Courage


Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 12

This is a simple and direct statement. There are two states of being, and one of those is fully and eternally alive, and the other is not. It is up to each of us to decide on which side of this equation we land when our days on this earth end. Essentially, this all revolves around who and what we believe to be true, and the outcome hinges upon willingness to take a singular action that is based upon that belief. God presents the evidence for His perspective in many ways. It comes to us in the form of the testimony of people who have believed in God and who have accepted Christ as the Son of God and as our own Savior and Lord of our lives. God also speaks to us through His word, the Bible, and He reaches out to all of the world through the wordless witness of creation. God is not silent about His presence, and He is never reticent to bring forth His presentation of Jesus the Christ as His Son and the path to redemption for all people.

Yet, God still allows us the right to choose. He does not want to compel us into a relationship with Him, for any relationship that is founded and formed up out of compulsion is not truly a relationship. God desires for each of us to willingly submit ourselves to His will so that we can live out our lives in committed service to His gospel of love. This is a form of service that provides the servant with meaning and with purpose in life that is far greater and more significant that anything else that we may have considered before we knew Christ. By submitting our lives to Christ, we are entering into dwelling outside of the temporary and futile nature of this world as we then begin to live in the fullest sense of what the bigger than life construct of eternal life describes. Living as a follower of Christ means that all aspects of life are framed in and formed up out of material that can be drawn from beyond that which is found in this world.

These resources are infinite in their abundance, and they are readily available to God’s people. Although we do not leave this world, we can operate in a manner that is supported and empowered by Christ so that His great love for all people can overcome our fears and our reluctance to engage with some people. In fact, Christ compels us to become ever more involved with our world as we grow closer to Him. The more we know of our Lord and the better that we understand Him, the more His heart of love, care, and compassion for the people of this world will shape our own hearts to be like His. This is one of the most significant ways that followers of Christ should be distinct from the rest of the world, for we should demonstrate God’s heart of redemptive care and relentless pursuit of the lost in all of our words and actions. So, this is what being alive in Christ truly means. The life that Christ grants to us is one in which we love others in the faith without reservation, and we love all people with a zeal for the Gospel of Christ that is fueled by the desire to see all people from every corner of our world given the opportunity to choose this same form of life for themselves. 

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If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

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

John 16: 33

These were hard times and painful hours for Jesus and for His followers. After the great shouts of greeting from the crowds in the streets that had been ringing out just a few short days before, the let down of these dark hours of the night of Passover must have seemed even more starkly sobering. Jesus had clearly stated for his people to hear that He was going to join the Father. They would be on their own. They didn’t understand. Like these first followers of Christ, we, too, can often feel alone. Life seems to be making demands upon us that are too big and hard for us to handle. Yet, the truth that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples on that night in Jerusalem is every bit as valid and real for us today as it was then.

One of God’s great strengths is His truthfulness. He lets us know what is on His mind, and He never holds back on the truth even when it might seem painful or hard. Also, He doesn’t try to make us think that life will be perfectly calm and safe after we commit to following Him. We live in a world that has been antagonistic to God for a very long time, and our modern environment has done nothing to change that hard reality. I know that when I honestly search my own heart and view the way that I think and act in the light of God’s righteousness that there can be a very large disconnect. The perfect obedience of Christ is what I desire to see reflected in my mirror, but it is the faithlessness and disobedience of Adam that I too often encounter there. The world with its pressures to conform and to join in has a great pull upon our hearts and minds; yet, Christ exerts an even greater attraction.

Jesus speaks to my troubled soul and He says that I can be at peace. In Him I do find the reassurance that even the very hardest of things that I will encounter in this world are things that He has experienced and has defeated. Christ takes my weakness and the brokenness of my life into His loving hands. He doesn’t just apply a dressing to my wounds or a splint to my broken bones; rather, He breaths healing and restoration into the core of my being. Even when the turmoil is swirling about me, Christ reassures me that He is here and thus, I can be dwelling in the center of His peace. There is no place and no event that is beyond His reach. Everything in this world is subject to His rule. So, in Christ we too can face the world with absolute confidence knowing that we too are victorious.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 19, 20

If truth were to be told, most of us deserve more than we actually get by way of payment in terms of punishment for our sinfulness and by way of pain and suffering in response to that which we have inflicted upon others. Yet, where God is concerned, there is really no equity in these matters. He has taken on far more than He gives out, and in Christ, God accepted all of the deepest sorrow and the harshest pain as His own reward for sinlessness and for faithfulness. So, that which should be mine, was brutally beaten and pounded into Jesus’ flesh. The just judgement that my own evil ways deserves has been taken on by the only living being to be ever and steadfastly pure, perfect, and absolutely sinless in all regards. 

