My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Have you ever experienced uncertainty or become so weary from trying to live righteously in this troubled world that it felt like you were going to be swept over the edge of a towering cliff at any moment? Right, I didn’t think that I was totally alone in these responses to life. This world is a big time highly stressful place to exist. Also, Paul is generally a fairly practical guy; for, he lived his life in the center of the storm that happens whenever people who desire and seek to serve the Lord venture out into their communities and engage in bringing the truth of Christ to others. So, my conclusion is that realistic Paul wouldn’t tell us to do or to be something that couldn’t be done.

 

In order to avoid the inevitable sense of futility that comes when my desire to serve Christ intersects with all of the road blocks that spring up in front of my path, I am required to find my direction and the strength to carry on from a very special source. Christ calls me to follow Him and to do His work in my world. If this work is to reach the sort of potential that He knows exists, I must allow someone else to make decisions with me. Finally, if I am to stay the path of that calling through times of personal failure, disappointment with others, and the distractions that life brings my way; my feet need to be firmly set on a foundation that is stronger and that runs deeper than anything that I can fabricate on my own.

 

This all seems so complex to my mind; yet, it all has one relatively simple answer. Jesus, the Christ, is God’s response to every concern that I can contemplate. Jesus, who gave all so that I can live in the complete fullness of God’s riches is all that I need. Jesus, whose Spirit goes through everything in this life with me is my guide and counselor. Jesus, the One who took all of my sin and the shame that it brought to me onto His back is my strength. Jesus, the One who loves me despite all of my hurtful acts and deceitful thoughts holds me steady through all of the trials and the storms that attempt to drive me away from the Lord’s way. Jesus, there is nothing more; so, how can I accept anything less?

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The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

1 Corinthians 10: 16

 

Paul is talking about the formal celebration of the Eucharist or as we in the church often refer to it, The Lord’s Table or Holy Communion. Yet, he is also speaking to something bigger, more expansive, than just that. Paul is sharing his thoughts on what it means to be a part of the totality of the body of Christ. In certain ways, this is a very real union of people with other people and together with God. This is the most significant thing that occurs as we come into a relationship with God through Christ beyond the fact of God’s entry into us through the presence of the Holy Spirit within. It is firstly in union with Christ and then in union with His body that we are made useful and granted purpose and mission in this world. This is wherein our lives are transformed into ones that carry eternal weight and enter into God’s everlasting glory.

 

This participation that Paul mentions is not a form of ritual, either. It is life, itself. When people come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we are infused with Him, with God, in a manner that is mystical and wonderful. There is present in us both the reality of change within our beings, and at the same time, we carry forward an unlimited potential for transformative change and growth. This brings to light the concept of participation, for in Christ, we are called by God to engage with this world in ways that bring the revelation of love, grace, and truth that was the life that Jesus lived into direct and continual contact with all that is lost, broken, and without God in the course of our days. This engagement with the world is the truest expression of our communion with Christ that we can pour out.

 

So, if life itself is an expression of the sacred and the holy in that it is formed up and participated in by the presence of Christ within our hearts, minds, and souls, so then the conduct of our lives must follow along in that it too will be in all ways a statement of Christ’s presence within us. This is carried out in the way that we treat others and in the manner in which we enter into the discourse and the actions of our world. Christ brought love, respect, and equality of treatment into His interaction with all and so should we. The Lord granted healing to those who were sick in body, mind, spirit, and being, and we are to be His instruments of healing in these troubled days. Christ sought peace within people and peace in the world’s social order, so too, we need to be the people in our world who set aside its violence and turn to other means for resolving our differences. These are but a few of the ways that those of us who follow Christ participate in His blood and in His body so that every day of our lives can be an expression of our holy communion with the Lord.

Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.

Proverbs 29: 26

 

The modern philosopher John Rawls said, “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” I think that Rawls means that justice is fundamental. It is foundational to the formation of our society, and it is an essential platform upon which our society and its systems of governance are formed. Yet it is something that is sadly lacking in our world. Far too often it is held as a tool of power and as a device of oppression. Rulers, governmental and religious leaders, and others in positions of authority and might impose their own concepts of what is right and just upon others in order to bring about conformity and subservient behavior. As a result of this our world is filled with people who live in fear and who, in turn, become fearsome.

 

Upon consideration of the idea, I think that Rawls is right. Justice is something that should underlie all of the institutions that people use to organize ourselves. It is something that God placed into our world as a part of its creation design. The desire for justice and the capability to grant it are inherent in God’s creating humanity in His own image. Justice is a characteristic and a quality of God. I believe that if there were no God, there would be no justice. It is like the other higher qualities of love, peace, mercy, grace, and righteousness. These are qualities that people desire and that benefit us; yet, all of them exist solely because they come from God, Himself. Humanity on its own has a very bad track record in regards to the way that we live together. It is solely through the grace of God that we do find peace, engage in loving others, and seek to govern in a righteous manner. It is that same grace that leads us to justice for ourselves and for others.

 

If we seek to live in a just world, we must submit ourselves to the King of the Universe. It is essential for us to recognize that we are subjects of an authority that is higher than all other and that is also foundational for all earthly rule and rulers. This reordering of our allegiances is essential for us to become people who treat others justly. Additionally, living in this manner is not learned in government classes or through participation in our processes of governance, it is learned at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Justice is best understood as we follow in the steps of Christ, for He walked among us and responded to the people and the situations of His world in a manner that brought His living example of God’s created desire and intent for just, relational engagement among all people face to face with the real world where we live. In order to know justice, we need to avoid the halls of government until we know the path of Christ. Yet, once we are walking in the steps of the Savior, we should boldly bring Him and His glory into those same halls.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

In a favorable time I listened to you,

and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2

 

Paul is making reference to the fact that all that he does by way of sharing the truth of the Gospel is done in conjunction with what Christ has done and with what He continues to do. There is no independent labor on Paul’s part involved. There is nothing that can be done by him or by any of us that is outside of what Christ has undertaken Himself. In other words, no one comes into a relationship with God except by way of Jesus, the cross, and the conjunction of God’s grace and love at that point of sacrifice and redemptive victory. Some people might want and even desire to be granted the comfort of grace for a time or even for a season, but they are not prepared to set aside the shallow pleasures of the life that they have known and surrender fully to the cross of Christ with its hard realities and radical transformation.

 

So, they walk away from a relationship with God that they had never truly entered into. This is a mark of the vane and foolish nature of people in that we will give up on eternity and on an opportunity to be engaged in life in conjunction with the author of all wisdom, truth, and love. Yet, it does not need to be so. God’s grace is made available to us in an unending supply. He does not hold it back or remove His offer of it from us. There is no set season or finite opportunity for a person’s response to Christ. In fact, the time for repentance is now, the season for acceptance of God’s offer of salvation is here. These are the hours and the days for people to come to the Lord and this is the place where their lives are to be changed.

 

Christ calls upon those of us who do know Him to be open and willing to follow Him into engagement with people at all times and in all places. We are not going into all of this on our own. We are not even responsible for leading the effort. Rather, Christ has gone before us in yielding His life to the cross, and He continues to be the one who does the real work of bringing people into acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. We are simply asked to be willing to take the risk of rejection that comes with being confidently open about our faith and that happens when we share Christ with the people that we encounter in the course of our days. So, even people who have walked away from God’s offer of grace, those who have openly and possibly aggressively rejected Christ, and others who are antagonistic to Christ and to us because of Him are loved by God and are among the people that Christ wants us to seek out and to care about for the sake and the glory of the Gospel.

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.

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.