Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.

1 Corinthians 7: 17

 

At first this verse might seem to be about contentment; about accepting who and what you are. Those ideas are exposed here, but there is also much more. This is about the fact that people are complicated and complex. We are diverse in ways that are both large-scale and obvious and at the same time, subtly nuanced or shaded. People are a direct reflection of the one who created us as we are so made in God’s image. None of us are the totality if that image in ourselves, but in the sum total of all of us, we begin to demonstrate a more complete expression of the Creator.

 

This does not mean that we each come into a relationship with God in a fully formed condition or that there is not growth and reforming to be done over time. God takes us where we are and as we are at that time, and He begins a life-long process of working on and in us to shape us into being a more fully developed person who brings the presence of God into the world. Yet, God’s acceptance of each of us means that His earthly family, His body, is populated by people who are different from each other in almost every way that it is possible for us to differ. This means that we are going to be in close relationship with people from other social and economic situations, with vast educational disparity, who speak various languages and do so with interestingly odd to us accents. God also brings together racial differences, cultural divides, and various political persuasions into one great gathering based upon faith in Christ and founded upon the fact that He breaks down all divisions and barriers between His people.

 

God calls upon us to live in this diverse and even troubling or uncomfortable environment. He directs us to focus upon our commonality in Christ rather than upon the differences that we perceive in our humanity. God directs His people to live out to the fullest the gifts, skills, talents, and personality that we have been given as all of this is a part of that complete image of the Creator that is formed by Christ’s body when we are gathered together. We can turn to Christ to help us gain in our ability to be accepting of who and what we are in His kingdom, and we can do the same regarding others in the body of Christ in order to come to a place of acceptance and understanding of them, for Christ’s grace, love, and wisdom are the gifts that He grants to us so that we can learn to live in the manner that He desires for us to do. In Christ and through His grace, we, His Body, are bearers of light in our world, and we bring forth the hope of peace that Christ alone sets out as the goal of life on earth and as the gateway to eternity.

 

 

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Do not trust in these deceptive words, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”

Jeremiah 7: 4

 

As Christians we may think that we hold some form of special place in our world where we have a historically long-standing position of authority in setting the direction for our society. We just might believe that others should listen to us because of what we claim to believe and in light of our sworn affiliation with God’s Word or with the church. I submit to you that this thinking is erroneous and also that it is damaging to our ability to truly follow Christ’s calling upon us in our world. It seems that Jeremiah is either quoting some form of formulaic oath or that he might be stating a belief that the temple itself held God’s power in a way that made it and its name into a form of talisman that could be used to accomplish the personal desires of people.

 

Most of us would readily agree that either of those ideas is wrong and that they are, in fact, rather foolish. Yet, we Christians often enter into equally shallow and wrong-headed thinking. We complain about our world and denounce our culture for their godlessness while holding bitter attitudes regarding the lack of an audience for what we want to say. We wring our hands and speak about God’s judgment when we are assembled together while silently gliding through our days as if we are afraid of someone in our social and work lives seeing us as one of those “crazy Christians” who takes what the Bible says literally. In fact, as it was for God’s people in Jeremiah’s day, our words matter, but our thoughts and actions are of much greater importance.

 

So, I think that this was the Prophet’s point here. What we say, the oaths that we might swear, and the outward affiliations that we claim are meaningless when it comes to our witness for Christ in our world if what we do and the motivation that drives our actions are not in conformity with God’s will, word, and character. Christian witness follows after God in that it needs to be relational. Christ is proclaimed when we step in to care for the weak, the marginalized, the powerless, and the unlovely in our midst. As we sacrifice our comfort and our wealth in order to reach out in love to people who may need food or shelter but who also desperately need a Savior, we bring Christ’s presence into another corner of our world. Thus, it is in loving engagement with our world in the name of Christ that our place of true significance in our world is defined and established.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

Zechariah 7: 9, 10

 

God stated a number of characteristics that were to be what would set the historic nation of Israel and its people apart from the rest of the world. These characterists came directly from the nature of God, Himself. One of the most important of these was the spirit of openness and acceptance for people who were from other lands, cultures, and beliefs. This ready acceptance of the foreigner into their land was derived from God’s primary desire to bring all who were lost and separated from Him into a transformative relationship with God.

 

This evangelistic purpose continues from the Old Testament narrative into the New with even greater emphasis on its centrality to the calling that is placed upon followers of Christ. We are to overcome our fears and discomfort with people who do not think, live, and believe as we do in order to allow Christ to work on their hearts through the connection that comes because of our relationship with them. In addition to Christ’s call to enter relationship with the foreigner, there is also this ancient mandate of God to care for the disadvantaged and the oppressed of the world. God’s people are to be the ones who bring mercy and comfort where the world has rained down oppression and pain.

 

These two biblical concepts still work together in our world today. Christ is our shield and protector. With Him there is nothing to truly fear except for refusing to follow His will. Wherever God’s people dwell there should be a place of rest and healing and a table of welcome set for the foreigner and for the disadvantaged people of our world. In a world where violence is a tool that evil uses to bring about a fear that separates people, Christ is the one true bridge into the peace that calms hearts and minds and that bonds souls together in love. As we welcome these sojourners into our lives, we are welcoming Christ to our table.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Matthew 5: 7

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119: 105

 

If you have ever gone camping and needed to move about at night, you can appreciate the importance of being able to see your feet. It isn’t so much that the feet themselves need to be seen, but being able to see what the feet were stepping on or running into does matter. Our feet are vulnerable, and they carry all of our weight as we move about in life. So, injuries to them can be painful and disabling, and missteps can lead to serious and even fatal falls. As we can see, the writer of this Psalm is taking the familiar scene of a dark night and rough terrain to walk across and fashioning a metaphor for the presence of God in our lives.

