Waiting Peacefully for Shalom

This devotion is not about passive waiting, as you might do in a doctor’s office for an exam, diagnosis, or treatment plan. Although we’ve been examined and found lacking, in need of healing and the diagnosis is total depravity in every part of our being, we have great news. The treatment plan will provide for something beyond anything medicine can do—a perfect body, soul, heart, and mind one day. Our responsibility is to take the medicine daily—the gospel of Jesus Christ—and strengthen our faith by its daily application to our lives. The gospel is God’s sovereign plan for eternal shalom and has been delivered to us and published publicly. By it, we know God’s sovereign plan for our health when our Savior returns. Whether our physical or spiritual home will be in heaven or on the new heavens and the new earth—it will be a home of utter and complete peace. In this world, everything is in the process of dying from the moment of birth. However, one day, there will be no death and no decay—only peace, health, safety, and joy.

 

Some people avoid going to a doctor because they don’t want to hear that there is something wrong with their bodies. As we all know, pretending that there is nothing wrong won’t change the fact of a medical deficiency or illness. Ignoring a problem will usually make it worse. We have a promise of complete healing, but the remedy is only partial in this world. The treatment begins now, with the gospel, but won’t find it’s perfect result yet. This devotion will continue to draw on our Scripture from the past, Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Our peacefulness here depends on our appropriate application of this truth for the end of the age. “Christians are squeezed between the ‘already’ of what has arrived and the ‘not yet’ of what is still to come. Let me give you some examples: we already have the forgiveness of our sins, but we do not yet have the consummation which Christ’s death and resurrection have secured. We already grow in sanctification, but we have not yet been glorified…the last hour of this age which is decaying and will pass away. But it has not yet passed away, and the new heavens and the new earth have not yet dawned.” (1) In their book, Phillips and Fluhrer discuss and explain the problems of over-realizing and under-realizing biblical eschatology. “Over-realized eschatology leads to a kind of triumphalism that seems to think that everything that you are going to get in the future you get right now…Healing, transformed personalities that approach sinless perfection, perfect love, perfect marriages, perfect wealth, perfect satisfaction, perfect contentment—it’s all yours right now! Name it; claim it! After all, Christ has secured it.” (2) Those who “claim” victory now live as if the cancer of sin has been eradicated, rather than being in daily treatment with soul-chemo through the gospel.

 

The Bible reaches into the core of the believer’s being, like a super-CT scanner, to expose the virus that needs the gospel’s attention. As the gospel is applied, a little bit of that sin-virus is destroyed, and his health is so much better! He can live freely, knowing the disease isn’t fatal to his soul; but the effects of the sickness are not completely gone, yet. The Bible is our source of good news, along with the bad. Warnings against idolatry, rebukes for neglecting and forsaking God and his commands, and the apostasy of Israel and Jesus’ neighbors point to the diagnosis of sin in us. But the treatment is a sure cure. The patient heartedly proclaims, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.” (Isaiah 52:7-8) “The longed-for message of peace . . . good news of happiness . . . salvation is summed up in one glad cry: Your God reigns—the victory of God over every oppression is now a reality…As the lone messenger approaches the city of God, the watchmen on the wall shout the good news that the King is returning.” (3) Who wouldn’t be glad and have a more exceptional experience of peace, knowing that Christ is here with his omnipotent, sovereign rule to establish justice? Why shouldn’t we be rejoicing, having been pardoned by the blood of the King, justified by his righteousness, and able to enjoy increasing goodness of God’s grace?

 

And yet, some of us do not experience the joy of our returning King to the full extent of the treatment offered to us. In the medical analogy, we avoid the doctor and his medicine, or the physical therapist and her work. We would rather mope around with the sickness, limited by its influence, and enslaved by its untreated presence. If this describes you, “…you have an under-realized eschatology, [and] you will fail to appreciate what you actually have in Christ Jesus now. You not only have the forgiveness of sins and the joy of being once and for all declared just before God because of what Christ has done, but also have ongoing cleansing from sin! What a blessed relief that is for God’s people day by day. He has poured his Spirit out upon us, so that we begin to love what we didn’t love and hate what we didn’t hate. Our personalities are changed, our goals are changed, our values are changed, and our direction is changed. All of this is because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). It is not merely some declaration of a status…It is also power.” (4) At the risk of using another analogy, it’s as if, once on vacation, we only think of the home we’ve left rather than the destination—did I turn off the water? Will the cat be ok? Will my neighbor remember to get the mail and feed the cat? Did I forget anything? But, we are our way; treatment has begun, there is hope based on our sure future with Christ and we can look forward to our destination.

