Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them,

for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.

Isaiah 3: 10

 

This statement stands in the midst of a very sad and truly depressing commentary. God has shared through the Prophet just how much He is displeased with the way that the people of the nation are living. They have cast aside almost all practice of righteous living. Their leaders are ill-equipped for office, and their hearts are filled with evil intent. Yet the people do nothing to change the state of affairs. In fact, they continue to affirm the positions of leadership, and they seem to delight in the direction that they are being taken. It seems that God has been taken out of His place as their true ruler as if the nation has elected Him out of office.

 

But there is a problem with this sort of thinking and living. God is not powerless. He does not depend upon your vote or mine. He will not sell out truth, justice, and righteousness in the interest of securing the agreement of people. Instead, the Lord remains true, just, and pure. He is unchanging in His principles, for He is the bed-rock foundation upon which all that is good and holy in the universe stands. So, God presents each of us a choice. We can follow the easier path of our culture, or we can travel along the eternal way of our Lord. They were not the same in Isaiah’s day and they are not the same now.

 

God also provides assurances to His people. When He says that it shall be well with us, that is a very big statement. I think that the Lord means that regardless of what may befall us as a result of refusing to compromise God’s Word for the sake of embracing the cultural and national standards of thinking, acting, and rhetoric, we will be cared for. God will provide for His people through all times and in every situation. We may not have governmentally sanctioned bread, but we will have the bread of life that is found in the Eucharist. Our bank accounts may be more than empty; yet, in Christ, our resources are without end. Our tables may not be filled by the empty promises of human security; however, our souls will be filled with the sweet fruit of the Spirit of Christ.

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5: 1

 

Justice has become a hot topic in recent days. People’s understanding of it has been demonstrated to be a political issue as well. It would seem that how we view who and what is just is based upon the platform from which we view most of life. Some are standing on the right, some on the left, and others occupy space somewhere in between. All of this debate tends to take something that our society has worked very hard to make completely objective and casts it as almost totally subject to our personal and situational interpretation. This is not how our law codes and system of justice were designed to work, and this is no where near to the way that God engages with us and with our world.

 

First off, what does it mean to be just? A dictionary definition is; “Guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness.” So, when we are justified we are shown to possess the characteristics of a person who is just. In my experience, this is not who the vast majority of us, myself included, are in fact and in function. It is very hard for people to view our world and the others in it with the sort of unbiased and open-handed acceptance and grace that is at the heart of God’s concept of justice. We always bring our personal fears, concerns, biases, and prejudices to the conversation. Yet, this very human approach to engagement with the world around us puts us at odds with much of it, it makes reconciliation all but impossible, and we are placed in a state of tension and disagreement with God, Himself.

 

Christ came into this world to break through this and all other barriers that sin has built up between people and God. It is in Christ and through the work of His Spirit in us that we have hope of moving from this state of opposition and tension with God and into the peace that is the nature of God’s Kingdom. Christ takes us from a place of guilt and condemnation, and He stands before the judgment seat of God to cover our sin with His own righteousness. This is not only an event that takes place in eternity; rather, it is an action in which Christ brings eternity and its reconciliation into our world and applies the mercy and grace of God’s justice to us. God intends for justification to be transformative. We should be changed and freed from our natural prejudices and fears by it. As we view our world through Christ’s eyes, we need to become people who apply God’s truth to all of life and who reach out in love to make the grace of justice real for others.

For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.

Obadiah 15

 

The words of this ancient prophet have a very current ring to them. Although he spoke them almost 2,600 years ago, it sounds like he is shouting out a warning that needs to be given to our ears today. Perhaps very little has really changed in all of this time. Maybe we have not progressed as far as we would like to think? In fact, it could be true that our culture and our way of living in it have, in fact, regressed from even those dark days when God’s people were under the oppressive rule of the Babylonians. Whatever conclusion we might draw about the state of things in our times in contrast to those of people throughout history, the one fact that stands out clearly is that we people and our national governance live unrighteously far more readily and willingly than we listen to and obey God.

