And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see the great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Mark 13: 1, 2

The temple in Jerusalem was impressive. There were beautiful finishes throughout its interior, and the outer walls were constructed by skilled stone masons and stood in proud relief against the surrounding city. As it was constructed upon a hill, it looked out over the city as a form of both guardian sentinel and also as a beacon to guide those who were seeking God into His presence. At least that was how it was supposed to function. In fact, the temple was just a building. Its impressive architecture and its grand furnishings did absolutely nothing to bring people any closer to knowing God. The leadership was too far gone along a path of corruption to care about what God wanted, and they were so consumed with the pursuit of personal gain that they failed to seek to truly serve His purposes on earth much less to aspire toward heavenly things. As regarded the temple that Jesus and His disciples were visiting that day, it would be gone in only a few dozen more years. Yet, Jesus is looking far beyond that moment, and He is speaking to an audience that was not contemplated by His hearers that day, either.

We, too, are builders. We plan and fabricate wonderful buildings with amazing details and with feats of engineering that would amaze those earlier workers in stone. We also put together plans and ideas in ways that bring into existence entities and organizations to provide order and structure to our worldly and sacred endeavors. As was true of the temple when Jesus was looking upon it, so it is still true today; there is nothing inherently wrong with putting up buildings or with developing systems and structures to operate our businesses, governments, and ministries. When Jesus was looking upon the temple, the problem was not in the structures; rather, it was in the hearts of the people. In our times, the same thing is true. We can also become worshipers of stone and brick idols that are in name alone places where God is to be found. We can craft governance systems and leadership models that make everything work smoothly and that contemplate every possible contingency or issue that might arise, but if these rules and regulations do not direct us to the foot of the cross, then they are worth nothing beyond the ashes that will remain at the end of days.

God desires that everything that we do, each thought that we have, and all of the plans that we devise be focused upon and committed to Him. He does not leave permission or allowance for there to be anything held out or reserved for our personal or secular lives. As we go about our business enterprises, they should operate as if Christ were the final authority in all of the decisions that are made. When we dwell among our neighbors, Christ wants us to place Him fully and clearly on display in that community. The government that we permit and the one that we encourage is to be run out of righteousness, with justice as its great concern, and in a holy fear of the Lord and with regard for the way of the cross. Finally, Christ calls upon us to gather in the fellowship of His Word with grace, love, and peacemaking as our unbreakable bond and with service to Christ as our greatest mission. When these things are true, the temple that is constructed is built up out of eternal materials as it is formed in the hearts of people and is held up for all time by the spiritual bond that is created by the hands of the Master Builder.   

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Open to me the gates of righteousness,

   that I may enter through them

   and give thanks to the LORD.

Psalm 118: 19

When this psalm was written, this was a real place, and it was the portal through which people could go into the temple in Jerusalem as they came together to worship God. The righteous were people who God had selected and designated as His own; so, these were primarily those who were born Jewish. The fact that there are people who God sees as righteous and as thus having a special right to stand before Him in worship is still true today, but the place where they are to gather for this purpose and the fundamental nature of who they are and of how they obtained this right has been altered significantly by God. Now there is no specified building to come to, no human constructed portal to pass through, and access to God is granted to people of every nationality, race, gender, family origin, religious background, and societal position. Today there is truly no Jew or gentile in the fullest sense of what that expression means.

Each of us decides to accept what is offered by to us by God. That is, Christ seeks after people without regard to any of the distinguishing or separating factors that humans hold as barriers to engaging in relationships; then, it is up to each of us to accept the gift of salvation and relationship with God that the Lord is placing before us. In Christ, we have the Spirit in and with us. He is our entry into the contemporary version of those historic gates of righteousness. The presence of Christ also seems to bring about a desire to go thorough those gates on a very regular basis, for my heart wants to express the strong feelings that I have about and for the Lord. Yet, there is something challenging and even, at times, troubling about going to this place of worship with its call to be open, honest, and sincere about all that is taking place inside of my mind, in the deep places of my heart, and by the actions of my hands. 

