Patience


“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,

   O house of Israel,” declares the LORD, the God of hosts;

“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath

   to the Brook of the Arabah.”

Amos 6: 14

God is the perfect example of the engaged and loving parent and also of a truly good friend. He is willing to enter into those hard conversations and deal with the issues that everyone else tries to avoid. This can be very unpleasant, and it can lead to relational tensions that are monumental in their scale. However, the Lord is fully aware of the fact that we all sin and fall far short of the righteousness that God’s standards set out for us to follow. He recognizes with equal clarity that these times and situations of engaging in the selfishness of sin are harmful to us and to the world around us if they are left unchecked. Departing from God’s path in small ways can start people along a course that grows ever further off track to the point that recovery becomes almost impossible. We can get to a place in our journey of life where there are no visible points of reference left to sight and to turn toward.

The Lord does not want to see any of His people end up on the far side of the world with no means of finding our way home again. So, He intervenes in our lives. This is what He is promising to do in the days of the prophet Amos. At the time when Amos wrote out these words, the Lord was still waiting upon the repentance of His people in Israel and Judah. Now, God was certainly aware of the fact that they would not listen to these pleas, and Amos was not the only human voice that the Lord inspired to speak out about the dangers of continuing to follow their own sinful ways. Still, stubborn is stubborn, and self-serving people can be very set in the path that they have chosen to take. We know that both of these Hebrew nations would be overthrown and the people taken from their homes into captivity and slavery in a foreign land. Sometimes, harsh measures are needed in order to bring wandering people back into relationship with God.

Are we in our world today in a place where this sort of extreme measure is the only thing left for God to do in order to get us to turn away from our self-determined journey and fall upon our knees in repentance before the Lord? I am not a prophet, and God has certainly not provided me with an image of His future plans or of the details of the way that He will work out His promise of redemption for our world. I do know that the Lord has a plan for the restoration of the purity and the glory of His original creative handiwork upon the earth. I believe that I am correct when I look around and see the angry, violent, and unloving nature of so much of what is happening upon the face of our globe that God is more than displeased with it all. For I am convinced that God’s heart is breaking and that His patience must be running out at the sight of our depravity and lack of just treatment of each other. So, the engaged father and the good friend that is the Lord is not likely to withhold His judgement for much longer. It is time for people who know Christ to speak up, to act boldly in love, and to become well known in our world as people who proclaim the truth of the gospel of Christ in order to bring a foretaste of the Lord’s redemptive work into contact with the world that we touch.  

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I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know you have little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3: 8

If we think that the world that we live in is antagonistic toward our faith in Christ, perhaps we should consider the one that this church at Philadelphia occupies. Whatever we face might start looking very tame and civil in comparison. Still, without regard to the nature of our times verses those that are to come in the future, there is something truly important to consider and to hold onto for all of us in the church of Christ today. These people were lifted up as examples of what it means to hold onto their faith as they endure all that the world throws at them and continue to serve Christ in all that He calls upon them to be and to do. This will not be easy for them, and it is certainly not simple or easy for us either.

In fact, the nature of the times that we are a part of is such that I think many Christians today do resonate with the fact that we feel powerless. It seems as if the voice of love and of reason that we have learned to utilize as an imitation of the manner and the tone that Christ would have us use to engage with others is no longer useful or even considered to be worthy of hearing. These are days when shouting with the force of a hail storm has been deemed to be the only communication style that will be heard. Yet, no one grants others the respect that is necessary to actually hear what is being said. In fact, very few people today care about what others have to say or would grant the possibility that a differing opinion could possibly be right. This appears to be the case when the oppositional view point is expressed by people on their own, and it is equally true when the other ideas are coming straight out of God’s Word. 

