Unity


Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

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No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

And Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.

Joshua 10: 42

 

We all engage in battle. Seldom are they as dramatic, violent, and far reaching as were the ones that the Israelites under Joshua fought on this particular day. As for me, I have never needed the sun to stand still until it was all accomplished, which was an accommodation that the Lord granted to Joshua; in fact, there have been more times when I wished that the hours would go by more quickly. The point is that Israel’s experience here did involve the miraculous and was facilitated by the hand of God working on their behalf, and our own experience of life’s struggles may not seem to be the same. However, I submit that there is more similarity of our days to Joshua’s than we might think and more than we do appreciate.

 

Israel was following God’s instructions and entering into the outworking of the Lord’s plan. In this instance, they were doing things exactly as God dictated, and they were granted great success in the process. Our battles are different, the tools that we use are not the same, and victory is defined in ways other than in conquest and death. Still, we have God’s direction to lead us, prayer to encourage and to help us to focus, and the Spirit with us to explain and to direct it all. Like Joshua, we are called to go to war against powers and forces that desire to control the territory around us. We are engaged in an on-going contest with these forces of the world for the most precious real estate that there is in the hearts, minds, and souls of people. There is nothing more significant for us to do than to enter into Christ’s calling to bring His Gospel to everyone that we encounter.

 

This work can be very hard and takes us into the harsh terrain of deception, deeply held beliefs, and angry opposition. We may find that there are times when all of our companions and supporters seem to have disappeared into the background so that we feel totally alone. Yet, this is never the case, for the Lord is committed to us and to the campaign that He has called us to wage, and He never leaves us truly alone. In fact, Christ is the one who is doing all of this fighting for us, and He is the source for all of the strength and the courage that we need to enter into the struggle. As followers of Christ we will encounter the hostility of a world that is fighting against God’s righteous truth with all of its might and vigor; however, in Christ, we already have His victory, and we go into each of these encounters with the Lord leading the way and His loving grace, truth, and heart of redemption as our strong weapons.

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.

Joshua 9: 14

 

This is one of those strange moments in the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. In fact, this is a point where the story seems to take a sort of left turn into the realm of Theater of the Absurd. The story tells us that this one group of people from within the land sent representatives to Joshua in order to act out a drama in which they convinced the Israelites that they were actually from far away. So, the Israelites entered into a covenant with these Gibeonites that they would not harm them. It was only after this that it was learned that the seemingly road weary, worn down and dusty travelers standing before them were actually skillful actors who were dressed in costumes and were using stage props in order to convince Joshua of their sincerity.

 

The true point in all of this is found in this simple statement. Although God had been consistently providing wisdom, guidance, and counsel for Joshua and for the people for a very long time by now, they chose to make this decision on their own. In the overall scheme of things, this was not a very big deal. These were a few people who could do little harm, and they told a very convincing story. Yet, history has demonstrated that small decisions and little events can have extraordinary and ever-lasting consequences. Consider what impact a few deceptive words from a serpent had on us all after Adam and Eve acted upon them. This bit of grand theater that was carried out by the representatives of Gibeon is very similar in tactic to the way that Satan deceived our ancestors in the garden. Also, in both instances, the answer to the problem at hand would have been easy to discern by simply taking a few moments to turn to God and seek out His counsel and wisdom.

 

There is universal truth to this human dilemma and failing. We want to take charge of our lives and to make our own decisions along the way. Yet, we also know that God is in life with us and that He provides us with multiple sources for His ageless and universally applicable wisdom. So, we determine which issues and under what circumstances we will go it on our own or seek out the Lord first. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did here, and for them this self-directed decision would haunt them for generations to come. There was a better way for them to proceed, and there is a better way for us to engage with life also. The Lord provides us with His Word of truth to guide our journeys through this world. His Spirit also speaks wisdom to us, and the body of faith surrounds us with people who are similarly informed. God intends for His people to turn to Him and to trust Him to lead us through all of life. His counsel is ours, and it brings life, peace, and righteousness to our days. So, why would we ever join Joshua in saying, “Never mind, Lord; I’ve got this one handled?”

