Hope


I know that everything God does endures forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 3: 14 

There is something strangely comforting in the thought that my life has an element of Divine reason and management in it; although, I might enjoy the notion that I am the one who determines my own direction, values, and outcomes, I also know my own lack of true skill and strength when it comes to handling the really challenging aspects of life. My vision is rather limited, too, for I tend to be looking out and devising my strategies from the vantage point of the hole that I continually dig for myself; whereas, I need to be positioned on a hill or in a tall tower in order to see clearly and far enough to make proper decisions. 

Let’s visit this idea of fearing God for just a moment; the real idea here is that we would respect Him, not that we would cower in the corner in terror. The fear that Solomon was speaking about is characterized by the knowledge that God already knows the outcome of our decisions, knows our hearts far better than we do, and will still stick with us through everything. This sort of respect involves trust, a willingness to yield my will to God, the acceptance of His direction for my life, and the understanding of how great God’s grace and forgiveness truly are. The Lord has it all under control; there will still be times of sadness, sorrow, and loss, but the result of following Him is a life that impacts my world with God’s love and grace.  

The Lord wants me to stay close to Him, and He promises that He will always be near to me. God wants me to find delight, joy, and comfort in living through each day; since, each day is one that He has designed as one step along the path of dwelling inside of the perfect life story that was laid out for me from the very beginning of Creation. Admittedly, there are times when evil steps in and momentarily subverts God’s purpose and plan; yet, even then, this is but a momentary time of misdirection, for God always takes back control. Like certain fantasy tales that I have read and seen in film, my choices and decisions have an influence on the day to day direction of the story, but God has promised His blessing on all of the outcomes so long as I continue to listen to His voice and seek His will. The Lord’s call to me is, “Listen, trust, and be joyous throughout the day that I have given to you”. My only reasonable response is to yield control to my Lord and to take delight in His outcome.  

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In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Thy righteousness deliver me.

Psalm 31: 1

If only I could say with honesty that there is nothing that I have done in my life that I am or that I should be ashamed of; however, truth makes a lie of any such notion. There are too many times when my courage has failed to overcome and when my integrity has collapsed, and there are also a long list of situations where my arrogance and pride have concealed from my view the wisdom that God makes so freely available to all who will listen and obey. Yet, Christ has gone before me to the Father and pleads my case before the throne of God; thus, my sins are washed away, and I am told to hold my head high and to walk through life knowing that I am loved, protected, and cared for by God. 

The Lord has also given me His Spirit to guide me into the truths of His Word and by His direct interaction with me into a way of living that can become more and more infused with God’s righteousness. As I realize that I have nothing to offer other than my willingness to seek, listen, and follow, Christ takes away the prideful aspects of my being, and He replaces them with a humble heart for serving His will. His righteousness overcomes my failings, and His holiness becomes ever more my desire.

The refuge that the Lord provides is a safe place where I can stop and still the pace of my days. It is a shelter from all of the chaos and the turmoil that swirl about in our world. Refuge means prayer, and it means quiet meditation; it can also be found in screaming at the top of my lungs to God in order to get the true feelings of the moment out and fully expressed. The Lord wants us to turn toward Him and away from our own strength; also, He wants us to draw upon His sources of truth, wisdom, and direction when we are trying to comprehend life’s daily challenges. When I turn toward the Lord, He covers me with His righteousness, and Christ gives my heart the sort of peace that allows me to see the Godly path to follow as I travel through my day. 

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,

   “return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

   and rend your hearts not your garments.”

Return to the LORD your God,

   for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;

   and he relents over disaster.

Joel 2: 12, 13

When people have departed from a relationship with God, His greatest desire is for them to return to Him. In these situations, God is not motivated by a need for power or for control, for those are things that He holds in His hands as a part of the nature of His being. The Lord gains nothing from our obedience to Him except for our companionship, and that is the thing that matters most to Him. God was willing to give everything in order to bring people into close communion with Him; so, that is exactly what He did. Christ’s blood is more than sufficient to cover any of the sinfulness in which we are able to engage, and it is more powerful than all of the drive to roam and to wander that often seems to propel people away from God and out of fellowship with His church.

