And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22: 44

 

Our world is overrunning with fearful things and people. There is terror in the most tame of our streets, and sudden agony and grief fills our innocent halls of pleasure. These are terrible times with evil running loose and wild in our midst. As I was thinking about fear and what it means to be afraid, my thoughts went to that night in the early part of the first century when Jesus was at the place of awaiting the terror that would come down His street. Now, Judas, the Romans, and the rest of the angry crowd were no surprise to Him, but the events of that day were still terrible to contemplate.

 

The Roman army was one of the most powerful that our world has known, and they used fear and dominance as tools to gain and to hold control over the people who were unwillingly under their governance. Their ultimate punishment for crimes against their law was the cross with its torturous death-bringing process. Certainly Jesus was facing this. Yet, His anguish during this time of prayer was not caused by fear of facing His torture and death. Rather, it was caused by the impending reality of what it would mean to take on the sins of all of humanity. His agony was seated deep in His heart and was centered on the coming time of separation from the Father as the Christ fulfilled the purpose of His human life.

 

This is where the experience of our world and Jesus’ of His often diverge. I am not saying that fear isn’t real or that evil is not terrible, but that was also true for Christ. In the face of it all, He turned to the Father for comfort, strength, and guidance. Jesus moved away from the noise of the street and into the quiet of His garden of prayer. Christ faced into the most trying of situations with the grace of God on His lips and the confidence of a person who knows who He serves and why He is doing it. That terrible cross of Christ is the place where we can, too, hang our fears and our reactionary words. The sacrifice of Christ is the source of our courage and the reason for peace in our hearts and in our actions.

 

 

In every way you were enriched in God in all speech and all knowledge.

1 Corinthians 1: 5

 

We live in a world where many things are enriched. Enriched bread and vitamin fortified milk and juice are common. Enrichment courses are taught in schools and in other settings. When you enrich uranium, the release of an extraordinary amount of energy is just around the corner. The idea of being made better, stronger, greater, and more complete through some form of externally applied addition is one that we can easily accept. Sometimes this enrichment leads to a beneficial outcome and sometimes it has been proven to be useless. Much that we gain in this manner is worthy and good, but people are capable of turning that good science into terrible evil. In the end, what matters the most is who we turn to as the source for the sort of enrichment that establishes an eternal basis for all of the rest of it.

 

God’s Word makes His intent and desire very clear, and His actions over all of time have demonstrated His sincerity. The Lord wants all people to know Him at a level and with a depth of understanding that is deep and intimate. When He speaks of enrichment, God means that we will be changed, transformed, in a manner that involves the essence and the nature of our being. The sort of addition that God desires to impart to people is not so much an increase to what was there from birth as it is an enlivening of what God created in us from the beginning of humanity’s existence. We were designed to be beings that related with and to God at the level of our souls. It is fundamental and intentional in God’s design that everything that we know and all of the expression of that knowledge was to find its foundation in God’s truth, justice, and righteousness, that is, in His character.

 

However, God is something of a relational risk taker. He has never forced His will on people. The Lord grants us the option and the opportunity to enter into and to engage in a relationship with Him. Yet, the consequences for turning away from God are severe. The loss that results from rejecting Him is total in both earthly and eternal terms. On the other hand, the gain that we are granted by electing to follow Christ is too great to be measurable. It is in this relationship with God that our hearts and our minds are opened to understanding the truths that actually enrich us. Humbly and openly seeking God with a spirit that is surrendered and yielded to listening and to following His will brings each of us into the grace and the peace that come only from God, the Father, and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8: 38, 39

 

Benjamin Franklin is said to have stated, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” It would seem foolish to argue with such a great mind as Franklin’s, but I think that Paul is presenting us with a different reality to consider. The Apostle certainly places both death and taxes, in the sense that they are the crafting of rulers, among the items in his list of things that control and determine the nature and the quality of our lives. Yet, he also says that these great forces of nature and of humanity are like wisps of wind in comparison to the great love that God has poured out upon us in Christ.