 

I confess that I err as an under-realizer or God’s promise for our complete healing from sin. But, “These Last Days” has been a great source of encouragement to me, and I hope to you. Perhaps quoting from “How God provides for partakers in the age to come” will help you as it has helped me. (I also recommend that you download the chapter from the cited website of The Gospel Coalition.) Here are six ways that the Lord is providing for believers as we actively wait, with hope, peace, and assurance, for the day to come, based on Ephesians: (5)

  1. “God provides for our utter transformation out of sheer grace, received through faith alone. This whole salvation is itself a gift from God…he transforms us into those who do good works.”
  2. “All kinds of cultural barriers between the two have existed, but now one new humanity has been brought into existence…We are given a panoramic view of the ultimate new humanity, with men and women drawn from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. All gather around the throne on the last day.”
  3. “…He discloses his concealed purposes in anticipation of the end…what God has kept secret in the past, but has now revealed.”
  4. “…God does more than we ask or imagine and thereby elicits prayer from us in anticipation of the end…God would work in us to make us grow in holiness and in depth of appreciation for his love for us, because we cannot be mature without such increasing depth of appreciation of his love for us.”
  5. “…God builds truth and unity into his body in anticipation of the end…how you live, how you speak, how you love, how you deny yourself—all of this is in anticipation of what will be on the last day.”
  6. “God equips and arms his people in anticipation of the end…[with the] full armor of God, which he so richly provides to his saints, as he equips and arms his people in anticipation of the end.”

As we actively apply the treatment of the gospel to ourselves and others, between the “already” and the “not-yet” of our salvation, we are encouraged to press on with greater security, peace, and joy, knowing that the best is yet to come. As you wait for that day of utter shalom, are your feet beautiful, with “…shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace?” (Ephesians 6:15) How does your life demonstrate your trust in God’s sovereignty now and your ultimate possession of holy shalom with him? Will you remember that “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:8-9)

(1) Phillips, Richard D. Phillips and Fluhrer, Gabriel N. E., eds.“These Last Days: A Christian View of HistoryPartakers of the Age to Come,” Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2011. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/these-last-days/

(2) Ibid.

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 52:7-8, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Phillips and Fluhrer, ibid.

(5) Ibid.

August 16, 2016

Future Healing and Present Peace

Have you been traveling lately? When we consider a trip, don’t we first pick our destination, and then choose our method of travel, taking the route, time, and cost into account? I enjoy finding other places or people along the way to enjoy before I arrive at my last stop. But the great reward is that final place, which I have researched, with hopes that the experience of it will be equal to my expectations and cost. It’s been some years since I traveled to Ireland for the first time, from Malawi, E. Africa. Along the way I stopped in Bath, England, having always wanted to see the city, and then visited with friends in Wales. The time in the UK was great, but I thought very frequently about the upcoming tour of Ireland and N. Ireland with some anxiety mixed with excitement. No doubt, being a single traveler influenced my thinking, but I was quite used to that. Unfortunately, my time was less-than-perfect because I was suffering from a bad knee that limited my walking. Then I was knocked onto the rocks of the Giant Causeway by the strong wind in N. Ireland, toward the end of the tour. I suffered a contusion that made sitting on the bus, the airplane, and in the car extremely painful, if you know what I mean (and for weeks afterward).

Just so, we Christians are on a journey toward a particular destination—heaven and the future renewed earth and heavens. But like our earthly trips, that journey is fraught with trials, anxieties, and hopeful expectations. However, there is excellent news: our destination is void of any difficulties, injuries, or trials. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Here on earth, we have all the issues of a sinful, corrupted world to contend with—shootings, confusing economies, political concerns, family splits, religious bewilderment, and on and on. Here on earth, Satan exercises his power to create issues like Christian accepts idolatry, promiscuity, obesity, lust, all kinds of greed, “free” gender identity, and same-sex coupling, to name a few of biblical sins. As we travel here on earth, believers benefit from remembering our destination, with a stopover in heaven—the eternal new earth—free from all pain, confusion, grief, and suffering of every kind. Amid anxiety here, we have an unimaginable, glorious, peaceful, and joyful future. Our certain, comforting, healing, peaceful, and painless future supplies our hope and peace in the present, empowering us to trust God more. Our future peace has the ability to redeem our present difficulties.

On Sunday, our Pastor taught from Haggai 2 about the prophet’s encouragement for Israel to consider their past (leaving it behind),  present (of repentance and forgiveness), and their future glory (far greater than the present). Their future with the Lord in a perfect world would be far better than the old “glory days” of Israel when Solomon’s temple was intact. (1) We, like Israel, have lessons to learn from the past. These lessons and encouragements stay with us, as we leave nostalgia, wistfulness, and regrets behind since they will only hinder us in our present peacefulness. Confessional repentance is the most appropriate use of today. “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. ‘Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him.'” (Isaiah 57:18-19) Passages such as these, given to Israel for her comfort and encouragement at a difficult time, help me because our world has normalized anxiety and toxicity. God’s peace works to settle our hearts and minds in our mixed-up, turbulent, reactive world. The believer’s past sins are absorbed into the covenant of peace in Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace, who paid dearly for our forgiveness. That is our history and inheritance as children of the King of Heaven. Our present is even more precious, since Christ, our High Priest continually makes intercession for us at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. The future is glorious, when Christ will come again, establishing a new world of unimaginable peace without the disruptions that our hearts, minds, and bodies have become so accustomed to in this world.

