I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4: 1-3

 

People will be people. This common expression contains a lot of painful truth, for even on our good days, we humans are a challenging and a difficult collection of creatures. We often do things that cause friction to arise among us, and we too frequently seem to focus on the negativity of our interactions and relationships rather than spending our time gazing upon the extraordinary beauty and great wonder that God has given to each of us as His hands shaped us. Even in the body of faith in Christ, we are given to a form of individuality that leads to separation and eventually that distance brings about the isolation that is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against God’s people. Paul has seen all of this, and he understood the dangers that came from going through life on our own, and he also knew the importance of surrendering self to Christ and to each other in the process of living out God’s will for our lives.

 

At the center of the Apostle’s statement here are the powerful words humility and gentleness. These are simple words that convey very large concepts. Humility is perhaps the most striking singular descriptor that one can apply to Jesus. He was God in human form, King and Messiah come; yet, He was also simple, caring, observant of the lowliest of people, and always submissive to the will of the Father. Jesus was able to surrender all comfort, relinquish every ounce of pride, and grant worth and great dignity to people who were unlovely and without value in our earthly system of evaluating people’s place and position. Jesus walked this earth in a humble manner, but even more than that, He lived out His days as humility’s definition. In addition, Jesus’ humility found expression in the gentleness of His touch. He sought to bring about restoration of relationship with God by the way that He engaged with others. His gentleness was expressed even in contentious and difficult situations as Jesus did and said everything with redemption as the objective and healing as the desired outcome.

 

The manner of walking through life that Jesus employed and the humble and gentle way that He went about it are, frankly, beyond the capacity and the capability of almost all people. We certainly don’t function like this in our natural state of being. Yet, we are called by Christ to be like Him in all ways; so, this must include the God-given characteristics of humility and gentleness. These are gifts that Christ will give to us as we seek after them. They come to us as we set aside our own desires and yield to His Spirit. They also grow within us as we seek out others and engage with them in a manner that sets aside our wishes, wants, and preconceived ideas in order to enter into the deep places of their hearts and minds and to walk through the day in observant understanding of who they are and what is important to them. This sort of approach to life does make us vulnerable to hurt and to disappointment, but it also expands our understanding of people and also that of our Lord. As Paul states, humility and gentleness are qualities that lead us into the deep love that Christ has for all people, and they operate together with love as the glue that bonds us together with the sort of strength that stands up to all that the forces of this world can hurl our way.

For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob.

Isaiah 14: 1

 

What makes a nation and its people great? We usually think in terms of wealth, military power, prominence in the world, and domination of other people and countries. We take pride in our own country because of many of these qualities and abilities. We may even express a certain arrogance about being from a place on the globe. Being proud of the country that we call home, even that deep expression of this that we call patriotism, is not bad and it is not necessarily wrong in God’s view of things. The key to God’s view of the status of this sort of national pride may very well rest in the reasons for it. If wealth, power, world strength, and the ability to control the destinies of others are those points of pride in themselves; then, I fear that God would not be pleased. However, if the way that all of these qualities and abilities are used for the sake of justice, peace, and the spread of the Gospel are what makes us so readily identify with a national home; then, God’s purposes are being served.

 

The existence of nations and of their various forms of governance is something that God has granted to humanity so that we would have an orderly system for maintaining a functioning society in a fallen world. If people were not self-centered and focused primarily on gaining the greatest possible advantage for ourselves, we would not require rules and the human authorities that create them, and we would not need the power structures that enforce those rules on our unruly hearts and minds. God’s design for this world was simple, it had only one rule, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gn. 2: 16, 17) Obey the Lord in the simplest of things and all would go well, but do otherwise and the consequences are real and troubling. We have not done well in this matter of following God.

 

Even the nations that God established were placed under the mandate to follow certain rules regarding their purposes and roles in the world. Now I am taking the model and the example of Israel as that for how a Godly nation and its people should operate; then, I m applying that concept to any nation that truly desires to be great in God’s view of greatness. Frankly, I don’t see any examples of nations that succeed in this endeavor. In fact, I don’t see any that even aspire to do so. Yet, this bleak history should not leave us hopeless. Each of us who follow Christ has the ability to express the hopes, desires, and aspirations that our Lord has granted to us. We can and should express our understanding of Christ’s vision for our own nation to our leaders and with others so that a voice that seeks out God’s love, justice, peace, and care for those who have less capacity to care for and to protect themselves is heard clearly in the national dialogue. Our nations can be places where people from other lands will be drawn because of the character that we exhibit, and as we dwell in the center of God’s will, our land should be a place where the Gospel of Christ is the reigning rule of law.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of our mercies and God of all comfort.

