The Law


Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,

   and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment,

   and his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may tarry for a night,

   but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30: 4, 5

David knew a lot about life, for he seems to have experienced a wide range of that thing that we know as living. He knew victory, and he had experienced the direct relationship between faith in God and achieving the impossible. David had lived out human isolation and rejection, which gave him a deeper appreciation of the love and acceptance that came to him from the Lord. He had acted in direct opposition to God’s will and had rejected His Law of Life in thoughts, words, and actions; so, David had also incurred God’s anger and knew that a form of death always follows sinfulness. The king had been raised up by God, and he had become humbled and lowly by the actions of people; actions that the Lord allowed to happen. David had known many nights of sleepless tears, and he had gone through others that were filled with the deep despair that comes when all hope has slipped away. He had also seen many mornings when the sun came up, the song birds sang, and the presence of the Lord was the sweet aroma that filled his heart with song.

This morning song is the part of the on-going process of life that David wants us to grasp and to understand. There will be pain, and we will needfully cry tears along the way. These hard days and interminable nights when worry, fear, and grief are near at hand present us with the need to release emotions and to draw upon resources that come from outside of our strength. These are the hours of life when the Lord’s presence in its many forms can be the reality that takes us through until that first glimmer of the promised dawn’s light touches our troubled eyes. Hope is found in the certain knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and over all of that dark angel’s underlings in the form of disease, injury, broken relationships, and the many other forms of loss that come about due to the fallen nature of this world. We all sin, for we all think, say, and do things that are contrary to God’s will and that operate in rebellious disregard for His Law. Still, Christ has redeemed us from all of this, and God’s grace holds fast to our souls throughout these times.

So, even God’s anger and grief at our wandering away from Him is temporary. The Lord welcomes each of us back with open arms of love as He sings forth a song of restoration and hope. In reality, most of the hard times that we experience during the journey of life are not caused by any personal departure from God’s will. Instead, their presence is the result of the broken nature of our world. We do not bring about illness nor cause it to be present, we are not responsible for most of the injuries that we incur and almost none of them come about due to sinful acts. The pain of loss and the grief that follows are real, but life comes to an end as a result of the fact that this life is nothing more than the temporary first act in an eternal drama wherein our souls continue on into infinity. In Christ, the promise of morning’s approach is present in each of these hard situations. Christ went before us as He went through the darkest of all nights and then gave to us the gift of that resurrection dawn when hope is poured out upon all people of faith. Although we may be living in the dark hour of pain and loss at this moment, Christ’s light of redemption and joy is already poised to break out over the horizon at the dawn of a new day. 

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You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Mark 7: 8

During the Christmas season people are often focused on Jesus’ humble start to life on earth when He was a baby. We like to contemplate the reality of a God who would join with His creation in a manner such as this, and it is comforting to know that every aspect of growing up that we went through and that we endured is something similar to what Jesus knew, as well. As much as we may enjoy this meek and mild image of Jesus, He did not always think and act in this manner. In fact, the Lord had a great capacity for telling truth in very strong and stern terms, and He also had no fear regarding who He might offend or turn against Him when He did this. In this instance, Jesus is confronting His on-going foes in the Pharisees; however, these same words might be said to many other people over all of history. Although it may not be quite as obvious in its expression today, it does seem that we continue to act in this same manner on a regular basis.

We have allowed our own ways of doing things in this world to take precedence over God’s law of love, grace, reconciliation, and peace making. This is stated as a blanket condemnation, and I mean it as such. I do not live as God has commanded me to live, and I know and observe very few others who function differently. All that is necessary in order to start to see the application of this sad fact is to turn on a television, open a computer, or walk out your front door and travel a short distance into almost any community on earth. We live in an angry and a selfish world. We care more for our own minor rights and privileges than we do for the life of another person. We are caught up in protecting our turf when we have far more of it than we can even manage while others in our world are starving, being physically and emotionally harmed, and are being denied the basic necessities of life. I fear that Jesus would see all of this much as He saw the actions of the Pharisees.

