What then shall we say of these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8: 31

 

This is very confident verse. It is the sort of idea that can compel bold action and incite brave words. It is also an idea that has been seriously misused on many occasions, for much that is unjust and unrighteous has also been done while claiming the name of God as the impetus behind the deeds. I think that there is a basic line of determination to be observed in considering what is within the realm of serving God and what is done in service to self and to the world. In one sense it is as simple to discriminate as asking the question, “Is this something that Jesus would have done?” However, that question is never all that simple when placed into the complexity of the world as it is experienced. The other determinate that comes to mind involves the question, “Does this bring glory to God and serve the purposes of His Kingdom?”

 

These questions tend to sift out actions which are violent, oppressive, greedy, based in fear or anger, and other sorts of words and deeds that gain power and control for people instead of pointing toward Christ as the One who holds all power and who we trust to be in control of it all. So, I am led back to the question that Paul raises in the text. Who can be against us? Well, experience, both personal and that of people throughout history, says that many can oppose people who seek to serve Christ. In fact, this opposition is guaranteed in God’s Word, and the narrative of opposition is clearly one that runs throughout Jesus’ life.  We also live in a fallen and a broken world where nothing works as it was intended to in God’s creation design. Thus, people and things do work against us, bodies and minds fail, and the earth itself erupts and blows forth winds of destruction and chaos.

 

With all of this wreckage and destruction running about in our world and impacting our lives, how can the idea that none can oppose us in Christ still be true? We need to look at the setting of Paul’s words, for he is specifically speaking about our standing before God as people who have been made holy and blameless, justified, by the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. This does not guarantee an easy path through life or that we will not be opposed in small and in great things along the way. We will encounter many difficult and trying situations and antagonistic people, and these are the times when it is most important to remember that in Christ no can stand against us. When we are acting out of love, seeking after justice, lifting up the oppressed and the weak, and doing other things that reflect the heart of God in our world, we may get bloodied and battered, but we will be held up by Christ and the truth of what we do for the glory of God in our world will be known by the Father as Christ does proclaim us to the heavens to be beloved daughters and sons of the one True King.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 20, 21

 

On this date, July 4th, the United States of America, the country where I live and the one that birthed and raised me, celebrates freedom. This day is the singular great holiday on the nation’s calendar, and it is generally the occasion for a massive and hopefully unifying party. I do think that freedom is worth celebrating and also that the freedoms that are considered to be fundamental to the national character of the United States are truly worthy of a vast and universal party. We should gather at the hearts of our communities, play festive music, remember those who have sacrificed in order to secure our world and this nation, and light up the sky with fireworks. Freedom is more than a worthy reason for all of this. Still, I think that there is a freedom that is greater than all that we are celebrating today, and it is something that we certainly should consider as we put on our party clothes and sing out our national hymns.

 

The need for freedom comes about because of its absence, its loss. When God made this world He made it and us free. We had an almost unfettered ability to make choices and to enter into our roles as the rulers of our daily life on earth. God did provide guidance and law, He was directly involved with us on an ongoing basis, and people were granted responsibility and were given freedom that was in balance with it. We know the story. This freedom was taken to extremes and the responsibility to follow God’s will and to reverence Him above all else was set aside with catastrophic results. So, we live in a world where everything is distorted and corrupted and wherein it is hard to find the sort of true freedom that God designed and intended from the beginning of our world’s history.

 

This country does set out concepts and ideas that move in the direction of the form of freedom that God desires for people and for His creation to enjoy. Yet, I do wonder if we don’t get some of it wrong or at least in the wrong order. The greatness in this nation is found in its world-embracing diversity and by virtue of the gift of resources that allow for this soil to enfold people who come with nothing and grant them the opportunity to develop and to become contributors to the well being of others. This is a nation where humanity’s great conversations can take place in an open and protected environment in which understanding is the objective. We can meet and share our faith, our understanding of the nature and the person of God, our views on the makeup and function of family, how we care for this planet, and the best way to establish peace upon its surface and among its people. The ability to enter into these and many other discussions, both large and small, is a part of the freedom that God has granted to us here.

 

The glory of God is seen in our love for others and in our openness to hearing their stories and to caring for them. There is no greater freedom than what is found in the ability to set aside fears and to embrace God’s desire for reconciliation among peoples who have become separated by the human-derived barriers of this broken world. This sort of thing is the foundational greatness that can set the United States apart in our world. This nation has great resources, and I would pray that we would learn to use them to care for people who are in need. This nation grants many freedoms, and I desire to see us tender them to multitudes in order to narrow the gaps of understanding and mistrust that are prevalent in our world today. There is much to celebrate here today, and as we do this, I do sincerely pray that the glory that fills our sky will be that of the Lord as His desire and will for people to enjoy true and eternal freedom becomes the hymn of our nation.

