May 2018


Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34: 14

 

There may not be a more relentless force in our world than evil; for, it never sleeps and it never stops. The news from all corners of the world is saturated with its impact; there is death and pain, torture and hatred, control and slavery. Sadly, most of these acts are done with some form of reasoned out and seemingly noble stated purpose. The same kind of destructive force is at work in our own neighborhood, and sometimes it is even in our own homes. For example, consider the impact of angry words and of superior attitudes or consider how much harm is done by looking at other people with our own self-focused eyes rather than looking through the eyes of God. At these times we think that we are being strong and in control; instead, we are being incredibly weak, and we are dangerously close to being in Satan’s control.

 

You see, the peace that God seeks to have with us is not characterized by weakness; rather, it is marked by strength. This is a strength that comes from Christ within, and it is the true strength that empowers us to live in fearless abandonment of human power and worldly control. The Lord wants us to engage a dialogue with Him that becomes our ongoing discourse with our world. He wants us to operate every day from a perspective that is established on a solid foundation of wisdom and understanding; for, this is the state of living that we embrace when we look closely at Christ, engage with the truth of God’s Word, and when we listen to His truth as His Spirit speaks to our hearts. The Lord desires for us to live in peace with Him and with others.

 

We can look at the situations and the relationships that make up our lives and seek peace in all of them. We won’t always be able to accomplish this all of the time, for there will be people who will not go along with God’s will just as there are situations that defy the Lord’s desire and intent for how we should live. Our responsibility in all of this is to follow Christ’s example and to be peace makers. For there is one force that is active in our world that is more relentless than evil and that force is God’s love. He calls upon each of us who know Him to follow Christ’s example as we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in our hearts to replace the evil that we are by nature inclined to do with the good that flows out of Christ’s love and strength. We are to use every ounce of our energy in a continuous drive to bring true and lasting peace to others through touching them with the love that comes from Christ alone.

 

For in him all the. Fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

God created the heavens and the earth with it all existing in a state of peace, and God has promised to restore Creation to that same perfect and unbroken peaceful state. What happens in between those two periods of time is not very peaceful. We are living in that between time, and we experience the restlessness of God’s peace on a daily basis. It happens in our world as forces both great and small collide and cause drama to fill our ears with their rhetoric of angry posturing and hateful name calling. This is the small-time end of the spectrum where anti-peace dwells as the other extreme of this same condition is filled with violence and death as oppression is worked upon people around the globe. All of this mirrors the rebellion that Satan led in Heaven and that he has continued to prosecute here on earth.

 

God answered that heavenly rebellion, and He responds to all of ours in a manner that is fully engaged with bringing about the restoration of our relationship with Him while it brings conclusion to all rebellion and the elimination of all that is broken by sin in our world. The peace that follows this final removal of sin will be won through great effort, and it will come about after a conflict of a type and with intensity that is far greater than any that our world has seen before. Christ’s peace is deep and it is dense, but those who oppose God will not readily or willingly accept it. Although we live in a time where that same peace is available to us through the acceptance of Christ, we can observe daily the tenuous and the fragile nature of peace’s presence in our world as every corner of it has the potential to erupt into a human or a nature caused battleground.

 

The peace that we can know today came about through His sacrifice that was carried out under conditions that were extremely violent. Christ bled so that we could be restored to a form of peaceful intimacy with God that is the perfect expression of God’s heartfelt desire. The Father and Creator of all wants to dwell in close connection with the entirety of His Creation, and He will bring about that renewal of perfection in His own time. Until then, we reside in a world that knows both peace and conflict on an ongoing and a continual basis. So, the peace that Christ has won for us and that He grants to each of His people is a state of being that settles deep into the soul and that fills us with its calm voice and its gift of deep truth. It is often hard to listen and to truly hear these words of grace and love when the loud voice of turmoil and distress is shouting into our ears, but Christ’s hard-earned peace is ours if we will listen as our first priority to Him and to His words of life throughout each and every day.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16: 33

 

Jesus must be kidding, right! He can not possibly mean that He has overcome all that runs about wildly causing havoc and bringing grief and pain in its wake. This place is far too engaged in destructive thoughts and actions to be considered subdued or tamed, and I sadly admit that my own thinking is too frequently caught up in the same sorts of processes to be contemplated as under control. I am capable of doing more harm than good on almost any day that comes along. When He said this, Jesus was facing into the reality of His imminent arrest, trial, torture, and execution, and He knew it. He was not left in the dark by the Father. Jesus was the sacrifice that gave Himself up for slaughter, and He was very rational and well-thought out in doing this. So, where exactly does it seem that He had overcome much of anything in this world?

