Peace Through Salvation

I’ve been watching the MLB World Series this week. My sudden viewing commitment to the series began with the Houston Astros’ league championship win last weekend. It was a great game, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, the Astros haven’t done as well in the series as of today, losing two out of the first two games. Since I am unrelated to them, my life is unaffected by their losses, compared to theirs’, their families, and their friends’ lives. Jose Altuve won the league championship game for the Astros by his home run hit. He thanked God first when interviewed. I do hope that his faith is genuine and that it is helping him and others on the team after their losses. The author of Hebrews warned his brothers, “[Since] the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (Hebrews 4:1) He wanted the congregation of believers to remain steadfast, giving witness to trusting in Christ, not looking as if they had failed to find their rest in Christ. I like to think that God deliberately puts a spotlight on Christian athletes for millions to take notice of their witness. I pray that Altuve and others’ faith in Christ is enabling them to persevere and continue to witness, especially when their teams lose. But do we hold fast, not “seeming to fail” when life throws us trials?

At a time when God’s people were “losing” their identity, because of their idolatry, under the Lord’s discipline, God sent the prophet Isaiah to them. He foresaw the coming of the Messiah when he wrote, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1) The rest of chapter 11 describes the coming Christ as wise, understanding, powerful, united with the Holy Spirit, having the fear of the Lord, just, compassionate, humble, righteous, faithful, and peaceful (Isaiah 11:2-8). God brought his people back from exile. In a passage from Isaiah 12, we find that trusting in God’s salvation results in comfort, reconciliation, peace, strength, and joy, which we can then demonstrate to others. God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (12:1-3) God gave Israel comfort instead of anger, strength instead of fear, and joyful shalom instead of temporary relief. As always, the Lord’s dealings with Israel point to Christ’s ministry to us, through pictures and words.

 The first picture in Isaiah 12 is that of an angry Father. Not just any father, but one who is omnipotent, sovereign, and omniscient. But this all-powerful ruling King and family leader turned away his anger to comfort his people. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” (12:1) “Only God can turn away the anger of God.” (1) Through Christ’s propitiation, God’s wrath for our sins is eternally satisfied. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). (See 1 John 4:10.) Jesus took the punishment that brings us peace and healing—real comfort in a world that vainly tries to find relief from stress, fear, guilt, and anger in so many unsuccessful ways.

Not only does Christ’s saving propitiation bring comfort, but it supplies us with trust in God and his strength, instead of fearing his anger. “God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ (Isaiah 12:2) Instead of fearing God’s judgment toward us, we have faith in Christ, given to us as a gift, to enjoy the strength of God, who becomes our song. Gods’ words in Scripture are particular and intentional. Dr. Dan Doriani taught about the different kinds of fear that the Bible speaks of when he lectured on Hebrews Chapter 4. There is servile fear—that fear of God’s authority, power, and judgment, like the fear a disobedient child has of his parent’s discipline or an inattentive worker has of his employer’s evaluation. When Scripture instructs the saints to “not be afraid” it is this type of fear that is in view. However, when the Bible commands us to have a “fear of the Lord” it is referring to loving, reverent, filial fear that is affectionate and thankful. This filial fear is the “beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10); is “a fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27); and safety (Proverbs 29:25).

All regenerated believers have the “fountain of life,” from the Holy Spirit. We have deep, joyful shalom from God instead of a temporary accord or calmness. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) Here is another beautiful picture of the salvation that Christ freely gives. “By ‘water’ is meant grace…softening, purifying, fructifying, cooling, and refreshing, and extinguishes thirst…and this is to be “drawn”, it is to be come at, though the well in which it is be deep, and not in the reach of everyone…the bucket is faith that it is drawn with, and this is the gift of God; (2) Unfortunately, we often forget or doubt the abundant grace we have in Christ, through God’s Spirit. But if we look to a few other biblical pictures, we notice that God’s grace is exceedingly bountiful. Jesus supplied more wine (from water) than the wedding party could consume (John 2). Jesus fed over five thousand men plus women and children with twelve baskets full of scraps leftover (Matthew 8). One day God will wipe every single tear from every believer’s eyes—that’s a lot of tears (Revelation 7). God’s well of salvation is bottomless because he is infinite. But it is deep, so we need the bucket of faith he gives us to draw from it. However, in the New Testament, Jesus says that the springs of living water are like a fountain flowing up in us, making it even easier for us, and others access his grace and mercy.

