And falling to his knees he cries out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7: 60

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful acts that is within the realm of human endeavor. This is especially true when the person or people that are being forgiven are guilty of perpetrating wrong against their benefactor. The wrong that was done to Stephen in this event from the history of the church in Jerusalem during those tumultuous times that came about after Jesus was crucified was as great as it can possibly get. For Stephen had been tried and convicted of blasphemy against God and was then taken outside of the city where he was brutally and violently executed by means of stoning. Stoning is a highly personal device for bringing about the torturous murder of a victim. This follower of the Risen Christ used his final breaths in order to speak out forgiveness for the people whose anger was being poured into his flesh by the impact of every jagged rock that impacted with his body.

This example of forgiveness is extreme. Yet, Stephen is doing nothing more than following His Master in this attitude of the heart, mind, and spirit. Remember, Jesus also forgave His executioners from the cross as He was establishing this same grace for all of us for the rest of time. In Christ, we are forgiven; through Christ’s blood, we are baptized into eternity as our universal separation from God and antagonism with the Lord are reconciled as Christ pronounces upon us the innocence that only He deserves. For Stephen to be able to forgive the people in the mob that was taking his life from him required something that came from a source that was far greater than anything that he naturally possessed. This was an act of both his will and of his heart, and it was one that, coming in this final moment of his earthly agony, required strength of body and of spirit that was beyond anything that people are capable of doing from within their own resources.

These words are those of the Spirit within Stephen, and this act of forgiveness is supernatural in its inspiration and in its execution. God forgives us because we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives. Christ retains the role and the right to judge all human hearts and to tender this same grace to all that He deems worthy. Out flawed and frail human capacity to so determine who is righteous and which of us is worthy is no longer in play. Thus, we have no other choice than to follow Stephen’s example and to forgive people in all sorts of circumstances and situations. Forgiveness is complex, and it does not necessarily mean that a person is trusted and accepted fully regardless of what they may have done or the attitudes of their hearts and minds. Yet, forgiveness releases us from being responsible for establishing judgement and tendering eternal sanctions upon others; so, it also allows for us to extend Christ’s call to repentance and enter into restoration of relationship with the ones that have offended against us. Forgiveness enters us into the processes of bringing life after death, and this endeavor is Christ’s ultimate mission and our greatest calling as His people.  

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6: 9-11

There are many ways in which people can offend God, and even Paul’s lengthy list above does not come close to including all of them. In fact, we humans are so creative and devious that we are still inventing new ways to turn our hearts, minds, and our actions against God and violate what it means to be righteous and holy. I have lived long enough to be confident when I state that we are all participants in this rebellion against God, and everyone who draws breath is guilty of various crimes against the moral and ethical code that is the foundation of God’s kingdom on earth and in heaven. Yet, just as we all deserve to be punished for our sins against God; thus, each of us deserves to be subjected to a sentence of death, we are all provided with the opportunity to obtain full and absolute pardon because Jesus has taken that penalty upon Himself for me and for you.

For despite the fact that God has set a very high standard for righteous living, He also does not desire to see any of us fail to live up to that mark. The reality that so many do not get there is something that makes God sad to the degree that it causes Him severe pain and enduring grief. People are provided with a readily obtainable opportunity to enter into a relationship with God through the acceptance of Christ as who and what He claimed to be, for He is the Son of God and the Savior who was promised from the beginning of humanity’s wandering days. Jesus took upon Himself our debt of sin, and He will stand before the holy and righteous Father, God and proclaim anyone who professes His name to be pure and justified and thus worthy to be in the everlasting presence of that same perfect Holiness.

The gift of salvation is there for the taking. Its enormous price has already been paid by Jesus; so, there is nothing left for any of us to do but to accept what is given to us. This open-handed offer of redemptive cleansing is also continuously held out to each of us who has accepted Christ and entered into His transformative work in our hearts and minds. As we allow the Spirit access to the deep places within our hearts, He works within us to change those remaining elements of sinfulness and rebellion into holy and righteous thoughts and actions that serve God’s purposes on earth and that bring glory to His name among the people who we encounter in life. In Christ we have been made worthy of the name children of God, and through the on-going work of His Spirit, we will continue to grow and mature in our capacity and our capability to live out God’s calling to serve Him and to proclaim His name in the world.   

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14: 6

 

God’s Word has many way-finding signs within it. There are references to the coming Messiah throughout the Old Testament, and indications of how Jesus fulfills the prophesy that God gave to us from the beginning of time are a regular aspect of the gospel narrative of His life on earth. God did not want His desire for relationship with us to be unclear, and He did not leave His method for obtaining that relationship obscure, either. Jesus provides that singular path that leads to the forgiveness of the sin that each of us is born into as it is by and through Christ alone that our sin is forgiven. His blood paid our debt to God, and His resurrection from the death that was required in order to shed that sacrificial blood brings all who believe in Him into standing before the Father in which we are granted full status as sons and daughters of the Most High. In this new status, we are truly and totally redeemed from the death that sin imposed upon us.

