For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5: 3

John is talking about a relationship that is built upon love. God loves each of us, and He does so in a total, absolute, and infinite manner that is beyond my restricted, conditional, and limited understanding. When God tells us to obey, to keep His commandments, He is not being authoritarian. Rather, the Lord does this out of love, for God’s direction for our lives takes us along a path through our days that is healthy, joyous, and filled with grace and mercy. In a manner that is both hard to grasp on the surface yet becomes very clear as it is engaged in, doing God’s will always leads to freedom and to true empowerment for our souls. Following the Lord’s will releases us from a real and a tangible form of imprisonment that our natural course through life has constructed about our hearts and minds.

God’s commandments bring us closer to Him. They are founded upon His love, and they are grounded in engaging with the world out of that same love. The Lord intends for us to seek Him out in all aspects of life, and He also sends us into the world around us to live out the nature and character of God in the midst of the places where we dwell. Living out our faith can be a challenging thing to do. It is guaranteed to bring contention our way and to cause there to be challenges and trials in our days. In simple terms, there are strong forces in our world that fight hard against this same love, grace, and mercy that God pours out into us and that He desires to see us tender to those around us. Love and control are opposed to each other, and the evil of the world exists to control people.

Therein lies an essential difference in following God verses granting allegiance to the world. God sets us free to accept others without restraint or restriction. He grants us permission to enter into relationships that are based upon grace and to seek to truly know others without needing to judge them. In Christ, we have experienced this same form of unfettered acceptance, and through Christ, we can grant the same openness and fearless engagement to people that are different from us and that have not conformed to this world’s standards for what people should do, say, and believe. The burden of judgement belongs to Christ, and we are no longer required to hold others accountable to a certain standard of performance before we can allow them into our lives. Although we are to live out God’s standards for belief and behavior, we apply them to others with a different intent. For, through Christ, we seek to guide others into acceptance of a way of life that will grant to them this same freedom and joy that we experience through our relationship with the Lord.    

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

Mark 3: 35

 

Jesus is saying something that is very simple on its surface; yet, it is a powerful thought to contemplate. This idea changes the nature of most of our relationships, for it radically alters the idea of family. The usual way of defining family connections is replaced by a greatly expanded one, and this new definition greatly extends the circle of people to whom we each have a responsibility for loving care, concern, and involvement. However, it also brings each of us into intimate relationship with this same circle of support. The nature of life is such that we will all have needs that others can join us in meeting, and we are assured that we will, in turn, be the ones who enter into the lives of others when they are weak, broken, and hurting.

 

When we look into the eyes of others who know Christ, we are looking into the eyes of our closest relatives. The heart of faith that is supplied by the blood of the Spirit of Christ circulates life through the bodies and pushes eternity through the spirits of everyone who follows Christ. We are connected in ways that no natural, blood relative can be without Christ. We should know each other in a manner that is profoundly deep and that makes living in peaceful communion with them a real possibility. Although there will be differences in point of view, and we do need to be very open in discussing the ways that we see the Lord’s will applied to life, in Christ we possess the resources that we need to be able to resolve these differences with love, respect, and humble submission to Christ and to each other.

 

The distinctive qualities and the differences in perspective that are found in such a diverse group of people as this newly defined family brings together will cause the group to be stronger. God’s design for creation intended that all people would stand together in ruling this world, for we would each utilize the gifts that He gives to us to their fullest and freest extent, and we would share them completely with each other so that the sum of us would be much greater than any one alone could ever be. In Christ, we are inside of the new creation that God has ordained to bring restoration to this world. We are called to resolve our differences, to value our distinctive natures, to rejoice in the various gifts that others possess, and to stand as one family of faith that serves Christ with arms locked in the embrace of love that is true family.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Galatians 5: 5, 6

 

All of life involves waiting and hoping. Early on, we wait for an age or a time when we will be old enough to do certain things, and we hope that when we get there that the anticipated event or permission will be worth the energy expended in that anticipation. Later on, we wait and hope for that perfect person to enter our world and complete our life, and we search and hope for the great job or the dream house or other tangible signs of achievement in this world. Following Christ and committing one’s life and its course to Him should have a real and a tangible influence on all of this, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that we still wait and hope. The desires that we wait upon and the reason for our hopefulness are just changed, and this is something that happens over time and at a pace that is more of God’s choosing than of ours.

