Behold my servant, whom I uphold, 

   my chosen in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him; 

   he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42: 1

God is not just a distant observer. He sees and He feels. He hears our pleas for mercy, and His heart is broken by the cruel and calculating way that we deny that desired mercy to our world’s oppressed and disadvantaged people. Our planet sees very little grace and even less love, and we are all diminished because of our self-centered and God-denying ways of thinking about others and of acting toward them. Too many people live their lives in active pursuit of isolation and with hearts set on protection from pain and loss. Throughout history individuals have listened to God’s call to see people differently and to attempt to lead us into peace and understanding. Yet, our world is probably worse off today as regards our care for and about others than it ever has been.

Listening to God and allowing Him to move us to action is not only a good thing; it is the right thing to do. When we feed the starving, protect the weak, provide shelter to the homeless, and champion justice for those who are voiceless; we are responding to the expressed desire of God’s heart. Still, very little changes in our world. The pain and the suffering of people throughout the world does not end. Hope continues to elude our grasp, and it is easy to give up on efforts at bringing relief to the victims of strife and commerce. In the face of it all, God says, “Behold My servant.”

There is only one answer to all of the sadness and the pain of life in our world. This is different from the way that we usually see things. For our human tendency is to make the cause the focus. We devise programs for feeding and for housing. We cry out for justice, and we speak stridently in favor of laws that would protect the right of the unborn to draw breath. Again, these are not bad things to become engaged in. However, they are not the cause, and the best of results in each and every one of these areas of concern is not what God desires to see. Every noble cause that people can devise finds its true strength and effectiveness as it is subordinate to Christ. The desired outcome of all of these efforts should be His proclamation in our world. The only hope for lasting justice is found in Christ. Regardless of the nobility of the cause, Christ must be the focus and He must reign over it all. When Christ’s name is the banner that we follow, His justice, mercy, and peace will be known in our world.      

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And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10: 28

Not all fears are irrational, for there is much to fear out and about in our world. We regularly encounter diseases that were unheard of in our grandparent’s day, and the environment seems to be going in a dangerous direction, too. The earth itself is clearly suffering from some of the turmoil and trauma that God’s Word predicts will come about during the later stages of the pre-return era that we are living within. Additionally, many people roam the streets of the planet with ill intent in their hearts and destructive schemes on their minds. So, there is much to fear here and many people to be concerned about. Thus, many people are engaged in the processes of providing protection, and most of us take the responsibility for doing what is prudent and safe as a necessity of living in our world.

Yet, there is a point when fear can overcome faith and whereby that same sort of concern can overtake and defeat the trust that can only be placed in the Lord. Regardless of our efforts, planning, or skill, people will never defeat evil and will simply not succeed in devising plans to fully protect ourselves from its reach and touch. Our only sure and certain protection in this world is found in and through Christ. No one else has defeated the power that Satan has over this world, and no wisdom or form of truth beyond that which is God’s own Word prevails against the deceptive logic of that evil genius. In truth, our bodies will not survive this life. We all will die, and many of us will do so in fewer years than we might desire or in a manner that we would not wish to experience. This is the reality of the broken state of the creation that we were born into, but it is also the state of being from which Christ redeems us.

So, fear does have a place in our days, and that place is primarily as a force that drives us to seek out truth, wisdom, guidance, and counsel from God’s Word and that causes us to turn over control of our lives to Christ and to yield our need for security to the protective grace of His Spirit. Christ calls upon us to be engaged in the work of redemption in our world, and Satan does use fear as a tool to disrupt and to divert that calling. We become afraid of categories of people because some of them do evil things. We are concerned for our safety or our well-being when there are people of certain races, nationalities, or societal status in our midst; yet, Christ desires for us to love and to care for these same people in a manner that is like the one that He would exhibit. We can put out great effort into constructing barriers of a physical, emotional, or spiritual nature with the intent of protecting ourselves from those who we fear, or we can put that same energy into seeking the Lord’s will and reaching out to those who make us uncomfortable with the love of Christ. One approach ensures nothing beyond a moment of false security, but the other leads to the blessing of eternity.    

