The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.

Ecclesiastes 9: 17

These are not my words, and they do not come from our times. Instead, Solomon is generally given credit for them; so, they come from the 10th Century BC. They do describe the reality of the human condition in that our foolishness and arrogance in it have been a part of our disfunction from the early days of humanity’s walking upon the earth. Nothing much has changed beyond the fact that today’s fools have a bigger audience for their unwise and godless banter than did those in Solomon’s day. I do wonder why it was thought that these wise words should be delivered into the quietude of a more contemplative space rather than broadcast as loudly and as far as was possible at any given time? It would seem that wisdom should seek to be heard above the din of all that foolish racket.

Yet, the godly sage sets out a different image. He presents an image of the wise teacher that when confronted with a classroom filled with unruly students begins to speak in a quiet but persistent tone until the students begin to fall silent in order to hear what the teacher is saying. Volume is a tool that is used to overcome the lack of content, and the delivery of forceful and caustic words is a tactic that is intended to diminish and discredit those who might speak in opposition to a point of view. None of this invites healthy dialogue, and nothing about these foolish tactics comes from the presence of the Spirit of Christ. 

So, if we are to believe and to follow Solomon’s guidance in these matters, followers of Christ are to be calm when the rhetorical storm is raging, we are to choose our words so that they reflect the gospel of Christ in its totality, and we must seek to bring peace where conflict arises. This does not mean that Christ would have us ignore the things that those in power are saying or doing. Rather, we are to speak up and speak out in opposition to the fools of our times when they spout forth their unloving, dangerous, and anti-Christ messages of greed, power, and oppression. The times of Solomon were not ones where remaining silent was what God called His people to do, and the 21st Century is not such an era either. We are to confront the fools in our world as they attempt to lead people into bondage to their false gods. We are to deliver Christ’s message of redemptive love, restorative grace, and peace for the soul as the singular antidote for the poisonous speech of these shouting and foolish rulers.       

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.

Titus 1:1-3

Paul was very certain about what he was about and why he was doing it. He knew that he was a servant and that he was such a person because God, Himself, had called him out of his former life and had commissioned him to speak forth, to preach, the truth about redemption through Christ, salvation granted by grace alone, and the promise of eternity that was given by God to humanity during the earliest days of creation. This is that good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, that transforms death into life and that brings people into the center of God’s will, which is the outworking of the Lord’s desire to see all of creation returned to relationship with its Creator. Through acceptance of Christ, we, ourselves, become holy and acceptable in God’s presence, and we also are filled with the Spirit of Christ so that we can consider and respond to all aspects of life from God’s righteous and true perspective.

This same certainty is something that any of us that know Christ can obtain and can grow to understand as we travel through life with Him. For the Spirit implores us to seek after the same sort of wisdom and truth that Paul was driven to grasp and to comprehend. We have the additional aid of the full scope of God’s Word to study as we participate with the Spirit in developing into mature followers of Christ. Paul certainly did listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he continually developed and grew into ever greater maturity as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The man that was prepared and ready to instruct the church in the handling of complex and deeply troubling issues and situations in his later years was a different person than the more impulsive and hard-edged new convert that he had once been. This later Paul was a man that was focused on the long process of building up the church of Jesus Christ so that it could withstand the turmoil, trouble, and challenges that were to come its way over the years ahead.

So, as we operate out of the certainty of the gospel of Christ, yield our hearts and our minds to the counsel and instruction of the Spirit, and diligently seek after the Lord’s will for the ways that we can serve God’s Kingdom, we are living out the pattern that Paul set forth for us for dwelling on earth as a committed follower of Christ in our world. There will always be more for us to know about God’s love, grace, and truth, and we are going to continually be a work in progress when it comes to our responses to serving God’s will with the totality of our lives. With certainty I say that neither I nor you will write additional words of eternal truth such as these that Paul set forth for us to read, ponder, and be instructed by their content. It is with the same certainty that I hold that each of us, in Christ, will be called out of the life that we have lived previously and into service to the Lord in ways that are wonderful, powerful, and valuable in the growth of God’s holy and eternal body, His church.      

