And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Mark 4: 39

The depth and breadth of God’s Word is truly amazing to me, for the Lord never seems to stop revealing new thoughts and applications of it. Thus, I admit that I had never thought of this well-known verse from Mark’s account of Jesus’ time with us on earth in human form in the following manner. In this moment in the gospel narrative we know that Jesus is demonstrating His Godness in that He possesses power over nature, and He also provides a tangible example of the way that He did then and continues to care about and for people in this world. Additionally, there is a strong suggestion of the fact that followers of His will encounter opposition and that He will engage with those forces for our sakes. These are all good things, and they do reflect God’s character and His nature. Yet, it comes to me, even the Holy Spirit seems to be an early riser, that there is something additional on display in the words and the actions in which Jesus engages here.

For a brief moment, short and transitory as it is, Jesus commands nature to return to God’s creation design intent. The natural world was constructed as a peaceful place where everything functioned perfectly and wherein the elements such as wind, water, fire, and rain were to be productive and supportive of the thriving of all of life. All of this, every aspect of nature, has been damaged and disturbed by the effects of sin. Those disobedient and rebellious acts that the first people chose to do have had a profound impact on the way that this world operates, and none of that is for the good. So, on that day and in that boat upon the sea, Jesus took back a piece of this world from Satan’s evil grip, and He set it right for the benefit of a few people and as an example of something much bigger by way of future promise and also in the form of setting out a part of His call and commission for His followers.

There is no question that God has promised that there will come a time when Jesus will again walk upon this earth. This will be a point in history when all of creation will be restored to the glory of God’s design. There will no longer be any grief and death, and all of the universe will exist in a form of harmonious peace. This is God’s promise, and it establishes a form of hope for all of us as we follow Christ in this troubled world. Yet, Jesus seldom left things with future hope as His only teaching point. It seems to me that He also wants us to actively engage with the created world with redemption and restoration in mind. People continue to do real harm to the place where we dwell, and we do this with little regard for the gifts that God has given to us by way of the resources in the earth and seas or that are contained in the atmosphere that envelopes us. I believe that Christ desires for us to join Him in rebuking the corruption that sin has produced on and in nature. He also wants us to care for what He has given to us for the sake of our thriving. Until Jesus returns, we are, in fact, His hands and His voice to be used for promoting peace upon this earth, even peace in the natural world.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14: 6

 

First off, today’s passage is not an example of a case of forgetfulness, for I am being deliberately repetitive in the use of this verse. I also plan to come back to it again tomorrow. It just seems to me that Jesus had a lot to say in just a few words here when he responded to Thomas’ concern and quizzical question about knowing how to find Jesus after the Lord had left them. We live in a world wherein Jesus has physically left us; yet, just as it was for Thomas, and for Peter, and for the rest of those who had been following Him on earth, Christ does not leave us alone and without the resources that we need to live as His disciples and to follow Him through life and into eternity. Jesus’ way takes us into the uncomfortable world of true truth. He guides, directs, counsels, and forces us into facing the lies and the deceptions that we have come to believe and even to embrace as our own as the Spirit makes God’s Word vital, living, and present in our hearts and upon our minds. We have the answer to Pilot’s, “What is truth?” and to Giuliani’s, “Truth isn’t truth” statements, for truth is real, and it belongs to God.

 

This world was not created to be a place where ambivalence reigns. Its atmosphere was not filled with a grey cloud of deceit, and its inhabitants were given clear direction and absolute guidance for living well in the close company of each other and with our Lord. Yet, our ancestors desired to shape their reality as they chose to do so, and they attempted to redefine the parameters that God had set forth for life. This attempt at becoming lord over their own kingdoms by grasping after God’s authority for themselves was disastrous for them, and it remains so to this day. God did not choose to leave us in a state where we were on our own to figure out life. He remained with His creation throughout these long centuries of attempting to live out our days in peace and with prosperity. We people tend to do more harm than good in this process, but God remains faithful to caring for us and to providing the wisdom that we need, should we decide to seek and to use it.

