Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God and afflicted.

Isaiah 53: 4

 

Isaiah saw things that were outside of his own time and beyond the scope of the world here he lived. He certainly must have been a man with a powerful imagination, but he was even more a person who listened well to what God had to say. His story points to the fact that he desired to know his God well and that he was willing to submit himself to serving God with all of his being, and God responded to Isaiah’s deep commitment to Him by granting to him the vision of a prophet. Here Isaiah is looking some 700 years into the future to see God’s provision of the Messiah, the one who would come to bring salvation to the people of Israel and to the rest of the world as well. Isaiah tells us of God come into our midst in this world, but he also tells about the humanity of this new form of king as Isaiah’s telling portrays the servant nature that would characterize Jesus.

 

In this section of the prophecy we see something about Jesus, and so, about God, Himself that I think matters greatly. For we get the picture of the way that our sin and the brokenness of this world weigh upon God. He is not immune to feeling and to experiencing the pain and the suffering of the people of this earth. He is close to us so that He is very aware of what is transpiring in this world, and what we think, say, and do matters greatly to our Lord. Thus, when we attack each other, God knows our pain; as people oppress others, He knows great sorrow; in our hours of desperation and loneliness, the Lord knows our tears and longing; and when these bodies fail us, Christ desires to hold us up in our weakness and comfort us in our pain. Jesus lived in the swirling cloud of the suffering of this world, He breathed in its caustic dust, and Christ knew the anger, rejection, and pain that our sinfulness poured out upon Him personally, Jesus experienced the rejection that humanity threw in the face of God, and Christ still granted grace, mercy and the love of eternity to each of us who turn to Him.

 

God’s grace and His intention to lavish it upon His Creation is a truth that comes from far beyond the extent of time as we count it. The grace that redeems and that restores is rooted and grounded in the nature of God, and it finds its expression out of the Lord’s character. This nature and character are extraordinarily relational, for God operates in close proximity to all that His hands have made. Thus, He feels what we do feel, and He responds to all that we experience. Jesus knew in His flesh and in His spirit the full range of all that we encounter in life, and He walks through it all with us. As we live in this world with the sorrow and the pain of sin infused into its twisted fabric, there is no escape from hardship and sorrow; yet, these struggles and their attendant pain and grief can be times of growing significantly more in touch with the presence of Christ in our lives. He is here with us, and His presence is not that of a distant observer. Instead, the Spirit of Christ is within our experience of all that comes our way, and He will grant to us the comfort of an eternal perspective and the mercy of a peace that enfolds the hardship of life in the embrace of the true lover of our souls.

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On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

Psalm 145: 5

 

The bible can be something of a word museum, for it is a place where language that seems to come from another time and a different sort of place can be found and considered. Majesty and its adjectival form, majestic, are like that. We don’t use those words much today. This may be the result of a modern aesthetic that doesn’t incorporate this concept in that things are too clean and efficient today to be granted the mass and the non-productive lines that gain the descriptor, “majestic.” But I think that there is something else beyond pragmatics involved in its removal from modern society’s list of useful, descriptive expression. Majesty suggests something or someone that rises high above the rest, that is ascendant and that stands in a superior position in relationship to all of the rest of our world. We struggle with accepting the fact that there can be people and things that can be in such an elevated place relative to us, and people truly fight against placing God onto such a plain.

 

We tend to desire a god who operates mostly like a well-intentioned friend or neighbor. We are good with comfort and advice, but we are ready to leave the kitchen when the conversation turns to moral and ethical absolutes and to righteous living. These are the field wherein our own understanding is the one that rules the day as we write out the rulebook for life with easily changeable words and ideas that we hold close to our own hands so that they can be changed as needed to suit the path of travel that brings about comfort and satisfaction. This approach makes it hard to contemplate a god who stands apart from us on a level of absolute righteousness and justice. This bringing down of God to my level also makes it much harder to grasp and to understand the magnitude of Christ’s gift of love, grace, and redemption. For if He operates solely at my level as an understanding companion and a voice of reason in a troubled world, the depth of descent that the cross required and the enormity of the sacrifice that God endured in order to bring about salvation and redemption for me can not be truly appreciated. Christ came from the greatest of heights to enter the deepest of depths in order to grant you and I the right to stand blameless before Holy God.

 

This fact and the reality that it conjures up are worthy of my meditation and contemplation. If I am to truly appreciate God for who He is and in light of His nature, I need to take a step back from the rapid pace and the efficient processes of my day so that I can kneel in humble submission before the wonder and the greatness of God. He is truly ascendant above all of creation, which is all the work of God’s own hands, and the Lord applies His benevolent rule to every aspect of existence. There is nothing that is outside of God’s authority or beyond the application of His Word. There is also nothing that any of us will encounter that is not covered by God’s grace and wherein we will journey outside of the possibility of His mercy and redemption. As I draw breath, Christ desires for me to use the life that it gives as a testimony to His presence within me and to His love for the world that I touch. This life that I have is a gift that my Lord has granted to me to live out in righteous peace and justice in conformity to God’s Word and in response to His Spirit’s direction. I come to know this direction as I meditate on the truth of His Word and as I contemplate the living majesty of my Lord.