Why do we focus so much on what we don’t have or can’t get when we are so blessed by God’s grace? Will others be drawn to Christ by Christians who are devoid of joy, peace, faith, or comfort, being afraid, fearful, and feeling judged? Do you think God is angry with you even after you have confessed? How does your perception of God’s wrath hinder your comfort and your ability to comfort others? In what way do you fear God’s judgment, failure, or man’s approval? How can you develop more reverential, filial fear for the Lord instead of holding on to servile fear of Him? Have you drunk from the deep well of God’s salvation with joy today? How will others your encounter know that Christ has a source of life that satisfies their deepest thirst? “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12:4-6)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 12:1-3, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 12:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-12.html

October 25, 2019

Building a Peaceful, Strong Body

Building a Peaceful, Strong Body

Last night I enjoyed the company of women from my church for some social time at a local family and dog-friendly restaurant. I sat next to a favorite four-year-old who was a bit mopey and doted on her a little, just like a grandma comforts her granddaughter. I also brought my good friend, aged ninety-five, who is like a mother to me and wanted to be with her church friends. I also conversed with women of all ages in-between and met two new women who recently started attending our church. One brought a friend; another brought her puppy. I was encouraged to see our diverse group enjoying our company and getting to know each other better. We are building a body with many newcomers moving into our rapidly growing neighborhood and city. Christ’s disciples work at building each other up through humility, selflessness, and tolerance. Mature Christians desire, pray for and demonstrate the humility, tolerance, and selflessness that will mold God’s people into a peaceful, united organ for God’s use.

 We have explored Paul’s warnings at the end of Romans previously. It won’t hurt to revisit the context since we can all use a daily reminder that we do not live by ourselves, but with the family of God. In Chapter 14, Paul instructs us who are strong to welcome those who are weak or new to Christianity. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s… Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:1, 7-8, 13, 18) “The section as a whole is bracketed with a concept that has not yet appeared in Romans—to edify or build up. This word pictures Christians as a building (or part of a building) that needs to be carefully constructed, and it contrasts this work with actions or attitudes that would tend to tear the building down…Paul usually employs the word [edifying] to building up individual Christians, helping individuals grow spiritually.” (1) Here is one of Paul’s application of this truth: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19) Unselfish peacefulness is a vital aspect of helping each other to grow in faith, countering our natural inclination towards independence and self-sufficiency.

“[Peace] should be eagerly followed after, closely pursued, and all ways and means should be made use of, to promote and secure it: this is the will of God…it is one part of the Gospel dispensation; church fellowship cannot be profitable and pleasant without it; it suits with the character of saints, who are sons of Peace…edification is promoted by deeds, by acts of charity, or love; charity edifies not by bare words [but also] by serving one another in love…by laying aside the use of things indifferent, when disagreeable to any brethren…[and] things which make for the edification of the body, as well as our own, are diligently to be sought after.” (2 We don’t make it our goal to agree with Christians about everything, but about things that are of little difference or importance. (At least this is what I think he is saying; let me know if you have a better understanding.) There are many things that we should not be adamant about since they are not the “essentials” of the Christian faith. I remember one incident about twenty years ago when I refused to participate in a training exercise because I felt that it was disrespectful to our leader. Imagine my surprise when our leader, my mentor, rebuked me for refusing to join the others. She made a point I will never forget: if sin is not involved, I had no right to decline, no matter how offensive the I thought it was toward her. So, in the end, I did my part; our leader wasn’t offended at all but thought it hilarious. In that case, I was the less mature believer who needed to be built up by her loving rebuke.

