Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

   Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

   awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

Exodus 15: 11 

Sometimes I just need to close my eyes and open my inner being in order to allow all that is the Lord to come flooding deep into my mind, heart, and soul. It does seem that all of us require these times of reflection, for otherwise, life is just too busy and we are far too distracted to even notice what God has been about along the path of our traveling. God had certainly been active and present during the time just before Moses and the Israelites sang this stanza from their great song of thanksgiving to God for saving them from the Egyptian army. We can look at this scene and quickly recognize the fact that it is relatively easy to give thanks to God when He has done something spectacular such as parting a large body of water and then closing it up again to swallow up the angry forces that are seeking one’s own destruction. Expressing appreciation for God in those circumstances is no problem at all, but those sorts of events don’t come along very often. So, we need to find other points along the way wherein we stop and reflect on the wonder, the majesty, the loving care, and the provision of the Lord in our lives. These are the moments when we reflect upon God’s perfect holiness.

God does not do what He does for the reasons that motivate most of us. God acts out of the depths of His character, and the words and deeds that spring forth from there are carried out as a full expression of His nature. The Lord genuinely loves His creation in ways that we struggle to begin to comprehend. He cares about the way that our lives go, and He enters into the course of affairs in our world in a manner that expresses that care, concern, and desire for us to flourish in this life. The rub for people often comes from the fact that God’s concept of flourishing is quite different than is ours. We think in terms of comfort, wealth, health, and position or power when we describe what it means to be successful in life. The Lord looks to our souls and desires for us to be people who love Him, seek after His presence in the ordinary spaces of our lives, and who take a similar attitude of loving care and understanding grace with others that we encounter during our days. God never promises us that we have wealth, health, or an easy journey through life; instead, He promises to us that He will never leave us in this life and that we will be with Him in Heaven for eternity after these days are completed.

So, back to that moment of quiet, close-eyed reflection. It seems to me that it is very easy to lose sight of God as I go through the processes and engage with the urgencies of my days. The voices that assail my mind often place blinds over my heart’s ability to discern truth and wisdom, and the tasks that life demands frequently claim my mind’s total attention to the degree that they have my absolute loyalty. All of this comes at the expense of my ability to appreciate the One who makes it possible for me to do everything that I accomplish and who grants me the love, grace, and wisdom that I need to enter into all of it with a heart that is set on doing what is righteous, good, and holy. The Lord desires for each of his people to live out every one of our days in a manner that will bring the presence of God into all of the places that we occupy and that will leave the sweet aroma of His holy love behind us as a reminder of why we live as we do. The ability to go through life with God in front of us in everything is gained and is enhanced in these times of looking closely upon His face, of expressing thanksgiving for all that the Lord is and does, and by seeking His will for each thought, word, and action that we will undertake today.  

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Colossians 2: 6, 7

 

There is this rather crazy idea that followers of Christ should be continually living in a state of blessedness that leads us to be thankful for it all and to express that thanksgiving to God and to the world around us in the midst of and despite of our circumstances. Although this is not easy to do, the idea of dwelling in a state of thanksgiving is something that God does make possible for His people. Through Christ and His indwelling Spirit, the perspective that we view our world with is changed from its foundations upward.

 

There is no place that we can travel where the Lord is not with us. Although we may turn onto the darkest of streets, the presence of the light of truth and the protection of the Lord are there to guide and to guard our steps. This world and its culture can be harsh and dangerous, but regardless of appearances, Christ rules over it all. So, if He is Lord of my life, then He takes precedence and holds authority over the powers and the influences that would attempt to distract, discourage, and defeat my intent and desire to enter fully into Christ’s calling for my life.

 

Therefore, thanksgiving is a fully worthy expression of worship for this and for every day. This is entered into in words of praise and recognition of God’s great love and perfect truth. Yet, even more so, it is poured out upon the altar of life as a fragrant and worthy sacrifice of praise by virtue of the way that we engage with others and with our world in a manner that brings the truth and the peace of Christ to all that we do and to every encounter along the way. Jesus walked with His feet firmly rooted in the will of the Father. So too, we who are in Christ Jesus our Lord can follow Him in this journey in which all is committed to bringing about reconciliation to God through relationship with Christ. As this is so in my life, I am thankfully dwelling in Christ’s land of blessing.

 

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12: 28, 29

 

God does want us to express our gratitude to Him. Yet, He is very different from most of the people that we have known in the way that He would like for us to do this. A nice, hand-written note or even expensive and carefully arranged flowers are meaningless to God. Words of thanksgiving and even those of praise fall far short of bringing joy to God’s heart if they are all we have to offer. Throughout history God has wanted and sought after much more from His people. God seeks our actions before our words, and He desires our hearts before our minds.

 

On view in the verses around these in Hebrews is God’s engagement with Moses and the Israelites during the period of the exodus and also a picture of God’s restorative promise for the time of Christ’s return. The author’s point is that God is unchanging in His engagement with humanity and unyielding in what He desires from us. God desires for people to be committed, surrendered, and submitted totally to Him. We are to bow down our prideful hearts before our Lord in absolute awe at His majesty and grace. Yet, we are also to stand boldly before the world as we proclaim the risen Christ as King and Lord over all.

