Reconciliation


Lord, you have been our dwelling place

   in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, 

   or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

   from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90: 1, 2

Something great or at least very significant has happened. The writer of this psalm, it is credited to Moses, has witnessed God’s hand in action in a mighty way; so, perhaps the setting for these observations is the wilderness after the rebellious generation has died off, the Israelites are in sight of Canaan again, and Moses is at the end of his life’s journey. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, most lives are touched by times when hard things come our way and situations where we feel overwhelmed and insecure. All of that is a part of life in this place, and all lives are lived out with uncertainty and an element of fear or distress as the backdrop for the journey. Yet, Moses reminds us that there is always something bigger than our story going on in our lives and that our place in history is important to God but it is still just a moment in time from the Lord’s perspective.

All people throughout the entire scope of time have been given the gift of the presence of the Lord. This was true for Eve and Adam, He was there with Moses through the entire course of his life, and God is right here in this world with us today and until the end of time. The Lord has given us a safe place to dwell in the midst of the storms that swirl about us in life. His presence is real and His loving grace and mercy are poured out upon us even when we think and act in ways that are undeserving of that sort of care. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Moses and the Israelites that he led, and He never departed from leading them into the fulfillment of their place in that great and eternal story. The same thing is true for each of us now. God sees and knows each of us in ways that are deep and intimate, and He desires for us to trust Him so that we will follow His will into the outworking of that great adventure of life that He has established for us.

Even our days of turmoil and trouble have a purpose in the much bigger perspective that God holds over all of the world. Everything that we lose is this life and each of the setbacks that we encounter is an opportunity for us to turn in faith toward the Lord and to trust Him to carry us through these moments and into the rest and the hope of His care and provision. Every step that we take can be one that is set out for us by God as He surrounds us with His love, grace, wisdom, and hope. To put things into perspective, the God who formed the universe and who contemplated the entire scope of its history before any of it was hung in the sky is the same loving Father, Savior, and Lord who sheds tears over the pain and the trials that each person endures. The Lord of that universe and the King of Glory is also my comforter, the Savior of my soul, and the One who guides my steps along His paths of righteousness, and this is true for each of us as we trust in Him and seek out His presence with us for the journey.     

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Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

   bring an offering and come before him!

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

1 Chronicles 16: 29

If I want to be honest, holiness is often viewed as inconvenient or as uncomfortable. People are turned off by others who seem to be superior in their devotion to living Godly lives and in remaining relatively free from the influences of the world’s ways of thinking and acting. We don’t really want the people who are around us to be too holy, and there is a limit to the amount of holiness that we are able to handle at any one time. As a follower of Christ, this is a sad state, and my participation in its existence is something that I need to look upon with open eyes, take to the Lord in prayer, and enter into repentance for all that He reveals to me within my attitudes, thoughts, and actions that is contrary to His will. 

This process of reflection might begin with gaining a better understanding of what holiness means. Meriam-Webster defines holiness as “being holy”, and it says then states that holy means, “Exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” When I look at these definitions, there is little wonder left as to why we are so troubled by the concept of holiness in our world and why seeking after holiness in our own lives leads us straight into conflict with other people and with institutions, organizations, and sometimes even with the church. We struggle with the idea that there exists such a thing as perfection in goodness and righteousness, for perfection suggests that everything else is somehow less than perfected, and recognition of imperfection requires us to engage with people in a manner that can be confrontational or challenging. Our world looks down upon this sort of thing when it comes to issues of ethical thought, morality, and righteousness. When we enter into these arenas of discussion, stop signs are raised, caution flags are unfurled, and hard conversations are waiting for us at every turn in the road.