For twenty-five years, my friend mentored me with tolerance and selflessness, providing a model for my mentoring today. I’m sure there were many times when she tolerated my unwise or self-motivated actions with love and humility, as we are to do with less mature believers. “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.” (Rom. 15:1-2) Sometimes new believers come across as harsh, legalistic, or demanding. However, “they are not to be treated as wicked men, but as weak brethren: their peevish tempers, morose dispositions and conduct, their hard speeches and censorious expressions, are patiently to be endured; they should be considered as from whence they arise, not from malice and ill will, from a malignant spirit, but from weakness and misguided zeal.” (3) Matthew Henry brings us to the feet of Christ: “He is the most advanced Christian, who is the most conformed to Christ…Those are most learned who are most mighty in the Scriptures…Should not we be humble, self-denying, and ready to consider one another, who are members one of another?…Our Divine Master invites his disciples, and encourages them by showing himself as meek and lowly in spirit. The same disposition ought to mark the conduct of his servants, especially of the strong towards the weak. The great end in all our actions must be, that God may be glorified; nothing more forwards this, than the mutual love and kindness of those who profess religion.” (4)

As we work at building others up through humility, selflessness, and tolerance, we follow his example with his power for peaceful, holy toleration of others. “Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Romans 15:3) “[Since] God is in the process of building his church…We need to keep several things in mind…To build something properly you need to know what you are trying to build. You need a design or blueprint. We do not have to go very far to find this idea in Romans 14, because immediately after his first use of the word edification (in v. 19) Paul speaks of the project as “the work of God,” saying, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (v. 20). This is not a complete blueprint, but it gets us started by reminding us that the church is God’s church, not ours, and that what matters is what God is doing in the lives of individual Christians, not whether those people conform to our ideas of what a pious or useful Christian should be. For a fuller blueprint, we go again to Ephesians 4:11-13. ‘The whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ is what we should be trying to see in other Christians. Therefore, to the extent that we are following God’s blueprint rather than our dim vision of what we think other people should be, we will be doing everything in our power to help them become like Jesus Christ and be equipped to serve others for his sake…The second requirement for putting up a good building is a solid foundation. In fact, at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used this image to distinguish between those who would build well by hearing his words and putting them into practice and those who would not in Matthew 7:24–27. To the Corinthians Paul writes of the foundation as Jesus Christ himself: ‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11).” (5)

Are you helping to build up the body of Christ? How can you be a more effective peacemaker and up-builder for others? Toward which people, in particular, do you need to be more encouraging and less critical? How do you actively work on the corporate strength of the body with your brothers and sisters in Christ? In what way can you follow Christ’s example of tolerance more sincerely? “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 14:19 – 15:3, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 14:19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-14.html

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 14:19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-15.html

(4) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Romans 15:1-7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/romans-15.html

(5) Boice, Ibid.

 October 18, 2019

Peace Driven

Imagine you are driving and about to enter a highway on an entrance ramp, where the maximum speed is 65 mph. This particular ramp ends quickly, dumping you into the right-hand lane on the road, with little time to yield to oncoming traffic. We know that some people don’t think to move out of that lane. Do you speed up, so you’re driving almost 65 mph when you’re on the highway or keep your speed down, in case there are people in your lane as you enter? According to traffic code, neither party has the right of way, so coming on at traffic speed is the safest way to work together when merging. However, there will be times when one car will have to make a rapid adjustment for the sake of both drivers and other traffic around them. Christians who are filled with the Spirit of God should engage with others with a foot on the gas of shalom, ready to merge. Unfortunately, we usually act like drivers on a highway to our destination, oblivious or uninterested in those trying to join with us. Or, if we’re the ones initiating a relationship, we may think we are entitled, expecting others to move out of our way. Some of us may even be reluctant to find a way to relate to others because we are less worthy rather than work together for true shalom.

