Christ said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,”

Acts 1: 8

 

These are the last recorded words of Jesus that were spoken in the days after His crucifixion and resurrection. He was delivering those final instructions, what we might call marching orders, to His closest followers. These men and women would be charged with the task of going head to head with the world where they lived and with bringing God’s truth to people who were being deluded and deceived by most of the leaders of their governmental and their religious institutions. This was a dangerous task. It would be a thankless one, too. Almost all of them would be killed for their efforts. Yet, we can thank them with our eternal lives, and we can seek to follow along the trail that they blazed as well.

 

As I think this thought and now write it, it seems rather silly to say, but God is very wise. He knew that we humans would need more than just His written word and more than the testimony of our ancestors to follow and to serve as guidance for living righteously. In Jesus we had God’s presence in totally tangible form. God was with us in a way that was understandable and that was completely visible to the world. As Jesus left this world physically, God planned to leave the Holy Spirit with us. But He didn’t just leave the Spirit as a presence, instead God purposefully entered into us. In a way that is mysterious and miraculous, God, Himself, becomes one with our human existence. In Christ, we mere humans are infused with the personal presence of the Most High. We are granted the ability to begin to see our world through Divine eyes, and we are given understanding and wisdom that comes from their author.

 

God has invested His life in us. Christ’s care, concern, agony, and His very real blood have been spread over our sinful lives so that we would no longer be left searching for life. The question that this brings to mind for me is the one about what do I do with this gift that God has graciously granted to me? I have life, and I have God’s Spirit, God Himself, in residence within me. According to Christ I now have all the power that I need to follow Him absolutely. There is no force of this world or from beyond it that can stand against me. Nothing can take me away from my Lord, and He promises to reveal all of His will for my life to me as it is needed. All that Christ asks of me is that I surrender my life to Him and that I have faith in God’s plan to the degree that I will trust His guidance and live within His provision each moment of every day. This is not easy to do, but, again, I have the power in the Holy Spirit. So, this would be a good day to proclaim the truth about who God is and of the salvation that comes through belief in Jesus, the Christ. Today would be a very good time to live as a sworn witness to the Living King.

 

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As for the matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters who were in all his kingdom.

Daniel 1: 20

 

This is the account of a period of testing in which Daniel and the other three Hebrew youth with him were placed under close scrutiny by Nebuchadnezzar and his appointed officials. The testing was to determine just how much responsibility could be reliably placed upon these foreigner’s shoulders. Daniel and his friends made it clear from the outset that they were followers of the God of Israel and that they would do and say nothing that was contrary to the Lord’s will. This was not an easy path for them to follow in that they were living as slaves in a land where the king had absolute authority and power, and this king, Nebuchadnezzar, was a devoted follower of his land’s collection of gods and god-like images.

 

Now these Babylonians did not have it all wrong, for they recognized that understanding and wisdom in their complex and often perplexing world needed to come from sources beyond human capacity. They also recognized that some people were more gifted and better equipped in certain ways that were others. Thus, Daniel was tested in order to see if he was capable of providing the sort of wise counsel that could only come out of a person who had been granted this sort of heavenly wisdom and understanding. The standard of measure was the level of such gifts that the court’s own appointed and trained practitioners and workers of magical spells and incantations could issue forth; thus, they were held to a standard that could be called “The wisdom of the world.” The text tells the story. When Daniel and the others were consulted, they consistently spoke in terms that were honest, accurate, and authoritative to a degree that made the court’s own prophets seem weak, feeble, and incapable by comparison.

 

The magnitude of excellence that was exhibited by Daniel and the others was not really the point; rather, what mattered was the great difference in providing clear guidance and direction for life that came out of these people who were seeking out God and who were following the life-giving direction of His Word. What they said was true and that brought people into ways of thinking and of living that actually worked out for the betterment of their world. This is a great story of the way that God equipped these special men in this far away place to reveal His presence in their world by virtue of His equipping of them to be voices for righteousness in their culture. This is also an example of the way that God still speaks through people who believe in Him and who are willing to follow and to act upon what He says today. God’s wisdom continues to be real, valid, and powerfully present in our world. He still speaks through those of us who are committed to following Him, and the wisdom of the Lord remains such that it is ten times or more greater than all that our world and its practitioners of magic truths can summon forth.

 

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

2 Timothy 2: 7

 

By this point in his time of service to God, Paul had every right to expect that people would listen to what he had to say. He knew that he had been called and commissioned by God to speak and to write about the relationship that the Lord wanted to have with all people. Also, Paul was aware of the special training and the extraordinary knowledge that Christ had entrusted in him, and he had committed his life to bringing that knowledge to others. Still, Paul knew that his words were never going to be enough, and he was fully aware that the deepest thinking, the clearest writing, and the most persuasive speaking were not going to work on their own or even together to win souls out of darkness.

