Justice


For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.

Deuteronomy 18: 9

 

Even when God grants us possession of a part of this world there is still danger in the hills that surround us; it’s also in the valleys and in the towns. Like the children of the exodus, God gives us territory. It seldom has the definite borders that enclosed Canaan, but it is just as real. The Lord desires for all of His people to live in a manner that is distinctly different from those who do not know Him. Christ calls upon us to have an impact on our neighbors, our communities, and our world that will bring about a hunger and a thirst for His righteousness.

 

Unfortunately, I know that I am not alone in my too frequently experienced chameleon-like adaptation to the culture that surrounds me. When I look at my words and deeds, I confess that there is not necessarily enough of a distinction in them for the outside observer to discern that Christ is in me and that I serve a different master than the one that has falsely assumed the role of king of this world. This thought is troubling and disturbing. This self assessment is condemning, too. Yet, into my troubled heart and mind comes Christ with His grace, love, and forgiveness. It doesn’t stop there, either. God doesn’t just tell us to stop sinning and to live differently, He gives us His living word for comfort and for instruction, and He has come to dwell with us. He personally leads the occupation forces in this land of conquest. Christ dwells in this world with us.

 

Christ brings into this world the light that drives back the dark shadows of sin, and He calls upon His people to carry those torches of righteousness. He also desires for us to bring the warmth of His comfort to those who have been damaged and dispossessed by life in this earthly war zone. Often the difference that we can demonstrate is shown through compassion and mercy. Christ is made real to people by our patience with their situations and acceptance of them as valuable. God is warning us that when we stop caring about and for the weak, the homeless, and the broken people of our world and start seeking to protect ourselves by building fortresses of safety and security around our homes and our possessions, we are truly adopting those abominable practices of the land. Christ calls upon His people to set aside safety, comfort, and security as we trust Him and follow His lead in loving people as He does and in seeking to be active agents for restoration in our world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 13-16

 

This passage is about Jews and Gentiles; these are the two groups that he was discussing. In his view of the world, there were no other divisions to be considered as primary. Of course, there were many other ways that people were separated from each other, and these were also the basis for animosity, a sense of superiority, and divisive laws or rules for living. Paul had been a strict follower of these ordinances and commandments himself. However, his encounter with Christ had changed all of this. He no longer knew any superiority to others based upon his birth status, and he now believed that God had called him to work to bring people closer together by leading them to the same place in there hearts and minds; that is, he sought to bring them to the cross of Christ as their common meeting place.

 

As modern day followers of the same Christ that had worked out this miraculous change of heart and of thinking in Paul, our hope should be the same as his was. We live in a world that is filled with the language of difference. There are many overt and subtle ways that this is conveyed to us on a very frequent basis. Most of us, if we honestly assess our thoughts and views of others, hold some specific images of superiority for ourselves and for the institutions, organizations, and nations that we are affiliated with. This is the way that we have been raised up, is the thinking that we instill in our children, and it is a manner in which we filter our world in order to create that sense of comfort and safety that is so important to us. Yet, these self-imposed differences, one from another, also divide us from those who we hold as inferior in some form or manner.

 

This is where I hold that Paul’s discussion of Jews verses Gentiles here is truly about everyone on the earth throughout all of time. The real division is people who know God through knowing Jesus Christ and those who do not. So, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, and gender distinctions do not actually matter to God, and they should make no difference to us either. People who know Christ are to be embraced as family and nurtured, cared for, and supported in their walks through life. People who do not know Christ are to be loved, cared for, nurtured in the faith as well as in body and mind, shown Christ’s grace, and provided with the opportunity to experience Him through the words and deeds of His living body the church. We can desire peace in all forms and hope for it to come to our world, but there is only one effective answer to the divisiveness that creates animosity among the peoples of our times, and that is Christ. He brings us all to a place of meeting that is transformative. For, as we gather at the cross, the only goals that matter are Christ’s as in Him we are all now citizens of God’s Kingdom and brothers and sisters in service to its one eternal King.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9: 6

 

This is a discussion about money and what we do with it. It is also a statement that applies to the things that we own, and it speaks to our attitude toward our time. Mostly, this is a comment on the way that we view other people, their needs, and our own sense of security in our relationship with Christ. He gave everything for us. Christ lived a life in which He took on our pain and suffering while demonstrating the depths of God’s loving compassion for His people. While doing this He continually looked to the Father and trusted Him to supply all wisdom, direction, and the resources that were needed.