Now, we all do endure the outworking of the brokenness of our world. Each and every person that is born into life here will encounter illness, injury, loss, grief, and trials of many different types. This is the reality that surrounds us, and these are the circumstances that often haunt our days. It is also true that the more we seek to follow Christ in this world, the more likely it is that we will feel the sort of pain that is formed up out of caring for and about others. As we learn to love as Christ does, we enter into the lives of people at a deep and a substantive level where the real burdens of their days become the ones that inflict us with shared sorrow and with burdens accepted to help carry. In a very real sense, when we enter into supporting people in their days of need and times of trial, we are following Christ’s lead and answering God’s call to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Care and concern and burdens carried are verbs in a disciple of Christ’s vocabulary.

Sometimes the burdens that we take up will belong to people who are themselves unlovely, out of favor, or in many other ways disadvantaged or marginalized by our society. These are people that Jesus saw in the full light of heaven, for He viewed all people as lovely and every one of us as people for whom grace, mercy, and redemption were poured out on the cross. As Jesus took on the shame of sin for all people, so, too, are we to enter into carrying the burdens and sharing the sorrows of everyone. The dividing walls of culture, society, race, gender, life choices, nationality, and any other separating factors were broken down and eternally abolished by Jesus’ death and the resurrection from death that followed. If we are to suffer at the hands of injustice for the sake of entering into the sorrows and the burdens of those for whom justice is scarce, any pain of hardship that may befall us is for God’s glory and all that we might endure will be counted to our credit by Christ, the only true and righteous judge of people’s hearts. 

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

1 Timothy 6: 6

There is a moment or so in this letter during which Paul seems to be particularly harsh on people who are wealthy. For he will very shortly make the often misquoted statement saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” He also expends some ink on the fact that having wealth does not equate to contentment in this life. Yet, money, the possession or the lack of it, and even the processes that are involved in earning it are not really what the Apostle is concerned about. He cares greatly about the state of his reader’s souls and the condition of their hearts. Everything else is secondary, and all of the rest of it falls into order behind the primary issues of orientation, focus, and the application of the skills and energy that we have been given by God.

According to Paul, if we wish to be truly wealthy in this world, we need to seek after the sorts of riches that are eternal in nature. None of these eternal riches involve gold, silver, bank accounts, or investment portfolios. Yet, the lasting may be influenced by the manner in which we hold and use those perishable forms of wealth. Everything is influenced by perspective, and the net result of what we do is brought about by virtue of the motivation for our actions. Gain for the sake of personal glory, notoriety, or power is never going to bring about satisfaction for the soul. This worldly form of achievement will always fall away at some point along the journey of life. True contentment is found in giving ourselves fully to Christ. That is, we find the sort of heart and soul deep satisfaction in our lives most readily when we lay down our personal goals, wishes, and desires before Christ and yield all of our being to following Him and to service to God’s kingdom as He calls upon us to give it.

So, as we do this, the nothingness that we brought with us into this life is made into the greatest of riches imaginable. The emptiness of this world is enriched with the presence of the glory of heaven, and the vast storehouse of God’s bounty is opened up for us to use in bringing the love and the care of the Eternal Father into direct contact with the impoverished people of this world. It is in serving the needy that we find the true contentment that comes from walking in close proximity to God’s heartbeat for humanity. Those needs might be physical, financial, or spiritual in nature. In fact, they often include several elements of what it means to survive and to thrive in life; yet, all of these needs are things that Christ can deal with through the labor of our hands and the care of our hearts for others. Wealth is obtained through service, and contentment is found through serving Christ. The form of riches that does go with us beyond this world is granted to us by the Lord as we enter into His calling for the use of all that He has granted to us by way of resources, talents, and gifts.    

