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Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3: 18

Expressing how we feel about people is often much easier done through our words than through our actions. The words can be totally sincere and come from deep within us, but if they are not followed by tangible demonstration, they are empty and sometimes actually hurtful. We have all known people who speak about great intentions and express wonderful thoughts regarding commitment; yet, they continually fail to deliver on those words. Many of us can also recall times when we have been the unreliable party.

In my experience with God, He has never failed to follow through. When the Lord makes a promise and tells me that He will do something, He delivers. This is especially true when He tells me that His love for me is without bounds and is unlimited, for He demonstrates this love continually. I am cared about and cared for; I am made whole and made holy; and the Spirit of Christ stays with me through every moment of every day. God is totally true to His word.

Jesus has demonstrated for us what relationships should look like; because, He is the model for words of love that are turned into life expression of it. God’s consistent follow through on His promises to me in conjunction with His loving honesty are the demonstration of His absolute love for me. Christ wants something really simple from me in return; He wants me to extend the same type of expression of love to others. He wants me to show to people the difference that my relationship with Christ has made in me by the way that I actually engage them with honest and loving connection to their lives.

There is no better day than this one to show someone the love of Christ by the way that you treat them. This is the time to honestly care for others in the same manner as Christ honestly cares for you. God’s loving presence in your life will bring light and joy into the lives of others when you love them with caring words of encouragement and with honest and real actions. 

For thus says the LORD:

Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,

   and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;

and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,

   and bounced upon her knees.

Isaiah 66: 12

In all probability, most of us have certain images that come to mind when we hear about rivers. These large flows of water might be large, lazy and calm. They may be wild and running freely over rocks and fallen trees as they course down a mountainside, or they could be destructive and dangerous. Rivers come in many forms, and those shapes and consistencies are changeable due to various circumstances, too. Yet, Isaiah suggests that the peace that the Lord grants to His people comes to us in a flow like that of a river. There may be more truth to that image than we often imagine at first glance. The peace that the Lord grants to us comes in many forms in order to fit to the circumstances with which life has surrounded us; so, should it surprise us when God answers our need with something that flows out of the enormity of His resources?

There are days when it seems as if there cannot possibly be an answer for all that is present in life. Grief and sorrow, pressure and stress, and pain and heartache often arrive in bunches and settle in as an encamped army that lays siege to the heart, mind, and soul. When life is like this it can be easy to lose sight of God’s eternal promises and it is only natural to focus inwardly on what it takes to make it from this moment to the next. Yet, the Lord is present even in these hard and darkening hours. His truth will prevail against all that is going wrong around us, and His strength is great enough to take each of us beyond the hour of despair to that new dawn of hope that will come in its due time. 

The peace that the Lord grants to us does not come in one shape, form, or size. It varies according to our individual needs, the situation that is at hand, and the way that it will work within our hearts and heads so that we can go on to accomplish God’s will as we dwell in its presence. God’s peace nurtures as it heals. It provides what is essential for us to become stronger and better equipped to handle the adversity of the day. Additionally, this form of peace provides a type of comfort that is much like what a nursing mother gives to her crying infant. A deep and a settled calm comes over the spirit in the presence of the Lord. So, regardless of the image that rivers bring to mind, the peace that flows out of a relationship with the Lord resembles it. As rivers run throughout the landscape of the earth, so does God’s peace meet each of us wherever we may journey in the course of life. 

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22: 31, 32

Most of us are probably aware of this moment in the life of Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus was to build His church, when he was anything but solid, stable, and granite-like. This is the night of great turmoil when all of the world would be shaken, and the faith of those who had been closest to Jesus was to be tested in ways that are hard to imagine. Jesus turns to this strong willed and greatly gifted leader among the group of His disciples and He warns Peter about what is to come. I think that the Lord wanted to get Peter’s full attention and also that He desired to convey the fact that at that very moment Peter was standing on the balance point wherein his decision to follow Jesus was going to be put to its ultimate and definitive test. I can almost hear the tone of voice that Jesus used when he says with quiet intensity, “Simon” and then, after a dramatic pause when the Lord looks with piercing intensity into Peter’s eyes, He repeats the given name but with a slow tempo and far greater volume and intensity, “Simon!” Then Jesus turns His eyes to the rest of the disciples near by and declares Satan’s desire regarding all of them, for the you here is plural.

