Excellence and Peace

I did a lot of things last week, but I didn’t write a devotion. There were lots of meetings, Bible studies, a webinar, and even a big party that required my attention. It wasn’t just the time it takes to organize my notes and write. Frankly, I didn’t feel inspired or qualified to write something that would meet the criteria of the passage I want to consider. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9) It’s doubtful that my devotion will resemble these characteristics; Paul’s admonition reminds me of the Law, that drives us to Christ in our weakness. However, the webinar reminded us of the necessity of mentoring others by our godly words, behavior, and consistent lifestyle. So we can’t escape our calling to practice that which is honorable, commendable and worthy of praise. Knowing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a pure pursuit, and he, being God is the most excellent One helps tremendously. Besides, there are virtuous and commendable practices that result in peace in this life alongside the gospel, for God-centered shalom. One life, two realities—our eternal hope and our earthly peace—not to be separate but lived in unity. Only a biblical worldview will enable us to do live a life of excellence, as described by Paul.

There are many things and people in this world that meet five of the six criteria of Paul’s statement, that are true, pure, honorable, just, lovely, and commendable. Great art, excellent music or writing, of any genre, and theater may meet these criteria. However, truth is relative when it comes to the Arts since most of them are subjective. In fact, I love good fantasies (science-fiction), which are never entirely true, although they may be based on historical events and science. Material purity is found in precious metals, chemicals, and other things, such as clothing that is one-hundred percent cotton or the breed of an animal as pedigree. It’s harder to think of human purity, but perhaps sexual virginity and confession best represent it. We could spend days discussing which things meet Paul’s criteria, but that is not what the apostle instructs us to do. He is concerned with our thoughts relating to God. So we can begin with this: we who are in Christ have are pure positionally. “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” (Songs of Solomon 4:7) (2) “Being justified by the righteousness of Christ, washed in his blood, and sanctified by his Spirit; this is said to show her completeness in Christ, as to justification; not that the saints have no sin in them; nor any committed by them; nor that their sins are not sins; nor that they have no spots in them, with respect to sanctification, which is imperfect; but with respect to their justification, as having the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and covered with that spotless robe, they are considered as having no spot in them; God sees no sin in them, so… they stand unblamable and unreproveable in his sight.” (1) It is good to think about this truth, as it is lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise. Does this not supply peace to our otherwise fretful minds?

James Boice has this to say, “[the] words [of Philippians 4:8-9] do not occur in the great lists of Christian virtues, lists that include love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. On the whole, they are taken from Greek ethics and from the writings of the Greek philosophers. In using them Paul is actually sanctifying, as it were, the generally accepted virtues of pagan morality. He is saying that although the pursuit of the best things by Christians will necessarily mean the pursuit of fellowship with God, the will of God, all means to advance the claims of the gospel, and other spiritual things also, it will not mean the exclusion of the best values the world has to offer…Consequently, Christians can love all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, wherever they find it. They can rejoice in the best of art and good literature. They can thrill to great music. They can thrive on beautiful architecture…They should do it. You should do it. Christians can thank God for giving us the ability even in our fallen state to create such things of beauty…When we pursue the highest things in life, both spiritually and secularly, then the God of peace will be with us. And we shall have the confidence that he will bless and guide us as we seek to please him.” (3) In other words, as we desire the best possible quality of life through our best practices we become more conformed to God’s character, and therefore, more peaceful. I believe that I tried to have the best quality of life possible (in my choices of activities) last week, and I had peace in spite of missing my writing deadline. That peace has driven me to want to post my devotion late, rather than missing the opportunity completely, so we can together  consider the excellence of God’s Word in Philippians 4:8-9.

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things,…” writes Paul. What we have learned, received, heard, and seen in godly people is important, but we are not to worship them or put our saving trust in them. This is definitely not the best practice of coaching or disciplining others. There is a wrong way, a better way, or the most excellent way to practice anything in life. Discernment is crucial if we are to have the best thoughts. I relearned this a couple of months ago when I saw a movie without checking reviews first. Now I am reading reviews for movies, books, TV programs, new devices, and virus software. We live in an age when reviews are easily accessible and innumerable, so we have no excuse for not reading them, and to compare them with the criteria in Philippians 4:8. God and his peace show up when we practice the best things to have the best thoughts and the best witness. Excellent and commendable practices result in greater peace, which will, in turn, help us to speak more graciously about the gospel, which is uniquely praiseworthy.

