Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Romans 12: 17

 

The late 15th to early 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch created many vividly detailed and fantastical scenes that depicted the unseen life of the spirit and within the spiritual realm. Some of these works portray the nature of evil in ways that are powerful and that, I think, grant us with a sense of the essential nature of evil, itself. The claws and snarling jagged teeth that are deployed in flesh ripping glee and the violent grasping of others in attempts to gain the upper hand are outward expressions of hearts that are intent on destruction and that are fully and fatally separated from God with His love, grace, and mercy. The kingdom of evil is a place where raging passions go unchecked and wherein destruction is the reward that loyalty to the cause receives. This is not a place where most people actually desire to dwell.

 

Yet, evil has an attractive side to it. Its power is intoxicating, and its passion can be highly energizing, too. It feels good to respond to slights, hurts, and affronts with their equal or even with the next step up in the process of response. This is the way of our world, and this is the natural manner of handling challenging and hurtful situations in our various cultures. However, this is not how God designed for us to live. Anger, violence, and misapplied passion are not the tools that the Lord gave to us as our devices for living together. These are things that we have developed out of our lost allegiance to the Prince of the Earth, and they come straight out of his toolbox. Still, it feels good and it seems righteous to respond with a stinging rebuke or with the removal of relationship when others have spoken to us or done to us like kinds of things.

 

Paul responds to all of this by reflecting on what Jesus taught and lived out in His own life. The Apostle tells us to pause, take that meditative breath, and allow the Christ inspired thoughts of our redeemed minds to take control of our emotions. Then we are counseled to do all that we do, say the words that we speak, and respond to others as an act of worshipful honor to Christ. This approach will change everything in our interactions with others. It doesn’t matter if the person that we are engaged with is close friend, family, distant acquaintance, or a stranger for they are all due to receive the same respect and honor in the name of Christ. This ability to engage with everyone in a loving and God-honoring manner was a distinct marker of Jesus’ way of living in our world. It should be the same for those of us who follow Christ. As we respond to evil with grace we infuse the heavenly into the harsh landscape of our world and touch its fevered brow with Christ’s peace and redemption.

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Acts 18: 10, 11

 

Paul had experience with opposition. He had faced angry mobs that were out to get his blood, and he had listened to the harsh words of rejection and ridicule. Yet, he was a stubborn and determined sort of person who was not easily driven away from his mission. But it took more than a strong will to stick it out in the major Greek city of Corinth. It took the will and the presence of the Lord, and that is exactly what Paul was promised in the vision that he saw. The truth and the reality of Christ’s promise to be with His people at all times and in all places or circumstances was Paul’s assurance, and it is also ours today.

 

Fear is a great disabler. I know this too well personally, for fears of many types have stopped me from doing and from saying things that would have been right, worthy, and beneficial. Fear can be one of the tools that Satan uses to silence the proclamation of the gospel and to hold back followers of Christ when He calls us into action for the kingdom. Now Paul’s guarantee that no harm would come to him was literal and specific to that place and time. Yet, there is something more to it than just the promise of physical protection as it seems that the Lord was also saying that what mattered most was safe and secure. Paul’s heart and his soul were to be surrounded and secured by God, and no forces of evil could prevail against him.

 

We can enter into service to Christ with this same assurance. So, we can be as bold as was Paul in speaking the truth of the gospel into the darkened world where we all live. There is safety and security to be found even in the middle of the most difficult of conversations. We can know the peace of Christ in our souls while our hearts are racing in anticipation of a discussion of our faith with the most strident of critics of Christian belief. With the confidence that Christ granted to Paul as our strength we no longer need for our national government or its might and will to be our protector in the world. We can speak out for peace, and we can embrace people who others reject or fear as the same beloved children of God who are as in need of the Father as we once were. In Christ, each of us can stop being controlled by our fears and speak Christ throughout all of our days.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

1 Peter 4: 7

 

Jesus took His followers to the very end and beyond. He takes everyone who lays aside the life of our births and takes on Him as Savior and Lord to the same places. When the Jews and the Romans conspired to end the life of that troublesome teacher, Jesus, they were actually conspirators by default with God in effecting His plan for the redemption of all of creation. That perfect sacrifice was the culmination of all of the times of man that had been proceeding forth after our ancestor’s rebellion against God in the garden. Now the next phase of humanity’s history had commenced.