Everything that we protect and cling to with ultimate tenacity is something that God has given to us out of the abundance of His love, care, and provision. So, why is it that we hold on with a death grip to tangible and to intellectual things that God gifted to us with open hands? We need to understand that all of God’s commandments predate any of our rights of possession and that God has given everything to us so that we could be good and loyal caretakers of the rest of creation. We are not here to be full and self-satisfied; rather, Christ calls upon us to follow him by giving away what we have been given, loving others even when they are hard to understand and even more difficult to embrace, and by calming violence instead of promoting it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a statement of God’s love for people, and this is the commandment that holds precedence over any and all other laws, rules, or concepts and traditions that people might attempt to establish and follow. In Christ, we are called to bring reconciliation not division, and as we follow Christ, we will turn from everything that is contrary to God’s will and be willing to sacrifice all in order to bring the touch of our Lord’s love, grace, and mercy to our needy world.      

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10: 10

 

God’s will is not something to be trifled with. We may attempt to ignore it for a time, but the Lord will always prevail. That is a part of the nature of being God; ultimately, He calls all of the shots, and when everything is resolved at the end of time, it is far better to be counted among those who decided to join with God than it is to be on the outside of His will. One of the most important and powerful aspects of the expression of that will of God is found in the way that He determined to save people, that is to save you and me, from ourselves and out of the state of sinfulness that we were born into. God imposed His will upon Himself in giving His Son, Jesus the Christ, as the culminating sacrifice that put an end to all other forms of external sacrifices that had previously been used to temporarily bridge the great gulf that existed between God and people due to our rebellion and rejection of following God’s will.

 

Now, in Christ, we have the opportunity to draw near to God in all ways and at all times. The former law and the rules for living righteously that were formed out of it are put behind us by the sacrificial blood that Christ shed for us. The cross is the point in time and the place where all other religious practices reach their terminus, for the effectiveness that may have come out of these ordinances and institutions was temporal and short lived to the point of fading away even before the aroma of the incense or the bleating of the sacrificial lamb had vanished from nose and ear. Even the most rigorous adherence to the law did not sanctify people, and the faithful practice of its ordinances was ineffective in granting us a state of permanent right standing, of holiness, before God. Thus, the law and the practice of its requirements could never sanctify any of us.

 

Christ alone does that. His blood is more than sufficient to cleanse any of us so that we are wholly and absolutely worthy to stand before our God and to withstand the judgement that will come for everyone at the end of time. As we are in Christ, so it is His holiness that is seen when we are so viewed. But this holiness, the sanctification that Christ gives to all who follow Him, is not solely intended to bring us into a place of acceptance into the presence of God in eternity; for, Christ sanctifies us in order to prepare us to engage in living out His will on earth for the remainder of our days here. As we have been made clean on the inside, so too we are to dwell as holy and righteous people in this world. Christ’s presence in and with us grants to us a form of freedom that allows us to love others, to pour out grace upon their pain, to give life where death attempts to rule, and to sooth and comfort souls that are being crushed by oppression of many kinds. These thoughts and acts and many others that imitate the manner that our Savior demonstrated to us are a direct expression of God’s indomitable will and are the sweet fruit that His Spirit brings into our lives and thus into this world.

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

Deuteronomy 4: 7

 

Moses was speaking about the way that things were in a time and a place long ago and far away. He was reminding everyone about the fact that God was as close to them as was their own breath and that the Lord was involved with His people and with their nation in all matters both great and small. This is the God that Moses had encountered and knew in a deeply personal manner, and this was the God who was truly and in all ways the Lord of and over the land. So much has changed from then until now. It seems that we think that we have become a people who know how to care for ourselves as we now govern our nations and rule over the people of our world with such great skill and success that there is no longer any need for submission and obedience to the ancient God of Moses and to the way of His Word and Law.

 

Actually, as we know from that same word that many of us want to set aside on the dusty shelves of antiquity, it didn’t take long for the people that Moses was addressing here to adopt the same attitude toward God and to attempt to go it on their own in the world. It did not work for them, and it does not work for us, either. We rule over our world with all of our sophistication and knowledge put to full use; yet, people are still starving and homeless, nations continue to settle their differences by waging war, the resources of our earth are squandered and destroyed to serve selfish desires, and life in all forms is treated as a disposable commodity instead of being viewed as God’s gift of Himself in this world. It seems that our attempt at going it on our own in governing and ruling over our world have not been very successful or productive after all.

