And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son.

1 John 5: 11

Testimony is serious business. When a person is called upon to provide it, the words that come out, either in written form or as an oral statement, need to be carefully considered and be as accurate as the witness is able to recall. The words solemn and formal are found in the definitions of testimony. According to John, God’s own testimony is found in this simple expression about life. God gives life to us, and it comes by and through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the solemn truth that God would have all people know, grasp, and follow. This is the simple summary of all that is contained in God’s Word regarding relationship with Him. Life, in its fullest expression and to its ultimate extent, is a gift that comes to people in Christ, and it is found nowhere else in all of the universe.

This spark, this mysterious yet tangible difference, is often visible in the way that Christ’s followers think, act, and speak. It is even more apparent in the attitude that they carry forth into life wherein the things of this world do not hold them down or burden them to the point of breaking. For the truth is found in the fact that this place has its harsh qualities and its burdensome aspects, and no one escapes their grasp. We encounter these trials, struggles, and times of suffering as a part of the normal course of living. Yet, Christ within us changes things in ways that are real and tangible. Christ provides the perspective of eternity for us to use as the lens through which these earthly struggles can be viewed. Christ grants us a form of strength that is only slightly associated with the capacity to do physical work and that is absolutely related to our capacity to continue on with living with peace in our hearts and with the gospel of love on our lips.

God’s testimony is found in Jesus, and our testimony is the lives that we live in His name and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This fact makes each of us, in Christ, into daily witnesses to His grace, love, and mercy as it also places us on view as examples or exhibits in the great and grand trial that is life. For we are being looked over and examined so that the lives that we live and the way that Christ influences the conduct of those lives is under the scrutiny of the people of the world around us. The peace, joy, and love that we exude is being observed, and the way that we carry on with life regardless of circumstances and situations is also seen by others. I am not saying that followers of Christ should put up false fronts and pretend to the world that everything is perfect and that there are no challenges and struggles in our lives. Quite the opposite is true, for we can and should be free to be open, transparent, and honest in sharing our lives with others and in seeking the Lord’s engagement with our needs. Yet, in Christ, the lives that we live with their faith, hope, peace, and joy are even more so a testimony to our Lord in the hard days and the challenging times.  

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in the doing.

James 1: 25

 

Liberty means many different things as that meaning is often determined by the context of the use of the word. For a sailor who has been on a long cruise it means the opportunity to go ashore and enter into freedom from the rules that govern life on the ship. Prisoners experience liberty as they are set free from confinement. Patrick Henry is quoted on the subject as he concluded his remarks before the Second Virginia Convention on March 20, 1775 with this famous statement, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry was speaking about freedom from oppressive rule and he was counseling revolution as the means to achieve that form of liberty. It might seem that liberty in its truest sense involves taking action; it is not passive.

 

That is the point that James is driving at here, too. Christ perfects God’s law. His death and resurrection free people from our captivity to sin and its death, which is what made the law incomplete on its own. This law that Christ has perfected is the only way by which people can enter into the true liberty that God desires for us to enjoy. This liberty, like all forms of freedom, comes with responsibilities attached to it. In Christ, we are free to live fully, vigorously, and passionately within the will of God as He has expressed it in His Word. We are free, but to enjoy and employ that freedom we are required to submit ourselves fully to Christ. In what is one of creation’s greatest paradoxes our most important freedom also demands our total servitude.

 

As servants of Christ, followers of the true reigning King, we are to be people who are not content to just hear good sounding words and become satisfied that we are different from our culture by virtue of a momentary period of association such as attending church or a bible study. Those are good things, but that is not all that Christ desires for us to do with our liberty. We are free to speak truth into our culture and to do so in a manner that brings loving care and righteous zeal into the conversation. Our liberty should remove fear and self-protection from our approaches to others whether they are neighbors who do not seem to know God or are people from vastly different cultures with foreign languages and customs. The liberty that Christ so painfully purchased for us demands that we, in turn, touch our world with the love, truth, and saving grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Jude 22, 23

 

It is easy to think and to act in a superior manner. We say, “I know that what I believe is right, and I reject what others do as wrong.” God has set out His truth, and His Holy Scriptures backs up my understanding of it. This is a position that is somewhat the opposite of the one that continually moves, shifts, and redefines those Godly truths in terms that are comfortable and acceptable in today’s culture. Neither that compromised understanding of God’s righteousness nor this other overly zealous separation from others with its attendant attitude of superiority is how Christ desires for His people to live.