 

The fact is that Jesus’ death is the singular event that turns around the direction of history. Once Jesus had satisfied God’s need for there to be a sacrifice on the part of Creation that would respond to our rebellion and ensuing state of sin-driven separation from God, all of Creation, especially humanity, was freed from the awful estrangement from God that had overtaken our existence in this life and beyond into eternity. Satan’s lies and deception had drawn us away from our commitment to our Creator, but Jesus poured out God’s healing oil of peace and truth upon that wounded relationship by allowing His own blood to be shed despite His absolute innocence. So, in Jesus, we are each granted the opportunity and the right to return to the loving presence of God in our lives as Christ’s Spirit comes to dwell within us.

 

By entering into the world’s violence and rejection on the cross, Jesus has overcome all of the malintent that came into being when those first people said yes to that which God had expressly forbidden thus turning away from life and stepping out toward a death that was painful beyond measure. Jesus took upon Himself that pain that we had earned, and in so doing, He took the sham dominion that Satan had claimed over this world away from him and granted renewal, healing, peace, and life to each of us who turn from the world to Jesus. The peace that we own in that hour of redemption and onward from there is the one that bridges the separation that sin has caused between ourselves and God. This is a peace that resides in the individual spirit and that speaks victory over all that is broken, painful, and life-threatening in this world. This peace is Christ within, and in its presence with us, Jesus has truly overcome the world.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

Psalm 85: 8

 

We all realize that peace can be illusive, fleeting. It seems to be here and well-settled one day, and then the next dawn is met by the thunderous explosions of bombs and the agonized cries of the wounded and the wailing of those who mourn. The little peace that comes to our hearts is just a fragile as that of nations and of armies. Generally, personal peace is a matter of acceptance; for, we accept the situation that is at hand, and we settle into the compromises and the negotiated acceptance that come along with the calm. There is nothing wrong with any of this, and it is the way that our world operates in its healthier moments. Yet, this peace seldom lasts, and it often a time of calm that is continually being tested and tried, stretched and eventually broken.

 

The psalmist has it right. We are a people who do not tend to stay the course when it comes to things that require discipline and faithfulness; that is things like peaceful living. We also struggle with staying true to God’s will for us. We want to do it all in a manner that we get to determine and with methods that we devise. This is a part of what leads to the folly that we are warned to avoid; yet, humanity has played the fool over and over again, and we are each capable of doing it at almost any time now. So, it would seem that living in peace is related to the way that we engage in our relationship to God. Peace is something that we gain from our proximity to the Lord, and foolishness is avoided by following God’s expressed will in His Word and as directed by His Spirit. People who keep their eyes on the Lord are far less likely to take those side trips into dangerous thinking and harmful living than are those who are continually looking away.

 

The acceptance that matters when it comes to living in peace within our hearts, minds, and souls is that of accepting the truth of God’s Word and the reality of His presence in this world with us. When we stop fighting against God and turning away from Him at times when what He is directing us to think and to do runs counter the direction that we desire to go, we can enter into the sort of peace that is not dependent upon the situation or the circumstances at hand. This peace is one that settles into our being and brings calm when the world around us is in turmoil. This is a form of Godly expression that can be heard deep within, and so it is audible to the mind even when the thunder of chaos is crashing around the ears. It brings about clear thinking and confident responses to all the external forces that attempt to disrupt life as God’s words of truth are heard in the heart and given expression through the way that we respond to all that comes our way.

 

 

 

Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!

