And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10: 26, 27

Jesus has just been in conversation with the young man whose wealth was a major impediment to his ability to leave a life that was ruled by law and enter into one of service to God by selling all and following Jesus. So, the topic of salvation was on everyone’s mind, and Jesus takes a moment to enter into sharing one of the most important aspects of God’s desire, design, and plan for restoring people’s relationships with Him. In the conversation with the young man an impasse was reached in which the young man felt that he could not do what was being asked of him, for his wealth was far too important to him, perhaps his identity was primarily established by what he had accomplished and the rewards of that effort, for him to give that up. Yet, I think that Jesus is saying that the possibility still existed for that person to come into a saving relationship with God. We don’t know the final outcome, but the story of the wealthy young man and Jesus may not have been finished on that day.

The bigger question here takes us into God’s heart and its desire and intent. God does not want any of us to perish. He desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of the people who exist on this earth. No one is outside of His plan for grace and redemption to prevail over the lostness of sin and the separation from God that is its result. All of us are born lost and with dead souls that conform to the declining states of our bodies. God provided us with an absolute and all-inclusive answer to that desperate state of being in the person and the blood sacrifice that Jesus grants to any and to all who will receive it and surrender control over this life to Him. It is the second of these two aspects of entering into eternity, salvation, that the young man was not willing to do. He could accept Jesus and even ask to follow Him, but the young man was not able to submit to Christ’s authority and leave his old way of life behind. So, he was unwilling to enter into the new life of redemption that God wanted to provide to him.

Thus, since the things that God requires of people in order to enter into a relationship with Him are so hard for most people to accomplish, the question regarding who can be saved seems to be important to consider. From God’s perspective there are no people who are beyond the reach of redemption. No one is so evil, so set in his ways, or so antagonistic to God that the Savior’s reach cannot extend to him. So, we should never give up on anyone either. Our words may be rejected, and we may even find ourselves in a position where that push back has become so strong that our ability to interact with an individual or with a group may be jeopardized. There are places and people in our world where it is physically dangerous to discuss Jesus, but even these places and people are not beyond Christ’s reach and outside of the arena of prayer. We may be discouraged or feel defeated by the lack of response to Christ in others, and we will encounter rejection and dismissal when we present our faith to some. These are inevitable facts that are a part of living in a word where God’s standards are exacting. However, we also follow and serve a Lord who is greater than all of this and whose love for these same people that are rejecting our appeals to them is beyond measure. With Christ all things are truly possible, and in Christ we can trust Him to never stop the pursuit of any lost soul. 

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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18: 4

Children are very interesting. There is usually a simplicity to the way that they face into life wherein they can say what they think without a lot of filtering or needless rambling around the topic at hand. They tend to trust those who care for and about them in a way that allows them to engage with direction or even with discipline with relatively easy acceptance. These young people can laugh in a manner that fills a room with their joy, and they are also not afraid to cry when things hurt and they need someone to hold and to hug them until the hurt fades. They also try things and risk failure with a certain carelessness that turns the failure into learning. This image of what a child is like was a part of what Jesus seemed to have had in mind as He talked about the life of a person who wanted to truly know and to follow God.

Unfortunately, people tend to lose much of this easy exuberance, trust, and simple faith as we age and leave behind the dependence of childhood and take on the independence of our adult years. It seems that we start to think that we need to possess all of the answers and have our responses to life figured out. This sets us up for both the appearance of arrogance and also for a false sense of self-determination and control. There is a fine balance to be achieved in all of this, for God has designed us to be thinking beings who take on responsibility and grow in wisdom and the strength that we require to serve Him well in our world. However, He also desires to remain involved and engaged with us as we go about doing His will, for God does not want any of his children to be separated from the influence of His Spirit or the fellowship and encouragement of His body.

Maturity in Christ is thus very different from the model of that advanced stage in life as it is often portrayed in our world. It is freeing in that it grants us permission to need the input and the involvement of others in our thoughts and actions. It also provides us with the ability to walk through our days in the company of others who are all seeking to serve the same Master with like-minded goals on view. We are set free to laugh out of the deep joy of Christ in our hearts and to cry with an openness that responds to the hurt and the pain that is all around us in this broken place. Childhood reentered in Christ is a blessing to our souls as it also brings that special sparkle of innocence and easy submission into a world that is too full of life’s heavy burdens. As adult children of the Father we are sent out on the great journey of service to God’s Kingdom while we are also held close in loving care and life-giving counsel and support.  

