In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

Ephesians 1: 7

So, here is an admission, and it involves an amazing fact of life that I find personally too true as it is way too frequently my current state of affairs. That is, even after many years of living in a relationship with God through Jesus, I am still in need of redeeming. I seem to find myself stuck up to the axles in mud holes that I should have and certainly could have avoided. Among these slick and slimy places are the situations when I am disagreeable and cause other people pain; and then there is the way that I waste the talents, gifts, and resources that God has blessed me with. What I find even more disturbing is that this list barely scratches the surface of the ways that I continually test the Lord’s redemptive grace.

Yet, He never stops coming to my side with His sleeves rolled up ready to do the heavy work of getting me out of the deep mud of sin. The Lord brings the cleansing of His truth into my life, and He shows me how to move forward with the ability to avoid the old errors. Christ does much more than this, too; for, He doesn’t just take me back to where I was before; instead, the Lord’s view of restoration moves me ever closer to Him and makes me continually more like the God-image bearer that I was created to be.

It is important to remember that the grace of Christ is greater, deeper, and more prevalent than any bad actions or misdeeds that we can ever engage in; also, we need to focus on the fact that God wants to walk with us through this life and that He seeks to bring the sin-healing properties of redemption into each of our lives. Whatever the current state of affairs in your or in my world, Christ’s blood has already paid the price for our admission into the continual presence of God and for our complete acceptance there. We can embrace that fact as our personal reality; then, we are able to start seeking the redemptive changes that will continue to fill our days fully with the sweet aroma of Christ’s righteousness.  

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Matthew 4: 11

There is something that I need to admit. I have never seen an angel. At least, I have not set eyes upon one that I was aware of looking at. Still, I believe that they exist, and I am certain that they are active and involved in our world today. The scene that Matthew records is the one in which Jesus was tempted by Satan over a period of forty days, and this is that point when the test was finished, but Mark makes it clear that these angels were with Jesus throughout the ordeal of temptations and deprivation. The presence of these angels, I think, had less to do with the fact that the person who was receiving their support and aid was God, Himself, than it was a part of the way that the Father cares about and for this world and its inhabitants. Angels seem to do various forms of work and take on tasks at God’s bidding. He sends them forth to enter into the events and the situations that are present in our world.

They seem to be operators in the background of the world for the most part, but there are times recorded in scripture when they are involved on the front lines of the action and where they are seen and known by the participants in various events. Their purpose is always to serve God’s greater mission, and they never seek to be thanked or worshiped in any sense for what they have done. Their actions are a form of worship that they are giving to the Lord, and it would appear that their reward is found in simply existing in the presence of God. So, if I haven’t seen them and they don’t want to be recognized for what they do so they are perhaps a bit shy about being noticed, why do I think that they are real and prevalent in our world? Could it be that they were either an aspect of an earlier age in history only, or that they are nothing more than a part of myth or of the telling of fanciful fables?

So, my belief in the presence of angles is based upon the fact that they are mentioned some 203 times in the Bible with their presence, actions, and purposes being well and thoroughly described by numerous authors along the course of that narrative. Beyond that, there are instances in life that are hard to explain without the interaction or the interjection of some form of wise, capable, and powerful forces that comes from outside of the perceived world at hand. These hand of God moments could be the direct action of God, Himself, but they could also be the work of these angelic beings, who are acting in agreement with God’s will and His plans. Recognizing the presence of angels in my world has one primary purpose, and that is so that I will remain mindful of the remarkable presence of God in the environment where I dwell. The Lord literally saturates this place with His presence. He walks upon this earth through each and every aspect and facet of every day that the Sun rises and sets, and His hand of love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness is not absent for even a second of those days. These angels, who I do not see but know that they are with me, are proof of God’s profound and unceasing care for all of His Creation. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6: 19, 20

 

There was a time when people relied upon a human High Priest to go for us before God and to offer up our repentance and requests for forgiveness. Although these men were well chosen and were generally reliable, they were human, and they were far from perfect themselves. Additionally, they were just like the rest of us in that they too were in need of repentance for their sins and the forgiveness of that sinfulness that only God could give. But things have changed, and we no longer have a need for these human priests to go to God for us. Jesus turned that entire system upside down, or perhaps more accurately, He set it all right again.

 

God created this world and us people to be in a direct and very easily obtained regular, even daily relationship with Him. He desires to be able to walk with us and to talk with us about all of the aspects of life and of living in a manner that is as easy and direct as is a conversation with my closest friend. The distance and the formality of the Jewish temple order was the result of a form of separation of humanity from God that came about due to our sinful pulling away from Him. Yet God did not leave things like that. He sent Jesus into our world, and in His sinless perfection Christ broke through and tore down the curtain of separation that had been constructed. Christ brings us into direct contact with God and into complete communication and total communion with our Lord. This was not a temporary fix, either, for things will never go back to the way that they were in those days that came between our rebellion and Jesus’ coming.