Then your peace would have been like a river,

and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48: 18

 

Only if? This is one of the great regret questions that people ask of themselves. Only if I had responded differently, or my attention had been given more of the time. Things would have been so different, and the outcomes would have been so much more enjoyable. Yet, what is done, is indeed done. Things said already resonate off of the hills as our actions have already brought about pain, grief, and separation. At this moment, each of us has cast a shadow of the past upon the future, and that shadow is now a tangible part of the landscape that we will need to navigate during the coming aspects of life’s journey. Yet, God has always wanted each of us to understand that this situation does not mean that life is hopelessly diminished or that joy is beyond redemption during our days.

 

Christ offers the true hope of redemption to anyone who will enter in to His life-giving sacrifice and so allow grace to bathe a weary soul in His healing blood of rebirth. This does not eliminate the relational and the life pain that our actions and words have caused, but it does grant to us a form of forgiveness that brings freedom to the soul and that frees the body to take the steps of repentance and restoration that the situation requires. We may not be able to repair all of the harm that we have done during our days, but Christ walks with us in the attempt to do so, and He empowers and equips us to enter into the effort. With Christ we are baptized in the rushing current of God’s river of peace, and we can ride the waves of His righteousness as they break down barriers that sin has built around people’s hearts.

 

We might like for God’s peace to be a calm and a soothing place for us to dwell, but it isn’t. Righteousness is not smooth and placid, either. The peace that Christ gives to His followers is active, powerful, and compelling. His righteousness is challenging, disruptive, and forceful as it assails the defensive barriers that sin has constructed in our world and within our relationships. When we enter into Christ’s peace and engage in a life that is compelled forward by His righteousness, we are swimming in an unstoppable current that is intent on pulling all who will yield to its Lord and Master into its redemptive flow. The power of this river is found in the love and the grace that Christ grants to everyone who enters into Him and engages in a life that is now defined by God’s Word of truth. God’s peace is active, engaged, and often leads us to venture into turbulent waters, but at the same time, it allows us to do all of this while experiencing a calm, a joy, and the sure knowledge of salvation that come directly from Christ.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2: 24

 

Jesus carried a great weight on His back and in His spirit when He was placed upon that cross of torture and death. When I consider the event itself, I am hit squarely in the face with the extraordinary harshness and brutality of what happened, but the human and physical aspects of that day are light and minor in comparison with the spiritual and emotional aspects of what transpired. In that moment, Jesus took with Him all of my sin, my disobedience to God, and all of the sin of every person who would ever walk upon this earth. Every simple unloving act, angry thought, deceit, violent action and contemplation, and all of the rest of the harsh and troubling history of existence that is outside of God’s perfect will and way was heaped upon Him and was there to torture Jesus in those final hours of life on this earth.

 

What is even more remarkable to me is that Christ did all of this knowing how brutally painful the specific act of sacrifice would be and also with knowledge of just how unworthy each of us, myself certainly included, would be. I do not deserve to receive the sacrificial love that Jesus pours out over me, but He loves me still. I have done nothing to earn my place at God’s table of grace; yet, Christ has granted me a seat there. My life has been lived out in a manner that is far short of God’s standard of righteousness, and still, Christ calls me into service to His name and in His Kingdom. None of this makes sense when it is considered in light of worldly and human standards of earned privilege and responsibility that is granted based upon merit. However, God does not desire to make sense in human terms or to operate by worldly standards. His view of life and of human worth come from outside of all that we know and experience here, and His concept of grace and of forgiveness transcend this world’s standards of worthiness as they overcome their limitations.

 

In this world, we are held back and constrained by our status in many ways, and worth is often granted based upon external factors and conditions. To God we are all extraordinarily beautiful and our worth is measured in terms of Christ’s presence within us, for in Christ, we are healed from all of the brokenness and the loss that sin has brought to dwell within our hearts, minds, and bodies. This is a form of healing that takes place on the inside of our beings and that influences and effects all that we are. Christ’s beautiful and blameless blood, which was poured out as the essential sacrifice for my sins and for yours, is the agent of healing for our souls. So, as we surrender to Christ, we are made spiritually alive, granted a home in God’s eternal kingdom, and given place and purpose in Christ’s here and now kingdom come on earth. Christ takes the weight of sin from us, and He sets us free to serve Him by loving the world as God does, for the eternal righteousness that we now possess is founded on love and is carried out in acts of grace, mercy, and justice.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