 

Christ gives people something that cannot be gained from anyone else or from any other source. He takes us out from under the final authority of this world, and He places us into deep and intimate relationship with God, the Father. This doesn’t mean that we will escape or avoid the struggles, pain, and loss that can come our way in this broken world. What it does mean is that we are accompanied and comforted in and through it all by the presence of God, and we are granted a certain hope for an eternal future that is absent from all earthly belief.

 

In Christ I know the love that sacrifices all for me. My rebellion and sin are removed by Christ and forever forgotten by God. There is nothing that I have done or any thoughts or actions that I can engage in that will cause God to reject me. As I am in Christ, so I am enfolded into God’s love and grace. With this truth in mind, I can turn with total confidence to Christ for comfort when pain, loss, and grief are present in my life. During times of great trial, even with the end of my life before me, I can rely upon the presence of Christ and the true embrace of His love to strengthen and encourage my faith all the way to that very final moment of life in this world.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5: 16

 

Jesus is talking about a couple of important things here. Firstly, He is discussing the fact that God’s people are the enlightened members of humanity. People who have come to Christ have, in fact, come to the Father. It is this light of heaven that God gives to each of His people that provides the love, wisdom, grace, mercy, and holiness that is the essence of God’s true enlightenment. This is the light that Christ pours out through His followers in order to bring the illumination of loving truth to a world that is shrouded and infused with the darkness of sin and its death.

 

Then Jesus proceeds to embellish upon what He has said just before the verse above. The enlightenment that comes from God through Christ is not something that we hold onto and use for our own sakes. God intends for His people to be active and engaged sources of illumination as we go through our days. We are to openly and continually love others and to love God’s creation in a manner that speaks truth, grace, mercy, and comfort to all that we can reach. God does not grant us vacations from this calling, and He continually reminds us that all that He has given to us is to be used for the sake of others.

 

So, the work that we do has absolutely nothing to do with our acceptance, status, or position in God’s eyes or in the world where we live. When we respond to Christ and accept His Lordship over our lives, each of us enters into God’s calling for our life. Within that calling is this mandate to be workers whose labor is directed, empowered, and enriched by Christ so that all that we do and every aspect of who we are shines the light of glory onto God, the Father. Nothing that we do or say is for our ourselves, everything that we are is to be for the sake of others in order that they would come to know Christ and enter into the eternal light of His salvation.

We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5: 20

 

Do you ever struggle to make sense of this world? I certainly do. We are confronted on a regular basis by the stories of events that totally defy reason and logic. People do things to each other that are too terrible to comprehend, and groups of people often bring greater chaos to the scene rather than aggregate reason. It is in these sorts of times that I am reminded that God has truly blessed me with this gift of His that can be called understanding. That doesn’t mean that I have perfect answers for all of the whys or that I have perfect peace and comfort in all circumstances.

 

Rather, God’s Word describes in thorough detail the world where I live. It is a place where the landscape has been tortured and fractured by the forces of satanic evil that are waging war across its surface. This same ancient conflict brings all of the people of the earth into its battle lines. There is no such thing as a non-combatant in this war for eternity. God’s Word provides clarity and understanding to this picture, for God is not the one who brings about the pain and the heartache of life. God’s design for this world was and remains one where peace and relational love prevail. Satan violently lashes out at this reality and seeks to destroy it. He uses advanced weapons such as disease, anger, jealousy, and hatred as tools of destruction.

 

For me, this knowledge helps to sort out cause and effect in my personal life and in the broader spectrum of the world around me. There is one source of goodness and love in this world and that source is God. There exists one and only one source of truth and that too is God. He has given us His Word as a directly tangible resource, and God has also provided His Spirit to His people in order to guide and counsel us as we search for the eternal truths that it contains. This Godly understanding does not eliminate pain, suffering, and grief, but it does eliminate confusion and doubt. Through all that happens in this life, God’s love is absolute and unshakable, His grace and mercy are present, and He continually holds His people close in the Father’s eternal loving embrace.

Then those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Luke 7: 49

 

This is the sort of thing that is noteworthy, for forgiveness is among the rarest of things in our world. We often carry the burden of our transgressions with us for much of our lives, and we also hold the wrongs committed by others deeply and tightly. Thus, for most people, a lifetime of living equals a personal history that is loaded with debts incurred and those that others owe to us. This burden of sin is a weighty thing to handle. It is back breaking, mind numbing, and soul defeating. Jesus provides us with an answer to this.

