Unity


The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

Ecclesiastes 9: 17

These are not my words, and they do not come from our times. Instead, Solomon is generally given credit for them; so, they come from the 10th Century BC. They do describe the reality of the human condition in that our foolishness and arrogance in it have been a part of our disfunction from the early days of humanity’s walking upon the earth. Nothing much has changed beyond the fact that today’s fools have a bigger audience for their unwise and godless banter than did those in Solomon’s day. I do wonder why it was thought that these wise words should be delivered into the quietude of a more contemplative space rather than broadcast as loudly and as far as was possible at any given time? It would seem that wisdom should seek to be heard above the din of all that foolish racket.

Yet, the godly sage sets out a different image. He presents an image of the wise teacher that when confronted with a classroom filled with unruly students begins to speak in a quiet but persistent tone until the students begin to fall silent in order to hear what the teacher is saying. Volume is a tool that is used to overcome the lack of content, and the delivery of forceful and caustic words is a tactic that is intended to diminish and discredit those who might speak in opposition to a point of view. None of this invites healthy dialogue, and nothing about these foolish tactics comes from the presence of the Spirit of Christ. 

So, if we are to believe and to follow Solomon’s guidance in these matters, followers of Christ are to be calm when the rhetorical storm is raging, we are to choose our words so that they reflect the gospel of Christ in its totality, and we must seek to bring peace where conflict arises. This does not mean that Christ would have us ignore the things that those in power are saying or doing. Rather, we are to speak up and speak out in opposition to the fools of our times when they spout forth their unloving, dangerous, and anti-Christ messages of greed, power, and oppression. The times of Solomon were not ones where remaining silent was what God called His people to do, and the 21st Century is not such an era either. We are to confront the fools in our world as they attempt to lead people into bondage to their false gods. We are to deliver Christ’s message of redemptive love, restorative grace, and peace for the soul as the singular antidote for the poisonous speech of these shouting and foolish rulers.       

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Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7: 21

Jesus must have been in quite a mood on this day, for before He was finished, the Lord had laid out challenging words for everyone in the audience, and He left each of us today with similar hard sayings to contemplate. No one escaped this call to live as righteous people, and no one was left out in these broad and sweeping challenges to the ways that we think, speak, and act. A relationship with God should make a difference in the conduct of our days. So, if we claim Jesus as Lord, then people should hear and see Jesus when we speak and act. In fact, it is the way that we live that is the most telling indicator of that relationship, and this is the reason for this particular point of indictment against those that make false claims of faith.

There were people in Jesus’ time that talked a good talk when it came to saying that what they taught and the way that they lived was grounded in and directed by God. Today, the same thing is still true, for people make claims to following Christ; yet, the things that they say and the way that they live are significantly disconnected from the truth of the gospel of Christ. This is often manifest in the manner in which people selectively engage in loving others, caring for the needy, and in the areas of power, greed, and nationalism. Too many people that claim to be followers of Jesus are also people who would promote the cause of violence in our world or that rally to the cry of corporate or national protectionism when those causes, as expressed and executed, bring about suffering and death for thousands upon thousands of our world’s most defenseless people. Additionally, the church and its people have frequently lost sight of what it means to care about and for life as God devises and views it.

All people, from conception through the last natural breath that is drawn on this earth are important and priceless in the eyes of God. So, they should be viewed in the same manner by anyone that claims Christ as Lord. We are to be protectors of those souls, people that use our wealth and positions of power to provide opportunities for life, food and shelter when it is absent, protection from violence, and the grace and mercy of acceptance and understanding. This is a part of what it means to be someone that can call out “Lord, you are my Lord,” to Jesus and have Him respond back that He knows your name. This degree of commitment to living out the challenges of the gospel is what was lacking in many of the so-called religious people that Jesus was confronting, and the situation is the same now. Thus, the challenge for each of us who seek to name Christ as our Lord is the one of living out this radical love, risky engagement with our world, and relentless drive to bring the reality of the kingdom of God into the place where we dwell each and every day.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Ephesians 2: 17

There are separations, divisions, and animosities running wildly amok in our world today. This is not a profound revelation that has come to me; rather, it is the reality in which we all dwell. I submit that it is easier to identify conditions, situations, and identities that divide us than it is to do the same with those that bind people together. In part, this is true because we are more interested in the tensions than we are in their reconciliation, but it is also the continuing arch of the playing out of the fallen state of creation, itself. This world has been headed in this direction from its earliest days, and it continues to spiral downward; however, it does seem that the spiral is growing ever tighter and the rate of spin is continually increasing. Perhaps we are living in the midst of the death spiral of this world?

The saddest aspect of all of this is the fact that it doesn’t need to be so. God planned and established the way and the means for reconciliation of any and all differences. The Father does not want to see His people caught up in the animosities, hatred, and the violence that stems from them. He would have all of us learn to accept each other, take the risk inherent in peacemaking, and reach across all of our points of division with the hand of fellowship and grace. So, the means that God established for doing this is Jesus and the way is the cross. Christ’s love and grace serve to bring people into a relationship with God that ends our separation from all that is righteous and holy; thus, Christ reconciles people to our Creator. This is a part of what God intends to see happen. The other primary aspect of the Lord’s desire and will is carried out when we seek to reconcile with each other.