These same gates of worship that are a portal for entering into personal and corporate expressions of joy and thanksgiving are also an opening to a safe place where each of us can enter into repentance and grieve over all of the harm that we have caused to others and the sorrow that our sinfulness has brought to the Lord. Repentance and joy, grief and salvation; these are all of equal importance and are each granted the time and the space needed for their full expression when we pass through those holy gates. Christ is our true High Priest, and He ministers to each of our needs in a way that leads us deeper into healing for all that is damaged or lost within our hearts and minds. The Lord calls us into His presence as individuals and as His gathered body. He provides us with the freedom that we need to express our thoughts and emotions in a manner that fits with how He has designed and constructed us as He leads us through those gates and into the courts of His temple of praise where joyous thanksgiving choruses are sung throughout every hour of each day.     

Now, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 9: 1, 2

 

Just for the sake of clarity this man here named Saul is the same one that we know as Paul, the Apostle. The author of at least thirteen of the books of the New Testament, and the man whose writing brings depth of insight to our relationship with God that is beyond value. This same man who would willingly give everything he had in this life in order to serve Jesus is here seen preparing to go to the ends of the earth and to spare absolutely no effort in seeking to crush the life out of this new religious sect made up of people who were following the teaching of the recently crucified man named Jesus. If the transition, the transformation that takes place in Saul in a matter of hours is not proof of the unending grace and the all-searching love of Christ, then, nothing else could be sufficient to prove them.

 

The Lord went after the chief tormentor of His people, but He was not out to get revenge or to hold Saul accountable in the ways that most of us seek to do these things with the people that have harmed or hurt us. Saul was confronted with his sin, and he was forced to answer for what he had done; yet, the Lord wanted Saul to see that he was loved despite who he was and what he had done and that God had a place for him to be useful and valuable in both this world and in eternity. The Lord brings this same sort of unyielding, unrelenting, and total pursuit to bear in the lives of everyone. Additionally, Christ brings the potential for salvation from eternal death and for the redemption of the rest of this life so that it can be lived for the glory of God.

 

When I look at this picture of the extraordinary way that God seeks to bring all people under His grace and of the drive that He has to enter into a relationship with each of us, I am humbled by my own lack of the same qualities and the same drive to bring loving truth to others. The Lord desires that each of us would start to see the potential in others rather than focusing on their lostness. Christ calls on each of His people to follow His lead in bringing the truth of the gospel to everyone in our lives. Just as He does not back away from people because of how they have lived, what they have done, or how unlikely they might seem to be to respond to God, we can not judge either. The next person that I meet on life’s road deserves to meet and to know the love of Christ, and I am sent by my Lord into the world to share this love, the love that has already saved me.

 

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7: 51

 

The early church martyr Stephen is stating the hard truth about the way that so many of God’s own people were living. They were granted the presence of God, Himself, in Jesus, and they violently rejected Him. They had a long history of being blessed by God in ways that were special and miraculous; yet, they refused to obey the Lord’s will. These people always seemed to want more than they had, and still they didn’t enjoy contentment when they were given what they requested. Although they had been chosen by God, rescued out of slavery by Him, and provided with all that they could possibly have needed; they refused to fulfill their part of the bargain by giving God all of their hearts and all of their minds. They were holding back, unyielding, and not willing to trust in God to the point where they could have a real impact on the righteousness of their communities.

 

Unfortunately, this sounds like a way that God might describe our times, this community, and our response to Him. This world is one in which the hand of God with His mercy, grace, and love is quite evident. Yet, His heart must be saddened by the way that we continue to reject His offer of life. We rage against the injustice in our lives while we accept the oppression of millions. We complain about the erosion of our incomes and the loss of our quality of life; yet, we turn a blind eye as the unborn are denied the right to even draw breath. We spend a great amount of time and place very real energy into seeking to change our government while we give only passing interest and involvement in our own church bodies, and we put even less of ourselves into promoting the unity of Christ’s body outside of those walls.

