The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1: 7

 

This verse is an outlier; it jumps up as an interruption in a series of verses that consider various forms of angry rebuke and acts of cleansing furry that will be carried out by the same God that is called good here. Nahum’s God is not divided or a bit imbalanced in His responses to the world; instead, the Lord is reacting to what He sees going on in the world. Where He encounters sin and its manifestations in violence, oppression, greed, and denial of His authority and the rule of God’s Law, the Lord takes action to cleanse away the evil, to purify the land and its inhabitant, and to draw those people back to their true God, Creator and Savior. That is what Nahum is speaking about when he wrote out this prophetic letter. His world in Judah and elsewhere has turned away from God on a large scale, and he believes that it is time for the Lord to set things right. God has confirmed this to Nahum in the form of prophetic vision and with inspired words with which to speak it forth into a broken world.

 

The world where Nahum lived is very far removed from the place that we inhabit, but the nature of people and our capacity for turning away from God and from His Word of Truth has not diminished at all. In fact, it seems that we may have been using the intervening centuries as a form of training ground and developmental laboratory for our capacity and skill at living in an ill-conceived form of independence from God. Humanity today is proficient at godless living, and it seems to revel in doing exactly the sorts of things that the Lord has expressed His distaste for and displeasure in. These might be the times that the prophet was discussing. So, these just could be the days wherein everyone should carefully consider the motivations of their hearts and the actions that proceed out of them, and also, we might be well-served to contemplate the eternal validity of the sources of wisdom that inform these thoughts and actions.

 

History confirms what the prophet said. When people turn away from God, there will be trouble. It has always been so. Much of it comes about because of the way that we treat each other, for God provides us with the ethical, moral, and philosophical basis for loving others, for viewing ourselves with full appreciation of who and what we are intended to be, and for living righteously and justly in the face of pressure to do otherwise. The Lord provides His people with a safe place to find shelter in those times of trouble. He covers us with His Word of Truth and Life, and He breathes that life into our lungs through the presence of His Spirit in and with us. Christ stands with us when we encounter the inevitable opposition that is present in our days, and His courage grants us the peace and the grace that we will require to continue to love others even when they express that opposition to our faith and thus to us. In Christ we find that shelter, and in response to His will, we are led to invite others into this eternal stronghold.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Matthew 11: 25, 26

 

During the Christmas season people can develop a mistaken understanding of Jesus. We get caught up in the images of Him as a baby and even ascribe to that infant some sort of otherworldly perfection, calm, and ease of care that are without question unrelated to what actually occurred. Jesus was a baby who did what babies do in all ways and senses. Even if that sweetness and easy-going spirit had been fully true when He was small, they did not define the totality of the man. Jesus was bold in ways that no one else has ever been bold, and He was direct with a truth that penetrated to the heart of all matters. Jesus also spoke to the reality of true need in ways that were intended to be redemptive and restorative both in the moment and for all of time to come. Jesus brought the offer of life from God, the Father, and many people refused to listen to the message and to hear its call to repentance and life anew.

 

In this instance, the wise and the learned people in the cities of His day had been among those who turned away from Jesus and refused to hear His plea for them to turn toward God with hearts submitted to the will of the Father. They had responded, or more accurately failed to respond, to the last of the prophets in John the Baptist, and this was much the same disinterested dismissal as they had given to all of the prophets from before. Now Jesus was confronting the same hardness of heart that had been formed up in an atmosphere of self-confidence, arrogant independence, and loyalty to this world’s order and rule. God’s message of repentance and return to righteousness was being heard and accepted by the humble, the downtrodden, and the poor of body and spirit in the countryside far more readily than it was by those in positions of strength, power, and leadership.

 

The stern words that the living Christ had to say to those people in His days on earth apply to us and to our times. We tend to be focused on what we believe to be best, true, and wise in the light of our own interests and desires. Yet, these understandings are too often formed up in the absence of God’s word of truth and revelation, for our thinking is frequently developed out of a combination of fear of loss of power or entitlement and out of a desire to rule over others in a manner that exploits our strength and increases their weakness. This is very much like the worldly view of successful living that Jesus was so dismayed by. Rather, when we live like the “little children” that Jesus recognized as the ones who had actually entered into the Father’s will, we submit our lives in humility and with repentant hearts to Christ seeking to love others as He does, to embrace the weak and the world-weary with caring actions, and to bring the peace and the reconciliation of Christ to the center of all forms of engagement with our world. Then we have entered into living out God’s gracious will.

