Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10: 32, 33

 

The world that Paul traveled and lived in was multi-cultural. There were people from many nationalities present, and he crossed paths with various practices of religion along the way. Paul was raised as a righteous, practicing Jew, and his training as a rabbi just reinforced his caution and concerns about the risk of being contaminated by the sinful ways and practices of everyone who was outside of his religion. So, his thinking about how followers of God are called by Christ to live in close contact and interaction with people without regard to what they believe represented radical transformation at the very core of who Paul was.

 

Paul is not telling us that we need to agree with everything that others may believe, and he is not suggesting that we should engage in all of the practices of their religion. What he is saying is that God had revealed to him that rigid separation was wrong. God wants His people to Know and to understand our neighbors, and He desires for us to have faith in Him to the degree that we can embrace strangers without fear. These are the things that God desires for His children to accept as normal in our daily lives. This is the way that Jesus lived, and loving others is what His Spirit calls upon our hearts to pursue.

 

We cannot know someone who we have not met. We are not able to understand the life story of a person who we hold at arm’s length, and they will never hear our recitation of how Christ has transformed us. Yes, there is evil in this world, but it is almost never present in our neighbors or even in the newcomer to our town. When we make broad and sweeping statements about others and about who they are or the intent of their religions, we are placing barriers between ourselves that inhibit relationship. Christ wants us to enter into those relationships, to hear the hearts of people, and to allow Him the opportunity to speak salvation through our love.

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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.

 

 

When one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

1 Corinthians 3: 4

 

Leaders are supposed to be people who we follow. This is a reality that most of us accept. In fact, it is something that individuals, organizations, and whole societies study and attempt to improve upon. As most of us regularly find ourselves in positions of leadership of one sort or another, there are books on the subject of leadership being published every minute of the day. Teaching us how to lead, and how to follow, for that matter, is a lucrative business. In light of this reality, why is Paul having a problem with these folks in Corinth and their desire to follow a leader of their choosing? Also, while I am at this process of questioning the Apostle, what gives with his concern over us being “merely human?” After all, that is what we are.

 

The problem that the men and women of Corinth had is much the same as the one that most of us also encounter. We lose sight of the true nature of the job that our leaders are called to perform, and we fail to look beyond that individual in order to examine the source of the authority that has placed her in this position of leading. Yet, I think that this human tendency toward short-sightedness is the source of a great deal of the tension and the difficulty that we encounter in working together in our various organizations and cultural structures. We expect that our leaders will be perfectly motivated and absolutely well-equipped to handle the task at hand. Yet, we fail to grant them the respect that should be theirs based upon the true authority that has placed them in that position. In other words, we have lofty desires for them to make our lives easier, more profitable, and better in all ways while we continually complain about their lack of clear vision and ability to get the job done.

 

Although we do follow human leaders who function at all levels of our society and the positions that they occupy have been created by various rules and regulations, God makes it very clear that He is the author and the real power behind all rulers and forms of governance. The structures that we use to create order in our cultures have been granted to us by God so that we can maintain a peaceful and a cooperative existence on the earth. If we believe that this is true, we need to look beyond the person and above the office in order to accurately assess the standards of ethical and moral behavior that should be expected out of our leaders. God grants the office to them, and He sets the standards for them to follow. The Lord also demands that we respect His appointments while clearly expressing our desires for them to rule righteously. In Christ we are called to be something much greater than merely human. For as we are in Christ, we also have His mind, we can know His ways and comprehend His vision. We are followers of the one true and absolute ruler of all, Jesus the Risen King.

 

 

Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.

Proverbs 29: 26

 

The modern philosopher John Rawls said, “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” I think that Rawls means that justice is fundamental. It is foundational to the formation of our society, and it is an essential platform upon which our society and its systems of governance are formed. Yet it is something that is sadly lacking in our world. Far too often it is held as a tool of power and as a device of oppression. Rulers, governmental and religious leaders, and others in positions of authority and might impose their own concepts of what is right and just upon others in order to bring about conformity and subservient behavior. As a result of this our world is filled with people who live in fear and who, in turn, become fearsome.

 

Upon consideration of the idea, I think that Rawls is right. Justice is something that should underlie all of the institutions that people use to organize ourselves. It is something that God placed into our world as a part of its creation design. The desire for justice and the capability to grant it are inherent in God’s creating humanity in His own image. Justice is a characteristic and a quality of God. I believe that if there were no God, there would be no justice. It is like the other higher qualities of love, peace, mercy, grace, and righteousness. These are qualities that people desire and that benefit us; yet, all of them exist solely because they come from God, Himself. Humanity on its own has a very bad track record in regards to the way that we live together. It is solely through the grace of God that we do find peace, engage in loving others, and seek to govern in a righteous manner. It is that same grace that leads us to justice for ourselves and for others.

 

If we seek to live in a just world, we must submit ourselves to the King of the Universe. It is essential for us to recognize that we are subjects of an authority that is higher than all other and that is also foundational for all earthly rule and rulers. This reordering of our allegiances is essential for us to become people who treat others justly. Additionally, living in this manner is not learned in government classes or through participation in our processes of governance, it is learned at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Justice is understood as we follow in the steps of Christ while He walked among us and responded to the people and the situations of His world in a manner that brought a living example of God’s created desire and intent for just, relational engagement among all people face to face with the real world where we live. In order to know justice, we need to avoid the halls of government until we know the path of Christ. Yet, once we are walking in the steps of the Savior, we should boldly bring Him and His glory into those same halls.

The Lord established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever.

