June 2018


If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King.

Daniel 3: 17

 

Let’s look at the story of the three young Israelite men and their confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar over surrendering their values and worshiping idols. Note the two statements of truth that they set out here. First is the recognition of where real power exists in the fact that the Lord is completely capable of doing anything that He wills to do. There is no power on this earth or in the spiritual realm that is greater than His; for all forces of nature and everything that people might choose to do are under God’s total sovereignty. He willed it all into existence, and He can control any of it at any moment. The second truth is that regardless of the outcome of the situation that we are facing, Christ is victorious over all aspects of evil, and the Lord will retrieve everyone who desires to be saved from its grasp.

 

However, as the story unfolds, an even greater truth than these is revealed about living in a state where the peace and the joy that God promises to His children are fully realized. Note what the young men say next, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O King, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3: 18 Their willingness to follow God totally and to do what is right in His eyes has nothing to do with the immediate outcome of their actions. They see that true righteousness is found in knowing God intimately, in seeking to do His will consistently, and in trusting the Lord to be faithful to His promise to never leave us and to always protect us. Physical pain, emotional turmoil, and even death are all small inconveniences in comparison to standing tall as one who brings light into the darkness of this world.

 

Faith in God means that I can honestly face my fears and my apprehensions, that I know that hard and painful things will be a part of my life, and that I am choosing to prepare for these eventualities by staying close to God and by continually seeking to know Him better. Then, when life does threaten me with the sorts of trials that can cause my heart to shrink and my hands to tremble, my mind is prepared to recall all of the wondrous love that my Savior has for me, and my heart is encouraged to lead me to stand firm in my trust in the Lord. Even the harshest of events in this world are little more than an opportunity for me to grow closer to my Lord and to demonstrate the validity of His Gospel of life to those around me. Death itself is nothing more than the prelude to eternity and to unceasingly dwelling in the presence of God.

 

And Jesus said to them, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?”

Mark 4: 40

 

The story behind this statement is very familiar. There was a boat that was out on the open water of a large lake when the weather turned very nasty in a hurry. Now there were several able bodied and very experienced seamen in this boat, and they were, frankly, frightened and truly concerned that they were going to die. Yet, their leader, Jesus, was sound asleep in the back of the boat. At least to them, He seemed to be sleeping through it all so that He had no involvement and no influence on their survival. Of coarse, these great men of faith, these men who had walked away from their former life’s callings to follow after Jesus, and to seek to do God’s work in their world had it all wrong. Now when I look at their response to the situation, they make me think of myself.

 

You see, I think that Jesus wanted them to keep sailing the boat in the full knowledge and confidence of God’s continual involvement and care for them. Although, Jesus did use the moment to demonstrate God’s mastery over all of His creation, it wasn’t really necessary for Him to do that. There are a lot of situations that I encounter and that most of do, too, where our tendency is to stop moving forward when we think that the way has become too challenging or the danger has exceeded our capacity to enter into the risk. Yet, when we are traveling along God’s path and seeking to do the Lord’s will, we have His promise and His commitment that He is with us and that He will guide our steps and protect us.

 

The Lord wants us to realize that there are no seas too high for Him and that there is no wind so strong that His will can be crushed by it. Additionally, God’s hand will redirect the path that we are traveling if it is not one that fulfills His desire for us. Jesus is telling us to trust Him and to keep using the skill, the wisdom, and the experiences that He has given to us in conjunction with the truth that He provides through His Word while relying on the Spirit of Christ and His leading to keep our boat upright and on top of the waves of the storms that strike us every day. Christ also wants us to draw near to His body so that we dwell in the comfort, strength, and wisdom of others who know Him. I don’t need for the winds to calm and the waves to cease, for the great miracle has already been performed in that Jesus is my Savior who will go with me through everything. He simply needs me to trust Him enough to have faith in the fact that the will of God is triumphant in every situation that is encountered in life.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4: 7

 

People want to be loved and to give love. It is something that we seek after and pursue with great energy and, at times, with singular focus. It is also something that we get very wrong, for broken relationships and heartache are very common. We expect that we will be frustrated and saddened by the way that these sorts of feelings change and turn sad for us. This process of feeling strong emotion in both friendship and in romance is a part of growing into adulthood, and so is that aspect of it all wherein those relationships end and so we learn to move on to the anticipation of other, new relationships. Some of us are able to settle into friendships and romances that last for the duration of our lives, and some of us never find those people who are with us throughout the journey that is ahead.