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3: 19

This verse is a part of Zephaniah’s summation of his discussion of how God will deal justly with Israel by virtue of returning the nation and its people to their homeland and out of an oppressive captivity. Yet, I think that it also shows us a more fundamental aspect of God’s nature and the character that is His nature’s foundation. Although the Lord does care greatly about the lives of all people, He has an especially soft spot for those who are less able to take care of themselves. So, when I see the term lame, I think of people who are physically disadvantaged regardless of cause or reason for their condition, but I think that God actually has a larger group of people in His mind when He looks upon those who are lame. These are people who are easy prey or targets for oppressors. God’s view of lameness also includes emotional weakness, issues of mental capacity, and any other conditions of body, mind, or spirit that might cause a person to need extra care, provision, or understanding. Our Lord takes each and every one of these people under His wing of protection and holds them very close.

The Lord also seeks after a very wide circle of people who could be labeled as outcasts. These can be those among us who are difficult to be around, and they are often those who are simply different from whatever is normal or usual in our own cultural environment. This can include people who are from other countries, races, ethnicities, economic status, or any other conditions that might brand them as different from me and from my natural family and neighbors. God does not use the concept of outcast as a way of describing people. Rather, He sees all of us as His children, and He goes searching for those of us who are far away from Him in order to win us back to close proximity through love, grace, and understanding. The Lord would have each of us view all others in this same manner. We are to seek after those who are different from us, open up our hearts and our homes to them in a way that speaks Christ’s love through actions and by attitudes while giving praise to the One who saves with our words.

Although this verse contains a description of the way that God views people in our world, I believe that He desires for each of us who know Him to live in this same manner. He guides us into holding these same attitudes deeply and personally. Followers of Christ are to be people who seek after the outcast without regard for the cause of that condition or state of their being. In so seeking after them, we are to grant them shelter, to provide what they need to carry on with life, and we are to befriend them in a way that speaks acceptance and that remains true and faithful to those friendships into the unforeseen future. Christ leads us into loving the lame and into seeking to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that speak Christ’s redemption and restoration in a manner that words are inadequate to express. There are many people in our world who live as exiles, who are lame or outcast; so, there are multitudes of people in our daily lives who need a friend, a protector, a listening ear. We all encounter these people and they are God’s blessed gifts to us, for they allow us to draw closer to Christ by trusting Him to care for and to lead us as we enter into their lives in Christ’s name.    

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13: 13, 14

 

There is a popular hymn that in all probability dates from the early years of the twentieth century that starts out with these words,

 

“This world in not my home, I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

 

This says what the author of Hebrews was saying, at least in part. In Christ we gain much, but we also loss much, or perhaps more accurately, we leave behind much. Christ is our model and our leading example in all of this. He left the glory of Heaven and His position as Lord over all of Creation in order to live with and among us on this earth. He submitted to all that He was required to endure in life here, and then He allowed us to treat His royal being with cruelty and put Him to death as if the sinless one were indeed the criminal that all of us are in fact. Now, Christ calls upon all of us who submit to Him as His followers to leave the place of our births behind and to join Him in dwelling beyond the walls of worldly comfort and protection.

 

Jesus demands our primary loyalty; so, if we are in Christ, we can not be so aligned with any nation, people, religion, or earthly system of order or governance. None of these things will last beyond their few allotted years. All of this world’s entities, constructs, and rule of law will pass away, and each of them is already subordinate to God’s Word of truth. We should not give our hearts and our souls to any of these earthly orders or pledge our loyalty to any of their rulers, for none of these are worthy of such honor. Not one of them is righteous, holy, and without self-serving purpose and intent. We owe all honor, allegiance, and worship to God, the Father, to Christ the Son and our Savior, and to the Spirit that dwells with and in us. All other adoration and praise are poured out on unworthy recipients and is thus wasted effort and misguided loyalty. Christ alone is to be Lord over all aspects of our lives.

