Reconciliation


For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.

Deuteronomy 18: 9

 

Even when God grants us possession of a part of this world there is still danger in the hills that surround us; it’s also in the valleys and in the towns. Like the children of the exodus, God gives us territory. It seldom has the definite borders that enclosed Canaan, but it is just as real. The Lord desires for all of His people to live in a manner that is distinctly different from those who do not know Him. Christ calls upon us to have an impact on our neighbors, our communities, and our world that will bring about a hunger and a thirst for His righteousness.

 

Unfortunately, I know that I am not alone in my too frequently experienced chameleon-like adaptation to the culture that surrounds me. When I look at my words and deeds, I confess that there is not necessarily enough of a distinction in them for the outside observer to discern that Christ is in me and that I serve a different master than the one that has falsely assumed the role of king of this world. This thought is troubling and disturbing. This self assessment is condemning, too. Yet, into my troubled heart and mind comes Christ with His grace, love, and forgiveness. It doesn’t stop there, either. God doesn’t just tell us to stop sinning and to live differently, He gives us His living word for comfort and for instruction, and He has come to dwell with us. He personally leads the occupation forces in this land of conquest. Christ dwells in this world with us.

 

Christ brings into this world the light that drives back the dark shadows of sin, and He calls upon His people to carry those torches of righteousness. He also desires for us to bring the warmth of His comfort to those who have been damaged and dispossessed by life in this earthly war zone. Often the difference that we can demonstrate is shown through compassion and mercy. Christ is made real to people by our patience with their situations and acceptance of them as valuable. God is warning us that when we stop caring about and for the weak, the homeless, and the broken people of our world and start seeking to protect ourselves by building fortresses of safety and security around our homes and our possessions, we are truly adopting those abominable practices of the land. Christ calls upon His people to set aside safety, comfort, and security as we trust Him and follow His lead in loving people as He does and in seeking to be active agents for restoration in our world.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10: 23

 

A promise is exactly that, when it comes from God. The Lord says what He thinks, and His mind is focused only on that which is holy, just, loving, and righteous. In fact, if there is one thing that I know can be counted on in this world, it is the clarity of God on what sorts of living will lead to a life that is rich and full of the grace of His presence. God’s Word provides us with a highly practical narrative of God’s will and desire for us and a telling of the way that the Lord has continually engaged with His creation in working out that will on the earth. Although there is great mystery surrounding the full nature of God, the Lord, Himself, works to reveal His nature, character, and truth to us.

 

Christ is the answer to this revelation. When we confess our surrender to Him, we enter into the hope of redemption that God has promised to all of His creation in and through Jesus. As Jesus is our Lord, He is our Savior; thus, as He is our Savior, He is also our Redeemer. A significant aspect of this redemption is found in knowledge, understanding, and the wisdom that flows out of this deeply connected relationship with God. In Christ the Spirit indwells us, and the Spirit opens our eyes so that we can see through the fog and the haze of sin into the glory of eternity that is now ours. This grants to us an appreciation for the valid hope that overcomes all of life’s challenges and trials and illuminates the sure path that we can travel in order to stay upright and true to God’s holy calling for our lives.

 

God promised His redemption to His people, and He delivered on that promise in Christ. God committed to open up the mysteries of His will to us; so, He gave His Spirit to His people. The Lord declared that He would never leave us, and He has sealed that covenant with the blood of Jesus. We enter into a relationship with our Lord by walking on the shaky feet of sinful people; then, in Christ’s strength and wisdom, we travel forth in the full confidence of being God’s beloved and chosen people. This world will throw the full weight of its confusion and chaos at us, but we can stay true to Christ and dwell in the hope of our redemption, for He will never depart from our side. This is God’s faithful and true promise to His people.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Ephesians 2: 13-16

 

This passage is about Jews and Gentiles; these are the two groups that he was discussing. In his view of the world, there were no other divisions to be considered as primary. Of course, there were many other ways that people were separated from each other, and these were also the basis for animosity, a sense of superiority, and divisive laws or rules for living. Paul had been a strict follower of these ordinances and commandments himself. However, his encounter with Christ had changed all of this. He no longer knew any superiority to others based upon his birth status, and he now believed that God had called him to work to bring people closer together by leading them to the same place in there hearts and minds; that is, he sought to bring them to the cross of Christ as their common meeting place.

 

As modern day followers of the same Christ that had worked out this miraculous change of heart and of thinking in Paul, our hope should be the same as his was. We live in a world that is filled with the language of difference. There are many overt and subtle ways that this is conveyed to us on a very frequent basis. Most of us, if we honestly assess our thoughts and views of others, hold some specific images of superiority for ourselves and for the institutions, organizations, and nations that we are affiliated with. This is the way that we have been raised up, is the thinking that we instill in our children, and it is a manner in which we filter our world in order to create that sense of comfort and safety that is so important to us. Yet, these self-imposed differences, one from another, also divide us from those who we hold as inferior in some form or manner.