 

In Christ these various worldly things, even the most significant or important of them, hold little meaning in and of themselves. In Christ the only thing that does matter is the nature and the quality of the life that we live, and this is a life that is fully submitted to God’s will and ordered under the direction and the authority of Christ. Most of us struggle in this area of the reason for our waiting and the object of our hope. The idea of full submission to anything or to anyone is hard for us to engage with and even harder to actually do. We want to retain control, and we desire to select the order of priority of our hopes, dreams, and objectives in life. So, surrendering all of this to Christ and doing it in the absolute and irrevocable manner that He demands of us is not something that we do readily. Thus, this very foundational aspect of our spiritual lives becomes another element in which we are required to hope and wait.

 

Yet, over time and through patient faith, the Spirit works within us to give us the required understanding of Christ and of His will for our lives and to provide us with the strength and the will to proceed along its course with ministry to Christ and to His Gospel message of love, peace with God, and eternal hope as the principle thing that our lives are committed to serving. With our hearts and minds so oriented toward Christ, all other masters and priorities become secondary in importance, and the goals that we set out for our days are established in light of those things that matter most to God. In light of this economy we can wait on Christ’s transformative work to have effect in people’s lives, we can hope and pray for Christ to work miracles in situations and circumstances that seem beyond all possibility, and we can continue get back up when we sinfully fail and fall down, for we know that Christ is continuing to perfect His lovingly devised good work in us in the certain hope of our eternal home in glory with Him.

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!

2 Corinthians 9: 15

 

We receive many gifts from God. He grants them to us out of His great love and in response to our enormous neediness. There is no end to God’s generosity and awareness of our condition. The essential needs, wants, and aspirations of our lives are met through the Lord’s open-handed giving. This world where we live was designed and created with us in mind. I believe that each step in that great creative process involved the addition of another layer, an additional component and quality, to this life sustaining environment that we call Earth. It was into this perfect place that the Creator inserted His image-bearing masterworks and provided us with purpose and meaning for our lives in the responsibility that we were given for taking care of all of this world.

 

Yet, that is not enough. This large and all-encompassing responsibility is totally insufficient for us to have a true and abiding place and significance in this life. As we live in the brokenness of sin and the lostness of our separation from God our very best efforts at management, control, and real dominion over this earth will be frustrated and defeated in the end. Death will always have the last laugh, and people are faced with the prospect of an empty eternity to reflect on all that was lost. This is where God’s singular greatest gift matters. Although the rest of what God gives to us is amazing, fabulous, and near perfection; it is Christ alone that makes a real and a lasting difference.

 

In Christ, God gives us Himself. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, we gain back that intimate and unceasing communion with God that the first people enjoyed before their disastrous disobedience. This is a gift that God determined to grant to us out of His gracious love and relentless desire to draw us into His presence. The gift of life that is found only in and through Christ is worthy of our most abundant expressions of thanksgiving and praise. In Christ all of the purpose and meaning that God granted to us in His design of our world is given its eternal focus and its true worth. Christ brings to us God’s gifts of reconciliation, justice, and peace and asks only that we give Him our thanks through focused worship, faithful obedience, and devoted service.

I will give you peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.

Leviticus 26: 6

 

This promise from God is a part of a list of conditional covenants that the Lord made with His people, Israel. They did not keep their side of the deal, and not much has changed since then, either. Humans are not good at keeping our bargains with God or with each other. What God asked them to do was not all that complicated. He wanted them to worship Him fully and totally and follow His statutes absolutely. That was it. There were no silly rituals or oppressive acts of subservience. There was much to gain and nothing to lose. Yet, we always think that we know a better way or that God left something out when He gave out the instructions for living; so, we humans need to interpret and to fill in the missing pieces.

 

Those ideas have never worked very well. That kind of thinking and the actions that it leads to got us removed from the perfection of God’s original creation. It has continued to plague our travels through life ever since. Today we live on a violent planet where life is often considered as a commodity at best and where some people view others as something less than fully human in order to use and discard them. Those harmful beasts have not been eliminated; instead, they lurk in the shadows of many of our streets, and they openly feed on our young in some places where we attempt to dwell. Because of our own disobedient and violent tendencies, weapons are everywhere in our societies, and they are employed under the pretense of bringing about peace.