 

Forgive us our debts,

as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6: 12

 

Forgiveness in its totality, its width, breadth and scope, is not a very comfortable subject. Most of us don’t really want to admit that we have been wrong, and when we do know that about ourselves, we still pull back from actually seeking to admit the wrong-doing and attempting to do something positive about the harm that we have caused. If I look at my life with any sort of clarity and honesty, there are many things that I say, do, and don’t say or do that are cause for hurt or pain for others. Yet, there is not all that much that I recognize as harmful and then enter into the process of restoration with that person. This also works in reverse, for seeking out a person who has wronged me and with gentle and loving concern attempting to work through the hurt is risky and uncomfortable.

 

In our discomfort and relational fearfulness we leave behind us a debris field of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and relationships that are tarnished and scarred as if they have been assaulted by a sandblasting machine. Jesus is speaking to this sort of interpersonal damage when He leads us into praying about forgiveness. At this point we also encounter the underlying basis for all of the tension and the strife that we create in our lives. We have done the same things to God. We are rebellious and defiant, we seek after our own way without regard for what is right, and we manipulate and control others for advantage; and we attempt to do all of this with and to God as well as to other people. We humans are just not all that pleasant to be near at times.

 

Regardless of the way that we behave and the things that we do, God continually holds out a hand of mercy and has a heart filled with loving grace. He comes to us and even follows us when we wander to the far reaches of the earth. God also sees deeply into our hearts; so, He is ready and prepared to engage with us in all matters and with every issue of relational breakage that we might need to repair. The Lord wants us to take responsibility for what we think, say, and do in our relationship with Him and with other people. He is present with us and will walk into and through all of this hard journey of self-discovery, repentance, and rebuilding of trust and respect. Christ pours out God’s grace on us, and He leads us into doing the same with others. As we know Christ and follow Him, our lives are marked by forgiveness granted before it is requested, accepted in full faith and trust of its genuineness, and sought out whenever there is a hint of hurt or harm done.

The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished,

He will keep you in exile no longer,

but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, He will punish,

He will uncover your sins.

Lamentations 4: 22

 

Let me risk the obvious. The world is a mess. Maybe it is a product of age or is caused by experiencing an especially paranoid patch of life, but things seem worse today than at any time in my memory. The way that people engage with each other and the manner in which they dialogue about their differences is harsh, angry, and lacking in the heart of understanding. There is a hopelessness in the air that is frightening in that it doesn’t anticipate a better tomorrow. In light of all of this, I think that the author of Lamentations helps us understand our world and our participation in it with the sort of clarity that comes from God.

 

We are not innocent bystanders to all of the chaos that fills our world. We, and I speak of all people who name Christ as Lord today and throughout history, have played and do play a role in creating and shaping this mess that is the relational and physical architecture of our world. We have not been diligent students of our God, and we are not devoted followers of our Lord. We tend to do these things as they fit our desires, wishes, and preferred outcomes. We are proficient at shaping our god to fit with our self-determined comfortabilities, and this is sinful idolatry in God’s eyes and it is fatally destructive to the world we live in. Yet, in the midst of our wandering away from Christ, there is hope beyond imagining.

 

God’s love and grace as depicted and perfected by Christ overcome all that we think and do. Jesus saves us, and He redeems us; then, He restores our lives to God’s intent and desired usefulness in our world. I believe that this intended purpose is directed toward Christ’s work of redemption. So, we are intended to be peacemakers, sacrificial lovers of people, and bearers of the light of the gospel. God clearly says that He will deal with His adversaries. So, we are not called upon to be crusaders seeking to purify our world by wielding a self-determined righteous sword. Christ calls upon His people to live as shepherds who will not rest until all of the lost are found and redeemed. This calling demands that we seek God’s grace and healing in our lives and in those of others and that we submit our anger and fear to Christ’s unfailing protection and love.

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18: 23

 

A lot of people think that God simply does not like them. They believe that He is angry with their life choices, with their attitudes, or simply with them. They stay as far away from God and from anything that is related to Him as is possible. This is understandable for people who don’t know God. It is easy and often natural to have an unclear and a distorted view of the Lord’s character and intent toward people when He is only known about and not known in an intimate way.

