Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2: 15

Almost everyone uses tools as a part of the what we do during the course of a day. For some, there is a specialized set that are designed to equip their operator with what is required by the task at hand. These implements may be a mechanic’s wrenches and gauges or they might be the scalpels, forceps, and suture needles of a surgeon. Most of us also use words and the language that is formed up out of them in various ways as we go about doing the tasks that we have been called upon to perform by God and by society. This is the area of concern that Paul is discussing with Timothy and with us. The Apostle cares about the way that we express and describe our faith in Christ, and as we go about the ever-present task of speaking about Christ, Paul makes it clear that God’s Word is something that is to be taken seriously and that it is to be handled with care and with respect.

God did many remarkable things in the process of inspiring and empowering the creation of His Word. It is a unique document in all of the history of this world, for it spans an enormous range of time, has multitudes of authors, was written in several languages, and represents a full range of humanity’s experience of living on earth as people that are called upon by God to dwell here as His chosen care takers and workers in the various and variable fields that have been provided to us to cultivate over the course of those centuries of history. Truth is contained in those pages, and the truth that is present there is one that leads people out of death and into life. This real and ever-applicable divine truth speaks to all occasions and to all situations that have ever presented themselves to people and to our societies. God’s truth informs us of His love, justice, grace, mercy, and holiness in a manner that we can seek to live out these holy characteristics in our lives.

So, do not be mistaken in this, if a person is a follower of Christ, then that person is also called by God to be a worker for the sake of the glory of Christ’s name and in the various fields of God’s kingdom here and now on earth. In order to do this work most effectively, we need to be equipped with the tools of our trade in Christ, and these are the spoken words of the gospel of Christ and the lived out language of love, service, and care for others that is Christ’s model. Paul is charging us with the responsibility to be careful and wise workers, ones that stay true to God’s Word and that follow the leading of the Spirit rather than the new revelations that people are continually attempting to set forth as revised and better understanding of God’s will. God’s Word is not fragile, it will not be broken by even the roughest of workers, and it will endure until the end of days when Christ, Himself, is again upon this earth in the flesh. So, we who are called to labor for the gospel in the name of Christ, can be confident in taking up that word of truth and in allowing it to guide all that we think, do, and say.        

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Those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

Galatians 3: 9

Abraham was blessed by God in many ways, for he had a long, close, and very active relationship with God in which the Lord led Abraham to a land of promise, provided him with position and prominence in that new home, and gave him the greatest desire of his heart in the form of a family. Yet, greater than all of these blessings was the promise that God made to Abraham that he would be the starting point of a long line of followers of God.

Although Abraham was a dynamic leader who exhibited courage and wisdom, he was an astute manager of his business interests, and he was able to negotiate treaties and contracts to his advantage, the thing that he is remembered for is still his faith. Abraham trusted God, and he allowed that trust to grow under the continual influence of the Lord, too. He was also willing to accept the grace of God as a vital part of the blessings that he was receiving, for Abraham frequently put himself into situations where God needed to save him from himself.

Ultimately, the story of Abraham gets down to a very simple reality. It is one of continuing day after day to simply put one foot in front of the other with the confidence that trust brings in the assurance that God will provide a solid place for that foot to land. Even on the days when the swirling winds of uncertainty and fear are trying to obscure the path, I know, as did Abraham, that the Lord will take my hand and that the light of His glory will penetrate any darkness. In Christ we can have faith that we will come through the moment whole, with no real injury, and stronger from the experience. As we journey through this foreign land that is life in the world we can join with Abraham in enjoying the blessing of God that comes through faith in His perfect will and infinite grace and love.   

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 11, 12

A great trial is underway in our world. Evidence is offered up and presented on a regular basis, and the jury is soaking it in as it is set forth. Perhaps the greatest difference from this trial and those that we are most familiar with is the fact that this jury is not comprised of a set number of people who hear all of the testimony before rendering a singular verdict. This jury is populated with an ever changing group of people and their number is enormous. Although the stated object of the trial might be faith in Jesus; so, Jesus is on trial, the lives that are really on the line as they will be subject to the life or death outcome of the adjudication that is on view are all of the participants in the jury itself. They see the evidence, and each of them is placed in the position of making a decision, of rendering a verdict, that either accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior or that rejects Him.

 Those of us who know Christ are placed in the position of being living witnesses to the life that we have been granted in Christ. Our testimony is fleshed out and placed on view for the jury to consider in the form of the lives that we live as a result of the presence of Christ in us. The transformative work that Christ does in our hearts and minds presents a powerful expression of the grace, mercy, and love that God pours out upon His Creation and that Christ grants to each of us in His Spirit. All that we speak and do is seen by the world around us, and it is evaluated as either legitimate evidence of the effectiveness and the truth of the claim that Christ is the singular answer to the question of life or death, or it is rejected as fabrication or self-deception. The credibility of us as witnesses is primarily determined by the sincerity of our faith in Christ.