What earthly things do you enjoy that can be said to be all these: true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely? Which you can incorporate in your life? Do you have a mentor or someone to guide and counsel you, whom you can imitate? What is your greatest challenge in practicing virtue, excellence, and the gospel? How does this affect your peacefulness?? Have you considered discipling someone, knowing that you aren’t perfect but directing them to Christ for his perfection? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Song of Solomon 4:7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/songofsolomon-4.html

(2) And consider Ephesians 5:25-27 “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Philippians 4:8-9, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

September 17, 2019

Peaceful Selflessness

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the problem of selfishness this week, as a result of studying Romans 15:1-4. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself…” (vs. 1-2) The Bible uses the word mostly in the context of selfish gain or ambition (Psalm 119:36; Philippians 1:17; 2:3; James 3:14, 16) or in the neglect of helping others. Today, we have many words related to selfishness, probably because it is so widespread, including self-centered, egotistical, narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-involved, conceited, prideful, self-important, opinionated, inner-directed…need I go on? The medical community has even appropriated the idea. “Selfish DNA is a term for sequences of DNA that have two distinct properties: the DNA sequence spreads by forming additional copies of itself within the genome; and it makes no specific contribution to the reproductive success of its host organism. (It may or may not have significant negative effects.)…it is not always easy to distinguish between some instances of selfish DNA and some types of viruses.” (1) And with us, it is often also difficult to distinguish our innocent, self-directed care from that which is dangerous and sinfully infectious. There are times when we have to care for ourselves as a priority; otherwise, we might be no good to others. I have known people who allowed themselves to become sick, burned out, or emotionally dysfunctional to the detriment of others. Jesus ate, slept, prayed, denied requests, and planned his ministry to be effective. However, Christ also lived selflessly in that all he did was for the sake of God’s kingdom and not for his own sake. We have an opportunity to live healthily without living selfishly, through the power, work, example, and instruction of Jesus Christ. “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:3-4)                  

In the first eleven chapters of Romans, we have a complete biblical explanation of the gospel according to God’s sovereignty. In the next five chapters, Paul teaches us how we should apply these great truths by “…total dedication to God (12:1–2); Marks of the Christian community (12:3-13:14); and A call for mutual acceptance between the strong and the weak (14:1-15:13).” (2) Chapter 14 addresses the problem of judgmentalness toward those who treat traditional holidays and food differently, building to Romans 15:1, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Now, before we jump to any assumption that we are the strong ones, let’s remember this: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” (Romans 12:3) As our pastor said last night, “humility from God is the way out [of the problem of pride].” (3) “…let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) The question here shouldn’t be who is better or stronger, but how can we live so that we don’t live to please ourselves? This verse teaches us that one way is to be patient with those we perceive as “weaker” or those who actually are spiritually weaker. So let’s get back to step 1—the idea of living not to please ourselves, resisting this temptation to justify or entitle ourselves. By the grace of Christ, we have peace that supersedes dutiful, legalistic obedience. His blood is how we are freed, not our works. We are not to abuse our Christian liberty but live for the good of God’s kingdom, as Jesus did. His peace is our peace and motivation for service.

Christ saves us from selfishness to strengthen each other. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2) Here is yet another call to be counter-cultural. While our societies and nations, communities and individuals are excelling in tearing each other down, we are called to encourage and spiritually build each other up for our mutual good. We know the problems that develop when we beat each other down by unforgiveness, self-serving ideas and plans, legalism, superiority, impatience, lack of empathy and mercy, a critical or domineering spirit, holding grudges, arguing over inconsequential matters, resentment, jealousy, and slander. The biggest challenge on the mission field, in our ministries, and churches is our relationships as ministers of the gospel. We should be willing to serve each other sacrificially, yield to each other with understanding and sincerity, not insisting on our rights. We ought to be willing to confess and repent our pride and sinful attitudes, generously trusting and forgiving each other joyfully, prayerfully, lovingly and humbly. (4) “We get our eyes off the blueprint and get bogged down in the rubble. It helps to remember that what God is building is a temple. We do not…fully realize the part we are playing as we seek to build these other people up by focusing on the important matters, laying aside petty differences…[since] God is working, and the temple [of Christ] is rising.” (5)