 

Sadly, God’s own don’t always help the cause of understanding, either. We lash out in angry words and actions against people who can’t be held to a standard of righteous behavior since they don’t hold the key to righteousness. We approach a discussion about life and lifestyle in a manner that points to the bad behaviors of others and heaps guilt upon their heads. This is not how God does the same things. Behaving as if we are angry with people does not show them the face of God; instead, it pushes them away from Him.

 

The Lord is very concerned with the way that we live, and He sets very clear standards for people’s behavior. Still, He knows that living up to His standards is impossible for people who don’t know Him. God cares about the relationship that people have with Him. He wants all people to know Him personally. The Lord directs His children to show others the truth about Him and His character and to help them understand the reality of the love that God has for everyone. The answer to the evil that is rampant in our world is not anger, and it is not separation leading to isolation. Rather, it is found in loving those who don’t know Christ; it is found in connecting with them and in understanding their needs. God’s response to lost people is demonstrated by his attitude of sadness at their lack of hope, and He commands us to share this concern and to act upon it by sharing the love of Christ with others. The evil of this world needs to be confronted with the soul saving truth of God’s grace, restoration, and love.

 

 

Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2: 4

 

Repentance is a word that most people would prefer to leave out of our functional vocabulary. We can readily embrace the idea of God’s kindness and of His loving grace. We rely upon the fact that God is patient with us as we test the waters of sinful thought and behavior, but it is harder to connect His call to repentance to it all. Yet it is exactly what God does call upon people to do. Repentance was the cry that John the Baptist uttered as he announced the coming of the Christ, and God continues to call to all people to turn away from the sin that entraps and destroys and to embrace the purification and restoration that Christ grants to us.

 

Repentance requires for us to accept the fact that we are sinful beings. It is based upon the realization that there is a dramatic and total divide between the ways of this world and those of God’s kingdom. Thus repentance demands that we change direction, turn around, and surrender ourselves totally to God’s way of being. Until we accept the necessity of such radical submission to Christ, we will continue to struggle through a life in which we seem to gain ground for a while and then give it all back in times of weakness, discouragement, or doubt. These periods of return to old ways of functioning are discouraging, and they are not the way that God wants to see His people living. He gets no pleasure from our suffering and our struggles.

 

It is a simple fact that God is very slow to judge. Without question He holds all of the evidence that He would need to convict every one of us of our capital crimes. Still God is the kindly and loving Father who waits with great patience for His children to embrace His truth. He withholds the judgment that we all deserve in anticipation of our turning to Him. God wants for each of us to make the decision to seek Him out. He grants us that ability, and He allows us opportunities to continually seek Him and His righteous way. God’s grace and His kindness are offered to us in order to call to us out of a life of self-determined worldly truth and into an unending, moment by moment state of yielded submission and total surrender to Christ and to His transformative truth. True repentance is not always easy to engage, but it is more than worth the pain that is involved for it leads us into the will of God

Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

2 Timothy 1: 8, 9

 

When my tongue is still as I am faced with words and actions that are just wrong, why am I silent? It is not as if I have the excuse of not having access to guidance regarding what is right. There is no absence of instruction, teaching, and sound advice to be found in the waters where I navigate. Still, I find myself struggling to stand firm and to speak out clearly with a voice that is filled with God’s righteous truth. This is one of the great paradoxes of our human nature. We can be remarkably bold at times, and we can just as quickly find ourselves hiding in that infamous closet of cowardice in the next instant. I wonder how much of this vacillation is caused by fears that are shaped and formed by the erroneous idea that we need to do it all out of our own strength and capacity. So, it is our fragile ego that is on the line when we stand up and stand out.

 

Paul is telling us to view things differently. First off, he shares a little of how he holds himself. This powerful, well-placed and independent man describes himself as Christ’s prisoner. Paul has surrendered his life to serving God’s calling, and he willingly follows as God leads. This is true regardless of personal pain, loss of status, humiliation, and even the risk of death. Paul willingly relinquished his considerable strength and skillful knowledge in order to live in the fullness of God’s grace and to function at a very high level for Christ through the power of God and in service to His Word. The Apostle, leading by example just as Christ has done, instructs us to do the same.

 

We need to realize at a very deep and personal level that all that we do and that everywhere we go is covered by God’s grace. We also need to accept that, as followers of Christ, every instant of our time in this life belongs to Him. We are indebted to Christ for this air of freedom that we breathe; for, this is air that was purchased with His suffering and consecrated by His blood. Still, even as we are bound to Christ by our debt, He does not keep us locked away in a cell of darkness. Instead, His grace and His loving will send us out into our world. We are granted our freedom in order to live in the light of Christ’s righteousness and so that we can testify to God’s truth in our darkened and sin-controlled world. There is no time, place, or situation where we should be ashamed or fearful when we are living and speaking God’s eternal word of truth.