Peace


It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

Comfort can be a hard habit to break. We like to sit in its presence and luxuriate in its softly enfolding sense of security. It is frequently a condition of the inner person that calls upon us when we are tired and troubled; for comfort brings to mind the ways that we have found personal peace and have escaped from dealing with hard times in the past. Unfortunately, the places that many of our minds call upon us to go can be bigger traps and more destructive than the momentary stresses of the current challenges. Our forms of comfort are too frequently escape mechanisms that divert attention away from dealing with the issues of life and out of an attitude that is focused on loving others and resolving conflicts.

When comfort takes the form of the overstuffed chair of religion, it can be very damaging to our ability to truly represent Christ. Everyone whether raised in a home where God was openly celebrated and worshiped or in one where nonbelief was the mantra, comes from a religious background. Then, we all continue to develop our personal concepts and ideas of who God is and of how He is to be served. Christ sets us free from all of the human devised ideas and practices that divert us from the absolutely freeing truth of God’s Word; yet, most of us still continue to go back to old ways of thinking and to devising our own ideas of what God actually meant for us to believe. We continue to seek to find that comfort inside of ourselves rather than through trusting Christ to give us all that we will need.

In Christ we are given the freedom to be sad, to be tired, to be troubled, and to find comfort in Him when these conditions are present with us. In Christ we are free to care about others regardless of who they are, what they are doing, and how they view our God. In Christ we are released from the need to serve the additional gods of tradition and practice. Christ went to the cross so that we could be free, and He leads us to that same cross so that the freedom that He suffered and died for will be ours in its totality. Freedom comes through trust and by faith in the Lord’s totally loving, superior way of viewing life, and His freedom brings all of the comfort that my weary body can ever need.  

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For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2: 11-14

Purification is hard to endure. Most of us do not like it all that much. We may think that we truly want to know God and to be in a relationship with Him through the Son, Jesus Christ, but when the reality of what that means to me is looking me in the face, I am no longer so certain or sure. It is not that I do not love Jesus or believe in the holy God of redemption, it is more that I am not fully committed and so yielded to His will for me and His path for my life in response to that will. So, living as a follower of Christ might seem to be a simple thing until the actual cost of doing this is counted; yet, God does ask me to face reality and to do that very thing. He then asks me to grant the Spirit access to all of the darkened corners of my heart and mind so that every aspect of who and what I have been can be reordered into those of a person who reflects Christ fully in the conduct of my life.

For make no mistake about this fact regarding the world where we live and the age that it is in, we do exist in lawless times. Listen to the dialogue of our day, consider the violence that is present in every corner of the globe, and contemplate how little of the bounty that we possess is being used to care for the millions upon millions of starving and homeless people that are present almost everywhere. This is not a time when the world’s heart is in any way in synch with Christ’s. This world is spinning ever further away from the gospel of grace, love, peace, and redemption that is the center of Jesus’ call and appeal to His followers. As we know Christ, we are to be the people who work to bring about changes in this world. When we listen to the Lord’s voice, He is speaking faith, courage, engagement, and hope to us, and He is saying to us that we are to go out into this world and touch its inhabitants with the healing hand of grace and mercy that is directly attached to Christ’s heart.

The purity that Christ leads us into is not one of separation from the world around us. Rather, it is a form of holiness that seeks to get down into the ragged mess that is life on this planet and that is willing to breathe in the foul air of its most desperate of places in order to hold up the heads of those who are oppressed, defeated, and alone. Christ’s righteousness has no space within it for the categorical rejection of people, and it does not grant to us the right or the authority to make decisions regarding the worthiness or the worth of others. We are to love and to care for all of the people of our world without regard to any consideration beyond that of following Christ and of doing the sorts of things that He did. The good works that we are called to do are real and tangible, they also involve on-going and unceasing prayer, they require sacrifice, and they will bring about personal pain, suffering, and loss. Yet, Christ is committed to providing us with the strength, direction, and courage to go out and to do what He is calling each of us to do. His power and heart for redemption provide the zeal that keeps us going through dark days and hard times as Christ leads His people into the holy work of loving others.     

