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

Peaceful Selflessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(6) Boice, Ibid.

September 5, 2019

Christ, Our Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Williamson, Ibid.

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

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

August 30, 2019

The Gospel is Our Source of Peaceful Stability

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

August 23, 2019

Waiting Peacefully for Shalom

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

(2) Ibid.

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

(4) Phillips and Fluhrer, ibid.

(5) Ibid.

August 16, 2016