 

This is where I hold that Paul’s discussion of Jews verses Gentiles here is truly about everyone on the earth throughout all of time. The real division is people who know God through knowing Jesus Christ and those who do not. So, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, and gender distinctions do not actually matter to God, and they should make no difference to us either. People who know Christ are to be embraced as family and nurtured, cared for, and supported in their walks through life. People who do not know Christ are to be loved, cared for, nurtured in the faith as well as in body and mind, shown Christ’s grace, and provided with the opportunity to experience Him through the words and deeds of His living body the church. We can desire peace in all forms and hope for it to come to our world, but there is only one effective answer to the divisiveness that creates animosity among the peoples of our times, and that is Christ. He brings us all to a place of meeting that is transformative. For, as we gather at the cross, the only goals that matter are Christ’s as in Him we are all now citizens of God’s Kingdom and brothers and sisters in service to its one eternal King.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Romans 12: 17

 

The late 15th to early 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch created many vividly detailed and fantastical scenes that depicted the unseen life of the spirit and within the spiritual realm. Some of these works portray the nature of evil in ways that are powerful and that, I think, grant us with a sense of the essential nature of evil, itself. The claws and snarling jagged teeth that are deployed in flesh ripping glee and the violent grasping of others in attempts to gain the upper hand are outward expressions of hearts that are intent on destruction and that are fully and fatally separated from God with His love, grace, and mercy. The kingdom of evil is a place where raging passions go unchecked and wherein destruction is the reward that loyalty to the cause receives. This is not a place where most people actually desire to dwell.

 

Yet, evil has an attractive side to it. Its power is intoxicating, and its passion can be highly energizing, too. It feels good to respond to slights, hurts, and affronts with their equal or even with the next step up in the process of response. This is the way of our world, and this is the natural manner of handling challenging and hurtful situations in our various cultures. However, this is not how God designed for us to live. Anger, violence, and misapplied passion are not the tools that the Lord gave to us as our devices for living together. These are things that we have developed out of our lost allegiance to the Prince of the Earth, and they come straight out of his toolbox. Still, it feels good and it seems righteous to respond with a stinging rebuke or with the removal of relationship when others have spoken to us or done to us like kinds of things.

 

Paul responds to all of this by reflecting on what Jesus taught and lived out in His own life. The Apostle tells us to pause, take that meditative breath, and allow the Christ inspired thoughts of our redeemed minds to take control of our emotions. Then we are counseled to do all that we do, say the words that we speak, and respond to others as an act of worshipful honor to Christ. This approach will change everything in our interactions with others. It doesn’t matter if the person that we are engaged with is close friend, family, distant acquaintance, or a stranger for they are all due to receive the same respect and honor in the name of Christ. This ability to engage with everyone in a loving and God-honoring manner was a distinct marker of Jesus’ way of living in our world. It should be the same for those of us who follow Christ. As we respond to evil with grace we infuse the heavenly into the harsh landscape of our world and touch its fevered brow with Christ’s peace and redemption.

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “You know everything; You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

John 21: 17

 

There is a quality to this scene on the beach that would be perfect for a film script. The setting is striking with the growing light of the early morning on the shore of the Sea. The fire would provide a dramatic glow to show the faces of Jesus and Peter as they dialogue. The emotion on Peter’s face could be emphasized by the way that the camera focused on his pain and confusion and their resolution in the loving words and actions of Christ. For here He is, the Lord of the Universe, the One who created it all, the King of Kings, and He is cooking fish to feed His wandering followers. Christ has come to bring the life of His grace to Peter’s broken spirit. Christ is reaching out to allow His truth to heal that brokenness and to set His people on the path that will take them into God’s plan and purpose for the rest of their lives.

 

Although Peter is one of the great figures in the history of the Christian faith, he seems to have been a great deal like most of us. He was not very consistent in his courage or in his application of God’s truth to the actual living of life. In simple terms, Peter fell down and acted the fool on far too many occasions. Yet, God had a plan for him and for his life, and God’s desire for Peter’s life would not be defeated by Peter’s own humanity. Instead, the Lord came after Peter with relentlessness and with understanding. As Jesus is talking with Peter, He probes some very sore wounds, and the pain that results is hard to endure. But Peter does come through the procedure. He is healed of the sin that has driven him away from God’s calling. Christ makes Himself evident and present for Peter and for the rest of us, too.

 

Most of us have Peter like stories to tell. We have failure and weakness in our lives and in our personalities that seems to dog us and to bring defeat to our journey. We carry with us the harsh reality of our sinful selves as it continually rises up and knocks us off of our feet. Still, after these dark nights of hopeless wandering, there is Christ. He is waiting for us to come to the warmth of the fire. There we will find the comfort of His presence and the strength that His Word brings to our starving spirits. God has come. He is with us. He asks that we turn away from our fears, get out of our self-focused thinking, and join Him in the light of His truth and loving grace. Christ is here to send each of us out into His pasture to, “Feed My sheep.”

 

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