How can you believe when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God.

John 5: 44

 

Jesus is questioning how far we will go and what we would be willing to do in order to gain recognition, fame, and glory. We live in a culture that is constantly elevating individuals to places of notoriety and that seeks to find people who have accomplished something special or who have achieved something that sets them apart from the pack. However, the problem that we have in all of this is that we seem to have such an insatiable thirst for vicariously viewing the activities of these celebrities that behaviors that are noteworthy only for their stupidity, harmfulness, or lack of righteousness are too often the ones that gain recognition. The other element of this thirst for prominence that was troubling to Jesus and that should disturb us is that people, in general, will gravitate toward sources of easy praise and will set standards of behavior for themselves that are intended to gain it.

 

Sadly, we humans will settle for the dim light of this sort of recognition when radiance like the sun could be ours. There is only one source of true light, for it comes from the Creator of all lights. In addition, real, lasting glory is the reflection of the character of God, Himself. Since God wants to be with us and to engage with us in our lives, and He works in our hearts and minds to transform us from being darkened by the stain of sin and its death to being radiantly alive in Christ, we have access to the glory of God.

 

The question that Jesus posed and that we should be asking ourselves is why do I seek the praises of people and compromise God’s standards for living righteously when I already have the gift of recognition from the great and generous Father? God continually pours out His blessings onto His children, they rain down like an unending stream of brightly colored confetti, and the Lord celebrates each and every moment that we choose to follow Him and bring light into our world. Let’s take the glory of Christ into the darkness that is trying to surround us so that we can share our knowledge of it’s one and only source with people who are desperately in need of something to celebrate and of someone who will lovingly care for their needs.

 

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11: 36

 

All is a really big word. Those three letters carry with them a wide range of inclusion. Although we often say “all” when indicating that something is exceptionally expansive, we seldom actually mean it. For example, “All you can eat” rarely means exactly that, for there are limits that the restaurant has established in order to survive. Yet when God inspired Paul to say “all”, I believe that He absolutely meant it. He is saying that there is nothing that we can touch, see, hear, or experience that does not have its origin and its terminus in God. Our world is populated and furnished by the hand and by the word of God. Also, all of God’s workmanship is intended to be dedicated and committed to Him. It is all, this includes people too, here to bring glory to the name of the Lord.

 

This idea is troubled by all of the sadness, loss, oppression, disease, death, and hatred that we run smack into as we live in our world. No one can escape the pain, hurt, and frustration that life will without exception provide. So, how does all of this come from a God who is loving and caring, the perfect Father? Where does brokenness fit into the handiwork of the Great Creator? How does suffering allow us to have the ability to sing songs of praise to the glory of God? These are among the questions that trouble the hearts and the minds of all people. The way that life goes is hard to understand, and God can seem to be far away and uninvolved when evil rules those days. Yet, Paul says, “All”, and he ascribes to God the glory for it all.

 

In order to make sense of it, we need to do some spiritual time traveling. We need to look at the two ends of the great story of Creation that God has given to us in His Word. There was a point when God brought our world into existence in which He proclaimed that it was good. Everything that He made was perfect and without the damage that sin causes. There is also a promised and foretold time to come when Christ will reclaim all of Creation from Satan’s destructive influence and presence; so, that original perfection will be restored to all. We live in the time that is between these two great epochs. Living in these days requires people to have faith in God. We also need to allow that faith to bring us to a place where we trust Him completely and with all things. Faith and trust lead us to hope and to obedience. These qualities then lead God’s people to a place in life where we desire to bring glory to His name by living in a manner that is righteously and graciously redemptive in all aspects of our daily lives.

Jesus laid hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.

Luke 13: 13

 

This is an extraordinary moment. It is so far outside of the expectations and of the rules for living that existed that this event had to be stunning to those who witnessed it. Yet, even in their amazement, they could not come close to appreciating what they were seeing. As Jesus was teaching the people who had gathered on this Sabbath day in the synagogue, He first spoke the words of truth in saying to the woman that she was free; then, Christ reached out to her and touched her. The audience for this event was shocked that He would even speak to a woman, especially to one who was unclean by virtue of the obvious disability with which she was afflicted. This was a disability that their theology attributed to sin. Then Jesus goes beyond shock as He actually touches her while proclaiming that she was healed.

