For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12: 4, 5

There is something strangely wonderful in the wide range of type, form, and personality that is found among people on this earth. We are truly a diverse collection; yet, all of the variability of humanity, according to God’s Word, constitutes something equating to the image of God. None of us are that image in ourselves; so, all of us together take us closer to the full picture. We humans make up many if not most of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that when completed would grant the viewer the full view of the majesty and the glory that is the Lord. Yet, each of us has been established by that same Creator God as a singular example of His handiwork, and we have all been formed in a manner such that we provide this world and especially Christ’s body, the church, with all of the human resource that it needs to fulfill its calling.

To me, this says that the individuality of the people around me is something that I need to consider from the perspective of the gift that God has given to the church. It also means that even the quirkiness and the peculiarity of some individuals is designed by God to have purpose and reason in His well-developed plan for the function of His community of faith. In this divinely inspired economy, each and every person has a purpose to fulfill, everyone has something to contribute to the whole, and all of us when working together constitute something close to a fully fleshed out organism. Thus, we can look at our neighbor and get to know that person well in the simple hope of knowing not only that person but of also knowing God more fully in the process. As we grow closer to those around us in the church, we should also develop a deeper and a fuller comprehension of God’s mission and calling for us and for the body that we participate within.

In Christ, these diverse and often seemingly disparate people who we dwell with and travel through life in close proximity to are, in fact, so closely related to us as to be a part of the same functioning entity, body, as we are ourselves. Just as Christ brings each of us close to God, so too Christ bridges the gulf that the brokenness of this world has carved between people. We need each other in order to live fully within Christ’s will for us and for His church. This is a need that exists at the deepest levels of our souls and in the most basic and fundamental of aspects of our functionality as Christ’s body in this world. As we care about and for each other and also as we open up our own needs to the ministry of others, we are growing in our knowledge and understanding of the way that God loves and cares for all of His creation. When we love each other and receive the love of those same others within the church, we are demonstrating the love that Christ has for everyone on earth to the rest of the world, and this outpouring of love and care is the calling and the function of Christ’s holy church.   

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.  

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12: 12 (NASB)

 

This is a comment about faith. That wonderful, sometimes completely inscrutable quality of life that takes us out of the tangible and the temporal and translates people into the realm of the mystical, that of spirit and of eternity made real. There is recognition of the fact that none of us will go through life in a manner wherein we are always walking on strong legs and making decisions that are formed out of clear reason and sound logic. Life throws curves and dips and bends our way, and it does all of this in a manner that often seems to be determined for maximum disorienting effect. Our world can be cruel with people in it whose pain or hunger drives them to behave in ways that are deadly and despicable for the pain and destruction that they create. We also do harm to ourselves through our actions and our thoughts. The imperfection, the brokenness of this world is infectious as it eats away at our minds, hearts, and spirits.

 

Still, God tells us that faith is the answer to it all. Faith leads us deep into the story of God’s involvement with people from the start of time, and it also sets before us the testimony of multitudes that have experienced the Lord’s loving intervention in their own damaged and tortured days. It would be great if it were that simple, just recall how God has been faithful and hold on tight to the stories of how an unshakeable faith has overcome all that is hard, terrifying, and oppressive in this world and in our own lives. It is not that easy, and most of us have lived through those terrible hours, days, and years of being held captive by forces that are beyond our control, or so they may seem. The writer of Hebrews suggests that we need to take control of where we go, how we step and by inference, what we think. This is all true, to a point. We do get to make choices and decisions regarding what we let into our minds and our hearts. We can focus on God’s truth and listen to His voice of wisdom. Still, this world is loud, and its voices are strident in their attempts to gain our attention and to speak devious and deceptive ideas into our hearts.

 

Personal righteousness and our own walk with God are important, but we do not make it through this life by ourselves. This journey is meant to be joined in with others. Those witnesses of faith that Hebrews speaks about are historic figures and they are also ones who dwell with us today. The people from the past are examples to follow, but those examples are given flesh by people today and tomorrow, by you and I, as we all live out our faith in God while undergoing the stresses and the challenges of life. Most of us want to appear strong and capable. We are uncomfortable with having our doubts, concerns, and fears known by others; yet, this is what God asks of us. He wants us to express to Him all that is in our minds and on our hearts. He promises to grant us strength and wisdom when we are wrung-out and frazzled. This support and encouragement will come from the Lord, but He often uses people just like us to deliver the word of truth that we need and to provide the hands that hold up our weary arms and wipe the tear stains from our faces. Straight paths are best found when we seek them in the company of friends, and our broken limbs gain strength and healing as they are supported by Christ’s body of faith.

