Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,

   but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Proverbs 14: 21

The people who live near us are not always nice and pleasant to be around. In fact, they can be utterly nasty and difficult. So, when the concept of neighbor is expanded to include the much wider range of locality that God tends to place into that word by way of meaning, the prospects for being required to engage with people who cause me anxiety, anger, or even who invoke hatred is greatly increased. But Solomon was not finished there when he set down these words of wisdom for the ages to come. He jumps from people who live in some form of proximity to us to the inclusion of others who have little to no economic means, the poor. Although any one of us may not have financial resources that place us among the elite of our world, most of us are also not living at the level wherein meals are doubtful and shelter is not even a dream that we can entertain. Yet, there are large numbers of people who, for various and often complex reasons, exist well below the governmentally defines poverty line.

These poor are everywhere in the world. There is really no culture or location that does not have them in its midst. This has been true for most of the earth’s history, too. In this simple, proverbial statement, the poor of the world are transferred from the realm of those who exist out there away from my door and they are brought into my front yard. Thus, they are defined as people that I need to care about at the level of individuals who have a story to tell and whose lives have an impact upon my own. There is no longer any escaping a certain responsibility to them that is placed upon me by God. Even if society might turn away from them, governments may try to regulate their coming and going, and the world attempt to deny them the basic dignity of recognition as God’s own beloved children, God does not grant His people with the right to think and to act in these ways.

We are to open our doors to our neighbors and to seek to know and to understand them. In so doing, we have the best opportunity to present Christ and His gospel of redemption to them. We are also made vulnerable and our personal strength and capacity to care for others is severely tested in the process of entertaining these neighbors. Yet, these are also times when we are taken ever deeper into our faith in God and dependence upon Him as the resource that we call upon when we reach the end of ourselves. Now, Christ adds to the mix of people who fill up the neighborhood where we dwell with the poor, the disadvantaged, the homeless, and the troubled people of our world, and He tells us to treat them as we do our neighbors. We are to look them in the eye, reach out with the hand of fellowship and care, and grant them the dignity that is their right as God’s creation. Christ loves these people greatly, and He calls upon each of us who follow Him to do the same.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker,

   but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

Proverbs 14: 31

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They shall not hurt or destroy in all of my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11: 9

 

What a time to consider; what a glorious day this will be! Think about what it would be like to walk out of your door into an environment where everyone and all things were not just filled with an understanding of God and of His ways, but they are actually infused with the Lord. The essential make up of this world is all God. That is the picture that Isaiah paints for us here.

 

Although this is a future promise, and we can do nothing to influence the moment in history when God will make it so, this is also a statement of the potential that exists within each of us. As we stop fighting against God and make peace within our own hearts with His will, we begin to move into this eternal state of shalom with the Lord. I know for myself that the more I set aside my will and seek the Lord’s, the more His presence will fill me.

 

As I am filled with this intimate knowledge of the Lord and as I allow His Spirit to change my being into the one that He calls me to become, my life is changed into one that reflects more fully the Lord’s desired state of being as a person who is intended to carry God’s image into my world. In these days, this is an important way for this full knowledge of God to be communicated to the world; for the Lord uses the lives of His followers to make His love, grace, and redemption real to other people and to bring His healing touch to all aspects and to every corner of this world.

 

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

Psalm 139: 16

 

There is a perfect balance and symmetry to the number of days that each person is granted in this life. Admittedly, that idea seems to be absurd to people who are faced with the end of those days, but it is a fact that has remained unchanged throughout human history. It is something that we can do nothing to change; yet, we are granted the opportunity every day to determine the effect that those days will have on our world. God, the Father, has granted to each and every person certain aspects of Himself; these are the qualities, characteristics, and talents that define our God-image bearing selves.

 

We get to put those gifts of the Lord to work. We are granted the freedom to choose to enter into relationships with others and to love them. The impact that our days will have on our world is something that God trusts us with. He provides the basic material for us to use in seeking after His way, and He grants to each person the opportunity to be a world changer. How we go about this is up to us. The most powerful thing that anyone can seek to do is to live in a manner that reflects the most basic and foundational of God’s character qualities. We can enter into life with an uncompromising passion and a commitment to care about and for others, to protect the weak, to support righteousness, and to love everyone regardless of what they return to us.

