Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

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But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6: 1

The thoughts contained here are very broad on the one hand, and they are rather exclusive or limited on the other. When he says, “If anyone” and “any transgression,” Paul is aiming at a wide spread and highly diverse target. Within the family of faith, many people will get caught up in transgressions at some time or other. We all sin and do truly fall short of the glory of our calling in Christ. Much of the time we catch ourselves, or perhaps stated more accurately, the Holy Spirit within prompts us to recognize the wrong that we are perpetrating against Christ and His holy church through our thoughts, words, and actions. Then repentance, often self-confession, and working on restoration of relationships that have been harmed or damaged is the course of action that we follow. Some of the time, this is a big process, but most of the time, it is something that just happens in the general living out of our days.

However, there are other times when the sin in our lives can be either too great or too subtle to be handled on our own. These situations can be very challenging for others in the body of Christ as we are left with a difficult task that involves discernment and that can lead to confrontation, which is almost never something that we enjoy doing. Yet, God does call upon us to be honest and direct with each other, and we are to engage with people in the area of the sin that we observe in their lives. Any and all of this sort of action requires that we be prayerful in discerning the truth of the situation and also in our approach to a brother or a sister who we believe to be engaging in such sinful living. This is all to be done in a spirit of restoration and with Christ’s grace setting the tone and the nature of our approach to the person with whom we are engaging. The message that we deliver should be one of love, care, and concern for the person and for their relationship with Christ and with His body.

All of this is to be done with a spirit of gentleness. This means that we are careful to remain non-judgmental in the process of calling out that which the Spirit has revealed and that God’s Word has described as sin in the person’s conduct of life. We need to be careful in all of this to keep our own egos under control and to eliminate the contemplation of owning the outcome of these conversations. Christ is the one who is acting in these situations, and we are doing what we are called to do by Him as brought forth by the Spirit and in His Word. This is where Paul warns us to be careful, for it is easy to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental during the process of engaging with someone regarding sin in their life. Thus, there is the restrictive concept expressed in the text whereby Paul instructs us to do any of this sort of thing with the guidance of the Spirit. So, when we are told that “those who are spiritual” should be the ones who confront sin in the body, I think that Paul is saying that any of us in Christ can do this, but that each and every instance of such engagement needs to be done with prayer and with the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. 

O God, from my youth you have taught me,

   and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

Psalm 71: 17

Unfortunately, it is often true that after many years of sitting under the teaching of someone, the student loses respect for that teacher. This change in perspective is usually the result of our own human weakness. No matter how faithful to a cause, true to a philosophy, or committed to the pursuit of truth and reason, we all tend to drift away from dead center and each of us can find ourselves weakening into compromise or self-protective lies and deceptions. This is the way of the world, and all of us, teachers and mentors included, live in this same tragically broken environment. So, the longer we know someone and the more time spent in following that person’s guidance and instruction, the more likely it is that we will become acutely aware of their flaws, failings, and faults.

This was not a true condition for the writer of this Psalm. This person had a life-long relationship with God in which the author had taken instruction from the Lord, and even after decades of following that teaching, God was still amazing His audience and was continuing to provide the sort of guidance and wisdom that was life-giving and transformative in its content and its nature. This same observation is one that I can make, and it is also one that many others have set forth. There is no other teaching available to us in this world that compares to that which is provided by the Lord. His wisdom and truth come to us from God’s Word and it is provided to us in the form of spoken and written words that come out of the hearts and minds of people who have been gifted and guided by the Holy Spirit to provide the world with illumination and explanation of God’s Word. The Lord also speaks through direct communication with us and in the wise words that come from people within the body of faith.

There is no end or limit to the wisdom and truth that the Lord has available to us as we seek to navigate through life. He provides wide reaching and broadly applicable ethical and moral guidance for use in virtually every situation that we might encounter. The Lord also enters into the issues and concerns that come along with a remarkable capacity for understanding the intricacies of each of our lives. As we journey through life, we can look to many sources of knowledge, seek to sit under the teaching and instruction of numerous wise and gifted teachers, and engage with various other sources of insight and understanding, but in and through it all, there will be one final, true, and enduring teacher; that is, the Lord, God Himself, provides all wisdom, truth, and enduring council. We will sit under the teaching of people, but even then, we should check the ideas, direction, and guidance that they provide against the eternal truth that is contained in God’s Word and that is explained to each of Christ’s followers by the ever-present Spirit.   

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1: 14

As Mary and Joseph traveled from their home to Bethlehem, a trip that had been mandated by governmental decree, they probably had very little concept of what was really happening. While the eighty or so miles went by, their conversations would surely have covered a wide range of topics, they had about a week of time together to consider their rather new life as a couple and the impending birth of their son. Despite the contact from God regarding Mary and her role in God’s plan to redeem us from evil, they could not have formulated much in the way of an image of how the world was to be changed through their simple obedience. They were doing what they had been told to do, and they would just continue to follow the directions that the Spirit of God would provide.

