Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Romans 12: 17

 

The late 15th to early 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch created many vividly detailed and fantastical scenes that depicted the unseen life of the spirit and within the spiritual realm. Some of these works portray the nature of evil in ways that are powerful and that, I think, grant us with a sense of the essential nature of evil, itself. The claws and snarling jagged teeth that are deployed in flesh ripping glee and the violent grasping of others in attempts to gain the upper hand are outward expressions of hearts that are intent on destruction and that are fully and fatally separated from God with His love, grace, and mercy. The kingdom of evil is a place where raging passions go unchecked and wherein destruction is the reward that loyalty to the cause receives. This is not a place where most people actually desire to dwell.

 

Yet, evil has an attractive side to it. Its power is intoxicating, and its passion can be highly energizing, too. It feels good to respond to slights, hurts, and affronts with their equal or even with the next step up in the process of response. This is the way of our world, and this is the natural manner of handling challenging and hurtful situations in our various cultures. However, this is not how God designed for us to live. Anger, violence, and misapplied passion are not the tools that the Lord gave to us as our devices for living together. These are things that we have developed out of our lost allegiance to the Prince of the Earth, and they come straight out of his toolbox. Still, it feels good and it seems righteous to respond with a stinging rebuke or with the removal of relationship when others have spoken to us or done to us like kinds of things.

 

Paul responds to all of this by reflecting on what Jesus taught and lived out in His own life. The Apostle tells us to pause, take that meditative breath, and allow the Christ inspired thoughts of our redeemed minds to take control of our emotions. Then we are counseled to do all that we do, say the words that we speak, and respond to others as an act of worshipful honor to Christ. This approach will change everything in our interactions with others. It doesn’t matter if the person that we are engaged with is close friend, family, distant acquaintance, or a stranger for they are all due to receive the same respect and honor in the name of Christ. This ability to engage with everyone in a loving and God-honoring manner was a distinct marker of Jesus’ way of living in our world. It should be the same for those of us who follow Christ. As we respond to evil with grace we infuse the heavenly into the harsh landscape of our world and touch its fevered brow with Christ’s peace and redemption.

Advertisements

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8: 9

 

People want to be rich. There is no question in my mind that the desire for wealth operates as a basic drive in most of humanity. It doesn’t seem to matter where we live, what our culture looks like, or how much we have, we want to obtain enough more so that we are separated out from the rest of those around us. We desire the power, and we covet the capacity to seemingly make our own choices and enter into control over the decisions that effect the course of our days. In the story telling of various cultures there are few examples of people who are help up for their poverty, and there are multitudes of them about those who achieved great things and obtained the wealth that came from those feats. Simply, we value power and the powerful; so, we seek after the means to posses that power.

 

Yet, God did not design our world to be like this. There was no inequality in the Lord’s construct and design of Creation. There was really no need for people to seek after more, for God provided them with an abundance of all that was needful and granted them full access to choose from His earthly garden’s bounty with very few restrictions. This was not enough for to meet the desires of our ancestor’s minds and hearts, and we know how that decision went and what it means for all of us who have come after them. That is the point here as the one entity in all of the universe who had the right to posses everything, who was truly rich in the fullest sense of what defines wealth, was willing to set it all aside in order to enter into the singular journey that would lead to redemption for all of humanity. Jesus was not under compulsion to leave behind the splendor and the great glory of Heaven; instead, He chose to do this. He elected to pour out His wealth and the related power of His lordship over all.

 

In doing this, Jesus was willing to hand Himself over to being subject to the abuses and made Himself vulnerable to the oppressive acts of those who seemed to hold all of the real power in the world. Of course, His abusers were existing in a false reality, for in the culmination of that oppressive power’s outworking upon Jesus at the cross, the reality of evil’s feeble hold on life became apparent beyond all disputing. Jesus made Himself poor so that every person who desired to know God could enter into the possession of the true wealth of Heaven and so that we could know that riches here and now and for all of eternity. It seems that in God’s view of what constitutes wealth that there are valuable gems and valid systems of measurement that are weighed out in unending increments of love, grace, soul-deep peace, fellowship, and truth. As we follow Christ along the course of life that leads ever further into His will, we are led by Christ and in response to His example to release our grip upon the wealth and the related power that this world values so highly and enter into our Lord’s sacrificial love for everyone in our world.

God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

Ephesians 2: 4, 5

 

This is an important thing to remember; God didn’t wait for me to go out and figure out life before He would come into my world. Also, He didn’t require me to get up out of the tomb that was my life, convince someone to perform CPR on my lifeless form, and start my own heart beating with eternal blood before He would embrace me. Jesus came into my world, which had all of the appearance and the odor of an open graveyard, and my Lord reached out to me and put His arms around my broken form. Then, Christ accepted me as I was. He took me into His glorious home even though I was still dressed in my grave clothes and covered with the filth of my sin.

