Understanding


No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

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Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4: 4, 5

 

There is much in this world that I take for granted. It is with us. It is a part of the background of life. These may be things that are relatively necessary such as food and water, and there may be the background of existence such as trees, earth, and sky. The point is that I don’t think much about them, for they just are. It comes as no surprise that God might want for me to hold all of this differently as interacting with and viewing these things is a rather frequent occurrence. God has an annoying way of showing me that my perspective is distorted and how His passion meets my indifference. I guess that this is another in the long list of reasons why He is God and I am blessed to serve Him as my King.

 

In this passage Paul is reminding us that God expressed a benedictory blessing upon all of His creation. In the creation account of Genesis we hear that God proclaimed that it was all good. I believe that He meant what He said. All of creation was good, and it was all intended to be of benefit to the people that God had fashioned in His image to dwell in the land and to hold dominion over it on behalf of and in honor to our Lord. That is how God intended for it to be. However, sin entered in, and all of it became broken and God’s perfect plan was distorted by Satan’s deception and by our acceptance of those half-truths and lies. We have created false rules to live by. We have turned away from God and to the worship of various aspects of creation. Humanity has become diminished from our God-ordained position of authority and responsibility by our fears and our arrogant and self-centered need to gain power and control.

 

God wants us to view our entire world with a thankful heart. Everything that we see, touch, and experience is here for a purpose. Even the smallest of organisms was crafted by the hand of the master craftsman. Whether we view this world through the lens of a microscope or we look out into the universe with a telescope what we see is the handiwork of the King. Yet, none of it, not even the most amazing and magnificent of the things that we see, is worthy of praise or worship. All of creation points to the loving and orderly heart of the Creator, God Almighty. Perspective on it all is gained as we express our thanks to Him for this incredible gift that He made for our benefit. The Lord provides understanding of our role and responsibility in its management and care as we search His heart and will in His Word and through prayer. In this way God reveals the magnificence of His generosity, and He directs His people to live in a manner that points others toward the Creator.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13: 34

 

Love is in the air. Love is all around us. Love is what makes the world go around. Expressions about love have been on people’s tongues for as long as we have possessed speech. We talk about it, and we sing to its virtues and to its pain and sorrow. We attempt to explain its mysteries as we also try to secure it for all of our days. Yet, despite all of this effort and the expending of mountains of words, it seems that we seldom truly understand that thing called love. It is elusive, slippery, and fragile; so, when we think that we have it in hand, it either escapes from our grasp or we crush the life out of it. The problem just might be that we continuously look to other people as our models for what love looks like, and so we repeat our own errors and enter into forms of loving that have historically proven to be false as if they were the ultimate expression of life.

 

One of the most significant problems that most of us have with loving others is that it starts out and is founded upon our own desires, wants, and wishes. We love because it feels good and gives to us something that we believe that we lack otherwise. Even when we give to those who we love as when a mother loves and cares for her baby, this love may contain a strong component of self-gratification and attainment of identity and sense of worth that derives from the role of mother. This is simply the way that we are made and does not reflect any sort of willful deviation from doing what is good or right. Yet, human love is truly more self-centered than it is outwardly focused. Its expression and reciprocal return to us are more about what we get than they are about what we give away. This is where Christ offers us something else to consider and another form of love to view.

 

He came to us as one whose love brought about an ultimate form of giving away. Jesus entered this world and lived with us as one of us so that the love of the Father and His own love for all of creation could be fully known and entered into by people. In some very real and tangible ways, Jesus, who possessed everything of true worth, value, glory, power, and honor that exists in the universe, set it all aside in order to give Himself up to the forces of evil in that same universe so that they would be totally and finally overcome and defeated, and that as a result of this sacrificial victory, all people would have the opportunity to enter into the eternal life that we had surrendered to our own willful disobedience to God. So, just as it was our own self-absorbed decision that led to death and to the loss of our understanding of eternal love, it was Christ’s self-denying act of sacrificial loving that allows us to enter into the love that overcomes all else and that heals all of our brokenness. This is the love that brings us into relationship with God and with each other, and this is the love that binds us together in a community of faith that is formed around and founded upon Christ.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul had goals. He knew the desires of his heart, too. He wanted to bring people into knowledge of Christ and to see them grow into a relationship with the Lord that was founded on solid truth and understanding. He also knew that these new believers would need to be taught, counseled, and developed in their faith if they were to be sustained in their journeys with Christ. All of this required that Paul spend time and expend energy in the pursuit of this labor of love. Being a shepherd for any flock is not easy, and doing this with people can be all consuming. Yet, shepherding is what Christ had called Paul to do, and this was what Paul was intent on seeking to do.

