For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

Deuteronomy 4: 7

 

Moses was speaking about the way that things were in a time and a place long ago and far away. He was reminding everyone about the fact that God was as close to them as was their own breath and that the Lord was involved with His people and with their nation in all matters both great and small. This is the God that Moses had encountered and knew in a deeply personal manner, and this was the God who was truly and in all ways the Lord of and over the land. So much has changed from then until now. It seems that we think that we have become a people who know how to care for ourselves as we now govern our nations and rule over the people of our world with such great skill and success that there is no longer any need for submission and obedience to the ancient God of Moses and to the way of His Word and Law.

 

Actually, as we know from that same word that many of us want to set aside on the dusty shelves of antiquity, it didn’t take long for the people that Moses was addressing here to adopt the same attitude toward God and to attempt to go it on their own in the world. It did not work for them, and it does not work for us, either. We rule over our world with all of our sophistication and knowledge put to full use; yet, people are still starving and homeless, nations continue to settle their differences by waging war, the resources of our earth are squandered and destroyed to serve selfish desires, and life in all forms is treated as a disposable commodity instead of being viewed as God’s gift of Himself in this world. It seems that our attempt at going it on our own in governing and ruling over our world have not been very successful or productive after all.

 

Still, God is patient, and He is faithful to His promise of redemption. The Lord has not given up on us, and people who know the Lord should not give up hope either. I believe that our efforts will not save the world, for that is a work that Christ alone, in His final return, will accomplish. Yet, we are called upon by Him and given the task of bringing His grace, justice, mercy, peace, and their redemption into the world as we encounter and touch it. Our nations and their leaders may not embrace the truth and the counsel of God’s Word as their ongoing rule of law, but that doubt should not stop us or inhibit us from proclaiming its supremacy to them and from demanding that God’s ethical and moral principles be applied to the way that our lands are governed. Most of us have the right and the means to voice our understanding of what is righteous and proper in the way that our leaders guide the course of the nation. All of us have the ability to express these wishes and desires through prayer and as acts of worship to our one true and eternal King. People who know God, we can join with Moses and raise our voices in prayer to the Lord and in expressions of righteousness to the world. So, we should never be silent when it comes to God’s will and truth in our world.

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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.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1: 3-5

 

If you wanted to be completely certain that something precious, a possession that had immeasurable worth, would be absolutely safe from every possible risk of harm or loss, where would you put it? In order to accomplish this some of us go to a vault or safe in our homes, some use a bank’s safety deposit boxes, there are privately operated secure storage facilities, and some people employ guards to keep constant watch over their possessions. Yet, none of this or these methods carries an absolute and total guarantee of security. In fact, if we hold that God’s Word is accurate and true, they are all fated to fail utterly in the end, for all of this world will be done away with and replaced by something sinless and perfect in those eternal times to come after Christ returns.

 

There is one place alone where God’s perfection exists, for Heaven is beyond our world and outside of our experience, at least it is so in its fullest expression. Yet, we know of it, and we experience a portion of its glory in the presence of the Spirit in us and in our world. God has also gifted images of the eternal and of the realm of glory where He resides to us in His Word and through the redemptive love that Christ has poured out upon us. For me, this witness is very real, and it leaves no doubt at all of the existence of Christ as my Savior. I am also fully committed to the fact that this same Redeemer is also my Lord and the ruler over all that exists in my world and beyond. Thus, His truth is my truth, and His righteousness is the ethical and the moral perspective that I desire to have fill and shape every aspect of my existence. This wholeness of being that Christ brings to all of His people is guarded and protected from the corruption of this world; yet, it is still tangible and available to people in this life.

