Love


And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10: 26, 27

Jesus has just been in conversation with the young man whose wealth was a major impediment to his ability to leave a life that was ruled by law and enter into one of service to God by selling all and following Jesus. So, the topic of salvation was on everyone’s mind, and Jesus takes a moment to enter into sharing one of the most important aspects of God’s desire, design, and plan for restoring people’s relationships with Him. In the conversation with the young man an impasse was reached in which the young man felt that he could not do what was being asked of him, for his wealth was far too important to him, perhaps his identity was primarily established by what he had accomplished and the rewards of that effort, for him to give that up. Yet, I think that Jesus is saying that the possibility still existed for that person to come into a saving relationship with God. We don’t know the final outcome, but the story of the wealthy young man and Jesus may not have been finished on that day.

The bigger question here takes us into God’s heart and its desire and intent. God does not want any of us to perish. He desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of the people who exist on this earth. No one is outside of His plan for grace and redemption to prevail over the lostness of sin and the separation from God that is its result. All of us are born lost and with dead souls that conform to the declining states of our bodies. God provided us with an absolute and all-inclusive answer to that desperate state of being in the person and the blood sacrifice that Jesus grants to any and to all who will receive it and surrender control over this life to Him. It is the second of these two aspects of entering into eternity, salvation, that the young man was not willing to do. He could accept Jesus and even ask to follow Him, but the young man was not able to submit to Christ’s authority and leave his old way of life behind. So, he was unwilling to enter into the new life of redemption that God wanted to provide to him.

Thus, since the things that God requires of people in order to enter into a relationship with Him are so hard for most people to accomplish, the question regarding who can be saved seems to be important to consider. From God’s perspective there are no people who are beyond the reach of redemption. No one is so evil, so set in his ways, or so antagonistic to God that the Savior’s reach cannot extend to him. So, we should never give up on anyone either. Our words may be rejected, and we may even find ourselves in a position where that push back has become so strong that our ability to interact with an individual or with a group may be jeopardized. There are places and people in our world where it is physically dangerous to discuss Jesus, but even these places and people are not beyond Christ’s reach and outside of the arena of prayer. We may be discouraged or feel defeated by the lack of response to Christ in others, and we will encounter rejection and dismissal when we present our faith to some. These are inevitable facts that are a part of living in a word where God’s standards are exacting. However, we also follow and serve a Lord who is greater than all of this and whose love for these same people that are rejecting our appeals to them is beyond measure. With Christ all things are truly possible, and in Christ we can trust Him to never stop the pursuit of any lost soul. 

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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4: 12

The idea of a fiery trial does not seem pleasant in any sense. At least in my experience, being burned is very painful, and so, the thought of enduring some form of testing that comes by virtue of an activity that has the sort of intensity that fire provides sounds like something that I would prefer to skip over or avoid by almost any means that I can summon up to do so. I am aware that, except for a relatively few examples, Peter is using a metaphor here; he does not expect that he or other followers of Christ would actually be burned. What he is telling us is that there is an almost absolute certainty that we will encounter forms of opposition that are intense and that may very well harm our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. The surroundings where we live and into which Christ sends His people to serve Him are not friendly to people who bring with us the truth of the Gospel of Christ and the light of His unrelenting Word of Life.