In the book of Hebrews, the writer shares great doctrinal truths relating to the superiority of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 12 he applies the doctrines of our faith. “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” (Hebrews 12:12-15a) Therefore—knowing that Jesus Christ and the gospel fulfills and is superior to Old Testament revelations—therefore, lift your hands, strengthen your knees, and walk in a straight line with a straight body, having been healed by Christ, and continuing to heal by sanctification. Throughout the book, the author has encouraged his audience to persevere because Christ has given them His Spirit, enabling them to stand up to their temptations and trials. In verses 12 and 13, he urges them to be stout and active in their Christian warfare, rather than be limp and vulnerable—to be the driver who knows how to drive and does it. In verse 15, he shares his heart for all people to obtain God’s grace through their witness and active, biblical lifestyles. But it’s verse 14 that has captured my attention today. They and we are to: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” We are to put the peace pedal to the floor with our hands on the wheel of Christ’s holiness so we can all see God one day and see his work in our lives now. Believers will only have healthy relationships by assertively attending to them, struggling for the peace that we want from others. My goal here is for us to challenge ourselves in our sanctification, to gain greater peace and holiness, as witnesses for Christ. Paul uses similar language in Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” The peace we desire for ourselves is that which others also want. Meaningful connections with our community of faith are essential for our mutual progress in sanctification and perseverance in the faith.

Peace is joined to holiness in the passage because this isn’t just the lack of conflict we’re considering but gospel peace. “In this verse holiness refers to purity of life. It is provided by God…and guided by His discipline…but we must strive for it.” (1) “Holiness here does not design any particular branch of holiness, as chastity of the body and mind, but the whole of holiness, inward and outward…even perfect holiness, for though holiness is not perfect in this life, yet it will be in heaven.” (2) Unlike the Jews, who focused on ceremonial holiness and outward superiority, our holiness rests in our vulnerability and confessional attitude toward God. Jesus’s relationships and responses to persecution are our models of holy living. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23 “He…continued entrusting both himself and those who mistreated him entirely to God, knowing that God is just and will make all things right in the end. Likewise believers, knowing that God judges justly, are able to forgive others and to entrust all judgment and vengeance to God. Every wrong deed in the universe will be either covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God at the final judgment.” (3) Jesus’s self-defense included Scripture, biblical reasoning, honorable references to his Father, silence, submission to civil authorities, unearned love, restraint, continued vulnerability, prayer, and forgiveness. He “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; he commended his Spirit, or soul, to God his Father, and committed his cause to him, to vindicate it in what way he should think fit, who he knew was the Judge of all the earth…which is an example, and an instruction to the saints to do so likewise…to leave their cause with their God, who will, in his own time, avenge the wrongs and injuries done them.” (4) Jesus did not wait for others to make peace with him, though he had the right to do so. He entered into diverse relationships as the source and keeper of true shalom.

The promise of seeing God when we strive for peace and holiness is glorious. We will see him face to face one day, but even today, we will see him in our mutually blessed friendships and Christian fellowship. As we become more like Christ in our sanctification, we will see him in our words, worship, prayers, deeds, and desires“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Who is the pure in heart? Although we know our lives and behavior aren’t pure, we do know that Jesus has purified our hearts through his imputation of righteousness and the cleansing of his sacrificial blood. The purity of our hearts shows up in our increasing patience, humility, mercy, and love for others. It is also demonstrated in our boldness to enter into gospel-centered, God-glorifying relationships. Being superficial, polite, and accommodating may be helpful, but it’s not enough if we are to be shalom-driven. Striving for peace begins with prayer for people with whom we have conflicts, or with whom we aren’t engaging deeply. Are you praying for your difficult relationships, unreasonable responses to issues, or annoyance over inconsequential matters? How does our personal sanctification and increasing holiness show itself? In what areas do you need to work for more holiness and purity of heart? Do we see Christ in our relationships, work, home life, service, and church ministry? Where can we apply the gospel more boldly and graciously? I want to merge with others for true shalom, how about you? “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

