peacemaking


But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2: 13 (ESV)

Blood is messy. Having blood drawn can be a bit painful, and it is almost always emotionally uncomfortable. People are designed so that we don’t readily surrender our blood, for it is utterly essential for our bodies to survive. Blood is also one of the greatest gifts that any of us can give to others; so, donating blood is something to seriously consider doing. For us, this sort of thing is a choice to be made, and the ramifications of doing it last for only a very short time. This was not how it was for Jesus. The blood that He gave was eternally precious, and giving it had an effect upon Him that was momentarily devastating. Jesus shed that blood a very long time ago; yet, the impact of its being spilled is very much with us today, and the stain from its taking is apparent in our world still. People have tried to remove it or to cover it over with any number of weak endeavors and beliefs, but Jesus remains present and relevant despite all that we might do.

The amount of blood that Jesus shed, the drops and rivulets of it as it might have pooled near the foot of His cross, is of little consequence. What truly matters is the sacrifice that He made out of obedience to the Father and also of His own free will, for that sacrifice changed forever the way that people can gain access to our Creator and God. The life that Jesus surrendered and the blood that flowed from His wounds was the sufficient sacrifice that paid for all of the sinful disobedience that has separated every person on this earth form God. That painfully extracted blood brought about peace between the Divine Creator and His Creation. This is a peace that infuses our souls with new life, and this peaceful status provides each of us, in Christ, with a purpose for living in the fullest expression of that life.

This world is still filled with agony and strife. The peace that Jesus purchased with the shedding of His blood and sealed with His resurrection from earthly death is suffering through its birth pains. Evil with the brokenness of its chaotic rampage through the world is very real and is present in almost all places and in many forms. Yet, it will not prevail, and its death-giving promises of human power and prosperity are nothing more than a bait and switch artist’s feeble attempts to close a fast sale. Christ’s blood seals His people for a higher purpose. We are here to work diligently for the redemption of our world, and we are to do this by living out our new identity as people who have been set free to love others without reservation and to care for the needs of the people that we encounter with sacrificial generosity. Even in these days of new found fears and trials, Christ’s blood is more than powerful against it all, and He calls to us to draw near to Him and to reach out as He does with love, grace, and mercy to all in our world who are hungry, weary, and fearful. 

Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pegs.

Isaiah 54: 2

This may be a time of serious trouble, concern, or personal crisis. There is certainly much going on in our world to cause considerable anxiety, and I know that my life is influenced mightily by the tension that is in the air all around me. So, this would seem like a good time to focus on protection, self-preservation, and on holding onto what I already have. As is often the case with my perspective and the Lord’s, He sees things differently.

God tells me to keep looking outwardly, for He sees the opportunity in the hard times. The Lord wants me to open up the curtains of my heart and let others inside so that they can get a closer look at the miracle that is found in living life in a relationship with Christ, and He tells me to keep claiming more of the territory around me for His glory. In other words, God fears no one and nothing, there are no circumstances that are greater than His will, and He will not place me in a situation that is beyond His capabilities. The only limits that exist in my life are the ones that I create.

My role today is to be a builder, a seeker, and a giver of Christ’s love. I need to look at the ways that I am closing up the curtains of my heart in an attempt to protect myself and let God’s Spirit open me to His possibilities. Thus I can step out of my established boundaries and touch others with God’s grace and mercy, and as I take these seemingly risky actions, I am granted the opportunity to continually strengthen my foundation through prayer, reading of God’s Word, and connection to my family of faith.  

Hear, you peoples, all of you,

   pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,

and let the Lord God be a witness against you,

   the Lord from his holy temple.

For behold, the LORD is coming out of his place,

   and will come down and will tread upon the high places of the earth.

Micah 1: 2, 3

Micah lived a long time ago. In fact, almost three thousand years have elapsed since these words were written. Yet, they were true then, and they remain so now. So, we need to be mindful of the way that we are living just as those ancient Israelites were warned to do. God is remarkably consistent in how He views righteousness and in what He thinks of those who oppose it. He is also not willing to allow people to live our lives in a manner that makes a mockery of His standards for holiness, justice, and peacemaking. There is another reality that Micah was made aware of by God’s Spirit of prophesy, and that is the fact that the Lord is not far away and distant from all that transpires here. Instead, He is close at hand, and He does reach out into our world and engage with the events and the people here as He sees fit to do.

