For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3: 17

Peter was aware of two realities that had faced him as he followed Christ, and he was also certain that they would face every other person who traveled that same path through life. Firstly, suffering and pain would come to each of us in the wake of our encounter with Christ, and secondly, all of our thoughts, words, and actions would order under one of two headings as they would be either good or evil. Although these categories or divisions of the content of life may seem extreme or even as overly simplistic and harsh, they represent the reality of how the content of all people’s lives are ordered when it comes to their most basic of descriptors. We effect good, or we bring about evil. Neutrality is not a part of what it means to serve a master in this world, and all of us are ordered under someone to whom we pledge our allegiance.

Christ leads us into that good side of the equation of life, and His Spirit works within us to bring about change that permeates the deepest aspects of our beings so that these changes have a positive impact upon the way that we think, and so, they also transform the words that we speak and the things that we do. In this process of change our will can come to our aid or it can work to hinder the progress that we will make in assimilating Christ as our identity and image. For as we yield to Christ and surrender control of the deepest aspects of our selves to the work of the Spirit, then we are most profoundly impacted by the presence of the Lord in our lives. When we hold on to areas of our beings that we find comfortable and deem as important to us, we tend to retard that same growth into Godliness.

I am not suggesting that this form of deep and highly personal surrender is easy, for it tends to involve aspects of our identity and being that have been developed over the entire course of life to date, and it also impacts us in places where we find some of our greatest sense of security and self-determined peace. Yet, even these aspects of life are ones in which Christ is asking us to enter into a form of the suffering that the righteous journey requires of all travelers along the holiness road. When we place the prized possessions of our egos and our escapist thoughts and actions upon the altar of Christ’s cross, we begin a journey of faith that will take us upon an often painful journey into transformative healing for those places within our souls that have been rubbed raw by our days of living in this harsh and broken world. The decision to accept whatever pain may come in the process, whether it is ours internally or derives from external sources, is a first step into pursuing good and rejecting evil. 

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2: 1-3

There is wealth to be had in our world. Its availability is something that is spoken about regularly by various voices that are inspired and influenced by divergent sources. If any one of us is lacking, then there must be something amiss with the way that we are going about life, for there is abundance to be gathered up from the pavement of our streets. Depending upon the speaker, this bounty may be financial, positional, be defined by power, or be counted out in various types of spiritual currency. It is said that all that is really required of people in order to be wealthy is to follow the right leaders and to ascribe to proper teaching. Then, our accounts will be gorged upon the world’s abundance, and our lives will be lived out in the luxury and the comfort of plenty. However, this idea of easy riches and of universal wealth is mistaken, and it can lead people far away from the only enduring riches that exists in the universe.

This essential difference in what it means to be wealthy is one of the great mysteries of faith in Christ. God views wealth from a different perspective than do most of us that are looking outward from the earth. For we see only what is right before our eyes, and our depth of vision is restricted and cut off by the haze that is in the air around us and by the curvature of the earth itself. No matter how hard we may try to see or what aids or devices we might employ, we will never view the entirety of what is out there in our world or in the air above us. Additionally, when we consider wealth, we tend to think in terms of things that we can hold in our hands and that give us that desired position or power in our world. God contemplates what is means to be wealthy in far less tangible terms as His treasury is filled beyond imagining with all that has real meaning and that carries with it eternal significance.

In Christ we posses all that endures beyond the grave, and at the same time, we are blessed by and through Christ with the full extent of what is needful to live fully and joyously during our allotted days of life on earth. The luster and shine and the absolute beauty that radiates off of God’s knowledge and wisdom exceeds the glitter and the glow that is given off from this world’s brightest diamonds or its storehouses of gold. Nothing that we can acquire by way of earthly authority or by means of human wisdom can begin to replace the wonder and the blessings that are to be found in exploring the depths of a relationship with God. Thus, the great mystery that Christ reveals for us is the one in which all people can be equally wealthy as we stand on common ground at the foot of Christ’s cross and are filled by His Spirit with the love, grace, truth, and wisdom that define what it means to be blessed with riches beyond all comparison. 

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know you have little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3: 8

If we think that the world that we live in is antagonistic toward our faith in Christ, perhaps we should consider the one that this church at Philadelphia occupies. Whatever we face might start looking very tame and civil in comparison. Still, without regard to the nature of our times verses those that are to come in the future, there is something truly important to consider and to hold onto for all of us in the church of Christ today. These people were lifted up as examples of what it means to hold onto their faith as they endure all that the world throws at them and continue to serve Christ in all that He calls upon them to be and to do. This will not be easy for them, and it is certainly not simple or easy for us either.