(1) The Reformation Study Bible, Hebrews 12:14, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Hebrews 12:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-12.html

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Peter 2:23, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Peter 2:23, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-peter.html

October 11, 2019

Turning Away From the Evil in Ourselves

Lately, in my Bible studies on Hebrews, it is has been very easy for participants to point outward as we come upon the author’s serious warnings. When we think of evil, don’t we usually look at something happening in our society, politics, or communities, talking about “them?” I’ve been doing that in my openings, as an exhortation to be counter-cultural. Often we, like Job, also wonder why God isn’t exacting his justice on “them” or “it.” Last week our devotion was based on Job’s challenge in his suffering. Job remained sincere and trusted God, even as he cried out for justice. Little did Job know that God was going to mercifully help him turn away from his arrogant superiority, rather than give him justice. “And the Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’” (40:1-2) But Job turned in repentance when the Lord confronted him. The evil we need to confront is not “out there.” It is in us, just as it was in Job. The world has been evil since the fall of Adam and Eve; it’s nothing new. But we who are in Christ can stand up to it externally, turning away from evil to reverent fear of God. However, we must confront our pride. But we can’t find peace, even with Christ beside us and the Spirit indwelling us when we aren’t confessing our sinful pride.

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13) “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) The Bible is absolutely clear that pride (superiority) in our hearts and minds is directly opposed to the humble character of Jesus Christ. It is also the cause of perverted speech and evil behavior. Before we can turn away from the evil in ourselves, we must identify it. Having identified the evil that resides in our sin nature, we are to turn away from it and pursue peace. Confessing personal pride, cutting off sinful attitudes, thoughts, and desires, and rejecting self-righteousness leads to more internal peace and loving behavior toward others. Disengaging with evil is essential to love Jesus Christ. “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13b) “One of the main purposes of the fear of the Lord in Proverbs is to align a person’s heart with what the Lord loves. Describing what wisdom hates (and therefore what the Lord hates) calls a person to examine his or her heart, to guard it from such things, to walk in accord with what the Lord loves, and to seek wisdom for all relationships and interactions.” (1) In the New Testament, we have many reminders of Jesus’s humble character and behavior, which we share and are to imitate, with his help. “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:21-22) John Gill writes, “Pride and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate; which appears in men in thinking too highly of themselves, in speaking too well of themselves, in despising others, in setting up and trusting to their own righteousness for salvation, in crying up the purity and power of human nature; this is very contrary to the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, and must be hateful to him.” (2)

Scripture, the inerrant Word of God, calls on us to be peacemakers for the Lord’s glory and in his strength. In Psalm 34, David writes about his experience at a vulnerable time. He was in great fear of losing his life at the hands of the Philistines, whose champion he destroyed, so he imitated a madman. The hoax succeeded when Achish wanted nothing to do with him and ordered him to depart from his presence. Apparently, David expected to fail, because his praise for God in Psalm 34 is abundant! After blessing, praising, boasting, magnifying, exalting, and thanking God, he says, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) Perhaps David was a peacemaker in that he did not enter into battle with the Philistines after Goliath was defeated. The ESV Study Bible notes offer this commentary: “This was a narrow escape, and David does not take credit for it; nor does he deny the importance of the faithful using their wits in desperate situations.” (3) Truly, David is never arrogant about his successes and is an example of humility whom we should imitate (but perhaps not his deceptions). Of course, we have a greater Champion, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our perfect role model for pursuing holy peace by turning away from evil and doing good. He has consecrated us—set us apart from the world—for good, as an example to others. “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good…Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 2:1-3; 3:8) God’s peace is achieved by hating evil and rejecting the arrogance within ourselves.