Jeremiah 8: 22

 

This is a lament. There is no healing to be found in the land, and the children who should be the great hope of the future and the delight of our eyes today are wasting away and falling to the ravages of disease and under the violent hands of war. When we see them being consumed by all that is anti-god in our world, we seek to find a physician, a ruler or leader, who will apply a healing salve to their wounds, but there are none to be had. Instead, too many of our nations are being led by war-mongers and by self-aggrandizing people that desire to profit upon the misery of others. This is truly a sad state of affairs, and it is one that leads us ever farther away from God’s will and takes us deeper into a growing wilderness of isolation from God’s truth and righteous justice.

 

This is also a challenge that followers of Christ face today. We desire for our nations to be led by people who apply the balm of justice, mercy, reconciliation, and love to the wounded souls that are being churned up and damaged by the conflicts, struggles, and other evil actions that run rampant upon the earth and in our communities. Yet, many of our leaders seem to be more intent upon placing bombs of protectionism, greed, fear, and isolationism along the pathways that should lead to safety than they are desirous of granting that safe harbor to these troubled souls. They also focus their peace-making energy on approaches to ending conflicts that are based upon over-powering the opponent and are accomplished by dropping bombs upon those opposing forces. Force, violence, and coercive victory have seldom been the answer to our world’s disagreements and struggles, and they hold little promise of leading us into peace today.

 

As John Newton, the writers of African-American spirituals, and even Edgar Allen Poe recognized, the balm that truly brings healing to the land and restorative health to its people is found in Christ alone. We cannot place our hope in our nations or in their rulers, for they will not provide what is needed to bind up wounds and to stop our violent ways. Our laws, in and of themselves, will not bring life where death has taken hold, and our armies and weapons will certainly not grant peace to our world. Christ is the answer to poverty, to greed, to violence, and to all other forms of chaos that is running rough-shod across our planet. Christ works in people to transform our thinking and to empower our hearts with His desire for healing and restoration. Then, He uses people to go forth into our world to make His redemption tangible and real. In Christ we must hold our leaders accountable to words and actions that model Jesus and that honor God. By Christ’s love we must bind the wounds of the broken, embrace the stranger, feed the bodies and the souls of the lost and the homeless, and grant asylum to the victims of our world’s aggressions. Christ is that balm that brings about healing and peace, and we are called by Him to apply its soothing salve to all of our world’s wounded and need-filled people.

 

All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the LORD

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before you.

Psalm 22: 27

 

This is not true today, and it has never been true in the course of humanity’s long history, either. There have always been people who went their own ways, and these people live in all of the corners of the globe. We have formed families and those families are organized into nations while still seeking to follow after some other guidance than the truth and wisdom that God provides for us. We humans have been a stubborn and a stiff-necked people from our very earliest of days, and we show little inclination to change now. Yet, the Lord is an optimist, or more accurately, He knows where the story leads, and. He gets to write the ending of it all with His bold and gracious hand of redemption.

 

God desires that we would be a people with strong character and well thought out responses to the vital issues of life such as faith, loyalty, justice, and love. He gave us the ability to form our own thoughts and feelings knowing that this would also create tension and lead to disobedience and rebellion on the parts of many people. However, it also causes us to be people who enter into a relationship with God that is committed, volitional, and engaged. When we come to Christ, we have done this because we desire to surrender our lives to Him and to be transformed by Him into people who dwell in the righteousness and truth of God’s Word. God is working in our world, and He is present in every corner of it. Christ is calling to hearts across the globe with His appeal to surrender and to return to the grace, love, and restoration that our Creator, God, provides for us.