 

Over the course of human history, all of this has caused God great anguish and grief, and He has responded to it with His righteous judgment. Although this judgment has and does include the removal of blessings and of protections, it also includes a significant outpouring of the Lord’s redemptive mercy and grace. This outpouring reaches its pinnacle when God allowed us to extend our violent natures to His Son on the cross and God’s rightful anger against humanity was placed upon the one being who deserved none of it. Now, in Christ, we can have a peace in our souls that persists over and against the ways of this world. Through Christ and in His power and strength we can and must stand against the violence and the oppression that travel through our streets so that peace can rule our land.

What shall we say then? “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”

Romans 9: 14

 

It seems easy to cast blame onto God, for there is much that is wrong in our world. A God who is truly sovereign over it all and who has the power to do something about it certainly would not let the evil of our days continue, would He? These are the sorts of thoughts that go through the minds of most people at some time, for it seems to me that it is much easier to blame God for what is wrong than it is to accept my own participatory ownership in it all. However, my personal experience with that same God and observation of what His character is truly like tell me that blaming God points the accusatory finger in exactly the wrong direction.

 

The nature of the God that I have come to know is righteous. This means that He is wholly separate from the sinfulness, the brokenness, of our world. All of this anger, violence, and self-serving action that characterize the daily struggle to exist here are generated by people in thoughts and actions that are created in our own hearts in opposition to God’s will, His Word, and His original creative design intent. We are the ones whose lives are framed in by an injustice that is the embodiment of unrighteousness. We humans seem to work hard at separating ourselves from God and thus from all that is good, just, and loving; we move away from all that is righteous.

 

This is not how we must continue to live. Christ is here with us in order to change all of that. He brings the righteousness of God into the reach of each of us. He bridges the enormous gulf that exists between the Lord and our sinful hearts so that anyone who desires to exist in the presence of the holy can, in fact, do so here and now. In this way God’s justice is, in fact, redemptive. The just God invites each of us to depart from our unrighteous existences through acceptance of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us so that we are then transformed into beings that are known to God as His beloved children. This is the nature of the truly just God that I have come to know. He has taken my sinful and broken life and, in Christ, continually works to transform me into a person who lives out the justice, the righteousness, that is the Lord’s desire, will, and nature.

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God, stand firm in it.

1 Peter 5: 12

 

Peter knows what it means to live outside of the stream of culture. He also understands from first hand experience what it is like to stand against the wishes and the desires of those in power, both governmental and religious. He is sharing this hard earned knowledge and Godly wisdom with others in his circle of contact. Now, as God’s Word continues to be just as valid in our world as it was in Peter’s, he is sharing these same life-giving truths with us. In short form, this is a hard world to live in as a committed follower of Christ. We will encounter opposition and we will be out of step with our culture if we are in agreement with Christ’s will. So, how are we to live?

 

The fact that Peter says to stand firm is not surprising, for fear, doubt, wavering, and compromise are the outcome that Satan intends to accomplish in his assault upon followers of Christ. What is interesting here is that Peter directs us to stand firm in grace rather than truth, the word, wisdom, or courage. Yet, as I do reflect on what grace means to me, this does make a great deal of sense. Grace is God’s acting out of His love. It was love that sent Christ to Calvary, and it was grace that brought my soul into eternity with Christ. Now, that same grace is poured out to cover me with Christ’s robe of righteousness, and it is poured into me to fill me with His love, truth, and peace.

 

This process of standing firm in grace demands humility of me, for the very idea of grace reminds me that there is nothing that I have done to deserve God’s loving care for me and that there is nothing that I will ever do to earn His continued favor. Strangely enough, standing submitted under the grace that has set me free is the singular position of enduring strength that I can adopt in order to hold up under the pressures and the assaults of this world. In Christ I live in a state of freedom that is far greater than any that can be conferred upon me by human institution, and by grace that freedom provides the strength and the courage to stand for what is righteous at any cost.