 We reject pride when we recognize it in our task-oriented attitudes; confess it in our disrespectful thoughts; see it in our condescension and criticism of others; or hear it in our impatient, unemphatic words and the haughty tones of our voices. By admitting and repenting of our vain, self-centered, subjective, unbiblical ways, we have a greater capacity and freedom to love God’s holy peace. But some of us have buried our pride deep in our hearts requiring earnest digging and exploration to uncover it. For example, I am three years into my retirement and just now discovering the depth of my false belief that my ministry is the basis for my acceptance with God. I know with every fiber of my mind that this is not true. I am a sinner who deserves none of God’s grace and am astounded at his generous love toward me in Christ. Arrogance is inherent in my sin nature and will only die when I take my last breath, as it will be for all of us. So we’d better keep confessing and repenting, trusting in God to turn away from the evil in us. “Pride…is an ascribing that to a man’s self which does not belong to him, whether in things natural, civil, or spiritual; when men attribute their justification and salvation to their own works, it is arrogancy, and must be hateful to Christ; who [took] so much pains and expense to bring in everlasting righteousness, and work out salvation for men: it is the height of arrogancy in a man to conceit he a power to regenerate, renew, and convert himself…this must be hateful to Christ, by whose Spirit and grace this only is done.” (4)

Towards what or whom are you arrogant? Do you consider yourself pridefully superior to or impatient with others? Do you sometimes think you have earned your salvation or keep it by your works? What is something good, humble, respectful, and loving that you can do in your relationships, leading to more or better peace? How do you pursue peace where there is conflict or tension? “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10a)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Proverbs 8:13, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Proverbs 8:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-8.html

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 34:14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Gill, Ibid.

October 4, 2019

Agree With God For Peace

Have you noticed that our world seems to be fascinated with conspiracy theories? We read about big pharma plots, political schemes to oust leaders, Hollywood machinations to get us to watch sequels, and media conspiracies, for “fake” news. Conspiracies have at their foundation a lack of belief in God’s providence since they seek to explain events or situations as humanly contrived, to implicate people for a perceived difficulty. Even Wikipedia agrees that a conspiracy involves “…an unconscious affirmation that man is responsible for his own destiny.” (1) We Christians, however, trust God for our circumstances, while taking responsibility for the effect of our sinfulness or the sins of others. The Bible has numerous accounts of conspiracies in the Old Testament Israel’s enemies opposing them at every turn and the Jews conspiracy against Christ in the New Testament is the ultimate conspiracy. But few schemes involve God’s people scheming against each other, although there are few where his people gang up to bully someone. Aaron and Miriam conspired against Moses, and Joseph’s brothers carried out a plot against him. Here is another—Job’s friends’ together accused Job of causing his suffering by his refusal to confess his sins. He was suffering in the most horrendous conditions, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. His children were dead, and his wife seems to have deserted him emotionally and spiritually (Job 1:9). Job lost all of his people and property and was afflicted physically, with sores from his feet to his head (2:7). Good intentions or not, even Job’s friends were against him when he desperately needed their compassion and trust.

What happened to Job and his family was a mystery to him and everyone else at that time. In spite of this, after the first wave of Satanic attacks, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22) Then God permitted the devil to strike Job personally, but he said, “‘ Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (2:10) Later, Job’s friends conspired together with a theory about Job’s suffering, as if he could control it suffering by confessing some sin, but wouldn’t. Were they in agreement with God’s plan for Job? No. However, do they offer sound advice for Job and us? Yes! For example, take this incongruous advice from Eliphaz: “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart.” (Job 22:21-22) Great advice for us all, including Job. Unfortunately, Eliphaz thinks his presumptive analysis of Job’s situation is right and that it should compel Job to confess some hidden sin.