 

God has spoken, and we need to hear. The Lord sets out His desired responses to His Word, and we are required to follow. Each person is held accountable by God for the way that we respond to Him. God, the Father, has given us His Son, Jesus, as our only true and certain way into relationship with Him. Christ alone is our hope and our salvation. He brings renewal and restoration. This is true for each person individually, and it is also true for our nations and for all of Creation. The only real hope that any nation can have is found in following God and adhering to His righteous path. Yet, history tells us that nations seldom do this well. Governments are nothing more than temporary stewards of things that actually belong to God. Sadly, people in power rarely seek out Christ and His leading as their sole source of wisdom and insight when they seek to govern. Therefore, they will always make decisions that are formed and framed by the sort of human wisdom that leads to compromise and that misleads their people.

 

When our nations, states, and communities take action and pass laws that are contrary to God’s Word, people who know God can not just silently accept that outcome. This is true even when our culture says that our way of viewing what is righteous is too harsh and unloving or when the actions in question are framed in patriotic or nationalistic terms yet they stand in opposition to Christ and His purposes. This is the case when our government seeks to redefine sacred relationships such as marriage in terms that are not biblically accurate and when it devalues life by making the killing of the unborn a matter of personal choice and convenience. This is also true when we marginalize people by refusing to utilize our resources to benefit and build-up those who are in true need. We are guilty before God when we claim that we are seeking to end oppression yet we become violent oppressors ourselves.

 

This listing is incomplete, and the issues at hand are complex. Yet, God speaks very clearly about His response to our sinfulness. His time of judgment and final cleansing is very near. Christ will return, and He will purify and restore this world. God will reclaim all that has been broken and lost. However, our Lord does not want His people to wait for that to happen. He calls us to be active in bringing the truth, light, and love of His Kingdom to our world today. We may not change the outcomes of the ways that our leaders think and act; yet, Christ will be on view when we speak out in biblical truth. Our voices may not seem very loud in contrast to the roar of the crowd, but Christ will use our humble faith and trust for His purposes and for the glory of the Father. Truly, the day of the Lord is near, let Christ’s blessing be what is returned to each of our heads on that day.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They collapse and fall,

but we rise and stand upright.

Psalm 20: 7, 8

 

For a very long time I have had a fascination with almost all things that are related to the military aspects of our world. I read books about military history and I enjoy good historical fiction that is based in times of war or armed conflict. If left to my own choices, I will often gravitate toward watching films and documentary television that are set in and around these same themes. Yet there is one very striking image that comes out of all of this. This is a picture of the vast arrays of ruined and useless high technology, at least in its time, equipment that lies destroyed on the field of battle after an engagement. This same history informs us that there is no weapon that we can invent that can not be defeated. In fact, everything that we create will become obsolete and worth nothing more than the value of the metal that it is made out of.

 

In David’s times, chariots were very high tech, and they were expensive, too. They were the true shock and awe weapons of the battlefield. Likewise, horses equated to speed and mobility, and they gave their riders a huge advantage over foot soldiers. An army that was equipped with them was on its way to victory before the first blows were struck. Still, David knew better than to place trust in them. He knew that victory over all forms of enemy came from a source and for reasons that had little to do with force of military might, tactics, or physical courage. National security, personal safety, and even the process of seeking justice for oppressed people were founded in prayer, on God’s Word, and by His leading. These are what the expression “the name of the Lord” means to me.

 

When we trust in God’s name, we are exercising faith in the One who has the eternal history of saving His people. God’s call to us is toward peace and His desire is for reconciliation. Chariots and horses, tanks and bombs, and drone aircraft and electronic surveillance are not implements of either peace or reconciliation. In simple terms, I do believe that Christ came to end war. He brings about the means whereby all people can achieve peace with God and with His Creation. It is out of this peace that we can also gain the necessary respect, reverence, and understanding of others that can lead to true peace among the various peoples of this world. The landscape that we walk is littered with the debris of war. There is brokenness, disease, and the sour smell of vengeance everywhere. However, in the midst of this horror, the sweet fragrance of Christ’s grace, love, and mercy comes like a soothing breeze to heal the damage that our fear and anger have caused. So, let’s choose to dismount from our war-making stance and follow Christ into peace-making humility and grace.