The Lord enters into thE troubled, painful, and damaged places in our hearts. He brings a form of healing that cannot be found in any other place or through other mediums of restoration. Christ speaks truth into the challenging realities of our lives, and He does so with a clarity that is born out of His intimate knowledge of each of us. God takes the time that is required to truly understand the intricacies of our hearts and the complex processes of our minds so that He can engage with each person in a manner that enters into our lives fully and with a form of love and care that is typically found only in the relationship of parent to child. This is true even when we have attempted to put as much distance between ourselves and the Lord as it is possible to travel. The Lord will continue to seek after people when anyone else would have long before given up the pursuit.

The grace and the mercy that are offered to these wandering souls is fueled by God’s love. This is a love that knows neither limits nor situations or circumstances that inhibit or that defeat it. Christ’s love for each person that would ever be born into life on this earth is so great that even the torturous nature of the cross and humanity’s most strident of attempts to crush it out with ridicule and death could not extinguish it. Christ is calling to all of us who are far apart from our God. He is asking that we open our hearts to His love so that we can accept the grace and the mercy that He is holding out to us as a gift. Redemption, restoration, love, peace, and fellowship are set before us as a banquet feast that has been prepared by the Lord to celebrate the joyous return of those who have been absent from His table. So, for any and all people who have wandered away from the Lord’s presence and have taken themselves out of relationship with Him, Christ is calling, and He speaks out with grace and with love as He says, “Return for you are precious to me.”       

A voice cries,

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Isaiah 40: 3

Wilderness is a strong word. It brings to mind vivid images, and it does this in most people’s imaginations, too. When we hear of wilderness, we may think about a barren desert place or the picture that comes to mind may be of rugged mountains with no one nearby. The wilderness that the prophet was referencing was physically near for the people of Israel, and their national story of years spent in a circular journey in it were also well known to them all. Yet, Isaiah was speaking in terms of the conditions of their hearts and their souls. The people and their nation were traveling through life in the barren dryness of a wilderness of faith. They had turned away from the sweet water of the Spirit of God, and their table was now set with the bitterness of prideful separation from their Lord. Although they may have been sleeping in comfortable houses, their hearts were residing far from the presence of God. 

Most of us can identify with aspects of this situation. It seems to be true that almost everyone goes through some of these hard and lonely times during the course of our days. As it was in Israel, these days spent in isolation and seeming separation from God can become the reality for our churches, our cities, and the nations that we call home. Individuals lose touch with God’s truth, will, and righteousness so that they may, in turn, lead these larger groups and organizations along the desert path. Sometimes we just touch upon the edges of the barren places and find that its harsh heat or emptiness are overwhelming. Then, we turn back to the sure nurture of God’s presence and the security of His Word of grace and truth. In many instances, we relocate to those rugged environs over a long period of time wherein a short day trip becomes an overnight camping experience that is followed by ever increasing days, months, and finally years spent in turning away from the Lord’s way of thinking and of living.

However deep we may have gone into these deserts of the soul, there is a way out. Even when we have traversed so far into the barren lands of rejection of God and the deep valleys of separation from the Lord’s gospel of love and grace, He is still seeking after each of us with the singularly redemptive intent of the shepherd who has nurtured and cared for His flock since the beginning of time. Life may seem like it is being lived out in an unrecoverable and lost place, but Christ is a singularly qualified and skillful builder of roads. He desires to lead each of us out of the living purgatory that we have exiled ourselves into, and when we open up our hearts to Him and surrender our lives to His loving authority and sovereign rule, the Lord comes to us where we are located, and He guides and supports us for each and every step of the journey back into the bountiful land that is found in the center of God’s will.     