 

Even with Christ’s example in mind, it is not always so easy to actually believe that God will supply me with everything that I need. So, holding everything that I have, including my money, prized possessions, and time, in fully open hands is not all that natural an act for me. It is even harder to risk exposing my heart to others in a manner that makes me vulnerable. Still, all of this is what God has given to me. He gives completely, absolutely, and without reservation for everything of significance that I have comes from His generosity. Most importantly, Christ gives me His heart, and in doing this, He changes mine from one that seeks to protect itself from exposure to pain and loss to a heart that can more openly share God’s love with others.

 

When we give we don’t get to control the return; yet, the more we give, the more we are acting like our Lord. The more open we are with our love, mercy, compassion, and understanding, the more we are transformed into the image of Christ. God’s direction for our lives is not easy, but it is simple. He wants us to openly and willingly reach out to all who are needy, all who are thirsty, and all who are alone. Then, He wants us to give everything that we have to meet those needs while fully trusting Him to continue to provide us with all that we will ever require for life.

 

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever—therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Genesis 3: 22, 23

 

You would think that perfection would be reward enough. That living in an environment that did not present any forms of threat or opposition would make us content and obedient to the one simple rule that God set out, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat.”(2:17) Yet, that was not the case, for as we know all too well, our initial ancestors did, in fact, eat that forbidden fruit, and the results that issued forth from that decision are with us to this day. This planet that we dwell upon is very different from that safe and secure place where Adam and Eve were created to live. They experienced the violence and the grief that humanity brings upon our world and that nature itself also now generates. Within a mere blink of the eye in terms of human history they experienced malice, anger, and murder. After the passage of only a few generations the world was so corrupt that God was almost ready to wipe it clean and start over.

 

But God did not do that. Instead He left a remnant of His creation and recommitted Himself to the restoration of all that He had formed as His great handiwork. In the chaos that disobedience had caused, the Lord promised that He would provide a redeemer for us. The Lord committed to destroy the evil that was loose upon the earth and to bring about an eternal renewal that would recreate the state of peace and close relationship with Him that was at the center of God’s original design. Even now, after Christ has come to live with us for the first time, we continue to struggle with obedience to God. He commands us to worship Him alone, and we seek out other gods. The Lord shows us the way into His now and forever presence, and we push His Christ aside as we follow our worldly paths. Christ instructs us in the ways of peace and of caring for others, and we respond with aggression and acts that oppress those who are in need. Sadly, we humans have not yet entered into the truth of God’s position as our only sovereign Lord and eternal Father.

 

However, it is in our stubbornness and disobedience that God’s remarkable character is most on display. He seems to possess a form of patience that defies all understanding, and He also demonstrates the depth of His love for each and every one of us in the fact that He continues to pursue us without regard for what we have done or how badly we may have treated and spoken of Him. Christ gave all so that we all could be redeemed from the living death and the eternal separation that our own actions have deemed our just reward. In Christ we are granted the capacity to understand the deep peace of the soul that only comes when we are dwelling in the presence of our Creator. With Christ we are brought back to an earthly shadow of that great garden of community that God devised to be our home on earth. Now, with Christ residing within, we eat from that tree that brings life, not with our mouths but from the depths of our souls, and the life that God grants to us is one where obedience to God’s will provides peace, joy, and contentment that lasts forever.

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

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