Yet, God seems to attach a very different vision to what holiness means in our world. According to David’s words in this song of praise and thanksgiving, holiness is related to God’s glory being revealed on earth and in the heavens, and it is something to be celebrated with offerings of praise and worship of God’s character and nature, which have produced the holiness that is being celebrated. In fact, the atmosphere that surrounds God’s holiness is described as being enveloped in splendor. As God, Himself, is the only source of this sort of perfection, we need to turn to Him alone in order to see and to understand what thinking and living in a holy manner means for us. I know that there are many aspects of my life that do not conform to God’s definition of holy, for there are too many situations, interactions, and decisions that I engage in during each day that are not influenced and directed by God’s standard of what is loving, gracious, just, and redemptive. So, as I enter into this day, I turn to the Lord in repentance for these times of departure from His will. I seek out the Spirit’s guidance in all that comes my way today, and I purpose to bring encounters with the glory of the Lord and the splendor of His Kingdom come into each moment of my day.   

Seek the LORD and his strength;

   seek his presence continually!

1 Chronicles 16: 11

There are many kinds of strength that can be viewed and experienced in our world. Some of them produce outcomes that are great and wonderful and others leave a path of brokenness and destruction in their wakes. The difference in the outcome that is derived by the use of strength can be determined by very slight changes in the method of application of that strength; yet, the effect of the utilization of strength upon people can last for generations. In general, people desire to be strong or, at least, to be viewed as such. We want to hold a position that is no less than equal to those around us so that we can be in control as much of the time as it is possible. We want to be the one who call out the cadence for the on-going dance of life. This is true for us individually, and it seems to be magnified when the concepts of strength, power, and dominion are applied to nations.

However, the strength that we tend to seek after or generate for ourselves is too often derived from the wrong sorts of sources and for reasons that do not match God’s way of righteous living. We are far more likely to go for bulging muscles or for extreme horsepower than we are prone to pursuit of the strength that is formed out of compassion, mercy, and care for others. In human or worldly terms, strength is something that can be put on and worn as a form of armor that is used to protect us from too close or intimate a level of contact with all that is messy, hard, and wounded around us. This sort of strength is often expressed in angry or hurtful words as it is filled with bluster, bravado, and speaks in a manner that casts others as unworthy opponents to be discounted and denied any form of dignity. This sort of expression of strength is the weakest possible form of it, and is far removed from the type of strength that David was calling upon God’s people to adopt.

The Lord’s strength is found in His presence. It is grown up within people as we turn away from the natural way of seeking after self-determined forms of power and submit to God’s will in all matters. The more that we place ourselves under the Lord’s authority and seek out His heart, mind, and desire as the factors that determine our course through life and our methods for getting there, the stronger we will become in the truest sense of what constitutes that quality. Godly strength is measured in dignity granted to others, resources that are shared with those in need, the will to seek peace rather than victory, and a deeply held desire to serve before exerting a demand for service. The sort of strength that makes a positive difference in our world is learned from God and is found in His Word and by the leading of His Spirit. This type of strength is best cultivated through regular prayer as it is nurtured by times of listening to God and reflection upon what He is saying. This world needs strong people to care for its needs and to guide it toward righteousness and into God’s will, and we can be the Lord’s strong ones by focusing all of our being on knowing Him and in dwelling in His presence continually.     

Sing to the LORD all the earth!

   Tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

   his marvelous works among all peoples! 

1 Chronicles 16: 23, 24

We seldom use the word marvelous to describe things in our world. Either it has passed out of fashion or there is just not much left for us to marvel at. I tend to think that the later of those reasons is at play here, for the world that we know today is filled with things, with human accomplishments, that were not even dreamed about in the most fertile of our grandparent’s imaginations. It is hard to impress us, and perhaps, we don’t really want to be taken over and knocked off of our feet by all that much, either. We desire to be in control so that we have answers for any and all questions that might be posed to us. This is how many of us today see our world, but this was not what David saw as he looked out upon the nature of his day.

He was viewing myriad reasons to sing, and the song that he composed was one that placed the Lord squarely in the center of all of the goodness that was going on in the world. Now David was not an idealist and didn’t live a protected life. His world was not a calm and peaceful place, either. He resided in times that reflected the fallen nature of this earth. The culture in those days was just as broken, violent, and godless as is ours today. So, David’s reason for singing makes just as much or as little sense today as it did then. He sees the hand of the Lord at work in the world, and that same hand has never stopped being engaged with us and in our lives. God was present then; He is present now, and He will be present for all of the time to come!