 

Still, God is patient, and He is faithful to His promise of redemption. The Lord has not given up on us, and people who know the Lord should not give up hope either. I believe that our efforts will not save the world, for that is a work that Christ alone, in His final return, will accomplish. Yet, we are called upon by Him and given the task of bringing His grace, justice, mercy, peace, and their redemption into the world as we encounter and touch it. Our nations and their leaders may not embrace the truth and the counsel of God’s Word as their ongoing rule of law, but that doubt should not stop us or inhibit us from proclaiming its supremacy to them and from demanding that God’s ethical and moral principles be applied to the way that our lands are governed. Most of us have the right and the means to voice our understanding of what is righteous and proper in the way that our leaders guide the course of the nation. All of us have the ability to express these wishes and desires through prayer and as acts of worship to our one true and eternal King. People who know God, we can join with Moses and raise our voices in prayer to the Lord and in expressions of righteousness to the world. So, we should never be silent when it comes to God’s will and truth in our world.

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

 

There is both reminder and warning present here. God is sending them to His people through the words of Hosea, and they are specifically directed toward the people of Israel. However, it would be a very great mistake to simply relegate these words to that shelf labeled History and to an obsolete application. The issues that were troubling the Lord in the days of Hosea are still with us now as we seem to have a remarkably similar capacity to go our own way in life. The Israelites were guilty of worshiping other gods and of behaving in ways that were contrary to God’s will, His Word and Law. There were many times when they were even openly defiant of all that God stood for and entered into behaviors that He expressly forbade or that were significantly divergent from the Lord’s nature and character.

 

If this doesn’t make you think of many of the aspects of our world and of these days, then I think that we are living in on different planets or in alternate realities. This is a world where substitute gods are common. People turn to various forms of idol to pour out their passion in worship and to form up the ethical and moral structures that support their responses to all that comes along in the course of their days. Many of us seem to have little stomach for staying true to the harder aspects of following God. Frankly, we do not trust the Lord enough to enter into the riskier and the less comfortable aspects of loving others in a manner that is truly sacrificial, of serving the needs of the pour and the disadvantaged even when that costs us in terms of real currency, and of pouring out all of ourselves in a life dedicated to worshiping the Lord. It does seem that too many of us desire to be able to shape and to mold our god with our own hands rather than to surrender ourselves to His transformative work upon us.

 

God makes His desires very clear, and He also reminds us of the fact that He has never waivered in what He requires of His people or in the way that He enters into our lives for our benefit. The Lord wants us to commit all of our being to Him. This is true in our public, personal, and most private lives. He wants us to go through our cupboards and closets, our outward and our innermost expressions of our identities, and sweep out all of the idols that we have collected and stored up there. He also tells us to turn to Him as the only source of our salvation, and this is true regarding salvation for our souls and for that saving that is required every day in great and in subtle ways. Then we are to live out our days as an expression of that passionate worship that God so longs to receive from His people. That means that we would be unreservedly loving, compassionate and merciful, caretakers of creation, people who embrace the foreigner and those who are different from us, and actively engaged in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ though our words and our actions. So, in loving and in following God, we will be people who truly surrender our entire beings to the Lord’s transformative work in and upon us.

 

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

Joshua 8: 36

 

This event might not look the same in our times as there is little probability that any large gathering of people, much less that any nation of people would gather together in this manner. Here the sum total of the people of Israel had come together across one great valley and its adjoining mountain sides in order to worship God in celebration of the Lord’s redemptive work in their military victory over the city of Ai. The centerpiece of this celebration was the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, and the priests were the ones who were leading the nation in both substance and in the form of this great victory party. Yet, as they transition from focusing on the tactics and the methods of war and return to the task at hand of settling the land, the people are reminded of the true power that was behind their success and of the basis for all that defines their national and individual character.

