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.

Good understanding produces favor.

Proverbs 13: 15

 

Unfortunately, I have found that developing a level of understanding that is actually good is not all that easy to do. For instance, let’s look at sessions of midnight toy building. There have been too many occasions when there were still parts left over when the project was finished, and some of those parts were too big and significant looking to label as “extra”. As regards wrong turns and frustration in trying to get somewhere on time when the directions were explained in great detail but I didn’t listen to those details; well, guilty is my plea. It would seem that I have been given far more chances to gain understanding during my life than I have taken advantage of, and my unwillingness to surrender my pride and to take the required time to listen and to study well has resulted in items that don’t work properly, time wasted, hurt feelings, lost opportunity, and damaged relationships.

 

Just as God will take all of the time that I require to help me understand everything that I need to function at a very high level in life, He also wants me to be committed to seeking the understanding that I need. In order to gain understanding of God’s truth, I need to get to know Him well; and like any relationship, it takes time and attention to get to truly know the Lord. I need to read His word in detail and keep on reading it until the details begin to reveal themselves to my mind and my heart. I need to talk with God and listen for His response; then, I need to listen as He continues to clarify and to amplify the wisdom that He is providing.

 

Yet, when I take the time to gain this sort of deep understanding, God promises me that I will receive favor. To me God’s favor is an expression of His grace, for it is not something that I can pay for or earn, and it is something that He wants to grant to me in great abundance. Favor looks and feels like a sense of peace, joy, and contentment that comes from deep inside and that has little connection to life’s circumstances. Still, favor is something that other people will notice even if they can’t define what it is that they are seeing. Favor is to be worn like an exquisite silk scarf that compliments all of my best features, and it comes to me as a present given to me by God in love and in honor of my intimate knowledge of Him.

 

Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toll, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul was a man of rather singular focus. His primary purpose for almost every day that he lived after that moment when Christ had interrupted his life’s work and faced him down with the truth of his own complete sinfulness was to bring people everywhere into this state that he called maturity in Christ. Now there were steps that were necessary along that journey into deep faith. First and foremost among them was for a person to recognize the sinfulness of her own life and turn to Christ as its answer. But I think that even that initial step was secondary to the calling that Paul perceived for himself as a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

The message that Paul proclaimed was that of the risen Christ, and the new life that Christ would bring about for those who followed Him. This message of reconciliation with God was one of hope, peace, and love, but it also had a very sharp edge to it. This razor-like surface is the place where God’s truth intersects the vagaries and compromises of this world’s view of truth. It also works to demonstrate and to separate out the ways that each of us enter into the delusion and acts of deliberate rebellion that form the core of our own sinfulness. Paul knew that the peace and love that God offers were at odds with the world where we all live so that our only hope of entering into them fully was through facing honestly into the areas of our own lives where we fall short of Christ’s standard of righteousness.

 

This honest discussion of God’s truth and of the ways that each of us falls short of living it out is the platform from which Paul’s idea of warning is launched. If we desire to be people who are mature in Christ, it is essential for us to face the reality of the ways that we act and think differently than God’s Word tells us to do. When we encounter the conflict between God’s truth and our own lives, we can confess our sinfulness and submit ourselves to the restorative work of Christ. Each of us, like Paul, is tasked with living as Christ in our world and with proclaiming His truth without compromise in the process of so living. Both aspects of this form of life are possible only by the strength of Christ and with the powerful energy that His life within us provides.

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1: 7

 

Let’s face it; the times that we live in make it hard to remain true to Christ and to God’s truth. Christians who stick to the righteous path as the one that leads us through our day are branded and labeled by many of the loudest voices that surround us. We are said to be divisive and told that we are separatists. They say that we are elitists and that we are unwilling to accept others. If we speak out against the acts and the actions of our government, we are out of touch with reality and we are accused of trying to impose our own values on others, as if that were in some way wrong. Unfortunately, the negative aspects of all of this are true of professing Christians at times.

 

However, we are called upon by God to walk in His light. That changes everything; for, if we are dwelling in the bright illumination of holy truth, we will be grounded in love, grace, mercy, and righteousness. Here, in this place, in the sanctity of our calling in Christ our humanness can cause us to wander slightly from God’s will, but His loving truth will prevent us from deviating too far. In God’s light we will find peace for our souls as the Lord directs us into the fellowship of His body. Christ knows that we need to be joined together with others who know Him. This is where we find strength, encouragement, and loving accountability to the truth. It is with the family of faith at our sides that we can best engage with the beast of death that is sin in our world. These are the people who help us to remain grounded in love while we stay true to our righteous calling.

