Peace With God During Tax Season

Have you sent in your IRS Tax return yet? Many of my retired friends finished theirs way back in February and probably would have done it sooner if they had the information. My younger friends have yet to face the dreaded 1040 because they haven’t had time to gather all of their financial information. Maybe you are self-employed, a business owner, or made a great return on your investment last year and you’re afraid that you owe taxes. I went for about thirty years owing nothing because I earned so little. When I retired and started withdrawing funds for much higher living expenses in a retirement community, I had not paid any estimated taxes the previous year. I was shocked at the amount I owed, even after praying about it. By God’s grace I could write one huge check to the IRS, but not painlessly. It required that I weigh the benefit of what I had received for living expenses with the ease of living in a country with good roads, good schools, and social security income. But even that did not assuage my feelings about paying money to the government.

I finally remembered the passage in Matthew recounting the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus with a trick question about taxes. Jesus rebutted, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) That did it; our Savior stated that we owe our government for the services they provide without prejudice. There are many interpretations of the verse regarding the relationship between civil government and Christianity, but for my purposes here, the minimum we should take away is that we are to obey our government leaders and their decisions. “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7) 

Some of us are quite opinionated about our government’s work, even serving politically. It’s hard to achieve a neutral point of view about things, and you may not want to, because you enjoy your ideas of how to make the government (any government) “right.” This is not the biblical view. We can look to David, King of Israel, for instruction in this matter. “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalms 131) David, seen as an enemy of King Saul, knew that God has raised him to be Israel’s leader. He “did not seek human greatness, or the great things of this world, for himself; he had no ambitious views… had no more ill designs against Saul than a weaned child; humble, meek, and lowly, and had no more aspiring and ambitious views than such an one…and as a child that is weaned from the breast wholly depends on its nurse for sustenance, so did he wholly depend upon God, his providence, grace, and strength; and as to the kingdom, he had no more covetous desires after it than a weaned child has to the breast, and was very willing to wait the due time for the enjoyment of it.” (1)

David’s example of peace amid intense conflict can serve us well if we are willing to humble ourselves and make the great trade of opinionated, resentful attitudes for the peace of God. After all, the historical fact of our salvation is that “…he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14). Refusing to confess our resentfulness or lack of respect for our governmental leaders and their decisions is unbiblical. As a matter of fact, by refusing to confess regularly, it’s as if we are working to rebuild the dividing wall that Christ has destroyed. In sincere confession, we remind ourselves that God is no longer hostile to us and we, in truth, in our souls, are no longer hostile toward him. Our internal warfare, between our new creation and our old sin nature, is exposed. But when we neglect to pray confessionally, we are turning our backs on Christ who is continually interceding for us as our great High Priest. Doing so is much worse than throwing a two carat diamond ring in the trash or taking a hammer to a brand new Rolls-Royce. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46) Should we not “sell” our obnoxious attitudes toward our government for peace with God? (2) After all, it’s the Lord who gave us these civil servants to protect and look after many of our practical needs in this life. 

Recently, in one of my Bible study groups on Philippians, we shared about what gives us the most spiritual joy. For me, it is forgiveness for my sins. Some of the most glorious, peaceful and beautiful times I have shared with God are those when I pray to confess about one of my inadequacies and violations of God’s glory, when the Lord somehow assures me of his forgiveness. The hard work on my part is to recognize that I know very little and that everything I know is tainted with my sin. I am never pure, but I have a Savior who is and who delights in purifying me through prayer. We do the praying, but Christ, our Great High Priest through the Holy Spirit, is the one who gives us peace. I am not quiet, like David when I begin, but somehow by the end, I am like a suckling baby happy to be at her mother’s breast. The peace we find in prayer has the potential to be more than just a break in our routines or a desperate cry for help—it has the power of God to transform our thinking and our hearts. “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 4:6-7) I wrote a bit about peace in prayer in three previous blog posts (3) and I will write about it again, because it is an essential grace for obtaining peace from and with God. 

Why don’t we pray? Why don’t we want God’s peace? Maybe we are attached to our difficulties because they give us an excuse for our sin. Perhaps we are trying to solve our problems by ourselves because of pride. Or, we are angry with God and reject His peace because we blame him for our suffering, which he wants to ease. But, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh…” (Proverbs 14:30a) What’s stopping you from praying confessionally right now? How might God’s peace transform you?

