Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

1 Peter 3: 13

 

In Peter’s day, the answer to this question was, “Many people”; these included the Emperor, the District Governor, the local authorities in many cities and towns, and numerous ordinary citizens. Christ followers had a way about them whereby they had the ability to stir up trouble. They tended to stick their noses into the affairs of those in power and into the lively hoods of the general population, too. Because of the essential nature of following Christ, they possessed a special talent for causing the wrath and the anger of religious leaders to boil over at them. The world where Peter lived was especially dangerous for him and for the others who openly proclaimed Christ. Our culture and the society where most of us reside is more genteel and less prone to violent opposition than was his. Yet, there is real danger out here in our streets, and the opposition that we will face for our faith is truly present.

 

There are places on earth where confessing Christ and sharing His Gospel with others is quite literally dangerous to do, but most of us do not live in those places. Our governments may even speak to being Christian in some manner, and the practice of our faith in Christ is not constrained or legislated against. However, different gods and a separate gospel do exist, and their adherents are often quite aggressive in their defense of those beliefs and of the system of power, authority, and rule of law that has grown out of this ungodly foundation. In much of our world nationalism, wealth and power, military might, and selfish ambition form the tenants of this modern ethos and frame in the definition of its exclusive membership. Christ is invited in as a silent partner and as a nominally expressed adornment to be hung upon the wall but not granted a real voice or followed into points of conflict with the way that life is being conducted.

 

To follow Christ today will lead to that conflict with many of our modern systems and power structures. This has not changed significantly from Peter’s days, and just as it was for him, we will also encounter disagreement and opposition from individuals over matters of what is right, just, and in conformity with God’s Word. Yet, Christ assures us that doing what is good, in every sense that He sets forth as being His desire for all of Creation to experience, will not lead us to the sort of harm that actually matters when we face our Lord in judgement for the lives that we have lived. Seeking righteousness and calling out that which is not the true Gospel of Christ in the world around us will not be popular, and these actions will lead to conflict and to disagreements with others. Some of these disagreements will be with people who name Christ as Lord and even with people who fellowship with us in our home church. These harsh realities cannot stop or deter us from speaking forth what is righteous, just, loving, and in alignment with God’s Word, that is, speaking what is good. For, when the full goodness of Christ is proclaimed, life is breathed into the world around that place.

 

 

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Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Jeremiah 23: 29

 

We are all far too aware of the destructive capacity of fire. It can take anything that we have built and turn it into rubble and ash in a matter of moments. When it is on the loose, it is unpredictable and runs wildly from mountain to valley without regard for the importance or the value of what lies in its path. Yet, God reckons that His word is like fire. So, does God’s Word destroy and run wildly amok in our midst? Could it be that there is danger contained in those pages or in the thoughts and ideas that are inspired by the Spirit and spoken by His voice? That might be the response that some people would have to either the word, itself, or to people who seek to live in a manner that is reflective of its moral and ethical, that is its righteous and holy, perspective. God’s Word is dangerous in our world, and it can burn wildly through our culture with its flaming tongue of truth consuming all that is stubble or straw before it.

 

Yet, God does not use His word of truth for destructive purposes, and He never desires for us to do that either. The Lord consumes the false and the deceptive elements of our world with His unfailing and unchangeable truth. He seeks to burn away all that is false and dedicated to idols in the hearts and the minds of people, both in those who do not know Him and in those who are in relationship with Him. We are all subjected to the heat of His judgement, we are all found to be lacking in true righteousness, and we are all offered redemption and new life in Christ. Only some accept this offer and avoid facing the final judgement that does come to everyone; so, those that do accept this offer of grace are judged as righteous by virtue of Christ’s perfection that is poured over and into us.

 

In order to do this, this pouring over and into each and every person who desires to know Christ and so, know God, the Lord uses the prophet’s metaphorical hammer to break through and to shatter away our hard shells of rebellion, pride, self-reliance, and fear. In this case, God’s Word in conjunction with the work of His Spirit find those places of vulnerability and need in people and strike us with the precise amount of force that is required to break away the defenses that we put up to stay away from God’s call to the heart to repent and to come home to His love. Once this hardened façade has been penetrated and broken, that consuming fire of truth that is propelled by the Spirit can reach into our inner beings and begin to cleanse, purify, and heal the wounds within. God’s fire is more terrifying than any of the conflagrations that burn on earth, and his hammer is more powerful than any force of nature, but every blow that He strikes and each tongue of flame that He sends out is purposeful and designed to bring about redemption and to lead to life today and for eternity.

Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34: 14

 

There may not be a more relentless force in our world than evil; for, it never sleeps and it never stops. The news from all corners of the world is saturated with its impact; there is death and pain, torture and hatred, control and slavery. Sadly, most of these acts are done with some form of reasoned out and seemingly noble stated purpose. The same kind of destructive force is at work in our own neighborhood, and sometimes it is even in our own homes. For example, consider the impact of angry words and of superior attitudes or consider how much harm is done by looking at other people with our own self-focused eyes rather than looking through the eyes of God. At these times we think that we are being strong and in control; instead, we are being incredibly weak, and we are dangerously close to being in Satan’s control.

 

You see, the peace that God seeks to have with us is not characterized by weakness; rather, it is marked by strength. This is a strength that comes from Christ within, and it is the true strength that empowers us to live in fearless abandonment of human power and worldly control. The Lord wants us to engage a dialogue with Him that becomes our ongoing discourse with our world. He wants us to operate every day from a perspective that is established on a solid foundation of wisdom and understanding; for, this is the state of living that we embrace when we look closely at Christ, engage with the truth of God’s Word, and when we listen to His truth as His Spirit speaks to our hearts. The Lord desires for us to live in peace with Him and with others.

 

We can look at the situations and the relationships that make up our lives and seek peace in all of them. We won’t always be able to accomplish this all of the time, for there will be people who will not go along with God’s will just as there are situations that defy the Lord’s desire and intent for how we should live. Our responsibility in all of this is to follow Christ’s example and to be peace makers. For there is one force that is active in our world that is more relentless than evil and that force is God’s love. He calls upon each of us who know Him to follow Christ’s example as we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in our hearts to replace the evil that we are by nature inclined to do with the good that flows out of Christ’s love and strength. We are to use every ounce of our energy in a continuous drive to bring true and lasting peace to others through touching them with the love that comes from Christ alone.

 

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

Psalm 85: 8

 

We all realize that peace can be illusive, fleeting. It seems to be here and well-settled one day, and then the next dawn is met by the thunderous explosions of bombs and the agonized cries of the wounded and the wailing of those who mourn. The little peace that comes to our hearts is just a fragile as that of nations and of armies. Generally, personal peace is a matter of acceptance; for, we accept the situation that is at hand, and we settle into the compromises and the negotiated acceptance that come along with the calm. There is nothing wrong with any of this, and it is the way that our world operates in its healthier moments. Yet, this peace seldom lasts, and it often a time of calm that is continually being tested and tried, stretched and eventually broken.

 

The psalmist has it right. We are a people who do not tend to stay the course when it comes to things that require discipline and faithfulness; that is things like peaceful living. We also struggle with staying true to God’s will for us. We want to do it all in a manner that we get to determine and with methods that we devise. This is a part of what leads to the folly that we are warned to avoid; yet, humanity has played the fool over and over again, and we are each capable of doing it at almost any time now. So, it would seem that living in peace is related to the way that we engage in our relationship to God. Peace is something that we gain from our proximity to the Lord, and foolishness is avoided by following God’s expressed will in His Word and as directed by His Spirit. People who keep their eyes on the Lord are far less likely to take those side trips into dangerous thinking and harmful living than are those who are continually looking away.

 

The acceptance that matters when it comes to living in peace within our hearts, minds, and souls is that of accepting the truth of God’s Word and the reality of His presence in this world with us. When we stop fighting against God and turning away from Him at times when what He is directing us to think and to do runs counter the direction that we desire to go, we can enter into the sort of peace that is not dependent upon the situation or the circumstances at hand. This peace is one that settles into our being and brings calm when the world around us is in turmoil. This is a form of Godly expression that can be heard deep within, and so it is audible to the mind even when the thunder of chaos is crashing around the ears. It brings about clear thinking and confident responses to all the external forces that attempt to disrupt life as God’s words of truth are heard in the heart and given expression through the way that we respond to all that comes our way.

 

 

 

All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the LORD

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before you.

Psalm 22: 27

 

This is not true today, and it has never been true in the course of humanity’s long history, either. There have always been people who went their own ways, and these people live in all of the corners of the globe. We have formed families and those families are organized into nations while still seeking to follow after some other guidance than the truth and wisdom that God provides for us. We humans have been a stubborn and a stiff-necked people from our very earliest of days, and we show little inclination to change now. Yet, the Lord is an optimist, or more accurately, He knows where the story leads, and. He gets to write the ending of it all with His bold and gracious hand of redemption.

 

God desires that we would be a people with strong character and well thought out responses to the vital issues of life such as faith, loyalty, justice, and love. He gave us the ability to form our own thoughts and feelings knowing that this would also create tension and lead to disobedience and rebellion on the parts of many people. However, it also causes us to be people who enter into a relationship with God that is committed, volitional, and engaged. When we come to Christ, we have done this because we desire to surrender our lives to Him and to be transformed by Him into people who dwell in the righteousness and truth of God’s Word. God is working in our world, and He is present in every corner of it. Christ is calling to hearts across the globe with His appeal to surrender and to return to the grace, love, and restoration that our Creator, God, provides for us.