Still, Christ tells us to not lose heart in the face of this violent storm that is the nature of these days. Instead, we are to continue to provide a counter narrative to the one with which our world is filled, for Christ desires for His people to stay steadfast in speaking the truth of God’s Word while also loving the people that we encounter. This might be easy to say, but it is not so simple to do. This requires that we be people of patience who stay true to Christ’s calling to be peacemakers in our world and to be agents for redemption in our relationships. We are to continue to proclaim Christ as the only eternal answer to all that is broken, painful, and lost in our world, and we are to refuse to respond to this world’s call to isolate ourselves from people who are different or who might cost us something real to love and to care for. The door to eternity stands open before us as dose the door to Christ’s cross of redemptive sacrifice. Thus, the path to that desired eternal rest leads straight into the teeth of the storm that is our world as our Lord calls upon His people to remain true to serving Him in His strength with all that we have to give. 

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5: 5

Magic truly exists in a child’s waiting. The anticipation of a birthday or of the coming of Christmas has an energy and a charm to it that is unlike almost anything else that we experience in life. Yet, Christ grants to us another form of anticipatory hope that is even greater than these special moments. We live in a world where there seems to be more things that divide people than there are those that bring us together. This trajectory of divisive thoughts and deeds has been one that has occupied the existence of humanity since early on in our journey across the face of the earth. In fact, we seem to be on a sort of quest to find as many ways to disassociate from each other as we possible can devise or develop. The winner of this game gets to be king of the world and have it all to themselves without need for rubbing elbows with those other disagreeable people out there.

God does not want His children to live like this. He created this world to be a place where we all could live in a form of committed relationship with Him and with each other. Our diversity and differences are supposed to bring about strength through reliance upon others and unity by means of listening to each other’s stories and by means of entering into understanding the other person’s viewpoint and perspective. Yet, these simple acts of conciliation and agreement seem to be among the most difficult things that we can ask of each other, for we often do everything that we can think of to accomplish the opposite effect. We search for our points of disagreement and make those our emphasis in dealing with each other. We form our opinions of the desires and wishes that groups of people hold without even giving them the opportunity to sit down and share those hopes and dreams with us. We separate and set up barriers to contact and communication before we can even see the other person’s eyes.

These are days when we, humanity, need to become young again with the hope of anticipation replacing the fears of generations as our expectation for contact with people from other countries, with different languages, and of religious beliefs that are not our own. When we choose to listen to someone’s story, we are engaging in an act of love. As we seek to hold out the hand of peace to a person that makes us uncomfortable, we are engaging in an act of worship to God, and when we embrace the foreigner with hospitality and provide a welcoming meal in place of the usual protective barriers, we are living out the faith that leads to righteousness. There is no true peace in our world without trust, and there is little trust to be found outside of the healing presence of Christ. Yet, in Him and though the work of His Spirit, we can reengage that child-like hope as we anticipate the blessing that comes through extending the hand of fellowship to people that will grace us with the rich tapestry of their stories as we are faithful to Christ’s call to unity for all of humanity.  

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

Philemon 10, 11

This is a difficult relationship to consider, for it is clear that Onesimus was a slave. His name means either “useful” or “profitable” and was one that was commonly given to slaves. It would seem that he has run away from service to his master Philemon and has come to be among the group of people who had gathered around Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome in around 62 AD. Something has happened during this time with Paul. Elsewhere the apostle describes a hard and a painful process that is much like a woman giving birth to a child. So, too, Paul uses parent-child imagery when he describes Onesimus and their relationship. It is also clear that Paul trusts this former runaway slave with important tasks such as carrying his letters to Colossae and to Ephesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon while he is also appealing to the slave holder to see the transformation that has taken place in Onesimus through eyes and with a heart that have undergone their own transformative work.

