Jesus said, “They (my followers) are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

John 17: 16

Here is a fundamental truth regarding the way that a relationship with Christ changes people. We are born into this world, and our identity is formed, framed, and established by the values and the priorities of the world. We are inevitably driven by the forces that are generated from the core of this sin-infused and fatally flawed environment. We are all born as children of wrath and iniquity, and our parents and everyone else who seeks to influence us have no ability to change this. They can share their faith with us; however, we, alone, can choose to enter into transformative change. We are granted the opportunity to accept a new identity and a renewed orientation through accepting the offer of redemptive grace that God has provided in Christ.

When we have done this, Jesus claims us as one of His own followers, and His Spirit comes to live within us; so that we are changed from the center of our beings. We no longer find our identity, our values, and our perspective on life in the old places. We now possess God’s heavenly, righteous, and eternal view of what it means to live in this world. We are now empowered and equipped to become people who bring about change in our world, for we gain the ability to see the people, institutions, and organization of this world from God’s perspective, and we have the capacity to embrace His heart of loving grace and His desire to see the fallen restored.

This is a highly challenging thought; for, my life is still filled with thoughts and actions that look more like those worldly ones that I was born with than they do like the ones that Jesus expresses. Yet, Christ has said that He has taken me out of the world and into His realm; so, the parts of my life that are still oriented to that old, worldly form of thought are the result of my stubborn refusal to let go of them. So, I pray, “Lord, take these unloving, self-centered, and defeated attitudes from my life, and fill me with the newness of your Spirit; so that, I can walk through my life as a person who brings the redemptive power of the love of Christ to the world where I live.”   

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10: 28

Not all fears are irrational, for there is much to fear out and about in our world. We regularly encounter diseases that were unheard of in our grandparent’s day, and the environment seems to be going in a dangerous direction, too. The earth itself is clearly suffering from some of the turmoil and trauma that God’s Word predicts will come about during the later stages of the pre-return era that we are living within. Additionally, many people roam the streets of the planet with ill intent in their hearts and destructive schemes on their minds. So, there is much to fear here and many people to be concerned about. Thus, many people are engaged in the processes of providing protection, and most of us take the responsibility for doing what is prudent and safe as a necessity of living in our world.

Yet, there is a point when fear can overcome faith and whereby that same sort of concern can overtake and defeat the trust that can only be placed in the Lord. Regardless of our efforts, planning, or skill, people will never defeat evil and will simply not succeed in devising plans to fully protect ourselves from its reach and touch. Our only sure and certain protection in this world is found in and through Christ. No one else has defeated the power that Satan has over this world, and no wisdom or form of truth beyond that which is God’s own Word prevails against the deceptive logic of that evil genius. In truth, our bodies will not survive this life. We all will die, and many of us will do so in fewer years than we might desire or in a manner that we would not wish to experience. This is the reality of the broken state of the creation that we were born into, but it is also the state of being from which Christ redeems us.

So, fear does have a place in our days, and that place is primarily as a force that drives us to seek out truth, wisdom, guidance, and counsel from God’s Word and that causes us to turn over control of our lives to Christ and to yield our need for security to the protective grace of His Spirit. Christ calls upon us to be engaged in the work of redemption in our world, and Satan does use fear as a tool to disrupt and to divert that calling. We become afraid of categories of people because some of them do evil things. We are concerned for our safety or our well-being when there are people of certain races, nationalities, or societal status in our midst; yet, Christ desires for us to love and to care for these same people in a manner that is like the one that He would exhibit. We can put out great effort into constructing barriers of a physical, emotional, or spiritual nature with the intent of protecting ourselves from those who we fear, or we can put that same energy into seeking the Lord’s will and reaching out to those who make us uncomfortable with the love of Christ. One approach ensures nothing beyond a moment of false security, but the other leads to the blessing of eternity.    