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4: 29

The object of this message is Israel, but it could be any one of thousands upon thousands of people who have lived throughout history and who are with us today. So, that begs the question, where are those people? Like Israel was when it was taken into captivity in Egypt, they are far away from God, and the distance has been the result of their own thoughts, words, and actions. Any relational walls that exist have been constructed by those far off people, and all of the instances where the wandering people have felt estrangement from God or lack of connection with Him have come about because the people have turned their hearts and the reason of their minds toward other objects for the expression of their love and worship. But God is defined by grace, and His heart is attuned to the needs and to the desires of all people, even these lost ones that have rejected Him. God is open and receptive to their desire to find Him and to enter once again into a relationship with Him.

In the days of Moses, the Lord was willing to reach out into the dark corners of the world and to commission and send a great leader to the enslaved Israelites. So, Moses was there with them in order to do God’s will among the Egyptians so that their power and control over the destiny of the Israelites was defeated. In more recent times, God sent Jesus to join with us in our struggles with sin as it attempts to exert the same sort of power and control over us. Jesus performed the redemptive work that the Father directed Him to do, and He set us free from enslavement to all that is anti-love, spiritually broken, and dedicated to a death that is preferred to living fully in the presence of God. As God used Moses to lead His people back into relationship with Him, so too has He sent Jesus to show us the way into that eternal relationship that has its beginning in this life and that continues unabated for all time, even through the infinite years that exist beyond an earthly grave.

It is never too late to seek the Lord, and no one has traveled beyond the boundary of Christ’s redemptive reach. We may have known God at one point in our lives; yet, we have walked away from Him and gone off on a journey of our own choosing. Still, the Lord is not far removed from where we are dwelling. Christ does not ask us to change all of the aspects of life in order to be suitable for His presence. He takes who we are as being sufficient, and He accepts what we are doing as being satisfactory for His grace to enter in to even the darkest places in our hearts and our minds. Christ brings the light of truth into the world’s oppressive darkness as He casts the hopeful light of the dawn of a new day before us. This is a day when the oppressive weight of slavery is to be removed from our backs and the harsh demands of the world’s idols will be set aside and cast down in favor of the lightness and joy that flows out of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, for any who are far away, this is a good day to turn to the Lord and to seek after His presence with an open and a receptive heart.      

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4: 12

The idea of a fiery trial does not seem pleasant in any sense. At least in my experience, being burned is very painful, and so, the thought of enduring some form of testing that comes by virtue of an activity that has the sort of intensity that fire provides sounds like something that I would prefer to skip over or avoid by almost any means that I can summon up to do so. I am aware that, except for a relatively few examples, Peter is using a metaphor here; he does not expect that he or other followers of Christ would actually be burned. What he is telling us is that there is an almost absolute certainty that we will encounter forms of opposition that are intense and that may very well harm our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. The surroundings where we live and into which Christ sends His people to serve Him are not friendly to people who bring with us the truth of the Gospel of Christ and the light of His unrelenting Word of Life.

