Peace


If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Luke 9: 23

Jesus is talking about actually living in the manner that many people say that they want to live. He is telling us about the foundational approach that we need to take if we are going to wear or display symbols of Christian faith such as a cross, a fish decal or ornament on our car, or a few years ago one of those too common WWJD bracelets while actually mean it as a symbol and a reminder of our desired impact on the world. You see, Christ wants us to be fully aware of just what we have signed on for in agreeing to follow Him, for that is not the easy way to live, and it is certainly not the safest way, either.

When Jesus speaks about taking up our cross, He is saying that His road of righteousness and love requires its travelers to carry a heavy load; since, we need to be willing to set aside our desires and the things that make us feel safe in order o do what God sees as right and as needful. This path leads up a hill that is littered with the skeletons of past good intentions and that seems to get too steep to climb at times; additionally, the top is shrouded in a mist that leaves our view of the finish obscured. So, we need to continually trust God’s word in order to move forward. On top of all of that, there is no promise that the days get easier as we progress along our journey; thus, it is necessary for us to continually seek God’s will, surrender ours, and deliberately set out on His road.

If this all seems daunting, well, it is, for Jesus is telling us about life as it is. There is no deception and no holding back. However, here is the good part; for, Jesus also promised that He would never send us someplace where He has not been before, that He will never leave us, and that He always sends us straight to the center of God’s will. This is the place in life where all true peace, joy, and love reside. Also, an amazing thing happens during this journey; for, the daily cross is itself a very heavy object, and when I am focused on its weight and on the difficulty of the road ahead, that weight can become overwhelming, but when I look outward and upward and focus on the Lord’s desire for my day, that same load becomes as light as air and the same trials and challenges are made more than manageable. 

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I will sing to the LORD,

   because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13: 6 

When David set out these words, his life was not going well. We don’t know the exact circumstances that surrounded him, but we certainly are aware of enough hard and challenging times that came his way for us to understand that he could be at the end of his ability to handle whatever it was that he faced. Yet, the song that starts out, “How long, O LORD, will you forget me forever?”, ends with this statement of recognition of the Lord’s care and provision and joyously hopeful note of thanksgiving. Had something changed in David’s life during the time of his reflection, or was it more a matter of his working through his fears, doubts, and concerns so that the Lord could respond to him with words of truth that bring with them the encouragement that his heart so badly needed? 

There is real value in doing what David did in this song, for speaking out to the Lord about the things that are troubling us is more than simply therapeutic. This act of engaging in honest conversation with God gets thoughts and feelings that we have working on our inner beings and it sets them out into the clear air of God’s realm of providing us with reason and order. The pain that we are experiencing, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, may not end at that time; however, talking it all over with the Lord does tend to grant a form of respite from the burden of carrying whatever it is that is so heavily weighting down the heart. The ability to manage pain, to calm a mind that is swirling in turmoil, or to find order in a jumble of confusion and chaos is something that comes most readily from the source of all order and peace in the universe, and that creator and source is God.

It seems to me that David is actually suggesting that he will sing a song of thanksgiving to the Lord even though the issues that are troubling him are still present and very real to him. There is no process of resolution mentioned in these six short verses; instead, we see David’s personal resolution to take all that is troubling him to the Lord with his mind and heart focused upon the many ways that God has taken care of him in the past and with genuine anticipation of the way that this same God will deal with what is going on at this time. This is an example of faith that is active and realized in the middle of the crisis. David expresses a form of trust in the Lord that grants its bearer the realization of peace that allows for him to think more clearly and to endure the moment more readily than would be the case without this tangible understanding of the presence of the Lord with him. David sings about God’s bounty as it has been poured out upon him over the course of his life, and he invites us to do the same as we travel hard roads and navigate the churning waters of our own times of asking, “How long?”  

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 52: 7

 

Does it ever seem as if the Lord is far away or like His day may have come and gone leaving us all behind? These are tough times to navigate, and there is trouble to be found around the bends of its roadways. Yet, there is also joy, peace, and salvation to enjoy scattered along the steps of the journey. Their presence has much to do with what we are looking for, where our eyes are looking, and how sharply we are tuning in our hearing. Our God is not silent as to His message of hope and the redemption from death that He offers. The Lord’s messengers are out and about in our world, and the truth of our Lord’s Word is never held down for long. They are heard as they climb the heights, descend into the valley floors, and run toward the battle that is life. These messengers of the Gospel of Christ are speaking out with a form of clarity that cuts through all of the clutter of our cultural verbal exchanges and thus it points straight to salvation by and in Christ.

 

As we follow that same risen Lord, we are called upon by God to join in as heralds of this revival of faith. We are to join in with being those messengers of the good news as we set out the truth regarding what it means to be at peace with God, to dwell in a form of happiness that comes from a soul that is at rest, and that knows the deep meaning of salvation. The worldly smoke screen of fear, doubt, and distrust is cut through by the words of life that are contained within God’s Word, and that word is carried forth into the corners of our world by people who know Christ. That is, the word is lived out, spoken clearly, given away freely, and confidently proclaimed by people who are much like you and I. This appointment to the position of messenger for the King is not something that is granted to a select few; rather, it is the calling and the duty of everyone who knows Christ as Savior, Lord, and Ruler of our souls.

