Mercy


May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1: 2

 

This town, set in the state where it is with its place in a nation that is established in this harsh and broken world, can bring on some really hard days. There is just too much coming my way to actually understand it all; in fact, there is so much pain, suffering, and brokenness on a continual basis that my heart and my mind can’t hold any more. Yet, when I consider what Jesus saw, knew, and felt, I know that there is One who truly grasps the place where I am. Christ sees the devastated lives and feels the raw edge of loss. He walks the halls of the hospital and understands the fear. Jesus comes to the place where sadness and sorrow rule, and He brings love and comfort for oppressed and troubled spirits.

 

One of God’s greatest desires is to give people a deep and a true understanding of His grace. He wants us to realize that there is nothing that we have done and nothing that we are doing now that will keep Him from loving and from accepting us totally. We are people who have chosen to separate ourselves from His presence by our own actions; yet, God continually reaches out with His hand of healing and restoration. The grace that flows from the center of eternity enfolds our wounded hearts and protects us from further harm. The grace that our Savior, Jesus, gave His life to perfect brings understanding and comfort to these days of hard reality.

 

As I look on the face of Jesus, I see the heart of love that is the very center of God’s nature. He wants us to accept His grace and to live in the peace that such unrestricted acceptance brings. In Christ there is calm and there is clarity of thought. He tells me to stop trying to understand all of the whys and to just trust Him with the outcome. Christ wants to hear everything that my heart feels and all that is racing through my mind, and He tells me to trust Him with it all. He takes this churning sea of troubled and confused thoughts and feelings, and His Spirit provides the sort of deep peace that makes it possible to face another day knowing that God’s grace will enfold me into His love so that all of the emotional and mental clutter of this world are made orderly, and I am granted an eternal perspective on all that life will send my way.

 

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.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 8

 

This may not be what everyone has in mind when they consider a relationship with God. The degree of watchfulness on the Lord’s part that is indicated here is just too close and way too personal for our tastes as there are times when the idea that God sees it all is not very comfortable. In other words, we want to be invisible from time to time, and a God who has His hands on all of my life isn’t going to just ignore what I am about during those days of desired secrecy. Yet, there is a tension implied in all of this, too, for there are many situations and events when I really do want God in His power and with His strength to be watching over my life and guarding my pathway from harm.

 

In truth we cannot have it both ways. We do not get to select which aspects of life are under God’s view and within His area of involvement; rather, He is all in with our existence, and the Lord is fully engaged in the total package that forms the comings and the goings of life. There is no place where He does not go, and we cannot enter into activities or even have thoughts that He is not aware of. So, for me, I have needed to come to grips with the fact that God sees and will engage with everything that I do, say, and think. This part of my reality has caused me to consider the nature and the character of God more closely, for it brings out the question of my comfort with His proximity to my innermost self.

 

When I do carefully consider who God is and contemplate His nature deeply, the eyes of my heart are opened up to the fact that there is simply no one else who I would want to be that close to me. The Lord loves me with an unceasing depth of commitment that is not possible to match elsewhere, and He cares about the nature and the quality of my life to the degree that He has already sacrificed His all in order to redeem me from the pain of death that I so fully deserved. This God, who watches over each of my steps and who places His mighty hand of protection over my head every moment of my days, provides me with guidance and with the wisdom of eternity to use in considering the next steps that I will take. As I yield myself to His will, my Lord takes me into the glory of His will, and with God as my guardian and my counselor, my days are lived out in a form of freedom and peace that is empowering and joyous beyond all imagining.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1: 3-5

 

If you wanted to be completely certain that something precious, a possession that had immeasurable worth, would be absolutely safe from every possible risk of harm or loss, where would you put it? In order to accomplish this some of us go to a vault or safe in our homes, some use a bank’s safety deposit boxes, there are privately operated secure storage facilities, and some people employ guards to keep constant watch over their possessions. Yet, none of this or these methods carries an absolute and total guarantee of security. In fact, if we hold that God’s Word is accurate and true, they are all fated to fail utterly in the end, for all of this world will be done away with and replaced by something sinless and perfect in those eternal times to come after Christ returns.

 

There is one place alone where God’s perfection exists, for Heaven is beyond our world and outside of our experience, at least it is so in its fullest expression. Yet, we know of it, and we experience a portion of its glory in the presence of the Spirit in us and in our world. God has also gifted images of the eternal and of the realm of glory where He resides to us in His Word and through the redemptive love that Christ has poured out upon us. For me, this witness is very real, and it leaves no doubt at all of the existence of Christ as my Savior. I am also fully committed to the fact that this same Redeemer is also my Lord and the ruler over all that exists in my world and beyond. Thus, His truth is my truth, and His righteousness is the ethical and the moral perspective that I desire to have fill and shape every aspect of my existence. This wholeness of being that Christ brings to all of His people is guarded and protected from the corruption of this world; yet, it is still tangible and available to people in this life.

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has broken through the dark shell of separation and death that sin cast over this world so that people have full and complete access to enter into an unending relationship with God. We are granted admittance into the glorious halls of heaven, and we are also provided with its immutable security and protection for our most precious of all possessions, our souls. We may live in a world that is failing with walls crumbling down before our eyes and over our heads, but in Christ, our souls dwell in heaven with the King and our hope is thus found in our vision of the eternal. However, our bodies with our hearts and our minds plus those heavenly souls live out each day in this world; so, we have a mission to engage in while we live here. We can bring that same hope of the glory of God into the presence of others during these days, and we are called upon by Christ to carry His living truth of grace, mercy, peace, and redemption to the other inhabitants of our world. As our souls are safe in heaven through Christ and by His resurrection, we can live boldly for His Gospel in all areas and aspects of our daily lives.

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