We can do nothing about the receptivity of others. These witnesses will evaluate and think about what they see with various forms of personal filters in place. Some will remain skeptical and unbelieving for the full term of their lives, others will turn away from unbelief and enter into a relationship with Christ in a moment, while still others will contemplate and consider what they have seen for a long while before rendering their final verdict. The only aspect of this courtroom drama that we do get to control is found in the way that we live and the consistency of the testimony that we give to the unfailing love that Christ provides to us. As followers of Christ, our lives are on view by this large array of jurors, and our testimony is heard over and over again throughout the course of our days. During each of those days there will be members of that jury who will render a verdict for themselves by choosing life in Christ or death without Him.   

For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12: 13

 

We live in a very diverse world. The mobility that people enjoy has also caused us to rub shoulders with those who come from different ethnic, social, religious, and cultural groups in ways that have never really existed on this scale before. Yet, we are often still uncomfortable with people who differ from us in any significant way. It seems to me that this is at least partly true because many of us also hold onto our perspective on issues and positions on things that matter to us with a certain tenacity that also causes us to be very narrow in our construct regarding who and what is acceptably different or diverse from our point of view. In other words, we are too often closed off to even trying to understand how another person might understand a situation or to entering into the way that they evaluate the world and form their own set of values and priorities. We want everything to be engaged with and lived out as if it were being beheld with our eyes alone.

 

This is not the way that God has intended for us to gain our view of the world. Once we became a diverse collection of people, it became essential for us to find ways to communicate with each other. Language certainly does divide us, but so does culture, race, social status, wealth, power and position, religion, sex, and many other differences. As an observation, it seems that people work especially hard at finding ways to separate ourselves from others rather than seeking out our commonality. We desire to find those points of distinction that we can use to hold us apart from others in a manner that gives us some form of sense of superiority or exclusivity. None of this is an example of human functioning in the way that God intends for us to live. God’s creation design did not have separation along any of these lines except that He made us to exist in two sexes, and even then, there was a beautiful harmony and communication between the man and the woman. So, our differences must also have a purpose in God’s design and plan for the on-going reconciliation of Creation to Creator.

 

Thus, I hold that God wants people to resolve differences and to seek out understanding of others so that we can live peacefully together on the earth. The most powerful and effective way for this to come about is through the commonality of the Spirit of Christ’s presence within everyone who knows Christ. There is a mystical form of union that exists within Christ’s body of faith that should transcend any other differences that exist between us and that can bridge any and all gaps of understanding, perspective, and values that we may hold. Yet, unity within the body of Christ is not the end of what the Lord does for us along these lines, for He also opens up our hearts and our minds to seeking out ways to understand and even to love those who are different from us in that most significant of areas, that of faith in Christ. The Spirit demonstrates to us a form of supernatural love that can lead us to enter into dialogue and even to deep friendship with people who are different from us in every way conceivable. The Spirit within helps us to overcome fear and prejudice, to seek out commonality, and to embrace people from all circumstances and situations as exactly what they essentially are, that is, we are all brothers and sisters in the fact that we are all created in God’s perfect image.

Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6: 12

 

Unfortunately, many people think that accepting Jesus means that all of the struggles and hardships of this life should come to an end. This sets people up for great disappointment, and it also creates a badly mistaken expectation for what it means to live as a follower of Christ in our world. They start expecting that Jesus will cure all of the ills of body and spirit and bring about happiness, peace, and even prosperity in the process of working His magic. This is not the reality that the early church experienced, and it is certainly not what any of those early leaders of the church expressed to us as what we should look forward to as a mark of faithfulness in our living out Christ’s direction for us. Paul’s use of the word fight here is a sign of exactly what he knew about the way that a life of submission to the Lord would look.

 

A life that is lived out in obedience to God is a life that is conducted in the center of a hostile field of contest. This is a place that more resembles the tortured earth of the front-line trenches that devoured the earth during World War I than it does our usual images of the idyllic and peaceful Eden of our hopes and dreams. Every day involves a struggle with forces of evil that are desperately attempting to demonstrate their control and dominance over all of Creation when they, in fact, have already been defeated by God in the person of Jesus and in the hour of His resurrection from the cross’ tomb. These are days when Jesus leads us into battle, and this fight is one that is being conducted for the souls of people and for the redemption of Creation.