 

The totality of what people do is nothing more than futility if God is not behind it. In fact, when people use their minds and seek to develop a new truth about God that is not founded in complete, humble submission to the Lord’s will and surrounded by worship of Him, they tend to start deviating from the truth. They create false religions that only serve the purposes of evil. However, the thoughts and the words of people who are seeking after God’s truth are good and worthy. Even then, they gain their deepest meaning and their true application through the special revelation that the Spirit of Christ gives to His people. The Lord validates and He vitalizes the words that He has inspired in others.

 

So, Paul calls upon us to consider the words that he wrote. I think that he wanted us to do more than just read them. Paul knew that on their own even his most profound thoughts were nothing more than shadows of the truths that God wants us to enjoy. The Lord wants us to take His word into our minds through our eyes and our ears; then, He wants us to grant His Word the opportunity to stay there, for most of us need to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to give the Spirit time to make the deep truths a part of our essential being. We also need to take the Word with us into the day so that it can shape the way that we respond to everything that comes our way. Then, we will have a greater ability to see others as Christ sees them, and they will be granted the blessing of the living presence of the author of that Word in their day.

And Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.

Joshua 10: 42

 

We all engage in battle. Seldom are they as dramatic, violent, and far reaching as were the ones that the Israelites under Joshua fought on this particular day. As for me, I have never needed the sun to stand still until it was all accomplished, which was an accommodation that the Lord granted to Joshua; in fact, there have been more times when I wished that the hours would go by more quickly. The point is that Israel’s experience here did involve the miraculous and was facilitated by the hand of God working on their behalf, and our own experience of life’s struggles may not seem to be the same. However, I submit that there is more similarity of our days to Joshua’s than we might think and more than we do appreciate.

 

Israel was following God’s instructions and entering into the outworking of the Lord’s plan. In this instance, they were doing things exactly as God dictated, and they were granted great success in the process. Our battles are different, the tools that we use are not the same, and victory is defined in ways other than in conquest and death. Still, we have God’s direction to lead us, prayer to encourage and to help us to focus, and the Spirit with us to explain and to direct it all. Like Joshua, we are called to go to war against powers and forces that desire to control the territory around us. We are engaged in an on-going contest with these forces of the world for the most precious real estate that there is in the hearts, minds, and souls of people. There is nothing more significant for us to do than to enter into Christ’s calling to bring His Gospel to everyone that we encounter.

 

This work can be very hard and takes us into the harsh terrain of deception, deeply held beliefs, and angry opposition. We may find that there are times when all of our companions and supporters seem to have disappeared into the background so that we feel totally alone. Yet, this is never the case, for the Lord is committed to us and to the campaign that He has called us to wage, and He never leaves us truly alone. In fact, Christ is the one who is doing all of this fighting for us, and He is the source for all of the strength and the courage that we need to enter into the struggle. As followers of Christ we will encounter the hostility of a world that is fighting against God’s righteous truth with all of its might and vigor; however, in Christ, we already have His victory, and we go into each of these encounters with the Lord leading the way and His loving grace, truth, and heart of redemption as our strong weapons.

For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 25: 16

 

This verse comes at the end of a long string of recitations of a code for living in a civil and a just society. Although it is connected directly to an ordinance about using fair and proper weights and measures in the acts of buying and of selling goods, it is really a comment about the way that God views all forms of social interaction. The Lord wants to make it very clear that He pays close attention to the way that we interact with each other. God desires that people would all live in a form of harmony and with a sense of justice that is universal. When we cheat each other and steal from others it is an affront to God’s character. He is justice, and He is truth and honesty. These qualities are formed and defined in and by the Father.

 

I believe that we no longer live in countries that are under the same sort of national moral mandate as did the Israelites in these early times. Then the nation, itself, was charged with living in a relationship with God that then flowed out to the people through leaders such as Moses and through the priests and prophets as God’s ordained servants and spokespersons. Our world is different in many ways. Most profoundly, we live in a time when we enter into a relationship with God individually and personally though Christ. Each person is charged with understanding God’s truth and with applying it to our lives. Although we are still under a mandate to grant due respect to our governmental leaders and to honor our country, each of us is directed by God to understand His righteousness and to apply it to the way that we conduct our lives whether private, personal, or public. Christ also requires His people to seek justice and to show mercy to those who are not in positions of power and easy acceptance, and this mandate exists even when those leaders and governments disagree with God’s concept of justice and peacemaking.

