peacemaking


So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefor let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Hebrews 13: 12, 13

It is amazing the difference that a few feet of distance can make. When the Romans wanted to utilize their ultimate form of torture and public humiliation by way of crucifixion to execute a criminal in Jerusalem, they usually took the convicted person outside of the gates of the city proper in order to carry out that sentence. This process of distancing the crucifixion from the holy city provided a note of acceptability to this barbaric act; so, it kept the temple leaders contented with the appearance of honoring the sacredness of the Jewish capitol city. Yet, in reality, there was nothing honoring or truly thoughtful in the way that a crucifixion was carried out. It was brutal in every aspect of its contemplation and in carrying out its outcome. People died a slow, gruesomely painful, and very public death on those crosses. Their shame was displayed for all of the community to see; yet, the convicted person was taken away and placed outside of the boundary of that same community and its care.

Jesus knew what He was getting into when it came time for Him to go to Jerusalem for that final Passover feast. The Father sent Jesus to a place where confrontation with the leadership of the Jewish temple was inevitable, and Jesus did everything that the Lord’s prophets had set out that the Messiah would do in that time and place. These actions in conjunction with all of the rest of the Lord’s words and deeds that were undertaken while engaging in His short term of public ministry assured that He would be the primary target of the anger and the jealousy that was boiling up in the hearts of those supposedly righteous men. Jesus had already separated Himself from the direction that those in power in His world had taken. He brought love and grace to tortured souls where they tendered control and oppression. Jesus healed the sick and the injured as they complained about the untimely nature of such acts. Jesus provided the heavenly wealth of forgiveness of sin while the religious and governmental leaders sought to drain the threadbare cupboards of those same poor people. 

We live in a world where the safest place to dwell might seem to be found in the center of our cities. At least that safe spot is often found when we move in concert with the culture of our community and as we embrace the tone of its discourse. Yet, Jesus did not do this. He confronted that same form of powerful commentary with the truth that comes from before time and that brings low the mighty and that elevates the oppressed. In our day, we can stand upon that same eternal truth in the form of God’s Word, and this is exactly what followers of Christ should be doing on a daily basis. We are to be a people who deliberately move to a place of dissonance with the tone and the content of our world’s common language when it differs with God’s call to promote peace, to love with generosity, and to provide justice to all people. As we do this, we do move to stand in a place with Jesus that is outside of the safety and the security of the gates of our cultural city. However, in making this journey of faith, we are truly aligning ourselves with Jesus’ heart and will, and we are standing on the holy ground that was consecrated by Christ’s blood of redemption.

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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 behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

   and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

   and treads on the heights of the earth—

   the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name.

Amos 4: 13

When we are face to face with God, there will be two possibilities. We will either be looking upon the eyes of one that we know and who knows us with the deep intimacy of a close and loving father, or we will see the folly of our rejection of that same Holy One. On that inevitable day when all that has been the life that each person has lived is counted and given a reckoning by God, it will be too late to decide to repent and turn to Him. On that day and in that moment when eternity becomes existential reality, God’s presence and His holy justice will be too clear to turn away from or to continue to ignore. Beholding the face of the Creator, the one who formed the world that we have walked and the designer of each of us will be an event of joy beyond all human imagining or it will be terrible past anything conceivable.

Amos has been making an appeal to Israel and to its people to recognize the foolishness of their ways in that they have been living far outside of God’s expressed will. Their worship is false in both form and in intent. Their lives are dedicated to serving their own desires rather than to seeking to know God well and to give of themselves in worship of Him. The passage that comes just before this verse describes a number of actions that the Lord has taken to attempt to get the attention of the people of Israel, but they have not turned to Him in any of these instances. God promises that this state of sinful living will not be tolerated by Him for very long. There will be consequences, and in the end, there will be a day when all people will be required to fully behold the Lord.

Where Amos describes various forms of calamity and natural disasters that God has allowed to come upon Israel, in today’s world God tends to pour out His grace, love, and mercy upon us. Yet, we should not take God’s grace or His patience as a sign of either weakness or of permission to say and to do anything that pleases us. For, in the end, God still holds His standards of justice, peacemaking, love of neighbors, and devotion to Him as absolute. Through Christ we can be forgiven of any and all of our sins, but that grace is not a license to live as we might please. Instead, God desires to work in and through each of us for the redemption of a world that is heading along the same path of death and destruction as did ancient Israel. We will each behold God as the conduct of our life is judged; so, how much better would it be to behold His Christ every day of what is left of this earthly term and to be pronounced faithful and worthy at that final hour?  