(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 131,  https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-131.html

(2) “There is no suggestion of purchasing salvation, but that coming under the sovereignty of God means the complete denial of self…(John 12:25).” Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Matthew 13:45-46, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.

(3) Devotions mentioning the value of prayer are January 17, March 7, and March 14.

March 27, 2019


Peace Through Assurance of Our Salvation

I hesitate to check the news on my iPhone in the morning, reluctant to see if there has been another mass shooting, a scam for college admittance, or a new development in the legal-political contests in Washington. However, in God’s providence, my Bible studies and interactions with other Christians have led to a renewed appreciation for the peace we have in Christ through our eternal security, or “perseverance” in him. The peace of redemption is true shalom—well-being, wholeness, calmness, and restfulness—only from and in God, the source of our redemption. Christ, who brings us from death in sin to life in him, is the one who continues our salvation for all eternity; he brings us through sanctification to glorification. “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30) 

I have friends in the hospital, friends relocating to another city, and friends who are welcoming new children and grandchildren into their families. I know missionaries who are preparing to move to another country and culture and those on the field with more work than hours in the day. Some of my relatives and relatives of my friends are feuding, and some of my friends are worried about filing their taxes and owing money they don’t have. What a crazy world of tumultuous emotions. No wonder people work so hard to control and conquer their circumstances and the people in their lives. Biblical believers who tried to obtain control and failed, like Peter in the New Testament and Jacob in the Old, also remind me that Christ alone is the answer to the question, “How can I rest when the world is so crazy?” It helps to remember that God did not design us to fit into this life. He created us for heaven, our true home. We are aliens who forget that we are aliens, intended for a different kind of life—a life in and with Christ. The peace that we seek and long for is available to us at all times because Christ will never forsake us or, as my pastor said in Sunday School, “God never un-adopts us.” Jesus has redeemed us for eternity; he keeps, grows, and refines our faith for us as we mature in our Christian walk. “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:7) Our faith is as strong as Jesus’s because it is his faith in us—perfect, full, and able to handle any opposition from the world. He is the measure of our faith for all eternity, not just at the time of our redemption.

The second half of Genesis is primarily about the life of Jacob and his family. Jacob, one of the patriarchs, was also a schemer and deceiver. His faith grew in particular leaps when he was visited upon by the Lord in his circumstances, dreams and once in a wrestling match. His dream about the angels ascending and descending on a ladder was interpreted by Jesus in John 1:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jacob’s response to this contact with the gospel was immediate. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” (Genesis 28:16-17) About Jacob’s fear, Matthew Henry comments, “The more we see of God, the more cause we see for holy trembling before him.” (1) After all, the Lord had said to Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15) So, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Genesis 28:20-22) 

Was Jacob bargaining with God, as if he would only be faithful if God gave him the shalom rest and provisions that he required? This question is something that I can relate to since I seem to make a vow, or at least a prayer to God almost daily to give back to him from what he has given me. Do we have to earn God’s peace to keep it? John Gill writes, “[This] is the first vow we read of in Scripture… ‘saying, if God will be with me’—the word ‘if’ is not a sign of doubting, but is either an adverb of time, and may be rendered, ‘when God shall be with me’; or as a supposition, expressive of an inference or conclusion drawn, ‘seeing God will be with me’…which he had the utmost reason to believe, since he had not only promised it, but had so lately granted him his presence in a very singular and remarkable manner… Genesis 28:15.” (2) It is valuable for us to consider that we, who trust in Christ’s work and faithfulness, often forget his goodness, sovereignty, and omnipotence to keep his faith in us strong and victorious. If we are truly in Christ, we would sing about God’s faithfulness rather than question it. “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide…blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside…Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!” (3) Or, we might with Horatio Spafford declare, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’” (4)

Do you doubt God’s ability to keep your faith and strive to sustain it yourself? How do you do this? Do you question God’s acceptance or think you have failed him when life is hard, and you are emotional? Do you really believe that God thinks less of you when you procrastinate or avoid difficult matters? What would happen if you embrace the truth that your faith is so rooted in Christ that nothing you do or fail to do will cause him to love you any more or less? Remember the gospel, which is working in you. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

(1) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Genesis 28:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/genesis-28.html

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Genesis 28:20 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/genesis -28.html

(3) Chishcim, Thomas O., “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” 1923.

