And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son.

1 John 5: 11

Testimony is serious business. When a person is called upon to provide it, the words that come out, either in written form or as an oral statement, need to be carefully considered and be as accurate as the witness is able to recall. The words solemn and formal are found in the definitions of testimony. According to John, God’s own testimony is found in this simple expression about life. God gives life to us, and it comes by and through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the solemn truth that God would have all people know, grasp, and follow. This is the simple summary of all that is contained in God’s Word regarding relationship with Him. Life, in its fullest expression and to its ultimate extent, is a gift that comes to people in Christ, and it is found nowhere else in all of the universe.

This spark, this mysterious yet tangible difference, is often visible in the way that Christ’s followers think, act, and speak. It is even more apparent in the attitude that they carry forth into life wherein the things of this world do not hold them down or burden them to the point of breaking. For the truth is found in the fact that this place has its harsh qualities and its burdensome aspects, and no one escapes their grasp. We encounter these trials, struggles, and times of suffering as a part of the normal course of living. Yet, Christ within us changes things in ways that are real and tangible. Christ provides the perspective of eternity for us to use as the lens through which these earthly struggles can be viewed. Christ grants us a form of strength that is only slightly associated with the capacity to do physical work and that is absolutely related to our capacity to continue on with living with peace in our hearts and with the gospel of love on our lips.

God’s testimony is found in Jesus, and our testimony is the lives that we live in His name and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This fact makes each of us, in Christ, into daily witnesses to His grace, love, and mercy as it also places us on view as examples or exhibits in the great and grand trial that is life. For we are being looked over and examined so that the lives that we live and the way that Christ influences the conduct of those lives is under the scrutiny of the people of the world around us. The peace, joy, and love that we exude is being observed, and the way that we carry on with life regardless of circumstances and situations is also seen by others. I am not saying that followers of Christ should put up false fronts and pretend to the world that everything is perfect and that there are no challenges and struggles in our lives. Quite the opposite is true, for we can and should be free to be open, transparent, and honest in sharing our lives with others and in seeking the Lord’s engagement with our needs. Yet, in Christ, the lives that we live with their faith, hope, peace, and joy are even more so a testimony to our Lord in the hard days and the challenging times.  

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I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10: 11

Jesus’ words here seem obvious. He will do this exact thing, and although the actions that He is describing might have been mysterious to the audience on that day when He was saying this, we all know about the events that the Lord is referencing. But I wonder if that is all that there is to this? Jesus was often a little devious in what He said. He wanted the people who were hearing Him to consider and to ponder His words so that they might discover deeper meanings and broader applications within their lives for them. People in that region in those days were very aware of the role of shepherds in their society. Sheep were important for their many uses, and their need for care and guidance was also understood by all. Yet, the job of caring for sheep was not glamourous or even well thought of in society. Tending sheep required for a person to dedicate their life to that often risky endeavor and to do so in relative isolation while working for many months of the year without break or respite.

Yes, Jesus would give up His life in order to bring salvation to those that He loved, which means that He did so for the sake of all of humanity, but He also did far more than that for us. Jesus demonstrated what it means to care about others in ways that crossed over the lines that people tend to draw between the secular and the sacred. He engaged with people in the places where they were living out the routines of their lives, and He went into places that the religious of His day had deemed to be unholy and unacceptable for anyone who followed God to set foot. Yet, Jesus knew that the entirety of creation belonged to God; so, there was literally no place on this earth where He should not go. There were also no people who were not worthy of His attention, love, and care. Christ brought healing to the physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick people of His day, and He set out the model for us to do the same for those people in the world during our days. Jesus went out into the world, and He sought out the lost, the wandering, and the needy among the multitudes in His world, and He sends His followers out to do the same in ours.

So, when Jesus gave Himself up to be tortured and executed on the cross, that was really a culminating moment to a life that had already been surrendered to following the Father’s will in every aspect of what He thought and did. Jesus lived out God’s redemptive desire as He entered into the harsh realities of people’s lives, and He engaged in this with utter disregard for what others might think, how they would treat Him as a result of what He said and did, or the impact upon His social and societal standing. Jesus was the shepherd that genuinely loved sheep. So, He calls upon all of us that claim to follow Him to do the same. We are to set aside our cares and concerns about involvement with people that our world has designated as unworthy or as lacking in value. We are to take the risk of entering into the lives of those that are foreign to us or who might seem to be dangerous in order to know them and so that they might see and get to know Christ through us. When we are reluctant to enter into caring for the many needy people in our world and as we are weary and desiring a break from the task of shepherding these sheep, Jesus asks the hard questions, “Whose life is it that you are protecting?” and “Which of these sheep is the one that I would not be willing to lay down my life to save?”    