 

Today we live in a world that is swirling about in ever-increasing disorder and chaos that is the result of Satan’s struggle for position and control which is compounded by the progressive break down of the fabric of creation, itself. This all ends after Christ returns and establishes God’s perfect, sinless new creation in place of all that has been and is now. Until then, we live in the reality and in the opportunity of these end days. As followers of Christ we already dwell in the kingdom of God come to earth. The air that we breathe is taken out of the atmosphere where Christ’s Spirit also dwells, and our hearts, minds, and spirits are fed from the eternal banquet of God’s Word.

 

So, there are certain attitudes and approaches to life that are highly valuable and helpful to us in living for God’s glory and serving His purposes. When our world is so wildly out of control in its anger, violence, self-seeking, and greed; we are to be controlled by the Spirit and by the truth of the word as it is revealed to us. This should lead to a seriousness of thought that recognizes the great importance that our witness to the Gospel of Christ holds. What we think, say, and do directly impacts the way that others view Christ, and our lives are a living testimony to Him. Central to that life of witness is prayer. This form of communion with God is something that overlays all of the days of a follower of Christ. It prepares us for the sort of clear-thinking and courageous action that these end days demand.

They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all of the meeting places of God in the land.

Psalm 74: 8

 

God’s word is amazing in its comprehensive discussion of the issues and the concerns that plague life in this world. Words that were set to paper long before anything that is our culture was contemplated by the human mind are still true. In fact, God seems to cry out from these words with a voice that pierces through our facades of confident modernity to reach to the heart of our sinful pride and stubborn disobedience. These words of poetry strike me as speaking very clearly about a great danger that is faced by the body of Christ today. We face the danger of being subdued. Satan desires for us to grow ineffectual and silent.

 

Although there are some instances in which the meeting places of God’s people are set on fire, bombed, or ransacked by people who oppose Him; these situations are rather rare. There is a much greater danger that we face. The physical damage that is caused by the flames can be repaired. Even when the building is burned to the ground, after some cleanup, it can be rebuilt. It is far more damaging to have the structure standing whole and proud if the people stop gathering there with hearts that are attuned to worship of their Lord. When our primary reason for the assembly is social rather than spiritual community in nature, the interaction that results becomes shallow, on the surface, and safe. Christ calls us to come together in a manner that is vulnerable, broken, and where grace is necessary. Christ is not the Lord of safety, but He is the God who brings us to sanctuary.

 

Our meeting places and our gatherings need to be bathed in worship and praise. These gatherings should be times when we embrace the beauty and the enormous variety of our fellow family members in the body of Christ. They should also be times when we anticipate and wait upon the Spirit of Christ as He speaks truth and righteousness into our hearts and minds. Satan wants God’s children to become indifferent and to become passive about gathering together. The enemy is ready and very willing to reclaim this part of our lives. Apathy, safety, and selfishness are the matches that ignite the sorts of destructive fires that truly destroy our meeting places. On the other hand, the passionate love of Christ for each of His people reaches out to us, and it is this love that binds us together in the sort of humble submission to God that builds a fire-proof community of faithful followers of Christ.

Have mercy on those who doubt.

Jude 22

 

Doubt is both normal and necessary. Experiencing moments of doubt can protect us from impulsive and damaging decisions or actions. This sort of momentary doubt can cause us to seek out God’s wisdom and counsel before we take action on our own. Seasons of doubt are also natural; yet, they are very different. Have you had your doubting times? These are days when very little of what was going on in your life made sense and when confusion, disappointment, and even a sense of deep spiritual aloneness ruled your heart. If this is a part of your personal history, then you are probably in the majority among people of faith, and you are also experiencing what a multitude of people who don’t know Christ on an intimate basis do experience regularly.

 

Doubt is a tool that Satan uses to cloud people’s minds and to conceal the truth of God’s love, grace, and mercy from us. It is also a part of the path that most of us need to take in order to get from that place of partial commitment to Christ which is the starting point of most faith journeys to the ever deepening and always growing relationship that His Spirit wants to take us to. For, as we explore and deal with issues of doubt, we open up some of the hidden corners of our hearts, and we are forced to face the issues and the fears that we are hiding there. Then, the light of God’s truth has an opportunity to cleanse us of these old-self elements that are causing us so much pain and discouragement.