 

So what is acceptable worship? It is something that is expressed as a liturgy of life. By this I mean that the sort of worship that delights God is spoken by the actions of our days. It is defined in justice granted to all and by grace extended to the least deserving. Worship happens when we grant kindness to our world and as we humbly accept it. God is delighted when we confess our wrongs to Him and to those we have harmed, and He is joyous as we turn from our sinfulness and grant His Spirit access to our darkest recesses so that God’s righteous fire of truth can purify and restore our hearts. Worship is a life lived in active submission to God’s will, and this is a life that is highly acceptable to God.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 5-7

 

There are many things about God that are hard for me to understand. There are also almost as many aspects of being His child that are mysterious to me. I believe that these areas of incomprehension are related. God is spirit yet He lived fully in the same sort of flesh as I do. God has existed before and beyond time, and He breathed all that is my universe into existence. The strange, the wondrous and the marvelous are all simple routine to the Lord. My mind, my heart, and my soul stand in thankful awe of His greatness and in deeply humble thanksgiving in the blessing of His grace.

 

Peace is truly one of the greatest wonders in this life. Christ leads us into engagement with our world. He calls upon His followers to care deeply for the people around us, and He even instructs us in how to love all of them with a love that is willing, without thought, to lay down our own lives for the possibility of saving another’s. However, at the same time as He was extending grace to all of humanity Jesus was speaking and living out God’s righteous truth in the face of earthly power and human compromise. So, He calls upon us to follow along this same path.

 

Caring deeply for all of Creation, loving people regardless of who or what they may be, and openly placing God’s truth above all else do not sound like a formula guaranteed to bring about the sort of calm, comfort and ease that we might define as peace. Thus, I see here another aspect of the mysterious. Christ continues to lead us in times of fear and doubt, in times of anxiety, for He took His own hours of searing pain and He turned to the Father in honest prayer. Then, Jesus listened and opened His mind to God’s comforting touch. The peace that God grants to us is not guaranteed to change the trials that surround us, but it will grant our hearts and minds the clarity to engage them with the full confidence and the certain assurance of the Father’s protective hand at our sides.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9: 11

 

In our world thanksgiving should come easily. We have wealth, convenience, excellent medical care, well-established governments to provide order, and resources of many types to call upon when needed. We live lives that are continually blessed and satisfying. However, this last state of being is seldom the one where our hearts and our minds reside. For the other side of this coin that we know as life is the one where there is much pain, great sorrow, and times that are hard to withstand. There is illness, deceit, oppression, violence, joblessness, homelessness, rejection, and shame. Wherever he has been able Satan has taken his giant mallet of Godlessness and crushed the beauty out of Creation. There are broken and damaged people, institutions, and places all around us.

 

Still, God’s Word declares that He is offering much to us. Through the rubble there comes a beam of light that promises that we are not forgotten. A voice reaches out to a dying soul and hope is sparked so that Christ’s gift of grace can begin to restore this being to life. People set aside comfort and concern for their own safety so that their hands can start to clear the debris that is crushing the air out of the lungs of people who are trapped under sin’s weight. Christ did not walk down the calm streets of His world and stay safely inside of the walls of His own house. He went out into His community and reached out to touch the hearts of people with God’s promise of healing and restoration. God grants to each of His people the ability and the opportunity to do these same things.

 

We don’t need health, wealth, comfort, a permanent home, societal or even familial acceptance, or position and power in order to accept Christ’s gift of Himself. God is not a careful screener of the people that He accepts into His presence. He is also not discriminating when it comes to lavishing His generosity upon us. Jesus tells us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” All of us experience times of labor when the burden is too heavy to continue to bear. He wants to lift the load enough so that we can continue on. Christ joins us in facing the brokenness of our own lives and in our world. He provides an outlook on life that leads to a thankful appreciation of God’s love for us, and Christ takes us into our world with acts of loving service that are great blessings to God.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

Jude’s short letter is all about the fact that salvation has always been the work of Jesus. That is true for all of history, not just the period of time that we might call the age of the New Testament. So, if we desire to be saved, we need to remain singularly focused on the One who saves, that is Jesus, the Christ. He calls upon us to follow Him in all things and with a totality of commitment that literally drives all else out of us and replaces those former, worldly elements with Christ-imbued righteous truth. There is much in our world that wars with this transformation. Many people and the institutions that they promote are antagonistic to God and to His people. This is the struggle that Jude warns about.

 

Yet, I think that this little benediction speaks loudly about why people who know Christ can be thankful in the midst of the many struggles and uncertainties of life. Christ does not leave us out here all alone. He provides each and every one of His followers with absolute truth that we can anchor to in order to withstand the storms that come our way. His grace is more than all that we need to be brought into the presence of the most holy God and declared worthy, pure, blameless, and innocent. Christ stands as our defense against the attacks that evil launches against us and provides the touch of healing that we require in order to recover from the inevitable bruises that we receive as we contend for our faith.

 

In all of this there is great cause for thanksgiving. God is in this world. He has never been absent. Christ has been working for the redemption of people since the first of us defied God and became needy of grace and salvation. He has not and will not stop doing the same for all of humanity until the day of His final return. It is ours to choose to accept God’s mercy and follow Christ. So, as we have done that, we can know God and understand His greatness and live in the security of His rule of authority over this world. In Christ, we are the beloved subjects of the one and only true King. We are the recipients of the royal blessing of life, and there is no greater reason than this to cause us to lift up our voices in choruses of thanksgiving and praise.