Thursday, February 02, 2023
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Art by Laura James, LauraJamesArt.com
Big questions keep us awake at night. The answers define where we stand in relation to ultimate truth. They either cloud our view or take us to new vistas of awareness.
The psalmist asks a question.
Who can live close to God?
Who does God invite into proximity with the divine presence.
Psalm 15:1 - Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
The grand question introduces the next set of lessons from the psalms and sparks the imagination of all earnest seekers. As believers in Christ, we have the answer in the gospel, but the very asking of the question is a matter of opening to God for all that He desires to teach us. Do not take truth for granted or treat it as if it were not ever new and renewing. Allow the question to move you to the next level of seeking as you go before the Father in prayer today.
Psalm 15:2 - … He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart…
Here we have an answer to the question posed yesterday, “Who may dwell in your sanctuary and live on your holy hill?” Consider this: not everyone wants that. For some, the price of letting go of blame and embracing righteousness is too much. Truth is too threatening, and the lure of sin is too great. The psalmist however, longs for the presence of God and that is what it means to desire eternal life and heavenly bliss. It is not the beauty of the hill that captures the heart, but the beauty of God Himself.
To desire God is to desire the qualities that God brings to our lives: blamelessness through forgiveness, righteous behavior through the power of grace, and a heart of truth by the transformation of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us pray for that heart change that redirects our focus from sin to God and then, our very longing for heaven will be indicative of our readiness to enter in.
Psalm 15:3 - … and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong, and casts no slur on his fellow man.
The man or woman who can stand with joy and confidence in the presence of God and fully embrace the wonder of His fellowship is in constant touch with his or her fellow human beings. Those relationships matter. They have affect upon and are affected by our vital and honest relationship with God.
It is not possible to claim footing on the holy hill while usurping the place of a brother or sister. Slander, malice, and simple disregard for the feelings of a neighbor are indicative of shaky spiritual grounding and contribute to spiritual tremblers in our fellowship with the Lord. Let the love of Christ enter your heart at the choice level in all of your dealings with those around you and express your deep desire to love God by loving others.
Psalm 15:4 - who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
As we have so often noted, we must begin with the vile man within each of us and register our disgust with the vileness of our own sin natures. But we must go beyond that point. If we will despise the vileness within us, we must also honor the new man or woman recreated in God’s image that reveres God and loves truth.
That person lives inside of us as well and that person is fashioned by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. He or she is the Christ-life gifted to us through new birth. There are new values and a new integrity that is constantly going for truth no matter what it will cost because God is truth and nothing else matters more than God.
If we will value and honor that person, it will grow and take over our lives. That is the person God has made you to be.
Psalm 15:5 - who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
What some have, in the past, called social gospel, the scriptures call justice and righteousness. It is a very clear matter to the earnest student of the Bible that one must deal fairly, honestly, and uprightly in every horizontal relationship if the vertical relationship with God is to flourish. Allow dishonesty, greed, malice, and bitterness to enter into your heart in any dimension of your being and it will undermine your footing before God upon the holy hill where you presume to stand erect.
The key to unshakable spiritual growth is to despise that which is vile and embrace that which is holy and true and to never compromise our purity of purpose in seeking God – whether our eyes are fixed toward His sanctuary or upon His face in the eyes one of His children.
Sing along with this video
1. Who may a bide in Your dwelling, O Lord?
He who walks rightly and follows Your word.
Who makes his home on Your high, holy hill?
He who speaks truth in his heart by Your will.
2. He shall not slander a neighbor or friend;
Neither does evil nor seeks to offend.
All who are wicked by him are despised;
God's faithful servants find praise in his eyes.
3. He keeps his word without thought to his pain.
Lends to the needy, expecting no gain;
Stands by the innocent man without fail.
He who does these things shall ever prevail.
Words: David P. Regier, Music: Traditional Irish Melody
In Micah’s day, the same questions were being asked.
Micah preached it poetically.
Micah 6:1-8, New International Version
Listen to what the LORD says:
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains;
let the hills hear what you have to say.
“Hear, you mountains, the LORD’s accusation;
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the LORD has a case against his people;
he is lodging a charge against Israel.
“My people, what have I done to you?
How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember
what Balak king of Moab plotted
and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Out of the complex history of God’s dealings with his people up until that point comes a simple message.
In three short points, Micah summarizes the human obligation to God.
- Act with justice and fairness.
- Love mercy.
- Walk humbly with God.
When we walk in justice, we care about right and wrong in our personal lives, in our communities, and in the world.
