Peace


I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4: 1-3

 

People will be people. This common expression contains a lot of painful truth, for even on our good days, we humans are a challenging and a difficult collection of creatures. We often do things that cause friction to arise among us, and we too frequently seem to focus on the negativity of our interactions and relationships rather than spending our time gazing upon the extraordinary beauty and great wonder that God has given to each of us as His hands shaped us. Even in the body of faith in Christ, we are given to a form of individuality that leads to separation and eventually that distance brings about the isolation that is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against God’s people. Paul has seen all of this, and he understood the dangers that came from going through life on our own, and he also knew the importance of surrendering self to Christ and to each other in the process of living out God’s will for our lives.

 

At the center of the Apostle’s statement here are the powerful words humility and gentleness. These are simple words that convey very large concepts. Humility is perhaps the most striking singular descriptor that one can apply to Jesus. He was God in human form, King and Messiah come; yet, He was also simple, caring, observant of the lowliest of people, and always submissive to the will of the Father. Jesus was able to surrender all comfort, relinquish every ounce of pride, and grant worth and great dignity to people who were unlovely and without value in our earthly system of evaluating people’s place and position. Jesus walked this earth in a humble manner, but even more than that, He lived out His days as humility’s definition. In addition, Jesus’ humility found expression in the gentleness of His touch. He sought to bring about restoration of relationship with God by the way that He engaged with others. His gentleness was expressed even in contentious and difficult situations as Jesus did and said everything with redemption as the objective and healing as the desired outcome.

 

The manner of walking through life that Jesus employed and the humble and gentle way that He went about it are, frankly, beyond the capacity and the capability of almost all people. We certainly don’t function like this in our natural state of being. Yet, we are called by Christ to be like Him in all ways; so, this must include the God-given characteristics of humility and gentleness. These are gifts that Christ will give to us as we seek after them. They come to us as we set aside our own desires and yield to His Spirit. They also grow within us as we seek out others and engage with them in a manner that sets aside our wishes, wants, and preconceived ideas in order to enter into the deep places of their hearts and minds and to walk through the day in observant understanding of who they are and what is important to them. This sort of approach to life does make us vulnerable to hurt and to disappointment, but it also expands our understanding of people and also that of our Lord. As Paul states, humility and gentleness are qualities that lead us into the deep love that Christ has for all people, and they operate together with love as the glue that bonds us together with the sort of strength that stands up to all that the forces of this world can hurl our way.

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And if you call upon him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

1 Peter 1: 17, 18

 

God operates like a father when it comes to us, His children in faith. His approach to this form of parenting is total, complete, and consistent. He loves us beyond all reason, and He is engaged with all aspects of our lives in ways that may even exceed our comfort but that are always what we actually need and what gives to us a grace and a wisdom that come out of heaven. We know that there will come a time, after the days of this life are completed, that we will stand before God to have Him pronounce judgement upon the way that we conducted life. This is something to hold in great awe and respect, and it is a day to consider when we make choices about how to conduct ourselves in this life.

 

Yet, we also know that Christ stands as our advocate when we face this final judgement, for the penalty for our sinfulness, for our disobedience to God and to His Word, has been paid in blood upon the cross. Still, as any good and engaged parent would do, the Father does hold us accountable for the way that we put the gift of redemption to work during the course of the life that was given to us by Christ as a gift of love, grace and mercy. At the point of conjunction between the cross and our lives, Christ’s absolute perfection of purity and holiness becomes our new identity, and we are no longer dead in sin, but we are thereafter renewed as living beings who are filled with Christ’s Spirit and placed into God’s kingdom of faith for the balance of our time upon this earth.

 

God will judge the deeds that we do during these days of our redemption. This new life that Christ has purchased for us at such a great price is what will be evaluated and that we will be held accountable for using well. God is fully aware of our weakness and of our failings, but He also understands the remarkable potential that each of His people possess. We are not strong or capable in ourselves and by our own skills and knowledge; rather, our strength, giftedness, and capability are given to us by Christ. He leads us into the expression of God’s will that is designated for us, and Christ also provides us with His Spirit to guide and to inform our journey. In Christ we are given a new opportunity to live life in a manner that is filled with God’s love, framed in by His grace, and focused on living out the Lord’s peace and justice in all places and in every way.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10: 10

 

Defining abundant can be a challenge. It is often determined by the circumstances surrounding us, by where we live and the general expectations of our immediate culture. In some places abundant is satisfied only by having an almost ridiculous level of wealth. In others it is found in possessing enough food to last beyond tonight. There are certain things that are true about all of the elements of that thing that we think of as earthly wealth; they are readily consumed, they wear out and break down, and thieves target them. If we make it through to the end of life with excess we can will it to our heirs, but that gift does not define our true legacy.

