“Strength Through Struggle”
“Strength Through Struggle”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).” How desperately peacemakers are needed. We are in turbulent times. Politicians of all persuasions are encouraging confrontation. The temperature rises. Anger spills from their lips and incites their followers. Crowds gather. Words fly. Then fists. Peace remains an unrealized hope and, for some, an unwanted resolution. They enjoy the fight.
Jesus, the unique Son of God, was the ultimate peacemaker. His was a costly mission. It was not a simple negotiation but all-out war, and He came to settle the issue once and for all. He was not welcomed. Wickedness is never pleased when light intrudes on the darkness. He eventually became both casualty and conqueror. He stepped onto the battlefield armed with grace and truth only to be greeted with rejection and crucifixion. No, peacemaking is not a cost-free business.
Sin disrupts our standing with God. It turns our greatest ally into an adversary. The war is on, and He sent His Son to end it. The problem lies on the human side not the Divine. Yet, He took it upon Himself to resolve it. Our faith rectifies the dislocation between the sinner and his benevolent Creator. Peace with God comes through “our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1),” a brief phrase packed with meaning.
“Our.” It is both personal and inclusive. He is not mine alone. He is ours. I am part of a collective group of individuals who have embraced the same Lord. The result is a body of believers which we know as the church, the family of God. We stand united.
“Lord.” Although, we see multiple words used to describe the relationship between believers and Jesus, this one is frequent. He is Lord. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Having peace and being a peacemaker calls on us to surrender to that authority. Our mission in life is no longer self-serving but Lord-serving. He died for us: we live for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
“Jesus.” Mary had a son. There was the human side of Jesus, and He knows the experience because He has been through it. He is a merciful, faithful high priest because of His time in the flesh (Hebrews 2:17). He successfully endured the temptations and sympathizes with our dilemma. Divinity and humanity combined perfectly in one individual.
“Christ.” That is: He is the anointed one. He was chosen and sent on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation. Peacemaking. There is no other way to have peace with the Father. He is the only road that leads there. Without Him, we will forever be at war with our Creator. It is a no-win situation without Him, just eternal alienation.
Four words that will aid us in being peace-making children of God, “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” He was the original. Peacemakers follow. It’s the family way.
In our rough and tumble world, questions about God can easily pop up. Where is He when I am hurting? A knife-wielding homicidal maniac charges into a birthday party for a three-year-old. The results are bewildering. Why anyone would want to stab children defies reason. But then, it is not a reasonable world. So, we scratch our heads and wonder: Where is the Lord?
The state of humans seems to be deteriorating at warp speed. Terrorists drive cars into crowds. Gunmen attack schools. City streets seem more like war zones. It should not surprise us that a culture that has expelled God from our schools produces ungodly graduates. It has happened since the beginning of time. The downward spiral picks up momentum until thoughts and actions are similarly anti-God. The word of the Lord warns us (Romans 1:18-32), if we’ll just listen. Life without God gets very ungodly.
That is where we live. He has been pushed to the margins of society. Principled Christians are challenged in the courts and protested in the streets. Confrontation is common. There is nothing new about that. Jesus saw it first-hand. He handed the torch to the apostles who experienced the same type of hostile rejection. Paul was the Johnny-come-lately missionary who was beaten, jailed and ultimately executed by the enemy’s forces. Yet, he shared a unique perspective on the brink of his death sentence.
“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…(2 Timothy 4:17).” He did not call the Lord into question, even in the worst of circumstances. All of his friends had deserted him. He was not doubtful of the Lord’s presence or of His certain safe delivery into eternity (2 Timothy 4:18). The road to heaven was sure to be a torturous one, but he had confidence that the Lord would see him all the way through. A crown of righteousness was waiting for him (2 Timothy 4:8).
Joseph felt the full brunt of the injustices that occur in this world. The world is not fair. It never has been and never will be. If we expect it, we will be perpetually disappointed. Jealousy drove his brothers to sell him. Yet, he did okay in Egypt. In fact, he did quite well…for a while (Genesis 39:2). The Lord was with him. Obviously. Then his master’s wife had eyes for him, and his life was turned upside down.
Bogus charges took him to jail. How’s that for unfair? Where was God then? Right there with him, that’s where (Genesis 39:21). In jail on false accusations? Yes, even then. His imprisonment told us about the world in which he lived, not about Joseph or God or the relationship between the two. The Lord was with him, and He is with His faithful children today, even in the hard times. Maybe, especially then, because that’s when we need Him most.
” The More Excellent Way”
Set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2). How easily our focus drifts from the eternally significant. Activities cram our days, and exhaustion fills our nights. Bills hoover. Work distracts. We fall totally drained into bed and all-too-soon have our peaceful slumber rudely interrupted by an alarm that signals another hectic day. So, we begin again. Our thoughts are dominated by the things of this world. Soon, God is squeezed into a single day. Then a solitary hour on that one day. Slowly it turns into an hour a month. The drift eventually takes away one more soul.
Set your mind on things above. King David lived in much different times and had a unique history. He spent time with the sheep. If anything could prepare a person to govern people, that was it. Days and nights with dependent critters groomed Jesse’s youngest son for the throne. He had the unusual characteristic of being a man after God’s heart. He certainly had his spiritual ups and downs, but he had the right internal stuff. He knew of the importance of the proper mindset. Perhaps his own experiences had educated him on the dangers of wandering thoughts.
