Courage


But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5: 15

 

This idea might seem quaint, old-fashioned, or even foolish today. For the world where we live takes great delight in the way that we put down others and looks to gain power and dominance by means of the words that we use to describe people who differ from us. This is something that is going on across political, social, and economic lines, and it is, sadly, also far too much a part of the nature of the dialogue within the holy realm of Christ’s own church. Thus, what Jesus shed His most precious blood to consecrate is often being reduced to something that would shame a back-alley shout-down. This is true even when the civility of lowered voices and the decorum of the setting are maintained as a façade, for when the heart is enraged, its murderous intent still stings, wounds, and commits acts of murder upon the spirit

 

In Christ, we are called to something better than this. We are also led by the Spirit into a manner of engagement that should not utilize verbal and emotional assault as a weapon and that should not accept it in people who we follow and whose direction we take for the conduct of the business of our days. This is the sort of thing that diminished the God-image based humanity of all who enter into such exchanges, and I fear that this is the intent, either overt or underlying, of people who resort to verbal character assassination, graphically negative description of others, and rapid fire, long distance put-downs as a valid method of dialogue or debate. Yet, this is what we are doing. This is the way that we have become accustomed to hearing the views of those who rule this world expressed, and far too many of us in the church are applauding these utterly worldly words and giving credence to their cleverness, force, and truth-saying when they deserve nothing more than rejection and rebuke for the this-world centered nature and character of their content and the hurtful desire of their delivery.

 

In case you are beginning to look toward singular people and say that this is about one person or a specific point of reference in the on-going discourse of our world, please reconsider, think again. For my heart is troubled by much more than what a person or even a political party might be saying. I am joining with Paul in my concern over what is happening inside of Christ’s church. We can and perhaps even should disagree on the issues of our day. Yet, we should never look toward another follower of Christ in a manner that is dismissive or unloving and that does anything to sever the bonds of fellowship that Christ gave His all to construct among us. I will say this again, we can disagree. We even must disagree, for the dialogue around the way and the manner that God’s Word informs and speaks into the issues of our times is an important aspect of the way that the Spirit works out His will and intent in and among us. We should also hold our public figures accountable for speaking truth, for the direction that they lead us, and for the manner in which they engage in the discourse. However, we must never resort to the ways of this world in doing these things, for that path is one that does nothing other than bring division and destruction into Christ’s most precious body of faith.

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Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.

1 Corinthians 7: 17

 

At first this verse might seem to be about contentment; about accepting who and what you are. Those ideas are exposed here, but there is also much more. This is about the fact that people are complicated and complex. We are diverse in ways that are both large-scale and obvious and at the same time, subtly nuanced or shaded. People are a direct reflection of the one who created us as we are so made in God’s image. None of us are the totality if that image in ourselves, but in the sum total of all of us, we begin to demonstrate a more complete expression of the Creator.

 

This does not mean that we each come into a relationship with God in a fully formed condition or that there is not growth and reforming to be done over time. God takes us where we are and as we are at that time, and He begins a life-long process of working on and in us to shape us into being a more fully developed person who brings the presence of God into the world. Yet, God’s acceptance of each of us means that His earthly family, His body, is populated by people who are different from each other in almost every way that it is possible for us to differ. This means that we are going to be in close relationship with people from other social and economic situations, with vast educational disparity, who speak various languages and do so with interestingly odd to us accents. God also brings together racial differences, cultural divides, and various political persuasions into one great gathering based upon faith in Christ and founded upon the fact that He breaks down all divisions and barriers between His people.

 

God calls upon us to live in this diverse and even troubling or uncomfortable environment. He directs us to focus upon our commonality in Christ rather than upon the differences that we perceive in our humanity. God directs His people to live out to the fullest the gifts, skills, talents, and personality that we have been given as all of this is a part of that complete image of the Creator that is formed by Christ’s body when we are gathered together. We can turn to Christ to help us gain in our ability to be accepting of who and what we are in His kingdom, and we can do the same regarding others in the body of Christ in order to come to a place of acceptance and understanding of them, for Christ’s grace, love, and wisdom are the gifts that He grants to us so that we can learn to live in the manner that He desires for us to do. In Christ and through His grace, we, His Body, are bearers of light in our world, and we bring forth the hope of peace that Christ alone sets out as the goal of life on earth and as the gateway to eternity.