 

The fact that we have been redeemed from sin and out of its imprisonment for our hearts, minds, and souls is a wonderful fact. Yet, it is not the end of the road as far as what it means to be a new creature in Christ. The life that we will live after we accept Christ is where the real adventure begins. Although Christ presents us as holy and clean before God, we still live in the shadow of all that has gone before in our lives. We each have issues and challenges that we must face and come to grips with as we travel through life. The difference for us after we surrender our lives to Christ is that we have the presence of the holy Spirit in us to both prompt our thoughts and actions and to guide us into understanding what it means to live righteously in all aspects of our days. In Christ, we are no longer traveling alone through the decisions and the interactions that we are required to make each day. We do it all in the company of the wisdom of the ages and with the strength of creation as our support and our shield of protection.

 

Although the idea that Jesus set forth in stating that He was the way is rather simple, for He says that we can chose Christ and know God, or we can deny Christ and not know the Father. However, all that ensues after we choose to follow Christ is much greater and far more expansive that we often consider. The way to the Father is also a way out of our old life and into a new one that requires surrender of our old self in every way and that also gives us a new purpose and calling to serve the Lord with the totality of our being for the remainder of our days. Although Heaven is ours in the acceptance of Christ, so is living out God’s will as a citizen of His Kingdom on earth. The way that Jesus promises to us is clear and well-marked, and the journey forward is one along which the Spirit and God’s Word provide guidance, encouragement, and strength. Still, we are active participants in all that comes along, for we are called upon by Christ to set aside the old life that we have lived, to surrender to the Lord’s will, and to seek out God’s truth as the benchmark for all that we think, say, and do.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Psalm 90: 1

 

There is a famous line from the Wizard of Oz that states, “There is no place like home.” This is a very true statement, and when you throw in the idea that “Home is where the heart is”, the thought behind this ancient prayer is complete. Because of the natures that we possess from birth, people are wanders and nomads, for we are continually looking for that greener spot to settle down and for a better way to fulfill our need for importance, significance, and to find a sense of belonging. Even after we accept Christ as our answer to the homeless condition of our hearts, we still continue to respond to the urge to go off on our own and to seek out a different and a better way to live than the one that God wants us to follow.

 

So, God continues to keep a light on for us to find our way back to Him. Yet His light is different from that low watt night light that our parents may have left on in an otherwise darkened hallway. The light that the Lord displays for a wanderer’s heart to see is the very active and dynamic one that is His Spirit, and He doesn’t just sit at home and worry or fret about our situation, He comes looking for us. Christ has no fear or concern about going into the dark streets and the rough alleys of our lives, and He never stops calling and appealing to a wandering soul to come back to that true home that provides comfort, safety, and restoration.

 

No matter where I am today or what condition my life is in, it is important for me to realize that my home is found in the presence of the Lord. Christ regularly demonstrates to me that His presence is continual and constant. If there is any sense of separation or distance in my relationship with God, it is always caused by my actions and attitudes, and that estrangement is the product of my own wandering heart. The Lord wants me to return to Him, and He takes me home with the quickness of prayer and the suddenness of His forgiveness. Then, when I return to God’s perfect place of calm and peace for my soul, He always seems to have ready for me the sort of food for my soul that I need to bring back my strength and to encourage me to set out on Christ’s path of service in God’s kingdom

 

 

 

 

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, “Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood.

Joshua 20: 1-3

 

The cities of refuge that are discussed here in Joshua have a very slight connection to the politically motivated and dedicated ones of our times. In admittedly simplistic terms, the cities of refuge of today’s world are a protest statement against laws and governmental attitudes that the leadership of these cities stand in disagreement with. The places that God through Moses instructed Joshua to dedicate were primarily about redemption and forgiveness. They created an opportunity for people who stood under penalty of a sentence of death in certain circumstances to gain an opportunity to be pardoned and set free to live within the society again. They also cut short the potential for a cycle of violence that revolved around revenge and retribution. These ancient cities of refuge are closely related to the way that God has worked with people and in our world since our first days upon the earth.

 

When Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3: 23, 24), he is making a very inclusive statement. The “all” there is a group that enfolds you and me and every other person who has ever drawn breath in this world. We are born with a sentence of death already proclaimed for us, and we will live out our days awaiting its execution upon us if we do not encounter and respond to God’s offer of refuge that comes to us in and through Christ. In God’s great and marvelous graciousness, He took His desire to offer redemption to us to another level of accessibility. In Jesus, God made it so that the cities of refuge in our world are as close as the air that surrounds us. He eliminated the need for us to travel to His designated place, and instead, God came into our world in a manner that makes His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness real and tangibly present with everyone. We dwell inside of the walls of our city of refuge if we will simply open our eyes to grasp its reality.