 

All that we do and everything that we stand for in this life should be focused upon Christ. He is the source of all wisdom and guidance for our days, and our Lord is the singular source for all of the strength, encouragement, grace, and love that will be required of us if we choose to live in this God-honoring manner. As otherworldly followers of Christ, we are people who seek out the broken and the oppressed in our world in order to grant them protection, healing, and dignity in the name of Christ. When we choose to dwell outside of the walls of earthly institution, we are setting aside the hard rules of those entities in order to see others as human beings, and so viewing them frees us to enter into their stories as people who can not only be empathetic, but also we can thus travel through hard days and along challenging miles of their journeys with them. As we move out of the city of this worldly life, we do leave behind much, but we also draw near to our Savior and Lord, for He dwells in these hard and rocky places that are beyond the borders of earthly cities. So, let’s gather together and worship our Lord in His true tabernacle of blessing where Christ’s Spirit is mighty and we boldly invite the stranger and the foreigner to come in and join in the feast.

 

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

Galatians 6: 7

 

So much of what we take as important in our world is little more than a popularity contest. Our minds are very easy to convince that this or that product or person has all of the answers for us. We humans are easily lured into believing and supporting almost anything if it has the right wrapper on it. We like the shiny new toy, the clever words, and the leader-like stance and bravado. Substance has little value in making these decisions, and standing solidly on a foundation of righteousness is off the table when we determine who we will vote for. Too frequently, we give away our birthright as followers of Christ in exchange for a poor man’s bowl of rustic stew in the form of people who promise us wealth, power, and ungodly greatness that denies the justice for all, care of the weak and oppressed, and love above glory that is Christ’s true calling.

 

All of this is truly a sad commentary when you consider that we were created by God to be thinking beings that have the wisdom of our Creator available to us. In general, humanity is the great underachieving child of the universe. Most of us seemingly choose to exist in this developmentally challenged classroom of life where we are easily manipulated and never seem to achieve the success of graduation. It is almost as if we enjoy the easy ride through our days that is provided by allowing others to do the thinking for us so that we don’t need to be prepared to explain in real, substantive terms why and how we have reached the decisions that we have made. This is true when it comes to relatively frivolous things like toothpaste and clothing, and it is disturbingly true when it comes to choices that have long-term impacts such as national leaders.

 

However, try as we might to leave God out of our thinking and decision making, He is still involved in all that happens in this world. God is jealous of where our hearts are aligned, and He will not allow us to live in a manner that effectively makes light of Him and that discounts His position as Lord and King. There will be consequences for the decisions that we make and the loyalty that we grant. It is not that God cares about the brand of products that we use or the style of clothes that we wear, but He does want us to consider our consumption of goods and services wisely and with a view to the needs of others in our world. Additionally, God will not be surprised and His Kingdom will not suffer loss as a result of the political choices that we make; however, He does desire for us to make those choices based upon criteria that are founded in righteousness and upon His view of kingdom living. I think that God values justice, life, and the pursuit of His articulated way above economics, power, and convenience. God grants His people the ability to make decisions that are based upon His eternal economy of life, and our Lord desires for us to use the reasoning and thinking abilities that He has given to us in order to reach these conclusions in a manner that glorifies rather than mocks Him.

 

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?

Deuteronomy 4: 7

 

Moses was speaking about the way that things were in a time and a place long ago and far away. He was reminding everyone about the fact that God was as close to them as was their own breath and that the Lord was involved with His people and with their nation in all matters both great and small. This is the God that Moses had encountered and knew in a deeply personal manner, and this was the God who was truly and in all ways the Lord of and over the land. So much has changed from then until now. It seems that we think that we have become a people who know how to care for ourselves as we now govern our nations and rule over the people of our world with such great skill and success that there is no longer any need for submission and obedience to the ancient God of Moses and to the way of His Word and Law.