None of us are out of His reach, and in fact, we should not actually wish to be beyond the Lord’s point of contact. The Lord is not primarily interested in correction or in rebuke. He would much prefer for us to turn toward Him in loving respect and willing obedience to His word. Still, even when we rebel and turn away from the Lord, He pursues us and seeks to bring us back home to dwell in truth, love, and righteousness. He does this with grace and mercy as His first response, and He uses every resource that He possesses in order to get each person on earth to look upon His face and to turn toward Christ as our Lord and Savior. However, we should not think in terms of Christ as being gentle, patient, and without the capacity to engage with this world’s rebellion and sin in a decisive and a definitive manner.

Christ is neither afraid to utilize hard and heavy-handed methods to get people’s attention, nor is He concerned about our reaction to Him when He does this. Instead, Christ desires for us to be close to Him. He wants to walk through life with each of us in a manner that brings our lives into conformity with God’s holy calling for creation. That means that we love fearlessly, speak truth even when it is not popular, promote justice for all people and in every situation, and that we engage in seeking to eliminate all forms of violence and hatred by promoting peace with all despite any differences that may exist between us. These are the actions of a righteous people, and this is the form of living that Christ calls upon His people to adopt as our own. The Lord does not prefer to engage in the form of purification and reclamation of this world that will come when we do not turn toward Him in repentance and obedient submission, but He promises that He will come and do this work. It seems to me that it would be far better to submit now to Christ and to serve His will by living in a holy and a righteous manner today than to await that day when Christ forces each person to face His righteous sentence of judgement upon our lives. 

Jesus said, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22: 34 

What does Jesus really mean when He quotes this Old Testament passage? He had just responded to a question that was intended to trick Him, and the first half of the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” makes sense. It may be a very challenging thing to do, for it is an impossibility without Christ. Without His ongoing presence in my life, I don’t even come close to living out this command. Still, this second command that Jesus gives to us is in some ways even more challenging. 

If love my neighbor is expressed in kind acts such as clearing snow from their walks or picking up trash from their front yards, that is no real problem. If it looks like greeting them when I see them, this is fairly easy, too. If my neighbor is defined as the people who live close to me, this is also relatively easy. They are mostly just like me; therefore, they are rather safe people to engage with, at least at this outward level. I am absolutely certain that this was not Jesus’ definition of neighbor, for none of this applied to Him. He had no permanent house, He didn’t stay on the same well known street of the same town, and He interacted with a wide range of people, none of them exactly like Him. 

What Jesus is commanding us to do is a lot bigger and contains a lot more risk than any of this casual neighborhood interaction. He is telling us to redefine our concept of neighborhood to include the entire world around us. Christ came to love all of the people of this world in a manner that would bring them back to an intimate and a personal relationship with God. Jesus loved people by engaging with them in their lives, by hearing their sorrows, and by healing their wounds and soothing their greatest fears. He met the soul-deep needs of dying people. That is what He commands us to do. So, as Christ is in us, we are called upon to give away His love to the people that live in our neighborhood. This is not an optional part of our lives as Christians, and it is not something that others who are called to be evangelists or missionaries are to do for us. This is the second great commandment from God to each of us. Loving others is the actual expression of the first commandment. This is how the Lord wants us to demonstrate our love for Him. Today is the day to ask someone about their life, to be interested in the pain in their heart. This is the perfect time to join a new friend in the journey of life, and today is the day to tell that person about the real, the tangible answer to your own needs that you have received through Jesus.  

The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

 You, O Lord, will keep them;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Psalm 12: 6-8

David’s words are both a lament and a warning. He cries out in pain at the way that deceitful people rule over the land. David is aware of this evil characteristic in people as he has observed it or has heard of it from the past. In addition, he also possesses the ability to look ahead and to see that not much will change in the future. People will continue to lie, cheat, and deceive in order to gain power, and they will operate out of deception in order to hold onto it. Their words are vile in God’s eyes. This means that they are as unpleasant as it is to enter a closed room in hot weather and find that there is spoiled meat present. The nose is curled and Godly people are repulsed by what they are encountering. 

This is the sort of pollution that these liars and deceivers spread across the land. They fill our ears with words that lead away from life and into a form of death that is the reality of this world when it is experienced outside of God’s holy and righteous presence. Unfortunately, these same vile rulers are successful because their message seems to be a good one to many people’s ears. They like the flattery and they respond to the sense of power and dominance that is often an important aspect of these ungodly leader’s message. As earthly rule is ordained by God, and rulers are placed into power with a form of permission from God, people who serve in these manners are also tasked with following God’s Word and His will when they carry out the work of their offices.