We care about the poor, the wounded, the broken, and the disenfranchised.
We labor for the wellbeing of all people.
That is just justice. It is fair. It is right. It honors the dignity of humanity which is dignified by God.
But there is more. There is mercy. The people who love God, love mercy. The people who love mercy, feel the pain of others can care about them with great affection and passion.
Not to love mercy is to deny the heart of God and separate ourselves from God’s concerns.
Then, there is even more. The people who are drawn in to the inner circle of God’s presence are those who walk with God in humility. They have an honest view of themselves and a awe inspired view of God.
They cannot be self-focused because they have seen a glimpse of glory and that glory has humbled their hearts with reverence and joy.
Paul said such people who come to God in Jesus for mercy and grace, those who see God’s glory in the cross of Christ, those who have been transformed by the grace of God, are often considered as fools in the world.
How could thinking people accept such a simple and generous gospel?
1 Corinthians 1:18-31, New International Version
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
It is a great turn-round. Those who think they are clever, wise, sophisticated, powerful, and above-it-all will be frustrated and humbled. Those who have humbled themselves and received mercy shall be exalted.
Those who asserted their own importance shall realize how unimportant they are.
Those who knew they were weak and relied on God's strength shall be strong indeed.
God, working in Christ, makes people wise, and strong, and righteous as he redeems them and makes them holy.
It all makes sense in the charter message of the Kingdom of God, delivered on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee by Jesus himself.
Matthew 5:1-12, New International Version
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let us zero in on verses 1 and 2
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them …” - Matthew 5:1-2:
The sermon on the Mount is the greatest description of kingdom living ever spoken. Its ideals are high and unattainable in the flesh. It lifts values and principles which go for the heart of God’s desire for the behavior of kingdom people.
To examine ourselves in their light is an arduous task. It would be discouraging and debilitating apart from grace. However, it can serve as a benchmark for progress is our spiritual growth. It can also remind us that no matter how far we have come, God can take us farther.
With an Open Mouth
“And he opened his mouth, and taught them …“-Matthew 5:2
When Jesus began to teach, he opened his mouth. The words that came out were words of congratulations. They were words of encouragement. They were spoken to the multitudes. They were spoken to disciples.
They were spoken to men and women who were poor come who were in mourning, who were meek hungry for righteousness merciful sincere and peacemakers. They were these characterized by all of these descriptions, or they aspired to be the people Jesus described and would become them.
They were people who would know persecution and hardship and sorrow.
So, Jesus called them blessed.
Some call this blessedness happiness.
Some call it congratulations.
Whatever it is called the poor are blessed because of their greatest possession the Kingdom of God.
Mourners are blessed because of anticipated comfort from God. The meek are blessed because in their powerlessness they find great power to inherit the earth. It is a world of opposites that we enter when we invited into the Kingdom of God.
We become odd people, people who cannot be put into a box, people who are not easily defined.
We are blessed when we are persecuted. We win by losing. We gain great mercy in showing mercy. Our eyes are cleared to see God when they are purified by our hearts which are sincere before God in their seeking.
Rejoice Jesus says. Rejoice when you are beat up. Rejoice when people speak evil against you falsely. Rejoice when you are reviled. Rejoice and be glad. You have a great reward awaiting you in heaven.
Those who find the way of Jesus, the simple gospel of God's Kingdom, and answer the gracious, welcoming invitation to come, are invited to the Holy Hill. They are drawn into divine proximity. They are ushered into the sanctuary.
The Kingdom of God is made up of common people with a sincere desire to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, all of whom have had multiple failures in that attempt. However, they have risen from the failures, accepted forgiveness, and have started over - sometimes over and over.
They are a rejoicing people that are hard to understand, but they keep rejoicing because they have found a way like no other way.
Theirs is the Kingdom of God and they shall see God and for them, that is the greatest reward of all.
Monday, January 16, 2023
Sunday, January 08, 2023
It Is Proper
Valente, Liz. Baptism of Jesus, Original source: Liz Valente, https://www.instagram.com/donalizvalente/.
Preparing the Way
“For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” – Matthew 3:3
Every prophetic function with its fulfillment has its counterpart in our lives and it is up to us to seek it. What does it mean for us, as the people of God, to prepare the way for the Lord? How have those who have gone before us prepared a straight path for Him in our lives? How have events and people shaped us so that we could be ready to receive His Word?
God’s ways always involve preparation. He does nothing haphazardly or without thought and planning. When He desires to speak, He prepares the message, the messenger, and the hearer. When He is about to act, He informs His servants the prophets. He is a God of precision and perfect order. He does all things well.