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?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13: 34

 

Love is in the air. Love is all around us. Love is what makes the world go around. Expressions about love have been on people’s tongues for as long as we have possessed speech. We talk about it, and we sing to its virtues and to its pain and sorrow. We attempt to explain its mysteries as we also try to secure it for all of our days. Yet, despite all of this effort and the expending of mountains of words, it seems that we seldom truly understand that thing called love. It is elusive, slippery, and fragile; so, when we think that we have it in hand, it either escapes from our grasp or we crush the life out of it. The problem just might be that we continuously look to other people as our models for what love looks like, and so we repeat our own errors and enter into forms of loving that have historically proven to be false as if they were the ultimate expression of life.

 

One of the most significant problems that most of us have with loving others is that it starts out and is founded upon our own desires, wants, and wishes. We love because it feels good and gives to us something that we believe that we lack otherwise. Even when we give to those who we love as when a mother loves and cares for her baby, this love may contain a strong component of self-gratification and attainment of identity and sense of worth that derives from the role of mother. This is simply the way that we are made and does not reflect any sort of willful deviation from doing what is good or right. Yet, human love is truly more self-centered than it is outwardly focused. Its expression and reciprocal return to us are more about what we get than they are about what we give away. This is where Christ offers us something else to consider and another form of love to view.

 

He came to us as one whose love brought about an ultimate form of giving away. Jesus entered this world and lived with us as one of us so that the love of the Father and His own love for all of creation could be fully known and entered into by people. In some very real and tangible ways, Jesus, who possessed everything of true worth, value, glory, power, and honor that exists in the universe, set it all aside in order to give Himself up to the forces of evil in that same universe so that they would be totally and finally overcome and defeated, and that as a result of this sacrificial victory, all people would have the opportunity to enter into the eternal life that we had surrendered to our own willful disobedience to God. So, just as it was our own self-absorbed decision that led to death and to the loss of our understanding of eternal love, it was Christ’s self-denying act of sacrificial loving that allows us to enter into the love that overcomes all else and that heals all of our brokenness. This is the love that brings us into relationship with God and with each other, and this is the love that binds us together in a community of faith that is formed around and founded upon Christ.

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10: 43-45

 

Many people spend a great amount of time and considerable effort in developing themselves. I know that I have and continue to do this very thing. It actually is good to have knowledge and skills. These are useful. Even the positions of leadership and influence that these acquired abilities support are valuable and worthwhile in both human and in Kingdom of God terms. So, I don’t think that Jesus was speaking against His people becoming leaders in our world, community, or other areas of life. It seems that His point is focused on how we conduct ourselves in life and on the way that we view our responsibility to all of the others that we meet as we travel through our days.

 

In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that we should seek to occupy only the lowliest of positions in our culture because positions of greater authority and responsibility will always corrupt the holder of the office. He is saying that the attitude that we need to have as we go about living life is one that we can see from His approach to His life among us. Jesus is God. He is the rightful and appointed King over this entire world. Yet, He agreed to set aside all of His position and apparent authority in order to live with and among us, to teach and demonstrate righteous living to us, and to sacrifice Himself for us. Christ was willing to serve all of humanity in a manner that was unknown before His life with us and that remains elusive to this day. His sacrificial service knew no limits or limitations. He cared for those who were close to Him and for those who despised Him and brought Him harm. Christ did this without regard for any of the distinctives, points of reference, or divisions that we routinely consult in placing value on others.

 

Jesus calls upon His people to follow Him. He meant that in absolute terms. There is nothing that He would have us hold back, and there are no people that He grants us permission to treat differently than He would. This is one of those areas where life as a follower of Christ gets hard, for I think that Jesus is telling me to repent for my attitudes of superiority and self-righteous pride. He says that I must stop viewing any others as lesser beings. So, I must submit myself to serving the needs of all others, and in Christ’s view, the greatest of those needs is for relationship with God. Jesus is calling upon us to love others without concern over their acceptance of our love, to bind up the physical and the emotional wounds that we see around us, and to give all that we have in order to bring the presence of Christ into the darkness of our world. Jesus is telling me that the best place for me to view the Kingdom of Heaven is while on my knees in humble submission to His will as I wash the feet of the stranger, the foreigner, the sick and the weak, and those who might angrily reject me.

 

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