 

God entered into my life; for, He came to experience all of the joy and all of the pain that life affords, and Christ took Himself to the end of those days with purpose and with the intent clearly defined that His death would bring about my life. Christ engages with me during every moment of each of my days, and He grants me the ability to follow His lead by entering into the lives of others in a way that brings them into contact with life, itself. This is the nature of those days that God has ordained for me and for everyone. We can choose to follow Christ and make the moments impactful. God has given us the gift of Himself invested totally into each of us, and He has granted us exactly the right number of days in which to use that gift.

 

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

John 17: 17

 

Jesus says these words while He was praying to the Father seeking God’s continued care and provision for His followers. They are together in a room in Jerusalem, and Jesus is fully aware that He will soon be arrested and tried for committing absolutely no crime. In these hours of intimate community gathering with the people that God has given Him to disciple and lead, Jesus turns to the Father, and He expresses His total trust in God’s grace and love. This is essential, for Christ knows that life for His people will never be easy in a world that is ruled by compromise, deception, and selfish desires. He also understands our human nature very well; so, in order to protect us from the trap of following the way of this world, Jesus asks God to take us, His people, deeper and ever deeper still into His truth.

 

Truth is an interesting idea, concept, and entity. In our world it is often considered to be a highly malleable thing. It is shaped to fit the situation, and it is formed around the desired outcome. Truth is managed in a manner that makes many of the common sources of it highly suspect. We live in times where most people no longer expect to encounter truth in our public interactions. Thus, we are distrustful and skeptical, and we spend our lives trying to gain the upper hand by aggressively shaping the truths that we share. If we stop the rush through life long enough to consider what Jesus was saying, it should be fairly obvious that He had something different in mind when He spoke about truth.

 

In God’s view of things, truth is not an idea or a concept. It is not something that changes with time or with the times, and human perspective has nothing to do with understanding what is true. For God, truth is. Truth is the touchstone for life. It is that solid base upon which a life of integrity is built. Truth is an absolute that does not allow room for compromise or for doubt. When it is applied to our lives and to the relationships that we engage in, truth brings people together, and it is an essential ingredient for finding peace in our world. As Jesus says, this vital component of sacred life is found in God’s word. We gain it through God’s written word, by the Holy Spirit’s expression of it to us, and through communication and communion with the Spirit filled people who form the body of Christ in our world. When we seek truth, God transforms us as truth conforms us to Christ’s image. As we take truth and apply it to living, that truth touches the secular and turns it into the gloriously sacred.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5: 18, 19

 

It seems that everyone has had the experience of being in an awkward place with another person. I know that I have been there, and this is not a pleasant place to be. You are concerned about running into the other person and often do things to avoid those encounters. Some of these difficult relationships are never resolved. They stay strained and broken for the rest of time. This is where humanity is at as it relates to God. We exist with a relationship that is strained beyond breaking, and this is the nature of that interaction that we each receive as our birthright. The single greatest tension that every newly born person encounters is this one in which we engage in an internal battle between our separation and independence from God and our need for relationship with our Creator. This struggle finds its resolution in and through the presence of Christ in our lives. There is no other way or means for each of us to enjoy reconciliation with our God.

 

Now most of us, when we are distanced from another person, go to almost any length to avoid our antagonist, or at least we do this until the situation is right for us to engage with that other person. This is not the way that God operates. He boldly approaches each of us, and He lays out His desire for restoration and for deep and intimate engagement for us to plainly see. The Lord is unceasing in this pursuit of us, and He does not stop with it until we relent and turn to Him through Christ or our days on earth come to their end. There is absolutely no escaping or avoiding an encounter with God. We can accept the love and the grace that He desires to pour out upon us during this life, or we will face judgment for our rejection of it in the life to come. For those of us who have put aside our avoidance and surrendered ourselves to Christ, there comes a new freedom in this life and with that freedom there also arise new responsibilities.