Periodically, the Spirit reminds me to pray for revival, and I ask him to do so more often. On Monday I thought of it, and on Tuesday someone else spoke to me about it. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak about revival to others, and on Thursday, our group considered how our ministry can be renewed and revived. Now, on Friday I have the opportunity to consider it again with you—to pray that the Lord will come to us in power for biblical revival and renewal, in our communities, nation, and the world, starting with us. However, true biblical revival begins in one way only—through repentance. “God opens the way into his reviving presence for all the penitent…He even creates their spirit of repentance.” (2) Christian revival never has and never will come through new ideas of spiritual matters, looking lightly on sin in a spirit of love, or being passive about holiness and obedience. We taste the glorious future of peace now through the forgiveness we have in Christ. The warnings of to the churches in the Book of Revelation are instructive. “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” (Revelation 2:3-5) “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:19-21) “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” (Revelation 3:1-3) Repentance is the theme of today for us who take the Bible and Christ seriously—who seek the peace of God.

Our eschatology and view of our future glorious life with Christ, not just in heaven, but on a new earth together should inform our present walk with him. Unmitigated shalom will replace pain, grief, and death one day, and today, we have a taste of it through the indwelling Spirit of God. We’re not just on a journey, where we will return to our old home. We’re moving to a new destination and home. We ought to consider whether we view our walk with Christ here as a return trip (having been improved by the journey) or a complete change to a new location (with utterly  transformed hearts, minds, bodies and lives). How do you view your present walk with Jesus—like a vacation or a relocation? Our new home is far away, so there will be many stops, repairs, feeding, fueling, rest, excitement, and even boredom at times. The traffic is heavy, so we must move with everyone else while on the road.  Some days it will feel like we will never get there, and other days, we will want to turn around and go home, unconsciously, for the “good old days.” But the good news is that the fuel of the Spirit of Christ will not run out before we reach our destination with him. How are you moving? Is your heart unsettled because you are impatient for the future or content to be moving toward heaven? Do you appreciate and embrace Jesus Christ’s sacrificial, atoning grace that gives you peace with God and heals your sins daily, through his ministry of intercession and your call to repentance? Let’s pray to be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:11-14)

(1) Taha, Allen, Minor Prophets Series, Haggai 2:15-2:19,” https://www.trinityboerne.org/mediaPlayer/#/sermonaudio/297

(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 57:18-19, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

August 9, 2019

God’s Peace is Accessed Through Prayer

Do you always pray for others when you say you will? Do you pray consistently, for your peace, spiritual growth, or service? I confess that my intentional prayer life is woefully deficient in spite of my random and conversational prayers that rise to God frequently throughout the day. You could say that I don’t appreciate my relationship with the Lord as much as I recognize my dependence upon him. It’s easier to deal with practical matters than spiritual difficulties. Maybe that’s why people look to nature for refreshment and peace, instead of God. I had the TV on the other day while I did some things at home, watching “The Last Alaskans.” A few permitted families have moved away from civilization into the Alaskan bush to live “independently,” having the “freedom to live as they choose.” They are very skilled but work all the time, which would be a burden to me, not freedom. This could serve as a picture of what we do with Christ. We turn our freedom from the responsibility of the Law into an opportunity to live independently, without being under anyone’s rules except ours. On one level, we know we need him and want to serve him, but then live our lives like completely independent, self-reliant creatures. Two episodes of the program focused on the filming crew’s technology and struggles to keep up with the families they were shooting. I was impressed with how they integrated their knowledge to shed light on the Alaskans. I thought of the Spirit, who illumines Scripture to show us our struggles for independence when we push God aside to live our practical lives. Don’t we neglect prayer as a means to connect with our Redeemer, at least on some level, thereby forfeiting our peace?

I suppose God was working on me when I recently noticed that we pray seven times during our worship services at church. No wonder I feel closer to the Lord after the service, with a greater sense of his peace. And Jesus spent much time in prayer with his Father, leaving an example for us to follow. As we pray sincerely, our safety and security become more definite and our spiritual issues more pronounced in the battle for our peace.  The more we pray, the greater our trust in God and his promises, since he is the source of our security and peace. David was running from Saul, his would-be executioner, and declared, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4) David could have thanked the Lord for rescuing him from Saul but instead focused on his fears, an intangible issue. James Boice points out the elements of David’s testimony that we can follow: he recognized his fears and troubles, prayed by seeking the Lord, and calling on him, was delivered from his fear, and was then joyful, without shame. (1) David was smart—he had disguised himself as a crazy madman. But he didn’t thank God for wisdom or the idea to masquerade as an insane character; he knew that God had saved him from his fears, by spending time with his Supreme Ruler and counselor. 

