Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13: 13, 14

 

There is a popular hymn that in all probability dates from the early years of the twentieth century that starts out with these words,

 

“This world in not my home, I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

 

This says what the author of Hebrews was saying, at least in part. In Christ we gain much, but we also loss much, or perhaps more accurately, we leave behind much. Christ is our model and our leading example in all of this. He left the glory of Heaven and His position as Lord over all of Creation in order to live with and among us on this earth. He submitted to all that He was required to endure in life here, and then He allowed us to treat His royal being with cruelty and put Him to death as if the sinless one were indeed the criminal that all of us are in fact. Now, Christ calls upon all of us who submit to Him as His followers to leave the place of our births behind and to join Him in dwelling beyond the walls of worldly comfort and protection.

 

Jesus demands our primary loyalty; so, if we are in Christ, we can not be so aligned with any nation, people, religion, or earthly system of order or governance. None of these things will last beyond their few allotted years. All of this world’s entities, constructs, and rule of law will pass away, and each of them is already subordinate to God’s Word of truth. We should not give our hearts and our souls to any of these earthly orders or pledge our loyalty to any of their rulers, for none of these are worthy of such honor. Not one of them is righteous, holy, and without self-serving purpose and intent. We owe all honor, allegiance, and worship to God, the Father, to Christ the Son and our Savior, and to the Spirit that dwells with and in us. All other adoration and praise are poured out on unworthy recipients and is thus wasted effort and misguided loyalty. Christ alone is to be Lord over all aspects of our lives.

 

All that we do and everything that we stand for in this life should be focused upon Christ. He is the source of all wisdom and guidance for our days, and our Lord is the singular source for all of the strength, encouragement, grace, and love that will be required of us if we choose to live in this God-honoring manner. As otherworldly followers of Christ, we are people who seek out the broken and the oppressed in our world in order to grant them protection, healing, and dignity in the name of Christ. When we choose to dwell outside of the walls of earthly institution, we are setting aside the hard rules of those entities in order to see others as human beings, and so viewing them frees us to enter into their stories as people who can not only be empathetic, but also we can thus travel through hard days and along challenging miles of their journeys with them. As we move out of the city of this worldly life, we do leave behind much, but we also draw near to our Savior and Lord, for He dwells in these hard and rocky places that are beyond the borders of earthly cities. So, let’s gather together and worship our Lord in His true tabernacle of blessing where Christ’s Spirit is mighty and we boldly invite the stranger and the foreigner to come in and join in the feast.

 

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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

 

Life is precious to most people. This is especially true when it comes to our own lives. We like the idea of drawing in breath, and we really embrace the concept of continuing to get up each day and to walk about engaging in the activities and in the relationships that make up the world that we inhabit. Life means something to us, and it meant something to Jesus, too. Still, He gave it up, and He did so painfully, with dread, and in absolute submission to the will of the Father. The life that Jesus surrendered is the reason that He can make the statement that He did here to Timothy and to us. His death and resurrection from the grave that followed it as night does the day have brought about a miracle that defies the powers of this world and that takes anyone who accepts the gift that Christ is offering out of a state of living death and transforms us into beings that experience life as God comprehends it during our remaining days on earth and into all of time beyond this life.

 

This new life that is given to us by and through Christ is not without its requirements. In fact, the Lord is rather demanding of each of us if we wish to truly experience the freedom that comes to us through our new relationship with God. He requires for us to forfeit, to surrender, our old lives in full to Him and to allow the Spirit full and absolute access to each and every corner of our hearts, minds, and spirits. We are not permitted to retain any vestige of hold-back or some parts of ourselves in reserve as a sort of cushion against the shock that change causes or in the form of old pleasures that we can turn to in moments of self-determined need. Jesus held nothing back, and He demands that His followers truly walk in His footsteps without deviation; so, He requires the same of us. This is not to say that there is not grace and understanding in all of this, for Christ is remarkably patient with us, and He knows that this sort of total surrender takes time to enter into and then to accomplish.