In fact, it would be my guess that Peter might have asserted that if we are not running into some very real push back and antagonism as we go about living as people who think, speak, and act out Christ’s calling for us, then, we are not truly and fully doing that. There is no place on this earth where Christ is needed and where He is readily and completely accepted. So, those same places where the need is great and the acceptance is questionable are locations where the inhabitants are going to fight back against the presence of Christ in their midst. Satan demands denial of Christ from his people, and this denial leads to push back against the Gospel. Push back when resisted or countered by Christ’s followers can bring about more open forms of rejection that do, at times, lead to aggressive and even to violent responses. People do lose their lives over sharing the message of redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not face this sort of physical risk that comes to us because we are committed to proclaiming Christ in the world where we live. Still, there are risks involved in doing this. We will encounter people who do not want to hear about our faith and who will shut us down or cut us off from fellowship with them if we persist in doing this. There are places in our world where the rules attempt to bind us so that Christ is not permitted to be spoken there. These places may be connected to our employment or they might be associated with some other important aspect of daily life. In all of these situations and relationships there are ways to remain true to Christ’s calling while honoring the people and society’s rules. We must never renounce Christ or minimize His place of prominence in our own lives, but we can seek to demonstrate love, care, and compassion as Christ-like qualities that open doors to discussion of the reason for the loving care that we exhibit. We can still pray for and with others even in settings where the rules minimize our ability to do so before a gathered crowd. We can and should continue to share the truth of God’s Word as the source of our wisdom in all situations. Finally, we can be people of prayer who bring love and Christ’s acceptance to the lives of everyone that we encounter. The flames of trials may not be literal and they probably will not consume our flesh with their heat, but the opposition that we will encounter for the sake of the Gospel of Christ will be heated and delivered with the fury of Hell. Yet, Christ is with us, and He will strengthen each of us to withstand all that might come our way. 

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

   but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11: 14

Most of us were taught to be strong and to stand on our own in most aspects of life. This independence and individualism are considered to be virtues in us, and these same qualities are given even greater importance as character traits for those who would seek to ascend to positions of leadership. We are to evaluate the data, form conclusions that are reasoned out of that information, and formulate a plan of action. Then, with this plan in hand and a goal in view, we set everything in motion and press on to accomplishing that end result. We are driven by a form of competitive zeal onward to victory. This personal win or lose mentality is frequently the underlying energy in campaigns of all sorts whether grand and great or minimal and insignificant. The old joke about men not asking directions applies in far more significant ways when it comes to the manner that people in various positions of leadership are often expected to make important decisions and to take conclusive actions without seeking and listening to outside counsel.

Needless to say, this is rather different than the way that God would have us function. He provides us with a wealth of sound and wise guidance, advice, and moral direction to rely upon in making all manner of decisions. Even more significantly than looking to God’s viewpoint on issues and considering His direction in situations is the concept of deep and fundamental transformation that is inherent in the way that Christ works within His people. He enters into us and proceeds to work in a manner that transforms each of us from our sin-led and death-bound existences into people who are free from that bondage to sin and are growing ever more alive as we walk with Christ through the days of our lives. The very idea of submission to Christ should lead us into seeking His perspective and guidance in all matters in life. The Lord’s wisdom is foundational to the design and the construction of the world where we dwell, and it is superior to any other thought or consideration when it comes to living in a just, righteous, and holy manner.

So, back to leaders and to our expectations for them and for ourselves, also. If we are willing to subordinate our thoughts, concepts, ideas, and plans to the counsel that God provides for us by and through the many counselors and forms of granting wisdom and guidance that He provides to us, then we should also require this of the people in whom we entrust the leadership of organizations, entities, and governmental institutions that we live within. At the very least, they should be seeking out the counsel and advice of many wise and diverse people who are themselves doing the same sort of guidance seeking from their own array of people of considered wisdom. Living as a wise person starts with dwelling at the foot of the cross of Christ where all of my intellect, training, and experience are insignificant in relation to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. It is from that humble point of view that my eyes are most open and my vista the least obstructed by human frailty and sinful pride. It is by and through Christ, in the counsel of God’s Word, and with the instruction of the Spirit that we all thrive individually and as organizations and even as nations.   

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Mark 7: 8

During the Christmas season people are often focused on Jesus’ humble start to life on earth when He was a baby. We like to contemplate the reality of a God who would join with His creation in a manner such as this, and it is comforting to know that every aspect of growing up that we went through and that we endured is something similar to what Jesus knew, as well. As much as we may enjoy this meek and mild image of Jesus, He did not always think and act in this manner. In fact, the Lord had a great capacity for telling truth in very strong and stern terms, and He also had no fear regarding who He might offend or turn against Him when He did this. In this instance, Jesus is confronting His on-going foes in the Pharisees; however, these same words might be said to many other people over all of history. Although it may not be quite as obvious in its expression today, it does seem that we continue to act in this same manner on a regular basis.

