Scripture introduces us to the living God. He is neither detached nor disinterested but rather vibrant and active. Idols cannot compare with Him. They are a useless product of human innovation that do nothing. He sees, hears, cares, loves and acts. He is angry or pleased. He is grieved. Humans are handcrafted by God, and we matter to Him. We touch Him at an emotional level.
The Lord is aware and reacts to disobedience. He has expectations of His crowning creative achievement. We have accountability. When we refuse to take Him at His word, consequences follow. Paradise is lost. We were made to be a reflection of Him, and sin tarnishes that image to a point where it is no longer recognizable. The living God knows and responds in anger to the devil’s damaging effects.
The cancerous spread of sin is a death sentence for all it touches. Unchecked, it will destroy the world. So, He deals with it. Expulsion from the garden. A world cleansing flood. Fire and brimstone on a wicked couple of communities. Purification of the covenant community at the hands of ungodly military forces. It draws for us a dramatic technicolored picture of a God who is both aware and involved. This is, after all, His world.
Never has His concern for the affairs of mankind been more apparent than it was when He sent His Son. Love beyond explanation motivated the One who created us to seek to save us. He entered into a world in desperate need. We cannot sidestep the cold hard facts of sin and its penalty. The outcome will always be death, and He is the living God. He does not want dead people.
Jesus came to bring a life of abundance. In so doing, he exposed the realities of sin. His contemporaries did not care for the explanation. His own people rejected Him. The Son of God came to the people of God, and they greeted Him with hostility, just a small sampling of what sin does. It deceives, distorts and destroys. The living God cares very deeply for His creation and the damage that is done by the enemy’s forces. He gave His Son to rescue us.
Jesus walked among the people. He was not aloof. He never retreated to a gated community to keep the commoners away. He became one of them. He ate and talked with them. He explained the kingdom in everyday language. He spoke theology in understandable words. He was a reflection of the living God who loved them without limits. And then He died.
The cross was the ultimate expression of the living God. Sin is a horror. It drove nails through God the Son. The living God planned it and carried it out because of His great love for us, but the grave could not hold Him. Death will never be the last word with the living God.
Great God, Creator
Who could have ever guessed? There was nothing remarkable about the appearance of that Bethlehem baby. The family knew that there was something very special about this child, but could they possibly grasp the full implications? A glance at the family tree offered hints. Could this be? Is He the One? But He looked just like any other newborn. Shouldn’t there be something different about the Messiah?
The growing-up years were relatively uneventful. There was that one trip to Jerusalem when He was twelve that drew attention to His unique identity as He spoke of being about His Father’s business (Luke 2:41-52). Other than that, He simply grew up. The years are mostly a mystery until His entry into the public arena. He was about thirty then, and He turned the world upside down.
He immediately challenged conventional thinking about God and His kingdom as He followed in the footsteps of the baptizing one. John paved the way with a scalding message of repentance. His preaching held nothing back. He was about as politically-incorrect as he could be. The self-esteem of his listeners was not high on his list of concerns. He blasted away in preparation for the Savior.
The religious establishment had gotten it all wrong. They were meticulous observers of ritual. They looked righteous as they ignored the bigger issues. They talked a good game, but demoted the word of God in favor of tradition. They strained out gnats and choked down camels. The major issues went undone as they tossed their tithes in the collection plate. Change was coming and Jesus Christ was the agent. Who would have recognized that as they looked at the infant in Bethlehem? He seemed so..ordinary.
Meanwhile, the Lord wandered the streets in search of the sinful. They are an unsavory bunch, and it was distasteful to the self-righteous. Why does He associate with such people? Tax collectors and sinners came to listen. Pharisees and scribes came to grumble (Luke 15:1). The outsiders came in and the insiders went out. Tensions mounted. Hostilities grew. Flashback to Bethlehem, and it is hard to imagine that a tiny baby in a manger was going to shake up the world in such a dramatic fashion.
He was the very picture of innocence. Babies always are, but they grow up. Somewhere along the way they begin to stray. He never did. He maintained his newborn purity from birth to death. No temptation overpowered Him. Peer pressure did not push Him over the edge. Nothing knocked Him off course in His mission. He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
No, it would not have been apparent at His birth A kid in a diaper is not the way we envision a savior. Nor do we think of someone who was born for the specific purpose of dying. He was, and that gives us eternal hope.
Life is not lived in crisis, and that is good. Our hearts could hardly stand it if it were. Most days are largely forgettable. There are occasional events that merit a deposit in our memory banks, but the vast majority are unremarkably average. Normal days filled with ordinary events which generate no sense of urgency. Nor do they drive us closer to our Lord. And that is the down side of pleasant times. God is easily shoved to the perimeter of our lives.
Comfort is not a very dynamic stimulant. Growling stomachs with no food in sight generate a different prayer than sitting down at a buffet to thank God for what He has provided. Gratitude for a healthy body is not like words directed to God after a cancer diagnosis. Ease does not drive us to our knees passionately seeking our Father. It is easy to lose focus when times are good, and that leaves us vulnerable.
Wandering the wilderness for forty years should have thoroughly educated the Jews of the exodus. They had been in a perpetual state of total dependence on God. Yet, it was necessary to warn them of the dangers that awaited them in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6:10-15). They would prosper. The cities would be impressive. Homes would be nice. They would enjoy the fruits of the labors of other people. The sweet life was just ahead, but it was accompanied by a bitter threat. Do not forget the Lord.