 

Legacy is something that is defined in relationships. It comes from the way that we live and the manner in which we deal with other people and with our world. The sort of wealth that lasts and that passes on to those who follow after us is a gift from God to those people who seek after Him. Jesus gave all that He had so that each of us could gain this gift. As Satan is the robber and the destroyer, Christ is the anti-thief. He brings life out of death, and He provides real and lasting abundance in place of this world’s perishable trinkets. God’s definition of abundance is grounded in love and grace. It involves such culturally odd ideas as sacrifice, humility, suffering, pain, and surrender. It is found in service to God. Abundance is measured in the currency of our souls.

 

For any of us to know abundance and to live an abundant life, I would propose that we must know Jesus. This knowing goes far beyond a simple decision to accept Christ as our Savior and Lord. That is the starting place, but that is certainly not the end of the treasure that God has stored up for us. We come to understand what abundance is as we surrender our wills to Christ. God calls us into a life that is framed by His will. He remakes us into eternally minded and other focused beings. In Christ we are led to dwell in the abundant pasture of His presence. As we meditate on God’s Word and submit to His will, we are filled to overflowing with a wealth that can not be stolen. This is the sort of abundance that we can share generously with the entire world without fear of having nothing left. It is out of Christ’s abundance that we can leave a lasting legacy of faith.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.

Psalm 19: 1

 

This is the passage that the Spirit of God lead me to reflect on a little over eight years ago during the first two mornings that I was in the hospital recovering from knee surgery. It is interesting how the effects of having pain medication soaking your body impact so many really basic aspects of function. Reading is certainly one of those. The surgeon didn’t work anywhere close to my head, and it would seem reasonable to think that with all of that uncommitted time on my hands, I would be able to at least get in some good reading; yet, I would find myself reading the same sentence over and over, often four or five times in a row, without making any progress through a page.

 

If I had possessed the ability to care about such things, there was something in the ingested medication cocktail that made caring rather unimportant, and this certainly could have become frustrating. Instead, it seemed that God was telling me to slow down, to take in His word more deeply, and to allow His Spirit to speak to my heart from the treasure chest of rich understanding that is behind every single one of those words. I must have read this verse a dozen or more times in two days, and every time through it, God spoke to me in a new way.

 

The Lord’s words of love, provision, care, and strength came drifting out of my surroundings, for they were apparent in the high tech equipment that was monitoring my moment by moment condition (we all did come to agreement that when the heart rate monitor’s alarm went off because I had no heart rate, the monitor was probably wrong, just a bad sensor connection), and in the very low tech hands of the nursing staff as they provided a cold cloth for my head when I was feeling ill. The Lord was present in the first rays of dawn that brought the night sky out of its restful slumber and in the reassuring light from the hallway outside my room that told me that those nurses were there if I had any needs. God’s voice speaks clearly and continually through all elements and aspects of Creation, and He wants us to take the time to look closely at the depth of His love until we can see Him in everything that surrounds us.

 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6: 19, 20

 

There was a time when people relied upon a human High Priest to go for us before God and to offer up our repentance and requests for forgiveness. Although these men were well chosen and were generally reliable, they were human, and they were far from perfect themselves. Additionally, they were just like the rest of us in that they too were in need of repentance for their sins and the forgiveness of that sinfulness that only God could give. But things have changed, and we no longer have a need for these human priests to go to God for us. Jesus turned that entire system upside down, or perhaps more accurately, He set it all right again.

 

God created this world and us people to be in a direct and very easily obtained regular, even daily relationship with Him. He desires to be able to walk with us and to talk with us about all of the aspects of life and of living in a manner that is as easy and direct as is a conversation with my closest friend. The distance and the formality of the Jewish temple order was the result of a form of separation of humanity from God that came about due to our sinful pulling away from Him. Yet God did not leave things like that. He sent Jesus into our world, and in His sinless perfection Christ broke through and tore down the curtain of separation that had been constructed. Christ brings us into direct contact with God and into complete communication and total communion with our Lord. This was not a temporary fix, either, for things will never go back to the way that they were in those days that came between our rebellion and Jesus’ coming.