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has broken through the dark shell of separation and death that sin cast over this world so that people have full and complete access to enter into an unending relationship with God. We are granted admittance into the glorious halls of heaven, and we are also provided with its immutable security and protection for our most precious of all possessions, our souls. We may live in a world that is failing with walls crumbling down before our eyes and over our heads, but in Christ, our souls dwell in heaven with the King and our hope is thus found in our vision of the eternal. However, our bodies with our hearts and our minds plus those heavenly souls live out each day in this world; so, we have a mission to engage in while we live here. We can bring that same hope of the glory of God into the presence of others during these days, and we are called upon by Christ to carry His living truth of grace, mercy, peace, and redemption to the other inhabitants of our world. As our souls are safe in heaven through Christ and by His resurrection, we can live boldly for His Gospel in all areas and aspects of our daily lives.

Return, O Lord! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

Psalm 90: 13

 

If you have lived with and around Christians for any period of time, as I certainly have, you will have heard many people express the desire to have Christ return. They want Him to come today or maybe tomorrow, at the latest. This is always stated in terms of putting an end to the sinfulness of our times, the evil that surrounds us, and the pain of suffering through life in this fallen world. Not to make too light of this very serious subject, but this wishful expression can become somewhat like spiritual aspirin. We feel pain, and we want relief from it; so, we prefer to take the miraculous fixative instead of putting in the work to seek out and repair the underlying cause of the discomfort. People have a well-developed desire for the fast and the easy, and this is often especially true when it comes to addressing the brokenness that surrounds us.

 

Yet, we do have all that is necessary to impact our world for the glory of God’s Kingdom. The challenge to actually doing this comes in the form of the reality that evil is very resistive to change and that facing it requires people of faith to take actions that seem highly risky. Some of this risk is framed in terms of loss of favor with neighbors, friends, and family members; it is very public. However, I think that the more difficult sort of risk comes from the need to deal with our own attitudes, beliefs, and well-established patterns of thought. This inward facing examination can be a source of the type of pain that we work so hard to escape. Still, the cleansing work of God’s revealing light performs the soul-healing work that is our world’s greatest need. For each of us this healing starts with ourselves, but it cannot end there.

 

Christ did not leave us to sit and to wait for His return in passive contemplation of God’s goodness and resignation to our world’s fallen state. After His resurrection, He implored His followers to tend and to care for each other, and He sent them into the world to make the good news of God’s redemptive plan for salvation from sin through Jesus Christ a living reality for each and every person on this earth to encounter. This is done by people who live out our Lord’s love, grace, mercy, and compassion in every aspect of their lives. Still, God’s love is not soft and equivocal. So His truth has remained unchanging from before Creation. We also live out God’s love by standing up clearly and unyieldingly for His righteous truth. This is truly the hard challenge of publicly proclaiming Christ in our world. For we cannot, even for a moment, cease expressing Christ’s total love for all while we must stand up for God’s truth and against the evil that opposes it. This daunting task is made possible because Christ has returned, for the tomb was empty and He has joined us in our journey through the world that rejected its Savior. Now His Spirit does dwell in each and in all of His people. It is Christ who grants to us the gift of His loving understanding and wisdom in conjunction with the strength that we require to do His will today in our world.

Since all of things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?

2 Peter 3: 11

 

Peter is speaking of a time to come when the Lord is ready to fulfill His commitment to end the existence of all that has become broken by the presence of sin and then bring about the installation of the new creation in its sinless perfection. This event will be preceded by times of great upheaval and chaotic days when truth is hard to discern and where the usual points of reference will be lost so that up will seem as down and apparent friend may actually be fiercest of enemy. We are not at this place in history yet, but God does not promise to inform us of the coming of these harshest of final days. So, we cannot live in any certainty regarding the date and the hour that the Lord will set out as the moment to speak forth these days. This is the reality that leads Peter to set out this question for himself and for all other followers of Christ.

 

Everything that we see in this world, and even the relationships that we have worked to nurture and to build will come to an end. Nothing of this world is to remain at the end of this tumultuous period of conflict, purification, and restoration of the perfection of God’s pure creation. Although it is clear from Scripture that people who know Christ and are thus known by God do continue to exist into all of eternity, the exact form and manner of that new life is beyond human description and full comprehension. Also, there will be a very significant change in all of us in that the hard and very real presence of our sinful old natures that interrupts and disrupts our human relationships now will no longer exist. In God’s new creation we will love each other with the fullness and purity of Christ, and our love for God will know no limitations or lapses.