David was a realist; he knew that his life was in danger. Christians have even more reason to be realists, not escapists about life’s problems. But we are also “realists about the power of God and his promises…Although there is cause to be troubled, nevertheless, there is even greater cause not to be…[We know] Jesus, and…[have] every reason to trust him…Whatever the circumstances, whatever the hardship, let us believe that he has a purpose in those circumstances and is most certainly working them out for our own spiritual good.” (2) “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25) David would have been justified in acting on his fear, according to many people. When we doubt God’s power and intention to use our purposes for good, we think like them. Why do we tell “white” lies, make excuses for our anger, or lash out against those who hurt us? Isn’t it because we don’t think God will help us, and keep us safe from the consequences we fear?  The most frequent question in our current Bible study of the Old Testament: “Is lying ever justified?” Of course, the correct biblical answer is no. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.” (Colossians 3:9) We lie because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t—maybe God won’t come through or I’ll have to bear the consequences of my actions without his mercy. “…a human fear, a servile one, a distrust of the power and providence, grace and goodness of God, which has torment in it… brings into bondage, and into many distresses and difficulties, and is opposed to trust in the Lord.” (3)

Living without prayer is like living without all the TV crew filming “The Last Alaskans.” We would not know about what those families are doing, of how they are surviving with so few resources. But even more than this, we would not understand why they are living as they do, or how they approach their difficulties. But God is not a film crew! He is greater than any man, technology, and even the glorious creation that those Alaskans worship. Jesus Christ is The Light; he is The Way and The Truth. No matter what fears we may have about ourselves, our circumstances, or other people, Jesus has a certain, safe, peaceful future for us. “Let not your hearts be troubled. “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3) Since our future peace is secure with Jesus, our present peace is found in him. “Regardless of what there may be to cause us to be troubled as Christians, there is more cause not to be troubled…First…he has a purpose in [our] circumstances and is most certainly working them out for our own spiritual good. The second reason Jesus gives why we should not be troubled is that there is a place prepared for us in heaven…To know our destiny is a great incentive, not only for the enjoyment of peace in the midst of turmoil but for godly living as well…The human heart…[has] the desire to have a genuine place of our own, a home, a place where we belong and know ourselves to belong…Who are those who seek to escape from this world? It is not those who are certain of a home in heaven.” (4) 

The world is a scary place when we forfeit our peace by neglecting the One who offers it to us continually, who left heaven in utter humility to atone for our greatest fear and consequence—death. What threatens your sense of safety and your peace? Why do you not pray for God’s help when you are feeling vulnerable and troubled? How often do you turn to your own means of solving problems or resolving conflicts rather than ask God? How many hours or days of turmoil have you anxiously spent rather than spend the time with God? How can Jesus’s plans for your future with him help you to live the good life with him now? Be encouraged, “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 4:5b-7)

(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 34:4-6, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(2) Boice, Ibid, John 14:1-4.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Proverbs 29:25, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-29.html

(4) Boice, Ibid.

July 31, 2019

Peacemakers, Not Hate-Makers

I frequently listen to the “Politico” podcast on NPR-1 for political commentary, to keep up with the issues. The podcasts end with a segment called, “I can’t let it go.” The commentators talk about anything they can’t stop thinking about, long after it’s over. Today I can’t let go of the hatefulness that has infected the American culture. Why is there so much division and disunity in the name of entitlement, free speech, and who knows what else? In his Christian Peacemakers ministry, Ken Sandee exposes our natural inclination to  fight or flee from conflict, rather than solve our differences through a biblical approach with personal conversations and gentle, gracious, loving humility and honesty. (1)  We see the fight approach demonstrated daily and unfortunately encouraged in American society today. Then, we often react by running away. But why is there so much hate-making? Doesn’t  God’s Word teach us that we are his blessed children, peacemakers who sow peace and encourage righteousness in a rebellious world?

In Matthew Chapter 5, we find Jesus proclaiming radical faith in his Sermon on the Mount, at a time when Israel had all but given up on the promised Messiah. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Christ’s reasoning and verbiage are unnatural to us. We are tempted to think that we can become his people by making peace with our fellow humans. Not so! We must look at this passage in the context of all of Christ’s teaching. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38) Only the “sons” are true children of God whose hearts have been made new are blessed and able to be peacemakers. Even so, we are naturally inclined to give in to our sin nature as peace-breakers and hate-makers, to justify our self-righteous, prideful superiority and or acceptance. Only those who have been changed into humble, God-worshipping believers with the indwelling Holy Spirit can begin to overcome this natural inclination to fight for perceived self-preservation. What is our natural inclination when someone argues with us? Don’t we become defensive? Or seek revenge for the hurt? Do we naturally look at him with love and tenderness when attacked or threatened? Of course not, unless God in us is stronger than our emotions and our temptations to seek vengeance. When the Holy Spirit in us helps us stop and consider our response, we are blessed, as is our opponent. 