Yet, in that dark juncture in human history, inside of a cave that was used to house livestock, the glory of God would burst out into our worldly lives. This is the glory that is the light that brings truth and depravity into stark contrast; this is the glory that focuses on the hearts of all people, and shinning as a beacon, it guides the willing to everlasting sanctuary for their souls. God’s glory also serves His children like a lighthouse serves sailors, it warns us of the dangers and the traps that surround us in our life journeys, and it points to the safe channels that will get us through it all successfully. God’s essential character and nature were born into our world as the man Jesus; thus, we could see and relate to our Creator in a way that is absolute and highly compelling to all who will engage the relationship.

Despite our knowledge of God gained over the past two thousand or so years, our technology, and our abundant resources for gaining understanding of God’s will for us, we each still need to enter into our own journey with much the same attitude that Mary and Joseph exhibited. Theirs was a journey of faith and one in which they trusted God. They knew that their lives would never be the same; yet, they also knew that the Lord would take them to places that were greater than any that they could have imagined. Just as they did, we can open our hearts to the glory of God in our world, trust Him to guide each step of our journey, and live as the beneficiaries of His loving grace. Thus, as we live in the fullness of Christ’s glory, we are also bringing the presence of that holy light into the darkness of this fallen world. 

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

1 Thessalonians 2: 13

All of us are subject to various types of authority. It comes in the form of people who have power over our livelihoods or at least our success and advancement within a chosen occupation. Most of us live in communities within countries where there are laws of the land that rule over us and that direct and define what actions are acceptable and what ones will result in censure or worse. Sometimes we accept the rule of authority and at other times we struggle with it or even fight against its presence in the course of our days. Paul is immensely thankful that these people to whom he had communicated God’s Word had accepted it and its author’s authority so readily. They had not only accepted it, but they also knew and acknowledged the fact that there was a supernatural aspect to what they had received from Paul as this word from God.

Thus, the Gospel of Christ and the rest of the divine truth that was given to them has a sort of power that is far superior to any other form of wisdom, logic, or law that they may have heard or have access to. This word of truth and life comes out of eternity and into our world bringing with it the lasting wisdom of the Lord and providing guidance for all aspects of life. Now God has called people into service to Him by means of gifting them with deep comprehension of His Word and by granting to them the ability to explain both its meaning and its application to the various situations and circumstances that are encountered in living out our days. Yet, unlike any other form of instruction that we may receive, when we are taught from God’s Word we hear words that are spoken by humans, but we are listening to and assimilating concepts, ideas, and precepts that come from the mouth of God.

The source of these utterances is what matters when God’s Word is opened and taught. It is essential for people who teach from God’s Word to be humbly submitted to the Lord’s will as they are led by His Spirit into understanding its deeper meanings and its application in the lives of the specific audience at hand. As hearers of the Word of God we need to bear in mind the fact that it is something much greater than any literature that has come to us through human hands as these words are the utterances of God, Himself, that have been given to us through the hands of divinely inspired writers. Even that inspiration would have left us with nothing more than an exceptional work of history and philosophical wisdom if it were not for the connection that God makes with His people through the presence of the Spirit of Christ with and within us. The Spirit brings the written and the spoken Word of God to life, and He guides our minds and our hearts into forms of understanding that would not be otherwise possible. Thus, through the work of the Spirit within and upon us, we are continually transformed by God’s Word into people who more and more fully reflect the glory of the Lord.   

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

2 Timothy 2: 7

We live in a complex world. The issues that are out there for us to deal with are complicated, and they are frequently confusing to sort out, too. Reaching good, sound, and even Godly decisions about many of the things that we encounter can be hard to accomplish. We gather information, and we process it. We seek out opinions from experts and from friends, and still clarity can elude us. In many instances, right and wrong are just not all that clearly defined or differentiated. As followers of Christ, we can seek out God’s Word and people who teach from it in order to gain truth and clear direction. Yet, even that process can leave issues unresolved or even more confused, for interpretation of Scripture and ideas about God’s will or direction can vary rather significantly from person to person.

God knew that this would be a challenge for His people, and He did something about resolving the tension that results from these differences in the way that people tend to see the same material or view a situation. At the end of His post-resurrection time on earth, Jesus left His followers and returned to dwell fully in that aspect of the universe that we know as Heaven. At this time, Christ deliberately left the Spirit with us, and as we come into relationship with Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell within each of us, too. Thus, as we seek to understand how we are to live in our world today, we have access to God’s Word of truth and life, the inspired teaching of people that God has gifted in understanding and interpretation of that Word, and the Holy Spirit. All of these are useful and important as we seek to live out our days as righteous people, as God’s people.

Even a great and Godly teacher such as was Paul knew that he was not the final authority when it came to matters of spiritual discernment and understanding of God’s will and direction for life. He relied upon the counsel and the guidance of the Spirit, and he advised others to do the same. When we seek out God’s perspective on these various situations and issues that we face, we are using the full array of tools that the Lord has provided for us in order that we might live well throughout our journey through life. Although Paul’s statement about thinking over what he has said may sound simple and direct, there is much more contained in doing that than just a few casual thoughts. The Lord is leading us into regular reading of His Word, and prayer that is derived out of it and about its content. He calls upon us to listen to and consider teaching that is founded on that same Word; then, we are to pray about understanding and applying what we have heard. Additionally, Christ desires for each of us to live in the companionship and the support of the fellowship of faith that is found in His body while continuing to pray individually and as a gathered group in search of the Spirit’s guidance, direction, and understanding of God’s will.