 

 

The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble;

he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1: 7

 

Motives are not always easy to understand. We think that we know someone and get the way that they think or what drives their actions and then they say or do something that completely disorients us and that turns our world upside down. So, we pick ourselves up, set our spinning eyes on a fixed spot on the horizon, and chalk up the chaos to human nature. There is some real truth to the idea that the inconsistencies and the disruptive actions that pervade our world are a part of the fabric of our human tapestry of life. Now I do believe that they are formed up and compelled onward by forces from beyond the realm of people’s experience, for deception, lies, confusion, violence, and other such destructive actions are devised and empowered by the fallen, anti-God operatives whose allegiance is to Satan. This war between God and the dark angel has been going on continually throughout earth’s history, and it will continue to impact our lives and influence our world until Christ permanently ends it all.

 

Until then, we live in the ongoing drama of this tension, and we do need to understand God’s motives for what He does as they are different from those of His adversary. Everything that God does and all of His interaction with His Creation, especially with the people of this world, is formed up and compelled by His goodness. This is in direct and absolute contrast to the dark evil of Satan and to the deep deception that he attempts to fill our world with. God’s goodness is also what He desires to pour out into our lives. This is primarily done as His Word and its truth become our guidance for thinking and for acting in all aspects of our days. God’s Word is made real and alive in relationship with Him, and relationship with God is entered into through being known by Christ and so by knowing Him. This is something that we choose to do. God does not compel us to accept relationship with Him, but there is truly no other way to enter into the peace and the security of wisdom and truth in our troubled world than through that intimate connection to their author and source.

 

In Christ, we find that safe harbor, that sheltering cave that are the literary images for a secure place to go when there are powerful forces of nature or of human derivation that are ready to overtake and to destroy us. Yet, Christ is far more than just an image. He is the most real and solidly tangible form of shelter that exists in all of this world and beyond. That word of truth, the presence of His Spirit, and the support of Christ’s body of faith are all parts of one great whole that forms a tangible sanctuary for our minds, bodies, and souls. When we enter into this place we are often battered and weary from the journey and because of the fight that we have been engaged in; so, Christ takes us in and He grants us rest and time for recovery. Since He knows us to a degree that is beyond the grasp of human reason, the Lord enters into meeting our real needs and starts working on our restoration. Christ grants to us a place to lie down and sleep in safety, to be fed upon His bread of life, and to fill our thirsty souls with His restorative waters of redemption.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1: 3

 

During this season of Advent we tend to picture Jesus as a soft and cuddly baby, for that is how He came into this world in human form. There is something that is both comforting and is also quite extraordinarily powerful in that image. It conveys, among other things, the fact that God, Himself, was willing to enter into the same life that each of us lives in order to become the perfect and singularly acceptable sacrifice for all of the sins of humanity. It also portrays the reality that Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father so that each of us who follow Christ are shown that we are to do likewise and seek out the will of God in all matters. But these humble and submissive images are not the totality of the ways that God is present in our world. This aspect of the account of God’s interaction with this world is not even close to the complete description of what advent involves.

 

God is truly with us. He has always been so, for this is true from a point in time that precedes all of the processes of creation that brought the heavens and this world into existence. God, as described by the prophet here, is mighty, patient, gracious, and righteous. He is not quick to judge as He desires for people to turn away from wrong-doing as they embrace His truth and His way of living; yet, He is also willing and able to enter into a judgement that is both swift and terrible for those who reject Him and His way of thinking and living. It is not easy for us to connect the reality of judgement with the image of the baby Jesus, but that is something that we must do. Jesus the Christ is the Savior of all of humanity, and He is also our judge. His justice is the foundational truth that underpins all of Creation. His righteousness is perfect and as such is beyond any of our ability or capacity to grasp except by and through the redemptive grace that Christ pours over and into all who submit to Him as Savior and Lord.