 

Today is a good time to enter into God’s visionary view of our world. Where we see brokenness and loss, Christ sees need and potential. As we encounter opposition to our faith and rejection of our God, Christ views these same people as individuals who need to experience His love and know His grace. In Christ we have not been granted an exclusive place at God’s eternal table, instead we have been granted an endless supply of invitations to the feast that we can hand out to everyone that we encounter. We have been handed an unstoppable reservoir of mercy and grace to pour out with unchecked generosity onto the wounds and the heartaches of others. Christ will touch every corner of this world with His message of new life, restoration, justice, love, and peace, and He will be carried there as we believe in God’s vision for people, for families, and for nations.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5: 6, 7

 

When I look at how hard I work to hold onto my fears, concerns, and anxieties, I am amazed. My mind continually goes back to these familiar old scripts where the behaviors that I exhibit are damaging, counter productive, and even harmful. Yet, these scenarios are the text of my life, and they have been constructed over time to form a very comfortable shell that surrounds my heart and my mind and that keeps me from straying too far into the risky waters of fundamental personal change. God sees this behavior as arrogance and as a form of pride.

 

By holding onto ways of thinking and behaviors that have proven to be unproductive in the past and by continuing to grasp them as if they were my greatest treasures, I am saying to God that I know better than He how I should live my life, and I am demonstrating to those around me that when I say that I trust God and that I desire to follow His will that what I really mean is that I do these things only to the extent and so far as my own definitions of what is safe and acceptable will allow me to venture forth. Unfortunately, this way of living is self-centered and hypocritical, and it shuts me out of experiencing the full extent of the wondrous blessing that God has in mind for me.

 

The answer to all of this seems to lie in no longer being concerned about what others will think about me or about my own sense of my short comings or weaknesses. God’s answer for me is found in the extravagant love that He has for me and through the moment by moment reality of His care for me. When I stop looking at myself and start focusing on God’s face, I see the way that His Spirit envelops me, and I hear the reassuring words of His counsel directing me to step forward and to engage the adventure that He has prepared for me in this life. Lord, God, I pray that as I go through this day I will continue to cast away the spirit of anxiety that keeps my eyes focused on myself and that I will continually gaze upon Your face and follow Your path into the Your perfect love has set out for me.

 

For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and firmness of your faith in Christ.

Colossians 2: 5

 

A crisp, tightly organized marching band is something that I enjoy watching and hearing. There is a quality of unity and singlemindedness that is impressive in them. This particular interest is directly related to my own experience of marching and playing in bands for many years during my school years, I am certain. I know that the end product that we see on the street in a parade is the result of hours of practice, commitment, discipline, and design. The well-oiled machine that is a polished and skillful band doesn’t just happen, and this is also true when it comes to living as a community of followers of Christ, too. Paul has chosen his words with some real care here. He uses the terms “good order” and “firmness” that come from the world of military science and practice, and the marching bands that I envision are designed to be examples of this same military order and organized strength or firmness.

 

Like the military unit or the band, there is strength to be found in numbers of people who are headed in the same direction with like-minded purpose. This is one of the reasons that God leads His people into gathering together in communities of faith. We gain support and we also benefit from the collected wisdom and understanding that several Christ -filled hearts and minds bring to bear on all of the issues of life. People were not meant to live on our own, and this is even more true when it comes to navigating a course through the perilous waters of our world with doing Christ’s will as our desire and with righteousness as our set of guideposts. There is no place other than the body of Christ where we can go to engage in this daily journey with arm-in-arm support. Marching through the often hostile territory of our world is made both safer and more effective when it is done with spiritually connected companions.

 

So, where does this order and this ability to venture out into the world with firmness of purpose and resolve of heart come from? All strength comes from Christ and is founded on God’s Word. This is true for each of us individually just as it is so for His body gathered together in various forms and structures. We enter into this unified strength by praying together regularly and through the deep study of the Word with each other. These are things that are to be done in large gatherings and in small ones. God also intends for us to take time to meditate on Him and on His Word and to listen for the utterances of truth and direction that He does speak to us. These practices are the foundation for living in that well-ordered manner that Paul is describing, but the true life of a body of Christ followers is gained and is made tangible by the way that we go into our world to proclaim the truth of Christ’s Gospel by the words that we say and more so by the way that we love and care for the people of who dwell outside of our fellowships. Christ deepens our faith and grows our character as we trust Him to take us into the world for the sake of the glory of His name.

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