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12: 3

Can you imagine the size and the nature of God’s measuring device? Is it like a cup that is used to get the proportions of ingredients for a cake right, or is it designed more along the lines of long incrementally divided stick or rod that can assess the depth and the width of the product that is being apportioned out? In fact, any form of instrument that we might consider from our world and experience will fall short of capturing the truly incredible nature and bounty of all that God gives to us. His gifts are extraordinary in all ways, and the Lord’s generosity with them is beyond imagining. God gives, and then, He gives more! As we are open to receive, so the Lord fills us up, and then He stretches our capacity to handle His grace and His love even further.

Yet, God’s gift of grace allows us to enter into all aspects of life with a form of humility that is not natural to people. In general, we are oriented toward telling our own stories in a manner that gives us credibility and status in our world. Our egos lead us into the need for establishing a position of superiority to at least some of the other people that are around us. This is not how God designed His body to function, and this is not the reality that Christ calls us to operate within, either. God’s grace is established in the full expression and nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Everything that can be contemplated as bringing about worth and that is required to establish value and position in this world is provided solely by Christ and through this greatest of all earthly and heavenly events. We bring nothing with us into this life, and we develop nothing along the way that adds to Christ’s accomplishment. There is no longer any need to strive and contend for status beyond our identity as followers of Christ.

The act of providing the grace that is required to live in humble submission to Christ is something that God accomplishes out of His infinite wisdom and total understanding of each of us. The transformation that comes about out of knowing Christ is not born upon any of us in its fully fleshed out form, for it is something that takes place over the entire course of the remaining days of each of our lives. The changes and the growth in spiritual strength that the Holy Spirit effects in us are aspects of our developing spiritual beings that gain expression and become manifest in each of us according to God’s perfect plan for His calling for us. Our part in this process is one of surrender and trust. We can cease our very human endeavors to fight back against some of the changes that the Spirit is asking us to make, and we can do this most efficiently as we trust God to take us to the place and to ask us to do the things that will be best for us and that will bring the greatest glory to His name.   

O God, from my youth you have taught me,

   and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

Psalm 71: 17

Unfortunately, it is often true that after many years of sitting under the teaching of someone, the student loses respect for that teacher. This change in perspective is usually the result of our own human weakness. No matter how faithful to a cause, true to a philosophy, or committed to the pursuit of truth and reason, we all tend to drift away from dead center and each of us can find ourselves weakening into compromise or self-protective lies and deceptions. This is the way of the world, and all of us, teachers and mentors included, live in this same tragically broken environment. So, the longer we know someone and the more time spent in following that person’s guidance and instruction, the more likely it is that we will become acutely aware of their flaws, failings, and faults.

This was not a true condition for the writer of this Psalm. This person had a life-long relationship with God in which the author had taken instruction from the Lord, and even after decades of following that teaching, God was still amazing His audience and was continuing to provide the sort of guidance and wisdom that was life-giving and transformative in its content and its nature. This same observation is one that I can make, and it is also one that many others have set forth. There is no other teaching available to us in this world that compares to that which is provided by the Lord. His wisdom and truth come to us from God’s Word and it is provided to us in the form of spoken and written words that come out of the hearts and minds of people who have been gifted and guided by the Holy Spirit to provide the world with illumination and explanation of God’s Word. The Lord also speaks through direct communication with us and in the wise words that come from people within the body of faith.

There is no end or limit to the wisdom and truth that the Lord has available to us as we seek to navigate through life. He provides wide reaching and broadly applicable ethical and moral guidance for use in virtually every situation that we might encounter. The Lord also enters into the issues and concerns that come along with a remarkable capacity for understanding the intricacies of each of our lives. As we journey through life, we can look to many sources of knowledge, seek to sit under the teaching and instruction of numerous wise and gifted teachers, and engage with various other sources of insight and understanding, but in and through it all, there will be one final, true, and enduring teacher; that is, the Lord, God Himself, provides all wisdom, truth, and enduring council. We will sit under the teaching of people, but even then, we should check the ideas, direction, and guidance that they provide against the eternal truth that is contained in God’s Word and that is explained to each of Christ’s followers by the ever-present Spirit.   

theologyThink over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2: 7

We live in a complex world. The issues that are out there for us to deal with are complicated, and they are frequently confusing to sort out, too. Reaching good, sound, and even Godly decisions about many of the things that we encounter can be hard to accomplish. We gather information, and we process it. We seek out opinions from experts and from friends, and still clarity can elude us. In many instances, right and wrong are just not all that clearly defined or differentiated. As followers of Christ, we can seek out God’s Word and people who teach from it in order to gain truth and clear direction. Yet, even that process can leave issues unresolved or even more confused, for interpretation of Scripture and ideas about God’s will or direction can vary rather significantly from person to person.