 

God continues to operate out of the depths of this thing that we call grace, for He wants us to give Him our love and our worship. The Lord wants us to live righteously out of a desire to serve Him and not because we believe that God requires some form of effort out of us in order to draw near to Him. Just as we could not bring ourselves out of the darkness of spiritual death, we don’t have the capacity to initiate just, worthy, and righteous actions on our own, either. God’s Word and His Spirit interacting with us through it and within our hearts will show us what to do and how to do it. God’s grace continues to reach out to us, and it sets us free to follow Christ and to be His representatives in this world.

 

We can all stop moving so fast and working so hard. Rather, let’s take time to reflect on God’s Word and listen well in order to truly hear His voice as He speaks from within the depths of His Word. Then we can take the Lord’s words of direction and encouragement with us into our day where His Spirit will continue to speak to our hearts and minds, and His gracious love will continue to surround us with the sweet embrace of Christ’s mercy. This is what it means to be alive with Christ. We travel through this journey that is life in the continual and the constant company of the Creator of all, and the steps of our days have meaning that is far greater than anything that we could have devised on our own. Now, this love that saved us is also the love that we can pour out onto the world as we live in the full expression of the grace that has freed us.

 

Now where there is forgiveness of these things (our sins), there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10: 18

 

There is essentially only one thing that separates people from a close, intimate, on-going, and eternal relationship with God, and that one thing is the orientation of our hearts. Once we accept the sacrificial gift of life that God gave to all of humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have started a life long process of transformation, and our hearts are forever connected through the presence of the Holy Spirit to our Creator. The sacrifice that was required to pay for the sin that fills the souls of people from birth was offered, accepted, and finished by Jesus.

 

So why do so many of us go on living as if we need to continually come back to the altar and offer up the works of our hands as sacrifices to God that are given in order for Him to accept us as worthy and to look upon us with loving acceptance? The Lord doesn’t want our works; rather, He desires our hearts. God wants us to be committed to serving Him out of the depths of the love that He has poured into us; for, Christ fills me with His presence, and His presence is defined by a sort of love that is not conditional and that never diminishes or grows cold. The absolute sacrifice that Jesus made for me should set me free from the need to perform and from the fear of failure that can strangle my ability to live fully and to function with the sort of deep peace that empowers me to live fully for Him.

 

The only sacrifice that God wants me to make is admittedly a very large one, for He wants me to give my entire being, my whole existence, and every breath that I breathe to Him. Jesus said that He wanted us to pick up our cross and follow Him (1), and surrendering my life to His will is what that looks like. Yet, the path that Christ lays out for us is also the one that brings the greatest sense of peace to the heart, and the efforts that this journey requires are supported by the Spirit of Christ, for Jesus also promised us that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.(2)

 

  1. Matthew 16: 24
  2. Matthew 11: 30

 

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Matthew 5: 14, 15

 

There are many bright and shiny lights in our world. We can acquire then from stores in our towns and from sources around the globe. We turn them on and they fill the space around us with their glow. But our need for light doesn’t stop with light fixtures, lamps, and candles, for we also fill our world with electronic devices that shine with the words and the sounds of others. We seem to need the presence of these luminaries in order to understand our culture and so that we can attempt to find a place in the universe. People, I include myself among them, frequently look toward celebrities, politicians, and athletes as the light that guides us away from the emptiness, the futility, or whatever else is lacking in our normal lives. All of these earthly sources of enlightenment will fade, rub off with use, and be extinguished in the process of living out our days.

 

The only light that remains at the end of all days is the singular light that was present before any of the rest of creation came into being. God was present before He devised any of this world or the universe that surrounds it. Then He proclaimed the presence of light. This light precedes even the sun in God’s creative work. Light with all of its properties of illumination, clarification, purification, protection, and health for the body, mind, and soul is a primary gift that God provided to His beloved creation. Then, in time, He would join us in our travels and in our troubles and be the light of the world so that anyone who believes in Jesus, the Christ, would never again walk in darkness (Jn. 8:12). This is the light that Jesus is speaking about in these verses from Matthew. He is that light that cannot be hidden, and His truth is the radiance that should never be concealed so that everyone can be influenced by the healing touch of its eternal glory.