In fact, the nature of the times that we are a part of is such that I think many Christians today do resonate with the fact that we feel powerless. It seems as if the voice of love and of reason that we have learned to utilize as an imitation of the manner and the tone that Christ would have us use to engage with others is no longer useful or even considered to be worthy of hearing. These are days when shouting with the force of a hail storm has been deemed to be the only communication style that will be heard. Yet, no one grants others the respect that is necessary to actually hear what is being said. In fact, very few people today care about what others have to say or would grant the possibility that a differing opinion could possibly be right. This appears to be the case when the oppositional view point is expressed by people on their own, and it is equally true when the other ideas are coming straight out of God’s Word. 

Still, Christ tells us to not lose heart in the face of this violent storm that is the nature of these days. Instead, we are to continue to provide a counter narrative to the one with which our world is filled, for Christ desires for His people to stay steadfast in speaking the truth of God’s Word while also loving the people that we encounter. This might be easy to say, but it is not so simple to do. This requires that we be people of patience who stay true to Christ’s calling to be peacemakers in our world and to be agents for redemption in our relationships. We are to continue to proclaim Christ as the only eternal answer to all that is broken, painful, and lost in our world, and we are to refuse to respond to this world’s call to isolate ourselves from people who are different or who might cost us something real to love and to care for. The door to eternity stands open before us as dose the door to Christ’s cross of redemptive sacrifice. Thus, the path to that desired eternal rest leads straight into the teeth of the storm that is our world as our Lord calls upon His people to remain true to serving Him in His strength with all that we have to give. 

If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees?

Colossians 2: 20

Here lies a question that all of us should ask ourselves on a regular basis. This is a challenge that seems universal in the community of people who serve Christ; for, we have been infused with the idea of following the rules of this world from the earliest days of our lives. Paul is not advocating civil disobedience, and he is certainly not suggesting anarchy, but he is saying that our perspective on how we view what is important and on the way that we establish our rules for righteous living need to be profoundly changed by the infusion of Christ’s view of these things into our beings.

Most of the rules that are created by people are focused on external, temporary, and human-controlled issues, and they tend to establish situations where people can be viewed as superior or as failures based upon strict adherence to them. Also they often grant power to individuals who become the judges of the degree of compliance that others achieve. They allow people to obtain a false sense of godliness that comes from their own tough minded ability to follow the letter of a rule rather than one that flows naturally out of a deep relationship with God, Himself.

As we are committed to Christ, we are also committed to His death and to the new life that follows. The shallow, divisive, and self-focused aspects of worldly living are among the things which Christ put to death on the cross. When we choose to follow Him, we are transformed and transitioned into a new view of our world that no longer needs to be subject to these old ways of thinking and acting. The rules, the decrees and pronouncements of the world’s system of thinking do not die easily. They continue to invade the minds of people, and they will attempt to regain control of our hearts. That is why it is vitally important to continually examine and to test the things that we hold as marks of righteous living against the Spirit filled Word of God.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51: 7

David knew something about sin, and he was acutely aware of the harm that his wandering heart caused to his relationship with God and to his ability to remain close to people, too. So, I think that these words are both a lament and a strong request. David is sorrowful for the sin in his life, and he desires to have the Lord perform His cleansing work upon his body and in his heart. The rough surfaced leaves of the hyssop plant were used to ceremonially cleanse people who had become defiled by dead bodies and by contact with lepers. A bird was sacrificed and the hyssop branch was dipped in its blood so that the blood could be sprinkled on the person who was unclean but repentant for the totality of his sin. The priest would then pronounce the penitent clean, and thus, it was acceptable for him to participate in temple worship or in other forms of sacred rights and ritual. In other words, the person who had repented of his sin and undergone the cleansing ritual was then acceptable to be in the presence of God.

All people are born into a similar condition and many of us find ourselves in a like place in life as did David. We are sinners from birth. We do not get to choose whether we will be perfectly obedient to God or whether we will rebel against His love, righteousness, and call to holiness. People follow the path of our parents just as they adhered to the one that had been established by the many generations that came before them. When the Apostle Paul declared that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” he truly meant to be all-inclusive. None of us get to escape this reality, and no one has an answer to our separation from God other than God’s own answer, which is found in Jesus Christ alone and that is made available to all of us by and through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and God’s resurrection of Him from among the dead. That is it! There is nothing else and no other way to be made righteous and holy in God’s eyes. So, there is no alternative to Jesus if we wish to dwell in the presence of God.