 

However, the Father did much more than this. He gave us His Son as the answer to our futile searching after what is real, what is enduring, and what is truth. Christ embodies all that is loving, gracious, righteous, and just in the universe. He brought the presence of God tangibly into this world, and his Spirit remains with and within us to do the same today. The truth that is Jesus has no room within it for hatred and for violence. It seeks to replace these negative and highly destructive forces with the greater power of love, understanding, and reconciliation. Christ shows us that all life is sacred and that each of us matters to God in such a deeply held manner that there should be no questions asked regarding the value of any person in any circumstance. Truth as Christ demonstrates it does not countenance deceit or deception, it has no room for oppression and for the many forms of slavery that it spawns. God’s truth seeks to elevate others and to lead its followers into service to our Lord and so into service to the needs of those who are most needy in our world. Truth breathes life into the dead air of this world as it guides us to the mercy seat of Christ.

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

and treads on the heights of the earth—

the LORD, the God of hosts is his name!

Amos 4: 13

 

The Israel of Amos’ day was not in a good place, and neither was the world around them. Yet, this was a time when things looked great in Israel, for the nation was wealthy and its economy was growing rapidly. It was enjoying a time of relative calm and peace, and Assyria to the north was dealing with its own internal issues and was no longer threatening Israel and Judah. Yet, this prosperity and peace were gained by the few who were powerful at the expense of many who were being oppressed. Their worship was only nominally focused upon the one true God as they sought to find favor from any form of deity that seems good or helpful in the moment. The Israelites were certainly glad and thankful for the help when an enemy was defeated or was being held in check by various forces and causes that did not require the expenditure of Israel’s wealth or other resources, but they were mostly reliant upon themselves and in their leader’s wisdom and guile for this worldly success.

 

At this time, God sent a prophet to speak about the situation in their land and the one in the world around them, too. He speaks of God’s anger and distress at the way that people are living, and Amos focusses on the unjust and oppressive tactics that have been utilized in order to gain power, wealth, and position. This is true for the nations around Israel, and it is sadly true for God’s own people as well. Although God allows us to make our own choices regarding the way that we will live and for the direction that our nations will go, He will not let us continue in an ungodly direction indefinitely. He has the power and the universal authority that it takes to change things when the time is right from His point of view to do so. This reality is what Amos is reminding us of in this verse. This God who we are ignoring and trivializing by the way that we are living is the same God who formed the ground that we stand upon and who shaped the mountains where we go to worship.

 

Even more impressively, the Lord has formed and shaped us into beings that can think and act upon those thoughts. Our capacity to build up and to create the world that gives us our wealth and comfort is something that God, Himself, has gifted to us. However, His intent in so devising people was that we would care for this world in a loving and a just manner and that we would worship Him with the totality of our beings. Just care for our world and for all the life that is upon it is the objective of our God-given mission on the earth. Worship of God is the means by which we stay true to that calling and is to be the central focus of all that we do in the course of life. When we stop orienting the totality of our love, adoration, and praise toward God, we start to lose our ability to truly love and care for others as Christ desires for us to do. As we turn away from worshiping God with all that we are, we tend to start worshiping ourselves and the possessions that we desire and enjoy, and this state of heart and mind leads us into thinking and acting in a manner that is much like the Israelites in Amos’ days were doing. As the prophet reminded them and tells us, God is not pleased by this behavior, and He will not wait forever before He makes things right in the world.

 

You, O Lord, have given people dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under their feet.

Psalm 8: 6

 

Wow! Do you get a sense of the power that is granted to us by God? We humans are granted total authority and absolute rule over the rest of His creation. This seems to suggest that God trusts us greatly; yet, based upon the way that we have behaved in regards to taking care of this planet and upon the lack of success that many of us have had in handling even the smallest details of ruling our immediate worlds, I am left wondering about how God could have come to the conclusion that any of us are worthy of His trust.