 

In Christ, we can be confident of our place and our standing before God. He does go before us into the presence of the Most High, and Christ speaks in defense of our new status as redeemed citizens of the kingdom of God. Through the work of Christ, we are granted a certain place, that sure anchor for the soul, within God’s favor wherein we are included in His purpose and plan for the redemption of this world. We are saved into this secure status through the work of Christ alone, and we are granted confident access to the presence of God in all aspects of our lives by the mediation of Jesus for us. In addition, Jesus, our eternal High Priest, has sent His Spirit to dwell with and within us in order to provide that regular, routine, and on-going conversational communication with God that was the Father’s desire and intent from the beginning of time.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5: 21

 

God is different from the world and from us in our natural state of being. That can be a problem for people in that we really don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Most of us, myself included, would rather go with the flow of the culture that surrounds us. We want to be normal and even unexceptional when it comes to the basic beliefs and ways of acting in which our friends, neighbors, and communities engage. Yet, God doesn’t desire for us to conform to the world around us, for He didn’t create us to be that way. The Lord’s creation design for people was fabricated with us reflecting into our world His nature, character, and way of acting. We were to be the ones who brought wisdom, grace, mercy, and most of all love to bear on the oversight and the governance of the rest of creation, this world where we dwell. Sadly, that is not how things have gone.

 

We rule over this world in a weak handed and a careless manner. We have taken our desire for conformity to a place where it often overcomes God’s call to bring justice and peacemaking to all of our interactions. It takes us to a place where we are willing to sacrifice the futures of our children for the sake of wealth and power today. We have tortured and trouble God’s perfection in ways that are remarkably harsh and harmful to ourselves and that promise a bleak and an even more troubling existence for future generations. If Christ makes an absolute and a total difference in the nature and the character of the people who accept Him as our Savior and Lord, then why aren’t we, His proclaimed followers, all that different from the general population of this world?

 

If Paul’s statement is correct, then in Christ we do not just gain a form of righteousness or an appearance of it; rather, we are transformed into righteousness, itself. This thing that is being called righteousness is the sum total of all that is God and every aspect of being that is Godly. Righteousness is different in almost every way from the natural state of the world around us. It sets followers of Christ apart from all of it, and it should be what speaks out loudly from each and from all of our mouths when we open them for any and all purposes. Righteousness opposes violence as it promotes peace; it seeks justice for all but especially for the weak and the disadvantaged in our world; it denounces and works against tyranny while supporting freedom; and it lives out and speaks forth the Gospel of Christ as the answer to all forms of slavery that exist in our world. Righteousness is different from our world, and the righteous stand out as different. Do we desire to truly follow Christ and so be counted as a difference maker?

Then the King, will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Matthew 25: 34

 

Life is about one thing and only one thing. Every good deed and loving thought comes from that, and all of our ability to withstand the hard times and the great sorrows that can come our way is derived from it. Whether you have accepted God’s call to believe in the totality of who He is or not, you live in a world where all of the love, thus, all of the goodness, comes from the One who wrote the script and who provides the energy behind those positive forces in our world. The Lord is not exclusive as to who He touches with His loving care, and He does not withhold access to it from anyone; yet, the possibilities that exist are much greater than just access.

 

For God has always had a desire to enter into a relationship with us; thus, He prepared a way for that to happen through Jesus, the Lord wants us to enter into the new dwelling place of His Kingdom, and He wants us to live in the full reality of our new home from this moment onward. So, all people are called by God to gain a blessing that He wants to give by accepting the totality of who He is and by agreeing to enter into a relationship with Him. If we agree with God’s calling and submit our lives to Christ, we are packed up, moved out of our worldly shacks, and relocated into the palace of the King Eternal.

 

Jesus calls; yet, I know that I don’t always listen; still, He keeps calling, and His voice wants to lead me out of the dark places of sadness and fear and into the center of the great festive hall of His kingdom’s glory where the Lord has a place prepared for me to live. Jesus calls to all of us who know Him to come and to reside in the center of His loving grace and care; for, the Kingdom of God and His royal palace are today’s reality for God’s own people; thus, we can claim our place there and never allow the lies of this world to make us believe that we live any place else. Believe in God’s promises and trust in Jesus’ words of wisdom, grace, and love. This new home and the relationship with God that leads us into it are here for the taking foe all who will listen to the Lord’s call and come.

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