So teach us to number our days

   that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90: 12

Moses knew something of the strange fragility of life. He lived out his days, and then they were done. He saw many others do the same thing. Some of them did great things in the world, but spent very little time in the presence of the Lord. Others turned toward God’s way through life in their later years; yet, they were true champions for righteousness during their last days. Moses had always existed under the Lord’s protection. His early days were secured in the house of earthly royalty as he was singularly selected for future greatness, and the Lord never ceased to provide that sort of care and apparently angelic covering for him as he traveled and wandered through life. Every experience that Moses had was a part of the Lord’s preparation for what was to come in his life. Each encounter that he had with the forces of this world was another instance in which he was led by God’s hand to his place of destiny.

As the leader of the exodus from Egypt is nearing his last breath on earth, he is sharing great wisdom and truth with us. Each of our days is something precious to be considered as a gift from the Lord. Every hour that we have on earth is time to be redeemed for the sake of God’s kingdom as we follow His will. This day will never come again, and these hours will not be returned to us once they have elapsed. Now, in truth, none of us do this very well. People tend to focus on the immediate and embrace the urgent as our first priorities. This was true for Moses, and it has remained so for people throughout time. Yet, this fact of human functionality does not need to remain true for any of us. We can be trained to consider the Lord’s will as primary and His direction as the path that we will follow in all situations, under any conditions, and for all of the days of life that are to come.

This refocusing of life will not eliminate the existence of that which is urgent from our days, but it will provide us with a new and more fully defined response to these situations and circumstances. As God’s Word becomes our first and primary source for understanding what is true and worthy as a response to all that life has sent our way, we will also turn to prayer and the influence of the Spirit of Christ in forming thoughts and in deciding what to do. God’s Word, prayer, the presence of the Spirit, and the fellowship of Christ’s body are the tools that the Lord has provided for us to use in order to live each moment of our lives in service to the Lord’s will. When we are fully yielded to this form of service, Christ will lead us into using the days that God has granted to us for the sake of His glory so that each hour of our lives can be counted as one wherein the gospel of Christ was on view for the entire world to see. 

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Acts 18: 9, 10

There are many factors that cause us to get soft in our zeal for being openly and overtly Christian. These can hit us at almost any time during our journey through life. They take the form of concerns about the feelings of others, fear for our own acceptance, and struggles with how others will treat us. In some situations and in some places in the world the concerns and fears also focus on personal safety. All of these were on the table for Paul as he traveled about his world teaching about Jesus, and this is why Jesus came to him in a dream and shared this thought with him. You see, even the great teacher and writer of the truth of God’s word, himself, was fully human and shared the same sorts of doubts and fears that we all do.

Christ wants us all to grab hold of the fact that He is actively involved in protecting us from all of the real harm that concerns us. The Lord owns this world, and He is the One who is sending us into it to serve Him. Instead of fearing what is in the shadows, we are to be the ones who bring the light of God’s truth there. Rather than back away from hostility, we are to share the love of Christ with people whose spirits are troubled. When there are voices telling us to be silent and to hold our tongues regarding our faith and trust in Christ, the Lord, Himself, says to check on the real source of those words and to continue to speak boldly and clearly for His name’s sake.

There will be attacks, for there is an enemy, and evil does not like to lose its grip on the people that it uses for its purposes. There is also a God who is infinitely greater than all of the forces that Satan can bring to bear in his cause. Remember that Satan is the creature while God is the Creator. Also, this fight is already won, for Christ has claimed the total victory. It is the calling, the mission, and the purpose of everyone who has joined Jesus in that victory to live as if we understand and fully accept it so that we are not silenced by any personal concerns or doubts. Be brave, be bold, and be fearless in speaking the love and the truth of Jesus as you walk through your day, for nothing can truly harm you.

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

            ‘You shall worship the Lord your God

              And Him only shall you serve.’”