 

In Christ, we can be confident of our place and our standing before God. He does go before us into the presence of the Most High, and Christ speaks in defense of our new status as redeemed citizens of the kingdom of God. Through the work of Christ, we are granted a certain place, that sure anchor for the soul, within God’s favor wherein we are included in His purpose and plan for the redemption of this world. We are saved into this secure status through the work of Christ alone, and we are granted confident access to the presence of God in all aspects of our lives by the mediation of Jesus for us. In addition, Jesus, our eternal High Priest, has sent His Spirit to dwell with and within us in order to provide that regular, routine, and on-going conversational communication with God that was the Father’s desire and intent from the beginning of time.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up

and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

Psalm 30: 1

 

We all live out our days down here on the earth and in its crowded clutter of good and evil. We really do not have any other choice, for humanity has not colonized another planet and mental departure from reality is never more than temporary and partial escape. The way our days will go is directly influenced by the pull of gravity upon our bones as we are weighted down and pulled into engagement with the forces that are at work in our environment. Yet, there is a way out of it all. Not that we actually leave the cares and the trials of this world behind, but rather, the impact of it all is changed as our perspective on everything is transformed into one that becomes more like God’s.

 

As we lean into Christ by surrendering our selves totally to Him and by exploring God’s Word, the weight of this world is lifted from our backs and the impact of its forces upon our hearts and minds is lessened. The truth and the insight about all aspects of life and of living that is contained within the Word provides encouragement for hard days, peace to weather the storms, quiet when all is in uproar, and the bottomless wisdom of eternity to point us toward God’s righteous path through our days. All that is gleaned and gathered in from God’s Word is made real and we are given understanding concerning it as the Spirit reveals its depths and applications to our hearts and minds. In this way Christ lifts our vision out of the hazy confusion of the world around us and into the clarity of His heavenward view.

 

Yet, at the same time as we are drawn up by Christ into the glory of God’s presence, we are also lifted up onto the cross of surrender that our Lord endured for the sake of our salvation. For Christ does require us to give up our hold on this world and to let go of our tenacious grip upon the things that we hold as personally dear about the life that we have known outside of relationship with God. The glory that I am to know through Christ is reached only by enduring the shame and the pain of that cross where Jesus was hanged in my place. Them, as I absolutely surrender my life to Christ, He begins to remove all of my old way of thinking and acting as His Spirit reforms my heart and reorients my mind into those of a fully committed disciple of our Lord. Thus, in total surrender to Christ, I am drawn up into the full presence of God.

 

Know that the LORD, he is God!

It is he who makes us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100: 3

 

The fact that the writers of God’s Word used sheep and shepherds as images to describe the relationship that exists between humanity and our Creator is very interesting. There was certainly a component of convenience to this, for sheep were plentiful throughout the lands and the times of the Bible, and they provide numerous examples of relationships and engagement in them. Sheep are also known for possessing qualities that demand care and provision by a wise and knowledgeable keeper, the shepherd. Yet sheep have also gotten something of a bad reputation when it comes to some of the aspects of their nature and abilities. For one thing, sheep are considerably more intelligent than people often grant them credit for being, There is a documented case from Yorkshire in Great Britain where sheep defeat the metal grates in the road to get to the lush gardens beyond by laying down and rolling across the hoof guards. That does not seem to indicate a lack of brainpower. Sheep follow the leader and flock together in order to achieve the protection of many, and sheep will selectively eat the plants that they need to cure illness and to supplement their diets with something that is otherwise lacking.

 

It would seem that sheep are far more capable than we often grant them credit for being; yet, they still need a caretaker and they flounder and fail without someone to provide them with direction and a shepherd to define and guide their purpose. All of this would seem to create a good picture of how people interact with God. The Lord made us and gave us intelligence and capability to live and to thrive in this world. His creative handiwork is beautiful, complex, and complete, but it is not intended to grant to us everything that we need in order to live well and to travel through life successfully. We were created to dwell on this earth in relationship with each other and with God. People do not possess the ethical and the moral foundation for living righteously without the presence of God in our lives. Although we have the intelligence and the drive to devise those foundational structures for our societies, we lack the selfless guidance of eternal truth that is necessary for this work. On our own, we lack the care of the shepherd to set direction and tone for our lives.