Thus, the warning that is spoken forth in this lament is for them. The Lord may allow the ungodly to have a day to bask in the radiance of their positional power, but He will not let what is so repugnant to Him continue unchecked forever. There will be a day when the people that misuse and abuse God-ordained authority and wield power for their own benefit will be required to stand face to face with the ultimate righteous judge, Jesus Christ. Even before that time, people are held accountable by God for the way that they live and for the manner in which they adhere to His word of grace, love, peacemaking, and truth. The Lord does prevail in this world, and this is true even in days of darkness as well. Instead of listening to these promoters of lies, we can keep our focus on the face of God, remain grounded in His Word of truth, and worship the one true King whose word never fails and whose loving care for us is eternal.  

Evil men do not understand justice,

   but those who seek the LORD understand it completely.

Proverbs 28: 5

Where is justice to be found? This is an individual cry and a corporate plea that rings throughout the world today. There is little justice upon the face of our chaotic planet. Instead, violence and oppression rule the days as they spread their terrors with the wind. People are friends today and enjoy the care, support, and protection of a seemingly benevolent power; then, they are tossed aside to be consumed by others whose favor it becomes convenient to court and whose ego demands the sacrifice of those same former friends. The concept of steadfast friend and faithful ally is not well-known in our times as these are not the characteristics of those who would strive for dominion. Instead, friendships are founded upon convenience and alliances are settled upon the premise of what is most profitable today.

All of this is extraordinarily contradictory to the way that the Lord operates, and it is all contrary to the guidance and direction of God’s Word. In that holy economy, a person’s word is their bond, friendships are intended to last for eternity, and allies are people that are held as closer than blood relations. God’s nature and character is defined by faithfulness and the descriptor of steadfast is applied continuously to the way that the Lord engages with the people of this earth. So, God pours out justice upon the world, and He expects His people to accept what that means for each of us and to then bring that same divine justice into the way that we deal with other people and with the situations that we encounter. Justice is often the most fundamental of Godly attributes that we can provide to those that are the victims of the evil that is running loose in our world.

When our nations are unjust and their leaders deal in treachery and duplicity, we must not stop crying out to them and pointing out the wrong that is being done. We also need to seek to replace any evil people that populate these places of power and authority, for failing to do so is, in fact, agreeing with the evil that they do; so, it is also joining in the destructive mission that the Dark Prince inspires his followers to engage with as they foster violence, confusion, and death across the face of the earth. As we seek the Lord, His sense of what justice means can not be hidden or set aside. The Lord demands that His people live out this fundamental Godly characteristic, and He sends us into our world to bring the truth of His word of reconciliation, peacemaking, and protection to those dark places where others have sown oppression and death. If no one else cares, then, in Christ, we must! Should all others abandon the weak and the voiceless, then, with Christ, we must speak up for them and wrap arms of love around them and clothe them in His grace and mercy. Justice is the Lord’s, and evil will not prevail, for the Lord will rule the day!

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Doubt is a personal reality that I, in honesty, have to admit to possessing. My doubt is not generally of the large scale and global sort, for I don’t have times when I lack a belief in the existence of God or question whether Jesus is real, true, and fulfills the role of Savior. These are not my doubts. Mine are ordered in the class of trust and reliance. When times get hard or the road that I am facing gets to be harsh and rough, I can turn from that easy daily faith in the provision, protection, and truth of God’s Word and instead I start to listen to my own voice of desperation and fear. This voice leads straight into my personal form of doubt, and this is never a good place for me to go, for it tends to freeze me into either inaction or it brings about self-driven poor choices.

I recognize that my own journey in this area may look very similar to that of some people, and it will be completely different from that of others. Just as God made each of us to be individually gifted with the blessings of His Spirit, He also formed us to be distinct and individualistic in most others aspects of life and of living it out. Yet, I also think that most followers of Christ do have times when we enter into a form of doubt. These periods of time or episodic events are often brought about in times when there is stress, trouble, and challenge present in our lives. These are those times of trial that James is speaking about, and these are the parts of life when hanging in there with God’s truth as revealed in His Word and through the interaction of his Spirit with me leads to a deeper and a stronger faith and trust in my relationship with Christ.