 

Yet, as we follow along Christ’s way, we are led deeper into understanding of why God desires for us to think and to act in a certain manner, and we are granted a continuously expanding knowledge of the heart and the manner of our Lord. The Spirit works within us to transform our old selves with their ways of viewing life into a new beings that are more and more like Christ. So, God’s way takes us ever farther and deeper into His truth. We are made to be beings that know truth and that can seek it as near to its source as is possible to do in this life. This is done by virtue of engaging earnestly with God’s Word and by wrestling with it in fellowship with other followers of Christ while the Spirit reveals its deep mysteries to our hearts and to our minds. A life that is lived out in submission to Christ while continuously seeking out the wisdom and guidance of God’s Word is one in which we are truly alive. Then Christ’s blood is our blood, and His love is what defines us. This new life is one in which our purpose is formed around caring for and about others in a manner that demonstrates Christ’s redeeming love to all of the world.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

Galatians 6: 7

 

So much of what we take as important in our world is little more than a popularity contest. Our minds are very easy to convince that this or that product or person has all of the answers for us. We humans are easily lured into believing and supporting almost anything if it has the right wrapper on it. We like the shiny new toy, the clever words, and the leader-like stance and bravado. Substance has little value in making these decisions, and standing solidly on a foundation of righteousness is off the table when we determine who we will vote for. Too frequently, we give away our birthright as followers of Christ in exchange for a poor man’s bowl of rustic stew in the form of people who promise us wealth, power, and ungodly greatness that denies the justice for all, care of the weak and oppressed, and love above glory that is Christ’s true calling.

 

All of this is truly a sad commentary when you consider that we were created by God to be thinking beings that have the wisdom of our Creator available to us. In general, humanity is the great underachieving child of the universe. Most of us seemingly choose to exist in this developmentally challenged classroom of life where we are easily manipulated and never seem to achieve the success of graduation. It is almost as if we enjoy the easy ride through our days that is provided by allowing others to do the thinking for us so that we don’t need to be prepared to explain in real, substantive terms why and how we have reached the decisions that we have made. This is true when it comes to relatively frivolous things like toothpaste and clothing, and it is disturbingly true when it comes to choices that have long-term impacts such as national leaders.

 

However, try as we might to leave God out of our thinking and decision making, He is still involved in all that happens in this world. God is jealous of where our hearts are aligned, and He will not allow us to live in a manner that effectively makes light of Him and that discounts His position as Lord and King. There will be consequences for the decisions that we make and the loyalty that we grant. It is not that God cares about the brand of products that we use or the style of clothes that we wear, but He does want us to consider our consumption of goods and services wisely and with a view to the needs of others in our world. Additionally, God will not be surprised and His Kingdom will not suffer loss as a result of the political choices that we make; however, He does desire for us to make those choices based upon criteria that are founded in righteousness and upon His view of kingdom living. I think that God values justice, life, and the pursuit of His articulated way above economics, power, and convenience. God grants His people the ability to make decisions that are based upon His eternal economy of life, and our Lord desires for us to use the reasoning and thinking abilities that He has given to us in order to reach these conclusions in a manner that glorifies rather than mocks Him.

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5: 21

 

God is different from the world and from us in our natural state of being. That can be a problem for people in that we really don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Most of us, myself included, would rather go with the flow of the culture that surrounds us. We want to be normal and even unexceptional when it comes to the basic beliefs and ways of acting in which our friends, neighbors, and communities engage. Yet, God doesn’t desire for us to conform to the world around us, for He didn’t create us to be that way. The Lord’s creation design for people was fabricated with us reflecting into our world His nature, character, and way of acting. We were to be the ones who brought wisdom, grace, mercy, and most of all love to bear on the oversight and the governance of the rest of creation, this world where we dwell. Sadly, that is not how things have gone.

