Truth


Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

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Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4: 12

The idea of a fiery trial does not seem pleasant in any sense. At least in my experience, being burned is very painful, and so, the thought of enduring some form of testing that comes by virtue of an activity that has the sort of intensity that fire provides sounds like something that I would prefer to skip over or avoid by almost any means that I can summon up to do so. I am aware that, except for a relatively few examples, Peter is using a metaphor here; he does not expect that he or other followers of Christ would actually be burned. What he is telling us is that there is an almost absolute certainty that we will encounter forms of opposition that are intense and that may very well harm our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. The surroundings where we live and into which Christ sends His people to serve Him are not friendly to people who bring with us the truth of the Gospel of Christ and the light of His unrelenting Word of Life.

In fact, it would be my guess that Peter might have asserted that if we are not running into some very real push back and antagonism as we go about living as people who think, speak, and act out Christ’s calling for us, then, we are not truly and fully doing that. There is no place on this earth where Christ is needed and where He is readily and completely accepted. So, those same places where the need is great and the acceptance is questionable are locations where the inhabitants are going to fight back against the presence of Christ in their midst. Satan demands denial of Christ from his people, and this denial leads to push back against the Gospel. Push back when resisted or countered by Christ’s followers can bring about more open forms of rejection that do, at times, lead to aggressive and even to violent responses. People do lose their lives over sharing the message of redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not face this sort of physical risk that comes to us because we are committed to proclaiming Christ in the world where we live. Still, there are risks involved in doing this. We will encounter people who do not want to hear about our faith and who will shut us down or cut us off from fellowship with them if we persist in doing this. There are places in our world where the rules attempt to bind us so that Christ is not permitted to be spoken there. These places may be connected to our employment or they might be associated with some other important aspect of daily life. In all of these situations and relationships there are ways to remain true to Christ’s calling while honoring the people and society’s rules. We must never renounce Christ or minimize His place of prominence in our own lives, but we can seek to demonstrate love, care, and compassion as Christ-like qualities that open doors to discussion of the reason for the loving care that we exhibit. We can still pray for and with others even in settings where the rules minimize our ability to do so before a gathered crowd. We can and should continue to share the truth of God’s Word as the source of our wisdom in all situations. Finally, we can be people of prayer who bring love and Christ’s acceptance to the lives of everyone that we encounter. The flames of trials may not be literal and they probably will not consume our flesh with their heat, but the opposition that we will encounter for the sake of the Gospel of Christ will be heated and delivered with the fury of Hell. Yet, Christ is with us, and He will strengthen each of us to withstand all that might come our way. 

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

   but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11: 14

Most of us were taught to be strong and to stand on our own in most aspects of life. This independence and individualism are considered to be virtues in us, and these same qualities are given even greater importance as character traits for those who would seek to ascend to positions of leadership. We are to evaluate the data, form conclusions that are reasoned out of that information, and formulate a plan of action. Then, with this plan in hand and a goal in view, we set everything in motion and press on to accomplishing that end result. We are driven by a form of competitive zeal onward to victory. This personal win or lose mentality is frequently the underlying energy in campaigns of all sorts whether grand and great or minimal and insignificant. The old joke about men not asking directions applies in far more significant ways when it comes to the manner that people in various positions of leadership are often expected to make important decisions and to take conclusive actions without seeking and listening to outside counsel.

Needless to say, this is rather different than the way that God would have us function. He provides us with a wealth of sound and wise guidance, advice, and moral direction to rely upon in making all manner of decisions. Even more significantly than looking to God’s viewpoint on issues and considering His direction in situations is the concept of deep and fundamental transformation that is inherent in the way that Christ works within His people. He enters into us and proceeds to work in a manner that transforms each of us from our sin-led and death-bound existences into people who are free from that bondage to sin and are growing ever more alive as we walk with Christ through the days of our lives. The very idea of submission to Christ should lead us into seeking His perspective and guidance in all matters in life. The Lord’s wisdom is foundational to the design and the construction of the world where we dwell, and it is superior to any other thought or consideration when it comes to living in a just, righteous, and holy manner.

