Surrender


Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,

   when the plowman shall overtake the reaper

   and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

   and all the hills shall flow with it.

Amos 9: 13

There were hard days coming. This had been the message that the Lord had given to Amos to proclaim to both Israel and Judah. The prosperity that they were enjoying was to be momentary, and the wealth, power, and riches of the lands would become waste, destruction, and death. Then all that remained by way of the people that inhabited these nations would be carried away to live as exiles, captives, and slaves to a pagan nation. This was not a pleasant prospect for the future, and its coming reality was attributed to the fact that the people of these God-ordained nations were living in the full expression of their own wills with little to no concern for God’s Holy Word or with almost no engagement in the Lord’s commission to live as righteous people in the middle of a spiritual desert.

Despite the Lord’s anger at His people and His sense of futility in trying to get them to turn back to worshiping Him with all of their being, God promises that there will be a day of restoration, rebuilding, and renewed abundance in the land. This rebirth of life for the descendants of those who will face the terror of those days of awful cleansing will be accomplished by the hand of God alone. He will set people to work on doing various needful tasks, but their actual freedom to do these things and the capacity to accomplish them will be the Lord’s gifts to those people. Their opportunity to have an impact on all that is to come rests in the hands of those who are hearing Amos’ plea. They are the people who have the opportunity to change the course of the future for themselves and for their children by turning away from the current path of self-worship and by returning to fully committed worship of the one true God.

It seems to me that we, too, may have this same sort of choice making to consider. The world where we dwell is one wherein worship of the Lord, in its true and fully engaged sense, is rare. We live in many prosperous nations that do little to care for or to engage in meaningful concern for those around us who are oppressed, starving, and rendered homeless because of the unchecked violence of our times. The Israelites were called upon by God to be His hands and to do His work in the world. The abundance of their fields was intended to help feed the hungry, and the wealth of their spiritual legacy was designed to overflow through their proclamation into the spiritually dead peoples that surrounded them. If we too are followers of Christ, then we hold the same calling from the Lord to proclaim His name and to bring the presence of His glory to all of the world by virtue of the way that we live our lives. We are to seek to make the bounty of the Lord’s visionary proclamation a spiritual and a literal reality in our world by caring for others, by loving the unlovely, and by sharing our great wealth, both physical and spiritual, with the numerous people that its provider holds as dear and precious in His sight. 

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But I am the LORD your God

   from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

   and besides me there is no savior.

Hosea 13: 4

Egypt was an extraordinary place for Israel. It was also a very special time in the history of God’s relationship with His people. The long years in Egypt were a true low point, a time of striking the rocky soil at the bottom of that pit of life where the skin on the national jaw is abraded away as a result of the face-plant that they have suffered. Yet, even this harsh and demoralizing life could seem to be better than the prospect of starvation, dehydration, and death at the hands of hostile forces that potentially loomed out there to the east in the desert terrain of the wilderness. Moses may have been forceful and Aaron might have been persuasive, but reason, logic, and fear also presented strong arguments against the journey. But Moses and Aaron were not alone in this venture. They were implored to act and led in the actions by the Lord, and the entire great adventure was directed by the ever-present Spirit, who went before them, provided food and water for all of them and protected them from harm by day and by night.

Like the Israelites, we face our times in Egypt. For some people that time of captivity is short and does not carry over into the rest of life. However, for most people, the oppression of that kingdom of evil has a more lasting effect, and its influence remains even after the individual has departed from Egypt’s borders. The Israelites had episodes and periods of time when they desired to go back; so, they acted as if they were still dwelling in that land to the west. Their thoughts and their actions were taken captive by the false gods and the anti-God practices of that former place and of those other people. We, too, may find ourselves thinking and acting in a manner that is reflective of life outside of Christ’s call to holiness. We all sin, we all fall short of the perfection of Christ, and despite the fact that we are redeemed and saved from the eternal consequences of that sin, we each require the on-going presence of the Spirit with and in us to continue the redemptive work of the cross on a day by day basis.

In Christ we each have our Savior. He leads us out of captivity to the rule of evil that is represented by Egypt in Hosea’s account. However, unlike Moses, Christ has already accomplished everything that is necessary for us to be granted a full pardon from all of the sin and resultant separation from God that can ever come over us. Moses was an imperfect and flawed human redeemer, but Christ is the perfect and unapparelled Savior of our souls and of our lives. We can turn to Him in our hours of doubt, and He will be present to assure our hearts of our new calling. Even when we turn away from God’s call to righteous living, the redemption of the cross is not diminished or withheld, for Christ holds on tightly to those who have turned to Him in faith. By and through Christ, each of us has been offered the opportunity to flee out of the bondage to sin and death that is known here as Egypt, as we accept that offer of redemption, we begin a journey of faith that will not end until we are beyond this life. This is a time of traveling in the company of the Spirit, it is a life in which we are required to continually submit to Christ’s transformative work within us, and it is a journey wherein faith and trust in Christ are the elements that continually point our hearts and minds toward our one and only Savior.