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

Acts 8: 4

 

One of the most important things that people gain when we enter into a relationship with Christ is the unifying effect of God’s Spirit; for, through this miraculous event in which God comes to reside in our previously sin-separated bodies, everyone who believes in Jesus is adopted into a single family. We are given the gift of a core unity of heart, mind, and purpose; and we gain the strength and the sense of security that comes from that larger group. The word scattered means: to be dispersed far away from each other, and one of the images that comes to my mind when I think about scattering something is that of how farmers, in the days before machinery, used to take handfuls of seed from a bag and toss them about as they walked through a field. Satan also works at scattering God’s people.

 

In the situation that Luke was describing in Acts, there was large scale, aggressive, and violent persecution of God’s people. In other times, large numbers of believers have been arrested by those in power and removed to new locations; and most of us have been impacted by the sort of scattering that happens when the normal connections of our lives are changed through job loss, relocation, or other forms of life change. Regardless of what causes the separation, it is often hard to regain that former feeling of connectedness and to become fully involved in serving Christ in the new setting.

 

Yet, engagement, involvement, and pursuit of our calling is exactly what the Lord wants us to do; therefore, it is precisely what Satan wants to keep us from doing. When there is disruption and interruption in the normal flow of our lives, we need to seek God’s wisdom and find His purpose for us in the new setting, for if there is one thing that I am certain of, it is that God always has a plan for each and every situation and circumstance that I will encounter in my life. Although it is honestly and legitimately uncomfortable to be that seed in the hands of the Lord and the speed of the flight and the impact of the landing can be very harsh, our God promises that He will feed, water, and care for us in the new field where we have been sent, and that field is certain to be full of people who need to experience the love of Christ as He delivers it through our hands.

 

Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

Colossians 4: 5

 

There is a very real irony in the way that a lot of Christians are perceived in this world and in the way that many people view the church, also. We are frequently seen as angry, critical, and graceless; yet, the characteristic of God that has set us apart from the world is His grace. We are the recipients of a gift that is completely foreign to human experience in that the way that we have lived and the thoughts that we have held beg for God’s anger, disappointment, and judgment; still, He embraces our hurt and heals our wounds, and the Lord takes us into His presence and wants us to stay there for eternity.

 

God wants us to take this same approach to others. We are His children, His emissaries, and the workers in His field of souls. There are times when direct honesty is the right way to communicate with others, and there is oppressive and destructive wrong in this world that needs to be confronted. Still, God wants us to separate our view of the people that we deal with from that of the institutions that need to be changed. He also would have us seek to be loving in all situations, even ones where we are speaking hard truth. At the end of the day Christ wants us to embrace and enfold others into our lives rather than separating and isolating them.

 

The wisdom that God wants us to employ in dealing with people who don’t share our faith comes from His Spirit through His word and should be the starting place for all of our relationships. Paul makes it very clear in the way that he says this, for his words literally mean that we should “buy up all of the opportunities” that we have to show the grace and the redemptive love of Christ to others. We are to hold nothing back. There is no spiritual rainy-day fund to be kept in reserve, and we are to be as committed as Christ, Himself, in seeking after relationships with people who need to know their Savior.

 

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

Declare his (the LORD’s) glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among the peoples!

Psalm 96: 3

 

The writer of this psalm has stated that God’s people will declare their relationship with God by singing; in fact, they are commanded to do that. I understand that song is powerful and that singing touches us in ways that simply saying words does not. Singing reaches into our emotions and sets our hearts into motion, and it seems to reach deep inside both the singer and the hearer of the song to engage places and to bring about responses that are unique and profound. Yet, I doubt that the actual intent in these words was to turn life into a musical play style of existence where messages, at least the important ones, are delivered by choruses made up of ordinary people going about their daily lives. This sort of thing makes sense on the stage or in film, but causes genuine confusion and even chaos when it happens on city streets.