So, back to leaders and to our expectations for them and for ourselves, also. If we are willing to subordinate our thoughts, concepts, ideas, and plans to the counsel that God provides for us by and through the many counselors and forms of granting wisdom and guidance that He provides to us, then we should also require this of the people in whom we entrust the leadership of organizations, entities, and governmental institutions that we live within. At the very least, they should be seeking out the counsel and advice of many wise and diverse people who are themselves doing the same sort of guidance seeking from their own array of people of considered wisdom. Living as a wise person starts with dwelling at the foot of the cross of Christ where all of my intellect, training, and experience are insignificant in relation to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. It is from that humble point of view that my eyes are most open and my vista the least obstructed by human frailty and sinful pride. It is by and through Christ, in the counsel of God’s Word, and with the instruction of the Spirit that we all thrive individually and as organizations and even as nations.   

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.      

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12: 24, 25

People tend to operate differently than does God. I know that this thought is probably not all that surprising to most of us, for if we have spent any amount of time in a relationship with God and have also traveled through life in human company, we have observed this fact in many ways as it has played out in others and in ourselves. We look toward honor or position achieved as a sign that we should give respect and even deference to a person. Thus, when someone has achieved success or has been granted authority or power, we will grant that individual even more of the same. Although we may grumble, complain, and even struggle against the rule of others, in the end, generally we want to let someone take the responsibility for leading so that we can place blame on them when things go poorly and we can benefit from what goes well. God does things in another way, and He desires to see His people live out our relationships in a manner that is similar to His approach to relating with us.

The Lord seeks to elevate the weak, the disenfranchised, and the outcasts of our world. He desires to bring people who are cast off to the fringes of society into close proximity and engagement with those who are at its center. In Christ, God has provided to the world the common ground upon which we can all stand in an ingathering of races, genders, cultures, and even of belief systems or faiths. Christ calls upon all of us to see more deeply so that we look through the exteriors of others and into their hearts and souls. I think that this is something that we do firstly with those who we should be closest to in the course of our days. That would be our families, neighbors, co-workers, and others who we engage in fellowship with on a regular basis. We can ask the Spirit to show us that deeper worth and greater value that resides within every person created by God in His image. We can begin to see the giftedness that flows out of Christ within each person that we encounter as we consider them from the perspective of our best understanding of how Jesus, Himself, would have viewed that beloved individual.

Seeing the people who are closest to us in the light of Christ’s presence in them and with their giftedness on view may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is much more challenging to live out than it might seem. People are all complex and relating to them is never simple. When we look more deeply into those inner places in a person’s life we are taken into the pain, fears, hopes, dreams, and aspirations that are a part of how we are all constructed by our Creator. Yet, these are the places where we need to go if we are to follow the Lord’s desired plan for the way that His body would exist and flourish in this world. As we care about and then for those who are closest to us, we are trained and empowered to do the same for people who are more distant from us. When the portion of the body of Christ that we are associated with in fellowship is healthy, nurturing, and all-embracing, we have a compelling story to tell and to demonstrate to others who do not know Christ, for it is in Christ that we have learned to truly love, and it is through Christ’s love that we have begun to live in a society that values all people equally and that seeks what is best for everyone without regard to relative strength or weakness or human perceived value and worth. 

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

Romans 8: 19

Did you realize that everything is waiting on you? Yes, institutions, politics, music, art, your neighbor, your family, the next person that you will meet in line at the grocery store, and everyone and all of the world around you is waiting. Most of them don’t have the slightest clue that they are caught up in this form of suspension, and I also bet that you haven’t given very much thought to this long list of appointments that you need to keep, either. I know that I hadn’t begun to add them into my calendar. Yet, they are there, and the schedule was devised by God, Himself, and He set it up back in the very beginning of time.