 

Our God reigns! This is the primary message that we are to proclaim. There is no other word that carries with it the same force and effect. This is the truth that changes lives, for it places all that happens upon the face of this earth and in the air of the heavens into clear perspective. It is all a part of a much bigger picture wherein God is working to bring all of humanity into relationship with Him as we head along a relentless path toward that final day of reckoning when Christ will have returned and all that is broken in the universe will be made right and whole again. This good news of God’s position of sovereignty means that people have the opportunity to enter into dwelling within that redeemed kingdom during the days of our earthly lives. Christ brings us into His royal presence and He fills us with the hope of His Spirit. We take on a newly published story that is one wherein redemption overtakes death and freedom replaces bondage to sin. In this new life, without regard for age, physical condition, or other human limitations, we can run along those mountain peaks and shout out to the world, “Our God reigns!”

 

 

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.

1 Corinthians 4: 12

 

We might dream or wish to live in a civil world where people respect others without regard for what we believe, who we are, or how we view governance or other like issues. Yet, we know that this is not true. The hyper-aware nature of our times makes it hard to ignore issues; so, it also makes sorting out the people that we meet from the positions that they hold a lot more challenging. The world where we live is one wherein people are frequently defined and catalogued by our political, religious, and cultural point of view. We use broad brush strokes such as liberal or conservative, believer or non-believer, nationalist, evangelical, Muslim, socialist, and many others as if those terms fully fleshed out the definition of who a person is and of what worth they might be. Nothing of this sort is truly valid when it comes to the way that we view others or when we determine how we should respond to the world where we dwell.

 

We might think that these issues and concerns are the result of the way that our world has evolved for our fast paced, electronic communication oriented environment is one in which it is hard to ignore what is happening around the world and who is involved in making these things occur. Yet, Paul is talking about some of the same sorts of things as they were current events in his times, too. The nature of people as we live out our brokenness and our sinfulness has not changed much over time. We are hurtful, arrogant, and prideful now just as we were long ago. We seek to make little of others in order to contrast our personal greatness to them, and we don’t much care how much damage we might do to others while engaging in these acts. Far too often labels are used as a replacement for engaging in relationship building, for these wide-reaching descriptors make it far easier for us to sift out and sort people into those that we consider to be acceptable and worthy of knowing and those that we do not value enough to associate with. All of these thoughts, actions, and attitudes cause harm and deny the reconciling work of Christ through us and in the lives of others.

Christ’s reconciling

In fact, we will encounter people with whom we differ on many topics and in many other ways. This is the beautiful reality of the great diversity that God has designed into humanity. We are intended to live in a manner that values these differences and that allows for the expression of our various points of view and perspectives so that, in the end, a fully-formed and balanced perspective is brought to bear upon the concept of living in a loving and considerate manner as we travel through life. This brings me to the partial verse above. I think that Paul is granting us some wise instruction for how we can live in this world as true disciples of Christ. As in all things, our Lord is the example for us to look to and to model ourselves after in our responses to the world. It is inevitable that we will be spoken negatively about and treated unfairly or unjustly by others because of our beliefs and due to the way that those beliefs demand that we think, speak, and act. We may even encounter violence or other severe forms of persecution as a result of standing firmly for what is right in God’s eyes. However, even in these extreme situations, we are still to return loving blessings in exchange for angry and hurtful words, we are to hold onto Christ in all situations by and through His strength and power, and we are to respond to all forms of attack with the truth of the Gospel as we hold Jesus Christ up as our rock, shield, and fortress while praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are seeking to do harm to us.

 

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.

Romans 14: 22

 

Although through history God has spoken directly to nations and a number of countries have considered themselves to be Christian, God has always been primarily concerned with developing individual and personal relationships. Christ calls to every person on earth to come and accept His gift of saving grace. His heart is heavily burdened for each of us; since, God wants to be in relationship with all of us. Even after we have accepted the gift of salvation and entered into that relationship with Him, God continues to care greatly about the way that we choose to function. The nature of our thoughts and of our actions directly impacts the intimacy of our time with Him, and it also greatly influences our ability to fulfill Christ’s calling to us to spread the truth of His loving grace throughout our world.

 

Thus, God wants us to develop our own understanding of His personal and specific direction for our lives, and He wants us to continually seek to know Him better and to know His Word more fully. So, the Lord wants us to listen to other people, to consider their understanding of His word, and to carefully contemplate the perspective that they bring to the complexities of living righteously. However, God also tells us to personally test everything that others tell us and the thoughts that we devise against what we see written in His Word. Additionally, we need to open up our minds and our hearts to the input and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is through this process of listening, reading, and learning combined with seeking the Spirit’s guidance that we develop our own understanding of who God is and of how He wants us to live.

