When one begins a project, whether it is a large building in the heart of a city, or a wood working project in a small shop, there are always a few unforeseen difficulties that crop up. The worker or workers must consider other ways to solve the difficulty and complete the project. Such has been the case of God completing the purpose for which He created mankind. God had an intimate relationship with man and woman in the Garden, but their rebellion separated them and caused God to begin His costly plan of redemption. At the Exodus God brought the people out of Egypt and could have led them to the Promised Land within six months, but they rebelled and God had to lead them through forty years in the wilderness. The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…(59:1-2) We can and do delay God’s good purpose for us by our sins, but the marvelous truth of God’s grace is that He will not let us go. His forgiveness and cleansing are always available. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”(1:6) Like any good builder, God will not stop work until His project is completed to perfection.
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We have a plant in our living room that I was given when I had my stay in the hospital a while back. I’ve enjoyed watching it go through various cycles of its growth. It came with one bloom which lasted for a while before dying off. That was followed by seven lovely blooms. They now are dying, and at present there don’t seem to any new ones following, just large green leaves. It strikes me that its cycles are not unlike those of human life itself, and I’m thinking about my life in particular. There, too, are various cycles. Some more beautiful than others. Some flowering, others pretty ordinary, or even at times painful. But there is one thing consistent with the plant. In whatever part of its cycle, I have to take care of it. It needs regular watering, and occasionally having the dead leaves removed. In our lives we are subject to our gracious Lord who is present through all of our cycles of life, and works for us in each time. The plant has no concept of what I’m doing to improve its life, and often we can’t see the work of our Lord. Yet it continues nonetheless. The purpose of the plant is to bring beauty and joy to our home. That is no less the purpose we have in the world we occupy.
I am a creature of habit. I do things at a certain time. I put things is certain places. A crooked picture on the wall bothers me. Obviously I like order, certainty, things that can be counted on. But we live in a disordered, and uncertain world. The Psalmist faced this disorder over and over. They often cried out for help in the midst of things that were going awry. But they came back time and again to what they knew was solid. “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”(Psalm13:5) We try as best we can to make our solid places and safe havens in our world, but there is truly only one place, one person that is solid and unchanging. “In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go;…”(Psalm71:1-3) Our ultimate hope is in God alone. He will not fail us.
Yesterday I used the theme in one chapter of the book of Leviticus. This book, even though it is rather tedious to read through, is part of the Lord’s Word, and He gave it for the good of His people. It is certainly true that we are not bound by the law. Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly. However, as with many things in the Old Testament, they point forward as types of things that were fulfilled for us in the salvation work of Jesus Christ. The many blood sacrifices, for example, point to the necessity of our Lord’s blood shed in atonement for our sins. The people were instructed to bring an unblemished clean animal as an offering to the Lord. Unblemished as in the perfect sinless life of Jesus. Many verses deal with the proper way to present offerings. The root of the Hebrew word for offering means “to draw near”. It is what God desires in all of His instructions, that we draw near to Him, and has shown us the way. No, Leviticus is not a “fun” book to read, but there is much in it showing how our Lord continually reaches out in grace to draw people to Himself.
Last evening I was reading in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Yes, that’s the book most people avoid with its tedious recording of all the Jewish laws. And I admit it can be tedious reading. Even further we know that in Christ we are freed from the strict adherence to the Jewish legal system. Nonetheless the book is instructive. In the 8th chapter we read of Moses consecrating the priests for their service in the Tabernacle. The text speaks of each of the holy garments the priest wore, the white robe, the sacred breastpiece with the sacred stones called Urim and Thummim, the turban, and the anointing oil poured on their heads. So what has all this to do with us? It speaks to the sacredness of the office of priest or pastor. This is a holy calling to serve God’s people. There is a sacred consecration in Christ. Oh, we don’t follow all the Mosaic rituals, but that doesn’t change the sacredness of the task God has given our spiritual leaders. But even further, Scripture tells us that we all have a priestly calling through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether tradesman, or office worker, retired or homebound, we all have been given the same consecration through our baptism into Christ. We are all called to minister God’s grace in the place of our calling. We probably won’t have sacred oil poured on our heads, but the holiness of the Levitical calling is still upon us. We serve in the joy of our Lord.