 

So, as we celebrate the joyousness of this season, we should also be entering into a time of reflection, confession, repentance, and acceptance of that grace. Christ came to us, and He did so in the most vulnerable of all possible manners, but that was done so that God could fully demonstrate His sovereignty, might, and unrelenting heart for justice in our world. God took that infant and raised Him up to be the only absolutely significant person to ever walk upon this earth, the Father accepted the grief of brutal loss so that sin could be extinguished, and He poured out His infinite power and might in the resurrection so that we would all see the Lord’s mastery over the elemental forces of this world. Advent can mean renewal, a form of revival for followers of Christ when we turn away from all that holds us back from fully participating in Christ and in His righteousness during our days. We know that Christ will judge the wickedness of this world; so, we are called upon by Him to live righteously, to proclaim God’s justice and peace, and to love all people and each aspect of creation with the same unceasing passion that the Father has lavished upon us.

There are many who sat, “Who will show us some good?

Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”

Psalm 4: 6

 

This is the plea or the cry that should be going out today from every corner of the world, for they are all darkened and each of us is in need of light to show the way home to God’s peace and secure rest. Like sailors caught in an unexpected storm or airplane pilots when weather closes in, the world around us is swirling with fierce clouds of doubt, despair, and danger. They are driven by the unrighteous anger that has become the rallying cry of our day, and this hazardous environment is stirred up by our desires to control all of life in a manner that we see as advantageous to ourselves rather than in one that is responsive to God’s Word and will. It is no wonder that this sort of world is a harsh and a hard place to dwell. This is a landscape that even its own Creator must find hard to recognize.

 

Yet, the beauty that was molded by that same creative hand is present, and the glory of the Creator is not lost or driven away by our godless thoughts and actions. Those exquisite shapes, subtle shadings, and awe-inspiring radiance are simply obscured beneath this world’s false substitutes for their righteousness and truth. When these same substitutes fail to provide what our hearts, minds, and souls actually need for nourishment and for growth, people begin to search for new answers to their needs and desires. Sometimes this searching leads in the direction of God and His Word. At the same time, the Lord is continually reaching out to all of this world and to each of its inhabitants with His unfailing love, grace, and redemptive offering of Himself as the answer to all longing and need.

 

In Christ, we have the light of the Lord to guide our steps into that safe harbor that we all desire. Through Christ alone we can come into the presence of God and shelter in His all-encompassing wisdom and truth. Turning away from this world and from its loud but shallow enticements, we will encounter opposition, troubling relational differences, and hardships and trials of various kinds. However, in so doing, we will also be stepping into the unending light of the glory of God, and it will illuminate a new path for us to follow and an infinitely better direction for our hearts and our minds to turn in our needful search for that safe place to shelter when the storm becomes too strong for us to withstand. Christ brings us into the center of good in all of its forms and expressions. Christ directs our steps along a way where He transforms the darkest of hours into the radiance of new dawn as the truth of His Word grants the Lord’s confident peace to our souls so that we are empowered to live fully and openly for Christ without fear of the stormy and troubled landscape that surrounds us.

Teach me your way, O LORD,

that I may walk in your truth;

unite my heart to fear your name.

Psalm 86: 11

 

Truth has an uncomfortable way about it. It doesn’t like to stay hidden, and it is not satisfied for long to remain in the background of life. It wants to be seen out in the open, on the surface as it pilots a path for its disciples through the darkness of moral and ethical ambiguity that fills this world’s air and so attempts to cloud people’s reason and judgement. However, truth has a hard time with the ways of our world, and it attempts to get the attention of each of us when we seek to hide it or reshape it to seem to be made up of our own desired outcomes. I think that the challenge that all of us face when we subvert or deny truth in our own lives comes about because truth, itself, is both a characteristic of God and it is formed up and set loose by Him. It flows out of the totality of God’s Word in all of its expression, and it is a fundamental part of the undeniable foundation of righteous living.

