For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefor, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

Almost all people desire to obtain freedom. It doesn’t really seem to matter what the circumstances of life may be, either, for freedom’s opposite, slavery or possession, is also commonly perceived. We are all owned by something or by someone; so, everyone experiences what it is like to be held against our wills. Most people actually volunteer for some of the tours of duty as indentured workers that play out over the course of life. It is the nature and the character of this world to attempt to control people and to hold us away from the full potential that was given to us in God’s design and plan for our lives. However, slavery is not the true nature of life, and bondage is not the condition that God desires for us to experience.

Jesus left the absolute freedom of heaven in order to live in our enslaved world so that people like you and I could experience the sort of freedom that God intends for us to know. The form of freedom that God desires for us to have does not operate as license to think and to act in any manner that we might choose to do. Instead, it is a form of freedom in which people willingly submit to God’s authority and rule. This freedom is restrained and it is self-sacrificing in that its primary purpose and use is for the benefit of others and for the glory of God’s name. The highest expression of this freedom is found as we yield our wills and subordinate our desires to God’s will as expressed in His Word and to the leading of His Spirit in its implementation.

So, this is the strange freedom that Christ leads us into. He sets us free from earthly bondage in its many forms, but He also asks that we submit to His will with all of our minds and hearts. Yet, this is not the same as being purchased by one oppressive master from another. The Lord does allow for us to make choices in all of this, and we are granted the free will to submit to God’s leading and desire for the conduct of our lives. For turning over control and guidance of life to Christ is the most freeing thing that anyone can do. He knows the gifts, talents, and skills that we were given when we were created, and the Lord directs us onto a path through life that sets all of that potential free for us to use. Thus, Christ provides us with opportunities to have an impact on our world that are such that we can touch the enslaved around us with the breath of true freedom.    

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And he said:

“The LORD roars from Zion

   and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds mourn,

   and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1: 2

Amos, the humble shepherd, speaks, and the world listens to his words, for he is speaking into history the heart and the desire of the Lord, God Almighty. For God does speak His truth to us. This was true in the days of Amos some 2,900 or so years ago just as it is still so today. For a time or even for a season it may seem that the Lord’s voice is silent, but that never remains the case indefinitely. God cares greatly for us, and He also is truly concerned about the way that we go about living. There is no aspect of the manner in which people exist and in the form that our conduct of life is framed that escapes the Lord’s view. So, we can count upon the fact that He will hold us accountable for all of it. The Lord will respond to the good that we do and to the despicably evil that we carry out or that we allow to exist through inaction and failure to hold ourselves and others accountable for following the mandates that God sets out in His Word.

Like the citizens of Israel and even of Judah we may think that we are experiencing God’s blessing because we are comfortable, wealthy, and powerful. Yet, this is all a false form of security, for its basis is not God’s will or the Lord’s expressed desire. Instead, we, like they, are smugly self-satisfied in the accomplishments of our hands and with the power and the control that we think that we exert upon the world around us. Although Amos has commenced his series of comments about the wickedness of the world and of its nations with pointed expressions regarding the various peoples and counties that surrounded Israel and Judah, the prophet will, in turn, spin about and point the Lord’s figure of judgement inwardly toward God’s own nation and its inhabitants. They were to be held to an even higher standard of righteousness and compliance with God’s stated will than were their neighbors. This is not just a historic comment; rather, it is a basic reality of God’s character. He does hold His people accountable for living out the love, grace, mercy, and justice that the Lord has poured over us.

