Sacrifice


Violence shall no more be heard in your land,

devastation or destruction within your borders;

you shall call your walls Salvation,

and your gates Praise.

Isaiah 60: 18

 

Violence is shouting out its fury and its rage in our land. There seems to be no end to its repetitive chant and to the tragic results of its actions. Sadness and grief follow in Lord Violence’s wake as night follows day. The shroud of death and destruction is seen in lands far away and in the houses down the block from where I sit now. When will it all end, O Lord! Where is the justice that Your Word promises, and when will the devastation be brought to an end? I fear that these days appear to be too much like the ones in Noah’s times when our world was described like this, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gn. 6: 11) At that time, Lord, You caused a great flood and wiped the slate all but clean in order to check the bloodshed. Today, we cry out for even the mist of a cleansing rain to come to wash the stains from our streets.

 

Yet, You do come. Your Spirit is among us, and You are dwelling in our homes and walking along our streets. The evil that resides among us and that brings its violence with it is not comfortably settled in our world. It is lashing out in desperation and in the blind fury of one who can see the end of its time. Satan has already tasted the bitter herb of defeat as he has observed Christ’s victory over all that he and this world could throw at Him. Even with the full weight of our collective sin upon His shoulders, Jesus overcame death and arose victorious from a tightly sealed and guarded grave. He comes now to take with Him the innocent ones that the dark lord has attempted to claim as his, and Christ also saves for eternity those older ones among us who turn to Him as our true Lord and Savior. There is no one that Christ wishes to leave behind when He proclaims the names of the righteous ones before the great throne of the Lord.

 

God has made another promise to us, for He has stated in absolutely clear terms that there will be an end to the days when evil and its violence will even exist upon the earth. Very early in humanity’s narrative we brought all of this destruction and death and the resultant grief upon ourselves by virtue of our sinful rebellion. In a day that will soon be upon us, God will send Christ back to end these days of Satanic tyranny upon earth. At that time, all that is cause for fear and everything that brings about terror will be thrown down and cease to exist in any form. The dark shadows of evil will be erased by the glory of the new sun that is the Lord and our darkened understanding of justice, mercy, and love will be made bright and clear by the light of truth that emanates from Christ. Until this day, we can enter into the peace and the love that God holds out for His people by claiming the eternal promise that is found in Christ alone. Even in these hard days before the fulfillment of God’s promise of total and complete redemption, we can dwell in the presence of the glory of the Lord as we are bathed in the healing mercy of Christ’s infinite love and grace.

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Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

1 Peter 3: 13

 

In Peter’s day, the answer to this question was, “Many people”; these included the Emperor, the District Governor, the local authorities in many cities and towns, and numerous ordinary citizens. Christ followers had a way about them whereby they had the ability to stir up trouble. They tended to stick their noses into the affairs of those in power and into the lively hoods of the general population, too. Because of the essential nature of following Christ, they possessed a special talent for causing the wrath and the anger of religious leaders to boil over at them. The world where Peter lived was especially dangerous for him and for the others who openly proclaimed Christ. Our culture and the society where most of us reside is more genteel and less prone to violent opposition than was his. Yet, there is real danger out here in our streets, and the opposition that we will face for our faith is truly present.

 

There are places on earth where confessing Christ and sharing His Gospel with others is quite literally dangerous to do, but most of us do not live in those places. Our governments may even speak to being Christian in some manner, and the practice of our faith in Christ is not constrained or legislated against. However, different gods and a separate gospel do exist, and their adherents are often quite aggressive in their defense of those beliefs and of the system of power, authority, and rule of law that has grown out of this ungodly foundation. In much of our world nationalism, wealth and power, military might, and selfish ambition form the tenants of this modern ethos and frame in the definition of its exclusive membership. Christ is invited in as a silent partner and as a nominally expressed adornment to be hung upon the wall but not granted a real voice or followed into points of conflict with the way that life is being conducted.