John the Baptist was God’s man in God’s timing. His life was his ministry and he learned to look beyond the obvious and to seek God deeply. He patiently awaited the coming of the messiah and faithfully proclaimed the message God had given him through the days of waiting.
God never wastes time or calls us to bide our time. Everything, all time, all preparation is meaningful and purposeful.
God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;
God is working His purpose out,
And the time is drawing near.
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth is filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.
(Arthur C. Ainger, 1894)
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: - Matthew 3:11
Are you fired up? Water reminds us of Spirit and of fire. It is a strange paradox, for water often quenches fire. However, firefighters will tell us that there are some fires that not only cannot be quenched by fire but grow with the introduction of water. So it is with repentance. God observes the intention of our hearts and we long for new life and yearn for change. Jesus is who we need because He has the power to do what water cannot do. The symbolic water of outward repentance signifies the inner fire of new life.
The Son of God is the worthy one. Brother John knew that he was His messenger and that all he did and said was to point the way to Jesus. Though he was as great as any man born of woman, he keenly sensed his comparable unworthiness. Jesus himself would explain that the very least in God’s Kingdom would be greater than the greatest specimen of human nobility.
All of that was because of the introduction of a new factor in the human experience: the possibility of men and women being completely immersed in the Holy Spirit and fire. Water could demonstrate repentance, but fire would burn away all the remnants of sin through a deep cleansing process within and the Spirit would empower us to face temptations, trials and challenges with unprecedented energy.
Fire grows under the proper conditions, and it heats everything up. So, it is with those who have been immersed in God’s Spirit. His fire rages within them and brings heat and light to a cold, dark world. It is more than enthusiasm, though it often manifests itself as such. It is more than passion, though it ignites a passion so deep that nothing can douse it. It is more than energy; it is a result of divine energy. It is God’s very presence in our lives.
Like John, we are unworthy, but we are destined for greatness – not of our own making, but of His. His Spirit within fires us up.
It Is Proper
Jesus showed up at the river, the river Jordan, to be baptized by John the Baptist. And what happened when he got there was that John protested. John didn't want to baptize Jesus. He, it offended him. It offended his sense of prior propriety. John did not feel worthy to baptize Jesus because he saw Jesus as the promised one. He knew that Jesus was the one that God had sent as the Messiah. And whatever he understood about that, it caused John to protest.
He said to Jesus, I can't baptize you. In fact, Matthew says in chapter three that John tried to prevent him. And Jesus insisted, John said, I should be coming to you to be baptized. And Jesus said, let it be so do it. Please do this. It's proper, or it's fitting, or the word can be translated becoming. It is fitting to do this because it is a fulfillment. That's another word that I want to emphasize today.
It is a fulfillment of righteousness. So, let's break it down a little bit. It's fitting. We use fitting for, it's the right, the proper, the becoming, the good thing to do. It's the right thing at the right moment. Now, a lot of times when people say it's the right thing to do, they don't really explain why it's right to do something. And we go away not fully understanding the rightness of what they're doing.
We just know that it's done well. That's the way we do it. You know, that's the way we do it. Where I come from, or that's the way my generation did it. But Jesus is talking about something far more significant. He is always in the right place at the right time, and he is the most intentional human being that has ever lived. And so please understand that when Jesus comes to be baptized, it's not because it's a nice thing to do.
It's not because it's a meaningful thing to do. It's not because, uh, it will please, or everyone will understand. Jesus says it's the proper thing to do, and that's verified. When the heavens are open, the spirit descends like a dove. And God affirms and confirms it by saying, this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. For Jesus, the proper thing is the thing that pleases the Father. And when you please the Father, it brings everything together.
it means that everything is aligned. People sometimes substitute the word universe for God. It's not adequate because God may the universe, but I want to bend in their direction just a little bit. It's like all the stars are aligned. Everything comes into its proper alignment when that which is proper is done. And this can be as mundane as going into the water and having your head pushed under the water while someone says a formula.
Because it is in the mundane acts of alignment with what we sense to be the will of God in every given moment that a spiritual reality is touched and our lives are touched in a spiritual realm proper, then he uses the word fulfillment. He uses the word fulfillment to mean this fleshes things out. This makes things complete. This is the completeness of the moment. You know, the word perfection is at its root in the biblical languages.