We were buried therefor with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

The idea of baptism, as it has been practiced as a right and a sacrament by the church since days before Paul, is certainly being discussed here. Yet, it is not this act that brings about the important result that is mentioned. Without contemplation of means or of method, that is absent discussion of immersion verses sprinkling and babies and/or adults, the act of wetting down a person does nothing beyond announcing and proclaiming the reality of a relationship that is formed in the heart and is made real by virtue of the work of the Spirit of Christ within a person. Thus, the real baptism into Christ’s death takes place in the realm of the mystical and carried out by the Spirit. This is a work that is done as a part of that wonderous event that we often call conversion or new birth in Christ. In fact, this death of the old self is an essential part of the life-long journey of faith that is commenced when each of us surrenders our life to Christ.

We are allowed to experience the shame of the criminal’s death on the cross through Jesus’ literal pain, agony, and death there. He was innocent and undeserving of that fate, and we are each guilty and have more than earned the punishment that Christ endured. More so, the shame of this torturous implement is also ours as our sinfulness is viewed in contrast to God’s standard of holiness and righteous living. So, God requires that we surrender ourselves in full and total submission to Him; thus, we do place the comforts, the selfish pleasures, and the defining compulsions of our prior lives upon that altar of redemption. We undergo the process of dying to self with its literal, if spiritual, burial of who and what we were in a grave that also leads to our spiritual union with Christ. From this earthy and darkened place, we are raised up into the light of new life, and this is also something that is accomplished by the work of the Spirit alone.

From this point forward, we are called upon by Christ to seek to live out our days as followers of God’s way and doers of His will. Although this is something that we participate fully in as we are asked to set our eyes on Christ and ground our minds in God’s Word while surrendering our hearts to the leading of the Spirit, the strength needed and the power that living out this transformed life requires is provided by Christ through the presence of His Spirit. So, this is how we walk in the newness of life, and this is what it means to live in the fullness of the kingdom of God as it has come to be our own reality. In Christ we are made new, and through Christ’s work, as it is carried out in our bodies, the world that we touch is also transformed into a place where the Godly characteristics of love, justice, mercy, and peacemaking are tangibly present. Although this walk in the newness of life in Christ will never be easy as it operates in direct opposition to the ways of this world, it does place us in the center of the redemption that Christ has caused to exist here as a result of His resurrection in which we have now been joined.           

But let justice roll down like waters, 

   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5: 24

When the prophet Amos looked out upon the world around him, he saw a really troubling and darkened place. There were nations all around that were engaged in various forms of idol worship, violence against their neighbors, and the oppression of the weak. Things did not get any better at home, either. Both Israel in the north and Judah to the south were engaging in similar practices. It seemed as if following God had become an outdated and forgotten aspect of living. The Lord’s provision in the time of the exodus, His victory over the powerful inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and all of the intervening years of care and protection had just been erased from their collective memory. So, God’s heart of loving kindness and desire for justice to rule the day were set aside in favor of doing whatever seemed most profitable at that time.

So, God spoke to and then through people who loved Him and who had continued to remain true to His Word and to its intent. The Lord gave such people a vision for what was to come and for why it would be so. God interrupted the routine of their lives and sent them into the world to speak about the painful reality that would come if repentance were not the response to the message. The Lord also made it clear through these visionary speakers that condemnation and judgement were to be applied universally to all people regardless of nationality, race, or other distinctives. The concepts of mercy, care for the weak, and justice are universal truths that God pours out upon the earth and that all people are required to observe. Amos promised a day of reckoning when everyone would be called to account for how they have lived and for what they have done by way of bringing about peace upon earth or in the propagation of violence and suffering. There were direct and verifiable outcomes for the people that Amos addressed. The events that are called out in the text did come to pass. But I doubt that this is the end of the story. 

God always looks ahead and takes a very long view regarding His interaction with His creation. The events that we read about in these ancient histories have application and purpose in our world and during our days. When the Lord speaks about His heart for justice and the relationship between being a just and living as a righteous people, His message was not directed at the mere thousands that would have heard Amos. He is warning and instructing us regarding what matters to Him. God speaks about people, nations, and a world where justice is the stream that washes away the pain of violence, poverty, and oppression. Christ gives us a picture of a world where wealth and power are tools in the hands of righteous people that are used to bring the needy into places of provision, safety, and respect. God’s perspective on what constitutes need and on who suffers from lack is much broader and wider than mine. His concept of what is wealth and regarding its righteous use is also far superior to the one that I perceive. In response to my lack of understanding today, I pray for Christ to open my eyes and redirect my heart to love justice and to seek to live righteously as a follower of His perfect and eternal will.   