We may desire for the Day of the Lord to come when He will speak forth truth and justice into the world so that all that is evil will be destroyed and everything that is out of conformity to His Word will be set right again. Yes, we might desire for that great day to come, but we must also realize that the Lord’s judgement falls upon all people equally. So, as the Lord roars from Zion with His voice of righteousness sounding forth the end of all that stands in opposition to His will in the world, its reverberations are felt most powerfully by those who are closest to the source. Israel and Judah would not escape from the earth-cleansing work that the Lord would accomplish over the next periods of time, and we will not be granted immunity from His judgement, either. So, today is a good one for each of us who seek to follow Christ to examine the depths of our hearts and to turn to the Lord with a sincere desire upon our lips to know Him well so that we can live out the Lord’s will and the desires of His heart. This is a time for repentance and for the restoration of our faith. Christ is calling to His people to turn from our arrogance, our willfulness, and to renounce the ways of the world so that we can truly follow him and bring the light of justice and righteousness into the dark corners of that same earthly expanse.    

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present of the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3: 21-23

It is easy to get caught up in identifying with a person, for the people that make a difference in the way that we see the world are important to us. For similar reasons, it is also possible to identify with systems of thought or philosophies regarding the conduct of life. It is a part of what we are as people to seek out ways to frame in and to define identity by using identifiable and tangible points of reference as our markers for the boundaries of who we have become. There is nothing wrong with doing this unless the person or idea that is so selected becomes our final or ultimate source of both identity and of the wisdom that we are seeking to grasp onto and to follow after. Then, we have stopped short of God’s intent for us, and we have potentially entered into the area of worshiping worldly idols.

There is an order to our world, and it is one that God set out and that He maintains. It often stands is contrast to the worldly structure that we have developed for ourselves and that we often attempt to establish as superior to all other ways of viewing what is right and important in life. It just seems easier, more relatable, or less challenging to grasp onto something that seems to be more closely related to us and to the way that we might think that we would like to see our world and engage with it. However, these worldly views of what it means to live well and to do good are false economies that lead us into settling for less than the great potential that God has established for us, and they can take us far away from the grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that Christ came into our world to make real and intimately proximal for us.

Christ calls to us to follow Him first just as He follows the will of the Father. When we do this, our allegiance is altered so that God’s view of the world becomes our filter for assessing truth and for determining what is right, just, and loving. At this point in our life’s journey identity, itself, is reframed so that we wish to be known as followers of Christ. There is real freedom to be found in this change in perspective, for it grants to us the ability to stand upon eternal truth as found in God’s Word as the basis for thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that stand against the ways of our world. We can care for others who are outside of the circle of concern that our society has set out, we are opened up to loving people that are viewed as outcast or as threatening by our world, and we are granted immeasurable grace in order to tender forgiveness to those who may have harmed us and to work toward redemption for all that is lost.   

Honor the LORD with your wealth

   and with the firstfruits of all your produce.

Proverbs 3: 9

These thoughts of reflection on this proverb need to come with a warning attached. So, to be open and honest, the reader should bear in mind the fact that I am a pastor and specifically that I am responsible for the area of finance for a church. Thus, the things that I say about what God’s people should do with their wealth could be thought to hold an inherent bias toward giving it all to the church. Well, you have been warned. It seems that a good starting point for these thoughts is to be found in a definition of wealth. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.” I agree with this with the possible exception of the use of the word abundance, for I think that each of us has something that can be referenced as wealth, but not all of us possess this in equal or in great amounts. Our wealth is the sum total of our financial resources in combination with our intellectual, spiritual, and emotional ones. These are then combined with skills, knowledge, and wisdom to form up the wealth that an individual has to use and to share with the world.

So, when Solomon says that we are to honor the Lord with our wealth, he is speaking of something much greater than just the money that we may have or obtain over time. When he says that we are to honor the Lord with it he is also advancing the concept far beyond the act of giving or donating funds to the church or even to the work of serving in the various ministries of God’s global kingdom. To me, honor suggests worship; it is an expression of praise, respect, and participation in God’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Christ to all peoples in every corner of the world. Thus, we honor the Lord when we seek out His will for the use and the distribution of the money that we have, of our time, with the skills and the understanding that we have acquired, and with all other assets that are under our control. God’s underlying desire is for each of us to be so committed to Him out of our deep love and respect for Him that we are truly seeking to follow the Lord’s lead and to take His direction in giving away the totality of our lives, that is our very being, to His use in service to God’s kingdom.