Another word for complete is whole. That which is unadulterated, that which is not left dangling. It's complete, it's fulfilled. And Jesus very much desired to fulfill the law, the Torah he desired to fulfill the prophetic tradition. He desired to fulfill all things related to his understanding of the role that his father had sent him to fill. And he had a deep understanding of what fulfillment would mean. We all want purpose in life.
We want significance in life. We want to know that what we're doing makes a difference. That we're not wasting time, that we're not spinning our wheels, that we're not dragging our feet in life. And Jesus wanted the very same thing, but in his case, it had eternal significance for all humankind. And what he did was extremely consequential. He identified with us, he identified with our humanity, including our human, frail peace and failures and sins all the way to the cross where he invites us to identify with him in his vicariousness of going to the cross on our behalf.
But more so in his resurrection into the life that he intends for us. What would be fulfilling is to align ourselves with Jesus and his way, who is aligning himself with God and with man in that moment. And the third word Jesus uses is righteousness. And righteousness is very much about being right and being on the right track and moving in the right direction and being rightly, and I'm using the word aligned a lot today, aligned with God and God's purpose.
And God's will, may be mysterious as to us. That's the river that runs through everything, the righteousness of God, which comes by faith. From faith to faith where the just live by faith and by faith, Jesus enters into the water identifying with humankind because it's the proper thing to do and it's the fulfilling thing to do, and it's the righteous thing to do. He's the only one who was baptized by John who went into the water, righteous, as righteous as he came out.
But you see, Jesus was not just aiming for his own personal righteousness, his function and his intention was to make us all righteous before God and to lead us all in the right direction. It would stand a reason that if he is leading us in that direction, the direction of fulfillment, the direction of propriety and, and delight, and that which is beatific and becoming and the path of justice and truth where we follow him.
Follow him. It's all he really asks of us. Follow him in his love and his grace and his mercy, and his righteousness and his truth. Follow him all the way home. That's our intention today.
The Lord bless you, keep you, make a space to shine upon you. Lift up his countenance upon you and be gracious under you and give you peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Amen.
Like a Dove
“… and lo, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him.” – Matthew 3:16b
A family of doves built a nest in a flower basket on our patio. They became my teachers as I observed them conveying more life lessons than I will recount here.
With great interest, we watched as that family, and later, others, came and nested there, hatched their young, and sent them on their way. The site of doves descending is a wonder of nature.
The vision of the Spirit descending is a wonder of super nature.
There was little reason for Jesus to be baptized except to fulfill all righteousness and to identify with sinful humanity in preparation for His sacrificial death on the cross. However, as he stepped into the nest of human experience and began to bear the burden of our frail weakness and disobedience, he was affirmed by the Father and knew the pleasure of his purposes.
As little birds stumble out of the nest and first began to fly, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to face temptation as we face it. He committed in His baptism to be as vulnerable as those he came to save.
By the power of the same Spirit and Word available to us, he stood in the face of Satan’s lures.
The baptism of Jesus speaks of his credibility and ties to us as our elder brother, the first born of a new creation. Where he leads, we can follow, because he has avoided none of the steps we must take. As he identified with us in his baptism, so we identify with him and his redemption in ours. As his Spirit descends upon us in the new birth, we can ascend. Because he has been in the valley of temptation, we can be victorious. Because he has born our sins, we can be free.
“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17
When Jesus came to John to be baptized, no one was more perplexed then John himself.
John was accustomed to baptizing sinners who came to repent of their sins. That is why it made no sense to him the Jesus had come.
But Jesus had a point to make. His intention was to identify with the sinners that John was baptizing. He intended to go to the cross for them, on their behalf, representing them, and loving them.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
That meant that he would be immersed in the same water as they were. That meant he would be immersed in similar life experiences. He would bear their griefs. He would carry their sorrows. He would feel the pain of their guilt. He would stand in their place.
Jesus announced his esteem for people. It was about his regard for people. It was about his affection for people. He was identifying with people. Specifically, he was identifying with sinners.
That was Jesus’ announcement.
The father also had an announcement to make. Whereas Jesus announced something about humanity, God's announcement was about Jesus. It was visual. It was verbal. A voice from heaven called out.
A voice from heaven was heard by all. It was unmistakable. It was dramatic.
This is my son the voice declared. He is my beloved. I am pleased with him.
God chose the moment when Jesus identified with sinful humanity to declare his identification with Jesus. God was pleased with his son and God was pleased with what his son was doing.
Here is a glimpse into the very mission and heart of God . God declares in Jesus here I am. This is who I am. This is what I am doing in the world. If you want to see me, look at my son.