This testing of Peter and of the other disciples at the moment of Jesus’ arrest is not unique to their time and place. Satan has done this sort of thing throughout humanity’s history on earth. He attempts to shake our faith in God, and as he grabs ahold of us and does exactly what he asked to do with Peter and the others there in Jerusalem on that fateful night, our faith is put to the test. The methods and the circumstances of the sifting vary greatly, but the violent nature of the action, at least as it is felt by our hearts, minds, and spirits is unchanged. He grabs ahold of us and starts to shake and toss us about in the hopes that we will abandon the torturous journey and recant our decision to follow Christ. Then, when this fails, Satan often continues to grasp the sifting basket that is life and aggressively rock it back and forth so that doubt and fear might overtake our grasp on the Lord. What Satan did not count on with Peter and fails to consider still is the utterly tenacious and unstoppable way that Christ holds onto us. He never tires or ceases in His loving embrace of His people, and His victory over Satan is already accomplished, sealed, and delivered.

These hard and challenging times, these days, weeks, and sometimes years of sifting, have a purpose in God’s view of our lives, and they are important for us to endure, too. Peter was never the same after his experiences on that night and the days to follow. He had not been so low in spirit as he was when that rooster let forth his crow, and he had never been so high as he would be on the morning of the discovery of the empty tomb. Although Peter’s journey of growth and his final commissioning to service to Christ were still to come, his new understanding of the fact that his only true strength was to come by and through Christ had transformed him into a person who could serve others and lead this new church effectively. We will all endure times of sifting. Some of them are severe and others are rather mild, but they are all real and valuable tests of our endurance and our faith in Christ. Regardless of the nature, duration, or severity of these tests, we can be assured that Christ is with us in them and through them all of the way to their conclusion. We can also take comfort in the fact that the Lord does have a plan for us and that each of these times of sifting has a purpose that He will reveal to us in due time. Satan’s methods and approach have not changed at all since Peter’s day, and Jesus is still Lord over him, engaged with each of us intimately, and will take us through it all to the glorious victory that Christ has already secured for us.       

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19: 16

Among those of us who experienced the election of new leaders that happened yesterday in the United States, some came away feeling exalted by victories in races that mattered to us and some had the opposite reaction to the outcomes. That is the nature of the process, and frankly, this is the way that it should be, for we are a very diverse people and our governmental representation should be similarly varied. It is not easy to win one of these elected offices. The process of running for office costs money, time, emotional capital, and personal sacrifices of many types. Candidates are exposed to public scrutiny that can be very harsh and even cruel, and their families are also placed under that same intense lens of public examination as is the candidate. Seeking office is not a genteel game or a casual pastime in our age. As God ordained order in our human realm and gave us civil governance as a part of the method for achieving that order, He also cares about the way that we go about ruling over ourselves, and He cares for the people who hold these various leadership positions.

The scene that John is describing in Revelation is one wherein Jesus has returned to earth, and He is completing the process of setting right all that has been corrupted by the presence of evil in our world. As Christ goes about this great and terrible work, His position and authority are important to keep on view. He has the right to cleanse Creation of its sinfulness and purify it so that all shame and guilt are washed away. Christ was granted this authority by God the Father, and He was sent to our world with this reclamation mission as His purpose and His intent. So, this is an account of the end of these current times here on earth; yet, there is an indeterminate expanse of years to go until these events happen. During these intermediate days, we are charged with the task of ruling over the world. We can choose to do this in a manner that reflects the heart and the mind of God, or we can do it so that the will of people and our flawed wisdom are what set our course.

If we do desire to govern in a manner that follows God’s method and way, then we need to realize and to accept the fact that the title that will be given to Christ at the end of days is already His. Thus, each and every one of the people that we elect to office is ordered under a higher authority and, in fact, receives her or his right to lead from the only eternally reigning sovereign in the universe. This idea may seem theoretical or conceptual at such a high level as to be pure fantasy, for what person who is operating in today’s world would actually look to Christ as the giver of all wisdom and direction and for guidance in ruling in a just and a righteous manner? The answer to that question is found in people who decide that they desire to govern in a way that is pleasing to God and with the power and the authority of the Lord of the Universe as their foundation. We have elected people to office whose influence and scope of rule range from the small and limited to the great and expansive; yet, for each of them the same reality exists, they will either follow their King and bow down to their Lord or they will listen to the counsel of man and so risk ruling as a blind fool who ignores the great and eternal wisdom that was offered to them as a free gift from Heaven.   

