Unity


Who has ascended to heaven and come down?

Who has gathered the wind in his fists?

Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?

Who has established all of the ends of the earth?

What is his name, and what is his son’s name?

Surely you know!

Proverbs 30: 4

 

The answers to these questions might seem obvious to most of us who are reading them in the context of Christian faith. Even that last question in the series readily calls forth the response, Jesus, the Son of God. Yet, we know that the writer of this proverb did not have that answer in mind when he set out these words. He was probably indicating the fact that everything in this list of actions was something that only God could possibly accomplish; so, no human, whether father or son, can do the things that God has done in creating this world and in engaging in its operation. The wonders of this world are far too great to be the workmanship of mere humans, and the remarkable and intricate way that it all continues to do so is utterly outside of the capability of our chaos devising hands. But that is not all.

 

God’s Word is complex and multi-layered. There is meaning and content present within it that often takes us beyond the intent of the human author and into the heart and the mind of God, Himself, as the inspirational and the creative force behind the crafting of the words. All of these questions involve existence, the world as it was on the day that they were first written and the world as it has continued to be over the time since. I think that they also suggest the possibility of the future. They enter into God’s promise of redemption and restoration for all of Creation. All of the elements of this world that are set forth after the first question in this series and before the last one are subject to the brokenness in this world that has come about as a result of our sinful rebellion against God. All of these things which were proclaimed as good by God have become dangerous and harmful in various ways and at certain times.

 

Yet, there is a Holy God who seeks to bring all of His created world into the safety and the security of His presence. We can know this God by coming to accept and to know His Son, Jesus Christ. There is redemption to be gained in this relationship with the Father through the Son, and we can know the deep peace that comes into existence within our souls when we yield our lives to Christ and follow His will for the conduct of our days. Then, the God who manages wind and the waters of the seas and who has set into place all of the corners of the planet that we stand upon enters into the minute details of our lives and grants to us His love, grace, wisdom, and perfect will so that the life that we are living is one that now possesses the presence of the divine and is filled with the glory of that presence in all situations and circumstances. God the Father is the great creator, the Son is the perfect redeemer, and the Spirit dwells with us to grant us all knowledge of our God and to guide us into the absolute wisdom of His Word.

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So God created man in his image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And god said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1: 27, 28

 

How does God view life? This is a question that gets thrown about and discussed a great deal in both religious and in secular circles. It seems that most of the conversation on this topic is focused on the aspect of life as it exists prior to birth, and this is an important part of the definition of life and its value, but it is certainly not the only aspect of this discussion. In fact, I think that the bigger picture conversation regarding God’s view of the value of people is the real starting point for entering into one about the pre-born and how we view those lives. I submit that God cares greatly about each and every person who exists on the earth. There are none that have a greater or a lesser status or that are formed with an inferior make-up or right to be loved, cared about, and embraced as God’s own creation. Every one of us is a descendant of these first people, and as such, each of us has been blessed by the touch of the Creator, Himself, and is devised and formed in a manner that directly reflects that thing that the text calls the “image of God.”

 

If I stop to think about this for a while and ponder it with real consideration of what God is telling us about this valuable work of His own hands, I might begin to view other people differently. Each person that I encounter in any manner is a product of God’s personal workmanship. Every category of people that is defined by human thought and language is also made of individual people who may happen to have certain tangible characteristics or qualities in common but who are each also descendants from this creative beginning. Thus, there are no groups of people who do not deserve to be respected and whose value is less than others in the eyes of God. I believe that caring for all people of this earth is an important part of the responsibility to rule over the earth, this dominion, that God has charged us with doing as our primary calling in dwelling here. Thus, gender, race, religion, nationality, wealth or poverty, sexual identity or orientation, and even personality and temperament are not to be held up as cause for exclusion from engagement in caring for people and for being involved in the well-being of their existences.

 

Admittedly, this sort of involvement is difficult, and caring for people is never easy or simple. This is a hard world, and these are complex times in its history, but God tells us that we can turn to Him and that we can rely upon His wisdom, grace, strength, and provision during all of the hard times and with each of our difficult challenges in all aspects of life and living. Yet, God is clear on this, and He holds each moment of every life as precious and the existence of that life as above and beyond our authority to decide or determine. Human life and its duration are God’s to decide. This is a badly broken world, and there is violence and sinful disregard for God’s law of peace running loose in all corners of our planet. Although, God would have us turn to Him and rely upon His ability to heal all forms of hurts and settle every type of disagreement, there are times when people with destructive intent are present among us, and they require force and even violence to hold them in check. I hold that even these acts of self-defense and preservation run against God’s desire and will, but they are also covered by grace, forgiveness, and understanding on the part of the Creator. As to the loudest topic in this arena of the value of life, it seems clear to me that the unborn are people who are created and formed by God in His image, they have no capacity to speak for or to defend themselves, and their protection is of paramount importance in our God given mandate to rule justly over all of the earth.

My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness.