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5: 20

This is the job title that everyone that follows Christ is given. We are the Lord’s ambassadors. He sends us out into foreign lands and commissions us to represent the Kingdom of God in all of our interactions with the inhabitants of those places. This is similar to what an official representative of a government is charged with in being sent to operate in a country other than that person’s native one, but there are certain important differences. Christ’s ambassadors may serve anywhere in the world, and our office is frequently found in our own front yard or at a table in local café. The diplomacy that we practice does not have a direct impact upon international trade agreements and seldom leads to the resolution of tensions that involve armies and the potential for large-scale violent engagements. Yet, the work that we undertake can be even more significant than that, for it contemplates the eternal destinies of souls.

As an ambassador that is sent out from a nation sets aside the rest of life and goes where dispatched by its leaders, so too, are we called upon by Christ to leave behind our concerns, fears, and issues of distrust and discomfort in order to engage with people who do not know Christ in a close and personal manner. We are to go to them with the message of Christ’s gospel of reconciliation, and we are to do this without regard for the potentially hostile attitudes of those to whom we are sent. We might be rejected and our message may even be ridiculed, but that is no loss to us, for Christ sends us out in the full confidence of our faith to speak truth into the lives of people that are lost and that need to know the loving grace that Christ desires to pour out upon them. The message that we are given to proclaim is one of peace between God and people, and it is the story of how any and all of us are brought into full and unfettered relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is a message of hope, of love, and of reconciliation. These truths are best conveyed as they are demonstrated through engagement with others, and this direct engagement aspect of the role of ambassador is both the most effective and the most dangerous one. The danger is found in the risk of rejection, ridicule, and even of attacks of various kinds and types. Yet, those are small concerns when it comes to representing Christ in the world, and they are mere wisps of shadows as compared to the sacrifice that the Lord made for us and for the people that we are sent to on His behalf. This calling to the role of ambassador is a holy one, and it is not for the weak of spirit or of heart and mind. However, in Christ, we are all conquerors over the world; so, our concerns, fears, and reluctance can be overcome by the presence of the Spirit with us in all that we do and everyplace that we travel in this world. As ambassadors for Christ we serve the Risen King, and we can go into every corner of our world with our heads held high confidently proclaiming God’s sovereignty, grace, love, and desire for reconciliation with all that reside there.   

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present of the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3: 21-23

It is easy to get caught up in identifying with a person, for the people that make a difference in the way that we see the world are important to us. For similar reasons, it is also possible to identify with systems of thought or philosophies regarding the conduct of life. It is a part of what we are as people to seek out ways to frame in and to define identity by using identifiable and tangible points of reference as our markers for the boundaries of who we have become. There is nothing wrong with doing this unless the person or idea that is so selected becomes our final or ultimate source of both identity and of the wisdom that we are seeking to grasp onto and to follow after. Then, we have stopped short of God’s intent for us, and we have potentially entered into the area of worshiping worldly idols.

There is an order to our world, and it is one that God set out and that He maintains. It often stands is contrast to the worldly structure that we have developed for ourselves and that we often attempt to establish as superior to all other ways of viewing what is right and important in life. It just seems easier, more relatable, or less challenging to grasp onto something that seems to be more closely related to us and to the way that we might think that we would like to see our world and engage with it. However, these worldly views of what it means to live well and to do good are false economies that lead us into settling for less than the great potential that God has established for us, and they can take us far away from the grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that Christ came into our world to make real and intimately proximal for us.

Christ calls to us to follow Him first just as He follows the will of the Father. When we do this, our allegiance is altered so that God’s view of the world becomes our filter for assessing truth and for determining what is right, just, and loving. At this point in our life’s journey identity, itself, is reframed so that we wish to be known as followers of Christ. There is real freedom to be found in this change in perspective, for it grants to us the ability to stand upon eternal truth as found in God’s Word as the basis for thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that stand against the ways of our world. We can care for others who are outside of the circle of concern that our society has set out, we are opened up to loving people that are viewed as outcast or as threatening by our world, and we are granted immeasurable grace in order to tender forgiveness to those who may have harmed us and to work toward redemption for all that is lost.   