 

God’s gift of the light of His love, grace, truth, righteousness, and peace has existed from before the created universe; it came into our world in the presence and the person of Jesus; and now it dwells within each of us who follows Christ. In Christ we are light bearing vessels. We have a mandate from Christ to let this light of the Gospel shine out from us in every aspect and into all of the corners of the world that we inhabit. This flame that burns within us is fed by God’s Word as we read it, contemplate its message, listen to it being taught, and discuss its meaning and application for us and for our world. It is strengthened by engagement with God through on-going prayer, and it is nurtured, encouraged, and magnified as we gather in the fellowship of God’s people, His church. As God’s people we do not need earthly sources of light or human understandings of enlightenment. In Christ, we are to be on view, boldly burning with the flame of His truth as we open our hearts and our homes as sanctuary and as places of nurture for the people of this world as they seek out the true light that saves souls and heals broken spirits.

For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob.

Isaiah 14: 1

 

What makes a nation and its people great? We usually think in terms of wealth, military power, prominence in the world, and domination of other people and countries. We take pride in our own country because of many of these qualities and abilities. We may even express a certain arrogance about being from a place on the globe. Being proud of the country that we call home, even that deep expression of this that we call patriotism, is not bad and it is not necessarily wrong in God’s view of things. The key to God’s view of the status of this sort of national pride may very well rest in the reasons for it. If wealth, power, world strength, and the ability to control the destinies of others are those points of pride in themselves; then, I fear that God would not be pleased. However, if the way that all of these qualities and abilities are used for the sake of justice, peace, and the spread of the Gospel are what makes us so readily identify with a national home; then, God’s purposes are being served.

 

The existence of nations and of their various forms of governance is something that God has granted to humanity so that we would have an orderly system for maintaining a functioning society in a fallen world. If people were not self-centered and focused primarily on gaining the greatest possible advantage for ourselves, we would not require rules and the human authorities that create them, and we would not need the power structures that enforce those rules on our unruly hearts and minds. God’s design for this world was simple, it had only one rule, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gn. 2: 16, 17) Obey the Lord in the simplest of things and all would go well, but do otherwise and the consequences are real and troubling. We have not done well in this matter of following God.

 

Even the nations that God established were placed under the mandate to follow certain rules regarding their purposes and roles in the world. Now I am taking the model and the example of Israel as that for how a Godly nation and its people should operate; then, I m applying that concept to any nation that truly desires to be great in God’s view of greatness. Frankly, I don’t see any examples of nations that succeed in this endeavor. In fact, I don’t see any that even aspire to do so. Yet, this bleak history should not leave us hopeless. Each of us who follow Christ has the ability to express the hopes, desires, and aspirations that our Lord has granted to us. We can and should express our understanding of Christ’s vision for our own nation to our leaders and with others so that a voice that seeks out God’s love, justice, peace, and care for those who have less capacity to care for and to protect themselves is heard clearly in the national dialogue. Our nations can be places where people from other lands will be drawn because of the character that we exhibit, and as we dwell in the center of God’s will, our land should be a place where the Gospel of Christ is the reigning rule of law.

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

2 John 6

 

Why is it that commanding someone to love seems so unloving? Yet that is what God is saying through the words of the Apostle John, and this is by no means the first time that the Lord has directed His people to love. In Deuteronomy we are so commanded, and Jesus restates that direction for us as He says, “The most important (commandment) is, ’Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12: 29, 30) Although God has been very clear on this point, most people have a really hard time following it. In fact, I know from my own life that there can be a certain perverse drive in us to do just about the opposite of what God and His Word direct us to do.

 

So, when it comes to following God’s commandments, many of us struggle and strain against the boundaries. We test the limits of God’s patience, and look to see just how far we can wander away from the center of our Lord’s stated will. In essence we are acting like a puppy on a leash by trying to determine just how far we can wander away from the path before our master brings us back into line with a sharp tug on the tether that is attached to us. Although God does provide limits and boundaries for us, and He is engaged in protecting us in this world, His desire is for the relationship between us to be different than a power, control and dominance model. Christ is engaging in life with us out of His love for us. He desires that we would follow God’s commandments because of the same motivation.

 

God loves us. He loves all people and all of His creation with a depth and a passion that sets the definition of the concept that is love. When He instructs us to think, to act, and to behave in a certain manner, His motivation is to bring all people into relationship with each other and with Him. Likewise, when the Lord tells us to care for the natural world where we live, He does so in order for us to provide for the needs of people regardless of their natural relationship to us. This care and nurture is a form of expression of love for the Creator of it all just as the presence of such a great wealth of resources is a way that God has demonstrated His loving care and provision for us. So, as God does love us, He desires that we would love Him and engage in that love by following His will in all aspects of life.