 

I believe that the answer is found in the fact that God sees beyond past performance, and He anticipates the potential that He formed in each of us. This potential for godly understanding, for great wisdom, and for the courage to utilize these qualities in our daily lives is accessed only through a committed relationship with the Lord. As we allow Him to change our priorities to match His, and we seek to understand His heart so that we can follow His will, we are transformed. He changes us from being self-directed and focused individuals into people who live as the God-image bearing members of the Body of Christ that the Lord intends for us to be.

 

It is in this state of renewal that we become truly trustworthy stewards of the great and the wonderful gift of rule over God’s creative work. This involves an enormous responsibility, for the Lord tells us that we are charged with the continual work of defeating the effects of evil and decay in our world. We are to take every opportunity that we have to show people the light of God’s grace and redemption, and we need to seek to do this through every word that we say, each action in which we engage, and by the totality of the way that we live our lives. The Lord trusts you and He trusts me with all of His Creation, and He knows that, through following Christ and abiding in Him, we are absolutely worthy of that trust.

 

Since all these things (the heavens and heavenly bodies) are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought we to be in lives of holiness and godliness!

2 Peter 3: 11

 

Most people spend a very great amount of time and energy on building up our world. This is not a bad thing to do. In fact, there is much about this effort that is both commendable and in conformity with God’s stated desire and will for us. Yet, there does come a time when we need to realize that everything that we do for the sake of this world and to improve its environment is headed for final destruction. In other words, we are a bit like the proverbial doctor who has spared no cost in working to save a patient who simply dies of old age at about the same time as the cure is effective. It is all a noble yet futile effort. Again, caring about and for creation is not futile and following God’s will in this matter is true obedience to our Lord; yet, in the end, Christ will return, and all that has been infected and corrupted by sin will be wiped away and then made new.

 

So, it seems to me that the point of our care for this world is about something other than the dirt, trees, and waterways of our planet, and the purpose behind these efforts needs to be aligned with a heart and a desire that is focused on something other than clean air, clear water, and the preservation of species. The very nature and character of God is reflected in the minute details of His creative handiwork. Although some will disagree with me on this, I state uncatagorically that God, Himself, made all of this world and every one of the other ones that proliferate across the heavens. He not only made them, the Lord fashioned them down to the smallest of details in and upon them, and He did all of this in order to set the context and the place for His engagement and relationship with the highest form of His workmanship in the form of people. I do not pretend to understand the whys of it all, and I certainly do not comprehend God’s methodology; however, I do accept that all that surrounds me is important to my Lord and that He desires that I view it in this same manner.

 

Yet, in so viewing creation, I am to maintain a balance and a set of priorities that holds God’s greatest desires as foremost to me. As much as the Lord is pleased by the care that we give to our physical world, He is even more delighted when we reach out to care for other people who dwell upon this earth. God does want us to protect our environment; yet, His intent in imploring us to do this is that there would be safe and sustainable places for humanity to dwell and so that people who do not know Him would see a tangible demonstration of Christ’s love for them in the sacrificial efforts of His followers. God calls upon His people to be holy and godly. We are to walk through our days as women and men who are neither afraid nor are we concerned about what it means to be viewed as different by our co-inhabitants of this world. We become god-like as our thoughts and actions reflect a form of care that will give our all for the sake of other people and that does surrender everything that we hold as dear or precious to serve Christ and to enter into living out His will. Thus, we care for creation with hearts and minds fixed upon the fact that the only thing that actually matters to God in the end of days is the souls of His beloved people.

But I am the LORD your God

from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

and besides me there is no savior.

Hosea 13: 4

 

There is both reminder and warning present here. God is sending them to His people through the words of Hosea, and they are specifically directed toward the people of Israel. However, it would be a very great mistake to simply relegate these words to that shelf labeled History and to an obsolete application. The issues that were troubling the Lord in the days of Hosea are still with us now as we seem to have a remarkably similar capacity to go our own way in life. The Israelites were guilty of worshiping other gods and of behaving in ways that were contrary to God’s will, His Word and Law. There were many times when they were even openly defiant of all that God stood for and entered into behaviors that He expressly forbade or that were significantly divergent from the Lord’s nature and character.