 

We rule over this world in a weak handed and a careless manner. We have taken our desire for conformity to a place where it often overcomes God’s call to bring justice and peacemaking to all of our interactions. It takes us to a place where we are willing to sacrifice the futures of our children for the sake of wealth and power today. We have tortured and trouble God’s perfection in ways that are remarkably harsh and harmful to ourselves and that promise a bleak and an even more troubling existence for future generations. If Christ makes an absolute and a total difference in the nature and the character of the people who accept Him as our Savior and Lord, then why aren’t we, His proclaimed followers, all that different from the general population of this world?

 

If Paul’s statement is correct, then in Christ we do not just gain a form of righteousness or an appearance of it; rather, we are transformed into righteousness, itself. This thing that is being called righteousness is the sum total of all that is God and every aspect of being that is Godly. Righteousness is different in almost every way from the natural state of the world around us. It sets followers of Christ apart from all of it, and it should be what speaks out loudly from each and from all of our mouths when we open them for any and all purposes. Righteousness opposes violence as it promotes peace; it seeks justice for all but especially for the weak and the disadvantaged in our world; it denounces and works against tyranny while supporting freedom; and it lives out and speaks forth the Gospel of Christ as the answer to all forms of slavery that exist in our world. Righteousness is different from our world, and the righteous stand out as different. Do we desire to truly follow Christ and so be counted as a difference maker?

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

Jeremiah 8: 22

 

This is a lament. There is no healing to be found in the land, and the children who should be the great hope of the future and the delight of our eyes today are wasting away and falling to the ravages of disease and under the violent hands of war. When we see them being consumed by all that is anti-god in our world, we seek to find a physician, a ruler or leader, who will apply a healing salve to their wounds, but there are none to be had. Instead, too many of our nations are being led by war-mongers and by self-aggrandizing people that desire to profit upon the misery of others. This is truly a sad state of affairs, and it is one that leads us ever farther away from God’s will and takes us deeper into a growing wilderness of isolation from God’s truth and righteous justice.

 

This is also a challenge that followers of Christ face today. We desire for our nations to be led by people who apply the balm of justice, mercy, reconciliation, and love to the wounded souls that are being churned up and damaged by the conflicts, struggles, and other evil actions that run rampant upon the earth and in our communities. Yet, many of our leaders seem to be more intent upon placing bombs of protectionism, greed, fear, and isolationism along the pathways that should lead to safety than they are desirous of granting that safe harbor to these troubled souls. They also focus their peace-making energy on approaches to ending conflicts that are based upon over-powering the opponent and are accomplished by dropping bombs upon those opposing forces. Force, violence, and coercive victory have seldom been the answer to our world’s disagreements and struggles, and they hold little promise of leading us into peace today.

 

As John Newton, the writers of African-American spirituals, and even Edgar Allen Poe recognized, the balm that truly brings healing to the land and restorative health to its people is found in Christ alone. We cannot place our hope in our nations or in their rulers, for they will not provide what is needed to bind up wounds and to stop our violent ways. Our laws, in and of themselves, will not bring life where death has taken hold, and our armies and weapons will certainly not grant peace to our world. Christ is the answer to poverty, to greed, to violence, and to all other forms of chaos that is running rough-shod across our planet. Christ works in people to transform our thinking and to empower our hearts with His desire for healing and restoration. Then, He uses people to go forth into our world to make His redemption tangible and real. In Christ we must hold our leaders accountable to words and actions that model Jesus and that honor God. By Christ’s love we must bind the wounds of the broken, embrace the stranger, feed the bodies and the souls of the lost and the homeless, and grant asylum to the victims of our world’s aggressions. Christ is that balm that brings about healing and peace, and we are called by Him to apply its soothing salve to all of our world’s wounded and need-filled people.