Matthew 4: 10

This is not a thought that I can claim as great and unique revelation from God. In fact, it is almost laughable to even state this idea. But here it is, Jesus got life right all of the time. That is, when He said or did something that was in response to the sorts of issues and struggles that all people face while living out our days on earth, His responses are the model for the rest of us to follow. This scene involving direct, face-to-face temptation by Satan is not one that I have experienced, thankfully! Yet, this is what is occurring to all of God’s people every day of our lives. Satan is active and seeks to entrap and devour people. Often the methods and the means that he uses involve people and situations that on the surface seem safe, attractive, and benign. However, evil surrounds us; it has infiltrated the very structure of our world, and it always leads people away from God and His righteousness.

What does it mean to live righteously? That is a complex question that warrants examination and that each of us should explore prayerfully with God. However, in simple terms it means living in a manner that is fully consistent with God’s Word, that brings glory to His name in our world, and that declares Christ through the sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and truth that we live out regardless of life circumstance or situation. This is not exactly an easy path to follow or one that will guarantee popularity and success in human terms. Yet, anything and everything else is functionally and factually idolatry. It is setting before us a standard for living that comes from a source other than God, Himself. It usually places us as the arbiters of what is right and just so that our personal desires, lusts, and comfort are served while the sacrificial love of Christ is hidden and locked away.

So, on view here we have Jesus’ most direct response to the sort of pressure and temptation that we face. Satan has asked Jesus to bow down to him and offered the world as the reward. When we turn away from thinking, saying, and doing what is loving, gracious, merciful, understanding, just, and truthful; we are agreeing with Satan’s request. For us humans the tension that exists between evil’s continual appeal and God’s will is going to continue throughout our earthly lives. The situations and the power of the temptation will at times be subtle and deceptive and at others it will carry the force of a great waterfall. That is why Jesus’ modeled response matters so much. We certainly can and should invoke Christ and His Spirit’s power in order to resist evil in all of its forms. Yet, there is much more here. The real answer to temptation is found in worship. Righteousness is made real and is understood more fully as we bow down before God. Temptation is defeated as we remain with our hearts and minds focused on Christ and away from ourselves.  

I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know you have little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3: 8

If we think that the world that we live in is antagonistic toward our faith in Christ, perhaps we should consider the one that this church at Philadelphia occupies. Whatever we face might start looking very tame and civil in comparison. Still, without regard to the nature of our times verses those that are to come in the future, there is something truly important to consider and to hold onto for all of us in the church of Christ today. These people were lifted up as examples of what it means to hold onto their faith as they endure all that the world throws at them and continue to serve Christ in all that He calls upon them to be and to do. This will not be easy for them, and it is certainly not simple or easy for us either.

In fact, the nature of the times that we are a part of is such that I think many Christians today do resonate with the fact that we feel powerless. It seems as if the voice of love and of reason that we have learned to utilize as an imitation of the manner and the tone that Christ would have us use to engage with others is no longer useful or even considered to be worthy of hearing. These are days when shouting with the force of a hail storm has been deemed to be the only communication style that will be heard. Yet, no one grants others the respect that is necessary to actually hear what is being said. In fact, very few people today care about what others have to say or would grant the possibility that a differing opinion could possibly be right. This appears to be the case when the oppositional view point is expressed by people on their own, and it is equally true when the other ideas are coming straight out of God’s Word. 

Still, Christ tells us to not lose heart in the face of this violent storm that is the nature of these days. Instead, we are to continue to provide a counter narrative to the one with which our world is filled, for Christ desires for His people to stay steadfast in speaking the truth of God’s Word while also loving the people that we encounter. This might be easy to say, but it is not so simple to do. This requires that we be people of patience who stay true to Christ’s calling to be peacemakers in our world and to be agents for redemption in our relationships. We are to continue to proclaim Christ as the only eternal answer to all that is broken, painful, and lost in our world, and we are to refuse to respond to this world’s call to isolate ourselves from people who are different or who might cost us something real to love and to care for. The door to eternity stands open before us as dose the door to Christ’s cross of redemptive sacrifice. Thus, the path to that desired eternal rest leads straight into the teeth of the storm that is our world as our Lord calls upon His people to remain true to serving Him in His strength with all that we have to give. 

For the LORD gives wisdom;

   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

   he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.