In fact, it would be my guess that Peter might have asserted that if we are not running into some very real push back and antagonism as we go about living as people who think, speak, and act out Christ’s calling for us, then, we are not truly and fully doing that. There is no place on this earth where Christ is needed and where He is readily and completely accepted. So, those same places where the need is great and the acceptance is questionable are locations where the inhabitants are going to fight back against the presence of Christ in their midst. Satan demands denial of Christ from his people, and this denial leads to push back against the Gospel. Push back when resisted or countered by Christ’s followers can bring about more open forms of rejection that do, at times, lead to aggressive and even to violent responses. People do lose their lives over sharing the message of redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not face this sort of physical risk that comes to us because we are committed to proclaiming Christ in the world where we live. Still, there are risks involved in doing this. We will encounter people who do not want to hear about our faith and who will shut us down or cut us off from fellowship with them if we persist in doing this. There are places in our world where the rules attempt to bind us so that Christ is not permitted to be spoken there. These places may be connected to our employment or they might be associated with some other important aspect of daily life. In all of these situations and relationships there are ways to remain true to Christ’s calling while honoring the people and society’s rules. We must never renounce Christ or minimize His place of prominence in our own lives, but we can seek to demonstrate love, care, and compassion as Christ-like qualities that open doors to discussion of the reason for the loving care that we exhibit. We can still pray for and with others even in settings where the rules minimize our ability to do so before a gathered crowd. We can and should continue to share the truth of God’s Word as the source of our wisdom in all situations. Finally, we can be people of prayer who bring love and Christ’s acceptance to the lives of everyone that we encounter. The flames of trials may not be literal and they probably will not consume our flesh with their heat, but the opposition that we will encounter for the sake of the Gospel of Christ will be heated and delivered with the fury of Hell. Yet, Christ is with us, and He will strengthen each of us to withstand all that might come our way. 

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Matthew 4: 11

There is something that I need to admit. I have never seen an angel. At least, I have not set eyes upon one that I was aware of looking at. Still, I believe that they exist, and I am certain that they are active and involved in our world today. The scene that Matthew records is the one in which Jesus was tempted by Satan over a period of forty days, and this is that point when the test was finished, but Mark makes it clear that these angels were with Jesus throughout the ordeal of temptations and deprivation. The presence of these angels, I think, had less to do with the fact that the person who was receiving their support and aid was God, Himself, than it was a part of the way that the Father cares about and for this world and its inhabitants. Angels seem to do various forms of work and take on tasks at God’s bidding. He sends them forth to enter into the events and the situations that are present in our world.

They seem to be operators in the background of the world for the most part, but there are times recorded in scripture when they are involved on the front lines of the action and where they are seen and known by the participants in various events. Their purpose is always to serve God’s greater mission, and they never seek to be thanked or worshiped in any sense for what they have done. Their actions are a form of worship that they are giving to the Lord, and it would appear that their reward is found in simply existing in the presence of God. So, if I haven’t seen them and they don’t want to be recognized for what they do so they are perhaps a bit shy about being noticed, why do I think that they are real and prevalent in our world? Could it be that they were either an aspect of an earlier age in history only, or that they are nothing more than a part of myth or of the telling of fanciful fables?

So, my belief in the presence of angles is based upon the fact that they are mentioned some 203 times in the Bible with their presence, actions, and purposes being well and thoroughly described by numerous authors along the course of that narrative. Beyond that, there are instances in life that are hard to explain without the interaction or the interjection of some form of wise, capable, and powerful forces that comes from outside of the perceived world at hand. These hand of God moments could be the direct action of God, Himself, but they could also be the work of these angelic beings, who are acting in agreement with God’s will and His plans. Recognizing the presence of angels in my world has one primary purpose, and that is so that I will remain mindful of the remarkable presence of God in the environment where I dwell. The Lord literally saturates this place with His presence. He walks upon this earth through each and every aspect and facet of every day that the Sun rises and sets, and His hand of love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness is not absent for even a second of those days. These angels, who I do not see but know that they are with me, are proof of God’s profound and unceasing care for all of His Creation. 

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

   let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

   that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 5: 11

There is something really strange going on here. It is the sort of thing that I cannot remember ever having seen in film or encountered in a book, either. The. Author is facing some sort of dangerous adversary, and it would seem that the opponent is gaining the upper hand in the moment; yet, this same imperiled person starts singing. The song that is sung is not one of those nervous and tenuous sorts of tunes that are intended to demonstrate courage and a calm heart but actually show the exact opposite, either. This is a song of joy, peace, contentment, and even one that speaks out about victory in the current situation long before any rational person would have seen that victory was possible. This is the type of song that may not be expressed in audible fashion, for it is a song that starts and that resides deep within the singer’s heart.