 

To follow Christ today will lead to that conflict with many of our modern systems and power structures. This has not changed significantly from Peter’s days, and just as it was for him, we will also encounter disagreement and opposition from individuals over matters of what is right, just, and in conformity with God’s Word. Yet, Christ assures us that doing what is good, in every sense that He sets forth as being His desire for all of Creation to experience, will not lead us to the sort of harm that actually matters when we face our Lord in judgement for the lives that we have lived. Seeking righteousness and calling out that which is not the true Gospel of Christ in the world around us will not be popular, and these actions will lead to conflict and to disagreements with others. Some of these disagreements will be with people who name Christ as Lord and even with people who fellowship with us in our home church. These harsh realities cannot stop or deter us from speaking forth what is righteous, just, loving, and in alignment with God’s Word, that is, speaking what is good. For, when the full goodness of Christ is proclaimed, life is breathed into the world around that place.

 

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8: 3, 4

 

People may think that they can take control of the sky and have dominion over the moon, the stars, and the space around them, but this realm has already been claimed by another. We might consider ourselves to be the true captains of our destinies and plan out our days with that in mind; however, on even our very best days, we will arrive there a distant second to the Lord. God made everything that exists in the seen world and far beyond that. His creative handiwork was accomplished in order to fulfill His own purposes; so, none of the universe belongs to any other, and there is no way for any of us to take dominion over even the smallest corner of that place that we call outer space. It is the height of human arrogance and the pinnacle of folly to strive for such a thing.

 

The same God who made all of these wonders and set the massive clockwork that is the universe into motion cares about and even counts the hairs on the heads of each person on the earth. The Lord also made every one of us, and His compassion, mercy, grace, and love are poured out upon our lives and into our journeys through life. God desires to see justice tendered to everyone regardless of race, gender, wealth, nationality, or other factors. He seeks to bring each of us into a relationship with Him, and the Lord uses the love and care that we humans can provide to others as His primary means of exhibiting that precious redemptive zeal. We are to be diligent and self-sacrificing in our efforts to meet needs where they exist and to welcome home the stranger wherever those homeless ones are forced to wander.

 

When we care for the weak, provide a place of dwelling to the homeless, feed the undernourished, and grant lasting asylum to the oppressed, we are expressing the same loving attributes that we have benefited from in the sacrificial love that Christ has bathed us with by His cleansing baptism of redemption. The Lord has made it clear to us that He holds even the most insignificant of people as precious and as worthy of all care and protection. Thus, the Creator of the universe, the sovereign God over the heavens and the earth, desires to have each of His people join with Him in living out Christ’s calling for us to love others, to protect the weaker ones, and to grant the blessing of welcome to all who are needful of shelter and its rest. People may think that they can gain dominion over the earth and the heavens by might and by force, but in truth, that already belongs to God, and we enter into His purposes and embrace Christ’s calling when we set aside fear, self-protection, and false power in order to bless our world with the peace that comes through caring for others.

O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and true.

Isaiah 25: 1

 

There are days when the prophet’s idea gets lost in all of the noise and the confusion of life. I admit that I do forget, if only for a few heartbeats, that I serve the true King, who is fully engaged and absolutely in charge of the world where I dwell. There is nothing that is beneath my Lord’s dignity to touch, and no aspect of my life is so insignificant that God does not care about it and for me through it. This is the nature of God. He loves His creation in ways that make the love of the best of fathers seem distant and neglectful. The Lord not only says that He would die for us, He literally suffered awfully and took on death in its fullest expression so that we would not need to endure its ultimate end. This is the sort of God that I do know, and this is the God who is Lord over my life in all ways and at all times.