 

It is completely normal for us to experience these times of doubting, and each of us will encounter others who are going through such a time as well. How we choose to respond to this challenge is what matters most. Christ wants to take the doubt that we are experiencing and show us the reality of His presence in our lives. He wants us to embrace the doubter with our own confident love so that others who are in need will see tangible proof of the Lord’s direct engagement in their lives. Everyone who knows Christ has seen God’s gracious mercy first-hand, now our Lord sends us out to show that same mercy to people who need Him.

 

 

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you a covenant for the people; a light for the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Isaiah 42: 6, 7

 

There are so many times when the thing that we need can be one of the most fundamental and basic components of our universe; yet, despite its seeming abundance, true light can be awfully elusive. I know that I can be standing out in the open on the clearest day of the year with the rays of the sun beating down on me and still have a heart that is shaking from the effects of the bitter cold of helplessness and hopelessness that life has poured on it. This condition is real; yet, it is not necessary. God will bring the light of His truth and love into the center of my being, and His light is of such a great intensity that it will melt away even the hardest frost of these times of living in the winter of despair.

 

The Lord’s light comes into my life in many ways, too. He has given it to me through my acceptance of Christ and the resulting infusion of the Spirit of God into me. He has given me the ability to understand the deep truths of His Word, for God literally speaks to His own through the Spirit’s illumination of the printed text. The Lord also brings people into my life that care about and for my needs and who are confident and honest enough to do what ever is required to bring me back to the center of God’s will. God wants all of us to be the recipients of His light so that we can live in the freedom of His grace. Also He wants us to be light bearers so that we can bring the truth of His love to anyone who is bound in the chains of captivity that evil tries to keep locked around all people’s hearts and minds.

 

As we live in the freeing warmth of God’s light, we are called by Him to seek those who have been made ill by living in the cold. Then we are directed and empowered to administer the healing medicine of Christ’s loving touch to them. We are also called to seek out the people and the places where oppression rules and bring the lock smashing blows of God’s hammer of truth to bear against that bondage. In order to fulfill the mission to which God has called us, we need to keep seeking the light of Christ’s truth, stay close to others who are doing the same, and allow God’s Word the center place in our own reality. Satan brings on the coldness of despair; the warmth of God’s light sets us free.

 

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4: 8

 

The sales of home security alarm systems in the United States alone in 2013 were reported to be about a 21 billion dollar industry which employees almost 118,000 people. Based on this information, it seems that we really don’t feel all that secure in our environment. There is a natural tension that comes with living in a world where so much can and does go wrong and where there are large numbers of people who seem to set on a course of doing harm to others. Yet there is a seeming randomness to it all that can and will defy all of our best efforts to wall ourselves in with safety and security devices. We can eat well, stay away from drafts, and exercise faithfully; still, illness or injury can strike us down.

 

Even more profoundly damaging than any of the harm that people, microbes, or rouge weather cells can cause is the gnawing fear and paralyzing uncertainty that is the product of Satan’s relentless assault on our hearts, minds, and spirits. He gets around all of the protective measures that we install. His voice slips through the smallest cracks in the wall. He tells us that we are helpless and unloved. Satan tries to convince us that we are in this life battle alone. He sells his wares door to door, and he doesn’t skip over any neighborhood in that process. Not a single person on this earth is immune from the disease of doubt and fear. There is no Do Not Call list that can shut him out. Satan is relentlessly trying to increase the amount of damage that he can affect in this world of ours.

 

However, there is an answer. Christ has given it to every person who comes to Him. In Him there is absolute safety. Christ saves our souls, and He enters into our lives. He moves us out of the bad neighborhood where we were all born, and He brings us into the full presence of God. Doubt is answered by focusing my attention on God’s Word. His Spirit speaks out of the pages in ways that seem to be targeted specifically at my momentary need. Christ enters into my situation. He provides me with the courage that I need to face what life has dealt me with a clear mind and renewed resolve. As I talk with God about the stresses and the concerns of life, these prayers spoken by me become truth revealed by Him. What was dark and torturous becomes enlightened thinking and peaceful rest. Now I can lie down and find renewal. Now I know that I am never alone.