 

In our world light comes in two essential forms. One is the tangible form that is made up of electromagnetic radiation waves. This is the light that comes from the sun and that is produced when electrical current passes through a light bulb. The other is the non-tangible form that the dictionary calls “enlightenment.” Although God created the first type, He is the direct source of the second one. This enlightenment is at the heart of the first creation account that is found in Genesis chapter one, and it is what God grants to His people in the presence of His Spirit within us. So, in Christ and through God’s word we gain enlightenment for our journey through this world.

 

The writer of this Psalm is preparing for that journey. He recognizes the need to stay connected to God’s word of truth in order to avoid the sharp objects, the pitfalls, and the tripping hazards that line today’s pathway. He also knows that navigation matters in successful travel. So, he looks to that same word for guidance in setting the course and for the wisdom that is required to correct and to reset it along the way. God’s word provides us with the light that we need to navigate our way as we follow His calling to engage with our world, and His Spirit enlightens our hearts and minds so that we see that world with the eyes of God.

 

You will say in that day:

“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,

that you might comfort me.”

Isaiah 12: 1

 

The Prophet is looking ahead to a time in the future when God’s people, in his case the nation of Israel, will recognize their sinful disobedience of God and God’s faithfulness to them. Isaiah anticipates something that he has not seen. He dreams of the people’s repentant hearts. He is also very aware of God’s nature and of His desire for reconciliation with people. I doubt that Isaiah fully comprehends how God will cause this reconciliation to happen. He just knows that it will occur, and he accepts it on faith that it will be affected by the actions of God’s own Messiah. Isaiah doesn’t need to know more than this to trust God fully.

 

From where we reside in the long history of humanity, we have a different view upon God’s redemptive work. We have the testimony of God’s Word and of generations of people with all of it speaking the praises of Jesus, God’s Messiah, who has come and given His all to grant to everyone who believes that peace and salvation that God has always desired for us to enjoy. There is no question in my mind that I do not deserve the loving embrace with which God continually holds me. My thoughts and actions would seem to require a response that is comprised of punishment and rejection. Yet God grants grace and acceptance to me.

 

When I am disobedient and defiant, God provides me with His truth. As I turn away from love and embrace my own passions and desires, God shows me His better way. In all that I do out of willfulness, pride, anger, or fear; God walks with me and redirects my mind and my heart toward His righteous purposes. In Christ all people have been granted the gift of the ability to live with Isaiah’s hymn of thankfulness and praise on our lips during every hour of each day. In Christ we are given the comfort and the peace that come only in and through close relationship with God.

And one called to another and said;

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 6: 3

 

The seraphim have a very special view and perspective on our world. These angelic beings exist in that mystical realm that we call heaven where God resides with all of His own people and created beings. Although they do not possess God’s ability to see and to understand everything in that absolute and timeless way that God does, the seraphim do view creation with eyes that are not clouded by sin and are outside of the influences of our broken world. What they see and proclaim is wondrous, magical and reflects God’s intent for His creation.

 

The words of their advent chorus state an interesting paradox. They sing of God’s holiness. This is that perfect purity that defines God and that, due to our sinful lack of that same quality, separates Him from our world and us. Yet this quality that places God above and apart from us also causes His glory to fill our world. The words that are used here make it clear that this essence of God that pervades all of creation is substantial. It is not a mere vapor or a fuzzy sense of right and good. This glory is the tangible and very real love, peace, justice, grace, and mercy that God brings to humanity through and by Christ. This is what the essential nature of God pours out upon our world.

 

Isaiah’s vision looks forward to a time of restoration. God commissions him to call the people of Israel into repentance and a return to being committed disciples of the Lord. Although there is an end of times aspect to all of this, I do not believe that God is indicating that He wants us to remain focused on the time of Christ’s return. God desires for us to open our eyes and to see as the seraphim did. Even with its anger, war, violence, and pain, this world is filled with the essence of God that we can call His glory. It is present in Christ. It is communicated by God’s word and by His Spirit. It is given tangible presence by the actions and the words of God’s people. We all are to be today’s repentant disciples who bring the glory of our Lord into the darkness of our world.

 

 

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2: 10

 

In the United States it seems that we do not understand the concept of being a people as well as we might. We are such a widely diverse gathering of individuals who have racial and cultural backgrounds that have become a collection of most of the stories that are told of people groups from every corner of the world. In Peter’s time the world that he knew was beginning to become a little like ours, but the idea of being a people, especially the thought of being a select and a specifically set apart people who were designated by God for this position, was still clearly understood. Yet, even then, this concept of a separate people that was based upon nationality was false.

 

God’s intent was much greater than that. His desire was and continues to be to see all of humanity brought together. This was His creation design, and He has not changed the plan in the slightest from the dawn of creation to this day. God came personally into this world in Christ; the Messiah, Savior, Reconciler, and Lord; in order to bring about the destruction of all that divides. He is also the means through which the damage, the brokenness, of sin is healed. In Christ we people can find the commonality that bridges all of the fears that cut through our humanity with a jagged knife of division. In Christ there is race, nationality, gender, and culture. However, in Christ none these need to keep us apart. In Christ these distinctives are a part of the story of who we are, and they can be a part of the conversation that we have in the process of growing together in unity.

 

In Christ we are all a people. A singular, collective gathering of souls that resides in every corner of our world and that has a history as long and as richly diverse as the story of all of humanity. In the body of Christ there is no longer any reason to fear others, to separate from them, or to isolate ourselves from those who are different. Christ has granted to each of us the mercy of His grace. He demands that we do the same for others. As God has gathered us from that far away place of isolation into which we were born and given us a dwelling place in His presence, so we should reach out to embrace the various people of our world and through our lives show them the blessed mercy of Christ’s gift of restoration.