 

Our Lord calls upon us to engage with the people who disagree with our faith in Him. Christ demonstrated in His life and instructs us to love even those who aggressively oppose our beliefs. We are to have mercy on people who do not know Christ, for they are living outside of the blessings and the hope that are gained through that relationship with the Lord. This attitude of mercy should work to slow our natural drive toward judgment; and thus, it prepares our minds and our hearts to listen well so that we can hear their stories and enter into walking through life with them in the manner that Christ does with each of us.

 

There are no promises that any of this will be easy. There will be times when we need to be honest, direct, and even confrontational in the process of living out our faith and in bringing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into this world. Even when we show great mercy, patience, and care some people will reject our faith in Christ and us. There will be people who will do so in ways that are emotionally or physically painful. Despite the hardships and the rejection that we may encounter, we are called by Christ to continue to follow Him in loving people well while speaking and living out the truth of His righteousness that leads to salvation for the body and the soul.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10: 12-14

 

This may be shocking news to some of you, but you can stop striving so hard. In Christ, the work is done, completed, finished. We can just sit back and wait for our reward in heaven. Well, no! Yet, the hard work of gaining God’s favor has been taken on and perfectly completed by Jesus. His was a labor unto death, and that death granted life to each and every person who would agree with God and relinquish this world for the sake of that new life in Christ. In this new life, we are free to rest in the security of our status before God, and thus we are set free from the requirement to perform for the sake of our daily and our eternal position in God’s eyes.

 

The rest that we enter into because of Christ’s work on our behalf is a very active form of rest. It is modeled after a totally engaged and involved Christ as He may be resting from the work of sacrifice, but He is not on sabbatical from the work of bringing about transformative change in the lives of His people. Christ continues to speak love, grace, truth, and righteousness into this world. He does this through the Word of God and by means of His Spirit. Christ’s sacrifice has granted to everyone who believes in Him an immutable place of dwelling in the presence of God, and in this relational and positional security we should be able to find the sort of restful peace that leads to ultimate freedom.

 

Thus, as free women and men, we can enter into the chaos and the hardship of our world with a form of joy in our hearts that is produced by Christ and is made tangible to us by the encouragement of His Spirit. As we join with Christ in engagement with the lost and the broken people and aspects of our world, we are His agents who do work toward the Lord’s victory over His enemies. Thus, as people come to know God through relationship with Christ, they are no longer His enemies but rather are adopted as beloved children. As evil is confronted with love and mercy, sin-fractured elements of creation are redeemed. So, through obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our freedom is used for the sake of God’s glory and to grow us up into full maturity in Christ.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Romans 12: 12

 

This is not our culture. This is not a description of our world today. We don’t want to find our joy in things and in situations that are still hopefully distant. We desire to have it all now. For many of us joy has become something that is an ingredient in a drink that is called pleasure, and this is a cocktail whose primary content is self-determined gratification. As hard as it is for us to follow Paul’s instruction regarding rejoicing, it is even more challenging to have patience when things are going badly in our lives. Yet, the Apostle dares to direct followers of Christ to wait on the Lord and to see beyond the hardship of the moment to the glory beyond.

 

These two short phrases include ideas that are never easy to embrace, and Paul knew that. Yet, these same concepts, when taken into our hearts and minds through the transformative work of Christ’s Spirit, will work to set us onto a path of being true followers of Christ. The characteristics of hope and patient endurance establish the essential platform for doing what Christ calls us to do, and they also form a critical aspect of what it means to identify as Christian in our world. Hope requires faith, and faith leads us ever more deeply into the nature and the will of God. Patience in the face of tribulations requires a form of internal strength that is granted to us by Christ as we live in faithful obedience to Him.

