Jesus said, “They (my followers) are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

John 17: 16

Here is a fundamental truth regarding the way that a relationship with Christ changes people. We are born into this world, and our identity is formed, framed, and established by the values and the priorities of the world. We are inevitably driven by the forces that are generated from the core of this sin-infused and fatally flawed environment. We are all born as children of wrath and iniquity, and our parents and everyone else who seeks to influence us have no ability to change this. They can share their faith with us; however, we, alone, can choose to enter into transformative change. We are granted the opportunity to accept a new identity and a renewed orientation through accepting the offer of redemptive grace that God has provided in Christ.

When we have done this, Jesus claims us as one of His own followers, and His Spirit comes to live within us; so that we are changed from the center of our beings. We no longer find our identity, our values, and our perspective on life in the old places. We now possess God’s heavenly, righteous, and eternal view of what it means to live in this world. We are now empowered and equipped to become people who bring about change in our world, for we gain the ability to see the people, institutions, and organization of this world from God’s perspective, and we have the capacity to embrace His heart of loving grace and His desire to see the fallen restored.

This is a highly challenging thought; for, my life is still filled with thoughts and actions that look more like those worldly ones that I was born with than they do like the ones that Jesus expresses. Yet, Christ has said that He has taken me out of the world and into His realm; so, the parts of my life that are still oriented to that old, worldly form of thought are the result of my stubborn refusal to let go of them. So, I pray, “Lord, take these unloving, self-centered, and defeated attitudes from my life, and fill me with the newness of your Spirit; so that, I can walk through my life as a person who brings the redemptive power of the love of Christ to the world where I live.”   

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2: 5, 6

Paul has just made the statement that God wants all people to be saved; so, he states the reason and the way that this is to come about. Now the subject of salvation is one that should be of interest to virtually everyone, for we all find ourselves in situations and circumstances that bring forms of peril into our paths. Life in this world is not easy, and the journey that we are on through it is one on which things are guaranteed to get rough. This is just the way that it is in our neighborhood, and all people dwell in a place that has its issues and its challenges. Wealth, social status, nationality, and religion make no difference, for evil is everywhere and all of us are born into a life of opposition to God’s will and one wherein we will encounter strife that is poured out upon us and that is also caused by our own thoughts and actions.

No one escapes the need for being saved, and none of us are capable of doing that saving on our own. If being saved were as simple as it is sometimes depicted in adventure stories, then some of us might have a chance at effecting our escape from some of the perils that assail us in this world. But those stories are fantasy, and the conquering heroes that are depicted in them are seldom much like us. Real people have far too little strength, capability, and skill to successfully go up against evil giants and prevail without the intervention of something from beyond ourselves. All of this is even more so the reality of life when it comes to entering into the very real and ever-present struggle with spiritual forces and with the soul-deep need for rescue that we are each born into. Our birthright of separation from God demands resolution, and God has given us the gift of redemption, the One who paid the price of ransom that was required to set us free, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Although this concept is very simple in so many ways, acceptance of God’s offer is often quite hard for people to enter into. For many of us doing this requires us to step out of logic and reason and enter into the most profoundly deep and life-altering relationship that we will ever encounter on the basis of that fragile and mystical thing called faith. This is admittedly hard to do, but God makes promises to us. He is committed to be with us and to take us through life with all that it throws our way. He shows us the greater reality of life whereby the lives that we are living here and now are nothing more than a dim shadow of the ones that we will know if we choose to enter into that relationship with Christ. God desires to be with each and every one of us in an eternal home that is our dwelling place after these days are accomplished, but He also wants for us to join with Him willingly and out of our own desire to be with Him. So, we can choose Jesus Christ and be saved in this life and into all of eternity, or we can reject Christ and be separated from God’s presence for all time. God’s heart and desire is focused on the first of those outcomes.   

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3: 19

This verse is a part of Zephaniah’s summation of his discussion of how God will deal justly with Israel by virtue of returning the nation and its people to their homeland and out of an oppressive captivity. Yet, I think that it also shows us a more fundamental aspect of God’s nature and the character that is His nature’s foundation. Although the Lord does care greatly about the lives of all people, He has an especially soft spot for those who are less able to take care of themselves. So, when I see the term lame, I think of people who are physically disadvantaged regardless of cause or reason for their condition, but I think that God actually has a larger group of people in His mind when He looks upon those who are lame. These are people who are easy prey or targets for oppressors. God’s view of lameness also includes emotional weakness, issues of mental capacity, and any other conditions of body, mind, or spirit that might cause a person to need extra care, provision, or understanding. Our Lord takes each and every one of these people under His wing of protection and holds them very close.