For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1: 17

 

On-line shopping is amazing! If you can imagine the item that you might want or need, it can probably be found in that great electronically generated store that is just beyond the screen of a computer, tablet, or smart phone. Yet, that vast array of merchandise does not always present a truly satisfying experience for me. This lack of full satisfaction on my part might be due to the fact that I have spent the better part of my lifetime doing the old style of traditional face-to-face, in store shopping and it might be so because I like to touch and to evaluate the products before I decide to buy. I think that both of those ideas are true, and I also think that I find the relational engagement that comes through interaction with the sales person to be an important part of the experience. In a sense this is how God works with people as we determine what is good, just, and right for us and as our approach to living out these qualities in our lives.

 

This world presents us with choices every day. The possibilities for us as to what we believe and for the way that we engage with others as we go about the business of life are numerous. There are voices of wisdom to be found at almost every corner of that journey, and many of them are quite convincing in the force of their delivery or in the logic of their argument. Yet, in the end, there remains only one truth and there stands only one right source for it. It is in seeking out this truth and the wisdom that brings it to focus for each of us that the process of living seems to look a lot like that old style of shopping experience for me. Our world is not a static place, for situations and relationships are always active and changing. Although truth itself is unchanging in that it exists from beyond the inception of all that has been created in our world, the ways that it is applied to the specifics of life, truth’s narrative depiction, requires constant engagement with its source and amplification by the Spirit.

 

This is where faith is both tested and found. My faith is tested when I need to go beyond my own understanding and capacity to discern what is right or what is needful and when I must, therefore, rely upon the wisdom and understanding that God provides to me from both tangible sources such as His Word and people of faith and from the less tangible ones that are found in prayer and through the revelation of His Spirit. Faith is reinforced by the reality of God’s presence in all of this and by His constant engagement with my life. All that the Lord asks of me is that I trust Him enough, have sufficient faith, to turn to Him and to the wisdom of His Word of Life for each and every aspect of my existence. God holds back nothing of Himself or of the full blessing of His kingdom from me, and He desires that I would do the same with Him and in my relationship with His righteousness. The Lord seeks to interact fully, deeply, and personally with me, and He provides to me everything that I need in order to live out my days in the light of His righteousness and loving truth.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:11. 12

 

Unless you travel is some very rarified company, transcendence is not a word that most of us use with any frequency at all. Yet the idea of living a transcendent life is appealing to people. In fact, we use a closely related term in a careless and indiscriminate manner when we speak of seeking after excellence. This is obvious when a business asks for us to evaluate the service that it has provided, for the ask is generally tendered by the employee who performed the service, and it is always accompanied by instructions about the necessity that the score be nothing other than the highest one possible. This sort of false and worldly excellence pervades our culture, and it has changed the way that we consider what we hold up as above the ordinary so that which is truly transcendent.

 

Transcendence is a quality that has existed since the very beginnings of creation. God has defined it in His nature and has expressed it through His character. God is beyond and outside of all that He devised and all that He made; so, God transcends everything else, for God, Himself, created all that is beyond Him. Now this idea raises some complex and challenging questions about the presence of evil in our world, and I am going to simplistically say that God’s creation, the people of this world, have turned on our Creator and formed the rebellion of sin and its accompanying evil with our own hands. This is what happens when the creation determines that it is now the supreme one, the creator. The existence of evil is why we long for the transcendent. With all of our hearts we want to get away from the strife and the struggle of this world. We seek to dwell in a place of refuge from the violence, disease, and the loss that fills our days with their grim funeral dirges. God is aware of our desires, and He is also aware of our true need. He has never been silent or absent from us in His seeking to save people from our world and to grant us His presence; yet, we are often not very receptive to our Lord and to His advances toward us.