 

Although Stephen’s words were filled with condemnation and rebuke, I am certain that his heart’s desire was that at least some of the people in his audience would hear God’s truth in those statements and that those individuals would turn away from their self-centered course of life and back to God. As we hear those same words, that is what I believe God is saying to us. He wants us to examine our own lives. Christ implores us to meditate deeply on His Word and listen carefully to what He is saying to us. Christ desires for His people to become the voice of love, grace, mercy, and peace in our troubled world. He wants us to stop dwelling in the isolation of our own homes and reside in the community of His body. The Holy Spirit is moving in our land, and He is calling for us to repent of our wandering ways. Christ calls, and He wants for us to respond by giving Him our all.

 

 

 

Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4: 16

 

In this thought lies one of the greatest aspects of the transformed reality that is ours in Christ Jesus. There is a human tendency to fear authority, and this is especially true when the sort of authority that we are facing has power over and control of our comfort, freedom, and feeling of well-being. Most of us have experienced the dread that comes with the prospect of going to see the school principle, of having a parent discover our misdeeds, or being summoned to the boss’s office. The heart rate elevates and palms become sweaty, and the mind starts to build images of the worst of all possible outcomes into something that is like absolute fact; so, we don’t want to go and face the music.

 

However, Christ calls, He summons us, and the Lord seeks after us to come before Him. The words that He needs to say may very well be words of correction, for we might need more than anything else to have the way that we are thinking and living straightened out and changed; still, Christ calls us to receive mercy and to be blessed by the kiss of grace. He hands us the receipt that has been signed and sealed by the highest court possible that tells us that the fine for all of our misdeeds, all of our sin, has been paid in full by Christ; more so, it indicates that the sum that was paid was the sacrifice of the one and only perfect and blameless lamb, Jesus.

 

Now everyone can come to God under all circumstances, at any time of the day or night, and in whatever state of being that we may find ourselves; and we can do this with total and complete confidence and with the understanding that we will be received with the open arms of love that the Father uses to greet His most beloved children. You see, because of Christ’s sacrifice, an act that He willingly performed for my sake, I am now cleansed of all of the impurity that had previously created a barrier between God and me. Also, I have Christ’s promise that He does stand before the Father to tell God that I am His own, and I know with the sort of confidence that can only come from the word of truth that is Christ that I will be touched by God’s love, healed from my brokenness, and transformed into His glory.

 

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,

and a royal diadem in the hand of God.

Isaiah 62: 3

 

Isaiah is writing about the vision that God has given him for the nation. There will come a time when God’s people will be restored and their land will be the beautiful kingdom of justice, righteousness, and peace that was God’s desire and intent from the beginning. Unfortunately, for the Prophet and for us this is still a dream, a hope, and is highly contrary to the reality of our world. In light of this great disconnect between God’s desire and our culture, it is both natural and easy to simply say that the unrighteousness of our world is just the way that things are and to resign ourselves to wishing that Christ would return and change it all.

 

If God’s promise of this future cleansing and restoration is where we place our current hope, I think that we are missing the core of God’s direction and will for the lives of His people. Most of Scripture is directed toward the realities of living in the world as it is during these days that fall in the middle of the continuum of time. We are somewhere in the period of history that falls after humanity’s initial rebellion and before Christ defeats sin and death and all is made new. God is quite clear about the fact that He knows what this world is like. He walked the same harsh streets, encountered the same angry opposition, and entered into the painful grief of the same struggles that we each face. God suffers with us still.

 

Yet, the Lord also engages with us in living in this world today. His Spirit goes with us as we face opposition and as we encounter opportunities to demonstrate love, grace, and mercy to people. Christ calls us to act in His name without regard for the attitude or the situation of the people that we are engaged with. As we open our hands and share our hearts with the people who disagree with us, we are to do this with the redemptive love of Christ as our motive. When we allow God to use us, even when this means that we will suffer in various ways, we are people who display Christ’s beautiful crown of glory so that it and He can be light for the darkened corners of our world.