The person who God determined would make a difference in our world is you, and me. The Lord is, of course, fully aware of the enormous gap that exists in the way that this world functions and in the one that He designed for it, and Christ is the full and the final answer to that gap. However, Christ has already done His personal first work, and, although, He will do a second and a final work, this work is something that will come at a time that only God knows. Until then, Christ has tasked His followers with the right to pursue redemption, with the responsibility to seek it, and with the power to do His redemptive will. All of creation, that is, all of the world is waiting for the healing touch that can only be found through Christ, and guess what; you and I are the ones who have been given that role and the responsibility for reaching out to touch all around with God’s love.

This is a huge responsibility and an enormous task; yet, it is also one that God wants more than anything else for us to take on. He will grant all of the grace, wisdom, and strength that any of us need to do it. In order to do this well, we need to seek to live in the center of God’s righteousness, and we need to be open to the opportunities that will come to us as we go about the business of life. There are people all around us who want to be touched by the grace of God, and we are all involved in organizations, institutions, and aspects of our society that can be moved toward redemption by our influence. Put simply, there is a world waiting today for us to reveal Christ to it. Are we up to taking on the task?  

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

People around the world celebrate the rolling over of the calendar at the end of the current year and the beginning of the new one. We look ahead with anticipation and with hope that things will get better than they have been in the prior twelve months. This change suggests a new beginning, a fresh start, and a reset for some of life’s ledgers that record our wrongs, shortcomings, and failures. Yet, in all of this effort and planning that is focused around refreshing life, there is one calendar, a singular clock that is never set back and that moves forward with relentless pace and purpose, for in the real world, no one gets even a second younger or a day less aged when the new year tolls its entry. Every day that we live in one more to mark off the allotment of days that we have received. Each year that goes by will contain events, situations, and circumstances that have a negative impact on the probable longevity of our lives. This was one of the two primary subjects that Paul is bringing up here.

Paul knew physical and emotional stress as he had experienced them in great and powerful ways and on numerous occasions. His body had to be a bit worn and often a lot tired as a result of the life that he was living in serving Christ with true diligence in a world that was mostly hostile to that message and to its author. The Apostle was fully acquainted with the hardships of travel, he had experienced shipwrecks and been arrested and locked away in jail, he was forced to flee from angry mobs, and he had been mocked and rejected. The lines of care must have been deep on his weathered skin, and the spring surely had gone from his step. Yet, his passion for the Gospel of Christ and his zeal for proclaiming its life-giving truth had not grown any less powerful. He continued to love people and to speak forth Christ until the very end of his life on this earth. I can envision Paul during those later days with his body battered and bruised and with aching joints as he went to the Lord in prayer regularly while continuing to repent for the sinfulness in his own life and seeking out wisdom and counsel for following Christ along the path that was to be his during the day to come. 

The Spirit was present with Paul just as He is with each and every one of us who know Christ. As we yield ourselves to the Spirit, He brings us the cleansing of God’s grace, the fresh water of God’s truth, encouragement for our spirits, and wisdom to renew our hearts and minds. The Spirit’s work within and upon us does what it did for Paul, it sets us back upright when we are knocked down, and it gives us the courage and the strength that we need to continue on Christ’s righteous path of engagement with our world. The Spirit also points our hearts and minds to the reality of that journey, for Christ takes us into the realm of the spiritual and reframes all of life within the bounds of God’s kingdom come to this world. So, this is the other subject that Paul is discussing. We live in a world that is hostile to the spirit of truth, justice, righteousness, and love that is the essence of God’s realm.  In serving Christ we are breathing in conflict; so, we will experience the abrasive and harsh impacts of those encounters in our bodies, minds, and hearts. This is where the Spirit also works as He brings peace to troubled days, grants rest when the nights are long, and provides shelter when the heart is weary and in need of time to regroup and recover. This life will be hard and its challenges are going to be continuous and grueling, but the Spirit of Christ is more than sufficient to take each of us through it all so that even when the body is broken down and the heart is feeling overwhelmed it is His strength that enables activity and His love that fuels the spirit into living out Christ’s will for this day.     

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