 

A mature relationship with God is forged, developed, and strengthened through personal study, prayer, and meditation. These practices are brought to life as we follow them by seeking to live in the manner and to take the actions that God is revealing to each of us. When this is our manner of living, true and deep conviction is the result. This is exactly what God wants. His desire is that everyone would seek to know Him as deeply as He already knows us and that we would develop a passion for living in the center of His truth that will impact our world for the glory of the Lord’s kingdom. This form of righteous conviction leads us to live in faithful adherence to God’s expressed will, but it can also make us very uncomfortable for others who do not understand God as we do to be in close proximity with. In these situations, we continue to speak and to live out truth while also bringing Christ’s grace and love to the interactions that we have. Conviction is mighty, and conviction that is wrapped in loving grace wins souls for Christ.

 

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Matthew 26: 38

 

There is pain, and there is anguish. Sometimes they collide with each other in a way that can completely overwhelm even the strongest person’s ability to hang in there and to keep going. This is where Jesus was on that night in a garden of prayerful anticipation of all that He was going to endure for my soul’s sake. For He was fully aware of how much the sacrifice that He was about to make would cost Him, and in preparation for that time of exquisite torture, Christ sought to connect with His closest friends. He asked them to join with Him in a time of prayerfully seeking the comfort and the encouragement of the Father.

 

Jesus continues to ask us to do this same thing. He wants us to gather near to Him, to take a seat on a humble rock, and to commit all of our attention and the focus of our hearts to speaking with the Father and to listening to His response. This seems like such a simple request; yet, it can become one of the hardest things that we will ever attempt to do. For myself, I am not very good at quiet reflection, and I am really poor at the sort of humility that Jesus asks of me. Christ ask me to take on a form of attitude that considers the hard stone seat of His designated rock as if it were a leather recliner. That attitude requires me to take delight in the simple fact that Christ wants to include me in this most intimate of times.

 

There is no question in my mind that this life is saturated with the tears of hard times. We all experience physical hardships, emotional turmoil, and spiritual struggles, and they often seem to conspire together to come at us from all sides at once. Jesus experienced all of this Himself, and He knows and goes through every harsh and painful moment of our lives with us. Still, He speaks to us with the same request on His lips as He uttered on that singular night so long ago. Jesus asks us to come and to join Him in keeping a watchful eye and a listening heart focused on the comfort and on the answers that the Father will give to us. My Lord, Jesus, is with me for every moment and in every situation that will come to me in this life, and in this reality my soul finds its rest.

 

For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12: 13

 

We live in a very diverse world. The mobility that people enjoy has also caused us to rub shoulders with those who come from different ethnic, social, religious, and cultural groups in ways that have never really existed on this scale before. Yet, we are often still uncomfortable with people who differ from us in any significant way. It seems to me that this is at least partly true because many of us also hold onto our perspective on issues and positions on things that matter to us with a certain tenacity that also causes us to be very narrow in our construct regarding who and what is acceptably different or diverse from our point of view. In other words, we are too often closed off to even trying to understand how another person might understand a situation or to entering into the way that they evaluate the world and form their own set of values and priorities. We want everything to be engaged with and lived out as if it were being beheld with our eyes alone.

 

This is not the way that God has intended for us to gain our view of the world. Once we became a diverse collection of people, it became essential for us to find ways to communicate with each other. Language certainly does divide us, but so does culture, race, social status, wealth, power and position, religion, sex, and many other differences. As an observation, it seems that people work especially hard at finding ways to separate ourselves from others rather than seeking out our commonality. We desire to find those points of distinction that we can use to hold us apart from others in a manner that gives us some form of sense of superiority or exclusivity. None of this is an example of human functioning in the way that God intends for us to live. God’s creation design did not have separation along any of these lines except that He made us to exist in two sexes, and even then, there was a beautiful harmony and communication between the man and the woman. So, our differences must also have a purpose in God’s design and plan for the on-going reconciliation of Creation to Creator.

 

Thus, I hold that God wants people to resolve differences and to seek out understanding of others so that we can live peacefully together on the earth. The most powerful and effective way for this to come about is through the commonality of the Spirit of Christ’s presence within everyone who knows Christ. There is a mystical form of union that exists within Christ’s body of faith that should transcend any other differences that exist between us and that can bridge any and all gaps of understanding, perspective, and values that we may hold. Yet, unity within the body of Christ is not the end of what the Lord does for us along these lines, for He also opens up our hearts and our minds to seeking out ways to understand and even to love those who are different from us in that most significant of areas, that of faith in Christ. The Spirit demonstrates to us a form of supernatural love that can lead us to enter into dialogue and even to deep friendship with people who are different from us in every way conceivable. The Spirit within helps us to overcome fear and prejudice, to seek out commonality, and to embrace people from all circumstances and situations as exactly what they essentially are, that is, we are all brothers and sisters in the fact that we are all created in God’s perfect image.

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