God’s presence is not a passive or uninvolved hovering over us. He brings the hope of salvation to our need for redemption. God has granted us His Son, Jesus the Christ, as the answer to our need for a Savior. But the salvation that David was singing about is much greater and extends further than the miracle of eternity, for he experienced the form of saving grace that transforms the lives that we are living today into ones that know righteousness, justice, and deep love. Christ, present with and in His people, provides the lyric to the song of life that is the great marvel of all times. The fact that we can be redeemed from the state of rebellion against God that is our natural one is a wonder, and the lives that we can live as those redeemed ones of God is the most extraordinary expression of God’s glory that it is possible to utter. God’s love, sacrifice, and the salvation that comes out of it all provides the chorus to this life-long song of praise, and its verses are expressed by the love, grace, justice, and mercy that we extend to others in the name of Christ.  

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?

Acts 11: 17

Peter had just experienced one of those great moments of eye opening, blast of ice-cold water in the face truth revealed to him by God. He had been thinking that he had a responsibility to perform as a sort of filter on what would be acceptable to God and on how people could be made worthy of entering into the fellowship of people who believe in Jesus. Peter was wrong. He was absolutely and totally off track in his thinking, and his actions followed along after his thoughts. In this same light, it is interesting how much Peter was like me and so many other people that I know and have heard about.

It seems that we humans are very slow learners. Thus, it is a really good thing that the Lord is a very patient teacher. There is one and only one authorized and final judge who has authority over the affairs of people, and that judge is the resurrected One, Jesus the Christ. We are called upon by God to function as a continuation of Christ’s interaction with people here on this earth; for, people who know Jesus are the living Body of Christ in our world. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can possess the heart, mind, and the power of Christ in order to fulfill His mission for us of bringing God’s loving grace, restorative peace, and eternal perspective to this sin ravaged world.

There is no person who is so far removed from God that His grace cannot save them. There is no place that the Lord does not want us to go to tell His truth, and nothing should stop us from seeking to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in all aspects of living on a daily basis. When I start to apply standards to others that will get in the way of my ability to speak truth to them with the love of Christ on my lips, I need to stop and consider how my Lord would have approached the same person. These are often situations where my actions are more important than any words that I can speak. In these situations and circumstances service, sacrifice, and simple love are frequently the vocabulary that Christ provides for me to use. At these times of engagement with people, as in all aspects of living as a follower of Christ, I need to seek the Spirit’s leading and ask that Christ open my heart and fill my mind with His loving attitude and gracious words of eternal hope and salvation’s message of redemptive grace.

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3: 19

This verse is a part of Zephaniah’s summation of his discussion of how God will deal justly with Israel by virtue of returning the nation and its people to their homeland and out of an oppressive captivity. Yet, I think that it also shows us a more fundamental aspect of God’s nature and the character that is His nature’s foundation. Although the Lord does care greatly about the lives of all people, He has an especially soft spot for those who are less able to take care of themselves. So, when I see the term lame, I think of people who are physically disadvantaged regardless of cause or reason for their condition, but I think that God actually has a larger group of people in His mind when He looks upon those who are lame. These are people who are easy prey or targets for oppressors. God’s view of lameness also includes emotional weakness, issues of mental capacity, and any other conditions of body, mind, or spirit that might cause a person to need extra care, provision, or understanding. Our Lord takes each and every one of these people under His wing of protection and holds them very close.