 

God does this for us. He leads us along the paths of life in ways that take us out of our natural drive toward self-care and that leads us into engagement with others for their sakes. God provides His people with a greater understanding of what is right, loving, and care-giving than we would ever achieve on our own. He guides us along a path that leads to justice, peace, and the deep joy of the Lord’s presence. God grants to us a purpose that matches well to the needs of the pasture where we dwell. He values each person as a beloved child and as an important member of His flock. God’s Word feeds us, and we are sheltered under the covering of the Lord’s sovereignty over all of creation. As sheep, we are loved, cared for, and led into service to our Lord and to the world where He provides us with the pasture that we need to achieve His plans and purposes for the life that the Lord has granted to each of us.

 

 

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10: 12-14

 

This may be shocking news to some of you, but you can stop striving so hard. In Christ, the work is done, completed, finished. We can just sit back and wait for our reward in heaven. Well, no! Yet, the hard work of gaining God’s favor has been taken on and perfectly completed by Jesus. His was a labor unto death, and that death granted life to each and every person who would agree with God and relinquish this world for the sake of that new life in Christ. In this new life, we are free to rest in the security of our status before God, and thus we are set free from the requirement to perform for the sake of our daily and our eternal position in God’s eyes.

 

The rest that we enter into because of Christ’s work on our behalf is a very active form of rest. It is modeled after a totally engaged and involved Christ as He may be resting from the work of sacrifice, but He is not on sabbatical from the work of bringing about transformative change in the lives of His people. Christ continues to speak love, grace, truth, and righteousness into this world. He does this through the Word of God and by means of His Spirit. Christ’s sacrifice has granted to everyone who believes in Him an immutable place of dwelling in the presence of God, and in this relational and positional security we should be able to find the sort of restful peace that leads to ultimate freedom.

 

Thus, as free women and men, we can enter into the chaos and the hardship of our world with a form of joy in our hearts that is produced by Christ and is made tangible to us by the encouragement of His Spirit. As we join with Christ in engagement with the lost and the broken people and aspects of our world, we are His agents who do work toward the Lord’s victory over His enemies. Thus, as people come to know God through relationship with Christ, they are no longer His enemies but rather are adopted as beloved children. As evil is confronted with love and mercy, sin-fractured elements of creation are redeemed. So, through obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our freedom is used for the sake of God’s glory and to grow us up into full maturity in Christ.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5: 24

 

When I think about a flowing stream, my mind gives me a picture of a peaceful, mountain setting with the water rushing past and the air filled with the happy sounds of splashing and crashing currents. This is a peaceful and pleasant scene; it is one that brings on a set of thoughts that are visual, auditory, and whole-body enveloping in nature. There is life in this place. The promise of refreshment and nurture fills the moment. Also, power is present. That water is relentless in its forward motion, and it will sweep along all that gets into its way. It cleanses and it purifies as it helps to shape the contours of the world that it touches. The stream that Amos calls upon us to envision is eternal, and it can never be dammed up or even slowed down. It flows from the very presence of God.

 

Although justice and righteousness come from God, He desires for us to be their champions. It would seem that living justly starts in our hearts. It is something that does not come all that naturally to people. Instead, we tend to take care of our own wishes, needs, and desires preferentially to seeing and to engaging with those of others. We may say that we desire to live in a just world, but our definition of what is just tends to be much narrower and personally safer than Christ’s. Whereas He holds that all people deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and love; we tend to make significant exceptions to our list of qualified recipients. Christ grants grace, mercy, compassion, and healing to all. We condemn and judge far too many. According to Christ, there are none who do not deserve the chance to know His love and to accept His healing, and no one other than Christ is empowered or authorized to pass judgment on people.

 

If we are to answer the Lord’s call to bathe our world in His justice and to cleanse it with the eternal stream of righteousness, we must start with our own lives. Possessing a heart for justice is a work that Christ does in us. It is something to seek after. It is a subject for deep contemplation and prayerful submission to Christ so that His Spirit can begin to make us aware of the attitudes that we do hold and work in us to transform them into ones that express His will. This is an immediate need in our world. Evil and its oppression work relentlessly to crush the spirit and the life out of people in each corner of this and every other community. Living justly and delivering justice is a very powerful way to bring Christ into the lives of many. Justice breathes life into our souls, and righteousness sustains us for all time.

 

Day and night they did not cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

Revelation 4: 8b

 

Take a moment and call to mind the brightest and most glorious sunrise that you have ever seen. Consider the beauty of it and the feeling of peace that comes as the light fills your eyes and sinks into your heart. There is a sense of awe, wonder, and amazement that comes into my mind as I look on this wonder of God’s creation. Yet, this is nothing; this is as the darkest moment in the blackest of nights in comparison to the scene that John is describing from his visionary visit to the throne room of God in Heaven.