 

They are a people who have been given their identity by God, and they have gained their understanding of morality and of justice through God’s Law, His Holy Word. There is nothing that stands before this recitation of God’s will in the law of the land or in the ordering of their society. This was a special time and place in the history of the world, and it has really never been duplicated since. Even under Joshua’s strong and Godly leadership, the people were very quick to depart from the Lord’s way and to set out upon their own course of thought and action. Today the best that we can hope for is an off-handed reference to God or a quote from His Word, but our nations seldom express any real interest in following the Lord or in even hearing and utilizing His truth as counsel or as direction to be followed. It is as if God were now an irrelevant part of ancient history and His Word is granted the status of troublesome and obscure literary fiction.

 

None of these modern attitudes can possibly be pleasing to God. He is not amused by our self-reliance and negation of His wisdom and direction. Although a modern day turning to God on the parts of people, our leaders, and nations might not look exactly like that assembly in a natural amphitheater at Shechem. Yet, the location is not really the point. The idea is that the entire collection of people were giving praise and honor to God as their one true King, and as they did this they engaged in group recitation of God’s Word in its entirety. They left out nothing; so, they made no editorial or cultural changes to the message of that word. In sharing it in this highly public manner, they were also affirming its priority as their singular point of guidance for their moral, cultural, and spiritual lives. Thus, they were affirming that the Lord was the singular and final authority over all aspects of life and over its conduct into the future.

It seems to me that this might not be such a bad idea in our world. There is an aimlessness to the way that our nations and our leaders are going that might find focus and valid purpose in God’s Word. The degree to which the people of this earth have become self-reliant and absorbed in actions and enterprises that we think will benefit ourselves primarily and that often work against the well-being of others must be troubling to the God of justice and peace. God’s design for this world works, and our redirection of it has not. Although I am not so naïve as to think that the leaders of nations or the people of those countries would actually do what the people of Israel did on that day, I do wonder what effect such a turning to God would have on us all. So, how might our world be different if each of us began to do the sort of things that Joshua led them into as they centered their day upon worship of God, devoted themselves to reading and to sharing His Word, and gathered openly in a universal fellowship of faith? What might that world look like?

And Nehemiah, who was governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:9

 

The concept of separation of our religious practice from our system and processes of governance is an invention of recent times in history. This was certainly not the way that God designed for it to be. In the establishment of His nation of Israel and among God’s chosen people, the Lord set it up so that there was a direct and inseparable connection between the people who were the governmental leaders such as kings, princes, and governors and the church as represented by priests and teachers of God’s Law. Even in these ancient times this was not the way that most of the world operated. Most countries were governed by rulers who used the services of their religious practitioners when it was convenient to consult them and listened only to those ideas and direction that suited their desires and pre-set wishes.

 

This is a picture of the world where Jesus lived, and by His days, even the leadership of Israel had changed so much that Nehemiah and Ezra would not have recognized the secularly oriented institution that was the temple, their church. These changes were not the result of positive evolution as they were caused by humanity’s on-going drive to separate itself from God and to establish our own concepts, ordinances, and practices as supreme on earth. Much of our modern concept of separation of church from state is the result of a contra movement away from the dominance of the secular over the religious in which the church and its leaders were simply substituted for kings and governors while continuing to operate the nation as an unholy and sub-righteous entity wherein the end goal was still personal power and gain. Therefore, people who were being oppressed by these ungodly religious leaders established laws and rules of governance that built up barriers between the influence of church and of state upon each other.

 

My proposition is that none of this is right. The Lord is still sovereign over the entire world, over our nations, and in our practice of faith and of governance. His Word is the final authority for all of the decisions that people need to make in order to operate our nations and to live as citizens of this world. To me this means that any and all national allegiances are subordinate to our loyalty to God and that the primary identity of a follower of Christ is that of disciple of the Living God rather than the one that is framed in by national citizenship. With this in mind, there is a very real and important place for the voices of God’s people in the halls of governance of our nations. The truth of God’s Word and the illuminating presence of His Spirit are essential in these places as decisions that impact the lives of people for good and for evil are made there on a daily basis. As people who know Christ and who follow Him through life, we are to be open and outspoken to our governmental leaders, we are also to be present in our halls of governance through prayer, views and opinions expressed, our votes, and by seeking out election to office. As the gathering on that day in ancient Israel suggests, governance is at its best when followers of Christ and secular leaders are gathered as one in order to lead the people along God’s path of righteousness and faith.

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