 

When Paul speaks of this struggle, he also speaks in terms of making a good confession in the presence of many witnesses. This is a part of the means and the method that our Lord is calling upon us to use in accomplishing His purposes, and this idea of confession is much larger than the words that we speak. It involves the totality of the life that is lived out in view of the rest of the world and it also encompasses the most personal and private moments of our days. The confession of faith that Christ desires for His people to make includes such things as the attitudes that we hold toward our possessions, the way that we use our finances, caring for the weak and the oppressed, and the thoughts that we have about others. Confessing Christ is not going to be comfortable or easy, and it will inevitably lead us into a place of conflict with other people and with the systems and structures of our world. However, making a good and continuous confession of Christ in all aspects of life is the most powerful weapon that we have been given by Christ to use in engaging in the fight into which He leads us.

My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness.

But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

Psalm 55: 4; 6 & 7; 16

 

David feels like each of us has probably felt at one time or another. Whatever the cause of the fear and the anguish, it is real, and it is oppressively bearing down on him. There is no escaping the weight of it as there appears to be real opposition coming from within those who should be closest to him. Let’s face it, almost everyone faces times in our lives when even the friendliest of gestures can be misunderstood as being intended for conflict so that there is no rest to be found in the course of the day. These are hard times to be in the middle of, for it does seem like the safest and the best thing that can be done is to get far away from the situation at hand and from the people who are in our lives. Thus, we want fly off into the unknown out there as that far off land cannot be worse than the pain that is pouring over our heads in the present time and place.

 

Yet, there are not a lot of situations and circumstances where God actually tells us to run, to escape, or to flee to a far-away place. Most of the time, the Lord asks us to stay put and to trust in Him to come into the middle of the struggle and to join us in overcoming all that is causing the anxiety and the distress. Sometimes He reorients our thinking so that the real issues are sorted out from the ones that we are perceiving. This is often the case when we believe that the problems that are before us are being caused by people so that eliminating those people from our world looks as if that is the solution. God rarely leads us away from people; instead, He usually works in our hearts and minds to achieve understanding, forgiveness, and grace so that relationships are built rather than terminated.

 

Calling out to God is not always the easiest or the safest thing that we can do. Frequently, He asks us to engage with people and in activities that are uncomfortable or that even seem emotionally unsafe at that time. This is the place where our human frailty and our tendency to rely upon ourselves as the primary resource that we utilize in navigating life’s challenges collides with faith in Christ and with trust in the Lord to be our strength, wisdom, and true source of deliverance in all aspects of life. Christ asks us to follow Him into the stormy waters of this world, and He calls upon us to leave behind our apprehensions and our fear-inspired tendency to seek escape when things look too hard or when the task before us seems daunting beyond our capacity. These are those moments when we have little left to rely upon other than our voices, weak as they may be at that time, so that we can follow David in crying out to the Lord in anticipation of the saving grace that He will pour over us.

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35: 1

 

In the Christian church and throughout its traditions we have generally looked at Psalm 35 as a statement of faith and trust in the way that God would defeat our enemies through the use of might, force, and even by empowering our own military skill and campaigns. However, as I reconsider these words that David gave us, I am wondering if there isn’t something else, something much greater on view here. Although David seems to have had a prophet’s view into a future when the Messiah would come, he did not possess the post-cross perspective that we do. His words dealt with the reality of his life, and they shared a glimpse into a potential future, but they could not interpret our world in light of Christ.

 

In Jesus we see a man of peace and of service. We are told to control our responses to personal attacks and to seek out our enemies in love. We are, in fact, told to lift them up to God in prayer with a sincere desire to see them come to know Christ and thus to be joined with us in community. This is not just a directive to be fulfilled in a grudging, grit our teeth and get on with it manner. Instead, Christ tells us that we should be praying in earnest for those who are trying to destroy us so that they can join us at the banquet table of God’s holy Eucharist. We are granted Christ’s direction to love all people with fully and to seek for all of them to come and dwell with us as equally adopted in children of God’s own choosing.

 

None of this suggests that we are seeking their destruction. I am wondering if the Psalmist’s words about shame, dishonor, entrapment and defeat are not to be interpreted with Christ on the cross in view so that we are seeing a picture of the way that God works in the hearts of all of us to show us the futility and the lostness of our natural way. In that case, death for our enemies is not the desired outcome. Neither is defeat unto subjugation; for, Christ calls upon His people to have no fear of the forces of this world. Rather, we are to pursue the hearts and the minds of our enemies as the shepherd does the lost sheep. This requires us to have faith in Christ and in His protection for us. It also demands that we set aside anger and hurt so that we can love others with the passion and the sincerity of one who desires to greet them with the holy kiss of fellowship.