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5: 12

There exists a sort of mindless philosophy of life that says that people should ignore everything that is going on in their lives and in the world around them and so, “Just be happy.” This is not at all what Jesus had in mind here. He has just delivered the sobering thought that people who serve God by living out His righteousness to its fullest extent will be spoken of in harshly derogatory ways and will, in fact, be persecuted for their active faith. If this is the result of what comes our way because we choose to follow Christ and live out His direction for how we are to love others, care for them, and enter into redemptive peacemaking in our world, then it seems to be something very different from a state of being that could be viewed as mindless happiness. In fact, the pain that Jesus promises will be ours if we do seek after His path through life in this world is great as we might actually be choosing to walk in Christ’s footsteps all the way to the excruciating agony of the cross.

Yet, there is more to that prospect, for the Lord also gives us a a brief view of what comes beyond the sacrifices that He is leading us into in this life. Christ tells us that there is a reward to follow. The idea that we are to endure all that life throws at us in anticipation of some form of benefit in an afterlife may be hard to grasp during those hours of tears, fear induced sweat, and grief that we may be experiencing today. Still, the place that we occupy in this world is temporary and the days that we have to dwell here are short, and the other end of existence is infinite in its duration and in its wealth of blessing. However, there is more to what Jesus sets out as the promised heavenly response to our faithfulness to God’s holy will and righteous way of living it out. For the reward that we receive during the course of dwelling in the center of God’s will is also real and tangible. There is perhaps no experience in this world that is greater and more fulfilling than that of the sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit with you as you think, do, and say what is right in God’s eyes, even when this is done in the face of strong and persistent opposition from those around you.

This is the sort of thing that those prophets of old experienced. They spoke out and their words were frequently rejected by the world around them. They were also subjected to physical threats and harm and they often had to watch as the dire things that they foretold became reality. Still, the Lord walked through it all with them, and His Spirit was their companion and their guide for every step of that arduous journey. We may not be called upon by God to deliver words of prophecy to our world in the same manner as those people were, but each of us who knows Christ is called into unceasing service to our Lord and into a life dedicated to living out Christ’s grace, love, mercy, and truth in every aspect of life. Doing this to the best of our ability is cause for rejoicing, and the Spirit of Christ is present during these long hours of service to carry the weight of the burden and to encourage our failing hearts and confounded minds to continue the journey. Jesus knew that we were frail beings and that we would likely falter under the pressure and the strain of following Him; so, He also gave us His Spirit to travel this path with us, and He grants to us a form of joy that flows directly from the throne of heaven to wash our weary hearts in the knowledge of Christ’s delight in our faithful service.      

Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us,

   and establish the work of our hands upon us,

   yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90: 17

This is a song that is credited to Moses and that seems to reflect aspects of the story of the Egyptian exodus, for its background is one of trials and hard times. Still, it is a song about hope, filled with the prospect of the Lord’s provision, and one in which God’s people look to Him as their source of wisdom and truth. When these people seek God’s favor, they are trusting that He has good things in mind for them; so, they also desire to have the Lord guide them into the types and the forms of the work that they will do in service to God. It is through this relationship with God that they are defined as a group of people and as individuals within that greater whole. Then, the work that the Lord guides them into doing and equips them to accomplish provides the means to apply their sense of self to redemptive and restorative acts in the world around them.