 

Finally, all of this is made real to us in and through prayer. I think that Paul’s idea of being engaged in constant prayer means that for followers of Christ all of life is an unceasing act of worship. When we commit ourselves to Christ we are relocating our place of dwelling from the secular to the holy and the eternal. So, as we dwell inside of the palace of the King of the Universe, all of the ground that we step upon is truly holy ground, and all that we do in this place is directly connected to worship of our Lord. Thus all of life becomes prayer, and this reality in which Christ is ever-present produces the joyful hope and the patience in the face of hard times that are foundational for being living witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ every day of our lives.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Foe almost anyone who has held a job for any period of time the reality of frustration and discouragement with that work, the workplace, and the working conditions is well known. Although people can get a large amount of satisfaction from work, we also tend to enter into some of our most powerful disappointments there. For people who know what God has said to us, there is little surprise here. During the first hours of humanity’s new existence as people who had separated ourselves from the deep intimacy with God that He had devised, the Lord informed us that our work would be hard and unending and that the produce of that work would tend to be overgrown with the most noxious of weeds.

 

In this scenario our labor does provide us with purpose; however, we will also literally be working ourselves to death. Christ offers another alternative to His followers. Although He does not remove the natural struggle that envelopes our earthly labors as they are infused with the brokenness of sin, He does reshape our responses to it all. The Lord guides us into viewing our efforts as a part of His plan for redemption and for restoration. The work of our hands becomes a part of Christ’s grand narrative of a renewed existence for all of creation. This is made known by the manner in which we respond to and engage with the failure and the frustration of our daily employment regardless of what that may be.

 

In Christ, all that we do, say, and think can be dedicated to Him. The most basic aspects of life can be moments of grand worship, and our daily occupation is redirected from the basics of feeding our bodies into the eternal purpose of touching lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord came to bring God’s redemption into the present day lives of all of humanity. Our part in this is not easy, but it is the work that God has called each of His people to do, and as we surrender ourselves to Christ’s will and engage with our days in the power of His Spirit, the ages old futility of our labors is transformed into the glorious produce that comes about because of Christ’s victory.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Luke 17: 20, 21

 

The fact that Jesus pointed to in His response to the Pharisees and the other people in His audience that day was true for them and it is true for us now. As it was then, people today often miss the reality of this fact. We are waiting for a savior to come and for the world to be made right. I think that this is a part of why super hero stories are so popular, for we want there to be a magical, vicarious answer to all that is wrong with our world. Well, I believe that there is an answer, and it is not magical, but it does come out of the realm of the mystical.

 

The aspect of this answer that is hardest for people to accept is that it is not vicarious. In the super hero stories a few people are involved and most are by-standers who benefit from the defeat of evil, and who assumptively clean up the mess after the inevitable battle. In real life, God does not leave His people on the sidelines. In fact, as all of creation is engaged in the struggle with the brokenness of evil within the fabric of our existence, so Christ calls and directs His followers into lifelong commitment to His redemptive work. Make no mistake about this, Christ does call us to today’s contest, and He also has provided each of His people with what we need for the fray.

 

As Jesus was there on that day when He taught these truths; so, His Spirit dwells within each of His followers today. We are granted gifts of His Spirit to use for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and the Spirit guides us into the eternal truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In and through all of this equipping, we are granted Christ’s tools of love, grace, mercy, peace making, long-suffering, and wisdom to use against the cunning, anger, violence, and greed that Satan throws at us. As followers of Christ, we are different from the world. We live within the borders of God’s kingdom, and we serve the only true ruler of all. Although our true super hero, Christ Jesus the Lord, will come in His own time to defeat evil and to set all right again, for now, we are called by Christ to serve Him by loving souls into His kingdom as we prepare the way for our hero’s return.

 

 

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Philippians 4: 1

 

Because of Christ and His work in me, I am no longer the same person as I was before Him. As a result of the work that His Spirit continues to perform in and upon me, I am not the same as I was last year or even last month. Admittedly, this process of change and the transformative aspects of it is a ragged and uneven journey. There are good days and hard ones, and there are times of gain and times when all of my endeavors seem to land in the red ink zone of loss. Yet, everything serves the purposes of Christ as He brings redemption to all that is submitted to Him.

 

In light of this common journey of faith that is the life of a follower of Christ, Paul shares two great bits of advice and direction for our days. The first of these is found in the Apostle’s joy and delight in his fellow believers. Now I grant that the church at Philippi was a success story. Yet, it was populated by people, and we are an uneven and difficult lot, at best. Still, Paul expresses a deep and an unshakable faith in the Christ-image beauty of them. These beloved people are his joy and his crown. This is how we should see our fellow followers of Christ. We get to choose this attitude of love and grace, and we can decide to extend or to withhold our affections from others. However, Christ would have us reach out to the body of His people with open arms of embrace and with willingness to listen and to share the journey.

