But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5: 15

 

This idea might seem quaint, old-fashioned, or even foolish today. For the world where we live takes great delight in the way that we put down others and looks to gain power and dominance by means of the words that we use to describe people who differ from us. This is something that is going on across political, social, and economic lines, and it is, sadly, also far too much a part of the nature of the dialogue within the holy realm of Christ’s own church. Thus, what Jesus shed His most precious blood to consecrate is often being reduced to something that would shame a back-alley shout-down. This is true even when the civility of lowered voices and the decorum of the setting are maintained as a façade, for when the heart is enraged, its murderous intent still stings, wounds, and commits acts of murder upon the spirit

 

In Christ, we are called to something better than this. We are also led by the Spirit into a manner of engagement that should not utilize verbal and emotional assault as a weapon and that should not accept it in people who we follow and whose direction we take for the conduct of the business of our days. This is the sort of thing that diminished the God-image based humanity of all who enter into such exchanges, and I fear that this is the intent, either overt or underlying, of people who resort to verbal character assassination, graphically negative description of others, and rapid fire, long distance put-downs as a valid method of dialogue or debate. Yet, this is what we are doing. This is the way that we have become accustomed to hearing the views of those who rule this world expressed, and far too many of us in the church are applauding these utterly worldly words and giving credence to their cleverness, force, and truth-saying when they deserve nothing more than rejection and rebuke for the this-world centered nature and character of their content and the hurtful desire of their delivery.

 

In case you are beginning to look toward singular people and say that this is about one person or a specific point of reference in the on-going discourse of our world, please reconsider, think again. For my heart is troubled by much more than what a person or even a political party might be saying. I am joining with Paul in my concern over what is happening inside of Christ’s church. We can and perhaps even should disagree on the issues of our day. Yet, we should never look toward another follower of Christ in a manner that is dismissive or unloving and that does anything to sever the bonds of fellowship that Christ gave His all to construct among us. I will say this again, we can disagree. We even must disagree, for the dialogue around the way and the manner that God’s Word informs and speaks into the issues of our times is an important aspect of the way that the Spirit works out His will and intent in and among us. We should also hold our public figures accountable for speaking truth, for the direction that they lead us, and for the manner in which they engage in the discourse. However, we must never resort to the ways of this world in doing these things, for that path is one that does nothing other than bring division and destruction into Christ’s most precious body of faith.

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The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,

and forsake not your mother’s teaching,

for they are a graceful garland for your head,

and pendants for your neck.

Proverbs 1: 7-9

 

Many of the people that I know lament about the condition of our world, and I admit, that I have joined them in these words of complaint and concern. There is a lot of unwise and ungodly thinking and behavior afoot around us. This lack of God’s wisdom in our world starts from the top, from our leaders, and flows down to the rest of us; however, it also starts with each of us and spreads outward to the rest of our culture. I do not think that God intends for us to be helpless in the face of sin and of sinful thinking as it is found around us. He has never been silent on these issues of righteousness or about the need for His people to be holy, that is set apart from the world and from its ways of thinking and acting. The Lord calls upon us to be curative salt and the penetrating light of truth and love in every place where our feet take us.

 

As followers of Christ, I believe that we have a multi-directional responsibility to fulfill to our Lord. We are to live in a transformed and a reformed personal reality that is framed by the first two lines of the passage above. The concept of fear of the Lord contains within it the idea of respect, honor, obedience, following after, and passionate love. When lived out it leads to a life of commitment to God wherein we trust Him to the degree that we are able to confess our sinfulness, repent of it, and enter fully into the grace that Christ grants to us in return. All of this leads to the outworking of transformative change in us, and this brings about the desire to serve Christ in ways that bring that same truth and love into contact with the world that has gone so badly astray from God’s righteous path. Also, as we live in a close and an intimate relationship with Christ, it is much easier to see and to respond to the foolishness of people we encounter who are living outside of the influence of God’s wise counsel.