God made peace with us when he regenerated us, gave us faith to trust Christ’s atonement; he adopted and justified us. Not guilty—what peace! Now we want to be at peace with others and are prayerfully glad to resist the fray of crazy emotional accusations and illogical arguments that have no good outcome. Peacemakers reflect and share God’s peace with others, not only spiritually, but emotionally, mentally, socially, and intellectually. We enter the fray with civilized, logical, calm arguments when we have something important to share. I have noticed that most respected theologians and commentators don’t rush to respond to outrageous, reactionary arguments. They take their time, which may be days, weeks, or months, to share their well-thought-out views calmly. “The peace-makers are happy. They love, and desire, and delight in peace; and study to be quiet. They keep the peace that it be not broken, and recover it when it is broken.” (1) We are called to be peacemakers in our marriages, families, workplaces, church, community, and world. A marriage picture illustrates the necessity of peace, and it’s challenges. “‘At the time of their wedding, a man and woman are like two planets which have been going around the sun at different speeds and in different orbits. Now they must travel in the same orbit at the same speed. For if they pursue the same path at different speeds, sooner or later there will be a planetary crash. The way to avoid such difficulties in the adjustment of husband and wife is to have prayer together every day, asking the Lord to keep both in the way of grace. It is also good for each to be willing to face weaknesses in self and to ask the other, ‘Is there something that I do that annoys you?’ and when the answer is given in love, it is a small matter for love to remove the annoyance.’ In the same way, we may work constantly as God’s peacemakers in all areas of our lives—in the community, at church, in the office, school, or store, and on the international scene if we have contact with that.” (2) Does this describe us? Or do we run away from trouble, in self-protective withdrawal?

Are you competitive? Do you enjoy watching competitive contests like those in sports, cooking shows, or the Olympics? I am inspired by people who strive to be the best they can be not by crushing their competition but by respectfully excelling in their skills and talents. As Christ’s peacemakers shouldn’t we excel in keeping peace and interceding to bring peace to others? Do you want a personal reason to keep the peace? How about Job 17:9, “Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger?” But we who are living for God, through the power of the gospel no longer live for our own satisfaction. The apostle James makes a bold proclamation saying, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:19) Both Job and James understood that righteousness is the key to steadiness for believers. Having Christ’s righteousness, we practice peacemaking with others, to be stronger. When we make peace with others, we are planting seeds of peace that will produce a harvest of righteousness. Isn’t this farming picture striking? A farmer or gardener who plants grudgingly, without attention to the soil’s readiness, getting the seed planted with resentment probably won’t get a great harvest. Just so, if we go about our lives just to get through the day, avoiding certain people or circumstances because of potential conflicts, how can we expect others to appreciate God’s grace, power, or sovereignty? Does our self-serving isolationism glorify Jesus? “These verses [in James 3:13-18] show the difference between men’s pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well…Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes.” (3) 

Great news—we who are in Christ already have his Spirit to be his peacemakers. There is nothing we need do, besides practice, practice, practice. Conflict isn’t as scary when we practice working with it. The more we practice anything, the better we become. Do you think of yourself as a peacemaker? Why or why not? Why might it be hard to share the grace of peace with others? How can you plant righteousness peacefully in your family, church, workplace, or community? We’re not all cut out to be apologists or great theologians, but we have a mind that has the wisdom of Christ and a heart for his glory. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7-8)

(1) Sandee, Ken, “Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict,” Baker Books, 2004.

(2) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Matthew 5:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/matthew-5.html

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:9 (quotation attributed to Donald Grey Barnhouse), Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(4) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” James 3:13-18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/james-3.html


Christ’s Fullness and Peace is Ours

Two days ago, I taught a Bible lesson on Naomi, in the book of Ruth. She was left empty in the land of Moab when her husband and sons died. There was nothing to keep her there after hearing about the end of the famine in her homeland. However, merely stepping foot in another geographical location didn’t satisfy her longing to be complete, full, or satisfied. Naomi was still empty when she arrived in Bethlehem and asked others to call her Mara (bitter). Many people move to a new country with dreams of a completely different life. Long-held dreams of Immigrants often end abruptly in nightmares of financial poverty and isolation from mainstream society, crushing their dreams of a perfect life. Refugees may receive aid for a time and then are left entirely on their own unless someone steps in to help them. Their lack of inclusion and acceptance, of purposeful work and friends, reflects the emptiness we all have in the world. Sometimes missionaries are shocked at the greed of some when they pour out their money and time for those who have little resources. Or, expat owners who think they will make it rich, find that the competition is overwhelming.  Like Naomi, our emptiness follows us wherever we go, in whatever we do, if we expect the world’s priorities, values, and rewards to fill us. But through his fullness, Jesus Christ gives Christians grace whereby he reconciles them to himself for peace with him. Believers in Jesus Christ lack nothing for peace here or in eternity. We find our fullness in him.

When we think of something full, we envision completeness, to its maximum capacity, not lacking in anything. God is infinite in all of his attributes, which is way beyond full. (See 2 Chronicles 6:18; Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:25-26.) Paul writes in Colossians 1:19-20, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Jesus has all the attributes and authority of God and used his life, through his incarnation, him to make atonement for us. Christ’s fullness comes from him, through his blood, to make peace. The grace he gives us is abundant.  “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) We have access to his infinite grace. The fullness of Christ leads to our peace in a world that unsuccessfully tries to fill the empty voids with material and romantic throw-aways. 