 

The other directive advice that Paul gives is to stand firm in the Lord. We do this best with the accompaniment of others. Separation and isolation are tools that Satan uses to weaken our efforts and to make each of us, both our collective groups, the churches, and us as individuals easier targets for attack. So, our strength is multiplied collectively, and these are days when strength will matter greatly. These are times when God’s love for all of humanity needs to be portrayed by followers of Christ so that it can stand in stark contrast to the anger and fear of our world. This year the Word of God will not require defense as much as it will demand clear and accurate rendition in the public square. During these coming days, the gospel of love, peace, and redemption, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is what His people are called to stand upon and to demonstrate in all that we think, say, and do. In this way, as we are fully committed and totally submitted to Christ, we are truly standing firm in the Lord.

 

 

The horse is made ready for the day of battle,

But the victory belongs to the Lord.

Proverbs 21: 31

 

People were designed and created by God to be interested and engaged in the process of governing our world. The Lord granted us this as a right and as a responsibility. This aspect of humanity’s calling has very deep roots as it goes back to our time in the garden, existed before our exile, and was also a part of God’s commentary on our new life on the outside. Then, as it continues to be now, it is our sin that turns this process of governance into a battle. Evil in all of its manifestations desires to be in control. It will do anything and promise everything in order to win. So, people who know God are required to be vigilant and to remain prepared for the fight.

 

This preparation is founded in our knowledge of God. Our minds are made ready through the study and contemplation of His Word, and our hearts are strengthened by the presence of Christ’s Spirit. This state of preparedness is constant and unrelenting. There are no times of vacation, for Satan does not take a leave of absence from his war on righteousness. So, Christ warns His people to remain ever vigilant and to continually maintain our spiritual weapons. Yet, our hard work and all of our efforts are doomed to failure if they are done for us. They are futile if Christ is not leading our way. We do not possess the wisdom or have the understanding of God’s true purpose and plan that would be required to devise a holy and just battle plan. Our role is to be well-prepared rank and file soldiers in service to our King.

 

As we do not know God’s strategy or have a clear picture of His tactics, we are called upon by Him to follow. We are to stay true to the Word in our thoughts, actions, and expression. This means that we are to stay engaged in the processes of governance even when God’s objectives are unclear and when it seems that our voice is not being heard. God continues to implore His people to be the ones who bring respect to the discourse and love to the debate. Although we do know the outcome of it all in that Christ does reign supreme over all of Creation, God will not give us total understanding of His daily plans. We are to remain loyal and committed to serving the gospel of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, and we are to trust our Lord and have unyielding faith in the fact that the victory is His.

Hear my prayer, O Lord,

and give ear to my cry;

hold not your peace at my tears.

For I am a sojourner with you,

a guest, like all of my fathers.

Psalm 39: 12

 

We humans have not lived comfortably in the land since the very earliest days of our most distant ancestors. They turned the beauty and the calm of life into the ugliness of evil and the distress of chaos. Then, everyone who has followed has lived as a foreigner in the world and as a stranger even in our own hometowns. Perhaps the hardest thing for me to accept in this entire difficult journey is the fact that I participate directly in making it the series of trials that it is. My sinfulness and rebellion against God contribute directly to aspects of the struggle.

 

This is not to say that the trials and the hard times of life are mine because God is punishing me for my sin. That is not how God’s redemptive and righteous love, grace, and mercy function. However, through my reliance upon my own understanding and capacity as opposed to yielding fully to the wisdom of Christ, I do contribute to my lack of understanding of life, my weakness in the face of adversity, and the frailty and self-centeredness of my interaction with others. My self-directed separation from the total intimacy with God and the immersion into His will that Christ calls me to enjoy leaves me traveling through these hostile regions on my own.

 

Yet, this is not the way that God desires for it to be. He is fully aware of the nature of this world, and His heart is set upon a depth of relationship with me and with everyone that would have us traveling along through the journey of life with our Lord as our unceasing companion and guide. Still, accompaniment is not all that God desires. In fact, we only fully enter into Christ’s calling for our lives as we actively engage in His work of redemption for the souls of our fellow travelers. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings peace to our souls even as the tears that flow naturally in this land are still staining our cheeks.