Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4

Death is an unspoken participant in all birth. In fact, it is there with us from the moment of conception, and its hour continues to get closer and its pull progressively stronger as the days of our life move along. So, that ever-present shadow just gets bigger and its darkness deeper while the sun of life gains degree by degree on its setting beyond the horizon. We all live in the presence of death’s shadow, and there is nothing that we can do to escape that fact. However, we can do something about the effects of the darkness on our minds, hearts, and souls. God has provided us with opportunity and resource for entering into those shadow lands without the fear and concern that naturally accompany that journey.

We were designed and created by God to have a form of vitality and a drive to engage with life that comes from our likeness to Him. The better I know God, the more that His constant engagement with my world is apparent. God walked through the day with my ancestors Adam and Eve, and He walks with me in intimate fellowship each and every moment of my life. This drive to live takes on the form of planning, designing, and dreaming for the future. God’s imparting of His image into us people also finds expression in our desire for relationships, and it is expressed as we enter into community with others. All of this makes the idea of a permanent end hard for us to accept. When our drive for life and for all that living involves collides with the uncertainty that death and dying bring, our natural and very human fears are brought to the surface.

It is these very fears that Satan attempts to use to break us down. He wants people to doubt the truth of God’s Word. He seeks to get us to question God’s goodness, mercy, hope, and especially His promise of eternity. We all live with the results of the damage that sin has done and is doing to the world where we live. Disease, natural disasters, and machines that fail were not a part of the creation plan. However, evil’s deception and humanity’s selfish desires were not even remotely sufficient in their attempt to derail God’s desire for eternal relationship and communion with us. Death will always be painful. There is no easy way to lose the people who are significant to us. Their absence will always leave an emptiness that is inexpressibly hard to comprehend or to fill. Yet, Christ grants us His comfort. He brings us an answer to the future that demonstrates the temporary state of our separation from those we love and care about. Christ also grants us His presence and the purpose of His will for the remainder of our journey. He is our shepherd as we travel through our own valley of deepening shadows, and it is His glory that will light the way through it and into the unending daylight of eternity.      

Advertisements

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10: 28

Not all fears are irrational, for there is much to fear out and about in our world. We regularly encounter diseases that were unheard of in our grandparent’s day, and the environment seems to be going in a dangerous direction, too. The earth itself is clearly suffering from some of the turmoil and trauma that God’s Word predicts will come about during the later stages of the pre-return era that we are living within. Additionally, many people roam the streets of the planet with ill intent in their hearts and destructive schemes on their minds. So, there is much to fear here and many people to be concerned about. Thus, many people are engaged in the processes of providing protection, and most of us take the responsibility for doing what is prudent and safe as a necessity of living in our world.

Yet, there is a point when fear can overcome faith and whereby that same sort of concern can overtake and defeat the trust that can only be placed in the Lord. Regardless of our efforts, planning, or skill, people will never defeat evil and will simply not succeed in devising plans to fully protect ourselves from its reach and touch. Our only sure and certain protection in this world is found in and through Christ. No one else has defeated the power that Satan has over this world, and no wisdom or form of truth beyond that which is God’s own Word prevails against the deceptive logic of that evil genius. In truth, our bodies will not survive this life. We all will die, and many of us will do so in fewer years than we might desire or in a manner that we would not wish to experience. This is the reality of the broken state of the creation that we were born into, but it is also the state of being from which Christ redeems us.

So, fear does have a place in our days, and that place is primarily as a force that drives us to seek out truth, wisdom, guidance, and counsel from God’s Word and that causes us to turn over control of our lives to Christ and to yield our need for security to the protective grace of His Spirit. Christ calls upon us to be engaged in the work of redemption in our world, and Satan does use fear as a tool to disrupt and to divert that calling. We become afraid of categories of people because some of them do evil things. We are concerned for our safety or our well-being when there are people of certain races, nationalities, or societal status in our midst; yet, Christ desires for us to love and to care for these same people in a manner that is like the one that He would exhibit. We can put out great effort into constructing barriers of a physical, emotional, or spiritual nature with the intent of protecting ourselves from those who we fear, or we can put that same energy into seeking the Lord’s will and reaching out to those who make us uncomfortable with the love of Christ. One approach ensures nothing beyond a moment of false security, but the other leads to the blessing of eternity.    

