For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 20

 

For most of us, the idea of being beaten for our faith is rather abstract. We have heard of people who have received this sort of treatment and worse, but we have never come close to anything more severe than hearing some harsh words or being dismissed as irrational or foolish by people who do not agree with us. I am not ignoring the possibility that physical harm or danger can and might come the way of followers of Christ in our world today, but I do believe that this sort of thing, in its literal sense, was more directly a part of Peter’s first century environment than it is a part of our twenty-first century one. Yet, the idea that he is expressing here still applies to us, and I think that it is valid in some important ways when it comes to our witness for Christ in our world.

 

In truth, there is much to be endured for us today. We even are exposed to beatings; however, the pummeling is just of an emotional, spiritual, and mental nature rather than being applied to our flesh. Some of this abuse is directed at our faith and comes our way as a direct result of the conflict that exists between God and His adversary, and much of it is more generally caused by the work of that same adversary in the cultural flow of life around us. The challenge for each of us who follow Christ and for His church is to remain fully and truthfully engaged in the discourse and the dialogue of our culture while not falling prey to its methodology and its hopeless self-reliance. This is a hard balance to maintain when the blows of unjust, unloving, and self-focused society are reigning down upon the lives of those who are least able to defend themselves and upon any of us who would seek to speak and to live out righteousness in the face of these various forms of rejection of Christ’s Gospel of love.

 

Thus, when we walk in righteousness, we also must be prepared to enter fully into Christ’s grace, for it is this grace that holds us up when others reject our point of view, and it is during these hard times of opposition to what is occurring around us that we also need to be prepared to enter into the conflict with grace as the foremost quality that we demonstrate. This is the point of contact where endurance is tested most severely, for this is where a very personal and rightfully heartfelt passion for what is just and holy is placed in direct conflict with ideas and values that others hold as necessary, appropriate, and even as God-honoring. Winning these discussions is really not the point, but speaking and demonstrating truth while pouring out Christ’s redemptive grace onto those who oppose our view is what the dialogue is actually about. This process often feels worse than a physical beating would, and it lasts much longer, too. Yet, Christ provides the strength to endure it all while not surrendering God’s values and our drive to see that His justice prevails in our world. In this process, Christ also pours out His grace upon us so that we can, in turn, bring His peace-making love into the center of the conflict.

And the effect of righteousness will be peace,

and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Isaiah 32: 17

 

Isaiah lived in difficult times. Those were not peaceful days, and the concept of the sort of quietness that is being discussed here was not known. The leaders of the nation were quarrelsome and rancorous with themselves and with the world round them. Judah’s internal problems had disabled its ability to be what God had intended for it to be and to do all that the Lord had ordained for it to accomplish in the world. Instead of being God’s own hands and feet of reconciliation, truth giving, and justice, they were defensive, self-serving, oppressive, and profane. They were in very real need of the sort of revival of their faith that Isaiah was sent to proclaim, for they needed to turn away from their focus on self-reliance and enter into repentance before the Lord and seek out His righteous path for themselves and for their nation. That is why Isaiah is looking ahead in these words to the effect that the coming of Christ will have.

 

The description of the world above could be said of and about our own world and the days in which we live. We are in a period of almost unheard of anger, frustration, and unrelenting drive to see personal objectives met at the expense of true care and concern for the cause of peace, justice, and truth. There is little that is said or done by our leaders that is worthy of any sort of praise or that is truly in alignment with God’s call to govern righteously and justly. I fear that this last statement is true regardless of political affiliation or nationality. We live in a time where people have determined to go their own ways with such defensive stridency that there is no longer room for reason or civility in their engagement with each other. So, it seems that almost all of the real responsibilities and the moral mandates of governance are being set aside and even abolished for the sake of all of this posturing and power seeking behavior. We live in a world wherein our public figures and governmental leaders are no longer fit role models for us to consider.

 

It would seem that we all need to turn in the direction that Isaiah was indicating so that we move away from the caustic and abrasive approach to handling conflict and difference of ideology that is pervasive in our culture and enter into a prayerful and Spirit-led process of determining the direction for our world. I think that this sort of revival begins with each of us and in our own hearts. We must decide that we desire the sort of deep flowing peace that comes about only by and through following Christ in all matters and that leads to the type of quietness in the spirit that is formed out of total trust of the Lord and in His Word. In Christ, we are not citizens of nations, and we are not to be followers of any political system or point of view. By Christ’s guidance and in the power of His Spirit, we are to proclaim the truth of His righteousness by all that we say and do. With Christ we can impact our world for the sake of peace, justice, and righteousness. This begins with personal repentance and proceeds in trust with confidence and courage into the way we engage in the public sector. Then it goes forth as we demand righteousness and godliness from our leaders and in our processes of governance.

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.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36: 7

 

It often seems as if values and principles, the moral and ethical framework and foundation of our culture, are changing very rapidly. This old-fashioned word, steadfast, is not really a part of the current cultural vocabulary. People do not stick to or with much of anything for very long, either. Although this lack of commitment to people and to values may feel like a modern phenomenon, a look at history shows that it has its roots in that long-ago garden and the desire on the parts of our earliest ancestors to be their own god. Over time people have just continued the progression of our movement away from the God of Creation and into our own self-defined god of personal convenience.

 

Based upon the evidence at hand, this effort to devise a better way to live than the narrowly defined one that God gives to us does not appear to be working so well today. Beliefs and actions that caused separation and death in those earliest of days are still bringing about the same results now. Our world is just better equipped to accomplish both of these ends. We live in a time of angry days. Individuals, groups of people, and nations are saturated in forms of fear and rage that are released in violence toward each other and that have no effectual resolution. It would appear that the only valid response to it all is self-protection and greater violence in return.

 

Yet that is not what God gives to us, and it is certainly not what He calls upon us to do. The Lord God has more right to be angry and upset over our way of living than does anyone else or any other group of people. All of our fear, anger, and violent discord are fundamentally directed at Him and are carried out in violation of His will and His Word. Still, the Lord remains true to His commitment to love all people for all time. The love of Christ stands today as the only valid answer that we have for the world in which we live. We can stand solidly today in the security of that love, and its protection, comfort, and counsel are the legacy that we can provide to our children and to all who follow after us. So, today, O Lord, I stand under the great shadow of your unceasing love and desire to pour Your redemptive truth out upon this wounded world where I live.