It is not easy to love people who are different, care for those who seem to be natural enemies, and enter into the stories of those who make us uncomfortable or who actually frighten us. Yet, Christ calls upon His people to do these things. He also goes with us as we seek to extend that hand of fellowship to others. For as we look upon the cross and consider what it means to join with Jesus in the sacrifice and the commitment to righteousness that is centered upon that torturous implement, all fear and concern should be left behind us. Christ experienced all of the pain, grief, and terror for us during those agonizing hours of hanging upon the cross. In Christ we are not only set free to love those who are different from us, but those differences are, in fact, made to disappear. They become meaningless in the context of God’s newly redeemed existence as citizens of His kingdom come to earth. In Christ and by the sacrifice of the cross, we can know the true peace that comes through loving all people as Christ loves them and from no longer seeing their difference but rather from looking upon them as fellow bearers of God’s beautiful and perfect image.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,

   when the plowman shall overtake the reaper

   and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

   and all the hills shall flow with it.

Amos 9: 13

There were hard days coming. This had been the message that the Lord had given to Amos to proclaim to both Israel and Judah. The prosperity that they were enjoying was to be momentary, and the wealth, power, and riches of the lands would become waste, destruction, and death. Then all that remained by way of the people that inhabited these nations would be carried away to live as exiles, captives, and slaves to a pagan nation. This was not a pleasant prospect for the future, and its coming reality was attributed to the fact that the people of these God-ordained nations were living in the full expression of their own wills with little to no concern for God’s Holy Word or with almost no engagement in the Lord’s commission to live as righteous people in the middle of a spiritual desert.

Despite the Lord’s anger at His people and His sense of futility in trying to get them to turn back to worshiping Him with all of their being, God promises that there will be a day of restoration, rebuilding, and renewed abundance in the land. This rebirth of life for the descendants of those who will face the terror of those days of awful cleansing will be accomplished by the hand of God alone. He will set people to work on doing various needful tasks, but their actual freedom to do these things and the capacity to accomplish them will be the Lord’s gifts to those people. Their opportunity to have an impact on all that is to come rests in the hands of those who are hearing Amos’ plea. They are the people who have the opportunity to change the course of the future for themselves and for their children by turning away from the current path of self-worship and by returning to fully committed worship of the one true God.

It seems to me that we, too, may have this same sort of choice making to consider. The world where we dwell is one wherein worship of the Lord, in its true and fully engaged sense, is rare. We live in many prosperous nations that do little to care for or to engage in meaningful concern for those around us who are oppressed, starving, and rendered homeless because of the unchecked violence of our times. The Israelites were called upon by God to be His hands and to do His work in the world. The abundance of their fields was intended to help feed the hungry, and the wealth of their spiritual legacy was designed to overflow through their proclamation into the spiritually dead peoples that surrounded them. If we too are followers of Christ, then we hold the same calling from the Lord to proclaim His name and to bring the presence of His glory to all of the world by virtue of the way that we live our lives. We are to seek to make the bounty of the Lord’s visionary proclamation a spiritual and a literal reality in our world by caring for others, by loving the unlovely, and by sharing our great wealth, both physical and spiritual, with the numerous people that its provider holds as dear and precious in His sight. 

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6: 2 

There are times when having some of the weight of the day lifted is not only helpful, but it can be almost life saving. Sometimes that involves something as simple as having another person come to me and offer to help with a task, talk through a situation, or pray with me for an answer. My shoulders lift a little higher, and my heart can beat a bit slower from the relief. On other days and in other times, I wind up being the one with a part of my friend’s load of bricks on my back; for, there seems to be a wonderful balance to the way that life goes in this regard. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle; however, I think that He looks at our capacity to take on weight based upon both our own strength and endurance and upon that of the other people that He will bring into our lives. 

God desires and plans for people to have a form of healthy interdependence that multiplies each of our strength, endurance, and effectiveness in ways that are supernatural. The Lord makes us sensitive to the needs of others, and He gives us the ability and the sense of security that are required to be vulnerable with others, too. One of the distinctives of the Kingdom of God is that none of us are all sufficient; yet, none of us are without capacity to help others. We are each uniquely, specially, and specifically given personal gifts and areas of strength that when combined create an unbeatable group that is a living, human image of Christ. 

Christ’s law is one of grace, love, and selflessness. Although it does not remove the stresses and struggles of living in this fallen and fractured world, it does provide the freedom, the skill, the strength, and the support to go through that life with our heads high and our hearts made lighter. This lightness is of an unworldly, a heavenly, form, for it can exist in the middle of pain, crisis, and the hardest of times. It is born out of the certainty that Christ has walked the same path that I am following, that He is walking with me in the here and now, and that I am joined on my journey by a world-wide community of faith. Jesus calls each of us to seek the opportunity to walk with others and to support them in handling the burden that they are carrying, and He asks us to trust others enough to open our hearts to let them help to shoulder our weigh with us.. Although, this may sound like a strange prayer request, I think that Christ will smile if we ask Him to bring us another person’s heavy load for us to help carry today.


I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5: 9 

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