But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;

you are remembered throughout all generations.

Psalm 102: 12

 

When we travel it is often fun and interesting to visit historic sites that are in or near the place where we are going. These places have stories to tell about the people who were there long ago, and they provide us with chances to see how these long ago people and events have influenced the way that we live today. Many of these ancient cultures believed themselves to be great, and some actually thought that what they were creating would last through the rest of history. Yet, in truth, none of them have made it much past a few generations before they began to fade and decline into oblivion. Now, their ruins tell their stories, and the timelines of their power and dominion always have an end date attached to them. As grand as the work that the hands of people can create may be, it will never be eternal, and it will not do anything to save them from the eternity of separation from God that is the legacy that we all gain without God’s loving grace and saving mercy.

 

So, God forms and defines the only culture that truly lasts beyond a rather short period of time. His society is one that is founded upon the Lord’s promise to remain in relationship with people despite our lack of faithfulness to Him and upon His commitment to heal and to restore His creation. We are gathered in faith into God’s new kingdom come upon the earth so that we can dwell in the presence of our Lord and be ruled by the righteous truth of His reign. As bound together in Christ, the church forms a society that will always be counter cultural to those of the balance of the world, for it is a society that is formed out of a relationship of trust in God’s Word and acceptance of His ultimate and perfect authority over us and over all that is. This society is one that values sacrifice, peace, and justice above all else, and it is one that embraces people for their God given value rather than for their worth in terms of economics or power.

 

When we accept and embrace the reality of God’s economy on earth as our own, we step out of the failed history that humanity has written and that it continues to craft for itself, and we enter into the eternal story of God’s ever present love and drive to restore people and creation to our place of intimacy and health at the side of our Creator. We become participants in writing out this ongoing history in which Christ’s sacrifice and victory over the forces of this world lead us into a new way of viewing the importance of life and the impact that each of us can have on the nature and the quality of the journey that others take as they navigate their way through their days. As we follow Christ we become His voice of grace and provide His loving touch to sooth the pains and the concerns of a troubled creation, and by engaging in these eternal acts, we demonstrate the unceasing glory of the Lord.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 7

 

We want to think of peace as the total cessation of all conflict. Our minds imagine this ideal status and apply it to every area of stress and struggle that we encounter during our days. Much like the voices of optimism that shout out “Peace in our time!” at the end of a large-scale war, we would like to be able to actually claim that the end of all conflict and pain is at hand, and that our efforts and sacrifice have made this dream-peace into reality. However, peace in our world will remain illusive, and conflict, pain, and death are our companions for the journey through our days on earth.

 

Yet, there is peace to be known in this world. Christ brought it into our atmosphere with Him, and He granted the gift of it to His people. In knowing Christ we have a form of hope that goes far beyond anything that human treaty or scientific discovery can provide. We possess a calm that is greater than any earthly storm. We can enter into faith in the loving grace and mercy of the Creator of all. His care and concern for our hearts, minds, and souls is tangible. Even when there is body-numbing pain present in and around me, God’s presence is real and His comfort deeply reassuring.

 

The broken nature of this world is very active in its attempts to draw our eyes away from the source of our confidence and strength in Christ. Circumstances and times of global violence, racial and ethnic hatred, relational discord, and personal suffering and loss will seek to gain the center of our focus and primacy in our hearts. These are difficult situations and seemingly unbearable circumstances that everyone will encounter. Yet, it is in these times that Christ makes the most sense as He provides both the wisdom to grasp the reality of what it means to live in a world that is perishing beneath the weight of sin, and He grants to His followers a hope for now and for the eternal future that makes all of the strife and struggle of this life into nothing more than a momentary episode in an unending story of existence in the presence of the Lord.

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty.

Psalm 104: 1

 

There is perhaps no better place, short of the grave, to consider the truth of these few words than from the perspective of being the occupant of a hospital bed. There is very little about this situation that one could consider to be great, and that includes the various meanings of great that extend from wonderful to powerful. None of that is true in here. Additionally, the clothing of the day is anything but splendid or majestic. It is practical, that is from the point of view of medical staff that need to be able to react to all manner of possible situations and challenges by reaching any and all parts of the patient’s anatomy rapidly. Splendid or majestic? Well this shade of green is not so bad, in this light.