 

We are free from the burden of prejudice and that of fear. We can journey through this world without the shield of protection that comes about as we set out our differences from others and hold onto human distinctives as our marks of superiority or authority. In Christ we are brought to a level of worth that is equal to all other people, and this is the highly elevated one of bearer of God’s image. As we have received mercy, grace, and the love that sets us free from sin and its death, we are also empowered and freed from the bondage of broken-world thinking that works to separate and to divide people from each other. By dwelling in Christ, our eyes should be opened to see the beauty and the God imbued value of every person on this earth. This eyes-of-Christ vision removes the worldly divisors of gender, race, societal status, and nationality from our consideration of whether we should seek out, defend and protect, or share the love of Christ with any individual or group of people. Our Lord’s directive to us is to be imitators of Christ. That means that we join with Him in holding out forgiveness and in granting grace to everyone. We are to become relentless workers for Christ who seek to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel to each person that we meet and who also promote that attitude in our homes, churches, and communities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51: 10

 

Creativity is a wonderful thing. Its presence within us changes the way that we see our world. It makes colors brighter and sounds more vibrant, and it allows us to more fully see the wonderful depth and glorious variety that is present in the people that we meet. We enter into the realm of creator when we paint pictures, transform words into stories, mold ingredients into a meal, and see the beauty behind the woundedness of people’s lives. I think that this quality that we call creativity is something that God, Himself, put into us as His hand shaped each of us. It is a part of who God is, and so it comes into people by virtue of the fact that God makes us in His own image.

 

When David wrote the words of this psalm, he was desperate and deeply troubled by the ways that he had turned away from God. He realized the depths of his sinfulness, and he also knew that he wanted to return to God’s righteous way of living life. David needed a Creator to see beyond the depravity and the broken nature of his thoughts and actions so that this lost son could return to the presence of his Lord. David had turned to the right place, for God does look beyond the surface of our lives so that he views all that is within us. However, He views what is there with an eye attuned to the possibilities, the potential, and God’s view of us isn’t impeded by what is present now. In fact, God desires to take the misshapen lives that we are living and reform them into ones that bring His glory into our world.

 

When the weight of his sin was too great to handle, David turned to God seeking forgiveness and restoration. We can do the same thing. We can trust God to listen, to hear us well, and to see the tarnished beauty that is the redeemed nature of His beloved child. In the great act of re-creation, Jesus took all of our sinfulness upon Himself. As we accept Christ as our Lord and submit to His grace and to His will, we enter into that creative rebirth, and His Spirit begins to work within us to reshape and reform our hearts and our minds into ones that portray the character and the nature of our Creator. God’s creative nature provides great hope to me, for it speaks to the fact that He sees the potential for living out His will in my life that lies beneath the damage that I have caused. For Christ takes the broken stones and shattered windows that I have caused and transforms them into His marvelous dwelling place.

 

 

 

 

Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Ephesians 4: 24

 

This may not be a very popular thought to share, but it does seem that in the world of Christian faith many of us get really focused on the anticipation of the return of Jesus and on all of the good things that we believe will be accomplished at that time. We look forward to the end of the struggles that are so very real in our lives, we anticipate the day that our knees and our backs won’t ache, we dream of a day when we will no longer be forced to count our pennies in order to try to figure out how to handle the mountain of dollars that our bills are demanding, and we fixate on a moment when our hearts will no longer be broken. These are good things to anticipate, but they should not represent our greatest form of hope, and that form of change must not be our primary interest.

 

You see, Christ has already come. He is here, and He is alive and in command of this world. Certainly there is a promised future time when the Father will send Jesus back to this world to completely take it away from Satan, and at the end of that process, this world will be restored totally to its created state of glory. But there is a much quicker way to get there for people who are willing to respond to God’s call to our hearts and join Christ in the fight for the souls of people. We need to accept the fact that personal changes, the areas where we need Christ to work in us in order to transform us in His image, are even more important for us and for God’s kingdom than that final permanent restoration of all of Creation. For as we are changed from our sin-afflicted human parent images into our grace-of-God given created image, we are made over into people who bring that same grace and love into this world, whose ability to remain hopeful through all that life throws at us is noticeable, and who are never self-satisfied but are always seeking to know the Lord more fully.

 

The pain of life and of living is real, the challenges are grueling, and the fears that it all generates are intense. Still, these are the elements of our existence that demonstrate the need for a relationship with Christ, and living through these events and times should cause us to seek to know Him better. The Lord does have answers for us, and He seldom responds to our needs by removing the source of the struggle. Rather, God usually brings about another step in the life-long process of change from old self into Christ-like newness. How much we embrace transformation is our choice; yet, as we seek it and focus on it, we bring the glory of the Lord more fully into our lives, and we spend more of our time in the real presence of God.