But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

Psalm 55: 4; 6 & 7; 16

 

David feels like each of us has probably felt at one time or another. Whatever the cause of the fear and the anguish, it is real, and it is oppressively bearing down on him. There is no escaping the weight of it as there appears to be real opposition coming from within those who should be closest to him. Let’s face it, almost everyone faces times in our lives when even the friendliest of gestures can be misunderstood as being intended for conflict so that there is no rest to be found in the course of the day. These are hard times to be in the middle of, for it does seem like the safest and the best thing that can be done is to get far away from the situation at hand and from the people who are in our lives. Thus, we want fly off into the unknown out there as that far off land cannot be worse than the pain that is pouring over our heads in the present time and place.

 

Yet, there are not a lot of situations and circumstances where God actually tells us to run, to escape, or to flee to a far-away place. Most of the time, the Lord asks us to stay put and to trust in Him to come into the middle of the struggle and to join us in overcoming all that is causing the anxiety and the distress. Sometimes He reorients our thinking so that the real issues are sorted out from the ones that we are perceiving. This is often the case when we believe that the problems that are before us are being caused by people so that eliminating those people from our world looks as if that is the solution. God rarely leads us away from people; instead, He usually works in our hearts and minds to achieve understanding, forgiveness, and grace so that relationships are built rather than terminated.

 

Calling out to God is not always the easiest or the safest thing that we can do. Frequently, He asks us to engage with people and in activities that are uncomfortable or that even seem emotionally unsafe at that time. This is the place where our human frailty and our tendency to rely upon ourselves as the primary resource that we utilize in navigating life’s challenges collides with faith in Christ and with trust in the Lord to be our strength, wisdom, and true source of deliverance in all aspects of life. Christ asks us to follow Him into the stormy waters of this world, and He calls upon us to leave behind our apprehensions and our fear-inspired tendency to seek escape when things look too hard or when the task before us seems daunting beyond our capacity. These are those moments when we have little left to rely upon other than our voices, weak as they may be at that time, so that we can follow David in crying out to the Lord in anticipation of the saving grace that He will pour over us.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Jude 20, 21

 

Jude is dealing with the fact that there were people inside of the church who were not following the teachings of Jesus as they were taking people in a direction that was dangerous to their souls and that was destructive to the life of the church at that time. So, Jude counsels the people of the church in how to remain true to Christ and to stay on the path that leads to salvation. These are the sorts of issues that have existed throughout the history of the church, and they continue to trouble us today. Staying true to Christ has never been easy. There will always be people who believe that they have a better way or that there is an alternate doctrine that will make life more enjoyable and less challenging to live than does the rigid doctrine that comes out of a strict reading of God’s Word and a dogmatic following after of what Jesus taught and demonstrated.

 

Thus, Jude instructs us to stay engaged in and with God’s Word. This is the primary way in which we build ourselves up in our faith. God’s Word is dynamic and alive with truth that has no boundaries of time or place attached to it. The more that we encounter it in the course of living out our days, the more of the content of those days that will be spoken to by that living word. Through it God supplies wisdom, counsel, guidance, and the capacity to apply it all to living well in the time, place, and situation where we have been placed by God to dwell. Everyone who knows Christ has a place and a purpose in the church and in this world that we are to fulfill. God has useful and important plans for every life, and His will is often found and is always more fully comprehended through study of His Word and by virtue of meditation upon its content and meaning.

 

In addition to study and contemplation of God’s Word, Jude tells us to pray. Talking it all over with God and listening to the ways that the Lord speaks into us and responds to us is a vital part of living out our days as a follower of Christ. The Holy Spirit imparts that same wisdom, counsel, guidance, and application to us and helps us see all that is contained in God’s Word and guides us in applying it to our own situation and circumstances. The Spirit also comforts us when we are troubled and distressed, and He gives us the gift of courage when it is needed and pours strength into us when we are facing challenges of all types and causes. God’s love is found in His will, and it is expressed by us by embracing that will with all of our being. This is accomplished by entering fully into the truth of God’s Word as we communicate with God in prayerful submission to Christ in all things. The path through this life can be hard and the journey is filled with challenges and trials, but Christ has promised us His presence for every step of the way, and eternity with Him at the end of our travels.

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

Acts 8: 4

 

One of the most important things that people gain when we enter into a relationship with Christ is the unifying effect of God’s Spirit; for, through this miraculous event in which God comes to reside in our previously sin-separated bodies, everyone who believes in Jesus is adopted into a single family. We are given the gift of a core unity of heart, mind, and purpose; and we gain the strength and the sense of security that comes from that larger group. The word scattered means: to be dispersed far away from each other, and one of the images that comes to my mind when I think about scattering something is that of how farmers, in the days before machinery, used to take handfuls of seed from a bag and toss them about as they walked through a field. Satan also works at scattering God’s people.

 

In the situation that Luke was describing in Acts, there was large scale, aggressive, and violent persecution of God’s people. In other times, large numbers of believers have been arrested by those in power and removed to new locations; and most of us have been impacted by the sort of scattering that happens when the normal connections of our lives are changed through job loss, relocation, or other forms of life change. Regardless of what causes the separation, it is often hard to regain that former feeling of connectedness and to become fully involved in serving Christ in the new setting.