 

Thus, there is no alternate or relevant truth. There is only truth or lie; genuineness or deception. Satan’s statements to Adam and Eve were not mostly true with just a minor salting of convenient reshaping of what is true; they were deceptive and destructive lies, and they were demonstrated as such by God in very short order. Today we live in an environment where people do not seem to value truth all that much. It is twisted, distorted, and manipulated by us in ways that are highly creative, are sometimes subtle or not, and are universally present with us. This move to abandon truth as an absolute is being led and even promoted by our most prominent leaders and it is being championed by large numbers of their followers and supporters. This has little to nothing to do with political affiliation as truth-bending is a tool that people on every side of almost all issues are using with remarkable ease. Relativism is a trap door that once sprung sends its disciples into a downward journey into the darkness that is found at its center. It sends its adherents ever closer to the core of Satan’s anti-God universe; so, it moves then on a continual path the leads away from God and His righteousness.

 

As stated above, truth is as relentless as is its author. It will not be suppressed for long, for the Lord does propel it out from beneath the places where people have placed it in an attempt to deny its existence and into the light of day where it reveals all of the sordid and destructive actions that people have engaged in. Truth’s vindication is a part of the victory that Christ has claimed over evil in Creation. So, it is also something that Christ’s followers can and must claim as we are new beings in Christ. First off, we must think truth and speak truth. There should be no room in our days for strategic partial truths or for convenient reshaping of fact. Where we have slipped into that abys of lie, we can repent and turn away from the sinful way that we have gone. In so doing, God’s grace is present for us, and He will fill our minds and hearts with the truth of His Word as we seek its presence. Where we see lies in our world, we need to call them out for what they are, and we need to engage with our leaders and with the decisions that they make so that truth has a voice in our public square. Even as we live out and speak truth in Christ’s strength, we will not prevail in our world; yet, the Lord will honor our efforts in ways that will bring glory to His name, and Christ will prevail over all when God’s time is at hand.

The one who scatters has come up against you. Man the fortress, watch the road; strengthen your back, summon all your strength.

Nahum 2: 1

 

Some people say that having faith in an unseen God and following the ways of a spiritual ruler are the actions of a weak and insecure person. Others hold that there is simply no need for this sort of thing; since, they already know where they are going in this life, and they have the method and the skill to get there well in hand. Yet, history, current events, and my own experiences all tell me that having confidence in personal control over life is futile at best, and it can be utterly disastrous, for it is usually foolish thinking.

 

How easy is it for the orderliness that was the game plan for the day to turn into a chaotic jumble that resembles that mass of wires behind your computer? You know the ones that I mean, they are the ones that always seem to twist and tie themselves into knots just before you need to change one of the components. In our world, there is an active force at work that is continually seeking to cause confusion and to bring about this chaos. God designed His world to be orderly so that we could be devoted to our relationship with Him. However; Satan and his forces of evil want to disrupt that calm, peace, and harmony; thus, they bring about anger, greed, oppression, destruction, disaster, and other forces and events that break apart our world and that shatter our lives.

 

When these hard situations strike, it is easy to allow them to shake our faith and to weaken our trust in the Lord. Because of this fact of living in this world, it is vitally important that we prepare purposefully and that we stay on the alert at all times. God tells us to stay inside of the fortress of His word and to keep it manned by actively and continually seeking the truth that it contains. He instructs us to pay attention to where we are going and to how we are getting there so that we stay focused on living righteously. The Lord desires for us to stay engaged with other people who share our faith in Him so that we can guard their backs and they can protect ours, and Christ pours the strength of His Spirit into us and surrounds us with God’s angels to provide us with all of the might and the power of His kingdom to support us in the fight.

 

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