Jesus, through His cross, has eliminated the need for dead birds and rough branches. He has also taken over the position and the authority that had previously been granted to human priests, for Christ alone has God’s endorsement to pronounce people cleansed of sin and so, rightly fit to be in God’s perfect and holy presence. The work that those priests did was temporary at best, but the work that Christ does lasts for all of eternity. The blood that was shed in sacrifice upon Christ’s cross penetrates much deeper than the surface so that the soul of anyone who turns to Christ is not just touched by a few of its purifying drops but it is washed clean and made pure and acceptable to a Holy God. The bright snow of a winter’s day covers over and obscures the dirt and the decay that is a part of life in our world. So too does Christ cover our brokenness and sin with His cleansing blood; however, the snow melts and its effect dissipates with time, but Christ’s pure whiteness lasts for all of eternity. 

Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Colossians 3: 5

 

Here is a really tough personal challenge for most of us. At first glance, we might say that I don’t struggle with those things; they were part of the person that I was before Christ, that was what I did before I grew up and realized that there was a better way, or they are just a casual and a controlled aspect of my much greater new self. The problem with all of that is the standard that Paul sets out in the verse, for he says that we should consider ourselves as dead to them. Dead is a rather absolute statement, and it doesn’t leave much room for occasional involvement or for limited activity. Dead equates to none, to finished, and to buried and put away forever.

 

We are given an important clue to how all of this is to come about in the idea that, as stated previously in Colossians, Christ’s death and resurrection are what make this sort of fundamental change possible for us. Then, it is our own decision to fully accept the gift of grace and the transformation of our essential selves that are its result. For it is the grace that comes to us as a result of the cross that takes these destructive elements that tended to control our lives and that also sets the tone for our relationships and places them into the permanently sealed coffin that is supplied by Christ’s gift of redemption.

 

So, as I look honestly at my life and view the actual way that I think and act, I am forced to note the still active and influential idols of my old self sitting in plain view on their shelf. I am forced to recognize that I still turn to them and allow them to take control of moments and of situations in my days; yet, I also know that Christ has eliminated my real need for them, and He has replaced this need with His far greater and totally loving capacity to deal with life. The Lord tells me that when the voices of lust, anger, fear, self importance, and greed call to me that I need to be prepared to tell them to leave me, for they are nothing but the whispers of the ghosts of my past. Alife that has been put to death on the cross and that no longer holds the power to control my life.

 

 

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5: 1

 

Peace, we all want it; yet, it seems to work at being elusive. Peace is so hard to catch up to, it runs ahead a stays just one turn in the street and a couple of steps beyond reach all of the time. Despite the desires that most of us possess, a state of peacefulness is hard to settle into. Even the idea of resting peacefully can be disturbing and unsettling in itself. Turmoil and agitation are such a regular part of our world that they often define normalcy for us, and their absence is the thing that troubles the spirit and that incites the feet to run toward change. Yes, we are strange creatures, we humans; for, we claim to want to know peace and to have it settled deep in our beings; yet, we do almost anything to overturn its presence when it does happen to invade the place that we live.

 

Perhaps the issue is more with the place where we are looking for that peace and with the nature of the thing that we think that we desire. The peace that God wants to provide for us is different than that which we often say we want. Our first priority is for calm, quiet, and a form of settledness of the spirit that can accept life as it is with trust in God’s provision of an acceptable outcome. In itself, this is not a bad perspective, but it may not be the beginning place for the peace that God desires to see exist with us. The peace that God seeks to bring about in our lives starts at a higher place and has a purpose that transcends this world and our lives and that ventures forth into the eternal. The peace that comes through and by Christ comes about with no effort of ours and is a state of being that we either accept or fight against as it is conferred upon us by God.

 

All peace starts with Christ. There is no other way to commence understanding of it than by accepting Christ. He brings about healing and transformative change in our relationship with God, for Christ grants a new, redeemed relational status to each of us who surrender to Him. The war with God that exists from birth for each of us is settled by the blood of Christ’s cross, and we are established as residents in the Kingdom of God from that moment forward. This is not just a treaty status that can be easily revoked or modified; rather, it is a permanent recasting of the entire relationship with God that is formed out of faith in Christ and that is devised by God to grant us unending direct access to Him. This is the peace that all people actually need in order to know the sort of peace of the spirit that we think that we desire. The ability to live life with the certainty of our eternal status and with a state of being calm even in the great storms that come our way is the result of the peace that exists between ourselves and God, and Christ alone brings this peace into our souls.

