Reconciliation


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.

 

 

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.

 

 

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1: 3

 

During this season of Advent we tend to picture Jesus as a soft and cuddly baby, for that is how He came into this world in human form. There is something that is both comforting and is also quite extraordinarily powerful in that image. It conveys, among other things, the fact that God, Himself, was willing to enter into the same life that each of us lives in order to become the perfect and singularly acceptable sacrifice for all of the sins of humanity. It also portrays the reality that Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father so that each of us who follow Christ are shown that we are to do likewise and seek out the will of God in all matters. But these humble and submissive images are not the totality of the ways that God is present in our world. This aspect of the account of God’s interaction with this world is not even close to the complete description of what advent involves.

 

God is truly with us. He has always been so, for this is true from a point in time that precedes all of the processes of creation that brought the heavens and this world into existence. God, as described by the prophet here, is mighty, patient, gracious, and righteous. He is not quick to judge as He desires for people to turn away from wrong-doing as they embrace His truth and His way of living; yet, He is also willing and able to enter into a judgement that is both swift and terrible for those who reject Him and His way of thinking and living. It is not easy for us to connect the reality of judgement with the image of the baby Jesus, but that is something that we must do. Jesus the Christ is the Savior of all of humanity, and He is also our judge. His justice is the foundational truth that underpins all of Creation. His righteousness is perfect and as such is beyond any of our ability or capacity to grasp except by and through the redemptive grace that Christ pours over and into all who submit to Him as Savior and Lord.

 

So, as we celebrate the joyousness of this season, we should also be entering into a time of reflection, confession, repentance, and acceptance of that grace. Christ came to us, and He did so in the most vulnerable of all possible manners, but that was done so that God could fully demonstrate His sovereignty, might, and unrelenting heart for justice in our world. God took that infant and raised Him up to be the only absolutely significant person to ever walk upon this earth, the Father accepted the grief of brutal loss so that sin could be extinguished, and He poured out His infinite power and might in the resurrection so that we would all see the Lord’s mastery over the elemental forces of this world. Advent can mean renewal, a form of revival for followers of Christ when we turn away from all that holds us back from fully participating in Christ and in His righteousness during our days. We know that Christ will judge the wickedness of this world; so, we are called upon by Him to live righteously, to proclaim God’s justice and peace, and to love all people and each aspect of creation with the same unceasing passion that the Father has lavished upon us.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 7: 6

 

Let me start out by saying that I do know that this verse is about Israel and that it is situated in a passage about God’s choosing of these people to be His enclave of righteousness and also His point of human outreach into the world. However, God’s plan for redemption of this world was bigger than that, and it remains much greater to this day. In Christ, we all are granted the gift of inclusion in the Lord’s grand plan for adoption into the heavenly family of grace. By the blood of Christ all people are now included based solely upon our belief in Him as there are no longer any racial, familial or other external qualifiers for such earthly and eternal status. We are now the ones who carry on the charge to be holy and the calling to be righteous that was originally placed upon Israel. We are the laborers that God has called to do His work in this rich field of spiritual harvest that is the earth in our days.

 

Although this task can be great and carrying it out can seem overwhelming due to the numbers of people who do not know God, in reality it is a very light burden that we carry, for the Lord goes before us in it and He provides the strength and wisdom for doing the work. Additionally, Christ takes full responsibility for the outcome. Our role is to be willing, available, and forthright in our proclamation of our relationship with Christ. It seems that God wants for us to respond to His love for us by bringing that same love into our world so that the way that we are held as treasure by God is reflected onto the people that we encounter along the path of life, and the love that God pours out onto us by virtue of His intensely paternal attitude toward us provides the way and the means for us to truly love others as well.

 

God does set His people apart from this world in that we are to avoid embracing its broken and evil aspects as our own. We are to remain separate from its idolatry, violence, and selfish ambitions so that we are led by God’s Word and infused with His Spirit to live out Christ’s calling to bring the Gospel of Christ to every person that we can contact as we lovingly embrace them in full appreciation of their unique, God-image bearing creation at the hands of the Father. This is a primary purpose for God’s sacrificial work of calling us into relationship with Him. He has set us apart from this world so that we can enter into it as people who are clearly different from the rest; yet, this is not a difference that is born out of superiority but rather it is one that is formed up in humility and by service to the Lord. As we are God’s treasured possession, God desires for us to be people who hold that status with open hands by pouring out Christ into our world and by sharing the truth of His redemption as we go along our way.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7: 51

 

The early church martyr Stephen is stating the hard truth about the way that so many of God’s own people were living. They were granted the presence of God, Himself, in Jesus, and they violently rejected Him. They had a long history of being blessed by God in ways that were special and miraculous; yet, they refused to obey the Lord’s will. These people always seemed to want more than they had, and still they didn’t enjoy contentment when they were given what they requested. Although they had been chosen by God, rescued out of slavery by Him, and provided with all that they could possibly have needed; they refused to fulfill their part of the bargain by giving God all of their hearts and all of their minds. They were holding back, unyielding, and not willing to trust in God to the point where they could have a real impact on the righteousness of their communities.

 

Unfortunately, this sounds like a way that God might describe our times, this community, and our response to Him. This world is one in which the hand of God with His mercy, grace, and love is quite evident. Yet, His heart must be saddened by the way that we continue to reject His offer of life. We rage against the injustice in our lives while we accept the oppression of millions. We complain about the erosion of our incomes and the loss of our quality of life; yet, we turn a blind eye as the unborn are denied the right to even draw breath. We spend a great amount of time and place very real energy into seeking to change our government while we give only passing interest and involvement in our own church bodies, and we put even less of ourselves into promoting the unity of Christ’s body outside of those walls.

 

Although Stephen’s words were filled with condemnation and rebuke, I am certain that his heart’s desire was that at least some of the people in his audience would hear God’s truth in those statements and that those individuals would turn away from their self-centered course of life and back to God. As we hear those same words, that is what I believe God is saying to us. He wants us to examine our own lives. Christ implores us to meditate deeply on His Word and listen carefully to what He is saying to us. Christ desires for His people to become the voice of love, grace, mercy, and peace in our troubled world. He wants us to stop dwelling in the isolation of our own homes and reside in the community of His body. The Holy Spirit is moving in our land, and He is calling for us to repent of our wandering ways. Christ calls, and He wants for us to respond by giving Him our all.

 

 

 

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