That defines the firstfruits of our produce in a more complete manner than does Solomon’s contextually appropriate agricultural example. The idea of giving the first harvest of our crops to the Lord involves trust and reliance, for there is no surety to the grower that the rest of the crop will be successfully harvested, and the first picking is generally the sweetest and the richest of them all. These are the premium grapes, the fattest heads of grain, and the most robust of the lambs and calves. The same elements of trust and reliance apply to the broader concept of wealth that has been set out here. The Lord desires for us to dedicate our best thinking, our strength and wisdom, the first of our time, and our pre-tax earnings to His purposes and use. This service of worship may be carried out in a formal ministry setting, but it may also be done in our homes or at our place of employment. The point is that the Lord wants His people to worship Him with each and every breath that we breathe and with all of the thoughts, words, and actions that we produce during the course of our lives. This sort of deep worship is carried out with prayer, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, and with the counsel of God’s Word. This expression of total commitment is the form and the type of honor that the Lord desires to receive from each of us as we dedicate all of our wealth to bringing glory to His name.  

A voice cries,

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Isaiah 40: 3

Wilderness is a strong word. It brings to mind vivid images, and it does this in most people’s imaginations, too. When we hear of wilderness, we may think about a barren desert place or the picture that comes to mind may be of rugged mountains with no one nearby. The wilderness that the prophet was referencing was physically near for the people of Israel, and their national story of years spent in a circular journey in it were also well known to them all. Yet, Isaiah was speaking in terms of the conditions of their hearts and their souls. The people and their nation were traveling through life in the barren dryness of a wilderness of faith. They had turned away from the sweet water of the Spirit of God, and their table was now set with the bitterness of prideful separation from their Lord. Although they may have been sleeping in comfortable houses, their hearts were residing far from the presence of God. 

Most of us can identify with aspects of this situation. It seems to be true that almost everyone goes through some of these hard and lonely times during the course of our days. As it was in Israel, these days spent in isolation and seeming separation from God can become the reality for our churches, our cities, and the nations that we call home. Individuals lose touch with God’s truth, will, and righteousness so that they may, in turn, lead these larger groups and organizations along the desert path. Sometimes we just touch upon the edges of the barren places and find that its harsh heat or emptiness are overwhelming. Then, we turn back to the sure nurture of God’s presence and the security of His Word of grace and truth. In many instances, we relocate to those rugged environs over a long period of time wherein a short day trip becomes an overnight camping experience that is followed by ever increasing days, months, and finally years spent in turning away from the Lord’s way of thinking and of living.

However deep we may have gone into these deserts of the soul, there is a way out. Even when we have traversed so far into the barren lands of rejection of God and the deep valleys of separation from the Lord’s gospel of love and grace, He is still seeking after each of us with the singularly redemptive intent of the shepherd who has nurtured and cared for His flock since the beginning of time. Life may seem like it is being lived out in an unrecoverable and lost place, but Christ is a singularly qualified and skillful builder of roads. He desires to lead each of us out of the living purgatory that we have exiled ourselves into, and when we open up our hearts to Him and surrender our lives to His loving authority and sovereign rule, the Lord comes to us where we are located, and He guides and supports us for each and every step of the journey back into the bountiful land that is found in the center of God’s will.     

Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him,

   but the righteous shall live by faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

The prophet was looking ahead into a future that would hold many challenges for people who follow God. There were powers in the world that were to be feared, and these nations had rulers that were greedy, prone to the use of extreme violence, and looking out toward other nations with an eye focused on conquest. The world was not a calm or a safe place, and many of the leaders of both the religious and the secular aspects of the nation of Judah were uncertain about how they should respond to all of these threats and the potential for threats that were so visible just beyond the horizon of sight and time. In this verse, Habakkuk is probably referring to the rising world power of Babylon and specifically to its king. It is his soul that is “puffed up;” so, the soul of the nation is also one that is defined by greed and arrogance to the degree that it has become self-important and operates outside of God’s guidance and righteousness.

