The saying is trustworthy, for if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

There are things that are really hard to give up. Some fall under that heading that we call “guilty pleasures”. These include such things as certain television programs, candy and ice cream, and buttered pop corn. Actions like smoking and driving too fast can actually cause harm. Other tenacious aspects of who we seem to be are more sinister. These might involve an addiction to pornography, habitual lying, out of control anger, and other forms of attitude and behavior that are rooted in sinful reliance on our selves as opposed to engaging in radical trust in and dependence upon Christ. All people are born into this world separated from God and His truth and darkened in our understanding of actual righteous living. These sinful aspects of our lives that continue on after we come to know Christ are the remnants of our birthright.

An even more challenging sort of change involves the attitudes that we hold toward our world and the people in it. Christ came into this world to bring an alienated humanity back into intimate relationship with our Creator, God. This salvation and reconciliation are for everyone. There are no exclusions, no exceptions, and there is absolutely no greater and lesser order to this acceptance of people by God. Most of us struggle with this idea. Even if we can readily say that we think that Christ came, suffered, died, and was raised for all, we simply don’t actually believe that this is true. There are always some people, either individuals or groups, who we do not like or trust. It is human nature to consider those who are different and who believe differently as being suspect. We tend to find that it is much easier to extend grace and reach out in loving embrace to people who we do not fear and who look, speak, and think essentially like us. Yet, Christ did all of these things for all of the people He encountered. God’s love, mercy, grace, and redemption are offered to each and every person on this earth.

Whatever it is that each of us is dealing with by way of unrighteous thought and action, big things and small, the foundation for change is ours to pursue. First off, we need to desire that change. Truth is God’s catalyst for change. His Word contains the narrative account of the way that our Lord desires for us to think and to live. Emersion in it is the starting place and the ongoing road to discovery of who God is and who He calls us to be. Time in God’s Word is best accompanied with prayer and meditation. These are times of speaking our hearts to God and of listening to His voice. Study of the word and prayer are inseparable, and these are times when the Holy Spirit speaks God’s deep truths into our hearts and minds. Additionally, God desires for us to live in community. Although real transformative work in us is done by God through His Spirit, He often uses the agency of His body, the church and its people, to support, counsel, and bring accountability to that journey. God has called us to join Christ in death, that is, the death of our birth-life of wastefulness and sin, and then the Lord takes us into the new life of freedom that comes in following our Savior through every step of the day.   

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.


For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4: 12

 

This is where the relationship that a Christian has with God gets very hard. It is also where it gets to be incredibly easy. The fact and the reality of this relationship being one that exists on a mystical level; a deep, spirit and soul plane of our existence; makes it unique in the area of life direction and advice. We can look to many sources for input on both the big-picture aspects of living and for the situations that we encounter along the way. There is great, so-so, and completely wrong guidance available for almost anything. Yet, only God and His Word reach deeply into our hearts and minds with penetrating and totally reliable insight and wisdom.

 

Neither is God a counselor who you have to plan ahead in order to get the benefit of His wisdom, for He is truly involved in the very minute details of our existence. God is fully aware of the things that we do, the struggles that we encounter, and He understands the thoughts that we have before they are even formed in our minds. I do not know myself as well as my Lord does. Christ is fully alive in my world as well. He is the center of all that is vital, and His Spirit is continually present with me. I find great comfort in this fact, for Christ has taken control of this world away from Satan. Evil does have an effect and it does influence people and events that reach out to harm people and our world. However, Christ has turned all of this evil activity and influence for His glory, God’s purposes, and for our greatest good.

 

Just as God knows my thoughts and my intentions, so does His Word speak to them. In the Word are found insights into the ways that every person we will ever encounter will think and act. Even more powerful to me is the fact that my entire life story is written there. Each and every aspect of living in a manner that is concerned, loving, empathetic, understanding, thoughtful, and righteous is contained in these pages. Although the story that I am reading may be set thousands of years ago, I am led by the Spirit to see myself and my world described in clear detail on the pages. The Word of God is every bit as alive as Christ is in this day and in the place where I dwell. All that I need to do to find the advice that is required to live righteously today is to dwell on the pages of His Word, in the presence of His Spirit, and in the company of His community of faith.

 

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of peace is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3: 17, 18

 

Peace is hard to find. This is not a profound thought. No one should be reading this statement and gasping in amazement at the new truth revealed by it. The heavy air of tension saturates our world. It suffocates us, and it forces most people into various forms of self-protective isolation, disengagement, and separation. The descriptive adjectives of our day are strife, discord, disagreement, and violence. Our society is simply not very sociable or peaceable. The way that we are going about seeking solution and resolution is very challenging, too. It seems that most of the conversation these days involves either placing a large amount of hope in our political, economic, and military systems, or it concludes in utter cynicism and with resignation to a form of cultural hopelessness.