 

 

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5: 15

 

This idea might seem quaint, old-fashioned, or even foolish today. For the world where we live takes great delight in the way that we put down others and looks to gain power and dominance by means of the words that we use to describe people who differ from us. This is something that is going on across political, social, and economic lines, and it is, sadly, also far too much a part of the nature of the dialogue within the holy realm of Christ’s own church. Thus, what Jesus shed His most precious blood to consecrate is often being reduced to something that would shame a back-alley shout-down. This is true even when the civility of lowered voices and the decorum of the setting are maintained as a façade, for when the heart is enraged, its murderous intent still stings, wounds, and commits acts of murder upon the spirit

 

In Christ, we are called to something better than this. We are also led by the Spirit into a manner of engagement that should not utilize verbal and emotional assault as a weapon and that should not accept it in people who we follow and whose direction we take for the conduct of the business of our days. This is the sort of thing that diminished the God-image based humanity of all who enter into such exchanges, and I fear that this is the intent, either overt or underlying, of people who resort to verbal character assassination, graphically negative description of others, and rapid fire, long distance put-downs as a valid method of dialogue or debate. Yet, this is what we are doing. This is the way that we have become accustomed to hearing the views of those who rule this world expressed, and far too many of us in the church are applauding these utterly worldly words and giving credence to their cleverness, force, and truth-saying when they deserve nothing more than rejection and rebuke for the this-world centered nature and character of their content and the hurtful desire of their delivery.

 

In case you are beginning to look toward singular people and say that this is about one person or a specific point of reference in the on-going discourse of our world, please reconsider, think again. For my heart is troubled by much more than what a person or even a political party might be saying. I am joining with Paul in my concern over what is happening inside of Christ’s church. We can and perhaps even should disagree on the issues of our day. Yet, we should never look toward another follower of Christ in a manner that is dismissive or unloving and that does anything to sever the bonds of fellowship that Christ gave His all to construct among us. I will say this again, we can disagree. We even must disagree, for the dialogue around the way and the manner that God’s Word informs and speaks into the issues of our times is an important aspect of the way that the Spirit works out His will and intent in and among us. We should also hold our public figures accountable for speaking truth, for the direction that they lead us, and for the manner in which they engage in the discourse. However, we must never resort to the ways of this world in doing these things, for that path is one that does nothing other than bring division and destruction into Christ’s most precious body of faith.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7: 51

 

The early church martyr Stephen is stating the hard truth about the way that so many of God’s own people were living. They were granted the presence of God, Himself, in Jesus, and they violently rejected Him. They had a long history of being blessed by God in ways that were special and miraculous; yet, they refused to obey the Lord’s will. These people always seemed to want more than they had, and still they didn’t enjoy contentment when they were given what they requested. Although they had been chosen by God, rescued out of slavery by Him, and provided with all that they could possibly have needed; they refused to fulfill their part of the bargain by giving God all of their hearts and all of their minds. They were holding back, unyielding, and not willing to trust in God to the point where they could have a real impact on the righteousness of their communities.

 

Unfortunately, this sounds like a way that God might describe our times, this community, and our response to Him. This world is one in which the hand of God with His mercy, grace, and love is quite evident. Yet, His heart must be saddened by the way that we continue to reject His offer of life. We rage against the injustice in our lives while we accept the oppression of millions. We complain about the erosion of our incomes and the loss of our quality of life; yet, we turn a blind eye as the unborn are denied the right to even draw breath. We spend a great amount of time and place very real energy into seeking to change our government while we give only passing interest and involvement in our own church bodies, and we put even less of ourselves into promoting the unity of Christ’s body outside of those walls.