 

Christ opens the door to salvation, and He invites us in. This invitation is ours to accept or to reject, but even that offer is an on-going thing. The Lord continues to seek after people as He goes to every end of the earth in His pursuit of us. Unlike these cities in Joshua’s day, Christ’s offer of grace covers all of the sinfulness that we may engage in, for there is nothing that we can do that is greater than the life-saving sacrifice that Jesus offered up on our behalf. God’s heart and His intent is to be known by all people; so, He offers His redemption to all of us. This is the same inclusive “all” that defines our lost state in Romans. When we accept Christ’s offer of refuge, we are set free from the death of sin that covered us previously. Thus, in this new life that we have been granted we are sent out to live fully in the presence of God and to bring the reality of that life that we now enjoy into contact with a world that is still in need of that safe and secure place of refuge.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5: 24

 

When does life begin? This is a question that has been debated for a very long time, and it continues to be a point a real contention to this day. Some people argue that life commences at conception, others say that it is at birth, and still others hold that it doesn’t begin until an individual draws independent breath. I am proposing a fourth alternative. This is that life truly begins for each of us when we accept God’s offer of His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. The rest of what we might consider to be life is a weak shadow in comparison to being fully alive in Christ, and this new state of being alive is ours from the moment that we surrender ourselves to Christ as this is when His Spirit comes to dwell within us and God’s sentence of judgment upon us as sinners is placed upon Jesus as our personal redeemer.

 

Thus, from that moment forward our lives take on a new meaning and a redeemed purpose. In accepting Christ we have also entered into the will of the Father for relationship with Him. Jesus is the mediator who brings people into the holy presence of the Father with our sins removed and the judgment that we so rightly deserved taken on by Him on the cross. As we are right with God, we can live righteously throughout our days in this world. This is an important aspect of the calling that God has for us as His children and that Christ places before us as His redeemed. Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross has an eternal purpose and it also has one that is for this moment in time.

 

The life that w have been granted as a gift from God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus is to be used to bring the character and nature of the Father and the Son into direct contact with this world. As we who know Christ go about our lives and engage in the activities of our days, we can touch others with love, grace, mercy, and the truth that comes from God’s Word. We can have a redemptive effect upon the brokenness of this place where we live in the manner that we conduct ourselves as we follow the example of Christ and the leading of His Spirit. In Christ we are set free to live without fear of judgment, and we are also granted the freedom to proclaim the redemptive love of Christ to a world where death rules. So, this is the primary purpose of this new life that we receive in Christ. We can demonstrate and speak of life as something that we possess and offer that same life to anyone who accepts God’s offer of it through Christ.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

2 Corinthians 1: 20

 

Yes is a powerful little word. It breathes out approval and acceptance. We wait with tension and with apprehension for its pronouncement upon the proposition or proposal that we have set forth, and we desire to receive its loving embrace with an earnestly concern-filled heart. All of creation was desperate for the culmination of God’s unending faithfulness to it that was given full and absolute expression in Jesus; so, He was that total Yes who answered the unending question of How and When as it came to waiting out God’s timing in setting His desired restoration of this creation into unstoppable motion. A baby’s cry of entrance into the world was the utterance of every Yes that people had ever desired to hear from God.

 

Now we can respond to God’s gift of salvation and restoration with our own cry in agreement. The Amen that we shout forth is an expression of our agreement with the grace, mercy, and acceptance that God has poured out upon us in Christ. God gives each of us the opportunity to know Him and also the right to choose acceptance of His offer of new life or not. We are free to make that decision, and we are allowed to make it at any time during life up until that final breath passes out of our lungs and the eternity of our choosing becomes the new place of dwelling for our souls. Although our No’s in response to His inquiry saddens God, He is also relentless in His pursuit of us with His gift of grace and the eternal life that comes with it.

 

Just as God offers much in His granting to us of His Yes in Christ, there is also much more to our expression of agreement with God than just a singular Amen. Christ fulfills God’s promise of newness and renewal for our souls, hearts, and minds, and His Spirit remains with us for every moment of the days that we have to live out God’s purposes for us in this life. The Lord’s Yes of approval and acceptance is given to our unceasing questions throughout all of the minutes and hours of those days. Christ sends us out to be both a reminder of that Yes in our world and also to act out its loving grace in the lives of the people who we encounter. So, the conduct of our lives that is played out in response to Christ’s Yes and relationship with Him becomes our shout of Amen to the glory of the Lord.