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4: 12

The idea of a fiery trial does not seem pleasant in any sense. At least in my experience, being burned is very painful, and so, the thought of enduring some form of testing that comes by virtue of an activity that has the sort of intensity that fire provides sounds like something that I would prefer to skip over or avoid by almost any means that I can summon up to do so. I am aware that, except for a relatively few examples, Peter is using a metaphor here; he does not expect that he or other followers of Christ would actually be burned. What he is telling us is that there is an almost absolute certainty that we will encounter forms of opposition that are intense and that may very well harm our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. The surroundings where we live and into which Christ sends His people to serve Him are not friendly to people who bring with us the truth of the Gospel of Christ and the light of His unrelenting Word of Life.

In fact, it would be my guess that Peter might have asserted that if we are not running into some very real push back and antagonism as we go about living as people who think, speak, and act out Christ’s calling for us, then, we are not truly and fully doing that. There is no place on this earth where Christ is needed and where He is readily and completely accepted. So, those same places where the need is great and the acceptance is questionable are locations where the inhabitants are going to fight back against the presence of Christ in their midst. Satan demands denial of Christ from his people, and this denial leads to push back against the Gospel. Push back when resisted or countered by Christ’s followers can bring about more open forms of rejection that do, at times, lead to aggressive and even to violent responses. People do lose their lives over sharing the message of redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not face this sort of physical risk that comes to us because we are committed to proclaiming Christ in the world where we live. Still, there are risks involved in doing this. We will encounter people who do not want to hear about our faith and who will shut us down or cut us off from fellowship with them if we persist in doing this. There are places in our world where the rules attempt to bind us so that Christ is not permitted to be spoken there. These places may be connected to our employment or they might be associated with some other important aspect of daily life. In all of these situations and relationships there are ways to remain true to Christ’s calling while honoring the people and society’s rules. We must never renounce Christ or minimize His place of prominence in our own lives, but we can seek to demonstrate love, care, and compassion as Christ-like qualities that open doors to discussion of the reason for the loving care that we exhibit. We can still pray for and with others even in settings where the rules minimize our ability to do so before a gathered crowd. We can and should continue to share the truth of God’s Word as the source of our wisdom in all situations. Finally, we can be people of prayer who bring love and Christ’s acceptance to the lives of everyone that we encounter. The flames of trials may not be literal and they probably will not consume our flesh with their heat, but the opposition that we will encounter for the sake of the Gospel of Christ will be heated and delivered with the fury of Hell. Yet, Christ is with us, and He will strengthen each of us to withstand all that might come our way. 

And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

Mark 9: 23

Belief is not an easy thing to hold and to have. People are taught and trained to be skeptics about most things. It just seems natural to want to see the proof before we accept the validity of claims that others make or before we are willing to become vulnerable by trusting what is represented to us as being true or even as possible. In this situation, the trust that this father of a child has held in the capability of Jesus has been shaken by the inability of His disciples to get the job done. Now, the man asks for help from Jesus, but he does so with serious doubts expressed in his tone of voice and in his choice of words as he says, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mk. 9: 22)

How normal and natural is it to hold out this sort of uncertainty in any number of situations that are encountered in life? This is even more reasonable when it comes to matters of the spirit and in the realm of the supernatural. It is hard to place trust and to have faith in things that we cannot readily see, touch, and evaluate. We want the proof before we open our hands in surrender or give our hearts in expectation of the results that are desired. This is the situation in the story of this man, his son, and Jesus. He is desperate to see the demon driven from his son; yet, he naturally holds onto a doubt that helps to guard his heart from the pain of disappointment. We all do this, and God is not put off by it, either. The Lord responds to our ifs with His emphatic, ”I can!” 

In fact, God’s capacity and His compassion far exceed our ability to imagine outcomes. He can and does heal all that is broken, and He removes from us everything that binds our spirits and holds our hearts captive. Even when our faith in Christ is minimal and our belief is shaky, He enters into the problem or the trial that we are experiencing, and He provides solution for the deeper issues that lie beneath what we are struggling with. The cure for what is troubling us may not be as dramatic as was the driving out of the demon from the boy, but it is just as real and as certain as was the Lord’s response to the boy’s condition. Jesus does not always cure the illness, repair the broken heart, or completely remove the pain and grief that we are experiencing. That form of healing is not necessarily the sort of thing that best serves our eternal needs or the requirements of God’s Kingdom. However, as we place our faith in Christ, we are brought into the presence of God, we are provided with the comfort and the consolation of His Spirit with us in the situation at hand, and we are given an unshakable assurance of the glory to come to us as we dwell for all time with Jesus. So, it is possible and even rational to expectantly say, “Jesus, I know that You can!”   