In “The Scorch Trials,” the main character, Thomas, is subjected to trial after trial. At one point, he hears the voice of his friend saying that he will have to experience something tough and painful, but he will be okay in the end. He isn’t sure who to trust at this point, and is utterly conflicted about this girl, since she has been extremely unpredictable. Sometimes she acts like she wants to kill him, and does, in fact, injure him. At other times, she is sweet, loyal, and apologetic for acting like his enemy, set out to destroy him. He describes himself as empty. He has no point of reference for absolute truth. I wonder how many young readers identify with Thomas and the other kids who don’t know who to trust, or the purpose of the trials they are forced to endure, leaving them feeling empty. (1) But by Christ’s work, through faith, we are inoculated against condemnation to everlasting torment and emptiness. However, we still suffer from temporary sicknesses and contamination because of worthless ideals around us, or the distortion of what is meant to be good. For example, in the American legal system, meant to offer hope to our citizens, a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But is that really how we view the accused, or our legal system? Reality and fictional TV shows, sports, and business are all about competition these days instead of inspiration. There are a few winners and many losers. Empty promises. Empty contests that mean nothing. Unlike Thomas, though, we know who our enemies are, without any doubt: the world, Satan, and our flesh. Unlike Thomas, we also know who to trust—Jesus Christ. Every word of His in Scripture is true. He wants us to experience his peace. He and his band of apostles warn us about embracing the emptiness of worldly promises and ideas. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

The world keeps trying to fill itself up, as do we all, like a perpetual all-you-can-eat-buffet or like rabid consumers on Amazon Prime Day. More is better. More will fill us up. But with what? That which leaves us empty or full? Christians have the fullness of God to feast upon continually. The more grace we receive, the more can spill over into the lives of others. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that as we receive more peace from Christ, feeding on him, we become vessels of peace for others. As John Gill writes, “…grace upon grace, heaps of grace…’ goodness upon that goodness’…an abundance of it, an addition to it, and an increase of it…joy upon joy, is an abundance of joy, a large measure of it; and ‘holiness upon holiness’, abundance of it.” (2) This we have from Christ, who made his atoning sacrifice for us to have peace with God, in him, through him, and from him, by his blood. “The basis for Christ’s reign of peace is the blood of his cross. The cross truly is the pivotal point in human and cosmic history.” (3) Our story’s point of crisis, whereby the plot revolves, is at the cross of Christ. Here is the point where peace broke into the world. God used a grandchild to cut through Naomi’s bitterness and emptiness. She knew the pre-incarnate Christ, given to her as a deposit against future credit when he died on the cross. We have his credit ahead of our debt, the finished work of Christ before death. (4) Now living Christians lack nothing for our peacefulness. So we must ask ourselves what we are willing to do to extend this gospel peace to others in our families, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces, and groups. We are vessels of God’s peace and fullness. Will we offer hope to the Thomases in our noisy, busy, empty, hungry, and thirsty world? Christ says, “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) May our peace be like a bubbling fountain, spilling the water of the gospel into the dry, empty people of the world.

(1) “The Scorch Trials,” (#2 in “The Maze Runner” Series) by James Dashner.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Colossians 1:20, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/colossians-1.html

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Colossians 1:20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Toussaint, Dr. Stanley, Hebrews lecture series for Dallas Theological Seminary.

July 17, 2019

Future Peace Based on Perfect Justice

Have you been following the news story about the citizenship question on the U.S. 2020 census? Why is it so hard to determine the answer when the deadline has passed?  Attorneys are even scratching their heads over this. The legal battle in “Sycamore Row” (a fictitious story) by John Grisham sounds more realistic than the news stories circulating now. I appreciate any positive insight I can get into the workings of our legal systems.  My sister-in-law is a retired judge who still sometimes sits. Every once in a while, she gives me a peek into circuit courts and the judicial system. She has shared about how some judges she knows want to show mercy to younger people arrested for lesser violations of the law. She told me that they (the judges) are often motivated by their desire to keep younger folks out of jail, knowing that they will be strongly influenced by hardened criminals there. I am encouraged by some judges’ desire to protect our youth. Judicial systems are complicated, but at least there are democracies in which each case is determined on its own, depending on the person and context, weighed against the written code of law. But the laws and courts are only as good as sinful people, and since all humankind is corrupt, our legal and justice systems, along with everything else, is more than imperfect—they are immoral. This may seem ironic, but consider the Ten Commandments ability to demand and curse, and not to save—the same thing happens with any laws we might create. The inadequacies of laws to deliver from sin drive us to Christ, the perfect Judge. He will bring his pure justice to bear on the world one day, and with it, our longed-for worldly peace, true shalom. In the meantime, our sovereign God is gracious to many democratic countries and courts, supplying his people for our earthly courts, whether for grace or discipline, as we pray for the peace Christ will bring. 