(4) Spafford, Horatio G., “It is Well With My Soul,” 1873.

March 20, 2019        

God Rules With Peace

“You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” (Psalms 89:9)

“The lot puts an end to quarrels and decides between powerful contenders.” (Proverbs 18:18)

Many people would admit to visualizing God as a stern ruler if they are honest. Even Christians who have studied Scripture for decades, and who have a close relationship with Him in Christ still hold onto that image of God, which was probably formed without actual knowledge of Him. Children raised in a biblical environment have the advantage of hearing about the true God of grace, mercy, and holiness, who governs with compassion. The Psalms and Book of Job encourage us when they speak of God as the ruler over creation. He stills waves and limits the seas (Job 38:9-11). God established the mountains and raised up stormy winds (Job 38:8-11; Psalms 65:5-7; 107:25). The Lord gives wild oxen their strength, horses their courage, and eagles their mighty wings (Job 39:9-30). Is He not all-powerful? Of course, he is, but God does not need to prove his power to us. Instead, we are to learn about, appreciate, and worship our Creator who rules in any way that he chooses. Nature is something most of us take for granted; it is no wonder that God chooses to use it, supernaturally, to draw our attention to him. Christ did just that when his apostles were fearful of the storm on the sea. “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’” (Mark 4:39-40)  

Many people in the world deny that God is the first cause of all things, and insist on only the scientific, meteorological explanations for dramatic changes in the climate or weather. Of all the places I have lived, only in Africa did I meet Christians who consider that God may be guiding his people through unusually long rainy seasons, droughts, or strange storms. And why shouldn’t we think so, when the Lord has used the weather in the past? Even if our understanding is metaphorical, shouldn’t we expect God to make himself known through nature? We have many inducements in Scripture to learn from the skies, seas, clouds, birds, plants, and animals. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8) 

In the Bible the seas represent danger. The great flood of Noah’s day wiped out the entire world except for the ark’s passengers. The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake in the world and is fed by springs from the Jordan River. It  is in an area subject to earthquakes, with a depth of approximately 141 feet, and flows into the Jordan River on its south end (1) Perhaps the danger for Jesus’s disciples were the storms that threatened to move their small boats into the Jordan River. “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’” (Matthew 8:24-25) Since at least some of the men on the boat were fishermen, it is doubtful that they were exaggerating about the danger of the storm. However, they were doubtful about Jesus’s concern and lordship over the sea. “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Matthew 8:26-27) The good news is that their doubts or ours do not limit Christ’s power, compassion, and knowledge.

Even when chance seems to be at work, we can be sure that God is controlling the “roll of the dice.” Our isolated solutions to problems are inferior to those orchestrated by God, through his sovereign providence. “If the decision comes from outside, the contending parties can both rest.” (2) I decided, decades ago, that I would not make decisions based on my ideas without significant confirmation from outside circumstances, godly advice, and much prayer. The best changes and blessings in my life are a result of God working outside of me to direct my activities and interests. Choices I have made by inserting myself in volunteer work or ministry have been short-lived and relatively inferior to those that God orchestrated. I live where I am because the apartment became available years before I expected, and there were very few of its kind, limiting those that would be open later. I serve in my church in areas where I have been asked to help, after much prayer. The ministry or volunteer work I joined hasn’t worked out as well, because of my extended recovery from surgery, proving my point, and not at all by coincidence, as far as I am concerned. 

Peace is something we all enjoy, seek, and desire deeply. But when we are conflicted, distraught, confused, and lost, we tend to lose sight of this and are unable to “find” the peace that is always available in Christ. Were we to depend more entirely upon God’s sovereign lordship and Christ’s redemptive forgiveness, we would not even need to look for the peace, because it is in him and he is in us. In what way are you distrustful of God’s rulership over the world and your life? How are you disregarding Christ’s influence over your life and God’s direction for your daily choices? Will you ask God to help you stop doubting him, and enjoy more of his peace?