 

Although Stephen’s words were filled with condemnation and rebuke, I am certain that his heart’s desire was that at least some of the people in his audience would hear God’s truth in those statements and that those individuals would turn away from their self-centered course of life and back to God. As we hear those same words, that is what I believe God is saying to us. He wants us to examine our own lives. Christ implores us to meditate deeply on His Word and listen carefully to what He is saying to us. Christ desires for His people to become the voice of love, grace, mercy, and peace in our troubled world. He wants us to stop dwelling in the isolation of our own homes and reside in the community of His body. The Holy Spirit is moving in our land, and He is calling for us to repent of our wandering ways. Christ calls, and He wants for us to respond by giving Him our all.

 

 

 

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1 Corinthians 1: 20

 

Wisdom is all around us. Just listen to the voices of experts and of the authorities of our day as they speak out with surety and with great force of conviction on almost every topic possible. In fact, the process of navigating through life is made considerably more perilous by the daily need to dodge this avalanche of words so that the breath will not be suffocated out of the brain by their stultifying presence. It is the nature of our world’s wisdom for it to carry great force and power with it in its initial assault and to be so massive as to cover over all that gets in its way with its frozen logic, but when the test of time is applied to it, it usually melts away and becomes nothing more than a sodden mess on the carpet.

 

This is the sort of logic and reason that we are all confronted by too regularly as we seek to understand the world where we live and to make decisions about the issues that face us. This is also the way that many of our political leaders tend to frame their arguments as they seek to shape the course for our nations, states, provinces, and communities. What is loud, brash, confrontational, and demeaning is what is given a hearing; so, the still and calm voice of greater logic is very hard to hear and is under appreciated. Jesus was confronted by the same sort of thing in His world, and nothing had really changed a few years later when Paul wrote these words. This world’s wisdom and its application to the way that we are to live within it are flawed, false, and ultimately destructive.

 

God provides us with true wisdom, and He has also provided us with its deliverer in the person of Jesus. Jesus lived out and spoke the wisdom that God had implanted into His creation. He also left us with the presence of His Spirit when He departed back into Heaven so that this same eternal wisdom would have representation by way of counselor and instructor. As we travel this avalanche alley that we know as life, we can trust in Christ to lead us to truth and to guide us to its application in all situations and circumstances. We must trust solely in God’s Word, the counsel of the Spirit, and in the strength and comfort of Christ’s body, the church, for what we need and require in order to make the road that we travel one where God is glorified by our words and actions. We have a choice to make every day. We can join with the fools of our world and operate out of the foolishness of this world, or we can seek out God’s wisdom and stand against the storm for the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.

Ephesians 4: 17

 

You have probably seen at least one of the many windup or battery powered toys that continually run into objects, turn away from that barrier and then travel straight into another collision. We can laugh at them and yet, I think, this laughter is mostly the result of how much of ourselves we see in the behavior. I certainly know that I see myself and feel the lumps, bumps, and bruises that result from all of those ongoing and unnecessary head-banging sessions. Now I can handle a nick or a scrape from time to time; so, I am really talking about the situations where I don’t listen to someone well and hurt them with my harsh responses and the days where I only have time for myself and my needs so that the Lord is left out of my thinking and the truth of His Gospel seems like forgotten history in comparison to my thoughts and actions.

 

When viewed in the light of my spiritual resume with over fifty years spent as a follower of Christ, you might think that these sorts of failures in my Christian testimony and behavior would be far in the past. However, I must confess that their presence in me is far too real and their currency is as close as yesterday. Yet, i do know the difference between my thoughts and actions in these times of futility and the ones that Christ desires for me to have and that He leads me into. This thing that is often known as conscience is in fact the real and active presence of the Holy Spirit within me, and He not only prompts righteous living but He also works within to transform the old ways of engaging with life into a life of truly walking with Christ

 

This is where futility comes into the picture. Foe God’s way of thinking and acting is different from the ones that all of us were born into. The Lord desires for people to live in a manner that is concerned for others, is willing to sacrifice my own desires and comfort for the sake of another person’s well-being, and that speaks out boldly through words and actions about the salvation that comes only through relationship with Christ. This is the path that leads out of the futility that comes about when we travel through life without Christ’s guidance and into the roadway that is illuminated by the light of the Gospel. For me to stay on this road, I need to stay prayerfully in God’s Word seeking His truth for all aspects of life, I must remain engaged in fellowship with Christ’s body, and in all I have to recognize that I do nothing on my own and out of my own strength as all that is worthwhile is done in and through Christ. With all of this in mind, I might actually avoid adding one more lump on my forehead today.