God knew that this would be a challenge for His people, and He did something about resolving the tension that results from these differences in the way that people tend to see the same material or view a situation. At the end of His post-resurrection time on earth, Jesus left His followers and returned to dwell fully in that aspect of the universe that we know as Heaven. At this time, Christ deliberately left the Spirit with us, and as we come into relationship with Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell within each of us, too. Thus, as we seek to understand how we are to live in our world today, we have access to God’s Word of truth and life, the inspired teaching of people that God has gifted in understanding and interpretation of that Word, and the Holy Spirit. All of these are useful and important as we seek to live out our days as righteous people, as God’s people.

Even a great and Godly teacher such as was Paul knew that he was not the final authority when it came to matters of spiritual discernment and understanding of God’s will and direction for life. He relied upon the counsel and the guidance of the Spirit, and he advised others to do the same. When we seek out God’s perspective on these various situations and issues that we face, we are using the full array of tools that the Lord has provided for us in order that we might live well throughout our journey through life. Although Paul’s statement about thinking over what he has said may sound simple and direct, there is much more contained in doing that than just a few casual thoughts. The Lord is leading us into regular reading of His Word, and prayer that is derived out of it and about its content. He calls upon us to listen to and consider teaching that is founded on that same Word; then, we are to pray about understanding and applying what we have heard. Additionally, Christ desires for each of us to live in the companionship and the support of the fellowship of faith that is found in His body while continuing to pray individually and as a gathered group in search of the Spirit’s guidance, direction, and understanding of God’s will.      

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13: 13, 14

 

There is a popular hymn that in all probability dates from the early years of the twentieth century that starts out with these words,

 

“This world in not my home, I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

 

This says what the author of Hebrews was saying, at least in part. In Christ we gain much, but we also loss much, or perhaps more accurately, we leave behind much. Christ is our model and our leading example in all of this. He left the glory of Heaven and His position as Lord over all of Creation in order to live with and among us on this earth. He submitted to all that He was required to endure in life here, and then He allowed us to treat His royal being with cruelty and put Him to death as if the sinless one were indeed the criminal that all of us are in fact. Now, Christ calls upon all of us who submit to Him as His followers to leave the place of our births behind and to join Him in dwelling beyond the walls of worldly comfort and protection.

 

Jesus demands our primary loyalty; so, if we are in Christ, we can not be so aligned with any nation, people, religion, or earthly system of order or governance. None of these things will last beyond their few allotted years. All of this world’s entities, constructs, and rule of law will pass away, and each of them is already subordinate to God’s Word of truth. We should not give our hearts and our souls to any of these earthly orders or pledge our loyalty to any of their rulers, for none of these are worthy of such honor. Not one of them is righteous, holy, and without self-serving purpose and intent. We owe all honor, allegiance, and worship to God, the Father, to Christ the Son and our Savior, and to the Spirit that dwells with and in us. All other adoration and praise are poured out on unworthy recipients and is thus wasted effort and misguided loyalty. Christ alone is to be Lord over all aspects of our lives.

 

All that we do and everything that we stand for in this life should be focused upon Christ. He is the source of all wisdom and guidance for our days, and our Lord is the singular source for all of the strength, encouragement, grace, and love that will be required of us if we choose to live in this God-honoring manner. As otherworldly followers of Christ, we are people who seek out the broken and the oppressed in our world in order to grant them protection, healing, and dignity in the name of Christ. When we choose to dwell outside of the walls of earthly institution, we are setting aside the hard rules of those entities in order to see others as human beings, and so viewing them frees us to enter into their stories as people who can not only be empathetic, but also we can thus travel through hard days and along challenging miles of their journeys with them. As we move out of the city of this worldly life, we do leave behind much, but we also draw near to our Savior and Lord, for He dwells in these hard and rocky places that are beyond the borders of earthly cities. So, let’s gather together and worship our Lord in His true tabernacle of blessing where Christ’s Spirit is mighty and we boldly invite the stranger and the foreigner to come in and join in the feast.