(1) Information about the Sea of Galilee from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee

(2) The Reformation Study Bible, Proverbs 18:18, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 

March 14, 2019

Godly Peace is Pleasant

“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding…Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:13, 17)

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)

“…charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” (2 Timothy 2:14)

Have you ever heard of “Pleasant Green YouTube Videos?” It’s just a site with videos that go viral, about scams and conspiracies, especially those in Africa. What’s confusing is the name of its creator, “By D Grace of God.” I have no idea of the connection between the content of the website and the founders claim to God’s grace, or why it’s called “Pleasant Green.” If I greet you with “Have a nice day” or “Have a pleasant day,” I wish you agreeableness, enjoyment, and satisfaction (which is not how I experienced the website). Except for student and political debaters among us, most of us would conclude that a pleasant day or experience excludes disagreements or quarrels. Proverbs 3 clearly states the principle that godly wisdom leads to blessedness, understanding, and pleasantness, resulting in peace, or characterized by peace. In Romans 12, Paul commands us to live peaceably. Through Timothy God urges us to refrain from quarreling about trivial matters because it does no good but only ruins those who hear us argue. (“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone…” (2 Timothy 2:23-24a)

Paul recognizes it is not always possible to be at peace with everyone, even when we try, when he writes, “if possible…” While I was having my hair trimmed the other day, I overheard some hairstylists talking about the possibility of customers misunderstanding a sign placed outside their studio about special pricing. When I asked my stylists what it was like to work with the “general public,” she remarked, most kindly, that she sees all kinds of people, and stopped there. I appreciated her restraint and pleasantness since she could have complained or gossiped but didn’t. Her reaction made me think of Paul’s instruction; perhaps she has learned the wisdom of how to live at peace with all different kinds of people. 

The instruction of Solomon, Paul, and Timothy all have this in common: no matter how others act, we are to be peaceful. Of course, there are times when we must disagree with those who might speak falsely, affecting their beliefs and those of others, or those who enjoy a “good” argument. “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5) So what are we to do when so many people have ungodly beliefs and opinions? How do we live at peace in the world today without being a doormat or being unengaged with people?

First, we must find our joy and pleasure with God, if we are to have any satisfaction with His creation and creatures. That, I suspect, is why the tradition has developed for Christians to spend time with the Lord in the morning, studying the Bible and praying our “quiet time.” In Matthew Henry’s Sermon on “The Pleasantness of a Religious Life,” he lists twelve pleasures that “Christians enjoy: 1. Knowing God and the Lord Jesus Christ; 2. Resting in God; 3. Being God’s child; 4. Tasting God’s gracious goodness in all creature comforts; 5. Relying on God’s care; 6. Delighting in God; 7. Praising God; 8. Escaping slavery to our appetites and passions; 9. Loving and doing too to others; 10. Communing with God constantly; and 11. Looking forward to heaven’s glory.” (1) Armed with joy in Christ, we are protected from the danger of false ideas and arguments. “…rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” (Philippians 3:1) “When the heart is enlarged with the love of God and Christ; when assisted therein by the Spirit of God, having good food and refreshment in them, and good company with them; and which, though attended with much tribulation, end in eternal pleasure.” (2) 

Having peace within ourselves, it is not our right or responsibility to cause disturbance or conflict in others. Do any of our friends or family members reject Christ, being humanitarians or living by some other “spiritual” ideas? Who are we to disturb them? Only God, the Spirit is responsible with them for their beliefs and final destiny. However, that does not mean we are to neglect them or write them off. We may pray for gracious, gentle, and contextually appropriate ways to share the gospel and encourage our loved ones to seek God’s truth. Christians “…living themselves peaceably and quietly, in all godliness and honesty… ‘as much as lies in you’; for more than this is not required of us; nothing should be wanting on our parts; every step should be taken to cultivate and maintain peace; the blame should lie wholly on the other side; it becomes the saints to live peaceably themselves, if others will not with them.” (3) When I pray for my family and others I do pray that God will break into their lives and turn their hearts to Christ. But we all know that some disturbance and inner conflict is part of our confession and regeneration when the Spirit works in us. 

