what brings this rare element into our world, and His love given to me is what defines, enables, and empowers all of the love that I have to give to others. Thus, as I love God, I come to relax the protective barriers that life in this world has taught me to place around my heart, and I allow Christ access to the full range of my feelings, my responses to others, and to my willingness to trust and to engage with people. In Christ, I know perfect love, and He pours Himself into me so that I can, in turn, be that sort of committed lover in all of my other relationships.

The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1: 7

 

Motives are not always easy to understand. We think that we know someone and get the way that they think or what drives their actions and then they say or do something that completely disorients us and that turns our world upside down. So, we pick ourselves up, set our spinning eyes on a fixed spot on the horizon, and chalk up the chaos to human nature. There is some real truth to the idea that the inconsistencies and the disruptive actions that pervade our world are a part of the fabric of our human tapestry of life. Now I do believe that they are formed up and compelled onward by forces from beyond the realm of people’s experience, for deception, lies, confusion, violence, and other such destructive actions are devised and empowered by the fallen, anti-God operatives whose allegiance is to Satan. This war between God and the dark angel has been going on continually throughout earth’s history, and it will continue to impact our lives and influence our world until Christ permanently ends it all.

 

Until then, we live in the ongoing drama of this tension, and we do need to understand God’s motives for what He does as they are different from those of His adversary. Everything that God does and all of His interaction with His Creation, especially with the people of this world, is formed up and compelled by His goodness. This is in direct and absolute contrast to the dark evil of Satan and to the deep deception that he attempts to fill our world with. God’s goodness is also what He desires to pour out into our lives. This is primarily done as His Word and its truth become our guidance for thinking and for acting in all aspects of our days. God’s Word is made real and alive in relationship with Him, and relationship with God is entered into through being known by Christ and so by knowing Him. This is something that we choose to do. God does not compel us to accept relationship with Him, but there is truly no other way to enter into the peace and the security of wisdom and truth in our troubled world than through that intimate connection to their author and source.

 

In Christ, we find that safe harbor, that sheltering cave that are the literary images for a secure place to go when there are powerful forces of nature or of human derivation that are ready to overtake and to destroy us. Yet, Christ is far more than just an image. He is the most real and solidly tangible form of shelter that exists in all of this world and beyond. That word of truth, the presence of His Spirit, and the support of Christ’s body of faith are all parts of one great whole that forms a tangible sanctuary for our minds, bodies, and souls. When we enter into this place we are often battered and weary from the journey and because of the fight that we have been engaged in; so, Christ takes us in and He grants us rest and time for recovery. Since He knows us to a degree that is beyond the grasp of human reason, the Lord enters into meeting our real needs and starts working on our restoration. Christ grants to us a place to lie down and sleep in safety, to be fed upon His bread of life, and to fill our thirsty souls with His restorative waters of redemption.

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