 

So, in light of the uncertainty of the events of the days ahead, in Christ we can enter into a very certain approach to life. We can trust God’s Word and His nature fully and can thus seek Him out for all wisdom, direction, and counsel. Christ is with us in all of the details of living as a victor over sin in this fallen world. We can enter into accepting the grace of salvation and the on-going provision of Christ’s grace for the various ways that we all do fail to achieve God’s standards of righteousness, and as we are granted grace and mercy, we must also be ever gracious and merciful with others, even with people who truly rub us the wrong way. Then, because of Christ’s love for each of us, we are enabled and empowered to love all others in a manner that is like Him. Thus, followers of Christ are to be a people who are known for our love and our mercy and grace; we must be the defenders of justice in our world and the people who work to make peace in the midst of the storm that swirls about us as the squall line of the end of days events begins to buffet our world.

For the earth will bring forth its sprouts,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise

to sprout up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61: 11

 

The promise of spring is a part of the hope that makes the dark days of winter a little easier to handle. We know that it is not too long until new life will begin to sprout out of the cold, dark ground. I know that my mind can already see that day when all of the trees start to take on a greenish glow as the buds of summer’s life open for the year. God’s creative design has devised this cycle of renewal and rebirth in the order of our natural world. He has also promised this same potential to the people of His creation.

 

There will be a day when the newness of a fully redeemed creation will be the unending existence of this world. The day of Christ’s return and the unbroken state that He will restore to all of creation is near. Yet, it does not seem as if it is today. There are aspects of God’s desire and intent that are not completed. There is something to be set in place before that final cleansing and the restoration that will follow are set in motion. In that light, one of the things that God has been very clear about is that He desires that every person on the earth should have had the opportunity to hear and to respond to His Gospel of love, truth, and redemption in Jesus Christ.

 

The Lord calls each of His people to engage in the process of making this happen. He sends us out of our comfort and ease and into the world around us. Every one of us who know Christ is granted the honor and the responsibility to represent our Lord and King in all that we do and to take the story of our new life in Christ out to those corners of the world where He is not known. Some of us will travel far and live a long distance from our places of birth and some will go and talk with our next-door neighbors. We may use profound words that come from God’s word of truth while others of us will speak in acts of love, respect, and justice. Yet, in all of this, we are planting the seeds that the Lord will tend and cause to sprout into the beautiful life of His redeemed garden.

Instead of the thorn shall come up cypress;

instead of the briar shall come up myrtle;

and it shall make a name for the Lord,

an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55: 13

 

This seems to be a way of saying that God has promised a time to come when all of His creation will be restored to the peace and the glory of the way that it was at the beginning. There is total truth to that idea. Christ will return and He will defeat Satan and judge all that is wicked in our world. Then God will send forth a new creation that is perfect in every way. This is a great hope for followers of Christ to hold onto, and faith in God’s final triumphant work is a part of our understanding of the nature of God. But this desire for the future does very little to actually guide us in living in the present.

 

As a realist, I can say that I do not anticipate that the world where I live will be restored into God’s perfect creation by any acts or actions that people might perform. We may possess great skills and amazing capacity, but we are not God. Creation is His alone to work, and it will be made new in the Lord’s timing and by His hands alone. Yet, we are not left here to simply wonder when and hope for soon. God has granted His people with gifts and with understanding of His will and purposes. God wants us to do something that is useful for His kingdom with all that He gives to us.

 

We may not be able to eliminate thorns from our gardens, but we can pull weeds. Our landscape will continue to produce briars and they will impede our journeys. However, we can chop them down and burn them off. I think that these actions are analogous to the process of confession and repentance that God calls us all to engage. We are to seek after His righteousness, and we are to open our hearts to Christ’s cleansing work. Then we plant. We replace our dead thinking and actions with the new life of the gospel. Through meditation on God’s word and prayer we can fill our minds and our hearts with God’s truth that is the source in our world of the lush greenery and the fragrant aroma of God’s original garden.