 

Christ does want us to speak truth into our world. He tells His people to be bold and to not fear. Our lord is with us in and through all, and He informs us that we are to be the voices of true life and the hands of devoted care in a world that is oppressed by sin. We can not allow the harsh words and even the brutal blows that are delivered against us to stop our service of bringing a touch of the eternal into the chambers of death. Christ has cleansed His people of all of our sin, and clean hands and pure hearts are what are required to provide the sort of healing that our world needs. Together, in the fellowship of faith that gathers into the halls of Godly light, we can stand against the anger that evil uses in its attempt to defeat truth.

 

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10: 5

 

Our minds are amazing things, for they are capable of solving complex problems, of grasping difficult concepts, and of creating great beauty. Yet, they are also very easily led down destructive and harmful paths. This is often the way that Satan goes after us. For he slips a bit of slightly wrong thinking into the rational patterns of our minds, and he works his way into the smallest point of weakness that we allow to form in our spiritual lives. Then, those toe holds of deception start to grow and to develop into serious areas in our lives where God’s truth and His gracious love are overshadowed by deception.

 

Yet, there is real hope in all of this; since, Christ wants to join us in the fight against this very sort of wrong thinking, and He has already provided the answers that we need and the source for finding all of the wisdom that we will require to face life’s challenges. God wants us to take everything that we are thinking about, all actions that we are considering, and each aspect of our days and check our reason and logic against His Word. That means that we need to stay consistently engaged with the Lord through prayer, reading of His Word, and by listening to His responses to us.

 

There is nothing that is too small or insignificant, there is nothing that is too large or complex, and there is no issue that is too contemporary for the Lord to be interested in and capable of responding to. All that we do and every thought that we have fit into God’s design for righteous living. However, we do need to plan and to purpose to surrender our will and to seek God’s wisdom regularly, continually, and in all circumstances. Every thought that crosses my mind needs to be surrounded by the perfect circle of truth and love that is the protective boundary of Christ’s relationship with me.

 

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ; may mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Jude 1, 2

 

This is a beautiful greeting. It is the sort of thing that anyone would be delighted to hear and to read. It would seem that a person would have to be in a very bad place to not want to have mercy, peace, and love granted to them in abundance; yet, this is not the beginning of a casual, calm and gentle letter. As the brother of James, the great leader of the early church, and the lesser known brother of Jesus, Himself, Jude had been around the world of people who lived in the Christian faith. After a life spent in opposition to Jesus, he had come to accept Christ as his Savior and Lord. Now he was witnessing the destructive effect of the work of leaders who had taken people away from God’s truth. These were people who brought heresies and lies into the assembly of faith. Their wisdom was that of the world, and they counseled people in a manner that lead them to engage in sinful and destructive behaviors.

 

Witnessing this made Jude’s blood boil, and he could not remain silent. So, he speaks out about what he knows to be God’s position on the situation at hand. We are to be on guard against allowing even the slightest taste of sinful compromise cross our lips. The church needs to protect itself from the erosion and the waste that ensues when we become entangled in battles over secular issues that are a part of a condemned world order. Yet, we must know God’s Word and stay true to it so that we, individually and together as the body, will not follow our culture in its headlong and willful rush to death in the Lord’s judgment. This is a hard course, and like Jude, we become angry and want to rise up against all that brings evil into our paths. Yet, it seems important to pay close attention to everything that Jude did say.

 

He certainly does warn against following people who engage in sexual immorality, are contentious with those in authority and with systems of rule, are greedy, and are out for personal gain. Jude states that these people and their behavior will destroy the beautiful unity of our worship as a body. Their presence brings about a form of destruction that is like shipwreck, and they parch the soul with the dryness of drought. Their false light leads straight to eternal darkness. However, what is remarkable to me is what Jude tells us to do about all of this. He instructs us to remain strong in our faith through Spirit led and filled prayer. We are to position ourselves in the center of the love of Jesus that saves and preserves us. We are to do these things so that we can, in turn, show mercy to those who oppose Christ, and through exhibiting His supernatural love in our world, we can bring some of them into relationship with God. This is dangerous work, for as we engage in it, we are placed in very close proximity to the deceptiveness of the sin. In this we are to remain focused on Jesus so that we can, like Him, love all people totally while hating all sin with every ounce of our being.