 

One of the most remarkable things to me about this relationship with God is the fact that it was not of my devising or creation just as it was not the creation of any other person. God planned to remain close to people, and He devised the means for that to happen. He did all of this from the beginning of the existence of this world, and He did it with nothing except love as His motive. God loves this world that is the creative work of His hands with such passion and devotion that He gave Himself, in the form of the Son, over to all that is evil in this world and then He defeated evil and took its power over life and death away from it forever. In so doing, we were set free from the living prison that is sin, and we were sent into life with the capability and the capacity to engage our days with that same love as our motivation and with the wisdom of eternity as our guidance for the journey.

 

This is the nature of the plan that the Lord formed for the benefit of His people and for the salvation of His creation. His plan is truth embodied, and the Lord’s expressed will to carry it out is founded upon His faithful desire to reconcile all that is distanced or separated, all that is broken, in creation. This deep and unshakeable love, a love that the Lord pours out on me continually, is something that I should never stop remembering and recognizing in my mind and in my heart. It is the true song of my heart, and God’s love for me is the solid ground that my feet can count upon even when all else seems to be crumbling away and failing to support me. This is a love that demands righteousness of me when I would rather take an easier path through my day, for Christ does grant to me the freedom to be holy and set apart from the ways of this world in order for me to live in the full expression of God’s truth, grace, and mercy. So Lord, I desire to praise You with my words and to lift You up for all of the world to see in the way that I live my life today!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17: 7, 8

 

The setting of these verses would suggest that the person described here by Jeremiah was something of the odd duck, the outlier, in his day. The nation, itself, had taken a turn away from God. It was operating out of the wisdom of man, and the people were choosing to follow the counsel of profane and worldly rulers. The Lord was clearly upset with His people, and He was troubled by the impact that His nation, Israel, was having on the world. There was no longer a national witness for justice, peace-making, righteous living, and outreach to all who were world-weary and oppressed. This was God’s calling for Israel and for that nation’s people, and it remains a significant part of God’s calling for people who know and follow Him today. We are to be the voices for compassion, love, acceptance, and peace in our world. We are to stay true to truth as it is presented to us in God’s Word; so, we are to follow the example of this outlier, this odd duck in Jeremiah’s narrative.

 

The prophet is not speaking about a place; for, it is neither a nation nor is it a religion that will set God’s people in the right situation and location to be fed deeply by God’s truth. He seems to be suggesting that it is an attitude of heart and mind that creates the setting for this sort of nourishing of the soul and body, and the only physical local that matters in all of this is the one that comes about as we seek after the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and body. God works in and through people who are different and even more so through those who choose to be on the outside of the cultural norms in our times. Since humanity turned away from close communion with God, we have developed and promoted a law of moral and ethical conduct that has shifted by degrees away from the pure and wise guidance of God’s Word. This reality of our world makes it inevitable that Godly thinking and acting will be differentiated from the way that the majority of our societies engage in the same processes.

 

So, from God’s perspective, there is nothing at all wrong with drinking from that rare stream called Absolute Truth when those around us are gathering to satisfy their thirst at the river of The Worldly Way with its abundant supply and somewhat murky lack of real clarity. It is worthwhile to be left off of the invitation lists for society’s gatherings in order to spend that time in contemplation, prayer, and listening for the God’s voice of wisdom, insight, and direction. There is a time and a place for engagement with the world and with its activities, but these are not the places where our roots sink down into the life-giving source of the counsel and the nourishment that will sustain us through the harder days that will inevitably come. Finally, there will be days when God’s people will stand out from the crowd by virtue of our vibrant and healthy peace, calm, and assurance that stand in stark contrast to the distress that droughts of various causes and types have brought upon the world at large. These are days when the true fruit of God’s love, grace, mercy, and redemption will draw people toward their Savior. These are the days when all of that time spent living as one who is different, that odd duck, will be counted for the glory of the Lord.