“Jesus did not please himself but rather set out to please God for the benefit of others, and it concludes from that truth that we should follow Christ’s example [with his regenerative power]…What would happen to us if Jesus had pleased himself instead of coming to earth as a man and dying for our sins? Where would we be today if Christ had put his own interests first? Once Jesus asked this question of his disciples. As recounted in John 6, the Lord had explained the doctrine of election, pointing out that he alone is the true bread from heaven to whom all must come for life and that no man can come to him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Later in the chapter we are told that many of his disciples objected, saying, ‘This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?’ (v. 60). Jesus, knowing that his disciples were confused, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!’ (vv. 61–62). In other words, ‘What would happen if I pleased myself and went back to heaven now, instead of dying for your sins?’ If there was ever an example of one who was willing to bear even the worst of abuses in order to please God the Father, it was Jesus Christ. …But it’s important to remember that in these verses  [in Romans 15] Paul is not talking about Christians standing against the insults and abuses of the world, drawing on the character and power of Jesus to do so…Nor is he writing about spiritual warfare. He is talking about a far lesser matter, Christians merely getting along with other Christians, the strong bearing with the limited understandings of the weak and the weak bearing with the beliefs of the strong, whom they believe to be in error. He is simply talking about getting along with one another.” (6)

In what circumstance(s) do you tend to seek self-satisfaction and pleasure? Has this tendency changed lately? What “soul-peace” do you trade for pleasure? How can you use your time, energy, and money to encourage others rather than please yourself? How might this result in more peace for you? Or more peace for others? How does Christ’s intervention, example, and instructions help you to resist selfishness? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

(1) Wikipedia https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selfish_DNA

(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Romans, Outline, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(3) Taha, Allen, in a talk on “Pride,” Congregational Meeting, September 4, 2019, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Boerne, TX.

(4)  James Boice’s Expository Bible Commentary on Romans 15:1-4 reminded me of some of these sins. He lists others.

(5) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 15:1-4,Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(6) Boice, Ibid.

September 5, 2019

Christ, Our Defense

I am not good at small talk. So I’ve been working on that, and apparently, the Lord is helping me. Recently in a conversation, I mentioned a current event and was told, “I don’t care about that!” Now I wasn’t about to get into a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of an issue but just mentioned the item because it has an impact on many people. My friend’s response was a wake-up call about my reactions to others’ concerns about issues that I’m not particularly interested in or personally involved with. A few days later, an acquaintance started describing a problem that was rectified with his phone. Rather than brush him off, as I might have previously, I set down my food and listened to him finish his story. But what will I do if you come to me today to talk about something that is not a concern for me? Will I attend patiently, appreciating your concern, or will I exert my “right” to be uninterested in what seems “trivial?” Everything that happens in this world affects someone somewhere. Being a gospel peacemaker isn’t only about avoiding cultural pressures; sometimes, we must engage without defensiveness with those who are affected by current events (besides the weather). “Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” (Proverbs 3:30)

Before I left for Africa in 2000, I read Mabel Williamson’s Book, “Have We No Rights.” (1) Williamson writes about entitlements most of us take for granted. The book’s chapter headings list them: “The Right to a Normal Standard of Living, The Right to Ordinary Safeguards of Good Health; The Right to Regulate My Private Affairs As I Wish; The Right to Privacy; The Right to My Own Time; The Right to a Normal Romance, if Any; The Right to Live with the People of My Choice; The Right to Feel Superior; and The Right to Run Things.” (2) Hitting any sore spots yet? The last chapter is titled “He Had No Rights.” She reminds us that Jesus Christ gave up all his legitimate rights for our redemption. It is his goodness and protection that extinguishes our need to defend ourselves. Unfortunately, the world we live in is frequently unfair. Laws that are meant to protect some cause problems for others, because our sinfulness corrupts our ability to protect everyone. So there are valid times to fight injustice. But when there is no danger, no threat, and nothing to be gained by debate, we should take refuge in Christ, our peace. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)

“We should realize that some things contribute to peace just as other things cause conflict and that, if we are Christians, we need to be on the side of the One rather than the other. Here is some practical realism from the Book of Proverbs…These verses tell us many things we can do to promote or encourage peace even if the other person does not want it.