The Lord also seeks after a very wide circle of people who could be labeled as outcasts. These can be those among us who are difficult to be around, and they are often those who are simply different from whatever is normal or usual in our own cultural environment. This can include people who are from other countries, races, ethnicities, economic status, or any other conditions that might brand them as different from me and from my natural family and neighbors. God does not use the concept of outcast as a way of describing people. Rather, He sees all of us as His children, and He goes searching for those of us who are far away from Him in order to win us back to close proximity through love, grace, and understanding. The Lord would have each of us view all others in this same manner. We are to seek after those who are different from us, open up our hearts and our homes to them in a way that speaks Christ’s love through actions and by attitudes while giving praise to the One who saves with our words.

Although this verse contains a description of the way that God views people in our world, I believe that He desires for each of us who know Him to live in this same manner. He guides us into holding these same attitudes deeply and personally. Followers of Christ are to be people who seek after the outcast without regard for the cause of that condition or state of their being. In so seeking after them, we are to grant them shelter, to provide what they need to carry on with life, and we are to befriend them in a way that speaks acceptance and that remains true and faithful to those friendships into the unforeseen future. Christ leads us into loving the lame and into seeking to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that speak Christ’s redemption and restoration in a manner that words are inadequate to express. There are many people in our world who live as exiles, who are lame or outcast; so, there are multitudes of people in our daily lives who need a friend, a protector, a listening ear. We all encounter these people and they are God’s blessed gifts to us, for they allow us to draw closer to Christ by trusting Him to care for and to lead us as we enter into their lives in Christ’s name.    

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,

whom he has redeemed from trouble

and gathered in from the lands,

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

Psalm 107: 1-3

 

Those of us who know Christ fit into the group of people that are being called upon here to join in praise of the Lord. Each of us might initially want to disagree and say that I have not come from far away, for I was born and raised in this place that is under the direct protection, guidance, and blessing of God. Although, I could also assert that I agree with the fact of Christ’s saving sacrifice on the cross and that His salvation from sin has been given to me by and through grace, I could still bristle at the concept of my life as being one that was plagued by trouble. This world where I dwell is just not that disturbed or chaotic; it is not like some of the other places in this world where real trouble dwells. Although I could attempt to put myself and my experience outside of the hard and the difficult world that the writer is calling out in these verses, that attempt would be futile, and it would also be false.

 

No one is born into anything more elevated than trouble and distance. It doesn’t matter if we are born into wealth or into deep poverty, and the language and the customs of home have no real impact on our status and situation, either. Trouble in imbedded in the DNA that our mothers and fathers provided for us. We are influenced by its effects from the day that we first draw breath, and the air that fills our lugs at that moment and from it onward is tainted with trouble’s irritating sting. Nothing that we can do will ease the pain of its presence, and no form of relocation or change of external environment can adequately improve the conditions that surround us as the sort of trouble that crushes souls and that steals life is too pervasive to be eluded by means that we own and control. Trouble in its most fundamental and elemental of forms grows out of our sinful rejection of God and rebellion against His will. So, also, true distance is defined by the separation that our sinfulness has caused to necessarily exist between each person and our Creator. It is something that we desire and maintain and that Christ continually seeks to bridge.

 

It is this desire to draw near to each of us that we celebrate and give thanks for. Despite all that we have done to turn away from God and from His righteousness, He continues unceasingly to come after each of us. Christ certainly enters into our days of trouble and our times of distress, but He also goes with us into the routine and the normal times when all seems to be going smoothly and predictably along the course that we have charted for ourselves. For even these good days are heading toward times when challenge and grief become real and too present as we dwell in this world with its broken structure. Christ is here with us in and through all that life brings our way, and He is also fully ready to bring us and our lives into the center of God’s redemption and security for our souls, hearts and minds. All the Lord asks of us is to turn to Him and accept the grace that Christ suffered upon that cross to perfect and complete. Yet, in accepting Christ and the salvation that He brings, we have entered into a relationship with God that is cause for joy such that all of life, even its trials and grief, becomes an ongoing cause for shouting out in thanksgiving and praise to our Lord and Savior!