 

This is why God’s code of social conduct matters so much to Him and why it should be highly significant to each of us in Christ. The way that we transact life with others speaks loudly about the relationship that we have with God. When we set aside gain for the good of others, we are living as Christ demonstrated to us. When we speak up for the disadvantaged and the voiceless, we are doing as God desires for us to do. As children of the Living God we are not granted any margin of comfort or of safety in this area. Christ calls upon us to live on that ragged edge of our culture where there is no net of security to catch us and no path of easy acquiescence to the direction that those in power may have taken when that path runs in opposition to God’s ways. However, this counter cultural path is the place from which the view that our eyes will see is of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the image that we demonstrate to our world is the face of Christ.

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “You know everything; You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

John 21: 17

 

There is a quality to this scene on the beach that would be perfect for a film script. The setting is striking with the growing light of the early morning on the shore of the Sea. The fire would provide a dramatic glow to show the faces of Jesus and Peter as they dialogue. The emotion on Peter’s face could be emphasized by the way that the camera focused on his pain and confusion and their resolution in the loving words and actions of Christ. For here He is, the Lord of the Universe, the One who created it all, the King of Kings, and He is cooking fish to feed His wandering followers. Christ has come to bring the life of His grace to Peter’s broken spirit. Christ is reaching out to allow His truth to heal that brokenness and to set His people on the path that will take them into God’s plan and purpose for the rest of their lives.

 

Although Peter is one of the great figures in the history of the Christian faith, he seems to have been a great deal like most of us. He was not very consistent in his courage or in his application of God’s truth to the actual living of life. In simple terms, Peter fell down and acted the fool on far too many occasions. Yet, God had a plan for him and for his life, and God’s desire for Peter’s life would not be defeated by Peter’s own humanity. Instead, the Lord came after Peter with relentlessness and with understanding. As Jesus is talking with Peter, He probes some very sore wounds, and the pain that results is hard to endure. But Peter does come through the procedure. He is healed of the sin that has driven him away from God’s calling. Christ makes Himself evident and present for Peter and for the rest of us, too.

 

Most of us have Peter like stories to tell. We have failure and weakness in our lives and in our personalities that seems to dog us and to bring defeat to our journey. We carry with us the harsh reality of our sinful selves as it continually rises up and knocks us off of our feet. Still, after these dark nights of hopeless wandering, there is Christ. He is waiting for us to come to the warmth of the fire. There we will find the comfort of His presence and the strength that His Word brings to our starving spirits. God has come. He is with us. He asks that we turn away from our fears, get out of our self-focused thinking, and join Him in the light of His truth and loving grace. Christ is here to send each of us out into His pasture to, “Feed My sheep.”

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5: 1

 

Justice has become a hot topic in recent days. People’s understanding of it has been demonstrated to be a political issue as well. It would seem that how we view who and what is just is based upon the platform from which we view most of life. Some are standing on the right, some on the left, and others occupy space somewhere in between. All of this debate tends to take something that our society has worked very hard to make completely objective and casts it as almost totally subject to our personal and situational interpretation. This is not how our law codes and system of justice were designed to work, and this is no where near to the way that God engages with us and with our world.

 

First off, what does it mean to be just? A dictionary definition is; “Guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness.” So, when we are justified we are shown to possess the characteristics of a person who is just. In my experience, this is not who the vast majority of us, myself included, are in fact and in function. It is very hard for people to view our world and the others in it with the sort of unbiased and open-handed acceptance and grace that is at the heart of God’s concept of justice. We always bring our personal fears, concerns, biases, and prejudices to the conversation. Yet, this very human approach to engagement with the world around us puts us at odds with much of it, it makes reconciliation all but impossible, and we are placed in a state of tension and disagreement with God, Himself.

 

Christ came into this world to break through this and all other barriers that sin has built up between people and God. It is in Christ and through the work of His Spirit in us that we have hope of moving from this state of opposition and tension with God and into the peace that is the nature of God’s Kingdom. Christ takes us from a place of guilt and condemnation, and He stands before the judgment seat of God to cover our sin with His own righteousness. This is not only an event that takes place in eternity; rather, it is an action in which Christ brings eternity and its reconciliation into our world and applies the mercy and grace of God’s justice to us. God intends for justification to be transformative. We should be changed and freed from our natural prejudices and fears by it. As we view our world through Christ’s eyes, we need to become people who apply God’s truth to all of life and who reach out in love to make the grace of justice real for others.