 

This story is wonderful and even magical in its portrayal of God’s capacity to heal and with its clear demonstration of compassion, mercy, and grace. But I think that there is something else on display here. God has no particular need to come out of His place in the heavens in order to touch our world and its inhabitants. My mind can not contemplate anything that He is lacking or any rational reason for God to deal in such a gracious manner with us. After all, we are the ones who decided to distance ourselves from Him. We chose to go it on our own and to depend upon our own knowledge, wisdom and interpretation of truth. Just as our initial ancestors determined to move away from the Tree of Life in order to select their own nurture, all people are born dwelling outside of God’s eternal word. Then almost all of us choose to continue to live on the far edges away from eternity until Christ brings about His radical transformative work in us.

 

Like in the story of the woman in the synagogue, God in the person of Jesus the Christ reaches out to us. He speaks His truth in a manner that penetrates deep into the hearts of anyone who is willing to hear. God’s Word is powerful and speaks of a profoundly insightful new identity that He desires to grant as a free gift to all people. Yet God does not stop there. He entered into our world in the person of Jesus, and God continues to dwell among us and in those who accept Him in the person of His Spirit. God, the Almighty, the Creator and King, reaches out His hands to everyone. He touches us with love and acceptance. Christ tells us to stand and walk with heads held high for we are healed. It is in our new redeemed lives that we become living testimonies to the glory of the God who chooses to dwell among us

Have I not commanded you? “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1: 9

 

And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”

Matthew 17: 7

 

What is there to fear? Why has the subject of fearlessness been on the lips of God throughout history? God knows that we humans are not so very strong and courageous on our own. He has watched us shrink away from the brave act and the bold statement far too many times to count.

I am painfully aware that my own experience of boldly going where the Lord calls me to go is not very different from Joshua’s; and from Peter, James, and John’s. The Lord felt the need to tell all of us that we did not need to be afraid when we are in His presence, and we do not have any reason to be afraid when He is present with us, either.

Through God’s gracious love we can stand tall in this life. This is not because of prideful arrogance, but it is due to Christ’s transformational work in our hearts. As we have been dressed in the purity of Christ and given a place in the throne room of God, our life in the here and now has been elevated to one that is to be lived in the glory and the honor that is God’s. We simply need to recognize our new reality, and we need to decide to surrender to Christ’s work in us so that we can live in it.

 

Jesus tells us to, “Arise”. He wants us to get up out of our self-imposed misery of fear and doubt, and He will take us into the adventure and the glory of His purpose. Even when there are fearsome giants or powerful Pharisees waiting to attack us, we can face the day with the boldness of Christ. and we can claim the victory over evil that He has already won. Christ will take us forward into the promised land of a life in which every minute is lived in God’s purpose, with His blessing, and surrounded by His glory.

 

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in holy array.

Psalm 29: 2

 

Yesterday was Sunday; thus, it was time to worship God. This is the day where we set aside a few hours for this purpose, and that is a good thing to do. Maybe your dedicated time for worship is on Saturday; perhaps, it is on Wednesdays, or you give some time throughout the week to spend with God. All of that is good and worthy; yet, none of it truly responds to the sort of worship that the Lord wants us to give to Him, and it doesn’t correspond with the desires of our own redeemed and transformed hearts, either.

 

When I consider the sort of credit and the praise that is due to God based upon what He has done for me and the work that He continually performs in me, in other people, and in the world, I am faced with a task that is impossible to perform in a limited amount of time or in any one specific location. God’s glory is the light that brings life saving clarity to challenging situations, and it provides the heat that melts away the heart-numbing chill of sin. The glory of God reaches into every corner of this world and seeks to provide a loving and a nurturing environment for each individual soul on this planet. In order to truly recognize the Lord and to give Him the credit that He is due, I need to make worship the primary activity of my entire life; thus, the way that I live, the manner that I deal with other people, and the respect that I exhibit for creation are continual acts of worship for God, the Creator of it all.

 

Additionally, the Lord does want me to dress in my “Sunday Finest” when I engage in worship; however, I really don’t think that He cares much about what it is that I am wearing. The Lord wants me to respect Him and to honor Him by seeking to grow deeper in my knowledge of His ways, in my understanding of His will, and in the continual practice of righteous love. These are the garments of a truly holy array; for, God wants the world to see Christ when I interact with it. When that happens, true worship is the result.