He had delivered them out of slavery. Remember? Ten plagues and a dramatic demonstration at the Red Sea? God did that. Their deliverance from a brutal life of labor was not their doing. Their military geniuses had not concocted a strategy to free them. It was a supernatural liberation, and they must never forget who did that. Comfort is dangerous. People tend to take their eyes off of God when they feel self-sufficient.
The long journey to the Promised Land was littered with the bodies of those who fell on the journey. The pitfall that lingered for the survivors would come through their minds. Smug self-satisfaction would dethrone the Lord in their thinking. Respect for Him would wane. Worship would become of secondary importance. Loyalty to Him would be diluted. They would begin to take on the religious practices of their new neighbors. “Be careful” was the warning. God must not be taken for granted.
We may be living in the most prosperous nation in history. It is extremely pleasant, but let’s not ignore the lesson of history. The Lord warned of how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-26). Conceit can slip in or a false sense of confidence (1 Timothy 6:17). It is God who delivered us from sin. It is critical that we do not let our comfort distort our sense of values. Never forget. Never.
“Fight the Good Fight”
Waiting is not something that we do well. A doctor’s office has designated rooms for just such a purpose. They attempt to divert our attention with magazines and televisions, but a patient’s patience wears thin. It seems to be such a waste of time. Automotive repair shops bring out the worst in us. Cars outside are cruising while ours is inside at a standstill and we fume. Meanwhile, the clock ticks as we fidget.
The works of God frequently unfold slowly. The creation account would not lead us to believe that He is one to drag His heels. If He can whip all creation into working order in six days, He can surely act quickly. Yet, He chooses a different time frame for other jobs. The forging of a collection of slaves into His special people took four hundred years. It was surely a mystery to those who lived their entire lives under the heavy hand of the Egyptians. “Be still,” King David tells us (Psalm 4:4). That is not our greatest skill.
Our frame of reference is shaped by clocks and calendars. God has no such concern. Centuries are but a blink of an eye to Him (2 Peter 3:8). He took that rag-tag collection of liberated slaves and led them around the wilderness for four decades to teach them what life is all about (Deuteronomy 8:3). Their education included hunger and humility. He revealed the condition of their hearts which is seldom a comforting revelation. Discomfort and discipline marked their journey. And waiting. Lots of waiting. Four decades worth after four centuries of working and waiting. There is no shortcut between bondage and the Promised Land.
The Lord is a hands-on participant in the transforming process which is neither brief nor pain-free (Hebrews 12:4-14). It takes both time and discipline to be freed from old thoughts and habits. God loves us enough to put us through periods of tough love to accomplish that goal. From an earthly perspective, it seems nothing positive is happening. We feel like we’re wandering in a spiritual wilderness. Remember that the master teacher used the wilderness as a classroom before. Perhaps, He is using our puzzling quiet moments to educate us, too. Be still. It is a valuable lesson if we will just learn it (Hebrews 12:11).
We see it throughout history. Powerful, oppressive nations rise and fall. The ungodly oppress the righteous. Time rolls on without divine retribution. We expect it. Long for it. The finish line seems far removed. We trudge through another seemingly pointless day. Meanwhile, an all-knowing, all-powerful God is working out His plan. The slaves grow impatient. Years pass. Hundreds of them, without action. Prayers seem unanswered. They aren’t. The answer is, “Wait.” He is behind the scenes and beneath the surface working on human hearts with a plan that is beyond our comprehension. The Promised Land is just ahead. Simply Wait.
“Glory to Our King”
The poet sits, pen in hand, and creates. Actually, he assembles. The parts are there, simply an array of letters. Consonants and vowels that he will combine to form words. A thought is in his mind. He will express it through combining words into sentences. None of them is independent of the other. Each letter is important. As is each word. He puts them together line-by-line and a verbal picture is drawn. An idea is communicated.
God is a master poet. He takes a wide array of individuals and combines them into His poem. It is described in various ways. He adopted them as His children. They are His flock, lambs following a single shepherd. They are the bride of Christ. In reality, she is His masterpiece. It is a melting pot of people as different as nouns and verbs. Both are essential in expressing the idea in the poet’s mind. There are no unimportant letters or words, no matter how small.
No sentence is complete without both noun and verb. Adjectives and adverbs add color. Conjunctions tie pieces together. Every part of speech serves to make the poet’s point. Even punctuation has its place in clarifying the message. Likewise, the Lord has gathered into one skillfully crafted poem the human parts that will best express His concept. He calls it the church, and He brought together very different individuals to be His declaration to a world that has been terribly damaged by sin.
Everyone brings a unique contribution to the whole. We have a perspective that is limited by time and space. We see very little beyond where and when we live. It is impossible to understand the role that Christians around the world throughout the centuries have played in the eternal purpose of God. Whereas, the poet has the complete picture in His mind. He knows the role for which he has equipped us all. We are part of something that is much bigger than this time and place.
The poem stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It involves both visible and invisible entities. Could we begin to identify and define our role in such a dramatic assignment? Saul saw himself as protector of the Jewish faith against the invasion of a blasphemous new movement. God’s plan for him? He would become Paul and spread the word of Christianity throughout the world for centuries to come. The poet has a way of rearranging the letters, both adding and subtracting to turn enemies into missionaries.
It all starts with the idea that is in the mind of God. It stretches forever in all directions and takes every kind of person to execute. It is so massive that we cannot begin to comprehend the significance of it. Yet, we find ourselves in the middle of it with an irreplaceable role. There are no stand-ins. Every Christian is a unique part of God’s poem of eternity.