He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3: 24

 

God is the one who actually created the status of nomadic traveler, of sojourner, of refugee. He sent Eve and Adam out of the place that He had designed, fabricated, and established for them to dwell in peace and in close communion with Him, and the Lord then expelled them in a moment of frustration and of anger. Or was that really how it went down? God was certainly hurt and frustrated by the way that these people who were so close to Him had rapidly gone off on their own and rebelled against His rather simple and very clear instructions. But, if God knows all, did He not already understand that this was to happen? God’s anger is terrible as has been depicted and demonstrated on many occasions in history, and this scene in Eden does not look anything like that sort of anger being poured out onto these people. Rather, what God does here looks more like love and care than does it appear to be motivated by some darker emotion.

 

God’s real intent and desire in sending them out of the garden and into the harsh environment of the world was redemptive in intent and in nature. Inside of Eden they were living and operating in an environment that was guarded, safe in all ways, and that contained the means for achieving eternity by direct personal action. That is, by eating the fruit of the tree of life. To the east of the garden, the part of the world where they were sent, everything was different. Inside of the garden they were required to work, and this effort was promised to bring forth bounty and to always be rewarding as everything there was done for the sake of God’s kingdom on earth. On the east side, they would also need to work, but the results were far less certain. The sweat of their brows would provide for what they needed to survive most of the time, but their efforts would also see failure, and their spirits would know frustration and pain.

 

The hardships and the challenges that came to Eve and Adam and to all of their descendants was not a form of punishment that God placed upon them. Instead, it was the direct result of their desire to be the ones who were calling all of the shots, to be in control, and to determine the direction that they would go and the means of getting there. They wanted to be like God. What they didn’t realize was that this authority and power carried with it great and terrible responsibility. So, they were sent by God out into the world to experience the weight of that responsibility on their own, and we, as their descendants, also experience what it means to make our way in the eastern regions without God. However, the Lord doesn’t leave us on our own without the ability to come back to Him and into the love, care, and protection of His presence in our lives. Christ runs after our refugee hearts, and He gives Himself in exchange for our souls. As we repent and return to the God of our creation, Christ brings us back into God’s Kingdom and grants us the heart-deep peace of that eternal garden as our new and lasting home.

Great peace have those who love your law;

nothing can make them stumble.

Psalm 119: 165

 

There are many parts of life where balance is everything. This is true when we are dancing, running, using tools to build something, and very true when we are engaging in relationships. Balance avoids the extremes of overreach and lunging awkwardness. It also keeps the world within our grasp as it helps us to extend our reach to its greatest possible extent. This balance that keeps us upright and moving forward is a product of the sort of peace that God grants to our souls and with which our souls grace our hearts and minds. Peace that so saturates the soul is granted to us by the presence of Christ within us.

 

Christ transforms our hearts into ones that desire what is good and guides our minds to seek out thoughts, considerations, words, and actions that are righteous and just. The Spirit speaks to us with words of encouragement as He also provides us with wisdom and understanding of God and of His will. He leads us into the deep truths that are contained within God’s Word so that we are infused with the Lord’s new law for living in this world. This is the law that brings life to us and that blesses the world around us with Christ’s redemption from death into His light and life.

 

As we traverse the track over which we are required to travel during our days, God’s law, in its full expression, guides out steps and gives us the assurance that we need to stride boldly when the ground is often uneven and the light ahead is uncertain. God’s law is not so much a rule book or a formalized statement of beliefs, although it does include these things; rather, it is an ethical and a moral guidance that comes from within the heart that Christ has transformed and that is called into use and is given expression by the mind as it is operating under the direct guidance of the Spirit of Christ. So, Christ gives us a peace that brings about the ability to rest calmly and quietly in the Lord while entering into the calling of service that He has for our lives

All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the LORD

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before you.