 

So, we are also called by God to enter into all aspects of the world around us in order to participate in bringing the wisdom of the Lord into its decision-making discourse. Jesus entered into all areas of life without reservation or hesitation, and He poured out God’s righteous truth, unending love, and the hope of redemption onto the tired and ravaged landscape of this world. As His followers, we are to do the same thing. We are to take action where it is needed, and we are to speak up when truth is lacking. Additionally, God places a mandate upon us to teach this same righteousness to others. Although the writer of this proverb speaks about children, we can safely interpret that to include literal children and grand-children as well as other people that we come into contact with. As we know Christ, we are to share that knowledge. As He works in us to shape and to mold us into His glorious image, we must take this new life that we have been granted and do as our Lord did by pouring its truth, love, grace, and redemption out into our world as an offering of worship to God.

 

And Nehemiah, who was governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:9

 

The concept of separation of our religious practice from our system and processes of governance is an invention of recent times in history. This was certainly not the way that God designed for it to be. In the establishment of His nation of Israel and among God’s chosen people, the Lord set it up so that there was a direct and inseparable connection between the people who were the governmental leaders such as kings, princes, and governors and the church as represented by priests and teachers of God’s Law. Even in these ancient times this was not the way that most of the world operated. Most countries were governed by rulers who used the services of their religious practitioners when it was convenient to consult them and listened only to those ideas and direction that suited their desires and pre-set wishes.

 

This is a picture of the world where Jesus lived, and by His days, even the leadership of Israel had changed so much that Nehemiah and Ezra would not have recognized the secularly oriented institution that was the temple, their church. These changes were not the result of positive evolution as they were caused by humanity’s on-going drive to separate itself from God and to establish our own concepts, ordinances, and practices as supreme on earth. Much of our modern concept of separation of church from state is the result of a contra movement away from the dominance of the secular over the religious in which the church and its leaders were simply substituted for kings and governors while continuing to operate the nation as an unholy and sub-righteous entity wherein the end goal was still personal power and gain. Therefore, people who were being oppressed by these ungodly religious leaders established laws and rules of governance that built up barriers between the influence of church and of state upon each other.

 

My proposition is that none of this is right. The Lord is still sovereign over the entire world, over our nations, and in our practice of faith and of governance. His Word is the final authority for all of the decisions that people need to make in order to operate our nations and to live as citizens of this world. To me this means that any and all national allegiances are subordinate to our loyalty to God and that the primary identity of a follower of Christ is that of disciple of the Living God rather than the one that is framed in by national citizenship. With this in mind, there is a very real and important place for the voices of God’s people in the halls of governance of our nations. The truth of God’s Word and the illuminating presence of His Spirit are essential in these places as decisions that impact the lives of people for good and for evil are made there on a daily basis. As people who know Christ and who follow Him through life, we are to be open and outspoken to our governmental leaders, we are also to be present in our halls of governance through prayer, views and opinions expressed, our votes, and by seeking out election to office. As the gathering on that day in ancient Israel suggests, governance is at its best when followers of Christ and secular leaders are gathered as one in order to lead the people along God’s path of righteousness and faith.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of seeds on the earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts our large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Mark 4: 30-32

 

This is a really familiar statement that Jesus made to His followers as they went about the business of sharing the truths of living as people of God in their world. There is deliberate obscurity and vagueness at work in this parable. We are supposed to think about what it means, and we are also to rely upon spiritual insights in order to gain that understanding. Jesus knew that only a limited number of people would actually grasp what He was saying and also be willing to allow Him to change their lives in a manner that would lead to living as He said. The people who heard Jesus speak on this day were with Him and we are not, but we have the great advantage of the presence of Christ’s Spirit with and within us. This makes a very important difference for us in gaining understanding and deriving wisdom from God’s Word.

 

First off, it is apparent that Jesus is not talking about gardening here and that this account is not even about plants and their care or growth. Jesus is telling about a kingdom that is formed up by spiritual walls and that encompasses all of the earth within its borders. He is describing a place where all of His followers are citizens and a relationship that transcends all other affiliations and allegiances that we may have. The laws of this kingdom are superior to those of all nations as these laws actually form the foundation for all good and just ones that people have devised to bring order to our society. Yet, as wide spread and foundational as this kingdom may be and as mighty as is its King, the kingdom of God still relies upon people such as you and I to spread its message of love, hope, and righteousness in our world.

