We enjoy our homes. We try to make them as comfortable as we can. They are a place of rest and security. I weep when I see the pictures of refugees returning to their homes in the middle east that are nothing by rubble. Or pictures of a California family standing before a pile of ashes that was once their home. This is devastating. One cannot minimize the heartache of such families as they try to rebuild homes and lives. But there must be something more, something that gives strength now, and hope to move forward. Psalm 91 says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Our true place of rest can’t be in the earthly structures we build. We have learned, all too often, how transient and vulnerable they are. Our strength, our hope, our rest, is only in the One who came among us, and who supports us in all of our times and needs.
Do you enjoy God? We pray to God. We worship and praise Him, but do we enjoy Him? We enjoy being with a close friend, or family member. It is great to share some activity together, or just to sit in quiet conversation. As a child we enjoyed gong to grandma’s house. There are places we enjoy being, and people we enjoy being with. Why not our Heavenly Father? The Lord is our awesome and majestic God, yet He wants to dwell among us and relate to us. We believe that our Lord is a God of wisdom, goodness, joy and self-giving love. It should be our greatest joy to walk and talk with Him. Take a walk by yourself knowing that your Lord is near. Talk out loud to Him. Enjoy together the things you see in the world He has made. Pour out your heart as friend to friend. Enjoy your Lord and believe that He enjoys being with you.
Jesus said to those gathered before Him, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 5:20) “Surpasses their righteousness”, how is that ever possible? The Pharisees and teachers were the good guys. I know Jesus had His troubles with them, but they strictly followed the laws of Moses. God had said this is what He wanted, and they were obedient to it. How could we possible do better? And on top of this Jesus said that what is in our minds counts also, whether anger, or lust, or whatever, these are sins, too. How can we ever be righteous before God? But that is just the point. We can’t. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. It is all in what Jesus came to do on our behalf. He lived the perfect sinless life. He died to make atonement for all of our sins. He gave us, as a free and unearned gift, His perfect righteousness. We can stand before God in a righteousness that far exceeds that of the Pharisee, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, Himself. Speaking of Abraham in Romans chapter four Paul says, “‘(His faith) was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”(vss.22-24) What a marvelous truth! What a marvelous gift! We are free in Christ Jesus.
I have had times of being a little hungry or thirsty, but I have never been in any extreme need for food or drink. It would do me good to go without for a bit, but that’s another issue. Jesus was up on the mountain side speaking to His followers with the words we call the Beatitudes, the Blesseds. In His fourth point He said,”blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”.(Matthew 5:6) The object of the hunger here is righteousness, and this hunger is not just a mild desire to eat, but more of a sense of being famished. Do we hunger, need, urgently long for, the perfect righteousness of God? And not just for some personal satisfaction, but a true longing that all people know the good and perfect righteousness of our heavenly Father. This is the righteousness found at the cross, and then reflected in our lives to others. It is this hunger that truly changes things for the better, and Jesus promises that we shall be satisfied.
Christmas decorations are being put away. Lights packed up and stored until next year. We begin thinking of the next season, or perhaps even a summer vacation. But there is one thing that cannot change, cannot be put in a box and stored away – the truth of Immanuel, God with us. Almighty God became a man in Jesus of Nazareth. He came to redeem the people He created from their bondage to sin, death, and the power of the devil. “For God so loved the word that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16) That is the truth at the core of life for all day of every day of the year. May you live in this truth, and know the fullness of God’s peace.
With the ample evidence of God’s hand in our life and our world we may wonder why He continues to work with mankind? After all, we have not been the most faithful creatures. We have been selfish. We have misused many of His blessings. We have been ungrateful, thinking what we have is our right, somehow our due, and then complaining we don’t have enough. It was no wonder He asked ancient Israel what more He could have done for them? We wonder why He continues to put up with us? And yet we know the answer. He is a Father. How many of us as parents have sacrificed repeatedly, accepted pain and hardship, in order to help our children. If we know how to do this, how much more has our heavenly father poured out His redeeming love upon the children of His creation. And then the ultimate act of love by becoming one of us. He is holy and Almighty God. He can’t ignore our sin. It must be judged. Our sin deserves eternal punishment. But He took that punishment into Himself by His Son, Jesus. In the amazing depth of His love, He redeemed us from sin and death. Our quest for peace, the evidence we see of God in life, our need for redemption from sin within and around us, are all summed up in one name – Jesus. He is our reason for humility and worship.
The Apostle Paul looked at the world around him seeing the abundant evidence of God’s handiwork. He wrote,
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”(Romans 1:20) Yesterday I wrote about the human desire to create, and our efforts to set things right being our inward longing to return to the perfection of creation as God intended it. There is ample evidence of God both within us and in the world in which we live. Above all this is the truth that Almighty God came among us Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. God asked a question to ancient Israel, whom He referred to as His vineyard and had worked with for many centuries, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?”(Isaiah 5:4) We have more than ample reason to humble ourselves, and bow before the Lord of all Creation.
The Psalms give voice to so many of our human emotions. They express what it means to be human, and to be in a world separated from the fullness and perfection of God. The account of creation in Genesis one and two, which many treat as a myth, expresses the purpose and desire of our God who created us. There was perfection in the things of that time, and a perfect and open relationship between man and his Creator. Ever since we sinned and broke that relationship there has been a deep longing for restoration which has expressed itself in many ways even though most people do not recognize it as such. The voice of the Psalmist in 42 cries out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”(vss.1-2) All of our efforts expressing our creativity, our charity in helping others, our desires for world peace, are all our longing for the creation we lost, and our desire for its restoration. The more we recognize this the more we are brought to our knees in humility and worship, seeking the only true God who can bring that restoration.
Two hundred and fifty years ago a man by the name of Augustus Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee”. Nine hundred years ago a monk by the name of Bernard wrote, “Lord, let me never, never out live my love for Thee”. We can go back to Apostles and saints for two thousand years and find the same faith built upon the same Rock. That Rock is Jesus Christ. Even in the darkest times that Rock has never moved and His light has never faded. Paul was writing about the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt fifteen hundred years before Jesus’ birth. He wrote that the people drank from “the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”(I Corinthians 10:4) You and I live in this ultra modern era with all its advances, but our feet are sill set upon that same Rock, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”(Hebrews 13:8)
Any project takes a plan, the right materials, and good labor. If one skimps on any part the finished product will not turn out well. Scripture uses this image of a building project a number of times, and particularly in relation to what God is doing with us. Psalm 100 has declared “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture….(vs.3) You are the perfect material God has chosen to use for His creation. Peter wrote, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood,…(IPt.2:5) Even Abraham understood this 2000 years before Christ. In his relationship with the Lord it says “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”(Hebrews 11:10) This makes a tremendous difference in how you look at yourself. Not in being puffed up with pride, but understanding that you loved by God, and precious. God has a real and special purpose for your life. I wish more of our young people could understand themselves this way rather than by the values of what the world calls beautiful and good. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,…”(Ephesians 2:10)