 

He tells us that our sins are forgiven. When He does this Christ is not speaking on His own authority; instead, He is speaking the will of God, the Father. God does not want our sinfulness to remain as a barrier to relationship with Him, and He also desires that all people would turn to Him and be set free from the damaging effects that our sins bring upon our lives and our human relationships. The gift that God gave to people in Jesus is enormous. It is beyond the grasp of my simple mind. Rather than attempt to adequately define and describe it, I need to simply accept the reality of forgiveness and live as one who is truly and totally set free.

 

God’s grace is greater than my capacity to measure, and His love drives that grace deep into the fabric of my soul. Christ cleanses me of all of the wrongdoing that has stained my being, and He brings me before the Father dressed in the purity of His righteousness. This is the ultimate expression of forgiveness. When God looks upon my wandering self and sees only the purity of Christ, I am truly forgiven, and this is what has occurred for me as a result of my commitment to Christ. In Jesus and in Jesus alone all is forgiven.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

James 2: 14

 

Faith is what leads us to God. It is this unseen and often highly inscrutable response to the emptiness, lostness, or powerlessness that we encounter in ourselves that causes us to set aside the reason and the logic of this world and to accept the truth of eternity in the person of Jesus Christ. Faith steps out of the rules and the broken order of the life that we were born into, and it relinquishes control over ourselves to God so that He can wring our old selves out of us and transform us into beings that live as Christ desires for us to live. Faith trusts Christ and allows Him the freedom to reform us as He wishes.

 

This is the issue that James is confronting in us. He is contrasting what we say and even what we would aspire to be with what we actually are becoming. As an actor in our world, God is very unusual. We can say that He dwells in a high and a lofty place that is far removed from the dirt and the chaos of this world. We can even state that this distance between our realm and God’s has been caused by humanity’s choice of sinful disobedience over a life in total communion with our Creator. This is true, but these ideas miss the way that God engages with us and with our world. God came to the first people in their shameful condition and engaged them with grace and understanding when they deserved His destructive wrath.

 

The Father has granted the grace and mercy that were shown to our primary ancestors to His lost children throughout history. Then Jesus lived with us as one of us and demonstrated God’s heart for a new and a redeemed way of living on this earth by His words and with His actions. Jesus spoke the words of the Father’s truth and He engaged with the people of this world without regard for who they were or what they were like. He loved and cared for them all. As it is Christ’s Spirit that dwells within all people who come to God through faith, the truest test of that transformative relationship should be the way that we engage with our world. So the question, does what I am doing and the heart and mind behind those works look like those of my Savior?

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 5-7

 

There are many things about God that are hard for me to understand. There are also almost as many aspects of being His child that are mysterious to me. I believe that these areas of incomprehension are related. God is spirit yet He lived fully in the same sort of flesh as I do. God has existed before and beyond time, and He breathed all that is my universe into existence. The strange, the wondrous and the marvelous are all simple routine to the Lord. My mind, my heart, and my soul stand in thankful awe of His greatness and in deeply humble thanksgiving in the blessing of His grace.

 

Peace is truly one of the greatest wonders in this life. Christ leads us into engagement with our world. He calls upon His followers to care deeply for the people around us, and He even instructs us in how to love all of them with a love that is willing, without thought, to lay down our own lives for the possibility of saving another’s. However, at the same time as He was extending grace to all of humanity Jesus was speaking and living out God’s righteous truth in the face of earthly power and human compromise. So, He calls upon us to follow along this same path.

 

Caring deeply for all of Creation, loving people regardless of who or what they may be, and openly placing God’s truth above all else do not sound like a formula guaranteed to bring about the sort of calm, comfort and ease that we might define as peace. Thus, I see here another aspect of the mysterious. Christ continues to lead us in times of fear and doubt, in times of anxiety, for He took His own hours of searing pain and He turned to the Father in honest prayer. Then, Jesus listened and opened His mind to God’s comforting touch. The peace that God grants to us is not guaranteed to change the trials that surround us, but it will grant our hearts and minds the clarity to engage them with the full confidence and the certain assurance of the Father’s protective hand at our sides.