You, like me, might be surprised at what causes you to lack peace. For example, I am seeking God’s help to get more and better sleep, since I know that I am more patient, gracious, and wise when I am rested. Do you have habits that affect your peacefulness? Are there responsibilities that you should delegate to have a more pleasant view of your life and the people in your life? Is your lack of peace a physical, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual issue? Do you need to change your thinking, or perhaps your expectations of yourself or others? During this season of preparation for Easter (Lent), what might you do differently to encourage peacefulness and pleasantness in the lives of others? What might you stop doing? Which of the pleasures listed by Matthew Henry might you be neglecting?

(1) Packer, J. I., Editor, “Puritan Portraits,” Chapter 4, “Matthew Henry: The Pleasantness of a Religious Life,” Christian Focus Publications, 2012.

(2) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Proverbs 3:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-3.html

(3) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Romans 12:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-12.html

March 7, 2019

War and Peace

“Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (Psalm 120:6-7)

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) 

If we were to stay glued to the major media broadcasts or the Internet all day, we might think everyone in the world is at war with someone else. Political parties fight along party lines, but even politicians within the same party seem to disagree more than they agree. Economic leaders argue about what’s happening in the global economy, while religious leaders and their followers also have fundamental disputes. In an article from the Internet one reporter commented on the many divisions that turn into all-out battles for survival: “The front lines in these…conflicts often follow boundaries that divide clans or castes, not countries. They lie along frontiers between ethnic or sectarian communities, even those dividing, for example, pastoralists from herders or the landed from the landless, from those who speak one dialect or language from neighbours who speak another… There is violence perpetrated against women by those who fear progress in the struggle for a more equitable distribution of power, status and wealth…Our world may not be racked by conventional conflicts between nation states of previous ages, but it is still a very violent place. The harsh reality may be that we should not be wondering why wars seem so intractable today, but why our time on this planet creates such intractable wars.” (1) 

The Bible answers the philosophical question posed by Mr. Burke. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2) James goes on to explain in depth how our internal conflicts lead to external division, judgmentalness and trespassing God’s law. (See James 4:3-12.) The two verses today also reflect the reality that whatever we love in our hearts is what we will desire in our lives. The psalmist laments his time surrounded by those who hate peace and engage in war. Ironically, he has declared war against those who have rejected God and His peace, only seeking to make war themselves. This is because the world must be viewed upside-down from the way human logic sees it. 

Today, when people refuse to work together to solve political problems, reject solutions to global warming, or insist on blaming the outrageous number of fatal shootings either on all people with guns or all people who hate them, are they not declaring war? But unlike people, God declares only just war on those who reject Him and His peace; He alone is righteously entitled to war and judge those who refuse to acknowledge Him as their Creator and the Holy Judge. The people whom the psalmist hated were those who hated God. Jesus sought all who would receive Him and rejected all who would not, being in a respective state of acrimony. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37)

Like the psalmist, we are to be at war against sin and hatred for the sake of hatred. When we align ourselves with Christ, we hate that which causes division for the sake of division and position. At the same time, though, we are at war with ourselves. “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:23) What a conundrum! What a strange  truth—that we who hate war should engage in battle against our flesh, Satan, and the values of the world—and only by doing so can we obtain the peace of God. As John Gill writes, our corrupt nature and lusts “…are enemies to the spiritual peace, comfort, and welfare of the soul.” (2)

Many commentators and translators believe that Psalm 120 may be a lament written by an Israelite living in exile in a country not his own, citing verse 5: “Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!” Like them, we are “sojourners and exiles” on this earth, commanded to be different than those surrounding us. Peter’s imperative in verse 11 is clear—we are to war against our lusts because they war against our souls. We are either at peace with God or peace with sin—we cannot do both at the same time, although we often try to convince ourselves that we can justify our ungodly desires, because of our corrupted thinking, when we reject biblical wisdom. “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:23)

We have the psalmist’s example to help us remember that Christ has crucified the passions and desires of our flesh by His atonement when we belong to Him. (Galatians 5:24). We have Peter’s imperative to refrain from unbiblical thinking and desires that war against our souls. We are to fill our minds with the mind of Christ, actively working on our sanctification, as Paul urges in Philippians 2, verses 5-7 and 12. Will you say, like the psalmist, “I am for peace?” Will you “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires?” (Romans 13:14) Will you intentionally and proactively plan to do what is godly, leaving no room for that which is not, preparing for the inevitable war against your soul today?