2 Corinthians 1: 3

 

I am not aware of a single individual who is immune to the pain, the heartache, and the stresses of living in this world; therefore, in this short verse Paul addresses two things that everyone needs This place that we call home is flawed, fractured, and is breaking down under the pressures that sin brings to bear every moment of each day. Satan imposes his deceitful logic and evil intentions into our lives in ways that are, at times, subtle and that can strike with the force of a hurricane. All people fall under the impact of this spell that evil attempts to cast; thus, we all need the mercy of a loving, gracious, and redemptive God. Everyone is battered and bloodied by this war that we are caught up in the middle of; so, we all cry out for support, encouragement, and comfort. At day’s end all people have a need to know the true Comforter.

 

Christ is the answer to all of our needs. When we require restoration from the traps that Satan sets for us, the grace of God that flows from Jesus’ wounds and that covers us like fragrant oil takes our broken spirits and places us in the presence of the Father. As we seek to travel through the war zone of life, God’s word provides the wisdom that we require to fight and to survive, and His Spirit is joined with us for every step of the journey. Still it is inevitable that we will be on the receiving end of painful blows. So, Christ is always there to pick us up, to bind up the wounds, and to provide the strength that we need to continue on.

 

Additionally, as we are the recipients of God’s mercy and comfort, we have the opportunity to bless God by being people who bring the same healing touch to our world. The greatest way to experience the presence of the Lord in our lives is to bring His light into the lives of others. We are not called to be vessels that God fills with His love, grace, and mercy for our own sakes; rather, we are called to be agents of Christ who act in His name and who provide care to the wounded souls that litter the war grounds of our world. As we feel pain and suffer wounds, we are experiencing life as Jesus knew it. Then, as we turn our pain and brokenness over to Christ, He heals us and sends us out to share the truth of God’s restorative love with others.

 

Just so, I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15: 7

 

Jesus was not normal. He lived in a manner and He did things that were not the sorts of things that followers of God did in His culture. He was a relational risk taker who not only interacted with the worst of sinners in His society but who actually sought them out. Jesus went where they lived, and He mixed with them in close personal contact. Now Christ certainly did preach the gospel of repentance and of restoration to relationship with God, but He did this from a platform of friendship and from a place of demonstrated loving care and interest in the way that other people thought and what they felt. Jesus was completely confident in His relationship with the Father, and because of this, He had little to no concern for what people thought about Him as it related to His following of cultural righteousness.

 

Instead, Jesus loved people. He cared enough to go after them in the many places where they would go to hide out from God. This was a radical departure from what was normal in His world, for people were required to clean themselves up in order to be acceptable for admittance to the place of worship and they needed to come to God in order to engage in that worship. This is very different from the way that God desires to interact with us. He started out His engagement with people by walking with us along the paths of this world. He desired to do the same in the days of Jesus and that continues today. Christ walks through life with us. He wants to show us the grace and the love that God has for all people, and He seeks to lift us up out of the lostness of our sin and into the glory of God’s kingdom come.

 

When Jesus was telling this story about lost sheep, He made an interesting statement, “And when he has found it (the lost sheep), he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. (Vs. 5) This is Christ’s attitude toward each of us. When we are lost, He comes after us and then picks us up and carries us home with real joy in His heart. This is true for that day of initial salvation, and it is true for each of the episodes of wandering away from God’s righteousness that happen to almost everyone in life. There is no place that we can go and nothing that we can do that will keep Christ from His mission of rescue and redemption. Jesus is the shepherd for our souls and for the lives that we live. Christ is still not normal, and His love for all people is a powerful example of the restorative love that is the center of God’s heart.

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

2 John 6

 

Why is it that commanding someone to love seems so unloving? Yet that is what God is saying through the words of the Apostle John, and this is by no means the first time that the Lord has directed His people to love. In Deuteronomy we are so commanded, and Jesus restates that direction for us as He says, “The most important (commandment) is, ’Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12: 29, 30) Although God has been very clear on this point, most people have a really hard time following it. In fact, I know from my own life that there can be a certain perverse drive in us to do just about the opposite of what God and His Word direct us to do.

 

So, when it comes to following God’s commandments, many of us struggle and strain against the boundaries. We test the limits of God’s patience, and look to see just how far we can wander away from the center of our Lord’s stated will. In essence we are acting like a puppy on a leash by trying to determine just how far we can wander away from the path before our master brings us back into line with a sharp tug on the tether that is attached to us. Although God does provide limits and boundaries for us, and He is engaged in protecting us in this world, His desire is for the relationship between us to be different than a power, control and dominance model. Christ is engaging in life with us out of His love for us. He desires that we would follow God’s commandments because of the same motivation.