 “In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!” (Psalms 72:7) In this psalm, the people of God are offering a prayer to the Lord for their king—either Solomon or another of the Davidic kings, who are in the line of the Messiah. “The ideal for the Davidic king is that he promote the well-being of the whole people of God by embodying true piety and by governing in such a way that justice prevails at all times (usually this means protecting the weaker members from the oppressive schemes of the stronger ones). Under such conditions, godliness should thrive among all the people, and thus they would experience the covenant blessings…where the land looks like a renewed Eden and the Gentiles are drawn to worship the true God.” (1) God raised up David and his heirs, just as he provides judges and lawmakers today to govern with justice for the peace of his people. But we know that the only One who can transform our cultures of controversy and debate into those of abundant peace where believers thrive in Jesus Christ. Instead of the discouragement we now have over theological conflicts, political noise, manipulation for power, and military contests, Jesus Christ will one day give us unending worldly peace allowing Christians to thrive. Imagine having Christmas Day peace every day. Can you imagine infinite months and years of that beautiful serenity? The beautiful truth is that we have this peace now, to a limited extent, as Jesus reigns supreme over creation. “Blessings abound where’er he reigns; the prisoner leaps to lose his chains, the weary find eternal rest, and all the sons of want are blessed.” (2)

Under Solomon’s rule, Israel had her only golden years of prosperity and peace. One day the Body of Christ will enjoy infinite fruitfulness, “…being planted in a good soil, in the house and courts of the Lord, where the word is preached, and ordinances administered; being rooted and grounded in the love of God and grace of Christ; being watered continually with the dews of divine favour; enjoying the bright shining of the sun of righteousness, and the refreshing gales of the divine Spirit, like the south wind upon them, causing their spices to flow out.” (3) Even now the Holy Spirit is at work; “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

As we daily brush up against and are sometimes overtaken by the disputes and waywardness not only of the world, but of our very own minds, we forget that  Christ alone is a righteous Judge who can and will resolve all internal and external conflicts. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) We need laws and courts to decide our issues today just as Israel needed judges and kings to settle disputes in biblical times. But what used to be widely known has become strangely obscure in 2019—the definition of what is good and righteous. Are vampires, witches, zombies, sexual confusion, radio-active monsters, comic robbery, and promiscuity really good? Isn’t that what our world is promoting? The top TV series are “Stranger Things,” “Dark,” “Black Mirror,” “Game of Thrones,” “Euphoria,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Witcher,” “Big Little Lies,” and “Lucifer.” (4) What do they all have in common? They are dark and involve lots of crime, sin, and weirdness. I fear that our youth can no longer identify with righteousness  and its peace. I was having a conversation with someone recently whose favorite line of her favorite hymn is “Thou hidden source of calm repose…” However, she remarked that most people under the age of 30 might not even know that “calm repose” means peaceful rest. Christ is going to transform our world so utterly that it will be almost unrecognizable to those who never knew his Spirit of tranquility. The way God will judge the nations and disputes between his people will not be as it is now; perhaps conflicts will be settled before they have even become known to those who hold views contrary to his holiness (although the Bible does not state this). There will be no use for weapons of war, only for plows and pruning tools, for farming and productivity. I like to imagine that God will transform he guns, tanks,  aircraft carriers, Humvees, and bombs into wind turbines, solar panels, and large farm machinery. 

In the meantime, what are we to do? Does ignoring the news give us peace? Should we get involved, even though we might consider it futile? Do you feel guilty about not being an activist in some aspect of social or political life? Sometimes the Lord calls us to act, and other times prayer is all we can and should do, for more peace, and Christ’s return. But we never give up, since the gospel of peace is the only real hope and the only future for those who desire true peace. Perhaps you, like me, feel convicted to learn more about and pray for God to provide us with the best lawyers, lawmakers, and judges. I have listed some websites describing the work of international courts below the notes if you would like to learn more about them. Christians be encouraged, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”  (Micah 4:1-2)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 72, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Hymn “Jesus Shall Reign,” words by Isaac Watts.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 72:7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-72.html

(4) https://www.imdb.com/search/title/?title_type=tv_series

(5) Hymn “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” by Charles Wesley

Websites for international courts:

https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/thematic-areas/international-law-courts tribunals/international-courts-and-tribunals/  

https://www.justice.gov/jmd/international-courts

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/publications/judges_journal/2016/summer/

https://www.asil.org/community/international-courts-and-tribunals

July 10, 2019

Peace Through a Broken Wall

Wall, borders, customs, gerrymandering, the wall…all these conjure up images of keeping people out, protecting those on this side from those on that side. Political and legal talk might lead us to think in terms of issues rather than people, who are the real subjects here. In Paul’s day, the Jews protected themselves and their temple from the pollution of the Gentiles. A low wall in the temple, called a “soreg” divided them; one inscription says “No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have himself to blame for the ensuing death.” (1) The Jews had no peace. In “The Line Becomes a River,” Francisco Cantu help us to see the immigration battle more clearly, as he relates his experiences as a border patrol agent, through his interactions with real people on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Walls and borders do not bring peace, only the illusion of it, in the same way that finances, politics, and legal decisions do. Yet, we continue to build walls, trying to defend our ideals and draw lines in our lives to protect our hearts and emotions from injury. We associate with certain people and avoid others; we go to certain shopping centers, restaurants, and gyms at specific times to be comfortable and convenient. We are not at peace because our efforts to live in cocoons is not what God intends for us. The good news is that Christians are not spiritually divided, internally or externally; we are not broken or alienated as believers in Christ. So why do we insist on acting as if we are? 