We hear so much these days about gun violence. 30+ people killed in random shootings just a couple of weeks ago. There are renewed calls for gun control. These tragedies have been in places of employment, in shopping malls, and even in churches. They are horrible, and leave many individual devastations in their wake. One article pointed out, however, that statistically each of us has a very low probability of being involved in such an incident. I’m not sure how comforting that is, but the article did say that we can’t live our lives in fear. We have responsibilities, and normal patterns of life with work, shopping, entertainment, and so forth. We can’t and shouldn’t curtail these activities out of fear. Above all we believe in our God who is a part of us at all times, our God who cares about every soul of the victims and even of the shooters. He has allowed sinful mankind to make choices, and at times those choices are used in very wrong ways. Yet He is not absent. He is present to calm our fears, to comfort the bereaved, and He alone is the One with power to touch hearts and overcome hate. Some aspects of gun control are important, but our main concern, and the focus of our prayers, is for God to change sinful hearts, including our own. And above all that He would shorten the days until Christ’s return.(Mark 13:20) He alone will bring the peace we all want.
There is a song sung by one of the prominent men’s Gospel quartets that talks about the conditions of our times. The chorus ends with the line, “but I’ve read the back of the book and we win”. We don’t need a singing group to tell us about our times. The news glares at us from every newspaper and broadcast. We live in the midst of it. Yesterday I wrote about the work of our God in the creation and redemption of mankind. That is the work of our gracious Father God to bring people – you and me – to a place of peace and harmony with Himself. He has worked for us over centuries of time. He has promised never to leave or forsake us, and to complete the good purpose He has for our lives. In the difficulties of our days and the tragedies we hear about daily, yet there is hope. We are strengthened to continue day by day with our eyes fixed on the promise of our Lord, and the evidence we have seen in our Redeemer. We have the greatest reason for hope.
I have written often about God as the author and source of life, and His breathing life into us. When I do, it often brings up the debate about creation vs. evolution. I’m not all that concerned about there being billions of years of the cosmos’ existence. I don’t know what happened to this 8000 mile diameter ball of rock we live on before God said, “let there be light” bringing order out of chaos. What I do express as an essential truth of our faith is that we did not come from some lower form of life, and that, at some point in time past, we were created by God, complete and without sin. And further, it was from this sinless initial state, that we later rebelled from the will of our God, becoming estranged from Him ever since. If it were not true that we began in a sinless relationship with our Creator, and later broke that relationship by our rebellion, there would be no need for a Redeemer, and the whole of Scripture becomes reduced to ancient history topped off with a few moral lessons. This, tragically, is the way many treat God’s Word today. The message we declare in Jesus Christ is that, apart from Him, we are eternally separated from our Creator. By His gracious sacrificial act, we have been redeemed and restored to our Lord. Understanding this helps us make sense of today’s life, and gives us a sense of direction and a reason for hope.
We are impressed with powerful things – a great earth mover, 400 horsepower under the hood, a football team’s front four, military might, and so on. Our 4 year old grandson loves to pretend he is one of the current superhero characters. We certainly believe that our God is all powerful. He can do anything He chooses, any time He chooses. But He always has a habit of turning our concepts of reality up side down. We think in terms of force and might. God doesn’t. The greatest power of God is displayed in His love, and in forgiveness, His care for all people. He has shown it to us by the bloody body of His Son hanging on a cross. Self giving love and forgiveness have the power to change hearts, heal long festering wounds, and mend relationships. People need to see that kind of power displayed in the Church. Love and forgiveness can change us and those around us for all eternity. No earthly power can do that.
Yesterday I wrote about our postmodern culture, its rejection of all absolutes, and our need to stand firm on the witness of Holy Scripture. The Europeans are ahead of us in that rejection, but not by much. In a publication from the C.S.Lewis Institute I read the following. “Increasingly, Europeans are devoted to a different religion—a militant form of secularism that sees the continent’s Christian past as a time of darkness and oppression—a time to be not just forgotten, but intentionally abandoned. Yet how many of those who desecrate churches and vandalize religious monuments even know what it is they’re attacking? How much could those who dumped rainbow paint on the Reformers in Geneva tell us about them, other than they were Christians…or men?” This is increasingly the nature of our post-modern, post-christian world while we seek to hold on to truths revealed more than 3000 years ago. At times it seems a futile struggle, but God gave us a promise. “My word which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” And if one is willing to look, there are evidences of that accomplishment in numerous places on the earth. We are encouraged. God will accomplish His purpose for creation in spite of all opposition.