As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the LORD surrounds his people,

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 125: 2

 

Mountains are impressive. When viewed from below their height can be magnificent on the one hand and rather frightening on the other. They provide welcome relief from the flatness that occupies large expanses of the earth’s surface, but for a traveler who is encountering it, a mountain range presents a sort of fearful obstacle to be overcome. They bring shelter from storms in some seasons and in others the fury of that weather seems to roll down their sides with the ferocity of a hungry wild beast. People have settled in mountain valleys for thousands of years because of the resources that are often available in the valley floor and on the slopes of the hills. Their slopes, whether steep sided or soft and rounded, provide us with a vista onto our world that feels like it is close to the one that God posses; yet, when we are standing there, our feet are still planted firmly on His creation.

 

God’s presence in our world can seem like all of these impressions of mountains. He is wondrous and also fearful. He grants to us the joy and the delight of living in this world, and He also challenges people with the lofty stature of His righteousness. The Lord protects us from the evil that rages in our world, but He also leads us into its dangerous places as we submit to Christ’s will and travel the roads that He takes us along. There are times in our lives when our Lord removes the hand of protection from us and from the world where we live so that we will turn from reliance upon its enchantments and return to a loving and fully committed relationship with Him. As we enter into an existence of worship with prayer, contemplation, and God’s Word forming the lyrics of our own life-hymns, we are transported by His Spirit out of the shadows of fear and doubt that attempt to engulf our hearts and minds and we are lifted up into a fuller appreciation of God’s eternal being.

 

The magnificent presence of the Lord is also warm and accessible. He enfolds His people in an embrace that stays engaged until the need is soothed and the heart is comforted. God is both mighty and intimate at the same time. He is the creator of all that exists, and He is the one who knows the smallest details of each of our lives. In Christ, He rejoined our journey along the roads of this world, and through Christ we are taken out of sin’s death and placed into the eternity of God’s Kingdom of love, grace, mercy, and peace. People go through life searching for a place to call home where their needs can be met; yet, Christ provides the answer to that desire. He brings us to a new dwelling place in the now and forevermore Kingdom of God where each of His people have purpose within Christ’s plan and enjoy the unending love that He pours out on us.

I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;

before the gods I sing praise.

Psalm 138: 1

 

There are gods all around us. Just listen to the words that many people say. Hear the power and the self-appointed authority that propels their speech, and it is easy to appreciate the sense of deity that these people possess. In addition to public figures, we are asked to bow down to, to worship, many institutions, ideas, and pursuits. When Paul walked into the Areopagus on Mars Hill in Athens he did not encounter as many gods as we find in our modern world. We may not set up religious shrines and erect statues to depict their images, but we do seek favor from them, give our hearts and minds to their causes, and surrender our true wealth to their purposes. The rhythm of our days is often formed out of these worship practices.

 

God desires that we would live differently. He is jealous of our worship and wants it all for Himself. This is a valid form of jealousy, for the Lord will provide His people with everything that we need and does care for us completely and absolutely. More significantly, the Lord knows that this all too human drive to serve other gods distracts and diverts people away from service to the life-giving Gospel of Christ. As we enter into the lyrics of this world’s hymns we start to sound and to act just like people who do not know God. Our words become angry and bitter, and the love of Christ is pushed aside as we enter into the ebb and flow of an attack and defend mentality. None of this brings people closer to knowing Christ; so, all of this actually works against Christ’s purpose for His people in this world.

 

God holds a different perspective on the ways that people who know Him should practice our faith. Instead of holding our worship of the Lord as personal and private and our adoration of this world’s gods as public, God desires that we would live out our days as a continual song of praise to Him. The verses of this song of life can be filled with actions that are defined by grace, love, truth, and mercy. The chorus that we repeat would contain recognition and praise for all that the Lord is and does for us. This form of life-song is the most effective way to speak Christ into our world, and it is the sure way to defeat the call to worship of the false gods that surround us.

Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.