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

1 Peter 1: 22, 23

It is my fear and concern that we have become very careless with our words. We say things about others that are harsh, mean, crude, and intended to cause harm, and we really don’t seem to care much about the outcome of these statements. People in positions of power speak out about people and about situations with demeaning statements or with inflammatory ones that are either not well considered at all or that may be very well crafted for the very purpose of causing disagreement and for stirring up unrest. This is a world that has turned to incivility as its outward expression of an unhealthy social order. God did not give us the gift of language with this sort of use in mind. God has communicated with people by the use of language since the first days of the existence of humanity, and He has sought out our expressions of who and what we are in response to Him. The Lord also desires for us to engage with each other by using the words that He has given to us and the ideas that form their meaning as a tool that brings us closer together and that forges bonds of understanding and peace.

Perhaps the problem lies within the nature of what we are seeking to craft from the use of the language that God has given to us. We seem to have demoted the words that we use from the place of lofty value that their God-ordained origin grants to them so that now these once noble ideas have become nothing more than common, coarse, and too often profane. When we say something about someone or state our opinion of a concept or an idea we are placing that person, concept, or idea on public view with the descriptor of our language attached to them in such a manner as to make it hard to disassociate the description from the entity. This may seem harmless or even to have a certain whimsical and laughable quality to it, but when the ideas that are spoken are negative or derogatory in nature, they tend to have a tenacious duration to them that will continue to color the way that people view their object long after the original statement has been lost in time and forgotten by its original speaker.

All of this gives Peter’s original comment in these verses more weight in our world wherein words are spread rapidly and widely with amazing facility. God’s truth is far more demanding of us than the form of truth that most of us have framed up for ourselves. He requires that what we hold as true be something that will endure beyond the moment and that it possesses value that endures into the unforeseeable future. The Lord commands that the truth that should inform what we speak and the manner of our expression of our ideas is all formed and expressed in an atmosphere where love is the foundation and where the desired outcome is the building up of others into a form of unity of spirit and purpose. This is an idealistic standard to set for the world at large, but it is an imperative for followers of Christ. What we say has impact into eternity, and how we speak to and about others exposes the nature of our relationship with Christ to full public view. So, every word that comes out of the mouths of people who claim Christ as Savior and Lord, needs to be clearly related to its only valid source that is found in the Word of God alone.    

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4: 10

As a result of the many years that I have lived as a follower of Christ, there is at least one thing that I am very clear about, God is very generous. He has given me gifts that are remarkable, wonderful, and beyond measure in their scope and scale. God pours life into His people, and He grants gifts of His Spirit to us. The Lord is also the type of Father that builds a confident sort of strength into us. He lets us go and gives us space to roam this world and to explore its wonders; yet, He is never all that far away should we need advice, counsel, encouragement, or rescue. All of this generosity is founded upon one overwhelmingly great gift that was given to us in the person of Jesus Christ and that was fully unveiled upon the cross and made complete in Christ’s resurrection. Even His return to the Father in Heaven was not a loss for people on this earth, for Christ gave His Spirit to us and in the presence of the Spirit we are each granted gifts to use in service to our Lord and for the sake of His kingdom.

The work of service that we are called to perform is highly varied. It is designed by God to fit the needs of this world as it is in our time, and it is also tailored to be the perfect fit for each of us at that moment. It is important for us to remember that these gifts are not given to us in order to build us up or to create any sense of superiority on our parts. Although they are great and wonderful, and some of them seem to be more significant, important, or powerful in human terms, from God’s perspective these gifts are all of equal worth and none of them are intended to set an individual apart as greater or more valuable than other followers of Christ. The gifts that we are given are intended to be given away in full, and we are called to serve others with all that the Lord has granted to us. There is no need to hold back anything or to attempt to protect these gifts from overuse or from depletion by virtue of giving them away. These gifts and the grace that was poured out upon us by Christ in granting them to us flow out of an unquenchable fountain of blessing that God has freely opened for His people to drink from.