 

Yet, as I have been here in this bed for the past several days, receiving great care and recovering from the appendectomy that was not on my calendar for this year or for any other, these words have been very real to me. This is especially true in the context of the rest of this Psalm with its recitation of God’s sovereignty in creation and His gift of that creation to people such as I. There has been no moment when the presence of the Lord has not been surrounding me. That is true of those first hours when the pain was extreme to that moment of trust when anesthesia is applied prior to surgery, and the Lord has continued to be with me through each night and day of the journey that has followed.

 

The Lord, Jesus Christ, is present. He is not just a comforting angel to pray to when afraid of alone. The Spirit of Christ is in the center of this journey with me. He experiences each uncomfortable procedure or period of time with me. He is the author of compassion that comes at the hands of a caregiver, and God is the One who gifted them with the humanity that takes that process of following orders and treatment plans and makes it all an on-going act of respect, personal interest, and comfort, a blessing from Christ. So, it is impossible to be here, even in this green gown and strange blue non-slip socks and not comprehend the greatness, the splendor, and the glory of the Lord that saturate the very air that I breathe. Bless you, my Lord! My soul delights in your presence.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57: 15

 

These are days when it seems as if God is very far away. All appearances suggest that this world is filled with the presence of all that is evil. Good people are suffering in such horrible and public ways that it feels like their blood is the fuel that feeds the earth around us. In all of this, nature is broken as tornados, hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes destroy, and wars, oppressive violence, and numerous forms of injustice undo human order. In it all, where is God?

 

The Lord does dwell in the high place of heaven. He is above and beyond all of the destructive mess that is our earthly existence. His hands are clean and His heart remains pure. Despite our guilt He does not pour out anger and destruction on us. From this place of separation God sees all with absolute clarity. His view of our situation is complete as He sees yesterday, today and all of the future with total comprehension. All of the history of the earth and its people is included in God’s plan for restoration.

 

Yet, there is more. For God has never just left us to our own devices and said that He would come back later to sort out the pieces of our destructive living. He also dwells with people who turn to Him. The Lord of Creation is the savior of my soul, the encourager of my heart, and the source of wisdom for each of my thoughts and actions. He brings His perfect council to anyone who desires it. His Spirit speaks peace to troubled minds and comfort to weary hearts. For all who desire Him, He is present, and the presence of the Lord is sufficient for all of the troubles of this world.

Repent therefore and return that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Acts 3: 19

 

There are days and times when my ability to draw close to God seems to be impaired. These are those days where my thoughts don’t turn to Him and my heart is often heavy with the challenges of life. One of the difficult aspects of these days is that I seldom recognize what is going on with enough clarity to immediately do something about it. Life goes on and my clouded and misdirected heart leads me into acting in ways that hurt the people in my life and that distance me from the One who can turn this wayward child onto a better path.

 

This turning will not happen until I come to the conclusion that something is wrong and that this wrongness is centered in me. When I decide to move toward the will of God by recognizing my separation from the Lord, He is always quick to act in showing me a better way to think and to behave. God’s open arms welcome me back, and He provides me with strength and encouragement to start to repair the damage that my sinful ways have caused in my world.

 

Living in a relationship with Christ provides us with an ever present opportunity to hit a sort of refresh button, for grace and forgiveness are always given. We are continually accepted with joy and delight when we return to the Lord from our times of drifting away. This return is something like what happens when a ship returns from a very difficult time at sea with its hull battered and the paint peeling off, supplies run low, and critical equipment broken. God cleans up our wounds, restores our strength and replenishes our spirits, helps us repair our damaged relationships, and sends us back into life with a properly planned and well charted coarse to follow. The very real presence of Christ in my life is what keeps me from drifting into dangerous and painfully harmful waters, and He guides me forward into the refreshing presence of God’s grace and will.