The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 7, 8

So, it could be true that these verses are actually taken from a children’s fairy tale. Along this line of reason, they were written by someone who wanted to provide a rosy-tinted and false sense of security to some young people so that they would go to sleep and stop bothering their adult care givers. Well, no; that simply isn’t true. These lines are taken from one entry in that wonderful body of writing that is known as the Psalms of Ascents. These are traveler’s tales. The sorts of reminders that whole Jewish families would recite and sing together as they took the often dangerous and arduous journey from their homes to Jerusalem so that they could worship God together with their entire nation. Although they were intended to ease the journey and to make the miles go by faster, they had a much greater purpose than that.

These songs are intended to remind the singers of God. As the travelers recited the lines from them their hearts were being prepared to enter into deep and transformative worship. The author of these lines was not attempting to gloss over the hardships of life. Instead, he deals with them from the perspective of an extreme realist. In these verses we see the great challenge that confronts all of us as we go about our own travels. Evil is out there; it is everywhere. It crouches and lurks among the shadows of the street where we live. It comes at us from far away, and it even attempts to set its traps in our own homes. Evil tries to worm its way into our minds and whisper the lies of Satan to our hearts. Although it has been defeated by Christ, evil just hasn’t gotten that message; so, it is relentless in its attempts to disrupt the lives of people who do know God.

Since this was the nature of the world that these ancient travelers knew, they sang about the truth of God’s protection, preservation, and salvation. As this same often harsh reality is ours, we can do the same thing. There is an old popular image of a person who is walking along a dark and frightening lane; so, in order to get his courage up, he starts to whistle. This idea was expressed in The King and I as Anna sings, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” There is one very big difference between the experiences of these fictional characters and those of God’s people. Their courage was a façade; it didn’t penetrate to their hearts. However, we can trust that God is truly protecting us. He will take us along the road that we are traveling, and our souls will be safe. There is danger in the journey, but the outcome of it all is never in question. During every minute of each day, Christ holds us close and keeps us secure, and this is true for each of us today and forevermore.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1: 25

The presence of God in the world turns this place upside down, and the presence of Christ in a life sets that person right with God. The Lord’s way of viewing things is truly different from that of our culture, and what matters to Him is very far removed from all that is held as important in much of our world. It would seem that the realm of the eternal does not operate by the same rules as does the earthly one and that the ruler of heaven is not bound by the same constraints as is the ruler of the world. One of them owns all of creation and has total and absolute authority over it, and the other is living out his last moments before the certain destruction that is promised to him is brought about. Yet, people still look to the false wisdom of the worldly one and follow its death-inducing dogma to the grave. This world continues to utilize the minimal and depleted power that comes out of domination, violence, and greed rather than submit to Christ’s victory of love and peacemaking.

You see, I don’t think that it is God who has things turned upside down; instead, I believe that the Lord is going about the work of restoring the tipped over elements of the earth to their proper equilibrium and orientation. This can be challenging for us to follow along with and to join into, for the training that most of us have received since birth and the meta narrative of the world where we dwell all speak to a different approach to successful living than does Christ. He tells us to love others, to care for the weak, to free the oppressed, to embrace the stranger, to feed the hungry, and to cloth the naked. Christ touches the oozing sores of the sick without fear of contamination, and He speaks the truth of God’s Word when that eternal wisdom is guaranteed to arouse anger in those who will hear it. Then, when anger does come in response, Christ reaches out in love and stands confidently before His opponents so that He may even become the target of their continued fury and wrath. This contrary approach to engagement in our world and with its issues is risky on the one hand, but it also bridges great gaps in understanding and brings about peace where turmoil was present before.

If following Christ means that many in this world will call me a fool, then let me be the court jester for my Lord. Should living out Christ’s will and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus through actions and in words be viewed as being weak-minded and powerless by some of the people that I encounter in life, then I pray that all of my human strength and self-instigated might would be drained out of every fiber of my being. Let Christ rise to the forefront of my life as its source of power and as the substance of its expression, and I pray that all of the wisdom that I call upon to enter into the various discussions and dialogues of this day would be founded upon the eternal truths of God’s Word and be given expression with the continuous guidance of the Spirit. If all of this means that I am involved in doing things that disrupt the natural course of the world around me, then so it must be. Yet, it is true that when Jesus caused disruption and brought about turmoil, He also provided a way to healing and restoration. So, as things around me are upset or disrupted by the presence of God’s truth, I also desire to see the order of creation restored in those settings so that Christ and His love would remain and rule the day in those places and with those people.    

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