But Eliphaz is the one out of sync with God, while Job was in such “agreement” with God that the Lord trusted him to successfully glorify Him when attacked by Satan. Treasuring and agreeing with God’s Word supplies us with heart sanctification, goodness, and peace. Some Christians, unfortunately, conspire against God or God’s people in churches and fellowships. But many of us decide to disagree with the Lord independently, plotting only with ourselves. “Acquaintance with God begins at conversion, when he is made known and it is carried on by prayer…and by attendance on his worship and ordinances, in…fellowship with him: this is sometimes interrupted and dropped for a while, through temptation or sin;…when prayer before him is restrained;…and when saints forsake the assembling of themselves together, or neglect public worship, or grow indifferent to it.” (2) We also disagree with God by choosing to doubt Scripture intellectually and spiritually, with our minds and hearts. Agreeing with God includes receiving his instruction, rebukes, correction, conviction, and accountability by applying his Word personally. I can study the Bible every day without ever considering how a specific passage, verse, or even a phrase might relate to me. When I do this (and I do not doubt that I do it), I neglect my heart transformation and renewal of my mind (Romans 12:2). If I don’t “agree with God,” or desire to “receive instruction,” I most probably won’t “lay up his words” for any future help. Job himself will agree, receive, and lay up God’s words at the end when the Lord calls even him to a higher degree of worship and faith. But until then, Job has no peace. Until we also agree with, receive from, and lay up his words, God’s voice will lie dormant in us, and we will forfeit our peace with him. Without peace with God, it is impossible to have lasting peace with others.

 Job’s wife is an example of one who did not agree with God and is fed up with Job’s submission to Him. “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (2:9) I wonder if she mistook Job’s faith for personal ethics. Did she think that Job would endure and persevere these overwhelming tragedies by his strength of character or determination to survive? Do we believe we can navigate our trials and crises solely with resolve? Are we going to have peace by merely surviving until the danger is past? If Job had the strength, could he have taught his friends about the sovereign, goodness of God even when they did not understand His purposes? Could he teach them, with words as well as his actions about sincerely questioning God’s tests of faith without giving up on Him? It is so hard to love others with our loving confrontation when we are hurting. As Jesus was reviled and hung dying on the cross, he asked his Father to forgive the people who participated in his execution, giving us an example to follow (Luke 23:34). “…only Job’s living Redeemer could [make peace with him], and he has done it;…inward peace of mind, which comes from God, and through an acquaintance with him, and from Christ, his blood, righteousness, and sacrifice, by whom the acquaintance with God is opened and maintained…and also eternal peace hereafter, when acquaintance with God will be no more dropped, nor interrupted, but continue forever [are his].” (3) Job may not have uttered the words, Lord forgive my friends their false accusations, but he did try to confront their allegations. “Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?…For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.'” (Job 19:21-27)

 When you read the Bible, do you ask God to help you love what you read, to agree with him? What passages or instructions have you quickly scanned or skipped lately because you are bothered by them? Will you revisit them, praying for help from God? The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t promise us a life of ease, convenience, or comfort, but does promise us that Christ has good plans for us. What prevents you from enjoying the peace and goodness of Christ in full submission to him? What will you do about it? “This would be my comfort; I would even exult in pain unsparing, for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.” (Job 6:10)

(1) Wikipedia, “conspiracy,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_theory

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Job 22:21, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/job-22.html

(3) Ibid.

September 27, 2019

Moving Away From Quarreling

Today I heard my first Ted Talk. Where have I been? A surgeon spoke on “4 questions to ask your doctor.” The questions include: “Is this really necessary? What are the risks? What will happen if I do nothing? What are the other options?” (1) As usual, the link between my recent new knowledge of Ted Talks and our Scripture is obscure and personal. But I think it might be convicting to apply these questions to the Bible’s instruction for us to be peacemakers, which, we have seen this year, is plentiful. We know that Christians have the most reason and power to be the bet peacemakers; if not us, then who? What is the risk of not making peace? Are there other options? What will happen if we do nothing? These are redundant questions for those of us who follow Christ, but I hope we’ll be able to think and act more biblically as a result of meditation on an episode in the Old Testament. Bear with me as I review the events of Genesis 26.