As we have received from God, so we are to give away all that we possess with the sure promise that we will be replenished as we need that resupply. There are times when the burden and the effort of this giving into the lives of others can become very heavy and we can become weary or worn down. These are days when we need the help and the support of other people who claim the same faith in Christ. These are times when we can lean into Christ’s body, the church, and allow others to walk with us, to grant us a safe place to rest, and to provide insight and encouragement that come directly from God’s Word and are poured into them and into us by His ever-present Spirit. Even with the Spirit within us and the gifts that God has granted to us at hand, none of us are intended by the Lord to walk through this life on our own. His design, plan, and intent for the journey that He sends each of His people on is for us to do this traveling with companions and in the gathered strength of His body of fellowship. In this setting, the grace that we require to sustain us can be found, the wisdom that is needed to assess each day is gathered together, and the opportunity to serve others as we allow them to serve us is granted full expression.  

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10: 4

We live in a world where double meanings are commonplace. People say things and their real intent is hidden inside of our surface understanding of their words. In other instances, a bit of archeology is required to dig down to the next layer of understanding. Regardless of the circumstances or of the intent of the speaker, there are times when looking beyond our first impressions matters for the sake of thorough understanding. This short sentence is one of those pieces of text. For at first reading it would be easy to think that the Apostle is stating the obvious in saying that Christ brought about the termination of the old Law of Moses. In a way, this is true; however, there is more here.

The idea behind the word that is translated as end is one of fulfillment, of the arrival of a completed state. There is a strong sense of the passage of time and of a work or a process that was required to get to this point. This is similar to the complex ideas that flow naturally from the expression, “End of the journey”. This statement brings to mind the planning that preceded the travel, the adventures that were encountered along the way, the great joy and satisfaction that come when the goal is achieved, and finally, the treasures that are to be found there. To me this is a description of God’s plan for our redemption from sin and for the restoration of our relationship with Him.

God gave us His Law so that we would have a code to follow that, if adhered to completely, would lead us to live in true righteousness. That is, we would think and act in a manner that was consistent with the way that God created us to do before our rebellion. Since this would require us to make the choice to live in this way, and doing this demands a form off perfection that is founded upon our own strength; it never did and could not ever succeed. Yet, God’s holiness demands our righteousness. So, Christ became the final destination of God’s journey with humanity. At this time, anyone who believes in the full expression of who and of what God is; that is, who believes in the fullness of Christ; that is, born of a virgin, lived among us as a man, crucified and raised from the dead, and living again with the Father as God; will be transformed into a person who is righteous and who now lives in the world that is found at the end of that journey. We do live under the full expression and authority of God’s Law, but now, in Christ, this is possible, and through the power of His Spirit, it is our life experience.    

If I say, “I will not mention Him, or speak any more in His name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

Jeremiah 20:9

 

Let’s just say that life had not been going very well for Jeremiah. He had been beaten and placed in the stocks at the city gate. In other words, his speaking of God’s truth was causing him a lot of pain. Most of us experience times in our lives and situations where speaking our boldly about our faith is not taken well. There are places where others look down on us for believing in God. Sometimes our careers seem to be threatened if we are identifiable as Christians. In far too many areas of the world, proclaiming faith in Christ is a crime, and sharing that faith can bring a sentence of death from the courts. Although it certainly wasn’t illegal to speak of Yahweh in Judah, it was practically so; for, telling the plain truth of God’s will for the people was what was causing all of Jeremiah’s pain and grief.

 

However and in spite of all of his suffering, Jeremiah can not be silent. He is like that person who just talks and then continues to talk until no one is listening anymore. The difference with Jeremiah is that his words are coming straight from God, and those words cut through all of the protective layers of culture, power, and human logic. They speak about the way that God views our thoughts and our actions. The words of the Lord tell us the truth about the way that we are living, and they also provide us with the eternal wisdom of God which will lead us into the peace that is found only in the righteous center of His will. It does not seem that God’s Word intends for us to view Jeremiah as merely a great historical figure. He is an example of a person who listened to God and acted upon what he heard. He is also someone who encountered the backlash of the world to his outspoken faith and refused to be silenced regardless of what it might cost him.