 

 

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Joshua 21: 45

 

This is a bold statement; in fact, it is a very strong expression of the way that God had entered in to a complex series of events. Yet, it captures and encapsulates the experience that the Israelites had lived out under Moses and Joshua’s leadership as they left a state of slavery, journeyed across a hostile land, and fought to take possession of their given homeland. God had taken them out of their captive state, He had gone before them and provided provisions for their survival through those hard days in the harsh wilderness, and then the Lord had engaged in battle with their enemies and had provided the Israelites with guidance for their fights as well. Nothing that was good, needful, or redemptive came from a source outside of God’s hand. This was their reality; yet, unfortunately, it was a fragile one.

 

The Israelites, like many people across the course of history, lost sight of the character and the nature of God and of His wise counsel. They headed off in their own directions and sought after other, worldly forms of counsel and guidance. They entered into the worship of illicit gods and even began to offer up sacrifices of all types to these demanding concepts of what the divine should be; so, in the end, most of what God had granted to the Israelites was lost. Yet, God never turned away from them. He has continued to work out His redemption in and for them just as He has done the same for all people on this earth without regard to race, tribe, or other human attachment or affiliation. Jesus is the final and the ultimate answer to the good promise that God made to the Israelites and that He also made to all of creation. Jesus the Christ responds to each and every need that our bodies and our souls have in this life, and He comes into our lives with the full implementation of God’s love, grace, and redemption from sin and its death.

 

In Christ, we can all enter into the fulfillment of God’s promises of peace, joy, and meaning in this life. We also are granted His promise of eternity in full relationship with our Creator. This is a form of hope that is greater than all of the trials, struggles, and hardship that can come our way in life. The presence of Christ overcomes the oppressive powers of this world and all of their ill intent for us. Although we will encounter difficult times and even brutally harsh periods over the course of life, our feet are granted the solid foundation of God’s Word to stand firmly upon, and our hearts are surrounded by the presence of the Holy Spirit to shield and to guide us through these days of turmoil. The land that God has given to us as our place of dwelling may not have defined boundaries and borders as did the one that the Lord granted to the Israelites, but it is still very real and our possession of it is in every sense God’s love gift to us. As this new day dawns upon each of us, there is hope to be found in God’s promises of His goodness, there is peace and joy to be gained by and through the presence of Christ, and meaning and purpose are ours in following God’s will as our path of travel.

Take my yoke upon you. And learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11: 29

 

This world seems like a complicated place to dwell. There are many rules to be followed and also many paths or directions that one can seemingly travel along in order to find truth and validity in life. With so many differing views on what it means to live in a right manner, it is difficult to sort through it all and to come to conclusions regarding which voices to listen to and what guidance to seek out for the journey. Yet, Jesus seems to be saying that it is all much simpler than that. What He is really stating here is that there are actually only two paths to take for the entirety of travel through life in this world. We either accept the path that Jesus is offering or we take its alternative.

 

Although there may seem to be numerous trailheads set out for us to consider as there are an almost uncountable number of approaches to spirituality and to faith out there in our day, these trails do ultimately converge into just the two of them. One starts with diversity and its trail map is devised and set out by people in order to establish a route that is pleasing to its creators and that frequently benefits them in various personal ways. The other begins with Jesus the Christ and leads directly into the redemptive grace, love, and righteous truth of God the Creator. This is a path that was set out by God at great cost with Christ’s humble sacrifice as its point of entry so that those who journey along it would gain everything that actually matters both in this life and into eternity.

 

Thus, the necessary burden of the travel through life is carried by Christ and the strength that we require to withstand the trials of the road is also provided by Him. Christ does ask us to accept Him and to allow His gospel of truth to be our guidance in all aspects of life. However, Christ also promises that His way is simple, direct, and gracious. It will not be easy in that it runs in opposition to the powerful current of the world’s stream of thought. Yet, as in all things, Christ is with us in the hardship and the trials, and God’s Word provides encouragement and direction for each and every aspect of our journey. Christ calls to each of us to put down our striving after the burdensome and diversionary ways of this world, to set aside the many other yoks that we tend to hitch ourselves up to, and accept His yolk of love, truth, and redemption as we set out on the journey that God is calling us to take today.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to preserve you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

There is real wonder and magic in the air as we tell the story of Jesus’ humble birth to the specially and specifically chosen young virgin woman. The enormity of God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the rest of creation to himself is written all over the way that these events transpired, and God’s heart for that redemptive work continues to be on full view throughout the life and especially in the death that Jesus was to encounter. So, it is of little wonder to me that God’s real intent in all of this is found in Jude’s few simple words of praise, for there is only one being who can do what is stated here. Jesus is the answer to all people’s need to become blameless before God just as He is the singular source of the wisdom, strength, and grace that are required daily to make it through life while living out those days righteously.