“In a society haunted by fragmentation, hi-tech distractedness, and the loneliness of individualism, where hearts—even Christian hearts—are empty theaters of longing, we crave divine peace. The increasing emptiness people feel amid prosperity eloquently exposes the importance of this missing peace. But where do we find it?… In Christ, God has already made us his beloved children, gracing us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm. Among such blessings is peace that surpasses understanding. We therefore no longer approach God from a place of privation, unsure of whether he wishes to allay our distress. We recognize, rather, that he has already provided limitless resources of peace as integral to our identity in Christ.” (2) 

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-14) Jesus Christ is our peace; he has destroyed the hostility we once had with God to unite us to him.  He has broken down the wall. Christians need not accept animosity as the world does and or fear to comingle with others because we have fellowship with Christ, who is infinitely different from us. Our sin divided us from God when we were far off, like refugees, but now he has brought us near. Like those who were thrown out of their homelands, wandering, not knowing where they might end up, we were lost, without a real home and desperate for acceptance. Christ alone was able to bring us through the dividing wall of our hostility to him, by his blood-soaked work of peace on the cross. His is not a temporary peace, like that of pain medication that must be retaken, but permanent, eternal well-being—true shalom. 

Paul goes on in Ephesians to explain what Christ specifically did for and in us, “…by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…” (2:15) We are no longer controlled by God’s ceremonial law, held accountable to it, and having to be law-keepers for our security. Jesus Christ abolished the ceremonial law by his final propitiatory sacrifice and fulfilled God’s moral commandments. They no longer determine our position with him when we have been justified by faith in him. He has made us new, unconflicted creatures who love the gospel and want to obey God, the author of peace. Instead of the law burdening and wearying us, stirring up our sin, it is our reminder of God’s love and blessings. Instead of the “Jewish” law being something that separates the Jews from the rest of God’s creatures, it is that which all believers want to fulfill, loving God and our neighbors. Jesus has “reconcile[d] us [all] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:16) Paul wrote that Christs reconciled “both” the Jews and Gentiles, but it serves us to see this symbolically as the union of all people from every tribe and nation in Christ. No one in our communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, or organizations are excluded by religion or nationality from the free gift of grace in Christ. No immigrant, politician, lawyer, refugee, rabbi, imam, salesperson, fetish priest, customs agent, child, or patient is outside of the gospel’s reach. So why are we so protective, as if we own the gift, denying it’s distribution by denying prayer and witnessing for everyone? Why have we withdrawn impenitently into protective, convenient cocoons without a thought for those unlike ourselves? Is this God’s peace? If you live in a suburb as I do, we should consider how remarkably similar the people in our church body are to each other. Our church is reaching out to those in our community who are different from us, not satisfied in our homogeneity, which doesn’t reflect kingdom reality today. Those who live in urban centers have an advantage with more diverse congregations, where Christ’s victorious destruction of the dividing wall may be evident physically, linguistically, and culturally. Believers rejoice in our love for God, worshipping together, unrestricted by our diversity—here is a taste of heavenly shalom.

Paul continues, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17-18). Instead of preaching the law with its impossible demands, Jesus proclaimed gospel peace, which is extended now through his Spirit to the elect. The triune  God works together for our peace, through forgiveness, for his glory. “He takes them as it were by the hand, and leads them into the presence of his Father, and presents their petitions for them, on whose account they have both audience and acceptance with God…” by one Spirit”…a spirit of adoption, to enable and encourage souls to go to God as a father; and as a spirit of supplication, to teach both how to pray, and for what, as they should; and as a free spirit to give them liberty to speak their minds freely, and pour out their souls to God; and as a spirit of faith to engage them to pray in faith, and with holy boldness, confidence, and importunity…and is a peculiar privilege that belongs to the children of God; and who have great honour bestowed upon them, to have access to God at any time, as their Father, through Christ the Mediator, and under the influence, and by the direction and assistance of the Holy Spirit…” (3)

Do you get caught up in arguments or debates about who did what to whom, in the realm of politics, entertainment, or even religion? Would it not be better to seek a biblical world view? How much does legalism drive you to be task-oriented, checking off items on your list rather than let the gospel guide you, through the people God has put in your life? Do you have peace, knowing that the Holy Spirit helps you to pray, providing the peace the world cannot offer? Do you enjoy worshipping with your church family, studying and fellowshipping with them, or do you withdraw, not valuing them as you could and should? I want to encourage you, as I have been encouraged now to embrace the peace of Christ by turning away from the world’s hostilities. We who study God’s Word will never exhaust its power to change us, which gives us hope. Long ago God’s people were exiled because of their hostility toward him, demonstrated through idolatry. But He spoke to them through the prophets, who faithfully recorded his words. “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:4-5) Our Shepherd has broken down the wall of hostility for eternal peace and security.

(1) “The middle wall of partition” at: https://biblethingsinbibleways.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/the-middle-wall-of-partition-misunderstandings-regarding-eph-214-16/

(2) “3 Overlooked Gifts of the Reformation,” by Chris Castaldo (3/7/17) at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-overlooked-gifts-of-the-reformation/

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ephesians 2:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-2.html

July 3, 2019