Psalm 104: 5

 

Am I alone in wondering about the accuracy of this comment? The world that I live in seems to be spinning far off of its axis. It seems to be so wobbly that I am amazed when there is a day where I don’t hear about some sort of major natural disaster. Our news is filled with unending accounts of lives turned upside down and whole countries thrust into chaos by what seems to be the whims of climate and instability of the earth. Additionally, these natural events aren’t even the most terrifying and disturbing of happenings, for the cruelty, anger, and hatred that people act out against each other leaves the destructive forces of nature in their wake.

 

Yet, as simplistic as this might sound, I trust God to be true to His word and to follow through with what He pledges. Thus, my mind needs to reconcile the fact that the earth seems to be totally off its foundation with God’s commitment to keep it firmly rooted there. My greatest challenge in understanding all of this is my own lack of perspective and my tendency to get caught up in the wrong things. The Lord is looking at this world from a viewpoint that sees its beginning and that contemplates the glory of its restoration through Christ’s return at the end of this age. He is allowing all of this current upheaval so that we will understand the severity of the consequences of our sinful disobedience to His created plan. Additionally, the disastrous mess that we people cause when we operate outside of God’s will does tend to lead us to seek the Lord and to desire His loving involvement in our lives.

 

Although the world around me continues to be touched by earthquake and flood, by disease and famine, and by the horrors of violence and oppression, my understanding of these events is made clearer by my relationship with Christ. He grants me perspective, hope, and confidence in facing today. He also implores me to b involved in doing something about all of the related suffering. As I seek Christ’s perspective, my own world is truly set on its foundation, and nothing can knock me out of the grip of my God. In a day when many of the people around me are shaken and disoriented, the Lord wants me to have a voice that tells about the solid rock that my soul stands upon and that cares for and comforts the injured, sick, and oppressed around me in the name of their savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Why do you send your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55: 2

 

It is really easy to become focused on the things that we have done and on the successes that life has allowed us to achieve. This can be among the most natural of all things that we can do when we look back on the journey that has been traveled. There is not a thing wrong with this sort of reminiscence, either. It can lead to some interesting mental and emotional travels through time. Yet, it also leads me to realize two truths about living. The first one is that some of the things that I have done have been very selfish and have not seemingly done much of anything to advance God’s cause in this world. The other is that the Lord’s hand has never been off of my life.

 

These two seemingly at odds with each other revelations are worthy of a moment’s consideration. I have been blessed by the presence of God in my life from its beginning. My world was touched by people who knew Christ and who regularly and routinely lived out their best understandings of His will. Perhaps God understood just how independent and stubborn I can be; so, He kept Himself very near to my heart in order to protect it from me? Whatever the case may be, I have taken some really self-directed and worldly turns as I have navigated through it all. There have been years and years in which I invested heavily in the glittery and self satisfying things that always break, fail, and rust and that are guaranteed to be burned away as stubble as Christ purifies His creation.

 

Still, despite my stubborn disregard for God’s will and failure to follow His way through life, Christ’s grace has prevailed. As I said, He has never taken His hands off of me, and my Lord is ever ready to welcome me to join with Him in a meal that fills me with truth and with love so that I can join with Christ in doing the work that He created me for. The Lord has set out a banquet table loaded with the rich food of His Word. He asks nothing of us except that we are willing to join with Him at that table. He wants to fill us with Himself so that we can leave that place with courageous hearts and focused minds. Christ strengthens us so that we can use the amazing gifts and skills that He has granted to each of us in the sort of work that is eternally satisfying.

 

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Malachi 4: 2

 

It might be really interesting to ask Malachi why he selected this particular image involving cattle to use in depicting the way that people would respond to living in a relationship with God. There is no time that I can recall when I wanted to be like any of the cows that I have met. In nature there is something majestic and powerful about the way that great birds soar, it is easy to contemplate swimming with the speed and the grace of a dolphin, and my mind can relate to the strength and the agility of horses. But cattle? This one leaves me wondering until I carefully consider the way that young cattle, calves, do have a sort of freedom about them that is unique in their species to their age. There is a light-hearted playfulness to them that quickly disappears as they grow and age into being focused almost entirely on the necessary tasks that survival requires.

 

It is this exuberance, this joyfully carefree response to the day that Malachi wanted to convey. The prophet was writing during a time of great darkness. This was an era when lawlessness and selfishness were in control and when people were behaving as if they no longer had a need for God. Their government had abandoned God’s law as its basis for determining what was right and just. So, as a result of all of this, God had removed His protection and His favor from them. Humanity wanted its freedom to live as it pleased, and it had allowed its rulers to do the same. However, freedom was what they lost, and oppression was what they achieved; for, in the end, they were granting Satan and his plan for chaotic destruction of God’s order the right to rule their lives. In these harsh times joy and peace were gone from people’s hearts.

 

Still, even in our most wayward times of wandering away from God’s righteous path, He remains faithful to us. God’s heart is made heavy by the loss of relationship with us, and He never stops seeking us and reaching out to His lost children. Yet, we should not rely upon God’s grace and assume that His patience has no end. God has promised that His justice will prevail and that there will be a time when He will reestablish His righteous reign in our world. Now, today and in this moment the Lord calls to all people to turn back to Him. Whatever unrighteousness and Godlessness has taken hold of our hearts, regardless of who we are or of what position or status we may hold; God implores us to repent and to accept the mercy and the salvation that Christ grants to us. So, if we are willing to renounce the way of man and of this world by granting God true and total governance of our hearts, minds, and actions; He grants us a freedom of the soul that will allow us to face even the most challenging of days with the joyful exuberance of those leaping calves.