We have allowed our own ways of doing things in this world to take precedence over God’s law of love, grace, reconciliation, and peace making. This is stated as a blanket condemnation, and I mean it as such. I do not live as God has commanded me to live, and I know and observe very few others who function differently. All that is necessary in order to start to see the application of this sad fact is to turn on a television, open a computer, or walk out your front door and travel a short distance into almost any community on earth. We live in an angry and a selfish world. We care more for our own minor rights and privileges than we do for the life of another person. We are caught up in protecting our turf when we have far more of it than we can even manage while others in our world are starving, being physically and emotionally harmed, and are being denied the basic necessities of life. I fear that Jesus would see all of this much as He saw the actions of the Pharisees.

Everything that we protect and cling to with ultimate tenacity is something that God has given to us out of the abundance of His love, care, and provision. So, why is it that we hold on with a death grip to tangible and to intellectual things that God gifted to us with open hands? We need to understand that all of God’s commandments predate any of our rights of possession and that God has given everything to us so that we could be good and loyal caretakers of the rest of creation. We are not here to be full and self-satisfied; rather, Christ calls upon us to follow him by giving away what we have been given, loving others even when they are hard to understand and even more difficult to embrace, and by calming violence instead of promoting it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a statement of God’s love for people, and this is the commandment that holds precedence over any and all other laws, rules, or concepts and traditions that people might attempt to establish and follow. In Christ, we are called to bring reconciliation not division, and as we follow Christ, we will turn from everything that is contrary to God’s will and be willing to sacrifice all in order to bring the touch of our Lord’s love, grace, and mercy to our needy world.      

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

Ephesians 3: 14, 15

Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, is amazing, and people have become utterly fascinated by the information that is gained by studying it. Every person on earth today and throughout all of history possesses DNA that is uniquely our own; yet, at the same time, that DNA reveals our relationship to people living and dead who come from places around the world. Our DNA presents a picture of each of us that helps to establish a form of identity for us, but this identity, individually unique as it may be, is nothing more than a partial picture of who we actually are. People are complex, and the components that make up our nature, character, and personality are formed out of many ingredients that are brought together through the agency of numerous forces and factors over the course of a lifetime. Still, beyond all of these earthly and human influences upon our formation, there is a greater and a more fundamental actor involved in granting us our deepest identity.

In the Bible, especially in Hebrew literature, the act of naming a person is important. The name conveys both desired outcome and a reflection upon the observed character of the person. Sometimes these aspects of life are at odds with each other; so, when God is the one who is doing the naming, He is frequently seeing something that is to come in the future and through the work of His hand in and upon that person. God is our Creator. That individual strand of DNA is something that His hand designed and fabricated. Yet, even that complex and definitive structure does not fully set out who we are or what we might become. God’s work in people is extraordinary in its capacity for causing change, growth, and transformation. We may be known for one sort of behavior today, but through the work of the Spirit in our lives, we might go in a completely different direction tomorrow. This is the wonder and this is the hope of God’s grace as He pours it out onto people like you and me.

Paul is pointing us toward what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of entering into this work of transformation and that is submission to God and surrender to Christ. As Paul speaks of bowing his knees before the Father, this is exactly what he is doing. He is saying that he is surrendering control over his life and over this day, and he is giving that control over to the Lord to take him wherever He wants and to do with him whatever Christ desires to do. This is total surrender to God, and this sort of thing is generally very uncomfortable or even terrifying for most of us to consider doing. Yet, God is faithful and true to His word to lead us along paths of righteousness and to protect our souls from harm throughout that journey of faith. As we submit to Christ’s will, we are given the name Faithful Servant. When we set aside all of our wishes, wants, and desires for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are proclaimed by the Lord to be Beloved in His Eyes. The name that we carry throughout our days is important, and the family that we come from is interesting to study, but the name that God gives to each of us is what signifies our true identity in Christ.