 

It doesn’t seem as if caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of others was truly Paul’s gifting either. He was an intellectual with a great passion for knowing God’s word and for seeing that it was adhered to by all. However, in Christ, all of this was changed, for Christ calls upon His servants to care for the people who come into His flock. This is a very mixed group with many gifts, strengths, and skills to offer, and also with many challenges, personality quirks, and sinful issues to work on and through. The process of entering into the lives of others is not easy, and it is made even more taxing by the fact that God calls upon His people to engage with others for the long haul of life in a manner that is like the one that He employs with each of us. That is, we are to stay in relationships that do not always go well, and we are to go after people who wander away from God’s path of life. All of this can be tiring unto exhaustion and frustrating to all who seek to serve Christ.

 

So, we do not need to enter into this work of shepherding by using our own strength and consuming our internal resources. They will never be sufficient for all that lies ahead in service to Christ. Instead, we are granted Christ’s unending and bottomless resources as our source of supply for His calling to enter into the lives of others. The presence of Christ within does not change the reality of the challenges that come with the calling, and those challenges will bring about hours and days when we are beaten down and exhausted from the effort that we are required to expend and by the harsh rejection and personal assaults that we are forced to endure. Yet, even the worst of these times are ones in which Christ is present, and it is in these dark times that the Lord often becomes His most real and tangible to us. Loving others will lead to struggles and to opposition, but loving others and shepherding Christ’s sheep is His calling for His people, and Christ is faithful to give His shepherds the energy that is required by this calling and the strength to endure all that comes as a result of serving His will.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1: 2

 

This town, set in the state where it is with its place in a nation that is established in this harsh and broken world, can bring on some really hard days. There is just too much coming my way to actually understand it all; in fact, there is so much pain, suffering, and brokenness on a continual basis that my heart and my mind can’t hold any more. Yet, when I consider what Jesus saw, knew, and felt, I know that there is One who truly grasps the place where I am. Christ sees the devastated lives and feels the raw edge of loss. He walks the halls of the hospital and understands the fear. Jesus comes to the place where sadness and sorrow rule, and He brings love and comfort for oppressed and troubled spirits.

 

One of God’s greatest desires is to give people a deep and a true understanding of His grace. He wants us to realize that there is nothing that we have done and nothing that we are doing now that will keep Him from loving and from accepting us totally. We are people who have chosen to separate ourselves from His presence by our own actions; yet, God continually reaches out with His hand of healing and restoration. The grace that flows from the center of eternity enfolds our wounded hearts and protects us from further harm. The grace that our Savior, Jesus, gave His life to perfect brings understanding and comfort to these days of hard reality.

 

As I look on the face of Jesus, I see the heart of love that is the very center of God’s nature. He wants us to accept His grace and to live in the peace that such unrestricted acceptance brings. In Christ there is calm and there is clarity of thought. He tells me to stop trying to understand all of the whys and to just trust Him with the outcome. Christ wants to hear everything that my heart feels and all that is racing through my mind, and He tells me to trust Him with it all. He takes this churning sea of troubled and confused thoughts and feelings, and His Spirit provides the sort of deep peace that makes it possible to face another day knowing that God’s grace will enfold me into His love so that all of the emotional and mental clutter of this world are made orderly, and I am granted an eternal perspective on all that life will send my way.

 

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.

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