Knowledge


So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10: 17

Some days seem really noisy; for they are completely filled with surround sound quality words and images. Some of this is of my own choosing; as, I turn on the TV, turn up the car sound system, and read the signs along the road. Some of this is the new version of the natural harmonics of the earth; it is an always with us, fill up our auditory processes level of background noise that can saturate our minds with its persistence.

There is little that we can do about much of this. Sure we can turn off or turn down our own electronics and we can focus on the road ahead rather than the signs along the side, but there will still be all of the rest of it. What we can do is choose which voices and whose words we allow to have access to our minds and to our hearts. God talks to us during as much of the day as we will let Him. He answers questions and He speaks words that are encouraging, words that remind us of His eternal love for us. The challenge for me comes in my selection of input to tune in to and in my willingness to listen. 

God tells us to hear Him, for He does speak. God tells us to listen, for He has words of truth for us. This is where personal choice comes in; for me, this involves reading the bible, to take in truth from an unchanging source; it involves prayer, to engage in conversation with God; and it involves opening up my mind and my heart to let truth sink into the center of my being. Then, it involves the continual process of life-prayer; talking with God and listening to him speak through out the day. The Holy Spirit walks in my skin with me, and Christ speaks continually to me with words of truth, wisdom, and love that are His alone. My part comes in focusing my hearing on God’s voice. My reminder for the day is to listen.

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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.

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3: 15 

There is an interesting proposition made by Peter here; for, as we embrace Christ’s holiness at this deep and personal level, we are doing the same for ourselves; since, if Christ is in me, then His holiness is mine. That is why it becomes so very important to focus on the Lord’s attributes as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of our own new nature as a transformed person. The same holds true for focusing more clearly on our own anticipation and objectives for personal spiritual growth. 

As I consider the ways that I still don’t function as I should, based upon what God has established as the model for living in His holiness, the steps that I need to take and the personal sacrifices that I need to make in order to move in that direction become more clearly defined. There is always an element of surrender, a yielding of my will to the Lord, that is involved in this growth process, for this is a something that is begun by continually allowing Christ to be the center and the focus of my heart. 

Then, as the presence of His holiness takes over more of my being, my own ability to live in a manner that is reflective of Christ’s love increases, and I gain an ever greater understanding of the marvelous hopefulness that He brings into my life. This is a hope that is too large and much too important to keep buried inside. It needs to be expressed, and it will gain expression through the way that I live as well as through the words that I speak. The final element that Peter speaks to here is one that I suspect was a serious challenge for him; he again tells us to consider how Jesus went about connecting and communicating with people, for true holiness is also gentle, respectful, and always loving.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

            “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

                who was and is and is to come!”

                Revelation 4: 8

These words are at the center of the vision of God’s throne room that was given to John by Christ. John was allowed to see a part of the universe that most of us can only speculate about. He was taken, in this visionary state, into a reality that followers of Christ often dream about and desire to enter at the soonest possible moment. This is the place where death is no more, and the pain that accompanies life as does Noon follow dawn is far off in the past. In this longest part of existence, perfection and peace reign as strife and striving are left to wrestle in the dusty and temporary atmosphere of earth. We can dream of a time when we, too, will join these incredible creatures as we spend our hours, days, and eternity expressing worshipful praise to God.

This idea is a wonderful one. And the hope that its promise provides is useful for us as we face into the challenges of living in this world. However, it seems to me that looking ahead to the day when this heavenly escape will be my own is not what God wants me to focus my sight upon today. Instead of looking ahead to a time when I will be transported into an existence where praising the Lord is the singular focus and work of my days, Christ’s purpose in doing all that He did was to set me free from all that inhibits me from engaging in this same form of worship on an on-going basis during my time of living in this world. Although I do not have six wings, or any wings for that matter, am not all that gifted in sight, and my endurance tends to fail me, I can still spend my hours, days, and years in active and persistent praiseful worship of the Lord. 

As one who has been redeemed from sin and its death by Christ, I am called by my Lord into service to His kingdom come upon this earth. My life is no longer my own. I am given the singular task of worship to pursue for the rest of my life, and I am granted the gift of the capacity and the capability to do that very thing. Every thought that comes to my mind is to be formed out of the truth and the wisdom of God’s Word. Each word that I speak is to be formed out of a vocabulary of love, grace, and understanding, and all of the actions that I take are to be carried out with God’s holy and righteous purposes as their object and objective. This is the central point and purpose of being a follower of Christ. We are to make worship of the Lord the center of our being, and as we do this, God’s presence is made tangible and real to others as His redemption is poured out into a troubled and broken world. 

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.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6: 18 

The drive to achieve freedom is an ancient one in both the history of people and in our individual stories. It is an essential urge that runs deeply in our hearts and that helps to define the boundaries of our existence. From Icarus to modern astronauts we have been compelled by this urge to rethink and to expand the horizons that create a physical perimeter around our worlds. People will risk all in order to gain even a momentary taste of the air on the outside of a prison cell; while, oppressive governments grind away the spirits of their subjects to the point where we can be fundamentally changed when living under their rule. 

We can strive to gain freedom throughout life. Yet, there is always an illusive quality to it, for regardless of how much freedom we have, it is never satisfying. There will always be something that ties us down and that inhibits us. We will never have enough resources to acquire all of the land that our hearts desire to roam. We can jump on the largest motorcycle made, ride as fast as we can to catch the sun, and there will always be an ocean in our way. If we rely upon this world’s devices and methods, true and lasting freedom will always elude our grasp. 

Yet, beyond all of the other boundaries and stronger than any ropes that might tie us down, there is one aspect to life that is supremely constraining. There is one law of nature that is stronger than gravity. This is the law of sin and death. We are all born into bondage to sin, and we will all live out our lives in a constant struggle for freedom from it. However, Christ gives us the only freedom that actually matters, for His freedom has no boundaries, no horizon, and it is not defined by time, by space, or even by death, itself. In and through Jesus we all gain a freedom that cannot be purchased with anything that we could ever earn, and as we surrender more fully to being slaves of Christ, our hearts and our minds gain an ever-increasing degree of this unimaginable freedom. We can turn to the Lord in prayer continually for understanding of the things that are enslaving us; then, surrender the control of them to Christ, and live in His total freedom. 

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. 

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