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.

 

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For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many were made righteous.

Romans 5: 19

 

So much of the way that we live is as it is because of what a pair of singular individuals did at a moment in history that happened a very long time ago. It would seem that all of our progress as people and all of our learning and technological advances are relatively meaningless. We still haven’t changed all that much. People still lie, cheat, and steal. Individuals do great harm to others, and groups of us do it with even larger zeal and force. Even the vast array of violence that God has directed His people to engage in as we find it depicted in the bible happens as a result of the sinful nature of us all. This is not the way that God created this world to function. God’s plan and design for humanity was not for us to be angry, fearful, and distanced from each other and from Him.

 

The impact of that rebellious act is our legacy. People live out their lives under the shadow of death because of it. Our world, God’s once perfect and beautiful creation, has become a vast graveyard. That which was originally holy ground has turned into something obscene. There is nothing in our learning that can reclaim it, either. Our technology and our commitment to reclamation are powerless in the face of the evil that infuses its soil. There is no amount of greenness that we can apply to our world that will penetrate even the first layer of its surface. It is all washed away in the flood of tears that the sorrow of loss brings. However, humanity’s lack of power and capacity to deal with the brokenness of our world should not lead us to hopelessness. In God’s view, this time of rebellion and the catastrophe that it brings upon Creation is a short episode, a moment in time. God knew that it would occur, and He was prepared to respond to all of it.

 

In a singular act of obedience, Jesus stepped out of His place in the heavens and engaged in the battle for our world as a part of humanity. He surrendered royalty for infancy, and the outworking of God’s plan for restoration of His Creation had begun. The primary focus of it all is us. Just as the creation of our ancestors was the supreme, pinnacle moment of God’s work in those days of earth’s formation, now the reclamation of people from the grip of sin and out of the walking death that it causes is God’s supreme focus. As we choose to obey God and follow Christ, His presence in us makes us right in God’s eyes. He also changes the very nature of who we are. It is this change in people that carries any real hope for peace and for reconciliation in our world. We can and we should strive for understanding in our world. Also, we should care about the health and the safety of the disadvantaged. God calls His people to love and to care for and about all people. However, the only hope that we can possess for real, valid, and transformative change in our world comes from and through Christ as He is made known by our obedience to His will.

 

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of peace is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3: 17, 18

 

Peace is hard to find. This is not a profound thought. No one should be reading this statement and gasping in amazement at the new truth revealed by it. Our world is saturated by the heavy air of tension. It suffocates us, and it forces most people into various forms of self-protective isolation, disengagement, and separation. The descriptive adjectives of our day are strife, discord, and disagreement. Our society is simply not very sociable. The way that we are going about seeking solution and resolution is very challenging, too. It seems that most of the conversation these days involves either placing a large amount of hope in our political and economic systems, or it concludes in utter cynicism and with resignation to a form of cultural hopelessness.

 

Frankly, it seems to me that both placing trust in our human devised systems and cynical hopelessness are missing the point of living in a world that is ruled by the great King. As His subjects, we can live in the center of a form of peace that is not dependant upon outcomes of elections, employment rates, global trade deficits, and legislative actions. According to James, peace starts with wisdom. This is the wisdom that comes from God, for that is the only form of wisdom that will withstand the refining test of the fiery trial that is life in our world. God’s Word is the only source of wisdom that can actually inform our minds and orient our hearts toward living in a manner that brings about peace. This is not a soft, compromised form of peace. God’s peace is defined by its relentless and unyielding nature. It seeks to bring healing to the hearts of people as it draws us together in a community of faith.

 

The truth of God’s will as it is revealed in His Word, by Christ’s Spirit, and within the Body should lead us to exude a form of gentleness, reasonableness, and mercy that is super natural. This is seen in the way that we engage in the discourse of life. It is expressed in an easy comfort with living out justice, grace, and understanding in a manner that points directly to Christ. It is made known in our world by our ability to engage truthfully in the hard conversations of our society without destroying our relationships with people who we disagree with. Peace is a crop that requires constant attention and care. Its fruit is not always rapidly realized. It often grows deep under ground in the silence and the cold of a harsh winter; yet, the bounty of summer is close at hand. Peacemakers meditate upon wisdom and act out of Christ’s love.

 

 

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 29: 2

 

Sometimes I am forgetful, and at other times I seem to have my eyes closed tightly, for there are too many days that go by where I don’t appreciate the Lord for even a small portion of who He is and for what He does. Days like these may be the ones where I am way too self-focused, or they might be times when I am caught up in the importance of my own influence and impact on my universe. When this is true, I am suffering from a lack of accurate perspective, and the quality of my life is diminished because of this.

 

Everywhere that there is true beauty, and all of the splendors of this world are the handiwork of the Lord; He is the master painter, the skilled architect, and the perfect designer of the environment that sustains life, delights my senses, and that feeds my soul. It is up to me to open my eyes and to allow my heart to soak in all that God has placed before me during each day. His love is expressed in the colors of flowers, in the fragrance of the wind, in the vitality of a hummingbird, in the warmth of a smile, and in the comfort of a friend.

 

O Lord, let me be aware of You, of Your presence, and of Your loving grace. I pray that I will be like the multitudes that surround Your throne in Heaven with my heart lifted up in continual appreciation and praise of You, my God and Creator. Let my eyes never stop seeing You as I travel through my day. Guide my thoughts and direct my actions so that my life will be a living expression of Your glory and righteousness.

 

Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.

Isaiah 26: 4

 

Chip, chip, chip. The world around us rains down blows upon the foundations of life. As the caustic words and the condemnation come our way, we flinch and then we back away. We surrender on the small points; then, we give away our souls. It is all so simple and everything seems to make such sense. Yet, there is so much at stake. It is so easy to accept the idea that if life is to be lived with any sort of security and within the grasp of peace and contentment, we must not fight or disagree with people who hold power and who say that they are working for the good of the many. So, the sharp point of the hammer lands on the surface of our foundation stone. So the cracks spread and the chasm deepens until it all breaks apart and we fall down.