This king is the sort of bright and shining star in the arena of politics that draws people into his sphere of influence. It is easy to see the success and to be taken in by the charm of power when it seems to be able to overcome many of the perceived ills of the world. In the days of the prophet, the great power in the world was Assyria, and their rule was accomplished through brutal violence and by virtue of a practice of bring about the total destruction of those that opposed them. Babylon was the rising nation to the east, and its approach to power seemed far more enlightened and compatible with achieving the peaceful outworking of a lasting and a beneficial relationship. Even if the king of Babylon was devoted to other gods and despite the fact that the nation was likely to seek to dominate others just as all of its predecessors had done, many of God’s people were drawn to the power, wealth, and accomplishment that they saw portrayed as an outward image. So, they were willing to look only upon the surface and not probe too deeply into the heart and the soul of the man.

This is Habakkuk’s warning. God’s people need to dwell in the realm of the deep. We must look beyond the glitter and the surface charms into the heart of the leader, and this is something that none of us are capable of doing without the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the process of searching and considering what and who are true, just, and righteous. These sorts of times are ones wherein our faith is truly tested. These are days when we are called upon by God to defy what might be common choice and popular courses of action in order to seek out God’s will in matters of civil governance and rule. This approach to making personal decisions and to seeking to inform and to influence the decisions of others may place a follower of Christ in a position of opposition to others who speak of the same relationship with God as we possess. Although we must remain loving and respectful in all thoughts and expressions of our beliefs, we also need to be bold as was Habakkuk in speaking out when we see wrong being perpetrated and as we see people heading into the trap of following power and dominion as if they were the marks of God’s blessing and His seal of authority.  

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10: 31

This is one of the most inclusive statements in all of Scripture. Yet, it has a very narrow focus at its conclusion. Paul had lived out of a very ridged and fully articulated form of rules and regulations regarding what he could eat, how it was to be handled and prepared, and who he could take meals with. Now, in Christ, he had a form of freedom that he would have never experienced before. Still, he was a man who understood the importance of self-control, and he also understood that this self-discipline was a product of Paul’s submission to Christ and to following God’s will in everything. Thus, he comes to the broad and highly inclusive aspect of the statement in his letter to the church in Corinth when he tells them to “do all” to the glory of God.

This all is very big word, for it does not leave much out of its boundaries. There is no space for personal beliefs or for secret passions. This idea of living out each and every moment of life for the glory of God is not one that Paul invented, either. It is as old as is the existence of humanity, for fully engaged, all-in worship of the Lord a part of the way that we were created to exist. Thus, when we hold back parts of our lives or determine to live out aspects of it outside of God’s will and righteousness, we are actually setting a course for ourselves that is at odds with our deepest nature. People are most at peace in our souls when we are living in obedience to God’s Word and in harmony with His will. So, in order to do this with the totality of our beings, there is no area of life that we do not surrender to Christ and live out in the full instruction of the Word and the on-going council of the Spirit.

At the end of his thoughts, Paul takes us to the truly narrow and singular focus of what it means to “do all” in this context. God’s glory is made visible by the manner that His people live out our lives. When we pour out the presence of Christ into the world around us, we are reflecting that glory. This is seen in the form of sacrificial love that reaches out to others and seeks to uplift and care for them even when that means giving up something of importance to ourselves. It is also demonstrated when we are more concerned with justice and with mercy than we are with safety or gain. Christ’s presence is brought into the public square when we hold up righteousness as the standard for behavior and as the foundation for all forms of policy and practice in our society. There are many other situations and instances wherein we can choose to bring glory to God or to deny Him through our thoughts, words, and actions. Paul tells us to choose to do it all for God’s glory.