Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34: 14

 

There may not be a more relentless force in our world than evil; for, it never sleeps and it never stops. The news from all corners of the world is saturated with its impact; there is death and pain, torture and hatred, control and slavery. Sadly, most of these acts are done with some form of reasoned out and seemingly noble stated purpose. The same kind of destructive force is at work in our own neighborhood, and sometimes it is even in our own homes. For example, consider the impact of angry words and of superior attitudes or consider how much harm is done by looking at other people with our own self-focused eyes rather than looking through the eyes of God. At these times we think that we are being strong and in control; instead, we are being incredibly weak, and we are dangerously close to being in Satan’s control.

 

You see, the peace that God seeks to have with us is not characterized by weakness; rather, it is marked by strength. This is a strength that comes from Christ within, and it is the true strength that empowers us to live in fearless abandonment of human power and worldly control. The Lord wants us to engage a dialogue with Him that becomes our ongoing discourse with our world. He wants us to operate every day from a perspective that is established on a solid foundation of wisdom and understanding; for, this is the state of living that we embrace when we look closely at Christ, engage with the truth of God’s Word, and when we listen to His truth as His Spirit speaks to our hearts. The Lord desires for us to live in peace with Him and with others.

 

We can look at the situations and the relationships that make up our lives and seek peace in all of them. We won’t always be able to accomplish this all of the time, for there will be people who will not go along with God’s will just as there are situations that defy the Lord’s desire and intent for how we should live. Our responsibility in all of this is to follow Christ’s example and to be peace makers. For there is one force that is active in our world that is more relentless than evil and that force is God’s love. He calls upon each of us who know Him to follow Christ’s example as we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in our hearts to replace the evil that we are by nature inclined to do with the good that flows out of Christ’s love and strength. We are to use every ounce of our energy in a continuous drive to bring true and lasting peace to others through touching them with the love that comes from Christ alone.

 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16: 33

 

Jesus must be kidding, right! He can not possibly mean that He has overcome all that runs about wildly causing havoc and bringing grief and pain in its wake. This place is far too engaged in destructive thoughts and actions to be considered subdued or tamed, and I sadly admit that my own thinking is too frequently caught up in the same sorts of processes to be contemplated as under control. I am capable of doing more harm than good on almost any day that comes along. When He said this, Jesus was facing into the reality of His imminent arrest, trial, torture, and execution, and He knew it. He was not left in the dark by the Father. Jesus was the sacrifice that gave Himself up for slaughter, and He was very rational and well-thought out in doing this. So, where exactly does it seem that He had overcome much of anything in this world?

 

The fact is that Jesus’ death is the singular event that turns around the direction of history. Once Jesus had satisfied God’s need for there to be a sacrifice on the part of Creation that would respond to our rebellion and ensuing state of sin-driven separation from God, all of Creation, especially humanity, was freed from the awful estrangement from God that had overtaken our existence in this life and beyond into eternity. Satan’s lies and deception had drawn us away from our commitment to our Creator, but Jesus poured out God’s healing oil of peace and truth upon that wounded relationship by allowing His own blood to be shed despite His absolute innocence. So, in Jesus, we are each granted the opportunity and the right to return to the loving presence of God in our lives as Christ’s Spirit comes to dwell within us.

 

By entering into the world’s violence and rejection on the cross, Jesus has overcome all of the malintent that came into being when those first people said yes to that which God had expressly forbidden thus turning away from life and stepping out toward a death that was painful beyond measure. Jesus took upon Himself that pain that we had earned, and in so doing, He took the sham dominion that Satan had claimed over this world away from him and granted renewal, healing, peace, and life to each of us who turn from the world to Jesus. The peace that we own in that hour of redemption and onward from there is the one that bridges the separation that sin has caused between ourselves and God. This is a peace that resides in the individual spirit and that speaks victory over all that is broken, painful, and life-threatening in this world. This peace is Christ within, and in its presence with us, Jesus has truly overcome the world.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36: 26

 

God wants every person to know Him at a level that changes the way that we interact with the world and the way that we view ourselves. The Lord desires for our thinking and acting to be reshaped into one that reflects a perspective that is like His. This is the sort of change that comes from the heart out, and it is something that will never be accomplished on our own. We are born with hearts that are already on the road to being hardened by the effects of the evil that surrounds us and by our very natures which are infected with and are under the control of those same forces of evil.

 

When we try to change the way that we deal with others by embracing any of the systems and approaches that people have developed on their own and when we seek change by looking to our own resources, we are doomed to failure, for we are trying to operate on the most complex organism in the world while using tools and knowledge that are far short of the true state of the art. On the other hand, when we yield our wills to God and allow His Spirit the opportunity to start working in and on us, we will be profoundly changed, and we will continue to grow in our application of God’s grace, compassion, and love.

 

The hardness of our natural hearts is incompatible with the deep desires of our beings; we were created to be people who are spiritually alive with the closely bonded relationship to Christ that brings about that reality. It is this hardened heart that is the foreign body within our chests; so, the Lord’s transplantation of a new heart of flesh is, in fact, an act of restoration. We are changed from a person whose body is continually at war with itself and with the God whose image we were created in; thus, in Christ, we are transformed into people who have the heart of God beating within us so that His heart is the one that guides us into loving others and seeking to do His will in all things.