 

It seems that John has learned to see love from a different point of view. His understanding of love is that it starts with God and then is poured out into and over people. When John addresses his audience as beloved, he is referring to the fact that he loves them because God loves them and also because God loves him in an abundant and unending manner. When Jesus summoned the young man named John from his good life as a fisherman and called him to follow along the hard road in the company of the Messiah, that was an act performed and perpetuated by love. John’s entire life from that day forward was defined by the love that he saw Jesus pour out onto the world so that John continued to do the same for the remainder of his long and productive life. In many respects, the verse here could have been John’s so-called life verse, for it exemplifies the way that Christ led him to think, feel, and act in every aspect of his life.

 

Now John is granting us insight into the eternal wisdom that has guided his journey. God truly loves every one of us, and He desires that we would turn to Him in order to become close and intimate with Him. In Christ, we can know a love that has no limits, that sets no conditions, and that will not become cold and distant. Through the presence of Christ in us we can learn to love in this same manner, and this is the love that can change the way that we engage with the rest of the world. First, like John, we must accept the reality of being loved by God, of being His beloved daughter or son, for it is this love that softens our rough edges and grants us the gift of grace that makes it possible to accept and to learn to love a wide range of other people. Then we can give the love that we are receiving away and pour it out into the world around us. It is God’s love that provides balance to righteousness, and Christ’s love gives us a heavenly perspective on mercy, justice, and seeking after peace in these troubled days. In Christ we are given such an exquisite abundance of love that its overflowing from us can break down walls of division, overturn political rancor, and bring peace where enmity has always ruled the day.

Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the raging waters.

Psalm 77: 19

 

I was reading a newspaper story about a group of men who were among the very best white water kayakers in the world. It discussed the way that one of them went about taking on a set of rapids that were right at the top of the list of the world’s most dangerous. Before he entered the water, he walked along the shore and carefully considered every foot of that section of wildly unpredictable foaming water. He considered his approach to it and his line through every churning and twisting eddy and hole. He knew that once he entered the river he would have neither time nor clarity of vision to think through his reactions. Then, he would have to rely on his experience, skill, and this preparation in order to survive.

 

How many of your days have contained qualities that were similar to this wildly untamed and out of control river? For myself, I’ve certainly known more than a few. One of the biggest challenges that I have seen in handling these days is that, unlike the white water adventure that I was reading about, these times are not usually planned. Instead, they come out of nowhere. I can be enjoying a leisurely raft ride through life with its mild moments of attention-getting turbulence; when, suddenly, the bottom seems to fall out of it all with a jolt that makes may heart fly into my throat and causes my head to spin. This is the nature of living in this world, and these are also times when living in a relationship with Christ is essential to coming out victorious on the other side of the rapids.

 

In order to be ready for these inevitable times of engaging in the ultimate of wild rides, it is important to do just what the white water kayaker did. We should take the time to study the course, to know the dangers, to determine a path, and to meditate on our potential responses. These are all things that the Lord gives to us through continual and deep study of His Word. The raging torrents of my life are ones that others have also navigated, and there is already a road map of righteous thinking and Christ-like actions set out for me to learn from. Additionally, like the expert kayaker, I need to be willing and able to trust in my own instincts while I am in the middle of the course. However, there is a vital difference in what he relies upon and what I have available to me, for my instincts are formed and informed as my trust is placed in the ever present help of the mighty Spirit of Christ who never fails to show me the line and who is already the victor over all that tries to defeat my journey through this world.

 

Now, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 9: 1, 2

 

Just for the sake of clarity this man here named Saul is the same one that we know as Paul, the Apostle. The author of at least thirteen of the books of the New Testament, and the man whose writing brings depth of insight to our relationship with God that is beyond value. This same man who would willingly give everything he had in this life in order to serve Jesus is here seen preparing to go to the ends of the earth and to spare absolutely no effort in seeking to crush the life out of this new religious sect made up of people who were following the teaching of the recently crucified man named Jesus. If the transition, the transformation that takes place in Saul in a matter of hours is not proof of the unending grace and the all-searching love of Christ, then, nothing else could be sufficient to prove them.

 

The Lord went after the chief tormentor of His people, but He was not out to get revenge or to hold Saul accountable in the ways that most of us seek to do these things with the people that have harmed or hurt us. Saul was confronted with his sin, and he was forced to answer for what he had done; yet, the Lord wanted Saul to see that he was loved despite who he was and what he had done and that God had a place for him to be useful and valuable in both this world and in eternity. The Lord brings this same sort of unyielding, unrelenting, and total pursuit to bear in the lives of everyone. Additionally, Christ brings the potential for salvation from eternal death and for the redemption of the rest of this life so that it can be lived for the glory of God.