 

Yet, engagement, involvement, and pursuit of our calling is exactly what the Lord wants us to do; therefore, it is precisely what Satan wants to keep us from doing. When there is disruption and interruption in the normal flow of our lives, we need to seek God’s wisdom and find His purpose for us in the new setting, for if there is one thing that I am certain of, it is that God always has a plan for each and every situation and circumstance that I will encounter in my life. Although it is honestly and legitimately uncomfortable to be that seed in the hands of the Lord and the speed of the flight and the impact of the landing can be very harsh, our God promises that He will feed, water, and care for us in the new field where we have been sent, and that field is certain to be full of people who need to experience the love of Christ as He delivers it through our hands.

 

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

 

Violence is shouting out its fury and its rage in our land. There seems to be no end to its repetitive chant and to the tragic results of its actions. Sadness and grief follow in Lord Violence’s wake as night follows day. The shroud of death and destruction is seen in lands far away and in the houses down the block from where I sit now. When will it all end, O Lord! Where is the justice that Your Word promises, and when will the devastation be brought to an end? I fear that these days appear to be too much like the ones in Noah’s times when our world was described like this, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gn. 6: 11) At that time, Lord, You caused a great flood and wiped the slate all but clean in order to check the bloodshed. Today, we cry out for even the mist of a cleansing rain to come to wash the stains from our streets.

 

Yet, You do come. Your Spirit is among us, and You are dwelling in our homes and walking along our streets. The evil that resides among us and that brings its violence with it is not comfortably settled in our world. It is lashing out in desperation and in the blind fury of one who can see the end of its time. Satan has already tasted the bitter herb of defeat as he has observed Christ’s victory over all that he and this world could throw at Him. Even with the full weight of our collective sin upon His shoulders, Jesus overcame death and arose victorious from a tightly sealed and guarded grave. He comes now to take with Him the innocent ones that the dark lord has attempted to claim as his, and Christ also saves for eternity those older ones among us who turn to Him as our true Lord and Savior. There is no one that Christ wishes to leave behind when He proclaims the names of the righteous ones before the great throne of the Lord.

 

God has made another promise to us, for He has stated in absolutely clear terms that there will be an end to the days when evil and its violence will even exist upon the earth. Very early in humanity’s narrative we brought all of this destruction and death and the resultant grief upon ourselves by virtue of our sinful rebellion. In a day that will soon be upon us, God will send Christ back to end these days of Satanic tyranny upon earth. At that time, all that is cause for fear and everything that brings about terror will be thrown down and cease to exist in any form. The dark shadows of evil will be erased by the glory of the new sun that is the Lord and our darkened understanding of justice, mercy, and love will be made bright and clear by the light of truth that emanates from Christ. Until this day, we can enter into the peace and the love that God holds out for His people by claiming the eternal promise that is found in Christ alone. Even in these hard days before the fulfillment of God’s promise of total and complete redemption, we can dwell in the presence of the glory of the Lord as we are bathed in the healing mercy of Christ’s infinite love and grace.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4: 7

 

People want to be loved and to give love. It is something that we seek after and pursue with great energy and, at times, with singular focus. It is also something that we get very wrong, for broken relationships and heartache are very common. We expect that we will be frustrated and saddened by the way that these sorts of feelings change and turn sad for us. This process of feeling strong emotion in both friendship and in romance is a part of growing into adulthood, and so is that aspect of it all wherein those relationships end and so we learn to move on to the anticipation of other, new relationships. Some of us are able to settle into friendships and romances that last for the duration of our lives, and some of us never find those people who are with us throughout the journey that is ahead.

 

It seems that John has learned to see love from a different point of view. His understanding of love is that it starts with God and then is poured out into and over people. When John addresses his audience as beloved, he is referring to the fact that he loves them because God loves them and also because God loves him in an abundant and unending manner. When Jesus summoned the young man named John from his good life as a fisherman and called him to follow along the hard road in the company of the Messiah, that was an act performed and perpetuated by love. John’s entire life from that day forward was defined by the love that he saw Jesus pour out onto the world so that John continued to do the same for the remainder of his long and productive life. In many respects, the verse here could have been John’s so-called life verse, for it exemplifies the way that Christ led him to think, feel, and act in every aspect of his life.

 

Now John is granting us insight into the eternal wisdom that has guided his journey. God truly loves every one of us, and He desires that we would turn to Him in order to become close and intimate with Him. In Christ, we can know a love that has no limits, that sets no conditions, and that will not become cold and distant. Through the presence of Christ in us we can learn to love in this same manner, and this is the love that can change the way that we engage with the rest of the world. First, like John, we must accept the reality of being loved by God, of being His beloved daughter or son, for it is this love that softens our rough edges and grants us the gift of grace that makes it possible to accept and to learn to love a wide range of other people. Then we can give the love that we are receiving away and pour it out into the world around us. It is God’s love that provides balance to righteousness, and Christ’s love gives us a heavenly perspective on mercy, justice, and seeking after peace in these troubled days. In Christ we are given such an exquisite abundance of love that its overflowing from us can break down walls of division, overturn political rancor, and bring peace where enmity has always ruled the day.

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