Psalm 26: 2

 

David must have a been a bit off when he penned these words; since, my sense of David is that he was a very real man with flaws, weakness, and the sort of sinful heart that I possess. So, to ask God to look this closely at his mind and his heart was to ask the Lord to shine His righteous light into David’s darkest and most desperately hidden places, and this focuses way too much attention on those flaws of character to be comfortable or seem safe. Yet, that is exactly the point of doing what David did.

 

There is no time of greater need for the close scrutiny of the Lord than when I am experiencing deeply rooted pain, fear, anxiety, or than when my mind and my heart are dwelling on thoughts and images that are sinful. These are times when I don’t want anyone to know what is going on inside of me, and during these points in my life, I am certainly not operating out of a close and an open relationship with my Lord. However, this life of hiddenness is a plainly irrational way to operate, and it is highly dysfunctional, too.

 

When I invite the Spirit of Christ into my deepest recesses, I am actually just recognizing a reality that already exists, for He is a part of me, and He is fully aware of everything that goes on inside of me. The imaginings of my mind and the yearnings of my heart are tangible facts to God. Even when the contents of my inner self are at their darkest point, the Lord is never harsh and judgmental with me; rather, He does what He needs to do to redirect my thoughts onto His will and He orients my heart toward His righteous way of living. One of the best ways to stay centered and focused on the healthiest path through the day is to continually seek God’s insight and wisdom and to be transparently open to His Spirit’s examination of all of my inner self. Like David, the Lord’s examination of my heart can lead to healing as I yield to His will.

 

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

 

The prophet Habakkuk is engaged in a dialogue with God in which Habakkuk is complaining bitterly to the Lord and wondering about how long he must wait until justice and fairness will become visible in God’s dealing with people and with nations. These words are those of God in response to the prophet’s lament, and the actor in line one is probably either Babylon or its king. So, there is a contrast established between the way that people who were not following God, the Babylonians, rely upon their own wisdom and strength to navigate their way through life and the way that a follower of God gains the same direction and fortitude by virtue of faith in God.

 

This theme of faith in God as foundational to living life well is as old as is the existence of humanity. Its lack is a fundamental problem behind the rebellion of the first people in the garden, and it is my problem today. In simple words, God has the capability and the capacity to accomplish anything that fits within His will and desire, and I have none of this capability and even less capacity. God possesses all wisdom and knowledge, and I am severely limited in both. The Lord cares about my outcome and calls me into the most meaningful service possible in order to bring glory to Him while granting to me a life of eternal worth.

 

Faith in God is the difference maker in my life and in the lives of all people. As we seek to know our Lord and let Him into the deepest recesses of our soul, He enlightens our heart with His love, mercy, grace, and wisdom. This is the truth that truly frees us from the oppression that our soul was held under by sin’s grasp upon our lives. As my faith grows and infuses more and more of my being, I have an ever decreasing need to hold onto my own prideful competency and skill. I am also able to come out from under the heavy shadow of doubt and fear. Faith in God clears away the mountain that blocks my view of His glory and that cuts off my path into service to my Lord.

 

 

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13: 10

 

It is my opinion that God’s understanding of neighbor might be different from mine. When I think of neighbors, my mind brings up a gallery of the faces and the names of the people whose homes are within line of sight from my own. These are the people who I encounter when I walk the dog or work outside of my house. It would never occur to me to do them harm or to perpetrate evil against them as that is the actual meaning of the word behind the “wrong” here. These are people who I care about and would care for if they had a need. These are people who I reach out to know and to enter into relationship with.

 

These relationships work to reinforce the fact that I would not violate any of God’s law when it comes to these neighbors. By virtue of their proximity, I have developed a form of family relationship with them. Yet, I think that God means much more by neighbors than just street addresses that are near to mine. He views our world with a much wider lens than I tend to do. God sees people that are beyond my immediate grasp at the same time as He looks upon my life and speaks His purpose into it. In some ways the Lord considers neighborliness in the way that the desert dwelling nomadic people do. A neighbor is someone who you encounter regardless of his of her nationality, status, or religious beliefs. No one on this earth is outside of the boundaries of neighbor.