 

This task often seems to be overwhelming or even impossible. On many days it is hard to find a place where the Gospel of Christ is desired or even acceptable. It is easy to feel as if whatever I may have to offer to this world by way of bringing my beliefs and faith into the conversation of life will be insignificant and that doing this may actually diminish my credibility with the people around me. It seems that Jesus is telling us something else. He is saying that very small efforts and impacts as viewed from our perspective can have a monumental effect in the world around us as God’s creative and redemptive work is carried out through them. Christ asks us to take the small risk of going out into our world and being His disciple in it. His Spirit will go with us to reveal truth, provide us with encouragement and strength, and lead our way. As we each follow the leading of the Spirit and implant our faith in Christ alone into our world, a magnificent harvest of redemption will sprout up around us.

Since all of things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?

2 Peter 3: 11

 

Peter is speaking of a time to come when the Lord is ready to fulfill His commitment to end the existence of all that has become broken by the presence of sin and then bring about the installation of the new creation in its sinless perfection. This event will be preceded by times of great upheaval and chaotic days when truth is hard to discern and where the usual points of reference will be lost so that up will seem as down and apparent friend may actually be fiercest of enemy. We are not at this place in history yet, but God does not promise to inform us of the coming of these harshest of final days. So, we cannot live in any certainty regarding the date and the hour that the Lord will set out as the moment to speak forth these days. This is the reality that leads Peter to set out this question for himself and for all other followers of Christ.

 

Everything that we see in this world, and even the relationships that we have worked to nurture and to build will come to an end. Nothing of this world is to remain at the end of this tumultuous period of conflict, purification, and restoration of the perfection of God’s pure creation. Although it is clear from Scripture that people who know Christ and are thus known by God do continue to exist into all of eternity, the exact form and manner of that new life is beyond human description and full comprehension. Also, there will be a very significant change in all of us in that the hard and very real presence of our sinful old natures that interrupts and disrupts our human relationships now will no longer exist. In God’s new creation we will love each other with the fullness and purity of Christ, and our love for God will know no limitations or lapses.

 

So, in light of the uncertainty of the events of the days ahead, in Christ we can enter into a very certain approach to life. We can trust God’s Word and His nature fully and can thus seek Him out for all wisdom, direction, and counsel. Christ is with us in all of the details of living as a victor over sin in this fallen world. We can enter into accepting the grace of salvation and the on-going provision of Christ’s grace for the various ways that we all do fail to achieve God’s standards of righteousness, and as we are granted grace and mercy, we must also be ever gracious and merciful with others, even with people who truly rub us the wrong way. Then, because of Christ’s love for each of us, we are enabled and empowered to love all others in a manner that is like Him. Thus, followers of Christ are to be a people who are known for our love and our mercy and grace; we must be the defenders of justice in our world and the people who work to make peace in the midst of the storm that swirls about us as the squall line of the end of days events begins to buffet our world.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

[For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]

Matthew 6: 13

 

With temptation, evil, power, kingdoms, and glory all mixed together Jesus gave us the content for a great adventure or fantasy story. But He was not telling a bedtime fable or giving us some light entertainment. Jesus was entering into the holy realm of prayer, and He was speaking about the reality of life when He did this. There are no wasted words here. All of the content is important, and that is why I have chosen to add the bracketed last line from the New American Standard text to my usual ESV version here. There is a completion of thought that these final words of this prayer bring out that seem to matter to me today.

 

Temptation swirls about us every day. God does not place it there. In fact, it comes about because there is a very real and quite active presence of evil in our world that is continually working in opposition to God, for we live squarely in the center of today’s battlefield where Satan engages with God for power and dominion and for the ownership of souls. Temptation and the sinful thoughts and actions that it can lead to are placed before us and are used as weapons of war by Satan in order to distract and disable followers of Christ from our callings as servants of the true King. When we pray for protection and for deliverance from these temptations and in repentance for our sinfulness, we are recognizing that Christ is our Lord and Master and that He will lead, guide, and empower us in living righteously.

 

Jesus is giving us words of respectful and loving submission to Christ, and He is our one and only hope for walking through these perilous days in a manner that conforms to God’s Word and that brings honor and glory to the Lord. Yet, this singular hope will not be frustrated or defeated if we continually reach out in faith and trust to Christ who does actively work to save us and to redeem this world, for God does rule this world, and He has granted to Christ the power and the authority to save people and to enact that same sovereign authority on Satan’s attempts to exercise false rule over people and places here. As people who know God and who seek to follow His will, we must continually seek out His protection and guidance as we trust Him in all aspects of life’s journey; so, we pray from deep in our hearts as Jesus models for us.