 

Frankly, it seems to me that both placing trust in our human devised systems and cynical hopelessness are missing the point of living in a world that is ruled by the great King. As His subjects, we can live in the center of a form of peace that is not dependant upon outcomes of elections, employment rates, global trade deficits, and legislative actions. According to James, peace starts with wisdom. This is the wisdom that comes from God, for that is the only form of wisdom that will withstand the refining test of the fiery trial that is life in our world. God’s Word is the only source of wisdom that can actually inform our minds and orient our hearts toward living in a manner that brings about peace. This is not a soft, compromised form of peace. God’s peace is defined by its relentless and unyielding nature. It seeks to bring healing to the hearts of people as it draws us together in a community of faith.

 

The truth of God’s will as it is revealed in His Word, by Christ’s Spirit, and within the Body should lead us to exude a form of gentleness, reasonableness, and mercy that is super natural. This is seen in the way that we engage in the discourse of life. It is expressed in an easy comfort with living out justice, grace, and understanding in a manner that points directly to Christ. It is made known in our world by our ability to engage truthfully in the hard conversations of our society without destroying our relationships with people who we disagree with. Peace is a crop that requires constant attention and care. Its fruit is not always rapidly realized. It often grows deep under ground in the silence and the cold of a harsh winter; yet, the bounty of summer is close at hand. Peacemakers meditate upon wisdom and act out of Christ’s love.

 

They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all of the meeting places of God in the land.

Psalm 74: 8

 

God’s word is amazing in its comprehensive discussion of the issues and the concerns that plague life in this world. Words that were set to paper long before anything that is our culture was contemplated by the human mind are still true. In fact, God seems to cry out from these words with a voice that pierces through our facades of confident modernity to reach to the heart of our sinful pride and stubborn disobedience. These words of poetry strike me as speaking very clearly about a great danger that is faced by the body of Christ today. We face the danger of being subdued. Satan desires for us to grow ineffectual and silent.

 

Although there are some instances in which the meeting places of God’s people are set on fire, bombed, or ransacked by people who oppose Him; these situations are rather rare. There is a much greater danger that we face. The physical damage that is caused by the flames can be repaired. Even when the building is burned to the ground, after some cleanup, it can be rebuilt. It is far more damaging to have the structure standing whole and proud if the people stop gathering there with hearts that are attuned to worship of their Lord. When our primary reason for the assembly is social rather than spiritual community in nature, the interaction that results becomes shallow, on the surface, and safe. Christ calls us to come together in a manner that is vulnerable, broken, and where grace is necessary. Christ is not the Lord of safety, but He is the God who brings us to sanctuary.

 

Our meeting places and our gatherings need to be bathed in worship and praise. These gatherings should be times when we embrace the beauty and the enormous variety of our fellow family members in the body of Christ. They should also be times when we anticipate and wait upon the Spirit of Christ as He speaks truth and righteousness into our hearts and minds. Satan wants God’s children to become indifferent and to become passive about gathering together. The enemy is ready and very willing to reclaim this part of our lives. Apathy, safety, and selfishness are the matches that ignite the sorts of destructive fires that truly destroy our meeting places. On the other hand, the passionate love of Christ for each of His people reaches out to us, and it is this love that binds us together in the sort of humble submission to God that builds a fire-proof community of faithful followers of Christ.

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1: 4

 

Let me make a bold statement that is produced from my understanding of life. There is one place in this world where joy resides. This is in the presence of God that comes through and from a relationship with Jesus Christ. It almost seems as if I should just stop right here. That is the beginning, the content, and the conclusion of the story of a life that is truly lived. Let me go on to say that this joy that John is discussing is something quite special itself. It is much grater and more comprehensive than happiness or laughter or other forms and expressions of emotion.

 

Joy is resident deep in the heart, and it also speaks to the mind with words that bring peace and comfort. Joy is the result of knowing that this life and the world where it is carried out have true meaning and purpose. It is a gift that God gives to His people that is granted to us ass a result of Christ’s willing sacrifice of Himself for our eternal sakes. Joy is made real as we grow in our relationships with Christ. We gain depth and breadth of understanding of joy through God’s word of life as we study its text, pray through it and meditate upon it, and live out its truths in the community of faith that is Christ’s body.

 

This joy that Christ gives to His people is more in the nature of a characteristic than it is an emotion. It is present on the happiest of days, and it is with us during our darkest moments. Joy comes from the deeply planted knowledge that we are never alone in this life. It is an expression of the unending presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and it comes from the certainty that Christ is the answer to every situation, circumstance, and condition in this life. Joy is complex, and it is very simple. It is the summation of the experience of Christ, and it is the faith caused acceptance of the absolute truth of the Living Word. This joy is very personal; yet, it is understood most fully when its full range of expression is shared in Christ’s community of faith.