 

However, the Lord did not stop with being above the chaos of this fallen creation or with engaging with us from the vantage point of the spiritual realms. God left His place in the uncorrupted and entered into dwelling among humanity in our dangerously broken environment. He entered as newborn baby, grew into manhood, and demonstrated what it is to be a human who lives out God’s righteousness and love on this earth. Then, He yielded all that was His life here to the will of the Father so that we would have a new and a perfect means of entrance into the eternal. Christ came and gave to each of us the way to leave behind our earth-bound orientation. This new and transformed view of what it means to be alive on this earth in these days is granted to anyone who accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, and in so agreeing with God, we are permanently purified in God’s eyes and His Spirit begins to work within us to reform the very nature of our beings into one that views our world and that encounters God from the perspective of the eternal. The circumstances and events that make up living in this world do not change, but as we live out our days in the presence of Christ, our ability to understand and to experience peace while engaging with all of it is radically altered as with Christ we too can transcend the sin and death of this world and plant our feet on the firm ground of God’s eternal Word of Truth.

 

 

Know that the LORD, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100: 3

 

Most people do not like the idea of being owned. I know that this is true for me; I may speak about submission and granting my allegiance to positions and to people with authority, but actually doing this is another matter. Yet, God’s position is far higher and His rights are much greater than any of these human and earthly leaders and institutions that seek and that even attempt to place demands upon my life. All power, authority, and mandates for loyalty that exist on earth are derived out of God’s willful establishment of them. Now people do corrupt the positions that they hold and governments are also known to exceed God’s mandate and to abuse their right to rule over us, and when this corruption turns the corner into the outworking of evil in our world, we have a responsibility to work against those evil purposes and to strive to see righteous thinking and actions implemented in place of that which defies God’s will.

 

Still, for a follower of Christ, all of life is to be conducted from the perspective of being a person who is the beloved possession of God As hard as it is for me to admit, I am not free, for God is my creator, and He has not relinquished the title to my body, mind, heart, and soul. This right of ownership and the authority that comes with it are complex things. God has chosen to design His relationships with people in this manner. He could have determined that we would follow His will out of compulsion and without the capability to make our own choices regarding entering into it, but the Lord granted us the ability and the capacity to make decisions about almost everything in our lives. God does desire for each of us to determine that we want to enter into a relationship with Him, and the Lord’s will is for us to order all of our lives under His Word of Truth and within the counsel of His Spirit.

 

When we choose to follow God by coming to Christ, we are giving away the right to go our own way in life whenever and however we might decide is best for us. We are accepting the fact that God has the best plan for all people’s lives and that He may set a course for me that is radically different that the one that I would pick on my own. However, God has promised that His way is the one that leads to peace in my heart, to satisfaction for my spirit, and to meaningful engagement for my mind. Sometimes these things are highly apparent to us and at other times they are obscure. In and through it all, we can count on the fact that we are loved fully by God and that His will for our lives is perfect and complete. We can dwell in the Lord’s pasture of blessing and graze on His bounty of truth, grace, and mercy. Christ is the gentle and loving master who guides me into the joy and the peace of service to His kingdom. So, I desire to be owned by Him.

 

Now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Romans 7: 6

 

Freedom is such a precious thing; people will do almost anything and will risk everything to get it. It is also very illusive, for the thing that we feel has given it to us on one day just might be the thing that enslaves us on the next. We are never truly free until we realize that there is one and only one path that leads to a life that is absolutely free of the chains of imprisonment.

 

Christ alone releases us. Christ alone takes the chains off, and He also works on our battered bodies, minds, and spirits to restore them. He heals the ugly welts and bruises that the shackles have left, and Christ works in us to build up the withered muscles that have grown weak during the long days of confinement. The Word of Truth that is God’s expressed desire for living in complete freedom is brought to life and is implanted in us by Christ’s Spirit. We are made new. We are made whole. We are released from the dungeon of sin’s oppression.

 

However, the sort of freedom that Christ calls us into brings with it the same sort of price that He willingly paid. As we are freed from a law that demands personal performance, we are led by Christ to put to death our old ways of thinking, relating, and engaging with our world. We are granted the freedom to serve, to love, and to sacrifice all for the sake of the Kingdom of God in order to bring others into the presence of Christ. In Christ we have all of our needs met, we have all of our desires fulfilled, and we are given a purposeful mission to fulfill every day. With Christ sin no longer wins, and His loving righteousness blocks open the doors of its prison. There is no going back, for there is now only moving deeper into Christ.