 

So, back to Jeremiah’s simple yet profound thoughts about proclaiming Christ in the face of our world’s indifference and antagonism. His attempts at silence are answered by God’s Spirit. He causes something to happen in Jeremiah’s heart and mind that makes him feel as if he were being set on fire from the center of his bones. It seems to him that his marrow has become molten lava. Only that heat is not destructive. Instead, it is the unquenchable fire of God’s Word that demands proclamation. He realizes that any hardship or distress that he might endure as a result of speaking out about God and His desired way of living for our world is like nothing at all in comparison to the personal, soul-deep pain that he feels from not following His Lord’s will. In all of this Jeremiah is a very real example of how we should respond to a world that is bent on denying God. Lord, my prayer is that the same fire would burn in my bones and that its outlet will be your truth proclaimed boldly and continually throughout my days.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3: 11

 

We people are a very creative and an industrious bunch. We devise various systems of belief and work hard to craft them into something that seems to be solid, tangible, and lasting. In the end, many of us do stake our eternities on these belief systems that we have created for ourselves. The fact that the nature and the character of the life that we live now and also that what becomes of our souls after this life is resting on what we believe in this life, should be a powerful motivator for us to consider these decisions carefully and thoroughly. For me, it seems to be most reasonable to look to the foundations of all that is for the source of such a great decision. There is one singular point wherein all of what we know began, and there is only one author and creator of it all, too.

 

God, in the entire manifestation of who and what He is, is that singular point and Creator. When I say God in this instance I am making reference to all of our understanding of His person and identity; so, I am speaking of the presence and the involvement of the Father, of Jesus Christ the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in all that took place before the creation of the universe, during its crafting, and in the time that followed wherein it was all settled and humanity’s existence began. The true foundation of our world is set and settled in the totality of God, and the platform upon which humanity is intended to operate in this world is also established by God and made effectual through relationship with Him in totality.

 

So, if we claim to know God but deny the existence or the validity as God of any of His three persons, we are entering into a very dangerous area of belief and faith that is crafted by people for our own purposes and that goes against those foundational truths that form an eternally valid understanding of relationship with our Creator and Lord. Even Paul, as great a worker for God and His kingdom as he was, could only build up people in a faith that was founded upon the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and as fully God. We too enter into the fullness of God’s presence in us and in our lives as we surrender ourselves fully and completely to Christ so that He can take us into the presence of the holiness of the Father and grant to us the counsel of the unceasing engagement of the Holy Spirit within us. So it is in and through Christ that we set our feet upon that foundation of truth that God established from the beginning in order to grant to His creation secure and eternal relationship with God.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,

devastation or destruction within your borders;

you shall call your walls salvation,

and your gates praise.

Isaiah 60: 18

 

In the light of the horror that is at the center of our news these days, the ideas expressed here must be a dream, a fantasy that the weary mind concocts while precious sleep insulates us from further exposure to life’s harsh reality. How can there be such a time and this sort of place? We live in an environment wherein violence is far too close to us to consider what it might be like to be without its presence. As it must have been in Isaiah’s days, so it is in ours. Death and destruction, hatred and fear, angry words and harsh shouting, and proliferation of personal and national weapons of war are the instruments that are playing the discordant symphony that presides over our world.

 

This dream-like vision is not as fanciful and as illusive as it might seem. It is God’s promise for the future when Creation is returned to its true and original design wherein sin and its death are abolished and Christ reigns in His rightful place as Lord and King. According to God’s Word this sort of peace will come after a time when the world will have devolved into the sort of chaos and upheaval that is very real today. I am not a prophet and do not pretend to know God’s plans or to be able to predict what is to come, but I have no doubt that the way that our world is going now is in keeping with God’s revealed truth about the force and the effects of evil in our world, and it is in line with the sorts of things that do precede Christ’s return and final victory over all that is evil.

 

Until then, we can still live in hope and be fearless despite all that is happening in our world. We can enter into the presence of Christ here and now so that His assurance of peace can be ours today. This is a gracious gift that God has granted to anyone who believes in Jesus, the Christ, as Lord of life and as Savior for now and all of eternity. A relationship with Christ does not remove any of us from the world where we live, but it does provide us with a form of hope that transcends the nature of this place and that adds the perspective of unceasing love and grace to our vision of the landscape around us. Christ removes His people from dwelling in the realm of darkness that pervades the world, and He transforms our lives into ones that are lived out in God’s Kingdom come to earth so that the spiritual walls that surround us are truly formed out of the timbers of the cross of Christ which has brought about salvation. Thus, we can sing out a new chorus to fill the ears of the earth with something joyous and that is infused with Christ’s hope as we lift up our experience of redemption in thanksgiving to be heard throughout the land.

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