When they were held captive in Egypt, they did what their masters demanded, and they lived in a manner that was controlled by the oppressive force that was exerted by others. After they turned to God and were set free by His hand, the Israelites were given a form of freedom that should have granted to them the opportunity to establish a nation that worshiped the one true God openly and continuously and that was a beacon of light and a source of redemptive hope to all other people in the world. This was not to be so, for sin is tenacious, and the people would not release their past comforts and fears sufficiently to trust God fully in all matters. Yet, when they did reach the point of breaking under the burden of attempting to live with one foot set upon God’s will and the other planted in the sandy soil of self-determination, they were able to seek the Lord’s guidance and provision in all matters. So, the words of this song are sung with sincerity and in real expectation of God’s answer.

This ancient story is really not so much about Moses and the people that he led out of captivity twenty five or so centuries ago. For it does not seem to me that our world is all that different from theirs. We can be people who know God and that speak Christ and even sing songs of praise to His name on a regular basis; yet, there is something holding us back from living out the freedom that the Lord has granted to us by the cross and through the cleansing of His precious blood. It is as if we are fearful of letting go of that captive past in its entirety; thus, we cling to the prospect of returning to aspects of life as it was before we knew Christ or that are governed by the rules of life that have been developed out of worldly thinking and a self-centered form of relating to others. In these times, we can repent of our stubborn clinging to the past while singing Moses’ song as we seek that the Lord’s favor, that is, His grace, love, mercy, justice, and righteousness, would pour out over us and that His nature and character would inform and guide all that we are and do. Then the works of our hands, the thoughts of our minds, and the orientation of our hearts can be set along that same God-ordained path of bringing redemption, peace, and salvation to the troubled people and places in our world today.  

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 1, 2

This is Paul’s direction for Timothy as a pastor and a teacher of God’s Word. It is also a set of directions that anyone who serves the church in a similar capacity today should take to heart. Yet, those are not the only people who Paul is speaking to across all of this time. The Apostle’s words ring out clearly and with great authority to all of us who know Christ and for all of the Lord’s church today. We may not stand before a large audience in a formal setting and speak words of truth and life that come directly out of God’s Word, but we will have many opportunities to share that holy word’s love, grace, and truth with others. The life that we live may be oriented around earning a living by doing work that seems far afield from that of the church; however, the Lord is certainly present in the places where we do go. This day of the week, part of the calendar, or season of life could be one wherein spiritual things seem remote and secondary to the rest of life; yet, today might just be the one wherein a soul in need of a Savior is standing before us awaiting those life-saving words and the touch of Christ’s love.

None of us are Timothy, and no one that we will meet is Paul. They were great men that lived long ago and who gave us a model and a pattern to follow as we walk through life with Christ. Paul, under the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit, also wrote out explanations and instructions that are useful to us in understanding our relationship with God and the way that this relationship is lived out in the world. Paul was faced daily with a world that was more hostile to the gospel of Christ than it was open and receptive. He knew that his life on this earth was nearing its end. He was also aware of the glory that was to be his in the presence of Christ when those last few days here were completed. Still, Paul remained focused upon the task at hand. Hostility did not stop him. Human failures and frailty were troubling but even the abandonment of friends could not cause him to experience defeat. Paul’s example is one for us to follow. In fact, we should be prepared for the eventuality of a loss of friends and associates as we stand for the truth of God’s Word in the face of a world that discounts its validity.

That does not mean that we should be angry or harsh in the way that we engage with others. Even in his very trying circumstances, Paul was more inclined to pour out grace, forgiveness, and encouragement than he was to cast blame and reproach. We too can be voices of reconciliation and restoration in our corner of the universe. As we recognize the fact that Christ is the only true and authorized judge of the human soul, we can extend the hand of friendship to people who have been hostile toward us and about Christ. Reaching out in friendship can be done as we also share the truth of the gospel that is the source of the grace, love, and confidence that we require in order to enter into such counter-intuitive acts as these. A life that is lived as a follower of Christ is one that is carried out as a preacher of God’s Word. This is done through the way that we conduct ourselves in private and in public, and the word is demonstrated by the attitudes that we hold toward others and about the issues of life. Christ is with us in all places, over the entire course of life, in all situations and circumstances, and He is Lord of each and every season that we experience in our journey.   

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