 

 

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 his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2: 13, 14

 

Christ is all about the resolution of conflict. His presence brings into existence the reconciliation of people who have developed long-standing and very deep differences that have often grown into animosity. Although Paul is discussing the division of humanity into two groups, Jews and Gentiles, that was at the center of his world, I think that we can apply the same fundamental principles to other forms of human separation and categorical stress. The reasons for these differences are real, and they have often been developed over long periods of time. They are not easy to resolve, and they may seem to be completely beyond any possibility of finding commonality or of entering into true peace. Yet, Christ is the worker of these sorts of impossibilities.

 

What is perhaps even more remarkable is the way that the Lord does so much of this reconciliatory work. As Jesus went to His death on that highly divisive implement of torture and execution, the cross, He was effectuating the destruction of all that is divisive in our world. That might seem to be highly debatable in that followers of Christ and people who hold other religious beliefs or lack of them have been in conflict since those early days of the Christian church. Yet, Christ, through His death and resurrection, has given all people the means by which we can come into a common relationship with God, our Creator and the Sovereign King of the Universe. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for sin that all people deserve, and He also cast aside all of the rules and systems of belief that create dividing walls to segregate off small portions of our world, one from another.

 

We may not speak the same language, and we certainly do not all look the same or practice life in the same style and manner. But all people can know the same God, and we can recognize His creative hand in and on each of us. Humanity, in the aggregate of all that we are, is the full and the nearly total picture of that image of God in which we were formed and shaped. So too, in Christ, all that forces us into separation and division is taken to the cross of sacrifice, and resolution of these differences is to be found in our own willingness to follow Christ into the new life of eternal hope and peace for our souls that He grants to all who enter into relationship with Him. We are no longer identified as Jew and Gentile, Asian, African, or Caucasian, female or male, native born or foreigner, or by any other of our myriad divisions and differences. In Christ, we have been brought near to God; so, we have also been brought by Christ to share a common table of grace and to speak the same language of peace.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and plea for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a firstborn.

Zechariah 12: 10

 

We like it when things are easy, when everything is going well and everyone around us is happy and content. Yet, that is really not the reality that most people get to deal with. Life is not smooth, and the path that we travel through it is frequently interrupted by detours that are caused by broken dreams and failed aspirations. Although we would like to point to the condition of the world as thee cause for our troubles or hold up others as the problem, if truth is to be told, each of us needs to take ownership of our own contribution to the way that things are today and for the place that we occupy in our world. We have all sinned, and each person has done things, thought thoughts, and carries attitudes that diminish the quality of life in the space that we inhabit. There is no one alive who does not need the grace that God has to give to us, and none of us are too far gone to receive the mercy that comes our way through Christ.

 

Zechariah is describing a time when his entire nation would be overcome by the need for repentance and a desire to return to being focused upon worshiping the Lord. I fear that this sort of national transformation is highly unlikely short of Christ’s return, and even then, it will not be the existing nations that turn in full to Christ, but rather, He will replace all that is here with His singular restored holy and just kingdom. In the interim, each of us continues to dwell in this land, and we are asked by Christ to push on in our journey of faith, hope, and trust. This is where the same grace and mercy that the prophet describes are so vitally important to us, for I believe that without God’s grace and His mercy it is essentially impossible to continue to live out our days with faith as the foundation for each step that we take, with hope as the reason for going forth, and with trust in Christ as the source of strength for the journey.

 

For me, this all starts with repentance. When I consider all that God has done in order to draw near to me, a person who has too often pushed Him away or attempted to keep the Lord at a safe distance from the most personal and closely held aspects of my life, my knees collapse and my heart fills with tears of remorse as I seek Christ’s forgiveness. Yet, this is something that I already possess, and as I recognize my need for grace, I also see that it has been poured out over me as an anointing with the holy oil of forgiveness. It is here, where my sinful life meets Christ’s cross of redemption, that my penitent’s tears are wiped away and are replaced by a strength and an understanding of purpose that are provided to me by Christ, Himself. The hope that I have for the land where I live and for the world where we reside is found in the power of Christ as He leads His people to live righteously and to engage directly with the various issues and concerns of our day while pouring out upon others the same grace that we have received and  by approaching everyone and each situation with open hands that are filled with mercy and with love. This is how we can take Christ into the center of the Jerusalem in which we dwell.