Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul had goals. He knew the desires of his heart, too. He wanted to bring people into knowledge of Christ and to see them grow into a relationship with the Lord that was founded on solid truth and understanding. He also knew that these new believers would need to be taught, counseled, and developed in their faith if they were to be sustained in their journeys with Christ. All of this required that Paul spend time and expend energy in the pursuit of this labor of love. Being a shepherd for any flock is not easy, and doing this with people can be all consuming. Yet, shepherding is what Christ had called Paul to do, and this was what Paul was intent on seeking to do.

 

It doesn’t seem as if caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of others was truly Paul’s gifting either. He was an intellectual with a great passion for knowing God’s word and for seeing that it was adhered to by all. However, in Christ, all of this was changed, for Christ calls upon His servants to care for the people who come into His flock. This is a very mixed group with many gifts, strengths, and skills to offer, and also with many challenges, personality quirks, and sinful issues to work on and through. The process of entering into the lives of others is not easy, and it is made even more taxing by the fact that God calls upon His people to engage with others for the long haul of life in a manner that is like the one that He employs with each of us. That is, we are to stay in relationships that do not always go well, and we are to go after people who wander away from God’s path of life. All of this can be tiring unto exhaustion and frustrating to all who seek to serve Christ.

 

So, we do not need to enter into this work of shepherding by using our own strength and consuming our internal resources. They will never be sufficient for all that lies ahead in service to Christ. Instead, we are granted Christ’s unending and bottomless resources as our source of supply for His calling to enter into the lives of others. The presence of Christ within does not change the reality of the challenges that come with the calling, and those challenges will bring about hours and days when we are beaten down and exhausted from the effort that we are required to expend and by the harsh rejection and personal assaults that we are forced to endure. Yet, even the worst of these times are ones in which Christ is present, and it is in these dark times that the Lord often becomes His most real and tangible to us. Loving others will lead to struggles and to opposition, but loving others and shepherding Christ’s sheep is His calling for His people, and Christ is faithful to give His shepherds the energy that is required by this calling and the strength to endure all that comes as a result of serving His will.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1: 2

 

This town, set in the state where it is with its place in a nation that is established in this harsh and broken world, can bring on some really hard days. There is just too much coming my way to actually understand it all; in fact, there is so much pain, suffering, and brokenness on a continual basis that my heart and my mind can’t hold any more. Yet, when I consider what Jesus saw, knew, and felt, I know that there is One who truly grasps the place where I am. Christ sees the devastated lives and feels the raw edge of loss. He walks the halls of the hospital and understands the fear. Jesus comes to the place where sadness and sorrow rule, and He brings love and comfort for oppressed and troubled spirits.

 

One of God’s greatest desires is to give people a deep and a true understanding of His grace. He wants us to realize that there is nothing that we have done and nothing that we are doing now that will keep Him from loving and from accepting us totally. We are people who have chosen to separate ourselves from His presence by our own actions; yet, God continually reaches out with His hand of healing and restoration. The grace that flows from the center of eternity enfolds our wounded hearts and protects us from further harm. The grace that our Savior, Jesus, gave His life to perfect brings understanding and comfort to these days of hard reality.

 

As I look on the face of Jesus, I see the heart of love that is the very center of God’s nature. He wants us to accept His grace and to live in the peace that such unrestricted acceptance brings. In Christ there is calm and there is clarity of thought. He tells me to stop trying to understand all of the whys and to just trust Him with the outcome. Christ wants to hear everything that my heart feels and all that is racing through my mind, and He tells me to trust Him with it all. He takes this churning sea of troubled and confused thoughts and feelings, and His Spirit provides the sort of deep peace that makes it possible to face another day knowing that God’s grace will enfold me into His love so that all of the emotional and mental clutter of this world are made orderly, and I am granted an eternal perspective on all that life will send my way.

 

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121: 2

 

In our world there are forces of nature and thee are natural forces. Both groups can be very powerful and have the capacity to bring about upheaval and disruption of life. However, it seems that the winds that blow as a result of hurricane, typhoon, and tornado are mild and rather calm when they are compared to the torrents of cold-hearted and acidic gusts that flow from the mouths of people. We are able to bring about destruction and inflict pain in ways that far exceed that which comes out of nature. Yet, the virulent anger that grounds the words of people in these times is also a force that comes our=t of our nature. It is rooted and nurtured in that part of our fallen humanity where fear rules the day and anger equals power and control.

 

The ways in which we communicate today have made it even easier to attack and to assault people with our words, for there is no longer the need to face your foe directly or to even disclose identity when doing it. People can say anything that they wish and send it out into the air without consideration for the recipient and with no need to get to actually know the person who is the target of those hurtful words. All of this, the anger, disrespect, anonymity, and aggression for the sake of power, are products of creation gone very far off course. None of this was inherent in the world that God designed and formed with His own hands; instead, it came into existence out of the fallenness of humanity and as a result of the broken nature of our relationship with our Lord. There is nothing contained in these forms of engagement that speaks of God’s love and grace or of Christ’s redemption.

 

Unfortunately these voices are not easily silenced, and they do not appear to be going away any day soon. In fact, the quantity and the volume of their words feel as if they are increasing daily. So, answers regarding dealing with it all need to come from sources beyond the world where we live. These are times when turning to the Lord for peace and for reason is essential. He speaks a form of truth that penetrates through the power of the words that are being hurled at us. Christ provides us with His purpose for our lives of service to Him, and He invites us into the same cruciform journey that He walked for the sake of His Gospel. This path is not easy or without its opposition, but it is surrounded and infused with the presence of the maker of heaven and earth. The One who made it all speaks to our troubled hearts and says to follow me, listen to my voice, and enter into my peace in the midst of the howling winds of this world.

