The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 8

 

This may not be what everyone has in mind when they consider a relationship with God. The degree of watchfulness on the Lord’s part that is indicated here is just too close and way too personal for our tastes as there are times when the idea that God sees it all is not very comfortable. In other words, we want to be invisible from time to time, and a God who has His hands on all of my life isn’t going to just ignore what I am about during those days of desired secrecy. Yet, there is a tension implied in all of this, too, for there are many situations and events when I really do want God in His power and with His strength to be watching over my life and guarding my pathway from harm.

 

In truth we cannot have it both ways. We do not get to select which aspects of life are under God’s view and within His area of involvement; rather, He is all in with our existence, and the Lord is fully engaged in the total package that forms the comings and the goings of life. There is no place where He does not go, and we cannot enter into activities or even have thoughts that He is not aware of. So, for me, I have needed to come to grips with the fact that God sees and will engage with everything that I do, say, and think. This part of my reality has caused me to consider the nature and the character of God more closely, for it brings out the question of my comfort with His proximity to my innermost self.

 

When I do carefully consider who God is and contemplate His nature deeply, the eyes of my heart are opened up to the fact that there is simply no one else who I would want to be that close to me. The Lord loves me with an unceasing depth of commitment that is not possible to match elsewhere, and He cares about the nature and the quality of my life to the degree that He has already sacrificed His all in order to redeem me from the pain of death that I so fully deserved. This God, who watches over each of my steps and who places His mighty hand of protection over my head every moment of my days, provides me with guidance and with the wisdom of eternity to use in considering the next steps that I will take. As I yield myself to His will, my Lord takes me into the glory of His will, and with God as my guardian and my counselor, my days are lived out in a form of freedom and peace that is empowering and joyous beyond all imagining.

You are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 14: 2

 

When we are younger most of us encountered times when sides or teams were being chosen. We always want to be taken early, and we fear being left until the end as that suggests rejection of us or at least of the skills that we bring to the game at hand. Life is filled with situations like this. They tend to create either anxiety or apathy. We get stressed out or we hide out, or we do both. Yet, the game that is most important and that is the only one with lasting value is the singular situation where we don’t need to be concerned.

 

When it comes to being selected to be in a relationship with God, He has already picked His team. This was done before everything else was formed in the Creator’s hands. God selected a very small group of people who were the direct descendants of the ones that He had formed in those hands to be His image-bearers. The Lord committed to never leave the relationship that He had promised. His marriage vows to humanity cannot be severed. There is no irreconcilable difference in His court of righteousness. Jesus is the direct descendant of this chosen and elect group of people. Every one of us who knows Jesus and surrenders our life to Him is adopted into God’s family.

 

We are God’s beautiful and treasured ones. He has reached out of eternity to bring us there so that we can be His companions in this world and in the next. Christ speaks clearly, and He speaks our names. He says that every person who draws breath is the one that He wants to be at His side. He does not reject anyone, and there is no place where His voice of invitation is not heard. Christ’s calling comes with responsibilities attached. We are not to be passive spectators of the game. God’s people are active worshipers of our Lord. We are taken out of a life of death and transformed into a life of service where every thought and action should bring praise and glory to God. In Christ, we are no longer left on the sidelines but instead we are God’s beautiful and carefully chosen treasure.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3: 16

 

Godly living is not easy, and it is also not for the faint of heart. Operating in a manner that reflects God in our world and that also brings people into His presence with a desire to know that Holy One requires people to do things in ways that are unnatural and that are equally outside of the norms of our experience and the practice of our culture. Simply stated, love, grace, mercy, peacemaking, and righteousness are not the general standards for successful living that we encounter on a regular basis. Yet, they are in short supply in the marketplace of our world, and they are needed and desired by most of us. These qualities are a part of the nature of God, and they were made tangible and given human form in Jesus. In Jesus, God stepped into humanity’s lostness and need, and He provided the singular answer to it all while also paying the enormous price that the redemption of Creation demanded.