 

This redeemed life that Jude is praising is the point behind all that God did by and through Jesus. God did not need to demonstrate Himself to the world for any other purpose. He certainly did not need to undergo the pain and the suffering of living out a short lifespan in human flesh in order to be able to relate to us or to understand us, for these are things that God has been capable of doing in ways that are deep and profound from the dawn of our inception at His hand. Jesus was with us and journeyed along our pathways so that we would be more fully able to grasp the enormity of what has been lost to sin’s death and decay. In Christ, we are also provided with a tangible means of return to a now and an eternal place of right standing before our Lord as it is through faith in Jesus the Christ that all sin is forgiven and that our lives are transformed into ones that follow God’s design for living in the full appreciation of the Lord’s intent for us.

 

As I know this Jesus whose birth is celebrated in the festivities of Christmas, the true importance of Jude’s words of praise take on greater meaning for me. These are not just some spiritually right sounding words and phrases to recite in rote liturgical fashion; they are the essence of the calling that Christ has placed upon my life. Christ is shown most fully in His glory, majesty, dominion, and authority as I and other people of faith live out the love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that the Lord has pour over and into us. The point of Christmas is that the lives of people in this world would be changed. The focus of that long-ago birth is the salvation of the people of this world from our separation from our Creator and thus from a death that starts at birth and that knows no end. We are each and all called upon to live out the salvation that God has gifted to us through Jesus. We do this by making Jude’s words of praise the on-going descriptor of the manner that we conduct our lives.

 

Blessings in Christ, and Merry Christmas.

My eyes have seen your salvation

that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2: 30-32

 

Simeon was waiting and hoping. He had God’s word that his life would not end until he had seen the Savior with his own eyes, but those eyes were aged and weak. His pace had surly slowed and become unsteady so that even the journey to the temple was a bit precarious. Still, Simeon hoped and prayed and remained true to a faith that was rooted in a place inside his heart that was even deeper than the aches and pains of old age. So, one day as he was at the temple praying and continuing to watch for the arrival of the one who would set the world right again, he saw another of the many couples who brought their sons there to be dedicated to the Lord. But this time it was different.  On this day, this baby came with a certain presence that was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit. Now he knew that God’s consolation had come, and His redemption for all of Creation was at hand. Now Simeon could depart this world in peace.

 

Here, in the temple in Jerusalem and in human infant form was the answer to all that is wrong in our world. Simeon saw the arrival of God’s promised Savior, and the Spirit revealed to him that this was a much bigger event than even he might have previously considered, for Jesus, the Messiah, had come not only for the chosen people of Israel but He has come into this world to bring about the restoration of relationship with God and with each other for all people regardless of tribe, nation, race, or circumstances. This same Jesus that the aged man held so long ago holds the power and the strength to overcome all of the forces of anger, strife, violence, difference, and dispute that work their havoc in our world. He is the singular effective point of coming together for people as it is through relationship with Him that we are brought into commonality of mind, heart, and purpose.

 

All reconciliation of peace starts in the same place as it did for Simeon. He trusted God to be good to His word in bringing into this world the means for salvation from sin’s death, and he believed in the presence of that Savior in the person of Jesus the Christ. The same is true for each and every person on this earth. As we trust God and believe in Christ as His Son, our Savior and Lord, we are granted the presence of eternity in our being and the wisdom and insight of the Spirit as our counselor for the hard journey into joy, peace, and reconciliation. For each of us the road to faith and obedience to God begins with Jesus; then, it goes forth into serving His will in our world. We are to be people who bring the blessing of Christ’s reconciliation to all of the people we encounter. We are also called upon by God to gather together in His name and to seek to include in our fellowship of faith the diverse individuals and groups of people who we meet along the way. For as our eyes see God’s salvation, let us also proclaim its presence in Christ to the world around us while we enter into seeking out the Lord’s reconciliation for our troubled lands.