David wrote much about blessings. The first word of the entire book of Psalms in its original language is “blessed.” That sets the tone for all that follows and guides us into a life of blessings. It is immediately apparent that it involves our minds as well as our actions. Our view of the word of the Lord is a huge factor in the process. The blessed person recognizes the immense value of His message and spends time meditating on the incredible truths of God (Psalm 1:2).
We live in the information age, and there is very little that we could want to know that we could not find out with a few key strokes. Google can give us instantaneous facts. It is all right at our fingertips, except the perfect truth about God. If the internet gets it right, and that is a big questionable “if,” it got it from the word of the Lord. Spending time pondering those unseen realities is a component of a life of blessing.
There is plenty in this world to captivate us. Diversions are everywhere. Focus drifts and it takes a concerted effort to maintain it. It is especially challenging to remain locked in on those things which we cannot see, but those are the only things which will last beyond our time in this world (2 Corinthians 4:18). They are eternal. Everything else, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is temporary.
Set your mind on things above. Our attention and devotion cannot be on the passing issues of this creation. They will lead us to think the wrong thoughts, want the wrong things and self-destruct. The mind is a great source of blessing when we use it properly.
“Just Like Him”
Sin seizes us. It is never honest but enslaves us through deception. If its true destructive nature were clearly revealed, we would never buy into it. We can’t point the finger at environmental influences. The serpent convinced Eve to take a bite while she lived in paradise. We cannot blame God. He is neither tempted nor tempts (James 1:13). No, it comes from evil influences within (James 1:14), and we end up being slaves to those desires. The devil is skillful. He works on our heart. When he has that, he has us.
Sin is a dynamic force. It will rob us of freedom if we let it. Jesus knew. He saw the whole picture, and it was an ugly one. Everyone who gives in becomes its servant (John 8:34). There are no exceptions. It is a universal principle etched in stone by the one who faced death to liberate the slaves. Sin will dominate our minds and dictate our actions unless we are set free from its control. The unavoidable outcome of such a life is death (Romans 6:16). We are at liberty to choose which road we take. However, the ultimate destination is beyond our control.
Paul was a special handpicked messenger of God (Acts 9:15). His aggressive persecution of the church is legendary. So is his amazing confrontation with Jesus on the Damascus road. His work on behalf of the Lord lives to this day. Words from heaven flowed through his pen. Yet, he was not immune from sin’s dreadful influence (Romans 7:15-25). He knew its mind-numbing dictatorship that led him to do what he never dreamed of and not doing what he intended. Sin ran his life. Frustration descended on his mind like early morning fog. His self-esteem hit an all-time low. Welcome to the world of sin. Next stop: eternal damnation.
Only God knows the full extent of sin’s devastation. It is incomprehensible to the human mind. The cross is as close as we will ever come to understanding its brutality. That is where good and evil had the ultimate encounter. God the Son met it head on. Sin beat His innocent back to a bloody pulp, put a crown of thorns on His head, drove nails through His hands and feet, then thrust a sword into His side. Sin will kill the Lord in our lives, too. When it does, Satan ascends to reign and we are left as slaves.
We are just days away from celebrating our national independence. Many lives were given to secure it. A war was fought and blood was spilled so that we might be liberated from foreign domination. Two thousand years ago holy blood was shed to free us from a spiritual dictator. We cherish the freedom that we enjoy. It was costly, but the freedom that Jesus gives cost even more. It is a liberty that will never end.
“Can God Depend on Us?”
We live in times of high anxiety. We fret over family, finances, the future and any number of hypothetical issues. The “What if’s” of tomorrow cast a long, dark shadow on today. So, we toss and turn. Stress has become one of America’s leading health issues. It affects our physical and mental condition. Doctor bills skyrocket while quality of life crashes. Never have so many had so much and failed to find contentment. Money can buy virtually everything except peace of mind.
Our Creator knows about the human tendency to worry. Jesus addressed it in His first recorded sermon (Matthew 6:25-34). It is always important to remember who His audience is, and in this case it is disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). So, it is those who are seeking to learn from Him and follow His teaching. His message? Do not be anxious, even about the most basic necessities. Easier said than done, right? The solution isn’t a medicine chest full of antacids and sedatives.
His advice was to take a look at nature. Watch the birds. You don’t see them wringing their wings about where the next meal will come from. They simply flit around gathering what God supplies for them to eat. And what about the flowers? Solomon dressed gloriously but not better than one of those in full bloom. See that? Trust the One who takes care of them. After all, disciples are His children. Faith is the answer to stress (Matthew 6:30).
Peter could never envision himself failing the Lord. It might happen to others but not him. He was so certain of it that he argued with Jesus when He suggested that failure was in the fisherman’s immediate future (John 13:37-38). Even in the face of impending danger and Peter’s certain denial, the Lord offered words of reassurance, “Don’t let your heart be troubled… (John 14:1-3)” Nothing produces anxiety quite like the public exposure of unrecognized personal weakness. The Lord knew. Troubled hearts make for sleepless nights.
Once again the solution is found in believing in God and His Son. Trust in the preparations that have been made to secure the future for the faithful. Our Savior endured the agony of death on a cross and emerged victoriously from the grave so that we might have a place in heaven with Him. Our human failures deflate us deep down inside. The Lord is fully aware of the discouragement that can eat away at us and offered a remedy: Faith.
Our view of Scripture totally changes when we trust its source. Again, faith is the key. Faith that it is the word of an all-knowing, all-loving Creator who does not want us living anxiety riddled lives. In fact, He commands His children NOT to be anxious. When we trust Him, we listen with attentive, obedient ears to Philippians 4:4-9. Then our hearts will be in His faithful hands.