This is a fundamental aspect of what it means to follow Christ. In so committing to that relationship, Christ also makes a commitment to each of us. We will not come out of this relationship the same as we were before. That change may not happen quickly; in fact, at times it may seem as if it is progressing at a pace that is too slow to measure. Still, it does come about, for the Spirit of Christ is present in all of us when we embrace faith in Christ, and that Spirit is relentless and powerful in His capacity to bring about the conforming of our hearts and so our minds to that of Christ. Now some people do radically change in a matter of moments, but most of us do this over the course of the remainder of our earthly lives. There will be days when Christ will be very apparent on and in us, and there will be others when the old self seems to raging forth and causing the same sorts of havoc that it did previously. This is the reality of what it means to be a new person in Christ. The work of the Spirit is continuous and on-going, and we need to remain faithful and committed to obedience to God’s Word and to His Spirit in order to fully develop as Christians.

Philemon was asked to be patient and gracious in his reception of Onesimus. Paul implores him to see the new man before he assumes that the old one is present. This is how we are to engage with people who have come to Christ in our world, too. If we believe that Christ works in people to change them, then we must also believe that people can change. So, we are called upon by God to extend grace and understanding to these people, who are new beings in Christ. In the letter to Philemon there is an unstated appeal for the slave owner to extend freedom to the slave upon his voluntary return, for in fact, Onesimus has already been set free by Christ. He is no longer a slave to the greater mastery of sin and its death; so, the freedom that Philemon can extend is relatively minor in its importance or in its impact upon Onesimus. Still, it is important for Philemon’s spiritual growth that he trust Christ enough to release his hold on another human life. We do not know how this aspect of this story concluded, but we can enter into the same form of trust as Philemon was called to do. So, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance as we encounter people who are undergoing the transformative work of the Spirit in their lives so that we, too, can extend the grace that is needful for the day at hand and truly embrace fellow new creatures in Christ with the love and the acceptance that we would desire to receive from them in return.

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

For people in the early days of the church, the topic of food, the way that it was handled and prepared, and even the manner in which it was eaten was important. If they came from a Jewish background, as many in the church did, then they had always lived under the guidance and the compulsion of the Law of Moses. If they came to Christ after living as a part of the gentile world, they had not been handling foods and selecting them based upon those standards and principles, and this was a mark of differentiation and thus one of division between the Jews and the gentiles. Yet, at the center of following Christ is unity in the Spirit, and thus, unity in the way that life is lived and the conduct of our days. Things that divide or that separate Christ’s people from each other are to be considered carefully and with great suspicion.

The use of foods as an example of this sort of thing was truly pertinent to the days at hand when Hebrews was written. Today there might be other issues and concerns that strike more closely to the heart of unity or rather that enter into heart of the division or separation of people who follow Christ. I am not speaking about core and foundational teachings such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the existence of heaven and hell, or Jesus’ death and resurrection. Still, there are many issues that we can and do allow to disrupt the fellowship of people of faith in Christ. These teachings or ways of thinking are diverse in that they can force people to seek out divergent paths in our journeys as Christians, and they are strange in that when they are made important or even central to a specific group of people they divide us in ways that are unnatural to God and that are outside of God’s desire and intent to bring all of His people together in the unity of the Spirit and in the expression and proclamation of Christ in our world.

In all of life, we need grace. This is the Godly quality that is poured over each of us as we seek to enter into a relationship with God through Christ. We are granted a form of grace that brings about acceptance when we deserve rejection, that embraces us in love as we have earned animosity and separation, that proclaims us righteous despite the sinful nature of much that we think, say, and do. This is the grace that was made perfect and complete by Jesus on His cross of torture and pain and that was given full birth with Christ’s resurrection and victorious rule over all of creation. Now, it is this same grace that provides us with the wisdom, understanding, and love that is required for us to enter into relationships with other followers of Christ without regard for the issues and the concerns that might otherwise keep us distant and separated from each other. Christ’s grace gives His people the strength that we need in order to live outside of the worldly constraints that build barriers between people as grace becomes a gift that we can grant to one another in the name of the one who gave it to us, Jesus Christ.  