 

So go each of us as individuals. Then, as the individual falls, so crumbles our society. We get what we deserve if we stick with the flow of our culture. When we allow people to set our direction and determine what is right based upon what is politically expedient, we are agreeing with and joining forces with all that is opposed to God’s righteous rule. That might seem like a harsh statement, but I believe it to be absolutely true. The ways of this world are established by its temporary ruler, and Satan’s direction stands in complete opposition to God’s. There is no acceptable compromise, and no comfortable middle ground to be found.

 

The idea that we should need to find another, human-inspired way to understand how to live in our world seems crazy to me. I know that life is complex and that it is hard to assess what is right in many situations. However, God has provided us with His Word, and it is not ambiguous. The Lord is present in our world and enters into our lives in His Spirit in order to grant us deep knowledge of Him and revelation of His will. The only unbreakable foundation that we can stand upon is found in and through a relationship with Christ. There is nothing else that defeats the blows of Satan’s relentless hammer of deception and death.

 

There are no perfect people and little that is without the flaw of compromise in our legislative processes. However, we are each, individually and as we collect together with others who seek God’s rule, tasked by God with the responsibility to make our voices heard. Additionally, people who know Christ must base what we say and how we engage the discussion on God’s truth and not become slaves to political party, ideology, or convenience. God’s way is the path to life. Justice and freedom are found in it. Christ calls upon each of us to stand together upon this everlasting rock.

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner within your gates.

Exodus 20: 9

 

In the Unites States this is the official holiday that is called Labor Day. For most of us it marks the practical end of summer. We set many of the cycles of life around this point in the calendar. The traditional start of the school year is at about this time, organizations and clubs that have taken a summer break start meeting again, our churches start engaging in a full slate of ministry activities and meetings, and work schedules frequently become more intense now. The way that a date on the calendar which designates a holiday that is little observed in its original intent or truly understood has such a large impact on our lives is actually rather interesting. We people like to frame our lives with tangible events that bring order and organization to them. Our minds embrace the cycles and rhythms that create this comfortable structure.

 

It seems to me that God may have had order and structure in mind when He set out the command to enter into a regular time of Sabbath rest as well. What exactly God meant by working six days and resting one is not the topic that is on my mind. It seems to me that the Lord intends for our lives to be led and shaped by His Spirit and His Word and for all of life to be lived within the real and tangible provision of His grace. What I do think is that God intends for us to develop and to maintain regular patterns in our lives where we purposefully set aside the routines of work in order to focus all of our energy and attention on Him. Most of us, myself certainly included, do not stop, contemplate, meditate, pray, and listen to God for any real and meaningful portion of our lives. Even when we engage in regular bible reading, times of prayer and personal engagement with God, we seldom are truly at rest in a manner that opens up our deepest places to the Lord’s restorative touch.

 

God’s fatherly aspiration for each of us is that we would come to know Him as well as He already knows us. There is an intimacy in His desire that operates to bridge the gulf that we have created between ourselves and our Creator. In this light, resting from our labor means that we enter into a time of deep trust in which faith in the totality of who God is becomes our primary driving force. True Sabbath rest is found as we set aside ourselves with our agendas and plans and turn our lives over to God and to His agenda. The deep and total restoration that Christ desires to work in us is found as we surrender to Him. Christ speaks to us out of His Word and from the depths of our silence. He brings refreshment and restoration to our over worked and damaged hearts. The Lord provides clarity of purpose for our next cycle of work, and He reenergizes our bodies and our souls for that effort. A true Labor Day holiday is found on a regular basis in these periods of surrender to God’s Sabbath rest.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10: 10

 

There is an old cultural expression. It is one that is not used all that much any more, and it goes, “This is living!” Yet it was almost never applied to anything that had all that much to do with true life. This exclamation of pure joy at life was typically used to refer to desirable or aspirational aspects of life such as cars, vacations, and houses. There is nothing wrong with any of these things; yet, they do not bring life. In fact, these sorts of things, when they become the center of our focus and when seeking them forms our primary motivation for each day of life, can become dangerous distractions away from God’s purpose for us. Even more disturbing is the fact that anything that turns us from God and His will tends to cause people to make themselves the center of their own universe.

 

For many of us, it is fairly easy to say, “Yes” to this idea, and we do this as we feel good about the fact that we have mostly left those days and that manner of thinking behind us. It is relegated to a phase in our personal history that might be known as the Time of Maturing. Yet, almost everyone continues to struggle with making choices about the way that we think and the things that we do that profoundly impact our personal life-death balance sheets. All people who live in this world are dwelling in a place where good and evil spiritual forces are engaged in a constant struggle for control and for dominance. Everyone who seeks to follow Christ is not just living in this place, but we have chosen to live here with a large target on our backs. Our minds and our hearts will be assaulted and assailed in an unending attempt to pull us away from Christ and His purpose for us.

 

However, God does not leave us alone in this struggle. He calls us to Himself first so that we can get to know our Lord and Savior in an ever deepening and intimate manner. As we know Him, God gifts His people with understanding, wisdom, strength, and discernment so that we can face our daily struggles with a peaceful mind and a fearless heart. As we seek Him and meditate on His word, God speaks into us and provides us with the ability to make choices between those endeavors that will lead us toward the abundant life that He desires for us to live and those other options that we have which would deplete and discourage us. We are all gifted and called by God into service to Him. No one can do everything; in fact, that is exactly what God does not want. Instead, as we submit our will to Him, Christ will lead us into life.

 

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