A song like this is something that is formed out of the words that God implants within His people. These lyrics are the hope, joy, peace, and confidence that are shaped up out of the eternal certainty that comes from knowing God through and by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, this sort of knowledge of God is useful and helpful not only as assurance of life beyond this world but it is also something that can be relied upon to provide strength, wisdom, and courage to face into all of the challenges, fears, and risks that come our way during the process of living out our daily lives. The song on view here is individual and personal for each of us as we engage in walking through our days with the Lord, but it is also something that we can join together with other followers of Christ in singing. Christ invites us to join in His choir of faith that is continuously formed up by all people who know Him. The words to the songs that it sings are supplied through God’s Word and are made accessible to the chorus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. God is the author of these lyrics of joyous praise, the Spirit trains and coaches the singers in their deep meaning, and Christ is the director of this heaven-focused band.

All of this would sound great, but it would be practically useless if it were not for the reality of God’s involvement in the lives of people. We may not even realize the extent or the nature of His involvement in our days, but the Lord is with each of us in the various situations and circumstances that form up the substance and the structure of each of our days. This protection and care are usually not highly apparent, for God’s hand is operating all of the time in the background of our world as He holds together the fabric of this chaos-bound environment. Still, there are times when God and His ministering angels are the only truly rational answer to what has transpired in a moment or during the process of the day. Still, hard, harsh, and painful things happen in our world. There are instances when the hand of God seems to reach out and stop the dangerous or the harmful event in its course. There are other situations wherein God’s presence brings comfort in the wake of the injury or the illness. In it all, we are always granted the hope of our assurance in Christ that there is nothing that can come our way in this world that can truly and eternally harm our souls. In all situations and through each circumstance that life tosses at us, we can join the choir of faith in singing out in exultant praise the name of the Lord who protects and whose love has saved us from all harm.   

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.      

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12: 24, 25

People tend to operate differently than does God. I know that this thought is probably not all that surprising to most of us, for if we have spent any amount of time in a relationship with God and have also traveled through life in human company, we have observed this fact in many ways as it has played out in others and in ourselves. We look toward honor or position achieved as a sign that we should give respect and even deference to a person. Thus, when someone has achieved success or has been granted authority or power, we will grant that individual even more of the same. Although we may grumble, complain, and even struggle against the rule of others, in the end, generally we want to let someone take the responsibility for leading so that we can place blame on them when things go poorly and we can benefit from what goes well. God does things in another way, and He desires to see His people live out our relationships in a manner that is similar to His approach to relating with us.

The Lord seeks to elevate the weak, the disenfranchised, and the outcasts of our world. He desires to bring people who are cast off to the fringes of society into close proximity and engagement with those who are at its center. In Christ, God has provided to the world the common ground upon which we can all stand in an ingathering of races, genders, cultures, and even of belief systems or faiths. Christ calls upon all of us to see more deeply so that we look through the exteriors of others and into their hearts and souls. I think that this is something that we do firstly with those who we should be closest to in the course of our days. That would be our families, neighbors, co-workers, and others who we engage in fellowship with on a regular basis. We can ask the Spirit to show us that deeper worth and greater value that resides within every person created by God in His image. We can begin to see the giftedness that flows out of Christ within each person that we encounter as we consider them from the perspective of our best understanding of how Jesus, Himself, would have viewed that beloved individual.

Seeing the people who are closest to us in the light of Christ’s presence in them and with their giftedness on view may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is much more challenging to live out than it might seem. People are all complex and relating to them is never simple. When we look more deeply into those inner places in a person’s life we are taken into the pain, fears, hopes, dreams, and aspirations that are a part of how we are all constructed by our Creator. Yet, these are the places where we need to go if we are to follow the Lord’s desired plan for the way that His body would exist and flourish in this world. As we care about and then for those who are closest to us, we are trained and empowered to do the same for people who are more distant from us. When the portion of the body of Christ that we are associated with in fellowship is healthy, nurturing, and all-embracing, we have a compelling story to tell and to demonstrate to others who do not know Christ, for it is in Christ that we have learned to truly love, and it is through Christ’s love that we have begun to live in a society that values all people equally and that seeks what is best for everyone without regard to relative strength or weakness or human perceived value and worth. 

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