(1) Burke, Jason, “Why is the World at War?,” The Observer World News Online, March 3, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/04/why-is-world-at-war-syria-democratic-republic-congo-yemen-afghanistan-ukraine

(2) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 1 Peter 2:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1peter-2.html

February 26, 2019

In Place of Fear—Reality, Healing, and Peace

“And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:50-51)

“The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. It is I; do not be afraid. Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” (John 6:18-21) 

I was watching a reality TV show recently that documented the accounts of a couple and a single man who decided to live in the wilderness, with minimal help from the outside world. They hunt for most of their food; if they fail to bag prey, they will not eat. They use boats and planes like we use cars and bikes. Their contact with the outside world is mainly via short wave radios. I would imagine that there are some very great dangers in the wilderness, including wild animals, fire, lack of food sources, illness and injury. It takes either an especially confident or well-prepared person to live such a primitive life. Most of us are too fearful to contemplate living such a secluded lifestyle for even a short time, let alone for years. Most of us also won’t go skydiving, bungee jumping, skateboarding, kite surfing, or ice climbing. Fear is a powerful motivator, often stronger than love, faith, or hope. Fear doesn’t usually compel us to do something, but more often prevents us from doing the risky thing. However, in our passage today, Peter did draw his sword out of fear and the disciples in the boat jumped to an erroneous conclusion based on fear.

Peter was afraid that his mentor and Lord was going to be arrested and crucified, just as Jesus had predicted. Sometimes we also act on our own behalf, or others’ behalf, based on the fear that the worst case scenario may actually come to pass. A parent continually hovers over his child, fearful that she may fall in with the wrong crowd. A young woman shows up at her boyfriend’s apartment without notice because she is afraid he is seeing someone else. A grandmother constantly tells her daughter how to cook and clean, because she worries that with her help her daughter will fail to perform adequately. A diabetic senior eats whatever he likes and refuses to go to the doctor because he is afraid that he will learn that he is unhealthy and should take better care of himself. Like Peter, we act on fear instead of faith, and by doing so, we take the risk of getting into some real difficulties. Jesus was gracious to restrain Peter and immediately heal Malchus’s ear; otherwise, Peter would probably have been justly arrested for attacking a Roman soldier. 

In the boat are disciples who were probably terrified of the storm and exhausted from battling it. Fear led to their quick assumption that Jesus was a ghost, causing them to forget or fail to consider that their Lord was coming to help them. Fear can make us forgetful of God’s help in the past or doubtful of his support in our distress. (1) We procrastinate and dodge that which we are afraid will happen, even if it is the most unlikely thing in the world. In all of the Bible, there is only one other reference to a ghost, and that is metaphorical. What are the chances that an actual ghost would walk on water to the disciples? What are the chances that your children will become addicts if you don’t hover, or that a faithful boyfriend will cheat if he is really in love? Will a son-in-law leave his wife because she ruins a meal or will that senior get worse by seeing a doctor and managing his diet? Of course, these are far-fetched scenarios but describe how some of us view life. Teenagers, in particular, live in constant fear of confusion, failure, and loneliness. 

What did Jesus do to help his disciples? He immediately countered their fear with reality—he would, in fact, be arrested, as He predicted; it really was Him walking on water. Their faith was being tested by God’s supernatural and unlikely but sovereign plan. “Walking on the sea is not something Jesus did just to amaze the disciples, but rather it is a powerful, visible demonstration of Jesus’ sovereignty over the world that he created (Heb. 1:3, 10). In the OT, God alone rules over the seas…Jesus’ words, “It is I”…which in other contexts can be translated “I am,” [God’s covenant name]. Here it may allude to God’s self-identification as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14) and may thus be an indication of Jesus’ divinity.” (2) After Jesus confronted the disciples with reality, he immediately brought healing or peace to them, which he is also willing to do for us spiritually. The reality with Christ is a world where God is in control, sometimes expecting us to endure scary circumstances and dark times, and other times coming to us in ways we cannot anticipate. 