 

Actually, as we know from that same word that many of us want to set aside on the dusty shelves of antiquity, it didn’t take long for the people that Moses was addressing here to adopt the same attitude toward God and to attempt to go it on their own in the world. It did not work for them, and it does not work for us, either. We rule over our world with all of our sophistication and knowledge put to full use; yet, people are still starving and homeless, nations continue to settle their differences by waging war, the resources of our earth are squandered and destroyed to serve selfish desires, and life in all forms is treated as a disposable commodity instead of being viewed as God’s gift of Himself in this world. It seems that our attempt at going it on our own in governing and ruling over our world have not been very successful or productive after all.

 

Still, God is patient, and He is faithful to His promise of redemption. The Lord has not given up on us, and people who know the Lord should not give up hope either. I believe that our efforts will not save the world, for that is a work that Christ alone, in His final return, will accomplish. Yet, we are called upon by Him and given the task of bringing His grace, justice, mercy, peace, and their redemption into the world as we encounter and touch it. Our nations and their leaders may not embrace the truth and the counsel of God’s Word as their ongoing rule of law, but that doubt should not stop us or inhibit us from proclaiming its supremacy to them and from demanding that God’s ethical and moral principles be applied to the way that our lands are governed. Most of us have the right and the means to voice our understanding of what is righteous and proper in the way that our leaders guide the course of the nation. All of us have the ability to express these wishes and desires through prayer and as acts of worship to our one true and eternal King. People who know God, we can join with Moses and raise our voices in prayer to the Lord and in expressions of righteousness to the world. So, we should never be silent when it comes to God’s will and truth in our world.

But I am the LORD your God

from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

and besides me there is no savior.

Hosea 13: 4

 

There is both reminder and warning present here. God is sending them to His people through the words of Hosea, and they are specifically directed toward the people of Israel. However, it would be a very great mistake to simply relegate these words to that shelf labeled History and to an obsolete application. The issues that were troubling the Lord in the days of Hosea are still with us now as we seem to have a remarkably similar capacity to go our own way in life. The Israelites were guilty of worshiping other gods and of behaving in ways that were contrary to God’s will, His Word and Law. There were many times when they were even openly defiant of all that God stood for and entered into behaviors that He expressly forbade or that were significantly divergent from the Lord’s nature and character.

 

If this doesn’t make you think of many of the aspects of our world and of these days, then I think that we are living in on different planets or in alternate realities. This is a world where substitute gods are common. People turn to various forms of idol to pour out their passion in worship and to form up the ethical and moral structures that support their responses to all that comes along in the course of their days. Many of us seem to have little stomach for staying true to the harder aspects of following God. Frankly, we do not trust the Lord enough to enter into the riskier and the less comfortable aspects of loving others in a manner that is truly sacrificial, of serving the needs of the pour and the disadvantaged even when that costs us in terms of real currency, and of pouring out all of ourselves in a life dedicated to worshiping the Lord. It does seem that too many of us desire to be able to shape and to mold our god with our own hands rather than to surrender ourselves to His transformative work upon us.

 

God makes His desires very clear, and He also reminds us of the fact that He has never waivered in what He requires of His people or in the way that He enters into our lives for our benefit. The Lord wants us to commit all of our being to Him. This is true in our public, personal, and most private lives. He wants us to go through our cupboards and closets, our outward and our innermost expressions of our identities, and sweep out all of the idols that we have collected and stored up there. He also tells us to turn to Him as the only source of our salvation, and this is true regarding salvation for our souls and for that saving that is required every day in great and in subtle ways. Then we are to live out our days as an expression of that passionate worship that God so longs to receive from His people. That means that we would be unreservedly loving, compassionate and merciful, caretakers of creation, people who embrace the foreigner and those who are different from us, and actively engaged in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ though our words and our actions. So, in loving and in following God, we will be people who truly surrender our entire beings to the Lord’s transformative work in and upon us.