During a famine in Canaan, when Isaac was probably a middle-aged family man and needed to find food, he “…went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.’” (Genesis 26:1-3) Isaac obeyed God but repeated the sin of Abraham, lying to Abimelech about his wife, saying she was his sister. “When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. So Abimelech called Isaac and said, ‘Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, “She is my sister”?’” (vs. 8-9) Isaac was self-protective, not acting as a peacemaker toward Abimelech. In spite of this, God was gracious and blessed him with great crops and herds (vs. 12-14). But that created envy among the Philistines. Abimelech wise suggested that Isaac move away, which he did (v. 16). “So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, ‘The water is ours.’ So he called the name of the well Esek [contention], because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah [enmity] (vs. 20-21). Finally, Isaac moved again, and the squabbling stopped. He named the new place Rehoboth [broad place] and found peace. “From there he went up to Beersheba. And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.’ So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well” (vs. 23-25).

I can only imagine Isaac’s surprise when Abimelech came to him at Beersheba seeking a treaty with him (26:26-33). He thought Abimelech was finished with him, that he “hated him.” But Isaac’s peacemaking, moving (at least) three times in Gerar to avoid conflict over wells had won his and God’s respect with Abimelech. His is an excellent example of intentionally distancing himself from bickering for a peaceful, biblical approach to conflict. What would have happened if Isaac hadn’t moved? But he distanced himself and his people from squabbling to the place where he belonged, and God met him there. We remember  the times Jesus withdrew from large crowds and the angry Jewish leaders because he was not interested in fighting with them. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘…He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.’” (Matthew 12:15-21) Rarely did Jesus accomplish his gospel purpose of mercy through rightful, indignant anger, as he displayed during the temple cleansing. Instead, he intentionally left the threatening crowds knowing he would submit to their torture. Did the people think of what he had preached in the Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:9-11)

Like Isaac, Jesus moved away from quarrels to a place of quietness and prayer, making room for to do God’s work. James Boice notes the progress of God’s dealings with Isaac. “The first thing we are told is that God blessed him to such an extent that the crops he planted reaped a hundredfold. This would be a good harvest in any land, but it was particularly good in the barren border country between the Promised Land and Egypt…Out of God’s will and yet blessed by God? Yes. Strange as it may seem, God does at times work in this fashion. But the blessing is not without problems, and in this case, the problems came because of Isaac’s great wealth.” (2) Our blessings will sometimes create issues with others that might become a crisis, or at the least a hindrance in a relationship, depending on how we handle it. Isaac could have insisted on his right to stay where he was, feeling entitled. Dr. Christer Mjåset, when confronted by a woman who did not want his surgical solution, could have automatically said it was necessary because he’s a surgeon. But like Isaac, he was humble enough to admit that although he loves doing surgery, it wouldn’t have been the best for his patient who asked, “Is this really necessary?” Isaac humbly moved on until he found a place where there was no jealous conflict and was rewarded threefold, with peace with the Philistines, God’s personal attention, and a treaty with Abimelech. Imagine what he would have lost if he had stayed put and done no peacemaking. “Now that he was where he should be, God appeared to him again for the second, and apparently the last, time, saying, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham” (v. 24). Isaac built an altar and worshipped the Lord.

The next time you are confronted with conflict or squabbling, will you ask yourself, What will happen if I do nothing, what are my options, and what is necessary to be a peacemaker? What issue or conflict seems to draw you in and tempt you to quarrel? Will you take a break, for God to work and make peace? Do you follow God in obedience, application of biblical truths, prayer, and action for peace in your relationships, work, service, or family? What might you change to find God’s peace more readily? Is not Christ’s personal attention and peaceful relationships a worthy goal? “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:8-10)

(1) 4 Questions You Should Always Ask your doctor by Dr. Christer Mjåset, Ted Talks Daily Podcast or at https://www.ted.com/talks/christer_mjaset_4_questions_you_should_always_ask_your_doctor

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Genesis 26, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

September 20, 2019

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