 

Christ is the image of what godliness means. He provided for us the model to follow, but that is not where this all stops, for a model would be insufficient by itself. God’s Law provided a form of that, and it was never enough to bring people into the reality of living out this thing that we are calling godliness on any sort of lasting and consistent basis. Unfortunately, an image of God is still not much more than an idol if it remains on the outside of our beings and can be set aside or manipulated as we desire. Even the best of images does not penetrate the heart to the place where real relationships are formed, and God operates in our world at the deep level of relationship. This is where His truth becomes the guiding force in our lives. That is why godliness is revealed in relationships and it is explained through engagement in people’s lives.

 

God broke through the barriers that humanity had set up between our Creator and us. He did so in the person of Jesus and perfected it by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Now all of Creation is speaking out in testimony to the One Risen Lord who brings God’s salvation and redemption to all of that same Creation. In so doing, He brings this new life to each of us who believe in Him, and He enters into our lives and works to transform us into people who live in relationship with our Creator. It is in this relationship and through the work of the Spirit within us that we are changed into people who can live in this rare and highly valued manner that is described as godliness. This manner of engagement with our world requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ on a daily, hourly, and continual basis. All of life is His. There are no holdbacks or reserves to maintain as we serve the Risen Lord. It is through this submitted service that the mystery of godliness is made visible in our world so that others may be drawn to seek its source in a relationship with Christ.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Why is there any distance between God and people? Did one of us get tired or bored with the relationship and decide to leave, or was there some sort of mutual blame for the breaking up of the relationship? If we choose to believe what the Bible says on this subject, it is clear that all of the blame for what is amiss in humanity’s connection to Creator comes about as a result of people’s willful desire to hold the upper hand and to plot our path through life exactly as we want to go and with our own sense of pleasure and security as our primary guide. We walked away and sought out the divorce, but God answered our foolish desire for absolute independence with His promise of unending love, total grace, and willingness to pay any price to grant us a way back into the relationship.

 

For a time God provided for the order in our world through the granting of His law and vested the maintenance of it with a chosen group of people who were to both follow that law and teach its principles to the rest of the world. God knew that this approach was nothing more than temporary and also that it was invested with the futility of human endeavor. We would not be able to resist the urge to take control of the law, and the chosen servants of the Lord could not restrain themselves from seeking after personal gain and power. So, from the beginning, God had a better way for the relationship between Himself and humanity to be restored.

 

Jesus is that answer, and His sacrifice is the way that the brokenness of this world is made whole and that we can enter into the holy presence of God without fear or regret. That veil of separation that was literally present in the temple in Jerusalem and that existed in the reality of all people’s lives was permanently torn and rendered useless by the sacrifice of self that Jesus entered into on the cross. We no longer require that people go before us to prepare the way to God’s presence. Christ has done that and now He serves as the only priest that is necessary for anyone to stand before God and to enter into the fullness of relationship with our Creator.

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ; may mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Jude 1, 2

 

This is a beautiful greeting. It is the sort of thing that anyone would be delighted to hear and to read. It would seem that a person would have to be in a very bad place to not want to have mercy, peace, and love granted to them in abundance; yet, this is not the beginning of a casual, calm and gentle letter. As the brother of James, the great leader of the early church, and the lesser known brother of Jesus, Himself, Jude had been around the world of people who lived in the Christian faith. After a life spent in opposition to Jesus, he had come to accept Christ as his Savior and Lord. Now he was witnessing the destructive effect of the work of leaders who had taken people away from God’s truth. These were people who brought heresies and lies into the assembly of faith. Their wisdom was that of the world, and they counseled people in a manner that lead them to engage in sinful and destructive behaviors.

 

Witnessing this made Jude’s blood boil, and he could not remain silent. So, he speaks out about what he knows to be God’s position on the situation at hand. We are to be on guard against allowing even the slightest taste of sinful compromise cross our lips. The church needs to protect itself from the erosion and the waste that ensues when we become entangled in battles over secular issues that are a part of a condemned world order. Yet, we must know God’s Word and stay true to it so that we, individually and together as the body, will not follow our culture in its headlong and willful rush to death in the Lord’s judgment. This is a hard course, and like Jude, we become angry and want to rise up against all that brings evil into our paths. Yet, it seems important to pay close attention to everything that Jude did say.

