Courage


And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

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In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.

Ephesians 1: 7

God never wanted people to be held in captivity to sin; yet, He knew that we would place ourselves into that state of bondage. So, the Father planned the way and the means of our escape from the self-devised prison that we were to be held in, and He also made it possible for us to be set free on a permanent basis. Jesus is the Father’s response to both of these needs. He is our source of redemption as He is the means by which we are redeemed. In other words, Jesus paid the price for our release from captivity to sin. This was accomplished in His act of sacrifice upon the cross, and it was sealed by the blood that flowed out of Christ’s pierced body. There is nothing left to be paid in order for our soul’s jailer to release any of us. If we choose to follow Christ, we are granted a full pardon and our parole is effected.

The hard part for most of us comes in the choosing to follow Christ. Why should I do this? What do I gain in so choosing? Is this Jesus even real? These are questions that multitudes of people have asked over the long history of the world. From my point of view, it is all very simple. I know, through faith and by virtue of experiencing life that Jesus is real. The narrative that is written in the Bible is the real and the accurate recitation of God’s engagement with His creation with a particular emphasis upon the Lord’s involvement with humanity. I hold this to be true, not because I have absolute tangible proofs or due to some form of exhaustive research, for I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and I know that the best of the person that I have been and that I am to be is found and made known in the commitment of my heart, mind, and spirit to living in a righteous manner after the modeling and the leading of Christ, Himself.

In the conduct of my life I have certainly placed great demands upon the love and the grace that Christ has poured out upon me. Sadly, I continue to do this to this day; yet, the journey has gotten easier as the Spirit has continued to work within my heart and my mind to bring about an ever-increasing level of understanding of what it means to live as a person that loves others, seeks after justice, and desires to share God’s redemptive love with others. Choosing to follow Christ places each of us on that same journey as the Apostle Paul traveled upon. In so doing we enter into God’s will for us, and we find peace with our Creator in the process. This adventure that Christ takes us on will not be easy as there will be temptations to overcome, an adversarial world to confront, and doubts that grab hold of us and attempt to wrestle our hearts and minds into submission. In all of this I have found that Christ is with me. That riches of grace that Paul mentions and the Lord’s abundant love and mercy are truly poured out upon me in a supply that can be described in no other word but lavish. 

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch hum.

1 John 5: 18

If you have lived for any period of time in your new Christian skin, you know that this statement is not exactly true. No one that I am aware of lives a sinless life. In fact, we all go off the righteous track on a more or less regular basis. The reality of our need for God’s grace is one of life’s certainties, and Christ has granted an endless supply of that same grace and forgiveness to each of His people. So, what does it mean to “not keep on sinning,” and who is it that does the protecting in this verse? John makes this statement with such authority and with a very positive emphasis; so, it must be important, and it must also have rather universal application.

The easy part of the answer to my self-imposed question is Jesus. He is the one who was born of God and who does the protecting. In our fallen humanity, we are powerless against evil and the state of separation from all that is holy that comes about due to our birth-right of sinfulness. This is a state of being that Christ’s death and resurrection have worked to radically alter. In Christ, we find forgiveness of all of our sinfulness, and we also receive acceptance into the full presence of all that is holy, that is, we are taken into the everlasting presence of God, Himself. As we dwell in this new home in the kingdom of righteousness, any and all of our continued sinful thinking and acting is discordant with and anathema to all that we have become.

Yet, if we were left to our own devices and were required to operate out of the strength of will and character that we possess, most of us would not last for very long in this world of temptation, fear, and misinformation. Thus, Christ does not leave us. His Spirit is implanted within the being of all who know Christ, and the Spirit works continually to establish each of us in the truth of God’s Word and to set our feet firmly upon the solid footing of its ethical and moral direction. We will all sin, but we are no longer required to continue into the future along those destructive paths. We can trust Christ to protect all that truly matters in us when we choose to turn away from each and every thought, word, and act that falls outside of that which is strictly and fully righteous. The Lord is my protector, and He is yours, too. He will save each of us from the grasp of the evil one, and this is a truth that we can trust with all that matters in life and in the eternity to come.

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

2 Corinthians 9: 10

Paul understood working, and he was very familiar with the direct relationship between the effort that a person puts out and the productivity of the day. It would have been easy for him to connect those earthly concepts of labor and result with the world of the spiritual. He was raised in a system where works of various kinds were required and were even essential. Righteousness was not something that came to people without adherence to the system and absent personal, committed effort. Yet, this is not the way that he had learned about Christ, and this was not the way that the Lord had conveyed salvation and a renewed calling to Paul. In Christ, Paul was set free from the compulsion to labor in order to achieve acceptability with God.

In this new freedom, Paul could go into the world around him and live out Christ’s calling without reservation or concern for the propriety of what he did or said. He was able to confront where that was necessary and embrace those who were in pain. He could share God’s word of salvation and healing with people from every corner of the world and from each of its many walks of life. Christ personally called Paul out of service to a form of false god that people had contrived out of the holy foundation of truth that God, Himself, had provided for them. Now this newly formed and sent out evangelist, teacher, and shepherd of souls was out in the world, and he saw opportunity to proclaim truth and life all around him. In order to engage fully in this work, he required an endless supply of God’s grace, love, and the gospel of salvation. That is exactly what Christ gave to him.