‘Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs’ (10:12).

‘A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult’ (12:16).

‘Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright’ (14:9).

‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (15:1).

‘He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends’ (17:9).

‘Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out’ (17:14).

‘An angry man stirs up dissension’ (29:22).” (3)

In Christ, we have abundant goodness and a sure refuge from danger. The army stands down when no enemies are on the horizon. The battleship soldiers eat and rest when no ships are posing a threat. A mother relaxes when her children are playing safely in the yard. The politician who fought, debated, and pushed to the finish line celebrates and then takes time to rest. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19) Our safety and rest with Christ isn’t temporary, but continual and permanent; we may be in mortal danger, but our security is never threatened. In Christ, we are hidden from evil schemes and words. “In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 39:20) The One who gave up his rights protects us from the need to defend our perceived entitlements. John Gill writes, “…these the Lord preserves in times of trouble and danger, and when his indignation is out against others…the presence of God is their protection, he himself is a wall of fire round about them, his favour compasses them as a shield, and they are kept as in a garrison by his power… ‘from the pride of man’, which otherwise would at once oppress, bear them down, and destroy them…thou shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues…not that the saints are kept free from the reproaches of men, from the lash of their tongues, but from being harmed by them; and sometimes, through the strivings and contentions of men with one another, they privately escape and are preserved…” (4)

A Palestinian Harvard student has been denied a visa to return to school because of friends’ Facebook posts that appear on his page. Innocent people are being shot down for no good reason. Racial and national discrimination continues in every part of the world. Of course, we should be defending the causes of the innocent. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9) But the gospel protection we have in the omnipotent providence of God in Christ extinguishes our need to defend ourselves against petty troubles. Our security in him should lead us to shamelessly and counterculturally confess Christ, rather than concern ourselves with worthless idols of control, superiority, convenience, independence, and comfort (to name a few).

 When issues or conflicts arise, do you find yourself defending your point of view? Will you instead try to apply the gospel? Does the fear of rejection or failure motivate you to protect yourself? How can you rest in Christ’s love and protection to a greater extent? How can we confess Christ when others are debating or arguing about the problems in the world, with other people, the economy, or politics? We have a sure future with the King who has procured our safety, which we have no right to because of our sin. Now we have nothing to defend, except Christ. “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40)

(1) Williamson, Mabel, “Have We No Rights?”, Moody Press, Chicago,1957 (available online for free at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/24528/24528-h/24528-h.htm)

(2) Williamson, Ibid.

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Proverbs 3:30, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 39:20, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html

August 30, 2019

The Gospel is Our Source of Peaceful Stability

How did I come to be thinking about shoes and money? (I’m asking myself.) There are places in the world where many people are subsisting on very little of both—Malawi, Africa, for example. While there, I observed many children walking to school, barefoot along the highway in all kinds of weather. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and most people live by eating produce from their gardens. It is almost impossible to experience peace with an empty stomach, no medical care, homeless, or shoeless. That’s why we need to care for those in need with practical help as we offer them soul help through the gospel. In developed nations, we take shoes for granted, and many of us only think of shoes as fashion, rather than a means to protect our feet. Finances, on the other hand, is on our minds frequently, and many unfortunately look to money to provide a solid foundation for their present and future security.

 

But Christianity is counter-cultural, and the Bible our guide for this life. Instead of depending on that which will decay, we look to God’s eternal plan in Christ. Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Not only does God promise his presence with us, he has given us all the armor we need to defend ourselves against the pressures of life. In Ephesians 6 Paul describes our defensive gear including, “the belt of truth…the breastplate of righteousness, and…shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace…the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:14-17) The armor of God supplies us what we need to be content, not vulnerable to the world and its influence. When we are equipped and content, we are at peace. When we are peaceful, we can reach out to other believers in peace and love, with the gospel. These verses remind us that believers are strengthened, protected, stabilized by Christ, and God’s Word. Our peace and confidence in the Lord, with Christ’s strength and stability, overcome our complacency toward other believers. In a world of chaos and confusion, continually striving for happiness and fulfillment. Shalom is not a passive concept; it involves actively engaging with God and others in unity to enjoy and promote the peace and spiritual wellbeing of heaven on earth.