For in him all the. Fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

God created the heavens and the earth with it all existing in a state of peace, and God has promised to restore Creation to that same perfect and unbroken peaceful state. What happens in between those two periods of time is not very peaceful. We are living in that between time, and we experience the restlessness of God’s peace on a daily basis. It happens in our world as forces both great and small collide and cause drama to fill our ears with their rhetoric of angry posturing and hateful name calling. This is the small-time end of the spectrum where anti-peace dwells as the other extreme of this same condition is filled with violence and death as oppression is worked upon people around the globe. All of this mirrors the rebellion that Satan led in Heaven and that he has continued to prosecute here on earth.

 

God answered that heavenly rebellion, and He responds to all of ours in a manner that is fully engaged with bringing about the restoration of our relationship with Him while it brings conclusion to all rebellion and the elimination of all that is broken by sin in our world. The peace that follows this final removal of sin will be won through great effort, and it will come about after a conflict of a type and with intensity that is far greater than any that our world has seen before. Christ’s peace is deep and it is dense, but those who oppose God will not readily or willingly accept it. Although we live in a time where that same peace is available to us through the acceptance of Christ, we can observe daily the tenuous and the fragile nature of peace’s presence in our world as every corner of it has the potential to erupt into a human or a nature caused battleground.

 

The peace that we can know today came about through His sacrifice that was carried out under conditions that were extremely violent. Christ bled so that we could be restored to a form of peaceful intimacy with God that is the perfect expression of God’s heartfelt desire. The Father and Creator of all wants to dwell in close connection with the entirety of His Creation, and He will bring about that renewal of perfection in His own time. Until then, we reside in a world that knows both peace and conflict on an ongoing and a continual basis. So, the peace that Christ has won for us and that He grants to each of His people is a state of being that settles deep into the soul and that fills us with its calm voice and its gift of deep truth. It is often hard to listen and to truly hear these words of grace and love when the loud voice of turmoil and distress is shouting into our ears, but Christ’s hard-earned peace is ours if we will listen as our first priority to Him and to His words of life throughout each and every day.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16: 33

 

Jesus must be kidding, right! He can not possibly mean that He has overcome all that runs about wildly causing havoc and bringing grief and pain in its wake. This place is far too engaged in destructive thoughts and actions to be considered subdued or tamed, and I sadly admit that my own thinking is too frequently caught up in the same sorts of processes to be contemplated as under control. I am capable of doing more harm than good on almost any day that comes along. When He said this, Jesus was facing into the reality of His imminent arrest, trial, torture, and execution, and He knew it. He was not left in the dark by the Father. Jesus was the sacrifice that gave Himself up for slaughter, and He was very rational and well-thought out in doing this. So, where exactly does it seem that He had overcome much of anything in this world?

 

The fact is that Jesus’ death is the singular event that turns around the direction of history. Once Jesus had satisfied God’s need for there to be a sacrifice on the part of Creation that would respond to our rebellion and ensuing state of sin-driven separation from God, all of Creation, especially humanity, was freed from the awful estrangement from God that had overtaken our existence in this life and beyond into eternity. Satan’s lies and deception had drawn us away from our commitment to our Creator, but Jesus poured out God’s healing oil of peace and truth upon that wounded relationship by allowing His own blood to be shed despite His absolute innocence. So, in Jesus, we are each granted the opportunity and the right to return to the loving presence of God in our lives as Christ’s Spirit comes to dwell within us.

 

By entering into the world’s violence and rejection on the cross, Jesus has overcome all of the malintent that came into being when those first people said yes to that which God had expressly forbidden thus turning away from life and stepping out toward a death that was painful beyond measure. Jesus took upon Himself that pain that we had earned, and in so doing, He took the sham dominion that Satan had claimed over this world away from him and granted renewal, healing, peace, and life to each of us who turn from the world to Jesus. The peace that we own in that hour of redemption and onward from there is the one that bridges the separation that sin has caused between ourselves and God. This is a peace that resides in the individual spirit and that speaks victory over all that is broken, painful, and life-threatening in this world. This peace is Christ within, and in its presence with us, Jesus has truly overcome the world.

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