 

 

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.

Acts 17: 6, 7

 

What a charge to have brought against you! Condemned for “turning the world upside down”. In more modern terms, they are charged with shaking up the system or with challenging the way that people in power are ruling and the decisions that they are making. So, the people of this town, Thessalonica, want to stand Paul and other followers of Jesus before the magistrates and have their seditious ways dealt with firmly and finally. You see, these Christians are trouble makers. They don’t act like the rest of the people. They proclaim allegiance to a different king. These men and women follow Jesus.

 

Their loyalty to Jesus is more than just an outward expression of submission to power and to enforced rule. The Romans who rule the land can never leave their swords behind, and their soldiers are quick to defend the rights that Caesar, their king, has claimed over the lives of the inhabitants of all lands where they are in power. Jesus is different. He commands that His followers lay down their swords, set aside dominance in humble submission to God, and seek to love the very people who oppose them. In this Christ-centric culture the strong give up their possessions and their position in order to care for the weak and the impoverished. They even do this to take care of the needs of people in far away lands. This sort of self-sacrificing and anti-consumerist life makes no sense. It was as troubling and anti-culture then as it is now.

 

It seems to me that our world is at least as worthy of being turned over as was the one that Paul lived in. There is much that can be done by each of us who know Christ to stand in opposition to the direction that our world is going. We can and should speak up and out for what is true, righteous, and holy. In doing this we need to continually seek God and be committed to listening to His voice as He directs us. Although we can and should care about the course that our nations and their leaders are following, we must also realize that we serve a different and a greater king than any national ruler. We also live in a far greater kingdom than any country can ever become. Our primary loyalty and our principle focus needs to be concentrated on knowing God. We do this by constant prayer, study and submission to His Word, and committed response to following Christ regardless of the cost. Perhaps then, we too can be accused of “turning the world upside down.”

 

 

 

 

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Psalm 133: 1, 3

 

If you have lived in a very dry climate, as I did during my growing up years, you can appreciate David’s simile in this Psalm. In the early morning hours the parching dryness of the previous day is often soothed by a form of cool moisture that is far less than rain in its volume but is still quite real. It seems to settle on things in general, but plants and small animals, in particular, just drink it in. If you are out in the morning just before dawn starts to break, this dew can feel like the breath of God is being sent to cool off your overheated skin. It is refreshing at a very deep level. It is encouraging and creates a sense of optimism for the day to come that is like those perfect words that a good friend knows how to say at exactly the right moment.

 

As the morning dew that comes off of the snow cap on Mount Hermon settles equally on all of the land around it, so a desire to live in unity brings hope and opportunity to an entire community. Unfortunately, most people do not make unity a very high priority. We would rather protect and defend all that we hold as important, and we fear that which is different. So, we marginalize, label, and mindlessly chant our personal patriotic hymns with the intent being to demonstrate just how wrong these human differences are and how dangerous these others can be. We set up ourselves and those who are indistinguishable from us as the models of all that is worthy of God’s grace and blessing. Thus, we cast all others into the category of unworthy in the eyes of God.

 

This is not the Lord’s view of how life is to be lived and of how God’s people are to conduct ourselves as we dwell in the land that God has granted to us as His stewards. The people of Israel were commanded by God to love and to care for their neighbors. Their mission was to be living examples of the difference that knowing God makes in the way that life is conducted. This principle of extending love applies even in the face of hostility and rejection. The cross of Christ is the great and singular unifier of all people. None of us are righteous without it, and all of us can be unified at its foot. It is our desire and commitment to pursue spiritual unity that provides the promise of true peace. This peace is not found through treaty or by diplomacy; rather, it comes about as people gather into communities that are bound together by the gospel of Christ. Then as those communities reach out to love all the others that they encounter, God’s soothing dew of the morning will blanket all with the hope of unity.

 

 

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to reclaim our freedom. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We need to stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.