This follower of Christ was blessed with all that he needed in order to go into his world and do what Christ asked of him. There was nothing lacking and there was also not a thing that Paul was required to supply out of his own labor beyond a willingness to do anything that Christ asked of him. We, too, are blessed with this same abundance of provision of all that we will need to answer Christ’s call to follow Him into service to God’s kingdom come to earth. Although Paul was sharing an aspect of his own experience in telling of God’s bountiful provision, he was saying these things so that we would see and accept the reality of this same supply of all that is needful in order to fully and continually proclaim Christ in our world as our own gift from God. Christ has done all that is required for each of His people to be sowers of saving grace, truth, love, and redemption in our world. We have no bill to pay at the supply house, but we have an endless abundance of life to spread in a world that knows only death and its pain without the Savior that we have come to give to it as our life’s true work.

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3: 17

Peter was aware of two realities that had faced him as he followed Christ, and he was also certain that they would face every other person who traveled that same path through life. Firstly, suffering and pain would come to each of us in the wake of our encounter with Christ, and secondly, all of our thoughts, words, and actions would order under one of two headings as they would be either good or evil. Although these categories or divisions of the content of life may seem extreme or even as overly simplistic and harsh, they represent the reality of how the content of all people’s lives are ordered when it comes to their most basic of descriptors. We effect good, or we bring about evil. Neutrality is not a part of what it means to serve a master in this world, and all of us are ordered under someone to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Christ leads us into that good side of the equation of life, and His Spirit works within us to bring about change that permeates the deepest aspects of our beings so that these changes have a positive impact upon the way that we think, and so, they also transform the words that we speak and the things that we do. In this process of change our will can come to our aid or it can work to hinder the progress that we will make in assimilating Christ as our identity and image. For as we yield to Christ and surrender control of the deepest aspects of our selves to the work of the Spirit, then we are most profoundly impacted by the presence of the Lord in our lives. When we hold on to areas of our beings that we find comfortable and deem as important to us, we tend to retard that same growth into Godliness.

I am not suggesting that this form of deep and highly personal surrender is easy, for it tends to involve aspects of our identity and being that have been developed over the entire course of life to date, and it also impacts us in places where we find some of our greatest sense of security and self-determined peace. Yet, even these aspects of life are ones in which Christ is asking us to enter into a form of the suffering that the righteous journey requires of all travelers along the holiness road. When we place the prized possessions of our egos and our escapist thoughts and actions upon the altar of Christ’s cross, we begin a journey of faith that will take us upon an often painful journey into transformative healing for those places within our souls that have been rubbed raw by our days of living in this harsh and broken world. The decision to accept whatever pain may come in the process, whether it is ours internally or derives from external sources, is a first step into pursuing good and rejecting evil. 

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,

   and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25: 14

Friendship is a very special thing. It is also rather rare, for most people do not know all that many really close friends during the course of their lives. If there are a few people that can be reflected upon from the past and counted upon in the present to always be there when life’s events come along, then that person has been fortunate. A friend is someone who is in this journey of living without reservation or restriction. That is why most of the people that we would call friends would be more suitably defined as close acquaintances than they are truly deep friends. Friends know as no one else can, and they are people that can be counted upon to tell us the truth without considering the cost, and we can know that they will still love us even when we are not so lovely, ourselves.

The idea that God could be considered as a friend may strike some of you as difficult to imagine, for I admit that It is hard for me to get my hands around that concept. Yet, David was able to do this very thing. He describes a relationship wherein God knows David well and in which the Lord shows Himself to David, too. The fear that is referenced here is a form of respect and reverence that means that when God speaks, David listens. Where the Lord has set out standards for living and gives guidance for the way that people should love and care for each other, David seeks to go about his day in a manner that reflects God’s desired rules of life. As David walked through his days in this close friendship relationship with God, the Lord demonstrated and explained the truth of the extraordinary depth and breadth of His promised commitment to love, care for, and protect the souls of His people. People like David, himself. 

This same form of friendship with God can be ours as well. Following the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength also places each of us in a place where God’s deeper nature is revealed and wherein the Lord guides us into living out the details of His will. This journey of faith is not necessarily an easy one. If we look closely at David’s story, that becomes very clear, for he had many challenging and difficult times in his long friendship with the Lord. Still, God was faithful and true to His promises to David. There were times when David was lonely or living in a form of exile, but he was never alone as God was always present by his side and was tangibly so in the way that He prepared the way for David to travel forward. We, too, can know God in this manner of friend. As we talk over life and its joys, burdens, and challenges with God, this prayer becomes the language of intimates. Reading God’s Word brings the Lord’s words of living truth to bear upon all that life throws at us, and living out each day as a person that is dedicated to following the leading of the Spirit, brings that intimate friendship with God into the present reality where we each dwell. 

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5: 9 

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