What fears do you have about yourself, your loved ones, your current life, or your future? What reality are you not seeing clearly and accepting? Do you doubt God’s concern for your needs and His willingness to help you? Are you like the disciples, who later refused to believe that Jesus not only rose from the dead but was standing before them? “And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see.’” (Luke 24:38-39a)

(1) Life Application Bible, New International Version, John 6:18-19, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991.

(2) ESV Study Bible Notes, John 6:19-20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

February 18, 2019

We Have Nothing to Fear If God is With Us

“And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.’” (Genesis 46:2-4)

From the beginning of my decision to have a second knee surgery, I felt it was the right. I was familiar with the process, and circumstances lined up; my prayers about it brought me peace. However, after experiencing so many difficulties after the surgery, in rehab, there were many times when I questioned my decision and wondered if it was not God’s will but my impatience to get it over with sooner rather than later. Every time doubts would creep into my mind I reminded myself of some fundamental truths about God, a primary one being that He often uses our trials and difficult circumstances for His glory. Difficulties and problems in our lives may sometimes be the result of our mistakes and lack of faith, generating discipline from the Lord. But more often, for Christians, they are opportunities for us to grow and for God to be glorified. I imagine what I would have said if you had asked me in early December, “Will you have the surgery even if it causes you a lot of pain and a long recovery, for God’s glory and your instruction.” I probably would have put it off. But God, in his providence, determined that this was the best way to proceed. I confess that I still have a fear that my recovery may never be complete, and so I continue to remind myself that pain and difficulties do not mean that this is not God’s plan. I continue to ask myself, “How can I glorify God through my continued recovery?”

According to John Gill (and other interpreters that he quotes), Jacob may have had many fears about obeying God’s command to go down to Egypt. Perhaps he was confused about the will of God since the Lord had forbidden Jacob’s father, Isaac to go into Egypt. Or, since Jacob was elderly, he may have worried that the journey would be too physically demanding, that something horrible might happen to cause his death, and he would never see Joseph again. It could be that his family would be tempted with the “pleasantness and fruitfulness of the land, and settle there, and forget and neglect the promised land of Canaan” or that they would “be drawn into the idolatry of the Egyptians, and forsake the worship of the true God.” Maybe Jacob was merely afraid of the actual prediction of God’s prophecy, that obeying the Lord would bring on its fulfillment of “his seed being strangers and servants, and afflicted in a land not theirs for the space of four hundred years” and his “offspring would be oppressed and diminished.” *

When we give in to fear we can come up with many logical reasons why something isn’t a good idea, or why later might be better than now. The Lord knows our proclivity to give in to fear, as Jacob might have done. God did not command Jacob to travel to Egypt alone or in his own strength; He was not punishing Jacob or denying him anything good. If Jacob had given into his fears, God would have still established the nation of Israel in Egypt through Joseph; But Jacob would have missed the opportunity to be an integral part of God’s work. The Lord knew from before the beginning of time that Jacob would need to go to Egypt with his household, joining Joseph and trusting in His plan to fulfill His promise. “And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.’”  (Genesis 35:10-12) 

The Lord knew what Jacob needed to obey the command to go to Egypt—God’s presence with him and the assurance that one day he would return to the Promised Land (even in death). God knows that we need His help and presence when we face difficult decisions, challenges, and trials. He knows that we are weak, fearful, and vulnerable, unable to overcome our fears on our own. When Jacob feared meeting his brother Esau, after years of estrangement, he called on the Lord, remembering God’s promise to do good and raise a multitude from him, rather than see him die at that time. (Genesis 32:9-12) Jesus, knowing the fears of His disciples as He prepared to depart the world, promised that He would not abandon them. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;  concerning judgment because the ruler of this world is judged…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15) Jesus knows our frame; he remembers that we are like dust (which is unable to do anything). (Psalm 103:14) 

God certainly knows how I long for reassurance for healing or at least the capability to walk comfortably, with or without assistance. The best comfort I have is knowing that He is with me in this process and has good plans for me and for it. Is there something that you fear at this time, that makes you feel like mere dust, for which you desire assurance? Are you trying to work it out on your own, or are you willing to lean hard on Jesus for strength to face your fear?