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5: 23, 24

The various forms of offerings that we give to God are a sign of our trust of Him and of our love for Him. They are an important part of the way that followers of Christ live in that we are surrendering the sure thing of wealth or assets that we have in hand today for the prospect that God will grant to us all that we will need to sustain us tomorrow. Yet, Jesus is saying that there are things that come along in the course of living out our days that are more significant than the way that we express our love, trust, and honor to God through our acts of sacrificial giving. Jesus tells us that the relationships that we have with people are of even greater significance to Him than is the way that we engage in acts of trust through giving in our worship of the Lord.

In fact, I believe that God would see the act of working toward peace and understanding with other people as being one of the most important forms of worship in which we can engage. Christ should make a difference in the way that we deal with other people, and His presence in us should grant to each of His people the grace, mercy, and confidence to engage in acts of reconciliation with diminished regard for the relational or emotional risk that might seem to be connected to those acts of sacrificial engagement with a person with whom we are in a state of disagreement or dispute. I understand that there is risk involved in stepping across the barriers that we construct to keep ourselves separated and insulated from people when we are at odds with them; yet, Christ stepped over the divide between God and humanity to live among and to dwell with us in order to do the greatest of all acts of reconciliation.

Therefore, as we follow Christ, we too should step over the walls of animosity that are put up in our relationships in order to engage in doing the great work of bringing people back into relationship with ourselves and into fellowship with the Lord. This directive to be reconciled sounds simple on the surface, but we all know that it is anything but easy to do. Life is challenging and issues between people are frequently complex; still, in Christ, we have the Spirit to guide our steps and to provide the words of healing to our speech. We also have time to give to the endeavor, for according to Jesus, this sort of effort is of greater significance and has a higher priority than any other thing that we might feel the need to accomplish. Christ desires for us to get our human relationships in order as an act of deep worship to God, and He is with us for every step of whatever process is required for the completion of these acts of holy reconciliation.  

If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

1 Corinthians 12: 17

Paul is discussing the various wonderful ways that followers of Christ are different from each other in the forms and the types of gifting that God has given to us. There is no question in my mind that this is what the Apostle is speaking about. Yet, it seems to me that there is more here. As I have been reading Richard Beck’s deep and profound book Stranger God[1],I have come to see this expanded view of the body of Christ a little more clearly. It does seem that God has given to us the gift of people. This is a really simple, yet very complicated subject. People are each different and highly distinctive, too. This differentiation exists in the form of our physical appearances, our personalities, our comfort in various situations, and in our capabilities and capacity to engage in each aspect of living within a community. Some may seem to be able to give more, and some are not as able to contribute, or at least that is how it might seem.

One of the challenges that I encounter is found in the way that my thinking has been conditioned over the course of my life. As I meet new people, I am almost immediately assessing them. While thinking that I am being open minded and accepting of the person as an individual, there are various internal filters and analytical tools at work, and these in-grained devices are busily placing this individual into broader categories that are ordered by preconceived definitions that lead me to draw value oriented conclusions regarding this person. None of this is happening at the level of volitional thought. Yet, it is all quite real and present inside of my mind so that this defining of a person has an effect upon my heart’s rendering of their worth as well. This is not at all how Christ sees people, and it has nothing to do with the way that our Lord contemplates the worth or the value of them, either.

In order to change something as long practiced and deeply held as is this form of thinking, I need to submit my perspective and view of people to Christ in repentance for the way that I have not loved His people well and with an expressed desire to be changed by the work of the Spirit within me. When Jesus met people, He was more interested in their story and in getting to know who they were than He was engaged with determining their role or their worth within the culture. So too should I care more about the life that people are living and the trials and troubles of that journey than I do about their skills or lack of them. Each of us is uniquely and beautifully formed by God to fulfill a role within His body of faith. There are no classes of citizenship in Christ’s community, for each and every person contributes to the whole as the Lord grants to them a place within His kingdom. I pray that as I go about my day that I will love and respect the people that I encounter in a manner that sees each of them as a whole and a contributing person who has a valuable and a vital place within God’s grand plan for His kingdom come to this world.    


[1]Richard Beck, “Stranger God, Meeting Jesus in Disguise” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press: 2017)

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