 

Today is a good time to enter into God’s visionary view of our world. Where we see brokenness and loss, Christ sees need and potential. As we encounter opposition to our faith and rejection of our God, Christ views these same people as individuals who need to experience His love and know His grace. In Christ we have not been granted an exclusive place at God’s eternal table, instead we have been granted an endless supply of invitations to the feast that we can hand out to everyone that we encounter. We have been handed an unstoppable reservoir of mercy and grace to pour out with unchecked generosity onto the wounds and the heartaches of others. Christ will touch every corner of this world with His message of new life, restoration, justice, love, and peace, and He will be carried there as we believe in God’s vision for people, for families, and for nations.

For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and firmness of your faith in Christ.

Colossians 2: 5

 

A crisp, tightly organized marching band is something that I enjoy watching and hearing. There is a quality of unity and singlemindedness that is impressive in them. This particular interest is directly related to my own experience of marching and playing in bands for many years during my school years, I am certain. I know that the end product that we see on the street in a parade is the result of hours of practice, commitment, discipline, and design. The well-oiled machine that is a polished and skillful band doesn’t just happen, and this is also true when it comes to living as a community of followers of Christ, too. Paul has chosen his words with some real care here. He uses the terms “good order” and “firmness” that come from the world of military science and practice, and the marching bands that I envision are designed to be examples of this same military order and organized strength or firmness.

 

Like the military unit or the band, there is strength to be found in numbers of people who are headed in the same direction with like-minded purpose. This is one of the reasons that God leads His people into gathering together in communities of faith. We gain support and we also benefit from the collected wisdom and understanding that several Christ -filled hearts and minds bring to bear on all of the issues of life. People were not meant to live on our own, and this is even more true when it comes to navigating a course through the perilous waters of our world with doing Christ’s will as our desire and with righteousness as our set of guideposts. There is no place other than the body of Christ where we can go to engage in this daily journey with arm-in-arm support. Marching through the often hostile territory of our world is made both safer and more effective when it is done with spiritually connected companions.

 

So, where does this order and this ability to venture out into the world with firmness of purpose and resolve of heart come from? All strength comes from Christ and is founded on God’s Word. This is true for each of us individually just as it is so for His body gathered together in various forms and structures. We enter into this unified strength by praying together regularly and through the deep study of the Word with each other. These are things that are to be done in large gatherings and in small ones. God also intends for us to take time to meditate on Him and on His Word and to listen for the utterances of truth and direction that He does speak to us. These practices are the foundation for living in that well-ordered manner that Paul is describing, but the true life of a body of Christ followers is gained and is made tangible by the way that we go into our world to proclaim the truth of Christ’s Gospel by the words that we say and more so by the way that we love and care for the people of who dwell outside of our fellowships. Christ deepens our faith and grows our character as we trust Him to take us into the world for the sake of the glory of His name.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.

Acts 4: 12

 

Here it is, friends and neighbors, the ultimate household tool! There is nothing else that you will ever need to own in order to take care of all of those difficult, messy, and seemingly impossible tasks that you encounter during the preparation of the meal that is life. The next thing that our minds are conditioned to expect to hear is the easy payment plan and the extra value added items that we will receive if we act now. That is about the point when this parallel between hundreds of infomercials and this Holy Spirit inspired statement of truth breaks down. In God’s economy, there is no amount of money that we can send that will begin to pay for what has already been purchased for us by Christ, and there is absolutely nothing else that we will need to make that relationship complete beyond what God has already gifted and delivered to us.

 

The word of God came into existence through the actions of the Holy Spirit, and its words remain actively viable throughout all of time because of the presence of that same Spirit in the hearts and the minds of people who know Christ and who read the words. The words and the books that they are printed in are not sacred, and the translations of the words, although these are usually the product of people who are passionately committed to presenting God’s Word in forms that are accurate and accessible, are not to be worshiped. Yet, the life and the clarity of the truth that is found within the word is sacred, for that is where the Spirit of God communicates with the minds of people in order to make these words a vitally important part of the on-going dialogue that is at the center of our relationship with God.

 

The Word of God will answer every question that we have in life, and it does respond to each of our individual situations with the sort of honest insight that cuts through all of the surface issues and distractions. With the precision of the finest cutting tool ever made, the sharp edge of truth exposes the real issues that our heart and mind need to be focusing on. Then, the Spirit will provide us with a type of understanding that brings righteous thought and action into view. The Spirit also has this annoying habit of showing me the intentions of my heart; for then, as I give up my futile thinking, He has cleaned away the last remnants of the fatty waste that sin has formed in my thinking, and this precise tool that is the Word of God has given to me the ability to enter more fully into the great feast that is the Lord’s banquet of life.