Psalm 22: 27

 

This is not true today, and it has never been true in the course of humanity’s long history, either. There have always been people who went their own ways, and these people live in all of the corners of the globe. We have formed families and those families are organized into nations while still seeking to follow after some other guidance than the truth and wisdom that God provides for us. We humans have been a stubborn and a stiff-necked people from our very earliest of days, and we show little inclination to change now. Yet, the Lord is an optimist, or more accurately, He knows where the story leads, and. He gets to write the ending of it all with His bold and gracious hand of redemption.

 

God desires that we would be a people with strong character and well thought out responses to the vital issues of life such as faith, loyalty, justice, and love. He gave us the ability to form our own thoughts and feelings knowing that this would also create tension and lead to disobedience and rebellion on the parts of many people. However, it also causes us to be people who enter into a relationship with God that is committed, volitional, and engaged. When we come to Christ, we have done this because we desire to surrender our lives to Him and to be transformed by Him into people who dwell in the righteousness and truth of God’s Word. God is working in our world, and He is present in every corner of it. Christ is calling to hearts across the globe with His appeal to surrender and to return to the grace, love, and restoration that our Creator, God, provides for us.

 

Today is a good time to enter into God’s visionary view of our world. Where we see brokenness and loss, Christ sees need and potential. As we encounter opposition to our faith and rejection of our God, Christ views these same people as individuals who need to experience His love and know His grace. In Christ we have not been granted an exclusive place at God’s eternal table, instead we have been granted an endless supply of invitations to the feast that we can hand out to everyone that we encounter. We have been handed an unstoppable reservoir of mercy and grace to pour out with unchecked generosity onto the wounds and the heartaches of others. Christ will touch every corner of this world with His message of new life, restoration, justice, love, and peace, and He will be carried there as we believe in God’s vision for people, for families, and for nations.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.

1 Timothy 2: 1

 

Paul sets forth an interesting thought here, for he tells us that we should be engaging in prayerful worship with God that involves a very broad list of people, for “all” is about as inclusive as that group could get. When I am considering a time of prayer, my tendency is to talk with God about my family members, my friends, the people that I might be aware of in other settings that are usually related to these same people, and sometimes national and international leaders. This is a fairly large yet manageable list. Yet, this is only the start of what Paul is saying about prayer and us.

 

This list of prayer forms is also really comprehensive. It is a lot bigger than just the simple, “Thank you for my family” or “Please heal my cousin’s dermatitis”. These are both fine, for they are included in the list; however, take a close look at what is being said. We are being told to engage prayer in a total and comprehensive manner. It is to be done on our knees and standing and shouting praises, framed in humility, seeking God’s intervention and involvement in other people’s lives, grateful and remindful of all that God does for us and for all people. Prayer is passionate, constant, a special event, and an every moment necessity. It is to be engaged in the morning, in the middle of the day, at night, and at every time between, and we are to pray about and for everyone.

 

This last thought is perhaps the most amazing and profound thought to me. I think that the point here is that if I embrace this idea and make it my practice, God will begin to cause a very powerful change in my attitudes toward others. He will redirect my thinking and the attitude of my heart toward many others so that I will begin to see them more like He does. The group that I am instructed to pray for includes people that I don’t like, those that don’t seem to like me, leaders of government, especially leaders who I believe are wrong or who are wrongly motivated, the person at work whose habits infuriate me, the neighbor whose dog is noisy, the person who has profoundly wronged or hurt me, and everyone who I struggle to understand or to relate to.

 

Christ sees the world and the people in it quite differently from the way that I do. He sees the beautiful potential, the perfect child that He created, and the deep sadness and the chaos that is the result of people’s separation from Him. Our Lord sees all people with eyes of love and compassion, and He seeks to be granted the opportunity to graciously redeem everyone from their lost state. Thus, He directs us to put on His attitude, to see the people of this world as He does, and to become active agents for His redemption. Christ directs His people to engage and to energize His calling to us in constant and comprehensive prayer.