 

God views neighbors as people to be care about and for, to be embraced with hospitality, and to be loved sacrificially. Thus, God calls upon His people to set aside our natural focus on differences and to reach out from the walls of our self-protection so that we can look all people in the eye and open our arms of welcome to them. As we engage in these acts of neighborliness, we are bringing Christ into the lives of people who need Him as much as we do. When we love those who are different and even frightening to us, we are entering into the fulfillment of the law that is Jesus Christ

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Philippians 3: 1

 

Here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. This is a time that often triggers reflection and goal setting in light of what is learned through that reflective thinking. This past year has been hard in many respects. There has been warfare taking place all over the globe to such an extent that, regardless of where we live, it is hard to feel safe from its violence. People are engaged in struggles to simply survive while many of us are feeling threatened by their desire to move away from oppression and death and into our neighborhoods. True justice has become very hard to define, dangerous to defend, and seems to be a futile dream in our world.

 

This is the sort of time that Paul’s “finally” is all about. He is not so much drawing a series of thoughts to a close as he is reaching the place of summation. He is stating a final argument for the manner in which followers of Christ are distinctly set apart from the rest of our world and from our cultures. We know something that does not require us to escape from reality to achieve and that does hold up regardless of what is happening in our world or in our own life. In and through all that comes our way we can trust in the presence of Christ with us. This presence of the one who is the unshakable lover of my soul and the caretaker of my life brings about a form of deep-seated joy that fills all of the dark caverns that doubt and fear attempt to create within my heart and mind.

 

This fullness of joy that Christ causes is my companion through all of life. It walks with me in bold defiance of the reticence to love and to care for others that society preaches. It supports and comforts my wounded heart when I am overtaken by grief and loss, and it empowers me to express the depth and the nature of my relationship with Christ to everyone that I encounter in any and all context within the scope of my day’s journey. In fact, this joy that Christ brings about in me demands expression, and this expression is the rejoicing that Paul describes. It is the natural result of living a life that has been surrendered to Christ, and its reality in me is one of the ways that my Lord speaks to others about their need for the Savior. So, let’s ring in this new year with thoughts, words, and actions of joyous praise to our Lord!

The horse is made ready for the day of battle,

But the victory belongs to the Lord.

Proverbs 21: 31

 

People were designed and created by God to be interested and engaged in the process of governing our world. The Lord granted us this as a right and as a responsibility. This aspect of humanity’s calling has very deep roots as it goes back to our time in the garden, existed before our exile, and was also a part of God’s commentary on our new life on the outside. Then, as it continues to be now, it is our sin that turns this process of governance into a battle. Evil in all of its manifestations desires to be in control. It will do anything and promise everything in order to win. So, people who know God are required to be vigilant and to remain prepared for the fight.

 

This preparation is founded in our knowledge of God. Our minds are made ready through the study and contemplation of His Word, and our hearts are strengthened by the presence of Christ’s Spirit. This state of preparedness is constant and unrelenting. There are no times of vacation, for Satan does not take a leave of absence from his war on righteousness. So, Christ warns His people to remain ever vigilant and to continually maintain our spiritual weapons. Yet, our hard work and all of our efforts are doomed to failure if they are done for us. They are futile if Christ is not leading our way. We do not possess the wisdom or have the understanding of God’s true purpose and plan that would be required to devise a holy and just battle plan. Our role is to be well-prepared rank and file soldiers in service to our King.

 

As we do not know God’s strategy or have a clear picture of His tactics, we are called upon by Him to follow. We are to stay true to the Word in our thoughts, actions, and expression. This means that we are to stay engaged in the processes of governance even when God’s objectives are unclear and when it seems that our voice is not being heard. God continues to implore His people to be the ones who bring respect to the discourse and love to the debate. Although we do know the outcome of it all in that Christ does reign supreme over all of Creation, God will not give us total understanding of His daily plans. We are to remain loyal and committed to serving the gospel of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, and we are to trust our Lord and have unyielding faith in the fact that the victory is His.