 

Still, in the presence of all that is glorious, those who know and serve God are continually engaged in prayer. They speak their love, understanding, recognition, adoration, and praise for the Lord of the Universe. This is the constant expression of their hearts as they stand before God. I will point out that they do not have any needs, for they reside in the continual presence of God and He has eliminated all needs, worries, and concerns. Sometimes I wonder if we are not missing something in the way that we approach our relationship with God. Consider that, in and through Christ, we, too, do not have any needs that will not be met. Our lives are in the hands of the Almighty Lord of the Universe, and He loves each of us totally. Although I believe completely that God wants us to talk with Him about everything and to take all of our cares and concerns to Him, I do think that most of us don’t spend enough of our prayer time doing what those who are gathered around the throne of God in Heaven are doing. Remember, we are there, too.

 

So, here is a challenge for today. This is a personal challenge as well, for I certainly do not have this handled in my own life. As you pray, focus on God Himself. Speak of His character, attributes, and worthiness. As you do this don’t be concerned about repetition, for those who surround God seem to have reduced it all to a few simple phrases. Let the wonder and the majesty of the King soak in to your being. Quiet matters too. I tend to fill my prayer time with my own words and thoughts when God has so many of His own that He will speak to me when I listen. Try this and see how God speaks back to your heart.

 

And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.

1 Chronicles 29: 13

 

We all need to do what David has done as he was speaking the prayer of which this line is a part. It is important to reflect on the many ways that God has entered into our life and to consider the totality of His presence. Sure, we can usually get the big picture of God’s involvement with us, but the breadth, depth, and constant nature of it tends to get lost in the processes of engaging with our everyday existence. From time to time we should do what David is doing and take a good look at the longer view of our personal history.

 

As we do this we can allow God, Himself, to reveal to our minds the many times when He was the real actor in the events that took place. He can open our hearts to acceptance and appreciation of the ways that our Lord took charge and turned the events of the day from ones that were headed toward failure or disaster and how He worked in the forces of nature and in the lives of people to make the outcome one that brought peace, justice, and righteousness into the world. David could see that this was true for him through all of the times and seasons of his life. God had been involved in the lonely and dangerous times in the wild with his sheep, and He had gone before King David in all of the days of his reign. The same is true for each of us. Our Lord is present and engaged always!

 

As this reality of God’s faithfulness, power, and love sinks into the heart and stimulates the mind to see its wonder and uniqueness, the natural response is to express thanksgiving and praise to God. Whether it is done in public prayer or in the quiet of a moment alone, this singing out of our understanding and deep appreciation for who God is and for what He does in our lives should be a daily exercise. My experience is like David’s in that honest reflection on life leads to the inescapable conclusion that the course and outcome of it would have been very different without the involved presence of God. This is a continual fact that leads my heart to want to sing out with words that humbly express my deepest thanks to God.

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;

I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.

I said, “Here am I, here am I,”

to a nation that was not called by my name.

Psalm 65: 1

 

All people come into this world with great distance between our hearts and God’s. As He dwells in a kingdom of righteousness and is holy, we reside in the darkness of our sin and are unclean. There could not be a longer distance to travel than the one that measures this gap between God and each person at our birth. Yet, God stops at nothing in order to bring us near to Himself. He will do anything and has spent everything in order to accomplish this task of gaining our hearts and our minds as His own. In all of God’s effort to save people there is only one thing that He will not do in order to bring us into relationship with Him, God does not change and He will not compromise one tiny aspect of His character for the sake of people’s comfort and acceptance. The Father established Jesus Christ as the only way to the righteousness that grants people the right to be in the presence of God, and He established His word as the definitive guide to living inside of His will.

 

This is a very rigorous standard for people to follow. God is not ambivalent or ambiguous about how He desires for people to live or about the basic truths about Himself that we need to believe. Still, God does not work to exclude people from His presence. Instead He has always pursued us with vigor and the passion of a father who is striving to save a lost child. From the beginning of history God has made provision for all people to come to Him and into His saving grace. There are no groups of people or individuals who are outside of God’s desire to bring them home to His kingdom feast. God is not deterred from His relentless quest after the lost by any beliefs or actions that we may hold or take.

 

God’s unceasing drive to present every person with the knowledge of who Christ is and with the opportunity to embrace the life that comes through Him is a great gift and a blessing to myself and to all of humanity. For, although God’s standards are exacting, His grace is infinite, and His love is deep and unceasing. As I know God and His righteousness, He loves me into responding to it by acting in like manner in my daily life. God reveals His father’s heart to me, and He directs me into viewing all people in this world with His desire to bring the love and the truth of Christ to them. Christ came to save the world which is the Father’s enduring plan, and Christ desires that each of His people would engage our world with that same passionate intent.