He has told you, O man, what it is and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6: 8

God is a clear communicator, and He makes it rather easy to understand the way of living that He desires for His children to follow. We are to be people who live in a just and a righteous manner without demanding justice for ourselves. We are to be people who show kindness, which is often called mercy, to everyone without the expectation or the prerequirement that they will be merciful to us. This is the nature of God, for He grants the total grace of His loving forgiveness to everyone who will accept it. He does this even knowing that from God’s perspective, we are all antagonistic and hostile to His will, for we are all, in our natural states, unjust and merciless.

God’s Spirit teaches, counsels, guides, and directs us toward decisions and responses to other’s actions that will reflect His concept of what is just and how to grant mercy. Justice and kindness are key threads in the cloth of life that God has woven and that He has wrapped around every one of His children. As we seek to live in the center of our relationship with Christ, His Spirit infuses our hearts with His essential truths and with the values and the ethics that spring forth from them. Christ calls upon us to become people who value the just treatment of everyone at a very high level; so, we need to seek to interact with others in a way that reflects the grace and the mercy that Christ has shown to us.

When we actually live in this manner it means that we are required to place ourselves and our concepts of our own importance on a level that is far beneath that of God’s. Then we can become humble students of the Master, and we are more readily able to stay humble through everything that comes our way. I will not have all of the answers, but Christ does. I won’t always respond well to what others do and say, yet God has already forgiven my failure and guides me into restoration of the relationships that have been harmed. When I see my futility and powerlessness in the face of oppression and hatred in my world, the Lord simply says for me to walk with Him, and He will provide the insight and the wisdom that I require to meet the needs of the victimized and the battered. As I am weak and lacking in knowledge and understanding, Christ is with me to provide everything that I need to be bold, courageous, and loving throughout the day. 

Therefor do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1: 8-10

In Christ, shame is gone. That is a very big idea, and it is one that, in general, is hard for most people to fully grasp onto. Yet, as people who know Christ and who are also held onto by Him, we have nothing in life or beyond it to be ashamed of. We may have lived a life wherein we did and said things that were highly worthy of rebuke and shame, and we do get to own the damage that we may have done along the way. Yet, the grace that Jesus pours over His people is such that we can be set free from the fear and the doubt that accompanies realization of the sinfulness and the harmful nature of the way we have lived. Christ grants to us a newly formed and discovered strength of will, character, and person that enables us to make radical course changes in life and to also do the hard work of repairing damage done in the past.

It is this dramatic and transformative change that can establish the reason for proclaiming the work of Christ as the cause and motivation for what others are seeing as a new person. In addition to the difference in approach to life that Christ makes in His followers, He also gives each of us a gift or gifts of His Spirit that are to be used in the support and the promotion of the outworking of God’s kingdom upon the earth. The presence of Christ within us should make us bold in our use and application of these gifts. We can go through life with the confidence of Christ in both putting what He has given to us to practical use and also in speaking out about the source of this newly found capability and capacity for doing God’s work in our world. In Christ, we are fully alive, and the way that we live out our days can reflect that reality to others.

Death itself is the result of sinful disobedience to God. Each of us is born into a life that is overshadowed by the prospect of our own mortality, and the weight of that knowledge can work to constrain and to curtail our joy and our freedom in living in the fullest expression of what it means to love and to care about the world around us. Jesus overcame the hold that death has upon humanity, and He put human mortality into its rightful perspective. We all will still die, but in Christ, that is just a momentary change in the location of our residency. For Christ transforms our living spirits into ones that dwell in this life in the presence of the divine as the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us; then, when this life ceases, Christ takes us into the next aspect of our existence with Him as we continue on with a life that is carried out in the presence of God in the spiritual realm of heaven. This certainty of our eternal destiny is also something that we can proclaim to our world in the shamelessly bold manner of one who now lives in the center of the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

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