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Matthew 4: 11

There is something that I need to admit. I have never seen an angel. At least, I have not set eyes upon one that I was aware of looking at. Still, I believe that they exist, and I am certain that they are active and involved in our world today. The scene that Matthew records is the one in which Jesus was tempted by Satan over a period of forty days, and this is that point when the test was finished, but Mark makes it clear that these angels were with Jesus throughout the ordeal of temptations and deprivation. The presence of these angels, I think, had less to do with the fact that the person who was receiving their support and aid was God, Himself, than it was a part of the way that the Father cares about and for this world and its inhabitants. Angels seem to do various forms of work and take on tasks at God’s bidding. He sends them forth to enter into the events and the situations that are present in our world.

They seem to be operators in the background of the world for the most part, but there are times recorded in scripture when they are involved on the front lines of the action and where they are seen and known by the participants in various events. Their purpose is always to serve God’s greater mission, and they never seek to be thanked or worshiped in any sense for what they have done. Their actions are a form of worship that they are giving to the Lord, and it would appear that their reward is found in simply existing in the presence of God. So, if I haven’t seen them and they don’t want to be recognized for what they do so they are perhaps a bit shy about being noticed, why do I think that they are real and prevalent in our world? Could it be that they were either an aspect of an earlier age in history only, or that they are nothing more than a part of myth or of the telling of fanciful fables?

So, my belief in the presence of angles is based upon the fact that they are mentioned some 203 times in the Bible with their presence, actions, and purposes being well and thoroughly described by numerous authors along the course of that narrative. Beyond that, there are instances in life that are hard to explain without the interaction or the interjection of some form of wise, capable, and powerful forces that comes from outside of the perceived world at hand. These hand of God moments could be the direct action of God, Himself, but they could also be the work of these angelic beings, who are acting in agreement with God’s will and His plans. Recognizing the presence of angels in my world has one primary purpose, and that is so that I will remain mindful of the remarkable presence of God in the environment where I dwell. The Lord literally saturates this place with His presence. He walks upon this earth through each and every aspect and facet of every day that the Sun rises and sets, and His hand of love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness is not absent for even a second of those days. These angels, who I do not see but know that they are with me, are proof of God’s profound and unceasing care for all of His Creation. 

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

   but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11: 14

Most of us were taught to be strong and to stand on our own in most aspects of life. This independence and individualism are considered to be virtues in us, and these same qualities are given even greater importance as character traits for those who would seek to ascend to positions of leadership. We are to evaluate the data, form conclusions that are reasoned out of that information, and formulate a plan of action. Then, with this plan in hand and a goal in view, we set everything in motion and press on to accomplishing that end result. We are driven by a form of competitive zeal onward to victory. This personal win or lose mentality is frequently the underlying energy in campaigns of all sorts whether grand and great or minimal and insignificant. The old joke about men not asking directions applies in far more significant ways when it comes to the manner that people in various positions of leadership are often expected to make important decisions and to take conclusive actions without seeking and listening to outside counsel.

Needless to say, this is rather different than the way that God would have us function. He provides us with a wealth of sound and wise guidance, advice, and moral direction to rely upon in making all manner of decisions. Even more significantly than looking to God’s viewpoint on issues and considering His direction in situations is the concept of deep and fundamental transformation that is inherent in the way that Christ works within His people. He enters into us and proceeds to work in a manner that transforms each of us from our sin-led and death-bound existences into people who are free from that bondage to sin and are growing ever more alive as we walk with Christ through the days of our lives. The very idea of submission to Christ should lead us into seeking His perspective and guidance in all matters in life. The Lord’s wisdom is foundational to the design and the construction of the world where we dwell, and it is superior to any other thought or consideration when it comes to living in a just, righteous, and holy manner.

So, back to leaders and to our expectations for them and for ourselves, also. If we are willing to subordinate our thoughts, concepts, ideas, and plans to the counsel that God provides for us by and through the many counselors and forms of granting wisdom and guidance that He provides to us, then we should also require this of the people in whom we entrust the leadership of organizations, entities, and governmental institutions that we live within. At the very least, they should be seeking out the counsel and advice of many wise and diverse people who are themselves doing the same sort of guidance seeking from their own array of people of considered wisdom. Living as a wise person starts with dwelling at the foot of the cross of Christ where all of my intellect, training, and experience are insignificant in relation to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. It is from that humble point of view that my eyes are most open and my vista the least obstructed by human frailty and sinful pride. It is by and through Christ, in the counsel of God’s Word, and with the instruction of the Spirit that we all thrive individually and as organizations and even as nations.