 

God loves us. He loves all people and all of His creation with a depth and a passion that sets the definition of the concept that is love. When He instructs us to think, to act, and to behave in a certain manner, His motivation is to bring all people into relationship with each other and with Him. Likewise, when the Lord tells us to care for the natural world where we live, He does so in order for us to provide for the needs of people regardless of their natural relationship to us. This care and nurture is a form of expression of love for the Creator of it all just as the presence of such a great wealth of resources is a way that God has demonstrated His loving care and provision for us. So, as God does love us, He desires that we would love Him and engage in that love by following His will in all aspects of life.

 

 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91: 1

 

Where do you choose to live? What is the neighborhood like, and how do its inhabitants hold their relationships with God? We don’t always get to select exactly where our home is located or what kind of neighbors we will have, but that doesn’t mean that we have to conform to all of the lifestyle choices that they make. Still, we do get to determine the sorts of input, advice, and direction that we follow, and we can become an influence on the world around us through those decisions.

 

The residence that matters most is the one where we place our hearts and minds. God wants to take us into His place of comfort, protection, and nourishment. He has prepared a warm and satisfying spot at His side for us to stay throughout our life’s journey, and the Lord works continually to fill each of His children with all of the truth, wisdom, and knowledge that we will need to travel through the day. In this place there are found peace for the spirit, strength for the journey, and direction for our daily mission. It is here that we get to know our God deeply and to know our true selves well.

 

All of the instruction that we will need to take up residence with the Lord is found in His Word. He also provides all of the help and support that we require to do the heavy lifting to get settled in there. God asks us to make an on-going, daily decision that we will stay close to Him and that we will seek to bring others into the shelter of His love. As we choose to live in this close relationship with our Lord, we will spread the shadow of His loving provision over our physical neighborhoods. Thus, Christ works to change the world around us.

 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36: 7

 

It often seems as if values and principles, the moral and ethical framework and foundation of our culture, are changing very rapidly. This old-fashioned word, steadfast, is not really a part of the current cultural vocabulary. People do not stick to or with much of anything for very long, either. Although this lack of commitment to people and to values may feel like a modern phenomenon, a look at history shows that it has its roots in that long-ago garden and the desire on the parts of our earliest ancestors to be their own god. Over time people have just continued the progression of our movement away from the God of Creation and into our own self-defined god of personal convenience.

 

Based upon the evidence at hand, this effort to devise a better way to live than the narrowly defined one that God gives to us does not appear to be working so well today. Beliefs and actions that caused separation and death in those earliest of days are still bringing about the same results now. Our world is just better equipped to accomplish both of these ends. We live in a time of angry days. Individuals, groups of people, and nations are saturated in forms of fear and rage that are released in violence toward each other and that have no effectual resolution. It would appear that the only valid response to it all is self-protection and greater violence in return.

 

Yet that is not what God gives to us, and it is certainly not what He calls upon us to do. The Lord God has more right to be angry and upset over our way of living than does anyone else or any other group of people. All of our fear, anger, and violent discord are fundamentally directed at Him and are carried out in violation of His will and His Word. Still, the Lord remains true to His commitment to love all people for all time. The love of Christ stands today as the only valid answer that we have for the world in which we live. We can stand solidly today in the security of that love, and its protection, comfort, and counsel are the legacy that we can provide to our children and to all who follow after us. So, today, O Lord, I stand under the great shadow of your unceasing love and desire to pour Your redemptive truth out upon this wounded world where I live.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

Philippians 3: 8, 9

 

Most people are hoarders. We usually call it something else. We are collectors, frugal, prepared for any situation, stocking up, blessed by possessions, or fearful for where the next meal might come from. Storing up and holding on tightly to what we have seems to be ingrained deeply into our make-up. That is why the act of moving, of needing to pack it all and physically pick it up and put it some place else is often so healthy. This act usually causes us to consider carefully each thing that we have and consider why an item that hasn’t seen the light of day in over ten years is still essential. In a way, this is the challenge that Paul is throwing down for us here.

 

It is not my intention to be frivolous about the profound and the extraordinary change that takes place in people as we accept God’s invitation to enter into a relationship with Him by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. However, this is a bit like the idea of packing up and moving. Our lives are filled with all that we have collected throughout our years on earth. We also bring with us a large assortment of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and responses to life that came from our parents and from others who have influenced our development. Regardless of our age, the dwelling place of our soul contains a lot of stuff. Some of it is very useful for living a full life in response to God’s calling for us. Yet, other aspects of who we are will continue to weight us down and to inhibit our ability to respond to Christ fully and absolutely. Paul shows us a truly ruthless attitude toward it all. He says that we should consider all of the self-satisfying and God-denying aspects of our former lives as noting better than the trash.