 

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

3 John 11

 

John is giving us a proverb here. He is setting out a very simple and direct statement about an aspect of living in conformity with God’s will. This is the sort of thing that is intended to guide a follower of Christ into engaging with the world in a manner that will actually make a difference in this place and that demonstrates Christ to the people that we meet. What John tells us might seem to be very easy to agree with, for most of us would say that we do not go about looking at evil actions and embracing them as the model to follow for the day at hand. Yet, is that really true for the manner that each of us does, in fact, conduct life?

 

If I give it some careful thought and consider each interaction that happens during my day, I start to lose confidence in the nature of some of those engagements. Then, when I play back my internal audio track that records what I was thinking during some of those moments, it gets worse as I hear the negative, defensive, and down-putting words and feelings that went unspoken during those instances. So, it would seem that there are times during the course of my days when I am imitating the words, manners, and way of that which God deems to be evil, and if that is true then I am certainly not imitating Christ, who is the totality of goodness, during these times.

 

John’s proverbial warning is essentially a cautionary statement for each of us as we seek to live out our days as a follower of Christ. It is very easy to get caught up in a moment in the sort of worldly thinking and acting that pulls us off of our Lord’s righteous path and that, in so doing, diminishes the credibility of our witness to the love, grace, and redemptive nature of His Gospel. Evil does surround us, and its words of negativity and death saturate the very air that we inhale; so, it is easy to be influenced by it. However, God and His word of truth is even more present and is much more powerful than all that evil can throw at us. God’s Word itself provides guidance and encouragement to love others and to engage with creation as Christ does. The Spirit dwells within to speak truth and grace into each encounter and engagement that we face during our day, and prayer is our way and means for bringing all that Christ provides to us by way of goodness to bear upon every moment of the journey that our Lord is taking us on. So, the goodness that we are called upon to imitate is with us, and in so imitating it, we truly do see God and so does the world around us.

I delight to do your will, O my God;

your law is within my heart.

Psalm 40: 8

 

It seems that understanding motivation should be fairly simple. In theory, this is what all employers, governments, and religious leaders do. This is also an important part of what parents engage in when attempting to lead our children and to get the basic aspects of family living accomplished. These examples do not begin to cover all of the relationships in which seeing and using the motivation of people is a central part of what takes place. In addition, most of us struggle to fully understand the forces and the influences that drive our own actions and reactions as we go about living. It is apparent from David’s comment in this Psalm that this struggle to understand what drives us is not a new one, either.

 

David has already stated that tradition, ritual, and even the system of sacrifices that God, Himself, had set out for them to follow were not the reason for living within the favor of God. All of these practices could be a form of worship that was engaged in out of love for God and even in obedience to His law, but they were not the motivation for that desire to follow God’s will, and adherence to them was not sufficient to satisfy God’s desire for relationship with His people. As stated above, very little has changed over the years. We still strive for understanding, and we still seek after a system of worship that makes our relationship with God simple and provides a formula for receiving God’s favor through our demonstrated devotion. This reciprocal relationship is often how we understand God’s law and His will.

 

Yet, that is not what God intends or desires. The Lord delights in our worship, but that delight is greatest when that worship is the on-going expression of the way that we live. In Christ, we have something that David could only imagine, for we have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us, and this transformative aspect of the relationship with God implants God’s living law of righteous love within our beings. The presence of Christ within changes the fundamental nature of who we are, and He also clearly defines the motivation for all that we think, say, and do. In Christ, all of our lives can be lived out in worshipful service to God, and so, to the glory of His name and for the purposes of His Kingdom on earth. This possibility should challenge each of us who know Christ, for the question that it raises is one of true commitment and of willing obedience through surrender of self.

 

So, in all matters whether great or small, my prayer needs to be, “Lord, I repent of my selfish and stubbornly willful thoughts, words, and actions. Show me Your will and lead me into Your ways so that my life will bring glory to Your name and delight to Your eyes. O Lord, You are the delight of my heart and Your loving grace, righteousness and truth are the law that I desire to follow.”

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

that glory may dwell in our land.

Psalm 85: 8, 9

 

Have you ever noticed how the nature of a mother’s voice changes when she is talking with her baby? The tone softens, volume decreases while clarity seems to improve, and there is a warmth present in the inflection of the words. This is the sound of soul-deep love that is being poured over the object of that God-ordained human relationship. This is the closest image that I can think of to relate to the way that God desires to speak with each of His children. So, for me, the most important thing that I can do is to listen and act upon what I hear Him say. I do not mean to say that God’s words to me are always a sweet lullaby or are intended to placate me or put me to sleep. Most of what God says is oriented to thinking, to doing, and to dwelling well in the land where He has placed me.

 

The language that God uses and especially His tone in delivering His words of life bring about a sense of peace in my heart and in my mind. In my case, unlike what happens between a mother and her baby, God’s words of truth do not put me to sleep; instead, they put my anxieties and fears to rest. The writer of this psalm knew that God did speak to His people. Although I have never heard an audible voice that I could identify as belonging to God, I know that He does speak to me. The pages of the Bible are alive with God’s expression of his character, desires, and will for the way that people will live. The Spirit does engage with me, and His voice of conscience and of guidance comes from deep within myself and out of the mouths of others as well.

 

In truth, the fullness of God’s voice is heard and understood best in the company of other people who know Him and also desire to hear Him well. That is not to say that there are not times when each of us needs to be on our own, alone with the Lord, but it is important to live life in the fellowship of faith and the company of God’s faithful people. This body of Christ oriented relational living is the best way to prevent that return to foolish thinking and actions that the writer here warns about. God speaks peace and He breaths out salvation from the sin that continues to assault us so that each of us will know our Lord well and live out His truth in a manner that speaks the glory of the Lord in our land.