The Lord also seeks after a very wide circle of people who could be labeled as outcasts. These can be those among us who are difficult to be around, and they are often those who are simply different from whatever is normal or usual in our own cultural environment. This can include people who are from other countries, races, ethnicities, economic status, or any other conditions that might brand them as different from me and from my natural family and neighbors. God does not use the concept of outcast as a way of describing people. Rather, He sees all of us as His children, and He goes searching for those of us who are far away from Him in order to win us back to close proximity through love, grace, and understanding. The Lord would have each of us view all others in this same manner. We are to seek after those who are different from us, open up our hearts and our homes to them in a way that speaks Christ’s love through actions and by attitudes while giving praise to the One who saves with our words.

Although this verse contains a description of the way that God views people in our world, I believe that He desires for each of us who know Him to live in this same manner. He guides us into holding these same attitudes deeply and personally. Followers of Christ are to be people who seek after the outcast without regard for the cause of that condition or state of their being. In so seeking after them, we are to grant them shelter, to provide what they need to carry on with life, and we are to befriend them in a way that speaks acceptance and that remains true and faithful to those friendships into the unforeseen future. Christ leads us into loving the lame and into seeking to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that speak Christ’s redemption and restoration in a manner that words are inadequate to express. There are many people in our world who live as exiles, who are lame or outcast; so, there are multitudes of people in our daily lives who need a friend, a protector, a listening ear. We all encounter these people and they are God’s blessed gifts to us, for they allow us to draw closer to Christ by trusting Him to care for and to lead us as we enter into their lives in Christ’s name.    

 

 

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.

1 Corinthians 4: 12

 

We might dream or wish to live in a civil world where people respect others without regard for what we believe, who we are, or how we view governance or other like issues. Yet, we know that this is not true. The hyper-aware nature of our times makes it hard to ignore issues; so, it also makes sorting out the people that we meet from the positions that they hold a lot more challenging. The world where we live is one wherein people are frequently defined and catalogued by our political, religious, and cultural point of view. We use broad brush strokes such as liberal or conservative, believer or non-believer, nationalist, evangelical, Muslim, socialist, and many others as if those terms fully fleshed out the definition of who a person is and of what worth they might be. Nothing of this sort is truly valid when it comes to the way that we view others or when we determine how we should respond to the world where we dwell.

 

We might think that these issues and concerns are the result of the way that our world has evolved for our fast paced, electronic communication oriented environment is one in which it is hard to ignore what is happening around the world and who is involved in making these things occur. Yet, Paul is talking about some of the same sorts of things as they were current events in his times, too. The nature of people as we live out our brokenness and our sinfulness has not changed much over time. We are hurtful, arrogant, and prideful now just as we were long ago. We seek to make little of others in order to contrast our personal greatness to them, and we don’t much care how much damage we might do to others while engaging in these acts. Far too often labels are used as a replacement for engaging in relationship building, for these wide-reaching descriptors make it far easier for us to sift out and sort people into those that we consider to be acceptable and worthy of knowing and those that we do not value enough to associate with. All of these thoughts, actions, and attitudes cause harm and deny the reconciling work of Christ through us and in the lives of others.

Christ’s reconciling

In fact, we will encounter people with whom we differ on many topics and in many other ways. This is the beautiful reality of the great diversity that God has designed into humanity. We are intended to live in a manner that values these differences and that allows for the expression of our various points of view and perspectives so that, in the end, a fully-formed and balanced perspective is brought to bear upon the concept of living in a loving and considerate manner as we travel through life. This brings me to the partial verse above. I think that Paul is granting us some wise instruction for how we can live in this world as true disciples of Christ. As in all things, our Lord is the example for us to look to and to model ourselves after in our responses to the world. It is inevitable that we will be spoken negatively about and treated unfairly or unjustly by others because of our beliefs and due to the way that those beliefs demand that we think, speak, and act. We may even encounter violence or other severe forms of persecution as a result of standing firmly for what is right in God’s eyes. However, even in these extreme situations, we are still to return loving blessings in exchange for angry and hurtful words, we are to hold onto Christ in all situations by and through His strength and power, and we are to respond to all forms of attack with the truth of the Gospel as we hold Jesus Christ up as our rock, shield, and fortress while praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are seeking to do harm to us.

 

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