 

Rather than wrapping them carefully to protect them, we should toss them out. This sort of spring cleaning isn’t so easy to do. Yet, it is vitally important for us. If we wish to leave behind the old life of living under the authority of the law with its rigid demands and its utter futility, then we need to trust Christ fully so that His Spirit can guide us into and through the necessary process of purging our hearts and minds of old ways of thinking about who we are, how we see others, and the way that God wants us to respond to His calling for us. This sort of deep and personal house cleaning can be painful and it is often rather frustrating as the items that we toss out today seem to find their way back in tomorrow. So, we need to do it all over again. Still, God is faithful, and He will remove the old, death-bringing aspects of ourselves from us. As we trust Christ and have faith in His great purpose for our lives, He will move us in and settle us into dwelling in the kingdom of His righteousness.

Jesus said to the apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

Mark 6: 31

 

Jesus and His small band of close followers, the apostles, were living very hectic lives. There was much to do, and they were continually in motion. The demands of life were such that it seems that they weren’t finding the time for such basic activities as eating. This bone-wearying pace was theirs, and the world that they lived in didn’t even have instant news. In our times Jesus and His followers would have had an even harder time in finding some peace and quiet away from the demands of the crowds. All of this is a rather long way around to the thought that it seems clear to me that God truly understands our real need for times of escape and for the inner calm that comes in times of God-seeking isolation.

 

The same words that Jesus spoke to the apostles are ones that I hear Him speaking into my over-extended life. Christ wants me to leave all of the commitments and the responsibilities behind. In jealousy He desires my full attention, for Christ knows that a divided heart and mind, as we often are in our modern multi-tasking approach to living, will not be very attentive to His voice. My Lord wants me to allow Him to be exactly that, the Lord of my entire being. He calls upon me to go out to a place where there are no distractions and where there is no possibility that life’s urgencies will be able to grab me. Even if it is only for a short time, Christ wants me to be able to openly and honestly speak the deepest desires and needs of my heart. He leads me to find a place where silence permits my ears an opportunity to truly hear His voice.

 

We are not usually called by God to leave this world permanently or even for extended periods of time; rather, He typically asks that we take regular, short breaks away from the noise, the clutter, and the commitments of life in order to focus our complete attention on Him. In the story as told in Mark, the apostles had only a short amount of time as they traveled across the lake in a boat. The crowds rapidly found them again on the other side. It seems to be a universal truth that life and its urgency has a way of always finding the people who God has chosen and equipped to bring His answers to its situations. In fact, this is the reason why we need to purpose and to plan to take these breaks from life, to go alone to a desolate place where Christ’s voice is all that we can hear. For in these times and in this place, Christ brings His will into clearer focus and He grants the weary spirit rest.

 

 

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Hebrews 4: 9, 10

 

These are not restful times, and most people are not very comfortable in entering into rest, either. The days in which we live are filled with activity and with agitation. These forces operate somewhat like the various streams of high velocity water that crash together from many directions to form the turbulence of a section of white water rapids. This sort of multi-vector swirling violence can overwhelm and drown anyone who gets caught in it. Even skilled boaters can be overcome in a singular careless moment. The forces that are at work in our world can do the same. On top of that, many people, even people who know God, have become hyper-vigilant due to the concerns and the fears that are surrounding our hearts and minds.

 

However, Christ seems to desire for His people to live differently from all of this. He calls to us to enter into a form of rest that is a gift from God to the people of this war torn land. The vacation from the conflict that Christ directs us toward is different from the sort of hiatus from combat that soldiers sometimes enjoy, for Christ’s rest is not found in disengagement or in temporary insulation from the stressors of this world. Instead, it is achieved through the realization of the ultimate and final truth of the cross of Jesus. The ability of this world to bring about true harm to people was nailed to that cross, and nothing that Satan and his forces of evil can bring to bear upon Christ’s people can actually damage the part of us that has eternal significance.

 

The rest that we can accept from Christ’s sacrifice is His gift to us. Entering fully into that rest is a form of service that we can render in return. Herein lies the difference from the sort of vacations that people usually plan for themselves and the form that resting in Christ takes for His people. Our vacations are generally times during which we seek to escape from engagement with our world. They are filled with activities that take our minds off of what occupies them during the rest of our days. The Sabbath rest that Christ gives to us is fully scheduled with engagement in our world. It provides the sort of peace that frees our hearts and our minds to engage in fierce and fearless love for others and that establishes worship as the rhythm of our days.