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3: 17

Peter was aware of two realities that had faced him as he followed Christ, and he was also certain that they would face every other person who traveled that same path through life. Firstly, suffering and pain would come to each of us in the wake of our encounter with Christ, and secondly, all of our thoughts, words, and actions would order under one of two headings as they would be either good or evil. Although these categories or divisions of the content of life may seem extreme or even as overly simplistic and harsh, they represent the reality of how the content of all people’s lives are ordered when it comes to their most basic of descriptors. We effect good, or we bring about evil. Neutrality is not a part of what it means to serve a master in this world, and all of us are ordered under someone to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Christ leads us into that good side of the equation of life, and His Spirit works within us to bring about change that permeates the deepest aspects of our beings so that these changes have a positive impact upon the way that we think, and so, they also transform the words that we speak and the things that we do. In this process of change our will can come to our aid or it can work to hinder the progress that we will make in assimilating Christ as our identity and image. For as we yield to Christ and surrender control of the deepest aspects of our selves to the work of the Spirit, then we are most profoundly impacted by the presence of the Lord in our lives. When we hold on to areas of our beings that we find comfortable and deem as important to us, we tend to retard that same growth into Godliness.

I am not suggesting that this form of deep and highly personal surrender is easy, for it tends to involve aspects of our identity and being that have been developed over the entire course of life to date, and it also impacts us in places where we find some of our greatest sense of security and self-determined peace. Yet, even these aspects of life are ones in which Christ is asking us to enter into a form of the suffering that the righteous journey requires of all travelers along the holiness road. When we place the prized possessions of our egos and our escapist thoughts and actions upon the altar of Christ’s cross, we begin a journey of faith that will take us upon an often painful journey into transformative healing for those places within our souls that have been rubbed raw by our days of living in this harsh and broken world. The decision to accept whatever pain may come in the process, whether it is ours internally or derives from external sources, is a first step into pursuing good and rejecting evil. 

I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5: 9 

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

2 Peter 1: 16-18

We live in a time in world history where there is a striking absence of truly authoritative leadership. We are surrounded by people that wield power and that hold out their wisdom as if it were of supreme value, but the test of truth calls the lie in all of these claims. The voices that demand our loyalty and that attempt to impose their wills upon our nations are speaking out of the shallow depths of their own human reason as they too frequently make demands that are not in any way related to God’s Word of truth and life. This sort of worldly authority is, in fact, fueled by arrogance, and it draws far too many people into its enticing wasp trap of Spirit quenching death.

Peter was present when the one and the only, the singular, Lord God of the Universe proclaimed that Jesus was truly His Son. So, at that time, God was also proclaiming the conveyance of authority to rule over all of the earth as its sole rightful King. Jesus retains the right to pronounce judgement upon all that transpires in our world, and through His Spirit, He also provides all of the wisdom and counsel that we need in order to live as godly people. That is, the Spirit guides us into thinking and acting in a manner that will please God and that will bring the Kingdom of God into view in our world. When we are following Christ justice, mercy, peacemaking, and love for all people prevail. As people in positions of authority submit to Christ, they can do nothing other than promote these same well-articulated Godly characteristics.

As God’s character and nature are seldom seen in the words and the actions of many of our world’s leaders, one must surely question whether these people are actually submitted to Christ. For the vast majority of us, those who elect leaders and whose voice they should desire to hear, we should be questioning the sorts of opinions that we express to our elected rulers as we should also carefully consider the Christ-likeness of those for whom we vote. For, if Christ was truly proclaimed to be King and was so granted the authority to rule over this world, as attested to by Peter, then it is His heart-felt proclamation of grace and love for our neighbors that must prevail in the outworking of all of our earthly governance. There is no authority on earth that is superior to Jesus, and there is no rule of law that exceeds the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

Titus 2: 11 

There was this rather simple thought that seemed to be just stuck in my mind when I got up this morning; It is one of those ideas that comes out of the fog of sleep and that begins to take on shape as the brain cells slowly start to warm up to their tasks. It is this, I try too hard to make what is designed to be simple and easily understood really complicated and obscure, and I am not even slightly alone in doing this. Now, I admit that this is something that I do in a lot of areas of my life; I do have an analytical personality, you know; thus, thinking through, over, and all around something is normal. This is different; this gets in the way of something much more important. 

My waking thought for today was this; God makes relationship with Him very simple, I tend to make it truly difficult. The Lord gives me an easily understood message to share with others; I turn it into a graduate-level seminary coarse. God opens His arms to everyone without reservation or hesitation; I create a list of qualifications and set up a screening system for access to Him. God loves all with the absolute love of that elusively perfect Father; I don’t even love myself all that well; even more so, I struggle with loving others. 

Thus, what is it that God has saved me from? He has saved me from the isolation that I would naturally create as my world; He has given me Himself as a gift beyond imagining, and He continually shows me how to live in the completeness of His overwhelming love. All of the thought and the consideration about who God is and of how He works and relates is fine; He created and empowers my mind; yet, the Lord still wants me to stay focused on the simplicity of His truth and on the accessibility of His saving grace. 

There is nothing that I can speak or write; no ritual, rite, or sacrament that I can perform; and none of my actions or works of my hands do anything to bring me or anyone else closer to God if they are not done out of love for Him and if they are not filled with His love for people. The singular thought on my mind this morning is that God graciously loves me, and He wants me to share that love with others without reservation, condition, or hesitation. Christ is much more interested in the relationship, and we can let Him worry about the details later.

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