 

He certainly does warn against following people who engage in sexual immorality, are contentious with those in authority and with systems of rule, are greedy, and are out for personal gain. Jude states that these people and their behavior will destroy the beautiful unity of our worship as a body. Their presence brings about a form of destruction that is like shipwreck, and they parch the soul with the dryness of drought. Their false light leads straight to eternal darkness. However, what is remarkable to me is what Jude tells us to do about all of this. He instructs us to remain strong in our faith through Spirit led and filled prayer. We are to position ourselves in the center of the love of Jesus that saves and preserves us. We are to do these things so that we can, in turn, show mercy to those who oppose Christ, and through exhibiting His supernatural love in our world, we can bring some of them into relationship with God. This is dangerous work, for as we engage in it, we are placed in very close proximity to the deceptiveness of the sin. In this we are to remain focused on Jesus so that we can, like Him, love all people totally while hating all sin with every ounce of our being.

Your hands have made and fashioned me;

give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.

Psalm 119: 73

 

I have heard it said that the Bible is God’s guidebook to life. I have said that, too. Well, that just isn’t true. I wish that it were that simple, but there is no singular source to access to gain clarity and direction for all that comes our way in this world; at least there is none that is found outside of the more challenging realm of relationship. We need to know the One who made us in order to gain that sort of life-giving wisdom. Every person who has ever lived or who is to come in the future is different. We are the unique and wondrous handwork of the Creator God; so, no singular set of directions is perfectly matched to each of us.

 

God intentionally designed it to be this way. He does not want us to be able to go to a source that is outside of Himself in order to live in a righteous and a loving manner. God did not design life this way in order to control or to dominate us. It is my belief that the Lord established the nature and the order of this world in this manner because He desires to be in close and intimate relationships with each and every person on the earth. He already knows us to a degree and at a level that is beyond what we could ever apprehend about ourselves. Yet, God does not rest easily with just knowledge, for He delights in interaction and engagement with us.

 

So, where does this understanding that the Psalmist desires come from? Psalm 119 is written in celebration of the gift of God’s written word; so, in fact, the Bible is an important source of this understanding. Yet, it is not the singular one. If it provided all of the answers for life on its own, it would be too easy to just become a scholar of the text and not be a disciple of the author of that text. We know God through Jesus Christ as we accept His sacrifice and yield ourselves to His Lordship over our lives. Then the Holy Spirit enters us and speaks love and truth to our hearts and minds in the framework of intimate relationship. This same Spirit of Christ takes those written words of the Bible and transforms them into the living text that takes us deeply into a life-giving relationship with our Creator. So, in relationship with the three persons of God, we do gain this desired eternal understanding.

Hear my prayer, O Lord,

and give ear to my cry;

hold not your peace at my tears.

For I am a sojourner with you,

a guest, like all of my fathers.

Psalm 39: 12

 

We humans have not lived comfortably in the land since the very earliest days of our most distant ancestors. They turned the beauty and the calm of life into the ugliness of evil and the distress of chaos. Then, everyone who has followed has lived as a foreigner in the world and as a stranger even in our own hometowns. Perhaps the hardest thing for me to accept in this entire difficult journey is the fact that I participate directly in making it the series of trials that it is. My sinfulness and rebellion against God contribute directly to aspects of the struggle.

 

This is not to say that the trials and the hard times of life are mine because God is punishing me for my sin. That is not how God’s redemptive and righteous love, grace, and mercy function. However, through my reliance upon my own understanding and capacity as opposed to yielding fully to the wisdom of Christ, I do contribute to my lack of understanding of life, my weakness in the face of adversity, and the frailty and self-centeredness of my interaction with others. My self-directed separation from the total intimacy with God and the immersion into His will that Christ calls me to enjoy leaves me traveling through these hostile regions on my own.

 

Yet, this is not the way that God desires for it to be. He is fully aware of the nature of this world, and His heart is set upon a depth of relationship with me and with everyone that would have us traveling along through the journey of life with our Lord as our unceasing companion and guide. Still, accompaniment is not all that God desires. In fact, we only fully enter into Christ’s calling for our lives as we actively engage in His work of redemption for the souls of our fellow travelers. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings peace to our souls even as the tears that flow naturally in this land are still staining our cheeks.