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.    

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