 

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Romans 8: 33

 

We humans are capable of disturbing and terrifying levels of anger and the aggressive actions that form up out of it. This powerful emotion can rise up from any number of basic fears, and its expression is never good or positive for either its holders or for its targets. There does seem to be even more of this type of response to the challenges of life today than there has been in the past. It would seem as if anger has become the shock tactic that is being employed by many in order to attempt to win the day’s debate without actually presenting facts, evidence, or making a reasoned argument. The fury that anger summons up is intended to intimidate and to belittle others into submission. Its use stands as one of the clearest contrasts in our days between the ways of Jesus and those of the world.

 

Unfortunately, people who seek to share the truth of God’s love and the ways of His kingdom with our world are quite frequently the targets of angry responses. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is confrontational to many people. This is understandable when the people who are faced with its message do not claim to have a relational knowledge of Christ, but is deeply troubling when they are individuals and groups of people who speak of Jesus as their Lord. Yet, this does happen. It would seem that some people are highly selective as to which parts and aspects of God’s Word they choose to hear and adhere to. They set aside Christ and His ways for the power tactics of our age as they shout and rage in order to stifle engagement, inhibit love’s transformative work, and defeat the truest intent of Christ’s calling to His people and His church.

 

When a follower of Jesus is faced with this sort of angry aggression, it is frightening, unnerving, and deeply troubling. This is a completely normal and natural response to the terror tactics that have been employed against one’s own Christ-motivated attempts to proclaim truth. When peacemaking is met with violence, whether physical or verbal, the result is a potent shock to the heart and the mind of the peacemakers. Yet, the ways of this world with their anger, violence, and destructive bent will not prevail. Their accusatory words will be lost in the purifying flames of Christ’s truth, and their fear inspired aggression will be quenched by the healing waters of God’s love and grace that pour forth from His true disciples in response to those who oppose them. At the end of the day and with certainty at the end of all days, Christ’s disciples will stand justified by Him for refusing to give in to the world and to its Hellish tactics as Jesus Christ stands victorious over all.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.

Deuteronomy 18: 9

 

Even when God grants us possession of a part of this world there is still danger in the hills that surround us; it’s also in the valleys and in the towns. Like the children of the exodus, God gives us territory. It seldom has the definite borders that enclosed Canaan, but it is just as real. The Lord desires for all of His people to live in a manner that is distinctly different from those who do not know Him. Christ calls upon us to have an impact on our neighbors, our communities, and our world that will bring about a hunger and a thirst for His righteousness.

 

Unfortunately, I know that I am not alone in my too frequently experienced chameleon-like adaptation to the culture that surrounds me. When I look at my words and deeds, I confess that there is not necessarily enough of a distinction in them for the outside observer to discern that Christ is in me and that I serve a different master than the one that has falsely assumed the role of king of this world. This thought is troubling and disturbing. This self assessment is condemning, too. Yet, into my troubled heart and mind comes Christ with His grace, love, and forgiveness. It doesn’t stop there, either. God doesn’t just tell us to stop sinning and to live differently, He gives us His living word for comfort and for instruction, and He has come to dwell with us. He personally leads the occupation forces in this land of conquest. Christ dwells in this world with us.

 

Christ brings into this world the light that drives back the dark shadows of sin, and He calls upon His people to carry those torches of righteousness. He also desires for us to bring the warmth of His comfort to those who have been damaged and dispossessed by life in this earthly war zone. Often the difference that we can demonstrate is shown through compassion and mercy. Christ is made real to people by our patience with their situations and acceptance of them as valuable. God is warning us that when we stop caring about and for the weak, the homeless, and the broken people of our world and start seeking to protect ourselves by building fortresses of safety and security around our homes and our possessions, we are truly adopting those abominable practices of the land. Christ calls upon His people to set aside safety, comfort, and security as we trust Him and follow His lead in loving people as He does and in seeking to be active agents for restoration in our world.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10: 23

 

A promise is exactly that, when it comes from God. The Lord says what He thinks, and His mind is focused only on that which is holy, just, loving, and righteous. In fact, if there is one thing that I know can be counted on in this world, it is the clarity of God on what sorts of living will lead to a life that is rich and full of the grace of His presence. God’s Word provides us with a highly practical narrative of God’s will and desire for us and a telling of the way that the Lord has continually engaged with His creation in working out that will on the earth. Although there is great mystery surrounding the full nature of God, the Lord, Himself, works to reveal His nature, character, and truth to us.

 

Christ is the answer to this revelation. When we confess our surrender to Him, we enter into the hope of redemption that God has promised to all of His creation in and through Jesus. As Jesus is our Lord, He is our Savior; thus, as He is our Savior, He is also our Redeemer. A significant aspect of this redemption is found in knowledge, understanding, and the wisdom that flows out of this deeply connected relationship with God. In Christ the Spirit indwells us, and the Spirit opens our eyes so that we can see through the fog and the haze of sin into the glory of eternity that is now ours. This grants to us an appreciation for the valid hope that overcomes all of life’s challenges and trials and illuminates the sure path that we can travel in order to stay upright and true to God’s holy calling for our lives.

 

God promised His redemption to His people, and He delivered on that promise in Christ. God committed to open up the mysteries of His will to us; so, He gave His Spirit to His people. The Lord declared that He would never leave us, and He has sealed that covenant with the blood of Jesus. We enter into a relationship with our Lord by walking on the shaky feet of sinful people; then, in Christ’s strength and wisdom, we travel forth in the full confidence of being God’s beloved and chosen people. This world will throw the full weight of its confusion and chaos at us, but we can stay true to Christ and dwell in the hope of our redemption, for He will never depart from our side. This is God’s faithful and true promise to His people.