There are many who sat, “Who will show us some good?

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

Psalm 4: 6

 

This is the plea or the cry that should be going out today from every corner of the world, for they are all darkened and each of us is in need of light to show the way home to God’s peace and secure rest. Like sailors caught in an unexpected storm or airplane pilots when weather closes in, the world around us is swirling with fierce clouds of doubt, despair, and danger. They are driven by the unrighteous anger that has become the rallying cry of our day, and this hazardous environment is stirred up by our desires to control all of life in a manner that we see as advantageous to ourselves rather than in one that is responsive to God’s Word and will. It is no wonder that this sort of world is a harsh and a hard place to dwell. This is a landscape that even its own Creator must find hard to recognize.

 

Yet, the beauty that was molded by that same creative hand is present, and the glory of the Creator is not lost or driven away by our godless thoughts and actions. Those exquisite shapes, subtle shadings, and awe-inspiring radiance are simply obscured beneath this world’s false substitutes for their righteousness and truth. When these same substitutes fail to provide what our hearts, minds, and souls actually need for nourishment and for growth, people begin to search for new answers to their needs and desires. Sometimes this searching leads in the direction of God and His Word. At the same time, the Lord is continually reaching out to all of this world and to each of its inhabitants with His unfailing love, grace, and redemptive offering of Himself as the answer to all longing and need.

 

In Christ, we have the light of the Lord to guide our steps into that safe harbor that we all desire. Through Christ alone we can come into the presence of God and shelter in His all-encompassing wisdom and truth. Turning away from this world and from its loud but shallow enticements, we will encounter opposition, troubling relational differences, and hardships and trials of various kinds. However, in so doing, we will also be stepping into the unending light of the glory of God, and it will illuminate a new path for us to follow and an infinitely better direction for our hearts and our minds to turn in our needful search for that safe place to shelter when the storm becomes too strong for us to withstand. Christ brings us into the center of good in all of its forms and expressions. Christ directs our steps along a way where He transforms the darkest of hours into the radiance of new dawn as the truth of His Word grants the Lord’s confident peace to our souls so that we are empowered to live fully and openly for Christ without fear of the stormy and troubled landscape that surrounds us.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,

devastation or destruction within your borders;

you shall call your walls salvation,

and your gates praise.

Isaiah 60: 18

 

In the light of the horror that is at the center of our news these days, the ideas expressed here must be a dream, a fantasy that the weary mind concocts while precious sleep insulates us from further exposure to life’s harsh reality. How can there be such a time and this sort of place? We live in an environment wherein violence is far too close to us to consider what it might be like to be without its presence. As it must have been in Isaiah’s days, so it is in ours. Death and destruction, hatred and fear, angry words and harsh shouting, and proliferation of personal and national weapons of war are the instruments that are playing the discordant symphony that presides over our world.

 

This dream-like vision is not as fanciful and as illusive as it might seem. It is God’s promise for the future when Creation is returned to its true and original design wherein sin and its death are abolished and Christ reigns in His rightful place as Lord and King. According to God’s Word this sort of peace will come after a time when the world will have devolved into the sort of chaos and upheaval that is very real today. I am not a prophet and do not pretend to know God’s plans or to be able to predict what is to come, but I have no doubt that the way that our world is going now is in keeping with God’s revealed truth about the force and the effects of evil in our world, and it is in line with the sorts of things that do precede Christ’s return and final victory over all that is evil.

 

Until then, we can still live in hope and be fearless despite all that is happening in our world. We can enter into the presence of Christ here and now so that His assurance of peace can be ours today. This is a gracious gift that God has granted to anyone who believes in Jesus, the Christ, as Lord of life and as Savior for now and all of eternity. A relationship with Christ does not remove any of us from the world where we live, but it does provide us with a form of hope that transcends the nature of this place and that adds the perspective of unceasing love and grace to our vision of the landscape around us. Christ removes His people from dwelling in the realm of darkness that pervades the world, and He transforms our lives into ones that are lived out in God’s Kingdom come to earth so that the spiritual walls that surround us are truly formed out of the timbers of the cross of Christ which has brought about salvation. Thus, we can sing out a new chorus to fill the ears of the earth with something joyous and that is infused with Christ’s hope as we lift up our experience of redemption in thanksgiving to be heard throughout the land.