God’s desire and will is that each of His people would continue to grow and to develop in our capacity to live fully in the expression of His grace, love, and redemptive purposes. This sort of living takes courage to carry out in a world that tends to be antagonistic toward God’s absolute form of righteousness. This world fights back against people who bring Godly love, acceptance, justice, and peacemaking to bear upon all of the relationships and situations that we encounter. Therefore, it takes both courage and faith in Christ to continue along a pathway that leads straight into the angry rejection of many of the people and institutions of this world. This conflict in conjunction with physical, emotional, and financial stresses and struggles make up the wide array of trials that we can encounter during our days of following Christ; yet, as we trust the Lord to sustain us and to care for us fully in these times, we grow in our faith and move ever closer to that promise of perfection that is defined and completed in us by Christ. 

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

Ecclesiastes 9: 17

These are not my words, and they do not come from our times. Instead, Solomon is generally given credit for them; so, they come from the 10th Century BC. They do describe the reality of the human condition in that our foolishness and arrogance in it have been a part of our disfunction from the early days of humanity’s walking upon the earth. Nothing much has changed beyond the fact that today’s fools have a bigger audience for their unwise and godless banter than did those in Solomon’s day. I do wonder why it was thought that these wise words should be delivered into the quietude of a more contemplative space rather than broadcast as loudly and as far as was possible at any given time? It would seem that wisdom should seek to be heard above the din of all that foolish racket.

Yet, the godly sage sets out a different image. He presents an image of the wise teacher that when confronted with a classroom filled with unruly students begins to speak in a quiet but persistent tone until the students begin to fall silent in order to hear what the teacher is saying. Volume is a tool that is used to overcome the lack of content, and the delivery of forceful and caustic words is a tactic that is intended to diminish and discredit those who might speak in opposition to a point of view. None of this invites healthy dialogue, and nothing about these foolish tactics comes from the presence of the Spirit of Christ. 

So, if we are to believe and to follow Solomon’s guidance in these matters, followers of Christ are to be calm when the rhetorical storm is raging, we are to choose our words so that they reflect the gospel of Christ in its totality, and we must seek to bring peace where conflict arises. This does not mean that Christ would have us ignore the things that those in power are saying or doing. Rather, we are to speak up and speak out in opposition to the fools of our times when they spout forth their unloving, dangerous, and anti-Christ messages of greed, power, and oppression. The times of Solomon were not ones where remaining silent was what God called His people to do, and the 21st Century is not such an era either. We are to confront the fools in our world as they attempt to lead people into bondage to their false gods. We are to deliver Christ’s message of redemptive love, restorative grace, and peace for the soul as the singular antidote for the poisonous speech of these shouting and foolish rulers.       

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7: 21

Jesus must have been in quite a mood on this day, for before He was finished, the Lord had laid out challenging words for everyone in the audience, and He left each of us today with similar hard sayings to contemplate. No one escaped this call to live as righteous people, and no one was left out in these broad and sweeping challenges to the ways that we think, speak, and act. A relationship with God should make a difference in the conduct of our days. So, if we claim Jesus as Lord, then people should hear and see Jesus when we speak and act. In fact, it is the way that we live that is the most telling indicator of that relationship, and this is the reason for this particular point of indictment against those that make false claims of faith.

There were people in Jesus’ time that talked a good talk when it came to saying that what they taught and the way that they lived was grounded in and directed by God. Today, the same thing is still true, for people make claims to following Christ; yet, the things that they say and the way that they live are significantly disconnected from the truth of the gospel of Christ. This is often manifest in the manner in which people selectively engage in loving others, caring for the needy, and in the areas of power, greed, and nationalism. Too many people that claim to be followers of Jesus are also people who would promote the cause of violence in our world or that rally to the cry of corporate or national protectionism when those causes, as expressed and executed, bring about suffering and death for thousands upon thousands of our world’s most defenseless people. Additionally, the church and its people have frequently lost sight of what it means to care about and for life as God devises and views it.

All people, from conception through the last natural breath that is drawn on this earth are important and priceless in the eyes of God. So, they should be viewed in the same manner by anyone that claims Christ as Lord. We are to be protectors of those souls, people that use our wealth and positions of power to provide opportunities for life, food and shelter when it is absent, protection from violence, and the grace and mercy of acceptance and understanding. This is a part of what it means to be someone that can call out “Lord, you are my Lord,” to Jesus and have Him respond back that He knows your name. This degree of commitment to living out the challenges of the gospel is what was lacking in many of the so-called religious people that Jesus was confronting, and the situation is the same now. Thus, the challenge for each of us who seek to name Christ as our Lord is the one of living out this radical love, risky engagement with our world, and relentless drive to bring the reality of the kingdom of God into the place where we dwell each and every day.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

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