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

Revelation 21: 23, 24

This is a dream, an aspiration of the imaginations of people that love God. There will be a time when the darkness of strife and the cloud of death will no longer exist on the face of creation. That day has not come, but it is promised to us by the Lord, and He is more than good for His word in matters both small and great. In that glorious day when redemption has been fully deployed and sin and rebellion against God have come to an end, whatever stands as national distinction will cease to be a cause for separation. Instead, it will probably be a source of beauty in the sense that the aggregate of human difference and variety are all a part of a grand tapestry that in its summation fleshes out a picture of the fullness of humanity. 

Imagine with me, if you would, the world without strife, absent violence, and void of all forms of anger and distrust. Consider what it would mean to never fear of anything or anyone again. Then contemplate how it might be if love, respect, and acceptance were the singular vocabulary of all interaction and the language of formal and informal discourse. This is the work that Christ’s blood will do upon this broken world. This becomes the final and total outworking of the torment that Christ endured upon the cross, for the redemption of creation is God’s final and ultimate objective. That redemption brings about the restoration of the perfection of God’s original handiwork, and it is the world where all that follow Christ will dwell as God’s glory fills every aspect of the visual space in the universe.

Yes, this is a promise and a hoped for future, but I think that it is more than this. The glory of the Lord is not absent from the ground that we walk and the air that we breath today. Christ is considerably greater than just a once and a future king. He is alive today, and His Spirit is very active in our world. Each of us that call upon Christ as our Savior and Lord is an important part of the God’s redemptive work in this place where we walk today. He desires to shine forth the light of love and truth into every corner of the world, and this work of bringing light into dim and darkened places is something that all of Christ’s people has been granted to do as a gift and as a responsibility. We are to live in the comprehension of the light that was granted to us by Christ through the work of the cross, and we are given the privilege of living out the presence of the Lord in all that we think, say, and do. In this way, we bring the light of eternity into the reality of the places where our journey will take us this day.     

And he said:

“The LORD roars from Zion

   and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds mourn,

   and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1: 2

Amos, the humble shepherd, speaks, and the world listens to his words, for he is speaking into history the heart and the desire of the Lord, God Almighty. For God does speak His truth to us. This was true in the days of Amos some 2,900 or so years ago just as it is still so today. For a time or even for a season it may seem that the Lord’s voice is silent, but that never remains the case indefinitely. God cares greatly for us, and He also is truly concerned about the way that we go about living. There is no aspect of the manner in which people exist and in the form that our conduct of life is framed that escapes the Lord’s view. So, we can count upon the fact that He will hold us accountable for all of it. The Lord will respond to the good that we do and to the despicably evil that we carry out or that we allow to exist through inaction and failure to hold ourselves and others accountable for following the mandates that God sets out in His Word.

Like the citizens of Israel and even of Judah we may think that we are experiencing God’s blessing because we are comfortable, wealthy, and powerful. Yet, this is all a false form of security, for its basis is not God’s will or the Lord’s expressed desire. Instead, we, like they, are smugly self-satisfied in the accomplishments of our hands and with the power and the control that we think that we exert upon the world around us. Although Amos has commenced his series of comments about the wickedness of the world and of its nations with pointed expressions regarding the various peoples and counties that surrounded Israel and Judah, the prophet will, in turn, spin about and point the Lord’s figure of judgement inwardly toward God’s own nation and its inhabitants. They were to be held to an even higher standard of righteousness and compliance with God’s stated will than were their neighbors. This is not just a historic comment; rather, it is a basic reality of God’s character. He does hold His people accountable for living out the love, grace, mercy, and justice that the Lord has poured over us.

We may desire for the Day of the Lord to come when He will speak forth truth and justice into the world so that all that is evil will be destroyed and everything that is out of conformity to His Word will be set right again. Yes, we might desire for that great day to come, but we must also realize that the Lord’s judgement falls upon all people equally. So, as the Lord roars from Zion with His voice of righteousness sounding forth the end of all that stands in opposition to His will in the world, its reverberations are felt most powerfully by those who are closest to the source. Israel and Judah would not escape from the earth-cleansing work that the Lord would accomplish over the next periods of time, and we will not be granted immunity from His judgement, either. So, today is a good one for each of us who seek to follow Christ to examine the depths of our hearts and to turn to the Lord with a sincere desire upon our lips to know Him well so that we can live out the Lord’s will and the desires of His heart. This is a time for repentance and for the restoration of our faith. Christ is calling to His people to turn from our arrogance, our willfulness, and to renounce the ways of the world so that we can truly follow him and bring the light of justice and righteousness into the dark corners of that same earthly expanse.    

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