 

If this doesn’t make you think of many of the aspects of our world and of these days, then I think that we are living in on different planets or in alternate realities. This is a world where substitute gods are common. People turn to various forms of idol to pour out their passion in worship and to form up the ethical and moral structures that support their responses to all that comes along in the course of their days. Many of us seem to have little stomach for staying true to the harder aspects of following God. Frankly, we do not trust the Lord enough to enter into the riskier and the less comfortable aspects of loving others in a manner that is truly sacrificial, of serving the needs of the pour and the disadvantaged even when that costs us in terms of real currency, and of pouring out all of ourselves in a life dedicated to worshiping the Lord. It does seem that too many of us desire to be able to shape and to mold our god with our own hands rather than to surrender ourselves to His transformative work upon us.

 

God makes His desires very clear, and He also reminds us of the fact that He has never waivered in what He requires of His people or in the way that He enters into our lives for our benefit. The Lord wants us to commit all of our being to Him. This is true in our public, personal, and most private lives. He wants us to go through our cupboards and closets, our outward and our innermost expressions of our identities, and sweep out all of the idols that we have collected and stored up there. He also tells us to turn to Him as the only source of our salvation, and this is true regarding salvation for our souls and for that saving that is required every day in great and in subtle ways. Then we are to live out our days as an expression of that passionate worship that God so longs to receive from His people. That means that we would be unreservedly loving, compassionate and merciful, caretakers of creation, people who embrace the foreigner and those who are different from us, and actively engaged in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ though our words and our actions. So, in loving and in following God, we will be people who truly surrender our entire beings to the Lord’s transformative work in and upon us.

 

But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;

you are remembered throughout all generations.

Psalm 102: 12

 

When we travel it is often fun and interesting to visit historic sites that are in or near the place where we are going. These places have stories to tell about the people who were there long ago, and they provide us with chances to see how these long ago people and events have influenced the way that we live today. Many of these ancient cultures believed themselves to be great, and some actually thought that what they were creating would last through the rest of history. Yet, in truth, none of them have made it much past a few generations before they began to fade and decline into oblivion. Now, their ruins tell their stories, and the timelines of their power and dominion always have an end date attached to them. As grand as the work that the hands of people can create may be, it will never be eternal, and it will not do anything to save them from the eternity of separation from God that is the legacy that we all gain without God’s loving grace and saving mercy.

 

So, God forms and defines the only culture that truly lasts beyond a rather short period of time. His society is one that is founded upon the Lord’s promise to remain in relationship with people despite our lack of faithfulness to Him and upon His commitment to heal and to restore His creation. We are gathered in faith into God’s new kingdom come upon the earth so that we can dwell in the presence of our Lord and be ruled by the righteous truth of His reign. As bound together in Christ, the church forms a society that will always be counter cultural to those of the balance of the world, for it is a society that is formed out of a relationship of trust in God’s Word and acceptance of His ultimate and perfect authority over us and over all that is. This society is one that values sacrifice, peace, and justice above all else, and it is one that embraces people for their God given value rather than for their worth in terms of economics or power.

 

When we accept and embrace the reality of God’s economy on earth as our own, we step out of the failed history that humanity has written and that it continues to craft for itself, and we enter into the eternal story of God’s ever present love and drive to restore people and creation to our place of intimacy and health at the side of our Creator. We become participants in writing out this ongoing history in which Christ’s sacrifice and victory over the forces of this world lead us into a new way of viewing the importance of life and the impact that each of us can have on the nature and the quality of the journey that others take as they navigate their way through their days. As we follow Christ we become His voice of grace and provide His loving touch to sooth the pains and the concerns of a troubled creation, and by engaging in these eternal acts, we demonstrate the unceasing glory of the Lord.