 

“Strictly speaking, the Roman soldier’s belt was more a part of his dress than his armor. It was made of leather and was used to gather his garments together as well as hold his sword. Yet it was part of his war equipment, for it gave him a feeling of inner fortitude and strength when tightened. According to Paul’s teaching, the Christian’s belt is truth. It is to be his inner strength, what gives him confidence…[and] inner truth or truthfulness beginswith a knowledge of God, who is truth, and…inevitably leads to a life change consistent with God’s character. We must be truthful men and women, of course. But we will become that only as we feast on the revealed truths of God. It is significant that Paul puts truth first. This suggests that successful spiritual warfare begins with fixing Christianity’s great doctrines firmly in our minds. Or to put it another way: It is dangerous to rush into battle [with the world] without having the great doctrines of the faith fixed firmly in our understanding…In this context Paul is urging those who already are Christians to ‘put on’ God’s armor. If they are Christians, they have already been clothed with God’s righteousness in the first sense. Therefore the only thing they can put on is practical holiness expressed in righteous thoughts and deeds.” (1)

 

So, having God’s truth and the imputed righteousness of Christ working to produce in us active righteousness, we also have particular shoes. I have issues with my feet that require custom orthotics and sturdy footwear to support me. I need shoes that will hold me firm,  without falling—a visual advantage when considering how our feet are fitted with the gospel. John Gill offers this perspective on Ephesians 6:15: “…the word…signifies a ‘base’, or foundation…and here it designs a firm and solid knowledge of the Gospel…which yields a sure foundation for the Christian soldier to set his foot upon, and stand fast on; it being that to him, as the shoe is to the foot, its base or foundation: and for the feet to be “shod with” it…designs the constant and firm standing of believers in the faith of the Gospel, and so striving and contending for it, without being moved from it, that it may continue with them.” (2) Gill’s emphasis on the internal strength we have in the gospel reminds us that we have already been fitted for peaceful engagement with the world.

 

There is an on-site housekeeper in my little apartment for the next few minutes, so I moved to our shared library. A resident stopped by, eager to engage in conversation. I closed my laptop to politely engage with her. She is pretty critical about most of the things happening in the world today and likes to express her opinions. What a contrast to my thoughts here! But see how God has used it since I am about to embark on a new thought. In his letter to the Romans, Paul follows up eleven chapters of doctrine with five chapters of application. In Romans 14, he begins, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” I have no idea if the resident who just left is a Christian, but I do know that I was not to quarrel with her about her opinions. So I kept changing the subject to something positive. Our dialog was not divisive or unpleasant but like a ping pong match as we both didn’t reply to each other. I kept my cool, and so did she. There are a great many negative things happening today, just as there always have been, in every age and place.  Many older folks make it their mission to complain. Life online is sometimes like one quarrel after another, about politics, economics, sports, and even food. Have you heard about the “Great Fried Chicken Sandwich Feud?” When Paul talks of food in Romans 14, though, he is not referring to the food as much as our attitude toward it. “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:6b)

 

“[Charles] Spurgeon was criticized for traveling to meetings in a first class railway carriage. His antagonist said, ‘Mr. Spurgeon, what are you doing up here? I am riding back there in the third class carriage taking care of the Lord’s money.’ Spurgeon replied, ‘And I am up here in the first class carriage taking care of the Lord’s servant.’ Let’s stop dumping on one another, and let’s allow God to deal with each of his servants how, when, and as kindly as he will. And while we are at it, let’s be thankful that he has dealt as kindly as he has with us. If he had not, we would all be in deep trouble.” (3)

 

Do you welcome other believers? What is your response when someone disagrees with you about politics, the economy, or social issues? How do you respond to someone who has a different approach to theology? How can you peacefully welcome those who love Christ but are not like you? When you put on your shoes, do you feel steady, unwavering, and firm in your choices and lifestyle, having the peace of the gospel? “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5-7)

(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Ephesians 6:14, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ephesians 6:15, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 14:1-12, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

August 23, 2019

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