 

Yet, the ideas here are important ones, and they are the sorts of things that matter to God. He wants for us to be people who desire to sing out about our relationship with Him. He engages with us and with all the rest of creation in a manner that is more than worthy of the highest praise possible. The presence of Christ in me and His involvement with my life is such that He is the source of all joy, peace, and goodness; thus, my Lord is the reason that there are songs for me to sing. Still, I think that the songs here have a different form so that their nature is made up of an alternative type of melody and lyric to those of traditional music. The writer is telling us that our lives are songs and that the content of those lives, when lived in service to God’s will, is itself a poem that has been set to the eternal music of heaven.

 

When Christ brings about this sort of expression in us, we move beyond the boundaries of place, culture, and language and into humanity’s common ground of love, care, and relationship. The Lord is calling to His people to specifically and deliberately take the expression of our joy that comes out of our relationship with Him out into the world around us so that the hymn of praise that naturally comes forth from us will be on view for all around us to see and to hear. This should lead to questions about this unnatural response to a life that does not always go as we would desire or plan, and these questions provide the opportunity for us to tell about the love of Christ, the redemption that comes through knowing Him, and to invite others to join us in the chorus of praise that we have been declaring openly as we travel through the day.

 

You prepare a table for me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

 

If you wanted to select a strange place for a meal, this would be the top of the list. I think of mealtime as respite and as refuge. Being on alert and keeping my eyes focused on those around me for signs of dangerous activity is not generally good for digestion. Yet, right in the center of the antagonism and strife that is life in this world, God spreads His cloth of gathering and puts out His very best tableware. All of this effort and the care that God takes in getting the perfect food ready for us takes some time, too. This is not a situation where the Lord works some snap of the fingers magic and it all appears. There is no microwaved, instantly ready food here. Rather, the Lord puts the touch of His love and grace into each and every component of the meal.

 

It seems that there are at least two main points to this verse. The first involves recognition and thankfulness for the care and the provision that God does provide to His people. The perfect food that is God’s love, mercy, and grace is lavished upon us. He provides us with the real nourishment of His Word, and the Lord feeds our souls with the presence of His Spirit. Christ welcomes us in a manner that clearly indicates that He is delighted by our presence at His Father’s table. We are truly home regardless of situation or circumstances. Even in our times of greatest sinfulness and rebellion, Christ welcomes us with His very best. We are honored family members, and the Lord’s cup of blessing is kept full to overflowing by His own hand of service.

 

This is a wonderful, poetic picture of what it is like to live in a relationship with Christ. However, it seems that there is something more here. The fact that God does all of this in the presence of our enemies is a statement of the realities of life in a world where there are very active and aggressive forces that are opposed to Christ and to His followers. It is not possible to follow Christ by being engaged in the world and to not have enemies around us. Yet, I think that God wants us to view the mealtime that He establishes for us as a time of fellowship and of offering. Christ asks us to be open about the source of our comfort and strength. He wants His people to freely engage in the banquet and to speak plainly and boldly about our Lord and His love for all people. This feast is not exclusive, for Christ desires to see everyone seated at His table. He wants us to invite our neighbors, our acquaintances, and even our fiercest enemies to share in Christ’s meal of peace and reconciliation.

 

Here at the Lord’s table is where these differences that divide and the animosities that fear spawns can be set aside for an hour or so. Around a table that is set with grace and furnished with the soul-deep safety that comes to us in Christ, we can enter into the sort of peace-making that is only truly possible through the reconciling love and sacrificial intent of Christ. It seems quite deliberate on God’s part to set out this place of respite, comfort, and replenishment in the shadow of the very death that humanity’s sinfulness brings about. In this rocky and troubled place, Christ smoothes out a corner where peace can dwell if even for only a short time. He calls to us to lay down our weapons and set aside our concerns and reluctance so that we can greet those who are different and with whom we believe we are in conflict and offer the bounty of the Lord’s table of blessing to them. Here we can look face to face into their hearts and perhaps, in that miraculous way that the Lord works, we can begin to reconcile differences as we share the love of Christ that frees all people from our bondage to sin with its violence and death.