 

When I look at this picture of the extraordinary way that God seeks to bring all people under His grace and of the drive that He has to enter into a relationship with each of us, I am humbled by my own lack of the same qualities and the same drive to bring loving truth to others. The Lord desires that each of us would start to see the potential in others rather than focusing on their lostness. Christ calls on each of His people to follow His lead in bringing the truth of the gospel to everyone in our lives. Just as He does not back away from people because of how they have lived, what they have done, or how unlikely they might seem to be to respond to God, we can not judge either. The next person that I meet on life’s road deserves to meet and to know the love of Christ, and I am sent by my Lord into the world to share this love, the love that has already saved me.

 

Great peace have those who love your law;

nothing can make them stumble.

Psalm 119: 165

 

There are many parts of life where balance is everything. This is true when we are dancing, running, using tools to build something, and very true when we are engaging in relationships. Balance avoids the extremes of overreach and lunging awkwardness. It also keeps the world within our grasp as it helps us to extend our reach to its greatest possible extent. This balance that keeps us upright and moving forward is a product of the sort of peace that God grants to our souls and with which our souls grace our hearts and minds. Peace that so saturates the soul is granted to us by the presence of Christ within us.

 

Christ transforms our hearts into ones that desire what is good and guides our minds to seek out thoughts, considerations, words, and actions that are righteous and just. The Spirit speaks to us with words of encouragement as He also provides us with wisdom and understanding of God and of His will. He leads us into the deep truths that are contained within God’s Word so that we are infused with the Lord’s new law for living in this world. This is the law that brings life to us and that blesses the world around us with Christ’s redemption from death into His light and life.

 

As we traverse the track over which we are required to travel during our days, God’s law, in its full expression, guides out steps and gives us the assurance that we need to stride boldly when the ground is often uneven and the light ahead is uncertain. God’s law is not so much a rule book or a formalized statement of beliefs, although it does include these things; rather, it is an ethical and a moral guidance that comes from within the heart that Christ has transformed and that is called into use and is given expression by the mind as it is operating under the direct guidance of the Spirit of Christ. So, Christ gives us a peace that brings about the ability to rest calmly and quietly in the Lord while entering into the calling of service that He has for our lives

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

1 Peter 3: 13

 

In Peter’s day, the answer to this question was, “Many people”; these included the Emperor, the District Governor, the local authorities in many cities and towns, and numerous ordinary citizens. Christ followers had a way about them whereby they had the ability to stir up trouble. They tended to stick their noses into the affairs of those in power and into the lively hoods of the general population, too. Because of the essential nature of following Christ, they possessed a special talent for causing the wrath and the anger of religious leaders to boil over at them. The world where Peter lived was especially dangerous for him and for the others who openly proclaimed Christ. Our culture and the society where most of us reside is more genteel and less prone to violent opposition than was his. Yet, there is real danger out here in our streets, and the opposition that we will face for our faith is truly present.

 

There are places on earth where confessing Christ and sharing His Gospel with others is quite literally dangerous to do, but most of us do not live in those places. Our governments may even speak to being Christian in some manner, and the practice of our faith in Christ is not constrained or legislated against. However, different gods and a separate gospel do exist, and their adherents are often quite aggressive in their defense of those beliefs and of the system of power, authority, and rule of law that has grown out of this ungodly foundation. In much of our world nationalism, wealth and power, military might, and selfish ambition form the tenants of this modern ethos and frame in the definition of its exclusive membership. Christ is invited in as a silent partner and as a nominally expressed adornment to be hung upon the wall but not granted a real voice or followed into points of conflict with the way that life is being conducted.

 

To follow Christ today will lead to that conflict with many of our modern systems and power structures. This has not changed significantly from Peter’s days, and just as it was for him, we will also encounter disagreement and opposition from individuals over matters of what is right, just, and in conformity with God’s Word. Yet, Christ assures us that doing what is good, in every sense that He sets forth as being His desire for all of Creation to experience, will not lead us to the sort of harm that actually matters when we face our Lord in judgement for the lives that we have lived. Seeking righteousness and calling out that which is not the true Gospel of Christ in the world around us will not be popular, and these actions will lead to conflict and to disagreements with others. Some of these disagreements will be with people who name Christ as Lord and even with people who fellowship with us in our home church. These harsh realities cannot stop or deter us from speaking forth what is righteous, just, loving, and in alignment with God’s Word, that is, speaking what is good. For, when the full goodness of Christ is proclaimed, life is breathed into the world around that place.

 

 

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