 

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19: 18

 

Neighbors can be wonderful. They can also be challenging or even terrible to be around. They can also be people who we barely know at all. Like other people who we come into some form of close contact with during our days, we enter into the lives of neighbors with a wide range of levels of involvement and relationship. The individualistic and self-contained nature of our world has pushed us farther into our own space and away from those around us, too. We don’t need to form the sorts of alliances and mutual care arrangements that people in the days of Moses found necessary for protection, supply, and basic care. Now, we can just go on-line to find what we need, and we hire someone when we want protection from a marauding wild beast. So, following God’s directive regarding neighbors could be life altering for us today.

 

God sees the role of neighbor as something far more elevated and important than just convenience or than a practical necessity. The Lord seems to view neighbors as people who are owed special attention, care, and concern. They are people who we are to reach out to and to embrace with a form of deep love that is gracious and long-lasting. The only way for most of us to do this is to actually get to know our neighbors. This requires us to leave our houses, knock on doors, and share life with others. Getting to know our neighbors makes us leave the safety of our own world and the people who we have developed long-standing relationships with and enter into the uncertainty of less well-known ground and uncertain relationships. This is the sort of thing that Christ did continually, and it is the sort of thing that takes us into places where our relationship with Christ can be demonstrated and shared in a natural, life-on-life manner.

 

The relational standard that is stated here and that Jesus firmly restates later is a very high one. It goes well beyond toleration or that of nodding acquaintance. God wants us to truly love our neighbors and to do so with the same intent and engagement that we do love ourselves. This requires us to be concerned and to reach out to them. It also leads us to tender grace when we might naturally think in terms of offense against us, and it demands that we seek to accept differences as a part of the other person’s God-given nature and as an essential aspect of that person’s story of life. Jesus cared for and about everyone that He encountered. In very real and tangible ways He lived as if He viewed everyone as His neighbor. I don’t think that it is too great a stretch of the concept to say that Christ desires for His followers to do the same with the people who surround us in the world where we live.

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1: 1, 2

 

The proverbial phrase, “You are what you eat,” has been around for a long time. It has been adopted and adapted into the title for books, lectures, television programs, songs, and other forms of popular expression. I think that its wide-spread use is an indication of the fact that there is truth contained in these words, for it may not be literally and absolutely accurate but it does convey a sense of functional reality. What we put into ourselves does directly and significantly effect how we live and even, to some extent, who we are. The author of this psalm is talking about something more important and considerably greater in its life-altering capacity than any of the meat or vegetables that we might encounter. He is speaking about the consumption of truth, righteousness, and all the rest of what is entailed in truly knowing God.

 

We all face this same choice. We can listen to the voice of God or we can select other ones to fill our minds and hearts. In fact, we will hear a wide range of input as we go about life, and we will all be subjected to good ideas and to poor ones in this process. Not everything that is said in the name of God will be true and useful, either. However, all of God’s Word is true, everything contained within it is holy, and the counsel of the Holy Spirit is unquestionably reliable. So, even when the words come from within the context of the church or out of the mouths of people who share a profession of faith, there needs to be a form of testing of the validity and the value of those ideas and concepts. That testing always involves holding the idea or direction up to the template of God’s Holy Word of truth, allowing His Spirit to reveal the application of that truth, and then in evaluating all of this prayerfully within the fellowship of trusted fellow followers of Christ.

 

The Lord has provided His followers with a truly marvelous banquet feast of truth, and the life that we are given by ingesting it is remarkable as it makes all of the difference in the joy and the peace that we will know in our journey through our days. Yet, at times we still decide to dine at the table of the unwise or, even worse, we fill ourselves up on the deadly counsel of those who stand in opposition to God and to His righteous way. In these times, Christ’s invitation to turn to Him, to repent, and to take a seat at His table of grace, love, and life remains open for us. The Lord invites each of us to come, sit in His presence, and be filled to overflowing with the law that brings life and by its hope and promise of eternity. This is a place where we are granted the opportunity to meditate deeply upon Christ, to be filled with His presence, and to prosper and grow stronger for this day of service to God’s kingdom.