Proverbs 2: 6, 7

There are words all around us. They are shouted out in the morning, and they are whispered into the dreams of the night. Many people attempt to influence others into thinking in a certain manner by using skill with expression or through the pouring out of an overwhelming volume of sound and its accompanying fury. Yet, in all of this flood of thoughts, opinions, and concepts, there are only a few words that are spoken from a reliable source, and there is only one ultimate author that should be given complete acceptance and listened to with undivided attention. For in all of the aggregate information and influence that is out and around us in our world, only the words that God has set forth and ordained as His are absolutely thrust worthy, and come to us with the certainty to inform our journey through life in a manner that is both good for us and that brings healing to the hurt places in our world.

People who realize this eternal truth and who therefor seek after God’s Word with consistency and with diligence are to be sought after. They are aware of the sorts of wise things that are good and useful in living out each day as people who desire to love others well, to care about justice, and to hold up righteousness as the standard to follow through all of life. So, these are people to follow, and these are people to draw near to when we need understanding and guidance regarding the challenges and the struggles that we are facing. All of this sounds so serious and heavy; yet, there is great humor to be found in traveling in the presence of the Lord. He sees the irony and the curious silliness of life in a manner that only one who is very close to the subjects at hand could view them. So too does the person who dwells in the presence of the Creator hold a special place in his heart and mind for all that is light and humorous that comes about during these long and too often arduous days.

God’s wisdom is to be sought after. It is found in His Word and illuminated by His Spirit. These are the words that cut through the distractions and the untruths that are so prevalent in the air that we breath in our world. The Word of God provides the foundation from which all other thoughts, ideas, and concepts can be judged and evaluated as to their validity and usefulness in providing guidance for us. Thus, people who hold God’s Word as sacred and who search its depths as their source of wisdom and encouragement are to be valued and sought after. These are women and men who do dwell in the presence of the holy, and they are people who understand that strength of character is a gift that comes from the Lord and that love is the Godly characteristic that prevails in the face of all other forces and factors that might come at us during the day. People who so value the word of life that comes straight from the mouth of the Creator are to be prized, and their wisdom, grace, love, and humor are valuable beyond all measuring. 

Dedicated to Mark M. upon entering the next phase in service to our Lord.  

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2: 15

Almost everyone uses tools as a part of the what we do during the course of a day. For some, there is a specialized set that are designed to equip their operator with what is required by the task at hand. These implements may be a mechanic’s wrenches and gauges or they might be the scalpels, forceps, and suture needles of a surgeon. Most of us also use words and the language that is formed up out of them in various ways as we go about doing the tasks that we have been called upon to perform by God and by society. This is the area of concern that Paul is discussing with Timothy and with us. The Apostle cares about the way that we express and describe our faith in Christ, and as we go about the ever-present task of speaking about Christ, Paul makes it clear that God’s Word is something that is to be taken seriously and that it is to be handled with care and with respect.

God did many remarkable things in the process of inspiring and empowering the creation of His Word. It is a unique document in all of the history of this world, for it spans an enormous range of time, has multitudes of authors, was written in several languages, and represents a full range of humanity’s experience of living on earth as people that are called upon by God to dwell here as His chosen care takers and workers in the various and variable fields that have been provided to us to cultivate over the course of those centuries of history. Truth is contained in those pages, and the truth that is present there is one that leads people out of death and into life. This real and ever-applicable divine truth speaks to all occasions and to all situations that have ever presented themselves to people and to our societies. God’s truth informs us of His love, justice, grace, mercy, and holiness in a manner that we can seek to live out these holy characteristics in our lives.

So, do not be mistaken in this, if a person is a follower of Christ, then that person is also called by God to be a worker for the sake of the glory of Christ’s name and in the various fields of God’s kingdom here and now on earth. In order to do this work most effectively, we need to be equipped with the tools of our trade in Christ, and these are the spoken words of the gospel of Christ and the lived out language of love, service, and care for others that is Christ’s model. Paul is charging us with the responsibility to be careful and wise workers, ones that stay true to God’s Word and that follow the leading of the Spirit rather than the new revelations that people are continually attempting to set forth as revised and better understanding of God’s will. God’s Word is not fragile, it will not be broken by even the roughest of workers, and it will endure until the end of days when Christ, Himself, is again upon this earth in the flesh. So, we who are called to labor for the gospel in the name of Christ, can be confident in taking up that word of truth and in allowing it to guide all that we think, do, and say.